Sometimes I make salsa that is a little… er… spicy.  As in, not many human beings aside from myself can consume it, and I’m not even sure that I want to eat it.  Mostly, this happens when I OD on cascabel or habanero peppers.  In the words of a douchebag I once knew, it ends up being a little too “front of mouth.”  Or, just really effing hot, to the extent that the heat masks the flavor.

In that case, you can either add more ingredients to balance the flavors, or you can throw it away.  Since I’m never one to give up in the face of adversity, I tend to go with the former.  Today’s recipe arose after I realized that last night’s tomatillo salsa was too spicy for Ryan, and not as light and citrusy as I wanted.  After an evening of chilling, it still hadn’t mellowed in a satisfactory way, so I decided to take the plunge and buy some pineapple at the grocery store.

Original recipe:

1.5 pounds of tomatillos (those green things with the husk)

1/2 head of garlic

2-3 jalapeno peppers

2-3 dried Cascabel peppers

1/4 large Vidalia onion

Juice of 2 limes

Cilantro

Salt to taste

Preheat oven to “Broil”

Follow instructions in the previous recipe for rehydrating dried chile peppers.

Remove husks from tomatillos; wash thoroughly.

Place tomatillos, garlic, and jalapenos in a roasting pan.*  Roast until skin blisters and tomatillos soften, turning once so that both sides are cooked.

Remove from oven.  Remove seeds from all peppers.

Slowly combine all ingredients in food processor.  Salt to taste.

Uh-oh!  This Is Too Hot!

Now, if you taste this and say, “Holy crap!  How am I going to eat all of this?!?!  It’s a thermonuclear salsa war in my mouth!”–well, you might want to add some pineapple.

Pineapple serves the purpose of adding sugar and sweetness in order to control the heat.  Although fresh pineapple is always the best, there’s no shame in using canned (just get the kind in pineapple juice, rather than heavy syrup).  Today, I used a 20-ounce can, since I wasn’t sure of the quality of our local market’s pineapple.

Drain pineapple.  Set aside juice for mixed drink.  Run the pineapple through the food processor.

Slowly fold the pineapple into the salsa.  As you add the pineapple, be sure to taste the salsa.  When it gets to your desired sweet/hot nexus, stop!

*Tomatillos really should always be cooked, which brings out the sweet, citrus aspects of the fruit and blunts the acidity.  So, if you don’t want to roast or grill them, you can also boil them if necessary.

Salsa!

Salsa!

I love salsa; I love cooking. So, when the prices of tomatoes drop in the early summer, I crank out the grill and roast up… wait. I live in an apartment. Sigh. OK, I don’t grill my salsa veggies, but here’s what I do:

Medium Heat Roasted Tomato Salsa
–6-10 Roma tomatoes
–1/2 head of garlic
–1/4 large Vidalia onion
–2-3 Jalapenos
–Juice of 1-2 limes
–Handful of cilantro
–Salt & pepper, to taste
–1 large, dried Ancho pepper; 1 dried Cascabel pepper

Preheat oven to “Broil”

Rehydrate ancho and cascabel peppers in boiling water on the stove for 10 minutes; let sit another 10.

While the chiles are rehydrating, place tomatoes, garlic, and jalapenos in a roasting pan.  Broil until tomatoes are soft and the skin blisters (or, if you prefer, until it blackens).

Remove cascabel and ancho peppers from heat.  Unless you want your salsa rather hot, remove seeds from peppers.

Slowly combine all ingredients in food processor or blender (whichever you’ve got) until you reach the desired texture.

That’s all!  It’s pretty simple to make your own salsa, and there are endless variations on it.

Tomorrow:  Tomatillos!  My favorite non-tomato object!

Taqueria Corona

Dining area and grill

Elizabeth: The first time I went to Taqueria Corona in 1994, I hated it.  I had an enchilada with a side of rice and beans, and to me, it was wrong.  All wrong.  The enchilada was covered in cheese, which was burnt to a crisp like the top of a pizza.  The saffron rice and black beans didn’t taste at all Mexican to me, and I left thinking that my companions were unsophisticated ignoramuses with severe palate disorders.  Oh, the taco snobbery of a college freshman!

The grill and bar

The grill and bar

The next time I went, dragged there for some special event nearly two years later, I reluctantly decided to give it another chance (if just not to be a jerk to my dinner companions).  This time, I ordered chicken soft tacos and some rice and beans.  After the first mouthful of beans and rice, I made a pleasant discovery: they tasted almost (but not exactly) like the black beans and rice I’d had on our university orchestra’s trip to Costa Rica.  And then I bit into the soft taco, with delightfully smoky grilled chicken and a lime-infused pico de gallo on a lightly toasted flour tortilla.  The taco was not quite Mexican, either.  But it was bursting with flavor and remarkably satisfying.

Sometime after that, I discovered that my association of the beans and rice with Central America–rather than Mexico–wasn’t all that off: the restaurant’s owner hails from El Salvador, and that has definitely made it into the mix.  If you are looking for authentic Mexican food, Taqueria Corona is not the place to find it.  If you like good food, you will find it there.

Taqueria Corona

Taqueria Corona

Throughout college, I would eat at Taqueria Corona at least once every two weeks.  At the time, it was incredibly cheap ($7.95 for the Numero Uno, described below), convenient to Loyola, and, over time, became a place I associated with good food and good friends.  Thus, when Ryan and I visited New Orleans, it joined the list of potential taco consumption.

At this point, I’m going to hand the review over to Ryan, who can give you a better impression of the present-day Taqueria Corona, without the hazy filter of nostalgia.

Ryan: We were just about to leave New Orleans and deciding on what to have for luch. We almost went for po-boys (an excellent choice), but then Elizabeth threw out the idea of going to an El Salvadoran taqueria. Well, the choice was clear and we hit Taqueria Corona on Magazine Street just in time–the restaurant stops seating people at 2pm (until they open back up for dinner a few hours later).

I really liked the look of the place. It was a bit tacky and over the top, but sometimes that’s fun. The place was crowded and I knew it was going to be a three-taco meal for me. We ordered chips and pico de gallo, but they never actually brought that out. Oh well.

Tres Tacos

Tres Tacos

I ordered a rib-eye carne asada taco, a pork taco and a tongue taco. Tongue’s an acquired taste and generally I like it a LOT more on a sandwich from a good deli than in a taco, though I’ve had some good tongue tacos before. This one, well, it wasn’t all that. It was, somehow, softer than tongue usually is, too wet and not as flavorful as I’d expected. The pork taco was far better–the tortilla was packed with delicous chunks of slightly spicy pork. Good stuff! But truly, the steak taco stole the show for me. Thick strips of wonderfully marinated steak with some green onion, it was kind of like the steak you get with fajitas. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

My main issue with the tacos–all of them–was the tortilla. Flour tortillas just don’t taste right to me anymore. Kinda gummy and excessive, they took away from all the tacoey goodness. And the salsa was fine, but not really memorable.  Back to you in the studio, Elizabeth.

Elizabeth:  I can see what Ryan is saying about flour tortillas, but I still like them.   The challenge to consume the taco in time before it turns gummy is part of the fun for me; I also prefer burritos to tacos (Shhh!  Don’t tell!).

Numero Uno

Numero Uno

In terms of my order, I got the usual: The Numero Uno, a combination that comes with a small chicken burrito, chicken soft taco, beef flauta, and rice and beans.  It is–and always has been–more food than one should consume at one sitting, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t done it before.  The chicken burrito is nothing like what you would find on the West Coast: only black beans, chicken, and a smooth, tomato salsa, it is not pick-up-able, nor is it filled with the extras, such as rice, sour cream, guacamole, or cheese, that you would find in Taqueria Corona’s giant, stand-alone burritos.  Having lived in San Francisco, I can say that the burritos at TC will not win any authenticity contests, but they are (in their smaller form) a flavorful addition to the combo.

Having discussed the chicken soft taco and rice and beans already (They’re still good!), I turn now to the highlight of the meal: the deep-fried, gooey beef and cheese flauta.  Topped with sour cream and guacamole, it’s the comfort food of all comfort foods, even amongst all the carbohydrates and fats already on the plate.  Hard on the outside, gooey on the inside: what could be better?

And on that note, back to you, Ryan!

Ryan: The flauta was the shit! Seriously, if we ever go back, I’m getting two steak tacos and a flauta. Overall, Taqueria Corona was good, but not great.

We posted more photos on Flickr!

Grilled gator

Grilled gator

We’re celebrating New Year’s in Baton Rouge, Louisiana by sharing a gallon-sized Chocolate Russian frozen margarita, hanging with family and setting off fireworks. I hope you all have/had a safe and kickass NYE and are ready for the fury of ’09! How it’ll be different from ’08…I’m not sure. But I do know that, if nothing else, it’ll be a total tacostravaganza. And I have one request: I want alligator tacos.

The photo above is a plate of grilled alligator we had at the Cajon restaurant Boutin’s in Baton Rouge [more photos on Flickr]. It was insanely good. The meat itself was, yes, a lot like chicken. Maybe a little chewier with a sharper flavor, though that could have been due to the righteous grill job they gave it there. Having had alligator, I now know I must have alligator tacos. Hell, they could be cajun-grilled like the gator at Boutin’s, but throw on some salsa or pico de gallo, load it all up inside two warm tortillas (I tend to like my tacos with two thin tortillas of high quality.) and let ‘er rip! I’m tellin’ ya, that’ll make for some good tacos!

By gum, if we have to make ’em, we’re having gator tacos in ’09! Happy New Year everyone!

Superior Grill, Baton Rouge, LA

Superior Grill, Baton Rouge, LA

I had very  high expectations of Superior Grill before I even stepped off the plane from New York. Elizabeth had talked this place up so much that I expected Don Mattingly (former New York Yankees first baseman, my favorite player and my former childhood hero) and Jesus to cook and bring the tacos to us themselves. Hell, the family down here has made a tradition of going to Superior Grill for Christmas Eve dinner! It HAD to be good.

Welcome to Superior Grill

Welcome to Superior Grill

The decor, both inside and outside, said, “Hello Ryan, come in and eat our tacos. We want to fill your belly with deliciousness and make you happy. Be not afraid, just feast.” The wait staff was friendly and our table was immediately gifted with a heaping helping of warm, crispy chips and just spicy enough salsa. I’m a bit of a chip fiend, specifically when it comes to curled/folded chips.  I go ga-ga for ’em. The chips here were quite good, not overpowering in taste, obviously built more for dippin’ and enjoying the salsa. Good stuff! And when we devoured most of the chips and two containers of salsa, they quickly brought us a fresh (so hot!) batch of chips and four containers of salsa. Aces!

Meal-wise, we ordered a few things. I got the three taco plate (two steak brisket and one pork taco), Elizabeth got the one  beef taco/one chicken enchilada/one cheese enchilada combo, her sister Juli got the tortilla soup and her boy-toy Steven got the chicken fajita plate. I can’t comment on Juli and Steven’s food, though they seemed happy with their grub. I tasted Elizabeth’s dish and thought the beef taco (hard) was pretty decent, the chicken enchilada was real good and the cheese enchilada was great. My tacos?

Tacos!

Tacos!

Simply put: they rocked. Before adding the salsa, pico de gallo and guacamole to the tacos, I tasted them as they were. The steak brisket tacos perfectly cooked, juicy, extremely flavorful and pretty much made my mouth sing. It was a different cut of meat from what I’m used to in NYC, but hot damn that was excellent. That photo really doesn’t do it justice. The pork taco wasn’t quite as good. The pork was cut into chunks and a little dry despite being served with onions and peppers already in the taco, but it was still a pretty darn good taco nonetheless. By itself, I’m sure the pork taco would have pleased me, but against such a magnificent display of steak taco goodness, it just couldn’t compete.

The plate also came with rice and beans (good but not out of this world), pico de gallo, lettuce and serrano peppers (which I didn’t have, since I don’t like too much spice). The guacamole there was righteous and I suggest getting a side order for any dish you order.

All in all, Superior Grill won my heart and my taste buds with excellent food, great service and some damn fine tacos. When we figure out a proper review scale, we’ll add that in here, but I’d put this place somewhere in the vicinity of awesome.

See all the photos on Taco Por Vida’s Flickr gallery.

Airport food is not real food, as we all know. And, rather than judging my airport food by the normal, exacting standards I would implement in real life, I tend to go with the following questions:

1. Does it have any flavor at all?
2. Is it under $15?
3. Does it give me heartburn?
4. Can I get some alcohol to accompany it?

Perhaps I should move #4 up, as I *hate* airplane travel. So, that’s pretty much why I always hit up Pappasito’s Cantina when I fly Continental on my way home to visit the parents.  When it opened along with the E terminal in the early 2000s, it was a place with reliably decent and fresh Mexican food, certainly better than the other Houston airport options, and–rather amazingly–strong, tart, relatively inexpensive margaritas. While I wouldn’t have named Pappasito’s as one of my top five choices in Mexican restaurants, it was a bright spot in terms of airport food.

Sadly, much has changed in the past decade.

The past few times I’ve been through the airport and had a chance to eat at Pappasito’s, I’ve been noticing a change in the quality.  Still, I would convince myself that it’s better than most options there, thinking, “At least it isn’t Famiglia pizza” and, “Yeah, it’s chain Mexican and I shouldn’t expect much” and, “It is an airport, after all.”

Pappasito's Cantina, Houston Airport

This time, I had a Cancun burrito–chicken, black beans, guacamole, and pico di gallo–along with a 12-ounce frozen margarita.  The burrito was filled with ultra-sticky, rather tasteless refried black beans that overwhelmed and surrounded the rest of the ingredients.  I could hardly see the chicken in my burrito, let alone taste it.  The guacamole–well, there was a small dab of it, somewhere in there.  In short, in order to have any taste at all, I had to add a lot of the still-fairly-adequate salsa.  Damning with faint praise, indeed, to call the salsa “adequate.”

On the other hand, there’s that margarita: At $6.95, it is a remarkably good deal.  Not too sweet, not too tart, it also contains a significant amount of tequila.  If you have a long layover, as I did, it definitely does the trick and takes the edge off.  In short, it’s actually worth your money and time if you want something stronger than a beer and cheaper than an airport bar cocktail.