Still trying to tell one chili from another, I signed up for Dolores Brittingham’s famous top-secret, top-drawer, word-of-mouth-only cooking class, which promised hands-on experience and a generous and scrumptious menu, plus unlimited wine. Dolores, who is Filipino, Spanish, and Mexican, has been teaching cooking for thirty years. As many as sixteen students can crowd around in her gorgeous gold- and green-tiled kitchen. Before moving to Puerto Vallarta, she and her husband Rob worked for Boeing in Seattle, and now return to the Northwest only for September and October. These months are Hades in Puerto Vallarta.
My fellow students were the rambunctious John and Ginger Manley from Franklin, TN., on their annual visit to PV. She is a sex therapist who teaches human sexuality to med students at Vanderbilt U., and he is a retired micromanager. Ginger likes to say that John used to have lots of employees, just one at a time. They met in 1967 on a Swiss train platform, “fell in lust immediately, ” as Ginger put it, and got married two months later.
After forking over our $75 each, we sat at Dolores’ breakfast bar to our opening snack of her amazing Corn Guacamole and Tomato Salsa with chips. Then we helped her make the best chicken tamales I’ve ever had, ever, ever! I always thought that only stooped, leather-faced little old ladies could make tamales (and then sell them out of a plastic bag on the streets), but it turns out that by using plastic wrap instead of corn husks as wrapping, anyone can do it. The recipe involves manteca, which is lard, and as a short cut, the shredded meat of one store-bought rotisserie chicken. Dolores said the store-bought birds had better spices going on.
Yet another chicken went into the main course: stuffed poblano peppers in puff pastry with orange cream sauce. Maybe the hardest part of that was getting the big poblanos roasted, peeled and seeded, but we don’t know for sure because Dolores buys them at Costco all ready to stuff. While Ginger and I chopped and sautéed away, John read the recipes aloud and cracked wise every few minutes about omissions, odd words, jokes involving peppers, and our pitiful lack of technique. Dolores laughed a lot, while trying to manage the oven, the tick-tocking timers, the saute pans, and the rowdy students. Every once in awhile, she’d yell “Rob, get their coats!”
Time to make dessert! More Costco puff pastry served as a base for a spread of almond butter, pumpkin seeds, and bittersweet Mexican chocolate, topped with caramelized mango slices. OMG.
We three students ate our three courses together at the Brittinghams’ lavishly laid table, with handwoven linens and Mexican folk art between us. Rob was in his office working on his autobiography, but Dolores went to lie down in the air conditioning, perhaps unable to bear the cacophony of our spirited chat. (This go-lie-in-the-air-conditioning behavior, at any time of day, is quite common among all of us here in PV, so we totally understood.)
Finally a refreshed Dolores came back to wrap the leftovers, Rob moved into the kitchen to hand wash everything, and we three shared a cab home, clutching our recipe sheets. I got all the leftovers, and a few new friends, and a bellyful of both wonderful food and delicious laughter.
Photo credit at top: http://www.teachonalimb.blogspot.com (with modifications)