AGUA FRESCA: Easy Horchata

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked for an horchata recipe since I began blogging. But each time I start explaining how to make it from scratch, I can see people start to lose interest around the time I mention that making horchata from scratch involves soaking rice and cinnamon sticks overnight and then grinding it and straining it. When I make it from scratch I sometimes also blanche almonds and soak them with the rice for an added depth of flavor. But the average person asking for a recipe always seems to get a frown on their face when they realize making it from scratch takes a little extra time and effort.

It was because of this dilemma of nobody wanting to take the time to soak and grind the rice that I began experimenting in the test kitchen to try to make an acceptable quick recipe substitute for those times when we just need a quick fix of a tall, cool glass of horchata. This is the simplest recipe I came up with that passed the taste test with family and friends. It beats any powdered or pre-made liquid mix I’ve tried from a variety of grocery stores. The store-bought mixes always taste either too sweet or too fake to me. I hope you enjoy this version if you’re looking for a quick but yummy horchata recipe!… 

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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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Spicy fig jam (Mermelada de higo con chile)

mermelada de higo con chile en yogur (fig jam over Greek yogurt)

I have a love affair with figs and fig jam. 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 (figs)

I don’t recall seeing fresh figs often in the grocery store while I was growing up  in the Midwest– 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 at this time of year. Recently, a friend 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 me in the mail. They arrived perfectly bubble wrapped in a box and as she 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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PONCHE NAVIDEÑO

ponche navideño

First, I know it’s the end of January. I know there are 10 more months before you will likely try this recipe out, but I couldn’t let another day pass without sharing it with you because it gives me such warm, fuzzy feelings and memories of being back in Mexico with our family. And with the cold weather we’re having in Chicago right now, I need all the warm and fuzzy I can get! Typically, this is a holiday punch, but in my house we’ve been drinking it all winter long.

This recipe for ponche Navideño comes from José’s abuelita Elda, who passed away in 2006. While I never met her, I’ve always felt like I had due to the abundance of stories I’ve heard about her and her cooking. This past Christmas, my suegra taught me how to make her mom’s ponche recipe and someday I’ll teach my own children this holiday family favorite. I also learned that most families have their own recipe, so keep in mind this recipe isn’t the only way to make it. In fact, for a long time, nobody in our family knew that the secret ingredient in abuelita’s ponche Navideño was Bonafina (a store-bought orange drink similar to Sunny Delight or Tampico Citrus Punch)…. 

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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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