SALSA DE ARÁNDANOS

As a little girl, I never liked whole cranberries and on Thanksgiving I always preferred the canned jellied cranberry sauce over the fresh cranberries my mom or my aunt made. Now that I’m a bit older and my palate is a little more refined, I prefer to make fresh cranberry sauce for my Thanksgiving dinner. In fact, it’s probably my favorite part! I’ve been known to make tortas de pavo topped with arándanos the whole week after Thanksgiving just to have an excuse to keep eating them.

This recipe has been passed on through two generations in my family, and now I’d like to share it with you. If you’ve ever been afraid that making cranberry sauce from scratch would be too difficult, you’re in good company. This recipe, though, is so easy that you won’t believe you didn’t try making your own with fresh, whole cranberries sooner. From start to finish, it takes about 15 minutes and it’s a perfect balance of spicy and sweet. These are great for Thanksgiving or La Navidad, too…. 

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WARM WINTER MARGARITA

With the holidays on our doorstep, I wanted to share with you a cocktail that’s a fantastic and easy-to-make drink that’ll be sure to please your guests.

A few weeks ago, I attended a Ladies’ Night In party in Chicago with Chef Marcela Valladolid, cookbook author and hostess of the Food Network’s “Mexican Made Easy.” We sipped and sampled numerous Sauza Tequila drinks and had a fantastic time tasting dishes from Marcela’s cookbook, Fresh Mexico.

One of the drinks Marcela showed us how to make was this warm winter margarita, reminiscent of a hot toddy – only way more Mexican! It was an instant hit with the crowd and the perfect way to end the evening.

I admit, I’ve got a hoarding problem when it comes to recording TV shows on my DVR. Right now, I probably have half a dozen episodes each of Marcela’s English-language show, “Mexican Made Easy” on the Food Network, and her Spanish-language show on Discovery en Español, “Relatos con Sabor.” I usually like to watch them once for pleasure and a second time to jot down notes with the recipes if it’s something I don’t already know how to make. José is always asking me if it’s safe to delete them or if I still have to watch my second run. I love Chef Marcela because her mission is a lot like mine: to teach people about authentic Mexican food.

It was so much fun to hang out with her for an intimate evening of cooking tips and getting to taste some of her recipes!

Click on the collage below to see the entire album of photos from the party:

… 

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PEPITORIAS

pepitorias

In the days of the Aztecs, Día de Los Muertos was a festival celebrated the entire ninth month of the Aztec calendar, but when the Spaniards arrived in the New World and attempted to convert the indigenous people to Catholicism, the holiday was moved to a single day to coincide with the Catholic All Souls’ Day on November 2.

The Spaniards disliked the indigenous traditions and may have labeled them as barbaric and pagan, but Día de Los Muertos is not as scary – or sad ­– of a holiday as some think. This holiday actually has very sentimental roots. It’s all about celebrating life and honoring the dead.

In some places in Mexico there are parades, people decorate the gravesites of their deceased loved ones and construct altars in their homes with offerings, called ofrendas, for the souls of the dearly departed. Altars often include items like photographs of the deceased, items they may have owned, foods and beverages they may have liked, flowers and even sometimes a pillow and blankets for the souls to rest after their long journey.

Día de Los Muertos is one of the most beautiful and unique holidays in Mexican culture because everyone, young and old, shows their love and respect for the family members and friends that have passed away over the years. Celebrating their lives is also a reminder to the living to cherish their time on earth.

One of my favorite things to do in Mexico City is go to the tianguis, or open-air market. Part of the reason I love them so much is because they’re a vibrant reminder of what it means to truly be alive. I love everything about it: the arts and crafts for sale; the tinkling strains of melodies being played by street musicians; the food stalls with everything from jamoncillo (milk fudge) and dulce de calabaza cristalizada (dried candied pumpkin) to tacos de canasta (tacos in a basket).

pepitorias

On my first visit to the Bazar Sábado in Mexico City’s San Angel neighborhood several years ago I was delighted by all the makeshift stalls selling artisan crafts and every kind of sugary homemade treat I could imagine. Many of the stall owners off the Plaza Jacinto were offering generous samples to entice potential customers to buy a medio-kilo of this or a medio-kilo of that. One of the things that caught my eye at several of the stalls, though, was a hanging treat bag with brightly colored half-moon wafers that had pepitas sticking out of them and some kind of sticky miel holding them together. I was entranced…. 

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MERMELADA DE HIGO CON CHILE

mermelada de higo con chile en yogur

A few summers ago when I was visiting Mexico City, my suegra and I went to the Mercado Coyoacán to pick up some handmade tortillas and oranges for making fresh-squeezed juice. As always, we strolled through the market at a leisurely pace, taking in all the sights and smells of all of our favorite stalls.

One of her favorite stalls, run by a wrinkled old lady, had an abundance of just-picked figs. The viejita stood in the middle of the aisle with her hands cupped, filled with figs as she cried, “Higos! Higos!”

We stopped to say hello to the woman and she cut open a fig to show me the inside. It was perfectly pink. She must’ve seen the look of excitement on my face because she stuffed two figs in my hand and said they were a gift to enjoy. She gave my suegra a few as well and after thanking her profusely and buying a few oranges, we were on our way.

higos

I don’t recall seeing fresh figs in the grocery store while I was growing up – and I’m not sure if that’s the reason why they fascinate me so much now, as if I have a lot of catching up to do or if, like many things, I’ve just gained a new appreciation for them while in Mexico. Figs have been growing in Mexico for centuries; the Spaniards are credited for bringing them to the New World in the 1500s.

If you pay attention to the produce in the grocery store or at your local farmer’s market, you may have noticed figs are in season right now. Recently, my friend Gina who lives in Los Angeles mentioned that she had an over-producing fig tree. Jokingly, I told her if she wanted to get rid of some of her extra figs, she could send them to me and I’d put them to good use. After a few emails, the figs were on their way to Chicago. They arrived perfectly bubble wrapped in a box and as Gina had picked the figs before they were ripe so they’d survive being shipped cross-country, they were just starting to ripen. … 

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GUAYABAS EN SANCOCHO

guayabas en sancocho

I love the smell of ripe guayabas Mexicanas. Their creamy white flesh and tropical fragrance are simply intoxicating. They remind me of this one particular little stall that sells fruits at the Mercado Coyoacán (consequently, also the same place that made me appreciate higos–or figs; a topic for another post). Whenever I visit Mexico City, I’m always eager to tag along with my suegra when she needs to grab something from the mercado because I love walking among the vendor stalls discovering new things.

José also likes the smell of guayabas–but for a different reason. You see, as a big brother, José has always dabbled in a serious form of sibling rivalry.

My cuñada, on the other hand, can’t stand the smell or taste of guayabas. The smell actually makes her wretch. A few years ago when we were visiting around Christmastime, we bought a big bag of guayabas for making ponche Navideño. I’m sure you can guess what happened next…. 

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CHURROS

In the U.S., I’ve seen several different versions of churros. Make no mistake: none of them are very authentic. Some make my stomach churn at the thought (think theme park churros filled with chocolate or fruit-flavored goo), while others are passable for some quick cinnamon-sugar satisfaction during a desperate moment. It’s important to fry the pastry dough just right because if they’re over-fried, they’re just no good.

Churros WEB

churros

Several years ago when José and I were still dating, I made my first trip to the legendary Churrería El Moro in Mexico City. Founded in 1935, this cultural culinary gem is more than just a 75-year-old churro depot. It’s an incredible experience. The storefront has a big glass window so you can watch the churros being made. That alone makes it worth the trip. In fact, even famous Chicago-based chef Rick Bayless is rumored to have stood outside El Moro for hours upon hours when planning the concept for his new quick eatery, Xoco.

The waitresses at El Moro wear mustard-yellow diner uniforms with white trim and aprons. The blue, white and yellow patterned tiles, stained glass and yellow stucco walls inside are elements of any dream I have had dealing with churros ever since. (Yes, I dream about churros.) It’s all a part of the experience. With four types of hot chocolate to choose from and for the equivalent of a few dollars, you can’t go wrong when ordering churros y chocolate, especially in the chilly winter months. … 

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