Friday, February 18, 2011

Taco To Me


Warm corn tortillas and beer-marinated steak with a salsa of
avocado and tomato 

   For the first twenty-four years of my life there was only one type of taco: a hard yellow shell filled with packet-spiced ground beef, shredded orange “Mexican” cheese and ribbons of iceberg lettuce, topped with dollop of sour cream and some Pace Picante spooned straight from the jar.  And don’t get me wrong, it was delicious- in that Kraft Mac and Cheese, Oodles of Noodles, Ellio’s Pizza kind of way.  Forgive me, I didn’t know any better… it was before I had my Tortilla Epiphany.
  Enter PJ, who grew up in Brownsville, Texas- just five minutes from the border with Mexico.  We had only been dating a few months when he took me down to his hometown to meet the family, the friends, and the food he grew up with- suddenly, the idea of Tex-Mex took on a whole new meaning. 
  It meant soft corn and flour tortillas pressed by hand.  It meant tender, savory shredded meats, crumbly mild white cheeses, and fresh chunky salsas in which you could actually taste and identify separate vegetables- like tomatoes and onions and chilies, oh my!  It meant drizzled with decadent crema and served with slices of buttery avocado and tart little wedges of lime.  That was when I discovered that a “taco” wasn’t just one thing after all, and it certainly wasn’t what I thought it was. 
  And from the looks of all the “authentic” taco joints popping up on every other block, it seems our city has experienced a similar revelation somewhere along the line.  In the last three days alone, I have walked by no less than five new establishments offering their own specific style of taco- from Oaxacan, to Guatemalan, to Southern Californian- even Korean.  And sure, we still have a long way to go to compete with the country’s major taco cities like L.A., Austin or Chicago, but it’s exciting to think that our Old El Paso days might finally be behind us! 

  When we had an impromptu get-together for the Super Bowl a few weeks back, PJ threw together a delicious spread to make tacos- as always, I was in charge of warming the tortillas.  He sliced the meat thin and seasoned it with my mother's cumin-salt, then and marinated it in Negra Modelo.

    He seared the beef in a smoking hot pan, then cut it up and returned it to the pan to brown it all around, getting a yummy caramelization on the meat. 

We picked up some sweet and crispy barbequed spare ribs in Chinatown that morning and PJ cut them up for Chino/Latino-style.  He also fried up a couple spicy pork sausages.

   He was so excited to use our brand-new Vitamix blender for the first time that he whipped up three types of salsas- a spicy tomato, a tomatillo with roasted garlic and cilantro, and a chunky one with avocado and onion .

These tacos were made in... New York City!  Get a rope.

  For a quick-fix dessert, I put together some ice cream sandwiches with store-bought cookies.  I went pretty classic with these, but the possibilities are endless!

Step 1: Scoop ice cream onto cookie base

Step 2: Press another cookie on top and squish down just until the ice-cream spreads to the edges.  Immediately return the sandwiches to the freezer for at least 1 hour to harden.

Step 3: Stuff your face!

To those of you out there actually reading this, thank you! 
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  1. The tacos look great! Next time let's try out my new tortilla press!