Dining Reviews

A Spicy New Year

DINING chile-poblanoCulinary classes make Mexican easy, plus a Grüner Veltliner that’s blowing our minds

Deciding to follow her passion for “food, travel and music,” Melissa Palacios has been teaching her friends and colleagues to make authentic tamales and other foods of Mexico for the past 10 years. After lots of field study at cooking schools in Tlaxcala and Quintana Roo, Palacios—who is also a singer and guitar player with Los Malangueros and the Cabrillo Latin Ensemble—began offering cooking classes professionally one year ago. Melissa’s Mexican Made Easy promises fun classes for inquiring cooks of all ages. “I love these classes,” she says. “I love that they are so communal—it reminds me of my childhood when we would make tamales as a family.” Palacios starts each class with a little culinary history and introduction to ingredients. “Students will do most of the actual prep and cooking,” she explains. “I provide recipe packets so they can take notes—I try to get as many people involved in this very tactile experience as possible.”

Upcoming classes by Palacios include a session called Frida’s Favorite Foods, in which participants will learn how to prepare favorite dishes of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. It turns out she was a huge fan of chile en nogada—“poblano chile stuffed with ground meat and fruit with a walnut cream sauce,” Palacios says. Class participants will also make lime coconut macaroons, agua fresca and rice.

The one I’m particularly intrigued by is the Jan. 11 Tamales Made Easy class, which will walk the cooks through the fine points of tamale creation, including chile cheese tamales with tomato sauce, and chicken tamales with salsa verde. You’ll get to take home six tamales at the end. Palacios, who has been in Santa Cruz for more than 30 years and is an ESL/English instructor at Cabrillo College, is a big fan of tamales, but sopes are her favorites, “because they are so cute and people can put whatever they want on them.” This exuberant teacher is devoted to demystifying the process of creating authentic dishes, “to show that whole foods are an integral part of Mexican food.”

Melissa’s Mexican Made Easy classes take place in the demonstration kitchen at the Westside New Leaf, 1101 Fair Ave., Santa Cruz. To enroll either call 251-5640 or email [email protected] Make your reservations so that Palacios will be able to stock up on supplies. Jan. 11 Tamales Made Easy ($55), participants will create tamales including chile cheese with tomato sauce and chicken with verde salsas. Jan. 17 Sopes, Salsas, and Flan and Jan. 25 Frida’s Favorite Foods ($50 each). All classes begin at 11 a.m. and last until 2:30 p.m.

Soif Not Vacationing in January

This is very good news for the many thirsty fans of our downtown wine bar, which usually takes a few weeks off each January. Proprietor Patrice Boyle reveals that the team has “big remodeling plans for March, so we will have some downtime then.” Meanwhile—Soif is open. Think pork belly, wild chanterelles, and chilled bubbly!

Wine of the Week

A while back, Richard Alfaro planted an experimental acre of Grüner Veltliner grapes, something almost no one in the U.S. does. Bottled this past summer, the 2013 GV from Alfaro Family Vineyards is a racy, crisp, and citrusy creation with 12 percent alcohol. This wine might not be for everyone, but we love its liveliness and approachability. Sprightly with marcona almonds, pulled pork, and of course Dungeness crab, Grüner Veltliner is so refreshing you find yourself craving a second glass. And with its low alcohol content, you can have it! Look around or check at the winery tasting room.

PHOTO:  ‘Chile en nogada’ was one of Frida Kahlo’s favorite Mexican dishes. MELISSA’S MEXICAN MADE EASY

Christina Waters was born in Santa Cruz and raised all over the world (thanks to an Air Force dad), with real-world training in painting, music, winetasting, trail running, organic gardening, and teaching. She has a PhD in Philosophy, teaches in the Arts at UCSC and sings with the UCSC Concert Choir. Look for her recent memoir “Inside the Flame” at bookstores everywhere.

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