Sunday, 22 March 2009

Six Nations Final and Enchiladas de Jalisco

Yesterday was the RBS Six Nations final. We didn't have enough dosh to buy a ticket to Twickenham, so opted for a couch view instead.

In the weeks leading up to yesterday i started craving enchiladas. Probably it has something to do with a) going to uni in Dallas, Texas; b) rugby looking a lot like American football (don't worry i appreciate it wholly for what it IS not what it's LIKE); and c) needing something hot and spicy to offset cans of Red Stripe (or is it supposed to be the other way around?

These were not your ordinary Old El Paso pre-processed enchilada packs. These were real home-made beef enchiladas with an earthy spicy red sauce. The only thing that wasn't home made were the tortillas. I used to have a tortilla press that would come out once or twice a year and finally parted with it after too many house moves.

The recipe comes from The Cuisines of Mexico by Diana Kennedy. The book is a treasure trove of facts and recipes of the diverse regional cooking styles from all over Mexico. I bought it over 20 years ago when i moved from Texas back to NYC. I missed the food that was so readily available and wanted to recreate it at home. At that time Mexican food and ingredients were near impossible to find in New York City. I had dried chilies mailed to me from friends back in Texas, and on the odd occasion was able to find fresh poblanos. Proper fresh corn tortillas were also sometimes difficult to find. Over time the Mexican population in NYC grew and it was exciting to watch that food culture finally take root in the city.

Enchiladas de Jalisco (serves 4)

1 courgette (about 125 g)
2 small carrots (about 250 g)
3 small red-skinned or waxy potatoes (250 g)
2 large beef tomatoes (500g)
250 g course beef mince
250 g course pork mince (*Note: i used 500g beef mince and omitted the pork)
1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
1-2 Tbsp parsley finely chopped
10 guajillo chiles (about 60g)
2 whole cloves
1/4 inch piece of cinnamon stick
8 corn tortillas
grated cheddar cheese

  1. Trim the courgette but leave whole. Top and tail the carrots, peel and quarter lengthwise. Peel the potatoes and cut in half. Cover the vegetables with boiling water and add 2 tsp salt. Let cook for about 5 minutes.

  2. Tightly squeeze the meat into two large meatballs. Add to the vegetables along with the two tomatoes. Let cook covered until the vegetables are just tender. Drain the veg and meat and reserve the broth.

  3. Peel the two tomatoes and puree in a blender.

  4. When cool enough to handle, cut the veg into small dice and set aside.

  5. Meanwhile, heat a griddle pan and put in the dried chilies. Move them around so as not to burn. Remove from heat as soon as you smell them. Remove the stems and seeds from the chilli pods and cover the pods with hot water. Let sit for 20 minutes.

  6. In a large frying pan heat a couple Tbsp lard and saute the chopped onion until soft but not coloured. Crumble in the meatballs and add the parsley. Cook for another 5 minutes. Pour in the tomato puree and let bubble until the tomato sauce has thickened slightly.

  7. Add the chopped veg and 1/3 cup reserved broth and continue to cook for another 8-10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Set aside.

  8. Remove the chilli pods from the water with a slotted spoon and transfer to a blender jar. Add 1 cup reserved broth along with the cloves, cinnamon and some salt. Process until smooth and adjust seasoning.

  9. In a separate frying pan heat another Tbsp of lard and cook the chilli sauce for about 5-8 minutes until rich and thick. Add more reserved broth if the sauce is too thick.

  10. Preheat the oven to 180C. In a thirday frying pan lightly fry each tortilla in oil for no more than a few seconds each side. Place on kitchen roll to drain.

  11. Now you prepare an assembly line. First take a tortilla, dip both sides in the sauce then tranfer the tortilla to a rectangular oven dish. Spoon some of the piccadillo onto the edge of the tortilla and roll up tightly. Repeat with the rest of the tortillas until the piccadillo is finished. Line the enchiladas up side by side in the oven dish. If you need another layer spread some sauce over the bottom layer of enchiladas first. Finish by spreading more sauce over the enchiladas and scatter grated cheddar cheese over the top. Cover with foil and cook in the oven for 15 minutes.

  12. This is best served with rice and refried beans.

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Birthday Dinner at Gordon's

When I left WeeWorld for the Big Smoke, my workmates sent me off with a gift voucher to Gordon Ramsay restaurant. It was most generous and it felt good to know they got what makes me tick. Then again, i didn't really make it a secret that my heart was still in the kitchen and the project manager job was a temporary means to an end (still not found that end yet though). When i started there i was making birthday cakes for each person in the office, then, as more people joined the company i had to move to monthly birthday cakes and finally it got to be too much baking for me. I got to cater the office Christmas party one year, and in my last couple of months had started a scheme selling lunches to the lucky few who put their orders in for the week. I love that they loved my food and i love that they gave me such a grand parting gift.

I decided i'd use the voucher on birthday dinner this year. The first thing to contend with was making the actual booking. The restaurant takes bookings as much as 2 months in advance which i found out the first time i called in January. I patiently waited until 17-Jan and phoned again only to find out that the 17th was fully booked and the weekend preceding and following were also booked up. Next try was during the week and i was able to nab a table for 6:30 pm on the 18th. The other available times were after 10:00 pm -- too late for me!

Step 2 was faxing over a signed 'contract' along with my credit card details saying that i would indeed turn up, that if i cancelled less than 24 hours in advance i'd have to pay a fee and if i simply didn't turn up my credit card would be charged £150. OK.

Step 3 was phoning them early in the week to confirm that yes indeed i was going to show up.

And then we got there. And it was a flurry of attentive french men all over. A bit disarming but i went with the flow. The first 20 minutes happened so fast -- seating at table, menus, champagne, meet sommelier, talk about the menu, amuse bouche....i couldn't keep up! There was even a parade of the last of the year's perigord truffles. I asked for another sniff in the box which of course was immediately obliged.

Everyone has been asking about the meal. I'd say it was faultless. The service was over the top, attentive to the extreme, a bit overwhelming at times. The people we were dining with were mostly inbred marble mouths. But for added diversity there was a family of rich Texans.

At the end we figured that it was more about the whole experience than just the food. And, to be honest I'd rather eat somewhere less ostentatious or go over to France if i wanted a meal like this. Would we go again? Only if we had another voucher.

Here is what i remember we ate:
Amuse Bouche 1: cornet of langoustine and avocado salsa. (Light, crunchy meltingly delicious seafood and avocade yumminess.)+ Paired with pesto and mozzarella sandwiched between two fine crisps of potato.

Amuse Bouche 2: Teeny ravioli of crab with pumpkin soup and shaved truffle

Mel's starter (see photo above) Butter poached Scottish lobster tail with chestnut lasagne, trompettes de la mort, baby spinach and black truffles. (wowww wowww wowww. salivating just thinking about it. earthy truffle, sweet lobster fantastic delicate lasagne.)

Kelsie's starter Pan-fried sea scallops from the Isle of Skye with carpaccio of octopus, gnocchi, sage and parmesan

Mel's main: Pan-fried line caught sea bass with steamed charlotte potatoes, cucumber, oyster beignet and caviar velouté (Fabtastic especially the fried oyster which reminded me of Texas and Florida. Oyster po'boys. yeah)

Kelsie's main: Roasted monkfish tail with chorizo cous cous, baby squid, artichoke and spiced tomato jus

Cheese plate: we had two a wonderful creamy chalky goats cheese and Vacherin which transported us to New Year's eve shenanigans with Ian

Amuse bouche 3: Mango and passionfruit with coconut cream and extra speshal crackly pop rocks. (made me feel 14 again!)

Mel's pud: Granny Smith parfait with blackberry foam, honeycomb and cider sorbet

Kelsie's pud: Bitter chocolate cylinder with coffee granité and ginger mousse

Gordon Ramsay on Urbanspoon

Sunday, 15 March 2009

birthday almond cheesecake

almond cheesecake
Originally uploaded by silamuta
it was my birthday a few days ago and mel asked me what kinda birthday cake i would like. i remembered an almond cheesecake that she made last year and asked if she could make that again. OF COURSE was the answer!! its great being hitched to someone who loves to cook. (NB my waistline might disagree!) what with one thing and another going on during the week mel finally managed to make the cheesecake on saturday. and wow it really is great. not too sweet but definately almond!! even the biscuit layer is almond. needless to say ive probably eaten more than my fair share already. im currently sitting in the pub while writing this post so i dont have the recipe to hand. but ill ask mel to add it to this post later or if anybody would like it soon just leave us a message and we will post it pronto. well after i leave the pub and go home. and oooh gordon ramseys restaurant on hospital road on wed. look out for that posting. CANT WAIT!!

Thursday, 12 March 2009

carluccios islington

so we headed to carluccios last nite in order to grab a bite to eat before heading to a play. ("duet for one" with juliet stevenson). mel was meeting me from work so i headed there pretty much on time to have a wee beer. i walked in and waited and waited and waited. not a good start. i eventually had to approach a member of staff myself to say i had a table booked. the surly waitress showed me to a table and then walked away without even asking if i wanted something to drink. pah!! nil points so far. however i had a quick look at the drinks menu and when she finally decided to haul her ass back to ask if i wanted a drink while waiting i scowled and ordered a peroni. mel turned up and we quickly checked out the winter menu and ordered the following. to start we shared an antipasto di verdure which contained marinated peppers, buffalo mozzarella, artichokes, olives, rocket, marinated aubergine and foccacia bread. all drizzled with olive oil. very very nice so no complaints there. next up was the mains: i opted for the lasagne and mel plumped for the penne with spinach balls and courgette. the lasagne was ok; it wasnt outstanding and kinda lacked oomff. mel said the same about her dish. i mean it wasnt bad but it didnt leave us ooh and ahhing. we ordered a bottle of the house red to go with meal after quaffing a glass of prosecco each with the starter. i also had a beer. total cost £54. would i go back? probably not. or i would maybe take somebody there who wasnt too bothered by what they ate.