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Cell Phone Chef Food Mexican by Marriage

Authentic, Irresistible Tacos at Home

If you’ve been anywhere on social media in the past few years, you’ve undoubtedly seen a few standard, non-stop circulating memes:

Brace yourselves

“Brace Yourselves” from Game of Thrones

dosxx

The Overconfident Man from Dos Equis

And then, the comments start to get juicy, and Michael Jackson pops in for a snack:

MJ

There’s always one.

…and then Gene Wilder shows his smug face…

But we all love the smugness.

But we all love the smugness.

And somehow, some pre-middle age ladies can make any conversation about wine.  (I refuse to believe that this demographic is actually that obsessed with it, but that it has become such a social media joke that they have tricked themselves into believing wine is the new sun.)

wine wine wine

What do you get when you cross an elephant and a drunken rhinoceros? ‘ElephWINO!

But there’s always one that seems to say what’s on everyone’s minds, all the time…TACOS.

Juan Taco

NO JUAN. Ever.

And I’ve got tacos on my mind today.  Just call me Juan.

My main squeeze, Yossiho, is from southern Mexico.  Tapachula, specifically….about as far south as you can go without being in Guatemala.

Tapachula

How I’m from Northwoods, USA, and he’s from South Jungle, Mexico, is beyond me.

Being the nopal-on-his-forehead kind of Mexican that he is, our weekend nights are consecrated to tacos.  We live on the east side of the city.  Every Friday night (and sometimes Saturday, too), we attend our sacred taco mass.  We drive 15 miles clear to the west end of the valley to a little hole-in-the wall, Azteca del Oro.  Of course, there are taco carts and dives all along the way.  We’ve tried them all.  But nothing tops Azteca.  Well, maybe Tacos El Gordo in Las Vegas, but I happen to prefer Azteca.  He may leave me if he reads that.

Nestled in a strip mall next to an AutoZone, and across the street from El Coyote night club, the sights, sounds, and smells are sure to delight.  Motor oil, meat grease, and canola oil from the woman frying chicharrones out front will slap your nose the second you leave the car.  And your eyes are in for a treat, too! You’re sure to see plenty of Trival boot and cowboy hat-clad Rico Suaves and sequin mini skirt-wearing mamis hiking up their tubetops and clunking along in their tacones. Don’t forget the insane base shaking the ghetto fab cars pulling into the parking lot.

A tiny Latino market with a short traditional menu by day, on Fridays-Sundays, 8:30 p.m.-5 a.m., Azteca devotes itself to Mexico D. F. style tacos.  You can order anything from your basic al pastor or chorizo to any part of the animal you can think of.  The real deal. (For the record, my favorite is sesos, or brain.  No judging until you try it.)

We go through phases.  Occasionally, we stay home and make our own tacos.  They’re ridiculously delicious and a much cheaper alternative to going out for tacos.  We drop about $28 on average every time to go to Azteca (or anywhere, really…it happens when your husband eats eight tacos in one sitting).  Making tacos at home is not only cost effective, but pretty easy, and delicious!

It also has a much cleaner bathroom, always stocked with toilet paper and hand soap.

Lucky for me, I live with a Mexican.

As I’m a fiend for all things “authentic,” we are a match made in heaven.

I actually eat vegetarian for the most part, except when travel or tacos are involved.  That’s great, because the meat is the heart of the taco.

I’ve perused Google and Pinterest occasionally, seeing what people are up to when they make tacos.  But I have yet to see a Mexican living in the U.S. share the secrets.  And that’s what this post is about to do.

What makes tacos so irresistible?

Admit it – you LOVE tacos.  You would eat them until it hurts.  If you can’t have the real deal, you’ll eat terrifying impostor tacos to get your fix.  Taco Tuesday?  Try Taco Everyday.  There are reasons you love tacos, and you may not even realize why.  Let me enlighten you!

Really good tacos

See? Tasty, authentic, AND homemade.

To make a successful, authentic taco, you need:

  1. The tortilla.

    It must needs be corn.  No question.  Usually, the tortilla is doubled or tripled, depending on the meat.  They’re smaller than an average corn tortilla, so it won’t do too much damage.  There is nothing worse than picking up a greasy, juicy taco, and having it all fall out the bottom.  Use two tortillas.  It’s insurance.

    The easiest is to purchase corn tortillas at the grocery store.  You can use normal size, but it’s too much.  Use a cup or a lid to cut smaller circles out of the large tortillas.  That’s what we do if it’s all we have.  Bonus if you have a Mexican grocery…they sell taco-sized tortillas for ridiculously cheap ($1.99-$2.99 for 60 tortillas).

    You can also make your own tortillas, using a simple mix of corn flour and water.  Once you have handmade, you’ll never enjoy store bought. [Recipe and tutorial coming! – check back]

    If you’re feeling like the domestic goddess of the universe, and you just had a baby with the authenticity police, you can go crazy and grind your own corn, making your own flour, and then making a tortilla.  Trust me, I would do this if I had the tools.

  2. The meat. 

    In the streets, you can order all cuts of meat, usually beef, pork, or chicken, and pretty much any organ you can imagine.  You don’t need to buy an 8-foot long intestine and pressure cook it to enjoy an authentic taco.  A simple good cut of meat and applying some tricks of the trade in prepping the meat before you cook it will yield excellent results.

    Yossiho’s favorite is a particular thin cut of beef.  He lets it sit in pineapple juice for a bit to soften it, macerates garlic and salt, and slathers it all over before cooking.  Unbelievable.  Chorizo is a great home choice because it comes already prepped and ready for cooking.

  3. The crunch.  

    Traditionally, tacos are garnished with chopped onions and cilantro, and [optional] radishes.  Keep it simple.  Too many ingredients will drown out the simple but delicious flavors that are all layered together.

  4. The acid.

    Lime.  Must add a squeeze (or three) of lime.  A good rule of thumb is about 1/2 to 1 lime wedge per taco.

  5. The spice.

    SALSA.  Salsas are the crown jewel of tacos!  They’re also the reason many people regular certain taco joints.  Authentic tacos have a couple traditional options: salsa verde [green], salsa roja [red], and an avocado-like salsa.  However, here is the easiest you can get creative with your tacos.  Salsa recipes are sacred, just like your granny’s spaghetti sauce.  But here I’ll share recipes for the three basic salsas [forthcoming].  We love to make a red onion and habanero quick pickle and use it as a salsa – spice and crunch together mean double delicious.

 

See?  It’s simple!  Tortilla. Meat. Onion and cilantro. Lime. Salsa.

the things

All of the things!

Now you’ll just have to have some discipline.  It’s so incredibly cheap to make your own authentic tacos that you won’t be able to stop.  Invite some friends over, and hours later, you’ve had well over a dozen tacos and already made plans to open your own restaurant.  But I wouldn’t know anything about that. 🙂

 

Have you made your own authentic tacos at home?  Do you have a favorite meat?  Salsa recipe?  Feel free to share.

Food

Grilled Halloumi

The first time I had halloumi, I was actually in London, not its native Cyprus.

It was a spring day in April, and I had just hopped off the 140 double decker bus from London Heathrow to my friend’s flat in Harrow in northwest London.  It had been a year since I had seen Megan, and I felt a smile of relief spread on my face when she met me in the lobby of her office just outside the bus station.

We first met when we lived in Salt Lake City, but were only acquaintances until we both moved away.  While I lived in Asturias, Spain, she was studying in England and I flew to London and took a train to Crewe (near Manchester) to meet her.  When I moved back to Salt Lake, she visited me the following year, and a year later here I was again visiting her, this time in London.

We walked the few blocks to her place, where she unlocked an exterior and interior door, revealing a narrow stairway up to a shared landing, kitchen, and bathroom.  She shared the flat with an Italian 20-something guy, Carlo, who had come to work as a chef and send money home to his family, as well a middle-aged British woman who looked after the home for a trust. (We borrowed Carlo’s room late at night while he was at work so we could jam out at the piano to Josh Groban’s “Closer” album…we are a magical duet.)

Megan and I sat in the tiny kitchen and chatted as she chopped a cesar salad and fired up the overhead broiler on her little retro stove.  I watched – slightly jet lagged – as she turned over slices of halloumi.  I didn’t know what it was and had never tried it but was glad to do so.  I loved watching her flip it under the broiler…I could tell by her hungry anticipation that it was one of her favorite things to eat.

The slices of halloumi transformed from white to golden brown under the flame of the broiler, exactly the color of a perfectly roasted marshmallow.  The inside was soft and the outside slightly crisp, and the first bite into the briny, salty cheese was heaven.

After lunch, Megan head back to work and I stripped to my unders and crashed face first on the bed, slipping into a sleep-drunk stupor until my lost luggage arrived from Air Canada a few hours later.


Here in the USA, I’ve found halloumi at a few grocery stores that usually have a few more imported products or a higher-end vibe.  It ranges anywhere from$8-$11 for a small package.

Halloumi is a semi-hard goat and sheep milk cheese from Cyprus.  It is brined and often seasoned with mint in the brine, although I find that the mint flavor is trace.  It’s a cheesy miracle because it doesn’t melt when you grill it, so you can get a gorgeous charred flavor on it!

I usually slice and broil it, but occasionally opt to throw it in a hot, dry cast iron grill pan for about 5-7 minutes on each side.

You will love a few slices of halloumi drizzled with citrus olive oil (olives crushed with fresh citrus) and a few torn pieces of mint.  The bright flavor of citrus and the bitter of the olive is a champion partner to halloumi!  I also love to dip or drizzle it in grape must; the sweet raisin flavor of the must is a perfect combination with the salty, light flavor of the cheese.

halloumi

 

Stephanie’s favorite things: Atlantis Halloumi Cheese | Leonardi Grape MustEtruria Mandarin Olive Oil
Well-being

A Fatty’s Feelings on Food

I know you’re curious…you clicked because you can do so in privacy.  No one has to know of your curiosity on the taboo topic of the feasting feelings of your heftier counterparts.

I can’t speak for all heavyweights, but I can speak for myself.

Let’s start off and lay it all out on the table, unlike your last favorite presidential candidate or your most recently failed relationship.

I’m not full of surprises.

Or maybe I am.

But I want us to have a good relationship.

I’m a pleasantly plump girl.  Naturally, I love to eat.  But not in the way you’d be quick to assume.  I love the social experience, the nearly orgasmic moans rolling across the kitchen as forks penetrate mouths and culinary delights spread across palettes.
I’m depressed when I don’t feel hungry only because I just want the world’s flavors to nestle on my taste buds.

I’m a good girl.  I’ve got a strong faith.  I’m abstinent until I’m hitched.
But I seduce with food.

I just love food.  I have no training, no in-the-kitchen-with-grandma-recipes.  I grew up on a potholed street in a house insulated with quilt batting.  We ate large pots of goulash or sloppy joes for dinner.  My dad told me how he used to hang with the kids down the street when he was growing up, and eat “Tyner Dinners” – elbow macaroni and canned tomato.

I’m not scientific.  All I know is what taste buds like.  I don’t know that aphrodisiacs are proven, but I know for me, moments are aphrodisiacs.  For myself.

At the heart of it all, I’m complex, layered (ogres have layers, you know).
I have constantly been told I view the world with different glasses, I see things in ways that most people don’t see them.

I’m in the kitchen at 1:30am during a thunderstorm blaring my favorite Enya song on repeat and kneading pita dough by hand.
By 3am, I’m snoring on the couch with my laptop sliding off my lap, and I wake up as Ted Allen enthusiastically dooms the next hopeful chef with those fateful words, “You have been CHOPPED.”

At work, I’m making a mental list of everything I need to get at the store on the way home…just a few produce items.
By the time I leave the store, I’m swearing under my breath as I chastise myself for one more ridiculous food purchase on the credit card, and as I carry four huge bags to the brim with groceries and wait for the bus under the 99 degree Utah sun.

But food is never ridiculous.  Food is beautiful.  Food is logical.  Food is divine.

I don’t own any fancy kitchen utensils.  No mixers, no food processors, no nice knives, no silpats.
Most of the time, I don’t even have parchment, and I’m almost always out of aluminum foil.
Just me, some steak knives left by old inhabitants of my rental home I share with three other girls, some tomato stained cutting boards, and music.

Oh, that’s when the magic happens.

The cursing comes to a stop when I lay my debtful buys out on the 70’s counter.  Our kitchen is as hot as the devil’s infant incubator, so I have approximately 37 minutes until all of my food withers and rots.  Better get to work.

The magic happens when I flip on my music…Spanish guitar playlist.  Golden sun leathering me to a crisp.
I plunge my hands in a bowl of foamy, yeasty water full of fava beans, waiting to be shucked.

Yes, shucked.

Food is about imagination, about making it your own.  Be a thesaurus and let the words flow from your mouth and imagination when you’re in the kitchen, even if you’re just unrolling a container of pre-made biscuit dough.

I hope this makes you feel that experiences with food are accessible, personal, possible.

This isn’t a cutesie blog with giveaways and contests.

This is me talking to myself, just like I do in the kitchen.
A hoarding place, a memory, a fiery corner of my brain.

Food

Tilapia with olives, capers, and lemon

Last summer, on one of my days off while I was working in Michigan for the U.S. Forest Service, it was exactly 90-something degrees and approximately 80% humidity.  It was my week to rove the campgrounds and cruise the forest roads, so I had already spent the majority of my week trudging through the humid continental jungle in a polyester-blend uniform, slapping mosquitoes the size of small children.  Needless to say, I tossed my hiking ambition into the pending box for just one more day and sulked in the A/C, flipping on the Food Network.

Being from a place with a population of 2,500, you can imagine that I didn’t grow up surrounded by a lot of outside culture.  Most residents had either Finnish, French-Canadian, or Native American ancestry, and 99% of the people were white.  Since we were a three-hour drive from a big city (Green Bay, Wisconsin), it cost quite a bit more to get food and supplies to our neck of the woods, let alone more ‘exotic’ tastes. Continue Reading

Food

Food & Ardor: Free Admission

FOOD.

Chow. Fare. Eats. Bites. Grub. Cuisine (best French word, ever).  Slop. Provisions. Rations. Sustenance.  Goodies.

We all love it…well, except you weirdos who eat solely for the purpose of survival.

Pleasantly plump, like yours truly.  Thin.  Average.  Athletic.  Chunky.  Tall.  Short.

Food is always crossing our minds in some form.  We either love it, fear it, don’t trust it, or live for it.

Me?  I’m not a chef.  I view myself simply, humbly, pretty plain Jane.  I’m a woman of extremes, of passions – seemingly indecisive, but just yearning for room to fill to capacity and overflowing with everything I love and experience.

My mind is a racetrack, an obstacle course, a third grade playground.  Thoughts of walks in the forest give underdogs to a middle school slumber party, and before I have time to ask if I can play with them, they bolt over to the tetherball pole to smack around the hilarious away message on AIM from November of my freshman year in college.  Together they rally up the most endearing moments of my relationships and play Red Rover with that insane Couch Surfing experience in Madrid and the time I peed behind a twiggy bush in an alleyway in Poland; my childhood fort is left standing alone on its own team and loses.  In a flash, they all cross the monkey bars on their way to the tallest slide on the turf, taking with them all the butterflies in my stomach and the time I wore a hunter orange helmet while muddling in a jeep in the woods.  They all giggle and scream, pushing each other out of the way to race to the top of the slide and crash down in one big pile on top of my first kiss.

There is no indecisiveness here, only an index full of passion and nostalgia.

Over the past few years I have found that I can give life to nostalgia in the kitchen.

Have you ever had a Ratatouille moment?  You know, where you bite into something delicious and hitch a ride in a DeLorean back to one of the most perfect memories that recalls to your memory in that moment?  Or perhaps you’ve boarded a hovercraft and sped forward to an exotic destination you’ve always dreamed of visiting.  Maybe you’ve basked in the sun at the park and sworn you felt that beloved ex lying next to you talking or you’ve imagined yourself in Scotland on a rainy day.

If you’ve experienced any of these moments, you’ve experienced nostalgia.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t afford to hop a plane every time I want a moment.  I can’t always be in my childhood home, or on a Mediterranean beach with an attractive Greek man wearing linen pants and serenading me with a cello, back-dropped by an Adriatic sunset (yes, I just mixed three points of Geography there).  However, I can live in the moment.

And those moments happen in the kitchen.

They happen in every knead, punch, slice, pinch, garnish, sprinkle, degree, sear, mix, beat, fold, measure, leisurely pour.

This is a place of my experiences, my thoughts, my memories, my nostalgia, my recipes.  My delights as I listen to Enya while make pita bread at 1am during a thunderstorm.  My sorrows as I eat an entire Cadbury chocolate bar and mix a giant spoon of non-natural peanut butter into a tub of vanilla ice cream and swirl it around until my bad day disappears into a pool of melted Haagen Dazs.  My longings as I chow on a flat of fresh figs.  My quiet desires as I practice “normal ingredient” meals for the day I could be a domestic housewife.

Who am I kidding?  I’ll never be fully domesticated.  There’s too much intrigue, too much opinion for me to just sit back and make green-bean-and-cream-of-mushroom-soup casseroles all day, waiting for my husband in my pearls and vintage dress.

I don’t wear pearls.  I don’t do canned vegetables.  And chances are – if that day comes – I’ll be holding said casserole in a Le Creuset, wearing some lacy racy black get up appropriate only for maximum wear time of ten minutes or less.  Vintage schmintage.  Whoever he is, he may not like chevre and arugula, but I’m sure he won’t have a problem with it.

I’ve never been conventional.

I’m a good, wholesome girl.  But the golden sweat?  The yearning?  The flame?  The eccentricity?

Welcome to my kitchen.