Saturday, 29 June 2013

MexiGoals Revisited

In the beginning of this year, before I became a dad for the second time, I outlined some goals I had for 2013.

Now that the first six months of the year are over, I thought it might be time to revisit them and see how I'm doing.

(I was thinking of doing this three months ago, but I had too many nappies to change.)

I had 6 goals I wanted to accomplish by the end of 2013. Let's start with what I have acheived:

  • Shoot a video

I had thought I would need to work with an editor, but I'm actually pleased with the job I did (especially considering it was my first attempt).
I'm planning to do more videos in the future, but I'm not rushing into it.
  • Sell t-shirts
Technically I haven't sold any yet, but my MexiMerch has been live since January, so I'm gonna count this one as a win.

So that's, what? Two? Out of Six?


Now let's move on to things I haven't done yet, but still may accomplish in the next six months.

  • Make another mole
I had hoped to make the Oaxacan black mole, and I still might get around to this at Christmas, but for now baby-care duties prevent me from cooking anything so ambitious.

However, the salsa de cacahuates I cooked recently is nearly a kind of mole.

Also, my mother is visiting me next week and she's bringing my great grandma's recipe for what they used to put on enchiladas but is actually a variety of mole rojo (red mole).
So this one is still in the running.
  • Put up an ofrenda for Day of the Dead
An ofrenda is a little altar to your deceased relatives that you put up for el día de los muertos.

Obviously I can't do this until end of October, but I'll need to pay an e-visit to Between the Trees before Autumn comes round.

So if I can pull this off that will be four out of six, which is not bad.

Then there's something I have sort of done.

  • Do restaurant reviews
I actually have written a restaurant review, but it was of a Venezuelan restaurant, so I haven't posted it.
I would still like to try out all the local Mexican restaurants, but in the meantime I've been reviewing products and producers like Gringa Dairy,, and Habaneros' homemade salsa. Which has been lots of fun. More of that to follow.
And Edinburgh Mexican restaurants: I am still coming. Just as soon as my wee one gets on to solids.

So that puts us at four and half out of six.

But then we get to the thing I might not actually get around to doing this year.

  • Cook for someone else
My idea was to do three courses of not-so-spicy Mexican food, to counter the misconception that all Mexican food is hotter than hell.

I have two of the three courses planned (avocado soup to start, followed by pollo en mole blanco (white mole with white chocolate and peanuts). I'm still stuck on dessert, but more importantly I have no idea when domestic life will settle down enough for me to sort this meal out.
This one is in danger of not coming true until 2014.

On the other hand, I've acheived some things that I hadn't planned on, like tripling my pageviews from around 2,000 to nearly 6,600 and making lots of new connections like Gringa Dairy and Mexico Retold.

Also, my social networking across the board has been going strong, even when my cooking has fallen behind.

I just want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has reached out to me across all my platforms, not only the blog but also Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

You guys are really making 2013 the Year of MexiGeek. 

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Pain 100%: This sauce will fuck you up!

Sometimes sauce don't feel like it should. You make it hurt so good!

I suppose the dumbest thing you could think about Original Juan's Pain 100% sauce is that it's just a name.

That's what I thought at first. After all, they sell it at Marks & Spencer, the same place Margaret Thatcher used to buy her underwear.

There's nothing "hot" about that.

But 100% Pain is not just a name. It's not a gimmick. It's not misplaced bravado.

It's a warning.

Used carelessly, this sauce will fuck you up.

The thing that gives this sauce bragging rights is that habaneros are the first ingredient listed, indicating this is literally a sauce of habanero chiles, rather than a tomato sauce with a chile or two to give it a "kick".

It's actually the habanero flavour that "got" me. Habaneros aren't easy to come by in Britain. Often I have to substitute Scotch Bonnets, which aren't quite the same.

So when I first tasted this sauce, I kept adding more and more. I just couldn't get enough of that real habanero flavour.

I estimate I used two and half to three tablespoons of sauce on two modest-sized fish cakes.

Obviously my mouth was on fire, but that didn't bother me because, unrepentant chilehead that I am, I actually like the burn.

Also, I've made sauces and relishes out of naga chiles, which are hotter than habaneros. I was like "No probs, I got this!"

And anyway, habaneros contain dihydrocapsaicin, which is intense but short-lived. A few minutes later I was fine. Or so I thought...

Later that evening I began to feel a strange sensation in my stomach. It started as an uncomfortable churning, but quickly escalated to severe pain.

I sent my three-year-old upstairs to get help from my wife, but being a toddler, she didn't quite get the message across.

So I literally crawled up the stairs, dripping with sweat, and heaved myself into the living room before collapsing on the floor.

I was seriously considering calling NHS 24, but I stuck to my two-pronged chile mantra: "The pain is only temporary" followed by "You will not be permanently damaged".

"What if he doesn't survive? He's worth a lot to me!"

That, combined with some Gaviscon and two capsules of paracetamol (Tylenol to you Americans) and I was able to ride out the storm.

Which taught me a valuable lesson: never use more than a teaspoon of this sauce at a time.

I've generally been able to stick to this rule. My teaspoons are rather generous, though. Because I never learn.

My rocky introduction to 100% Pain aside, let me tell you why I like this sauce:

  • Real habanero flavour - apart from being one of the hottest chiles in the world, habaneros have a distinctly sweet and fruity flavour, which is woefully addictive (and why I just can't leave this sauce alone)

  • It comes by its heat "honestly" - by which I mean it's not beefed up with artificial capsaicin extracts like some other "extreme hot sauces" are. It's hella hot because it's made from hella habaneros, and habaneros are hella fucking hot.

  • It "does what it says on the tin" - (as we say in Britain). It says 100% Pain, and that's what you get. Although I initially thought the name would be a bluff, as a chilehead I am comforted that the sauce really is that hot

Now, being MexiGeek, one question I have to address is: is there anything particularly "Mexican" about this sauce?

Habaneros, of course, are the distinctive chile of Yucatecan cuisine, but most of the Yucatecan recipes I've made call for one or two habaneros.

As opposed to 15 or 20.

When making a nice Mayan chiltomate sauce, for instance, a couple habs is more than enough.

However, I did find a very similar-sounding recipe in one of Diana Kennedy's books, which calls for 12-15 habaneros, a bit of seasoning (Mexican oregano, etc), and just enough vinegar to dilute the sauce to a pourable consistency.

That sounds about right. So there is a real Mexican analogue to this sauce.

Interestingly, Diana says more than once that this sauce should be used sparingly and that "a little goes a very long way".

As a final note, I recently discovered the Smoking Tongue blog, which chronicles one man's attempt to drink a bottle of hot sauce every day.

I notice that 100% Pain is not one of the sauces.

I don't even want to think about what would happen if you tried to down a whole bottle of this sauce in one sitting.

I'm sure hallucinations would be on the agenda.

I used two types of chile sauce on this sandwich, because I never learn anything.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

Breakfast with MexiGeek: huevos especiales (from Mrs MexiGeek

For Fathers' Day Mrs MexiGeek, who is an excellent cook in her own right, made me a special Mexican breakfast.

It was inspired by huevos rancheros and embellished with extra goodies like chorizo and refried beans.

First she sweated some chopped onion and garlic in some oil, and then added ground coriander, cumin, ground chiles, Mexican oregano, and a bit of paprika for extra smoky depth.

Then she fried some diced chorizo. When it was cooked through, she added some passata and simmered until she had a nice salsa ranchera.

Then she cracked two eggs into the simmering sauce and popped the pan under the grill to cook the eggs on both sides.

To serve, she put some warm refried beans in the middle of the plate, then ladled the salsa ranchera around it.

She put the egg into the beans, topped with some chopped coriander y provecho!

There were also warm flour tortillas on the side.

This dish hit all the right flavour notes: sweetness from the tomato, chile heat, depth from the spices, richness from the egg, and a fresh top note from the coriander.

This is one of the best egg dishes I've ever had, which if you look back at previous Breakfast with MexiGeek posts is saying a lot.

Which proves Mrs MexiGeek has mad skills in the kitchen and I'm a very lucky man.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Blue Corn Tortillas (tortillas azules)

A basket of fresh tortillas azules

If there's one thing I've been dying to make for years, it's blue corn tortillas.

In the UK (and, to be fair, in much of the US), you get one kind of corn: yellow "sweetcorn". But corn, miraculous mother of life that it is, comes in several varieties - and colours - each with their own individual characteristics.

Yellow corn is high in sugar and water, while white corn (the main variety in Mexico) is less sweet and very starchy - which makes it ideal for tortillas and their "relatives" (like sopes, panuchos, etc).

But while white corn is the main variety in Mexico, it is by no means the only one. A fresh, warm white corn tortilla is a beautiful thing, but a blue corn tortilla is a delicacy.

The only place to get blue masa harina (blue corn tortilla "flour") in the UK is from Mexgrocer.

My Mexican Shop in Dublin occasionally stocks it as well.

I ordered a kilo bag of Maseca Azul (an actual Mexican brand, by the way) from Mexgrocer and whipped up a batch of blue corn tortillas.

I had eaten blue corn before, but I had never cooked with it.

However, I found no indication that it had to be treated differently than white corn, so I used my usual recipe for tortillas (adapted from Lupe Pinto's):

  • 250 g (blue) masa harina
  • 300 ml hand-hot water

My wife thought it looked like sand

Ever since I read Thomasina Miers' Mexican Food Made Simple I have occasionally added a tablespoon of olive oil to my tortilla dough. It stops the dough drying out and makes it easier to work with.

However, it also imparts a faint olive oil flavour, and I wanted the full-on blue corn experience, so I left it out this time.

Anyway, you mix the masa harina and the water (by hand), knead it for ten minutes, then let it rest at room temp for half an hour.

"It doesn't look like an actual foodstuff" - Mrs MexiGeek

I kept some extra hand-hot water nearby in case the dough dried out too much (which it did; add extra water a spoonful at a time until the consistency comes back to normal).

Then you take a chunk of the dough about the size of a golf ball and either roll it out with a rolling pin between two sheets of plastic or pop it into your tortilla press (which you can also buy from Mexgrocer or Lupe Pinto's), again, between two sheets of plastic.

Either way, you're looking for a thickness of about 2 mm.

Cook the tortillas on a hot dry frying pan for 30 seconds on one side; then flip and cook for 10 seconds; then flip again, press down gently on the tortilla with your spatula, wait for it to puff, and it's done.

Don't worry if it doesn't puff; it will still be delicious.

The first thing I noticed is that, while white corn masa harina has a similar texture to white flour, the blue version is speckled and grainy.

The dough, too, had a grainier texture than white corn dough, and seemed more prone to drying out.

And the uncooked tortillas were more fragile and harder to peel off the plastic sheets in my tortilla press. I even had to reform one or two of them into balls and start again.

But the flavour was well worth it.

Blue corn is sweeter than white corn, though not nearly as sweet as yellow corn. Some people think it has a nutty taste; personally I detect some floral notes.

And to top it off, there's the surreal experience (for most people) of eating a naturally blue food other than blueberries.

Speaking of blue, one thing that took me by surprise was Mrs MexiGeek's reaction to the colour.

She agreed the tortillas were delicious, but found the colour challenging. I guess if you haven't grown up with multicoloured corn, blue tortillas may seem a bit "weird".

My three-year-old daughter, who has fewer preconceived notions about food, absolutely loved the blue tortillas. She had seconds!

Another caveat is that this it's kind of an "advanced corn". I wouldn't make blue corn my introduction to homemade tortillas.

Served with pollo en salsa de cacahuates

If you haven't used "normal" white masa harina before, I'd get a bag of that first.

Make a batch or two of tortillas. Make some tamales. Get used to masa harina as an ingredient. Then, when you feel confident, move on to blue masa.

You'll be amazed at how diverse corn can be.

They make great tortilla chips too!