Musings of an Englishman who literally quit his life in Devon in mid-2012 to move to Tijuana to love a girl.
They ended up in San Diego where he became a TV anchorman (yes really...), they got married, and now they're living in England together.
Simple as that really.
Follow your heart, who knows where it will lead.

Crazy. Beautiful. Madness.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Cooking with gas (and chilis)

FOOD, glorious food.
There really is nothing quite like it. Especially here in the land of tacos.
I realise that the vast majority of these blogs have been about food but hey, my tastes, habits and self-inflicted ridicule are a constant source of amusement and entertainment.
So why not write about it? If it looks good enough to eat, you might as well tell people about it. That's what I say anyway.
Besides, Mexicans talk about food a lot. Like all the time.
"Como esta?"
"Muy bien, mi quesadilla es incredible".
Or something like that. Or is that just me?!
On the whole Mexican cuisine is amazing. One of my favourite Spanish-Mexican phrases is actually now 'queso con todo' (cheese with everything!).
So with food for thought, and with so many people from back home asking me for traditional Mexican recipes, I thought I'd give you one.
Breaking with the blogging norm, here is an easy recipe for 'Bistec al chili guajillo' (basically meat with guajillo chili).
Believe me, if I can make it anyone with two hands and a pair of eyes can.
And no, it is NOTHING like the fajita packs you get in British supermarkets. Honestly when I told Jacks and her mum and dad about them they laughed, and then pulled faces of disgust.
I'm ashamed to say before now those fajita packs were my only brush with Mexican cuisine.
So here goes... Bistec al chili guajillo.

Ingredients (in no particular order of appearance, importance or preference):

- three medium-sized potatoes
- four garlic cloves
- 12 (yes TWELVE) dried guajillos
- one big ass tomato
- two pints of water
- three chicken breasts or some pork or beef (stewing beef I imagine would be pretty good)
- quarter of an onion
- level teaspoon of powdered cinnamon
- one stock cube (chicken)
- 10 or so cubed pieces of pineapple, and roughly three tablespoons of pineapple juice
- rice
- a little oil
- salt and pepper

Grab the chilis and LIGHTLY burn them on the stove.
(Yes, that's right... we're lightly torching the buggers so we can release some of the flavour).

Pay back!

Make sure you don't over-burn them, simply toast them for a few seconds on each side.
Pull out stalks and place them in a pan containing a pint-and-a-half of water, the four cloves of garlic and the whole tomato.

Simmer until the tomato skin begins to peel off

Bring water to the boil then reduce heat, cover and simmer for five to 10 minutes - or until you can easily peel the skin off the tomato.
When you can, take the skin off the tomato - we don't need it. Why? Not sure, but Mexican mum knows best.
Now transfer contents of the pan to a liquidizer adding the quarter of an onion.
Blend it baby!

Yes, my fingernails appear to have grown a tad...

Okay, now gently fry the meat (chicken, pork or beef) in a little oil adding salt and pepper.
Chop up the three potatoes into cubes and add them to the frying pan. Fry for a few minutes.
Once everything is nicely browned, add the blended chili sauce using a strainer.

Use strainer to avoid chili stalk bits etc

Add a tiny bit (maybe a level teaspoon) of cinnamon powder to the sauce, meat and potatoes.
Then scrunch up the chicken stock cube and to the pan, along with about half a pint of water.
Simmer and season more to taste.
Now add three tablespoons of pineapple juice and the pineapple cubes.

Don't add all the juice seen in this picture - only three tablespoons!

Cover and simmer for 10 minutes or so, until it looks like this:

Boil up some rice and add the meat and chili sauce to it.
And there you have it: Bistec al chili guajillo.

Now I know what you're all thinking... jeez TWELVE chilis?! Believe me, if they were that hot I wouldn't add one!
They're pretty weak in terms of heat, but they do add some amazing colour and rich texture to the dish.
Try it! Go on, you know you want to...
Oh, by the way you should be able to pick the guajillo chilis up in most supermarkets or markets, either fresh or bagged. We got ours bagged in a local supermarket.

On a side note, massive huge thank yous to one of my besties, Claire (Fulton) Ray, for steering me in the direction of the Scoville heat chart.
It turns out she too co-habitated with a chili fiend, and it made sense to check the 'scale' to see what was potentially painful at mealtimes.
As you can see the 'pretty weak' (according to Jacks' dad) habanero chili is one of the hottest chilis in the world!
And there I was thinking I was a wimp.

The new addition to the fridge door - the Scoville chili heat chart

Monday, 14 January 2013

Too hot to handle

BUENOS dias! Oh, and feliz Nuevo Ano (happy New Year).
So where was I….?
Oh yes, chilis, that’s what I really want to talk about today.
I’ve referred to them often enough in this blog without really going into detail about my encounters.
So as they’re a cornerstone of meals in Tijuana and Mexico, It seems right to shed some light on the little buggers.
Firstly, no matter what anyone says about how great they are and how a dish 'simply isn’t the same' without them, bear this little fact in mind…
Capsaicin, one of the main substances found in chilis, is one of the key ingredients of pepper spray - you know, the WEAPON.
I rest my case.
These things are armed and dangerous. And they should carry a health warning.
Jacky’s dad swears blind that they’re actually “muy bueno” and won’t hear a bad word said against them.
“Different chilis have different effects on your body,” he told me yesterday as I once again mulled over adding some to my soup.
“Some are irritants, some help your stomach, and some make you sweat. Some are bad for you, and some are good.
“If you’re feeling rough after a night out drinking, you can eat some habanero chilis and you will feel better.
“You sweat out the alcohol.”
Okay, fair shout. Although personally I think the last thing I’d want to eat on a hangover is something which would ultimately make me feel sick.
The habanero chilis are a particularly violent and nasty variety, as I found out a couple of weeks ago.
Contrary to my previous belief, the small ones are the more powerful.
Who’d have thought that something so tiny, orange, and kind of cute-looking could pack such an evil punch?!

Behold the habanero - cute but violent

I was having some soup over Christmas and Jacks’ dad suggested I add some habaneros to “add some flavour”.
Holy sh*t. Within seconds of eating a spoonful I turned into a cartoon character complete with steam bursting out of my ears. I started sneezing uncontrollably, and my nose streamed like Niagara Falls.
My tongue suddenly wanted nothing to do with the rest of my body ever again.
Of course my pain and suffering generated immense pleasure and hilarity with my Mexican family.
“This is GOOD for you?!” I attempted to argue as torrents of sweat poured off my forehead and onto the once dry tablecloth.
I struggled to see any ‘good’ in the meal’s late addition.
“If it’s too hot for you add some lime?” he said offering up a solution.
How about passing me the fire extinguisher and a couple of towels? I thought.
I did try and reply verbally, but my tongue refused to allow me to speak properly so I simply generated a noise.

Habaneros - should be sold with health warnings, or painkillers

I had no idea that there were so many varieties of chili.
In England, chili is chili. Or at least for me it was.
Here they seem to have different ones for every day of the week.
Chili de arbol, guajillo chilis, habanero, pasilla, jalapeno and ancho chilis... to name but a few.

Dried chili de arbol

A light snack Jacks?

Dried guajillo chilis

Each one boasts a different level of flavour and heat.
One of the many things I find weird and wonderful about Jacks is the way that when we go to the cinema, she adds jalapenos and their brine juice to the popcorn box.
She throws the chilis all over the popcorn and adds the liquid on top just to give them some extra flavour.
Being a Brit with a definite sweet tooth as opposed to sour, I stick with the sugar-coated popcorn.
So when we have a ‘half-and-half’ box of popcorn I definitely know when I’ve reached the bottom.
I always joke that Jacks would put chili on her cornflakes if she could, and it’s no exaggeration.
In her view (and the rest of the family’s for that matter) no meal is complete without something which turns you bright red and makes you reach for a glass of water.
Soup? Add chili. Noodles? Add chili. Quesadillas? Add chili. Scrambled eggs?! Add chili. Potatos chips? Chili sauce.
Chili? Of course, add some more chili.

"Would you like some crisps with your chili sauce?!"

Towards the end of our recent trip to England she actually began shaking due to the lack of chili in her diet.
I had to hide my small chili plant away for fear of it being chewed in the middle of the night.
For most Mexicans chili is the staple ingredient of any meal.
Even the chocolate here has chili in it!
They very obviously have stomachs lined with lead.
According to Wikipedia chili peppers have been part of the human diet in the Americas since at least 7500BC, so the Americans (whether it be northern or southern) really should no better.
I guess after that amount of time their stomachs and digestive systems have got used to the effects of eating the buggers.
And yes, it seems that they truly do have medicinal uses.
In retrospect, I don’t think that seven months is nearly long enough for an English gut to get used to consuming chilis – whatever variety they are.
I think I’ll stick to the ‘Flaming Hot’ Monster Munch… if only I could find them out here…

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Festive food fit for a (paper-crowned) king

STUFFING 12 grapes into your mouth and eating them for every second the clock chimes at midnight on New Year’s Eve is no easy task.
If you manage it, you get to make a wish.
And - as proven - you also get to look like a complete weirdo with grape skin, juice and seeds all over yourself.

And so it begins...

Two down, 10 to go...
"Am I the only one taking this seriously...?!"

It's a Spanish/Mexican tradition.
However the jury’s still out as to whether it’s 12 grapes for the 12 seconds, or indeed 12 grapes in a minute. I’m guessing I might have been stitched up by my Mexican friends.
Jacks likes to think it’s 12 grapes in a minute, and 12 wishes as a result.
I’m not sure.
Nonetheless, it was a laugh. And in the past 12 months I’ve had my fair share of wishes granted already.
New Year’s Eve marked the end of a truly special – and very different – festive period for me living away from England.
To visit home with Jacky on my arm was the best gift I could have asked for. Of course, her saying ‘yes’ to my question made it all magical.
I have to say that spending six months in Mexico before heading back to England made for a surreal experience.
All of a sudden we were thrown into the crazy hectic nature of British high street Christmas shopping.
It’s only when you spend so much time away that you realize how materialistic life is in the UK.
Christmas, it seems for many, isn’t the same without a sack load of presents.
Here in Mexico the ‘gift’ is the chance to spend quality time with your family and friends.
And I think I was really lucky to experience that. It was almost like a re-awakening.
It was just a shame that we had to leave my family before Christmas to return to Tijuana.
We had the traditional English roast dinner with my folks before we left (see previous blog post), and then we came back to Mexico to experience a VERY different festive period.
The main focus of Christmas here is on Christmas Eve evening.
Traditionally you have a big family meal, which we did, with an amazing dish called ‘rolle de carne’ (basically ‘pork roll’).
Without getting all Jamie Oliver on you the dish consists of cutting up the meat into sheets; smothering the sheets in mustard; seasoning with salt and pepper; adding a home-made sauce consisting of garlic, oregano and peppers; adding grated cheese; layers of ham sheets; chili (of course!); mushrooms; and dried fruit.

Meat sheets

Season to taste


Chili?! Well, of course...

You then roll the meat...

You gotta roll with it
... tie it with string, add more mustard over the top, and place it in the oven.

Highly strung food

An hour or so later and you’ve got a simply divine dish fit for a king (wearing paper crowns of course).

Ta da!

One of the funniest moments during the main meal had to be when we presented Jacky’s mum and dad with a Christmas cracker, which we brought over from England.

It's a cracker!

They’d never seen one before, so they were completely unaware of the loud crack sound when a cracker is pulled.
The look on their faces was priceless.
And while – at first – the family members were hesitant about wearing a paper crown, soon enough everyone was lining up ready to be photographed wearing one as it was so completely unusual and strange to them.

All hail the king and queen of our Mexican Christmas

Everything on Christmas Eve in Mexico leads up to midnight when you have a traditional ‘Happy Christmas’ toast, and then exchange gifts.
Christmas Day is much like our Boxing Day in that it’s much more relaxed than the main event.
And people then generally go back to work on Boxing Day and the days after – Jacky included – which seemed strange and a tad harsh.
Bizarrely December 28th is also the equivalent of our April Fool’s Day. There I was congratulating people on Facebook about the news they were ‘expecting’ – only to be told that it wasn’t the case and it was simply a joke.
Thankfully I wasn’t the only one to ‘like’ the status updates.
In general New Year’s Eve is a half-day for workers with New Year’s Day being a bank holiday.
Jacks and I ended up going to a bar for drinks (and the grapes!) with friends, to watch some other friends performing.
As we were driving to the bar Jacky said to me: “The sad thing about New Year’s Eve is that those people who have guns here go outside at midnight and fire them into the sky.
“Lots of people get injured or killed every year…”
Well, that’s a tad different to the fireworks and sparklers that I’m used to.
I’m thankful we didn’t attend a street party.
New Year’s Day saw Jacky’s mum make the second-most amazing dish called ‘pozole’.
It’s basically a meat stew, but of course with lashings of chili.

Picture perfect

I fear my English gut will never recover.
So anyway there I was thinking that all the festivities are over… but wait… in a few days’ time, rubs hands with eager anticipation, comes January 6th.
Yes! January 6th… the day of… um… Jacks…?!
Yes, the ‘Day of the Kings’. It’s like our (British) Christmas Day with more presents. Why? Not sure… but who cares! It’s a Sunday – why not give gifts?!
I could get used to this.
So yes, it’s all been a bit different and refreshing.
I have one or two wishes for 2013 – most notably getting a work visa for the US to allow me to take an AMAZING job in San Diego.
We’ve been toing and froing for months and months now and I truly hope if I knock on the door long enough, US Immigration will let me in.
For now though I’ll continue tip-tapping away on this keyboard sharing aspects of this crazy new life I’m leading.
Hopefully it will inspire a few of you to take up some adventures of your own.
Life is for living after all.
Crazy. Beautiful. Madness.

Happy New Year everyone! x