One extraordinary dish after another lined the counter at La Cocina Que Canta, the cooking school and culinary center on the grounds of Rancho La Puerta at Tecate.
This was a breakfast like none I've ever had, most of it based on produce harvested from the six-acre farm just outside.
The counter was the broad chopping block island (at top) where students work during cooking classes. It's at one end of a large room facing an enormous window that looks out to the farm. A small, flowery patio leads to the entrance. Inside and out, the building is warmly Mexican in design. You can see in the photo the traditional cut paper, papel picado, that decorated the kitchen for the breakfast.
La Cocina Que Canta means "the kitchen that sings," which gets you ready for an upbeat experience. I went there on a media tour. Although there were only four of us, the staff set out enough food to almost cover the counter, starting with bowls of strawberries, melons, pineapple and mangoes (above).
Executive chef Denise Roa saw to it that we tasted everything from traditional Mexican food to healthy ranch specialties such as the pancakes (above). They're gluten free, made with rice, tapioca, potato and quinoa flours. Even better, there was ranch-made mulberry jam and soft, light strawberry jam to spoon on top.
We ate eggs scrambled with kale, onion and sweet red peppers along with potatoes just harvested from the farm.
Roasted ranch vegetables (above) were so delicious that I've already made them at home, following Denise Roa's instructions. You season the cut-up vegetables with olive oil, agave syrup, gluten free soy sauce and lots of fresh herbs, then bake them at 350 degrees until tender. The vegetables in the photo are beets, parsnips and carrots.
Who could resist these cute miniature chocolate and banana muffins (above)? They're doubly chocolate, because they contain both chips and cocoa, and doubly banana, because they're made with banana chips as well as the fresh fruit.
Then we saw what radicchio looks like as it grows (above).
Cooking classes at La Cocina Que Canta aren't only for spa guests. Rancho La Puerta offers Saturday excursions out of San Diego that anyone can take part in. They include spa activities, a spa meal and a cooking class that ends with lunch or dinner.
Even if you don't go, you can still taste the banana and chocolate muffins. The recipe below is for a loaf, but you can turn it into muffins instead. Roa uses 72 % chocolate chips, which you can see in the muffin on my breakfast plate (above).
CHOCOLATE BANANA BREAD
From La Cocina Que Canta at Rancho La Puerta
12 ounces pitted prunes
2 cups water
2 medium bananas
2 large eggs
1 cup unbleached all-purpose or whole wheat flour
½ cup cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup chopped walnuts
½ cup banana chips, broken into small pieces
1 cup good-quality semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 9x5-inch loaf pan, and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper.
Cook the prunes and water at a slow simmer until the prunes are very soft. Drain any excess liquid. Puree the prunes, bananas and eggs in a blender until very smooth.
Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda
cinnamon into a mixing bowl. Stir in the banana mixture and combine thoroughly. Gently stir in the walnuts, banana chips and chocolate chips.
Turn the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes. When the bread is done, a sharp knife inserted in the center will come out without any raw batter, although a bit of melted chocolate chip may cling to the knife.
Turn the loaf out of the pan onto a rack to cool. Cut into thin slices to serve.
Makes 1 loaf.