Chef Marcela Valladolid says she was fortunate to have been exposed to both her Mexican and American heritage early on in her life. She was born in San Diego and grew up in Tijuana, crossing the border each day to go to school. Her two cultures would later serve as the foundation for the Mexican-American chef's culinary career.
"My first language is Spanish," Valladolid told HuffPost. "I speak it at home with my son. But because I grew up on this side of the U.S. side of the border, a lot of my thought process is in English. For example, when I'm thinking of a recipe or typing it up, that all happens in English."
The host of the Food Network's "Mexican Made Easy" grew up around a family of cooks in Tijuana. Valladolid's aunt, who owned a cooking school in Tijuana, gave her her first culinary job and inspired her to become a chef. "She is the person that influenced my career the most and she inspired me to do what I do," Valladolid said.
"My grandfather was a chef in Mexico and my aunt Marcela opened one of the first cooking schools in Tijuana," she added. "We talk about opening another one all the time. There was certainly a moment while I was growing up both in the States and in Mexico that I realized that many people here in the States had a different idea of what the real deal authentic Mexican food was supposed to taste like and actually how easy it is to make."
Villadolid's second book, "Mexican Made Easy," came out this fall and is basically a companion to the show. Her first book, "Fresh Mexico: 100 Simple Recipes for True Mexican Flavor," was an Amazon best-seller.
"The first book is very representative to who I am," she said. "The book is more traditional and my way of introducing people to the cuisine. Hopefully, I will get to write a book that talks more about the history of Mexican food."
Asked whether she prefers one culture or the other, she said people on both sides of the border embrace both cultures.
"We all celebrate Halloween, dress up and even go trick-or-treating, but then the next day prepare for El Dia de los Muertos, and that's when I go to Mexico to celebrate with my family," Villadolid said. "The Easter bunny doesn't exist in Mexico but we do egg hunting in San Diego and cross the border to celebrate Pascua in Tijuana."
As for the heightened tension between the neighboring countries, Villadolid said it's difficult for her family to handle the constant turmoil over immigration and other issues.
"I feel like it's being the daughter of divorced parents that are dealing with one another," she said. "But because I love both countries so much, I carry both my Mexican and American flags."
Villadolid recently began a partnership with the company Kahlúa, which is using recipes from her second cookbook to host an online brunch club. Villadolid said she uses the product at home and feels fortunate that she has gotten to a point in her career where she can select the projects with which she wants to work.
"It's very representative of the culture in Mexico," she said. "When it's a campaign like this that is very similar to my lifestyle, I jumped on the opportunity."
But do people in Mexico actually drink Kahlúa? Villadolid said they do and that's exactly what attracted her to it.
"I love a hot cocktail," she said. "It kills two birds with one stone. You get warm and toasty because of the alcohol as well as the drink itself."
Chef Marcela Valladolid wants people to keep in mind two things: 1. Real Mexican food can be easy to make and 2. There's no yellow cheese in Mexican cooking.
Kahlúa Peppermint Mocha Hot Chocolate
2 parts Milk
1 part Drinking Chocolate
1 part Kahlúa Peppermint Mocha
Bring milk to a simmer. Whisk in drinking chocolate.
Simmer for 30 seconds while stirring. Add Kahlúa Peppermint Mocha. Garnish with peppermint stick and marshmallows!
Hot Mexican Cider (pairs nicely with brunch)
1.5 parts Kahlúa Cinnamon Spice
3 parts Hot Apple Cider
.25 parts of Fresh Lemon Juice
How to mix it: Lightly shake all ingredients and serve in glass mug.
Garnish with dash of nutmeg or cinnamon.
Mexican Chocolate Pecan Pie (Photo Below)
Serves 8 to 10
Nonstick cooking spray
1 1/2 cups graham cracker or Maria cookie crumbs
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus 7 tablespoons, melted
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
6 tablespoons light corn syrup
3 cups pecan halves
1/4 cup Mexican crema or heavy cream
1 disc Mexican chocolate or 3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1. Spray a 9-inch pie dish with cooking spray.
2. Process the cookie crumbs, 7 tablespoons melted butter, and 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar in a food processor until the crumbs are moist. Press the crumb mixture into the bottom and up the sides of the pie dish. Cover and freeze while preparing the filling (for up to 1 week).
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
4. Combine the 12 tablespoons butter, remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar, and the corn syrup in a heavy medium saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring often. Boil for 1 minute. Stir in the pecans and crema. Boil until the mixture thickens slightly, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the chocolate, and stir until melted and smooth.
5. Pour the hot filling into the crust. Using a spoon, evenly distribute the nuts. Bake until the filling bubbles all over, about 15 minutes. Transfer the pie to a rack and cool completely before serving.