This winter has been a doozy. I’ve lost count of the major snow storms here in NYC, and the forecast for the next few weeks is not looking much different. The cold weather and continuous gray skies have really been taking a toll on my mental health, and it seems I’m not alone. Everyone seems just a bit more on edge, making winter in New York even more unpleasant. Warm weather seems so far away, despite the fact that today marks the official first day of Spring. There’s only one way to escape the misery that is NYC in winter – a beach getaway. So that’s exactly what we did.
A family friend gave my parents a week she could not use at a beautiful time share resort in Playa del Carmen, and they invited my sister, my boyfriend and me to join them. Resorts are not typically my family’s travel style – usually we stick to more frugal accommodations like renting an apartment through airbnb or a similar site. But I gotta say, there’s definitely something to be said about a laid back, gorgeous resort on the water, and I could certainly get used to vacationing like this more often. The weather was 85 and sunny every day, and we consumed more than our fair share of margaritas and cervesas while lounging on the picture-perfect stretch of beach. We tried to fit in something cultural by going to Tulum and Coba for a day trip, which was incredibly beautiful and well worth the trek. But most of our days were filled by lounging on the beach…playing tennis, beving (something my family does very well) and searching for the diviest of taquerias serving the most authentic Mexican food.
My parents lived in Mexico, some 40 years ago, and it was really special to share their return visit to this amazing country. While it wasn’t quite the same experience for them, relaxing at a posh resort in Quintana Roo, rather than living and working in a mountain town in Guanajuato, it was wonderful hearing their stories and reliving the time they spent in Mexico. Like the time my parents attempted to go to Tulum, driving for miles on an un-paved dirt road, only to break down in the middle of nowhere and spend three days in a bed-bug infested hotel. Perhaps a better story is when they were invited by their very wealthy Mexican friend to join him at his open-air mansion overlooking the Pacific in Puerto Vallarta. My parents
were are so much cooler than I’ll ever be.
Speaking what seemed like fluent Spanish, my parents made friends with all of the wait staff, and we got the inside tips on the best markets to go to, the best restaurants to visit and the run-down on life in Riviera Maya. While most of our meals were spent at various restaurants in the town center, I wanted to try my hand at Mexican cuisine while we were there. Cassandra’s Cocina, if you will. One evening, we stopped at the Super Mega (imagine Walmart on grocery steroids) and picked up our staples.
We also went to a lovely local market (where Jacques Pepin and Rick Bayless shop when they are in town) where they had amazing produce and all the Mexican flavors and fresh ingredients we needed. The next morning, which happened to be my boyfriend’s birthday (pretty great way to spend a birthday, right?), I cooked up huevos rancheros, and we ate our breakfast on the picturesque balcony overlooking the Caribbean. Now if that picture doesn’t cheer you up from these winter doldrums, I don’t know what could. The rest of our vacation we ate chips and guacamole at every meal, and I had enough fish tacos and negro modelos to last me until at least my next tropical vacation. Even though we came back to frigid temperatures and gray, sullen skies, I thought of salsa verde and tacos on a balcony overlooking the sea. It instantly warmed me up.
Huevos Rancheros and my trip to Mexico
Note: Traditional Huevos Rancheros calls for a fried egg, but feel free to cook your eggs anyway you want it – over easy, over medium, scrambled, whatever you like! Directions below are for a fried (sunny-side up) egg. Queso fresco and Cojita can be found in most Mexican specialty stores and some supermakets. The main difference is that Queso Fresco is fresh while Cojita is aged. If you can’t find queso fresco you can substitute Monterey Jack or Cheddar. I’d suggest melting the cheese on the tortilla before you add the egg instead of sprinkling on top in this case. The key ingredient here is the tortillas, make sure you buy fresh, corn tortillas, it will make all of the difference.
Adapted from Rick Bayless
- 3 medium vine-ripened tomatos, roughly chopped
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 serranno pepper, seeds removed, finely minced
- 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped and sprigs for garnish
- 1 lime
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 12 oz can black beans, drained
- 4 fresh corn tortillas
- 4 large eggs cooked sunny-side up (or however you prefer your eggs cooked)
- 1/2 cup Crumbled Mexican Queso Fresco or Cotija (aka Queso Anejado) (see note)
- 1 ripe avocado, sliced
For the salsa: Combine the tomatoes, onion (reserving 1/4 cup for cooking with the beans), pepper, and cilantro. Squeeze in the lime juice and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper, and refrigerate until using.
For the beans: Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions, and sauté until translucent. Add the beans and season with salt and pepper, and cook until heated through, about 5-7 minutes. Set aside.
For the eggs: Place a medium-size non-stick saucepan or griddle over low heat, and add butter or non-stick cooking spray. Break an egg into a small bowl (to avoid shells in your pan) and gently pour the egg into your saucepan. Repeat with remaining eggs (or as many eggs as your pan can fit). Cover your pan with a lid, and cook for 2-3 minutes until egg white solidifies from clear into white and the yolk has thickened slightly. Cook for a bit longer if you don’t like runny eggs. Slide the eggs onto a plate and season with salt and pepper.
For the tortillas: While your eggs are cooking, heat a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat and toast your tortilla for 1 minute on each side, or until warm. Make sure to not over-toast as you don’t want your tortillas crunchy. This can also be done in the microwave.
To assemble: Place two warmed tortillas on a plate and add one fried egg per tortilla. Spoon salsa fresca over each tortilla, sprinkle with cheese, sliced avocado and a sprinkle of cilantro. Serve along side the fried beans, and if you’re in the mood, a cervesa. Go ahead, pretend like you’re in mexico.
Remaining salsa will keep for 2-3 days, covered and refrigerated. Is great to serve with tortilla chips and guacamole.