Cooking interesting meals for my family always feels like a never-ending quest to keep the ‘interesting’ element afloat, because let’s face it, most of my weekly meal plans (when I have the forethought and organisational skills to actually get a meal plan done) tend to look pretty similar. Monday is usually Sunday roast leftover day and there will probably be a curry or a pasta dish thrown in there at some point too. Same old, same old. And with all this repetition, it comes as no surprise that my kids get bored with the regular re-appearances.
Take my Mexican-themed dish of choice, for example – that good, old-fashioned 1970s favourite Chilli Con Carne. It’s about as Mexican as I am but it’s easy and tasty. And unfortunately, just that little bit boring too. However, to spruce it up a little and make it more inviting, I’ve started dispensing with the rice on the side and use corn chips instead – most supermarkets include packets of plain corn chips as part of their basics or value range. My method involves cooking the chilli (more on that in a bit), then arranging a nest of the corn chips on each plate. Put some chilli in the middle, and then sprinkle on ready-grated mozzarella cheese (also available in most budget supermarket ranges). Microwave on high for approximately 2 and half minutes, or until the cheese has melted. I usually put sour cream and salsa on the table, so everyone can dollop them on as they wish but if I’ve got the time, I won’t bother with shop bought salsa and instead finely chop some cherry tomatoes and red onion then mix them together, perhaps with a bit of chopped parsley and coriander too.
But what about that chilli con carne? I’m afraid I don’t have any top secret, fool proof recipe, just your standard homemade effort. I fry up some chopped onion, grated carrot and crushed garlic in a pan and then remove once soft. Next, I fry the mince (either beef or pork – ideally a bit of both) on a high heat until browned, then put the onion mix back in the pan, along with about half a teaspoon of mild chilli powder, half a teaspoon of ground cumin and a pinch of cayenne pepper. I then cook for about a minute before adding a tin of chopped tomatoes, about the same amount of water, a beef stock cube and some tomato puree. I usually add some tomato ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and some brown sugar too, then cook for about 30 minutes until lovely and thick.
Another ridiculously easy Mexican adaptation is Fajitas. I’m not a fan of the readymade spice mixes you can buy in the supermarket, so I recently experimented with making my own. I used a decent amount of smoked paprika, some mild chilli powder and ground cumin, lime juice, oil and a bit of salt. I mixed the lot together (and tasted it before hand, just to get the seasoning correct), and marinated some sliced chicken breast before cooking in a very hot pan. And it worked!
This has inspired me to be a bit more experimental when it comes to my attempts at Mexican cuisine in the future, so next time you find yourself reaching for that easy spice mix, remember, it might be easier (and cheaper) to add a bit of heat yourself.