Making Your Own Mexican Spice Blend

Just a quick post today as I am battling to get all of my work done and my shit together before heading off for a long weekend.  Nowhere exotic, unfortunately, instead to Southampton to celebrate my Papa’s birthday.  We always go to his local pub that has real locals, an open fire and, best of all, you can buy a round of five drinks and get change from £20.  Exciting.

Before I take myself off to Waterloo, I just wanted to post the recipe for my new addiction: a Mexican spice blend.  Many recipes I have found online for Mexican dishes, even those found on professional websites, suggest using packet spice blends; the fajita seasonings made by the likes of Discovery and Old El Paso.  Of course, these are fine, but how difficult can it be to make it yourself? 

I had been reading up on several different recipes online and, with a bit of tweaking, came up with one that was perfect for my desired amount of flavour and heat.  Last night I made one of Ollie’s favourite suppers, chicken enchiladas, which gave me the perfect opportunity to try it out.

Mexican Spice Blend

  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • ¾ tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • ½ tsp hot chilli powder
  • ½ tsp garlic granules

Toast the cumin seeds and coriander seeds in a hot pan for a couple of minutes until the seeds start to pop.  Transfer to a pestle and mortar and grind to a powder.

Stir in the other spices and transfer to a small airtight jar for storage.

…and another thing…

I forgot how close Paul A Young’s wonderful little Soho chocolate emporium is to my office.  I went in for a salted caramel billionaire’s shortbread today and it was awesome.



Beef Shin, Black Bean and Chipotle Stew

As far as eating goes, this was a pretty good weekend.  On Friday night I went to the wonderful Mien Tay in Shoreditch for the second time this month.  One of the friends I was dining with travelled with me around Vietnam in 2009 so it has become our tradition to eat Vietnamese food whenever she is in town.  I have been to many of the Vietnamese restaurants along the Kingsland Road, but recently this one has become my favourite.  I feasted on my usual starter of quail cooked in honey and spices (so good!), followed by a main course of tamarind prawns and steamed rice and ending with the traditional, insomnia-inducing Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. We discovered these one hungover morning in Hanoi and have enjoyed many since.

Saturday morning rolled around and the wine and coffee had given me a peculiar kind of hangover that I knew only food could cure.  I dragged myself out of bed, trekked over to Brockley Market and treated myself to a buttermilk fried chicken bap from poultry maestros Spit & Roast that definitely got me back to full speed.

Whilst wandering around the market, I spotted a couple of packets of bone-in beef shin at The Butchery‘s stall and my mind turned to slow cooking.  £9 later and I had procured enough beef to make an enormous amount of stew, and so headed home.  Beef shin is a cheap cut of meat that comes from the front leg of the cow.  It is incredibly tough and incompatible with many cooking methods, but is subject to a wonderful transformation when slow cooked:  the fat and sinew marbled through the meat breaks down to give a soft, almost gelatinous texture to the beef.  When slow cooked with the bones, the all-important bone marrow also melts to give a strong, meaty flavour to the gravy.

This particular dish is a bit of a hybrid: the cooking method indicates a stew, but the ingredients are chilli all the way.  The beef shin is marinated in a dry rub of herbs and spices, before being browned and cooked along with some soaked black beans, in a mixture of tomatoes and chipotle paste.  The chipotle, especially, gives it a spicy, smokiness found in so many modern southern American and Mexican dishes.  Chipotle is one of my favourite flavours; I use it in glazes for chicken wings, my marinade for pulled pork, and recently tried some chipotle-pumpkin bread made by Lauren Garland for Band of Bakers that completely blew my mind.  In this stew, the chipotle lends itself well to the richness of the beef and gives it that all-important and much-needed kick.

If you’re going to cook this in a slow-cooker, you will need a good seven or eight hours for it to be perfect.  I haven’t tried cooking the recipe on the hob, but you could probably do it in a shorter time if you are good at converting these things (I’m not), or in the oven if you’re really brave.  You will notice that there are also a few vegetables in this recipe – I hadn’t initially planned to add any, however found that I had a few parsnips and half a swede in the veg drawer.  I added these about two and a half-hours before the end of the cooking time to stop them breaking down too much.  Any other root vegetables would work just as well.


Beef Shin, Black Bean and Chipotle Stew

  • 150g dried black beans
  • 1.2kg bone-in beef shin
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp chilli powder
  • Olive oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely choppped
  • 1 red chilli, finely chopped
  • 400g tinned tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 2 tbsp chipotle paste
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • Fresh coriander, chopped

The day before you start cooking this recipe, place the black beans in a bowl and cover with cold water.  Cover the bowl with clingfilm and soak the beans for 24 hours.

To make the spice rub for the beef, combine the paprika, cumin, oregano and chilli powder, along with a generous pinch of salt and pepper.  Rub the spices into the meat pieces and leave, uncovered, in the fridge for an hour.

Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan and brown the pieces of beef shin for a few minutes on each side.  Turn the slow cooker on to a high setting and place the meat in the bottom.  Leaving the oil in the saucepan, gently fry the onion until translucent, about five minutes, then add the garlic and chilli and fry for a further couple of minutes before adding the mixture to the slow cooker.

Add the drained black beans and tinned tomatoes to the slow cooker.  Fill up the empty tomato tin with water and add to the mixture. Stir in the tomato puree and the chipotle paste and crumble in the stock cube and cook on a high setting for seven hours, stirring occasionally and adding more water if the sauce looks as though it is drying out.  By the end of the cooking time, the meat should be falling from the bone and the bone marrow should have melted into the stew.  Remove any remnants of meat from the bones and set the bones aside.  Stir in the red wine vinegar and half of the coriander.  Serve in bowls, using the last of the coriander as a garnish.  Add sour cream or sliced avocado if you wish.

Mexican Spiced Flourless Chocolate Cake

Mexican spiced flourless chocolate cake

Mexican spiced flourless chocolate cake

Last night we had some friends over for dinner and Ollie made his pulled pork.  With both of us being massive fans of southern American and Mexican food, he has worked very hard to perfect this porcine treat and has finally reached a stage he is happy with.  After several hours of slow cooking and a final blast in the oven to crisp up the ends, he served it up with black beans in ham hock stock and cumin, guacamole, rice, cheese, sour cream and a pile of soft tortillas for us to wrap up this bounty in.  He has promised to write up the recipe for a future blog post as it is really is too good to keep to himself.

I wanted to find a suitable dessert to finish up this delicious feast and my mind turned to spiced chocolate.  I have a flourless chocolate recipe that I have used as the basis for many desserts over the years.  I find that it is the perfect thing to pull out of the bag for a variety of occasions – it is quick to make, contains only three ingredients (chocolate, eggs, butter) and is both gluten-free and nut-free. Plus, more or less everybody loves chocolate.  I have adapted it in various ways over the years – adding some toasted pecans for a little crunch or some rum-soaked raisins for a little booziness, but never before with spices.  I had a Mexican chocolate cupcake a few years ago at a bakery in Crystal Palace and wanted to replicate the flavour of that, which called for two things:  cinnamon and cayenne pepper.

There are two very important things to bear in mind when making a flourless chocolate cake:  use the highest quality chocolate you can afford with 75% cocoa solids as an absolute minimum.  You can, of course, use any chocolate, but you will not get the same depth of flavour as a very high cocoa solid.  I love Green & Blacks 85% Dark Chocolate for this purpose, although I find it too dark to use for anything else.  Also, and you’ve probably heard this a million times, make sure you do not knock the air out of the beaten egg whites.  Due to the lack of flour, this air is the only rising agent the cake has, and vigorous beating will result in fewer bubbles and a flat cake.  Lesson over.


You may find that when the cake comes out of the oven it will start to sink.  This is completely normal and is actually what creates the dense and gooey texture that you get in a flourless chocolate cake.  Sometimes the cake will sink evenly and sometimes it will dip in the middle – there seems to be no science behind how it sinks – but if you find the latter occurring, gently patting down the edges with a clean tea towel will make the cake sink more evenly.  Failing that, just fill the dip with a load of whipped cream or fruit and pretend it was supposed to look like that.

Mexican Spiced Flourless Chocolate Cake

  • 350g dark chocolate, I used Green & Blacks 85%
  • 170g unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¾ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 6 eggs, separated

Preheat the oven to 170ºc / 350ºf / gas 4.  Butter a 9-inch springform cake pan and dust with cocoa powder.  Shake off the excess.

Melt the chocolate and butter together, along with the spices, in a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water.  Leave to cool for a few minutes then add the egg yolks to the mixture, one at a time, stirring after each addition.

In the bowl of a freestanding mixer, whip the egg whites until stiff but not too firm.  They should keep their shape when the whisk is lifted out.  Carefully fold one-third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, taking care not to knock the air out of them.  Once incorporated, gently fold in the remaining egg whites until no streaks of white remain.  Again, do not overmix.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake in the centre of the oven for 40-45 minutes.  After this time it will look as though the cake needs further baking, but it should not.  Remove it from the oven and allow to cool.  Serve in slices.