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Day of the Dead

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Day of the Dead is a Mexican celebration that invites revelry as we remember those who have gone before us. Think of it as a far more festive All Saints’ Day.

Day of the Dead

Excerpted from Jonas Cramby | Taco Loco | Gestalten 2016

Day of the Dead. Dia de los Muertos. Whatever you call it, the Mexican day of remembrance, unlike our eerily unsettling Halloween and somber All Saints’ Day, is celebratory as heck. In fact, the day of graveyard revelry isn’t just a more tolerable approach to the inevitability of death, but a more life-affirming approach, explains Jonas Cramby in the following excerpt from Taco Loco! And we’re pretty certain it’s not just the mezcal that’s responsible for this. We’ll drink to that. Originally published October 29, 2016.—Renee Schettler Rossi

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It’s a Tuesday in early November and I’m sitting on my suitcase in Mexico City’s Aeropuerto Internacional waiting for my flight to be called. I try to focus on the last lines of Malcolm Lowry’s classic novel Under the Volcano, but the text gets blurred by all the thoughts that keep popping into my head. Because visiting Mexico is to get one’s head so stuffed with sights, sounds, and sensations that it feels like someone has tried to squeeze a sleeping bag into it. In the last few days I’ve eaten more and better street food than anywhere in the world. I’ve eaten tacos, gorditas, and tlacoyos, grasshoppers, worms, and powdered ants. I’ve drunk micheladas and strolled around mercados as big as city districts. I’ve been offered mezcal by a grave in Oaxaca at midnight, have had fireworks explode no more than a fist’s distance away from my head, and seen zombie-painted adults scare three-year-olds with such relish that it would leave a Western child bedridden. I’ve seen marigolds in the shade of traffic cones and a donkey dragging a cart filled with sugar cane. I’ve made a pilgrimage to Frida Kahlo’s kitchen, drunk spirits that taste of chicken fillets, and eaten fruit that looked like lime but tasted like orange. I’ve had a visitation from the dead.

I’ve also, I realize, fulfilled an old dream. Even since the first time I read the book I’m now struggling to finish again, I’ve dreamt about celebrating Día de los Muertos in Oaxaca. You see, Under the Volcano tells the story of a British consul who is torn between love and alcohol during Día de los Muertos in a village outside Oaxaca in 1938.

The tradition of Dia de los Muertos is thought to go back more than 3,000 years. When the Spanish conquistadors came to Mexico 500 years ago, they found the locals celebrating an ancient festival in which they seemed to challenge death. They ate, drank, partied, and carried skulls and pictures of the death goddess, Mictecacihuatl. They did their utmost to show they had the cojones to face up to death.

In contrast to the Christian Spaniards, the Native Americans regarded life as a dream, and believed that you didn’t finally wake up until you died. And these old rituals didn’t quite vanish. Before long they had melded with the Catholic traditions, were assimilated with All Saints’ Day, and soon became Día de los Muertos. Today it’s the biggest religious festival in Mexico, or at least in the south, which is still characterized more by the Native American culture. On October 31st, they celebrate the Día de los angelitos, the day of the little angels. At midnight, the souls of dead children return to unite with their families for 24 hours. The next day it’s the adult relatives’ turn to return to earth, and on November 2nd all souls are allowed to return at the same time.

The fundamental idea behind the celebration is that the dead would be offended by being remembered with sadness and would rather have a party on their yearly return to earth. That’s why the dead are celebrated with food, music, mezcal, and all the other things that the late relatives enjoyed while still alive.

Altars, ofrendas, and homes are decorated and set up for a feast with mole negro, pan de muerto, home-ground chocolate, orange, lime, bananas, nuts and incense. In the towns, they organize parades where people paint their faces like skulls – calaveras – and sit on relatives’ graves to eat, drink, laugh, and remember.

I am sitting in my hotel room waiting for it to get late enough to visit one of these graveyards when something strange occurs. I swear this is completely true. Exactly when the clock strikes midnight, just when the gates to the underworld open according to folklore, the door to my room suddenly flies open and an ice-cold gust of wind whips its way through the room and up my spine, only to quickly rush out again. Shaken, I down a glass of mezcal and go out onto the streets.

In the enormous Panteón General graveyard in central Oaxaca, it looks like a music festival directed by Tim Burton. Thousands of skeleton-painted people eat tacos and chicharrones from a street food stall, listen to mariachi music, and drink hot chocolate spiked with mezcal. By the graves, people sit and have picnics. The morning after, I visit a graveyard in one of the small Indian villages outside Oaxaca. Everywhere, small fires are smoldering where the grave candles have set alight the marigold bouquets that are piled by the graves, and there’s a smoky mist lingering over the whole place. Scattered around the graves are empty mezcal and tequila bottles, and beneath newspapers and pieces of cardboard you can clearly see the outlines of sleeping bodies. Despite it looking more like a gang of grave robbers gone berserk than the aftermath of a religious festival, it’s incredibly beautiful. I think about how fundamentally different this attitude towards death is in comparison to that in the West.

I remember how terribly cold, stiff, and scary I thought it was when, as a child, I had to go to a graveyard and put flowers on a relative’s grave. I had to be completely quiet, collected, and solemn, and if I made the smallest of disturbances to the carefully raked gravel path, I immediately got an icy stare from one of my elderly relatives. I was so scared of doing anything inappropriate that I convinced myself that if I accidentally trod on a grave a mummified hand would burst from the ground and pull me down. The thought of death on the whole is something that our culture has rationalized away and that we do our best to avoid. But when we, from time to time, happen to catch a glimpse of it from the corner of our eyes, it leaves us paralyzed with fear.

During Día de los Muertos, on the other hand, you don’t deny the inevitable but face it head on. “I’m not scared of you,” is what you say, and ‘” know you’ll come one day. But right now I’m alive and so I will eat, sing, and drink so much mezcal that I fall asleep next to the grave of someone who isn’t as lucky to be alive.” As a result, the knowledge that one day you will lie in the ground of a Mexican graveyard doesn’t feel cold, stiff, and scary—but beautiful, warm, and oddly appealing. If you grow up around here, I think you are less scared of death.

And, as a consequence, also less scared of life? I sit on my suitcase at Mexico City’s Aeropuerto Internacional and wait for my flight to be called. I think how strange it is when things that you thought would be life-changing actually turn out to be so. I feel a touch of fear of flying but think that when the inevitable happens at last, all I have to do is to give a big smile and show my cojones. Then I board the plane.

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Perfect Chocolate Cheesecake with Oreo Crust

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This Chocolate Cheesecake recipe is smooth, rich, and full of chocolate flavor with an Oreo crust to take it over the top. It’s the perfect cheesecake for chocolate lovers!

Cheesecake. It says so much all on its own. Adding chocolate to the mix just takes that delectable dessert to the next level. This recipe uses an easy technique to make sure you get a rich, smooth cheesecake that is both decadent and delicious. Thanks to this amazing recipe, you don’t have to go out to get your dessert fix—you can make the perfect chocolate cheesecake from the comfort of your own home.

Oreo crust is the perfect touch to make this the best cheesecake ever! It’s up to you whether you want to share, but the finished product might just make you want to show off too.

Aluminum Foil Ice Bath Trick

This recipe uses a modified water bath trick to keep your oven nice and moist, but not risk any water leaking into your pan. Start by crumpling up 3 to 4 balls of aluminum foil into small balls. Place these onto a baking sheet and place your cheesecake on top, making any adjustments needed to the aluminum foil to keep your cheesecake level. Place an even layer of ice onto the baking sheet to surround the cheesecake. The ice melts while it is baking so there’s no risk of spilling as you transfer this into your oven. 

  • Why do I have to cool the cheesecake in the oven for so long?

    In order to create the perfect texture and smooth top, you will want to allow the full baking and cooling times in the oven, without opening the door. By cooling the cheesecake in the oven, without opening the door, the cheesecake continues to bake and then cools in a controlled environment. If you skip this step, you can “shock” the cheesecake and it could crack.

  • What kind of baking chocolate is best?

    This is not a chocolate bar or another kind of cocoa. Baking chocolate is sometimes called bitter chocolate and is a dark, unsweetened chocolate that is made specifically to be used as a raw ingredient in baking. Just be sure to use baking chocolate. Pro Tip: Add in the melted chocolate slowly. If you add it in too quickly, it will harden and can become clumpy instead of blending perfectly with the rest of the ingredients.

  • Why do I need to use a springform pan?

    A springform pan has a clasp on the side that allows it to expand outward and separate from the cheesecake in the ideal way—your cheesecake will retain its tall, flat form around the edge by using this kind of pan. It is possible to make the cheesecake in a deep dish pie pan, but you won’t be able to serve it in free form.

  • How do I keep my cheesecake from cracking?

    There are several tricks incorporated into this recipe to help prevent your cheesecake from cracking. Cracks do not impact the flavor in any way, but they do look funny. To keep your cheesecake from cracking:

    • Grease your springform pan really well. If your cheesecake sticks, it’ll pull the center and create a crack. 
    • Give your cheesecake a few taps on a countertop before baking to make sure the filling is settled into the pan with no bubbles.
    • Bake your cheesecake in a steam-filled oven to keep the moisture content high on the outside. Dry cheesecakes crack easier.
    • Do not open the oven door while baking! Allow the cheesecake to cool completely in the oven, without ever opening the oven door. Sudden exposure to major temperature differences may crack your cheesecake. 

If you are looking for great cheesecake recipes, we have your covered—check out this variety of delectable cheesecake treats:

Watch the video below where Rachel will walk you through every step of this recipe. Sometimes it helps to have a visual, and we’ve always got you covered with our cooking show. You can find the complete collection of recipes on YouTube, Facebook Watch, or our Facebook Page, or right here on our website with their corresponding recipes.

Chocolate Cheesecake on a white plate surrounded by oreos

Perfect Chocolate Cheesecake with Oreo Crust

This Chocolate Cheesecake recipe is smooth, rich, and full of chocolate flavor with an Oreo crust to take it over the top. It’s the perfect cheesecake for chocolate lovers!

Prep Time25 mins

Cook Time1 hr

Cooling Time6 hrs

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Servings: 12 slices

Ingredients

Oreo Crust

  • 24 oreos
  • 1/4 cup melted butter

Chocolate Cheesecake

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese softened
  • 4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate melted
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the sides and bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with butter or shortening.

  • Crush the Oreos in a food processor or blender until finely ground. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Stir in melted butter until the crumbs are all moistened and press into the bottom of the prepared springform pan.

  • In a large mixing bowl, stir together sugar, flour, unsweetened cocoa powder, and salt. Use a hand mixer (or stand mixer) to whip in the cream cheese until creamy and smooth.

  • Roughly chop the baking chocolate and place into a microwave safe bowl. Microwave in 15 second increments on high until melted, stirring in between.

  • Slowly add the melted chocolate to the cream cheese mixture while you mix until the chocolate is fully incorporated. Mix in eggs, sour cream, and vanilla extract. Beat on low until combined.

  • Pour mixture into the springform pan. Give the pan a few taps on the countertop to make sure any air bubbles have been removed and the filling is settled.

  • Crumple up 3 sheets of aluminum foil into flat discs and place on a baking sheet. Place the springform pan on top of these discs to elevate the cake so it doesn’t touch your baking sheet. Fill the baking sheet with a layer of ice, surrounding the springform pan, about 4 cups.

  • Bake in the center rack of the oven for 1 hour. Do not open the door. At the end of the hour, turn off the oven, keeping the door closed. Let the cheesecake slowly cool in the oven for 5 to 6 hours to prevent cracking. Remove and refrigerate until ready to serve.

  • Remove the springform pan ring before serving. Keep cold. Serve plain or topped with whipped cream or even drizzled with chocolate ganache or syrup.

Notes

Cheesecake should be refrigerated. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1slice | Calories: 674kcal | Carbohydrates: 63g | Protein: 11g | Fat: 46g | Saturated Fat: 25g | Cholesterol: 174mg | Sodium: 481mg | Potassium: 348mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 46g | Vitamin A: 1355IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 126mg | Iron: 5mg

Course: Dessert

Cuisine: American

Keyword: Chocolate Cheesecake

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Most Amazing Red Velvet Cupcakes

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The Most Amazing Red Velvet Cupcakes are moist, fluffy, and topped off with velvety ermine frosting for the perfect Red Velvet Cupcake you’ve been dreaming of!

Red velvet cupcake with ermine frosting with a bite taken out of it

Here it is, the recipe you have been looking for—red velvet cupcakes you will come back to every time you crave these babies! So delicious, tangy and moist, red velvet cake is a thing of its own. Some people think its chocolate cake with red coloring, but those who love red velvet know it is so much more.

Red velvet cake has hints of chocolate but is better known for its tangy, acidic flavor. It was originally made with beets, which added sweetness, flavor and tanginess, along with its signature red color. If you want to try making it that old fashioned way, here is a recipe for a Naturally Red Velvet Cake .

  • Isn’t red velvet cake just chocolate cake with red food coloring?

    Good question, and no. That is a common misconception. Red velvet cake does have some chocolate flavor to it, but it is also known for its slightly acidic or tangy flavor, which results from the buttermilk, vinegar, and either cream cheese or ermine frosting. In this recipe, we include the instructions for an ermine frosting that we love as a great balance to the tangy flavor of red velvet, but you can also use cream cheese frosting.

  • What kind of food foloring should I use?

    This recipe was made and tested using red liquid food coloring. You can also use gel food coloring or a natural red food coloring made from beets. You can find a wide variety of natural food dyes on Amazon.

  • What is ermine frosting?

    Ermine gets its name from the cute, weasel-like animal that has a white, fluffy coat. Ermine frosting is made of heated milk, sugar and flour and then whipped with butter. It is light and delicious, but not as tangy as cream cheese frosting. It will hold its shape better if it is refrigerated before and after icing. You can also use cream cheese frosting if you prefer it and like a little more tang on your red velvet cupcakes.

  • Is there a substitute for buttermilk?

    Buttermilk is a key component in this cake recipe. If you don’t have access to buttermilk, please use a buttermilk substitute. There are lots of options and you are sure to find one that you can make work in our article on buttermilk substitutes.

 

Check out these other recipes for more delicious cake and cupcake recipes:

Watch the video below where Rachel will walk you through every step of this recipe. Sometimes it helps to have a visual, and we’ve always got you covered with our cooking show. You can find the complete collection of recipes on YouTube, Facebook Watch, or our Facebook Page, or right here on our website with their corresponding recipes.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Ermine Icing on a wire cooling rack

Most Amazing Red Velvet Cupcakes

The Most Amazing Red Velvet Cupcakes are moist, fluffy, and topped off with velvety ermine frosting for the perfect Red Velvet Cupcake you’ve been dreaming of!

Prep Time15 mins

Cook Time22 mins

Frosting Cooling Time3 hrs

Total Time3 hrs 37 mins

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Servings: 24 cupcakes

Ingredients

Red Velvet Cupcakes

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (up to 1/4 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2/3 cup warm water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring (1 fluid ounce)

Ermine Icing

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • pinch salt
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups unsalted butter , cubed and softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

Red Velvet Cupcakes

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners. Recipe makes 24 cupcakes.

  • In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cornstarch, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

  • Add eggs, buttermilk, warm water, oil, vanilla, vinegar, and red food coloring. Use a hand mixer to beat on a medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl to make sure everything got mixed in.

  • Fill each cupcake liner 2/3 full.

  • Bake for 20-22 minutes until the cupcakes meet the toothpick test (stick a toothpick in and it comes out clean). Remove from tins and cool completely.

Ermine Icing

  • In a medium sauce pan, whisk together flour sugar, and salt over low heat. Cook for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in milk and bring to a boil. Cook until thickened into a pudding-like consistency, about 1 minute, and then remove from heat. Pour into a bowl and place plastic wrap directly on top of the mixture so no skin forms. Set aside.

  • In a large bowl, use a hand mixer to whip butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add in cooked milk mixture 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing well between each addition. Once all milk mixture has been added in, beat in vanilla and continue beating until the frosting is thick and creamy and everything is well mixed in.

  • Frost completely cooled cupcakes.

Notes

COLOR NOTE: If you want a brighter red color, use only 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder. If you want a better flavor, use up to 1/4 cup. You’ll simply have much deeper brown notes to your red cake. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1cupcake | Calories: 369kcal | Carbohydrates: 45g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Cholesterol: 70mg | Sodium: 221mg | Potassium: 92mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 35g | Vitamin A: 560IU | Calcium: 52mg | Iron: 1mg

Course: Dessert

Cuisine: American

Keyword: Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Ermine Icing on a wire cooling rack

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30 Minute Chicken Tortilla Soup

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This 30 Minute Chicken Tortilla Soup is delicious and easy to make. Tender chicken, black beans, and hearty Tex-Mex vegetables together in the perfect comfort food for busy chilly evenings.

Pot of chicken tortilla soup topped with cheese, avocado, tortilla strips, lime, and cilantro

Comfort food isn’t comfort food if you have to slave over a stove all day to make it. This soup is the best because it is so easy to make and comes together so quickly. It also happens to be ridiculously delicious.

We love having soup for dinner, so busy nights or chilly evenings are the perfect excuse for us to make this family favorite. It’s a great party food, or a handy and healthy family meal. Whatever your reason for wanting a great soup, you will love the warm flavors and hardiness of this comforting Tex-Mex treat!

  • Can this be made in a slow cooker?

    Yes. You can add all of the ingredients to the slow cooker except for the lime and cilantro. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or high for 3 to 4 hours. Shred the chicken and add lime juice and cilantro just before serving.

  • Can I make this soup in advance?

    Yes. This recipe freezes well. You will want to make the soup and not add the lime and cilantro. Allow the soup to cool completely and then store in an airtight container for up to three months. When ready to prepare this soup, thaw and heat either in a slow cooker or on the stove. Add the lime and cilantro just before serving.

  • How to make your own tortilla strips:

    Heat about a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a skillet on medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, add a corn or flour tortilla and fry for about 30 seconds and then flip it over, using tongs, and fry the other side until it is nice and crispy. Then, remove from the skillet and place on a cutting board. While it is still warm, you will cut it into strips using a regular knife or pizza cutter.

If you’re
craving soup, here are some other delicious recipes that
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Watch the video below where Rachel will walk you through every step of this recipe. Sometimes it helps to have a visual, and we’ve always got you covered with our cooking show. You can find the complete collection of recipes on YouTube, Facebook Watch, or our Facebook Page, or right here on our website with their corresponding recipes.

Bowl of chicken tortilla soup topped with cheese, avocado, tortilla strips, lime, and cilantro

30 Minute Chicken Tortilla Soup

This 30 Minute Chicken Tortilla Soup is delicious and easy to make. Tender chicken, black beans, and hearty Tex-Mex vegetables together in the perfect comfort food for busy chilly evenings.

Prep Time10 mins

Cook Time20 mins

Total Time30 mins

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Servings: 6 servings

Ingredients

Soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium white onion , diced
  • 1 medium red bell pepper , diced
  • 5 cloves garlic , minced
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 15 ounce can tomato sauce (passata)
  • 15 ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 15 ounce can black beans
  • 7 ounce can diced green chiles
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn (or use canned)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup freshly chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup lime juice

For Serving

  • 3 cups tortilla strips or tortilla chips
  • 2 medium avocados , diced
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese
  • 1/4 cup sour cream

Instructions

  • Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add in onion and bell pepper and saute 5 minutes. Add in garlic, chili powder, cumin, and paprika and toast for 60 seconds.

  • Pour in chicken broth, add in chicken breasts, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes.

  • Remove cooked chicken from soup, shred with a fork, and return to the pot.

  • Pour in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, black beans, green chiles, and corn. Return soup to a simmer and let simmer 5 minutes.

  • Turn off the heat and stir in cilantro and lime juice. Season with salt, to taste. Serve hot, topped with tortilla strips, diced avocado, cheese, and sour cream.

Notes

Slow Cooker Instructions:

You can add all of the ingredients to the slow cooker except for the lime and cilantro. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or high for 3 to 4 hours. Shred the chicken and add lime juice and cilantro just before serving.

Nutrition

Calories: 516kcal | Carbohydrates: 45g | Protein: 26g | Fat: 28g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 58mg | Sodium: 1743mg | Potassium: 1369mg | Fiber: 13g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 1685IU | Vitamin C: 68.3mg | Calcium: 245mg | Iron: 4.5mg

Course: Dinner, Main Course, Main Dish, Soup

Cuisine: American, TexMex

Keyword: Chicken Tortilla Soup

Bowl of chicken tortilla soup topped with cheese, avocado, tortilla strips, lime, and cilantro

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