Friday, March 27, 2020

In Defense of the Crispy Taco

Crispy tacos have long been a Tex-Mex staple. However, in recent years with the widespread blandness of Taco Bell, sub-par Mexican restaurant chains, and store-bought "taco kits," they seem to have lost their favor, with the exception of the 2 am drunken crowd. In addition, who decided that crispy tacos don't have their roots in authentic Mexican? In fact, in Mexico they are called "tacos dorados" (golden tacos), and are filled with meat and fried. "Flautas" (flutes) are usually flour tortillas rolled up around the filling and fried. "Taquitos" are usually corn tortillas rolled up around the filling and fried. Both are considered tacos dorados. I've even seen taco dorados made by closing the tortilla in half with the filling inside and fried that way.

According to Gustavo Arellano, author of Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America, via Julia Moskin of The New York Times, the crispy taco began at Mitla Cafe, east of Los Angelos. Mitla Cafe was established in 1937 by Vicente and Lucia Montano, and is still family owned today. Their signature dish is "tacos dorados con carne molida," golden taco shells filled with seasoned ground beef, iceberg lettuce, chopped tomatoes, and cheddar cheese. Here is where the story gets interesting! "In 1950, one Glen Bell, an entrepreneur possessed by envy of the McDonald brothers' success, opened a burger stand across the street from Mitla." "According to Mr. Arellano's research, Mr. Bell ate often at Mitla and watched long lines form at its walk-up window; later, having persuaded the Montanos to show him how the tacos were made, he experimented after hours with a tool that would streamline the process of frying the tortillas."

Mr. Bell started serving his own tacos in 1951." The business went through several name changes (Taco Tia, El Taco) before starting as Taco Bell in 1962." "On the Taco Bell website, Mr. Bell is cited as the creator of the 'fast-food crunchy taco.'" Hmph! What do you think? Either way, the only way to make truly delicious crispy tacos is to make the beef seasoning yourself, instead of using those mystery packets from the store. In addition, either buy the best taco shells you can find (I like La Tiara brand, not Old El Paso or that blasted Taco Bell brand!) or fry up your own. Heat a couple inches of oil in a pot, drop in a corn tortilla (home-made or store-bought), shape with a spatula and tongs until golden, a few minutes. Drain and voila! These tacos are an easy and delicious week-night dinner that you and your family will love!

Awesome Crispy Tacos

1 lb ground beef chuck
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 Tablespoon chili powder (like Gebhardt, if possible)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1- 1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher salt

Mix the dry ingredients together, set aside. Brown the meat in a large saute pan over medium-high heat, breaking it into pieces with a wooden spoon. When browned, drain the excess fat. Add the onion, spices, and 1/2 cup water. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. 

Serve with crispy tortilla shells, avocado slices, your favorite salsa from my site! (or your favorite store-bought salsa), shredded iceberg lettuce dressed with a dash of cider vinegar and pinch of salt, diced tomato, chopped cilantro, Mexican crema or sour cream, and top it all off with some freshly grated cheddar cheese (the store-bought pre-shredded stuff taste nothing like freshly grated)! Enjoy!

Friday, March 20, 2020

French Onion Soup!

Onion soup has been around since the ancient Romans and Greeks, but it took the French to add the bread and cheese to make it the much desired "French Onion Soup," or "Soupe a l'Oignon Gratinee." French onion soup has been around since the 17th century and was peasant food, specifically from the silk laborers known as the canuts, and was thought to have medicinal properties. At the time, people thought that eating raw onions caused headaches. The tradition was carried on to local french bistros in the Lyonnaise region of France, called "bouchons." Onions were caramelized to perfection, simmered with water, then topped with a crisp slice of bread (croute), Comte or Gruyere cheese, then baked or broiled until the cheese was melted and slightly browned. Beef stock would have been too time-consuming and expensive to "waste" on a simple onion soup. Sometimes red wine would be added to the broth, an ancient tradition known as "faire chabrot" ("to drink like a little goat"), which is why many modern recipes call for the addition of red wine, port, cognac, white wine, and even sherry. Legend has it that French onion soup was created by King Louis XV (or perhaps XIV) of France? After a long day of hunting, apparently unsuccessfully, he created the dish using stale bread, onions, and champagne that he had on hand... I find that extremely hard to believe that a King, with servants, would have the knowledge or patience to properly sweat and caramelize onions.

I adore a nice bowl of French onion soup and have spent many a day trying to find the version I like best. I've consulted all the greats: James Beard, Eric Ripert, Thomas Keller, Anthony Bourdain, Julia Childs, Jacques Pepin, Laura Calder, Michael Ruhlman, and even Balthazar's, just to name of few! (I'm not kidding!) They all have different convictions about what is best, and what I have concluded is I like mine the best! Although my recipe has a few additions not regularly seen, like the addition of a leek and shallot - technically in the onion family, which I feel rounds out the flavor, giving it that "je ne sais quoi." In addition, I like using beef stock even though I know Ruhlman would gasp in horror! Either way, if you love French onion soup and you don't want to make just any recipe on a whim, I think you'll find this very satisfying and adaptable to your taste. It makes a fine French onion soup indeed!

French Onion Soup (Soupe a l'Oignon Gratinee)

Serves 4, generously!


1/2 cup unsalted butter
4 LARGE yellow onions, thinly sliced*
1 leek, sliced thinly and washed (see how do you cut and wash leeks?, if needed)
1 shallot, trimmed, peeled, and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
5 cups beef stock (home-made or low-sodium is the best)
1/2 cup red wine, or port, or white wine, or sherry, or 1/4 cup cognac to deglaze (optional, in fact, sometimes I prefer it without)
2 bay leaves
1/2 lb Comte or Gruyere cheese (**use cave-aged, or it won't melt properly!), shredded
8, 1/2" thick slices French baguette, toasted golden brown (the dry bread makes the cheese float and not sink to the bottom, toast it well!)


In a large pot or Dutch oven, melt the butter over low heat. Add the onions, leek, and shallot, sprinkle to taste with salt. (Careful if your using store-bought stock, less is more here.) Stir to coat well with the butter, cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until very tender, 20-30 minutes.

Remove the cover, raise the heat slightly and saute, stirring frequently, until the onions turn a deep caramel brown, about 1-1 1/2 hours, or so! Be patient! Do Not Let them Burn, or the soup will be bitter.

Add the stock, 1/2 cup red wine or port or cognac, etc. (you choose), and bay leaves, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and simmer about 30 minutes more. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

When ready, discard the bay leaves. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle into heavy flameproof serving crocks or bowls placed on a baking sheet or broiler tray. Sprinkle a little of the cheese into each bowl, then place 2 toasted bread slices or croutes onto each bowl. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining cheese.

Place the tray with the bowls in the oven for approximately 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Crank up the broiler to brown the cheese slightly, or use a blow torch. Serve immediately. CAREFUL, IT'S HOT, but very delicious!

*To thinly slice onions for French onion soup, remove the tops and skins from the onions, leaving the root ends attached. (That gives you something to hold on to.) Cut the onions in half from root to tip. Cut each half the same way. Then, holding the root section, slice the onions crosswise, creating the perfect size to fit in spoon!

Friday, March 6, 2020

Does My Butt Look Big?

Too bad that some of the best things in life are fattening, like Fettuccine Alfredo. I know I shouldn't, but I want it anyway. Guilty pleasure? Perhaps. Delicious? Definitely! So if you're going to give in, at least do it right.  You need fresh fettuccine (which can be bought at most stores) and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (the real stuff). Feel free to top it off with freshly ground black pepper, grated nutmeg, or if you really want to be bad - a nice drizzle of truffle oil!

Fettuccine Alfredo

Serves 4-6


12 oz fresh fettuccine pasta
3 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, grated
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more for the pasta water


Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add about 2 tablespoons of salt.

In a large saute pan, melt the butter over medium-low heat.  When the butter is melted, add the cream and salt and heat until small bubbles start to form, then let it simmer until it is slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. (This thickening step is critical; if the sauce is too thin, it won't coat the pasta nicely.) Remove from the heat.

Cook the pasta in the water until it is tender but still al dente. Reserve about a cup of the pasta water to thin the sauce later, if necessary.

Reheat the sauce and add the pasta to the sauce, then add the cheese. Toss well to coat each strand evenly. If it looks dry as you toss, add a little at a time, of the reserved pasta water. Serve in warmed bowls. Enjoy!

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma's Pasta.