Calendar of Cookery Classes January – May 2011

Calendar of Cookery Classes:

At Books for Cooks

Fresh, Fabulous & Fuss-Free Vegetarian

Saturday 29th January  11am  £40

Ditch the winter stodge with this collection of sophisticated seasonal vegetarian recipes from Sofia Craxton and a class that makes all diners welcome with sumptuous and satisfying dishes for vegetarians, meat lovers and everyone in between.

Slow Cooking

Thursday 17th February  11am  £40

Slow cooking makes a nice change from the frantic pace of everyday life. It can be done pleasurably, at leisure, well in advance. Slow-cooking gives great depth of flavour and transforms everyday, cheap cuts in truly exceptional dishes for friends and family.

Cook Now, Dine Later

Saturday 19th March 11 am  £40

Cookbook author Sofia Craxton presents an essential class that places speed and ease at a premium with a smart, stylish menu that can be prepared ahead of time so you can relax and enjoy the dinner party!

Vegetarian Mexican Street Food

Saturday  2nd April  11am   £40

Mexico simmers with intriguing dishes and nowhere is its rich storehouse of flavours more evident than in the colourful open air mercados. These little meat-free dishes of Mexico are fabulous served as appetizers or in combination to make a meal. Broaden your culinary horizons ad bring an authentic taste of Mexico to your table with Sofia Craxton.

At Divertimenti

Tex Mex – Hands On Masterclass

Tuesday 25th January   18.30 pm.  Brompton.  £105   SOLD OUT

Join Mexican chef Sofia Larrinua-Craxton for an authentic Tex-Mex masterclass. Learn how to make real Chilli, Slow Cooked Lamb Barbacoa, Corn and Flour Tortillas for Quesadillas, Tex-Mex Sopapillas, and Grilled Salsa. So don your sombrero, park the mule outside and stroll into this class with a swagger worthy of John Wayne.

Lebaneasy – Hands On Masterclass

Tuesday 8th February 11 am.   Marylebone.   £105
With its easy to make zingy salads, grilled meats and preserved lemons, Lebanese food is quickly becoming one of the nation’s favourite cuisines. Join Sofia Larrinua-Craxton and learn how to prepare a selection of authentic Lebanese dishes, including cheese based Labneh and Shanklish and street foods like Shawarma. You’ll also learn how to make Syrian bread and some of the most popular mezze salads such as Fatoush and Tabboule

World Street Food – Hands On Masterclass

Tuesday 29 Mar 18.30 pm.  Marylebone £105

The rise in popularity of global street food is at the forefront of modern dining trends. Affordable and authentic, street food provides an insight into a country’s culinary influences and is enjoyed by all sections of the population. Join Sofia Larrinua-Craxton and learn how to prepare an international selection of dishes including Vietnamese Pho and Summer Rolls, Turkish Lahmacun and Ezme Salad, irresistible Indonesian Nasi Goreng, Malaysian Laksa, and Mexican Corn Cake.

Tapas – Hands On Masterclass

Tuesday 12 Apr 18:30 pm.  Brompton £105

Whether eaten as a bar snack or as a main meal, Tapas is a Spanish culinary tradition that the UK has really taken to. Join Sofia Larrinua-Craxton for a Tapas hands on masterclass and learn how to create a delicious selection of sharing plates including Txangurro (Crab from San Sebastian) Galician Empanada & Tapas de Tierra (such as Albondigas or Meatballs),and Rare Sirloin Steak with Duck Pâté and White Grape Sauce.

At Cookery School

Mexican Masterclass

Saturday 15 January 10am £130.                            SOLD OUT

Learn how to make spicy and delicious Mexican street food with the wonderful Sofia Craxton. Sofia will show you how to make salsas and marinades, tamales, tortillas, quesadillas and sopes – fabulous foods that is sold on Mexican streets and in local markets. The day will include grilled fish in Yucatan style recado served with habanero relish; Morelia grilled chicken in guajillo adobo served with sauteed country potatoes; corn tortillas; tamales; quesadillas; steak and flame grilled pepper tacos with chargrilled salsa; Shepherd style tacos served with drunken salsa and a spicy prawn broth. You will be welcome with a Cookery School breakfast on arrival. Organic red and white wines will be served with the meal.

Mexican Street Food
Monday 21st March 6.30 am £ 90

The day will include grilled Morelia grilled chicken in guajillo adobo served with sauteed country potatoes; corn tortillas and steak and flame grilled pepper tacos with chargrilled salsa; Shepherd style tacos served with drunken salsa a spicy prawn broth and wild mushroom tamales.

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Recipe for Mexican Ponche de Navidad

The evocative power of food, its flavours and aromas can be used to take us back to long and forgotten corners of our mind.  Periods like Christmas are of course charged with a variety of memories, so each one of us have our personal catalogue of food experiences that relate to certain moments of our lives.

It is no surprise that for some, the aroma or roasted chestnuts on a cold corner is equivalent to Christmas and for others, the flavour of ginger biscuits or of Bacalao is the marker of this time.

For some of us, the smell of tropical fruits slowly poaching in a syrup are instant reminders of this period.  In Mexico ponche de Navidad is a delicious and warming drink that takes me back to posada parties.

What is a posada? The word literally translates as inn, and this is a representation of the journey that the Virgin Mary and St Joseph did at the time of the birth of baby Jesus, that culminated in barn and manger.

Like most things, these parties have changed with time, but the format remains the same: a street procession that stops and chants a litany which culminates at the house of the hosts of the posada –or the place where the party is going to take place.  The joyous entry to the house by those outside and the subsequent pinata breaking, food sharing and ponche drinking!

It is the combination of fruits and the sweet aroma of a lightly spiced syrup, simmering somewhere that gives this drink a particularly strong power for memory of cold nights in Mexico.  The smell of sweet sugar-cane and guavas, tejocotes and cinnamon, always take me right back to my childhood and I can again see and hear things that lie otherwise dormant in my mind: my younger parents, the unique feeling of attempting to break a pinata, the sounds of children laughing.  Sometimes it is worth forgetting about food miles for once and make some proper ponche just for the memories.

Here is a simple recipe, if you live away from the tropics, it might be difficult to find some fruits, I give alternatives in the recipe below.  Try doing this at this cold time of year, repeat doing this and you will see how with time, this evocative drink will take you back to good memories.

Cultivate your future memories by having good times now!

Recipe for ponche de Navidad

Makes about 3 litres

20 tejocotes –these are quite particular to Mexico, if you can’t find substitute with 10 quartered apricots and 4 green apples in chunks

7 guavas, cut in wedges

3 Tbsp raisins

10 prunes

about half a kilo of sugar-cane chunks –found in caribbean shops

4 Tbsp dried apples

2 sticks of cinnamon

3 litres of water

muscovado sugar

Begin by making the syrup, dissolve sugar in water –I have deliberately omitted quantities here, add enough so that it tastes nice and sweet to you.

Add the fruits and bring to below boiling point, simmer gently until the fruits soften and poach, the syrup should be slightly thicker at this point.

Before serving add some piquete a dash or rum or brandy to give it extra warming properties.

Serve in cups with a few fruits.

** If you have a memory of ponche that you want to share here, please add a comment.  My memory now is of a posada at secondary school aged 13, with my friend Marcelita, on a very cold day and how my father threw himself to get some goodies at the pinata with the kids!

How to make Mexican pan dulce

One aspect of Mexican cuisine that seems to be a little overlooked is that of bread-making.  Although Mexico is not a country that has strong associations to bread as it is the case in many other places around the world, and although we are mostly associated to tortillas; there is actually quite a strong tradition of bread making that we inherited through European colonialism and which became firmly established during the years of Empire in the nineteenth century.

It is particularly during the short period in which Mexico became subject to the puppet emperor Maximilian, where traditions of European influence became adopted by the elites.  This included the introduction of bread-making, particularly that of making sweet confections that included pastry, elaborate biscuits and a variety of other items made out of sweetened dough.

As it tends to happen in Mexico, these items were adapted to locality and they took their own shapes and names; so it can be an amusing and strange experience for a foreign person to go and buy ears, gendarmes (or policemen), banderillas (or a hurting device that gets stuck on the back of a bull during a bull fight), shells, bows, rhombs and of course the once yearly Bread of the Dead.

It is not difficult to recreate these confections and recently I made a batch of conchas or shells that we consumed with gusto whilst accompanied with my Mexican parents.  They the big judges actually loved them.

The recipe is taken from Diana Kennedy’s El Arte de la Cocina Mexicana. I have done very small adaptations.  Be aware, this recipe takes a long time to make, but if you have time and with a little preparation you can have a fun weekend of making bread with delicious results at the end of the day.  Since the recipe is so long you might want to make a large batch and then freeze the bread.  To enjoy from frozen, simply place in a warm oven to defrost and warm through and enjoy with a cup of steaming coffee or hot chocolate.

Makes about 16 conchas

Begin by making a first ferment or siembra for the bread, many Mexican breads begin by making a first ferment that is used for the confection of the various types of sweet bread including bread of the dead:

250 g strong bread flour

one sachet [8g] of dried yeast

2 Tbsp warm water

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Put the flour in a bowl.  In a small bowl, crumble the yeast and mix with the warm water, beat well to obtain a paste, add this paste to the flour and eggs, beat well using the dough hook attachment of a food mixer for a couple of minutes, the dough has to be soft and sticky.  Add a tiny bit more flour so that the dough comes off the bowl, take out and place on a lightly floured surface, using your hands, fold it so that it looks like a round cushion and put on a baking tray that has been covered with some greaseproof paper, make three diagonal cuts across and leave to rise in a warm place for a couple of hours, until it doubles its size.

Use half of this ferment and freeze the rest, if you want you can use all the ferment, in which case it will be necessary to double up the quantities below.

Now you are ready to make the main dough:

Cut the ferment into large chunks, place in the mixing bowl and add the following:

500 g strong flour

180 g sugar

½ tsp salt

45 g soft butter

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

60 ml warm water

Beat the ferment and the ingredients using a dough hook for 8 minutes at a medium-high speed, the dough needs to be soft, sticky with a shiny gloss and it should stick together.  Add a little flour so that the dough comes off the mixing bowl.  Again place on a lightly floured surface and fold to make a round cushion shape.  Butter a large bowl and place the dough in it.  Sprinkle with a little flour and cover with cling film and a tea-towel, leave in a warm place for 2 hours or until it has doubled in size.  After this period, place in the least cold part of the fridge and leave it to ferment for 8 hours or overnight.

Before finishing with this process, make the butter and sugar cover for the breads, for this you will need:

125 g plain flour

125 g icing sugar

60 g butter at room temperature

2 tablespoons cocoa

1 tablespoon cinnamon

Sieve the flour and icing sugar and add the butter, mix well using your fingers or whiz using the food processor, you are aiming to have a soft dough.  Divide in two portions, add the cocoa to one and the cinnamon to the other one, incorporate well.  Cover and set aside.

After the long fermentation period, put the dough on a lightly floured surface and turn it into a cushion without pushing too hard, you don’t want to lose the bubbles formed during the fermentation period, divide the dough in four and then in four again in order to obtain 16 pieces, it is wise to weigh the pieces, they should be about 60 g each:

Place some greaseproof paper on three baking trays.  Make a dough ball rolling the pieces of dough and place on the trays, leaving a space of about 8 cm in between each piece.                                                                                                                                                     Divide the chocolate and cinnamon sugar mixtures in eight small pieces each and roll into rounds that you will flatten using the palms of your hands, press until you have a sheet that is slightly larger than the bread ball:

Place this over the bread ball and press firmly over the dough ball, flattening it a little and repeat with all the bread pieces. Once you have done this, proceed to make the cuts; using a sharp knife, cut into the sugar paste making diagonal incissions:


Leave to rest in a warm place for –yes you guessed another two hours, or until the bread rises once more from this:

To this:

Heat up the oven to 190C.  Place the trays in the oven and bake for twelve minutes or until they puff up and turn golden brown:

Now they are ready to be eaten!

Although this process seems interminable, it actually works perfecty for a weekend at home, start on Saturday morning, carry on with your life and do the fermentations during the day, leave the dough in the fridge overnight and continue on Sunday am, you should have bread ready to dunk into hot chocolate sometime around brunch time!

Pan de Muerto / Bread of the Dead

Pan de muerto / Bread of the dead

It is that ime of the year again, the one where evenings get longer and when spooky ghosts will knock on our doors.  In the area where we live, it seems that the number of ghosts grow exponentially each year, we started with 10 and now there seem to be hundreds of kids knocking for tricks or treats.  This is a nice thing and I like to see our road full of little witches, ghosts and vampires, I like to see carved lanterns and it is all quite picturesque.

What I also like is to put a small altar with flowers to my ‘abuela’ Enriqueta, to my second  mother Alisi and to my ‘muertitos’ to our dead ones, to remember them with a small and colourful offering which will include pan de muerto, this bread is typical of Mexico and it has lots of symbolism, it made in a round shape to signify the world, it has small pieces of dough attached and these signify bones, and it is always made only at this time of year.  It is very nice served with Mexican Hot Chocolate or Cafe de Olla here is a recipe:

Pan de Muerto  (Bread of the Dead)

Makes 1 large bread

1 x 7g sachet ‘fast action’ dried yeast

100 ml warm milk

500 g flour

150 g plus 2 Tbsp caster sugar

4 eggs, beaten

the juice and zest of 1 small orange, about 35 ml juice

1 tsp vanilla essence

50 g soft butter

½ tsp crushed caraway seeds (optional)

Put the oven to 180 C conventional /  160 C fan / Gas Mark 4

Activate the yeast by dissolving it in the warm milk and add 2 teaspoons of the sugar.

Sieve the flour into the bowl of an electric mixer such as a Kitchen Aid or Kenwood, add the sugar and salt plus the optional caraway seeds and the orange zest.  Add the yeast mixture and mix well.  Add the liquid ingredients except for the butter and using the flat paddle or the attachment for bread, mix at a medium speed for 5 minutes. Add the softened butter and continue mixing for 10 more minutes.  The dough should look very elastic and translucent.  Cover the bowl with cling film or a moist tea towel and leave to rise for a couple of hours in a draught free place or overnight in the fridge.  Punch the dough and put on a floured surface.

Cut ¼ of the dough and with the rest form a ball and flatten on the edge.

Separately make ‘bone’ shapes, you will need 4 long bones plus one ball that represents a skull.

Put the bread on a non-stick, floured baking tray or on some baking parchment.

Leave the bread and bones to rise for another ½ hr and when ready, decorate with the bones making a cross pattern and putting the ball on top.  Brush the whole of the bread with beaten egg and sprinkle with 2 Tbsp of caster sugar.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 20 minutes at the indicated temperature, then lower the temperature by 20 C and leave for 20 minutes, then lower the temperature again by 20 C and leave for a further 20 minutes.

To see if the bread is cooked, it should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, and should look golden brown and it should have risen quite a bit too!

Note.  This recipe makes a rustic version of bread of the dead which is more dense than commercial varieties.

It is a funny thing that whilst outside the street is a vampire party with everyone dressed mainly in black, inside the house the place is full of vibrant colours with a more solemn atmosphere, a funny contrast which seems go to well in our diverse society.

How to eat a taco and the best taquerias in Mexico City.

Like mole, the subject of tacos is enormous, there are tacos for all occasions, and for all types of people.  Small children in Mexico begin their taco-eating journey from an early age, most likely with ‘flautas de pollo’ which translates as chicken flutes the name being related to the similarity of these crispy tacos to a small flute or piccolo.  Some kids are brave enough to pour salsa on theirs, but many people, little or large enjoy eating these with guacamole, topped with lettuce a dollop of ‘crema agria’ and some crumbled ‘queso fresco’ and of course the ubiquitous optional salsa.  As we continue on our life journey, the palate matures -or in the case of many, it toughens; so more chilli, complex textures and flavours are required and here is where the taco subject extends massively.

To complicate things further, tacos are also associated to different occasions and they can be eaten at christenings, at private parties called ‘taquizas’, for lunch, as a snack just before going out, or as a perfect accompaniment to a long night on the tiles and of course as a good cure for the hangover that develops afterwards.

To attempt to classify tacos according to class, gender, race and festive occasion, would go beyond the scope of my simple blog, so I am not going to do that, not yet.  In fact I think that those outside Mexico who are interested in eating tacos, could perhaps start their own taco-journey by going to places like Taqueria -see my entry below, or its equivalent in whatever city you are.  If you are either in Mexico or are planning to visit and eat like the real Mc Coy, then you can follow these bits of advise:

1.  If you have Mexican friends join them, ask them to take you to their favourite taqueria, do ask what are you going to be eating, we tend to eat everything and although everything is delicious, it might not appeal to all, so ask first.  Then copy your friends add salsa, lime, coriander, onion, whatever takes your fancy, but remember that there is a code here and your friends will guide you, for instance a taco al pastor has to be eaten with onion, coriander and ‘salsa borracha’.  A taco de bistec should have lots of lime and perhaps a tomatillo or pico de gallo salsa. One taco topped with different salsas is a no, no, and don’t dip your tortilla chips (totopos) on salsa it is not quite the done thing… follow your friends or those sitting next to you.

2.  If you are a just a tourist and don’t know of anybody, then this guide might help you.

First of all go to a reputable place, don’t be mislead by the tourist thinking: if I am going to a stall that is full of people, food is being sold quickly so I might not get sick, well this might not be the case, also you might be eating things that are not necessarily of your fancy, so I would recommend going to a proper taco restaurant, or taqueria.  I will give some suggestions below.

Your taqueria should be clean, busy and it should have a ‘maestro taquero’, a master of the art of making tacos: this is a man (apologies for stereotyping people), he is usually in his thirties/forties, generally with a rounded belly and the proud owner of a bushy-black moustache.  He usually wears a white shirt, a white cap or paper hat and and apron and is extremely skillful in the art of taking orders, preparing meat, slicing, grilling, chopping, serving, making a mental account of how much each person is consuming, and then telling you exactly how much you need to pay.  Unlike sushi chefs, a ‘maestro taquero’ does not train for sixteen years before he can make his first taco, this trade is a ‘learn as you go’ job, but an advanced skill it is indeed! So much so that when I see them working so hard, so accurately, and always with a smile, I feel like giving them a round of applause -I won’t do that, I am not that ridiculous!

If you are a novice, go for simple tacos, things like bistec, chuleta, costilla, choriqueso (mexican chorizo and cheese), al pastor (pork in guajillo salsa and grilled pineapple), nopales (cactus), rajas (poblano strips, onion and cream) and alambre (poblano strips, char-grilled onions, bacon and steak). These should come on two tortillas piled with fillings and you need to divide these to make two tacos.  Then you add lots of lime and the salsa of your choice.  Fold the tortilla in half and in half again… if you want to look like a pro, then follow these simple steps:

  • Eat the taco with your hand, placing fingers like this: thumb and fourth fingers underneath the taco, index and middle fingers on top of the taco and little finger sticks out like when you drink a posh cup of tea.
  • Body position is very important.  Gentlemen, remove your ties! Tacos are better eaten while standing up.  To avoid spillages, chest sticks out a little and so does the bottom, this is in order to keep balance!  Tilt your head to face the taco and then you are ready to go.  Remember, practice makes perfect!

Most important is to enjoy the taco and for that you could go to:

El Califa.  Altata 22, corner with Alfonso Reyes in Condesa. Tel. 5271 7666.  London prices but the ‘Gaonera’ is delicious, go for the simple ‘taco de bistec’ which is very good, this is a post-modern establishment with videos, music, fancy deco and exhorbitant prices.  If you are in the area, go and mix with the in crowd, with luck you might spot Gael Garcia Bernal or Diego Luna

Los Panchos -since 1945.  Tolstoi 9, Anzures between Leibinitz and Dante, round the corner from Camino Real Hotel Tel: 5254 2082.  This is a traditional place which is always busy and where you can eat standing up, go for the carnitas, which are yum.  This is great to watch working Mexicans at lunch.

El Rincon de la Lechuza -since 1971.  Located in Miguel Angel de Quevedo almost corner with Insurgentes Avenue, very near Coyoacan district.  Tel: 5661 0050.  My parents used to bring me here when I was little and yes it is a family place, take mum, dad, cousins, brothers, sisters and granny.  Visit on a Sunday for lunch so that you can watch the other families; the grilled meats are very nice and so it was the chicken soup.

El Charco de las Ranas, in Rio Mixcoac 209 Tel 5598 6597.  In the middle of nowhere touristy, yet slightly close to Condesa, this place is a must, their pastor tacos are generous and delicious. In fact all their tacos are very generous.  This is a sui-generis place with slides for the kids, noisy, full of families and it looks like Mc Donald’s goes to Disneyland, but forget all that and enjoy the food, which is not only delicious but generous with fantastic salsas.   Also drink the rice drink (horchata) which is a favourite.

El Tizoncito in Tamaulipas 122, Condesa.  Tel. 5286 7321.  A beloved place that is full of memories, when I used to visit with my friends, where they used to have an ad hoc ‘park in’: people would park all over the place and someone would come and take the order and serve us in the car.  In my university days are full of memories where we used to all eat crammed inside my VW Beetle, and the smell of coriander would linger for days in the car!!  Sadly nowadays this place is a chain with franchises, more of a ‘concept’ now and their tacos do taste formulaic, however it might be worth visiting because they are in Condesa, because they are cheap, and because that first bite of a hot taco al pastor with all the trimmings is a fantastic experience.. and also because to watch Mr. Taco Master at work is something worth watching.

*this guide was partly borrowed from Chilango magazine and also from my own experiences and memories… enjoy!

Courgette flower and wild mushroom quesadillas

If you are growing courgettes you will find fallen male courgette flowers by your plant most days.  Don’t put them in the compost, instead clean and place in a bag and put the bag in the freezer.  Once you have a decent supply, take out and wait for the flowers to defrost.

Saute one medium sliced onion in some oil for 5 minutes, add a finely chopped clove of garlic and continue sauteeing for 1 minute, stirring constantly, add a handful of roughly sliced wild mushrooms or any other mushroom, season with salt, pepper and a little dried thyme.  Leave to cook for 5 minutes and add the torn courgette flowers, petals and all, cook until the flowers wilt.

On a dried griddle, heat up a soft corn tortilla (for sale from Cool Chile Co), scoop a little of this mixture and a little grated gouda cheese on one half of the tortilla, fold in two and heat up on both sides until the cheese has melted.

Plate and add some salsa inside if you want and enjoy!

*This can be made with flour tortillas as well.