Last year I was lucky enough to join J on a very short trip to Ghent, Brussels. It was cold. I felt it in my bones, more so after still wearing my t-shirts back home. It was the first time I wore my winter clothes after a sweltering summer in Malta. On our first day in Brussels I underestimated how cold I would feel, and I didn’t wrap up properly. I learnt my lesson that evening though and geared up the next morning. I spent the day exploring the town on my own while J was away giving his lecture. It was rainy and gloomy but I still enjoyed it immensely. I love spending time alone. I walked and walked and walked, city map glued to my gloves in case I got lost – one of my all-time fears. I always manage to find my way back though. Score.
My only regret while living in the US is the fact that we didn’t travel much. There was no logical reason for this but hey, that’s life sometimes. Having said that, we did enjoy the few places that we went to. We moved straight to Michigan for the first two years of our marriage, and after settling down in campus, we took a trip to Seattle and then Washington DC. I immediately took to Seattle. It only rained once during that week (honest) and we had the most gorgeous view of the mighty Mt. Rainier from our charming B&B. For the first time in ages I didn’t miss my family; being in a foreign country and getting used to married life proved much tougher than I imagined. But I felt relaxed and rested and I couldn’t wait to explore the city.
We ate simply – there was no eating in fancy restaurants during those years but I didn’t mind it that much. Also, since I was just a few months into my culinary journey I didn’t care much for (or rather, I did not yet discover) spices. I was raised in an environment where seasoning meant adding salt and pepper. That. Is. It. Well, perhaps a bit of curry powder or mixed spice. A bit meaning “ponta ta’ kuċċarina” loosely translated as “the tip of a teaspoon”. Do you, the 30-somethings from my little Mediterranean rock, know what I mean? I have a feeling that you do. But that’s another story. All I can say is this: luckily the tables are turning…
My imaginary love of bland food ended pretty quickly right after that trip. While staying with some friends in Washington DC, I discovered the wonderful world of Mexican food. I asked J why we never tried it before. The answer he gave me was something on the lines of I-did-not-know-you-would-like-it-so-much. A good answer…
I am *not* a food expert though and I haven’t done sufficient research on authentic Mexican grub but I like to think I make a good cornbread. It’s one of J’s favourite things and it’s really easy to prepare. We had a Mexican night at home very recently (minus Tequila, *sigh* ha!). It was so much fun – we really should do it more often. Here’s our take on cornbread. It’s great with guacamole or tomato salsa, or both!
Just a note before we start: preferably you would need a cast iron tin for this recipe, but don’t fret if you don’t have one. A good thing to try is to put a non-stick loaf tin in the oven while it is preheating.* When the oven preheats and the batter ready, take the pan out of the oven and tip the mixture in it. Be careful how to do this – the tin will obviously be very hot. You will need:
- 190g sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 230g plain flour
- 95g yellow cornmeal
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 200ml milk
- 120ml corn oil or vegetable oil
- 10ml orange juice (with the pulp removed)
- Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C.*
- Place the sugar,salt, flour, cornmeal and baking powder in a large bowl and mix them well together using a whisk.
- In another mixing bowl or a large measuring jug tip in the beaten egg, milk, oil and orange juice.
- Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones and mix well. You need some elbow grease for this one but I use a whisk. There’s no need for any electric mixers.
- Take the loaf tin out of the preheated oven and spray the very hot tin with non-stick baking spray. Tip the cornbread mixture into the cake tin and bake for around 1hour. As always, keep an eye on it and when it turns golden insert a knife or skewer in the middle. Let it cool slightly in the tin, then take it out and serve warm.
It will keep for two days in foil, but you could also freeze it for up to a month.
For more Mexican recipes (or Mexican-inspired) there’s a list for you here. There will be more recipes from my Mexican fiesta to come. Enjoy!
My idea of a lovely evening would be inviting some friends over for a simple supper, which I can prepare in less than 30 minutes – in less than 10 preferably! I love my kitchen and spend days and days cooking and baking but I do get tired sometimes. So anything that can help me prepare an informal party in no time for and with the people I love spending time the most is always welcome in my book. It takes away the stress and panic, and I think that the simplest meals can be the best meals. These fajitas also take away the assemblage, which in this case is done by others! All you have to do is some prepping – cooking the meat in minutes in a pan and chopping the veggies. Easy stuff.
You can make these fajitas with chicken or beef, or any mixture of veggies you like. If you’re using any kind of meat, the trick is to marinate it well ahead of time to make it moist and tender. Who would want a dry fajita anyway? I had one once and it was stringy and chewy. Not nice. I made this some weeks ago after a very full day when I really didn’t want to spend more time in the kitchen than I had to. There was a little planning beforehand, nothing big – I knew I wanted to cook something quick, simple, and without too much work.
So I bought some rump, cut it into thick strips when I got home and marinated all of it for a couple of hours in the fridge. I then shallow-fried it and left it in the pan till it cooked to medium/rare, keeping an eye on it, as always. You don’t even need any oil if that’s what you prefer, especially if you use a non-stick pan – the marinade has plenty of moisture anyway. But I don’t like burnt meat, so this time I played it safe. All you have to do then is to chop a red pepper, throw in a yellow pepper for luck, dice one or two fresh tomatoes. Place these in individual serving bowls, together with a packet of ready washed rockets leaves and you’re done. Place everything on a corn tortilla, wrap it up and eat. For something extra you can serve it with cornbread for a meze style meal. Perfect for summer. The following is what you need for the marinade:
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed or very finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 small cubes or crystallized ginger (or ¼ teaspoon ginger powder)
- 2 teaspoons light brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon cold water
Place the meat in a bowl and pour the marinade over it. Mix it well, cover with cling film and put it in the fridge for an hour or two or until needed. Cook and serve on corn tortillas with greens and other vegetables. Easy!