Sunday, 29 November 2009

The next big thing....twitraunts!

You've heard of twitter and you know perfectly well what a restaurant 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 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