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I stepped off the ramp, enjoying the feel of solid, non-swaying ground under my feet. After living four months on a ship, getting used to a routine of a week at sea, a week in a foreign port–I was going to savor this moment. Especially since this was the last port of call in my journey–and one of the best–Guatemala. The excitement to visit Guatemala has built since high school Spanish class, when we’d learn about the culture, dress, and more importantly, the food, of a Latin American country.

And now it was becoming a reality. Two days to explore the wonders of Antigua.

I caught a bus for the hour-long trip from the port to Antigua. My face with glued to the window looking at the lush, green fields and surrounding mountains. About half an hour into the drive, our bus pulls over for an unscheduled stop. “The volcano is smoking!” Tourists, that we are, there’s a mad dash out of the bus and a grab for cameras as we look in awe at Volcán de Fuego spewing in the distance. It was quite a spectacular sight, and we all knew it would be an indicator of great things to come.

When we arrived in Antigua, our first thought was food. My friend and I walked around until we found La Fonda De La Calle Real, a little cafe that boasted traditional Guatemalan cuisine. I ordered the El Antigüeño. It was a tamale (a red festive tamale, to be exact) wrapped in banana leaves, freshly baked bread, and sweetbread. While we were waiting for our meal, we sipped on the best sangria I’ve ever had. It was so delicious–perhaps also because we were tired and hot—the perfect drink. Since that day, I’ve been on the search for the best sangria recipe I could find. I wanted to share with you all my favorite recipe so far. Cheers!

Ingredients

  • Red wine — 2 (750-ml) bottles
  • Sugar — 1/3 cup
  • Oranges, sliced in rounds — 3
  • Peaches, peeled and sliced into wedges — 4 to 6
  • Lemon, zest only — 1
  • Cinnamon sticks — 2

Method

  1. Pour wine into a large pitcher or earthenware bowl. Stir in the sugar until dissolved. Lightly squeeze some juice out of the orange slices into the wine. Then add the orange rounds to the wine, along with the peaches, lemon zest and cinnamon sticks. Adjust sugar to taste.
  2. Chill well before serving, preferably for several hours to allow the flavors to meld

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We all know that the best Mexican food is home-cooked. There’s nothing (and I really mean, nothing!) like fresh tortillas on the press, and the satisfaction that you yourself created a culinary masterpiece. But there are definitely days where I just want to go home and kick up my feet. I certainly don’t feel like pulling out the griddle and cooking.

And from time to time, it’s nice to sample another cook’s take on a classic dish. Living in San Diego, there’s an abundance of options when it comes to Mexican food. Turn a corner and there’s a Del Taco. Amidst the Cotixan’s, Del Tacos, and Taco Bells that spring up everywhere, though, I can’t help but wonder where’s the really good Mexican take-out gone? Enter SanDiegoBestMexicanFood.com. Genius. I first came across this gem when I googled “Mexican Food, San Diego” (I know, not really creative, but I was too hungry to care!) This site is dedicated to a collection of reviews on San Diego’s Mexican food offerings “from food trucks to fancy sit-down dining”. I’ve made it my personal mission to read the website, and try out the reviews myself. Perhaps together, SanDiegoBestMexicanFood.com and I can find the best Mexican take-out in San Diego!

I wanted to share this with you all. When I try out a place, I’ll let you know the review from the site, and give you my own personal review as well.

First up, Tacos El Poblano:

Tacos El Poblano

217 3rd Ave
Chula Vista, CA 91910
(619) 863-741

“Tacos El Poblano says that it’s an authentic TJ style taco shop. And since they actually run several taco shops in TJ, we can accept that as fact. Of course people will still argue about it, much like people will argue that Guinness tastes better in Ireland, but I suggest just relaxing and not worrying about it. The tacos here are really good.

The menu here is simple. Asada, goat, adobada in either tacos, tortas, or burritos, and not much else. And that’s fine. Because what you’re likely coming here is the tacos and there’s no point making it more complicated than that. My go-to order is 3-4 carne asada tacos without guacamole. They come with plenty of smokey meat, a tangy and spicy salsa, and a slightly crunchy tortilla. Simple and delicious.

I typically leave off the guacamole just because I think it overpowers the meat, not because it isn’t good. In fact it quite good, I’d just rather have more meat flavor. But you’ll have to decide that for yourself.

How does it stack up against the 437 other carne asada tacos in San Diego? In my opinion these are some of the best. The meat is the key, and the meat here is just a touch better. Also, rather than the typical raw onion in fresh cilantro garnish, these come with a very well made pico de gallo salsa. The slightly crunchy tortillas are also a nice touch.

There is usually plenty of metered parking on the street. And they only take cash, although there is an ATM there.”  -www.sandiegobestmexicanfood.com

My Review:

Tacos El Poblano was a little ways off my beaten path, but it was worth the visit. The place is clean–certainly a step up from some of the grease-soaked shops I’ve been to before, and the menu is simple. Inspired by the SDBestMexicanFood.com review, I tried the Carne Asada Taco (you can’t beat $1.75!). I love how the flavor of the meat is really highlighted, and not drowned with other toppings. The smell, too, was enough to make my mouth water.

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Of course, Mexico provided the first peppers to Spain way back in 1493, but now Spain has developed their own favorite varieties and some have migrated back to the Western Hemisphere, like pimientos de padrón, which are sometimes called “Spanish roulette” because from pod to pod you don’t know whether or not it will be mild or spicy until you bite into them.  I found some of these at the downtown grower’s market here in Albuquerque and snapped them up.  When I got home, I lightly fried them in olive oil until they were browned, then drained them and sprinkled them with coarse sea salt.  Talk about a great antojito! Absolutely delicious.  They are available from Tienda.com starting in late July, if you can’t find them locally.

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Tik en Xic on the Grill

Tik en Xic on the Grill

My wife and I just returned from a great trip to Chelem, Yucatán, where we visited our good friends Jeff and Nancy Gerlach. Nancy was my coauthor on ten books, and when she retired, they decided to sell everything they had in Albuquerque and move to their favorite spot on earth. Like Baja California Sur, the state of Yucatán is far removed from all the violence associated with the narcotraficantes who operate mostly in the central and northern parts of the country. In fact, the most violent thing we saw was one of the Gerlach’s cats, Mixo (pronounced “Misho”), climbing up a tree to catch a lizard.

One day we took a 2-hour car trip to Rancho Santa Cruz, owned by Gil and Cristie Romero, which is halfway between Cancún and Mérida. They grow habaneros, neem trees, and and tilapia. The neem trees produce an oil which is used in lotions and cosmetics—and also as a type of insecticide which repels the bugs rather than killing them instantly. The tilapia are grown in large tanks and are eventually sold to restaurants.

For lunch, Christie and her helpers served us Tik en Xic, a Maya specialty where the fish are covered with a paste of recado rojo (made of achiote, or annatto), then placed in banana leaves and grilled. They are served with an habanero salsa. The trip was a fascinating experience, especially when we saw a coatimundi cross the road in front of us. And lunch, with a recipe below, was delicious.

Tilapia Tik en Xic

Tik en Xic

1 tilapia fillet per diner

1 cup Recado Rojo (recipe follows)

1 cup orange juice

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vinegar

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 medium onion, sliced

1 medium tomato, sliced

1 large tomato, chopped

Habanero Salsa (recipe follows)

Salt to taste

Banana leaves for grilling

Marinate the tilapia fillets in mixture of Recado Rojo, orange juice, water, lemon juice, vinegar, and garlic for 1 hour. Cover the fish with the slices of onion and chopped tomato, and then lightly salt the fish. Start the grill and place each fillet on a banana leaf.

Place the fillets fish down on the grill, covered with a banana leaf and grill for about five or six minutes, and then flip them so the banana leaves are on the bottom. Grill for another five or six minutes, then flip again the brown the fillets until done.

Serve with the Habanero Salsa to spice them up.

Yield: one fillet per person

Heat Scale: Varies to taste

Recado Rojo

(Red Seasoning Paste)

Here is a classic Yucatán seasoning paste From Jeff and Nancy Gerlach, who comment: “This is the most popular of all the different recados and is very typical of Yucatán. It is used to add both flavor and color to foods, and is most commonly used for pibils, or stewed pork dishes. The red color comes from the annatto seeds, which also add a unique flavor to this tasty paste.

4 tablespoons ground annatto seeds

1 tablespoon dry oregano, Mexican preferred

10 whole black peppercorns

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1-inch stick cinnamon

4 whole cloves

2 whole allspice berries

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

3 cloves garlic, chopped

3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

Place the annatto, oregano, peppercorns, salt, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and cumin in a spice or coffee grinder and process to a fine powder. Add the remaining ingredients and grind to a thick paste, adding a little water if mixture is too thick.

Allow to sit for an hour or overnight to blend the flavors.

Yield: 1/2 cup

Habanero Salsa

5 habanero chiles, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

Juice of two limes

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon crumbled dried Mexican oregano

1/2 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and mix well.

Yield: 1/3 cup

Heat Scale: Hot

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HIBISCUS MARGARITA

Hibiscus Margaritas (Photo by Sara Remington)

The holiday of Cinco de Mayo is a memento from Mexico’s turbulent past. In 1862, a cabal of clergy and wealthy hacienda owners who had been dispossessed by the reforms of President Benito Juarez invited a French army to invade Mexico. On May 5, 1862, this invading army was thrown back from the city of Puebla, taking severe losses, which is the battle memorialized today as Cinco de Mayo.

Possibly because it is a story of underdog triumph, Cinco de Mayo (a tiny blip of history that is less than nada in Mexico) has been adopted by Americans. It’s a light-hearted semi-holiday, best observed by enjoying a margarita and Mexican food. (In the later stages of the evening, sombreros may be worn, though this is optional.)
Margaritas, of course, are a must. The margarita is one of the world’s great cocktails: smooth and tangy-sweet, it goes down easily and tastes like more.

Yes! Margaritas!
This Hibiscus Margarita is made with a gorgeous fuschia-colored infusion of dried hibiscus, also known as flor de jamaica (pronounced ham-í-ka). Hibiscus has a sweet-tart taste that blends deliciously with a good, smooth tequila and a hint of cinnamon sugar. The syrup is also delicious as an agua fresca, poured over ice and topped off with sparkling or still water and a squeeze of lime. The infusion is rich in Vitamin C and flavonoids, a great nutritional bonus while you enjoy your margarita.

HIBISCUS MARGARITA
Adapted from Amor y Tacos by Deborah M. Schneider
Makes 1 margarita.

Chef Deborah Schneider Cookbooks1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Lime wedge
1 cup ice
4 ounces Hibiscus Syrup (recipe follows)
1 ½ ounces 100% agave blanco tequila
1 ounce sparkling water
Lime wedge or cinnamon stick

Combine sugar and cinnamon on a small plate. Rub rim of glass with lime wedge. Dip the rim of the glass in the cinnamon sugar and shake off excess.

Fill a 12-ounce glass with ice and pour over the tequila, hibiscus syrup and top up with sparkling water. Stir carefully. Squeeze the lime on top of the drink and discard it. Garnish with a fresh wedge of lime, or a cinnamon stick.

Variation:
Chill a 7-ounce martini glass, and prepare the rim as described above. In a shaker jar combine ice, hibiscus syrup and tequila, along with 1 tablespoon Cointreau or Grand Marnier. Shake well for 15 seconds and strain into the glass. Garnish with a thin slice of lime.

HIBISCUS SYRUP
Use as a base for drinks, or freeze into a delicious sorbet.
4 cups water
2 cups white sugar
2 cups dried hibiscus flower (flor de jamaica)

Combine all ingredients and simmer over low heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring often. Cook at a slow simmer for 30 minutes. Let stand 2 hours (or as long as overnight) and strain, pressing down on the flowers. Keeps indefinitely refrigerated.

About the Author:

Chef Deborah Schneider

Chef Deborah Schneider is the executive chef and partner at SOL Cocina in Newport Beach, California and Scottsdale, Arizona. She lives in San Diego with her family, married a surfer, and began exploring nearby Baja where she found her love for Mexican food. She worked her way up through the professional kitchen brigade, eventually leading some of San Diego’s finest kitchens and receiving her Certified Executive Chef designation from the American Culinary Federation in 2001. Chef Deb has been with MexGrocer.com since April 2012.

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Chef Deborah Schneider, SOL Cocina

I love Mexico – especially the edible parts! For something like thirty years I’ve been eating, cooking and writing about Mexican food (five cookbooks so far,) and I now own two Mexican restaurants. In fact, my mission in life seems to be turning people on to how soulfully delicious (and surprisingly healthful) authentic Mexican food can be.

I am stoked to begin this online collaboration with MexGrocer.com, which as you all know is the best source for all Mexican ingredients. I’ll be providing recipes, resources and a whole video ‘cooking school’ to demonstrate the basics of Mexican technique and cooking, while MexGrocer will be your go-to source for hard-to-find, authentic Mexican ingredients.

I live in San Diego, so it’s easy to hop across the border into Baja California for a quick trip to my favorite market in Tijuana. A few hours (and a couple of street tacos) later, I’ll be back in my kitchen revving up the stove and experimenting with the bounty from my latest trip south, which I look forward to sharing with you: resources, recipes, ingredients – you’ll find it all here, along great writing from all the MexGrocer contributors and bloggers. See you in the kitchen!

Chef Debora Schneider Cookbooks
About the Author:

Chef Deborah Schneider is the executive chef and partner at SOL Cocina in Newport Beach, California and Scottsdale, Arizona. She lives in San Diego with her family, married a surfer, and began exploring nearby Baja where she found her love for Mexican food. She worked her way up through the professional kitchen brigade, eventually leading some of San Diego’s finest kitchens and receiving her Certified Executive Chef designation from the American Culinary Federation in 2001. Chef Deb has been with MexGrocer.com since April 2012.

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Chef Deborah Schneider

We’re extremely pleased to have Chef Deborah Schnider join the MexGrocer family of authors. She understands the true nature of helping our readers and customers to learn more about the deep roots of Mexican cooking. She explained to us how the best way to learn is the kitchen from the experts. And those experts are not other fancy chefs and culinary legends, but rather the people who – with passion – have cooked their favorite Mexican dishes to the people they love the most: friends, family or their customers at local restaurants.

After ten years of research and being so close to Mexico Chef Deb has published 4 books related to Mexican Cooking. Today, we’re delighted to have her help you learn creative recipes and cooking classes through our MexGrocer TV food channel.

Chef Deb at SOL Cocina

Today, as Executive Chef/Partner of SOL Mexican Cocina in Newport Beach and Scottsdale, Deborah Schneider introduces a fresh and different approach to Mexican cuisine. Gathering inspiration from taco bars and roadside stalls in Baja and street-side trucks in Tijuana, as well as extensive travels in Mexico, she revamps traditional Mexican flavors, delivering fresh, new ways to “do” Mexican in a casual setting. Learn more about Chef Deb.

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1901 Poster for Cinco de Mayo

1901 Poster for Cinco de Mayo

It is often written that Cinco de Mayo is more celebrated in the United States than in Mexico, but not so in the city of Puebla, where the original battle with Napoleon’s French army took place in 1862. A huge parade is held with a crowd estimated at half a million people watching. One of those people a couple of years ago was blogger Maxine George, and she described the parade: “Dancers in folklorico costumes with bright ruffled skirts and pretty tasseled hats, nurses in crisp white uniforms and soldiers with painted faces camouflaged either in leafy green and brown or in black with an orange sun streak across their cheeks, proudly strode past my seat on the viewing stand.” Correspondent Dick Davis for OurMexico.com also witnessed the parade and reported: “Vendors were setting up taco stands; straw hats and bright colored umbrellas took over the sidewalk. Vendors sold cotton candy, watermelons, mangos, tacos Arabes, confetti, belts, jicama, aguas(Mexican fruit punch) in a dozen flavors, custard, paper hats for the unprepared, (I bought one, didn’t want sunburned ears), French fries, chips, fried pork skins, folding chairs, folding stools, popsicles, snow cones, slushes, lucky charm bracelets, Jello, fresh squeezed orange juice, chalupas, Polaroid pictures, soft drinks, bottled water (I brought my own), carrots, peeled in plastic bags, unshelled peanuts, balloons, sunglasses and more.”

Puebla: Flamenco Dancers in the Parade

Puebla: Flamenco Dancers in the Parade

Los Angeles claims their Cinco de Mayo Festival, called Fiesta Broadway, is the largest in the world, but usually it’s held on a different date. About.com describes the event: “Half a million people come out for this annual street party covering 24 square blocks of Downtown Los Angeles. The main event runs just over a mile along Broadway from the Main Stage at Olympic at the south end to another stage at 1st Street to the north. A third stage is located at 9th Street. In between you’ll find lots of food, fun and games for the whole family. Although ostensibly celebrating the Fifth of May, the event usually takes place the last Sunday of April.
Los Angeles: Fiesta Broadway

Los Angeles: Fiesta Broadway

Events tied to Cinco de Mayo also occur outside Mexico and the United States. For example, a sky-diving club near Vancouver, Canada, holds a Cinco de Mayo skydiving event. In the Cayman Islands, in the Caribbean, there is an annual Cinco de Mayo air guitar competition. As far away as the island of Malta, in the Mediterranean Sea, revelers are encouraged to drink Mexican beer on May 5. The city of Brisbane, Australia, also holds an annual Mexican Festival to honor the day. More images from Cinco de Mayo.

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A thachiquero draws the sap from the agave plant.

A thachiquero draws the sap from the agave plant.

From American Druggist, Volume 16 (May, 1887).

Pulque and mescal, which are fermented and distilled liquors with a great variety of modifications, are made from the sap and root of the maguey plant or aloe, known as the Agave americana. This plant, in some thirty varieties, grows wild throughout Mexico, and in many districts it is carefully cultivated. It enters into the domestic economy and habits of the Mexicans, and forms one of the most useful products of the republic. Its most important production is the fibre yielded by the long, narrow serrated leaves when pressed, and this fibre is said to be almost equal in quality to the best Yucatan heniquen, or jute. Ropes of great strength are made from some varieties of the plant growing in special localities, but the pressed leaves are everywhere of importance for the manufacture of paper. The list of products furnished by the maguey is very large, and besides pulque, or Mexican beer, and mescal, the chief spirit of the country—a distillation resembling a coarse quality of gin, and very intoxicating in its character—there is a fine quality of brandy, known as tequila. The daily consumption of pulque, or beer, in the city of Mexico alone appears to be about 150,000 quarts, and it appears to be the universal beverage of the country. Being in strength about equal to common cider, it is of whitish hue, and has a slightly acid taste, with an odor which makes it very disagreeable to all but the natives. A maguey plant will reach its maturity in from five to ten years, and grows most rapidly in the warm sections, though not so luxuriantly in the hot coast belts. Large quantities of mescal are produced in the State of Oaxaca and tequila, or maguey brandy, comes chiefly from the district of the same name, in the State of Jalisco. Tequila is highly valued on account of its purity and strength. The Mexican Indians are said to be inordinately fond of pulque; it is consumed in large quantities, and forms the basis of a great number of liquors, all of which are intended to make it stronger or more agreeable. Pulque is made a source of large domestic revenue by all the States; the daily tax paid on it at the gates of the city of Mexico is estimated at about £1,000. Another liquor produced direct from the maguey is known as hydromel, or honey juice, being the pure and unfermented juice or sap of the agave. Pulque de chirimoya is made from the hydromel ot the cultivated agave, cut unripe at the age of three or four years. This is put into skins which have contained the “mother,” or pulque made at the regular age, five years and upwards. When transported, the shaking gives it flavor and strength. A choicer liquor is made by heating, underground, old heads of agaves, grinding them coarsely on a stone, and then settling them to ferment in a pulque vessel, after which the contents are distilled. Making PulqueThe maguey plant, from which the pulque is made, grows as high as ten or fifteen feet, and the miel or juice is sucked up through a siphon made of a large gourd with a cow’s horn in it, which is called acajete. Accompanying the men whose business it is to collect this juice, and who are called thachiqueros, are donkeys, which have their backs laden with sheep skins, into which the juice is poured after being sucked up by the siphons. The plant is prevented from flowering at the age when it usually yields pulque, and during its growth it throws out shoots or young plants, which are removed from the parent plant when about three feet high, that is, after two years’ growth. These are planted out at a distance of a yard apart. The thachiqueros go periodically among the plants, and mark those which are for tapping by cutting a cross on the top of the highest stalk of each plant. When the maguey is fit for tapping, the thachiqueros trust aside the spiky stalks, and cut out the meyolote or central spoke, leaving a cavity which they visit after eight days, when it is full of juice. The plants only begin to yield juice when the flower stalk is on the point of its development, and this is generally discovered by the direction of the radical leaves. When the flower stalk is on the point of formation, these leaves rise from the earth to which they are inclined, and endeavor to form a junction, so as to protect the flower. They become also of a clearer green, and there are other signs which are closely watched by cultivators. The maguey, after the expiration of eight days, is tapped regularly three times a day, and yields over a gallon a day, and bears for three months, each plant producing about one hundred and twenty gallons before it dies. The juice, when extracted, is conveyed to a large building fitted with square wooden frames, on which are stretched cowhides shaped like vats, the hair being upwards. The liquid appears to curdle during fermentation, and has an offensive odor; fresh juice is applied three times a day, and when drawn off, the liquor is placed in barrels and sold to the pulqueries, or drinking places. The city of Apam produces the finest pulque sent to the city of Mexico, and this sells readily at about fourpence a gallon. The maguey will flourish on the most arid and rocky soils, is not affected by drought, hail, or even severe frosts, and the plant is used for almost every domestic purpose, from making intoxicants to the thatching of huts.

Free Program from the 2012 National Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show

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Making tortillasEverybody in Mexico is said to eat tortillas, and their preparation, which is always assigned to the women, seems to employ their whole time, “to the exclusion of any care of the dwelling, their children, or themselves.” Foreigners, especially Americans, find them detestable. Another standard article of Mexican diet is boiled beans (frijoles). Meat is rarely used by the laborers, but, when it is obtainable, every part of the animal is eaten. Peppers, both green and red, mixed with the corn-meal or beans, are regarded as almost indispensable for every meal, and, when condensed by cooking, are described by one, who obviously speaks from experience, as forming “a red-hot mixture whose savage intensity is almost inconceivable to an American. . . . A child of six or seven years old will eat more of this at a meal than most adult Americans could in a week—eating it, too, without meat or grease of any kind; merely folding up the tortilla of wheat or corn-meal, dipping up a spoonful of the terrible compound with it, and hastily biting off the end, for fear some of the precious stuff should escape. Should one be fortunate enough to have anything else to eat, these tortillas serve as plates, after which service the plates are eaten.”

From A Study of Mexico, by David Ames Wells, D. Appleton & Co., 1887

Cafe life is a feature of the metropolis. The restaurants are decorated with mirrors in the French style, and the food is both good and cheap. Good table board is provided at several places at one dollar per day. The bread commonly eaten is a little, elongated, hard-crusted biscuit, apt to be a trifle sour within. The water is bad; the wine universally good, and often superior. The meats are fairly good, and a small but well-cooked beefsteak can be obtained for twenty-five cents. The coffee, which is of native growth, is palatable. As regards the chocolate which is largely drunk here, it would be hard to speak in sufficient terms of commendation. With a bun, called “pan dulce,” and a cup of chocolate, the Mexican gentleman makes a comfortable ” desayuno,” or first meal at his cafe. A cup of chocolate, a pan dulce, and an excellent omelet, costs just thirty-seven and one-half cents. Rents are high in Mexico but food is cheap. The abundance of fruit is a feature of the Mexican table. Every one eats a great quantity of fruit — oranges, mangoes, melons, apricots, peaches, bananas, etc. Sweets of every possible flavor are universally eaten. Many of the dulces made by the peons are sold under their straw-canopied stands; and they are not only sold very cheap, but are also delicious.

From A Trip to the City of Mexico, by José Margati. Putnam, 1885.

Free Program from the 2012 National Fiery Foods & Barbecue Show


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