Mexican was a recent selection at the Tasty Reads Book Club.  I chose Cantina by Paul Wilson for my book because it is food porny to rival Sabrina Ghayour’s Persiana


Take a look at these pictures from Cantina.

Pacific Oyster Cebiche with Melon Salsa. 

Dani made this as her bring along to the discussion and they are even more delicious in real life than the picture.

Cantina Cebiche
Cantina Cebiche


Ranchero Style Beef Broth With Bone Marrow Toasts

Personally, I’m not sure about eating the Bone Marrow Toasts but they LOOK amazing!

Cantina Ranchero Style Beef Broth
Cantina Ranchero Style Beef Broth

 Street Style Tostadas With Seared Tuna and Wood Grilled Vegetables.

Would it be wrong to say this just made me want to lick the page?

Cantina Street Style Tostadas
Cantina Street Style Tostadas

Gorgeous right?  However, as you may have spotted, this is not your typical bean and burrito Mexican.  There is not a yellow box in sight.  As a Mexican Dorothy might say, “We’re not in Chipotle anymore Toto”.  Cantina delivers high end, highly complex Mexican food.  For instance, those “Street Style” Tostadas? 

22 ingredients – minimum.  But you also need a base.  So depending on which of the bases you choose you can add another

  • 7 ingredients if you use the Jalopeno and Finger Lime Crema
  • 13 ingredients if you use the Veracruz Sauce
  • 8 ingredients if you make the Sesame Pipian.  But hold up.  One of the “ingredients”  of the Sesame Pipian is a Tomatillo Verde which in turn contains another 8 ingredients…so that would be another 15 ingredients. 

Thirty. Seven. Possible. Ingredients.  And up to three separate recipes.  For “street style” tostadas.  And ok, I get it, sometimes you need a lot of ingredients to get a depth of flavour and that alone would not necessarily be enough to put me off a recipe.  

However, these recipes were further complicated by a lot of the ingredients not being readily available in Australian supermarkets meaning a lot of ingredients having to be bought on the internet or having to drive across town to pick them up.  And then some could only be bought in bulk – hence the almost kilo of padron peppers sitting in my freezer!

Not to mention that cooking from Cantina was like going down the rabbit hole – one recipe lead to another which required another…it seemed never ending!  Here is a prime example.

 Heirloom Tomato Escabeche

I made this – it was one of the things I took to the Book Club Night.  It’s a salad.  It’s a fancy salad.  It’s maybe the BEST salad I have ever eaten.  But it’s a salad. 

However to make this salad, as per the recipe, you need to first have made the Mexican pickles.  And you also have to have made the Pasilla Chilli relish. 

Then you make a lime crema base…

THEN you make the salad. 

Then you collapse in a corner quietly sobbing…or….erm…you know….

 I did LOVE this, it was so pretty and also incredibly tasty.  But so much work for a salad.  Bear in mind this would usually be an accompaniment to something else – which probably also had multiple elements.  It was hard enough cooking one thing.  An entire meal would have sent me loopy!

Cantina Heirloom Salad Escabeche
Cantina Heirloom Salad Escabeche

 But to really demonstrate how this book just about sent my sanity to the edge and had a damn good crack at ruining my relationship you can go no further than….

Hanger Steak with Huitlacoche Mustard and Salsa Negra.

Cantina Hangar Steak
Cantina Hangar Steak

 That pictures looks pretty damn simple right?  It’s steak, salad and a condiment.  How hard could it be? 

Let me step you through the timeline of this one meal shall I?

 Week  -1:

Order Huitlacoche off internet.

Day of the Hangar Steak

6:30pm – Get home from work

6:45pm: Make my Latin Spice Rub.  This stuff is awesome.  Because you make much more of this than required, I have sprinkled this over everything since I made it and it makes everything – steak, chicken, fish, eggs, calamari – taste better.  Just beware it is hot, Hot, HOT so if you don’t like it spicy, go very easy!

Cantina Latin Spice Rub
Cantina Latin Spice Rub

6:55pm – Soak the dried porcinis

6:58pm – Chop onions and garlic.

7:03pm. Open can of huitlacoche.  What is in the tin looks like corn covered in snot.  Wonder if you have got a dodgy tin.


7:05pm. Google huitlacoche.  Realise it’s supposed to look like that.  Wish you hadn’t bought it.

7:15pm. Heat oil and cook onions garlic and both types of mushrooms

7:20pm.  Add huitlacoche and porcini liquid. 

The recipe them says to cook for 10 minutes until the liquid has reduced to a glossy sauce. This never happened.  For a start it was way too chunky – bear in mind the recipe does not even tell you to chop your mushrooms (which I did) but what I had in my saucepan after ten minutes looked like chopped mushrooms and corn covered in snot. 

7:40pm.  “When are we eating?  I’m hungr….what on God’s green earth is THAT?

“It’s mustard”

“It looks like mushrooms and corn covered in snot.  Why are you making mustard? Can’t we just have Colman’s?”

“You can’t have Colman’s, we’re having Mexican.  It’s special Mexican mustard.”

“It looks revolting”.

It didn’t look great.  And I don’t want to be  pedantic (I so totally do) but surely…a major component of anything called mustard should actually be mustard? 

And don’t even get me started on the Apricot and Mescal Aioli that contained no mescal and was not any sort of aioli I ever had. 

7:45. I’m staring at a hot mess in a pan, thinking maybe if I blended it it would look a little bit more like the mixture in the picture.

7:55.  After some blending with the hand mixer, we now have something that looks pretty much like the picture in the book. Which is to say, like baby poo. 

I’ve now been cooking for an hour and have….a spice rub and some sort of condiment which probably should not be called mustard. Which he is refusing to eat and I’m losing interest in by the second.. 

Never mind. The rest is steak and salad.  Easy Peasy.

8:00pm.  Rub the steaks with the spice rub.  That can sit for a while because now, we need to turn to page 36 to make the Latin Vinaigrette for the garnish.  Yes.  Even the garnish requires you to move to a different page.

Latin Vinaigrette contains 10 ingredients.  Roll eyes, sigh.  Make Latin Vinaigrette.

8:10. Latin Vinaigrette Made.

8:15pm.  Start on the Salsa Negra. 

8:16pm Turn back to page 36 to make Salsa Mexicana for the Salsa Negra

8:17pm  Salsa Mexicana requires a Zesty Lime Dressing  found on page 37. Sigh, roll eyes start muttering swear words underbreath. 

8:20pm. : “When are we eating? ”

“Soon.  I just need to make the steak.  And the salad”

“I thought that’s what we were having”

“It is” This through gritted teeth. 

“But…you’ve been cooking for hours…why is there no steak?  Or salad?”

“Because it’s Mexican and it’s driving me insane.  I just need to make this dressing first.  And I really need you to be quiet.”

“I thought you just made dressing”

“I did. That was a different dressing”

“Right.  So you’ve been cooking for ages.  And you’ve made a mustard that isn’t even a mustard and two salad dressings? When will you cook the steak?  I’m starving!!!!”

“Just.  Don’t. Speak.  This Mexican is doing my head in and the  more I have to chitter chatter with you, the longer this is going to take.”

8:30pm Zesty Lime Dressing Made. 

8:40pm Salsa Mexicana made. 

2015-03-31 21.06.05

8:45pm “Where’s the can of black beans that we absolutely definitely had in the cupboard?”

“I ate them for lunch…”

“But….the salad is back bean salad.  How are are supposed to have black bean salad with no  black beans?”

“We have white beans”

“You can’t make black bean salad with white beans”

“Don’t be a bean racist”.

“Shut up”

We didn’t have white beans. By now I was slightly hysterical.  Two hours and no beans to make the bean salad. 

8:55pm “I’m hungry….when are we eating?”

“Shut up, I need to think”

“I’m going to have some cereal”

“Don’t eat cereal, we’re just about to have dinner”

“A likely story…”

9:05pm.  We had couscous in the fridge. I ended up making the black bean salad with couscous.

9:15pm.  The steak finally hits the grill.

9:30pm.  Nearly three hours later, we sit down to eat.  It was good.  It was really good.  The couscous was fine – maybe even better than black beans.  But it was steak and salad.  And it had taken nearly three hours to make. And i was in such a bad mood by the time it was ready I didn’t really enjoy it on the night.  Next day for lunch though?  Super!

Hangar Steak Salad LeftoversAnd here in lies the what I feel is the dilemma of Cantina.   Two and a half hours of cooking is WAY to long for a weekday meal. Ok, you could make the rub and the dressings and the mustard before hand but that it still time spent somewhere.  And for me this is not a dinner party dish either.  It’s something…I’m just not sure what – it’s too complex for a casual meal but not fancy enough for a dinner party meal.

Oh, and that so called mustard?  I wouldn’t even bother with that.  I didn’t like the taste of it and there was  enough flavour in the rub and the dressings and the other bits and bobs so that you would not miss it. 
And finally…here it is:

2015-03-31 21.05.53Don’t get me wrong.  It was DELICIOUS.  Nothing I made from Cantina was bad.  Except for maybe that mustard. But you had to work hard for that goodness. 

Will I cook from Cantina again?  Hmmm….Possibly.  There are still a few recipes I really want to try.  But I would do it on a weekend.  Ideally a long weekend. 

Here is some of the other stuff I made:

Jalapeno and Finger Lime Crema

Jalapeno and Finger Lime Crema

Mexican Style Pickles

Loved them!

Mexican PicklesBaked Devilled Eggs with Sobrasado

I did a cheaty version of this in that I swapped in similar stuff I had for the listed ingredients such as barley wraps for the corn tortillas, pancetta and salami for the serrano ham and sobrasado, cheddar cheese for the Mahon…It was still awesome if not exactly remotely authentic.

 Baked Devilled Eggs With Sobrasata

 Chorizo with Apricot and (no) Mescal Aioli

Chorizo with apricot & mescal aïoliPumpkin Soup with Chorizo Migas

I had to buy achiote paste for this and didn’t like the flavour of it at all. 

I do enjoy saying Chorizo Migas in a very bad (a la Speedy Gonzales) Mexcan accent though.

Pumpkin Soup with Chorizos Migas

BBQ’ed Tuna Salad with Peruvian Salsa Criolla


 Barbecued tuna salad with peruvian salsa criollaDulce De Leche Ice Cream

So Good!  So, so good. Here it is with some French Apple Flan

French Apple Flan1
French Apple Flan1


Your’re meant to drink this alternating with sips of a shot of tequila.  I just  put my tequila in the drink along with all the rest of the stuff.  Loved this!


Here is the recipe for the Spice Rub, direct from Cantina.  And also serves as my Spice Blend for a Daring Kitchen Challenge MONTHS ago.  And hey, I guess the Hangar Steaks cover off on their Grilling challenge! 

Latin Spice Rub
A Latin spice rub ideal for grilled meats (and fish and eggs and oysters and cheese). With the addition of rosemary it is especially good with lamb. This is great to make in advance as it stores well.
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  1. 50g finely chopped rosemary
  2. 2 tbsp smoked paprika
  3. 1 tbsp ground cumin
  4. 1 tbsp ground fennel
  5. 1 tbsp chilli powder
  6. 1 tbsp garlic powder
  7. 1 tbsp caster (super-fine) sugar
  8. 2 tsp cayenne pepper
  1. Combine all the ingredients and store in an airtight container.
  2. Keep for up to a month.
Retro Food For Modern Times
 I honestly feel like cooking from Cantina once a week which is what I try to do with the Tasty Read selections almost broke me.  And, if the end result hadn’t almost invariably been delicious I would have gladly tossed the book in the trash multiple times. Instead, it’s filed away in the bookshelf just waiting for the right occasion.  So, just know this.  If you ever come to my house and I make you Mexican food that looks lovely and casual, know that I must REALLY like you!  Because that stuff is hard!

Have a great week!

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