How to Throw a Baja Fish Taco Party

A Chicago Backyard and Many Happy People

24th Jun 2011

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Mexican food is made for parties. The construction of tortillas, fillings, salsas, and toppings; the spicy, rich flavors; and above all, the fact that it tastes so darn good. This was our guiding principle on a recent Saturday when, with the help of a handful of talented friends, we threw a Baja Fish Taco party under warm string lights in a Chicago backyard.

We were celebrating one of the e...

The Trick to Better Refried Black Beans

Some pasilla chiles and avocado leaves make all the difference.

26th Jan 2011

If you happened to stumble across the recipe for “Seasoned Black Beans” in Diana Kennedy’s Oaxaca al Gusto there wouldn’t be much to immediately keep you from turning the page. Dont get me wrong, it is housed in a beautiful book, it is just that besides the boring name and lack of picture, this is all Kennedy says in the headnote: “This fried bean paste is used for filling tamales, for t...

Beyond the Tortilla Chip: Three Mexican Snacks that Aren''t Deep Fried

Plus a recipe for Oaxacan-Style Peanuts with Chile and Garlic

16th Sep 2010

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Forget the chips.

You know the drill. You walk into a Mexican restaurant anywhere in the country. You sit down. Within moments -often before drink orders are taken- a bowl of tortilla chips and salsa are rushed out to the table. You immediately dig in. Time disappears. Before you order, before you even think about ordering, salsa stains the tablecloth and all the chips are mysteriously gone....

The Five Best Things I Ate in Oaxaca, Mexico

These are the five things I can't stop thinking about

25th Aug 2010

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I went to Mexico to eat, and I handpicked the region of Oaxaca specifically because I figured I could eat there best. It’s a place where chiles, chocolate, and tomatoes have been growing for thousands of years, and where the holy trinity of corn, beans, and squash make up the local diet. Forget Italy, France, or Spain. Oaxaca is where my favorite food in the world comes from.

I spent two we...

How to Make Homemade Vinegar (It Couldn''t Be Easier)

A pineapple and a few weeks is all you need

19th Aug 2010

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When I think of Mexican cuisine, I think of balance. Mexicans love acidity in their cooking, and that's what makes it so appealing to eat. Though it's a function of living in a warm climate--the same reason Thai cuisine is also fond of citrus, it's a necessary form of preservation--the culinary benefit has outlasted the necessity.

When you have something rich and heavy in your taco--like, s...

Griddled Carne Asada Tacos

Or, the best carne asada tacos we've ever had

9th Jul 2010

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As far as I know there are only two kinds of ways to make carne asada. The first method is to take thinly sliced flank or skirt steak, sear it over mad charcoal fire, chop it up, and then stuff it into warm corn tortillas. It's almost always great. The second method is the kind that most taquerias use, which is to scoop some bits of raw steak, plop it on a grill, and sauté until it is cooked....

My First Mole: Rich Red Mole with Chicken

Tackling Mexico's national dish

1st Jun 2010

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You can shave truffles over a dish and call it special, but it's not; it's just expensive.
- Rick Bayless

I've been a fan of Rick Bayless since this blog started over four years ago, but it wasn't until he blurted out the above statement during the Top Chef Masters finale last year that I really figured out why. I already knew that I loved so many Mexican dishes because they balanc...

Can You Make Hot Sauce at Home?

How to take 60 arbol chiles and make hot sauce.

11th Feb 2010

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Can you make hot sauce at home that's better than stuff from the store? For years I've considered hot sauce to be something you just had to buy in those little glass bottles. I have a half-dozen of them to prove it. Open up my fridge door, and they clank around for a good 15 seconds, announcing that they are ready to be used. And you know what? I like them all. Franks, Tabasco, El Yucateco, L...

The Maxwell Street Market, Chicago

We take a walk around the legendary market.

22nd Sep 2009

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Nick and I arrived at the Maxwell Street Market to a line of colorful tents stretching out into the distance along Desplaines Street longer than we could see: men playing blues on the sidewalk, piles of tchotkes and used power tools, used DVDs, discount bras and panties, and endless stands full of tube socks. In fact, it wasn't immediately clear what we were doing there. If it weren't for th...

Chiles Rellenos

This Mexican classic deserves a little love.

31st Aug 2009

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Around hour five, I became terribly exhausted from what felt like continuous marathon of chopping, sautéing, blending, grinding, broiling, stuffing, whisking, dipping, and frying. It was the most complex and curious chile relleno I'd ever laid eyes on and the flavor nearly bawled me over. Every bite revealed layers of flavor, from the salsa, pork stuffing, to the batter. Nothing was an aft...

A Weekend of Beans and Brats

Insight into perfecting 90 minute, no-soak beans and homemade bratwursts.

24th Jun 2009

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It's been a delicious week.  I've been doling out my homemade bratwurst to close friends and making batches of 90 Minute, No-Soak beans just because I can.  I know some people had some questions about both of these posts, and this week has given me a few more insights to both processes which hopefully will answer some of them.  Also, Michael Ruhlman wanted to see my amateurish sp...

Cinco de Mayo 2009

5th May 2009


Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone!  Though the specific reasons for celebrating don't have much to do with food, I feel like today is a great reminder of the fantastic Mexican meals I've made over the past year.  I don't really need much of an excuse.  I tend to get weak if I don't have corn tortillas at least 4 times a week.  I mean, I just had some for lunch, and I'm going to have it for d...

Wrapping Up Tamales

3rd Mar 2009


My wife has been bugging me for months now to make tamales , and it's always been the next project, the one I'll do after I finish whatever I'm doing at the moment.  When that time comes I've usually forgotten about them and have moved onto something else.  Truthfully, I didn't see much of a rush.  I love tamales, but I can indulge in them whenever I'd like around my neighborhood.  The...

Authentic Carnitas and Three Pounds of Lard

Lard is the secret to this Mexican classic.

5th Jan 2009

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By the time I fished the three pounds of pork hunks from the lard and stacked them on the cutting board,far more guests had arrived than I had originally planned.  It was a New Year's Eve party, but I thought dinner would just be an intimate gathering of 5 or so, and then we'd meet up with more friends later in the night.  But apparently my calls for meeting up later meant that they should c...

Fresh Mexican Chorizo

How to make the staple Mexican sausage.

18th Sep 2008

The recipe comes from Diana Kennedy's "From My Mexican Kitchen".  This particular version comes from the Michoacán region.  She does give direction on how to stuff the mixture into casings, but I bailed out early.  Some day.

As first sausage making experiences go, I'd have to say this was pretty remarkable.  I got about 2 pounds of fresh sausage and spent about $12 dollars.  Half of it is fro...

Chicago Eats, Part II

8th Sep 2008


When I spent a week with Nick in Chicago, we had grand plans for every single meal - especially the ones we cooked in his kitchen.  Nick's already covered the fatty, home-ground burger and our foray into making red enchilada sauce , our two major kitchen experiments.  But I also know that Chicago is a great eating town.  I grew up in the area, but my knowledge of Chicago food is sham...

Enchiladas Colorado: The Sauce That Can Do No Wrong

29th Aug 2008


This whole site was started when we were fresh from college and cooking together recklessly.   Since our lives have changed--moving in with girlfriends, marriage , and new cities (and boroughs )--we don't always get to indulge in those old times.  But with Blake in Chicago visiting this past week, it was like we were back at York Avenue in that tiny little apartment .  From ab...

Blend Your Salsa: A Tale of Two Salsas

Moving beyond pico de gallo into real authentic territory

21st May 2008


I thought I knew everything there was to know about salsa.  Tomatoes, garlic, onions, jalapenos, lime juice, salt.  Chop, mix, serve.  It’s an enormous pain, but the alternative (jarred salsa) just doesn’t compare.  Taking the time to chop is a noble pursuit.

That was until Blake visited last weekend.  What he threw together in a matter of minutes turned blood red and clung to every chip l...

Happy Cinco de Mayo!

5th May 2008


This weekend for brunch we made some huevos rancheros from start to finish.

The day before, we cooked a pound of the inimitable Rancho Gordo midnight black bean according to the instructions given by Rick Bayless : in a dutch oven, cook them with about 8 cups of water, two tablespoons of lard (or bacon drippings, or vegetable oil) and a chopped onion--bring to a boil, th...

Chicago Eats

20th Mar 2008


I'm definitely not the first to point this out, but Chicago has some great food.  You know, with all the high accolades for their inventive restaurants and classic comfort foods, and the fact that they are hosting this year's Top Chef , I have nothing new to add.  It's just that over the past weekend Abby and I managed to fit more good food into our bellies than we had any right to do...

Fresh Corn Tortillas: Worth the Wait?

4th Mar 2008


Corn tortillas are my comfort food.  I use them as carrying cases for simple, satisfying meals and I use them a lot.  They are a mainstay on my lazy Sunday breakfasts and always around when it’s time for a feast.

Part of that comfort factor comes from having them in my fridge at all times.  While not as resilient as Twinkies, they can hold up for a time if properly wrapped in the fridge. ...

Tacos in a Tortilla Factory, Bushwick, Brooklyn

6th Jun 2007


Bushwick, named by the Dutch Boswijk for “town in the woods,”  is no longer a town in the woods—it is a rapidly gentrifying section of Brooklyn southeast of tragically hip Williamsburg.  Once one of the most blighted areas in town after the blackout lootings of 1977--at that time, it was characterized by empty lots, drugs, and arson, and the majority of residents who could leave, l...

A Paupered Week in Flatiron Day 1: The Great Burrito

29th Jan 2007


It didn't start off as a quest.  I had a job in the Flatiron section of Manhattan and I needed to eat cheaply.  I'm not much of a brown bagger, and soups don't always interest me, so I began to search for the best places to find a meal for around $5.  It became an obsession.  See, Flatiron and the eastern part of Chelsea have some of the finest restaurants in the world, but they are far fr...

Fajitas With Charcoal and a Sprinkling of Rust

5th Nov 2006

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I screwed up.  During the last throes of summer , I treated my grill with the utmost love and care.  But I'm apparently a fair-weather fan, for as soon as the temperature dipped I completely forgot about it and retreated into the warmth of my kitchen.  Not only did I neglect my cooking apparatus for a solid month, I didn't even bother to cover it.  I didn't even set it close to a wall...

Refried Bean Tacos with Chorizo

27th Oct 2006

Refried_beans_8 First off, a language lesson: refried beans are not fried twice.  It's understandable that most people, myself included until I started writing this, assume a literal translation of the word "refried" and, employing razor-sharp detective skills, deduce that the beans are fried, let rest, and then fried again. But the word refried is actually an approximation of the Spanish word refrito , me...

"Mexican" Chicken Stew: Return of the Leftovers

18th Oct 2006

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"Just use whatever leftovers are in the fridge."

That little statement is repeated endlessly throughout the course of one day on the Food Network and I'm not sure who they are trying to fool.  It's as if those celebrity chefs aren't paid enough to send an assistant to the store to pick up some tomatoes--not that they need to.  Their fantastically clean fridges come stocked with leftover t...

Grill Week Day 3: Mexican Grilled Chicken

30th Aug 2006


Grilled chicken breasts are the obligatory un-hamburger.  They tend to grace all backyard cookouts because someone ultimately didn't want red meat.  And even though most chicken breasts lack flavor, cook unevenly, and will undoubtedly be dry, they, like burgers, can be easily pressed between two pieces of bread.  They keep the cookout rolling, but they're essentially a cop out.

So when it c...

The Red Hook Ballfields

2nd Aug 2006

P1010003_6 On Saturday morning, at the bright and early hour of noon, my phone began ringing.  I vaguely remembered excited pronouncements the evening before about going for a bike ride out to Red Hook to visit the infamous ballfields , where soccer and baseball games unfold throughout the weekend, and outdoor food vendors set up shop on Bay St. to serve cheap, fresh food from south of the border (all...

Chicken a la Veracruzana: Me and My $30

13th Jun 2006


I'm tapping numbers into a junky-looking ATM in the back corner of some random bodega that hugs the BQE.  It's dropping those dollar bills down, one hundred, two hundred, as I get prepared to hand over some dear cash to the broker for a beautiful new apartment in Brooklyn, when I notice that I probably shouldn't probe the machine for any more.

I have thirty dollars.

Which is all well and...

Baja Fish Tacos

The best fried fish tacos we've ever had.

9th Jun 2006

Our own version culled from a few different recipes, an emulation of the classic recipe of homemade tortillas, lightly fried tempura-style fish, a dairy-based white sauce, and fresh, crunchy, gently spicy cabbage.

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Real Baja fish tacos are nothing like what you're used to eating when it comes to Mexican food.  In fact, true Mexican cuisine might be our biggest missed chance.  Satisfied...