Todays cooking challenge comes from the book Mexican Food Made Simple by Thomasina Miers. This lady won Masterchef a few years ago and with both this cookbook and the restaurants she runs, she’s opened many peoples eyes to the fact that Mexican food isn’t all melted cheese and tacos. I’m not doing much to dispel this myth by cooking 2 recipes with a lot of cheese in them, but take my word for it, authentic Mexican food is a world away from the Tex-Mex you see everywhere! I brought this book after eating at Thomasinas restaurant Wahaca in Covent Garden, and the food was so good I knew the cookbook had to be mine. Having won Masterchef she could easily have gone down the route of pretentious, overpriced quenelles and confits, but instead she chose to champion Mexican tapas at reasonable prices, and for that I am very thankful. The salsa is light, zingy and fresh, as is the ceviche salad, and everything tastes wonderful, ranging from spicy, smoky, sour and sweet. And the margaritas mean serious business! Go there and experience a taste sensation, and some lightheadedness from the cocktails.
The first recipe I cooked were cheese and ham empanadas, which was to be found in the chapter ‘Cheesy Things’. Now I don’t know about you, but I truly believe the world would be a much happier place if every cookbook had a chapter called ‘Cheesy Things’. Surely if everyone was too busy cooking and eating cheesy things there would be peace and harmony across the land, you can’t be angry or sad when eating cheese especially if it’s melted. Or am I just overstating the importance of cheese? Empanadas by the way, are little puff pastry parcels filled with a spicy cheese and ham filling. I can confirm that they taste even better than they sound. They were just absolutely delicious, and as a hangover cure they are pretty unbeatable. Some of them did explode in the oven, leaving a gooey cheesy mess all over the baking tray, but the ones that remained intact looked so cute and dinky it was almost a shame to eat them. Almost. I urge you to make the empanadas, they are scrummy and the best thing I’ve cooked so far in this challenge. You need the recipe in your life!
The second thing I cooked was vanilla cheesecake from the same cookbook. If you’ve read my earlier blog entry about chicken fettucine, you’ll know that I am big fan of cheesecakes, particularly banana cream cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. This cheesecake was a little different and I must say I was a bit disappointed. I have a very fixed idea of what a cheesecake should be like, and while this one looked like a traditional cheesecake it really didn’t taste like one. The recipe called for 6 eggs, separated, and upon eating it became clear that this many eggs made it less cheesecake, more custard tart. Now I have absolutely nothing against custard tart, but when you’ve been expecting dense, cheesy cheesecake, a light and fluffy eggy tasting cake is a massive letdown. Thomasina does say that Mexican cheesecake is very different to normal cheesecake, but it really should have been called custard cake instead. It’s a real shame as there was a lot of cream cheese in there, and its a big bulky thing so needs to be eaten. I think this will be taken into work tomorrow to get other peoples opinions, but I will be upfront and say ‘expect custard’, I don’t want to lead them on! Ironically, while we were being disappointed by the custard cake, our friends in America posted a photo on Facebook of the best cheesecake in the world at The Factory which they were tucking in to. Thereby dooming this custard cake forever in our minds. The audacity!
The cookbook itself is great, the cheesecake is the only dud I’ve cooked from it, and if you want to see what real Mexican food is like then I highly recommend this book. While you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, the cover on this sums up the vibrancy and playfulness of the food on its pages and it also looks gorgeous. Or if you can’t be assed to cook Mexican food, get yourself down to Wahaca in London and give your tastebuds a workout!