A Mexican extravaganza

Summery weather makes me call for a good old bowl of guacamole. Recently I made guacamole in desperation with a not-so-ripe avocado—I don’t recommend it as in this case, the longer one can wait the better the reward. Mexican food is getting more and more trendy—similar to Nordic cooking, Mexican has recently emerged as one of those ‘it’ foodie trends. Thomasina Miers’ book, Mexican Food: made simple is an ingenious collection that just shows the diversity of Mexican food, and the recipes are extremely easy to make hence the title. We’re regulars at Wahaca and try to go there every time we are in London. The atmosphere at Wahaca is great, and the food is not only tasty but also a bargain, plus they have amazing mojitos. The introductory section of Mexican food is really informative and describes the chillies used. What’s more is that it is really accessible and dishes can be mind-blowingly good, the perfect reward after a hard day at work. The other day I made a quesadilla and literally only added one pinch of habanero chilli (dried) but my quesadilla was really spicy and almost made me vomit because it was so spicy! but it turned out okay, I added sugar which I find helps balance over-spicy food and then I lathered the quesidilla in guacamole. For the Mexican extravaganza, I tried to make my own tortillas out of maize flour. That was all I could find in Oxford! But it didn’t quite work out. I have now been to Borough market and have successfully bought some masa harina so I will have to have another go. I thought maize and corn were the same thing but for some reason this tortilla didn’t work well at all. The best discovery that has come out of this book so far has been the ceviche. It is now on my list of top ten best dishes ever. I couldn’t believe that lime juice could ‘cook’ fish. Basically the fish is marinated in lime juice (in the fridge), if you prefer your fish more cooked, marinate it for longer. I like mine half-raw and half-cooked as the result is a very tender but also sashimi-like texture. Made with wild sea bass it was absolutely amazing.

Coconut ceviche

2 tomatoes

225g sea bass fillet, skinned and diced into 1cm cubes

Juice of 5 limes

4 Tablespoons coconut milk

1 Tablespoon olive oil

pinch of sea salt

2 shallots or 1/2 small red onion finely diced

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped

1 habanero chilli finely chopped (I used less as this is a tad too spicy for me)

a large handful of coriander leaves

To serve

avocado, peeled, diced

4 radishes, finely sliced

tortilla chips

Cover the tomatoes with boiling water and leave for 1 minute. Drain and pierce with a knife and skin the tomatoes. Deseed and dice. In a bowl, add fish, lime juice, coconut milk, olive oil, salt, onion, garlic and chilli. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour or 4 hours if you want the fish to be completely cooked. Drain the fish from the marinade but keep it aside. Add the tomato and coriander to the fish and mix whilst adding some of the marinade back into the fish if it looks dry.

Sprinkle with coriander and radishes and diced avocado.

Recipe from Mexican Food: Made Simple (Hodder & Stoughton).

Pumpkin gnocchi with sage butter

I think one of the nicest things would have to be pillowy lumps of gnocchi smothered in sage butter. What I love about this recipe is that pumpkin is included, one of my many loves. I had never tried Stephanie Alexander recipes before this, and once I had made this simple and delicious dish I became a Stephanie convert. I especially love how you can experiment with the kinds of pumpkin or squash that you can use for this and you can get a variety of different flavours. I used onion squash and it was just delicious. Onion squash has a really nice perfectly smooth texture, brightness in colour and intense sweetness along with a nuttiness which I think it works well here. Although a lot of gnocchi recipes say to boil the pumpkin, I prefer roasting it covered with some foil.

Pumpkin (or onion squash) gnocchi with sage butter sauce

250g potatoes (desiree)

300g pumpkin, butternut or onion squash (any dry-flesh variety)

160g flour, plus extra for dusting

2 Tablespoons grated parmasan

20 large sage leaves

150g butter

sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Peel the potatoes, cut into chunks then place into a saucepan with some salt, cold water, and cover generously. Bring to the boil and cook for about 15 minutes. Once they are tender, drain and set aside. Peel and deseed the pumpkin and weigh to ensure you have 250g cut into bite-sized chunks. Place on a baking tray and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil. Sprinkle over a few sage leaves. Cover loosely with tin foil and bake in the oven for about an hour or until the pumpkin is soft and slightly browned at the edges.

Using a potato ricer, add the pumpkin and potato and squash through into a bowl. Sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and add some pepper. Sieve most of the flour over the vegetable mound and quickly but lightly combine. Knead briefly till the dough is smooth, using more flour if necessary. Be careful not to over knead because this will kill the pillow-like nature of your gnocchi. Cut the dough into four pieces and with your fingers, roll each into a sausage 2cm-3cm wide. Cut each ‘sausage’ into pieces 2cm long and place on a floured baking tray. Fill a large pan with water and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to the boil and drop in as man gnocchi as will fit in a layer. Adjust the heat to a simmer. When the gnocchi rises to the surface (after 3 minutes), lift out with a slotted spoon and place into a warmed serving dish. Return to the oven to keep warm after each batch of gnocchi.

To make the butter sauce, add butter to a non-stick frying pan and fry the sage leaves till crisp. Check the butter has become a medium-brown colour and spoon over the gnocchi. Serve with parmesan grated over the top.

This recipe was adapted from ‘Pumpkin gnocchi with sage-butter sauce’ published in The Independent, 28 August 2008.

Chocolate cheesecake

Every year on the anniversary of my mother’s passing away, I make cheesecake. Mum’s favourite of all time desserts was cheesecake—especially New York style cheesecake and this was one of the last things she was able to properly taste and enjoy before she passed away. I make cheesecake every year on this day as my own personal rememberance, a kind of nuturing of the memory of her through the act of making cheesecake. After two kinds of New York cheesecake already accomplished, this year I decided to shake things up with a chocolate cheesecake. Nigella Lawson’s Feast features a whole section appropriately entitled ‘chocolate cake hall of fame’. The chocolate cheesecake I made was featured in this section in all its fatty-hardy glory. I love that in a cookbook titled Feast there is a whole section dedicated to chocolate! Feast is one of those cookbooks you take off the shelf and refer to when you have that special occasion or if you just feeling extravagant. Now that I think about it, all of Nigella’s books are kind of for when you are feeling indulgent (probably to do with the high butter and cream content of a lot of recipes). After I made the chocolate cheesecake, I realised it would be even more perfect with a touch of cardamom but on the other hand, the chocolate on its own is truly divine. It is rich, well, it should be considering all the chocolate and cream cheese in it. Even if most people say you don’t need to use a water bath, I think it is necessary to give the cheesecake that silky undeniably cheesecake texture. They should invent a press n’ seal version that is oven-friendly as my ten layers of tin foils still didn’t seem to stop all of the water from seeping into the inside of the tin which always makes me panic, thinking I will have a soggy cheesecake base. But once refridgerated it came right. Phew.

Chocolate Cheesecake

Base

125g digestive biscuits

1 Tablespoon cocoa (Green and Black’s if possible)

60g butter

Filling

175g dark chocolate, cut up into small pieces

500g Philadelphia cream cheese

150g caster sugar

1 Tablespoon Bird’s custard powder

3 large eggs

3 large egg yolks

150g sour cream

1/2 teaspoon cocoa, dissolved in 1 Tablespoon hot water

Make the base: process the biscuits to make rough crumbs and add the butter and the cocoa (or you could crush the biscuits in a bag and stir through the butter and cocoa). Process/mix till you have a damp, crumbly consistency and tip into a 23cm springform tin. Press the mixture into the bottom of the tin to make an even base, transfer to the freezer.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Melt the chocolate and set aside to cool. Beat the cream cheese to soften it and then add sugar and custard powder, beating to combine. Add the whole eggs and then the yolks and finally the sour cram. Add the cocoa dissolved in water and the melted chocolate and mix to a smooth batter. Remove the tin from the freezer and line the outside with many layers of tin foil making sure it is covered tightly otherwise the base might not be protected from the water bath. Put the tin in a roasting pan and pour in the cheesecake filling. Fill the roasting pan just above half-way up with just-boiled water. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour. You will know the cheesecake is done when the top is set and smooth to the touch but the underside is still a tad wobbly.

This recipe is from Feast: food that celebrates life (Chatto and Windus).