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Valentine’s Day gets a little spicy

If you’re looking for your Valentine’s Day to go out with a bang, then look no further than Wahaca, home to more aphrodisiac ingredients than Aphrodite’s larder. Just check out these (in no way spurious) claims that indigenous Mexican ingredients carry:

Avocados: Whether it’s mashed up in a guacamole or whizzed into a salsa, this silky smooth fruit of the gods is a great way to get things started. William Dampier, a nineteenth century English adventurer, said “It is reported that this fruit provokes to lust” and if that wasn’t enough, The Aztecs called it ahuacatl, meaning “testicle tree”. So, if you can get that image out of your head, woo your Valentine with some guacamole and tortilla chips.

Chillies: It’s long been known that the capsicum contained in chillies provide the right amount of heat to spice up any Valentine’s evening. But where does this rumor come from? Well, chillies contain vitamins A and C, as well as increasing the metabolism by as much as twenty five percent after the ingestion. So don’t forget to liberally pour over your chile de arbol salsa and let the heart start racing.

Chocolate: It’s no coincidence that chocolates are the most popular Valentine’s gift and the best way to a ladies heart. In fact, the tale is told that the Mexican Emperor Moctezuma drank fifty golden goblets of chocolate a day to enhance his libido and assure the continuance of his line. Probably didn’t do great things for his teeth mind you. It’s a complex food source containing theobromine, a substance related to caffeine, which gives an energy boost as well as phenylethylamine and seratonin, which are mood-lifting agents. We’d recommend trying some chicken mole tacos which have a salsa made with chilli and chocolate. Double trouble.

Vanilla: Another indigenous Mexican ingredient, which yes, is said to get things stirring in the right direction. In fact, Mexico’s Totonac people, whose region is the original home of vanilla, tell a folk tale in which Xanat, the youngest daughter of a fertility goddess, fell in love with a local youth. Since she was a goddess and he a human, they were unable to marry. Bad times. But to express her eternal love, she transformed herself into the first vanilla plant, whose aroma would always provide him with pleasure. Ahhhhhh. If that’s not enough to get you ordering our flan de la casa (with its wicked caramel sauce), then you’re a lost cause.

Passion fruit: Well the name says it all(even if it’s actually nothing to do with that kind of passion), and we think it’s best ordered in our Passion Fruit Margarita to sip throughout your meal. As you’ll probably know the tequila we use is made from 100% pure agave. And as the agave plant, is widely believed to boost the libido. That would make for 100% pure potent passion in a glass. So watch out.

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Tips from the chilli expert #4: Looking after your chillies

Having followed his tips on planting, re-potting and pollinating, you’ll hopefully now have some good chilli shoots sprouting. But Mother Nature can be a cruel mistress and things do go wrong, so we’ve enlisted the help of our official Chilli Expert, Craig McKnight to give you some TLC tips. Over to you Craig.

First things first. As I’ve mentioned before, make sure that you keep the compost moist and not drenched. If you overwater, then this will not help your chilli plants, and will probably kill them. It is best to water them little and often, rather than nothing for ages, and then drench them in a mad panic because the compost has dried out.

If your plants have produced flowers already, then you can give them a helping hand by putting liquid tomato feed into their water for everyother watering. I tend to use it at half the concentration recommended on the back of the bottle. Alternatively, if you search on the internet, there are specialist feeds for chilli plants.

The second thing to watch out for is the enemy of the gardener, slugs and snails. The only surefire way to get rid of these is to check your plants periodically. You can use slug pellets, but obviously these tend not to be organic. However, I have tried a natural product called ‘Slug Gone’, and had very good results from it.

Lastly, everyone gets aphids on their chilli plants occasionally. A natural way to control these is to encourage ladybirds to live near your chilli plants, as they are the natural predators of aphids. You can even buy them from the internet!
Another way to try to control them is to spray your plants with a very weak solution of washing up liquid in water. However, do not use one that is describes as “anti-bacterial” and use one that is fragrance-free. Also, don’t spray your plants when it is hot, or in direct sunlight, as you will scorch the plants, and kill them.

There’ll be another ‘guru video’ shortly giving tips about how to recognise when your chillies are ready to pick. In the meantime, happy chilli growing!

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Tips from the chilli expert #3 Pollinating your chillies

So you’ve crossed everything that isn’t painful, and now your chilli plants have grown big and healthy, and have developed flowers.

Those flowers are crucial, as they turn into chillies when the flowers have been pollinated. However, don’t just rely on Mother Nature to pollinate your flowers – watch this video to see how you can give her a helping hand, and get lots of chillies as a result!

We’re always keen to hear how you’re getting on with your chilli growing, so please do let us know about your successes, failures and any other chilli related news by commenting below. If you have any pictures to share, then you can put them up onto our facebook page.

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Tips from the Chilli Expert #2 Repotting your plants

So, you’ve planted your seeds, waited with baited breath and crossed your fingers, and all of your dreams have come true – Your chilli seeds have sprouted! But before you get ahead of yourself, just hold on a second, you’ve got to make sure you look after them well if you’re going to be rewarded with precious fruit. In the second of our installment of Chilli Expert videos, our guru grower talks you through repotting your plants to ensure you get an even growth. Over to you Craig…

When your chilli seedling has developed its second set of leaves, it is time to pot it on to another pot.

A mistake that some people make at this stage is to repot it straight into a huge pot, thinking that this ok. If you do this, all that will happen is that the chilli plant will grow to fill the pot, but concentrate on producing foliage, but no flowers. If the plant does not produce flowers, then you will not get any chillies!

As a general rule of thumb, your chilli plant should be potted on to a larger pot when the roots start to appear out of the bottom of the current pot. Personally, I pot on plants from a 3 inch to a 5 inch and eventually to a 7 inch pot.

Keep an eye on your plant and water it if the compost looks as if it is drying out. Again, the idea is to keep the compost moist and not drenched. In the colder months, you will find you only have to water every two or three days, but as the weather heats up, you will probably need to water every day.

When flowers start to appear on the plant, you can give it a helping hand by adding liquid tomato feed to the water. It should be diluted at half of the recommended ratio for tomato plants.

Alternatively, you could use one of the feeds that are specifically designed to be used with chillies.

In the next video, I’ll be giving you tips about how to make sure that all the flowers on your chilli plants turn into lovely chillies. See you then!

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Tips from the Chilli Expert #1 Planting your seeds

There’s been huge excitement around Wahaca all week at the thought of the launch of our first ever Chilli Expert video, and we’re pleased to say that the wait has come to an end!

You may remember back in May we started our search for the Wahaca Chilli Expert, and much tweeting, blogging, filming and soul-searching later, we found our man in none other than Craig McNight (It was his increadibly cool surname that confirmed him as our winner!). Since then Craig (or @wegrowourown to his twitterarti) has been busy filming for us, and here is his first video and blog post. Take it away Craig…

Hi and welcome to the first of my ‘Chilli Expert’ videos for Wahaca. In this video I’ll be showing you how to make sure that your chilli seeds have the best chance of germinating, and growing into lovely big chilli plants.

Chilli plants grow best with lots of warmth and sunshine, so sowing in January or February is ideal to give them a good head start to catch lots of rays over the summer months, however as long as you keep them warm and with in some daylight they should grow any time of year.

There are a few bits of basic equipment that you will need. You’ll need a plant pot, some multi-purpose compost, a spray bottle, and obviously your seeds!

First fill your pot with the compost and firm it down. Spray the compost with the spray bottle, but the idea is keep the compost moist, rather than drenching it.

If you are using the Wahaca chilli seeds, snap off the matchstick carefully and plant it point end down into the compost to the mark on the matchstick. However, if you are using your own chilli seeds instead, just place them on top of the compost, cover them with another 0.5cm of compost, and then lightly spray it again with the water spray.

Now what your chilli seeds need are heat and moisture. You can help them along by covering the pot with clingfilm and putting it somewhere warm like a windowsill over a radiator, or an airing cupboard.

Check the seeds every day, and spray the compost again if it seems as if it is too dry. Remember the idea is to keep the compost moist and not wet!

Also if you have put the seeds in the airing cupboard to help them along, take them once they have germinated, otherwise you will end up with weak, leggy plants which is a big no-no!

You can also plant the seeds directly into compost in a heated propagator, which you can pick up for a few pounds online or at your local gardening centre. If you’re doing this, plant the seeds about 5-6cm apart.

Also, be aware that different varieties of chilli seeds take different times to germinate. On average they can take up to 3 weeks to germinate, but some hotter varieties can take up to six weeks, so just sit on your hands and be patient!

In my next video, I’ll be showing how to make sure that your just germinated seeds grow into lovely large chilli plants. See you then!

You can read more from Craig on his own blog, www.wegrowourown.co.uk

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Are you hotter than Charlie Dimmock? Spicier than Alan Titchmarch? You could be our Chilli Expert!

Red Hot Chilli Peppers
Red Hot Chilli Peppers

We want to create a series of videos that showcase the joys of growing chillies in a really fun way and we want one of you to be their star. The series will start with a demonstration of how to plant your seeds and then move into the fun and games of pollination, insect defence and harvesting.

We’re looking for someone with a quirky sense of humour and passion for growing chillies to help us make this series.

To apply for this great role simply film yourself (on your mobile phone, digital camera or whatever other format you’ve got access to) doing something that brings your chilli passion to life and upload it to our Facebook page with a short paragraph to convince us that you are the next Don Monty Don.

We will choose our favourite best applicants and set them to a public vote. The winner of which will be rewarded with a Flip video camera, chilli growing tuition, a free meal at Wahaca and the stage to be a star. But don’t delay, get filming now – to fit in with the chilli growing season, we need your entries by 1st June.

Beuatiful image is from ianduffy on Flickr via Creative Commons.

For full terms and conditions please email us at loswahacos@wahaca.co.uk

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Canary Wharf Chilli Giveaway

Chillies
Image from Brylan on Flickr

We will be giving away chilli starter packs which included – seeds, soil, pot, planter measurer and recipe for once you have grown your chillies.

Come and find us at Jubilee Place Crossroads and Canada Square Crossroads this morning and during lunch time. Look out for some brightly coloured barrels…

For when you’ve got your chilli starter kit we offer a chilli tutorial on the blog, a surgery on Flickr and if you’re lucky we may even give you a Mexican recipe or two to make the most out of them.

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Tommi Thanks You

We’ve had a great response to Tommi’s request for your Mexican recipes to go into her new book, Mexican Food Made Simple, and we are now closed for entries.

We’ve spent the last month collecting together your wild, wonderful and occasionally mind blowing recipe suggestions, so there’s lots of deliberation, cogitation and digestion to be done before we make our final choice of whose recipe will be published for the world see.

Watch this space for more from the British Chilli Revolution soon.

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The Chilli Fiesta at West Dean Gardens (Guest post)

Edible Ornaments

There is always a frisson of excitement when we get up early to head to the Chili Fiesta at West Dean Gardens.  In years past we’ve dragged numerous friends along with us for this very special fiery foodie day out in the countryside but this year it was just my hubby and I, for a change. We were flush with cash and ready to stock up our supply cupboard.

We got up bracingly early and got to West Dean just after half nine.  A small crowd had already gathered and by ten the “doors” were opened and we paid our entrance fee.

The weather played along beautifully and everyone commented on the glorious day it was turning out to be as we ambled along the paths, stopping to chat to various vendors.

Chilipepperpete was there, with a new sauce called Dragon’s Blood.  Holy smokes – I tried the mild one and had to turn away otherwise I would have lost my street cred.  Tears were streaming down my face and it felt like I had taken a mouthful of fire.  It was lovely though, once the face-falling-off receded, I appreciated the beautiful flavours in the sauce. We stocked up on a variety of dried chili and made sure not to touch any of the open sauces with our bare fingers.  Spicy saucy finger accidentally in your eye, is not a good way to start the day

The Chiliqueen’s table is always a treat to stop at and sample the new condiments and flavours she’s rustled up.  A particular favourite is the Coriander and Shallot mixed in with her standard chili jelly base.  Lovely with new potatoes and veggies or as a glaze for pork or poultry.  A few jellies were bought and stuffed into the backpack.

A favourite stall, probably for almost everyone who goes to the Chili Fiesta, is the organic chocolatier’s Montezuma’s. You have to get your elbows out to get near their stall.  Wonderful boxed displays vie for attention with platters of broken up chocolate pieces to try.  All I can say is that I am truly grateful to them for opening up a shop in the City (London) which is where my husband works.  Chocolate cravings = satisfied!  On the forefront of mixing flavours and coming up with great ideas for chocolate, they are a chocolate lovers’ paradise.

A new stall to Mark and I was Stratta – a competently run booth by Mary and John Stratton whose hobby of making delicious oils, vinegars and preserves went stratospheric as they keep winning gold in the Great Taste Awards!  We spent a few minutes chatting to them about their beautifully flavoured vinegar (we bought blackcurrant vinegar) and oils.  Mary’s enthusiasm was palpable and I knew I would have been able to sit there and talk to her the whole day given half a chance.  But we moved on to see what else we could find at the foodie fest.

If you’ve never been to West Dean Gardens before it would be worth the trip just to walk around the glasshouses and wild looking arbors.  We took time away from the stalls to do just that and discovered some of their wild flowers growing at in the walled garden.  The glasshouses are tranquil havens and I spent a lot of time running around taking photos of various plants and fruits – like a real townie.

We discovered The Cool Chile Company in the glasshouse and came away with some genuine home-made mole and Mexican Hot Chocolate.  I could have spent a lot of money right here as the products are all the real thing – they even have a proper tortilla press.  How totally hardcore is that?

We ambled through some more stalls but noticed that things were getting pretty busy and packed out with fellow foodies.  We grabbed some lunch (herb foccacia with some greek salad and hibiscus water) in the shade of a tree, some distance away from the crowds, and sat around, relaxing and enjoying the day.  At an estimate, I would say that there must have been well in excess of a thousand people there, with more people arriving by the minute.

Just after one pm we bid West Dean Garden and the lovely people running the Chili Fiesta a farewell, till next year.  We had a glorious time, made all the more perfect by the vendors’ generosity and creativity in coming up with “I want that” products.  Every item that can have a chili influence, and some you would never have thought about, was for sale.  There are many more shops and vendors I could name in this blog but to be honest, put a reminder in your diary now, for next year, to go and check out the Chili Fiesta.  You won’t be sorry.  Two cautions though:  get there early and remember to wash your hands!

Thank you so much Liz(UK) (who we met on Twitter) for writing this brilliant report for us. It’s very inspiring and has got us looking forward to next year’s fiesta already.  Hopefully this is the first of many Wahaca fan guest posts.

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Tommi wants you*

Tommi wants you

*to send her your recipes…

I have been learning so much about chillies from Mexicans, fellow food lovers and general chilli nuts that I thought it would be a fun, if slightly mad-capped idea to publish someone’s best ever Mexican recipe which uses chilli in my cookbook, ‘Mexican Food Made Simple’ , due out next April.

The idea is that anyone out there in cyberspace sends me their favourite Mexican recipe using chilli.  The recipe has to be easy to follow, not too complicated and use ingredients that you can get in the UK (even if that means sending off for a Mexican chilli by mail order).  If the recipe is good enough, the winning recipe goes into my book (as judged by Hodder, my publisher, some mystery chefs and me), whilst if there is a runner-up, they will be published in Wahaca’s “Ola London”, which we hand out to 10,000 people a week at Wahaca and several hundred journalists.

For all the cynics out there, I have now written most of my book which has to be handed in by the beginning of September, so time is of the essence!  If you are keen, send recipes to loswahacos@wahaca.co.uk before 4th September.

I am waiting with baited breath to see recipes!  Let’s start the British Chilli Revolution here!

Happy cooking….

Tommi xxx

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