Rick Bayless

Drinking Horchata.

The first time I ever had horchata was about 10 years ago with my friend Frankee. We were at a little Mexican place in Kankakee, Illinois, and her husband ordered a pitcher for us to share. She actually didn't drink it, since she doesn't like it, but I was hooked. Ever since, I usually ask for it whenever I try out new Mexican places. Until recently, I'd only score once or twice a year, but happily it now seems easier to find. Some are thick, some light, and others gritty. Some are so sweet, and others barely sweetened at all. I like them all, poured over huge amounts of crushed ice or ice cubes. Basically, I don't care what kind it is, since it all appeals to me equally.

Really, there are three reasons for my horchata making yesterday. Last night, I went to see Vampire Weekend and the title track on their sophomore album is Horchata. I'd be hard pressed to get the opening lines out of my brain, since it has been running through my head for the past 2 days now. I also checked out this post from Glutster yesterday, and decided that his photos were so great I had to have some horchata immediately. I have a car today, and am half thinking I'll run over to El Rey and find some pureed red cactus fruit (tuna or jiotilla), so my next glass can be as delightfully rosy as Javier's. Reason three is that my Spanish teacher, Rosa, was telling me that she is eating gluten free and sugar free right now. Rice is gluten free, and I figured you could probably sweeten horchata with stevia if you felt the need, so this could be an easily adaptable drink for allergen conscious people.

Making horchata is really as easy as drinking it, you just have to have a bit of patience. One of my Rick Bayless cookbooks had a recipe using almonds, but since I was nearly out of them, I adapted his method to this recipe, by Chelsey Kenyon. Really, I ended up using both recipes, since I added milk. The beauty of horchata is that you can do whatever you like best, to concoct a result that suits you. I did use plain old refined sugar, but knocked it way back to about a 1/4 c. Rick's recipe called for 1 cup, and Chelsey's recipe for 1/2 cup. Like I said, it is purely a matter of taste.

Rcakewalk Horchata (inspired by Rick Bayless and Chelsey Kenyon)
  • 1 c. white rice
  • 2 1/2 c. drinking water
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick (canela)
  • scant 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 c. milk (2% is what I used)
Grind the rice in a blender, or a coffee grinder like I did, until it is finely ground. You can leave the cinnamon stick whole, or break it apart if you like more cinnamon flavor. Heat 2 1/2 cups of water until hot but not boiling, and pour it over the rice and cinnamon. Let it come to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate overnight.

After refrigeration, pour the mixture into a blender. I left the cinnamon in, since I'm crazy for cinnamon, but you can fish most of it out if you prefer less. Add sugar, and mix on high for about 3 minutes until the rice is finely ground. Pour through a fine sieve (or through layers of cheesecloth and a regular sieve) to remove most of the rice pulp. (I actually like a bit of grittiness, but you could make this absolutely grit-less by using a finer sieve and perhaps running the liquid through a muslin bag.) Transfer to a pitcher.

Stir in milk. You could add more milk, or more water, or some of each, but I liked the result with just a cup of milk. You could also add additional sugar at this point if you like. Serve on ice and dream of warm weather.

"In December drinking horchata
I'd look psychotic in my balaclava
Winter's cold is too much to handle
Pincher crabs that pinch at your sandals


Addicting lyrics indeed, almost as addicting as the horchata itself. My milky glass below doesn't pack the same visual punch as the rosy, pecan garnished one that Glutster enjoyed the other day, but it sure hit the spot for me.

A perfectly new food obsession.

Just when I think that I'm uninspired, revelation hits. This morning I got this email from GOP:

Rebecca, Just forget getting anything done today, because today is the day that I introduce you to Dum dum DUM: www.ranchogordo.com I just ordered the deluxe gift box, for myself (I wanted the book.)

Enjoy, love gina

I spent a while in reckless obsession over these amazing bean varietals, painstakingly reading each description and even went to my Saveur back issues, as the website reminded me that Steve Sando's (the founder) beans made the Saveur 100 in January 2008.

His quote in Saveur pretty much sums it up, I think: "Beans shouldn't need to be cooked with a ham hock to taste good." While I had my own beans, lovingly selected from my food co-op (but I couldn't tell you where they were actually sourced, unlike the beauties on the Rancho Gordo site...), soaked and saturated with bacon in wait in the icebox, this revelation of beanery piqued my interest to no end.

Next, I moved on to Steve's blog, also completely wonderful. I knew that I had to make something in the Rick Bayless vein for dinner tonight- he is after all our Midwest answer to the lucky Napa Valley, indeed all of California's, Mexican cuisine... not to mention my own personal favorite.

I have to say that I didn't follow the instructions perfectly for this Tostaditas de Salmon Ahumado (or Smoked Salmon - Black Bean Tostaditas) from the Mexico One Plate at a Time cookbook. This morning, after a batch of grape jam (but more on that later) I made some roasted tomatillo salsa, also Rick's recipe, but altered for my ease. I also decided to add an avocado too (and a healthy 2 T. of cilantro), which is a trick I remember I loved in a Bon Appetit recipe - found in the Flavors of Mexico issue they put out several years ago. I'm not sorry I did. I forgot how delicious it is! To make it, just blend in a ripe avocado to Rick's Recipe, or my tweaked recipe.

Next, I used the cranberry beans waiting in the fridge instead of black. I pureed them, and then heated them in a cast iron pan. Since I had cooked them with onion and bacon, I didn't really need to season them too much more. I did have to add cumin and chile powder, since I love that.

The next part I did pretty much the same: 5 oz. of smoked salmon, which I found at the Outpost and it was really delicious, 1/4 c. of chopped tomato, a minced jalapeno, 2 T. chopped cilantro and some salt and black pepper. Just mix together, and pretty much any other topping you would pair with this would be terrific in my opinion.

I never can resist adding cumin to beans...

Since I had homemade yogurt, and finally perfected my consistency by adding dried milk to the mixture, I used this in place of the crema. Even my picky Husband ate some - that Always surprises me.

Perfection! Inspiration, new obsessions and man, I am going to have to click over and order heirloom beans, since I can think of nothing else now. It doesn't hurt either that the Rancho Gordo design is one of the best ever. I'm absolutely certain that I can endorse this product even before trying it - is that crazy or what? How can you not love a guy for selling beans with this heading: "Also back in stock is Yellow Indian Woman, after a long, irritating absence."? I can see where the bulk of my protein will be coming from this winter...

Topolo Bliss

Last night I ate the best meal of my entire life, and really have a renewed respect for Iron Chef judges - especially Jeffrey Steingarten. We had an 8:30 dinner reservation at Topolobampo, Topolo for short, at 445 N. Clark St. in Chicago. We ended up sitting down at 8:00, and didn't complete our dinner experience until 11:00. Yes, I ate for 3 entire hours. I wasn't sure I would be able to finish my 5 courses, but I am very proud to say that I did.

I had the Bravo's Top Chef Master Finale Tasting. Rick Bayless won this program, and while I didn't watch it, did know that it had occurred and that Rick Won. I don't have much time (or rather make much time) for television watching lately, but after eating this meal, I could see myself watching this one. Rick's challenge was to create a menu that represented his food life from first beginning until now. I've long been a great admirer of his, and have cooked many things from his cookbooks. I think I even tackled tamales alone due to the courage his writing has given me. And his recipes for sauces and salsas are constant homemade companions in my kitchen.

Jeff also had a tasting menu, his first, the Adventurer's Tasting. Appropriately, since he tends to try things unusual, when I will not. But before we had set foot inside this beautiful place, I had made up my mind to eat any and everything I possibly could.

The second we entered, was crazy. The whole place smelled of smoky corn, it was like a huge tortillaria. I think I was expecting a more pretentious Chicagoian type place, but instantly I thought I could pull up a chair and live in this restaurant.

I'll let my blurry, dim pictures taken with a borrowed camera

stashed into my bag tell the rest of the story:

The guacamole they gave us right after we sat down was made with Illinois sweet corn and served with jicama and cucumber chips. I may be converted from tortilla chips forever.

My first course was Codorniz estilo Oklahoma Barbecue: Hickory smoked quail with amazing bbq sauce, cornbread croutons, spicy watermelon salad and these amazing red chile threads. It was the first course, so I was feeling really good about demolishing all parts of this dish until only 2 small quail bones remained. It was so delicious. It was hard to get pics of Jeff's food, since my hands were unsteady with excitement, but he had 3 beautiful British Columbia oysters with squid ink caviar, roasted poblanos and crema. Judging from his eyes rolling back, I'd say they were pretty good.

My second course was Atun en Mole Negro: by far the most miraculous thing I've eaten. Seared Ahi tuna in Oaxacan black mole that has 27 or 28 ingredients and takes 3 days to make according to our handsome, attentive waiter, who looked somewhat like a latin Adrien Grenier. It was served with a grilled nopal (cactus) salad, and a plantain filled tamal - and was paired with probably the most delicious wine I've ever tasted: 2006 Bodegas Ateca "Atteca Armas" from Calatayud, Spain. I think if the meal ended here, I would have been satisfied enormously.

Jeff's second course was a Tallgrass ribeye tartare with guajullo chile, red onion, garlic scapes and avocado, also a pretty little quail egg. Also delicious.

The third courses were seafood: Jeff's was Louisanna crawfish and a New England sea scallop in a tremendous verde sauce. Mine was Arroz Negro a la Tumbada: Black rice with Maine Lobster, squid, Prince Edward Island Mussel, grilled octopus and homemade chorizo. The poorly taken picture of my most amazing course is really sad. This course is where I started feeling super full. Still I had to eat 2 of the corn tortillas that I had smelled on the way in, to sop up all of the tomato jalapeno broth. Had to.

I have much happier pics of Jeff eating, but this one kind of shows the background of the restaurant...

And as for me, well, I normally don't have quite so sunken eyes...the red eye reducer was flashing away, and I was worried about attracting attention.

The fourth course was the piece de resistance. Mine was Cochinita Pibil: overnight braised suckling pig "pibil" with crispy pig's foot, sour orange jellies, and a sunchoke pudding brushed onto the plate. If I told you that the pork literally fell apart under the weight of the air, it would not describe how wonderfully tender this was. I was so full by this point, that I had to sacrifice a portion of the puerco to Jeff, who agreed that this was some seriously good eats. I tasted his too, a Barbacoa de Chivo: delicious goat barbacoa with braised garbanzo beans.

Now I must tell you that I truly believe that there is always ALWAYS room for dessert. Jeff rarely eats dessert, and prefers additional food to sweets. I usually like something sweet a couple of hours after supper. But this Fifth course came out, and I really didn't know how I was going to eat another bite. For for the sake of food writing, I persevered. Mine was Tartaleta de Duranzo: Peaches, flowers, and a tart of goat cheese infused with Earl Grey, and toasted pumpkin seed frangipane. After one bite, I nearly finished the rest, only leaving about 2 bites, that really could not find a way to wedge themselves into my overpacked stomach.

Jeff actually finished his, and loved it! A blueberry tart with macadamia nut crust, and a sweet corn ice cream. WOW.

I was so blissfully giddy when we got up to leave, never really having such a dining experience before. I wonder if I'll ever be actually hungry again, and wonder if I can ever cook again since eating such works of art. I've got to hand it to those like Jeffrey Stiengarten who eat for a living...I don't know how they do it. Probably just little mouthfuls here and there, and not nearly licking the plates as I did. But what a wonderful birthday! 33 has to be a great year after a start like this!

Thank you, thank you, darling Jeff.