Chocolate: Food Of The Gods

cocoa-bean

September is probably the most important the month in the year for Mexicans, because it’s the month when we celebrate our independence.  This year we are celebrating 204 years of independence from Spain, and at Capella Ixtapa we have prepared several activities throughout the resort to celebrate this special day.  I decided to visit Chef Miguel and talk with him about Mexican sweet gold, chocolate.

cocoa-bean

Cocoa bean

“Chocolate, perhaps the most popular of sweet foods, has a long history in Mesoamerica and was an important part of Mayan and Aztec culture,” explained Chef Miguel, “at which time it was neither sweet nor a food, but a beverage, and a sour one at that.  Today’s word chocolate derives from the Aztec language Nahuatl, from word xocolalt, meaning bitter water (there are several explanations about the origin of the word chocolate; this one is one of the most cited).  The Aztecs made a variety of chocolate drinks, combined with honey, nuts, seeds, spices, flowers, and hot chili pepper among others.  The thick and cold drink was believed to be a health elixir with aphrodisiac qualities, bringing wisdom and power to anyone who enjoyed it.”

Aztecs valued cocoa beans so much, that they used is as a currency as well.  For example, fur cocoa beans could get you a pumpkin and ten would but a rabbit.

Chocolate tamal, a dessert at Capella Ixtapa

Chocolate tamal, a dessert at Capella Ixtapa

The Aztecs attributed the creation of the cocoa plant to their god Quetzalcoatl, who descended from heaven on a beam of a morning star carrying a cocoa tree from paradise.  The scientific name of cocoa tree Theobroma is very suitable to its heavenly attributes, as it means “Food of the Goods.”  The Aztec emperor Montezuma drank thick chocolate dyed red.  The drink was so prestigious that it was served in golden goblets that were thrown away after only one use.  He liked it so much that he was purported to drink 50 goblets every day!  In Aztec times, the chocolate drink was used in important religious and social rituals, primarily by priests, emperors, soldiers, wealthy and honored merchants.

Montezuma was the one who introduced cocoa beans and chocolate to young Spaniard Hernán Cortés, who conquered México in 1519 and in 1528 returned to Spain with some cocoa beans.  The Spaniards were the ones first starting to add sugar to the drink, and it became quite the delicacy.  The formula for this highly demanded and noble potion was kept a secret, which Spain managed to keep from the rest of the world for almost 100 years!

Slowly, the secret was revealed, and chocolate was introduced to royal courts in France in 1615 and Austria in 1711.  A Frenchman opened the first chocolate house in London in 1657, and Italians began serving chocolate in Florence and Venice in 1720.  The chocolate was first introduced to United States in 1764. Industrial Revolution in 18th century helped make chocolate available to masses.

We got first eatable solid chocolate in 1847 by an Englishman Joseph Fry, and… you know the rest.

Today, chocolate in Mexico is still widely used.  Not just as a drink or sweet food, but also as an ingredient in the popular savory mole sauce.  The most traditional use for chocolate is for hot beverages such as Atole, Champurrado and Mexican Hot Chocolate.

Chef Miguel was kind enough to share his recipe form Mexican Hot Chocolate, one I am sure will become a favorite at your home!

HOT MEXICAN CHOCOLATE

Although Montezuma drank his frothy chocolate cold, you can enjoy a delicious whipped version of hot Mexican chocolate.
In a bowl, put 1 cup sugar, 1/2 cup cocoa powder, and mix with enough water to make a thin paste.
In a large pan, bring to a boil 4 cups milk.
Break 2-4 cinnamon sticks into the milk.
Reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes.
Carefully stir in the cocoa mix.
Turn off heat and whip to a froth just before serving.

It tastes godly, doesn’t it?

For activities at Capella Ixtapa during our Patriotic month celebrations, please email the Capella Ixtapa team at pa.ixtapa@capellahotels.com, or visit the Capella Ixtapa Facebook page for the latest updates.

Kayaking in Ixtapa Zihuatanejo

kayaking-in-ixtapa-zihuatanejo

kayaking-in-ixtapa-zihuatanejo

Every time summer comes to town, I start humming that popular Ella Fitzgerald song “Summertime and the living is easy…”  Even though in Ixtapa Zihuatanejo we have a fantastic warm weather all year long, and every day looks like a vacations, summer is still summer…  It’s the time of vacations when I go to visit my friends and family, and when they come to visiting me in Ixtapa, and the time everything just feels a little bit more relaxed.

July temperatures in Ixtapa Zihuatanejo average around 90 F, which make it a perfect excuse to spend most of my free time in the ocean or at the pool.  During my days off work I love visiting our local beaches, and I have recently discovered my new favorite summer activity – kayaking.  I love kayaking solo, but kayaking in tandem is so much fun as well!

And while you can kayak in many of our Ixtapa Zihuatanejo beaches, my favorite spot for kayaking is at the lagoon at Barra de Potosí, a large salt water lagoon located about half an hour south of Zihuatanejo.  Here you can hire a guided tour, or kayak on your own.  The flora and fauna at the lagoon is amazing, you can admire unique aquatic birds, and paddle gently among beautiful tropical mangroves.  Don’t forget your waterproof camera, binoculars, sunscreen and a hat.

After the kayaking tour we love to enjoy fresh seafood at some of the beachfront restaurants at Barra de Potosí, and sip cold cocktails while relaxing in the hammock.  Barra de Potosí is a small fishing village with around 150 families, who all live work in the fishing industry- therefore you can be certain that the fish you will be enjoying is as fresh as it gets.  I love listening to the stories of fishermen, and it is probably just one reason more that makes me come for a kayaking tour to this pristine little village so often.

My second favorite kayaking spot is at Ixtapa Island.  I visit it when I don’t have a lot of time for my kayaking excursion.  It is a perfect place for kayaking, snorkeling, swimming, or just enjoying a relaxing beach day.

For more information about kayaking in Ixtapa Zihuatanejo and for organized tours, please contact your Capella Ixtapa Personal Assistant here.

Photo via Flickr user Loxy.

A Look Back: The Capella Ixtapa Sabor + Vino Festival 2014

Bittersweet chocolate, bed of peanuts and cocoa, Cotija cheese meringue, xoconostle (a fruit of prickly pear cactus) foam, coconut cotton and a reduction of jamaica and passion fruit.

They say the way to a person’s heart is through the stomach.  And if you haven’t fallen in love with Mexico yet, our Capella Ixtapa Sabor + Vino Festival, would have you in head over heels, guaranteed!

Sabor + Vino 2014, which we held this past May, was Capella Ixtapa’s first culinary festival, and with the amazing feedback we received from our guests and visitors, I can promise you it won’t be the last!

Sommelier Lucian Mocanu and Chef Miguel Baltazar from Capella Ixtapa, with Guest Chef Carmen Valencia and Chef Ramiro Ortega.

Sommelier Lucian Mocanu and Chef Miguel Baltazar from Capella Ixtapa, with Guest Chef Carmen Valencia and Chef Ramiro Ortega.

“This region of Mexico has so much to offer gastronomically, offering an authentic Mexican cuisine experience.  We gathered well known chefs from different towns within the region to participate in festival Capella Ixtapa Sabor + Vino 2014, which established a sense of pride and honor, as we presented diverse traditional Mexican dishes, combined with exquisite Mexican wine and spirits for all attendees, complemented with a wonderful culinary event.  The feedback we received was fantastic, and I hope to see you all again at Capella Ixtapa’s Sabor + Vino 2015!” said Eliezer Quinones, General Manager of Capella Ixtapa.

The Capella Ixtapa Sabor + Vino Festival ran over two weekends in May, and featured Guest Chefs,  Carmen Valencia, Ramiro Ortega, Karla Chápero, Jesús Ordoñez.  Hosted by Capella Ixtapa’s Chef Miguel Baltazar, guests were delighted by appetizers based on regional cuisines, cocktail events, cooking classes, two exquisite 7 course wine pairing dinners and a special breakfast where each of the chefs prepared their own signature breakfast dish.

Bittersweet chocolate, bed of peanuts and cocoa, Cotija cheese meringue, xoconostle (a fruit of prickly pear cactus) foam, coconut cotton and a reduction of jamaica and passion fruit.

Bittersweet chocolate, bed of peanuts and cocoa, Cotija cheese meringue, xoconostle (a fruit of prickly pear cactus) foam, coconut cotton and a reduction of jamaica and passion fruit.

Sabor + Vino 2014 was an incredible experience,” said Chef Miguel Baltazar.  “Four different culinary minds came to Capella Ixtapa with the same objective; to satisfy the palate of our guests, surprise them with the magnificent flavors and show them the best of their cuisine.  It was a great pleasure having them with us and creating the first edition of Capella Ixtapa’s culinary festival together.  For me personally it was also a magnificent opportunity to create, innovate and practice with these amazing Chefs for the Chef of the Year in Mexico contest, at which I will be participating in June, and representing the colors of Capella Ixtapa and our region.  Some of the unforgettable dishes from the festival for me were jack fish with black radish, scallops tiradito, jicama fruit infused with beet and mezcal, cocoa with meringue of salt from Zihuatanejo, and crystallized nopal.”

You can see more photos from the festival here, and mark your calendars for May 2015, for the next Capella Ixtapa Sabor + Vino festival.  Our team is already hard at work planning next year’s festivities!

Chef Rurik Salazar’s Tamales Nejos

tamales-capella-ixtapa

February 2nd marked a very popular holiday in Mexico, Candlemas day, or Día de la Candelaria.  At Capella Ixtapa we honored Mexican traditions by serving tamales.  But these weren’t just any tamales!  These were Executive Chef Rurik Salazar’s special Tamales Nejos!

They were absolutely delicious and, while I had never made tamales before, I simply had to learn how.  Chef Rurik agreed to teach me, ensuring me the process was simpler than I thought.  Indeed he was right and now I am sharing the recipe with you:

 tamales nejos

Tamales Nejos Recipe

Masa or Tamal dough

  • 8 Tbsp of Corn Flour
  • 1 Tbsp of Vegetable Shortening
  • 1 pinch of Salt
  • N/A Water
  • Ashes of a tortilla

Mix the corn flour with the vegetable shortening, add water slowly and whisk it up until gets spongy, seasoning with the salt and the tortilla ashes.

Duck Tamales Nejos

  • 1 square of a plantain leaf (15 cm x15 cm)
  • 1 Tbsp of shredded duck breast
  • 1 date

Heat up the plantain leaf until it gets soft in a pan on a low flame.  In the middle of the leaf put the tamal dough and stuff it with the shredded duck and the date.  Wrap it like a candy, and steam for 18 minutes.  Garnish with some green mole or any kind of salsa.

 

Buen provecho!

El Chef Rurik Salazar Nos Comparte Su Receta Para Tamales Nejos

tamales-capella-ixtapa

Febrero 2 marca una de las fiestas mexicanas más populares, el Día de la Candelaria. En Capella Ixtapa hicimos honor a esta tradicional fiesta mexicana sirviendo tamales. Pero estos no eran tamales ordinarios! Eran Tamales Nejos, especialidad de nuestro Chef Ejecutivo Rurik Salazar!

Estaban deliciosos, y mientras que nunca he cocinado tamales antes, tenía que aprender como. El Chef Rurik accedió a enseñarme, asegurándome primero, que el proceso era más simple de lo que creía. Y de hecho tuvo razón, por lo cual aquí les comparto la receta a ustedes:

tamales-capella-ixtapa

Receta para preparar Tamales Nejos

Masa para tamales o nixtamal

  • 8 cucharadas soperas de harina de maíz
  • 1 cucharada de manteca vegetal o
  • 1 pizca de sal
  • Agua
  • Cenizas de tortillas

Mezclar el harina con la manteca, añadir agua lentamente y batir hasta que quede una masa esponjosa, sazonar con la sal y las cenizas de tortilla.

Tamales Nejos rellenos de pato

  • 1 cuadrado de hoja de plátano (15 cm x15 cm)
  • 1 cucharada de pechuga de pato deshebrada
  • 1 dátil

Calentar en un sartén a flama baja la hoja de plátano hasta que suavize. Al centro de la hoja poner la masa de tamal y rellenarla con el pato deshebrado y el dátil. Envolverla como si fuera un dulce, y cocinarla al vapor durante 18 minutos. Se puede agregar mole verde o cualquier tipo de salsa como guarnición.

 

Buen provecho!

Romantic Mexican Traditions

Mariachi-LA76-Photography (1)

Valentine’s day is around the corner, and it perfectly fits the loving and festive nature that defines Mexicans.  We use this sweet excuse to pamper our loved ones, friends and family.  Throughout history, love has always been very important to Mexicans and as a result, we have many romantic Mexican traditions.

Our ancient civilization Mexica had two gods, that personified Love: Xochipilli and Xochiquetzal.  Xochipilli was like the Apollo of the Mexica.  He was the god of Love, games, beauty, dance, flowers, corn and songs.  His name means “the prince of the flowers” and he had a twin sister, the goddess of love, Xochiquetzal, meaning “precious flower or ornate bird.”  In honor of this pair of gods and their representation of love, Mexica used to celebrate with a four day festival.  During this time the people would make offerings of bread and corn, pierce their tongues with maguey thorns and dance to the beat of drums called teponaztli.

Mariachi-LA76-Photography (1)

Today, Mexico’s Valentine’s Day celebrations are similar to celebrations around the world.  Red roses are given, romantic cards written and chocolates enjoyed.  But we do have some traditions that remain our own.

In smaller towns, young people often meet in town squares; the girls stand on one side, the boys on the other.  Then, they walk around the perimeter in opposite directions, so they can face and look at each other.  On the second round the boys offer a flower to the girl that they like.  On the third round, if the girl has retained the flower, it means that she has agreed to go out with her suitor.  If she doesn’t keep the flower, it means she has rejected him and the boy must pick another girl.

My absolute favorite way of expressing the love in Mexico are “las serenatas” (serenades).  They are just so romantic!  You have probably seen the act of playing a serenade in some movie.  Usually, the boyfriend gathers a group of mariachi, or a trio, and visits the girlfriend’s house after the sunset.  On the street, under his loved one’s window, they all start to sing the most romantic and heartfelt songs.  The intention is to wake her up with songs that will touch the heart.  When the girl appears at her window, it means that she is pleased and approves of the serenade (I can’t imagine a girl could resist such a sweet and romantic gesture from her loved one!).  However the family may be a different story- if they approve of the suitor he may be invited in to visit, but if the family does not they may toss the water on him!

At Capella Ixtapa we have prepared a special Valentine’s Day package and are organizing many romantic activities and sweet attentions during this most romantic month.  Who knows, we might even get to play a serenade for some of our lucky guests!

 

 

Photo: LA76 Photography