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.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Time Out's best burrito in London

Time Out ran a feature a couple of week's ago on London's best burrito. It's a shame that they completely missed out Freebird.

Recipe: red chile beef

If you've got time, this is another really simple recipe that will impress your guests.
½ lb beef - braising steak is good
½ onion, thinly sliced
1 tsp garlic, minced
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
3 tsp ancho powder
1 jalapeno
2 tomatoes, diced
1 tsp cinammon
350ml stock
large tin of kidney beans (optional)

Heat some oil in a large pan, preferably one that is ovenproof. Cut the beef into chunks, salt well and fry over a high heat until brown (5 - 10 mins).
Remove meat and add the onions, garlic, cumin, coriander. Saute for 2/3 mins and then add the ancho, jalapeno, cinnamon, tomatoes, stock and bring to the simmer. Cover and cook either over a low heat on the hob so that it is barely simmering or in the oven on 150°c for 2 hours.
Remove meat and shred. Pour the sauce into a blender (or using a hand held blender), process until smooth and return to the pan with the meat. Add beans and gently reheat.
Serve with sour cream, rice and tortillas.

Review: Taqueria, W11

La Taqueria offers a refreshing and decent array of mexican 'street' fare and a great place to stop for lunch. The tacos have a range of decent fillings (meat, fish, shellfish and vegetarian) and there are a few more substantial dishes such as enchiladas, huevos rancheros etc. to choose from. The refried beans and fried plantain were particularly memorable and everything looked and tasted fresh and felt relatively healthy! A more interesting and perhaps more authentic alternative to the other more 'tex mex' openings in London.

Taqueria, 139-143 Westbourne Grove, W11 2RS

A beginner's guide to Margaritas

Nothing beats a good margarita; the combination of zesty lime and a sharp salty tang as you take a sip is incredibly thirst-quenching. However, go into many bars in the UK and you'll find yourself being served some watery concoction involving lime cordial and a splash of cheap tequila.

Jose Cuervo, with the help of Squaremeal.co.uk, recently held a margarita challenge in London to promote their Cuervo Platino, a silver tequila made from 100% blue agave. 10 of the capital's best bars took part and I was fortunate enough to be involved as one of the 'judges'. So if you're looking for a great margarita, I can thoroughly recommend the following bars for a truly exceptional drink....just make sure someone else is paying!

The London Cocktail Club (6-7 Great Newport Street, London, London, WC2H 7JB)
The Blue Bar at The Berkeley Hotel (The Berkeley Hotel, Wilton Place, SW1X 7RL)
Artesian (Langham Hotel, 1 Portland Place, W1B 1JA)

Something I discovered along the way was agavero, an agave-based liquer, not for the faint-hearted. Made with Damiana flower (a reputed aphrodisiac), it has a mere 32% alcohol content.

Recipe: orange chocolate loaf cake

I'm always looking for sweet treats with a little kick and came up with this after experimenting with various chilli powders.

8 oz self-raising flour
1 oz cocoa powder
2 tsp ancho powder
4 oz caster sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
3 tbsp melted margarine or sunflwoer oil (oil gives a much denser cake)
150 ml orange juice
Rind of an orange
2 oz dark chocolate chips

Pre-heat the oven to 180
°c. Grease a 1lb loaf tin.

Sift together the flour, cocoa and ancho powder. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sugar, eggs, fat, orange juice and rind. Add this to the dry ingredients and lightly stir until mixed before adding the chocolate.

Pour the batter into the cake tin and bake for 30-40 mins.

Recipe: spicy tortilla soup

This is a great meal which uses up any stale or leftover tortillas you might have lurking in the cupboard. Corn or flour tortillas work equally as well.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 large tortilla, torn into 2" squares
2 tsp minced garlic
1 onion, minced
2 jalapenos/green chillies, minced
1 large tin of sweetcorn (250g)
1 large tin of chopped tomatoes (450g)
squeeze of tomato paste
2 ½ tsp cumin
1 tsp salt
½ tsp hot chili powder
¾ pt stock

GARNISH: Coriander and shredded cheddar or crumbled queso anejo

Over a medium high heat, fry the tortilla pieces in the oil in a large pan. When they begin to colour and crisp, add the garlic, onion and chillies.
After 2/3 mins, add HALF the sweetcorn along with the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 5 mins.
Remove soup from heat and blend until smooth. Add the remaining corn and heat through.
Check for seasoning and serve, garnished with a spring of fresh coriander and the cheese.

Recipe: A simple chicken mole

Mole epitomises Mexican cooking, a wonderful and yet exotic marriage of chillies and chocolate. While there is no shortage of recipes available on the internet, it is time consuming to prepare and the list of ingredients can be daunting for the novice. Here's my simple take on this classic dish.

2 cloves garlic
1 onion
2 green chillies (jalapeno), minced/finely diced
6 – 8 chicken thighs
1 large tin of pinto beans
1 large tin of plum tomatoes, pureed
40g good quality dark chocolate, grated (try using a vegetable peeler)
pinch of salt

Preheat over to 150°c.

In a heavy based pan, brown the chicken. Remove and keep warm while you prepare the sauce.

Add the onion and garlic to the pan and fry until softened. Return the chicken to the pan with the beans, tomatoes, chillies and 30g of the chocolate. Bring to a simmer, cover and place in the oven.

After 1 1/2 hours, remove the chicken and shred with a couple of forks, discarding any loose skin. Skim off the excess fat from the surface and stir the remaining chocolate into the sauce – it should become glossy.

Return the shredded meat to the dish, season well with salt and serve with rice, tortillas and greens.

Serves 4