Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Cantina Laredo

It was my sister's birthday today so in celebration we had dinner at Cantina Laredo on Upper St Martin's Lane.

Now I am a sucker for Mexican food. I love the mix and match appeal of Mexican, you can configure the food anyway you like it. As for nachos, as simple as they are, they are a divine trinity of taste for me. Now I'll hold my hands up and say that just because I like what passes for Mexican in the UK it doesn't mean I know a great deal about authenticity. Although it's not difficult to spot that Wahaca is a great deal better than Chiquito. (I would love to go to Mexico one day but there's part of me that thinks it would be inevitable that I'd never enjoy a "Mexican" in the UK again having had the real deal.)

Now Cantina offers "modern mexican" and it's certainly a world away from anything I've had before. When I got there I was already a margarita down and there were only the scraps of tortilla chips and salsa left. (Quite why they didn't have the nachos is beyond me).

For main I had the "camaron poblano asada":

Grilled carne asada steak wrapped around a fresh poblano pepper filled with sautéed tiger prawns, mushrooms, onions and monterey jack cheese. Served on a bed of chimichurri sauce and Mexican rice 

A steak wrapped around a stuffed pepper: mental. It was a pretty good steak and the pepper was stuffed full of prawns and cheese. Although it was sad waste of prawns as the cheese dominated everything. However, it was good enough for me to happily polish off and temporarily put my aversion to green peppers to one side.

Dessert, however, was something else. I had the biggest, fattest churros I've ever seen. Liberally doused in sugar and cinnamon, they came with orange cream and spiced chocolate sauce which were a perfect compliment. Since I've never been a fan of the orange-chocolate combo, that's really saying something. I don't think my family were quite so enamoured with their mexican apple pie or tequila lime cheesecake with avocado ice-cream. Mind you they were quite a few more margaritas to the good so the plates were sent back spotless anyway.

The service was faultless. The prices for the mains were in the £15-£30 bracket and were bit steep for what we got. I'd gladly go back to try out some other interesting things on the menu but I'd need a "wow" experience to go back again. A slightly reserved thumbs-up.

Cantina Laredo on Urbanspoon

Paternity cake: A challenge

Assume your best Mel (or Sue) voice and read on.

"Get ready bakers … "
"It’s time for the Show Stopper Challenge …"
"And today’s theme is  … "
"Paternity cake."

"It should not look like this …. "

"You’ve got between now and next week to wow us [without including dried fruit]"

"Do your worst."

And thus the gauntlet was thrown down. Seven days to produce a paternity cake that both tasted good and looked the part.

This cake was always going to be about a funky decoration (as well as taste; it's always about taste). I had an idea for the design that meant I needed an oblong cake. The size of the cake would be constrained by the size of my baking tin and the boxes I have to transport the cake to Banners.

Now, I'm not the best with fondant icing (or piping for that matter), so I had to find a way of getting the planned design on to the cake. Fortunately The Cake Shop in Banners has a machine that prints onto icing. Happy days!

All that was left was to make the cake. The father in question had already hinted that a lemon cake would go down well so that's what I went for. I made a typical 4888 sponge flavoured with lemon and baked three cakes in my 8.5"x10.5" tin. Turns out that's not quite enough cake batter. There were a couple of crispy edges and missing corners, but with some judicious rotation during the layering, I just about got away with it (well, nobody complained anyway).

The sponges were sandwiched with some home-made lemon curd and a mascapone-cream mix. I topped the lot off with lemon butter icing. Then managed to use white fondant to give a reasonable finish. Turns out kneading the fondant is the key; it makes it much more pliable and easier to roll out. Who knew?

I picked up the print this morning and it better than I could ever have hoped for. Every detail had come out. Amazing.


The cake went down exceedingly well. Notable comments included "Oh, I thought you bought it" and "why aren't you married?". I do wonder, sometimes, if my cakes are preferred to the efforts I put into my actual day-job...

The original design:

Three cakes in eight days, that's not too shabby.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Mexican chocolate birthday cake

Today was the day of the Mexican Six Nations Fiesta. Some friends needed an excuse to cook a massive batch of pork pibil and apparently England vs. France in the Six Nations and a 5-day early birthday bash was a good enough reason.

It was amazing. Nachos with great guacamole and fresh chilli con carne followed by delicious pork pibil with great rice and some orange marinated red onion - DELICIOUS!

My role in the event was to provide a birthday cake. Taking my cue from the mexican theme rather than the rugby I made a chocolate cake with ancho whipped cream taken from Mexican (Tausend. M and Williams, C., Simon & Schuster Source, pp100-101)

I've very mixed opinions about this cake. It's supposed to be made with Mexican chocolate which is very different to European chocolate in that it is flavoured with cinnamon (and sometimes almond). The cake also had vast quantities of almond and some ancho chillies.

The cake itself was dense and yet light. Although the flavour of the cinnamon and chilli didn't really come through. You could tell it was not a "pure" chocolate cake as there was a depth of flavour that seemed much longer than simply chocolate. (Although one of my friend picked up the cinnamon, so maybe it's just my cursed palette). Consequently I may have over-egged (or over-chillied) the cream icing (hence the slightly odd colour). The chilli in the cream did add a definite kick, but I'm not sure if I liked it or not.

Someone commented that a chocolate cake should just be left as a chocolate cake and I'm inclined to agree. I think the whole delight is to revel in the decadence and luxury of chocolate cake.

Anyhoo, it was all eaten with a good level of "mmmmmmmmmmmm" all round, so I can't complain too much. Here's the recipe if you want to give ti a go.

NB. I found the poblano chillies really difficult to get hold of and was forced to shop in evil Tesco.

Chocolate cake with Ancho whipped cream

3oz dark chocolate, grated
5.5oz ground almonds, toasted
1.5oz plain flour
3/4oz cocoa
2 ancho/poblano chillies, ground
4oz butter
8oz caster sugar
6 large eggs, separated
1tbsp Kahlua
1/4tsp almond extract
Pinch salt
For the whipped cream:
3floz double cream
1tsp chilli powder
10floz double cream
1tsp vanilla essence
3tbsp icing sugar

1. In a bowl mix together the chocolate, ground almonds, flour, cocoa and 1tbsp of the chilli.
2. In another bowl, cream the butter and 4oz of the sugar together. 
3. Add the egg yolks one at a time beating until smooth.
4. Add the Kahlua, almond extract and chocolate mix and beat until smooth.
5. In a clean bowl add the salt to the egg whites and whisk until frothy. Add the remaining sugar gradually and whisk until stiff.
6. Vigorously beat a third of the egg whites into the chocolate mix until combined. Then gently fold in the remaing egg whites.
7. Fill a greased 9" spring-form cake tin and bake at 180°C for 40mins (or until a skewer comes out clean from the middle).
8. Once baked allow to cool completely.
9. While the cake is cooling, make the ancho cream. Whisk 3floz of the cream and the chilli powder until combined. Add the remining cream, vanilla extract and icing sugar and whisk to soft peaks.
10. Once cold coat the cream with a thick layer of the cream. Top with grated chocolate.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Macaroni cheese-cake

As I may have mentioned, I have become slightly obsessed with the Readers Recipe Swap in the Cook supplement of the Saturday Guardian.

This week was macaroni. I was determined to come up with a sweet recipe. I was desperate to make a pun-tastic macaroni cheese-cake, but just couldn't devise a suitable recipe. Macaroni is just too big to deep-fry or caramelise (unlike vermicelli).
Consequently I've ended up with a cheesecake-trifle hybrid. I think it's a cold comfort pud. I've flavoured this with seasonal forced rhubarb. An alternative would be to make a chocolate custard, use bananas as the fruit and garnish with caramel.

Also, I must apologise for using Bird's custard powder. I didn't have the time (or eggs) to make real custard. Sorry.

Makes 4 individual portions


For the custard base:
100g macaroni
400ml milk
1tsp vanilla
2dsp caster sugar
1tbsp custard powder
For the cheese topping:
200g mascarpone
200ml double cream
1tsp vanilla extract
For the roast rhubarb topping:
400g rhubarb, cut into 2" batons
Juice of an orange
4tbsp demerara sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
For the crunchy garnish:
Breadcrumbs from a single slice of white bread
½oz butter
Ground ginger


1. First of all make the macaroni custard base. Put the macaroni, milk, 1dsp sugar and vanilla in a pan and gently bring to the boil. Put a lid on and reduce the heat to the lowest setting so that the surface of the milk is barely moving. Cook until the pasta is soft. (This took about 20min on my hob)
2. Meanwhile prepare the moulds. Line the outside of four 8cm chef’s rings with cling film.
3. Mix the remaining 1dsp of sugar and the custard powder in a bowl with a splash of milk to a smooth consistency.
5. Once the pasta is soft, sieve the milk into the custard mix. Whisk to combine and return to the pan. Put on a low heat until the custard starts to thicken (this should be pretty quick).
6. Once the custard has thickened add in the cooked macaroni and mix. Divide equally between the prepared moulds. Leave to set in the ‘fridge.
7. For the rhubarb, mix all the ingredients in a bowl. Transfer to a baking tray and bake at 180°C for about 10mins, or until just tender. Leave to cool.
8. For the topping, beat the mascarpone in a bowl until soft. In another bowl whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla to soft peaks. Combine the cheese and cream and gently mix with the juice from the rhubarb until combined.
9. For the garnish, melt the butter and then fry the breadcrumbs until they are golden. Drain on some kitchen paper and shake over as much ginger as you like.
10. Once the custard has set, remove the cling film and then plate. Fill the moulds with the cheese mix.
11. Remove the moulds (I use a quick waft of a blow torch). Lay the roasted rhubarb on top. Then sprinkle liberally with the toasted breadcrumbs.

Serve at room temperature.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Rhubarb cake

I realised that I haven't had any forced rhubarb this year at all. Quite ridiculous. Also it has been quite some time since I last took a cake in to work and people have been clamouring for some cake action.

Thus a cake was required to remedy both situation. [It was also because I wanted some roasted rhubarb to top my macaroni trifle and had a load leftover. Happy days!]

This went down pretty well a light vanilla sponge punctuated by bright pink strips of fruity tart rhubarb. The crumble topping was really much more gingery than I expected but in the context of the whole cake was OK. Putting half the rhubarb on the top (before the crumble) certainly helps to distribute the fruit better. I think that how to prevent sinking fruit may be one of life's eternal mysteries.

P.S. It was with some irony that having popped out this rhubarb slice at work today, one of the principle cake "demanders" was missing. Oh, well.

Recipe for Rhubarb Slice (taken from Sainsbury's)

300g rhubarb
Juice of ½ a lemon
6oz plain flour
6oz butter
6oz caster sugar
3 eggs
2tsp vanilla extract
1tsp baking powder
For the topping:
25g butter
2tbsp plain flour
1/2tsp baking powder
1tbsp caster sugar
2tsp ground ginger

1.Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease a 23cm square cake tin and line with baking parchment.
2.Trim the rhubarb and chop into 3cm pieces. Place in a bowl with the lemon juice.
3. In a separate bowl, beat together the flour, baking powder, butter, sugar, eggs and vanilla extract.
4. Fold in half the rhubarb and spoon the mixture into the bottom of the tin, spreading it out with a spatula. Scatter over the remaining rhubarb.
5.For the topping, rub the butter into the flour, then stir in the sugar and ginger. Sprinkle over the cake mixture
6. Bake for 40-50 minutes. Leave to cool for 10 minutes, then remove from the tin and cut into slices.

Sunday, 17 February 2013


It would seem I've not been up to much lately. However, there are a few irons in the fire:
  • I've become slightly obsessed with submitting recipes to the Guardian's Cook supplement every week. No recipe yesterday, but a name-check in the lead paragraph is still pretty good...isn't it?
    I was even more disappointed, however, not to be able to try out Mark Edwards' 10-day salt beef recipe...
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2013/feb/16/readers-recipe-swap-pink. I think my chances are best when there's a slightly unusual spin to the subject e.g. savoury crumbles. This week is sweet and savoury macaroni, guess what I'm working on...
  • Recently most of my trips out and about have been for some kind of event with food tucked in somewhere so I've not been to any destination restaurants for awhile. Having said that I did go to The Place, whilst in Tunbridge Wells to go curling a couple of weekends ago. It's a lovely local restaurant, serving good honest family food done well; the sort of place you could happily go time and time again.
  • I'm working on a chocolate chilli cake for a Mexican Six Nations gathering next week.
  • A (very) belated haggis for supper today has meant that I will now be trying to find recipes for left over haggis and swede for the rest of the week.
  • Pancake day was pretty good as I tried to convince a "lemon and sugar" stalwart that savoury and different sweet pancakes are viable options. Forgot to take my camera though, so not a great deal to report other than that I think I succeeded!
  • Ages ago I "qualified" as a Love Food Hate Waste trained volunteer, but I haven't had a chance to get involved yet.

Unfortunately that is all. I will try to be more interesting.
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