It's been about eight years since my last trip to Brazil, but my heart still feels like it was yesterday. This country left its mark on me, and it doesn't take much to send me on an emotional journey back to Salvador, Bahia, on the northeast coast. One distinct memory was sampling cachaça, a distilled spirit made from sugarcane juice. It's most often used to make a classic Brazilian cocktail called a caipirinha. Over the holidays I was lucky enough to get a bottle of Sagatiba cachaça, and it immediately reminded me of some very fun times.

Cachaça is labeled as "Brazilian rum" in the United States, but it's different than rum. Rum is distilled from molasses and cachaça is distilled from fresh pressed sugarcane juice. Cachaça, to me, has a much more intense aroma and flavor than rum--maybe a little more of a fruity flavor that I suppose is due to the sugarcane. It's sweet and smooth and feels warm going down your throat. Just one sip makes me want to samba!

It's amazing to me that a food or drink can evoke such powerful memories and a sense of place, but this spirit, for me, represents all things Brazilian. If you want to make a caipirinha, start with 1/2 of a lime, 1 or 2 teaspoons of sugar (the cachaça is pretty sweet, so start off with just 1 teapoon), 1 cup of ice and 2 ounces of cachaça. Muddle the lime and sugar in a cocktail shaker. Add the ice and the cachaça, shake, and pour.

For a classic Brazilian dinner to go with the caipirinha, try it with feijoada, a traditional black bean and sausage stew, or a Brazilian Fish Stew. Your taste buds will say "Obrigada", which is Portuguese for "thank you". I'd love to hear if anyone has any other favorite Brazilian recipes to share.