A local cafe has decided to take a punt and allow me to run my very first ‘bistro’ night there in a few weeks. Big thank you to Tracy at the Whistlestop Cafe in Whitehead and to my neighbour Maeve who is partnering with me in this venture! Ever since Tracy agreed, I’ve been mulling over what style of food to cook but no matter what direction I veer off in, I always find myself coming back to Mexican.
In truth, who doesn’t like Mexican food? It’s got everything going for it. Freshness from chillies, limes and avocados; richness from spiced and slow cooked meats; comfort from rice, beans, soured cream and rich tomatoey sauces and beautiful tortillas to mop up any leftover juices. Yum.
In a couple of weeks I’m attending a Mexican cookery night at Belfast Cookery School to brush up and see if I can pick up a few new tips, but chilli, quesadillas, enchiladas and fajitas are regularly on the menu here, so it’s a style of food I’m comfortable with and it’s also great for sharing, which all adds to the sociability – an aspect of eating that I think is important and all too often overlooked these days.
So, in preparation, I’ve been trying out a few dishes that might just make it on to the menu for my virgin Bistro night (Maeve’s an old hand). First up is a good ole chilli con carne. Generally, when it’s for the family, I make it with minced beef, but I know it’s traditionally made with ‘proper’ beef, so I thought I’d give that a go, and, in the interests of convenience and ensuring the beef was well cooked and falling apart, I decided to use the slow cooker.
It’s an appliance I don’t use often enough, but it’s a fantastic help when you’re out at work all day if you can just be organised enough to chop up a few veg and meat and pop it in the pot before you leave.
On this occasion, it being the weekend, I happily prepped my veg, roasted my meat and bunged it all in the slow cooker at my leisure, then went about my Saturday routine, returning hours later to some fabulous smells and minimum effort for dinner. The resultant Slow-Cooker ‘Real’ Beef Chilli was delicious and I think may have made it onto the shortlist for our bistro night on 24 June.
A dessert idea was playing around in my head for days that I thought would fit well with our Mexican theme – a Mojito-inspired cheesecake. I couldn’t find what I was looking for in any recipe book or online search, so I had to improvise. My first attempt was interesting and I share it here because many of the tasters with whom I shared the dessert liked it a lot. But it needs more work.
My concept was a lime flavoured cheesecake with a layer of mint jelly on top and I thought a chocolate biscuit base would be good. So that’s what I tried. You can see the results of my Mojito-inspired Cheesecake for yourself, but I’m clear that a few adjustments are needed. The base for one. Chocolate doesn’t work, and you may want to adapt this in your own version. Next time I try it, I’m aiming to go for a mix of ginger biscuits and digestives, which I think will be much better. Because I used Oreo-type biscuits that have the cream filling, there’s a tendency for the base to set too hard and you miss the crumbliness you often get with a cheesecake base.
The other thing I’d change would be how I serve the jelly. Next time I’ll try it in cubes served alongside rather than spread on top. Two reasons – 1) the heaviness of the jelly makes it hard for this to look neat when it’s cut – the creamy layer tends to squidge out and I think it would stay perfectly neat if the jelly were on the side instead; 2) it just looks wrong. Maybe my layer was too thick and perhaps a thinner layer would be perfect. Clearly there’s room for improvement though.
Expect to see more experimental try-outs for our Mexican Bistro night on here. Indeed in another short while, I’ll happily post the agreed menu for the night and will keep you posted on progress. Unless it all goes horribly wrong, in which case I may disappear, never to be heard from again!