Welcome to my kitchen

A while ago, I realized I was serious enough about bread baking to stop diddling around with the 3-packs of yeast from the grocery store, or even the small jars for a small fortune. So I pulled up my big girl pants, and ordered "A Pound Of Yeast". It's in my freezer, and I use it regularly, and I guess that makes me "A Baker". Even though I always said "I can't bake". So, join me on my journey, and let's see what that pound of yeast makes, and where we go next....

Friday, May 4, 2012


¡ Hola amigos !  And that, sadly, is about the extent of what my sad little brain retains from many, many years of high school and college Spanish lessons.

That and “¿ donde esta el baño ?”, which is frankly just as important of a phrase.  Perhaps even more so…

But, I digress, as always.  This, however, may be the earliest digression yet.  No, apparently that tendency of mine didn't go away during my hiatus.

Tomorrow (or today, depending upon where you are and when you’re reading this) is Cinco de Mayo.  Which, although it is most likely, what I call a “faux-li-day” or a contrived holiday (see other examples, St. Patrick’s Day, Groundhog’s Day, Sweetest Day, and darest I say…Halloween), is still however, in the grand tradition of holidays, faux or real, an excellent excuse for some “good eats” (to borrow a phrase, thanks AB).  Yikes.  THAT sentence structure even hurt MY brain…..let’s carry on, shall we, and try to recover from that horror ?

For dinner tomorrow, I’m planning on making a very traditional Mexican dish that features all the colors of the Mexican flag, which of course I’ll share with all ya’ll in a bit.  But for immediate inspiration, not to mention satisfaction, here’s a suggestion for the star of your particular fiesta.  I made these earlier this week, and they were a) easy and b) tasty, which, in my book, makes the recipe a winner.  Even throwing together some refried black beans, salsa and guacamole from scratch didn’t add to the stress/effort level all that much.

So, let’s make some tacos, shall we?

First up, the protein player.  The recipe I riffed this meal from used boneless, skinless chicken thighs, which I think would be outstanding.  However, I had some very thin cut, boneless pork loin chops I needed to use up (and use up quickly), so that was what we got.  No pictures of the ingredient line-up, I didn’t think to document the process until the day I started cooking the actual meal.  But I have the utmost faith in all ya’ll that you’ll be able to visualize what went down the day before the taco blast !

You’re going to want to marinate the protein (chicky or piggie) in a mixture of dark beer (preferably Mexican, but any dark beer will work, I used an Anchor Steam), dark sesame oil, a boatload of minced garlic, dried oregano, salt and pepper, and cayenne pepper.  You could let the meat sit in the yummies stashed either in a zippy bag, or, as I did, in a flat Pyrex dish.

That’s my porkie chops after their overnight bath.  You want to let the protein marinade for at least several (2 to 4) hours, but trust me, overnight is better.  It also wouldn’t be such a bad idea to take a fork and puncture the chops a couple of times to make sure the marinade will have a chance to penetrate beyond the surface.  Turn the chops/thighs over a couple of times during the marinade process as well.

When you’re ready to cook, take the meat out of the marinade, and discard it.  You can cook the meat either on an outdoor grill (charcoal or gas) or indoors, on a grill pan, as I did.  If you’re cooking it on a grill pan, lay the drained meat on some paper towels, and pat it dry.  Damp meat won’t sear and give you that nice crusty, charry surface.  Outdoor grills, with the live flames, don’t have that same issue.

Sorry.  That's REALLY a bad picture, isn't it?  Unfortunately, there's nothing I can do to fix it.  Just pretend I didn't sear your retinas with that overexposure, and carry on.

Heat up your grill pan for a good long time.  I let mine go on my “high output” burner, at about 3/4 power, for 10 minutes before I use it.  You want it screamin’ hot.  It’s a *really* good idea to have a *really* good exhaust hood on while you’re using the grill pan, and you may want to temporarily disconnect any smoke alarms.  Unless you like terrifying small dogs.  Don’t ask me how I know…..

While the grill pan is heating, take a large onion (brown or white), peel it, and slice it into thick slices.

Brush both sides of the slices with some vegetable oil, and when the grill pan is hot, slap them down on the pan.

Let them sizzle around a bit (literally no more than 2 or 3 minutes per side), and then carefully flip them over to grill the second side.  Use a spatula to slide under the slices.  Then pull them off the pan and set them on a cutting board to cool a bit.  Slice into strips and place on a platter.

Oil the grill pan with some vegetable oil (a pastry brush works really well to get the oil on both the ridges and valleys of the pan).  Then slap on the chops/thighs.  Again, I have sufficient faith in all ya’ll to be able to figure out how to cook these on an outdoor grill.  Don’t disappoint me !!

Cook until both sides of the meat are well marked, and the meat is cooked through.  For those thin pork cutlets, that won’t be more than 5 or 6 minutes total.  Don’t over cook, they’ll get tough and stringy and nasty, and you’ll be sad.  The small dogs, however, might be happy (castoffs and all that….).

 Cut the pork/chicken into strips as well,

 …and put them on the same platter with the onion strips (artfully separated by the lovely verdant green of some cilantro and accented with lime wedges if you’re feeling all artsy-fartsy).

Pull the corn tortillas you were bright enough (again, I got faith in my audience) to wrap in foil and toss into a low oven to warm up while the meat was cooking, and build yourself some tacos !

What’s that you say ???  Didn’t I mention some refried black beans, guacamole and salsa, too ?  Why yes.  Yes, I did.  Good memories you have, too.

So, black beans.  I had some I needed to use up.  There literally was about half a cup, but for one serving that’s plenty.  Into a small, non-stick frying pan went some beige gold….bacon grease.  Mmmmmmm.  Bacon grease makes most everything better.

Melt that down, then throw in some minced onion, garlic and hot pepper (I used half a serrano….the jalapeños around here recently have been wimpy, and besides, the ones I had in the produce drawer had gotten a bit, erm, hairy).  Use whichever hot pepper floats your particular boat.  Let the veg get nice and soft and fragrant, then toss in the drained, rinsed beans.  Let them sauté around for a bit, then use your potato masher to smoosh them up (yes, it’s another highly technical cooking term…smoosh).

I added a sploosh (ewwwww, another highly technical cooking term) of water to loosen up the mixture, but stock or beer would work too.  Wine, not so much.  Let that simmer while the meat and onions grill.  And sorry, I've yet to discover a way to photograph refried beans, especially refried black beans, without them looking like cat barf.

Why, that looks like makings for salsa !  And, in fact, it was.  Plus a garlic clove that was tardy to the line-up photo.  Aren’t those heirloom baby tomatoes pretty ?  I’m sure you all know what to do with these players.  Mince, chop, season, mix.  You end up with this.

For that handful of tomatoes, I used half of that large scallion, and half of the serrano.  The other half of the scallion and serrano met up with these guys:

…to make this.

There was also some lime juice involved, and to smooth the mix out, and because I wanted to, I dolloped in a small spoon of this lovely, unctuous stuff

which is amazingly luscious homemade mayonnaise.  I used less than a tablespoon for the whole avocado, so it really was just a dollop.  But I liked it.  It was a good addition.  But then, I also like to eat mayonnaise, even Best Foods mayonnaise, with a spoon, so I may not be the best judge of the appropriate use of said condiment.

Yeah, sorry.  No picture of the finished assembly.  Hey, I was HUNGRY, and as I said, I'm way out of practice on this photo-cooking thing.  They were purdy, though.  And yummy.

So, there’s your fiesta de tacos.  Festive enough for a holiday, easy enough for weeknight Taco Tuesdays.  You want the proportions for the marinade, you say?  Sure enough, here it comes.  Oh.  And it’s really, really, *REALLY* good to be back !

Beer-Marinated Pork Tacos with Grilled Onions
(adapted from Serious Eats)
Serves 4

For the marinade
1 cup dark beer (Mexican, preferably, such as Negra Modelo)
2 tblsp. dark sesame oil
1 tblsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. dried oregano, crushed lightly between palms
1 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. ground cayenne pepper

For the tacos
6 boneless, thin cut pork loin chops or 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 large white or brown onion
Vegetable oil
2 cups of your favorite guacamole
2 cups of your favorite salsa
Cilantro sprigs
Lime wedges
8-12 “taco size” corn tortillas

Mix all of the marinade ingredients together in a small bowl or glass baking dish.  Poke the chops/thighs several times with a fork to help the marinade penetrate.  Add the meat to the marinade and either place in a zippy bag with marinade, or cover the baking dish with plastic wrap.  Refrigerate at least 2 hours, preferably overnight, squishing the bag or turning the meat periodically.

Remove the meat from the refrigerator and prep either an outdoor grill or a cast-iron grill pan.  Peel the onion, and slice into thick slices.  Brush both sides of the onion slices with vegetable oil and sprinkle with some salt and pepper.  If using a grill pan, lay the chops/thighs on some paper towels and pat dry.  Lay the onion slices on the grill or grill pan, and cook until softened and charred on one side.  Carefully flip, using a spatula, and cook on the second side until nicely marked.  Total cooking time for the onions will be 2-3 minutes.  Remove from grill and let cool.  Slice into strips.

Lay the chops/thighs on the grill or grill pan, and cook until browned and marked on the first side.  Flip over, and cook until the second side is well-marked, and the meat is cooked through.  Total time for pork cutlets will be about 5 minutes, for chicken thighs about 10.  Remove from grill and allow to rest.  Cut meat into thin strips.

Warm tortillas in low oven (wrapped in foil) or microwave (wrapped in damp paper towels) until soft and pliable.  If using an outdoor grill, you can also grill the tortillas, about 30 seconds per side.  Assemble tacos by spreading a spoonful of guacamole onto the middle of each tortilla.  Add strips of meat and onion.  Top with cilantro and salsa to taste, and squirt over lime juice.

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