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Posts Tagged ‘taco’

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What better way to spend Thanksgiving weekend than to get away from cold Chicago and bask in the Mexican sun? Well, I was with my obnoxious family that took 2 hours to decide, read that argue about, what to do for every meal, so maybe it could be better? Actually, I’d have it no other way. A little aggravation is good for the soul. One thing that was easily agreed upon was heading to the San Benito Market in Merida (where my mom lives) with my two brothers. If you read my post on the market from the last time I was in Merida, you’ll see that I’m a big fan of the various tacos and other food items one can gorge themselves on. One thing I didn’t try on my past trip was any of the seafood. So, my brothers and I set off to find out if it’s as good as the 4-legged creatures one can devour there. We did start off with a couple of tacos each for an appetizer.

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What we found in the pescado section was that none of the “restaurants” served fish ceviche. All of the camarones one could want, but no fish ceviche. One of the stalls was willing to make it for us though. So, they headed over to the fishmongers and grabbed a couple of fish for us. One was a snapper and the other was something else. I did see some baby hammerhead sharks at the fishmongers’ counter (don’t know why my older bro didn’t get a good photo of those as I didn’t have my camera with me, but he’s not as bright as I am, so we’ll give him a pass), and the other fish did have a sharky texture, but I’m not sure if it was shark or not.

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This woman, with all of her years of skill and knowledge, proceeded to skin, inspect, and chop up the various fish. Then she added the lime juice, salt, and pepper, and mixed it around for a bit. She dumped it out and did it all over again and again tasting each time to make sure it was just how she wanted us to eat it.

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Once the fish was “cooked” enough and had enough of the seasoned lime flavor she mixed in some diced onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. Out of the mixing bowl and onto our plate.

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When a little old Mayan woman serves you something she just made right in front of your eyes with a smile like that, how can it not be delicious? Well, it wasn’t delicious, it was beyond delicious! It was delovecious! You see, I had to make up a lame ass word and it still doesn’t do justice to what she just whipped up. With some tortilla’s and super spicy salsa verde none of us had ever eaten a ceviche quite so good. You could really taste the love she put into that dish. This woman didn’t want three handsome men like us (I’m by far the most handsome of the three, and I smell the best too) to go unsatisfied. I think all three of us left a little piece of our hearts, and stomach linings with her.

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A few nights ago Yuki and I went for a walk and realized that we were pretty hungry. The beauty of Chicago in the summer is the numerous al fresco options. We walked by Angels and Mariachis on Division and I remembered something my friend Chef John Caputo said about the place, “it’s tacos for gringos.” I happen to be a gringo, and I happen to love tacos. Mind you, he didn’t say they were good, so I had to find out for myself. Yuki’s quite frequently up for some tacos as well, so we grabbed a table outside and dined.

Pitchers of the House Margarita were on sale, so we got one. Typical bar margarita, not very strong and a little sweet. Oh well, it was hot out, the margarita was cold, I wasn’t gonna bitch too much. It was refreshing, I just prefer a little tequila in my margaritas.

The chips were freshly fried and nicely salted. The salsa, well, it was salsa. A tad sweet, not quite spicy enough, and very mediocre.

We split a tamale as an appetizer, that was a mistake. The texture was alright, but there was absolutely zero flavor! It was stuffed with slow simmer pork, but you wouldn’t know it without looking. The pork lacked seasoning, the masa lacked seasoning, even the sauce lacked seasoning. I told the waitress to let their chef know not to be afraid of serving a tamale with some flavor. She did remove it from our bill, but they should be ashamed to serve a tamale like that…blaspheme!

We also split a rice and beans plate. They were ok, but definitely not Mexican in flavor. The black beans I make at home are far better than these, but they were edible.

On to the tacos. They come 4 to a plate and are small, about 2-3 bites each. We decided to share three different orders. First was the short rib braised in red wine. It was actually pretty good. The beef was soft and tender while it had the right amount of seasoning, surprisingly after that tamale. Then we had the carnitas. Again, it was also pretty good. The pork was properly cooked and they topped it with matchsticks of carrots and pickled daikon, almost Vietnamese in flavor. It was a nice match for the pork. Last was the lobster. It was basically a seafood salad with lobster meat. Not bad, but not anything special that sings lobster. Could have easily have been crab or shrimp and you wouldn’t have noticed the difference.

The service was pretty good overall. I didn’t have to ask for that tamale to be removed from the bill. I just mentioned how bad it was and she did the right thing. Food came out at a nice pace as well.

All in all, I completely agree with Chef Caputo’s assessment that the place serves tacos for gringos. You really don’t need to say whether or not it’s good or bad as that statement pretty much says it all. While the tacos weren’t too bad at all, I don’t think I’ll jump out of my seat and rush back for more.

On a side note, I’m still very dissapointed that Andy’s Deli is no longer there. I still mourn when they sold the building, and having flavorless tamales served from the very space that used to sell the best tubes of smoked pork in town only makes me miss them more.

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A couple of nights ago I made Paella for dinner. My mom came back to town so I had to make something to feed 5 adults. This recipe was actually enough for 6, so I have a little leftover in the fridge. That’ll most likely be my lunch once I’m done with this post.

I’ve made Paella a few times before, and it always turns out pretty good, but I’m up for some good advice on how to make a dish better whenever someone can give me a good tip. It turns out that Mike Isabella and Antonia Lofaso from Top Chef were doing a cooking demo in the Whole Foods parking lot. Besides getting autographs Mike told me that the best way to make Paella is to let everything sit over medium heat for about 10-15 minutes once you have all of the ingredients mixed in. People usually get the inclination to keep mixing things around, but by letting it sit you’ll get that nice crusty rice at the bottom that makes Paella a special dish. So, that’s what I did.

My ingredients included 1 cup of frozen peas thawed, 1/2 pound bay scallops, 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 2 of those smoked chorizo sliced, 3 skinless chicken thighs chopped, a 14oz can of diced tomatoes, 2 teaspoons of paprika, 1/2 orange bell pepper diced, 1/2 yellow bell pepper diced, 1/2 red bell pepper diced (wasn’t in the pic, last minute decision), 1/2 onion diced, 1 cup chicken stock (pic shows 2, only used one), 2 cups of sushi rice rinsed (any kind of short-grain rice will work), a large pinch of saffron, and 3 garlic cloves minced.

I started off by heating up my large skillet and then pouring in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. I added the garlic and then 30 seconds later the onion. About 3 or 4 minutes after that I dumped in the peppers and let that go for another 3 or 4 minutes. Then I added the chicken and let it cook for about 4 more minutes before adding the chorizo. Once the chorizo started to get a little color, you guessed it, 3 or 4 minutes, I added the rice. It’s important to get every grain of rice coated in the hot oil so that it toasts a little bit. That helps get the toothsome texture you want in a good Paella.

Then I poured in the can of tomatoes with the liquid. Oh, I forget to mention that I let the saffron sit in the cup of chicken stock for about a half hour along with the paprika, that let’s the flavor and color distribute more evenly. Once the tomatoes started to boil a bit I poured in the flavored chicken stock and seasoned with salt and pepper. I gave that a few minutes to start boiling a little and then added the scallops, peas, and parsley. I mixed everything up, covered the skillet, turned the heat down to medium, and let it sit for 15 minutes.

When I took the lid off almost all of the liquid had absorbed into the rice, yet the rice had kept a nice firm texture. Thanks to Mike’s advice, I did get that nice crust on the bottom. It was, by far, the best Paella I’ve ever made.

I had some of the jicama salad with watercress and red leaf lettuce along with the cilantro-lime dressing left over from the tacos so I served that on the side to complete the meal.

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Over the weekend a couple of our friends stopped by to meet Otis. They came bearing gifts. Flowers for mommy and a Rick Bayless cookbook for daddy, an autographed one nonetheless! The in-laws haven’t really experienced Mexican flavors since there really aren’t many Mexican ingredients available in Japan. While there are a few “Mexican Restaurants”, they’re really just simple mid-scale taquerias. Combine the cookbook, their lack of Mexican food experience, and the fact that Chicago hit 90 degrees yesterday and I really had no choice but to grill up some tasty tacos with all of the fixens.

Some of the dinner was right out of the Bayless cookbook (cilantro-lime dressing, jicama salad, and roasted tomatillo salsa), some was inspired by the Bayless cookbook (grilled pork and sweet potatoes where he used ancho instead of chipotle), and some is right out of my repertoire (chilled corn soup and simmered black beans).

First thing I made was the cilantro-lime dressing. I used 1/2 cup of cilantro, the zest from 1 lime and the juice from three, 1/2 jalapeno seeded and stemmed, 1/2 cup canola oil, and 1/4 cup olive oil.

I threw it all into my little blender and whipped it up! I seasoned it with a little salt and pepper, poured it into a glass jar, and let it sit in the fridge while I prepared the rest of the dinner.

Next, I made the corn soup. I cut the kernels off of 5 ears of corn, chopped up 2 garlic cloves, and diced 1/2 onion. I put it all into a pan with 1/2 cup of milk and 1/2 cup of water and brought it up to a low boil. I covered the pot and let it simmer over med-low heat for about 20 minutes. Then I let it cool down and poured it into my blender for a good puree. I seasoned it with salt and pepper and let it sit. Since I was serving it cool I didn’t need to reheat it or anything. I did pour it back into the pot so I could clean the blender for the next item.

For the roasted tomatillo salsa I husked, rinsed, and halved 4 tomatillos, pealed 2 garlic cloves, chopped the other half of the jalapeno, small diced 1/2 a small onion, and roughly chopped 1/3 cup of cilantro. I soaked the diced onion in cold water for 30 minutes to remove some of the sharpness.

In a hot, dry skillet I put the tomatillos (cut side down) and garlic in to roast, about 5-6 minutes per side.

Then I put everything except for the onions into the blender along with 1/4 cup of cold water and pureed it up. I poured it into a glass bowl and mixed in the rinsed onion. That went into the fridge until dinner time.

I opened up a 30 ounce can of black beans, rinsed them off, and placed them in a pot with 3 diced green onions, 1 minced garlic clove, and about 1/4 cup of water. I let it simmer for about 20 minutes and then seasoned with salt and pepper.

For the spice rub I used 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, 1/4 cup of chipotle (the chipotle I have has a little sugar mixed into the blend, otherwise I would have added a little), 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons of canola oil, and 2 garlic cloves finely minced. I mixed it all together until it became a smooth paste.

I rubbed the chipotle paste all over a 1.5 pound pork loin and a large sweet potato that I had cut into 8 wedges.

I heated up the left side of my grill to med-high and the right side to med-low. I first put the pork loin over direct heat, fat-side down, for about 5 minutes to give it a nice crust. Then I moved it to the top rack, turned it over, and turned the heat down to med-low. At the same time I put the sweet potato wedges on the top rack over the right side. I closed the grill and let it go for about 15 minutes. Then I turned over the sweet potato wedges, covered the grill again, and let it go for another 10 minutes. When I took the meat off the grill I tented it with foil and let it rest for 10 minutes before slicing it up.

Look at that piece of swine! Doesn’t that just make your mouth water? I have to say, it might be the juiciest, most flavorful piece of pork I have ever grilled.

While the grill was going I put together a jicama salad. I peeled a medium jicama and then cut it into 1/4 inch width sticks. I tossed it in a large bowl with some watercress, chopped red leaf lettuce, and some of the cilantro-lime dressing.

When everything was ready I heated up some corn tortillas and laid everything out on the table. The corn soup got a drizzle of cilantro-lime dressing for garnish. We made tacos and drank beer and filled our bellies! Yuki’s parents were quite impressed with dinner. Honestly, so was I. Everything turned out fantastically! Thank you Mr. Bayless! And thank you Mr. Eirinberg!

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Very few things get my taste buds watering like a good taco. So when I asked Yuki what she wanted for dinner yesterday at breakfast and she said, “TACOS!”, I swear I was about to make love to her right there on top of our hard-boiled eggs. Tacos it is.

Before making the tacos I got my rice going. I rinsed 1.5 cups of white rice, poured in enough chicken stock to get the right amount of liquid (about 1 cup), and then tossed in 1/4 cup of thawed frozen peas and 1 diced carrot. I let it rest for a half hour and then started up the rice cooker.

When I make tacos at home I like to have both ground beef as well as black beans for a very fulfilling taco. I don’t cook them together though. Keeping them separate allows them to retain their own flavors for full enjoyment come tortilla time. With that, to make the beans I took 1 14oz can of black beans rinsed and drained, 4 green onions chopped, and 1/2 cup of chicken stock. I put it all in a small sauce pan, brought it up to a boil, covered it, turned the heat to med-low, and let it simmer together for about 15 minutes. I seasoned with salt and pepper before serving.

For the meat I used 1 pound of ground chuck, 1/4 onion diced, 2 garlic cloves minced, and 1 tablespoon of cumin (forgot to put in the photo).

I heated my pan and poured in just enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom. I didn’t want the onion and garlic to stick, but the ground chuck is 20% fat so I didn’t want too much added oil. When the oil was hot I added the onion and let it sweat down for about 3 minutes. Then I added the garlic and let that go for another minute. After that came the beef. As I broke up the beef I seasoned it with the cumin, salt, and pepper. I constantly mixed it up so that it all cooked through and broke apart nicely. When it was finished cooking I poured most of the fat out leaving a little so that the meat didn’t dry out. After tasting it I decided to zest a lime and mix that into the meat. I set all of that aside and got the rest of the fixins ready.

I got out the cheddar cheese that was sitting in my cheese drawer, seeded and diced two tomatoes, diced an avocado and mixed it with the juice of a lime, cut up some red leaf lettuce, chopped up some cilantro, warmed up some corn tortillas, and roasted some sweet peppers at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Honestly, I had everything cut up and ready to go with the peppers roasting before I started the beans and beef.

I laid everything out on the table and we away we tacoed!

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Ever since our gastroventure to Don Diablo a while back I’ve wanted to try my hand at making cochinita pibil. It’s something that needs to be planned ahead since it’s best if the pork shoulder marinates overnight. I just never planned ahead until this week rolled around. I got my shoulder the day before and went at it.

Alright, so I the shoulder I picked up weighed about 2.8 lbs, bone-in. Gotta be bone-in, there’s just no other way to go. For the marinade I crushed 2 tablespoons of achiote seeds with 1 teaspoon of coriander seeds. I found out the hard way that achiote seeds stain anything and everything. If you can find achiote past that’s a better alternative. Anyway, I mixed those in a large glass (must be a non-reactive material) bowl with 1 teaspoon each of dried oregano, chili powder, cinnamon, cumin, and cayenne. Then, I minced 5 garlic cloves, crushed up 2 bay leaves, and mixed those in. I cracked about 2 tablespoons of black pepper. Finally, I poured in 1 cup of orange juice and the juice of 2 limes. With a fork I pricked the shoulder all over, let it swim in the marinade, covered it with plastic wrap, and threw it in my fridge. This was about 2pm Monday so that I could get 24 hours of marinating time.

When marinating time was up I put the shoulder along with the marinade in a cheap foil braising pan, covered it tightly with foil wrap, and threw it in a 325 degree oven for 3 hours. Use whatever braising pan you have.

While the pork was braising I made my sides and condiments. I pickled a red onion, very easy to do and very delicious. Also, pickled red onion is the classic condiment to cochinita pibil. I quartered a red onion and then sliced each quarter into 1/8 inch slices then put them in this small glass bowl. I boiled some water and poured it on top of the onions. After ten minutes I drained the onions and put them back into the bowl. I mixed together 1/2 cup of orange juice with 1/2 cup of fresh squeezed lime juice and a pinch of salt and then poured that on top of the onions. I covered it with wrap and let it sit until dinner time.

I also made some guacamole. I was going to use 2 avocados, but when I sliced the 2nd one open it was absolutely disgusting! That’s the one problem I have with avocados, they’re such a crapshoot. I did get one good though and that was enough for our dinner. Since I only had one good one I only used 1 plum tomato. I de-seeded it and chopped it up. I mixed the tomato and avocado with the juice from 1/2 lime, 1 small garlic clove minced, a pinch of salt and pepper, and a handful of chopped cilantro.

Finally, I made a black bean and corn succotash. I first took 1 cup of dried black beans and boiled them in 6 cups of water for a few minutes, then I turned off the heat, covered the pan, and let it sit for about an hour. I drained and rinsed the beans then put them back in the pan. To that I added 1/2 onion diced, 1 jalapeno diced, and the kernels from 1 ear of corn separated. I seasoned with a little salt and pepper, poured in about 1/2 cup of chicken stock, and let it simmer for about 30 minutes while I finished off the cochinita pibil.

Once the pork was fall-off-the-bone deliciousness, I let it cool a little so that I could handle it without burning myself. Although, the pleasure of sinking my teeth into that meat would be worth the pain. Once I could handle it painlessly I pulled the meat and put it in a large skillet. I poured about 1/2-1/3 cup of the liquid in and then heated it back up.

I served everything with some watercress, ricotta ensalata cheese, and some cilantro. I had warmed corn tortillas on the side and we made some fantastic cochinita pibil tacos.

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Well, I finally got to Xoco today. Really, I can’t believe it took me this long to be honest. Being a fan of his cooking for years and sharing some precious moments with him shopping for produce you wouldn’t think it’d take me this long to check out his newest joint. Tortas just never really excited me all that much, though. Whenever I’m at La Pasadita or any other taqueria tacos, burritos, or parillada always get the nod over gentrified Mexican food like tortas. Bread with taco meat? It just never seemed quite right, until today that is.

When you walk it you see all of the action behind the counter. A big chalkboard has the menu. You can either take out or wait for a seat. We waited for a seat, about 15 minutes or so. It wasn’t bad though, it took that long just to decide what to order since everything looked so damn delicious! The menu is on his website.

After we ordered we sat down and ate some chips and salsa. About 10 minutes later our tortas arrived. I got Saturday’s daily special, the goat barbacoa. Nice crunchy on the outside but soft in the middle bread with slices of avocado, onions, cilantro, and Oaxacan pasilla-tomato salsa accompanying moist, soft, fall-apart goat meat. A fantastic sandwich if ever there was one.

Yuki got the Pibil. Just like the goat, this suckling pig was so moist and delicious. The pickled onion and black beans were natural with the pibil. I gotta tell you though, that habanero salsa was some spicy shit! Rick got every bit of heat out of those peppers when he made that stuff. Wow.

We also ordered some churros with ice cream, but I forgot to take a picture. No biggie, the plate had three churros that were heavily sugared and cinnamoned (are those words?). They were slightly overcooked, but delicious nonetheless. The ice cream was vanilla soft serve. Rick has it made in-house and they leave the bean in the mix. I like that. The ice cream was really good.

I have to say, I still prefer tortillas for those flavors, but I will not frown upon tortas anymore. There is definitely a place for them in my stomach from here on out. Here’s to the torta. Thanks Rick.

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