Strawberry Agua Fresca

Summer is definitely upon us here in the Southwest, and that’s the best excuse to have refreshing drinks available at all times. Usually my go-to summer drink is lemonade, but this year things are different. A few weeks ago, Gaby over at What’s Gaby Cooking posted about one of her favorite summer memories — drinking refreshing agua fresca with her friends on weekend trips to Mexico. Just thinking about the possibilities of this popular Mexican drink made my mouth water.

During a recent BBQ we hosted, I decided I would try my hand at this traditional fruity and refreshing Mexican water. Agua fresca, which translates to fresh water, is basically just a fruity flavored water. It’s a lovely refreshing drink for the hot summer months that lie ahead, not to mention a break from the norms of ice water and lemonade. It’s hard to believe that something so simple can be so good!

Strawberry Agua Fresca

{Print this Recipe}
Here’s what you’ll need:
Makes: about 6 cups
Note: all of these measurements can be easily altered to suit your taste
– 4 cups fresh strawberries, tips trimmed off
– 6 cups water
– 1/3 cup sugar
– 1/4 cup fresh lime juice
– 1/2 cup sparkling water (optional)

Instructions:
Combine half of the strawberries, half of the water and half of the sugar in a blender and blend on high speed until the the strawberries are all pureed and the water is a nice pink color. Strain through a fine sieve into a pitcher to separate all the seeds from the liquid. Repeat the process until all of the strawberries, water and sugar have been blended together and strained.

Add the lime juice and sparkling water (if using) to the blended and strained water and stir to mix well. Refrigerate and serve cold over ice.

For something so simple, this is probably one of the most delicious drinks ever. It’s fruity and refreshing — perfect for a hot summer day — and totally easy to throw together in no time. The fresh strawberries really give the water a distinct fruity flavor, and drinking it ice cold really intensifies that flavor. The addition of lime juice adds just enough tang to counter the sweetness of the berries and sugar. I think you could easy leave out both the sugar (and even the lime) and still get the same effect and make a healthier version.

This agua fresca is also really easy to adapt to anything you like. You can use any fruit you like as long as it will puree up and strain easily and you can adjust all the measurements to adapt it to your tastes.

This is a drink that I plan to make over and over again this summer (we’ve already made it twice!) with different fruits. Just the thought of sitting out on a hot summer afternoon drinking a cold, fruity drink is interrupting my work flow! Must. Have. Agua. Fresca.

Check out Gaby’s watermelon version and get yourself some inspiration for fruity summer drinks!

Mexican Chicken Creation

We’ve been looking for new recipes lately, and this was pretty much us just throwing stuff together and hoping it turned out okay. The idea actually came from a dish that Billy used to get at some Mexican restaurant in Colorado Springs…and it actually turned out pretty damn good! It’s basically some bone-in chicken breasts with a sauce made from tomatoes, bell peppers, onions and chipotle peppers.

Here’s what you’ll need:
– Bone-In Chicken Breasts (one per person)
– 1 onion, diced
– 2 bell peppers, cut into strips
– 1 can stewed tomatoes
– 1 or 2 chipotle peppers, finely chopped, plus adobo sauce
– 1 serrano pepper, finely chopped

Using a high-sided skillet, the first thing you want to do is brown the chicken breasts to get a crispy skin and to lock the juices in. Throw them in a hot pan with a little oil for a few minutes on each side, you’ll know when to turn them when they’re no longer sticking to the pan. Once browned on both sides, remove from the pan and set aside.

Next, saute the onions in the same pan (adding more oil if necessary) until translucent. Next, add the bell peppers and let them cook down, but not all the way through. Finally, add the tomatoes, serrano pepper, chipotle peppers and adobo sauce. Stir to combine and bring to a boil. Add the chicken back to the pan, lower the heat and cover the pan to let everything simmer for at least 45 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

For making something up with nothing to go off of…this turned out pretty awesome! (All thanks to Billy, of course.) The entire dish had a bite to it, thanks to the serrano and chipotle peppers with adobo sauce, but was evened out by the acidity of the tomatoes. The smoked flavor of the adobo sauce gave the dish the familiar smokiness of classic Mexican dishes. The onions and bell peppers gave the dish a little crunch, while the tomato sauce was perfect for sopping up with some rice. This dish is definitely a do-over!

Rolled Tacos with Mexican Rice

Sunday morning we were going about our weekend morning tradition of relaxing, cooking breakfast and watching Food Network when Paula Dean came on. I’m not usually a fan of Paula Dean (sorry Southerners), but Sunday was an exception. Well, sort of. Paula had a “guest chef,” that I had never heard of, on her show for some odd reason and she couldn’t stop mimicking her Mexican accent. Anyway, I digress. The guest, Patricia Jinich, made rolled tacos, salsa verde and Mexican white rice. Her taco filling was cooked in a red sauce, something I had never had before, and her rice was cooked with onions, celery, chili and lime juice. It all looked so delicious that we made our own that night.

The filling for the tacos called for boiled chicken, tomatoes, cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves, onions, cream, and bread crumbs. Easy enough. While the chicken was boiling, we combined the tomatoes, cloves, peppercorns, and onion and pureed until smooth. Once the chicken was cooked through, we shredded it then combined it with the puree in a pan. The mixture simmered for about 10 minutes before we added the cream and breadcrumbs. Once the cream and breadcrumbs combined with the mixture, it was time to start rolling. Yum!

We heated the corn tortillas in a dry pan for about a minute until they were warm (this prevented them from cracking and falling apart when we rolled them together). We then put some of the chicken mixture (a few tablespoons) in the center of the tortilla, rolled it up, and fastened it with a toothpick. The tacos fried for about three to five minutes each (we did two at a time in our little fryer). And…that’s it! The tacos drained on a paper towel and were best while they were still hot.

The flavor of the sauce that the chicken cooks in is…different. Not bad different — really good different, actually. I’m not sure how to describe it really. It was tomato-y, but also had a lot of flavor from the cloves, bay leaves and peppercorns. It didn’t remind me at all of Mexican food at all, but it was so much better than any other taquitos I’ve ever tasted. We had three dipping “sauces” for them: regular red salsa, queso and guacamole. My personal favorite was the guac.

The rice cooked just like normal white rice except that we sauteed onions and the rice in the pan before adding liquid. Once the onions turned translucent and the rice turned bright white, we added the liquid, celery, chili, lime juice, and parsley. The rice simmered away and cooked to a lovely, fluffy, limy bowl of deliciousness.

Note: Sorry for my not so informative post. I feel odd writing about a recipe that’s not mine or at least a variation on something we learned from someone else. Nevertheless, the tacos was yummy and I hope you try them too!

Recipe Links: Click here for the rolled taco recipe and here for the Mexican rice recipe. (We didn’t do the fried plantains that the rice recipe calls for.)