Saturday, 29 July 2017

let's cook: a Mexican feast

Here's our most recent cooking challenge - a Mexican feast.

It was back to the original cook-off team, with just me and my mum taking part in this one. We set ourselves the rule that whatever we chose to make had to include homemade tortillas and at least two side dishes.

Here are the resulting platters - my mum's is on the left, and mine is on the right.

What nice spreads!

My mum made lamb and vegetable fajitas, with guacamole and salsa cruda on the side. And I made black bean & plantain tacos and barbacoa mushroom tacos, accompanied by refried beans, tomato salsa, guacamole and tortilla chips.

I loved this challenge as Mexican food is a big favourite of mine, and I enjoyed browsing Pinterest for vegan recipes (some of which can be found here).

As a side note: I haven't had much luck with Mexican food since eating a vegan diet and have twice been accidentally presented with cheesy dishes whilst eating out. Now I'm a bit scared of ordering things because of the moral dilemma!

Here are the recipes I used if you want to give them a try, as everything was easy to make and delicious (even if I do say so myself!)


I found this recipe for the best ever homemade flour tortillas, and they certainly lived up to their name.

They have very few ingredients and are really easy and satisfying to make. They also taste so much better than shop bought tortillas, so I would definitely recommend them!

I admit, not all my tortillas were as perfectly round as the one above. There were a few wonky ones in the batch too, but I cut up some of those and baked in the oven with a little oil to make tortilla chips for dipping.

Salsa, refried beans & guacamole

I found this recipe for a classic tomato salsa which was quick and easy to make. It also makes loads so we had some leftover to enjoy with some nachos later in the week.

The refried beans were equally simple and only took a few minutes. Here's the recipe if you want to give them a try.

The guacamole recipe I found was billed as the 'worlds best' and, like the tortillas, it also lived up to it's name. I omitted the coriander (because it's horrible) in favour of parsley, and in my opinion that will only have improved the recipe.


For the taco fillings themselves I decided to try two different recipes out - after all, it's nice to have a couple of dishes if you're going to have a feast.

The first (pictured left) were these plantain black bean tacos - they had a lovely spicy sweetness to them and I really loved the texture of the plantain. I topped them with plenty of guacamole and some crispy kale too.

The second were these barbacoa mushroom tacos which had a lovely smoky taste.

Both recipes seemed to compliment each other well and there was enough food for me and Ben to have a feast two nights in a row (excellent news!)

I think the hardest thing about this challenge was co-ordinating all the different elements and ensuring everything was ready and warm at the same time. We had a couple of rounds of the plantain tacos as these were definitely best straight from the pan.

Here's a snapshot of the different things my mum made:

She said that everything went pretty well, but she found the tortillas a bit of a hassle and doesn't think she'd make them again. The opposite of my thoughts!

The scores

I'm lucky Ben likes Mexican food as much as me as he gave me a very generous 10/10 for this challenge. I think he's hoping his score will encourage me to cook it all again!

My mum also did brilliantly and scored 9.5/10 for her spread. My brother was chief judge and said that although the tortillas weren't quite perfect, the guacamole was particularly great!

Luckily my mum didn't have my dad as the sole judge this time as he was trying to deduct marks for the presence of guacamole, and what he calls 'off cream'. Fussy eater. He still gave it a 9 though, so not too harsh.

Excellent results across the board!

Keeping up the momentum, next time we've decided to make gazpacho accompanied by bread rolls. Perfect for the summer!

I'll see if we can get any other cooks to join in again, but otherwise it'll be another head to head with me and my mum. Wish us luck!

Friday, 28 July 2017

let's ALL cook: hot cross buns

You'll have to forgive me for being so behind with documenting our cooking challenges. We've actually completed two more this year since the quiche, so expect another post to follow shortly.

This time, the challenge was hot cross buns! Seasonal at the time - not so much now. This was another group effort resulting in four different batches of buns:

Clockwise from top left: Ben's mini vegan hot cross buns // My mum's traditional hot cross buns // Audrey's chocolate orange hot cross buns // My vegan hot cross buns

Don't they all look great? All recognisably hot cross buns - good batch baking!

Ben and I actually used the same recipe from Vegan Life magazine for our buns. It was really easy to follow.

Unfortunately Ben had a bit of an issue as his buns didn't really rise and ended up quite small and dense - he thinks he might have heated the milk through too much and killed the yeast. I had a little more luck though as my buns doubled in size whilst proving.

I really liked making the crosses. Having never made hot cross buns before I assumed that the crosses were always piped onto the buns (like shop bought ones) but our recipe called for thin pastry crosses instead. I like how thin Ben made his! They look really cute.

My mum and Audrey both went for the piped method instead. My mum found it a bit messy I think - she reckons she made the dough too thick, so it was hard to pipe.

In the end I was really happy with my buns, they came out of the oven looking lovely and brown and the flavour of the recipe was spot on. I would definitely make them again instead of buying them - a lovely toasted snack for the spring months.

The scores

Ben made his buns first and although the flavour was delicious, the fact that they didn't rise meant that they had a very doughy and dense texture. I tried to give him a 5 but he argued me down to 4/10.

As my buns followed the same recipe, but I had the advantage of not killing my yeast, I got a very high score of 9.5/10 from Ben. The half mark was docked because some the crosses were a bit hard and some bits fell off when cutting. I think piped crosses might be a less fragile approach.

Audrey's hot cross buns looked brilliant (just like the photo in the recipe!) and the chocolate/orange combo sounded like a winner, but unfortunately they didn't pass the taste test, scoring a 4/10 on taste and texture. She's instead going to opt for a traditional recipe next year as the chocolate and orange was a disappointment.

My mum was awarded a 9/10. The taste and texture of hers were highly praised, but I think one mark may have been knocked off because of the slightly hard and messy crosses. I'm tempted to give her back a mark for her improved food photography though.

So, overall a mixed result this time, but it was nice to do another seasonal challenge.

Next up, we're making a Mexican feast, which must include some homemade tortillas and a minimum of two side dishes (salsa, guacamole, etc).

We've already finished this challenge so I'll share the results soon!