Sunday, September 13, 2009

Mexican Food and Killer Margaritas - Recipe: Margaritas

My love affair with Mexico goes back 42 years.

Alma Ramirez, one of my former colleagues, introduced me to a friend and said “you two have something in common. You were both Mexican in your last life. I am certain that I was!
After doing business in Mexico most of my professional career and going to Mexico on some of the best vacations with my son Tommy, I have a connection to Mexico that goes back 42 years.

My love affair with Mexican food began when I was living in Guadalajara back in 1966. There was a small restaurant next to the University that made some of the best quesadillas ever. The huge pizza pan of melted cheese came with a basket of fresh baked flour tortillas and homemade green chili sauce. I ate those quesadillas every day and still crave them to this day!
In the Mercado Libertad at Javier Mina #52, there is an entire section on the west side of the second floor where they cook everything you can imagine and maybe don’t care to think of. My suggestion: taste first and ask later.
From street vendors, I bought potato chips with lime, tacos, tortas, garnachas, tostadas, picadas, quesadillas, guaraches, panuchos, sopes, gorditas, tamales, atole, and aguas frescas. I always looked for a stand that was full of locals and ate for under $5.00.
Some of my favorite street food was at the Thursday/Sunday market in Tonola. Located at Av. Tonaltecas north of Av. Tonalá, I have been going to this market for over 40 years and the only thing that has changed is that it is bigger and they sell music.

Living in Chicago, I am a huge fan of Rick Bayless.
In 1987, Rick Bayless opened his popular Frontera Grill at 445 North Clark Street. As I said in a previous blog, there are certain advantages to being loyal to your old standards. For over 20 years, Frontera Grill has never failed to deliver a really fantastic meal. Never a bad meal you say? No, absolutely never! Right next door, TOPOLOBAMPO is his upscale restaurant and if you are on an expense account or out for a special occasion, this is the place to go. I am excited about his new restaurant, XOCO, which will feature Mexico City street food. XOCO is due to open this week. Pronounced show-ko, it is a slang term that means “little sister”. Don’t miss the authentic hot chocolates, some improved with spirits, which will be made from imported cacao beans roasted on site. XOCO is one of just a few of the places in the U.S. with bean-to-bar, cocoa-making capabilities. Additionally, the drink menu will also feature locally crafted beers, prickly pear sangria and Topolovino wines, an Albariño and Syrah that sommelier Jill Gubesch created with Qupé vineyards to go together with the spicy food. For lunch, tortas , which are Mexican sandwiches, will be filled with braised suckling pig chorizo, lamb barbacoa, and jamón Ibérico - all on Labriola bread crisped in a wood-burning oven and topped with pickled onions and habaneros and cheddar. Watch also for the caldos. The broths for these meals-in-a-bowl dinners are simmered overnight, and then served with an array of toppings much like Vietnamese Pho. XOCO is rumored to be opening on September 8th so watch for a food review shortly.

MEXICO – One Plate at a Time, has given public television viewers a taste of the flavors and the celebrations of Mexico. I got my first Bayless cookbook, Authentic Mexican, in 1987 and it has become a classic. He has put out five other cookbooks since then and all of them are great and worth the investment.
Rick Bayless appeared as a guest judge in episode 3 of Season 4's Top Chef and later went on to become a competitor in Top Chef Masters, winning and moving on to the championship round where he won the title of Top Chef Master.
I also love Salpicon at 1252 N Wells St. Chef Priscilla Satkoff's passion for innovative flavors and fresh ingredients are evident in everything she creates. Grilled tenderloin and tequila halibut are house favorites.

If you want to go out and party and skip the food, a great place is Salud Tequila Lounge. At 1471 N Milwaukee Ave, Salud offers an extensive selection of over 75 premium 100% agave tequilas. I know a friend who has tried every one of their agave tequilas.
There are many other great Mexican restaurants in the Pilsen neighborhood which I intend to devote an entire blog to in the weeks to come.
In the mean time, email me your favorite Mexican places in the city. If you are a great at home chef, you can also send me your favorite Mexican recipe. So many people I know love great Mexican food and would love to share your story and recipes with them.
The killer Margaritas:
If I am famous for one thing, it is killer Margaritas. Years ago, my sister-in-law Liz was in search of a great Margarita recipe. Somewhere along the way, I was given one which we re-worked and now never fails to please everyone, even a small child who accidentally drank one on the 4th of July thinking it was lemonade. It has taken me though so many parties including birthdays and retirements, along with countless other people I have given the recipe to that have passed it along as well. It is now on a 2nd generation providing libation to the many people who enjoy my son Tommy’s annual Margaretville party in Tulsa.
The recipe is simple: Half a cup each of tequila, triple sec and Jose Cuervo Margarita mix and one fourth cup of Roses Lime juice. I like it on the rocks with a rim of salt. Don’t try and substitute anything and make sure you are braced for an amazing drink that can blow you off your feet at some point during the night if you have more than two.
If you are cooking at home, stop by the Guanajuato (1053 N. Ashland Ave.) and Casa del Pueblo (1810 S Blue Island Ave) markets.

On the grocery side, dried herbs are sometimes half the price of conventional markets and boxes of ripe fruit sell for about 75 cents each. Again, you can walk out of this store with a huge bag of groceries for under $20.00.
You haven’t eaten street food until you've had one of its carne asada tacos at Guanajuato market. Overloaded with charred meat, chopped onion, cilantro, a shot of crema and salsa.

I use to schedule our first committee meeting in Mexico City on Cinco de Mayo. You however, do not need an excuse or a Mexican holiday to bring out the immensely popular cuisine and tequilas of Mexico. Arriba, abajo, al centro y adentro! And yes, once again, this famous Mexican drinking toast has its own Facebook page.