Last week I obsessed over a menu more than I thought possible. We took the bold step of deciding to entertain other parents from son1's school. Lovely people, but people we have always felt were a lot more grown up than us, and who we might not be able to parade our full range of offensive humour in front of.
I was particularly worried about husband's ability to remain just the right side of horrendously drunk, a skill he has often lacked in the past. Most notably demonstrated on the occasion he went up to check on son2 in the middle of a dinner party, only to be found an hour later asleep underneath his cot.
I blame the beer enhanced with shots of whisky.
So in these times of social uncertainty I decided against anything too taxing on the cooking front. I felt I needed the comforting reassurance of a menu I could do mostly in advance, in between the pressures of completing son1's half term project. (Can we just say that the menu was more successful than the replica Tudor House we battled with). I went with Mexican food. EVERYONE likes Mexican food.
This was the menu I went with:
Slow cooked chilli
Tomato and chilli salsa
Spiced potato wedges
Alongside nachos, tortilla wraps, sour cream and Lancashire cheese
I have been perfecting my chilli for many years now and firmly believe that slow cooking beef shin makes for a far superior chilli to mince. Due to my obsessive nature when it comes to food, I have read possibly hundreds of recipes for the 'best ever chilli', the majority of them American.
Obviously the US has a far greater affinity with Mexican food, and they seemingly have a whole world of authentic ingredients available in their local supermarkets, which we simply don't get. I decided to order my ingredients online, and chose http://www.mexicangrocer.co.uk/ . I ordered the 'Dried chipotle chillies', Dried ancho chillies' and 'Dried Mexican oregano'. Unfortunately they still haven't turned up, 1 week after initially ordering and 3 days after the meal itself. So I was forced to use the ingredients available to me at my local Sainsbury's. Below is my recipe, with a few notes:
Slow cooked beef chilli
Pork fat (my butcher gives me this for free, just ask)
2 onions, chopped
5 cloves garlic
1kg beef shin, cut into large chunks
1 teaspoon ground cinammon
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon chipotle paste (Discovery brand)
1 tin plum tomatoes (whizzed up with a handblender)
2 red chillis (whizzed up with the tomatoes)
2 cubes of beef stock and 1 tablespoon of instant coffee, diluted in 750ml hot water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
salt and pepper
3 squares of plain chocolate
Render down the pork fat and use it to cook the onion and garlic until softened
Add the beef shin, spices and chipotle paste and brown all over
Add the remaining ingredients, minus the chocolate, bring to a simmer then cook on a very low heat for approx 6 hours.
After 6 hours the meat should shred if you give it a prod, so give the whole dish a good poking, until you have a pot of lovely shredded beef.
Add the chocolate and stir it in well.
The most important thing is to cook it the day before you intend to eat it as it tastes approximately 12 times better a day or two after it has been cooked. This is science.
So my chilli had been cooked on friday afternoon/evening, infusing the house with a fabulous smell. Unfortunately it smelt so nice that my husband and I were hugely disappointed with the smoked salmon fishcakes we were eating that evening. We sat forlornly picking at the fishcakes as lovely beefy smells trailed seductively through the house. .
Also done ahead of time were stages 1 and 2 of my refried beans. Thursday evening had me soaking an entire bag of black beans and on friday I boiled them up, in a big pot with plenty of water, half an onion and another chunk of the pork fat thrown in for good measure.
I had also decided to prepare a cocktail for my guests. My aunt had visited from Cyprus and brought me two of the biggest, most aromatic lemons I have ever seen, picked days before from her garden. I have never smelt lemons like them. So I decided on a grown-up lemonade.
I made a sugar syrup on friday, basically just 200g or so of caster sugar, 500ml of water and the zest of one lemon and a couple of limes. Bring it to the boil and stir to dissolve the sugar then turn off the heat and leave to steep for half an hour, then sieve into a tupperware and refrigerate until needed.
On saturday afternoon I juiced the 2 massive lemons and 6 limes and added it to the syrup then made up the cocktail as follows:
1 part syrup
1 part rum
2 parts soda water
Plenty of slices of lemon and lime
Few sprigs of mint
Lots of ice
So Saturday morning rolled around and I was fretting most about my guacamole. I had spent the previous few days doing my utmost to ensure my avocadoes reached optimum ripeness for my guacamole. This involved a significant amount of avocado assessment, basically gently squeezing the little sods every few hours, and trying to determine whether they were best in the fridge (to slow down the ripening), on the window sill (to speed up the ripening), or on the sill, surrounded by bananas (to turbo-charge the ripening process). At one stage I had them split up in all 3 locations. I vaguely considered setting up a webcam to keep an eye on them while I took the kids to the park, but quickly realised it would be madness. I mean who can judge an avocadoes ripeness by sight alone? No, I would also need a squeezing device that could provide up to the minute assessment of their current firmness. I would also need to invent a scale of firmness to receive my updates in and make sure my squeezing device was correctly calibrated. I realised I just didn't have the resources. I blame this lack of commitment for the fact that only 5 of my 6 avocadoes reached the required standard by saturday morning, the 6th I am eating as I type. It's still not quite right.
Here is the recipe for the guacamole I eventually made:
Half a bunch of spring onions
Half a jar of red jalapenos
large handful coriander
2 tomatoes, de-seeded
1 clove garlic
Juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper
Put all the ingredients except the avocadoes in a food processor and blitz to a paste
Add avocadoes and blend to required consistency (I like mine quite smooth)
So now I turned my attention to the salsa, as it really needs a few hours for the flavours to meld. I reckon I must be a masochist, because I resolutely refuse to do salsa in a food processor, and also refuse to allow anything other than the finest dice make it into the finished product. It does mean a lot of chopping, but if you are anything like me you will appreciate the finished result.
8 ripe tomatoes
1 red onion
3 red chillis
Large handful coriander
1 teaspoon caster sugar
juice 1 lime
salt and pepper
Basically cut the whole lot up, really small. Err, that's it.
So the final task was the refried beans ( I'm not going to insult your intelligence by including a recipe for potato wedges, I put cayenne, oregano, salt and pepper on mine), my holy grail of which is the Wahaca version. Apparently their version uses about 3 ingredients and still tastes amazing, I have tried following their recipe before and utterly failed to replicate the deliciousness at home. I reckon they are LYING about the recipe so that we cannot achieve it at home and consequently are forced to return again and again to eat bowls of the stuff. The crafty so-and so's.
Here is the recipe I finally cobbled together from my extensive research:
Big knob of butter
2 cloves garlic
2 sticks celery
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
Approx 800g cooked black beans
Salt and pepper
Render the pork fat and add the butter, meanwhile blitz the onion, garlic and celery in a food processor.
Add the mix to the pan and cook until softened.
Add the smoked paprika and black beans and cook down for about 30 mins, smashing the beans as you stir and topping up with water if it dries out too much.
Season to taste
The beans got a lot of compliments, so don't mess with this recipe too much, it rules. In fact the beans were the favourite I think, after the custard tart that my husband made, which is typical. He cooks one dish for every 12 I do, and steals the bloody show. If you are interested in his custard tart then I suggest you bugger off. (Or follow Marcus Wareings recipe, but add vanilla to the custard mix)
Anyway, the evening was a success. I mean I swore too much, but that's par for the course. Nobody got horribly drunk and everyone enjoyed the food. Even better there were some leftovers. I have used the leftover salsa to make breakfast burritos (scrambled eggs, sourcream and salsa in a tortilla wrap, hangover food of champions), leftover wedges and chilli had baked beans added to make son1's dinner, the leftover guacamole was eaten with nachos in front of the telly on monday evening and the refried beans are going into quesadillas tonight. Thrifty huh?