Friday, 19 December 2008


Mixiote is a recipe originating from pre-Colombian Mexico. Meat, usually mutton or rabbit, is seasoned with chile & wrapped in the tough outer skin of leaves from the Maguey tree, then buried in a pit with hot coals for several hours to cook. Mixiote is also the name for the Maguey leaf skins.

Since the Maguey* (Agave americana, also known as the Century plant, although it's life span is more along the lines of 25 years. The immature flowering stem is harvested to make pulque, an alcoholic beverage) isn't a common plant here in the north of England, and it takes around 11 years for each leaf to grow (being 2 meters long & covered in spines probably makes it quite a faff to harvest too), baking parchment works well as a substitute.

Living under the yoke of Yorkshires Clean Air law, a big fire pit in the garden is probably not going to happen either, so we'll be steaming the mixiote.
Also, me being a vegetarian, this recipe will be made with Quorn.

Quorn is one of the greatest things to happen to the lacto-ovo vegetarian (or Vegetarians who eat dairy products and eggs, as we're otherwise known), it's a mycoprotein food (a fancy term meaning it's a mould grown in fermentation tanks - tasty!) high in vegetable protein & dietary fibre, while also being low in saturated fat & salt. It's also delicious. And versatile. Yay, Quorn!

Okay, enough flag waving. This recipe also works with tofu or seitan too. Or if you're in the mood for some veg, butternut squash should work well instead.

Quorn Mixiotes

1 350g pack of quorn pieces (you could use the same amount of firm tofu, mild flavoured gluten. Heh, you could even use chicken or mutton, cut into 1" cubes)
1 Ancho chile
1 Guajillo chile
1 Pasilla chile
1/2 onion, chopped
50g ground almonds
1 sun dried tomato (or 1 fresh tomato, or 1tbs tomato puree)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
200ml Vegetable stock (although orange juice also works well)
1 tbs oil
1/4 tsp each of thyme, cumin & oregano
Salt & pepper
4 Bay leaves
4 cloves

Deseed & toast the chiles in a dry frying pan. Place in a bowl & cover with boiling water & leave to soak until soft. Drain & put into a blender or food processor with the tomato, garlic, vegetable stock & onion & blend until smooth (add a little more water if necessary). Heat oil in a saucepan until quite hot, but not smoking. Add the chile mixture & stir. It will hiss madly at you, but fear not, this will thicken up & enrich the sauce, and make it even more delicious. Reduce the heat & add the ground almonds, cumin, oregano & thyme. Leave to simmer on a low heat for around 10 minutes. Add salt & pepper to taste & put to one side.

Combine the quorn/tofu/whatever with the chile mixture. If you're using tofu or meat, leave to marinade for at least 1 hour. If the mixture is a little dry, add a little water or stock.
Cut 4 24cm squares of baking parchment or greaseproof paper & divide the mixture equally between them. Add a bay leaf & a clove to each pile & tie up into parcels (I'm using red string from brewery malt sacks, though those of you not married to brewers can use butchers string, garden twine or anything along those lines). Arrange in a steamer & steam until cooked through (for quorn or tofu this will be around 45 minutes to 1 hour). Serve the parcels with warm corn tortillas & sliced avocado.

Om Nom Nom!

*In Aztec mythology, the Maguey was created by Quetzalcoatl**, the Feathered Serpent, out of the bones of Mayahuel after she was devoured by star demons. And no, I'm not making it up.

**And also terrorised New York city in Q - The Winged Serpent

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Mincemeat - It's not minced, and it has no meat in it!

Mince Pies are a traditional food eaten in the UK at Christmas. They first appeared around the 11th Century and were originally oblong casings filled with minced meat & 3 spices; cinnamon, nutmeg & cloves (representing the gifts brought by the 3 wise men in the Nativity story). It was considered good luck to eat mince pies on each of the 12 days of Christmas.

In the 15th Century mince pies still contained meat, but also had dried fruit & vinegar or wine in them, and were savoury, spiced meat pies, rather than sweet treats. By the 18th Century brandy & sugar were combined with minced meat, dried fruits & candied peel to make something more like the mince pies we know today. Over time, omitting the meat (but replacing it with shredded beef suet) became the common practice.

Here in the UK, you can buy mince pies, or jars of ready made mincemeat, from October or November to December. But where's the fun in that, eh? Making your own mincemeat is easy, and doesn't take much time, and the results are much tastier than anything you can buy in the shops. It's also easy to substitute ingredients that you're not too fond of. Think currants are horrible dead flies, not fit to grace a pudding? Don't put them in, then. Put some chopped apricots in instead. Or whatever dried fruit floats your boat. Don't want suet? Don't put it in then. Grate 4 or 5 apples or pears into the mixture instead. Fancy something a bit tropical? Replace the almonds with slivers of coconut & the currants & raisins with dried mango & pineapple, a splash of white rum and you've got yourself something special there.

This year my mincemeat recipe is inspired by a batch of cranberry-almond cookies. Mmmmm.

Cranberry Almond Mincemeat (makes about 1.5kg/3lb. That's a lot of mince pies)

150g/6oz/1 cup vegetarian shredded suet*
225g/8oz/1 1/2 cups currants
150g/6oz/1 cup dried cranberries (preferably unsweetened)
115g/4oz/3/4 cup dates, destoned & chopped
150g/6oz/1 cup raisins
225g/8oz/1 1/4 cup sultanas
115g/4oz/1 cup flaked almonds
1 apple, grated
90ml/6 tbsp clear honey
60ml/4 tbs dark rum
1 tsp ground mixed spice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Juice & zest of 1 orange

Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. I roughly chop the dried fruit beforehand. I like the texture you get with it. You don't have to do it yourself though. An old English tradition is to only stir the mincemeat clockwise. Stirring anticlockwise will bring bad luck in the coming year. So stir it clockwise. Cover & store in a cool place for 2 days, occasionally giving it a stir & getting giddy on the rum fumes. Spoon into sterilised jars & seal. Store until needed.

*Yes, I know suet is Bad and Will Kill You. But this is a recipe I make once a year, so use the Special Occasion Defense. It gives the mincemeat a richer flavour & keeps everything moist. You can substitute it with 4 or 5 large apples (or pears) grated into the mix & a cup full of cider, apple juice or orange juice.


Piccalilli is a variety of pickle or relish that first appeared in the UK around the middle of the 18th Century, often going by the name of Piccalillo or Indian Pickle. It is a tangy, chunky pickle, made bright yellow with the addition of mustard & turmeric, and is an excellent accompaniment to bread & cheese, sandwiches & cold meats.
And it's very easy to make.

Since MikeyFox was stuck at home with a bad back, it seemed like a good time to introduce him to the noble art of preserving, so we made Piccalilli.

Piccalilli takes a bit of time & planning, and you'll need to get started the night before. You will need...

1 small cauliflower, broken into small florets (not too small, it's a chunky pickle after all)
1 courgette, split in half lengthways & chopped (any curcubit will do, though. Half a cucumber, deseeded & chopped is good. Or marrow, again deseeded & chopped*.)
2 carrots, peeled & chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
50g fine sea salt

Place all your chopped veggies in a colander or a large bowl & cover with the salt. Give everything a stir, cover & leave in a cool place overnight (or 24 hours if possible). The salt will draw out moisture from the veggies (so if you are using a colander, place it in a bowl), so when they are cooked, they will remain firm & crunchy. Yum.

The next day, marvel at how much water has come out of the veg. Then discard. Sorry, salty veggie water. Give your veggies a quick rinse with cold water & pat dry.
If you don't have a big preserving pan, any large stainless steel pan will work fine. Into the pan goes
500ml cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
250g sugar
2 tsp yellow mustard powder
1 tsp turmeric (to make it Yellow!)
1/2 tsp each of ground ginger, cumin seeds, yellow mustard seeds, chilli flakes & grated nutmeg.
Stir over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat & bring to the boil. Add the vegetables, and some fresh ground pepper (as much or as little as you want). Bring to the boil & then reduce the heat & simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.
While the Piccalilli is simmering, you'll need to do one more thing. You'll need
2 tbs cornflour
Place in a small bowl & add a little of the cooking liquid from the pan & stir until you have a smooth paste. This is to thicken up the piccalilli liquid. So at the end of the 10 minutes of simmering, remove the pan from the heat & add the cornflour paste. Stir & return to the heat, bring it to the boil & simmer for 5 minutes. The liquid will thicken up & coat the still-crunchy vegetables.
Spoon into warm, sterilised jars & seal. If you can bear to leave it be for a month, all the flavours will mellow & mature, and it will be delicious. If you can't, that's okay too. It will still be delicious.
Om Nom Nom!

*It's nothing personal, seedy bits. You're just soggy and tasteless is all.