mardi 26 février 2008

Agua de Jamaica

México has many wonderful beverages to try. Instead of soft drinks try one of the many Aguas Frescas made with fresh fruit pulp, rice, seeds or nuts combined with water. These are thirst quenching and colourful drinks with a hint of sugar. Some of the most popular are Horchata, a traditional rice and almond drink, Agua de Tamarindo made with tamarind pods and Agua de Jamaica made from hibiscus flowers. The amount of sugar can be adjusted to taste.
Agua de Jamaica is similar in colour and taste to cranberry juice and is packed with vitamins. Double or triple the recipe to make a large pitcher as this is a very popular drink.

Jugo de Jamaica
250 mL (1 cup) Flor de Jamaica (hibiscus flowers)
1 L (4 cups) water
60 mL (1/4 cup) sugar (or to taste)
Rinse flowers under cold running water until the water runs clear. Place flowers in a large pot and add 750 mL (3 cups) water and sugar. Simmer for 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat, let cool and strain into a large bowl or pitcher; add 250 mL (1 cup) water. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Serve in a large glass over ice cubes.

lundi 18 février 2008

Ceviche de camarones

México is an inspiring place for anyone who loves to cook. A walk through the local market or even a supermarket will reveal an astounding variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices. The vibrant colours of red, green, yellow and orange dominate. Some amazing fruits and vegetables are hidden under rather unexciting exteriors.

Jícama is one such root vegetable. It has a tan coloured exterior that looks similar to turnip and a creamy white interior that has a crisp texture and fresh taste that is similar to apple. It is usually eaten raw in salads and salsas or on its own topped with salt, lime juice and powdered chile.

One interesting way to use jícama is in a seafood ceviche. The seafood “cooks” in citrus juice and the flavour is enhanced by a mixture of onion, chile peppers, tomato, jícama and herbs. There are many different combinations of vegetables and seafood possible for ceviche. This is the version that was served at Posada Tamarindo on Valentine’s Day.

Ceviche de camarones
Makes 6 appetizer portions

125 mL (½ cup) freshly squeezed lime juice
500 g (1 lb) medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
½ medium white onion, finely diced
80 mL (1/3 cup) fresh cilantro, chopped
2 roma tomatoes, diced
½ jalapeño, finely diced, to taste
15 mL (1 Tbsp) extra virgin olive oil
250 mL (1 cup) jícama, peeled and finely diced*
Salt, to taste
1 small ripe avocado

Place all ingredients except avocado in a bowl and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for several hours. Peel, pit and cube the avocado and mix into the ceviche just before serving. Spoon the ceviche into small interesting glasses or bowls.
Garnish with lime slices, finely diced or sliced jalapeño, cilantro and serve with tostadas or tortilla chips.

* Cucumber can be substituted if jícama is not available

dimanche 10 février 2008

Bistec Picado

As I prepare to head to México to celebrate my birthday, I am thinking about all the wonderful food that I will be sampling over the next couple of weeks. This is my 7th trip to México and there are still plenty of new things to try as well as old favourites to get reacquainted with. This time I will be staying at the lovely Posada Tamarindo in Merida where I will have access to the cocina and be able to cook. I am looking forward to visiting the local market to buy fresh ingredients and dried chiles that I cannot get at home. I will try out new recipes and probably buy new cookbooks in Spanish.

Hasta luego

This recipe is an easy to make old favourite that I usually serve with Mexican rice or over steamed plain rice. It can also be rolled up in warm tortillas. Adjust the heat of the dish to your taste by using different chiles or by adding more chopped chile.

Bistec Picado
Serves 6

800 g (13/4 lbs.) filet of beef, cut into (1½ x ¼”) strips
45 ml (3 Tbsp) vegetable oil
1 medium green pepper, cut in strips
1 small onion, chopped
1 güero chile, finely chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
1- 240 mL (8¼ oz) can stewed tomatoes
5 mL (1 tsp) Worcestershire sauce
5 mL (1 tsp) dried oregano
Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oil in large heavy skillet over high heat; add meat strips and cook until browned. Reduce heat and add green pepper, onion, chile and garlic. Cook until vegetables are limp. Add tomatoes, Worcestershire sauce, oregano, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 1 hour or until meat is tender.

dimanche 3 février 2008


It is hard to imagine now but the first time I ate pizza I did not like it. My friend’s mother made it as a weekend treat at her house. As a teenager, the pizza we made at home came from a Kraft pizza mix box (we didn’t care too much for the other brand) – a tin of tomato sauce, package of parmesan cheese, a pouch of dough mix (just add water) and the dried herb mix to top it all off. Even before I knew what it was I liked the fennel seed addition. When I had the chance, I would jazz up the pizza by adding ground beef. By this point my family had been fully indoctrinated into packaged foods and special enhancements from the “Kraft kitchen”.

Pizza in Italy was a revelation to me. As a student of architecture/project management in Toronto, I was surrounded by Italian classmates who had told me that pizza in Italy was not like the thick crusted, heavy cheese and pepperoni laden thing that passes for pizza in Canada. It was not until I went to Italy that I saw what pizza could and should be. A thin crust topped with fresh ingredients. My favourite is avocado and tomato topped with arugula. Margarita pizza is simplicity at its best – tomatoes, oregano and mozzarella - the colours of the Italian flag.

Mozzarella is an Italian semi-soft fresh cheese made from either cow’s milk or water buffalo milk (mozzarella di bufala). For my Canadian friends who are more familiar with the hard stringy, gooey mozzarella, please think of bocconcini instead of mozzarella.

I make my own pizza dough now using my food processor. This recipe yields enough lovely soft dough for 4 pizzas. For toppings – keep it simple, fresh and tasty.

Pizza Dough
Yields 4-20 cm (8") Pizzas

1 package (8g / 2-1/4 tsp) active-dry yeast
375 mL (1-1/2 cups) very warm water (45°C / 110°F)
560g - 1000 mL (4 cups) all-purpose flour; plus more for dusting
7.5mL (1-1/2 tsp) salt
30 mL (2 Tbsp) olive oil

Dissolve the yeast in warm water and set aside.
In the meantime, add flour and salt to a food processor fitted with the steel blade; process briefly to mix. With the machine running, add the water-yeast mixture in a steady stream. Turn food processor off and add oil pulsing a few times to mix.

Scrape soft dough out of food processor and onto a lightly floured surface. Knead dough into a ball incorporating any remaining bits of flour. Cut dough into 4 equal pieces and roll each into a tight, smooth ball, kneading to push the air out.

Place the dough on a floured surface, cover with a clean dishtowel and let double in size (about 45 min.). Preheat oven to 240°C (500°F). If possible, use a pizza baking stone preheated in the oven.

To use dough tomorrow:
Place dough balls on a baking sheet lined with a clean dishtowel, cover with plastic wrap leaving room to double in size. Place in refrigerator overnight. Remove from refrigerator 15 min. before using.

The dough can be frozen for up to one month by dusting them generously with flour as soon as they are made and place each one in a separate freezer bag. To use, thaw in refrigerator for 10-12 hours or at room temperature for 3 hours.

A few topping suggestions:
- Sliced tomatoes, mozzarella and fresh basil
- Prosciutto, olives, sliced tomatoes and mozzarella
- Pesto with toasted pine nuts and grated Parmesan
- Tomato, avocado and arugula – cook pizza with chopped tomatoes then add avocado and arugula when it comes out of the oven
- Caramelized onions, fresh sage or thyme leaves, grated pecorino and/or Parmesan cheese
- Seafood – a thin layer of tomato sauce topped with a mixture of clams, shrimp, mussels, squid, etc. If using frozen seafood, be sure to thaw and drain well otherwise the pizza will be soggy.