Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Viva La Revoluion! by Fiona Dunlop

Struggling for ideas for presents in the run-up to Christmas? I recently came across this Mexican cookbook by the accomplished travel writer Fiona Dunlop. I first saw Fiona at the British Museum just over a year ago and she spoke with great passion for the country and its cuisine. 

While Viva La Revolucion! is not a book for novice cooks (as with all authentic Mexican cooking, there are some complicated and time consuming dishes), it paints a wonderful image of Mexico's gastronomic history. Chefs and cooks from across Mexico reveal their top tips and techniques as well as their favourite recipes and the photography is both mouth-watering and inspiring. Definitely a cook book for the coffee table as well as the kitchen.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Slime monster attacks Mexico!

Ok, so that's not strictly true...this Mexico's the size of a petri dish and the cities are made of oat flakes. In an effort to improve transport links, scientists have turned to mould to help them figure out which is the best route to take.

Slime mould, otherwise known as Physarum polycephalum, is rather good at moving efficiently and has been used in previous studies mapping roads in the UK and modelling the subway system in Tokyo. While it offered some interesting alternatives to the roads in Britain, it would appear that Mexicans know a thing or two about putting in a transport system as the mould tracked routes that already exist.

Sounds crazy? Take a look at the New Scientist website for a video clip of the slime in action. Puts a whole new spin on the Mexican Tourist Board's Routes of Mexico.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Jamie and Chipotle join forces

Jamie Oliver's been in the news again recently after plans to bring his food revolution to Los Angeles came to a grinding halt with a rather public rejection of his help by the LA School Board.

However, the whole country isn't against the man. He's got a strong celebrity following and many US brands are also backing the food revolution. Chipotle is one such company and last month, they launched their own fund raising campaign with a costume competition for Halloween.

For more info and pictures of the winning costumes (which beat Jamie's nugget hands down), see Chipotle's website.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Benito's Hat does Day of the Dead

Photo: Benito's Hat
In honour of Día de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, Benito’s Hat will be serving up some special dishes at both its New Row and Goodge Street restaurants.

From Saturday 30th October, you will be able to sample tamales and a Day of the Dead sample plate, featuring nachos, quesadillas, and Taquitos, served with Salsa Verde and Guacamole. The traditional Day of the Dead speciality, Pan de Muerto, will also be on the menu and free to diners on 2nd November.

Celebratory drink will come in the form of a Vampiro cocktail, Mexico’s answer to the Bloody Mary. If you fancy making it at home, just throw the following together:

100% Blue Agave Tequila
Tomato Juice
Freshly-squeezed orange juice
Freshly-squeezed lime juice
A squeeze of pure agave syrup
A touch of tabasco
Two dashes of Worcestershire sauce

For more information, see http://www.benitos-hat.com/ or their facebook page. Their locations can be found here.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Routes of Mexico; a gastronomic geography lesson

2010 has been a busy year for the Mexican tourist board. Not only does it mark the country's bicentenary of independence but November also sees the 100 year anniversary of the 1910 revolution. All in all, it's been a year of celebration and there's no doubt that more sand more people are drawn to visit Mexico.

However, the ongoing bloodshed and violence, particularly in the Northern states, continues to plague the news, leaving many tourists questioning where is safe to travel. In an effort to disperse this fear, the tourist board launched a campaign across the USA and Canada earlier this summer, highlighting the diverse delights of Mexico. 'Routes of Mexico' is aimed at travellers with special interests, from bird watching to wine tasting and gastronomy. Here's a quick summary of those routes and the areas they cover:

Wine country and the aquarium of the world - Tijuana down the Baja California peninsula.

The millenary Tarahumaras - Chihuahua and Sinaloa

Magic of traditions and nature - Michoacan and Guerrero

Birthplace of history and romanticism - Guanajuato, Queretaro and Jalisco

Art of tequila and music under the sun - Guadalajara

The Huastecas and their outstanding beauty - Hidalgo, Veracruz, Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosi

Thousand flavors of mole, a blend of unsweetened chocolate, dried chili peppers and spices - Mexico City, and the states of Tlaxcala, Puebla and Oaxaca.

Mystery and origin of the Mayan culture - Chiapas, Tabasco, Campeche and the Yucatan

Colonial experience - Guanajuato, Aguascalientes, Zacatecas, Jalisco and San Luis Potosi

Encounter between history and modern day - Durango, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Sonora

It's a great idea to highlight the diversity and attractions of such a vast country but which areas are truly safe to visit? This article colour codes each itinerary by how safe the route is and certainly makes for interesting reading.

Visit Mexico

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Make way for the Mexican at London's Restaurant Festival


  Yesterday was the first day of the annual London Restaurant Festival which runs until 18th October. In keeping with current food trends, Mexican food is one of this year's highlights and many of London's Mexican restaurants are offering diners a special festival menu. Those involved include:

Boho Mexica
Cantina Laredo
Santo
Mestizo
Benito's Hat
Chilango
Lupita
Mercado
Mestizo
Taqueria
Tacuba
Café Pacífico
La Perla

For details of these and others, see map.

In addition, this year's festival food market at Old Spitalfields Maket is showcasing Mexican food. A number of Mexican food producers will have stands, as well as several of the restaurants listed above so now's the time to stock up on all those hard to find ingredients! The market will be open next week, between the following times:

Mon 11th, Tues 12th, Wed 13th, Fri 15th and Sat 16th Oct: 12.00-6.00pm
Sun 17th Oct: 9.00-6.00pm

And if all that doesn't sound like a good enough reason to indulge, next week is also London Cocktail Week, with many of London's best bars serving up a whole plethora of special cocktails. If margaritas are you thing, then there's certainly no shortage on offer, as well as many other delicous concoctions. How about the Mexican Passion Mojito (Tapatio, lime juice, fresh passion fruit, mint and agave nectar) at Cafe Pacifico or the Olmeca Altos Paloma (Olmeca Altos tequila, lime juice and Ting) at El Camino?

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Casa des Amis, Canterbury

Apart from walking in on the chef using the urinal in the gents (the ladies was closed for refurbishment), I had a very pleasant experience at Casa des Amis. Don't be put off by use of French for the name; the restaurant focuses on serving Mexican cuisine with a 'Mediterranean perspective', a somewhat different and yet plausible concept.

Situated in what appears to be an old pub (with remnants of a past nautical theme), the walls are lined with an odd collection of 3D papier mache images by a couple of local artists. It all feels fun and bright, although a little haphazard. There's a reasonable choice of dishes on the full menu plus several lunch specials which include a drink for £7-8. We decided to try a mixture of plates; huevos rancheros, a quesadilla, chicken salad and a burrito, the latter which we requested 'extra spicy'. While there was somewhat of a wait for our dishes to appear, the portions were ample and everything met our expectations. Fresh habanero spiced up the burrito, the salad was fresh and tasty, and both the 'traditional' dishes were on a par with others I have had elsewhere. Sides of black beans and guacamole excelled themselves.

However, the general consensus around the table was that the meeting of the Med and Mexico was a little unnecessary. Surely there's enough going on in a quesadilla without the addition of pesto? Who needs parmesan mash to accompany their mole? This isn't the place for a cheap meal either. While there is an early bird menu, most of the dishes from the full menu seem quite pricey, even by London standards. Many of the other diners were tucking into the fajita plate for two, a generous pile of sizzling meat accompanied by warm tortillas and the usual sides. While it all looked very good, it would set you back some £33 for the steak for two.

Cafe Des Amis is no Tex-Mex outlet. The food is interesting, if a little over complicated, but it's a great place to go if you fancy something different in Canterbury.
http://www.cafedez.com/

Monday, 27 September 2010

The 'first truly authentic Mexican restaurant' opens in London


To claim to be 'London's first truly authentic Mexican restaurant' is a bold statement and one that shouldn't be made lightly, especially by a newcomer to the scene. However, it's exactly what Lupita has done, their claim strengthened by the fact that the people behind this venture have over forty-five years' experience running the taqueria El Farolito in Mexico City. 
Authenticity is somewhat of an ongoing debate when it comes to food, especially in this day and age when there's growing concern about where our produce comes from and whether we can we justify the food miles. Luptia claim to use use as many authentic Mexican ingredients as they can lay their hands on to produce plates of food on a par with those in Latin America.
So, is it any good? Well, several blogger reports appear to be favourable although not everyone agrees. The menu defintely gives Wahaca a run for its money and the dishes are very reasonably priced. You can call ahead and book a table too which is definitely a good thing (unless you enjoy queueing). I don't think it will be long until we see another one open in the capital. Watch this space.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Tortilla to open fifth site in London


Tortilla appears to be going from strength to strength and has recently announced plans to open a fifth outlet in the heart of the city, Leadenhall Market.

The restaurant will be able to seat 110, with a further 20 outside, and is due to open mid-September. It's a great location and I'm sure it will be a popular one, rivalling it's sister store at Canary Wharf, which serves up a mere 20,000 meals a month, apparently one of the busiest burrito outlets in the UK. Put those fellas end to end, and you've got almost two miles of mexican munchies. That's a lot of burrito.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Viva la independencia!


Tomorrow evening, Mestizo is hosting a five course dinner in celebration of Mexican Independence Day.

For £59 a head, you can sample some of the best Mexican food in London, along with live Mariachi, music and el grito. As usual, downstairs will be hosting its own party, entry fee £15 (including a welcome Corona)

If you can't make it on Wednesday evening, then curate la cruda (cure the hangover) Thursday with
some traditional dishes such as Chilaquiles, Pancita, Birria & Pozole. From 12 noon until closing.

Mestizo, 103 Hampstead Road, NW1 3EL, London
Tel: 020 7387 4064
http://london.mestizomx.com/

Monday, 13 September 2010

Mexican food in Oxford: Mission Burritos

In broadening the search for Mexican food as it spreads across the country, there's been a lot of buzz recently about Mission Burritos, a small chain of (you guessed it) burrito joints based in Oxford and Reading. The Guardian have just crowned MB top dog of their list of cheap eats in Oxford and it's a serious competitor for dishing out some of the best burritos across the country. I particularly like their take on burritos as 'brain food', exhorting the 'mental' benefits of a diet containing tomatoes, beans and avocado. Perfect fodder for the hungry student out there.

For further details, see www.missionburritos.co.uk

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Tequila dinner at Cantina Laredo

Mexican Independence Day is just over 3 weeks' away so why not celebrate in style at Cantina Laredo? They are hosting their first ever UK tequila tasting dinner in celebration of this historic event. For just under £50 a head, you will be treated to a four course dinner with accompanying tequilas/cocktails. Places are limited so they advise customers to book early. It's definitely a great excuse to drink tequila.

When it comes to tequila, I am a fan of Patron blanco. However, I only just discovered that they also product a coffee flavoured liquer made from tequila. It's definitely a classier alternative to Kalhua.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Empanadas: the Latin American pasty


There are a million and one ways to make empanadas and it's somewhat of a minefield when you're trying to pick a recipe to follow. I'm sure there's a lot of disagreement over which type of pastry is best although I've come to the conclusion that it's really down to personal preference. Do you like a short, crumbly flake to your pastry or something a little more substantial and bread-like? The recipe below is pretty straightforward and not too time-consuming: an excellent introduction for the novice cook. And the results? Let's just say I might be making these again very soon.

Makes 10 empanadas

175g self-raising flour
50g lard, cubed
50g vegetable shortening/fat, cubed
juice of 1/2 lemom
95ml cold water
milk to glaze

Plus 300g of filling of your choice (savoury or sweet works equally as well with this dough)

Sift the flour into a bowl and toss together with the cubed fats. Add the water/lemon juice and mix together using a knife or spatula. Bring together to form a soft dough, adding any extra water if need be. With floured fingers, gather the mixture into a ball and roll out into a rectangle (1cm thick) on a floured surface.

Score the dough into thirds, folding the bottom half up and then the top half down, trapping as much air as possible. Roll out the dough and repeat the folding process another three times. Wrap in cling film and leave to rest in the fridge for at least an hour.

When ready, roll out the dough as thinly as possible. Cut out rounds using a saucer as a guide and place a little filling on one half, keeping well clear of the edges. Brush the edge with a little water to help bind the fold together and then fold over the top half, forming a half moon shape. Pinch the edges together with your fingers or a fork and place on a baking tray.

Brush the tops with milk and bake in a preheated oven on 220 degrees for 25-30 mins or until golden brown.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

Goodbye Tex-Mex, hello Mex!

photo credit: hodgers
Mexican restaurants are cropping up all across the UK, not just in London. While I can't comment on the quality of the food that these places are serving, I have spent some time looking at their websites and many of the menus appear to be serving some pretty decent stuff. Does this show an increased demand for more 'authentic' and less Tex-Mex cuisine among us Brits?

One place which caught my eye this week is Amigos Mexican Kitchen in Stafford. Not a very grand place but quite a few favourable reviews have been popping up across the net and it's even made it to the South Yorkshire paper. It's definitely worth keeping an eye on what's happening across the country as more and more places like this keep opening up.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Jennifer Aniston and her love of all things Mexican (well, food related)

Mexican food is very popular among the rich and famous, the cuisine of choice for many of the US presidents (Bill Clinton, George Bush, the Obamas). Jennifer Aniston is also a big fan, and recently commented that she would choose "chips and guacamole, quesadillas, enchiladas and a big tostada salad – and nachos!” for her final meal.

However, in a recent interview with Stylist magazine, she also commented upon her disappointment about the lack of good Mexican restaurants in the UK. “I’ve said this before but you British guys have really gotta work on your Mexican restaurants. You really do. You gotta get homemade tortillas and home-fry those things.”

While I know we are far behind the USA, I'd be intrigued to know which of the country's establishments Ms Aniston has tried. Did anyone see her at Wahaca last week?!

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Mexgrocer goes from strength to strength

It's just over a month or so until Mexican Independence Day (16th September) which also marks the first anniversary of the internet food specialist, Mexgrocer.co.uk.

The last year has seen continuous growth for this business which fills a niche in the market for authentic Mexican goods in the UK.

It's not only the UK that's seeing a growing demand for Mexican food. "Over the last 12 months we have had over 3 million visitors from every country in Europe" says Sol Flamberg, co-owner.

Having used the site several times to order goods, I've always been impressed by the efficiency and quality of the goods on offer and it's great to be able to get what you need all in one place to cook proper Mexican food. I just wish I'd thought of it first!

Monday, 5 July 2010

London's Mexican Wave

After spending four months Stateside, I come home to find a number of Mexican eateries have sprung up across London. Although I haven't yet had a chance to sample any of the below, it's exciting times for Mexican food in London.
The newest addition to the scene which (for me) is the most interesting, is Cantina Laredo, a place I am familiar with from the USA. It's a more upmarket restaurant and the menu looks great as well as not being too badly priced. While the group's first UK joint (many more are planned) has only been open a couple of weeks, the early reviews are positive and I cannot wait to try it out....especially before the prices go up, which often seems to happen when places take off. Become a fan of the group on Facebook!
Cantina Laredo, 10 Upper St Martin's Lane, St Martin's Courtyard, WC2H 9FB


At the other end of the spectrum, I see that the humble burrito continues to go from strength to strength. Benito's Hat are opening a second outlet in Covent Garden. For further details, see this link or my map of places to eat (at the bottom of this blog).
Benito's Hat, 56 Goodge Street & New Street (coming soon)

The most long-awaited burrito place in London this year must be the ubiquitous US-based Chipotle on Charing Cross Road. Since opening in May, it's had rather mixed reviews but that's unsurprising considering all the hype. It certainly isn't the cheapest burrito around, but it might just be the most eco-friendly judging by the company's ethos.
Chipotle, 114 Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0JR

And last but not least, TACO BELL is making a comeback in Britain; yes, you no longer need to be Air Force personnel to visit one on British soil*. Considering the above, it's no surprise that the US fast food giant is getting back in the scene, with its first outlet in the food court at Lakeside Shopping Centre. I see they've gone for a classy location then.
Taco Bell, Food Court Level 3, Lakeside, West Thurrock, RM20 2ZP


*the only Taco Bells left in the UK since the early 1990s are at RAF Mildenhall and RAF Lakenheath.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Carne de Puerco con cerveza / Pork loin in beer

I was recently given a can of Guinness and as I'm not a big fan of stout, I thought I would put it to good use in a recipe. Guinness lends itself incredibly well to cooking, and as I discovered, especially when enhanced with chipotle chilles. The resulting recipe worked a treat and was absolutely delicious. Another crowd pleaser that's incredibly simple to make (serves 4).

1lb pork loin
1/4 tsp of salt andd pepper
pinch of sugar
350ml beer
1 crushed clove of garlic
1 onion, quartered
1 chipotle chile

Put the meat in a bowl and season with the salt, pepper and sugar. Pour in the beer and add the garlic, onion and chiptole. Leave to marinade overnight.

Pour the marinade into a baking tray and place the meat onto a rack on top. Roast for an hour at 160c basting occasionally. Shred the meat and keep warm. Boil the marinade until reduced by half and remove any excess fat. Blend until smooth and return to the pan. Simmer until thickened and then return the meat to the sauce. Serve with warm tacos and beans.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

More fun with masa harina: Tamal Pie

I'm working my way through the most enormous bag of masa harina and in an attempt to finish it off before we leave The States, I've been trying out various recipes. Although the following isn't as authentic as making tamales, it tastes just as good and requires a fraction of the time to prepare the dish.

250g masa harina
250ml warm water
50g lard (or butter), melted
200ml chicken stock
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt

500ml red or green enchilada sauce
300g cooked and shredded meat
Grated cheese (something strong like a cheddar)
OR
A large tin of spinach, well-drained
200g cheese, grated
Freshly grated nutmeg

Mix together the masa harina, fat and water in a large bowl. Slowly add the stock, mixing all the time. Add the baking powder and beat well; you should have a sloppy mixture similar to cake batter.

Butter a large dish and cover the bottom with the sauce. Spoon some of the dough mixture on top and then add the cooked meat (or cheese/spinach mix). Repeat with another layer of sauce, dough and meat/vegetables.

Cover the top with grated cheese and cover tightly with foil. Bake for 45 mins at 180c, then remove the foil and bake for another 15 mins. It should be bubbly and golden brown on top.

Serve with a fresh green salad and additional hot sauce on the side.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

A quick way to cook tamales without steaming

I love tamales but don't have the patience or the time to steam them for an hour plus. I've been searching the internet for a cheat's method of cooking and after trying out various ways, I think I've found one that works. If you follw my recipe for making tamales (or taking the dough from the tamal pie recipe), this should also work for you and you'll have cooked tamales in a fraction of the time.

Place tamale wrapped in clingfilm in the microwave. If you have made them using corn husks, place in a zip-lock bag with a little water. Microwave on high for 1 1/2 minutes. I find this is aedequate for a small tamale (i.e. about 10cm long and 5 cm wide). If you have a bigger tamale and/or the dough looks wet, cook for another 30 seconds or until ready. Leave for 5 minutes before carefully unwrapping and devouring.
Photo credit: Warm 'n fuzzy

Monday, 24 May 2010

Green Chile Crab Linguine: a pasta dish with New Mexican flair


Faced with a relatively empty fridge the other night, I threw the following together, giving it a New Mexican twist. It proved to be a great 'storecupboard' standby and made a welcome change to the recent run of meat-laden meals that we seem to be eating.

Chile crab pasta - serves 2

6oz linguine
1 jalapeno, roasted and diced
1 tin of white crabmeat
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp tequila
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp coriander/cilantro (optional), finely chopped

Cook the pasta for 10-12 minutes in a pan of salted, boiling water. In the meantime, heat the oil in a small frying pan and add the diced jalapeno. After 2 minutes, add the crab and tequila and stir until heated through.

Drain the pasta and add the crab mixture to the pan. Toss well, adding the lime juice and optional coriander. Serve drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Jalisco's Cafe, Silver City

As previously lamented, there aren't many places to choose from when you want to dine in Silver on a Monday night. This week, we decided to try out Jalisco's, one of the more obvious dining destinations downtown.

The place was pleasantly busy, a mix of locals and out-of-towners, seated throughout the 3 adjoining dining rooms. It's another homely operation, with pastel walls and rather utilitarian furniture, the menu offering all the usual suspects you would expect to find around these parts (burritos, enchiladas, tacos and tostadas). We ordered a plate of New Mexican flat/stacked enchiladas in green chile and the crab tostadas. The food arrived a little later (a reassuring wait that everything was being freshly prepared), and it was all very good, particularly the tostadas, generously topped with crabmeat, guacamole, diced pepper and mango. We both agreed that the meal at Kountry Kitchen had the edge over Jalisco's, but you'll have to go at lunchtime!

Jalisco's Cafe
103 S Bullard St,
Silver City, NM 88061

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Breathe out at The Breathe Inn


One of the best things about going for a long hike is being able to indulge in a completely guilt-free calorific meal when you finish. With 3.3 million acres of national forest on our doorstep, there's no shortage of places to explore and today, we rewarded ourselves with lunch at The Breathe Inn. This motel/restaurant/RV park at the junction of NM35 and NM15 is our closest place to grab a bite to eat. The dining room is an odd space; housed in the top half of sixties chalet-style building and sparsely populated with a few tables and chairs. The menu is standard American fare (don't expect anything particularly exotic) but it was tasty, filling and reasonably priced. The crab cake sandwich was particularly good; a crumbly pattie of lightly pan-fried crabmeat, with small specks of onion and green pepper. I'd also recommend the homemade potato salad; not too heavy on the mayonnaise, with lots of diced egg, green pepper and mustard seeds. All in all, definitely worth the drive.

Intersection of NM Highways 15 and 35
(575) 536-3206

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

On the hunt for a Green Chile Cheeseburger


The chile pepper is at the very heart and soul of Mexican cuisine. Not only is it a state symbol, but more than 30,000 acres are harvested here annually, most of it around the small town of Hatch. In particular, New Mexicans take great pride in their green chile, and most places will give you the option to smother your dinner in either red or green sauce or possibly both (just ask for 'Christmas').

One of the most popular menu items involving the state's favourite pepper is the Green Chile Cheeseburger, which crops up in restaurants everywhere, regardless of the cuisine and everyone will have an opinion on where to find the best burger.

I finally got around to trying one of these the other weekend, at Isaac's Bar and Restaurant in downtown Silver (City). This cavernous place occupies a corner at the bottom of the town's main thoroughfare and attracts a lively crowd at the weekend. Slightly deterred by online reviews of surly staff and stories from colleagues with the NPS (who were lucky enough to eat in there one night when a knife fight took place. A one off incident I'm sure), we thought we'd give it a go last Sunday evening. We stuck with the lighter/sandwich menu (the main entrees are quite pricy between $10-18, although the portions did look huge), choosing the green chile burger with duck fat fries. The food arrived swiftly and we polished off our plates in an equally speedy manner. The diced green chile had just the right amount of heat, adding a tangy freshness to the burger and the fries were excellent and well-portioned. So that's another New Mexican food experience crossed off the list....and one that was slightly more successful than the cactus.


Isaac's Bar & Grill
200 North Bullard Street
Silver City, NM 88061
(575) 388-4090


Monday, 26 April 2010

Don't try this at home

We decided to BBQ the other evening and invited some coworkers who are also living in the RV park to join us. One of the ingredients available here that I've been dying to have a go at cooking are prickly pear cactus paddles. They actually sell these things at the local Walmart but at a whopping $1.59 each, we thought we'd go one better and pick-our-own.

After a short hike and some rather tedious spike removal, we were left with 3 cleaned and prepped paddles, brushed with oil and sprinkled with salt and lime juice. We watched avidly while they grilled for 20 minutes over hot coals. Was it worth the effort? Sadly no. Chewy and fibrous with a rather unpleasant texture: goodness knows what our neighbours thought of our culinary efforts. What I hadn't taken into account was the number of different species of Opuntia cacti that exist and sadly, I think we picked one that isn't considered edible. A little more research is needed before we attempt this again.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Kountry Kitchen, Silver City


The Gila Wilderness isn't renowned for its restaurant scene (unless you're part of the animal kingdom); the nearest restaurant is a 1/2 hour drive and even if you head all the way into Silver City, you're not spoilt for choice.

However,  don't be fooled by first impressions; there are a few good places to eat home-style Mexican food hidden in the back streets of this dusty mining town. What they lack in class they certainly make up for in character as we discovered at lunch last week at 'Kountry Kitchen'. One of the blog's readers suggested this place and despite my initial reluctance, mostly due to the spelling of the place, we thought we'd give it a go.

Well, it took some finding, a long low building, windows painted with garish bunnies and baskets full of eggs leftover from Easter, tucked behind a Harvest Christian Fellowship Center (whatever that might be). The decor on the inside wasn't much of an improvement; aquamarine and maroon walls festooned with fake flowers and pictures depicting Aztec scenes that looked like they'd been copied straight out of a children's book on Mesomerican history.

The obligatory salsa and chips arrived, accompanied by unusually tall glass bottles of coke (presumably 'hecho en Mexico'). The other diners were a mix of blue collar workers and local office types intermingled with a rather elderly crowd.

While the service was a little slow, all the orders appeared to be cooked 'to order' and was well worth the wait. Warm carnitas (shredded pork) tacos overflowed with crispy bits of fat and fresh diced jalapeno while the chicken enchiladas were full of flavour (thanks to the mix of dark and white meat) and a chile relleno came encased in a light almost pancake-like batter. My only complaint? The fact they're not open in the evenings and the excessive use of cheese on top of everything....but this is America. If you're looking for a bargain no-frills feed in Silver, then this is definitely a good place to come.

Kountry Kitchen
1500 N Hudson (main entrance off Bennett St, one block east)
Silver City

Opening hours: 8am - 6pm (8pm Friday) except Sunday
Main dishes: $5-$10

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Tequila Lime Cooler


A friend recently recommended Rick Bayless' 'Authentic Mexican' to keep me occupied in the evenings. While I'm unable to recreate many of the recipes (lacking many basic untensils in the trailer's spartan kitchen), I did go to the trouble of making some home-made margaritas, using Mr Bayless' lime cooler as the basis. It's light and fresh and beats the commercial sweet and sour mix any day of the week.

Agua de Limon (makes 1/2 litre)

5 dark green limes
1/2 cup (100g) caster sugar
1/2 litre water (2 cups)

Carefully grate the limes (avoiding the white pith) into a bowl. Add 1/2 litre of cold water and allow the flavours to develop for an hour or so.
Strain the mixture through a very fine mesh sieve (I discovered a coffee filter workes very well), extracting as much liquid as possible from the zest. Stir in the sugar, a little at a time, and adjust the amount according to taste.

To make a 'margarita':

50ml freshly squeezed lime juice
250ml agua de limon
pinch of salt
50ml tequila
Dash of triple sec (or orange juice)

Mix the above and allow to stand for 1 hour. Add ice and serve.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Honey chipotle shrimp and roasted poblano salad


After a couple of days on the road and eating (what felt like) a lot of 'junk' food, I decided to opt for a healthier option for supper last night. I've always wanted to have a go at making tortilla 'bowls' and discovered that these can be baked, rather than fried. Brimming with fresh salad leaves, warm prawns and roasted peppers, our dinner felt very virtuous....and what do to with the bowls afterwards? I would suggest smothering with local desert honey.

Serves 2

Dressing
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp lime
1/2 chipotle in adobo, finely diced
2 tbsp olive oil

300g prawns
Salad leaves of your choice
1/2 poblano pepper (or bell pepper), chargrilled and thinly sliced
2 large tortillas

Snugly place each tortilla in a glass bowl and bake in a low oven for 20 mins. Allow to dry. Place the salad, poblano pepper strips and any other salad ingredients (toasted corn, pinto beans etc.) you like into each bowl.

Pan fry the prawns in a wok and as soon as they turn pink, add the dressing. Give everything a quick stir and tip over the salad. Devour.

Friday, 2 April 2010

Life in a small community


Living in a small community where everyone knows your name is proving to be a very refreshing break from the impersonality of living in London. Just the other morning, a man in a pick-up stopped alongside me as I was walking along the (only) road in Gila Hot Springs.
Hey, you want some fresh tamales?
Hell, yes! I thought.
Sadly, I didn't have any cash on me, a big mistake in New Mexico. You can't even buy a cinema ticket using a card. Lorenzo comes up once a month, selling his tamales from the back of his truck. He showed me a selection of both meat (pork) and vegetarian (green chile and cheese) and promised to come by the trailer next time he's up. Definitely beats making your own!

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Greetings from the Gila Wilderness


 
I know this blog's meant to be about eating Mexican in London, but for the next few months I'd like to share my experiences out here, both food-related and other!

It's two weeks since I left the UK for New Mexico. Part of me is missing the conveniences of city life (like having a local supermarket or eating any sort of cuisine imaginable within walking distance), but the scenery out here makes up for that.

When I first visited the state in 2000, I knew very little about cooking with chillies. However, I quickly became hooked. NM is very proud of it's culinary heritage and they take their food very seriously. This was, after all, part of Mexico until the mid 19th century and being so close to the border, you can find all sorts of Mexican food on offer; from upscale eateries and regional specialities to straight-forward home-style cooking. The latter is something we still don't see in the UK: no frills family-run joints that turn out simple, good food.

However, my time here is somewhat removed from any sort of restaurant scene. As a volunteer at the Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument (part of the National Park Service), the nearest town, Silver City, is 1 1/2 hours away. There are only a handful of restaurants within it which I am yet to try (and will review here). The park is on the edge of the first designated Wilderness area in the US and part of 3.3 million acres of moutainous forest. This area was the home to the MOGOLLON people, a pre-Colombian peoples who lived throughout the region, with the Anasazi to the north and the Hohokam to the west. Today's pueblo people (such as Hopi, Zuni, Acoma and Laguna) are the ancestors of these tribes.

But coming back to food. Corn, beans and squash played an important role in their diet and these remain central to Mexican cooking today. Learning about the history and development of these ingredients is something I can't wait to get my teeth into (quite literally).

Monday, 8 March 2010

From Mexico to New Mexico


Dear readers of From Chile to Chocolate

Sadly, I'm not going to be blogging as much over the next few months as I'm heading off to the wilds of New Mexico for a little outdoor adventure. I hope to spend as much time as possible researching new recipes and cooking up delights from the comfort of my temporary home in the Gila Wilderness, and will post these here as much as possible. However, as the internet access is somewhat limited (the nearest civilisation is 1 1/2 hours away by car), please bear with me and keep checking back for new material!

Hasta luego x

A little taste of Latin America in London

There's no doubt that London is one of the world's leading multi-cultural cities. There's no shortage of places to eat ethnic food. While Mexican (as opposed to Tex Mex) food is a relative newcomer to the scene, there’s been a Latin American presence in London since the 1960s. Many came to the UK looking to escape the dictatorships ruling their homeland.

The Colombian community is one of the largest in town, something in excess of 100,000 inhabitants. A high number of these residents live in South London and there are a number of local shops that cater for the Latin American market.

In addition, Brixton's food markets are a great place to find produce and utensils common in South and Central America. If you fancy an arepa or an empanada, you'll find them here as well as the ingredients to make them at home.

While you may find you still need to order most Mexican groceries online (see ‘Shop Like a Mexican’ in the sidebar on the right), Latin American 'fast' food is now available across London. For example, the newly rebuilt Camden market has a whole host of stalls selling treats from Brazil, Mexico, and Columbia, including the first Venezuelan arepa stall in London, Arepa & Co.

Other places worth a look:

Las American Latin American Butcher
34 Atlantic Road, London SW9 8JW
020 7274 5533

La Bodeguita
http://www.labodeguita.co.uk/index.asp


Sunday, 28 February 2010

Mexican Food Made Simple (according to Thomasina Miers)

Yesterday saw the publication of Thomasina Miers' first Mexican cookery book, Mexican Food Made Simple.  While it's too early to know what kind of reception the book will have among fans of Mexican food, the following recipes are featured on The Times Online website.

The perfect guacamole
Churros and chocolate
Ham and cheese empanadas
Chorizo, potato and thyme quesadillas

The comments that have already appeared make for interesting reading; there's certainly some strong opinions out there about her take on Mexican food. If you've rushed out and got a copy, then I'd love to hear what you think! Here's a recent review by Delicious Magazine.

Friday, 26 February 2010

Cheat's chipotle sauce

There is something truly addictive about the smoky flavour of chipotle and it's no wonder that this chile has become somewhat of a food celebrity. In the last year or so, it's really taken off in the UK, cropping up on menus across London, not just those specialising in Mexican cuisine. Strange to think that the process of smoking these chillies dates back to the Aztecs, who found that the thick flesh of the jalapeño pepper was prone to rotting; smoking them gave them a much better shelf-life (so to speak).

If you're lucky enough to have a cold smoker, then nothing beats smoking your own jalapeños, a process which takes about 8-12 hours. Personally, my favourite chipotle product is 'in adobo', canned in a red sauce that typically contains tomato puree as well as an array of seasonings. Not only are the chillies great for cooking but whizz up the tin with a few other ingredients and you have a really tasty and quick chipotle sauce. It might be cheating but in terms of ease, it's hard to beat. Just one word of caution: they are very HOT so use with care!


Quick chipotle sauce using tinned chipotles in adobo 
1 tin of chipotles in adobo (about 200g)
1/2 pt water
1 clove garlic
1 tbsp olive oil
1 pt tomato passata or tinned tomatoes

Place all the ingredients except the oil in a blender and liquidize until smooth, about 1-2 mins. Heat the oil in a saucepan; when it begins to smoke, quickly tip the sauce into the pan, stirring frequently while it boils away for 10 mins. This will seal the flavour and the sauce should reduce a little and thicken. 

For a simple supper, add to shredded meat or browned mince or use as a base for enchiladas for chilaquiles. The sauce also freezes very well and will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days

Masa Hot Cakes

Photo credit: Isazappy
I completely neglected pancake day last week so to make up for my forgetfulness, I made up a batch of hot cakes over the weekend. Very similar to buttermilk pancakes, these are a light and yet filling way to start the day. They're a great way to use up a leftover egg and made with a little masa and served with cinammon syrup, then you have a fabulour treat with a little taste of Mexico. Sadly, these disappeared too fast before I could take a photo but the image above should be enough to whet your appetite.

Serves 4 (or 2 if male)

1 egg
150ml milk
50g flour
25g cornflour
25g masa harina
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp sugar
1 tbsp butter, melted

Lightly beat the egg and milk together in a jug. Sift the flours and baking powder into a bowl, and then add the liquid, a little at a time, along with the sugar and melted butter.

Grease and heat a heavy-based frying pan. When ready, drop 3 tablespoons of the batter, well-spaced, into the pan. They should double in size and when small holes appear, flip over and cook until golden. Repeat the process until you have used up all the batter, keeping those you have already made warm in the oven. Serve with cinammon sugar syrup.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Geography and food


Photo credit: Esparta
When it comes to food, there's no doubt that geography and climate play an important role in the formation of a nation's cuisine as well as contributing to regional differences. The food of Mexico is a great example of this and regional variations abound; for example, from the South's preference for corn tortillas (over wheat) to North's preference for pinto rather than black beans.

This fascinating subject has been explored at length in the recent publication Geo-Mexicoa "ground-breaking book" which "provides a comprehensive, up-to-date analysis of modern Mexico from climates to culture, economy to ecosystems, population to politics, transportation to tourism, and globalization to gated communities". While I doubt this is light holiday reading, I'm sure it is incredibly informative and excerpts from many of the chapters are available online.

Another great site if you want to learn more about Mexico is the blog, Mexico Cooks! Written by Cristina Potter, this encyclopaedic site covers everything from current affairs and culture to cuisine. There's also some links to some other great foodie sites which are well worth a visit, such as Street Gourmet LA.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Mexico asks UNESCO to help protect her cuisine

There's little doubt that food is an integral part of any nation's cultural identity.Therefore, it's no surprise that Mexican officials are lobbying UNESCO to include their country's food in the organisation's list of  "intangible cultural patrimony".

According to a article in The Associated Press this week, it is hoped that this move will raise awareness about authentic Mexican cuisine and educate the wider world about the diversity and depth of the nation's cuisine which many see as nothing more than 'lots of grease and spices'.
This isn't the first time that Mexico has made an appeal to UNESCO: in 2005, officials submitted a more general proposal focusing on corn while this year's application features the traditional cuisine of Michoacan.

A decision will be made in April/May.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Margarita Frozen Yogurt

While I'm a big fan of ice-cream and gelato, I absolutely adore the tangy taste of frozen yogurt. While the leading US yogurt brand, Colombo, launched their range of frozen yogurt in the UK in 2001, it never really took off with us Brits. For a long time, the only place in London you could find any sort of soft-serve frozen yogurt was The Rendezvous Cafe in Leicester Square or Nando's.

However, there's been a second coming; frozen yogurt's suddenly become hip. As people look for 'healthier' options, stores have sprung up across London. For example, Snog is just about to open its fourth outlet in two years. But it's not a cheap treat and the flavours are still somewhat limited (fine if you like toppings, although that defeats the low-fat benefits)....so I've been experimenting with making my own at home.

After many hours roaming the internet and several attempts (the mixture below is the result of several tries), I think I've finally got it sussed. Inspired, as ever, by my love of Mexican food, here's a winner of a recipe. You don't need an ice-cream maker, it scoops straight from the freezer and has a lovely smooth texture. Best of all, you can really appreciate the taste of tequila without the burn. Definitely for adults only.

Margarita Frozen Yogurt
400g tin of condensed milk (regular or light)
400g low-fat plain yogurt
Zest of a lime
75ml fresh lime juice (2-3 limes)
4 tbsp tequila
Small pinch of salt

Empty the condensed milk into a bowl and mix well with the yogurt (it's much easier if you warm the condensed milk first to make it runnier). Add the lime zest and juice, tequila, and a small pinch of salt. Pour the mixture into a freezer proof container and place in the refrigerator for an hour or so.

When chilled, put the container in the freezer and give the mixture a good mix after two hours. Freeze again until needed. It will take 6-8 hours in total to reach the right consistency.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Mexican cookery classes in the UK and abroad

I keep coming across cookery schools in Mexico, many of which make me long to return! I mentioned Los Dos a couple of months ago; based in the Yucatan, it's had a huge amount of press in the USA and the website has lots of recipes as well as information about the school and its classes. I've just been reading the blog on the De La Tierra website, a school based in Oaxaca, definitely one to bear in mind for my next trip. The view from the kitchen is tempting enough!

Obviously, there's no shortage of cookery schools in Mexico itself, but despite the increasing popularity of the cuisine here in the UK, cookery classes specialising in Mexican food are still hard to find and often book up early. If you're looking for hands-on experience, here's a round-up of forthcoming classes:

Hablemos Cookery School, Broadstairs, Kent
Offer a selection of Mexican, Spanish and Latin American classes on Saturdays. Cost £80.
www.hablemos.co.uk/cookery.htm

Divertimenti, London and Cambridge
Has a couple of Mexican masterclasses with Sofia Larrinua-Craxton, sadly both sold-out over the next couple of months (cost £99). Hopefully they'll do some more. For more information about Sofia, see her website. She also offers classes at home.
www.divertimenti.co.uk

Eat Drink Talk, London, EC1
Has a Mexican cookery evening in early March, as well as others from all around the world. Cost £85.
www.eatdrinktalk.co.uk/products/flavours-of-mexico

Cooking with Chillies, Nottingham
If you want to get to grips with this fiery ingredient, this 1 day course, as featured on Mexgrocer.co.uk looks all-encompassing! Cost 115.
www.cooking-with-chillies.co.uk/index.html

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Cantina Laredo coming to London



Like a Mexican wave, news of yet another restaurant catering to the London Mexiphile this week. St Martin's Courtyard, a new development tucked round the back of Covent Garden, will be home to Cantina Laredo, a Stateside chain of 'authentic' Mexican restaurants. Opening Summer 2010, this could provide some stiff competition to Wahaca, although judging by the website, the look and feel of the restaurant is very different. For more details, check out the St Martin's Court website.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Tortilla: some very tasty tacos


In the search for London's best burrito, I found myself in the queue of the Islington branch of Tortilla yesterday lunchtime and I think I've found a winner....at least the best so far.
The menu is pretty standard for this type of place (burritos, salad and tacos with a choice of 3 fillings) and the prices around a fiver. However, there are two sizes of burrito on offer (great for those of us with a more lady-like appetite) and they do pile the meat into whatever you're having. I was also pleased to be given the option of either corn or flour tortillas for my tacos.
The downside? It's very much a grab and go operation with three communal benches for those wanting to eat in so if you want to linger over your lunch, you're better off at Chilango up the street. Even so, the food at Tortilla was very good and more to the point, better value for money.
For further details and other locations, visit the website at http://www.tortilla.co.uk/. There's also a short interview with the company's founder here.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Mexican film festival at the Barbican

I can't claim to know much about Mexican films but the Barbican is hosting a short festival later this month in celebration of the country's industry.

From civil war and revolution in the Silent era, through the Golden Age of the 30s and 40s to the Nuevo Cine Mexicano, establishing global big-hitters Alfonso Arau (Like Water for Chocolate), Alejandro González Iñárritu (Amores Perros) Carlos Reygadas (Silent Light), Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mama Tambien) and Guillermo del Toro (The Devil’s Backbone) to name a few, Mexican cinema continues to go from strength to strength. 

With debut works, new features and acclaimed shorts, the programme will highlight the producers of Mexico’s international hits and festival favourites. 


Mira Mexico runs from 21st to 29th January. For full details and a schedule of the films showing, see here.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Mexican Wine? Plus a guide to pairing wine and Mexican food


Photo credit: Omar Omar
Mexico is not known as a wine drinking nation; spicy food can be difficult to pair with wine and the grape is largely overshadowed by tequila and beer. I was therefore surprised to discover that wine production in the country dates back to the Spanish conquest and Cortes. However, it is only in recent years that Mexico has begun to produce high quality wines on an international level.

In celebration of this ever-growing industry, Wahaca recently hosted a Mexican wine evening in partnership with Bibendum. Read all about the evening here.

Today, Mexico's largest wine areas lie 70 miles south of the US border, in three regions:  San Antonio de las Minas, the San Vicente Valley and the Santo Tomas Valley. Others, boutique wineries can be found Zacatecas, Sonora and Coahuila.

The following types of wine are most commonly produced:
Red - Cabernet Sauvignon, Ruby Cabernet, Zinfandel Grenache and Mission
White - Chenin Blanc, Palomino, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Saint Emilion and Malaga

If you're looking for wine to serve with a Mexican meal, look for something with a good body that will stand up to the heat and flavour of the food. Sweeter grape varieties such as Reisling and Gewürztraminer go very well with spicy food. Here are some other suggestions:

Seafood and fish - a crisp white pairs well with a tangy fish dish made with coriander and garlic. Looks for a Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio or Soave.

Enchiladas and other dishes with a strong sauce - an heavier, oak-based red wine works well with cheese dishes. Try a Pinot Noir, Italian Barbera and Dolcetto. If the dish has a lot of chilli heat, such as chipotle, try a  Cabernet Sauvignon or a classic Australian Shiraz.

There are no hard and fast rules and the more you try, you'll soon discover what works best. Frankly, there's no better excuse to experiment.

Friday, 8 January 2010

My Mexican Biscochos


Photo credit: Digitputz
These are my take on Mexican biscuits; probably not that authentic but they're delicious, with a chewy cake-like consistency. They're quick to make; you can whip up a small batch in 1/2 hour and best of all, they're fat free. Perfect for guilt-free post-Christmas consumption.

Mis biscochitos (makes 6)
1 large egg, separated
80g granulated sugar
50g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp cinnamon
Icing sugar to dust

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C. In a medium sized bowl, whisk the yolk with the sugar until pale. Add the flour, baking powder and cinnamon and gently combine. Add the milk and vanilla essence - you want a thick, batter-like mixture.

Whisk the egg white in a clean bowl until forming stiff peaks. Fold this into the mixture being careful not to overmix. Divide the mixture into a well-greased 6 cup muffin tin.

Bake in the oven for 15 minutes - the tops should be a light golden brown. Remove from the tin and dust with icing sugar. Serve warm with coffee.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

The Tamale Museum, Los Angeles


Mayan Honey Ants, traditionally given to children as candy, (photo credit: Museum Tamal)
I'm always on the look out for quirky independent museums, particularly those to do with food. One place which recently caught my eye was the Tamal Museum which is dedicated to charting the history of Latin America through its food. Sadly, it's located in Los Angeles, but surely a must-see for anyone who's into the food of the American Southwest and Mexico. In addition to the museum, there's also a restaurant and exhibition kitchen. The founder, chef John Rivera Sedlar, is currently looking for a permanent space to house the museum. For more information, visit http://museumtamal.org/.

Wahaca's plans for 2010

Wahaca's been in the news a fair bit, especially with the company's third opening at Canary Wharf and as Mexican food gathers increasing momentum, I can only see them going from strength to strength in 2010. According to a recent Reuters interview, there are plans to add a new special dish each month, with the most popular becoming a permanent fixture on the menu. From hearing Tommi speak, I know how important it is to her to get produce from local suppliers and it looks as if this is only going to increase over the next year. All in all, it's definitely an exciting time for the restaurant and I wouldn't be surprised to see the chain going nationwide. To read the full article, click here.