The Roscón de Reyes and The Epiphany

Around this time of year it is great to celebrate the traditions that we hold dear to our hearts but it can also be fun to learn a little about how other countries celebrate the holidays.  Some of us Latinos celebrate what is known as Die de Reyes or King’s Day.

You may have more of a clue as to what this holiday means when I tell you that it is also known as Three Kings Day.  This is the day in which the Three Kings from the East also known as the three wise men also known as the Magi traveled to see baby Jesus and present them with their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  This is known as The Epiphany; the day that the son of god was incarnated into human form as Jesus Christ.

So how does one celebrate Three Kings Day?  While there are many traditions that go hand in hand with Día de Reyes this article is to be about the roscón de reyes.

Roscón de reyes is a traditional dessert that is eaten on King’s Day which falls on January 6th.  It is usually round or oval in shape and it has a special meaning that pertains to the holiday which is celebrated in many Latin countries and even in France.

The Cake

At a glance, roscón de reyes looks a lot like a Bundt cake or a fruit cake and it does share some similarities to both. It is baked in a roundish shape like a Bundt cake and includes fruit like a fruit cake. However, unlike both of those cakes, roscón de reyes is filled with cream at the center and there is another surprise hidden inside the cream. It is traditional to include a small figurine inside the cake for children. The cake is sliced up and served and all the children hope to have been given the slice with the gift inside.

The Roscon de Reyes and the Epiphany

The Roscon de Reyes and the Epiphany

The Roscón de Reyes and The Epiphany

The main point of the roscón de reyes and the Epiphany is that the cake and the gift inside reflect the gift that the Three Kings from the East gave to Jesus.  The figurine is sometimes of the baby Jesus himself and that variation hearkens to the story of Mary and Joseph who had to flee their home from King Herod who aimed to slay the baby messiah. Thus, the roscón de reyes and the Epiphany go hand in hand.

A Simple Recipe of Roscón de Reyes

If you want to try your hand at making Roscón de reyes here is a simple recipe.

  1. Blend sugar and citrus zest.
  2. Dissolve yeast with warm milk in a large bowl.
  3. Add the sugar and citrus zest plus 2 eggs, orange, flower, water and salt to the large bowl and stir.
  4. Add flower to the warm milk.
  5. Knead dough until it is smooth.
  6. Cover the bowl and let sit for an hour.
  7. Work the dough into a log about 30 inches long and two and a half inches thick then join the ends to form a circle.
  8. Place the circular dough on a baking sheet and put it in the oven at low heat for about an hour.
  9. Remove the pan, break an egg over the dough and place your dried fruits and candy on top
  10. And return the dough to the oven at 400 degrees for about another half hour.

If you venture to make the roscón de reyes send me some pictures, I would love to publish them here!

Main Ingredients in Mexican Food

I have very fond memories from childhood of my mother cooking in the kitchen traditional Spanish and Mexican dishes. Associated with those memories are a host of sensory impressions, most prominent being smell.  Her cooking would fill the whole house with delicious scents emanating from the main ingredients in Mexican food that were always present in our home.

Main Ingredients in Mexican Food

For anyone who doesn’t already know I am pleased to bring you the most important ingredients (at least in my opinion) in traditional Mexican food.

Avocados

If you do not have avocados stocked in your pantry you are missing out on a host of delicious Mexican dishes.  Avocados most prominently are used to make guacamole.  I remember my mother’s homemade guacamole.  She used 5-8 avocados, added diced onions a little sugar and lime juice.  Of course, guacamole can also be used as a topping for many traditional Mexican foods such as tortas.

Tomatoes

While tomatoes may be an important staple the world over, the Mexican use of tomatoes reaches into almost every dish which is why it is on this list.  Personally, my mother used tomatoes to make her Spanish rice.  She also included it in tortilla soup, steak picado and even her guacamole.

Poblanos

The thing I like most about Mexican food is that it is spicy but not esophageal erosion spicy.  One of the secrets to attaining this perfect balance of spice, mildness and flavor is the use of poblano chilies. They can be used in a variety of ways but I remember them being used mainly in homemade salsas and chili rellenos.

Main Ingredients In Mexican Food

Main Ingredients In Mexican Food

Limes

I may be overstating a concept that is fundamentally simple but in my opinion, limes make all Mexican foods better.  In my house, limes were usually chopped into quarters and served on a small dish on the dinner table for everyone to grab and squeeze onto their food as they wished.

One of the best uses for limes from my childhood home was to squeeze a whole quarter slice’s worth of lime juice into my mother’s Albondigas (meatball soup).

Mexican Cheese

If you have ever eaten a Mexican dish in your life you probably know how important queso is to Mexican cuisine.  Take for example the Enchilada.  An enchilada is like Mexican lasagna and it relies heavily on cheese.

My sister makes some killer enchiladas and her cheese of choice is queso fresco.  It gives the dish a bit of natural saltiness and melts to perfection. Pepperjack cheese was also a pretty common cheese in my home growing up for making quesadillas.  It added a good level of spiciness…before tapatío was inevitably added of course.  Last but not in any way least…

Tortillas

I couldn’t think of any food more essential to Mexican cuisine or any better way to round off this list than the all-important tortilla.  My mother use to tell me stories about growing up poor in Los Angeles and how her mother, no matter how bad things were would always have tortillas in the house.  She would give my mom and my aunts and uncle flour tortillas adorned with nothing more than melted butter when things were especially tight.

Tortillas are more than a staple food for the poor of course.  My mom never made her own but she always went to tortillerías to buy freshly made corn and flour tortillas.  I remember using flour tortillas to sop up the juices from steak picado, scooping up Spanish rice with sour cream into a tortilla, and dousing a corn tortilla with the broth from my mother’s albondigas.

Tortillas are indispensible ingredients in enchiladas and of course tacos and burritos as well as other traditional Mexican dishes that I am sure I am forgetting.

Well there you have it; my list of the most important ingredients in Mexican cuisine.  For more information on other main ingredients in Mexican food, check out this article about Mexican Chocolate.

 

What is Oaxaca Cheese?

If you just stumbled onto this article searching for some food articles you may be asking yourself what the heck Oaxaca cheese is. If you know what Oaxaca cheese is and are asking yourself the question “where do I find Oaxaca cheese?”  Fear not because I will share with you the answers. For now, let’s start with the basics…

What Is Oaxaca Cheese

Cheese lovers will rejoice over the mild and buttery flavor of Oaxaca cheese.  Although you will probably never see it being paired with wine, it is considered an artisanal cheese.  It gets its name from the region of Mexico where it originated.

It does not hit you as strongly as say a brie or a sharp cheddar and it is more akin to Mozzarella which makes it great for use in baked goods, for quesadillas and empanadas.  It has a stringy texture which makes it a perfect topping for the traditional Oaxacan dish known as Tlayuda.

The History of Oaxaca Cheese

The reason Oaxaca cheese has such a mild flavor is because it is a cheese that is made from cow milk.  The form of Oaxaca cheese that is most popular now is credited to Dominican monks who settled in the region of Oaxaca a long time ago.  The monks would typically make cheese from goat’s milk which would lend a stronger and more pungent flavor but when they arrived in Oaxaca and found that there was no goat’s milk readily available, they had to improvise.

What is Oaxaca Cheese?

What is Oaxaca Cheese?

The monks used cow’s milk and combined it with a method of cheese-making that is very similar to the process used to make Mozzarella from Italy.  Thus, Oaxaca cheese was born and implemented in many traditional Oaxacan dishes.  Since then it has become one of the most popular cheeses in Latin countries and is becoming increasingly popular with Anglos as well.

The Process

Oaxaca cheese is a curd cheese and it is kneaded and then stretched to give it its stringy consistency.  After it is stretched, it is usually wound up in a ball shape for packaging.  There is also a form of Oaxaca cheese called asadero and this incarnation of the dairy product comes in the form of a brick.

Asadero cheese is usually intended for slicing but it is made with the same ingredients as traditional Oaxaca cheese.  Oaxaca cheese whether in its brick or ball shape however will always be the same color; white.  Not pure white mind you but a very light, off-white.  It will also always be semi-soft.

Where to Get Oaxaca Cheese

Unfortunately you can’t just waltz into the national chain grocery store down the street and expect to find Oaxaca cheese. Unfortunately, the most readily available source of Oaxaca cheese is online.  There are very reputable sites where you can order authentic Oaxaca cheese such as MexGrocer.com and FoodServiceDirect.com.

For the freshest Oaxaca cheese you are going to have to do some digging.  Hopefully you live in a state with a fairly large Latin community because if you do, you can bet there will be a local Mercado that sells fresh Oaxaca cheese.  If you are south of the border you can also try a lecheria to get your fill of Oaxaca cheese.

Enjoying a Mexican Horchata and How To Make One

If you’ve ever had the chance to go to a Mexican taquería, you’ve probably been faced with a delicious choice: jamaica or horchata? These two Mexican drinks are characteristic of the strong, aromatic flavors of Mexican cuisine.

And horchata, the milky-white cousin to the bright-red jamaica (Hibiscus flower), is a great complement to the spicy Mexican food we all love. With the basic ingredients of rice, cinnamon, and sugar, it also makes a refreshing treat over ice at the end of a meal.

History of Mexican Horchata

While many of us associate horchata solely with Mexico, in fact, it is originally from Spain.

Mexican horchata

Mexican Horchata

Valencia is considered the home of horchata, where horchaterías sell the traditional drink along with a sweet bread called farton.  Unlike in Mexico, Spanish horchata’s base ingredient is the chufa, or tiger nut.

Legend has it that when King James I took Valencia from the Moors, a local girl offered him some of the sweet, white drink. When told it was tiger nut milk (llet de xufa), supposedly he said, “Això no es llet, això es or, xata!” or “This isn’t milk, this is gold, pretty girl!”

The current name comes from Catalán: orxata (ordiata), since horchata at the time was made from barley (ordi).

Regional Variations

As with much Latin food and drinks, the beverage changed by the time it was brought to Mexico by the Spanish, using rice as a base instead, and also frequently incorporating almonds.

Given its Spanish origins, it’s not surprising that horchata is also found in other countries in Mesoamerica. However, its ingredients vary.

For example, in Honduras and El Salvador, the base is morro seeds, not rice. It can also contain cocoa, sesame seeds, nutmeg, and vanilla. Some horchata recipes call for other nuts, such as cashews and peanuts. Parts of Honduras and Nicaragua use jícaro seeds. Depending on the ingredients, some versions of horchata are usually strained before serving.

Believe it or not, despite its milky appearance and texture, traditional Mexican horchata is non-dairy. This works out well for the street vendors who sell it from customary barrel-shaped jars on hot days.

However, even Mexican horchata recipes have differences. Some do include milk to make it creamier, and you can find recipes that call for boiling the rice and recipes that call for grinding it raw.

Make Your Own Mexican Horchata

In today’s What’s This Food, host Daniel Delaney explores the classic Mexican and Latin American rice (or nut) based milk beverage, Horchata. Unlike rice milk, Horchata is frequently sweetened and spiced with cinnamon and other spices. It’s also vegan friendly, though today’s recipe includes a small, optional splash of milk.

These days, it’s possible to buy horchata at Latin food markets in powder form or ready-made, but it always tastes best if you make it fresh. Want to give it a shot? It’s time-consuming but fairly simple.

The most basic Mexican horchata recipe has just five ingredients: rice, water, cinnamon, vanilla, and sugar, and even the vanilla is optional. It’s best served chilled over ice, and it’s amazing on a summer day.

Are you a fan of horchata? Let us know in the comments!

How to Make Tortilla Bowls for 5 de Mayo

Once you’ve mastered the art of making your own fresh tortillas, you’ll probably be eager to try out all the different ways you can use them. Of course there are the classic recipes like tacos and enchiladas, but did you know that you can make your own tortilla bowls for taco salad at home too?

Taco salad is a really popular dish, because it eliminates a common problem that happens while eating tacos: you’re munching along quite happily, and then all of a sudden all your taco fixings fall out the bottom of the taco!

It’s hard to eat a taco politely when half of the meat and cheese is threatening to slide out the bottom and little flakes of shredded lettuce are raining down all over your plate.

Of course, sometimes getting a little messy is part of the fun of eating tacos. But for other occasions where stricter table manners are required, you can serve taco salad.

Taco salad includes all the goodies you would find in a regular taco, layered inside of a tortilla bowl so you can eat them with a fork or with chips made from broken pieces of the bowl.

Serving Taco Salad in Tortilla Bowls

Taco salad served in a tortilla bowl looks fancy, but it’s actually really easy to make. All you have to do is make your tortillas as you normally would, mixing up your masa, forming it into balls, and then flattening and cooking them into perfect, round tortillas using your tortilla maker. Here are my tips on making perfect tortillas using a tortilla maker.

Place your finished tortillas into a handy tortilla server to keep them warm as you finish making the rest of your batch.

Making Your Tortilla Bowl in 3 Steps

Making a s

Making a small flower tortilla bowl

Here is the best part, keeping your tortillas warm in a tortilla server gives you the most desirable shells.

1-Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and get out some olive oil, a cookie sheet, and something ovenproof to drape your tortillas over.

While you can purchase tortilla bowl molds for this purpose, as long as you don’t require perfectly symmetrical fluted-bowls you can use a regular ovenproof bowl instead. I’ve even seen people use the backs of muffin cups to create mini bowls.

2-Take your tortillas out of the tortilla warmer. They should still be very pliable, but if they’ve cooled too much you can always microwave them for a few seconds. Not the best though as microwaving tends to take the moisture out of them.

Lightly brush both sides of each tortilla with your olive oil, and then gently press them into place over the back side of your bowl or mold.

3-Bake the tortillas for 12 or 13 minutes or until lightly browned and crispy. You can use other molds to achieve creative shapes.

Be the talk of the party by serving unique mini taco salads with mini-bowls made with different sizes cupcake molds and there you have it: piping hot, fresh and crispy bowls for taco salad.

Because they’ve been baked instead of fried, they’re much healthier than those you would probably get at a restaurant. If you have any bowls left over, break them up and serve them as chips with queso or one of your favorite Mexican salsa recipes.

I will experiment soon with small taco salad shells so I am thinking about serving 3 on a plate to make it fun. Each can have different ingredients.

Simple, right? Try this twist and let me know how you do by writing to me on the comments

Capirotada, a Favorite Mexican Dessert

It seems that most cultures have a form of bread pudding. They’re delicious, they’re fairly simple, and they use up extra ingredients in the kitchen that may go bad soon. Mexican cuisine is no exception, and capirotada is its answer to bread pudding. Well-known and well-loved by Mexicans and Mexican Americans, capirotada is one of those Latin treats that seem to fly under the radar, but that deserve a wider audience.

If you’ve spent time with a Mexican family during Lent, you’ve surely tasted Mexican capirotada. This aromatic dessert is a Lenten staple, when it is eaten on Holy Days and on Fridays.

Ingredients and Recipe of Mexican Capirotada

When it comes to recipes for Mexican capirotada, there seem to be as many as there are families.  The basics include old or toasted bread, cut and stacked with chunks of fruits and nuts, covered with a cinnamon- infused piloncillo (brown sugar), syrup and baked with cheese on top.

But each ingredient can vary: depending on the recipe, the bread might be a baguette or a bolillo, and the cheese fresh or aged.

Fruits can include raisins, bananas, guavas, apricots, apples, coconuts, pineapple, and dates, and nuts range from peanuts and pecans to almonds and pine nuts. Some recipes even include meat, tomatoes, and onions.

Beyond family variations, every region has its variations on the basic capirotada recipe, like many other kinds of Latin foods. For example, Jalisco doesn’t use fruit, Nuevo León uses queso chihuahua or manchego cheese, and in Central Mexico, aged cheese is used, but no fruit or nuts.

Capirotada is a Mexican bread pudding made with cinnamon, piloncillo, cloves, raisins, bread, and cheese.

This video shares simple tips such as resting in between layers so bread soaks up the syrup like a sponge and you end up with a soft sweet dish. You will also learn the rich religious symbolism and history of the dish.

History of Capirotada

Not surprisingly for a dish with so many variations, capirotada has a long, rich history. Formally known as capirotada de vigilia, the dish itself is some 500 years old.

It has gone through a number of changes in 500 years. Originally a savory dish in the Middle East and North Africa, in pre-colonial Spain it was associated with the Moors and the Jewish community.

After Ferdinand and Isabel’s edict banishing Jews from Spain, the dish was included in a book during the Inquisition called the Regimento de Inquisitor General as a way to tell if Hispanic Jews had really converted to Christianity or if they were “fake converts” (crypto-Jews). The dish made its way to the New World, where it eventually became a dessert.

Capirotada’s association with Lent probably relates to its being a good way to use up leftovers before fasting. The word capirotada is derived from caperuza, or hood, likely due to the cheese forming a “cap” on the dessert. Given its Lenten history, this cap was seen as a friar’s cowl or hood.

Many Mexican families associate the dessert’s ingredients with the Passion of Christ: the bread represents the Body of Christ, while the syrup represents His blood; the cinnamon sticks, the cross; the raisins or cloves, the nails; and the cheese, the Holy Shroud (el Santo Sudario).

So if you haven’t gotten a chance to try capirotada, make sure to look for it this Lenten season.

Are you a fan of capirotada? Share your recipe in the comments

Making the Best Mexican Wedding Cookie With Only 5 Ingredients

Today I want to introduce you to a super simple yet easy way for making the best Mexican wedding cookies with only 5 ingredients.  Even if you’ve never visited Mexico or had much exposure to Mexican foods, chances are you’ve tasted a Mexican wedding cookie.  That’s because this simple yet delicious butter cookie goes by many other names and is found in many different cultures, from Russia to Mexico.

As the name suggests, these cookies are a common sight at Mexican weddings and we call them “Galletitas de boda.”  We normally serve them in addition to the traditional fruity Mexican wedding cake. However, these cookies are by no means limited to weddings.

They are also Mexico’s traditional Christmas cookie, and make an appearance at lots of other holidays and family celebrations.

If you are really looking into the traditionalMexican wedding cakes and cookies I recommend you to read my Mexican Wedding Cake Traditions article.

Fun Facts About Mexican Wedding Cookies

Mexican wedding cookie

•We find this basic recipe in many countries around the world such as Spain, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Russia, France, and America.
• This cookie is simple to make and has just 5 ingredients.
• The Mexican version of this recipe is unique because we bake it in either round balls or crescent shapes.  That’s how you spot if it is Mexican or not…
• We knew these cookies in the United States as Russian teacakes until the early 1950s, when suddenly cookbooks began calling them Mexican Wedding Cookies instead. Some people think that this happened because rising tensions between the US and Russia caused all things Russian to go out of style.

Best Mexican Wedding Cookie Recipe

Here is a great Mexican wedding cookie recipe adapted from backpocketrecipes.com

Ingredients

• 1 cup (2 sticks) salted butter. Be sure to let the butter sit out until it is soft.
• 1 cup powdered sugar. Also set aside some extra to roll the finished cookies in.
• 1 teaspoon vanilla. If you can, try to use real Mexican vanilla.
• 1 and 3/4 cups flour
• 1 cup pecans. Toast these in your oven for a little bit and then crumble them by hand

Instructions to make Mexican wedding cookie

1. Turn on the oven and preheat to 275 degrees F or 135 degrees Celsius
2. Cut out squares of parchment paper and line some cookie sheets with them so the cookies won’t stick.
3. Cream the butter and sugar together until smooth. It’s best to do this by hand.
4. Add the vanilla.
5. Gradually add the flour.
6. Once the flour is all mixed in, gently fold in the pecans.
7. Dust your hands with flour, remove a bit of dough and mold it into a small ball or crescent. You should get about 2 dozen cookies.
8. Place shaped dough onto the parchment paper-lined cookie sheets.
9. Bake for 40 minutes.
10. Allow cookies to cool just enough so that you can handle them.
11. Pour some powdered sugar into a small bowl, then roll the warm cookies in the sugar and set them aside on another cookie sheet.
12. Place the sugar-coated cookies in the freezer.
13. After 30 minutes, remove the cookies from the freezer and roll each one in powdered sugar a second time.
14. Store cookies in an airtight jar or tin.

If you want to experiment with this recipe, you can try using almond extract instead of vanilla, or using almonds or some other type of nut instead of pecans. You could also try making different shapes.

This is such a simple yet versatile recipe it should be easy to make it your own.  Keep passing down some Hispanic culture through foods!

Making Perfect Tortillas Using a Tortilla Maker

Making Tortillas

Making tortillas doesn’t have to be this hard! Simply use a tortilla maker.

I bet you often overlook at the foundation of Mexican cuisine, the humble tortilla. Often people just starting to get interested in cooking Mexican food at home under-appreciate the tortilla. I must confess…I did so.

I thought making tortillas from scratch was too difficult and time-consuming. Or maybe you truly believe that store-bought tortillas taste just as good.  The truth of the matter, of course, is that fresh, homemade tortillas have a wonderful flavor that you just can’t get at the store.

If you truly want to regularly bring the true Mexican flavor into your home or simply want to become an expert Mexican cook, invest in a tortilla maker you can use at home.

Making Your Tasty Mexican Tortillas

The first step to making tortillas is to make the dough, or masa.  I can hear you saying “but Marcela, turning corn into flour is extremely time consuming” therefore I recommend you to purchase corn flour or masa harina at the store, rather than making it yourself.

  1. To make a dozen tortillas, just mix two cups of the flour with one cup of water and a dash of salt, knead the mixture for three or four minutes, then cover it and let it sit for an hour.
  2. Once your dough is ready, you need to divide it into small balls and make the tortillas. In the olden days, Mexican women made tortillas completely by hand, and became such experts that they could pat out perfectly round, wafer thin tortillas using nothing but their hands. Nowadays, it is much more common to use a tortilla press to do this.
  3. After using the tortilla press to flatten your dough balls into tortillas, you need to cook the tortillas. Traditionally, this is done using a cast iron skillet. Just add a bit of oil to the skillet and cook both sides of the tortilla for a few seconds. Then pop it into a tortilla basket to keep it warm until serving.

How to Choose Your Tortilla Press

I had a great lesson while researching this topic. I didn’t know much about tortilla makers until I started to look seriously at buying one. I found when choosing your tortilla press, you will have plenty of options.

Traveling throughout Mexico I found many women using cast iron and even wooden tortilla presses, but a cast aluminum tortilla press is also an option.

Aluminum has the advantage of being rust-proof and also much lighter than iron or wood.  Of course, in a modern kitchen there is a gadget for everything, and a gadget for making tortillas perfectly and efficiently is not an exception. This is when the tortilla makes and electric tortilla cookers come in.

When choosing an electric tortilla cooker, you’ll probably want to choose one that has temperature settings marked in degrees, rather than just high and low. That way you will be sure not to burn your tortillas in the tortilla maker.

You should also look for quality non-stick coating. The electric tortilla press flattens and cooks the tortillas at the same time, saving you time and effort.

Wanting to Impress? Do It By Making Simple Tortilla Bowls

One fun thing to do with your tortillas is to make tortilla bowls for taco salad. You can buy a special fluted tortilla bowl mold, or else just use any metal bowl to create a round shape.

Just heat the oven to 450, place the lightly greased bowl upside down on a cookie sheet, and drape a tortilla over it. Cook for 10 minutes and then allow the tortilla to cool on the bowl so it will retain its shape.

This is a very simple process and it makes you look like a pro. Homemade tortilla bowls? Yes, simple and tasty.  Ready to make your tortillas?  Please let me know if you made them and send me a picture to share with other tortilla makers!