Two weeks ago (was it really only two weeks?!), life as we knew it was sent packing and most people were sent home for a series of measures to prevent the spread of the deadly COVID19 virus that's causing havoc all over the world. For a couple of days, I went into free-fall and full on panic, thinking what was going to happen to my business, my staff and myself. That day, we cancelled all classes for the foreseeable future, my anxiety levels went through the roof.
I found myself with no late nights that weekend and with far too much time in my hands and a heart full of doom and gloom; unable to control anything that was going on around me, I turned to the kitchen to calm myself down. The kitchen is my safe space. When I get anxious, I bake; it calms me down and so I took to the kitchen to organise my pantry and see if I could make something tasty. I found a large quantity of chocolate chips and a giant jar of pecan nuts and because pecan nuts don't stay fresh for long, I decided to make a few cookies to use them up.
I took a basic pecan and chocolate chip cookie recipe and make a few tweaks on it to produce what I now called my Doomsday cookies! They have Mezcal, not vanilla essence; smokey chipotle chillies, instead of cinnamon & nutmeg; Mexican piloncillo, as suppose to brown sugar. The result was spectacular! These cookies are smokey as the chipotle chilli powder and the mezcal are both smoked. The chilli gives it just a hint of heat and it adds a great savoury twang to a rather sweet cookie otherwise. The Piloncillo has so many layer of flavour is unreal.
We all love them and have made them three times already in the two weeks since I tried the recipe for the first time! - We live in scary and uncertain times and I hope this recipe brings some much needed cheer to your home. Stay safe and let's all do our bit to flatten the curve and stop the spread! Together we can do it! - When all this is over, I'm going to make a large batch of these and gift them to every frontline worker in the health service that I know. They deserve them much more than I do.
Every year, I would promise myself I would do some Irish take on a Mexican dish but I never seem to have time to do it. I also always get stuck in wanting to do something green... which I realise now, is not the best approach. This year, I started thinking about this early February and while contemplating the makings of a green mole while sitting down at my kitchen table, I saw a bottle of Bailey's on the wine rack over the fridge... I love its sweet and creamy deliciousness and I love boozy desserts. This got me thinking... and since I quite like Bailey's, I thought... wait a minute... wait a minute... Bailey's is just a brand of Irish Cream, and Tres Leches being my all time favourite dessert, I thought, what about replacing one of the Leches by its equivalent of Irish Cream?! - this got my heart racing and my brain into action.
I quickly sketched a couple of possible recipe alternatives and before you knew it, I had done a version of this cake on both: cupcakes and a full cake. It was so delicious I made it again for St. Patrick's Day and today - I know it is the day after but cut me a break please! - I'm sharing it with you. So here it is, my version of a Tres Leches Cake for Paddy's Weekend! If you end up making this into cupcakes, use the tinfoil type of cupcake casings and chop the fruit and put it underneath the cream, so you have a nice layer cupcake.
January is always a lean month, a month in which we choose to spend eating whatever stuff is in the kitchen. We waste far too much food, so it is a great way to clear the covers and used up all those things we bought during the year and never ate. Take the freezer, for example, I don't know about yours, but my freezer is always full of food, things I bought I put there and then never quite found time or occasion to eat them or cook them. Every time I open the freezer, I feel super guilty that there is so much food there! There's also this particular couple of covers, where most of my dry goods go, where you'll find pasta, beans, flours, condiments, spices, sauces, dried chillies, tinned foods and all sorts of baking ingredients that is always jam packed with stuff. Most of these things have a shelf life and experience has thought me that if you don't use them within the year or so, they're most likely to go to waste.
So every January, almost religiously, I buy no groceries, other than fresh dairy and eggs, and I challenge myself to use whatever I have. It's a fun challenge that keeps things delicious and makes the dreaded January wait for payday a lot easier. This year I found all sorts of wonders in my cover, but towards the end of the month, a couple of tins of black beans appeared to the very back. This coincided with one of my cooking segments with Ireland AM on Virgine Media One, so I decided to share this bean recipe with them. You can catch the segment on the player and through this link if you want to watch it.
This is one of my favourite ways to eat beans and a perfect party pleaser. This dip is easy to make and very flavoursome, it keeps well in the fridge for up to a week and it freezes well. You can make in advance and re-heat in the microwave.
This post has been on the making for at least four years. The transition from food blogging as a hobby to food business owner happened in a very controlled way. I opened an online shop while still working my regular full-time paid job. The first 4 years were a lot of fun, full of learning and mistakes. Although we were aiming to be super professional, It felt like a 'nixer'. I still had a full back up by not giving up the day job. I was putting 100% of my free time: every early morning, most lunch hours, all my evenings and weekends all to the business but there was no real pressure to perform as I wasn't depending on it to feed me or to pay the bills. The business grew and flourished in those four years while I slowly entertained the idea of going at it full time.
Then, Picado happened almost overnight. We went from having a great time managing an online business from home on a part-time basis, to giving up my full-time job, getting premises, fitting out a shop and a cooking school, renting warehouse space, signing contracts, putting personal guarantees and committing financial resources and time to a dream of mine with no safety net. It was super scary as we did it all in the midst of the worse recession my generation had seen in this island. It was a pretty ballsy move. Despite all these scary things, it was like all my dreams were coming true at once. I was going to make a living from my love of food; my passion for Mexican food and the pride for my heritage was going to finally pay off. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world.
Fast-forward to Stephens' Day, December 2018. I'm sitting in a hospital cubicle with an oxygen mask on my face and having serious breathing difficulties. If I'm honest, I knew I was in trouble since September. I've had pneumonia during the summer and I never stopped working. I had slowed down a little, but never fully stopped to recover. I just simply couldn't. So when we closed the shop on Christmas Eve and I finally relaxed, my body just felt apart. My right lung was in trouble, I was utterly exhausted and I was catering for one of my dearest friend's wedding on the 29th of December. I took the drugs, I slept and rested as much as I could, I cancelled all plans I had, except the wedding, coz, how do you make that phone call? - The year had been utterly awful in so many ways: we had a cancer diagnosis and a brain tumour in two close members of the family and I had pneumonia twice in one year.
As I welcomed the new year with a two A4 page prescription and a hospital stay, I had to face the fact that I've been burning the candle every possible way for quite a few years. This has forced me to re-think what I do, how I do it and what I devote the energy I have to. 2019, for me, will be the year of my happiness-wellness project. It will be about doing those things that bring me joy and look at how I spend my time. Social media is a huge part of what I do, but having two sets of each, one for the blog, one for Picado has meant double the work and double the time I spend on it. Having pretty much abandoned this blog, an outlet that gives me endless joy, in pursue of business focused strategies, had left a huge hole in my creative life. I love writing and I miss it. Yes, the business side of things is important, I need it, but I also need to rekindle the joy of just doing something I love whether it is profitable or not. So we have made a few decisions. I'm tidying up my social media presence. The business accounts have priority, so I'm eliminating all others. I will still share some personal stuff in the business account, just not as much as I do in my regular accounts. I'm rekindling the blog. I'm taking me time and I'm learning to relax and not feel guilty for taking time off. It's about me. It's about my health and the longevity of what I do.
So let me finish this by wishing you a...
Balanced, Sustainable and Happy 2019!!!
I spent a couple of days over the Easter Holidays in Galway City during the Galway Food Festival this year. This was my first time attending the festival and was delighted when I got invited to do a demonstration at the Visiting Chefs' Area. The theme of the festival was Food and Community, and feeling it was most appropriate, I decided to talk a little bit about Mexican Masa (the dough we make tortillas from) and show the gorgeous things you can make with it....
As many of you know, I come from a family of tortilla bakers of three generations. Growing up, I spent time with my grandpa Pedro learning the ins and outs of tortilla baking the traditional way. My own father, also a Pedro, had a couple of tortilla bakeries too and up to his retirement, we all worked at one time or another in the family business. Although I ran a mile away from the tortilla baking business as soon as I had the chance, the lessons learnt were not wasted and when I moved to Ireland, I was quick to remember all those tips my granddad and my dad taught me. Once a tortilla baker, always a tortilla baker dad would say!
These days, I can talk about masa until your ears bleed. It's an amazing thing! My grandad used to say that masa was alive, and until I came to Ireland and made tortillas by hand, I understood what he really meant by this. It is gluten free, super low in calories and although there is no raising agent in it at all, it rises during the cooking process.
Because masa is made of nixtamalised corn it is very, very nutricious. Nixtamalised corn is corn that has been soaked and cooked in an alcaline solution that breaks the hull that surrounds the corn kernel (that awful little skin that usually sticks in between your teeth when you're eating corn in the cob and that otherwise it is practically impossible for our bodies to digest) and it turns it into fiber, allowing our digestive system to process the corn and to have full access to its nutritional value.
Masa-Harina, which is the dihidrated verstion of masa is easier to work with in a domestic environment and it makes the tortilla making process much more approachoable at home. The blue variety we sell at Picado is great and it makes super tasty tortillas. Although the ones I demonstrated at the Galway Food Festival resisted to rise (mainly cos I didn't have hot water at hand), they were tasty and gave everybody the idea of how easy making tortillas at home is.
The press is a bit of an investment, but for any Mexican food enthusiast worth their salt, a must. It makes the pressing of perfectly round tortillas effortless and it allows you to go through a quantity of masa quite quickly. Here's the recipe for you! Just remember that when you make tortillas, you are baking and weather does affect your masa. Start with the lower amount of water in the recipe if the day is very wet and gradually add a little more if needed. If the day is as dry and sunny as today is here, use the full amount. The goal is to have a dough that feels like playdough only a little stickier.