Roasted Poblano, Onion, and Jack Quesadilla & A Favorite Drink

roasted poblano, onion & Jack quesadilla

I had one goal in mind when setting out to the farmers’ market this weekend: return with shishito peppers. I keep reading about them, and every time I do, I am reminded of a lovely dinner years ago at Casa Mono, where I sat at the bar with two friends, popping blistered, salty padrón peppers one after another, watching as the cooks worked with intense focus. Of all the delicious bites we sampled that evening, those charred peppers were the unanimous favorite. We ordered two plates.

I have been on the search ever since for padrón peppers and, more recently, shishito and fushimi peppers, which I understand are all similar — small, green and thin walled — and take well to high heat, fast cooking and showers of salt.

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Tacos with Grilled Poblano & Corn Salad

tacos with grilled poblano salsa

Over the weekend I received the best kind of email. It not only came from an individual, living, real person, but also from a friend. She had written to tell me about her new favorite thing to eat, a salad of marinated fennel, burrata, and mint. She also casually mentioned she had made a grilled poblano, corn-off-the-cob and cotija cheese salad to serve aside some grilled New York Strips.

I still haven’t made the fennel, which sounds utterly delicious, but I can’t find enough uses for this grilled poblano salad. On its own, as my friend made it, sprinkled with cotija cheese, the sweet, smokey, charred vegetables combine to make a wonderful summer salad.

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Chicken Tinga Tacos

tinga tacos

Do you know anyone who, upon seeing the Sriracha bottle on the dinner table, says: “That’s a good sign.”? Or who likes to enjoy a side of scrambled eggs with his hot sauce in the morning? Or who, when watching Rick Bayless make chilaquiles on the cooking channel nods his head and says, “Amen, brother, amen.”?

Well, if you do, tinga is something you should add to your repertoire. Made with only a handful of ingredients, tinga derives most of its flavor from chipotles in adobo sauce, which offer both smoke and heat. Traditionally, the dish begin by boiling a chicken, then pulling and shredding the meat from the carcass. Once the meat is off the bone, it stews with onions, chipotles, tomatoes and chicken stock. Chopped fresh cilantro finishes the dish.

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Fish Tacos, Whisk n’ Ladle, Mango-Jicama Slaw, MSC-Certified Halibut & Reamers

I’m feeling sort of overwhelmed by everything I want to fit into this post. Bullet points, I hope, will help my cause.

• So, after a week of feasting, I considered, for the first time ever, making tofu for dinner. As I passed down the freezer aisle of Ralph’s, however, a blue-and-white label caught my eye. Much to my surprise (and delight), that label marked an MSC-certified package of halibut steaks. Unlike many labels today, an MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) label truly means something — it is a guarantee for consumers that the purchase of the product will not contribute to the social and environmental problems of overfishing. It also guarantees that the fishermen receive a fair price for their catch. Holding the world’s most rigorous sustainability standard, the MSC has awarded their coveted eco-label to only 31 fisheries worldwide. (You might recall that American Tuna also bears the MSC label.)

• With my discovery, I took the opportunity to make a dish I have been meaning to make since dining with my cyber friend, Melanie Lytle, of Livin La Vida Local at Whisk n’ Ladle in La Jolla. This restaurant strives to use all local ingredients and makes nearly everything in house, including the delectable scone — pistachio-orange, if I recall correctly — with which I began this memorable brunch. (Incidentally, Melanie has just completed a year of eating locally: Read her Long-Winded Summary To a Year of Eating Locally here.)

• Last night, I discovered that the mango-jicama slaw served with the tilapia fish tacos at WnL is surprisingly easy to recreate. Please don’t be frightened or turned off by the idea of julienning or using a mandoline. Dicing the fruit would be just as tasty and effective. In diced form, in fact, the mixture becomes even more versatile — it could be served with tortilla chips or toasted baguette slices for a nice appetizer. Really, this slaw could not be simpler to prepare — you just mix everything together and season with salt and fresh lime juice according to taste. It could be served with chicken, beef, maybe even tofu.

• Last night I also got over the idea that fish should never be frozen. These frozen halibut steaks fried up beautifully, and once wrapped in the tortilla, spread with a dab of sriracha-sour cream and topped with this tasty slaw, the fish becomes a second-string player. Fresh fish, in a way, is better used for simpler preparations, with lemon and herbs, for example, where the flavors of the fish can really shine.

• Lastly, a word about reamers: There is no better tool, I profess, for extracting juice from citrus fruit than a wooden reamer. This one from Sur La Table is fantastic.


Fish Tacos with Mango-Jicama Slaw
Inspired by tacos recently savored at Whisk n’ Ladle restaurant in La Jolla. This recipe calls for julienning the jicama and mangoes, but dicing the fruit will work, too. In fact, this mixture, in diced form, would be yummy served with chips.

For the Slaw:
1 jicama, peeled
2 mangoes, not too ripe, peeled
1 small red onion, peeled, diced to yield about ¾ cup
1-2 chili peppers such as Thai bird or jalapeno or Serrano, finely diced
cilantro to taste, washed and chopped
kosher salt
1-2 limes

1. Using a mandoline, julienne the jicama to yield about 2 cups. Place in a large bowl. Julienne the mangoes (to yield about 2 cups as well) and add to the bowl. (Alternatively, just dice the fruit.) Add the onions, peppers and cilantro to the bowl. Season with a big pinch of salt. Juice one lime over top of the mixture. (A reemer is a great tool for this step.) Toss gently, then taste. Adjust with more lime juice or salt. Set aside until ready to serve. Note: Can be made ahead, but not too far ahead — no more than an hour is ideal.

Sriracha-Sour Cream
Whisk n’ Ladle spread some sort of creamy, tomato salsa across their tortillas. It definitely was something more substantial than sriracha sauce, but this combination served the purpose quite nicely.

1. Mix sriracha with sour cream according to taste.

Assemble the tacos:

fish: Any white fish — halibut, tilapia, cod, sea bass, etc. — works really nicely in fish tacos. I found MSC-certified halibut steaks in my Ralph’s freezer section.
small, white flour tortillas

1. Heat the oven to about 450ºF. Wrap as many tortillas you want in foil and place in the oven to keep warm. Make sure the tortillas are hot and pliable before serving.

2. Season the fish lightly with kosher salt. Pan-fry or grill the fish until done.

3. To assemble, spread a small amount of the sriracha-sour cream on the bottom of the taco. Top with the fish. Top with the slaw. Repeat.

When you see this blue-and-white eco-label, you can be confident your purchase has not contributed to overfishing or the harming of marine ecosystems. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is a global, nonprofit organization devoted to promoting the best environmental choice in seafood.

A dab (or a dousing) of sriracha mixed with sour cream adds a nice kick to fish tacos.

Good Stock

I’m sort of embarrassed about posting this video, but after I shot it, I couldn’t resist. I sound like such a freak. I’m pretty sure I don’t sound like that normally.

Anyway, I happened to be preparing tinga, which I’ve described before, and thought it might be a good opportunity to talk about stock. I know the thought of making stock from scratch can feel like a lot of work. But making stock really is as simple as throwing chickens in a pot, covering them with water, and letting them simmer for a few hours. Additions such as onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, etc., of course, enhance the flavor of the stock, but if you don’t have them or don’t feel like adding them, it doesn’t matter. The gelatinous stock shown in the video was prepared with nothing more than chickens and water.

Let me tell you about this dish. I learned how to make it from a woman named Patricia who I worked with at Fork back in Philadelphia. Patricia often prepared tinga — chicken stewed with onions, tomatoes and chipotle in adobo sauce — for the “family meal” and served it with rice or soft tortillas. It’s incredibly delicious over crispy tortillas, too, served with a poached egg on top.

This recipe calls for one chicken, but it can be easily doubled. (Tinga freezes well — I have quarts of it ready to be thawed at a moment’s notice.) You also can make chicken stock with the carcass: After you pull off all of the meat, put the remaining bones back in the poaching liquid and let the mixture simmer for another couple of hours.

Chicken, pulled from its bones after simmering in water for about an hour.

Cilantro, soaking to remove dirt.

Chicken carcasses in water ready to be simmered.

Fat, scraped from a quart of chicken stock after sitting in the refrigerator overnight.

Stock, fat removed, ready to be frozen.

Homemade Chicken Stock

Note: As I mentioned above, making stock is as simple as throwing chickens in a pot, covering them with water, and letting them simmer for a few hours. Additions such as onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, etc., of course, enhance the flavor of the stock, but if you don’t have them or don’t feel like adding them, it doesn’t matter.

These days, I simply remove the legs with their bones from a whole chicken (to be used for one meal) as well as the breasts (to be used for another meal) and throw the two wings and remaining carcass into the stock pot. (Watch the video here for help breaking down a chicken.) I cover these bones/meat with water and let simmer for about 2.5 hours without any additions (carrots, celery, etc.), and I get about 1.5 qts of really flavorful stock.

The below recipe is what my mother does, but truly, you don’t have to be so fussy.

3 lbs chicken, such as a whole chicken or wings or legs or just bones
2 stalks celery
2 carrots
1/2 tsp. whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 onion, cut in half, studded with 4 cloves total (2 in each half)

1. Place chicken or chicken bones into a large pot. Add remaining ingredients. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat so that the water is gently simmering. Scoop off and discard any scum that bubbles up at the surface. Let simmer for about 2 hours.

2. Place a colander over a large bowl. Pour contents of stock pot through the colander. Discard all of these pieces once they have cooled. Transfer stock to storage containers and place in the fridge overnight or until completely chilled and fat has formed a solid layer at the top of the container. Scoop off this fat and discard. Freeze stock or store in fridge for at least a week.

Mexican Tinga
Serves 8

1 3-4 lb. chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 white onion, sliced
1 small can chipotles
in adobo sauce
1½ cups canned crushed tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock, low-sodium or homemade
kosher salt to taste
1 bunch cilantro

1. Place chicken in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat so the water just simmers, and cook for 45 minutes. Turn off heat and transfer chicken to a large bowl to cool. When chicken is completely cool, remove the meat from the skin and bones, and place in a clean bowl. (Place bones and skin in a pot, cover with water, and let simmer for several hours. Strain, and transfer the stock to plastic storage containers. Refrigerate overnight. The following day, scrape off the fat and discard. Freeze stock.)

2. In a medium-sized soup pot add the oil and place over medium heat. Sauté the onion over medium heat until slightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add 3 of the chipotles and 1 tablespoon of the sauce from the small can of chipotles (or, if you like spice, add the whole can as I did).

3. Stir for one minute until the onions are nicely coated in sauce, then add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Season with a pinch of salt, then add the chicken meat to the pot, breaking up the big chunks as you add the meat.

4. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer mixture very gently for 30 minutes. Coarsely chop the cilantro, add to the pot and stir to incorporate. Taste mixture, add more salt if necessary. Can be made a day ahead. To reheat, simmer mixture very slowly adding chicken stock if liquid becomes too thick.

Onions and chipotles cooking before the chicken, stock and tomatoes are added.

Tortillas & Blossoms

I have a vision of the perfect tortilla. It’s made of corn, from fresh masa, not masa harina. It’s thin. It’s soft. And, ideally, it’s made to order on a griddle-like surface like the ones served every weekend at the Primavera Mexican stand at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers’ Market. Several summers ago on a visit to San Fran for a wedding, Ben and I savored these freshly made tortillas for breakfast, filling them with scrambled eggs, salsa, avocados and cheese.

This meal inspired me to buy one of those tortilla presses and to try to replicate our experience at home. I soon learned, however, the task would be impossible — fresh corn masa was no where to be found in the Philadelphia area. Ben even called a shop in California (after reading an article online), to ask if the masa could be shipped across country. (This was before we went local). The woman refused, however, alleging that the masa would perish en route. I made a batch of tortillas anyway using the Maseca brand masa harina — the product all the local taquerías used as well — but the results proved far from satisfying. As time passed, I gave up my search for fresh masa and settled for store-bought varieties, which tasted far superior to my homemade creations. (Incidentally, if you are interested in learning more about the homemade tortilla making process, read this San Francisco Chronicle article.)

I just returned from a wedding in Baja where the yummy tortillas I ate at every meal reminded me of my bygone quest for the perfect tortilla. At the hotel restaurant, the waiters delivered a basket of warm flour and corn tortillas with every meal to be filled with eggs, fish, beef or whatever. Now, I don’t know if it’s just that no tortilla will ever measure up to the ones made at the Primavera stand, or if I’ve changed — I think I prefer flour to corn. I know, I know, corn is more authentic, but there was something about these small, thin, chewy flour tortillas that I could not resist. Alas, it seems my vision of the perfect tortilla may have changed.

How cute is this little zucchini? Each time I walk by my blossom-filled pot, however, I am tempted to rip off the flowers, stuff them with cheese and fry them up. Fortunately, my farmers’ market has a limitless supply of these blossoms, and I can resist the urge.

Now, about this non-local, grass-fed beef. I’m embarrassed to name its country of origin, but I had traveled all the way to Jimbo’s market with Aunt Vicki and her mother, Sy, and I could not pass up the opportunity to purchase a bit of grass-fed meat. Seasoned with salt and pepper, grilled for three to four minutes a side, tri-tip makes a wonderful taco filling, needing little more than salsa, chopped onion and a splash of lime.

Grass-Fed Tri-tip Tacos
Serves 2 to 3

1 lb. grass-fed tri-tip, flank or skirt steak
kosher salt and peper to taste
6 to 9 soft, corn or flour tortillas
finely diced white onion
chopped cilantro
1 avocado, thinly sliced
pico de gallo
1 limes, quartered
grated cheese (optional)
sour cream (optional)

1. Preheat a grill to high. (Alternatively, place a large frying pan over high heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil.) Season the steaks on all sides with salt and pepper to taste. Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Wrap the tortillas in foil and place in the oven.

2. Place onion, cilantro, avocados, pico de gallo, limes, cheese and sour cream in small bowls. Place in the center of the table.

3. Grill the steaks to desired doneness, then let rest for five minutes. Slice thinly against the grain and pile onto a platter. Remove tortillas from the oven, and place two on each plate. Begin assembling tacos.

Mango Pico de Gallo

Before the summer tomatoes reach the farm stands, ripe for fresh pico de gallo, try making one with mangoes, which are currently in season. From now until September, bright yellow champagne mangoes are at the market, and from May until August, the reddish-green Florida variety will be available.

Flavored with traditional salsa seasonings — lime juice, cilantro and jalapeños — this mango pico de gallo makes a refreshing appetizer. Serve with pappadums for a nice change from tortilla chips.

Mango Pico de Gallo
Yield = 3 cups

1 red bell pepper
1 jalapeño
2 mangoes
½ medium red onion
½ cup roughly chopped cilantro
¼ cup fresh squeezed lime juice
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon sugar

store-bought pappadums (Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s) or tortilla chips

1. Cut the red pepper in half, core and remove stem and seeds. With a knife, remove the white interior membranes, then finely dice the pepper (to yield about ¾ cup). Place in a large bowl. Repeat with the jalapeño.

2. Peel the mangoes, then slice fruit from the pit. Finely dice the fruit and add to the bowl (about 1¾ cup). Finely dice the onion (about ½ cup) and add to the bowl with the cilantro, lime juice, salt and sugar.

3. With a large spoon gently toss the ingredients together, being careful not to bruise the fruit. Taste, and adjust seasoning if necessary with more salt or lime juice.

4. Serve with pappadums or tortilla chips.