Tacos, Tacos, Tacos in Loreto, Mexico

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Tacos in Loreto

I’m in Loreto, Mexico. Right now. I’m tip-tapping this out on an iPhone with taco breath and cold fingers (from a frosty bottle of Mexican beer). As I stare out over the Sea of Cortez I can’t help but let my mind drift back to the very first Mexican taco I ever ate. It was a Taco al Pastor purchased from a roadside stall somewhere near Ensenada. It’s why I’m sitting here enjoying the view and thinking how much I’d like to share some of the delicious tacos in Loreto I’ve been enjoying.

Because whenever I travel south of the border I always think back to that very first sweltering drive south I made in the 1980s. It’s where, as a freshly minted Californian, I first encountered a taco stand.

I don’t know what I expected, but that stand wasn’t much more than a faded rainbow-colored beach umbrella sheltering a woman carving off slivers of al pastor from a vertical spit. Bathed in a chile sauce with achiote, dripping with pork fat and roasted pineapple juice the meat was neatly folded into a corn tortilla and handed to me with a nod to the condiment table. I thanked this woman for my initiation into the world of Mexican tacos, but not nearly profusely enough. Soft. Savory. Acidic. Spicy. I honestly didn’t quite understand what I was in for. Because even after all these years I can still build an entire trip around visiting taco stands.

Tacos in Loreto

Taco Stand Tacos De Guisados Dizoyla in Loreto, Mexico

Traditional Mexican, touristica, fresh seafood, burgers, farm to table. Loreto, Mexico is not a big town, still, there are a lot of great restaurants… more than 70, I’m told. However, I’m limiting this post to tacos. Taco stands, taco stalls, even well-regarded taco lists from upscale restaurants. These won’t be the big city, chef-driven tacos of my hometown Los Angeles. I’m interested in tasting as many traditional Mexican tacos in Loreto as I can. So, for as long as I’m here I plan to eat, talk and swoon my way through taco, tacos, tacos. GREG

Skirt Steak Taco from Cesar's Tacos and Beer in Loreto, Mexico
  • 1697 Restaurant & El Zopilote Brewing: Yes, it’s in a hotel and most folks come for the pizza and craft beer but they have a damn good crispy, tempura-style fish taco that tastes just like the beach – no sunscreen required. Calle Davis at the main square
  • Asadero Sonora: One block off Ave Benito Juarez this place can be hard to find. Put some effort into the task and reap the rewards. Great grilled meat tacos in the open air and over open fire. The carne asada and tripe “mixto” is a winner. Smoky. Crunchy. Salty. Juicy. Impressive. Pino Suarez at Agua Dulce
The grill at Asadero Sonora in Loreto, Mexico
  • Asado Super Burro: Locals love this place as much as visitors. And why not? You can watch as they press tortillas by hand and grill the meat over live fire. The arrachera (grilled skirt steak) is popular, but not as popular as the gigantic burritos accompanied by stuffed baked potatoes (yes, baked potatoes). I’m not used to eating plates of food the size of a mini-van so I stuck to the excellent nopales tacos. Still, if you can handle the mass of the thing you should try their Carne Asada Papa Relleno. It’s what they’re known for. Blvd Salvatierra near Calle Independencia
  • Birrieria El Valle: This is the quintessential taco stand. The tiny kitchen is hidden among a large cluster of plastic tables and chairs. The place is so small it wouldn’t seem like they’d need all those tables. However, most days I saw locals claiming seats well before the place even opened at 4 pm. Of course, they serve their namesake birrieria (goat, beef, etc) but there are also tacos dorados (fried tacos) and delicious looking caldos (soups). There’s no menu, everyone seems to know what to order. Benito Juarez near Calle Ayuntamiento
Fish Taco from Del Rey in Loreto, Mexico
  • Cesar’s Taco & Beer: Hamburgers, chicken wings, and stuffed baked potatoes are on the menu along with tacos in all the expected varieties. The restaurant, like a lot of places for tacos in Loreto, is a little shabby at the edges but it’s still colorful, festive, and fun. Colegio at Avenida Miguel Hidalgo
Tacos from Jr's and George's in Loreto, Mexico
  • El Bajón Restaurant: While walking by the bright green gate that separates the dining area from the street I was surprised to see plastic chairs and tables in the bay of what otherwise looked like the garage of an auto mechanics shop. I’m not saying there were car parts strewn about the place but it’s safe to say that the ambiance is not what brings you in. People come for the antojitos Mexicanos (open dinnertime only) as well as the Menudo and Pozole (served los Sabados only). Calle Benito Juarez near Calle Ayuntamiento
El Rey Taco Stand in Loreto, Mexico
  • El Rey Del Taco: I had a lot of tacos in Loreto and the tacos served at this simple kiosk-cum-restaurant were my favorite. The Carne Asada was a standout, but Loreto is a beach town and El Rey serves the best fish tacos in town. There are plenty of toppings, including a fresh jalapeño flecked pico de gallo, so go ahead and make it all your own. The hours of operation were baffling, but it seems they’re often closed by 2:00 pm. Calle Benito Juarez near Calle Misioneros
Al Pastor Taco from Zopilote Brewing in Loreto, Mexico
  • Gastroteca A Z U L: The tacos are probably not the reason to go to this upscale, farm to table, chef-driven restaurant located in the ex-pat planned community of Loreto Bay. There’s much fancier fare on the menu. But as long as you’re here… why not eat tacos with the gringos? Paseo Mision de Loreto Ave 158, Nopoló
Chicken Mole Guidado Taco from Tacos De Guisados Dizoyla in Loreto, Mexico
  • Jr’s & George’s: You can’t talk about tacos in Loreto and not mention Jr’s & George’s. They seem to specialize in what they call snacks with cocktails. To me, with its array of creative condiments, it’s more like a tapas bar – and tacos make wonderful tapas. They also serve (new to me) flavored beers. The mango was surprisingly refreshing. just off Ave Savatierra east of the square
  • La Super Torta: There are very good tacos here and (despite the name) I expected that. That’s because this little food stall has everything I look for in street food. First, it’s run by a serious woman who always seems to have one eye on her telenovelas playing on her tiny tv in her tiny kitchen. Also, there’s a walk-up window with a bench where you sit shoulder-to-shoulder with the other customers. As I said the tacos are good but when you look over your shoulder at the other patrons, you’re likely to see that namesake torta, which is essentially a grilled sandwich. Sporadic evenings only. Madero at Fernando Jordan
Upstair Terrace view of Mariscos el Caloron in Loreto, Mexico
  • Mariscos El Caloron: Located under a large second story palapa overlooking the water. This breezy little place offers tacos featuring all sorts of seafood. The pulpo (octopus) and almejas (clams) were standouts. If you tire of tacos they serve all the same toppings on tostadas. Paseo A Lopez Marcos 2
"Mixto" tripe and carne asada taco from Asadero Sonora in Loreto, Mexico
Fish Taco from Tacos y Mariscos Vayeyo’s in Loreto, Mexico
  • Orlando’s Restaurant: This place is on most tourists radar, but don’t let that scare you away. It serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner on a well-situated patio. With it’s colorful Papel Picado banners blowing in the breeze you’ll be looking over your shoulder for Coco herself. But if you can get your mind off the Disney movie and take a look at the menu you’ll find all sorts of choices including hearty egg dishes and simple seafood – not to mention some sort of taco under each category on the menu. Francisco I Madero between Juàrez and Kino Col.
  • Tacos De Guisados Dizoyla: My guess is that Dizolya is the owner of this taco stand and he’s from the Yucatán. His guisados (gravies) have elements like Conchita Pibil. Dizoyla gets my vote for best overall taco stand because they’re doing things nobody else is doing. Ave Salvatierra just before the historic district.
Tacos from Tlalocan in Loreto, Mexico
  • Tacos el Poblano: Whoever we asked, from a barful of ex-pat gringos to the local boat captain who took us out on his panga, they all said this was the taco stand not to miss. They serve Mexico City-style street food and awesome tacos. It’s well out of the tourist zone, but if you walk north-west along Calle Independencia until you come to the highway you should be able to find it. Ask a local. Miramar, Loreto
  • Tacos y Mariscos Vayeyo’s: Shrimp, fish, marinated, grilled, fired. There aren’t a lot of choices for tacos here but every one of them is great. Contender for Best Fish Taco is Loreto. All you really need to do is tell them if you want fish or shrimp and a plate of perfectly seasoned and battered tacos arrives, ready for you to sauce up to the nines. Ave Miguel Hidalgo at Colegio
Chicken Pilbil Taco from Tacos De Guisados Dizoyla in Loreto, Mexico
  • Taqueria La Reyna: A weathered picket fence, an outdoor grill crowned with a chimney seemingly designed for a steam engine, and rickety red chairs set under a palm-draped palapa to save you from the sun. She may not be much to look at but this “queen” serves up a smoky good carne asado taco. Long live the queen! Ave Miguel Hildago between Calle Independencia and Colegio
  • Tlalocan: This is a popular bar with a very friendly owner/barman. They also serve creative tacos like black bean and goat cheese as well as a delicious coconut shrimp taco that is just sweet enough. Ave Miguel Hidalgo almost to the Malecon
Interior kitchen of Tacos De Guisados Dizoyla in Loreto, Mexico
Colorful bar scene, Mexico
Sippity Sup (Greg Henry) eats tacos Dizoyla in Loreto, Mexico

Not So Scary Sprouts with Caramelized Shallot Dressing

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Brussels Sprouts Salad with Apples and Caramelized Shallot Dressing

Roasted with lemon or served as a salad with a caramelized shallot dressing. Cooked or raw I’m a fan of Brussels sprouts. However, in the eyes (and pans) of many of us – Brussels sprouts can be dangerous Brassicas. Well maybe not dangerous, but still something to be avoided. Indeed, the difference between a good sprout – sweet and nutty with just a hint of crunch – and its evil cousin – sulfurous and soggy – is totally in the hands of the cook.

Brussels sprouts, part of the Brassica genus, are an edible bud. They’re mini cabbages, really, in the same family as kale and regular-sized cabbage. Brussels sprouts have been grown since the 13th century in Belgium. But somehow on this continent, by the middle of the last century, they developed a reputation for being repulsive. Partly because they were often served boiled to a pulpy mess. Times have changed and so have our attitudes towards this little bud. Treat your Brussels sprouts gently and cook them hot and fast (or not at all) and they will reward you with tenderness and a complex flavor.

Caramelized Shallot Dressing

Sprouts with Caramelized Shallot Dressing

Try shaving them raw and tossing them with one of the best sweet and sour vinaigrettes I know. Caramelized Shallot Dressing. This salad has a good balance of earthy and bright flavors. It is full of crunch (apples) and cream (pecorino). The chewy dates provide unexpected texture. The shredded Brussels sprouts provide the thrill of frill. Not something you can say about any old salad. GREG

Follow the link on “evil cousin” above and watch Brussels Sprouts: A Horror Film a silly video I made way back in 2009!

Brussels Sprouts
Brussels Sprouts and Shallots

Brussels Sprouts Salad with Apples and Caramelized Shallot Dressing

Brussels Sprouts Salad with Apples and Caramelized Shallot Dressing

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4-6Source Adapted from Terrine Restaurant Los Angeles, CAPublished
Brussels Sprouts Salad with Apples and Caramelized Shallot Dressing

Ingredients

  • 1 cup canola oil (plus 1 tablesppon more for sauté pan)
  • 1 cup lightly packed, thinly sliced shallots
  • 3/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • ½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • kosher salt (as needed)
  • 1 pound trimmed Brussels sprouts
  • 4 ounce whole moist dates (pitted and thinly sliced)
  • 1 large sweet apple (such as Fuji or Pink Lady, cut into ½-inch cubes)
  • 4 ounce Pecorino Romano (cut into ½-inch cubes)
  • 3 ounce whole candied pecans (roughly chopped)

Directions

Make the dressing: Heat 1 tablespoon canola oil over high heat in a sauté pan. Add the sliced shallots and cook until caramelized, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Once nicely colored add the vinegar and reduce the liquid by half about 2 minutes. Carefully add the hot shallots and all the liquid to a blender and puree. Stop the machine and add the honey, mustard, remaining 1-cup canola oil, and salt to taste. Puree again, scraping down the sides as needed, and set aside.

Make the salad: Thinly slice trimmed Brussels sprouts using a mandoline or food processor fitted with the slicer attachment. Transfer to a large bowl. Add dates, apples, Pecorino, pecans, and a generous 3/4 cup caramelized shallot dressing; toss to combine.

Let the salad stand 5 minutes to allow the Brussels sprouts to wilt slightly and the flavors to marry.

Carrot Muhammara Hand Pies

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Carrot Muhammara Hand Pies

Fruit pie. Meat Pie. Veg Pie. I find it easy to love pie and it’s pastry that makes pie so lovable. Sure, pastry is good when pressed neatly into a fluted tart pan. In fact, a tart is the most elegant pie I know. However, pastry is just as delicious when treated casually – draped over a pot pie and gently crimped, glazed and scored. But, in my opinion, the best pastries are the little hand pies that verge on messiness. The kind of pie that toys with falling apart in your hands. These Carrot Muhammara Hand Pies have just the right crumble to defy knife and fork.

So pick one up and see why the best pies are the handheld sort. You can buy them on a street corner wrapped in brown paper and eat them on the run, or make them at home to serve with a special wine. Either way, hand pies are a treat. Fragrant, sweet, and savory these Carrot Muhammara Hand Pies have just the right ratio of crust to filling. They define that magic moment when tender crust meets sumptuous filling. The kind of pie that automatically leaves buttery fingers reaching for napkins and slick lips begging for more.

Carrot Muhammara Hand Pies

Of course, a savory hand pie can be filled with almost anything. I’m taking my cues from a chef Civan Er and Melissa Clark recipe that appeared in Clark’s cookbook Dinner. It was designed to be scooped up with pita bread. But what’s stopping you and your buttery fingers from turning this dip into an untraditional muhammara hand pie? GREG

NOTE: Though muhammara is typically served as a dip or spread I felt the flavors and texture lent themselves nicely as a filling to these sweet and savory hand pies. The addition of carrot and ginger are not at all traditional but add a nice sweetness typical to muhammara. If you’d like a bit more sweetness the pomegranate molasses that is included in most recipes could be drizzled onto the warm pastry at serving time.

roast carrots and red bell peppers
The filling for Carrot Muhammara Hand Pies
Carrot Muhammara Hand Pies
Carrot Muhammara Hand Pies

Carrot Muhammara & Goat Cheese Hand Pies

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 12Source Muhammara adapted from Melissa ClarkPublished

This recipe makes almost twice as much muhammara as you need for 12 hand pies. Serve the extra with flatbreads or pita toasts.

Carrot Muhammara Hand Pies

Ingredients

  • pastry recipe of your choice
  • 1 pound carrots (trimmed and sliced into ½-inch thick rounds)
  • 1 pound red bell peppers (stemmed, seeded and sliced)
  • ½ cup olive oil (plus 2 tablespoons more for roasting)
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 clove garlic (peeled and minced)
  • 1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon sweet smoked paprika
  • 1 ½ cup walnut pieces (toasted and chopped )
  • 1 pint kosher salt (plus more for sprinkling)
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds (freshly toasted)
  • 4 ounce fresh goat cheese roll (sliced into 6 rounds, then cut in half crosswise into 12 half-moons)
  • 1 large egg yolk (mixed with a teaspoon water, as egg wash)

Directions

Prepare Pie Pastry recipe of your choice. Divide dough in half, shape into 2 discs about 5-inches in diameter and 3/4-inch thick. Wrap in plastic. Refrigerate at least 1 hour (or up to 2 days), or freeze up to 1 month.

Make the muhammara filling: Preheat oven to 400 F.

On a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper, toss the carrots and bell peppers with 2 tablespoons olive oil. Arrange in as close to a single layer as possible. Roast in the heated oven until the peppers are charred and the carrots are browned and tender, about 35 to 40 minutes. Don’t be afraid to let them get some color on them. Set aside to cool somewhat.

Once cooled place the carrots, peppers, remaining ½ cup olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, ginger, ground cumin, smoked paprika, and about half of the walnuts In a food processor. Pulse until mixture is mostly smooth adding a dribble or two of water if the mixture seems too thick. Scrape the mixture into a bowl. Season with a pinch of kosher salt and add the remaining chopped walnuts and the whole, toasted cumin seeds. Stir to combine.

Make the hand pies: On a lightly floured surface, use a lightly floured rolling pin to roll out one disc of chilled dough to a 12 or 13-inch round, a generous 1/8-inch thick. Cut out six 4-inch rounds, using a round cutter or appropriately-sized saucer and knife. Gather scraps and re-roll as needed so you can get six rounds. Repeat with the second disc of dough. Lay the 12 rounds out evenly spaced onto 1 or 2 parchment-lined baking sheets (as needed depending on size).

Bring the oven temperature to 425 F.

Dollop about 1 ½ to 2 tablespoons muhammara filling onto each round mounding in the center, leaving a 3/4-inch border all around. Don’t overfill or they will be difficult to seal. Lay one half-moon slice of goat cheese on top of filling, nestling it into the mixture. Brush edges lightly with egg wash. Carefully bring both sides up and towards the center so they meet at the top forming a football shape. Pinch edges together to seal. Then decoratively crimp or scallop edges as you like. Leave hand pie sitting with decorative edge facing up or lay it on its side, whichever you prefer. Brush with more egg wash. Sprinkle with salt. Make 2 tiny slashes in the crust with the point of a sharp knife. Repeat with remaining dough rounds. Refrigerate on the baking sheet(s) until chilled, about 20 minutes.

Bake in the heated oven, rotating sheets halfway through if necessary until pies are golden brown; about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Grilled Persimmon Wrapped In Speck

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Speck-Wrapped Grilled Persimmon

Speck-Wrapped Grilled Persimmon. This is one of those “on the menu” items that made me think “I could do that”. I saw the whole recipe in my head without even having to see the presentation. That’s partly because I’m a big Judy Rodgers fan. Not that I spied this tasty little tidbit at Zuni Cafe. No, the inspiration came from Local Kitchen + Wine Bar in Santa Monica, CA.

Still, I have to give the late Ms. Rodgers some of the credit because it was her opinion (in her 2002 cookbook) that speck is to persimmon as prosciutto is to fig that convinced me this grilled persimmon recipe couldn’t help but be a winner.

Speck or Prosciutto

Which might be slicing the pig a little too closely for some folks. After all, at its most elemental speck is prosciutto that is laced with spices like juniper and bay leaves and then smoked and/or dry-aged. You can see how the spice would work nicely with persimmon and the salt cure typical to prosciutto would be better suited to a sweeter, more succulent fruit such as fig.

Still, the internet is littered with folks who think otherwise. Google the combination of “persimmon and prosciutto” and you’ll find plenty of cheerleaders – though not too many of these examples feature grilled persimmon. So I’ve got that going for my version.

I did find an Aida Mollenkamp recipe at Food52 for Speck-Wrapped Persimmons. Though her version is not grilled it does prove that I’m not the only cook out there who still reads The Zuni Cafe Cookbook as if it were gospel. GREG

Speck-Wrapped Grilled Persimmon
Grilled Persimmon Wrapped In Speck
Speck-Wrapped Grilled Persimmon

Grilled Speck-Wrapped Persimmon

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 12-18Source Inspired by Local Kitchen + Wine Bar, Santa Monica, CAPublished
Grilled Speck-Wrapped Persimmon

Ingredients

  • 2-3 ripe but firm fuyu persimmons
  • 12-18 slice speck (or smoked prosciutto)
  • aged balsamic vinegar (for drizzlling)
  • the delicate tips of fresh fennel fronds (roughly chopped)

Directions

Heat a grill or grill pan to medium heat.

Meanwhile, on a clean work surface trim each persimmon lightly on the top and bottom then peel each one carefully. Cut the peeled persimmons lengthwise into 6 or more wedges, depending on size.

Fold a slice of the speck in half lengthwise then carefully wrap it snugly around a persimmon wedge leaving the persimmon exposed on two sides. Secure the speck with a toothpick if you like. Repeat with remaining persimmons and speck.

Carefully oil the grates of the hot grill. Place the wrapped persimmons wedges on the grates and cook, turning often, until the speck is charred and crisp and the persimmon is hot and tender. Transfer to a serving platter.

While still hot, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and garnish with a sprinkle of chopped fennel fronds. Serve immediately.


Sycamore Kitchen’s Chocolate Chip Rye Flour Cookies

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Chocolate Chip Rye Flour Cookies

This is the second time I’ve used rye flour to make chocolate chip cookies. The first time was because Dori Greenspan’s description of the Mokonuts Cafe and Bakery’s Rye-Cranberry Chocolate-Chunk Cookies was so enticing that I decided to put aside the prejudicial notion that rye was strictly suitable as the chosen sheath for hot pastrami with mustard and give rye flour cookies a try.

I liked what I scarfed and evangelized on the subject here.

So when I came across L.A. icon Karen Hatfield’s (chef/owner Sycamore Kitchen) Chocolate Chip Rye Cookies I decided to see if my first success with rye flour cookies was a fluke. After all, I still had plenty of rye flour leftover from my Greenspan foray into the subject.

The Greenspan cookies (though amazingly delicious) are filled with shards of melted chocolate and laced with pinpoints of poppy seeds giving them a complex texture blasting with diverse flavors. Making it hard to say exactly what rye flour brings to the recipe.

Rye Flour Cookies

However, the Hatfield recipe doesn’t stray too far from what you expect from a chocolate chip cookie. Making it far more suitable for a taste test. What I found is that the rye flavor is subtle, a bit nutty, and definitely offers an intricacy not achieved with all-purpose flour alone chocolate chip cookies.

However, I also discovered (with research) that rye flour has long been considered a challenge to bakers because of its low gluten content, which can make it more difficult to work with and produce a crumb that can be gummy. But if you experiment with using a mixture of rye and wheat flour in recipes (I read) then you can turn that gummy texture into an advantage.

In the end I I decided that rye flour delivers cookies that have a crisp crust surrounding a chewy-textured center, providing the perfect protection to pockets of molten chocolate. It’s positively the best of the standard-style chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever made. GREG

Chocolate Chip Rye Flour Cookies



Chocolate Chip Rye Cookies

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 18Published

Contrary to the source recipe I chopped the chocolate chunks into variable sizes, leaving many of them quite large for a “marbled” effect. You may chop the chocolate into ¼-inch chunks as the original recipe specifies if you like.

Chocolate Chip Rye Cookies

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 5 ounce dark brown sugar
  • 4 ounce granulated sugar
  • 4.3 ounce all-purpose flour
  • 4.3 ounce dark rye flour
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (plus extra for sprinkling)
  • ½ teaspoon ground caraway seed
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 6 ounce (70%) chocolate (chopped into chunks)

Directions

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a separate bowl whisk together the flours, baking soda and powder, ¾ teaspoon salt and caraway seed.

Add the egg and vanilla to the butter mixture and continue to beat until fully combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat until almost fully incorporated. Add the chopped chocolate and stir to combine. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, and up to 3 days.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Scoop the dough (about 2 tablespoons or 45 grams for each cookie) and space the cookies a few inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle each cookie with a little kosher salt. Bake the cookies until they are crisp on the edges but still soft in the middle, about 15 minutes, rotating halfway through for even baking.

Orange-Spice Shrub: A Christmas Cocktail

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Orange-Spice Shrub: A Christmas Cocktail

I plan to spend Christmas Eve with a big plate of oysters and a Christmas Cocktail. There will probably be some Christmas music playing. I tend to favor the classics like Frank Sinatra. Still, I’ll be pleased when the caroling stops this year. Call me Grinch but the first time I hear Bing Crosby croon his way through “White Christmas,” each year it can coax a smile and maybe even a tear. However, by the 107th time, my ears (and my tears) have gone numb.

There are exceptions. I can listen to the Vince Guaraldi A Charlie Brown Christmas album all year long. When I was a kid it was easier to avoid Christmas carol overload. There was no Christmas in July or even a hint of “on demand” TV. So Charlie Brown and his pathetic bent over Christmas tree always waited until after Turkey Day to hum their way into my heart. To this day nothing can get me wound up for the Holidays quite like Lucy refusing to eat “December snowflakes”. I still can’t get into the Christmas spirit until I’ve heard the songs from that show. Of course, Netflix and the like have changed all that. I can stream A Charlie Brown Christmas anytime I like. Holiday nostalgia is just a click away 24 hours a day 365 days a year.

Charlie Brown Christmas

But Charlie Brown isn’t the only thing that revs me up for the holidays. Nope. Tangerines, lemons, limes, and especially oranges all remind me of Christmas because my mom used to stuff a giant navel orange into the toe of my Christmas stocking. Year after year – no matter how old I got – my mom adhered to that old European tradition that considered oranges and other citrus fruits the rarest of treats.

The same goes for the holiday cocktail. How many rounds of eggnog can we take before palate fatigue sets in?

With that in mind, I’ve turned to a citrus and spice shrub to keep the season bright and my Christmas cocktail as merry as ever. Merry Christmas! GREG

Orange-Spice Shrub: A Christmas Cocktail

Orange-Spice Shrub

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 1Source The Spirit GuildPublished
Orange-Spice Shrub

Ingredients

  • 1 orange (peeled and cut into chunks)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 cinnamon sticks
  • ⅓ cup roasted shelled pistachios
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 1 cup white vinegar
  • 1 ½ ounce London dry gin (optional)
  • soda water (as needed)
  • 1 orange twist (as garnsih)

Directions

To make the shrub: In a 1-quart jar, combine the orange chunks, sugar, cinnamon sticks, pistachios, and cloves. Cover and briefly dry shake the ingredients. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours.

The next day, add the vinegar and shake the ingredients until the sugar begins to dissolve and refrigerate another 24 hours. Filter the shrub through a fine-meshed sieve lined with cheesecloth into a clean jar or bottle. This recipe makes more shrub than you need for one cocktail the extra may be stored covered and refrigerated up to six weeks.

To make the cocktail: Fill a double old-fashioned glass with ice cubes. Add gin (if using) and 1-ounce orange-spice shrub, top with soda water to taste. Gently stir then garnish with an orange twist.

Pan-Seared Pork Medallions with Pistachio Mole

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Pan-Seared Pork Medallions with Pistachio Mole

You probably know this already but the Pistachio Mole Sauce I present today is neither comprised of nor an homage to a rodent. Mole (pronounced moh-LAY) is, however, possibly the most talked-about but least understood of Mexico’s regional dishes. This is because the term mole is more general than most people believe it to be. American aficionados of Mexican food may know the traditional poblano version as an amazingly flavorful, deeply complex dish often compared to chocolate. But to my palate, mole is a much more intriguing mosaic of flavors and is as individual as any of the cooks who struggle to define its complex features.

I’ve traveled through Mexico quite a bit and I dine in as many hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurants here in Los Angeles as I can find. So I understand the diversity of Mexican cuisine fairly well. Still, I struggle to define exactly what makes a mole a mole. One popular food writer I read defines mole as a “thick, dark sauce”. But I’ve sampled enough of them to know that, in fact, mole is often neither dark nor particularly thick. A mole can be anything from traditionally dark brown to brightly colored with green, red, yellow and black moles each claiming aficionados in different regions. Meaning the poblano version, though delicious, is by no means the only and the holiest of all mole.

So what about a tomatillo and pistachio mole?

Well, generally speaking, a mole sauce contains fruit, chili pepper, nuts, and fragrant spices – exactly the formula I followed for this non-traditional (read easy to make) pistachio mole. Because the truth is I am not brave enough nor athletic enough, to attempt to make a traditional mole poblano from scratch. It’s an arduous process of seeding, roasting, drying, grinding, mixing, tasting and waiting. Too many steps to go into here. GREG

PS: The original mole, which is thought to come from the Aztec word molli (concoction) has been credited to the nuns of the Puebla de Los Angeles just outside of Mexico City. It’s said to have been created as an honorary dish for an Archbishop. I guess all that seeding, roasting, drying, grinding, mixing, tasting and waiting paid off. The Archbishop loved the sauce so much built the nuns a new convent. So, in other words, mole is 400-year-old political payback. Isn’t that how all the important work gets done?

Roasted Tomatillos

Pistachio Mole

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4 cupsSource Adapted from La Casita Mexicana via The L.A. CookbookPublished

Serving Suggestion: Serve as a thick pillow underneath pan-seared pork tenderloin medallions sprinkled with extra pistachios, oregano leaves, and cotija cheese as garnish.

pistachio mole

Ingredients

  • 3 pound fresh tomatillos (husked)
  • 2 serrano chilies (stemmed, and halved lenghthwise)
  • 1 red onion (peeled, halved, and thinly sliced)
  • 4 clove garlic (peeled)
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 2 teaspoon cumin seeds (toasted)
  • 3 cup chicken stock
  • 1 ½ cup roasted shelled pistachios
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves
  • salt (as needed)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment or foil.

Wash the tomatillos to remove their sticky residue, pat dry, and slice into wedges. Combine in a large bowl with the chiles, red onion, and garlic, and toss with the olive oil till well coated. Divide the vegetables in as close to a single layer as possible across the prepared baking sheets and roast until nicely browned but not burnt, about 30 minutes. Keep an eye on them and shake, toss, and rotate the sheets several times during cooking.

Transfer the charred vegetables to a large saucepan. Add the spices and stock and bring the mixture to a simmer over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are very tender, about 10 minutes. Add the pistachios and simmer 10 more minutes.

Carefully transfer the hot mixture to a blender and puree. With the machine running, add the cilantro and continue to puree until smooth. Season with salt if needed. Serve while hot.

Pork Medallions with Pistachio Mole

Pan-Seared Pork Medallions

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 4-6Source Adapted from Cooking LightPublished
Pan-Seared Pork Medallions

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1 (1-lb.) pork tenderloin ( trimmed and cut crosswise into 12 medallions)
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ¼ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

Directions

Heat oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium-high. Arrange pork medallions in a single layer on a work surface, and press each with the palm of your hand to flatten to an even thickness.

Combine salt, garlic powder, and pepper; sprinkle evenly over pork. Add pork to skillet in a single layer; cook just until done, about 3 minutes per side

Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes before serving.



What’s to Say? It’s a Paprika-Rubbed Hanger Steak

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Hanger Steak with Scallions

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but I literally seem to have nothing new to say these days. It used to be that I was bursting with ideas and I couldn’t wait to share them on this blog. But lately, I’ve been drawing a blank. This doesn’t mean I’m not cooking. I recently made this Paprika-Rubbed Hanger Steak that I served with charred scallions. It was so good that I just knew it would make a great post for this blog. But you know what? I can’t think of a single thing to say that I haven’t already said before.

After more than 10 years and almost 1700 posts, it’s really hard to know what to say next.

So I’m stuck with a Paprika-Rubbed Hanger Steak with Charred Scallions and not a thing to say about it. I could (of course) talk about hanger steak, it’s a great cut of beef with an interesting backstory (one I’ve shared more than once).

Then again I could discuss the charred scallions. I love cooking with high heat. Then again these are subjects that have crossed my keyboard before. The high heat here and the charred scallions here.

How about the butcher where I purchased this hard to find cut of meat? You guessed it. I’ve plugged them before here.

Do you see what I mean? I’ve got a plate of Paprika-Rubbed Hanger Steak with Charred Scallions in front of me and no appetite at all for blog blather. GREG

Paprika-Rubbed Hanger Steak with Charred Scallions

Paprika-Rubbed Hanger Steak with Charred Scallions

Print This Recipe Total time Yield 2Source Inspired by Bon ApetitPublished
Paprika-Rubbed Hanger Steak with Charred Scallions

Ingredients

  • 2 clove garlic (peeled and divided)
  • 2 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon smoked paprika (pimenton)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (as needed for seasoning)
  • 8 tablespoon olive oil (divided)
  • ⅓ cup crushed or coarsely chopped walnuts
  • 1 hanger steak
  • 6-8 whole scallions
  • 2 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoon whole grain mustard
  • ½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • flaky sea salt (such as Maldon, as needed)

Directions

Mince 1 of the garlic cloves.

Mix honey, paprika, lemon juice, and the minced garlic in a small bowl, season with ½ teaspoon salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil and mix well. Rub the mixture all over the steak, set aside for 15 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°. Toast walnuts on a rimmed baking sheet, tossing once, until golden brown, 8–10 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl. Finely grate remaining garlic clove over warm walnuts and toss with 6 tablespoons olive oil.

When ready to serve heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil to the skillet and swirl to coat. Lay the hanger steak onto the heated surface and cook, turning occasionally, until deeply browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part registers 125 to 130° F for medium-rare, 10–12 minutes. Transfer steak to a cutting board to rest.

Leave the fat in the pan and reduce heat to medium. Place scallions in the skillet in as close to a single layer as possible, season with salt, and cook, turning occasionally until softened and deeply charred, about 4 minutes. Transfer to cutting board and cut into bite-sized pieces. Add the pieces to bowl the with walnut mixture along with vinegar, mustard, and thyme, then toss to combine; season with kosher salt and black pepper.

Slice steak against the grain and sprinkle with flaky sea salt. Serve with the charred scallion mixture.


The Pitter-Patter of Carrot and Parsnip Soup

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Carrot and Parsnip Soup

It’s raining in Los Angeles! As it turns out that’s Carrot and Parsnip Soup weather. Naturally, the much-needed rain inspired me to cook. So I set to work, surrounded by a warm kitchen and the rumbling of the rain. I chose Carrot and Parsnip Soup simply because its simple. Besides I had piles of carrots and parsnips leftover from a planned Thanksgiving side dish I nixed. Somehow I just knew there was something more important in store for those vegetables and that turns out to be this soup.

I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how welcome the rain is here in California. While the city hills where I live were not directly affected by the latest tragedies, we’ve been on edge and feel great sadness. Believe it or not, soup helps me through the complicated emotions we all feel at times like these.

Which is why I’m particularly happy about the rain. It built slowly all day yesterday, came down heavy last night, and as I write this it’s beginning to wane mid-day. The best part is, you could feel it in the air. You knew it was coming. By nightfall, I began to hear the pings and pitter-patters on the copper awning outside my kitchen window. It made me happy to hear the soft landing of so many little drops. Did they know how welcome they were? Did they feel the gratitude of millions of people in this parched state? Let’s hope the rain doesn’t lead to more problems… GREG

Carrot and Parsnip Soup

Helen’s (Always) Essential Guide to Italian (White) Wine

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Vini D'Italia

The Essential Guide to Italian Wine by Daniele Cernilli is an essential resource for wine professionals, students, and enthusiasts of Italian wines. This trustworthy and easy to understand guide is accurate and exhaustive without using abstruse terms known just to experts and gives clarity to the extremely broad panorama of Italian wines, selecting those that most represent their winery (from the historic to the most interesting newcomers).

Essential Guide to Italian Wine

Earlier this year, I took a solo bucket list trip to Rome, Florence and Venice. It was everything I had ever hoped or dreamed and more… but I caught the cold most of Italy was coughing through during Easter. It took hold during the “Wine Tasting in Tuscany” portion of my trip, so I ended up drinking more herb tea than wine – crushing, when you think that in recent years, I have found myself loitering more and more in the Italian sections of my favorite wine stores. Therefore, I was ecstatic to be invited along with Ken to The Essential Guide to Italian Wine tasting event at the Wine House in West Los Angeles (Thank you, Allison and Please The Palate who invited us that day).

My Italian wine motto: Reds = Always! Whites = Bargains!

Seriously, once you branch out of Pinot Grigio / Soave territory, you can step into a fascinating world of gooseberries, lemongrass, wet stone, salinity, hazelnuts, Linden blossoms and much more. Italy is brimming with exciting and divinely unfamiliar white varietals.

Offida Pecorino DOCG 2016 from Villa Angela (Velenosi)Our very first sip of the event was a revelation, Offida Pecorino DOCG 2016 from Villa Angela (Velenosi) in Marche. I better knew pecorino as the cheese used in the traditional Roman pasta dish, cacio e pepe, but apparently, this grape varietal produces an increasingly popular wine in trendy urban Italy. On the nose, there is a kiss of acacia blossom and a tickle of thyme and sage. The palate bursts with lemony freshness, as ample acidity floats over a wet stone spine in a juicily balanced dance of minerals, flowers, and herbs. Superbly crisp and food friendly, it immediately made me want to drink it alongside a plate of cacio e pepe (in Rome). Conveniently, The Wine House sells this wine for $16.99 (Bargain!) so Ken and I were able to purchase a bottle each to take home after the event.

Vorberg Pinot Bianca Riserva Alto Adige Terlano DThe last white I experienced before switching to reds, was Vorberg Pinot Bianca Riserva Alto Adige Terlano DOC 2015. This is a big, bold, beautiful wine from the northern tip of Italy. After an afternoon of spitting both red and white wines, this is the wine I chose to swallow before heading home. Delicious. The winemaker notes are so spot on, that I am going to share straight from the horse’s mouth:

“The multifaceted aroma of this wine derives from a combination of ripe fruit, including honeydew melon, white peach, pear and Golden Delicious apple, together with the aromas of quince jelly and dried fruit such as pear, orange and pineapple, on the one hand, and graphite notes and a hint of jasmine with a mineral touch on the other.

The interplay of fruity aromatic and salty components is repeated on the palate, where the soft and creamy elements gain greater strength in a wine with a lingering, firmly minerally and spicy character on the aftertaste.

Ideal in combination with a spicy fish soup, mussels in a pepper sauce and spaghetti allo scoglio as well as mussels au gratin, grilled ink fish and poached char; also one of the few good combinations with artichokes alla romana; excellent with mature Pecorino, a mature Parmesan and mostarda, and Tête de Moine.”

How can your mouth not be watering after reading the above? This is a serious white and the price point of around $42.00 is still a bargain for wine of this quality.

Perhaps I need to amend my Italian wine motto to: Reds = Always! Whites = Always! HELEN

Essential Guide to Italian Wine

Essential Guide to Italian Wine