Mexican Feasting

I went to Mexico in April, and, ever since then, have become completely and utterly enraptured by all things Mexican. So much so that I am planning on writing my final year dissertation on Mexican art during the revolution, and have also bought a teach yourself Spanish book- which, I must confess, remains unopened!

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Mexican culture (and food!) is all about colour and flavour! Bright colours of fresh peppers and avocados, paired with the spicey flavours of cumin and chillis are what make it just so unique and delicious- mexican food has always been one of my favourites!
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This summer the Royal Academy, in London’s beautiful Burlington House, is holding an exhibition entitled ‘Mexico: A Revolution in Art,’ which highlights work from Mexican artists during the unstable years of 1910- 1940. (Take a look! http://www.royalacademy.org.uk/exhibitions/mexico/ )
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The vivacity and life of Mexican culture has always inspired me, and indeed countless others, and this summer, I am unleashing my inner Mexican! (Well, I am going to eat a lot of Mexican food…) Starting with this feast!
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Now, I am vegetarian (okay, okay, so that’s not THAT mexican…) But being veggie doesn’t mean you can’t eat good food. (You know what really get’s my goat cheese- on the plane, if you book a vegetarian meal, you never get a chocolate pudding! The meaties always get pud! Why is this a thing? Just because you are veg doesn’t mean you are boring!)

Trust me- it really doesn’t. Plus, eating vegetarian food can make you feel really good. No no, I don’t mean about saving animals (necessarily) but just healthier, happier, wholesome-r. You know?

These black bean tacos served with homemade salsa, fresh guacamole and crumbly feta are the perfect summer weekend feast. Enjoy with a cold cerveza (or margherita- whatever floats your boat!) and good company.
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For the tacos:
125g flour
60g cornmeal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg
1 1/2 cups water

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix well.
Heat up a griddle or frying pan with a little bit of olive oil.
Ladle in some mixture for the desired size of your taco, and fry for a few minutes- until the top is dried. Flip it over and cook the other side (sort of like pancakes!)
These can easily be reheated in the oven when you are ready for them.
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For the black beans:
1 onion
black beans (these can be bought in a tin- one tin will serve about 3 people)
a couple of cloves or garlic
2 teaspoons cumin
thyme
bay leaves
coriander
lime juice

Dice the onion and fry it with a little olive oil. Once they are soft and slightly golden, add the garlic, finely diced. Add the cumin and let it cook down for a moment. Add the beans.
Put in a few sprigs of thyme, a few of coriander and a couple of bay leaves.
Season with plenty of salt and pepper.
Cook for about ten minutes, until the mixture has thickened. Squeeze in the juice of half a lime.

For the salsa:
2 tomatoes, finely diced
1 red pepper, finely diced
1 red onion, finely diced
3 mild chillies, finely chopped
a bunch of coriander, finely chopped
salt
juice of half a lime
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Combine all the ingredients, adding extra lime juice, salt and chillies to taste.

To serve- place a dollop of beans on a warm taco, pile some salsa on the top, followed by slices of avocado and crumbled feta.
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xxR

Light Summer Lunches: Goats Cheese and Red Onion Toasts

What is the best thing about summer?
I am really struggling to answer this question! I have been working in London and away in Barcelona up until now, so I haven’t really had a chance to just relax and enjoy summer in the countryside!
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And I don’t know what I’m looking forward to most!
Is it the weather? The hot, humid, sunny days that make me want to just throw on a bikini and run, screaming, into the sea?
Is it the carefree attitude that everyone seems to suddenly adopt as soon as the first rays of sun break through? What is it about the summer that means we have no commitments, no time frames to stick to, to deadlines, no schedules? I don’t know. But it’s awesome.
Is it the long, leisurely bicycle rides through the fields and down to the beach?
Is it the chance to finally do everything I have been putting off doing all year? I will definitely read that in the summer, I am going to teach myself Spanish this summer, this summer I’ll go see that play, visit that person, organise myself… How easy it is to say those things in March!
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No, I think the best thing about the summer is the nothingness of it all. It is the only time it is perfectly acceptable to just lie around in the sun and do nothing, all day. The best thing is- it doesn’t even feel like nothing at all! That is what summer is made for.
And the best way to bask in this nothingness, is with a light, easy, simple and delicious lunch, that takes minutes to make and hours to eat.
Goats Cheese and Caramelised Red Onion Toasts
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This is a perfect summer lunch- light enough that it won’t bog you down, easy enough to whip up in an instant and delicious enough to impress any unexpected guest.
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Begin by chopping up one red onion into thin slices (one onion will easily feed four people, or two more hungry ones!) Fry it with a drizzle of olive oil until it is soft, then add a teaspoon of brown sugar and a teaspoon of balsamic vinegar. Continue frying until it is very soft, slightly brown in colour and has absorbed all the sugar and vinegar.
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This may take a while, so in the meantime, cut some slices of your favourite bread. I used sourdough, but a baguette or any other artisan loaf will be just as good. Toast it under the grill, until it is golden brown in colour. Flip it over and toast the other side. Keep an eye on it, as it has a tendency to burn, especially if your grill is very hot.
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Once it has been toasted, cut chunks of goats cheese and place on the bread. Put it back under the grill for a moment to melt the cheese, then pile high with the onions and enjoy with a large helping of sunshine and nothingness!
xxR

Redcurrant and Raspberry Tart

Berry overload. In my garden we have more berry bushes than we can possibly know what to do with. And fruit trees. We are up to our eyeballs in plums and apples, which are falling off the trees faster than we can pick them up. So summer is tart season. Plum tart, apple tart, pear, raspberry and blackberry tart, strawberry, cherry, redcurrant…
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Which is perfect.
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Because tarts are the best. (Especially in a heatwave.)
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They are also absurdly easy to make, and can be filled with just about any fruit, so there really is no excuse not to get pickin’ (off the supermarket shelves, perhaps, if this is more your style!)
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Redcurrant and Raspberry Tart

For the pastry:
4 ounces plain flour
2 ounces butter
1 ounce caster sugar
a splash of cold water

Begin as if you are making a crumble. (Keeping it vague!) – Rub the butter and flour together until they resemble fine bread crumbs. You can use a food processor if you want (this is by far quicker, just wazz them together for about 30 seconds and you’ll be there!) But I much prefer to use my hands (its more fun, and it feels so nice!) It’s okay for it to be a bit lumpy- and you have to work fairly quickly because with pastry the whole game is keeping it as cool as possible. (I’m starting to wonder why I’m recommending pastry as the ultimate heat wave treat…)
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Once you have a fine bread crumby or sandy texture, stir in the sugar.
Then start incorporating the water. You’ll want to go slowly at first- because too much will turn your pastry into a gooey sticky disgusting mess (trust me, it happens.) So start off with about a tablespoon full of very cold water. Sprinkle it all over and start bringing it together into a sort of dough. You can do this with a wooden spoon or your fingers. Add more water if necessary. Once it has all come together into a ball wrap it in cling film and let it rest in the fridge for about half an hour.
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Once the pastry is rested, it is ready to roll out- place it on a lightly floured surface and roll out to about a 1/4 inch thickness.
Transfer it to a pie tin and prepare your berries.
I used redcurrants and raspberries, but really any berry is delicious in a tart. Mix with 2-3 tablespoons of caster sugar (the currants were VERY tart, so I had to go quite heavy on the sugar, but this is completely a question of personal preference.)
Brush the base of the tart with egg yolk and sprinkle with cornflour or semolina. This will stop it going soggy with the juice (and saves you baking it blind!)
Pour the berries into the pastry and roughly fold the pastry around the edges- it can be very rough- we are going for rustic here!
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Bake at 180 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the pastry is crisp and golden.
Serve with a dollop of yoghurt and teaspoon of brown sugar, or enjoy all on its own!
xxR

July Nights Barbeque Pizza

July is, without a doubt, my favourite month. The days are long, the nights are hot, the air is sticky with humidty and pizzas are cooking on the BBQ. Summer is so carefree and tasty that it deserves to be accompanied by carefree, tasty food. Barbeque Pizzas are seriously good. Like, seriously. They might sound kind of off the wall- but trust me, you have to try them.
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Now, I know barbeques are generally associated with burgers and sausages and that kinda thing, but (a) i’m veggie, so I have no time for that sort of nonsense and (b) once you have tried your first bite of barbeque pizza, you will never look back.
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These pizzas, as with any, can be topped with whatever ingredients you like. My favourites are mushrooms (of course), caramelised onions (classic), aubergine (grilled on the BBQ too!), potato (they do this in Rome, it is weirdly good), and then peppers, mozzarella, goats cheese, tomatoes blah blah blah.
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So, for fear of repeating myself, you just HAVE to try these.
BBQ Pizzas
for the dough: (this will make enough for about 4 people)
12 ounces plain flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons easy blend yeast
1 teaspoon caster sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
5-6 tablespoons cornmeal to roll out and dust
Sift the flour, salt, yeast and sugar into a bowl and make a well in the centre of the mixture. Add the olive oil and 240 ml of hand-hot water.
Mix to a dough, starting with a wooden spoon and then using your hands, until it has all come together.
Transfer it to a flat surface and knead for about 3-5 minutes, or until it has become springy.
Put it back in the bowl, cover with clingfilm that has been slightly oiled and leave it to rise until it has doubled in size. This should take about an hour at room temperature.
Tip the dough out onto a surface that has been covered with cornmeal and knock all the air out. Knead it for a few seconds to bring it into a ball, then you are ready to start pizza-ing!
Stretch the dough out into roughly round bases. I tend to this by hand because I think it is just too frustrating with a rolling pin! But it is up to you.
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Brush one side with olive oil, and put that side on the grill. Keep an eye on it, because they are prone to burning if the barbeque is too hot, however, a little bit of burnt is a good thing- adds to the flavour! Once it is cooked to a nice brownish colour, take it off and put it to one side. Do this until you have used all your dough and have a nice stack of bases.
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Once the bases are all cooked, you are ready to start topping. Brush the side that hasn’t yet been cooked (that hasn’t touched the barbie) with plenty of olive oil. This will be the underneath. The side that you cooked previously will be the top, so load it up with your favourite pizza toppings. Place the pizza oily side down on the barbeque, and let it cook until the bottom is brown and crispy and the cheese is adequately melty. Again, repeat this with each base until you have an array of pizzas.
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Enjoy!
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xxR

Strawberry Themed Birthday Cakes

It is my 20th birthday today. Crazy, I know. What is arguably even crazier is that it is my sister’s birthday too. On the same day. Now that IS crazy. She is turning 13 today, so as I wave goodbye to my teenage years, she is welcoming hers. I used to think sharing a birthday was much less great than it sounds- it just means less attention and arguments over what sort of cake to have and where to go for dinner. (She ‘only likes’ chocolate cake, while I am far more keen on the vanilla-y sort.) But now I think its wonderful. July 6 in our house is sort of like Christmas. Also we look weirdly similar- twins, but seven years apart.

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Last weekend she had a huge campout birthday to celebrate- Phoebe Fest. Tents were erected around our garden, bunting was hung, the BBQ blazed and marshmallows toasted.

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And the theme of the night was definitely strawberries. In America, my mum always used to make delicious chocolate cakes with whipped cream and berries on top, so I followed in that tradition. I made a rich dense Devil’s Food Cake, and piled it high with strawberries, blueberries and plenty of cream. There were also pink cupcakes topped with more strawberries. And just when we thought we couldn’t eat another mouthful of strawberry, one of the guests arrived with another huge strawberry chocolate sugary delight.

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There was Pimm’s, of course, but not for the 13 year olds!

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Devil’s Food Cake (recipe adapted from Nigella and can be found here)

50 grams cocoa powder

100 grams brown muscavado sugar

250 ml boiling water

125 grams butter

150 grams caster sugar

225 grams plain flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 eggs

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Put the cocoa powder and muscavado sugar into a bowl and pour in the boiling water., Mix to combine, then set aside.

In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar, until pale fluffy. Then add the vanilla and mix well. Once this is finished, mix the flour, baking powder and soda together in a separate bowl and set aside.

Mixing all the time, drop in one egg, a scoopful of the flour mixture, and then the second egg. Keep mixing constantly, and add the remaining flour.

Finally, fold in the cocoa mixture.

Spoon into a cake tin and bake for 30 minutes in a 180 degree oven.

For the topping:

Whisk a pot of double cream until it forms into firm, stiff peaks. Sift in a few spoons of icing sugar (to taste- you don’t want it too too sweet!) Spoon this onto the top of the cake and cover with strawberries and blueberries.

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For the pink cupcakes:

170 grams butter

170 grams caster sugar

3 eggs

170 grams self raising flour

100 ml milk

1 teaspoon of vanilla

a few drops of pink food colouring (or even fewer drops of red!)

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Cream together butter and sugar. Add eggs and mix well.

Sift in the self raising flour, ensuring that it is all mixed in.

Add the milk, vanilla and food colouring, making sure that each ingredient is thoroughly combined.

Spoon into baking trays and bake at 180 degrees for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean.

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For the icing:

140 grams butter

280 grams icing sugar

a few teaspoons of milk

Mix the butter and icing sugar together, then add milk to soften the mixture and bring it to a soft and usable consistency.

Spread a dollop of icing onto each cupcake and top with half a strawberry. This can be messy! We are definitely going for the rustic look here!

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xxR