Wednesday, 25 July 2012

¡Taco, Taco, Taco, que me Taco!

So, this post is partially in celebration of getting over a thousand pageviews and partially to introduce some planned changes to this blog (whenever I get around to making them).

I have five blogs; one is seasonal, and I don't expect it to get many hits when it's not Christmas; one is about my two-year-old, and it's mainly for my relatives; one is for random writings that I feel I may as well put out there, but I don't mind if nobody reads.

The other two are what I consider my "primary" blogs: this one and James Aristophanes Keaton.

If you're a regular reader here (and if you've read my first post), you'll know I'm writing a novel about a Mexican chef, which is why I need to know so much about Mexican food. I have occasionally posted about the writing process when I haven't cooked anything interesting in a while.

Based on how I tag this blog and especially on the search terms that lead people here, I'd say the majority of the audience for La Cocina y Yo are foodies rather than lit majors. My most-viewed posts are food posts (with my mole posts topping the list).

Quite quickly after starting this blog the pageviews exceeded my expectations (and I do disable my own pageviews). Even so, 1,000 is quite a milestone. In addition, my posts are fairly regularly shared on twitter and have earned me followers like @spicyfood and @thecurryguy (and, finally, A Mexican in Scotland). When compared to my other blog, which only has a couple hundred pageviews (though it hasn't been up for as long), you could say La Cocina y Yo is the more successful of the two.

On the other hand, James Aristophanes Keaton has 21 followers, to this blog's five. That means that, though JAK doesn't get as much attention, I'm more assured of repeat readers. JAK gets "likes" as well (a Wordpress feature). For all I know, the La Cocina audience is mainly one-time viewers who end up here by accident and never return. That's the thing about blogging: without "likes", comments, and named followers, you never really know who's reading or if they enjoy it.

I would like to have more confirmed repeat readers, and I would especially like all of you, if you're out there, to read my novel if and when it ever gets published. So I'm going to make a few design changes, a combination of suggestions from friends and advice from other blogs I follow, to encourage a more "visible" participation. I'm not trying to guilt-trip you into following me or commenting, by the way. If the changes work, visible traffic should increase "organically".

First, the ads. I'm sure you noticed my flirtation with having adverts on this blog. I optimistically thought Google would be cool enough to find Mexican-themed ads. I would even have settled for links to the McMaya resorts on the Yucatán peninsula. But no. Just unlimited data packages and tablet computers and other shit you can't eat.

One thing I know from adsense is that not one viewer has ever clicked on one of those ads. Know why? Because people looking for a blog about mole poblano don't give a rat's ass about  SIM cards!

So I ditched the ads. Instead I want to choose the Mexican-food suppliers, blogs, and other resources I want to give a shout out to. Therefore, hopefully very soon, I will be creating some new pages to that purpose. I say pages because, believe it or not, I like to keep as much as possible above the fold (meaning you don't have to scroll down to read it).

I plan to have a page for other Mexican food blogs, a page for non-Mexican food blogs my implied readers may find interesting (several pages if there are enough to form categories).

I also want a page (or pages) of links to ingredients-suppliers around the world so you can really cook this stuff yourselves. I will try to vet all of these, though as more than half my readers are in the US this may be tricky.

And lastly I want a page of cookbooks, with reviews based on my actual experience of using them. I may also review restaurants some day, but that would have to be very local to Edinburgh. Except when I go on vacation.

Basically I want this blog to be, in part, so portal to the wider world of Mexican food enthusiasts. (Some of this material will be replacing the current sidebar menus, of course.)

However, the blog must also remain about me and my project. Therefore I will be including an About the Author page with more information than just the sidebar, and contact details, so you can tell me what a puto gringo ignorante I am if you want. Positive feedback will also be welcome.

Naturally, there will also be a page about the project itself, with as many details as I can copyright.

Lastly, I would like to establish a newsletter, subscribable via email. I will probably be confining news about the writing process to the newsletter, and I aim to do one or two a month.

So, lots of plans. We'll just have to wait and see if I can bring this all to fruition.

In the meantime, what have I cooked?

As promised, I turned the rest of my chiles de árbol into a salsa picante. And I'm glad I did, for three reasons:

1) it's hot as hell!

2) it's delicious as fuck!

3) my wife loves it (I didn't expect her too)

This is one of those typical sauces that's in nearly every cookbook (and apparently at every taco stand in Mexico). I ended up using the Rick Bayless version, with a few modifications, because he included pumpkin seeds and I LOVE pumpkin seeds.

I don't usually do this when I've more or less followed someone else's book, but I will paraphrase the recipe, because I really want everyone to taste this.

40 g chiles de árbol (dried)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp sesame seeds
2 tbsp pumpkin seeds
4 allspice berries
2 cloves
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
3/4 cup cider vinegar

Para Hacer
The first thing you have to do is stem and seed all those chiles (there will be, like, 50 of them). This takes forever. You have to cut the stems off and then roll the beautiful little red chiles between your fingers until the seeds fall out. Save these seeds to toast and grind later (good rule of thumb: never throw chile seeds out. You can almost always use them in what you're cooking).

Next reconstitute the chiles as described in my last post. (I'm happy to say I didn't burn any this time.) Rick Bayless doesn't call for the chiles to be reconstituted, but most other recipes do, and I had plans for the soaking water.

Now you must roast/toast/asar the seeds in the usual way: in a hot flat fry pan, stirring constantly so they don't burn. When they start to darken in colour they're done.

Rick Bayless had a variation for toasting the pumpkin seeds though. He recommended leaving the pumpkin seeds sitting in the pan until the first one pops, then stirring constantly until they all pop. I tried this and it worked brilliantly, so I'll be doing it again.

Once the seeds are done, they go into a molcajete with the garlic and spices for a good grinding.

By now the chiles should be ready. Remove them from the water with tongs and put them in a blender with the ground seeds and spices and the vinegar and blitz it to a smooth texture.

Now strain it through a medium-mesh sieve. This also takes forever because you have to push as much liquid as possible out of the pulpy residue. You basically want to end up with a bowl full of orange liquid and a mass of dry pulp. Discard the pulp. Remember it is compostable (let's be green).

Now add 3/4 cup of water to the liquid. I used the chile-soaking water, as I always do ever since I learned it from making mole poblano. Let the sauce "mature" for 24 hours in the fridge before serving.

I love this sauce so much I've been putting it on everything (within reason). I've even taken to drinking it straight with a dessert spoon.

My first use for it, though, was to go on top of the sweetcorn and courgette tacos I made last Saturday. I served the sauce on the side and warned my wife it would be quite hot. However, she lapped it up with almost as much gusto as I did, which demonstrates how delicious this sauce really is, as well as how much my wife's chile-tolerance has grown. (Remember, chiles de árbol are the second-hottest chile in Mexico.)

Also of note: I discovered that I have been making my tortilla-dough a bit too dry. I added a little extra water this time and got a much rounder shape. Every time I make tortillas, I learn something new!

And lastly, my two-year-old loved the tacos (she's still too young for the sauce though), so she's definitely her father's daughter.

Now, I was going to take pictures of all this, but I pure couldnae be bothered, so instead I have selected a little music video for you. It's called "Paco". If anyone leaves a comment I'll tell them a hilarious anecdote about this song.

It's a Spanish, rather than a Mexican song (Mexicans generally have better taste than this), but it's hilarious and I think of it every time I make tacos. I've also taught my daughter to sing it.

It's apparently about seven niños, at least one of whom is called Paco, on the camino de Sevilla. In Spanish, "que me" is an intensifier, so the chorus translates as "Paco, Paco, ¡PACO!" I don't know why there's such so fuss about Paco; my wife suggested that perhaps todos los niños se llaman Paco. ¿Por qué no? ¡Disfruta!