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).