16 May 2006

The milkshake that changed my life

It was like it was always meant to be. When we first moved to Chicago, one of the first things I did was read the Lonely Planet Chicago guide book Carl bought for Mike's birthday last year.

A few minor errors aside, everyday this guide proves to be a great way to get to know Chicago, as it not just reports on the tourist things, but also delves into the real Chicago from the local perspective. I mean, I speak with all the authority of someone who just moved here and hasn't read any other guidebooks on the city, which goes to show that you can take anything I say with utmost respect. Ha ha.

One of the places the book highlighted is Irazu, billed as Chicago's only Costa Rican restaurant. (This may not be true anymore as rumour has it, there is now another one somewhere.) The book describes Irazu as something of a hole-in-the-wall eatery with cheap burritos and something called an oatmeal shake.

With no idea what an oatmeal milkshake tastes like, I had this place on my mind for months. I like oatmeal cookies, so I could only imagine that the shake would taste like a cookie! And boy, do I like cookies... I also like food in liquid form, so this could only be a good thing.

Unfortunately, Irazu was a little out of our way when we were in Streeterville. After moving to our second apartment, it turned out Irazu is five minutes away from us. Or ten minutes if you walk really slow.

Still, we didn't visit this place right away. No, sir. Whenever we were not in the mood for cooking, we always veered towards hot dogs or pizza or even McDonald's first. Also, it seemed the few times we did try going, they were closed! (Apparently, Irazu is known for turning away customers all the time.)

To make this already long story just slightly shorter, we finally made it, and it was downright cool. The oatmeal milkshake in particular was fantastic and I became obsessed... It really tastes just like an oatmeal cookie would in liquid form!

The obsession drove me to do searches on the Internet to figure out: 1) how to make an oatmeal shake, and 2) if this really was a classic Costa Rican recipe and something all Costa Ricans do, in which case a visit to Costa Rica may be in order. I can't say I've come across much information yet, but it sounds like this may be something you can find in a few Latin and South American nations. The only hint I got about making one though was through this blog Big Sweet Tooth, who also wrote about the wonders of Irazu's oatmeal shake, and in passing suggested there has to be some horchata in it (sweetened spice-infused rice water).

I never would have thought of the horchata element on my own. So with this one lead, plenty of bravado, and the sweet memories lingering on my tongue, I attempted to make my own shake!

The magic ingredient!

A few rough attempts later, I think I've got the hang of it. In the picture above, the square tetrapak container is one horchata which tastes good on its own, but wasn't that helpful in the shake. The bottled horchata is a concentrated mixture, and while I found it to be really gross by itself even with a lot of water added, I think it's the magic ingredient that makes the shake, uhm, shake.

I'm no good at measuring, but if you're curious, this is approximately what I did.

Ingredients and Tools:
- Quick oats
- Milk (may be substituted with water)
- Horchata, concentrated (if not already sweetened, add sugar to taste)
- Vanilla (optional)
- Ice
- Blender

Basically, half of your drink should be ice, three fifths milk/water and horchata, and two fifths oatmeal, with a splash of vanilla. I find it helps make the drink smoother if you preheat the otameal in the microwave before blending.

For a 500mL serving, you probably want to use around 6-8 tablespoons of quick oats, 200-25 mL milk (or water), 2-4 tablespoons of concentrated horchata, 1/2 a teaspoon of vanilla, and about 6-8 large ice cubes. Depending on your horchata, you may require some extra cinnamon and/or sugar.

Technically, I think the shake is supposed to be dairy-free, in which case you could probably just use regular horchata and not the concentrated kind, but I'm used to my shakes milky so I like to have the milk present. I also experiment with nut milks for pleasant results. Enjoy!

Magic in a blender!