Monday, August 16, 2010

La Cueva del Chango

We left our home in Michigan at 3:30 in the morning, arriving at O’Hare at 5:30 to catch an early plane to Cancun. From there we traveled south on Highway 307 to Playa del Carmen where we met Adriana Arriola Mora who took us to La Cueva del Chango (Monkey’s Cave) located on a quiet street near Shangri La Beach just a few blocks from the bustling and famed Avenida 5. 

From mausoleums to museums to restaurants, nobody seems to have more fun with whimsical and creative décor than people in Mexico and La Cueva del Chango is no exception. We walk through a large door leading into the outdoor garden, past a fountain, a large wooden trove filled with green oranges (it’s that time of year), underneath the open air roof topped main eating area with trees growing in its center and wooden monkeys vying for space with boldly colored art, basket woven light fixtures and potted plants, past the large tiled kitchen and into another garden area where we sit and order lunch.

The lush greenery paired with the riotous décor including colored bottles planted into the plaster walls creates a jungle fantasia and the food is as good as the ambience. For dessert I order one of my favorites – crepas con cajeta or crepes with a goat milk caramel that has a sweetness and just a little tang. I easily forget how tired I am sitting in this Mexican garden and tasting this sweet dish while sipping my Mexican coffee accented with sugar and cinnamon. When I get home, I find this recipe by Rick Bayless and decide to make the crepes at home.

Crepas con Cajeta

For the crepes:
1 small cinnamon stick
3 cloves
1 cup whole milk
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil as needed

For the goats' milk caramel:
2 quarts goats' milk
2 cups granulated sugar
2-inch cinnamon stick
1/2 teaspoon baking soda, dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

For the pecans:
1/4 pound unsalted butter
1 cup pecans, chopped

For the plantains:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 plantains, peeled and sliced

For the dish:
Diced papaya

For the crepes, in a spice grinder, pulse the cinnamon stick and the cloves until finely ground. Transfer to a blender, add the milk, eggs, salt, sugar, vanilla, and flour and blend until smooth, about two minutes, scraping down the sides of the blender. With the motor running, add the butter and blend until the mixture has the consistency of heavy cream, about one minute. Transfer to a medium bowl and set aside for two hours.

For the goats' milk caramel, in a large saucepan, bring the milk, sugar, and cinnamon stick to a simmer, stirring frequently.

Remove from the heat, add the baking soda, and stir to combine. When the bubbles disappear, return the pan to medium heat. Bring to a brisk simmer, stirring frequently, until the mixture begins to turn golden brown, about one hour. Continue to simmer until the mixture thickens to the consistency and color of maple syrup, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat, strain through a fine mesh sieve, and set aside keeping warm.

For the pecans, in a medium sauté pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the pecans and sauté until toasted and golden brown, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and using a slotted spoon, transfer the pecans to a medium bowl. Reserve the butter and pecans separately.

For the plantains, in a medium sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the plantains and sauce until golden brown, about five minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside keeping warm.

To finish the crepes, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat a seven-inch skillet over medium heat and brush lightly with the oil. Pour 1/4 cup of the crepe batter into the pan, swirl to coat, pouring out any excess. Cook until the edges begin to dry, about one minute. Using a thin spatula, flip the crepe and cook for one minute. Transfer the crepe to a parchment-lined sheet pan, keeping flat. Repeat with the remaining batter and set aside keeping warm. Brush the top of each crepe with browned butter and some goats' milk caramel. Fold each in half and gently press down to spread the filling. Brush with butter and fold in half again. Arrange the crepes in an ovenproof dish. Cover with aluminum foil and place in the oven until warmed through, about 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside keeping warm.

To serve, place two crepes in the center of the plate and spoon some of the goats' milk caramel on top. Arrange some plantains, papaya, blackberries, and raspberries on top, sprinkle pecans around the dish, and garnish with mint.


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