The Magic of Tortillas

Sunday, 13 February 2011
Tortillas are to Mexico what potatoes are to Ireland, the staple of our daily diet. Mexico consumes an average of six hundred and thirty million Tortillas a day! Breakfast, dinner and supper may include a few of them, so when I moved to Ireland ten years ago, the first cultural shock for me (after the weather that is) was the lack of Tortillas in my diet. I felt the traditional Irish dinner of 'meat and two veg' was unsatisfying... lacking in a strange way; I used to get Tortillas sent from home, but this was expensive and impractical. Fresh, real corn Tortillas do not have any preservatives. They are bought baked on the day from a Tortilleria (sort of a bakery for Tortillas) before meal times or early on the same day. The increasingly popular brands sold in supermarkets have tried a pinch of preservative in them, but they would still only last up to a week in the fridge. After much searching here, I realised if I was to eat Tortillas again, I would have to learn to make them!
Making my own Tortillas in Ireland should not faced me, I am, after all, a third generation of Tortilla bakers. My father had a Tortilleria, all his brothers and sisters were in the business too, they had all learned the trade from my grandfather, who built a good brand from scratch "La Unica". As a child and through my teens I worked in the family business and learned the trade well and I was able to operate the machines and make Tortillas like a pro! I witnessed the transition from traditional methods which used nixtamal (corn kernels) cooked in the premises and grounded in semi-mechanical milling stones to make the maize dough, to the use of Maseca, a processed version of the maize dough which came as flour in twenty kilo bags introduced in the late forties and early fifties. Maseca simplified the production and reduced costs greatly and it now dominates the market as the main raw material for Tortilla production, but I still remember the days when grandpa Pedro resisted its introduction saying it sacrificed flavour.  So, making my own Tortillas  should be a piece of cake!
The first time I attempted to make Tortillas by hand was a disaster! I  had everything I needed, including a Tortilla press I ordered online and yet, I ended up with an awful dough. It stuck to everything at the beginning and towards the end of my trial it was too dry. So much for a pro! I was very discouraged and it took a few weeks before I gathered the courage to try it again. Mam told me to forget about the instructions on the pack of the flour and go by the old family recipe. She said it was all about practice and perseverance: she was right, within a few months, I was turning my own corn Tortillas in minutes! All my Irish family loved them and I even converted a couple of Irish friends!  The wonderful thing about corn Tortillas is that they are Coeliac friendly, delicious, healthy and different! They are so versatile you can make loads of different things with them! Forget about those awful wheat wraps you buy on the stores! Go manual and make your own. You'll never look back!

Romancing with Food... the cookalong challenge!

Tuesday, 8 February 2011
Here's what I cooked for the Irish Foodies Cookalong Challenge 'Food for Romance'.  Romancing my other half is dead easy: chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate! so my menu was planned accordingly: a two course chocolate-based meal consisting of Mexican Enmoladas and steamed mini chocolate puddings drowned in hot chocolate sauce.
Mole Sauce is considered by many Mexico's national dish. A veil of mystery surrounds the origins of the recipe: the widely accepted theory places it in the Colonial kitchens of a convent in the state of Puebla in Central Mexico. Legend has it the Archbishop dropped unexpectedly for dinner to the convent and having little or no notice, the nuns prayed and an Angel came from the sky and gave them Mole; spiritual stuff aside, it appears to be that the nuns used whatever they had on hand: stale bread, spices, seeds, dark chocolate and, with Divine intervention or not, they came up with this wonderfully fragrant and smooth concoction traditionally served with Turkey. 
Nowadays, Mole is served with chicken in most places and although the recipe, like a good curry, varies from region to region, its basic ingredients are always the same: a blend of chiles, stale bread, seeds, nuts, spices and chocolate. Mexicans would normally buy the Mole Paste in markets or supermarkets. No one really makes their own paste anymore as the branded and unbranded varieties available are delicious and many are based on old family recipes. I had all the intentions of making my own paste, but ended up with no time, so I opted to use the next best thing, a jar of ready made mole paste I had in the cover.  I used the same brand we sell in the shop as I love the flavour. I hope you enjoy the recipe as much as the other half and I did!

Too early for festive cheer?

Tuesday, 30 November 2010
I know it is a bit too early to be using the big C word, but this year we had winter snow so early that I can't help but feel a little Christmas cheer creeping up into my kitchen! I baked the first batch of mince pies last week. Most of the 12 little jewls are now safetly tucked away in my freezer... I say mostly  because a few had to go through my in house quality control check, i.e. Alan had to taste some and make sure they were up to our high standards!
As a Mexican, mince pies have been an acquired taste, but after ten years, they have warm up their way into my heart. My mother in law gave me this recipe, which was pass on to her by her mother, and the pastry, although a bit complicated, is devine! 
In any way, with all the snow outside and all the crappy news on telly, we're allow a bit of early festive cheer and nothing brings it better for me than the smell of these little gems baking in my oven! Go on, say it out laud! It's CHRISTMAS!!

Meeting Culinary Heroes...

Monday, 8 November 2010

I recently learnt the true meaning of the word 'starstruck'. I met my hero of heroes, Nigella Lawson, at a book signing in Dublin last month. I queued for about an hour and a half in the freezing cold just to get my book signed and to have a glance at the woman who made cooking sexy. I absolutely love her! Her books have provided the Ramirez-Foran household with many happy meals and countless friends have enjoyed the wonderful fruits of my working with the recipes in her books.

At the queue I met this two very nice ladies who had gotten up at 5 am to take the train to Dublin from Galway to meet Nigella, and when they asked me what my favourite book of hers was, I couldn't honestly tell them! My love affair with her books started about 8 years ago during a trip to the Aran Islands, off the Galway shore. A stunning unspoiled part of the country at the time. At the bottom of the hill to Dun Angus and its magnificent cliffs, there is a small tached cottage converted into a cafe for the hungry hikers. I sat there and took a slice of the cake on offer, Chocolate Guinness Cake. My life was never the same again! I tracked the recipe for weeks, finally leading to Nigella and her book ''. The cake has become a classic in my household and I have shared it with many as I think it is, by far, the best chocolate cake ever!

In a recent visit to Mexico, I baked the cake for my father's 70th Birthday. He had two slices, which is amaizing for a man who does not like chocolate at all! All the Mexicans loved it too! On the down side, it took me three days to find Guinness Stout and when I finally did, I paid an exorbitant 12 euro for one small can!! The end result was worth it though! Check out the recipe of the cake in . If you make it, you won't regreat it, it's absolutely stunning!

Feast also features many other wonderful recipes, I particularly love the Easter cake one in the chapter 'Cake Hall of Fame'. I have now bought all of her books and I eagerly await her TV programmes and future books. She makes cooking simple and enjoyable. Her '' book is a dream and a must for all the jolly season's lovers. I have used it countless of times to get me through a few Christmases with the Irish family.

It was a true honour to meet her; she was everything I had hoped for her to be; glamourous, normal size, down to earth and really nice. She took time with each fan and talked to everybody! She said to me she's a big fan of Mexican food and asked me a few questions about it. Apologies for the dodgy photos, I asked a person behind me to take the pictures and they came out a bit fuzzy! 


Builders' Cuppa: Victoria Sponge

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

We are building a porch and the front wall at home. It has been four weeks of hell: dust, debris, plaster stains, cement powder, dirty builders' boot marks everywhere, the house is cold and dirty and my kitchen completely uninviting! Everything is covered with a fine layer of dust! Living, or attempting to live, while builders are in your house is a nightmare! One thing I can't get over, is the amount of tea breaks our builders take! Every time there is a break, the kettle has to be boiled, tea bags, sugar and milk for a "cuppa" (cup of tea) must be ready and the mandatory biscuits' tin has to be presented! Alan and I are putting on weight with so many cuppas throughout the day!
Work cannot possibly commence before a cuppa, then the elevenses cuppa, the cuppa after lunch, the 3 pm cuppa, the four-ish cuppa, the six-ish cuppa and the cuppa before he goes home! I have used more tea bags and milk in the last 4 weeks than in the entire 5 years we've been in the house! Enticing my builder to work harder, I baked this cake, my old time favourite treat for a cuppa, last week and it got eaten between the elevenses and lunch.
This luscious Victoria sponge cake filled with fresh raspberries and whipped cream with a lightly dust of caster sugar is my idea of heaven on a plate!  The recipe came from Nigella Lawson's wonderful book ''. I've twicked it a tiny little bit, by adding some lime zest and with my choice of filling, but her basic recipe is by far the best victoria sponge cake I've tried: it's quick, simple to make and the whole thing tastes amaizing! I halved her recipe as I like the petitte 7" sandwich tins I have, but if you have bigger tins, double the recipe. For the one on this photo I used fresh raspberries with a sprinkle of caster sugar as they were in season, but I love it with raspberry jam and cream as well!
A word of advise; all ingrediens must be at room temperature and the butter must be very soft. Cold ingredients will affect the texture and airiness of your cake, so take them at least 3 hours in advance or the night before. Enjoy!