Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cozumel 2012 - The diving & dining edition

Earlier this month, Cynthia and I went to Cozumel, Mexico, for the second time, to explore the beautiful underwater offerings of this diving destination while tasting the simple and delicious cuisine of the island.  The week went by quickly (as usual) but we had a great time visiting some restaurants we enjoyed the previous year and trying some new ones.  We were able to do eleven dives, visiting some of the amazing sites, including an unforgettable night dive.  The dining and diving adventures continue!  Best shrimp dish (both "al mojo de ajo" and empanizado) goes to Camaron Dorado, while best whole fried fish and pescado "al mojo de ajo" to San Carlos Pescaderia.  The ceviches were both excellent and rated a tie.  The tacos awards are split between the al pastor at Los Sera's and the "gringas" at Los Otates.
The garlic shrimp at El Camaron Dorado are not to be missed.  We went three times for lunch?

It is a little ways out of town on the main road but so worth the trip.

There tacos and tostadas being prepared for the happy lunch crowd.

Ceviche mixto was clean and refreshing.  The slices of avocado were a nice touch.

The camarones, al mojo de ajo, a.k.a. the garlic shrimp (with extra garlic!).

Tostada camaron empanizado (Fried shrimp tostada).  Man was it good.

On the second trip, Cynthia opted for the garlic shrimp torta.

We were referred to Chilangos to try their famous huaraches. 

This was a promising mural for the possibilities.

I believe this was a steak and a chicken huarache.  They were okay.

During one of dives we came upon a sleeping, white tip shark.

and a barracuda.  They are usually the only fish that make divers nervous. 

The underwater caverns at Cozumel are so beautiful.  I need a better underwater camera.

Nice window view, eh?

A very large green moray eel.  He was a thick fella.  Maybe he eats at Chilangos?

The grouper are evidently becoming more endangered.  I guess their "dive sign", rubbing one's belly doesn't help.

Ok, and now our favorite place on the island for fresh fish, San Carlos Pescaderia!  You pick your fish...

and they fry it to perfection.

Before that though, their tasty ceviche and crisp tortilla chips is a must.

Ceviche food porn meets...

fried shrimp porn.

We went here three times as well.  This whole fried fish was split on one occasion.

Nice, right?

I'm going in.
It was crispy, light, clean and satisfying to the last bite!

While diving through the week, we were sometimes accompanied by an underwater photog names Cinthia.  Here are some of the pics she took during our dives.  The Spanish dancer is always a treasure to witness.
Close up of an eel.

A spiny box puffer fish.  We saw a couple of these guys throughout the week.  Great eyes.

Neutrally buoyant and cruising around.

Cynthia checking out some coral.

We got close to some beautiful turtles during the dives.

Cynthia (behind tail) and I checking out this HUGE parrot fish!

Nothing quite like seeing large schools of fish on a dive.

Cinthia's (the photog) shot of the same eel from above.  We discussed his red dotted acne/rash under his eye.

Another ray.

We made some friends with a couple from Victoria, Canada, Doug and Bev.  Doug took some great shots as well.

Resting on the boat, on the way to a dive.

Getting ready to get wet!
My shot of a turtle eating some loose coral.  He was using his fins like arms to hold it down at times!

While we were there, Mexico elected a new president.  As the week went on, the street signs were covered by "Gracias Cozumel".  We shared that sentiment after our second trip to this laid back diving and dining paradise.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Pizza - Spicy Salami, Fresh Mozzarella, Basil with Filete di Pomodoro Sauce

Over the past couple of weeks I have been trying out homemade pizzas.  Using a heated pizza stone, has been key in producing a crispy, chewy thin crust.  Today I decided to venture into a simple traditional pie.  Using only four ingredients; spicy salami, fresh basil, sliced mozzarella and prepared Filete di Pomodoro sauce, on top of rolled out refrigerated pizza dough, I was hopeful that it would produce a flavorful but clean final product.  It did!  Two things I learned, one, be patient as I burnt the roof of my mouth, though it was definitely worth it and two, consider adding the basil at the last minute to keep its color and freshness.

Total Time - 25-30 minutes
10-15 minutes for heating oven, rolling out dough and assembling pie
15 minutes to cook
One sliced fresh mozzarella ball
15-20 fresh basil leaves
15-20 slices of spicy salami
6 oz.  Filete di Pomodoro sauce
One package of refrigerated pizza dough
Flour as needed to roll out the pizza dough
Course corn meal for sprinkling on heated pizza stone

Set oven at 500 degrees and place pizza stone inside to warm up.
Wash the peeled basil thoroughly to get out sand.  Repeat.
Slice the mozzarella ball into thin slices.  One ball should yield about 8 slices.
Sprinkle some flour on a flat surface and place dough on flour. Roll and flip until it is the right size for your stone.
Sprinkle course corn meal on heated stone (make sure the stone is hot).  Carefully place rolled out dough on the stone and cover entire surface.  Flip over or smooth out any excess dough. 
Place sauce, preferably using a ladle, on the middle of the dough and spread evenly, up to about a one-inch area from the edge.  Add the rest of the ingredients on top of the sauce. 
Place in oven for 10 minutes at 500 degrees.  At ten-minute mark, turn the broiler on to high for about 2-3 minutes, watching to get top of pizza some color and crisp up the crust.  Return for 2 minutes longer to 500 degrees and then remove from oven.  Allow to cool for a couple of minutes at then slice into 6-8 slices using a pizza cutter.
Serve and enjoy!  

The collected ingredients
All ingredients ready to go.

Roll out the prepared dough using flour as needed to roll it out.

Sprinkle corn meal on the hot stone and then fit the dough on top.  Add ingredients.

Use extra basil to make a pesto sauce for another meal.
Fifteen minutes at 500 degrees, with a two minute period on high broil at the 10 minute point.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Homemade Pizzas - Three ways

I subscribe to Cooking Light magazine and whenever I can make something at home that can be more healthful and tasty, I'm up for the challenge.  This month's issue had summer pizzas featured and with the summer approaching, the school year winding down and a house guest, Christina, my girlfriend's sister staying with us, it all came together.  Off to Fairway we went and with magazine in hand, we gathered the ingredients for three types of pizzas.  A spinach and mozzarella/ricotta cheese (part skim), a vegetarian pizza made with whole wheat dough and a white clam, garlic, shredded pecorino cheese and herb pizza, inspired by the pizzas I've had at Frank Pepe's in Connecticut.  Whenever I am near a Pepe's, hopefully the one in Mohegan Sun, I have to order this pizza.  The pizza preparations took place over two evenings, after school this week and we were all pleased.  Cynthia brought home the tools that ensured my successful foray into the world of homemade pizza making. 

Three Cheese White Pizza
  • 1 pound refrigerated fresh pizza dough
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided 
  • 6 cups fresh baby spinach 
  • 1 container marinated artichokes
  • 1 cup part-skim ricotta cheese 
  • 4 ounces shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (about a cup) 
  • 2 ounces pecorino Romano cheese, grated (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1 tablespoon cornmeal 
  1. Remove the dough from refrigerator. Let stand at room temperature, covered, for 30 minutes.
  2. Place a pizza stone or heavy baking sheet in oven. Preheat oven to 500° (keep pizza stone or baking sheet in oven as it preheats).
  3. Combine 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and sliced garlic in a large skillet. Heat over medium-high heat 1 1/2 minutes or until the garlic begins to sizzle. Add 6 cups spinach; sauté 2 minutes or until spinach wilts. Set aside.
  4. Combine cheeses, milk, and minced garlic in a bowl.
  5. Roll dough into a 14-inch circle on a lightly floured surface, and pierce entire surface liberally with a fork. Carefully remove pizza stone from oven. Sprinkle cornmeal over pizza stone; place dough on pizza stone. Spread cheese mixture over dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border. Bake at 500° for 10 minutes or until crust is golden and cheese is lightly browned. Top with spinach; bake an additional 2 minutes or until thoroughly heated. Remove from oven; brush outer crust with remaining 1 1/2 teaspoons oil. Cut into 6 large slices.
Inspired by Ann Taylor Pittman, but not truly followed.  I placed everything on the pizza together and let it cook for 15 minutes (at 10 minutes I broiled it under low broil for two minutes and then turned it back to bake for three minutes).

The other two pizzas followed the same techniques.  The White Clam Pizza was inspired by this site.

 Step by mostly step for all three pizzas...

The basics, thought the pizza stone produced a much better final product. A firm, crispy and chewy pizza!

Rolling out the refrigerated dough, remember that flour is your friend.

Preferably use a pizza stone, sprinkled with course cornmeal.  We used a metal pan for this one.

Sliced mozzarella and some olive oil.

Add ricotta, baby spinach and marinated artichokes.

Our fist pizza is assembled.

It was in the oven for about 15 minutes at 500 degrees, with a two minute period on low broil to brown crust.

The finished product.

Two slices please.

Christina was pleased.
Looks good, right?

On to the veggies version.  Slice them up nicely.
Like this.

I added some ricotta dots and sliced kalamata olives.

Whole Wheat pizza with zucchini, squash, red peppers, black olives and ricotta.

And now the mother of them all, the white clam pizza!

Chopped clams, minced garlic, sprinkled dried oregano, basil, pecorino romano and drizzled olive oil.

Into the oven on the pizza stone, with corn meal sprinkled on the preheated stone.

It was divine!

Sans one slice.  This pizza, cooked on the stone was crispy and firm.  Truly an excellent pizza.  Good Luck!