In Search of the Perfect Taco – California – part 1

img_2857fish taco from Mercado &Taqueria De Amigos, Pascadero

On a recent road trip to California a really old article from The New York Times, caught my attention. In short, the author, Cindy Price, went on a taco trawl from San Francisco to Los Angeles sampling the tacos on offer. This appealed to me on many levels. Whilst the article was old, I absorbed the information and decided that if we happened to be near any of the places she recommended we’d check them out – if they were still in business that is.

The first place we just ‘happened’ to be driving past was a stones throw from the legendary Highway 1. We’d spent the morning exploring the beaches of Bean Hollow State Park and Pebble Beach, admiring the wild surf and trying in vain to spot a whale along the shoreline. There was a chill in the air and we were eager for some Mexican food to warm us up. California really does have many micro-climates and you only need to go a little inland and the chill from the coast dissipates.  Pescadero is a charming town so small that if you blink you’ll have passed it. There is a county store, a tea shop, a church, a bar and a couple of furniture shops and not much else. On the corner of the ‘main’ street is a garage with a small stores attached called Mercado & Taqueria De Amigos and it was here where we were assured we would find some good, honest Mexican food, and in particular tacos.

img_2858

img_2859Seeing local Mexican workers having their lunch at the tiny booths was a good sign. If it’s good enough for them then I knew I was onto a good thing. The setup was small, but the choices on offer definitely made my stomach begin to rumble.

img_2863

I first opted for the fish tacos, which had been recommended to me, my girls had chicken quesadillas (there were another couple of option boards not in photo above) and Mr B chose a burrito, as he likes something ‘more substantial’ and refried beans. As we made our way to our booth we passed the self service nacho bar accompanied by four red and green zingy and spicy salsas to choose from.

img_2860

We loaded up with our choices in little paper pots and after a short wait the food arrived.  The fish tacos were hot, freshly cooked and fragrant. I added a splash of salsa and dived in.

img_2861

There is no way to eat these in an elegant manner. You need to pick them up and disregard the looks of your dining companions as the juices dribble down your chin. Loose yourself in the moment people, seriously this is what eating is all about. If I hadn’t been so restrained I could have eaten them again and again and again, but ceviche tostadas were calling.

img_2862

The tostadas was crisp and held the ceviche in place until it reached my mouth. The zing from the lime, the creaminess of the avocado, the heat from the chilli and freshness from the fish, made this dish memorable. In fact even writing about it now is making me so hungry. Needless to say we totally loved this taqueria. It’s the type of place that you would typically drive by and never consider as a food destination, had you not been given the wink. It’s between San Francisco and Santa Cruz and is definitely worth stopping at. The portions are big and the food reasonable priced – even with our present exchange rate. Order a little and see how you get on. You can easily order more if you can squeeze in another taco or three.

img_2866

Combine it with a stop off at Harley Goat Farm, which is a few minutes drive away. Here you will be able to see a herd of about 200 goats and pick up some of their award winning goats cheese. I love the presentation of the cheeses above with their edible flowers and dried fruit. They also have a great selection of bath and body products made locally with their fresh goats milk. They also host lunches and dinners which you can attend, so check out their website for dates as these do get booked up.

img_2865

After you’ve tasted some cheese and patted some goats head back on Highway 1 and go south to Davenport where, just before entering the town, you will find Swanton Berry Farm. Here you can either go strawberry picking, jam tasting, relax over some tea and cake in their tea shop or simply pick up a jar of their delightful jams. You’ll even be able to pick up a jar of the olallieberrie jam, which I’d not come across before. Apparently olallieberries are a cross between the youngberry and the loganberry.

Before heading back to Portola Valley we couldn’t resist visiting the tasting room of Bonnie Doon, five minutes down the road in Davenport. We’d had their wines back in England and had enjoyed them immensely. The first thing you notice about them is their artistic labels which are painted by a wide range of artists.  Am sure many of my readers may recognise the labels? The friendly staff will guide you through a tasting of some of the wines, giving you an in depth overview of the wines themselves as well as the history and background of the vineyard.

Bean Hollow State Park and Pebble Beach – Highway 1 near to Pascadero (take a jumper even in August)

Mercado & Taqueria De Amigos – Pascadero

Harley Goat Farm – Pascadero

Swanton Berry Farm – just before Davenport

Bonnie Doon Tasting Room  – Davenport (please note this is the tasting room only, not the vineyard itself)


Indian Inspired Peach Chutney

IMG_1299

Gloriously ripe and deliciously sweet juicy peaches are in season right now. They are great to eat fresh or in a salad perhaps with some mozzarella, parma ham and some fresh basil with a little olive oil and black pepper flecks sprinkled on top. I sometimes like to transform them into an Indian inspired chutney that is so versatile and delicious that you’ll be making pots of it in no time at all.

IMG_1313

 

As well as eating this chutney as a condiment to Indian dishes I also love it in sandwiches, with some cold or hot meats, fish, halloumi or any nice stinky and smelly cheese come to think of it. It’s perfect to take along on a summers day picnic – the sweet chilli notes adding that necessary kick to cheese baguette perhaps!

IMG_1309

If your peaches are beginning to turn, then this is another great way to use them up. If you like this recipe try making my mango and tomato one which all require the Bengali five spice known as ‘panch phoron’. You can find it in your local Asian grocers or you can easily make your own and store it in a sealed jar for months – here is my recipe.

 

Peach Chutney

1 tbsp groundnut oil (or equivalent)

1 tsp panch phoron – Bengali five spice

1 large dried chilli, broken into 2 or 3 pieces

1/2 tsp turmeric

5 large juicy peaches, stone removed and cut up roughly into 2 cm cubes

2 tbsp plain flour

50ml cold water

1 tsp salt

1 tbsp caster sugar

1 large storage jar

1) Heat the oil and then add the panch phoron, dried chilli pieces and turmeric. Move them around the pan for 20 seconds before adding the juicy peach pieces. Stir into the ingredients and simmer gently.

2) In a small bowl add the flour and cold water and stir until smooth. Add to the peaches in the pan.

3) Add the salt and sugar and continue to simmer until the peach chutney has thickened. This will take no longer than 6 minutes. If you require it thicker add a little more flour.

4) If eating on the same day, allow to cool completely before serving. If eating at a later date sterilise your jar by washing it thoroughly and then placing in a warm oven for 15 minutes. Add the chutney and once it has cooled it can be kept in the fridge for a couple of weeks.


Strawberry, Black Pepper and Spinach Salad with a Red Onion Balsamic Dressing

IMG_9687

 

I’ve been meaning to post this glorious recipe for ages. It is seriously good and takes no time to whip together. If the truth be told I’ve been eating it all summer, but each time I forget to photograph the food until it’s too late. Today I was ready with my camera to take a few snaps before gorging on this delicious lunch.

IMG_9680

It’s perfect if you want to impress friends as it’s probably a flavour combination they’ve not eaten before so it will take them by surprise…..in a good way.

IMG_9682

It would also work really well for BBQ gatherings or as a starter for a dinner with friends. The flavour combinations of freshly ground black pepper and strawberries is a surprising winner. The dish in itself is sweet, salty and full of umami – read my article here to learn more about umami.

IMG_9697

If you are not able to get hold of fresh spinach, rocket also works really well.

IMG_9673

 

I originally came across a similar recipe in fellow  food blogger Heidi Swanson’s book ‘Super Natural Everyday‘, which I adore to dip into from time to time.

 

Here is my version of the recipe. Let me know how you get on by leaving a comment below. I love to hear from my readers.

 

Strawberry, Black Pepper and Spinach Salad with a Red Onion Balsamic Dressing

Serves 4

3 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1 small red onion or shallot, finely chopped

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

90g fresh spinach or rocket

300g fresh strawberries, hulled and finely sliced

30g slivered almonds, toasted

15g parmesan, shaved in curls

1. In a small bowl add the balsamic vinegar, red onion/shallot, salt and pepper. Leave to stand for 10 minutes before adding the oil and whisking gently together. Leave to one side.

2. Place the slivered almonds into a large frying pan to toast. They brown really quickly so do not leave the pan. Use a spatula to move the almonds around the heat to help them bronze evenly. This will not take more than a couple of minutes.

3. In a large bowl add the spinach or rocket, strawberries, slivered almonds and parmesan shavings. To make the curls I use a regular vegetable peeler.  Then add the dressing and gently toss so that the dressing is evenly distributed.

Serve immediately.

If you are preparing ahead of time do not add the dressing until your guests have arrived. The dressing can easily be made in advance.


Indian Style Tomato Chutney

I adore condiments with my food no matter what the origin of the food. Chutneys, mustards, jellies, pickles, dressings – you name it, I love to have the option of having them on my plate supporting the meats and/or vegetables and giving the dish that extra added dimension. So you can just imagine how in heaven I was when Mr B’s grandmother, known as Dida, cooked this simple tomato chutney for us when we visited her in Kolkata a while ago. We were all given a little bowl of the chutney to eat alongside our dal and vegetable dishes and it tasted sublime. The combination of hot and spicy with sweet undertones  made the chutney completely addictive.

Tomatoes are to me what I imagine chocolate is to many people. I could give up eating chocolate tomorrow, but tomatoes……well that would be seriously hard. In fact for Easter my parents gave me a tomato plant instead of a chocolate egg, knowing that I would get more enjoyment out of that than a chocolate egg.  I eat tomatoes pretty much everyday and without doubt they are my absolute favourite fruit as they are just so versatile and can completely transform dishes. If you have any tomato recipes that you think I would like please send me an email to chilliandmint@gmail.com as I would love to try them.

With this recipe you can keep it simple and just use tomatoes, but I like to add a little dried fruit so as to blend the flavours. You can add a couple of dried prunes, dates, apricots or mango. Experiment and see which you like to compliment with the tomato.

Dida cooks her chutney without the tomato skins on, however, for speed and because I don’t mind them, I have left the tomato skins on. If you prefer a smoother texture then simply boil the tomatoes in a pan of boiling water for five minutes and then strain them and you will find the tomato skins easily come away from the body of the tomato.

Indian Style Tomato Chutney

Makes 1 bowl, 4-6 servings

300g tomatoes, chopped in half if using cherry and quartered if using larger size

1 inch of ginger, grated or chopped finely

2 dried red chillies

1 tsp black mustard seeds

1 tbsp olive/mustard/nut oil

1/4 (quarter) tsp salt

4 tsp sugar (to taste)

3 slices of Aam Shatwa (dried mango), or dried apricots, dried prunes, dried dates – optional

1. Warm the oil in a pan and when it is hot place the two dried red chillies into the oil. You want to fry them until they turn black, which will take a few minutes. For those of you who have seen or made my homemade mango chutney you will remember that frying the dried chillies will make you cough. My mother-in-law assures me that it helps those with nasal congestion, so if you have any issues in this area get involved at this part of the recipe as it is sure to help your ailment!

2. When the dried red chillies have blackened add the remaining ingredients and stir. The tomatoes will release juice as they warm in the pan. Squash the tomatoes with the back of a fork so that they become limp. Taste the chutney and add extra sugar if required.

3. Leave to simmer for 5 minutes, or until the tomatoes have completely softened and then transfer into a bowl to cool. Serve at room temperature.


Homemade Mango Chutney

Warmer weather beckons (I hope!) at the end of the week when I’ll be in the sunny Florida Keys and art deco Miami. I was last in the Keys when I was 19 so it’s been some time since I visited its warm shores and admired its glorious sunsets. There is always so much to get ready before embarking on a long journey and since I pride myself on my packing it is left up to me to pack all the clothes. There is definitely an art to effective packing right! The truth of the matter is I hate packing, seriously it is so tedious and tricky to get the balance on what exactly to take. I am hoping that since it will be warmer then in London, I won’t have to take too many clothes and the ones I do will be light weight cotton. Well that’s the plan.

There is nothing that screams sunshine and warm weather more than mangoes. They are undoubtedly the queen of fruits and whilst the yellow ones are juicy and sweet, the unripe ones – they are the green ones by the way – are perfect for chutney making. The sourness combined with spice and salt is a perfect winning combination and cools down the body in hot temperatures. In India a few spoonfuls of the chutney either alongside or after some spicy dal or curry works a treat.

We have all sampled the mango chutney served in curry houses when we order poppadums,  however nothing prepares you for the true deliciousness of this knock out, authentic, fresh mango chutney. It tastes completely different and I love the sweet, sour, salty combination.

Mango Chutney

(or affectionately known as Aam-er Tok by Bengali speakers, which actually translates as sour mango)

Fills a small bowl/jam jar (can last in the fridge for up to a week)

2 smal unripel green mangoes (or 1 large), skin removed and then sliced or diced

1 tsp mustard/groundnut oil

 1 large dried red chilli, cut into two pieces (or 2-3 small dried red chilli)

1 tsp panch phoron 

1/4 tsp turmeric

1 tsp freshly grated ginger (optional)

2 tsp plain flour

three quarters of a tsp salt

100 ml cold water

2/3 tbsp sugar

1. Peel the mango skin and discard. Slice or dice the mango and keep the stone if you are using a larger mango as they are good to suck on post cooking! If you have really unripe green mangoes, which can be very sour, it is best to boil the sliced mangoes in a little water, with a pinch of salt, to remove part of the acidity for two minutes. Discard the water and put the mangoes to one side.

2. Place the oil in a pan and gently heat. When it is hot add the dried red chilli, including the seeds and fry the chilli gently until it darkens slightly in colour, which will take no more than a minute. Warning: you are likely to cough at this stage as the chilli darkens  so do not be alarmed!

3. Add the panch phoron, turmeric and ginger (if adding) to the hot oil as well as the soft mango, salt and 75 ml of water.

4. In a separate bowl add the flour and 35ml of cold water to create a white, smooth liquid. Immediately add this to the pan and stir it into the mangoes. At this stage also add the sugar.

5. Boil gently for 5-6 minutes. If you prefer to have a runnier chutney add a little more water, however, if you prefer a thicker consistency then you will need to boil it for longer.

6. Leave to cool and chill. Serve at either chilled or room temperature, but not hot.

It is wonderful to eat after a heavy curry as it helps to cleanse the palate and digest your food.

Note: In hot climates people tend to prefer the chutney with a stronger sour undertone and as such the amount of sugar they add is less. For those who prefer a sweeter taste then add the amount of sugar that I have specified above.


Watermelon, Feta, Black Olive, Mint and Lime Salad – a knockout combination

OK, I take it all back. The weather gods have clearly been reading my blog so much so they have decided to let it shine big time. Ever since I wrote my blog about ‘Raoul’s Eggs Rock‘ and that it is incessantly raining, the sun has come out to the extent that it’s been a scorcher ever since. A few days ago London was hotter than the Caribbean, which is wonderful really wonderful, aside from the fact that England is not really set up for extreme conditions – hot or cold. Its been so humid I keep having to go down to our cellar to get some cool air. Even the paddling pool water has heated up to bath water temperature. I don’t know about you but when it is really hot and humid I really like eating mountains of fresh fruit. A huge bowl of sweet melon, mango, strawberries, raspberries and fresh mint always goes down a treat.

This inspired me to share one of my absolute favourite salads with you. I have been cooking it for years and then discovered that the ubiquitous kitchen goddess – Nigella – has a similar recipe. It combines fresh, cleansing watermelon with the salty robust feta cheese. The flavours combined are perfectly balanced, although I know its hard to believe. Then with lime juice, black olives, fresh mint and a splash of olive oil you have a heavenly dish.

Its simple to create, truly delicious and very memorable. Perfect for a light lunch or for an evening dinner served alongside some grilled chicken. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Watermelon, Feta, Black Olive, Mint and Lime Salad

Serves 4

 1 mini watermelon (circa 2kg in weight), cubed

200g/8oz feta cheese, cubed

100/4oz black pitted olives

2 limes, squeezed

2 tbsp of olive oil

1 handful of fresh mint, torn into small pieces

1. Cut the watermelon into bite sized cubes and place in a bowl. Try not to handle it too much as it will begin to break and become more juice than melon.

2. Similarly cut the feta cheese into slightly smaller cubes than the watermelon. Place into the same bowl as the watermelon along with the black olives.

3. Squeeze the juice of two limes over the ingredients as well as 2 tbsp of olive oil. Using your hands mix into the ingredients gently.

4. Tear some fresh mint over the salad and serve.