Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Valentine Warner - another big fan of Mexican food

It seems that everyone loves Mexican food and Valentine Warner is just one of the latest celebrity chefs/cooks to endorse this fantastic cuisine. In a recent interview with Fluid Eating (www.fluideating.co.uk), he made the following comments:

"I think it’s starting to be done well. Unfortunately Mexican food has been maligned as being heavy and stodgy, all beans and cheese. But Mexican food is huge; there are a lot of different influences. It really is worth investigating. Ready-made fajita mix has nothing to do with Mexican cooking. Corn tortilla is what Mexican food is about. The smell of these in the morning is amazing."

As the proud owner of a brand new tortilla press, I'm in total agreement about his last comment. To read the full article, click here.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Recipe: roasted poblano peppers

I love the smell of peppers roasting although it does have a tendency to linger about the flat! While the whole process may appear time consuming and fiddly, it is well worth the trouble. The peppers will keep for a few days in the fridge and not only provide the basis for many great Mexican dishes but they also go well with pasta and alongside grilled meat and fish.

I have great difficulty in finding fresh poblano peppers (i.e. they should be green) in London but you can find something similar at one of the many farmers' markets or street markets around town. A whole bag of these peppers (about 6 good-sized) cost me a mere £1 on Portobello Road. They're also the perfect size for stuffing.

Poblanos rajas (sliced chillies)
4 poblano peppers
1/2 red onion
1 tbsp oil

Blacken the peppers but either roasting them directly over a gas hob or under a hot grill. They will take about 10-15 mins under the grill; turn them mid way so that they are evenly roasted.

Place the peppers in a dish, cover with a clean tea towel and leave to cool. Once cold, the skins should peel off very easily; don't be tempted to rinse any last bits from the flesh as this will wash away that lovely smoky flavour. Slice the peppers into 1 cm strips.

Heat the oil in a saucepan and gently fry the onion for 5 mins. Add the peppers and season - I usually add some oregano, salt and pepper - and cook for another two minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Pureed, this makes a great smoky sauce that is fantastic with pasta. Stir in a little cream for a more decadent dish. Otherwise, use the peppers as an extra filling for tacos, enchiladas or simply as a condiment alongside some steak or grilled fish. They make a wonderful vegetarian dish layered with rice and cheese and baked in the oven until hot and bubbling.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Last chance to win Mexican food for a year!

The Blagger's Banquet have a year's worth of free food at Chilango up for grabs in aid of Action Against Hunger. Follow this link the enter your bid via Ebay, but don't delay as the auction ends tonight. At the time of this post, it was a mere £214.95...quite a bargain!
For more details about the charity Action Against Hunger, go to http://www.actionagainsthunger.org.uk/

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

New Year's Eve at Mestizo

Are you a fan of Diana Kennedy?

Did you realise there's a 'Fans of Diana Kennedy' Facebook group? No, neither did I. Anyone can join and there appears to be lots of interesting discussion about her latest book as well as interviews/articles and events. I also stumbled across the Los Dos cookery school site on Facebook. If you happen to be in the Yucatan over the holiday season, Diana is hosting a special Christmas class there on 22nd December. I'll certainly bear the school in mind for any future trips!

Los Dos Cookery School, Merida: http://www.los-dos.com/

Sunday, 13 December 2009

It's the most wonderful time of the year...

Photo credit: Phil_g
Tamales are a traditional Christmas food in many Mexican households. Get all the family involved in the preparation and the whole process doesn't seem so labour intensive! Here's some tamale-making advice I recently came across including tips from the likes of Diana Kennedy.

Wrappers: Look for dried corn husks in markets that cater to Latinos. They should be at least six inches long and six inches at their widest end. To soften, soak in hot water an hour or more. Some tamale makers use parchment paper. Clean them if not pre-washed. Buy extra; they tear easily. Torn pieces can be overlapped for wraps, or cut up for ties.

Fillings: Whether shredded meat, beans, fresh chiles and cheese -- they must be flavourful. Think chicken in a tomatillo sauce, pork or beef cooked with pureed red chiles, cumin and garlic, roasted and peeled poblano peppers with cheese. Cut corners with prepared food from Mexican markets. Fill dulce (sweet) tamales with raisins, other dried fruits or coconut.

Dough: Masa, sold in specialty and some mainstream markets, is corn flour from the Mexican equivalent of hominy. Look for "masa para tamales," although easier-to-find "masa para tortillas" is fine for all or part of the dough. The best tamale dough is made with lard, which adds flavour. The masa is ready when a small ball of it floats in water. If not, keep mixing.

Rolling: Move quickly; wrap tamales while heating the cooking water. Hold the husk, narrow side toward you. Spread a layer of masa (thickness determines the tamale size). For steamed tamales, leave space with no masa at the bottom and sides of the husk; for boiled tamales also leave space at the top. Put filling on masa, fold over sides of the shuck then roll into a tube so masa encases filling.

Cooking: Steaming produces a more consistent flavor. Place tamales in steamer, open end up. Cover open ends with cornhusk and use a tight-fitting lid to minimize evaporation into the tamales. Diana Kennedy says coins in the water help gauge the water level (when the coins stop rattling, it's too low). Boiling is faster, and when the husks are folded at both ends, flavor and texture are not compromised.

Storing: Freeze six months to two years, depending on how well they are wrapped or sealed. Steam or reheat in a sealed bag in boiling water for 10-15 minutes, or thaw overnight in a refrigerator before briefly microwaving them. Frozen boiled tamales can be reheated in seasoned boiling water.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Another London choc fest

Got nothing to do this weekend? Head down to London's Southbank for the Winter Chocolate festival....demonstrations, tastings and lots of different products to buy! The Cool Chile Company will be there as will many other exhibitors from across London. Like I need and excuse to eat chocolate...

Main marquee, Southbank Centre Square, Belvedere Road, SE1
Friday 11 - Sunday 13 December from 11am - 8pm (6pm Sunday)

Thursday, 10 December 2009

No such a thing as a free lunch...or is there?

Food waste is a hot topic at the moment, especially with Christmas (which is always a time of excess) just around the corner. According to statistics, we're guilty of wasting 25% of the food we buy here in the UK, a very sobering thought.

Next Wednesday, Trafalgar Square is hosting a modern day Feeding of the 5000 to highlight the extravagantly high levels of food waste in the UK and abroad. A combination of food campaigners and charities are going to serve lunch on a biblical scale, using food that would have been wasted due to 'cosmetic imperfections' that make it unworthy of our supermarket shelves. 

So what does this have to do with Mexican food? Well, if you haven't caught Thomasina Miers in action, now's your chance as she will be presenting a live cooking demo/masterclass. The Bishop of London will be there as well as a host of other civic and spiritual leaders and speakers from across the farming and food industries.

For further details, see www.feeding5k.org.
Wednesday 16th December from 12 - 2pm.

Recipe: grilled lime chicken

This is a very tasty and yet simple supper dish. It's really super if you want to liven up some chicken with the flavours of Mexico. The marinade also works well with salmon.

2 chicken breasts
1 tbsp lime juice
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp soy sauce
1/2 tsp honey
Pinch of cumin
1 tbsp coriander, roughly chopped
2 tbsp olive oil

Mix together all the ingredients and pour over the chicken. Leave to marinade for as long as possible but at least 1/2 hour.

Remove the breasts from the marinade and grill the chicken for 20 mins or until golden brown. Serve with a simple salad, some rice and refried beans.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Jamie v Tommi

The debate over the quality of Mexican food in the UK heated up last week following Jamie Oliver's comments at the BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham. Thomasina Miers retaliated via Twitter. Personally, I can see where both chefs are coming from but hey, it's all good publicity....

Recipe: layered tortilla casserole

The only positive thing about all this cold, wet weather is that it's a good excuse to eat more food, especially the kind of dishes that lend themselves so well to winter. At the moment, food is all about comfort, value and simplicity and there's plenty of Mexican dishes that you can create at home that fit all three trends.

Supper the other evening was a perfect example of this, a combination of shredded pork layered with home made tortillas and smothered with adobada sauce. There's something totally delicious about tortillas simmered in an earthy chile sauce in the oven; they become incredibly soft and doughy, creating a dish that's both comforting and homely, similar to bread pudding. It's an unbeatable combination of flavours and texture and one that I'd take over lasagne any day of the week.

Layered tortilla casserole (serves 2)
350g pork loin or shoulder, cubed
3/4 pt water
Bay leaf
1 tbsp malt vinegar
Pinch of sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

4 leftover tortillas, flour or corn
1/2 pt chile adobada sauce

Place the pork, water, bay leaf, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in a slow cooker and cook on high for 5 hours until the meat is fork tender. If you don't have a slow cooker, this will take about an 1 1/2 hr simmered on the hob or in a low oven.

Shred the pork and combine with 1/3 of the sauce. Place a tortilla in a baking dish and layer with the meat, a tortilla and a little sauce. Repeat the process, making sure you finish with a sauce covered tortilla on the top. Bake in a moderate over (180C) for 20-30 mins or until the top is crusty and the sauce bubbling around the ages.
You could of course add beans, cheese and/or cream to the dish for a more filling dish.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The tonka bean

Photo credit: mecredis
Since discovering the Tonka bean, I've become somewhat obsessed with it. The seeds of a Dipteryx odorata (a tree native to northern South America) are not particularly well-known in the UK and even illegal in the USA. This is because they contain small amounts of coumarin, an anticoagulant that can be toxic in large doses. However, don't be put off; I'm told you'd have to eat an absurdly large amount of the beans to have a reaction.

The inch-long, black, wrinkly seed has a hard shell but once grated, releases an unusal perfume, a grassy almond-like scent. Used to flavour pipe tobacco, it also makes a great change from vanilla if you want to enhance the flavour of baked goods with a slightly more exotic taste. 

If you fancy a little bite of this fabulous bean, I can highly recommend Artisan du Chocolat's tonka bar. If you'd like to buy the beans direct, the Spicery is a good online store (50g for £3.60). You can also find the beans available on many alchemy/wicca sites, as they are used in casting spells for love, courage and money...I wonder if cooking with them has the same effect?

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Recipe: "salsa adobada"

This simple red sauce is another one of my 'store cupboard' standbys and perfect for the busy cook that doesn't have time to go shopping for special ingredients. Straight out of Mexican Cookery by Lourdes Nichols, I use it for filling tamales and as an enchilada sauce. It's also great served with BBQ ribs or as a base for a chilli con carne (simply add ground beef and beans). Much better than anything you can buy in a bottle and you'll feel all the more noble for making it.

Salsa Adobada (makes 1/2 pint, serves 4)
1 clove garlic
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
1 inch cinnamon stick (2 tsp cinnamon)
3 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp oil
3/4 pint chicken stock
1/2 tbsp dark chocolate grated (cocoa powder is also fine)
3 tbsp chilli powder (I use a mix of ancho and hot chilli)
Pinch of sugar

Put the garlic, cinnamon and onion into a blender or mini chopper and puree until you have a smooth paste. Heat the oil in a pan and fry the paste for 5 mins, or until it begins to look dry. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer until the sauce reduces by a third (about 20 mins).

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The next big thing....twitraunts!

You've heard of twitter and you know perfectly well what a restaurant is...so what happens when you combine the two? Why a 'twitraunt' of course!

I came across this in an article on the Independent website the other day. Apparently the latest craze to hit the West Coast, 'twitraunts' are savvy street vendors who are using twitter to proclaim their arrival at the end of your street. It's an instant means of communicating to the i-phone generation that their favourite snack is being served just round the corner. I quite like the sound of KogiBBQ, a truck that whizzes round LA delivering Korea-Mexican fusion food.

Whether this is all just a culinary fad remains to be seen but it shows what a great marketing tool twitter can be and I wouldn't be surprised to see it come to London. It's great way for a small mobile catering business to reach as many punters as possible as the latter dash out of their offices in their lunch hour. Maybe this is the future for Mr Whippy?

To read the full article, click here.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Crowning the tequila queen

Did you know that the UK has a tequila queen? No, neither did I. As of last month, the title was duly bestowed upon one Cleo Rocos, whose previous claim to fame (if you're old enough to remember) would have to be The Kenny Everett Show.

However, the comedian/actress has taken up a new cause in the form of tequila, a spirit that remains largely misunderstood in this country. It's all to do with the way you should drink the stuff; you should sip it, not swig it. Cleo, who travels back to Mexico every few months, is very fond of the tipple and as a result, has been crowned the tequila queen by the Mexican Chamber of the Tequila Industry (or Consejo Regulador del Tequila). Her love of tequila has also led her to establish The Tequila Society (and one of the oddest websites I've ever come across). I'm still not entirely sure what the society does or if you can even join it, but it's certainly a worthy cause.

If you don't know much about tequila and how it's made, this recent article in the Independent is a good introduction. I've just about got my head around the difference between mezcal and tequila. Interesting to learn that 74% of tequila is exported to the USA...I wonder how much of that ends up in the households of such celebrities as Justin Timberlake, Cindy Crawford and Oprah Winfrey, who are all supposedly very fond of the drink. 

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Going green: tomatillo sauce

I seem to be on a green theme at the moment; first it was the pipian sauce earlier this week and today, I made up a batch of tomatillo sauce. Tomatillos, not to be confused with green tomatoes, are a distant relative of the gooseberry. They are packed full of flavour, although I personally feel that they taste a lot better once cooked. If you're not a fan of chillies but still want a flavour of Mexico, then this is the dish for you.

If you can get hold of tomatillos (tinned ones are hard enough to find in the UK, let alone fresh), this salsa verde is a great 'storecupboard' sauce that doesn't require any additional ingredients that you probably don't already have at home. It freezes well and is particularly good with pork, tamales and as a sauce for enchiladas.

Tomatillo sauce (makes 1/2 pint, enough for 4 servings)

1 x 380g tinned tomatillos
1/2 tbsp oil
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
Handful of coriander

Heat the oil in a heavy based pan and brown the onion for 5 minutes. Transfer the onion, with contents of the tin of tomatillos and coriander to a blender and puree. Return the sauce to the pan and allow to simmer for 20 mins. It should thicken a little. Season with pepper.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Recipe: Tilapia in pipian verde (pumpkin seed sauce)

Also known as mole verde, toasted pumpkin seeds provide the base of this fragrant, nutty green sauce. While a typical recipe requires a long list of ingredients (including those that aren't so easy to come by such as tomatillos), the sauce outlined below is much simpler. Served over a grilled piece of fish or poached chicken alongside some Mexican white rice or quinoa, it's a light and and vibrant dish with an distinctive taste. The sauce also freezes well and makes a great filling for tacos or enchiladas.

Pipian or Mole Verde (serves 6 generously)
1 onion, sliced
1 tbsp garlic, minced
100g hulled pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp thyme
Bunch of fresh coriander, roughly chopped
3 lettuce leaves (Romaine or Little Gem), roughly chopped
2 jalapenos, roughly chopped
800ml stock

Toast the seeds in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Stir regularly until they have turned golden brown (do not let them get too dark). Once they begin to make a popping sound, it won't take longer than 5 minutes. allow to cool, leaving some aside as a garnish.

Place the seeds in a blender with the onion, garlic, coriander, lettuce and chillies. Add 325ml of the stock and blend.

Heat 1tsbp oil in a large saucepan and when it's hot, add the puree and stir constantly, as it thickens, for 10 minutes. Stir in the rest of the stock and allow to simmer, partially covered, for 30 mins.

Return the sauce to the blender and blend until smooth. Gently reheat back in the saucepan, and season with salt. Ladle the sauce over some pieces of chicken or fish and garnish with the reserved seeds.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Chipotle Mexican Grill comes to the UK

A double dose of burritos this week! There have been rumours for some time that the Denver-based gourmet burrito and taco firm, Chipotle Mexican Grill, was coming to London. It was confirmed this week that their first European outlet will be at 114-116 Charing Cross Road (next door to Borders I believe), due to open in April 2010. Chipotle currently has more than 900 stores in the USA and prides itself on being the only restaurant chain committed to serving food from sustainable sources and animals that have been treated humanely. With an emphasis on high quality ingredients, the menu includes the usual suspects (burritos, tacos, salads etc.), all made to order.

Chipotle will certainly be facing some tough competition in the UK. They're not exactly a budget burrito outlet ($7.50 for a burrito) and in the current climate, it will be interesting to see how they fare.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Another great event at the British Museum

If you're at a loose end this Saturday, there are still places available at 'Moctezuma's Feast,' a whole day of events allowing people the chance to experience and learn about Mexican food from the Aztecs to modern day. Organised by Latin American specialist (and ex-university tutor of mine), Dr. Rebecca Earle, there'll be talks by several leading historians and food experts as well as an array of traditional Mexican food items to sample, from maize to chocolate.

Rebecca says: "What we think of today as Mexican cuisine evolved out of a combination of Aztec and European influences. This special event will provide fascinating insights into Latin American culture, showing the integral role food and eating has played in shaping history, not just in Mexico, but for people all over the world, who learned to love the chocolate, tomatoes and chillies on which Moctezuma feasted five hundred years ago."

The day is from 10.00am to 5.15pm and tickets cost £28 (£18 concessions). For the full programme, visit the British Museum website.

Authenticity versus accessibility: that old chesnut...

Creating authentic food that meets local tastes can be a tricky balance for any ethnic cuisine when exported overseas. Sourcing ingredients from the country of origin can be environmentally and/or economically impractical, so to what degree do we expect to eat exactly the same food we would eat when visiting that country? Are we looking for authenticity or just a little taste of a different cuisine and culture?

There's no doubt that Mexican food in London has met this challenge head on and its success is proof that it has achieved this balance. Wahaca is a prime example: the restaurant promises a 'true' taste of Mexico but Thomasina would be the first to admit (as she did at the talk at the British Museum) that it's impossible to serve food that's 100% authentic. The menu has been tailored to give London a taste of 'market eating' and its success is testament to the fact that it's meeting expectations.

On the other hand, Joe Warwick feels this is why Korean food is failing to appeal to the masses. The British journalist believes that Korean restaurants still largely cater to Korean tourists and residents living in the capital because they're not 'customer friendly' enough. It's certainly an interesting thought. To read the full article, click here.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

The hunt for the best burrito continues....

I find myself writing posts about burritos about once a month; they really are one of the latest street foods to take London by storm. I visited Chilango for the first time this week and was very impressed with the standard of the food. It's not the cheapest burrito around (expect to pay over a fiver for a burrito and about two quid for a taco) but the steak filling was very tender and some of the tastiest I've had in a long time. The ordering process reminds me of a Subway (you pick and choose the type of beans, relish, salsa etc.) and for the carb-conscious, you can have a salad or order yours 'desnudo' (i.e. naked). My only disappointment was the lack of side dishes; only tortilla chips are available, which are extra. On the plus side, the Upper Street branch also has a reasonable seating area, which makes a change from being stood on a street corner while you chomp your way through what can often be quite a messy experience.
For further views on the current London burrito breakout, have a read of Oliver Thring's post on www.istarvin.com. If you happen to be visiting San Francisco, the so-called birthplace of the burrito, then be sure to check our this article on the city's best taquerias.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Matador: top ten Mexican foods to try

If you're a keen traveller, then one of the best sites on the internet is Matador, a worldwide network of travellers, writers and photographers. Not only is it jammed packed with advice and guides, but there's lots of stories and articles to whet the appetite; I love the fact the pieces are short and often very funny. If you need to kill time at work, this is a great site to visit.
It's also a great way to get writing on the web (there's a very active online community) and meet other like-minded travellers. I recently came across this piece ('top 10 Mexican foods to try') by one of the contributing editors, Sarah Menkedick. Sarah's based in Oaxaca (lucky her) and also has her own blog here.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Revolutionary prints at the British Museum

Emiliano Zapata and his horse, Diego Rivera, 1932, lithograph © 2009
Banco de Mexico Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Museums Trust, Mexico

I seem to be spending rather a lot of time at the British museum at the moment. Today I went to look at one of the latest exhibitions to open, Revolution on Paper: Mexican prints from 1910-1960. This display is a first in Europe, showcasing 130 works by major Mexican artists such as José Guadalupe Posada (the father of Mexican printmaking) and the "big three" (Diego Rivera and Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros). Print / lithography is a very powerful medium and the works featured give you a real feeling for the socialist revolution that took place in the early 20th century. It's a great introduction to the history and art of one of the most turbulent periods that Mexico has ever seen. 
The exhibition is in Room 90, runs from 22 October 2009 – 5 April 2010 and best of all, it's free.

Interview with Marcela at Rico Mexican Kitchen

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Where to find Mexican food in London

A good round-up of London's current Mexican restaurant scene can be found here. While some of the information is a little out-of-date, the comments are quite recent. It's certainly the most comprehensive list I've come across so far...

Monday, 9 November 2009

Mexican Food Evening at the British Museum

It was an interesting evening at the British Museum last Thursday. Chaired by Fay Maschler, the panel enthused about the delights of Mexican cuisine in front of an audience of avid listeners. I particularly enjoyed hearing Diana Kennedy speak; her regional and culinary knowledge is incredible and she speaks with real passion and authority. She has published a fair number of books on Mexican food and while I don't have any at the moment, I'll certainly be putting down one or two on my Christmas list!
One of the topics they raised was the need for Mexico to export more of its produce since it's difficult to achieve the same flavour and quality from produce grown elsewhere (all that fabulous Mexican sunshine). While we all know how hard it is to get hold of many of the ingredients used in Mexican cooking, we're also very aware of our food miles these days, something which wasn't addressed during the discussion. Thomasina Myers talked about her desire for British farmers to grow more corn etc. but it's a dilemma where we have to choose between authenticity and environmental concerns.
If you want to read more about Diana Kennedy, I found this article online. It is a little out-of-date, but nevertheless, worth reading.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Fame at last!

For the first time ever, I just got tweeted about - thank you Wahaca! I'm thrilled to bits.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Recipe: Cafe de Olla

Nothing beats the aroma of a freshly brewed cup of coffee but add a few simple spices and you've got Mexico in a cup. Cafe de olla, once a peasant drink, is now popular throughout Mexico. Brewed in earthenware pots, the coffee is flavoured with a mixture of dark brown sugar and cinnamon. Here's a cheat's version, a simple syrup you can make at home.

5 tbsp water
4 tbsp muscovado sugar
1 tsp cinnamon / 1 cinnamon stick

Place all the ingredients in a pan and bring to the boil while stirring. Allow to bubble away for 20 minutes, until the liquid has reduced to a syrupy consistency. Divide among 4 cups of freshly brewed coffee.

Rico Mexican Kitchen launches website

I had the opportunity to meet the founder of Rico Mexican Kitchen in Selfridges last Saturday. Marcela quit teaching a year or so ago and has been busy setting up her own business, selling fresh Mexican sauces and Selfridges is just one of the latest stockists to realise her potential. She's got big plans (we talked about getting tamales to the masses....I can't wait) and from what I sampled, I'm really impressed with what she's achieved in so little time. If you haven't got the patience to make mole from scratch, then I would highly recommend her mole poblano sauce (we currently have a pot sitting in the fridge). It's made from a base of 3 chillies (ancho, pasilla and mulato) and contains over 25 ingredients; not something you can throw together for a quick week night supper. We also love her chipotle xtra hot salsa; it's full of flavour and packs a nice punch! The current range also includes also a mild version, a salsa verde and spicy beans.
For more details about stockists etc. check out the new website - it went live about a week ago.

Monday, 2 November 2009

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Recipe: Sopaipillas

Something I really look forward to eating while I'm in the Southwest USA are sopaipillas, a wonderful light and puffy fried treat similar to Navajo frybread (pictured below). Doused with warm honey, these are often served alongside the main course and provide a great relief to the fiery burn of many a chile-laden dish!While I must admit I haven't tried to recreate these at home (my excuse is that I don't have a deep fat fryer), here's an easy to follow recipe from Lourdes Nichols' book Mexican Cookery.

photo credit: Navin75
Sopaipillas (Puff fritters with honey and rum syrup)
75g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
15 lard
50ml warm water
2 tbsp honey
1tbsp rum
1/2 tsp cinnamon
15g butter

Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and rub in the lard until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Slowly add the warm water and bring together to form a dough. Turn this out onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth. Roll out the dough and cut into fist sized pieces and refrigerate, covered, for 2 hours.

Make the syrup by heating the honey, rum, cinnamon and butter in a saucepan, stirring constantly until well-mixed.

Heat the oil in a deep fat fryer until 190C or 375F and fry each piece until golden (about 1 min). Ensure that the oil remains at this temperature otherwise they will not puff up. Drain on kitchen paper and keep warm. To serve, you can reheat in a very hot oven.

Pour the syrup over the hot sopaipillas and serve.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Lourdes Nichols: the mother of Mexican food in the UK

Lourdes Nichols is another name which may not ring many bells with the British. However, she was instrumental in bringing Mexican food to the UK and her company, La Mexicana, was the first to produce tortillas in Britain.
Married to an Englishman, Lourdes came to the UK in 1967 and set up her own catering business, which provided traditional Mexican food to the Mexican Embassy, Mexican Tourist Board and the British Mexican Society among many others. She made numerous TV and radio appearances in the Eighties and wrote several cookery books. I have had one of these, Mexican Cookery, in my possession for some time, a rather dog-eared copy that I picked up in a second hand bookstore. It's a great book and has a fantastic range of authentic dishes; these are easy to follow and require relatively straightforward ingredients. First published in 1984, it's really interesting to see how our awareness of Mexican food has grown over the last twenty years...and how the Nahuatl word 'chilpoctli' has been sidelined in favour of the more popular spelling, 'chipotle'. If you want to read more about Lourdes, there's this on the Wahaca website.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

My Mexican bible

The name Rick Bayless doesn't mean much in the UK but ask any American and they'll probably know who you're talking about. Think of him as the Ken Hom of Mexican food. I first came across the "award-winning chef-restaurateur, cookbook author, and television personality" when I was given one of his books, Mexican Kitchen, which really inspired me to have a go at cooking Mexican at home. It's not only a great recipe book but also contains a lot of information about the ingredients and regionality of Mexican cuisine. It's the kind of cookery book you read in bed.
Mr Bayless has published several cookery books which are available from Amazon.co.uk. In addition, he runs several successul Mexican restaurants stateside, of which I'm yet to visit. For further details, go to www.rickbayless.com. Some recipes are available online and you can buy Frontera products from selected stockists in the UK.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Interview with Thomasina Miers

There's no doubt that Wahaca is one of the most successful Mexican restaurants in the UK. With its third site due to open in Canary Wharf next month, I just came across this recent interview with it's co-founder,Thomasina Miers. It's great that she's going to be involved in the British Street Food Awards next year and I look forward to her cookery book hitting the shelves!

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Is this the real thing? Mexican Coca-Cola

Photo credit: Nick Burnett
Fun fact for today...did you know that one of the most popular items sold by Mexgrocer.com is Coca-Cola? Apparently, Mexican coke's 'unique' taste is because it's made with cane sugar: folks in the USA are willing to pay $1.99 + shipping for a small bottle of the stuff. They do say you can't beat the feeling...

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Day of the Dead at the British Museum

Strolling through the British Museum yesterday, the above flyer caught my eye. It seems that el Dia de los Muertos is finally getting the recognition it deserves in the UK. On Sunday 1st November, the British Museum is hosting a whole range of activities and events in celebration of the Mexican festival. It's all free, from the Uk's only authentic Mariachi band to the children's workshops. For further details, you can download the programme here. I'm intrigued to see what the 'steet food' being served in the Great Hall will be like!

Wahaca are also getting in on the act by offering free shots of tequila (reposado rather than blanco...lovely) on Monday 2nd and Tuesday 3rd November. A special Day of the Dead cocktail will also be available but hey, I'm all about the free stuff (although I couldn't resist buying this sugar skull from the British Museum).

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Essential storecupboard items

A typical Mexican recipe can look quite daunting to the novice. Many dishes have a long list of ingredients or require a lot of preparation. However, if you invest in just a few key items, then it is possible to create a whole range of dishes from scratch. Here are a few suggestions for your storecupboard that will enable you to create an authentic taste of Mexico at home.

The heart and soul of Mexican cuisine, don't be fooled into thinking that all chillies are the same. Here are my top three:
Jalapeño - has a nice heat and can be used in a variety of dishes.
Chipotle - the hottest chili at the moment in terms of food trends, chipotles en adobo are a great ingredient for the Mexican cook.
Ancho - readily available from select stockists in powder form, this makes a great seasoning paste and is an easy and prep-free ingredient to spice up dishes.
For more info, see my earlier post on types of chillies.

No Mexican meal is complete without a side of tortillas. If you have the time (and patience), try making your own. Nothing beats the smell of fresh dough and a tortilla cooking on a hot griddle. If you just want to grab some from the supermarket, I think Discovery produces some of the best shop-bought flour tortillas but if you want corn, then Old El Paso sell these.

Another common side dish particularly in Tex-Mex cuisine, Mexican rice is usually fried with onion and then simmered in stock and seasonings. It was first introduced to the New World by the Spanish and quickly became part of the country's staple diet. Medium-grain white rice is used in Mexico but difficult to find in the UK so use long-grain instead.

Another staple of the Mexican diet, the type of bean varies depending on the region and. Black beans are widespread while pinto beans are more common in northwest Mexico and southwest USA. The pinto bean is one of the state vegetables of New Mexico and more commonly used to make refried beans (frijoles refritos) but either bean can be used. I love both but if forced to make a decision, I'd choose pinto. Both are becoming more readily available in UK supermarkets, both in tinned and dried form. You can also buy refried beans in a tin but I strongly advise making your own!

Many a Mexican sauce will contain tomatoes. Plum tomatoes have a rich, pulpy texture which results in a thick and flavourful sauce while cherry tomatoes are great for fresh salsas. There's nothing wrong with using tinned but if you want to add extra depth to your dish, buy them fresh. Make sure they are nice and ripe and roast them under the grill under charred and blackened. It's up to you if you want to leave the skins on, but I think little black flecks running through a brick red sauce looks very attractive.

Domesticated by the Aztecs, the tomate verde is NOT a green tomato, and is more closely related to a gooseberry. If you've seen one enclosed in it's thin, papery skin, you'll understand why. I'm yet to find fresh tomatillos for sale in the UK but they can be bought tinned from Mexican food stockists. They have a wonderful flavour and essential if you want to make salsa verde.

News from Mestizo

Mestizo is hosting a special Mole Festival to tie in with their Dia de los Muertos celebrations. A selection of authentic moles from different regions of Mexico will be available from 27th October to 2nd November.  

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

My tortilla factory

Tortillas...the staple of the Mexican diet. While the ones you get in the supermarket are much better than they used to be, nothing beats a fresh corn tortilla.

What you will need:
180g masa harina
50g plain flour
200-300ml warm water
Pinch of salt
A tortilla press*
An old plastic shopping bag/ bin liner (clean, of course)

*Now, if you don't have a tortilla press, don't panic...neither do I! I've come across many hurdles when trying to recreate Mexican classics at home (see making tamales without corn husks) and in this case, I've discovered that a heavy hardback book will suffice...as long as it's one you don't mind standing on it.

What you do:
Mix the flours together in a large bowl. Gradually add the water, a little at a time, until you have a soft dough that leaves the sides of the bowl clean. If the dough seems a little sticky, add a little more flour until you reach the right consistency. Knead the dough for another 5-10 mins until soft and pliable (if you pinch a little between two fingers, it shouldn't crack at the ages). Divide into 12 balls and cover with a tea towel.

If you have a tortilla press, line each side with a piece of thin plastic bag / bin liner and press down to form the tortilla. It should be about 5" in diameter. If you are using a book, open and lay down the plastic so that it covers the front page and the inside cover. Place a ball of dough on the first page and shut the book, making sure the dough will be sandwiched between the sheets of plastic. Depending on how strong you are, either press down on top of the book with your hands or place the book on the floor and stand on it for 5-10 secs. Personally, the latter works much better for me. Have a peek and apply more pressure if it isn't large enough.

Heat a heavy based pan over a high heat; it will be ready when a drop of water sizzles upon touch. Carefully pick up the tortilla (still in the plastic), peel back one side and using your hand, flip it into the pan. Cook for 20 secs; when the edges begin to curl up, flip over and cook for another 20 secs. If you've got it right, the tortilla will now begin to puff up. Don't worry, if it doesn't, it'll still taste great and the more you practice, the better they'll become! Flip again for a final 20 secs and slide into a folded tea towel while you continue to make the rest.

If you're not eating them straightaway, the tortillas freeze very well. To reheat, defrost thoroughly and either steam them over a pan of boiling water or microwave on high for 20-30 secs.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Mexican food...no longer an 'ethnic' food

According to a new report in the USA, Mexican food has become a mainstay of the American diet and is hardly considered an ethnic cuisine anymore. Here in the UK, curry is "said to be the overall favourite dish" when it come to ethnic eating. It certainly throws up some interesting ideas about the actual meaning of 'ethnic food'.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Recipe: green chile corn soup with dumplings

This is an incredibly quick and easy "all-in-one" soup, with lots of colour and a nice spicy kick! A great way to brighten up those looming winter nights.

1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 green chillies, roasted and diced
1 small tin of sweetcorn, drained
1 medium sized potato, diced
salt and pepper to taste
3/4 pint stock
1/2 pint milk

50g masa harina
125ml hot water
1/2tsp salt

Place all the ingredients (except the milk) into a large saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn down to a simmer and leave for 15-20 mins, until the potatoes are cooked.

Using a hand blender, combine until smooth. Add the milk and check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste.

Make the dumplings by adding the hot water to the masa harina and form into a dough. If you like a lighter texture to your dumplings, use 25g masa harina, 25g plain flour. Sprinkle over the salt and knead well. Roll the dough into a long sausage (about 2cm in diameter) and cut into bit-size pieces. Drop these into the soup and allow to simmer for 20 mins. The dumplings should come to the surface.

Serve with some grated cheddar cheese over the top and a sprinkle of cayenne or crushed red chillies.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Cocoa a go-go

So, this post isn't directly related to Mexican food but it is about chocolate. You might have heard of a liquid lunch, but yesterday, mine consisted mostly of chocolate...at a free tasting hosted by Artisan du Chocolat in celebration of the UK's 6th National Chocolate Week.

We're all familiar with the major chocolate brands, but the UK is actually chock-full of independent high-quality chocolatiers producing incredibly elegant and not overly rich chocolate. L'Artisan is a fine example and, unlike many of their competitors, they grind their own cocoa beans (in Kent of all places) to produce an array of mouth-watering chocolate goodies.

Yesterday, along with a number of others (funnily enough, all women) in their chocolateria at Selfridges, I sampled 8 of their luxury bars plus their trademark liquid salted caramels, a favourite of Gordon Ramsey. If you think all cocoa beans taste the same, think again; from the fruity floral undertones of Madagascar to the distinctive smokiness of Java, the 'origin' bars each have a unique flavour and tone. In addition to this range, there are several coffee and tea infused bars and a fusion of other spices, herbs and flowers. We got to sample the Tonka bar, an unsual spice, apparently popular in Mexico but banned in the USA because it contains coumarin, which can be lethal in large doses. All the bars retail for £2.50 and there is a huge array of tantalising truffles, drinking chocolate and other 'novelty' items to burn a hole in your pocket.

I must admit I came away feeling a little sick; high percentage cocoa chocolate (all their bars are 72%) is much more lethal than your standard dairy milk! Probably a good thing, otherwise I would be a much larger (and poorer) woman.

Artisan du Chocolat
0845 270 6996
Stores: Selfridges, Notting Hill and Chelsea plus their Borough Market stall
The factory is located in Ashford, Kent and does offer chocolate tasting tours as well as an atelier pick-up

Monday, 12 October 2009

More shopping? Mexican folk art, jewellery, hammocks...

I keep coming across some really good sites for Mexican non-food items but they do take some finding! If you like silver jewellery, then look no further than Corazon Latino, a great selection of beatiful hand-made bracelets, necklaces and earrings. If you fancy hanging a hammock at home, then Between the Trees on Ebay has a wide selection of Mexican Hammocks, Mexican Blankets, Serapes and Falsa blankets. Papel Picado. Milagros, Frida Kahlo, Day of the Dead, Nichos, Virgin of Guadalupe, Loteria, Retablos, Sugar Skull Moulds, Taxco Silver, Oaxacan tinwork. Now where's my sausage and mash?

The burrito bites backs: the rise of British street food

Ever heard of the Vendys awards? No, me neither. Now in their 5th year, the contest celebrates the best street food vendor in New York and this year, was won by the The Country Boys Taco Truck, a husband and wife duo who feed the hundreds who flock to the public fields in Brooklynn's Red Hook district at the weekend.
So, it's no surprise then that us Londoners are not to be outdone by hosting our own British Street Food Awards from 2010. Got a stand/stall that outshines the rest? You can now enter your nominations online. Categories are as follows:

1.        Best Pie
2.        Best Dessert
3.        Best Cold Drink
4.        Best Hot Drink
5.        Best Main Dish
6.        Best Sandwich
7.        Best Looking Mobiler
8.        Best of the Best

Day of the Dead (Dia de la Muertos) 31st Oct - 2nd Nov

It's just a few weeks away from the most important festival in the Mexican calendar, el Dia de los Muertos or the Day of the Dead, a time when families come together to celebrate and remember those who have passed away.
The Day of the Dead has been celebrated since Atzec times and nowadays, it's a strange mix of Catholic and indigenous beliefs, and traditions vary from place to place. The festival culminates on 2nd November, the day when deceased adults are honoured (on 1st November, children are remembered). Earlier this year, the BBC broadcast a series called 'Feasts' where Stefan Gates 'immersed' himself into various world cultures and their festivals. If you want an insight into this festival, it's certainly worth watching if it happens to be broadcast again. This year, I'm planning to try out a few traditional recipes although I don't think I'll be making my own sugar skulls! Milagros in East London sells a few appropriately morbid bits and pieces for the home.

Mexican food evening at the British Museum

I haven't made it yet to the Moctezuma/Montezuma exhibition at the British Museum but I have got tickets for for the Mexican Food evening event on Thursday 5th November. Lured by promises of Mexican food, there's going to be a panel discussion chaired by the restaurant critic Fay Maschler, and featuring the following experts on Mexican cuisine:

Thomasina Miers, co-owner of restaurant group Wahaca
Diana Kennedy, food writer and authority on Mexican cooking
Fiona Dunlop, author of Viva la Revolución! New food from Mexico
Enrique Olvera, key participant in the Mexican culinary avant-garde as leading chef and restaurateur of Restaurante Pujol in Mexico City

Tickets are £5 each and the event begins at 6.30pm.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

London Restaurant Week: 8-13 October 2009

Today marks the start of London Restaurant Week, with an array of top restaurants across the capital offering some great fixed priced menus. One such establishment is Mestizo, which is still (in my humble opinion) the most authentic Mexican restaurant in London. The special menu is available at lunch and dinner and on Sunday, they are offering diners a Mexican Big Brunch Roast for £19 including a Corona or a Margarita.

Montezuma's chocolate

One of the first chocolatiers in the UK to mass produce chilli chocolate, Montezuma's now have an array of chocolatey products all spiced up with a hint of chilli. I can highly recommend 'Montezuma's Revenge', a dark truffle filled with lime, chilli and tequila. I can only hope that the name does not refer to any unwanted side effects.

Chile and chocolate

If you're tempted to try the Dorset Naga, a good introduction is the 'Pleasure & Pain' organic dark chocolate from www.scorchio.co.uk. It's 73% cocoa solids and 0.3% Naga; that might not sound like much, but with a Scoville rating of 923,000, it's more than plenty! P&P also produce several other chocolate bars with chillies.

A beginners guide to chillies

Chillies are at the heart of Mexican cuisine and over a hundred vareties grow in Mexico, eaching having it's own distinctive colour, taste and of course, heat. With regards to spelling, chilli pepper, chilli, chillie, chili, and chile are all acceptable although the latter is the Spanish word so arguably, the most 'authentic'.
Unless you buy chillies from a specialist stockist, it's hard to know exactly what variety you are buying from the supermarket. While habaneros are becoming more readily available, if you want other fresh chillies typical of Mexican cuisine, you will have to order them online.


So what type of chillies can you find at the supermarket? There are two main types:
- small, thin chillies which are extrememly hot and used in Asian cuisine.
- slightly larger chillies, usually imported from Kenyan - these are a little less hot but can vary wildly (as experience has taught me)
The latter are more suited to Mexican dishes and you can always introduce some of the hotter variety for that extra kick. The hottest part are the seeds and vein so be careful when preparing them for cooking and wash you hands well after wards. To keep them as fresh as possible, remove the stems and place in a paper bag inside a plastic bag in the fridge where they will keep for about 2 weeks.

Many Mexican dishes use dried chillies (such as ancho, guajillo, cascabel, pasilla) and there are several stockists in the UK where you can buy these. Stored in a cool place, they will keep for a long time and make a great storecupboard standby. One increasingly common chilli sold in this form is the chipotle, a smoked and dried jalapeño. This can also be bought as  powder or en adobo (in a sauce in a can), which is another great base for many dishes.

Some guajillo chilles

Here are a few of my favourite chillies that you find in Mexican cooking:
Ancho - a dried poblano chilli, dark brown with a red hue, often sold as a powder. Scoville rating of 1,000-2,000. 
Chipotle - the trendiest of the chillies currently available (see above), often has a little more kick than a fresh jalapeño.
Guajillo - a larger and milder chilli, which makes a rich, flavourful red sauce. Between 2,500 and 5,000 on the Scoville scale. 
Jalapeño- the most famous of Mexican chillies, a jalapeño measures 2,500 - 10,000 Scoville units (the habanero measures between 80,00 to 150,000) 
Pasilla - a dried chliaca chilli which is little hotter than ancho and often comes in a powder. 
Poblano - a larger chilli, suitable for stuffing or roasted and peeled before cooking. Has a mellow flavour and similar heat rating to ancho.
Serrano - hotter and smaller than a jalapeño, these chaps often come pickled (en escabeche).

Too hot? Sussing out the Scoville scale

You've probably heard of the Scoville scale and know that it refers to the heat of a chilli but how is it actually measured? Named after its creator, Wilbur Scoville, the test takes an amount of chilli extract which is then diluted in sugar water until the heat is no longer detectable.
If something has no capsaicin (the bit in the chilli that's responsible for the searing heat), then its Scoville rating is 0. A Habanero, on the other hand, can have a rating as high as 300,000, which means it needs diluting 300,000 times over before no heat can be detected.
Even the same variety of chillie can vary wildly; it all depends on the plant's growing temperature, hours of sunlight, moisture, soil chemistry, as well as the kind (and amount) of fertilizer used. The infamous Dorset Naga (available from Peppers by Post), a relative of the Scotch Bonnet, boasts a Scoville rating of 923,000 units. Wow.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Como se dice? A guide to Mexican dishes

I cringe everytime I hear someone ask for "pie-ella"; ll is pronounced as a y in Spanish, so paella is "pie-ay-ya". Here's a quick explanation and pronounciation guide to some other popular dishes and food-related terms frequently used in Mexican cuisine.

Achiote (annatto or roucou) a-chee-OH-tay
Adobado (in chilli sauce) a-do-BA-do
Ajo (garlic) a-ho
Albondigas (meatballs) al-BON-di-gas
Almendra (almond) al-MEN-dra
Antojito (appetizer) an-to-HEE-to
Arroz (rice) a-ROS
Buñelo (Mexican biscuit) boon-NWE-lo

Calabacita (courgette) ca-la-ba-SEE-ta
Calabaza (pumpkin) ca-la-BA-sa
Canela (cinnamon) ca-NE-la
Carñitas (braised and roasted pulled pork) car-NEE-tass
Cazuela (pot) ca-SWE-la
Cebolla (onion) se-BOY-ya
Ceviche (fish marinated in lime) say-BIS-chay
Chayote (root vegetable like squash) chai-YO-te
Chipotle (smoked jalapeño pepper) chee-POT-le
Cilantro (coriander) see-LAN-tro

Empañada (turnover) em-pan-NY-da
Enchilada (stuffed and rolled tortillas served in a sauce) en-chi-LA-da
Ensalada (salad) en-sa-la-da
Epazote (pungent mexican herb) e-PA-so-tay
Escabeche (marinated) es-ka-BE-chay
Espinacas (spinach) es-pee-NA-cas

Flan (Mexican crème caramel)
Frijoles (beans) free-HO-les

Galleta (biscuit) ga-YE-ta
Guacamole (avocado dip) gwa-ca-MO-le

Harina (flour) ha-REE-na
Helado (ice-cream) e-LA-do
Horno (oven) OR-no
Huevo (egg) WAY-bo

Jalapeño (type of chilli pepper) ha-la-PEN-yo
Jicama (Mexican tuber) HEE-ca-ma
Marisco (shellfish) ma-RIS-ko
Mole (traditional sauce, often made with chilli and chocolate) MO-le
Nopales (cactus paddles) no-PA-les

Olla (pot) O-ya

Pavo (turkey) PA-bo
Pepitas (pumpkin seeds) pe-PEE-tas
Pescado (fish) pes-CAR-do
Pibil (annatto seasoning) pi-BEEL
Picante (spicy) pee-CAN-te
Piñones (pine nuts) pee-NYO-nes
Pipian (ground pumpkin seeds) pee-PI-yan
Pollo (chicken) po-YO
Pozole (Mexican soup with corn kernels) po-SO-le
Puerco (pork) PWER-co
Pulque (native drink) POOL-ke

Quesadilla (tortilla folded in half with filling) ke-sa-DEE-ya
Queso (cheese) ke-SO

Raja (strips of chilli) RA-ha
Ranchero (ranch-style) ran-CHE-ro
Refrito (refried) re-FREE-to
Relleno (stuffed) re-YE-no

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

New food stockist in Harrods

I love roaming around the food halls of London's department stores and was pleased to see a new arrival for the Mexican cook in Harrods this week. Rico Mexican Kitchen is the brainwave of an ex-teacher from Derbyshire, Marcela Flores Newburn, who's been cooking up sauces from her home in Derbyshire. Marcela was crowned Food and Drink Champion 2008 at the first Food and Drink iNet Innovation awards.

Other products include tequila, salsa verde and chilli chocolate and there are plans to expand with a range of ready meals, hot chocolate etc. If you happen to be in Derbyshire, you can also buy Marcela's products from the following stores:

Bluebell Dairy Farm, Spondon
The Loaf Diary, Crich
Oliver's Organics, Allestree
Barry Fitch, Little Eaton
Sound Bites, Morledge
Rico Mexican Kitchen Ltd. 112 Marsh Lane, Belper, Derbyshire DE56 1GT

For more details about Marcela's mole cooking sauce, see the Harrods website.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Calling all chocoholics

It's now less than a month from the UK's Chocolate Week, an excuse for us all to indulge in one of life's little but greatest pleasures. Events are taking place across London and the rest of the UK and there are lots of free samplings etc. I'm still not convinced by the cheese and chocolate tasting session....

Recipe: sweet treats using masa harina

Once again experimenting with my bag of masa harina, I decided to see whether the flour lends itself to sweet as well as savoury dishes. I rehydrated the masa harina as instructed on the packet with hot water and a cup of freshly-made espresso, and kneaded a little golden caster sugar into the dough. I then formed the mixture into golf balls and pushed a few cubes of dark chocolate into the centre, making sure to reseal any gaps before wrapping in clingfilm. Steamed for 20 minutes over a pan of boiling water, these are a delicious and surprisingly light treat to finish off any meal.

Recipe: sweet potato bake

I'm the kind of cook that loves cutting corners, especially when I'm trying to save time and want a real plate of food, fast. One vegetable I've come to adore for this reason is the sweet potato; it makes a great alternative to the standard potato and takes much less time to cook, whether you want it baked, boiled or mashed.

As I had a little time on my hands but still wanting a no-mess dish that could cook itself, I decided to try doing a sweet potato gratin. Layered with my simple red sauce, this is a much healthier (and I would argue tastier) alternative to a straightforward potato gratin made with cream. It took less than 10 minutes to prepare, alternating thin slices of sweet potato with the sauce in a small buttered dish. Covered with foil, I cooked this in the oven on 160°c for 30 mins and uncovered for another 10-15 mins, until brown and bubbling. Served alongside some grilled turkey escalopes, it's a welcome addition to our weeknight supper repetoire.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Recipe: simple red sauce

Time for a confession; I have bought enchilada kits from the supermarket in the past, those boxed sets which include tortillas and concentrate sauce. There's nothing wrong with them and for the cook with little time on their hands, they are a great cupboard standby. However, they are expensive and rather restrictive in their serving size.

Therefore, I've been searching for a good, all-round red sauce which is quick and easy to make. If you double the recipe, you have a nice quantity of sauce which you can freeze for another time. If you don't have the various spices, experiment! This amount makes just over a pint (roughly 20 fl oz).

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 red onion, diced
2 tsp garlic, minced (about 2 cloves)
2 tbsp masa harina (you can substitute cornflour)
2 tbsp ancho powder
1/4 tsp cumin
1/4 cayenne powder
pinch of salt
1 tsp oregano (or some fresh coriander)
1 pt vegetable stock, warm
1 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp sugar

Heat the oil in a saucepan and gently fry the onion and garlic until softened. Add the masa harina and stir well before adding the spices. Let it all cook through (making sure it doesn't burn) for 2 mins.

Gradually whisk the stock in the onion spice mix and slowly bring to the boil before adding the tomato paste and sugar. Allow to simmer, partically covered, for 30 mins, stirring every now and again. The sauce should thicken and reduce a little.

Season to taste. For an extra rich sauce, whisk in a grated cube of dark chocolate at the end of the cooking process.

This is a great base for:
Enchiladas - just add a little sauce to shredded, cooked meat and fill several tortillas before bathing the whole lot in the remaining sauce and sprinkling with cheese.
Tacos - again, you can add a little of the sauce to cooked meat or fish and use this in taco fillings

Monday, 21 September 2009

Recipe: more cooking with cactus

Nopales, the leaves or paddles of the Opuntia cactus are also used in Mexican cooking. You can buy jars of nopalitas from either of the Mexican stockists I mention in this blog but like boiled okra, they can be rather slimy in texture.

If you want to avoid gloopy cactus, a much better method of cooking is grilling/baking the paddles. Prepare the cactus by removing the spines and cut into bite-size cubes/strips. Toss in olive oil and roast on a baking tray for 20-30 mins. Serve with a squeeze of lime and coarse sea salt.

World burrito eating contest

The key to winning the 2009 World Burrito eating championship? Starve yourself for two days, according to Professional eater "Humble Bob" Shoudt, who ate 33 burritos in 10 minutes, winning himself $1,500 at the New Mexico State Fair. Stoudt is obviously a man who knows how to eat under pressure; the current holder of the world record for eating cheesesteaks, he downed 13 in a hour back in 2007. That's probably a week's worth of fat and calories, all rolled into one. For Bob, the burrito victory must make up for coming third in this year's funnel cake eating contest in Virginia. Fancy a career change?

Recipe: Prickly Pear puree

For us, a trip to the South-West USA isn't complete unless we come home with a jar of prickly pear jam. The fruit of the prickly pear cactus (part of the Opuntia family) is a rare sight here in the UK but it grows all across the Med as well as the Americas. The flesh of the fruit is similar to watermelon with sweet strawberry/kiwi overtones. It's really quite unique and decidedly exotic.

If you are fortunate enough to lay your hands on some of the fruit, try making the following sauce; it's great on vanilla ice-cream or as an accompaniment to a tart cheesecake.

15 fresh prickly pears (called tunas) - pick those that are firm and not too ripe (yellow/pale pink)
70g sugar
A squeeze of lime

Prepare the fruit by cutting in half and scopping out the flesh with a spoon. Coarsely chop and press through a sieve. This is a little time consuming but be patient as the results are well worth it.

In a saucepan, combine 2/3rds of the puree with the sugar and boil rapdily over a high heat until reduced to 1/3. Allow to cool before returning to the uncooked puree. Taste and season with extra suagr (if needed) and the lime.

Here's some I made last week while on holiday in The Balearics. Cacti grow all over the island, particularly on the southern slopes of hills, and are in fruit at this time of the year.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

New TV series about Mexican food

If you're fortunate enough to have Sky, then don't miss 'Flavours of Mexico', a culinary exploration of Mexico on the Travel Channel. The envy...

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Mexican Independence Day

Not exactly a huge holiday in this country, but Mexican Independence Day is 16th September. If you're in London, look no further:


Thursday, 10 September 2009

Recipe: plum clafoutis

Ok, so this isn't a 'typical' Mexican dessert but it's a great crowd pleaser that's easy to make and very satisfying. You can use any sort of soft fruit.

70g plain flour
¼ tsp salt
2 large eggs
180ml milk
30g caster sugar
Fresh fruit (i.e. cherries, raspberries, plums, peaches etc.)

Preheat oven to 220°c.

Butter a 9/10” pan and spread out the fruit evenly in the bottom.

Mix together all the batter ingredients and let stand.

When ready, pour the batter over the fruit and bake for 20 mins or so until golden brown and set.

Recipe: quick tamales

It's hard getting authentic ingredients for Mexican cooking in London. However, if you're in East London, I can highly recommend Casa Mexico which has a good range of groceries as well as other assorted Mexican goods. It's like a mini Mexican emporium tucked away in the back streets of Bethnal Green.
Having bought a bag of masa harina, I decided to make tamales for the first time earlier this week. While the burrito has taken London by storm, tamales remain rather elusive in London because they are time consuming, both in their preparation and cooking. In Latin culture, the tamale is a Christmas tradition and families come together during the holiday season for tamale marathons.
However, I tracked down a simple recipe that requires only 15 minutes of steaming as opposed to the usual 1-1/2 hours. Not only did I find the whole precess immensely gratifying but the outcome was pretty good too (and not just in my opinion). Don't be put off if you don't have a tortilla press - I used the palm of my hand to flatten the dough - and if you cannot get hold of any corn husks/banana leaves, clingfilm seemed to work well. You could also try baking paper.
I decided upon a simple black bean mixture but any kind of savoury filling can be used or even sweet. It would be a great dish if you have any leftover mole.

Simple tamales (makes 6)
150g masa harina
225ml hot water
Corn husks/banana leaves or clingfilm
300g black beans
Home-made salsa

Combine the masa harina and the hot water and bring together until you have a firm dough. If it is a little sticky, add a little more flour; if it is too dry, a little more water. Knead 1tsp salt into the dough and divide into 6, rolling the pieces into balls.
If using tinned black beans, drain of almost all the water and with a fork, mash them a little. Season with salt and chilli powder or chipotle.
Tear off a piece of clingfilm (20cm x 20cm is about right) and flatten one of the ball's in the centre until it is only a few mm thick. Place a good tbsp of beans in the middle and fold the dough over, making sure all the sides aresealed. Wrap the remaining clingfilm tightly around the tamale. Repeat with the remaining five dough balls.
Place the tamales into a steamer, no more than two high, making sure the air can circulate. Place the steamer over a pan of boiling water and steam for 15 mins.
Serve with some home-made salsa and any remaining beans you have left over.