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.
After 17 years in Ireland, I've grown use to missing things... I miss my family and I miss seeing my niece and nephews grow. I miss a lot of birthdays, christenings, weddings and of course funerals... I miss friends, I miss the sun, I miss my mama's cooking and my papa's rants. I miss fruit (papayas or mangos never taste right here) and truth be told, I miss taco trucks too. I miss the running up to Christmas and the Christmas markets and I miss the buzz of Independence month in Mexico every September... there is a time of year, however, that makes me feel glad I live in this tiny, evergreen island... and that is Easter.
Easter was always a somber and serious time for me growing up in Mexico. Despite not being very religious, my mam would take us to see the stations of the cross being enacted on the streets and then go home to watch a lot of Jesus movies. Before the joys of Cable and Netflix, you were guaranteed a dose of Ben-Hur, Jesus of Nazareth, Barrabas, The Prince of Egypt and the 10th Commandments movies on holy Thursday and Good Friday. If you were lucky, they'll show The King and I and late at night, during the witching hour, you could catch the 1970s movie version of Jesus Christ Superstar (although you wouldn't tell anybody you watched it as it was too racy for a Jesus Movie).
In short, all I remember of my growing up years and Easter is being UBER bored! No Easter Eggs, no Easter dinner with lamb and stuffing and all the trimmings. No Easter bunny, no easter chocolates and definitely no egg hunts. Very, very sad indeed! There was one thing that made it all worth it though: Capirotada!
Capirotada is a mish-mash of things that, on paper sounds a little gross, but in reality, make a delicious dish! It is a bread pudding traditionally cooked during the lent period and always eaten on Good Friday. Some people class it as a dessert, for me and my family, is a meal! My mother would always make a huge batch of this for Good Friday and we would sit to eat it with joy and gusto! I made it in a ring cake tin, but you can use a regular pyrex dish or a square tin. As long as it is sealed and gives you enough depth to do 3 layers. There's a lot of liquid in this dish, so avoid loose bottom tins! I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
Happy New Year everybody! 2016 was certainly a busy and weird year for me. It saw loads of ups and downs and a trip to Mexico after a long absence. It was great to see my family, to get a rest and to reconnect with friends. I came back all fired up and full of beans (literally!) so I am determined to make 2017 a good year. Loads of projects in the pipeline, some real work on my book - been putting it off for far too long- but mainly I want to write regularly in the blog again.... for a while I got bogged down with life and work and with that of the sudden death of my brother, I sort of lost my mojo a little... so making good to the promise to spend more time here with you, alas, here I am, writing another recipe.
These days I'm trying to find quick and easy ways to eat well and quick, this fabulous Bayo Bean Soup is a great example. It's full of flavour and quite wholesome, with the added bonus of taking just about 20 minutes to make. I used Bayo beans because I like them a lot, but you can use Black beans if that's your thing. Also, I used tinned beans - love La Sierra ones for quickness and tastiness - but by all means, you can cook the beans from scratch and then make them into a soup. Here's an older post on how to cook black beans from scratch, but same applies to bayo and pinto beans.
This soup is a take on Frijoles Charros, or Charro Beans, a very traditional, hearty soup form the north of Mexico. I got really good quality smoked pancetta in the shop, but every suppermarket stocks some sort of pancetta and if all fails, streaky rashers would do too. I hope you like this recipe as much as we did!
A while ago my friend Emma and I spent a morning cooking and shooting this recipe, but for some reason or another, I only got to post the results today. These tacos are, by far, one of my favourite Mexican 'antojitos'. Antojito literally means small craving, but it is a word used in Mexico for light suppers mostly made with a big component of masa (in this case a tortilla) and a tiny hint of guilt. My mother would always serve them with a bowl of sopa de fideo, a chicken soup with very fine strings of pasta, similar to angel hair. This is a great way to use up the stock where the chicken was cooked. I love making these with leftovers of the Sunday chicken roast, so I bypass the soup, but this reminds me I must blog the recipe soon!
When people come to Picado looking for taco shells, I make a point of telling them they're not Mexican, so they need to buy them in the supermarket along with all the other tex-mex ingredients they sell. I then proceed to tell them they can make their own... but people often frown upon frying tortillas and in this age of 'clean eaters' and misinformed nutritional gurus that fill the internet and our bookshelves with their mantra, it is hard to advocate for fat. Fat and sugar have become the devil. The fact that I feel the need to apologise for a fried taco says it all. Seriously people, we need fat to have shiny hair and good nails and good skin; we need fat to process essential nutrients too, so banning fat from your diet is not a great thing. Yet, there is fat and there is FAT. I'm not going to go into full-ranting mode here, I'm only going to ask you to find out the difference between natural fats (animal or vegetable) and the fats made artificially in a lab to add flavour or stability to a product and preserve shelf life.
Emma asked me what was the difference between this technically fried chicken taco and one made from a taco shell. So let me tell you here what I said to her. A Taco shell has been processed to become 'shelf stable'. The shell is partly cooked and needs to be finish off before it becomes a taco. Anybody who has used these things, can see the puddle of unknown oil that comes out of them when you bake them.
No amount of soaking a corn tortilla in oil will ever render the same results, as corn tortillas do not absob a lot of oil when you fry them and if you leave them sitting on a puddle of oil, they will fall apart and desintegrate. They will never absorb oil so that when you bake them, the oil comes out; so I would love to know what industrial process is used to make this happen... or perhaps I don't want to. A serving of these shells contains 11% of fat and 15% of your daily recommended amount of saturated fat and 6% of your daily recommended intake of salt. This is three shells only!! Who would only eat three?! 4 or 5 is the norm and this is before you add any fillings in them, this is just the shell!!
My golden tacos become fully formed tacos first and then they are shallow-fried till crispy and when it comes to flavour, there is no comparison whatsoever between the two. Homemade all the way! When you make your own, you know what oil and how much you're using. They're also sturdier on account of a proper corn tortilla being used, so they will fill you up more than the processed ones, you might need 4 for a full dinner rather than 5 or 6. There is less salt and let's face it, once you know what goes on your food and you take the trouble to make it, it becomes important for you. There is extra satisfaction and a party on your tastebuds at the end. Not an industrial process in sight.
So, next time you think of buying ready made taco shells, think of all the things we don't know about how they're made... think of all that salt, saturated fats and industrial processes and then the satisfaction of making a few of these by yourself. Go on, try it and see how delicious and easy they are!