Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Chilli and spice

There are two truths in my life when it comes to Mexican food. The first is that I love it. The second is that I only have the haziest idea of how to cook it. So it was with quite a bit of excitement that I opened an invitation for an event from Discovery Foods and Benito's Hat for a Mexican food cook off.

The premise was simple. Ten food bloggers watch Benito's Hat head chef Felipe whizz up two delicious and doable Mexican dishes in half an hour. Then they are given free reign over ingredients to make their own dishes inspired by Mexican cuisine.

Watching Felipe cook, I was impressed by how down to earth he was. Unafraid to create new dishes with new flavours, he also stressed the importance of being able to compromise and work with what you have in the kitchen. 'After all, this is what they do in Mexico - the food varies from region to region, even family to family and, you often need to work with the food that is available'.

Now I don't know about you guys but I don't normally think Mexican and think salad, but that was what Felipe whipped up for the first course... A Mexican salad with Parmesan, jicama and lettuce - well worth reproducing at home. You can often get hold of the jicama in Chinese food shops. Yummy.

The second dish was one that I have particularly fond memories of: Shrimp Tacos. Made from just a handful of ingredients, they were fresh, zingy and perfect for bringing a taste of summer to the increasingly chilly and damp winter's nights.

With that, the demonstrations were over and it was time for us to go create. Spoilt for choice, we were presented with a huge work top of fresh ingredients such as sea bass, shrimps, avocados and chillies, not to mention the biggest array of Discovery products I had ever seen.

Inspired by the shrimp tacos and with a Rick Stein recipe from Baja California in mind I set about making Fish Tacos. They were quite similar to the shrimp tacos Felipe made, the main difference being that the fish was battered before it was fried and put in the taco. When I say battered, I don't mean a heavy oily creation, this was a simple batter with flour, bicarbonate of soda and water. Simple. add a bit of fresh salsa and soured cream and you're set.

When I looked along the tabletop of ingredients, I spied the hero of the second dish - a plantain and avocado salad with chipotle and red chilli dressing. I was quite proud of that one and rather won over by Discovery's chipotle paste - a handy substitute when fresh ones can be quite difficult to come by.

Of course, while I was busy being creative, so was everyone else - guacamole, enchiladas, black bean soup - tasting time was really rather good.

The winner was Nutmegs Seven with her delicious dishes - which together won her a Kitchenaid blender. Jealous? Me? No :p

And that was it. One evening, a whole lot of chillies and a date in the diary to go and visit Benito's Hat to see Ben and Felipe in action. Let's hope it's as good as it promises to be....