harissa tacos

grilled harissa shrimp

When I made that big batch of harissa a couple of weeks ago, I gave some of it away but kept a small jar for myself, even though I wasn’t sure what I would do with it. We had already planned to make grilled shrimp tacos that week (back when we were still having an unseasonable spell of beautiful weather and could reasonably eat outside), and Jon had the brilliant idea of bathing them in harissa instead of our usual lemon-garlic butter after taking them off the grill. The primary flavors in the harissa are chile pepper, cumin and caraway, so it works perfectly in a Mexican food context.

shrimp and cactus tacos

We built the tacos on flour tortillas with the grilled spicy shrimp, guacamole, sour cream, and lots of nopalitos (pickled cactus strips). It was delicious and I probably ate too much sour cream.

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modern Mexican

carne asada and tamales

The theme for our latest supper club was “modern Mexican.” It was another remarkable meal, made up of a series of composed small plates and some amazing flavors.

evening on the bay

It didn’t hurt that the weather was gorgeous that day, and dinner was held at a house right on the water. It set the tone nicely for a very summery meal.

margarita fixings

tamarind margarita

We started out with tamarind margaritas. I love tamarind-based drinks, it gives a tartness that’s very distinctive.

ceviche

Jenise made a batch of ceviche for us to nibble on while we set up for dinner. I know there was shrimp, halibut, corn, green olives and peppers, and it was one of the best ceviches I’ve ever had. It was hard to resist filling up before we even sat down.

avocado soup

Jon and I brought several dishes to share. The first of these was a chilled avocado soup garnished with pepitas. I liked the flavor of this, but it was extremely rich and creamy. If I ever make this again I think we’ll just serve it in tiny portions, like a shooter glass. The pepitas were toasted and tossed with ground chipotle pepper, which gave them a nice smokiness.

scallops in agavero sauce

Roger contributed the next course, based on a dish from a favorite restaurant. Sea scallops in an agavero butter sauce with capers, rolled into flour tortillas. This was fantastic, and I’d never even heard of agavero before, so it was a new flavor experience.

chalupas

Next came our chalupas (little “boats” made of masa, toasted on a griddle, molded by hand, then fried), topped with hot vinegary Mexican chorizo, sauteed pineapple, and a dab of tomatillo-chipotle salsa. We were going to add crema, chopped onion and cilantro but we sort of ran out of room – each of these was only about two bites. I liked the chalupas a lot, but they were best fresh out of the pan; the few that were left over we ate the next day, and they had really hardened up. The chorizo was a huge success – we used to be able to buy locally-made chorizo at our neighborhood grocer but couldn’t get it this time, so we made our own and it was fabulous. The recipe is from a nifty little cookbook called Antojitos, and I’ve reprinted it at the bottom of this post. Adding pineapple was an inspiration we got from Calle, a lovely Mexican restaurant in downtown Mount Vernon – they top their chorizo tacos with grilled pineapple and I’ve really liked it.

duck pomegranate tacos

Linda and Mike brought duck tacos with pomegranate seed salsa, pickled cabbage, a peanut-arbol salsa, and charred corn tortillas. This was just beautiful. I particularly loved the crunch of the pomegranate seeds with the tender duck meat.

tamales and salsa

Jenise and Bob cured flank steak with salt, sugar and hibiscus flowers and then grilled it, and Jenise made two kinds of tamales: black truffle and goat cheese/mint. The tomatillo salsa went with everything.

lime ice

Georgiann’s lime ice, totally refreshing, with mint and strawberries.

Mexican chocolate pots de creme

Pots de creme infused with Mexican chocolate and cinnamon. I made this from a Thomas Keller recipe, adding pulverized Ibarra chocolate and a stick of cinnamon to the warming milk and cream. It was the reverse of refreshing: rich and deadly.

There was also plenty of Mexican beer and a selection of wines that went surprisingly well with the food. I think we did very well with this theme!

chorizo

Chorizo

From Antojitos: Festive and Flavorful Mexican Appetizers by Barbara Sibley and Margaritte Malfy

This makes a very potent chorizo, spicy and vinegary. It works best as a seasoning, rather than a main dish, as a little goes a long way (we made tacos from the leftovers and they were very hot and rich). Yes, there is a ton of ground cloves in this, but don’t skimp!

  • 3 dried arbol chiles
  • 7 dried guajillo chiles (we substitued puya chiles, which are very similar)
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • ½ cup white vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 ½ tsp ground cloves
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 pound ground pork

Layer the chiles, onion and garlic, add the bay leaf, and pour the vinegar over. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set aside for one hour.

Discard the bay leaf. Put the mixture in a blender and process to a rough paste. Add water to thin if necessary. Scrape out into a bowl.

Mix the chile paste with the salt, cumin, oregano, cloves and pepper. Add the pork and mix thoroughly.

Put a dab of the sausage into a skillet and cook to check seasonings, adjusting as necessary. Refrigerate the sausage for at least 12 hours or up to 5 days. To cook, heat a small amount of oil in a skillet and add the sausage, stirring until the meat is cooked through.

If adding pineapple: dice about a cup of pineapple finely. Put in a nonstick skillet and fry until the liquid cooks off and the pineapple starts to brown. Add the cooked chorizo to the pineapple and stir them together until everything is hot.

puya chiles

homemade chorizo

chalupas

party leftovers

party leftovers

We had our usual end-of-summer party last weekend (god the weather was fabulous), and to my not-very-great-surprise we had tons of leftovers. The next few days, therefore, became a challenge to see how much of them the two of us could eat without getting completely sick of them. We had shrimp in tomato-chipotle sauce, grilled corn, pinto beans, grilled flank steak, raw seasoned flank steak, cornbread, raspberries, one brownie, two kinds of salsa, corn chips, enough tortillas for two more parties at least, cotija cheese, and crema mexicana. Obviously, we ate a lot of tacos for a few days.

By Monday night, though, I was feeling pretty burned out on the tacos, and we still had that whole uncooked flank steak on hand. We decided to pull out our meat grinder and run it through, then make hamburgers out of it. We did add an egg, since the flank steak made for a pretty lean burger, but it worked very well – the chile-cumin rub that had been on the steak got incorporated into the meat and tasted great. To go alongside I stripped the kernels off the remaining ears of grilled corn, then heated them gently with a few fresh tomatoes that were also left over and a bit of cilantro. With a good drizzle of crema on top and some salty cotija, this made a really nice dinner that, thrillingly, was not tacos.

back to South

Stingers

I uploaded these photos last week and somehow they’ve just been languishing over on Flickr, which is a shame. South remains our favorite restaurant in the Bavarian hamlet of Leavenworth, serving Oaxacan-style food and fabulous cocktails, and I just can’t say enough about how much I like their work. I might only mention them now and then, but believe me, we go back every chance we get. These pictures are from our most recent visit.

sweet potato fries

Sweet potato fries are a relatively recent addition (I love their roasted green beans so much it was a wrench not to order them). They’re white sweet potatoes, very dry, with an oven-fried texture. They come with garlic mayonnaise but are also good with salsa. I am a total sucker for the cute wooden bowls they’re served in.

salsas

Speaking of salsa, it’s a get-it-yourself affair. While we sat on the patio I watched a handful of customers (all men) attempt to carry up to five bowls of salsa back to their table without a plate, which was exciting (no accidents, alas). The habanero salsa is also pretty exciting, even for those of us with a high spice tolerance.

patio at SouthStinger

The patio gets a little better every time we visit. Now they have a canopy over the upper part, and large market umbrellas for the lower section, so palefaces like me don’t fry in the sun. Grapevines cover the walls, and the whole space gives a sense of privacy and of, well, not being in Leavenworth. It’s a great place to sit on a hot summer day and drink a Daisy, a Caipirinha, or (our favorite) a Stinger – muddled jalapeno and cilantro with tequila and lemon. A bit spicy, but astonishingly good.

tacos al pastor

burrito and chips

As always, both the tacos and burritos are fantastic. Our favorite filling is probably the pork al pastor, but all of them have been good. The rice in the burritos is seasoned with lots of cilantro, so even the rice-heavy bites aren’t bland. And there’s NO CHEESE.

Seriously, I don’t want to drone on about this place, but I felt I should revisit it for a moment. Don’t eat bratwurst in Leavenworth, go here instead.

wall at South

fish tacos & purple salsa

fish tacos

I’ve always been a big fan of fish tacos, and tend to order them any time I see them as long as they’re not deep-fried (not that I have anything against fried fish, but I prefer it outside of a taco). We recently had some fantastic halibut tacos out at Skagit’s Own Fish Market, grilled with a spicy rub and liberally dressed with tomato salsa and fresh cucumber. Then there was the taco, also halibut I think, at Fred’s Rivertown Alehouse in Snohomish, which was topped with cabbage and tartar sauce and came with some really excellent beans and rice. At this point I really wanted to make some of my own, to keep the streak going. We picked up some nice looking ling cod and a pack of fresh tortillas and thought about topping options.

tomatillopurple tomatillo

This year I’ve been growing tomatillos for the first time. We got a couple of plants from the high school greenhouse of a variety I’d never seen before, just labeled “purple tomatillos.” With the hot weather we’ve finally been having, the plants have started bearing like crazy, and the fruits are, indeed, purple. I only had a few mature tomatillos, but decided to try whipping them up into a green (or purple) salsa to go with our fish tacos.

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taco crawl: Burlington

Taco Express

Happy Cinco de Mayo! Are you having tacos tonight? If not, don’t worry – we ate some for you.

Last weekend, Jon and I went taco-hopping with the help of three intrepid friends. Piled into our minivan, we confused the hell out of the workers at three different taco trucks along Burlington Boulevard. A clown car full of gringos, weird. Eventually we ran out of known taco truck locations as well as appetite, but I think we did pretty well.

Taco Express

Heading over the Skagit River to Burlington, we kept our eyes peeled. There used to be a carniceria in this area, which sometimes set up a big grill out in its parking lot, but sadly it closed last year. We found no sign of tacos until we had passed the mall, but just after Office Max we saw our first target, Taco Express.

Taco Express

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south of the border risotto

dinner

I had assumed that we would be eating all kinds of leftovers for days after our end-of-summer party. We did have huevos rancheros for breakfast (with drunken pinto beans and cotija cheese), and chips and guacamole for lunch, but then I realized there wasn’t really much else left except for a large pile of poblano and jalapeño chiles that somehow never got used, plus some leftover grilled corn. I really didn’t want to go to the store again, so I needed to think of something for dinner based on what was on hand. In a fit of fusiony madness, I came up with a sort of Tex-Mex risotto.

peppers

I chopped two poblanos and sauteed them in salted butter (I should have added onions, which would have given even more sweetness and depth), then added Arborio rice, followed by a glassful of white wine. I brought a quart of garlic-scented chicken stock to a boil and began adding it to the rice.

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the end-of-summer party

the end of summer party

Last weekend we threw our annual end-of-summer party. After the filthy wet weather on Labor Day I was half expecting it to turn into a huddle-inside-and-eat-soup party, but it turned out to be a glorious day. We sat in the sun and drank margaritas, caipirinhas, Negra Modelo, Jarritos soda and Pinotage. And ate a lot.

chorizo-stuffed mushrooms

I made tomatillo salsa, pico de gallo, and chorizo-stuffed mushrooms, Jon grilled flank steak and spiced sweet corn, and our friend Knut brought a pile of beef ribs that he marinated in a vast heap of fresh herbs and vegetables with a melon sauce, then smoked them on the grill.

grapes and tomatoes

There were fresh cherry tomatoes, Concord grapes, carrot salad, and ripe melon. We bought paletas for dessert, from the local Mexican supermarket, but people were still eating corn and drinking beer at 10 pm, so we never quite made it to dessert.

canna

It’s been a beautiful summer, but I think we’ve successfully rung in the autumn. And that’s OK with me.

roasted tomatillo salsa

tomatillo

tomatillo

Someday I’m going to find a spot in my tiny yard to grow tomatillos. A big, gangly, tangled green jungle so we can have as much green salsa as we could possibly want. In the meantime, we just keep buying big bags of them at the farmer’s market – at least until the farmers run out.

tomatillos

When I first discovered tomatillos, I was annoyed at their stickiness and not really sure what to do with them. Now I rather enjoy the process of peeling off the papery husks and rinsing off the gummy coating. Like shelling beans, it can be a contemplative activity. And if you do a few extra pounds while you’re at it, you can toss the cleaned tomatillos into a bag and put them in the freezer for later.

roasted tomatillos & serranos

And as for what to do with them, my favorite recipe (so far) is Rick Bayless’ Roasted Tomatillo & Serrano Salsa, from his book Mexican Kitchen. It’s not that different from a traditional salsa verde, where you generally boil the tomatillos and puree them with onion. But in this version, you use the broiler to give the tomatillos and peppers some char before blending and simmering. See below for the recipe, it’s a good one.

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Mount Vernon taco crawl

Mount Vernon taco crawl

It recently occurred to me that we’ve lived in Mount Vernon for twelve years now and have never done a comparative study of all the taco wagons here in town. With the able assistance of my husband and two taco-loving friends, I set out to do so last Saturday.

(Mount Vernon, by the way, is a particularly good place for taco tastings, as our population is about 25 percent Hispanic. This crawl just covered taco wagons, but if you included groceries, taquerias, family restaurants, carnicerias and ladies-who-make-awesome-tamales, you’d be kept busy for quite some time. Anyway – on to the tacos.)

Mount Vernon taco crawl

Our first stop: Taqueria La Bamba. This truck has been set up on College Way for at least ten years, but since we moved out of the neighborhood we hadn’t visited. Its location is prime, near both the community college and the largely Hispanic Kulshan neighborhood. It boasts a large permanent dining area, several outdoor tables and a highly dangerous looking rope swing.

Mount Vernon taco crawl

We decided to order four types of tacos, getting two of each so we could all taste. We picked lengua (tongue), asada (beef), adobada (pork) and tripas (tripe). We also picked up a couple of bottles of tamarind soda pop, one of the best things to drink with a taco besides beer.

Mount Vernon taco crawl

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