Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Wahaca goes hi-tec

Would anyone have a clue what QSR ConnectSmart Kitchen Automation is? Not the snappiest name for a piece of software but it's doing wonders for the staff at Wahaca. All five sites have recently installed this new technology aimed to simplify and improve the efficiency of the kitchen.

Each chef station has its own screen, showing each individual chef what needs to be cooked next. Not only does this help to streamline their workload but also flags up any impending delays as well as helping to reduce waste.

For further details about QSR and how it works, see this article in Marketwire.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Mexican Miracle Paintings come to London

The Wellcome Collection is a great place to visit in London and the latest exhibition, 'Miracles and Charms', is no exception. This includes Infinitas Graciaswhich features over 100 Mexican votive paintings on loan from museums in and around Mexico City and two sanctuaries in the Bajío region. These images are a fascinating expression of faith and are being displayed alongside news reports, photographs, devotional artefacts, and film and interviews to illustrate the depth of the votive tradition in Mexico.

Tied into this, the Wellcome Collection is also hosting a special Day of the Dead event on Saturday 5th November.

The second part of the exhibition is Charmed Life, featuring 400 amulets taken from folklorist Edward Lovett's collection, who scoured London by night for curious objects.

Both the exhibition and the above event are free so there's no excuse not to go. The exhibition runs until 26th February 2012.

Wellcome Collection
183 Euston Road
London NW1 2BE

Friday, 23 September 2011

Chilango tops Zagat's Mexican category for 2nd year running

Last week saw the results of the 2012 Zagat Restaurant Guide, compiled from the ratings and reviews of 5497 diners across 1187 restaurants in Greater London.

Even though the average price of a meal went up a staggering 6% (from ₤40.84 to ₤43.40), Londoners are eating out more often – an average of 2.4 times per week - the first rise in 3 years.

When it comes to Mexican food, Chilango was once again named the best Mexican restaurant, as well as topping the 'Bust Buy' category. Mexican food also came eight in the top ten favourite cuisines, with 4% of diners voting it as their preferred choice of cuisine.

For the full results, see this link. Here are a couple of interesting stats which caught my eye:

only 35% of Zagat reviewers are female (being one myself)...
over 50% still think it's rude to use a mobile phone (whether talking, tweeting or texting) in a restaurant.

I wonder how these compare with cities elsewhere?!

Zagat Guide

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Sainsbury's to launch 'complete' Mexican food range

You can now walk into any large supermarket and find a variety of Mexican dishes and products. Sainsbury's are taking it one step further with (according to them) the launch of the FIRST complete chilled Mexican food range in the UK.

Available in 545 stores across the country from last week, featured dishes include Chicken Tinga Quesadillas, Vegetable Naked Burrito Bowl and Prawn Veracruz.

There are 20 dishes in the range, priced from £1.50 to £6.00. As they've been developed with the help of a Mexican chef, I'll be interested to see how 'authentic' they taste!

For further information, visit Sainsbury's website.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Chipotle opens 2nd UK site in London

It's been over a year since Chipotle opened their first London restaurant on Charing Cross Road but this week sees the long-awaited second site open its doors on Baker Street. The company plans to open another 4-5 sites over the coming year - still a little way off the States, where the company has in excess of 1000 outlets!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

From Hay to Jalapeño - the international Hay Festival in Mexico

What do Hay-on-Wye and Xalapa, Mexico have in common? Why, the annual Hay Festival of course! Over the last 10 years, the Hay Festival has become a global organisation with events and projects around the world. From Bogota to Beirut, this literary and musical celebration stretches right across the globe and it's exactly a month (6th - 9th October) until the second Mexican gathering which takes place this year in Xalapa, the state capital of Veracruz.

Xalapa (pronounced Ha-LA-pa), known as the home of the jalapeño (the most ubiquitous of all Mexican chillies) should be on any foodie's itinerary for a trip to Mexico. If you'd like to read further about the city's attractions and the upcoming festival, check out this recent article in the Telegraph. Richard Ford, Martin Amis and Ricardo Piglia are among several of the international literary stars attending Hay Xalapa.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Old El Paso is 'Old Hat'

While Marcela didn't manage to win over the Dragons in the Den on Sunday night, you might soon be seeing Rico Mexican Kitchen on your local supermarket shelf thanks to investment from a Northamptonshire-based consortium.

This is great news for Marcela and the business, which aims to give the British public a much more authentic taste of Mexico. Rico Mexican Kitchen, which currently sells in Harrods and Selfridges, should be available online through Ocado later this year and also in selected Waitrose stores.

Read all about it in a recent interview with Food Manufacture here.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Rico Mexican Kitchen on Dragon's Den tonight!

I'm not a huge fan of Dragon's Den but I'll certainly tune it tonight to watch Marcela from Rico's Mexican Kitchen make her pitch! You can read about Marcela's experience here but it sounds as if it went well.

If you want to keep up-to-date with the company's latest news and products, Rico Mexican Kitchen is also now on Facebook.
Good luck Marcela!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Money off at Cantina Laredo, Covent Garden

It's been a year since Cantina Laredo came to our shores. To celebrate the restaurant's first anniversary, they're offering 25% off the bill for FOUR DAYS ONLY, from Monday 20th to Thursday 23rd June. In addition, the first 10 people to present the voucher each day will receive a margarita kit - just in time for summer!

To download the voucher, visit this link.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Mexican Food TV series coming this Summer

Thomasina Miers is returning to our screens this summer in an 8 part series entitled 'Mexican Food Made Simple', the same as her cookery book. The food/travel program will follow her around Mexico as she explores regional cuisines, meets cooks from all different backgrounds and tries out new recipes.

The series is sponsored by Mission Foods, a world leader in tortilla production that has over 60 years' experience in the Mexican food industry. As Andrew O’Connell, Channel 5’s Head of Factual comments “This is very exciting new commission for Channel 5 and it is fantastic to be working with Thomasina Miers who is Britain’s leading Mexican chef. Viewers will enjoy her clever twists on traditional Mexican dishes which are simple and quick to make.” The show is set to be broadcast from July.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Vanilla Vanity

There's nothing plain about vanilla. From baking cakes to making ice cream, it can add a subtle depth of flavour that we often take for granted.

I have to admit that I knew very little about the spice until I did some research the other day. While I knew that the majority of vanilla flavouring is a synthetic chemical (vanillin), I didn't know it was derived from wood pulp in paper mills. The bulk of this is used in the manufacture of mass produced ice cream and, of course, chocolate.

If you think vanilla is boring, it's more than likely that vanillin is to blame. Real vanilla is complex; it has over 200 compounds while the fake stuff has only one. The vanilla orchid is a fickle plant and requires a lot of careful cultivation to pollinate and harvest. If you think the pods are expensive, their price reflects the time and effort that goes into their production.

Nowadays, there are three main types of vanilla available; Madagascan, Mexican and Tahitian. Until the mid 19th century, Mexico was the main producer of vanilla but as colonial cultivation spread, it's the Madagascan bean that appears in most of our supermarket products. Madagascan or Bourbon vanilla is possibly the finest and most versatile form of the spice while Tahitian beans are the strongest, their complex aromatics most suited to perfumes and such-like.

However, a lot has to be said for the Mexican variety which is reputed to have a stronger, smoother and richer flavour. There are plenty of shops online selling pods and paste, the latter of which I would strongly recommend, particularly for ice cream and custard recipes. A little goes a long way and the little black flecks make any dessert look gourmet.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Free Mexican Food!

The best things in life are definitely free....so a big thumbs up to Chilango who are giving away burritos at the opening of their Chancery Lane restaurant on 5th May, which also happens to be Cinco de Mayo. There's going to be an all day fiesta with live music so make sure you get down there early as I'm sure this will be a popular event.

In addition, if you're off to watch the London Marathon this Sunday 17th April, Wahaca are giving away chips and salsa to spectators at their Canary Wharf restaurant, a great place to watch the runners go by.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Mexican Food? It's easy as 1, 2, 3

There's no denying that Mexican food is continuing to captivate us Brits: you only have to visit your local supermarket to see how demand is being met. Last year, Mexican food sales grew by a whopping 8.5% on 2009, exceeding just over £139M. While El Paso and Discovery dominate the market, many of the supermarkets are catching up, offering their own branded products for Mexican dishes. From Marks & Spencer's Chipotle Ketchup (which I can highly recommend) to Tesco Enchiladas, there's no shortage of choice.

The latest testament to our growing demand for Mexican food at home is the announcement that Santa Maria (aka Discovery) is investing £500,000 in the Milton Keynes plant. The company is also launching new concepts, including 'Mexican 3-Step', a way to prepare dishes from a few base ingredients. If you've ever cooked authentic Mexican food from scratch, you'll know how time consuming and ingredient-laden it can be so it will be interesting to see how this compares.

If you're more of a 'hands-on' cook, then how about trying our a couple of recipes from Eva Longoria's new cookbook. Eva is one of those celebrities who has time to dabble in the kitchen as well as owning a couple of restaurants. Inspired by her Texas/Mexican roots, her book is available now at Amazon.co.uk.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Easy Chipotle Coffee Sauce

Having cracked open a can of chipotle chilles in adobo the other week, I'm always left wondering what to do with the rest. They're incredibly hot so one or two is all you need per recipe, which means there's plenty left over for another day.

I didn't have much time yesterday evening but wanted to make a tasty sauce using the ingredients I had to hand in the kitchen. Inspired by other coffee and chilli combinations in various Mexican and South-Western cookbooks, I cobbled together the following. It's a lovely, rich sauce with a tangy kick, ideal for for shredded turkey or pork.

Chipotle Coffee Sauce (serves 2)

1 chipotle in adobo
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp ancho powder
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp agave syrup (or honey)
1 tbsp tomato paste
250ml freshly brewed coffee
50ml stock (or water)

Blitz together the chipotle, onion, garlic, ancho powder, lime juice and syrup, until smooth. Heat a tbsp of oil in a saucepan and when it begins to smoke, add the puree and the tomato paste to the pan, stirring frequently so that it doesn't burn.

As soon as it has reduced to a thick, glossy sauce (about 5 mins), pour in the coffee and stock and bring to the boil before allowing it to simmer for 5-10 mins. Add the cooked meat and serve with tortillas and rice.

Monday, 28 February 2011

Easy Eggless Gelato

I didn't think I could ever have too much ice cream.....until the other day. Eating sorbetto at 11.30am was easy enough, but several hours and many gelato flavours later, I'd found my limit.

I was at an all-day gelato academy, learning about the processes and techniques that go into making 'artisan' ice cream. It was both interesting and informative; for example, did you know that in the UK, our annual ice cream consumption is in the region of 11.5L per head whereas in New Zealand, it's over 26L?

One of first questions that arose was 'what's the difference between ice cream and gelato?' While you might think the latter is just the Italian name for the former, several factors set the two apart. Legally, ice cream has to have a minimum fat content of 10% whereas gelato is usually only about 6-8%. Gelato has a higher number of natural raw ingredients, hence it's much shorter shelf life than ice cream. In addition, gelato tends to be denser in consistency and is served at a warmer temperature, which arguably results in a more intense flavour and velvety texture.
Inspired by all that I had learnt (and eaten), and in my quest for creating a homemade ice cream that scoops straight from the freezer, I've been experimenting with various recipes. The following basic recipe has proved to be a great success; soft and creamy, and incredibly easy to make from a few simple ingredients....and very low in fat. You may not get the same results if you don't have an ice cream maker, but it's definitely still worth a go.

Easy eggless gelato base mix

570ml milk
80g sugar
3 tbsp cornflour
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 tbsp alcohol (rum, vodka etc. - dark spirits add a much richer flavour to the above vanilla mix but if you don't want to taste the alcohol, use vodka

Place 450ml of milk in a saucepan with the sugar and gently heat. Mix the remaining milk with the cornflour in a small jug. When it begins to steam, add the cornflour mix and stir continuously as it thickens. Once it comes to the boil, reduce to a simmer and allow to cook through for 5 mins, being very careful not to burn the milk. Remove from the heat and add the vanilla extract and alcohol.

Chill overnight or even for 48 hours. This allows the mixture to 'age', which will improve the texture and the flavour of the mix. When ready, freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions.
Mint Choc Chip
This basic mix is great for a variety of combinations and flavours. So far, I've tried our the following variations:

Mint choc chip: use 1 1/2 tsp of mint extract instead of vanilla and add 75g chocolate chips five minutes before the end of the churning time in the machine.

Chocolate: Add 75g high quality cocoa to the milk in the saucepan and allow to melt before adding the cornflour. You may need to adjust the sugar to taste depending on how bitter you like your chocolate! I also find a teaspoon of ancho powder added while the mixture is cooking enhances the chocolate's earthiness.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Chilango set to open 5th outlet

Chilango's keeping up with the competition by opening yet another London store. Their fifth outlet, based on Chancery Lane, is due to open in May, serving burritos, tacos and salads five days a week.

Rated the No. 1 Mexican Restaurant by Zagat 2011, it's definitely one of the strongest contenders in the battle of the burrito. For up-to-date info, visit the website.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Ancho Pine Nut Chocolate Cake (eggless)

We don't eat a lot of eggs in this household. In fact, I only really ever buy them to bake with, when I have a particular recipe in mind. As a result, cravings to cook something to satisfy a sweet tooth often remain unfulfilled (without a trip to the shops).

So, imagine my joy when I stumbled across an eggless chocolate cake recipe. It's made with yogurt, which is perfect for me as I've been making a lot of frozen yogurt so I had some in the fridge to use up. After a bit of tweaking and some spicing up, this is the result.....and it's really good. I'm always a little suspicious of unusual cake recipes (I've never enjoyed anything combining chocolate with courgette or beetroot), but this is a real find, gooey and chocolatey, almost a brownie-like consistency.

Ancho Pine Nut Chocolate Cake (eggless)

75g pine nuts, toasted*
130g self-raising flour
80g sugar
200g yogurt
55g butter/margarine
3 tbsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp ancho powder
1/4 tsp salt

* Spread on a plate and microwave on high power in 1 minute bursts until brown. Be careful not to burn the nuts!

Pre-heat oven to 180°C (160 fan) and butter a 7" cake pan or something similar in size. Sift together the flour, salt, cocoa powder and baking powder in a medium sized bowl.

In a larger bowl, whisk together the sugar, butter and vanilla essence for 2-3 mins (with an electric mixer). The mixture should be pale and fluffy. Add the yogurt and give it a good stir until everything is combined.

Carefully fold in the dry ingredients into the mix, being careful not to overmix. The mixture will look very thick and lumpy but don't worry! Spoon into the cake tin and bake for 30-40 mins or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Turn onto a wire rack and allow to cool.

Cover with a simple chocolate frosting or serve warm with vanilla ice-cream and dark chocolate sauce.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Fat fight: lard versus butter

Lard's been the bad boy of the fat family for some time. However, it's one of those largely misunderstood food products that's been given a lot of bad press over the years. Moreover, is an integral part of Mexican cuisine, adding a distinct flavour to many dishes that just wouldn't taste the same if made with any other type of fat.

So, is it much worse for you than other types of fat? While I wouldn't advise spreading it on your toast for breakfast every morning, it is a very versatile ingredient. It doesn't smoke much when cooking and lard's incomparable when making homemade pastry, adding a light, buttery flakiness that you just wouldn't get with anything else. With respect to it's health 'benefits', lard has 20% less saturated fat (gram for gram) than butter, is higher in mono-unsaturated fats (linked to lowering cholesterol) and one's of nature's best sources of Vitamin D according to a recent article on the Guardian website.

The Italians are a fan and there's even an annual festival in Colonnata (just north of Pisa) celebrating all things lardy.

So, the next time you see a recipe involving lard, don't go and substitute it with something else...as long as you're not entertaining any vegetarians.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Mexico leading the way in algae biofuel

OriginOil Inc., an cutting-edge company from the USA turning algae into oil, has just announced its participation in a pilot project to be funded by the Mexican government. The 'Manhattan Project' hopes to produce 1% of the nation's jet fuel by 2015 and 20% by 2020. Being a country surrounded by water, Mexico has plenty of resources to make this a viable alternative to fossil fuel and there are hopes that algae could be the answer for the automobile industry. Not bad for a country deemed 'lazy, feckless, flatulent and overweight' by the presenters of BBC's Top Gear.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Mexican food in Paris? Sacre Bleu!

If you like reading about food, then you're probably familiar with David Lebovitz, one of the world's most prolific (and arguably best) food bloggers.

Based in Paris, David's blog is a great source of information and recipes and recently, there's been a couple of posts with a Mexican theme. so, if you're across the channel this Valentine's Day, how about celebrating with some good Mexican food?

CreditAnirudh Koul
Why not treat your loved one to some Mexican Hot Chocolate? If you haven't got any authentic Mexican chocolate to hand, then chocolate atole is a good alternative. Here's a cheat's version made with cornstarch, a much more readily available item in the UK than masa harina! If this still seems like too much hard work, then try some from www.spanishchocolate.co.uk or Hotel Chocolat for a spicier version.

Thick Hot Chocolate (serves 1-2)
250ml milk
100g chocolate, dark or milk depending on your taste, grated
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cornstarch

Mix the cornstarch with a little of the milk. Pour the rest into a saucepan and heat gently. When it begins to steam, add the cornstarch mixture and stir constantly as it thickens. Add the chocolate and cinnamon. Check for sweetness, adding a little sugar if necessary. Serve in small cups.

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Grilled Chipotle Pork Steaks

It's great having a butcher in walking distance....they do a fabulous range of homemade pies (courtesy of Simon the Pieman), which are great when I haven't got anything for dinner. However, always one for a bargain, pork steaks were on special this week. Here's a quick and easy way to give them some Mexican flair.

Chipotle marinade for pork steaks (serves 2)

2 juicy pork steaks*
1 chipotle pepper
1 clove garlic
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp agave syrup (or honey)
1 tbsp tomato paste
4 tbsp water
1 pepper, sliced

Place everything (except the pepper) in a mixer and blend until smooth. Put the steaks in a shallow baking pan, add the sauce and marinade for several hours (or overnight if you have time). Scatter the pepper slices over the top and cook under a hot grill for 8-10 mins before turning and grilling for another 8-10 mins depending on the thickness of the steaks. Serve with rice and pinto beans.

*While I normally buy pork loin, last night's supper was made using leg steaks; not only did they taste better, but the meat was very tender. I would highly recommend this cut.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Have a break...have a chilli chocolate Kit Kat!

There's been a fair amount of debate about the importance of regional taste/local dishes over the last few months. Back in September 2010, the National Trust employed a panel of experts to identify a number of 'endangered' tastes from across the country. To read about their results, click here.

When it comes to the latest food trends, it's all about regionalism; we're going back to basics, sourcing and eating local produce. Britain is not alone in this respect. Even in the USA, where major food chains and franchises stretch from coast to coast, there appears to be a movement shunning globalisation in favour of keeping it local. Suddenly, it's become very trendy to run a farm (watch an episode of 'A Farmers Life for Me' on the BBC), grown your own fruit and veg or have a few chickens in the back garden.

While we're all familiar with national cuisine, regional cuisine is in many ways of far greater interest. I personally find regional dishes quite fascinating as they reveal a lot about the local culture as well as taste.

How are the giant corporations to respond? There's no doubt that many tailor their products to suit the local area. McDonald's have been onto this for some time, with lobster on the menu in Maine and green chile in New Mexico. 

And so we come to the case of the Kit Kat. Now over 75 years' old, I've always thought of Kit Kat as a truly British confection and only recently discovered the number of different flavours (over 80 to date) on sale across the world. Most of the weird and wonderful are on sale in Japan, which is where the chilli Kit Kat hails from. 
However, I think Nestle are missing a trick in the UK as there's definitely a demand for chilli chocolate products...how about a jalapeño or habañero Kit Kat? That would certainly wake up your break.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

From pretzels to pizza....the baking continues

I recently bought a pack of Italian or "00" flour in the hope of making home-made pasta. While I haven't quite got around to this yet, I wondered what it would be like to make pizza. The results were fantastic, much better than any pizza base I've ever made from strong white flour. Here's my recipe which will make a large rectangular-sized pizza, enough for two hungry people.
Easy Italian-style pizza dough 
250g "00" flour
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp sugar
1 tsp yeast
1 tbsp oil
160ml luke warm water

Mix the yeast, sugar, oil and water in a jug and leave for 10 minutes to activate the yeast. Place the rest of the ingredients in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Pour the liquid into the well and slowly incorporate the flour, until a ball of dough forms. Knead this for 15 minutes, place back into the bowl, cover with clingfilm (or a disposable shower cap works a treat), and leave in a warm place for an hour, until double in size. If you have a bread maker, just follow the instructions for making dough using the above ingredients.

Put a large baking tray in the oven and preheat as hot as possible (250 degrees).

Tip the dough onto a floured surface and knock out the air*. Roll out the pizza as thinly as possible without making holes in the dough. This can be a bit tricky but it's worth the effort as you don't want a thick and soggy base. I usually end up using my hands to stretch the dough to make it the size of a large baking tray. Gently lift and place onto a piece of foil dusted with polenta or flour (this will stop the pizza sticking).Cover with clingfilm and leave to rest for 15 mins.

*If not using the dough immediately, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate or freeze at this point.

Put your chosen toppings on the pizza. We covered ours with chipotle tomato ketchup (courtesy of Marks and Spencer), crab sprinkled with ancho chile powder, red onion, and toasted sweetcorn. Using the foil, place the pizza onto the heated baking tray and cook on the top shelf until the edges have puffed up and the top is golden brown (about 8-10 mins).

Scatter with freshly chopped parsley or any other leafy herb of your choice (i.e. coriander or basil) and serve with a jalapeño lime drizzle (that's mayo thinned with a little water and a few drops of lime juice and Tabasco's green jalapeño pepper sauce).

Friday, 28 January 2011

Stirring stuff: margarita mix

While I was in the States last year, I posted a great recipe for making a margarita-style drink at home. However, it was time consuming and required a considerable number of limes. While I have been known to pick up a bottle of Jose Cuervo margarita mix in desperation at the supermarket, it is packed full of sugar (not to mention corn syrup) as well as a host of chemical preservatives and colourings. Anything that bright green cannot be natural.

So, imagine my joy when in Waitrose last week I spied a rather upmarket looking mix, made by an American company called Stirrings. It's not cheap (£7.99 for 750ml, what will make about 8 cocktails) and certainly no winner if you're trying to cut out your food air miles. However, it's the best mix I've ever bought in a grocery store, and I have tried a few in my time.
Their simple margarita mix is made from natural ingredients, i.e.real fruit juice and cane sugar. No preservatives, no corn syrup, no artificial colours, and certainly no weird chemical ingredients you can’t pronounce. It's got a great, clean flavour and none of that syrupy sickness you often get with the cheaper mixes. So while you might take Jose Cuervo along to a party, this is definitely one to have at home.
For the complete Stirrings range, see the website. It's jammed pack full of information as well as other bartending products, such as their rimmer cocktail garnishes. The margarita one is a blend of quality salt, cilantro (coriander) and basil. Delicious.....you'll just need a plane ticket to the USA to get one.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Tamale Festival at Mestizo, London

Thursday sees the beginning of Mestizo's first ever tamale festival, a week long celebration during which customers will be able to sample 12 authentic tamale recipes from Mexico. Much easier than making them at home!

According to the website: the tamale (from the word Nahuatl Tamalli, meaning wrapped) is a generic name given to several Latin American dishes of Amero-indian origin. They are usually prepared with cooked corn dough (usually steamed), wrapped in corn husks or banana leaves. They can be savoury or sweet, flavoured or filled, and can contain a variety of meat, vegetables, cheese, chile, salsa & fruit. 

In Mexico, 2nd February marks the celebration of the ‘Virgin de la Candelaria’, when it's customary to make tamales to enjoy with family and friends. Traditionally, the host of the tamale party is the one who found the figurine of Jesus hidden in their ‘Rosca de Reyes' (a sweet bread shaped like a wreath) on 6th January.

For further details, go to www.london.mestizomx.com

From chile to cheese...

Chile and cheese is a combination that's appearing on supermarket shelves across the country and there lots of online stores selling a variety of dairy-related products that pack a punch. From pepper-flecked cheddar to Jalapeño popcorn (Tyrrell's do a very good one), we can't get enough of the stuff.

I recently bought some Jalapeño chilli cheese and was pleasantly surprised by both the heat and the flavour. While such cheese is a quick and easy filling for quesadillas, I thought I'd be little more adventurous, make a simple fondue and and bake a few home-made pretzels to go alongside. There's something hugely satisfying about kneading dough and nothing makes the stomach rumble like the smell of freshly baked bread. Here's a very simple recipe which I tried out this morning. It's adapted from The Fresh Loaf, a great site aimed at amateur bakers with a number of easy to follow bread-related recipes.
The thing I love about this particular method is that you don't need to prove the dough (great for impatient cooks like myself) and it only took about an hour from start to finish. The ingredients below will produce 6 medium-sized pretzels so try not to eat them all at once....

Simple Pretzels
300g plain flour
1 tsp instant yeast
1tbsp sugar
175ml warm milk (heat for 1 min on full power in a microwave)
1 tsp salt

Mix the yeast with the milk and sugar and leave to stand for 10 mins.

Combine the flour and salt in a bowl and add the milk mixture. Bring together with your hands (or I find a spatula quite a good mess-free alternative for this) until it forms a sticky dough. Remove from the bowl and knead for 5 - 10 minutes, until the dough is soft and pliable. Don't be tempted to add lots more flour - the dough will soon come together and lose it stickiness.

Cut the dough into 6 pieces and roll each one out to 5cm long. This allows the dough to rest before cooking.Cover with a tea towel and leave in a warm place for 10 mins. Roll again, to about 15cm and leave for another 10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 220°C (200 fan oven). Here comes the tricky bit, take a length, roll it out to 20cm and make an upside down horseshoe. Fold the ends over each other twist round again before folding them up onto the circle. Place back under the towel and leave for 10 minutes. Here's a short video showing the steps.

Bring a pan of water to the boil, pick up a pretzel with a slice, and hold it under the water for 5 secs before sliding onto a baking tray. Repeat with all six and garnish with a choice of topping (try sea salt, smoked paprika, garlic and parmesan, cinnamon sugar, pecan butter glaze). Bake for 12-15 mins until the pretzels have doubled in size and turned golden brown. Remove to a wire tray and allow to cool for a couple of minutes.

Mexican Fondue (serves 2)
50ml tequila
3 tsp cornflour
1 large glass of white wine
200g chilli cheese of your choice, grated
200g gruyere (or similar), grated

Mix the cornstarch and tequila together and set aside.

Heat the wine over medium-high heat and when it begins to simmer, gradually add the grated cheese and whisk constantly until completely melted and smooth. Reduce heat to medium and add the cornstarch mix and season to taste with salt and pepper. Continue to whisk until slightly thickened. Remove from heat and devour with the pretzels.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

An Italian dessert with a Mexican twist

One of the several cookery books I got over Christmas was Willie Harcourt-Cooze's (of Willie's chocolate factory fame on Channel 4) 'Chocolate Bible'. It's a lovely book, full of info about cacao, and jam packed with all kinds of recipes involving, in one way or another, this heavenly substance. For those who enjoy a little bit of chocolate in their savoury dishes, there's a great mole negro recipe...and I've been inspired to try making chocolate tortillas the next time I lay my hands on some masa harina.

In the meantime, one of the sweet recipes in the book which I have tried and would highly recommend is Willie's Bonet recipe. It's an Italian dessert (did you know that Venezuela cooking has a strong Italian presence thanks to the Italian immigrants that have settled there?), traditionally served during the colder months of the year. I made it over the weekend for friends; it's a lovely and light finish to any meal, looks stunning (and far more difficult to put together than it was) and went down a treat.

Here's the recipe - I'm planning on making it again with a more hispanic flair simply by substituting the amaretti biscuits with bizcochos and the rum with some Patron XO Cafe, a tequila-based coffee liquer. It's absolutely delicious, not too sweet and far classier than Baileys!

Bonet (serves 6-8)

70g granulated sugar
1 tbsp water

4 large eggs
30g granulated sugar
500ml milk (preferably whole)
40g cocoa (preferably Willie's cacao!)
100g crushed amaretti biscuits
2 tbsp dark rum
125ml freshly brewed strong coffee

You will also need a 22 x 11cm loaf tin

Preheat the oven to 170°C. Melt the sugar in a heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Stir until liquid and as soon as it darkens, forming caramel, remove from the heat and add the water to loosen. Quickly pour into the tin and tip it around so it coats the base and sides a little way up. Don't panic if it hardens; simply warm the tin over the hob to melt the caramel.

Beat the eggs and remaining sugar in a large bowl and set aside.

Heat the milk and when it comes to the boil, take off the heat and whisk in the cocoa. Pour over the egg mixture and stir, adding the amaretti biscuits, rum and coffee. Pour into the loaf tin and place this in a baking tin. Pour hot water into the tin so it comes up 1/3 of the sides. Bake for an hour or until set (I found it took a little longer). It should have a firm wobble!

Remove from the baking tin and allow to cool and then chill overnight. When ready, run a palette knife round the edge to turn out from the tin. Serve with a few chocolate covered coffee beans and pouring cream. Delicious.

Monday, 10 January 2011

On a mission in Oxford

So, yet another post about burritos...still taking the country by storm!

Now a London exile, I've begun to cast my eye further afield to see where else in the UK you can get your hands on some hot Mexican food. Mission Burritos in Oxford is now my nearest burrito fix and voted best burrito outside London, who am I to disagree? The menu is short and simple and there's nothing earth-shattering about what's on offer, but it's all incredibly fresh, tasty and uses British ingredients where possible, such as the Dorset Naga in their hot salsa.

In addition to their two Oxford outlets, Mission Burritos have just opened in Bristol and have another restaurant in Reading. I think there might be some link here to student eating habits...watch out mr kebab!

For more details, visit the website: www.missionburritos.co.uk.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Barburrito: Mexican food up north

"Award-winning, casual and cool"...that's Barburrito according to Marie-Claire. You no longer have to go to London to find great Mexican street food; it's cropping up all over the country. Barburrito is no exception and it's been around for some time. Although it's a little far to justify a trip just for the sole purpose of eating a burrito, I've had good reports from fellow Mexican food lovers a little more local to their restaurants. Considering their rapid expansion over the last few years (Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds), they must be getting it right. For more details, visit www.barburrito.co.uk.