Monday, February 14, 2011

The Hunt for Queso Fresco: Borough Market

Last Thursday, Suzanne Powers and I headed out to Borough Market for Mexican food fixin's.   I was curious why, when I mentioned I was going to Borough Market to look for some Mexican produce, Suzanne, my foodie friend, suggested that we just go to Sainsbury's.   She couldn't figure out why I wanted to go so far.   I thought she was just of over BM.   Turns out though that after 14 years in London she had never been to BM.  I was so proud to introduce someone to something.  Usually it is the other way 'round.

BM was a big hit.  We may turn a trip into a regular thing--though the Italian deli guys that I like aren't open on Thursdays, so it might have to be Friday morning.  That makes it tight for picking up the kids for half day Friday though.  I'll have to sort that out.  

Since Suzanne has a car, we drove.  I have to say, I am not too big on driving in London.  By the time we got there after getting caught in a little bit of obligatory traffic, finding some parking, and then paying for that parking--it didn't double the time to go out to Borough Market but probably came close.   Next time I'll probably take the Tube there and, once laden with groceries, take a taxi back.

We did have an interesting discussion about taxi drivers on the way.  If you aren't familiar with London taxi drivers, they are the best.   They have the map of London in their head.  In order to get a license they have to take an onerous test.   If they don't have another job and can devote all their time to biking around London to study, then it takes about three years before they are ready for the test.   Any taxi driver worth his salt can take you directly to some address without consulting any key map or nav system.  (Some have a nav system for traffic patterns.)

Anyway, the way the Thames cuts thru London, very bend-y, it's hard, especially for someone like me who was not born with a good internal compass, to tell when you are north of the river or south of the river.  So when you live in say Chelsea and you need to go out to Canary Wharf, as a lot of business people do, there's a straight shot right down Embankment as they are both on the same side, but that route is technically longer and about £40 each way.   (Hence, the need for a car for those whose lives aren't within two miles of their house.)   The taxi drivers, even though they know the shorter way by crossing over the river and winding through tiny streets in London, they take Embankment.  One told Suzanne that people who are not familiar with London often accuse the taxi drivers of running up the meter because the southside route involves a lot of sidestreets and odd turns.*  So the taxi drivers use Embankment.

The Mexican place at Borough Market is the Cool Chile Company.  They have dried chiles and powders along with a decent assortment of Mexican spices.  They only occasionally have fresh chiles or produce. I was looking for tomatillos, which look like a cross between a gooseberry and a green tomato, with a lime-y taste.  They have canned tomatillos and a salsa.  Since I was making verde enchiladas, I opted for the salsa.  If I couldn't do fresh then I might as well save myself making the sauce base.  They have a couple of red salsas and a red enchilada sauce, though.  Most importantly, the Cool Chile Company has fresh corn tortillas and their own corn chips.  They are the thicker kind (thin or thick corn chips is a personal preference, and in Texas the stores are full of options--thick, thin, salted, lightly salted, blue corn...).  I prefer thin but these are far better than Doritos, which is the only other option around here.  (Sarah and any other Texpatriates reading: bring your favorite salsas, chili powders, rotel, canned chiles, and black beans.  Those are hard to come by, and expensive when you do.  Cool Chile delivers, though.  You might want to make your own flour tortillas too.  Old El Paso is all I've seen.)

In addition to the Mexican shopping, we got aged meat, which Suzanne was happy to find for another foodie friend.  We got dumplings for the kids for dinner, and some olive oil with crunchy garlic.  (I might eat that while Yasha is out of town.)  We got some yummy brownies (BM is like Central Market where you could eat a small meal in samples) and some delicious shortbread heart cookies for dessert.  I don't like shortbread but ate one of those; it seems that the trick is to undercook them so they are moist.  We bought all that before we hit the produce vendor where we needed 30+ limes.  I had to get avocados too as the "Perfectly Ripe" avocados I had gotten in my Ocado delivery were about 3 days from ripe.  (More on that in my grocery post, later.)

Did I mention that the day was completely nasty?  The clouds spat drizzle all day long.  The trip back to the car was a bit wet.   Nevertheless, we had a fun trip and got almost everything we needed.  Later I took my son and the remaining supplies over to Suzanne's.  Our sons are nursery school friends.  We fed them the dumplings, and they played while we chopped.  I took Christopher Robin home later, so I could dress and collect the margarita mix Yasha whipped up for us. (That's where the bulk of the limes went.)

I went back to Suzanne's, and we, about 6 of us, cooked and drank.  Despite imprecise ingredients, the dinner came together well.  We discussed the difference between Mexican and TexMex.  I was cooking TexMex.  I mixed the green salsa with sour cream, which you can get at Waitrose, to make a decent verde sauce.  I should have purred it as the salsa is quite chunky, but the flavor was decent.  I never found queso fresco, but Waitrose now carries Monterrey Jack, so I mixed that with cheddar.  That worked fine.  We did the 'ritas on the rocks and had to stir, not shake.  It just isn't the same.  I hadn't done refried beans in a while and forgot that you need more than you think.  They tasted fine though.

Everyone ate everything so I think it went well.  I was just happy to do it.  When you cook for young children, even a variety of things, you tend to do a main and some veg.  If it takes more than 30 minutes pantry to table, with little helpers, or if it requires more than 2 pots, it just isn't worth doing daily.  Yasha cooks fancy with the kids on the weekend, but day to day it is just too much work, compounded by the fact that whatever takes you 15 minutes to do yourself, takes at least 25 minutes with little helpers.  As the Things have approached 3, though, home-life has gotten easier.  Only a day or so before Suzanne Powers suggested enchilada night, I had pulled out a cookbook with a mind to start complicated cooking again.  Only few days before that Paola and I were talking at a birthday party, and she asked for fresh ideas because she wanted to really cook again.  'Course I'm typing this post while Vilvy is cooking sausages and frozen veg.  Slowly, I'll start cooking again.

*I hear that it is incredibly lame to repeat taxi driver tales if you are a New Yorker, but I am not, nor have I ever been, nor do I wish to be, a New Yorker.  I love taxi driver tales.

UPDATE: Original typos fixed.  I'm trying to do more dictation while I am walking around town.  When I'm walking the words flow, and then I sit down and nothing comes.   I'd take notes, Yasha even helpfully picked up a few moleskins that I could keep with me, but my moleskins and pencils never stay where I put them, nor do my keys, or my shoes, or my phone...   I'm learning the dictation software, and the resulting text has different editing issues than I'm used to.  Also, Suzanne Powers wants to turn the themed dinner into a regular thing.  She's up next with French cooking.  She is American but her husband is French.  She has picked up some fabulous French cooking skills.  I've requested hollandaise lessons.  So sometime in March, Suzanne will do fish with some delightful green sauce and asparagus with hollandaise.  I've volunteered Vilvy to teach fresh pasta in April.


Sarah B said...

Good to know that Borough Market has at least a few things...I've been wondering if they might!

Have you heard of They have a few things...

I am definitely bringing over as much Mexican stuff as possible!! Oh, supposedly there's a new Cantina Laredo that has opened up in London, have you tried it? I'm kind of curious about it as an option for Mexican food cravings...

AHLondon said...

Haven't tried either. Let me know how they work out, especially if mexgrocer has cheese and produce.