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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Keep Them Simple, Keep Them Coming: Thanksgiving Appetizers, Side Dishes, and Salads

While turkey is the centerpiece on Thanksgiving, the appetizers, side dishes, salads and desserts reign supreme. Cranberry sauce, cornbread stuffing with sausages and dried apricots, mushroom and giblets gravy, green salads, beet salad, homemade pickles, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, string beans, squash...and the desserts: cakes, pies, custards, fresh fruit, cheese... 

The easier the recipes, the more you'll make. If Thanksgiving is nothing else, it is a celebration of variety and plenty, so here are some easy-to-make recipes we'll be making on Thursday.

Blackened Peppers with Capers, Parsley, and Garlic

The peppers should be made a day or two ahead.  To start, simply grill the peppers on top of a gas range, remove the blackened skin, discard the seeds, and put them in a sealed jar where they'll keep a week in the refrigerator or for months in the freezer.

Overnight the peppers will miraculously create their own "oil."

Use a mix of peppers so the result is that much more colorful. Chef's note: I haven't had as much success grilling green or purple peppers, so I stick to the red, yellow, and orange ones.


Yield: 6-8 servings

Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

3-4 red, yellow, or orange peppers, washed, pat dried
4 garlic cloves, skin on
1 tablespoon capers, drained, finely chopped
1 tablespoon parsley leaves, washed, dried, finely chopped
1/4 cup oil from the grilled peppers
4 anchovy fillets, finely chopped, optional

Method

The garlic can be used either raw or grilled. If cooked, they'll have a milder flavor, which I prefer. Leave the outer skin or paper on the garlic and skewer the cloves. Blacken them on an open flame on top of the stove until the skins have all but burnt away. Remove and finely chop.

Toss together the peppers, garlic, parsley, and capers. Return to the sealed jar and keep in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Marinated Peppers as an Appetizer

Yield: 8 servings

Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients
2 cups marinated peppers (julienned or finely chopped)
1/2 pound soft cheese
Olive oil
Pepper flakes
Sea salt and pepper
Toast rounds or crackers

Method
Start with a thin slice of goat cheese, a triple cream, or mozzarella, lay on a strand of marinated pepper, 
and drizzle some of the pepper's own oil. There are variations to play with: add chopped avocado or scallions or cherry tomatoes or grilled corn...

Top with a little olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper.

Roasted Whole Tomatoes

A side dish, full of flavor and perfect to serve alongside turkey and stuffing.


Ripe and over ripe tomatoes work best. If you shop at farmers' markets, keep an eye out for discounted tomatoes. 

When they're roasting, tomatoes give off a clear liquid. The flavor is pure essence of tomato. The wonderful chef, cookbook writer, and founder of Fra'ManiPaul Bertolli was famous for hanging tomatoes in cheese cloth and capturing the clear tomato water that he called "the blood of the fruit."

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 90 minutes

Ingredients

3 pounds ripe tomatoes (washed, stems removed)
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the whole tomatoes on a Silpat sheet or a piece of aluminum foil on a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil and season with sea salt and pepper. Roast for 90 minutes. When the tomatoes are removed from the pan, be certain to spatula off all the seasoned olive oil and tomato water. That liquid is full of flavor. Spoon the liquid over the tomatoes.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30-45 minutes

Ingredients

1 pound Brussels sprouts, washed, stems trimmed, quartered
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Method

Toss the Brussels sprouts with olive oil and seasoning, put in a roasting pan with enough room so they don't sit on top of each other. Roast in a preheated 350 F degree oven 30-45 minutes, turning every 5-10 minutes for even cooking.

They'll come out of the oven so warm and sweet, they'll get eaten before they arrive at the table.


Baked Sweet Potatoes with Sautéed Shallots, Garlic, and Mushrooms

I prefer sweet potatoes that have a bright orange flesh. Find ones about the same size that are slender, appropriate as a single serving. 

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 2 1/2 hours

Ingredients

4 sweet potatoes, washed, skins on
2 teaspoons sweet butter
1 cup shallots, peeled, thinly sliced
1 cup brown or shiitake mushrooms, washed, dried, thinly sliced
6 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1/4 cup Italian parsley leaves only, washed, finely chopped
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper
Cayenne (optional)

Method

Preheat oven to 350 F degrees. Wrap each sweet potato in tin foil, place in the oven, turn every 30 minutes. 

Depending on your oven and the size of the sweet potatoes, they can take anywhere from 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours. When the sweet potatoes are soft to the touch, they are done.

While the sweet potatoes are in the oven, drizzle olive oil in a frying pan, season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and sauté the shallots, garlic, parsley, and mushrooms until lightly browned.

Remove and discard the tin foil. Using a sharp paring knife slice each sweet potato the long way. With your fingers, push the sweet potato in from the ends so the cut section opens like a flower. 

Add 1/2 teaspoon of butter and a light dusting of cayenne (optional). Top with the shallot-mushroom sauté and serve.

Grilled Vegetables Couscous

Yield: 4-6 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Incredibly versatile, couscous can be as simple as you want with one or two ingredients or as complex and layered as you have time to prepare. 

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups couscous,  quick-cook style
1 1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons olives, cracked green or kalamata, pitted, finely chopped
1 basket cherry tomatoes, washed, quartered
1/4 cup capers, chopped
1 cup Italian parsley, leaves only, washed, finely chopped
1 ear of corn, husks and silks removed, washed
1 carrot, washed, peeled, trimmed, cut into slabs 4"x1/4"
2 garlic cloves, washed, trimmed
7 tablespoons olive oil
Sea salt and pepper to taste

Method

Drizzle 3 tablespoons olive oil onto a flat plate, season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, roll the corn on the plate to coat with the seasoned oil. Do the same with the carrot slabs and garlic cloves. Reserve the seasoned oil.

Lightly brown on a hot grill or roast in a 350 F degree oven for 10-20 minutes, turning to avoid burning. Let cool , finely chop the carrots and garlic. Cut the kernels off the cob.

Boil the water. In a non-reactive, stainless steel or glass bowl mix together the couscous with the hot water, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt and a dusting of black pepper, cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 10 minutes.

Remove the plastic wrap, toss with a fork to break up all the pieces.

To the couscous, add the carrots, corn, garlic, parsley, capers, olives, cherry tomatoes, the seasoned oil used to marinate the vegetables and another 4 tablespoons of olive oil. Toss well. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt or black pepper. 

Can be served chilled or at room temperature.

Variations

Add grilled broccoli, marinated and cooked the same way as the carrots).

Serve with arugula.

Serve with a sliced avocado.

Arugula Salad with Hazelnuts, Carrots, Avocado, and Croutons

Yield: 4 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

1 bunch arugula, washed, stems removed, leaves torn into bite sized pieces
1/4 cup raw hazelnuts
1 carrot, washed, peeled, cut into thin rounds
1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, roughly chopped
1/4 cup croutons
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and pepper

Method

On a low flame reduce the balsamic vinegar to 1 tablespoon. Set aside to cool. Roast the hazelnuts in a 350 F degree oven for 20 minutes, shaking the pan every 5 minutes to cook evenly. Remove, put into a dish cloth, rub roughly to remove the skins, let cool, and crush with the side of a chefs knife.

Put the arugula, hazelnuts, carrot rounds, croutons, and avocado into a salad bowl. Drizzle with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar. Season with sea salt and pepper. Toss and serve immediately.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Why I Love Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was my mother's favorite holiday. She loved the chance to have her family and friends seated around the table, catching up, telling stories,and eating favorite treats.

Most of the time I do the cooking since I work at home and because we have a kitchen the size of a New York closet. Thanksgiving is my wife's day and I happily step to the side, working as a sous chef, assisting her in executing a meal that usually serves between 15-20.

Even though Thanksgiving is a lot of work, the key is organization. Writing up a menu is the first step, then a shopping list, and finally a time-line for the day before Thanksgiving and the day of the meal.

Along with those first steps, we cover the bottom of the oven with aluminum foil so clean up after the meal is easier. Cleaning out the refrigerator makes room for the turkey after we pick it up from the grocery store and so there's space for all those delicious left-overs after the meal.

Besides shopping at the grocery store we visit our local farmers' market to pick up fresh vegetables for the sides dishes: beets, sweet potatoes, lettuce, celery, carrots, mushrooms, Brussels sprouts, corn, leeks, and onions.

But the most important part of the meal is the turkey and no turkey is complete without a great stuffing.

Corn Bread Stuffing with Sausages, Dried Apricots, and Pecans

Over the years my wife has developed a crowd-pleasing stuffing with a contrast of textures: soft (corn bread), spicy (sausage), chewy (dried apricots), and crunchy (pecans).

Yield: 15-20 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 boxes corn bread mix
3 celery stalks, washed, ends trimmed, leaves discarded
1 pound mushrooms, brown, shiitake, or portabella, washed, pat dried, finely chopped
2 medium yellow onions, peeled, ends removed, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 stick sweet butter
1/2 - 1 cup turkey or chicken stock
4 Italian style sweet sausages
1 cup dried apricots, finely chopped
1/2 cup pecans, roughly chopped
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Make the corn bread the night before and leave the pan on the counter so the corn bread dries out. Use any cornbread mix you like. My wife uses Jiffy. It's inexpensive and tastes great. The instructions are on the box.

Saute the sausages whole in a frying pan with a little olive oil until browned, remove, cut into bite-sized pieces, and set aside. Pour off the excess fat. Add the celery, mushrooms, onion, and garlic into the pan with the stick of butter and saute. Season with sea salt and pepper. Cook until lightly browned, then add 1/2 cup of the stock, toss well and summer 15 minutes. Add more stock as needed. Taste and adjust the seasoning with sea salt and black pepper. 

Cut the cornbread into chunks and crumble into a large mixing bowl. Add the apricots, pecans, and the saute. Stir well and set aside until you're ready to stuff the turkey.

Roast Turkey
The most difficult part about cooking a turkey is size. Even a 15 pound turkey is larger than any roast you'll ever cook, so it's important to have somebody around to help strong-arm the turkey.

The rule of thumb about cooking time is 15-20 minutes per pound at 325 degrees but there are so many variables, you can also use a roasting thermometer and, our preferred method, jiggle-the-leg and if it almost comes off, the turkey's done.

There's a lot of talk about whether to brine or not to brine. In the Los Angeles Times, Russ Parsons argued for what he calls a "dry" brine, which means salting the turkey inside and out, then wrapping it in a sealable bag and refrigerating it for one to two days.

Yield: 20-25 servings

Time: 7-8 hours

Ingredients

1 turkey, 23-25 pounds
Olive oil
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Unwrap the turkey. Remove the packet with the liver, neck, heart, and giblet. Use a pair of pliers to remove the piece of wire that holds the legs. It can be a real pain to get the wire off. Wash the turkey inside and out. Pat dry on the outside.

Reserve the liver to make a turkey chopped liver. Put the neck, heart, and giblet into a large saucepan with a lot of water, at least five inches higher than the turkey pieces. Replenish whatever water boils off.  Simmer for 2-3 hours or until the meat on the neck falls off if you touch it with a fork. Strain the stock and reserve to use for gravy. Pull the meat off the neck and save to make turkey soup. Use the giblets in the gravy.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

The next step is easier with a friend. Drizzle olive oil on the outside of the turkey. Using your hands spread the oil over the entire bird, front and back. Sprinkle sea salt and black pepper inside the cavity and on the outside.

To put in the stuffing, either my wife or I holds the turkey upright and steady while the other loosely packs the stuffing inside the large cavity, one handful at a time.

Use 8-12 metal skewers and kitchen string to close the large cavity. Carefully turn the turkey over so you can put stuffing into the top area. Use 6-8 skewers and string to close that cavity.

Use any kind of roasting pan. Whether you use a disposable aluminum foil pan or an expensive stainless steel roasting pan from William Sonoma, the result will be the same. The important thing to remember is the pan must be at least 2" wider than the turkey, otherwise as the bird cooks, its juices will drip onto the bottom of your stove and make a mess. To insure that the turkey browns evenly, you'll need a wire rack.

Place the turkey on the rack, breast down and put into the oven. After 30 minutes, reduce the temperature to 350 degrees.

After that, every 30 minutes, baste the turkey with the fat that drips down into the pan. If the skin starts to brown too quickly, put an aluminum tent over the top.

After 3 hours, turn the turkey over. With a large bird this is easier said than done because now the turkey is not only heavy, it's very hot.

Another set of hands is a big help here. My wife and I have choreographed this crucial moment. I lift the roasting pan with the turkey out of the oven, placing it on the cutting board. Michelle stands at the ready with a pot holder in each hand. As I lift the rack with the turkey, she removes the pan. I flip the rack with the turkey onto the cutting board, having first put a kitchen towel along the edge to prevent juices from falling to the floor.

We pour all the juices and fat from the pan into a basting bowl, scrapping off the flavor bits on the bottom of the pan to make gravy.

The rack goes back into the pan. The turkey goes onto the rack, breast side up. After a good basting, the turkey goes back in the oven, covered with an aluminum foil tent.

As the turkey continues to cook, if the wing tips and drumstick ends brown too quickly, wrap them in aluminum foil.

Continue basting every 30 minutes. When the turkey is finished, remove from the oven and let rest 5 minutes.

Carve the turkey on a cutting board, removing the wings first, then the legs, thighs, and the breasts. Either place the pieces on the platter whole, to be carved at the table, or sliced for easy serving. Open the cavities and spoon out the stuffing.

Mushroom-Giblet Gravy

While the turkey is cooking, start the gravy.

Yield: 15-20 servings

Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients

2 medium yellow onions, peeled, ends removed, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, peeled, finely chopped
1 turkey giblet, cooked, grizzle removed, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary, tarragon, or Italian parsley
1/2 pound mushrooms, brown, shiitake, or portabella, washed, finely chopped or sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups turkey stock
Sea salt and pepper

Method

Saute the giblet, onions, garlic, fresh herbs, and mushrooms until lightly browned. Add turkey stock and the flavor bits you scraped off the roasting pan, simmer and reduce by 1/3. Taste and adjust the flavors. If too salty, add more stock and a pat of sweet (unsalted) butter.

Reheat before serving.

Turkey Stock

When you're eating Thanksgiving dinner, odds are you aren't thinking about your next meal, but I am. Admittedly, it's a bit obsessive, but before I sit down to join the dinner, all the bones and scraps go into a large pot filled with water. By the time we're clearing the table, the stock is finished.

Turkey stock is rich and flavorful. Perfect for making soups, stews, and pasta sauce, and like chicken stock, freezes beautifully.

Yield: 15-20 servings

Time: 1 hour
Ingredients

1 turkey carcass, skin, scraps
Water

Method

Put the carcass into a large pot. If any of stuffing makes it into the pot, all the better for flavor and richness. Cover the bones with water. Simmer 1 hour. Strain and refrigerate. Pick the meat off the bones to use in a soup or stew.

The stock keeps in the freezer for six months.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Earth, Sun, Water and Art on the Southern Tip of Baja California

Recently I was on assignment for Peter Greenberg to Cabo San Lucas to test drive the 2011 Mitzubishi Outlander Family and Sports models. That road trip was only one part of an action packed, long weekend that included a lot of eating and a trip to nearby San Jose del Cabo.

With summer a fond memory and colder weather approaching, now is a good time to think about a trip to warmer climes. While some might happily settle for the familiarity of Hawaii, Florida or Puerto Rico, Mexico is a great destination with its vast, natural beauty, rich cultural history, amazing archaeological sites and wonderfully flavorful cuisine.

Mexico's well-publicized difficulties with crime have caused travelers to steer clear of the DMZ border regions. Tragically, it was those regions that were once the perfect places to experience the melding of two great cultures and peoples. 

Luckily there are safe places to visit in Mexico far from the border, a fact that Peter has chronicled in many posts. A recent trip to the southern-most tip of Baja California showed me what warm-weather fun awaits in Mexico.

Mitsubishi invited several dozen travel and automotive writers to visit Cabo San Lucas so we could test drive two of their new vehicles, the 2011 Outlander Family and Outlander Sport. With Baja so close and since Los Angeles had been cold and rainy all week, I couldn't resist a long weekend of 90 degree weather.

Normally a visit to Cabo for me would center around a frosty Pina Colada enjoyed at poolside. The second focus of my attention would be the spa. When I arrived, I indulged in both.

Given the afternoon heat, the Pina Colada was cooly refreshing. For a massage, the YHI Spa in our hotel, ME Cabo, offered a dozen different treatments, from skin-challenging exfoliations, antioxidant body wraps, waxes of various body parts, to more gentle therapies that emphasized peace, renewal, and beauty. 

Not wanting to be abraded, distressed or defoliated, I chose the Desert Air Massage, which, I discovered happily was administered by two masseuses--Lobita and Theresa--whose four hands meant that both sides of my body could enjoy the benefits of the massage simultaneously. The result was a semi-hallucinatory state of complete relaxation.

Most visitors to Cabo divide their time between relaxing and partying, the ratio of one to the other depending on personal proclivities. It's not by accident that Sammy Hagar ("The Red Rocker") celebrates his birthday October 13th every year at his nightclub, Cabo Wabo. Cabo is party-central.

There are a great many hotels bordering the Cabo San Lucas harbor with very different price points and qualities. The ME Cabo resort, where we stayed, had a typical layout with a grouping of pools, restaurants and bars in a center courtyard lined with tall, wispy palm trees, fronting the beach with an expansive view of the harbor.

The resort was comfortable and could be recommended except for several unforgivable failings. First and foremost, the disco music playing during the day at poolside and at night from the Passions nightclub was unrelentingly loud. In your room, sealing doors and windows provided no relief, even well after midnight. Another curious choice was what the hotel billed as their AWOL Club. During the day registered guests were excluded from the main pool, bar, restaurant and beach front area. The area was available only for those willing to pay a high entrance fee.

Also in the same area and a complete contrast with ME Cabo, the Hacienda Beach Club offers a gated setting with magnificent views of the harbor. The spa and restaurant are first rate. 

Sitting on the veranda of the Hacienda Restaurant and Bar, enjoying an afternoon Mojito, plates of tacos with handmade tortillas, quesadillas, tostadas, tortas, ceviches, and inventive starters like the salad of avocado, shrimp, and hearts of palm escabeche in a vinaigrette is a refreshingly pleasant way to enjoy Mexican hospitality. Lunch lasted longer than expected because we had to sample the Four Milk Cake, a riff on the classic Tres Leches cake, served with a compote of strawberries and blackberries and a scoop of vanilla ice cream with a sprinkling of crushed walnuts.

Just outside Cabo, Las Ventanas and One and Only Palmille offer luxury and great service in impossibly beautiful settings. Also nearby, the Sheraton and Hilton chains have large resort complexes. The Sheraton takes an Old World approach. The expansive property promotes quiet and relaxation in an elegant setting.  


Interestingly, while all the resorts publicize their beach fronts with photographs of clear blue water and large, sandy expanses, swimming is not advised.  The tidal undercurrent and surf are quite dangerous. Which makes the infinity pools at the hotels all the more inviting. 

Cabo San Lucas commands a view of the Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California) where cruise ships stop during the day. With an iconic rock outcropping and happily basking sea lions adjacent to Lovers' Beach, visitors enjoy the water in the noisy, busy Marina or by taking glass bottomed skiffs or day-tripping boats that travel to secluded areas like Santa Maria Bay or Chileno Beach where snorkeling and swimming among schools of colorful fish is possible in the calm, protected waters.

For the adventuresome traveler who wants more than just creature comforts, there are opportunities in Cabo to test one's skill battling with nature and good sense. And that is exactly what Mitsubishi had in mind. 

Like so many automobile companies, Mitsubishi saw their sales pummeled during the economic down-turn.  Biding their time, they chose 2011 to re-invigorate their brand with a cross-over line of low-price point/high value vehicles that, as we were told,  are "practical, affordable, fun-to-drive, and deliver great miles per gallon."

If you're a foodie, the proof is in the pudding.  If you're a gear-head, you have to put the rubber to the road.

We began the test drive in groups of two writers plus one Mitsubishi representative. Each team would drive one of the cars up the coast and the other model on the return trip.  We paired up as navigators and drivers and hit the road.

There are other parts of Mexico where driving a car is risky, but Highway 1, which stretches north-east from the southern tip of Cabo San Lucas to the area above the fishing village of Los Barriles, feels completely safe, although it's important to keep an eye out for the occasional cow ambling across the highway. I don't know if the drive is as easy as at night, but during the day, the well-paved highway is a convenient way to explore the area.

Starting in Cabo San Lucas, we drove an hour and a half north to Buena Visa on the coast. During the trip we were given details about the 2011 Outlander Family model we were driving:  the MIVEC motor, the Sportronic CVT, the use of plastic polymer components in the fenders, a 710 watt Rockford Fosgate Audio system, the AWC with its active front differential, and the brake energy rejuvenation system.

I vaguely understood what those features were supposed to do, but but they did translate into a car that had plenty of power, good handling (although a bit loose in turning), a quiet interior, a great sound system and comfortable seats. We agreed that the Outlander Family was a very pleasant way to make the drive and take in the passing scenery.

For most of the year, the vast expanse of plant life on the southern-most tip of Baja suffers horribly under cloudless skies and an unrelenting sun. The dull, leafless plants are almost indistinguishable from the brown earth. And then, in the fall, an amazing thing happens.

Unlike the Mayan Riviera, which receives upwards of five feet of rain through out the year, the arid, southern tip of the Baja peninsula averages a mere six inches. And when it rains it pours. That six inches comes all at once when hurricanes cut across the peninsula at the end of summer.

What we saw as we sped north on Highway 1 was the result of that extreme weather. A lush expanse of green covered the hills to the horizon. We took the greenery for granted, but locals pointed out that just a few weeks before, the landscape had been brown and forlorn.

Besides the test drive experience, our Mitsubishi hosts, together with Terramar Destinations, a tour guide service, offered us a smorgasbord of activities, from snorkeling in the protected waters of Santa Maria Bay, ziplining between high canyon walls where you put your trust in the tensile strength of rope and metal, and kayaking in the crystal clear waters where you as often as not battle high winds and a challenging surf.

In addition to the planned activities, we could also venture off on our own to pursue jet skiing, parasailing, kitesurfing where you can combine two dangerous sports, taking a safari into the expansive desert, trying off-roading on bone-chattering "Baja Buggies" or, abandoning all good sense, going sky diving.

For those who wanted a less adventuresome path, but one that still took them away from the confines of the resort property, we could go whale watching, swim with dolphins, sail on what are billed as "Party Booze Cruises" which deliver partying and booze as advertised, or sail around the harbor to enjoy spectacular sunsets, dinner and ice cold Margaritas.

For myself, I thoroughly enjoyed snorkeling in Santa Maria Bay, although the four hour trip on a catamaran was longer than expected. Many people whiled away the time taking in the scenery, singing along with rock classics like "Sweet Home Alabama," Stayin' Alive," "We Are Family," and "Respect," all the while drinking a great many Tequila sunrises, rum and cokes, and ice cold bottles of Pacifico.

The highlight of my adventure activities was an ATV ride at the rustic Hotel Buena Vista.

As a child I had an unfortunate experience on a motorcycle with a stuck accelerator that scarred my psyche and forearm. While an ATV has four wheels and could be considered "safer," those four wheels do not necessarily provide additional control.

After a minute of instruction, our guide led us onto the beach. Controlling the ATV took some getting used to, but, with the clear, turquoise ocean on our right as we headed north on the gravelly beach, it seemed the experience would be worth the risk. Our guide apparently thought the beach wasn't adventuresome enough because he quickly changed course and took us up a rocky hillside.


Since I was still learning the ropes, I fell to dead-last in the pack. That made me the beneficiary of my fellow journalists' road dust. The road was barely a "road," so the ATV had to be steered with considerable care, dodging holes and large rocks. 

With my face hammered by dust and gravel, struggling to stay on the miserable excuse for a road, the vibrations of the engine violently rolfing my body, I released all the pent up emotion of the moment by screaming for no one's benefit but my own, "Ohmygod, I hate this!"

The tricky part on this twisty-turning dirt trail was steering the corners. One misjudged turn could send my ATV tumbling down the cliff onto the pristine beach and crystal-clear water below.

After what seemed like hours, our guide pulled over to the side of a promontory so we could enjoy the view of the coastline. I dismounted my ATV, happy to enjoy a non-vibrating moment only to be embraced by one of our group who smiled broadly as he said, "Tell me that wasn't the most fun ever!"

We spent another hour on our ATV's, traveling further up the coast and then back to the beach. We watched two surfers propelled by "kites" that at times lifted them off their boards, suspending them midair in what appeared to be a magical sleight of hand.  We saw a school of a dozen dolphins following the coastline as they searched for food. We passed campers who were homesteading a beautiful stretch of beach. We stopped for water at a small resort of no more than a dozen cabanas with a fresh water swimming pool perched only a few feet above the surf pounding against jagged rocks.

Our ATV's took us places we would never have otherwise seen. This was definitely fun after all.

For those on the trip who didn't want that much adventure, Mitsubishi arranged for an art walk in San Jose del Cabo, just twenty minutes north of Cabo San Lucas.

The town surrounds the Plaza Mijares, anchored by the Mission San Jose del Cabo, built on the foundation of the original, 1799 Mision San Jose del Cabo de Anuiti.  The small church is charming, as are the narrow streets lined with stores selling a variety of goods. Evenings, through out the year, there are art performances in the plaza, free to the public, which feature a variety of music, from hip hop to traditional Mexican ballads.

Tourists from the cruise ships travel to San Jose del Cabo for a taste of authentic, local culture, something difficult to find in modern, noisy Cabo.  Allowing themselves several hours or the entire day, visitors enjoy a quiet walk around the historical center of town, with its many art galleries, jewelry stores and restaurants. 

Walk west on Calle Zaragoza on the southern side of the church, and sample the paletas, juices, and fresh fruit shakes at La Michoacana. Mexican taste treats, paletas are the wonderfully delicious ice creams on a stick flavored with a variety of fruits and vegetables. An insider's tip: paletas are sold in stores always called La Michoacana, no matter who owns them.  


On Boulevard Antonio Mijares, adjacent to the plaza, small stores sell beautifully crafted jewelry, clothing, and art.

Definitely worth a visit is Veryka: Art Gallery and Boutique (with a sister store in the Cabo marina). The work of talented Mexican artists are for sale. Of particular interest are paintings by Jorge Salazar and Guillermo Olguin Mitchell and the work of Jose Luis Serrano Carrillo, who appropriates traditional folk art objects like Day of the Dead figures and the Tree of Life, turning them into exquisitely detailed sculptures.  

Across the square, Antigua Los Cabos (Boulevard Mijares No. 5) sells art, handmade silver jewelry and a selection of artisanal tequilas. Around the corner, the small shop La Pinata carries toys, jewelry, handmade art, and curios from all over Mexico.

A few blocks from Plaza Mijares, Indian Hands  (Calle Alvaro Obregon 15 Col. Centro, 011 52 624 1052236, Lacalenda.mitla@hotmail.com) curates jewelry by local artists and exhibits large scale work by the talented painter, Adriana Quero Martinez. 


In the central historical district, liquor stores like Los Barriles de Don Malaquias (Blvd. Mijares and Benito Juarez) exclusively sell tequila. With almost a hundred brands to choose from, there are blends, some flavored with herbs and spices, as well as premium, aged, 100% agave brands. For the tequila aficionado, a tasting is offered at no cost.

While Cabo San Lucas is proud of the many luxury hotels that line its beaches, San Jose del Cabo offers more intimate accommodations. The affordable and elegant, El Encanto Suites on the western side of the historical district, is a two-story hotel with 28 rooms, each one adjacent to a garden, small courtyard or pool. You won't find tennis courts, a golf course, or big noisy discos here. But you will find relaxation and quiet in your room, on the compact grounds, or in the Ixchel spa. 

The even smaller Hotel Casa Natalia, with just 16 rooms, is, according to the web site, "like staying in an authentic Mexican home." At a fraction of the cost of the Cabo San Lucas resorts, Hotel Casa Natalia and El Encanto Suites give the visitor an up close and personal experience with Mexican art and culture. 

So if you're looking for an escape to a sunny landscape, the southern tip of Baja California offers pleasures any way you like them: big, brassy, and boisterous in Cabo San Lucas or quietly intimate in San Jose del Cabo, with plenty of raw adventure and interaction with the beautiful landscape in between.