Tag Archives: authentic mexican sweets

Brunch in the Garden: El Jardin San Diego

Have you been to El Jardin in Liberty Station? Claudette Zepeda-Wilkin’s new restaurant opened this summer. My mom took the Little Birds and me there for brunch a little while ago. The chef grows much of the produce right on the restaurant’s lot, and the breezy garden patio is comfortable and beautifully decorated.

El Jardin in San Diego is now serving brunch out on their garden patio

Refined Abuela Cooking

Chef Zepeda-Wilkin’s roots are here in San Diego and across the border in Mexico. She brings the comfort and satisfaction of her grandma’s recipes and traditions to current day presentation and surprises.

El Jardin in San Diego is now serving brunch out on their garden patio

The highlight of our brunch was the Chilaquiles Divorciados. Given the choice, I usually pick a green sauce for my chilaquiles or enchiladas. But I was happy to taste both homemade sauces. Divorciados means two different sauces side by side, making me think of a couple that are not quite divorced, but living separately in the same house.

All in the Details

Both the outside patio and the indoor dining room are decorated thoughtfully. I loved the utility of a stand near our table meant to hold bags. As a mom, I totally appreciated that there was a changing table in restroom stocked with Honest diapers and wipes. I mentioned it in my Instagram story, and the chef responded that the men’s room had the same set up!

The best restaurant changing table in San Diego

The Tastes

el jardin restaurant san diego

We started with hot chocolate, which was mixed (batida) table side, and cafe de olla. They mix the coffee with piloncillo sugar. I found it too sweet, especially along side the sweet entrees.

el jardin restaurant san diego

If you have seen my cajeta recipe or caramel torte with cajeta, chocolate and pecans (you have to click through to see the picture!), then you know I am obsessed with CAJETA. The Little Birds liked the pancakes with cajeta. Mom tip: have the kids split the sweet dish and order them each a side of eggs.

Cajeta and strawberry pancakes at El Jardin Restaurant in San Diego

One to Watch

I first met chef Zepeda-Wilkins in 2015. That summer, Specialty Produce held a tasting night a week before Javier Placensio’s Bracero opened. Zepeda-Wilkins, as that restaurant’s chef de cuisine, prepared Yucatan-style cochinita pibil sopes topped with heirloom beans and fermented pineapple. I really enjoyed hearing about the food from her. When her more famous boss came over, I asked to take a picture. She humbly stepped out of frame, and I insisted she get back in the photo. “Me?” she asked. “Yes!” I blurted, “I like you.” Because, sometimes I go with my gut, you know?

Tijuana chef, Javier Plascencia, and Bracero chef de cuisine Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins.

Since then, Zepeda-Wilkins starred in TV projects such as Top Chef in the US and Mexico. And in the time it has taken me to finish this blog post, El Jardin and the chef have been nominated for several restaurant awards. Yet, she still takes the time to bring the food to guests herself!

Chef Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins of El Jardin Restaurant in San Diego

One More Tip

Top the chilaquiles with short rib, please! You’re welcome.

Chilaquiles Divorciados topped with short rib at El Jardin in San Diego

El Jardin

2885 Perry Rd, San Diego, CA 92106
(619) 795-2322
eljardinrestaurantbar.com

Caramel Torte with Cajeta, Chocolate and Pecans

As I add photos to this post, I have to get up and grab another slice of the Caramel Torte. It is deceptively simple to make with just four ingredients: cajeta (or another form of caramel), wafers, melted dark chocolate and salted, toasted pecans.

Caramel Torte Recipe with Chocolate and Pecans

I have been making cajeta out of our extra goat’s milk for some time in the form of a syrup. Click here to read more about cajeta and see a recipe with step by step photos and directions. But I have been wanting to experiment with making it thicker, more like candy, and when I stumbled upon torte-sized wafers in a local ethnic store, I thought they would be a perfect vehicle for cajeta. I reduced the cajeta down further than I usually do (from 2 quarts of milk to 2 cups of caramel instead of 3-4 cups of syrup) and added a pinch of salt. It was pretty delicious layered between the wafers, but I had to take the caramel torte to the next level by pouring dark chocolate and sprinkling on toasted, salted pecans on top.

Caramel Wafer Torte Recipe

Caramel Torte Recipe

  • 2 cups of caramel, dulce de leche or cajeta
  • 1 package of torte-sized wafers
  • 3 oz. of dark chocolate
  • 2 handfuls of salted pecans

Step 1:

(If making cajeta. Otherwise, store bought is fine.) Use the recipe and instructions for cajeta. Cook further until dark and thick, or reduced to approximately 2 cups, and stir in a pinch of salt.

Step 2:

Chop the chocolate and melt in a double boiler. Allow to cool. Toast the pecans in a dry pan and allow to cool. (I keep my nuts in the freezer. If yours are room temperature and roasted, you can skip toasting.)

Step 3:

Assembling. Spread the caramel or cajeta on top of a wafer. Continue to alternate layers of caramel and wafers until one or both are used up. Finish with a wafer. Spread the melted chocolate on top. Finally, sprinkle the pecans over the top. Chill in the fridge for at least one hour before cutting and serving.

Caramel Torte Recipe with Chocolate and Pecans

Click on any of the thumbnails in the gallery below to see enlarged, step by step pictures.

I hope you enjoy it and share!

Caramel Torte with Cajeta, Chocolate and Pecans

Raw Cashew “Horchata”

Horchata is a sweet rice drink found in most Mexican restaurants around here. I love it, but it is so sweet and not that good for you. Let’s just say I wouldn’t give it to Baby Bird. My husband the other day made a comment about how I should honor myself enough to eat as well as I feed her. Hmmm, something to think about.

Anyway, I’ve had this bag of raw cashews that I have been wanting to use. The other day I threw a few in a version of this puréed butternut squash soup, which was good, but I was still wanting to try out a nut milk with our new blender. I was inspired today to try making a horchata-inspired cashew milk.

raw cashew horchata

Forgive the poor photo quality and any typos as I’m blasting this off from my phone.

Raw Cashew Horchata Recipe

  • 1 cup of raw cashews
  • 1 Tablespoon of agave, golden syrup or sweetener of your choice, or to taste
  • 1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 3 cups of water
  • Ice

Place first 5 ingredients in a blender and blend very well. Serving chilled over ice vastly improves the flavor.

Variation: This would probably be delicious with raw almonds as well.

And the verdict? Two sippy cups quickly drained and baby sign for “more.”

Rick Bayless’ Tres Leches Cake

One benefit of living in San Diego, or Tijuana Norte, is our proximity to great Mexican food. And it’s impossible to attend a few birthdays (Mexican or not) without eating the ubiquitous tres leches. Pastel de tres leches, or “three milk” cake, is usually a sponge cake drenched in 1. evaporated milk, 2. sweetened condensed milk and 3. heavy cream (or half and half). It’s moist and sweet and lighter than you would expect.

Planning our Bebe’s first birthday party, I was content keeping the menu simple and having Whole Food’s catering make sandwiches. But I wanted to try my hand at making dessert. Since her party had a strawberry theme, I wanted something with strawberries, whip cream, and cajeta, of course.

It may not be a beauty, but it turned out delicious!

Tres Leches Cake Recipe

MAKES A RICH 10-INCH CAKE, SERVING 12 TO 15

Adapted from Pastel de Tres Leches from Rick Bayless’ Mexican Kitchen (Simon & Schuster)

For the cake

  • 3/4 cup, (about 3 ounces) almond meal or ground, toasted almonds
  • 1 cup, (3 1/2 ounces) cake flour – sifted before measuring
  • 10 tablespoons, (5 ounces) unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons, pure vanilla extract
  • 6 large eggs at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup, plus 2 tablespoons, sugar
  • the finely grated zest (colored rind only) of 1 orange

For the “soaking” mixture and frosting

  • 2 cups, heavy (whipping) cream [divided use]
  • 3/4 cup, evaporated milk
  • 2/3 cup, cajeta (goat-milk caramel), either store-bought or homemade (can substitute sweetened, condensed milk)
  • (optional) 1/4 cup, orange liqueur (such as triple sec, Cointreau or Grand Marnier)

TO MAKE THE CAKE: Preheat the oven to 350°. Grease a 2-inch deep, 10-inch round cake pan or springform pan. Line the bottom with a round piece of parchment paper, then grease the paper and flour it all – pan and paper.

In a small pan, melt the butter over medium heat, stirring and swirling until the butter is nut brown – about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, swirl to allow it to cool a little, then stir in the vanilla. Set aside until needed later.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer (you will need a heatproof bowl, preferably stainless steel), combine the eggs, 3/4 cup of the sugar and the orange zest. Select a saucepan that the mixer bowl will fit snugly into without the bottom of the bowl touching the bottom of the pan. Add to the saucepan about 1 inch of water and bring to a simmer. Set the mixer bowl over the simmering water (you’ll need to regulate the heat so the water no more than simmers), and whisk for several minutes, until the mixture in the bowl is very warm to the touch and foamy, and the sugar is completely dissolved. Transfer the bowl to the electric mixer and beat the warm egg mixture for a full 5 minutes (the mixture will be as thick as whipped cream that almost holds peaks).

Lower the speed, and now, with the mixer on the lowest speed, add the almond meal and flour a couple of spoonfuls at a time, letting one addition just disappear before adding the next. Thoroughly mix 1/4 cup of the cake batter into the butter/vanilla mixture. Then, in 2 additions, use a whisk to fold the butter mixture into the remaining cake batter.

Immediately and gently scoop this batter mixture into the prepared pan and bake until the cake feels slightly springy on top and the sides just begin to pull away from the pan, about 35 minutes. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a rack and cool completely.

TO MAKE THE “SOAKING” MIXTURE: Mix 3/4 cup of the cream with the evaporated milk and the cajeta in a small bowl. Slowly brush or spoon half of the mixture over the cake while on the cooling rack. Carefully invert your serving plate over the cake and flip the two. Remove the cooking rack from what is now the top and slowly brush or spoon on the remaining mixture. (Soaking the cake will take 10 to 15 minutes, letting each addition soak in before adding more.)

TO FROST THE CAKE: With an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat the remaining 1 1/4 cups of the cream with the remaining 2 tablespoons of the sugar and the orange liqueur until very stiff. (I skipped the liqueur as I had a few friends at the party that do not drink alcohol.) Spread the whipped cream over the sides and top of the cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve. I topped it with fresh strawberries.

Notes:

The cake layer can be made several days in advance, wrapped in plastic and refrigerated; it may be wrapped and frozen for up to 3 months. The cake can be soaked a day ahead, but do not frost until the day you are serving.

Do not attempt to make a double recipe in a standard size mixer. I learned the hard way that the sponge really grows!

Cajeta Recipe: Step by Step with Pictures

Before living on the Bird Family Farm in a quiet part of San Diego, I lived in the neighborhood of North Park. Well, my side of the street was North Park, but across the street was City Heights. Also across the street was a small, family run Mexican market. They had fresh tortillas and Mexican canned goods, cheeses and candies. I love caramel, and was buying these round candies labeled “cajeta” for a while before I figured out that the picture of a goat on them probably meant that it was made with goat milk. It was too late to be grossed out as I was already a fan. The slight tang from the “goatiness” balances out the sugary sweetness better than cow’s milk can.

Fast forward to this spring and with my first surplus of goat milk from our co-op I knew I wanted to try making some form of goat milk caramel. I found a recipe for Rick Bayless’ cajeta caramel sauce and haven’t turned back. I’ve been a fan of Rick Bayless ever since I saw his show on PBS. If you are not familiar with him, he is a white American guy who makes Mexican food look authentic and delicious. I remember that in the first show I saw he was featuring a recipe called Chiles en Nogada and I was dying to try it. (I’ve since had it here in San Diego and in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico.)

Pronounced “ka-HAY-ta,” cajeta is traditionally made from goat milk and sugar, slowly reduced and caramelized. Think of dulce de leche meets sweetened condensed milk. It is often served as a syrup over pancakes and cakes or stirred into coffee. I like to add a vanilla bean to the recipe. Not only are the black flecks beautiful, it adds an almost custardy taste to the cajeta.

This is NOT a “quick and easy” recipe. Plan on the cooking taking an hour and a half. You do not need to stir constantly until the very end, but during most of the cooking you do need to stir periodically, scraping the bottom and the sides with a heat proof spatula. The only tricky part is feeling confident on when to stop cooking it. But no worries there! It’s just a matter of preference. Reduced less time it will be more syrupy, and cooked longer it will be thicker, almost pudding like when chilled.

Cajeta Recipe: Step by Step with Pictures

Recipe adapted minimally from Rick Bayless’ Cajeta  •  Makes about 3-4 cups

  • 2 quarts goat’s milk or a combination of goat’s milk and cow’s milk—or even with all cow’s milk (use whole milk in all cases)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 of a cinnamon stick
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda dissolved in 1 tablespoon water

1.  Simmer the cajeta.   In a large (6- to 8-quart) pot, combine the milk, sugar and cinnamon stick and set over medium heat.  Stir regularly until the milk comes to a simmer (all the sugar should have dissolved by this point). Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the dissolved baking soda—it’ll foam up if the goat’s milk is acidic. When the bubbles subside, return the pot to the heat.

Adjust the heat to maintain the mixture at a brisk simmer (too high and the mixture will boil over; too low and the cooking time will seem interminable). Cook, stirring regularly, until the mixture turns pale golden, more or less one hour.

Now, begin stirring frequently as the mixture colors to caramel-brown and thickens to the consistency of maple syrup (you’ll notice the bubbles becoming larger and glassier).  Stir regularly so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. Test a couple of drops on a cold plate: When cool, the cajeta should be the consistency of a medium-thick caramel sauce.  If the cooled cajeta is thicker (almost like caramel candy), stir in a tablespoon or so of water and remove from the heat; if too runny, keep cooking.

2.  Finish the cajeta.   Pour the cajeta through a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl or a wide-mouth storage jar.  (Or simply fish out the vanilla pod and cinnamon.) When cool, cover and refrigerate until you’re ready to serve.  Warming the cajeta before serving makes it extra delicious.

Notes:

Cajeta keeps for a month or more in the refrigerator.  Keep it tightly covered to keep it from absorbing other flavors. I have also frozen it, although for only a month, and the defrosted cajeta was just as good.