Sunday, January 26, 2014


OK so what exactly am I craving? Cajun and Creole, Eastern European, Caribbean and Greek, Middle Eastern and especially Vietnamese. I'm even thinking about British and Irish food though I've never craved either one of them. Does this sound like a mixed bag? Well, according to Trip Advisor - which I never look at in the states but it's the bible down here - San Miguel does not have restaurants in any of these ethnic categories. "0" to be exact.

How is that possible for the Best City In The World? OK Stop. Now I'll be having dreams in Spanish about dolmades and canh chua cá lóc.

They also gave the big "0" to soup restaurants but we all know there is plenty of good soup all over town since most of us have been eating it religiously since our own version of the polar vortex hit late last year.

I went from having 8128 restaurants in Chicago to 225 in San Miguel...not that I'm comparing or even complaining for that matter but given the fact that I have some rather large ethnic gaps to fill I'll either have to bribe some of my favorite chefs to come down here to cook or I'll just have to make it at home - which is Plan B and as all good cooks know, Plan B is usually Plan A.

If I had seriously checked it out and found that there were no Cajun, Greek or Vietnamese restaurants in San Miguel, would I have still come? Maybe... but I would have changed my departure MO and indulged in the likes of Greektown and Argyle Street and been to Le Colonial and Saigon Sisters at least a half a dozen times before I left.

Why do I suddenly feel deprived? Isn't it true that you always crave what you can't have?

Over the years, I've come to specialize in some of these cuisines but I'll admit that it was always a restaurant that inspired me to master the recipe. In my opinion, restaurants are the best motivation for would-be chefs. They give you a starting point with which to run.

I've also been lucky to find remarkable recipes that I seldom have to change up to perfect. Again, I attribute that to selecting first-rate restaurants to begin with.

So if the world is suddenly separating you from some of the best ethnic food on the planet, try cooking... 

and guess who’s coming for dinner tomorrow night?

Buen Apetito!

SMA Shorts


You'll regain 75% of your memory just smelling a rosemary plant every day.

Now, if only I could remember to do it!


With all the tools on Photoshop, I can make you any size you want to be.

Teeny Tiny – Yep…that’s what I thought.

Does not matter what you eat today!...

Recipe: Red Sauce

This is an original recipe. My friends and I have passed this recipe back and forth over the years in an effort to improve it. I will admit that it is now near perfect.

The best thing about this recipe is that after you get all of the ingredients in the pan, you let it simmer all day. That's the secret.

You can add chicken or Italian Sausage but I love this sauce just the way it is. In fact, one of my friends commented that it tasted like there was meat in the sauce already.

Serve over fresh pasta with great Italian bread and plates of Parmesan and Olive Oil.

4 cups chopped Roma Tomatoes
1 ½ cups chopped onion
¼ cup lemon juice
1/2 medium size banana pepper
1 tsp + Italian Spices
1 tsp Oregano
3 tsp crushed garlic
1 chicken bouillon cube
1 6 ounce can tomato paste
2 cups + red wine
1 tsp olive oil

Put Olive Oil in the pan and sauté onion and garlic.

Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer all day.

Important: I taste and add more wine, salt, pepper and sugar as I go.

Dessert: White Chocolate Cakes with Fresh Berries

Market Finds:

Sweet Find:

Mente Cacao, a delightful chocolate store at Salida Real a Querétaro No. 82, sells my new favorite brand of chocolate: Marmot Mountain Chocolates.

Chocolate is one of my favorite addictions and it took me awhile to hunt them down. More to follow on why this is some of the best made chocolate in San Miguel.

New Find: Tomatillos...really little ones!

Tiny tomatillos from the Saturday Market made for a great Salsa Verde.

Dish of the Week: Muro

Muro's Pork with Peanut Sauce or the always appealing Arrachera?

Seriously delicious the pork wins out. Too bad that's what my friend ordered. I only got one bite.

A Diners, Drive Ins or Dive Find: Camaronicto at Hidalgo and Calzada.

The kitchen? A taco cart parked to the front of the room. So who ever thought that this little dive would be at the top of your list of places to go for a shrimp in SMA? Ridiculously long lines on Sunday.

OK so shrimp cocktail or Michelada?

Your call this time. I liked them both!

Drink of the Week: Orquidea Comida Thai at Umaran 36.

I was a one Margarita girl at this Thai restaurant that served one of the best (that was after I added an entire glass of lime juice) and strongest Margaritas around.

Craved pan fried dumplings but got deep fried instead but the flavor of the Pad Thai and the dipping sauce was some of the best Thai spicing I've had since I've been in San Miguel. The food was also cooked fresh to order.

I heard prior to going there that the food was just OK which only goes to prove that you have to order the right dish (do your research before you go) ... and a strong Margarita!

Best Restaurant Find: Provecho at Ancha de San Antonio #10A

I've been to Provecho twice and both times the food was layered with enticing flavors that even surprised me.

The bean soup with a topping of salsa made of green olives, cilantro, scallions and bacon made this dish a stand out.

They also have some interesting and beautifully presented salads. If you order one you can counter balance the calories in the dessert. Hum...sounds good on paper.

I had the Sticky Toffee Cake with warm toffee sauce. This is a go-to but the Chocolate Covered Brownie with Salted Caramel Sauce is another temptation you just have to try for yourself.

The best treat of all? 88 year old artist and owner Siobhan Bryne. She is delightfully Irish and her daughter Joanna is the master mind behind all of the creative dishes that come out of their kitchen.

Siobhan hosts other artists at the restaurant so there is frequently a show on Sunday afternoon at 3:30 PM.

Fried Chicken

I met someone the other day who told me that he liked the fried chicken at Mr. Crunchy at Ancha de San Antonio #47. Perhaps this is the best fried chicken in SMA right now but it really isn't the fried chicken I got use to. You know, the kind that tastes like your grandmother just made it, you crave it on end and then you're addicted but wish you would stop making it every week because it's not the healthiest thing in the world to eat ...but it's so darn good. That kind of chicken.

After giving Mr. Crunchy's a try, I decided to relive the best fried chicken moments I've had over the past few years. I often remember the smells associated with a particular photo shoot so I'm hungry just looking at the photos.

Buen Apetito!

Gus's Fried Chicken - Memphis

Traveling down to the Memphis World Championship BBQ Cookoff, I thoroughly expected to overload of BBQ. I did but I also had the best fried chicken I’ve ever had at Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken - Crispy and not the least bit greasy.

The lines were really long but well worth the wait. 

Big Jones - Chicago

If you’re craving your grandmother’s fried chicken like I was, Big Jones, a magnificent Southern restaurant in The Andersonville neighborhood in Chicago is the place to head.

Big Jones serves what they call A SOULFUL FRIED CHICKEN DINNER and soulful it is because it changed how I think about cooking chicken. I will never fry it again without using leaf lard and ham. So here were the rounds and all for $16 at lunch:

Biscuits and Cornbread… Of course the essentials for any Southern meal.

Fried Chicken... Cooked according to Edna Lewis's recipe in fresh leaf lard with butter and a ham hock, in a cast iron kettle. Leaf fat, the football-size cape of dry, crumbly fat that surrounds the pig's kidney, contains the fewest impurities and thus makes the best lard for baking and frying.

Mashed Potatoes and Gumbo Gravy...The pork gravy on the mashed potatoes was simply the best gravy I’ve ever had. 

Eischen's - Oklahoma City

Oklahoma’s oldest bar in Okarche, OK serves up over 24,000 pieces of chicken each week. I find this statistic astonishing.

The part of the recipe I’m sure of? The chicken is cooked at 330 degrees for 15 minutes and is made by applying a coating mixture of wheat flour, sugar, baking powder, cornmeal, salt, and paprika.

The piece of the recipe I don’t know? The “other” spices that are added to the mix. No measurements were given to uphold its classified status.

Eischen's does everything textbook down to the square of butcher paper it’s served on.

On just my second tasting, I’m giving Eischen’s the title of BEST Fried Chicken anywhere so the challenge is on.

My House

I haven't found a really great fried chicken restaurant in San Miguel so I broke down and made my own. As we all know, sometimes when you have the craving and can't buy it out, cooking in is your best option.

Martha Lou’s Kitchen Fried Chicken is the best recipe I've found yet.

Peanut oil, for frying
4 cups flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 3–4 lb. whole chickens, cut into quarters
2 cups milk
2 eggs

Pour oil into an 8-qt. Dutch oven to a depth of 3″, and heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 325°.

Place flour in a large bowl, season with salt and pepper, and set aside.

Season chicken all over with salt and pepper.

Whisk milk and eggs in a large bowl and, working in batches, dip chicken quarters in milk mixture, then dredge in flour, shaking off excess.

Place in oil and fry, turning occasionally, until chicken is cooked through and dark brown, 15 minutes for white meat, 20 minutes for dark meat.

Drain on paper towels and let cool for 5 minutes before serving.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Tequila Confessions...

Tequila can be quite addictive as a stimulating blend of herbs and earth and thanks to its reputation, you'll never have to think up an excuse as to why you drank it in the first place.

People are very forgiving when it comes to drinking and overindulging in tequila, especially when you're in Mexico. After all, it's the national drink so say 5 Hail Mary’s and your tequila sins will be forgiven...forever. I like that!

If I could relive my very first Tequila experience, I would first of all remember it. Lucky for me I didn't have a connection with Mezcal until last year. A few nights with Amores and I was officially in. 

This may require me to give up my long-time nickname "The Tequila Queen" and officially declare that I am having a love affair with Mezcal.

While Tequila has very specific regulations and standards, you can explore the many contrasts of Mezcal and there will still be so much more to learn. 

It's also got me thinking about the differences between tequila and mezcal.

Jose Cuervo's application to produce tequila was to make "Mezcal de Tequila." So Tequila is Mezcal. Does this surprise you?

So what's the difference? Tequila is made from blue agave and ONLY blue agave and Mezcal is made from several different agave cacti. 42 species to be exact.

Also, Mezcal must be 100% agave while Tequila only has to be 51 percent.

Tequila can only be produced in specific geographical areas, primarily the state of Jalisco where the town of Tequila is located and where I celebrated, or should I say lost, my first tequila experience.

Mezcal, the oldest distilled spirit in North America, is produced in 8 regions in Mexico, Oaxaca being one of them and the center where many great mezcals are made.

Just like champagne, both Tequila and Mezcal have Denomination of Origin status. In other words they can only be produced in Mexico.

Sales: 90% of Tequila sales are made in Mexico and the U.S. That figure is astonishing to me since I expected at least half the world to appreciate the taste of tequila by now.

Brands: As of April, 2013, there are 154 registered tequila distilleries producing 1,324 certified brands of tequila. 

Mezcal? The number changes daily.

Oh Mezcal!

Mezcal offers so much variation in both the type of agave and the method they are cooked even down to what type of wood you use when smoking it.

One could also get into the types of agave used…Espadin being the most common and wild agave like arrequeño, the most esteemed or tobalá, the hardest to find.

I'm fascinated by the fact that in and around the villages near Oaxaca, there are families that have their own recipes for mezcal and have for generations. I hope to sample some of them when I am there next month.

It can be said that Mezcal producers are more like great winemakers than they are distillers.

Classifications: Like Tequila, Mezcal is classified as:

Joven - white or silver - which is not aged. It is very popular for mixing because it will not overwhelm the flavor of the drink. It has a very simple profile.

Reposado is aged in oak barrels between two months and up to a year. Amber in color, it's the all purpose spirit because you can sip it, mix it or even shoot it. Reposado is my favorite class of Tequila and Mezcal.

Anejo is complex and aged for more than one year giving it a smoky flavor. It's for sipping and for people who totally enjoy the taste of Tequila or Mezcal.

Proof: Both Tequila and Mezcal can be produced up to 110 proof. Maybe this is why you have a hard time remembering just exactly what happened the night before?

Aging: Once you open a bottle, it starts to lose some of its qualities and gradually becomes more like bourbon from the cask it’s aged in.

In fact, in just a few months, oxidization will start to diminish and destroy the agave profile.

Lesson learned? Drink up!

Taste: Tequila and Mezcal are both an acquired taste which means you have to drink it often. I knew that would disappoint you.

To me, Tequila is pretty much kick and bite but good tequila is smooth, much like a cognac.

Tasting tequila isn’t really any different from tasting wine in that it strongly relies on your senses of sight, smell and taste.

In Mexico, they have an expression that mezcal is meant to be kissed. In other words sip it slowly to allow a deep connection and if you don't get the instant connection, try it again.

Lesson learned? Drink up...again!

Perhaps the best way to get to know Tequila or Mezcal is to try a few side by side for comparison.

We've done it before with Tequila so this was an excuse for us to try the new Mezcal bar in San Miguel, La Mezcaleria at 47-A Correo.

Monica and Alexander, a young couple from Mexico City, have created a beautiful space of their own design and a menu of different Mezcals - one of which is made from Espadin and the others from wild agaves produced in Ejutla, a village outside of Oaxaca.

We sampled four brands of Mezcal: Espadin,Tobalá, Tepestate and Cuixe.

Two preferred the same brand - Cuixe -and the other two liked the Tobalá and the Tepestate. The only one that is cultivated - Espadin - came in dead last but that's what Mezcal is all about...a different profile for every taste.

All of Mezcals we tasted were pretty smoky and were served in the traditional style with fresh orange segments and Chapulines.

Chapulines? Small grasshoppers that are toasted with garlic and lime, and seasoned with sal de gusano, which is worm salt, a combination of powdered chile, salt and gusano - a caterpillar that lives off the agave plant.

We also tried 3 Margaritas: The Pepino y Cilantro (Cucumber with Cilantro), the Gengibre y Menta (Ginger and Mint) and the Jamaica. They were all delicious because they mix their drinks with fresh fruits and vegetables and not with any juices or mixes. You know, the kind that give you a headache the next day. There is so much to be said for using quality ingredients.

Speaking of drinks, here are a few to try including the classic Margarita and my favorite - The Paloma.

Tequila or Mezcal? You be the judge but like La Mezcaleria proved, you can substitute Mezcal for Tequila in any of these cocktails.

So what does the Tequila Queen prefer after all this tasting?

Another round por favor!

Drink up, Salud and Buen Apetito!

Classic Margarita

2/3 cup tequila
1/3 cup Madrilena Jarabe Natural
Juice of 2-3 limes

Put in shaker with ice.
Shake and serve.


1 oz tequila blanco or 2 oz if you want to get your guests drunk from the start.
Juice of half a lime - squeezed at moment of serving
Grapefruit Soft Drink - I used grapefruit juice and soda
Pinch of salt
Ice in a tall glass
Lime juice in a plate (for separate use)
Salt in another plate (for rim of glass)
Lime slices for garnish

Dip rim of tall glass into lime juice on plate.
Dip dampened rim of glass into plate of salt.
Fill glass with ice.
Pour tequila into the glass.
Squeeze half a lime into the glass.
Add pinch of salt.
Fill glass with grapefruit soft drink. Stir very slightly.
Garnish rim of glass with a slice of lime.

Tequila Sunrise

2 oz. tequila
orange juice
2 dashes grenadine syrup

Pour tequila in a glass with ice and top with orange juice. Stir.
Add grenadine by tilting glass and pouring grenadine down side by flipping the bottle vertically very quickly. The grenadine should go straight to the bottom and then rise up slowly through the drink.
Garnish stirrer, straw and cherry-orange.

Juan Collins

1tsp. Sugar
1 oz. Lemon Juice
1.5 oz. Tequila
2 oz. Soda Water
1 Lemon Wedge
1 Maraschino Cherry

Take sugar and lemon juice and mix the two in a highball glass. Stir well.
Add tequila.
Fill your glass with cracked ice.
Top with soda water.
Garnish with half a lemon wheel and cherry.


2 oz coconut rum
1 oz triple sec
1 oz grenadine syrup
12 oz orange juice

Pour the rum and triple sec into the bottom of the glass.
Pour the orange juice into the  grenadine and stir.

Brave Bull

Think of this as the Mexican Black Russian.

2 oz blanco tequila
1 oz Kahlua coffee liqueur

Pour the tequila into an old-fashioned glass with ice cubes.
Add the Kahlua.

Bloody Maria

2 parts Tequila Blanco
8 parts Fresh Tomato Juice
Pinch of Celery Salt
1 dash of Ground Horseradish
Worcestershire Sauce (to taste)
Hot Sauce (to taste)

Combine tequila with tomato juice over ice in a mixing glass.
Add Horseradish, Worcestershire Sauce, and Hot Sauce to taste.

Passion Cocktail
Based on the Cosmopolitan

2 oz gold tequila
3 oz cranberry juice
1 oz lime juice
2 oz Grand Marnier
lime slice for garnish

Pour the tequila, cranberry juice, and lime juice into a cocktail shaker with ice cubes.
Shake well.
Strain into a chilled stemmed glass.
Splash with Grand Marnier.
Garnish with the slice of lime.

Long Island Iced Tea
Photo: Fine Cooking

1 part vodka
1 part tequila
1 part rum
1 part gin
1 part triple sec
1 1/2 parts sweet and sour mix
1 splash Coca-Cola

Mix ingredients together over ice in a glass.
Pour into a shaker and give one brisk shake. Pour back into the glass.

perfect for tequila chasers

2 medium cucumbers, each about 1 1/2 inches in diameter
1/2 dried ancho chile, stemmed and seeded
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/2 cup tomato juice
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon minced onion
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Cut two 3 1/2-inch lengths from each of the cucumbers to use as cups. Peel the pieces, leaving a 1 1/2-inch band of peel at one end of each. Using a melon baller, scoop out the seeds, stopping just before reaching the bottom. Refrigerate the cups for at least 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet, toast the ancho chile over moderate heat until it begins to blister, about 1 1/2 minutes per side. Transfer the ancho to a work surface to cool.
In a blender, combine the orange, tomato and lime juices with the onion and Worcestershire sauce; crumble in the toasted ancho and puree. Strain through a coarse sieve. Season the sangrita with salt and pepper and chill for 20 minutes.
Pour the sangrita into the cucumber cups and serve.

Mezcal Drinks:

Oaxaca Cooler

1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp Mexican-style chili powder
2 lemon wedges
5 slices of cucumber
1 ½ tsp agave nectar
2 oz. mezcal produced from unsmoked agave, such as Zignum

Mix the salt and the chili powder together on a small plate.

Run a lemon wedge around the glass to moisten, and rim the glass with chili salt.
Combine the lemon wedges, cucumber, and a pinch of chili salt in the bottom of a shaker and muddle well.
Add mezcal, agave nectar, and ice.
Shake and strain into a margarita glass over fresh ice.

El Angel

The Mexican Government invited Junior Merino, The Liquid Chef, to create the country’s very first national cocktail. It was served at the Cancun-Riviera Maya Wine & Food Festival.

3/4 oz Dainzu Gomme Syrup (can substitute for simple syrup (2:1 ratio sugar:water)
3/4 oz Tequila Blanco - use 100% Agave
3/4 oz Mezcal Blanco - use 100% Agave
3/4 oz naval orange juice - use fresh juice and NOT pre-made
1 1/2 oz fresh lime juice
3 dried hibiscus flowers (flor de jamaica)

Put all of the ingredients into a mixing glass, add ice & shake.
Pour contents into a highball glass rimmed with amaranth & chile-lime salt.

Dulce Diablo

1 1/2 oz. Mezcal
2 oz. Orange Juice
2 oz. Grapefruit Juice
2 oz. Pomegranate Juice
1/2 oz. Lime
1/4 oz. Agave Nectar
Chili powder

Shake all the juices with ice cubes until these start to foam.
Add the chili powder on top of the foam.
Garnish glass with grapefruit, orange and lime wedges.


2 ounces Mezcal
3/8 ounce lime juice
3/8 ounce lemon juice
1 ounce orange juice
3/4 ounce agave nectar
Pomegranate seeds
Lemon leaf
Chapulín salt

Combine all ingredients.
Shake and pour into chapulin-salt-rimmed cocktail glass.

Garnish with fresh pomegranate seeds, lime wheels and lemon leaf.