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 jalapeƱo 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 jalapeƱos, 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) 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.

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.

Eat Drink Talk, London, EC1
Has a Mexican cookery evening in early March, as well as others from all around the world. Cost £85.

Cooking with Chillies, Nottingham
If you want to get to grips with this fiery ingredient, this 1 day course, as featured on looks all-encompassing! Cost 115.