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.