Some Like it Hot, Chili Hot!

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

As I was putting the final touches to our kitchen at Picado Mexican Pantry, I was getting some glass jars and filling them with dry chilies. I used to do this at the market to show people what they look like and how they smell. It always worked well and it helped people decide if the chili they were buying was right for what they needed it for.  

While labelling the jars, I also realised a very important thing, when in the market, I was there all the time, here in the shop, which opens six days of the week, I may not.  I think that what sets us apart from other outlets is the expertise attached to our shop and I do not want to lose that. I curate everything we sell, I use the ingredients all the time and I am able to chat with both the new and the experienced cook of Mexican food about every single ingredient we sell. I've made all the mistakes and I've eaten Mexican food all my life. So all of a sudden, labeling the jars as 'ancho' or 'guajillo' wasn't enought anymore.

With this in mind, I decided that my jar labels needed a bit more. I did a bit of research and found these gorgeous ones on Pinterest. They led me to a very interesting Australian blog called, The Painted Hive.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find the specific paper in Ireland, called Decal, so ended up ordering their blank stickers and customise them, they're reasonably priced and saves me the headache of ordering paper from the UK (it's pricy). Customising the labels presented an iteresting challenge, how to sum up what a dry chili is and what to expect from it while still fitting everything in a jar label?!

It took me a bit of work and a lot of ruthless editing, but I like what I ended up with. So now, I not only have some beautiful jars for the shop, but I also have a handy reference for whoever is in the shop, an easy way to help customers while I'm not there! What do you think? 

The stickers took about 2 weeks to arrive. Came in with very clear instructions and an extra sticker to use as a trial. Applying the labels was easy enough: you wet them, peel them, bath them, applied them, smooth them and then bake them! Sounds much more complicated than what it was! The blog post with step by step photos was perfect for a crafty novice like me! All in all, thumbs up for this little project. I will order the paper from the UK now and get labeling the ones at home! In the mean time, here's my little dried chilli guide... hope you find it useful!

Lilly's Guide to the most common Mexican Dry Chilies:

Chile Ancho:


(an-cho) chili dried.

1. Low heat with fruity undertones; starts life as a fresh green Poblano pepper that has been dried. Used all over Mexico in Moles and sauces.


Chile Mulato:


(moo-la-tto) chili dried.

1. Low heat with sweet chocolate undertones; starts life as a fresh dark Poblano pepper that has been dried. Used to make Mole Poblano.


Chile Cascabel;


(kas-ka-bell) chili dried.

1. Medium heat with nutty undertones; starts life as a fresh bola chili. Seeds rattle. Used for salsa and stews.


Chile Chipotle;


(chee-po-tle) chili dried.

1. Hight heat and smokey flavour; starts life as a fresh Jalapeño pepper that has been dried and smoked. Used all over Mexico in salsas and many dishes.


Chile Pasilla;


(pa-see-ya) chili dried.

1. Medium heat with grape/raisins undertones; starts life as a chilaca pepper then it's dried. Used in salsas, marinades, moles, pipianes and adobos.


Chile Arbol;


(ar-ball) chili dried.

1. Very hot with slight lemony and lime undertones; starts life as a green arbol pepper and when ripen and red it gets dried. Used in many table salsas and as chili flakes.



Sharing is Caring...

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

As many of you know, I work for an Irish charity called Localise, a not-for-profit youth and community development organisation, it's the job I've had the longest. It's a job you can hardly find fault with or a chance to get bored in, and of all the jobs I've ever had, this is the one I've found most satisfaction in. I get paid to do good. Everyday I go to work, I am fortunate enough to witness the selflessness of volunteering and the hundres and thousands of volunteers who make the third sector in Ireland work.

So when Clare (An American in Ireland) contacted me with an idea to do some volunteer cooking for charity, I of course say yes. We were invited to cook a lunch/dinner shift in a fantastic community cafe managed by CrossCare staff and volunteers. 

Clare got involved with CrossCare through her payjob with Kellogg's UK, which donates breakfast cereals to the charity's food bank. Among other things, the food bank supplies ingredients to three community cafes in Dublin. These cafes provide a much needed meal service for individuals and families who find themselves unable to afford a proper meal or who are too weak and/or sick to fend for themselves. I've been in soup kitchens and housing facilities for the homeless many, many times, so I had this certain expectation of the place. 

The deal was to volunteer in the kitchen to cook a meal option for the cafe's lunch/dinner service with what we was available in the food bank and to raise a bit of awareness for the wonderful service these cafes provide. We split into two teams: Caryna Camerino and Bill & Sharon Gunter went to the Cafe in Portland Row; while Clare, Rosanne Hewit-Cromwell and myself went to the cafe in Holles Row

When I walked into the cafe I was surprised to see how lovely it was! The ethos of these cafes is to provide nutrious and affordable meals in a safe and attractive environment, so this was not your regular soup kitchen folks, the place really looks lovely, no more different than the coffee shops you pay big bucks in Dublin City, but with a big difference, a three course meal will cost you only 3 euros!!

The place is open to the general public, so you might find a bunch of office workers at one table, sitting next to an elderly gentelman who needs a hot meal or a family that has fallen onto hard times. The environment is friendly, light, airy and full of community spirit.

The waiting staff, all volunteers, is super friendly and since many people are regulars, they all know each other by name. It's a great place for elderly service users, as they get a proper meal and a good chat and they can hang around for as long as they want.

The kitchen in Holles Row also supplies meals on wheels for local residents and all the member of staff were brilliant! Even when we were going around messing up the place and disrupting their well oiled routines. Louise, the cafe's manager, was very helpful, she gave us a tour of the kitchen, spoke about the work they do with passion and compasion that is often seen in people who have a vocasional call for service. 

It was a brilliant experience. Cooking big quantities is not an easy job and I take my hat off to the staff in the cafe who do this day in and day out 3 times a day, 6 days a week plus preparing the meals on wheels all with a big smile on their faces. We had an absolute blast and the morning went by so quickly! We were given mince beef and access to the larder and cold pantry.

Since the cafe receives a lot of elderly clients, we could not be too outlandish with our cooking choices, so we kept it simple; we made a killer lasagna and a lovely dessert of rubharb crumble with almond flour and Kellogg's Crunchy Nut! (very clever and tasty idea from Rosanne!). It was delicios and it did not break the bank. It is great to see not for profit organisations like CrossCare attempting to tackle food poverty issues in Ireland. We need a lot more like them as it is estimated that one in ten people in this island are living in food poverty.


My lovely friend, Derek Cleary, often says that giving back is the way forward... well guys last week it was my chance to give back in a small way. I loved every minute of it and we are hatching plans to go back soon for a proper fundraiser. If you feel like giving back yourself, they are always looking for volunteers, so check out their volunteering section and experience the selfless joy of volunteering, there is very little we can actually do to help abroad, but there is a lot we can do to help here, and charity, after all, starts at home.

Elotes / Corn in the Cob...

Sunday, 27 July 2014

There is one sound and one sound alone that draws me back to the Mexico of my childhood.... the sound of an old fashioned tricycle horn; not the little bell that any aul bicycle has, but the ones that are like a small trumpet with a round plastic end, that when squeezed, produces the loud, sweet sound of Elotes calling you out into the street, the bewitching sound of that horn draws you out as much as the sound of the music from the ice-cream van did when you were little. If ever was doubt that Pavlov (with his salivating dog) was right, this should serve as irrefutable proof to his theory.

And then you hear the call from the man himself, from el senor de los elotes, who rides the tricycle throught the streets fitted specially with a huge basket with a precariously installed gas tank and a burner (health and safety need not apply)... elotes, compre sus elotes (corn, buy your corn) alternating his loud, simple sale pitch with a few rings from the horn in the tricycle.

Elotes are tender, young corn in the cob that have been boiled in water in big galvanized buckets and that are widely sold on Mexican streets. Traditionally, they are taken out of the hot water (you choose which one you want) and they are prepared by the man himself with your choice of toppings. In Monterrey, my hometown, we do lime, mayonnaise and chili powder. Some street vendors offer a liquid version of the chili powder, which is made with real red chili powder and lime juice, usually extremelly hot. Some offer crema fresca (fresh cream) and even dry cheese. 

El senor de los elotes is an important part of every housing estate. You gotta trust yours, he (women have more sense than to do this work) has to be clean (as clean as a man riding a tricycle in the scorching heat, with a gas tank and a massive bucket of boiling water with 200 elotes in it can be). His toppings need to be in clean, plastic containers with lids and invariably, if you get one elote from him and you don't get sick, he's trust worthy. You establish a relationship with him and him alone and, in time, the horn will ring, you'll come out and he'll say 'same as usual miss?'

Picado Mexican is Open...

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

As you know, Alan and I decided to take the plunge and give our online shop a brick and mortar home (yes, we are officially bonkers). After two very busy weeks, full of cleaning, painting, pollyfila repairs, tradesmen nightmares and a lot of hard work, last Saturday we finally opened Picado Mexican Pantry in South Richmond Street in Dublin 2.

It's been a hell of a rollacoster ride. I think I have definitely developed an allergy to paint burshes (if I see one more I think I'll scream) and I have learned that a bad plumber can make you cry a lot... for two DIY virgins like Alan and I, to have the shop opened and looking soooo beautiful it's an absolute dream.

None of this would have been possible with without the support, help and encouragement of so many friends and family. Thank you all for the good wishes, the flowers, the cards, the chocolates and the tons of booze! We needed it all! :) There are a few people we must thank specially as, without them, none of this would have been posible.



The super talented and friendly guys from Ovo, our design agency, who went above and beyond their duties to get us open. Stephanie, Jonathan, Philip, Gerry and Anthony not only designed a smashing logo and postcards for us, but helped us with the shop front and a gazillion of other things... their guidance through the branding process was invaluable and for that, we'll be forever gratetful. Amazing people to work with!

There is one more very special gal I need to thank, the uber talented Alex Carberry, aka Hydrangea Girl, who gave our vision the perfect look. Alex not only designed for us, but she also upcycled,  painted, posed for silly pictures, got out of bed at ungodly hours and held my hand while ordering the kitchen; she was instrumental to the design of the shopping experience, unclutter and bright. She was everything you want from a designer and more. Alex you totally rock girl!

Another specail thank you goes to my minions, particularly Daili, Adam, Kevin, Niamh and Liam. These guys cleaned, painted, merchandised and made name tags for us. How cool is that?!

Finally to you, my readers, who encouraged me every day here and on facebook. Thank you, you make it all worthwile! I leave you now with a few snaps of the new shop, if you are in Dublin, pop in and say hi. 

Chicken Mole...

Friday, 27 June 2014

I've written a lot about Mexican Mole before. While in Mexico a few years back, I spent a whole day with my aunt Irma, who makes a mean mole paste from scratch, and learned a lot about it. I've blogged my recipe for Mole Pie, my recipe for turkey enmoladas, also the mole flavoured chicken Enchiladas, and even mole flavour tamales! The one thing I have not blogged about at all is how to eat mole the straight way. This is the way we eat mole at home, with chicken and Mexian red rice

Mole sauce is considered by many Mexico's national dish. A veil of mystery surrounds the origins of the dish, but the widely accepted theory places it in the Colonia kitchens of a convent in the state of Puebla, in Central Mexico. Legend has it that the Archbishop dropped unexpectedly for dinner to the convent and the nuns, having had no notice of the visit, had nothing good to serve him. They prayed to God and suddenly, an Angel came from the sky and gave them Mole. Most likely, spiritual bits aside, the nuns had very little and got inventive. This fragant, complex and smooth concoction was then traditionally served with turkey or pork, but nowadays we eat it a lot more with chicken. 

If you use the commercially available mole paste as I did, you need to enhance it. Mole paste from a jar on its own does not taste good enough, so here's my method to pimp it up a bit. You can of course use the ready made sauce variety, but I genuinly think the paste is much better here as the mole is the star of the plate!