Sunday, May 23, 2010

Rambles: Stanton St. Johns/The TalkHouse

What to do to celebrate the first truly hot day in Oxford? Why, take a 10 mile hike of course! With crystal blue skies, we headed out of Oxford and up through Headington to the small village of Stanton St. John's, known for its...well, its....well, for the fact that it's a small cute town within walking distance of Oxford. It has a Norman Church. It has pretty thatched roofs. It has two pubs. Next door to one another. Need I say more?
The one we chose was the TalkHouse which according to its website had been recently redone and was now serving the gastro-pub crowd.
The customers looked mostly local to us but the service was friendly and the food good. They offered an extensive menu of all standard pub favorites but they sold me on the various nibbles and "country board" options. Put any variety of snacks/tapas on a wooden plank and I'm happy. Don't make me choose one main meal, I'd rather have about 10 different appetizers any day. We invested in the parma ham, bread basket, calamari, and "veggie" country board. All of which was good except for the calamari which seemed to resemble nothing so much as very thin very pointless onion rings. There was barely a hint of squid to be seen. Not that I would complain against anything battered and deep fried (see previous posts), but I at least wanted a hint of the delicious squid in there somewhere.
Beers on offer were fairly standard, I went my usual route of a Bulmers Pear, always delicious, particularly on a hot late spring day.
Dessert was an off-season sticky toffee pudding. Not the right choice for an 80 degree day but delicious nonetheless, served with vanilla bean ice cream and some sort of pistachio wafer.

The pub itself is rustic gastro, with exposed beams and amusing old brass spigots hanging from the walls. The place inside is cavernous but there is a lovely garden patio which is perfect for spring and summer lunching.

The walk from the middle of Oxford should take about an hour and a half, depending on speed. You have to walk through a bit of town and negotiate the bypass to get through to the lovely Oxford countryside.

View Walk to Stanton St. John's in a larger map

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Mexico City-Style Quesadillas (Empanadas) with Cheese and Chile or Mushrooms

I have an intense fear of frying. Don't get me wrong, I love eating the result, but the process itself is a bit daunting. I'm still nursing oil scars from the last time I attempted to manipulate hot liquids. Anyway, scars were worth this particular venture, another Rick Bayless-inspired Mexican banquet. I used masa harina purchased from my local Whole Foods (local being London) and it worked perfectly in the recipe. The key is the baking powder, it makes the masa fluff up when cooking in the oil.

Don't feel you have to keep these two versions separate either. Mix the mushrooms with the cheese, put in more peppers, less, whatever strikes your fancy. I also added in some minced turkey meat with seasoning to satisfy the carnivores in my crew. They all worked perfectly. Because, honestly, what isn't good fried?

Now this recipe, which is adapted from Rick Bayless' old tv show, Mexico-One Plate at Time,  is often called "Mexico City Quesadillas".
To me, they're empanadas, basically due to the fact that you deep fry them in oil. Mmmmm. Oil. Regardless, they're delicious and really, who's to quibble with names?

Makes 12 turnovers/empanadas/quesadillas/whatever


1 pound fresh-ground corn masa,
OR 1 1/4 cups powdered masa harina mixed with 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot tap water
2 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening
1/4 cup flour (use 1/3 cup if working with powdered masa harina)
A generous 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 scant teaspoon baking powder

Cheese Filling (See Note)
10 ounces (about 2 1/2 cups) grated melting cheese like Monterey or a mild cheddar
1 large fresh poblano chile, roasted, peeled and cut into strips

Mushroom Filling (See Note)
12 ounces mushrooms, rinsed or wiped clean (I used dried porcini mushrooms, after soaking them in warm water for about half an hour- absolutely delicious)
1 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil
1/2 medium white onion, finely chopped
2 fresh serrano chiles (or 1 jalapeno), stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh epazote (optional)

Vegetable oil to a depth of 1-inch

Note: One recipe of either the cheese filling or the mushroom filling will be enough to fill all 12 turnovers. If you make both fillings, you'll need to double the dough recipe for 24 turnovers.


1. The dough. In a large bowl, thoroughly mix the masa (fresh or reconstituted) with the lard or shortening, flour, salt and baking powder. Work in a little water, if needed, to give the dough the consistency of soft cookie dough. Divide into 12 balls and cover with plastic wrap.

2. The fillings. If you are using the cheese, divide it into 12 portions and press each portion into a flat oval about 2 x 2 1/2 inches. Set them aside with the strips of chile.

If working with mushroom, pulse them in a food processor until quite finely chopped. Heat the lard or oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring regularly until all the liquid has evaporated. Add the onion, chile and epazote, and cook, stirring frequently, several minutes more, until the onions are soft. Scrape into a bowl. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon.

3. Form the molotes. Using a tortilla press, flatten a ball of the dough between sheets of plastic to make a medium-large (5-inch) thickish tortilla. Remove the top piece of plastic. Lay a portion of your chosen filling across half of the uncovered tortilla, making sure to leave a 1/2-inch border around the edge. If the filling is cheese, top with a strip of poblano. Slip a hand under the plastic beneath the uncovered side of the tortilla, then carefully fold the tortilla over the filling. Press the edges together to seal.

Peel the plastic off the turnover and lay on a tray covered with plastic wrap. Continue making the remaining masa balls into turnovers. Cover with plastic wrap.

4. Fry the turnovers. Heat the oil to 375 degrees, then fry the turnovers 2 or 3 at a time, until browned, about 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a low oven until all are ready. Serve right away.

Quinoa Salad with Lime Ginger Dressing and Shrimp

Another slight adaptation from the New York Times "Recipes for Health" section. This salad is delicious for warm summer nights. I loved the shrimp in it, but I recommend marinating them a bit first just to add some kick to them.

I put them in a little lime juice, mexican salt, cayenne and let them sit for a few hours before tossing them into the salad.

This salad is so basic you could add whatever else you want to it, I thought of tomatoes, corn, olives just as ideas.

For the dressing:
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon seasoned rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger (more to taste)
1 small garlic clove, minced
Salt to taste
Pinch of cayenne
2 teaspoons Asian sesame oil or walnut oil
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tablespoons buttermilk

For the salad:
3 cups (3/4 cup uncooked) (see cooking instructions for quinoa below)
4 scallions, white and light green parts, sliced thin
1 small cucumber, halved, seeded and thinly sliced on the diagonal
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
12 to 16 cooked medium shrimp, peeled


1. In a small bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the lime juice, rice wine vinegar, ginger, garlic, salt, cayenne, sesame oil, canola oil, and buttermilk.
2. In a salad bowl, combine the quinoa, scallions, cucumber, and cilantro. Toss with the dressing and divide among salad plates. Top each portion with 3 or 4 shrimp, and serve.

Yield: Serves 4
Advance preparation: The cooked quinoa will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator. You can make the dressing and prep the ingredients for the salad a few hours ahead

Basic Steamed Quinoa:
Many recipes for quinoa suggest cooking it like rice, in two parts water for one part quinoa. This works, but I find the grains are fluffier if I cook them in three parts water and drain the excess water once the quinoa is tender. The tiny seeds swell to about four times their original size, so 1 cup uncooked quinoa yields about 4 cups, enough for 6 to 8 servings.

1 cup quinoa

3 cups water, chicken stock or vegetable stock

1/2 teaspoon salt (more to taste)

1. Place the quinoa in a strainer and rinse until the water runs clear.
2. Bring the water or stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the salt and the quinoa. Bring back to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer 15 minutes, or until the quinoa is tender and translucent, and each grain displays a little thread. Drain and return to the pan. Cover the pan with a clean dish towel, replace the lid and allow to sit undisturbed for 10 minutes. Fluff and serve.

Fried Chickpeas/Hominy with Chorizo and Spinach

This recipe is adapted from the master of simplicity himself, Mark Bittman. It's a great crowd pleaser.

I had a few cans of hominy left over from previous posole recipes and was trying to find a way to incorporate them into a non-soup dish. This is the perfect answer. Canned hominy is about the same shape/consistency as chickpeas and holds the flavor of the chorizo and sherry just as well.

The bread crumbs are a bit much though, feel free to decrease the amount or neglect them altogether.

Makes: technically 4 servings, but this usually is gobbled down between two people

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling

2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, as dry as possible
Salt and black pepper
4 ounces chorizo, diced
1/2 pound spinach, roughly chopped
1/4 cup sherry
1 to 2 cups bread crumbs.


1. Heat the broiler.

2. Put three tablespoons of the oil in a skillet large enough to hold chickpeas in one layer over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add chickpeas and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until chickpeas begin to brown, about 10 minutes, then add chorizo. Continue cooking for another 5 to 8 minutes or until chickpeas are crisp; use a slotted spoon to remove chickpeas and chorizo from pan and set aside.

4. Add the remainder of the 1/4 cup of oil to the pan; when it’s hot, add spinach and sherry, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook spinach over medium-low heat until very soft and the liquid has evaporated. Add chickpeas and chorizo back to the pan and toss quickly to combine; top with bread crumbs, drizzle with a bit more oil and run pan under the broiler to lightly brown the top. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Chocolate Truffles with Anejo Tequila and Chipotle

Oh, Rick Bayless. Master of Mexican food. I mean, honestly, why wouldn't you combine chocolate, tequila and chili? All good things combined to make one amazing dessert.

Oh yes. Amazing.


12 ounces 60% dark chocolate, roughly chopped

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder

3 tablespoons anejo tequila or creme de mezcal

1/4 cup sifted cocoa powder for coating the truffles

1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder for coating the truffles


Place a medium saucepan filled with about 1 inch of water over low heat. Bring the water to a simmer.

Scoop the chopped chocolate into a heat resistant bowl which will fit in the saucepan without touching the water.
In a separate small saucepan, heat the heavy cream to a simmer. Pour the cream over the chopped chocolate, let sit for 1 minute, then stir.
Place the bowl onto the pan with simmering water and continue stirring until almost all of the chocolate has melted, about 2 minutes. Remove the bowl from the heat and add the tequila and the chipotle chile powder. Continue stirring until all the chocolate has melted.
Place the ganache mixture in the refrigerator to chill. It will take between 1 to 2 hours for the ganache to harden enough to roll into balls. Mix together the cocoa powder and chipotle chile powder. Using 1 tablespoon of ganache, roll into small balls. Place them into the cocoa powder mixture and roll to coat. Arrange the truffles on a serving tray and refrigerator until ready to serve.

A note about chocolate: 
There is a danger of the chocolate separating when you're heating it over the simmering water. If that happens (i.e. if you see the chocolate change colour and start to ooze oil), pour some hot water into the bowl with the chocolate and keep stirring. That should whip the chocolate back into shape and give it that nice glossy look again.
This is a life-saving tip and has saved me (and my chocolate!) on more than one occasion!

Comments system

Disqus Shortname