Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Queso. Taco. Heaven.

Recently, my friend Matt introduced Ryan and I to a FAB taco joint in San Diego - Lucha Libre Taco Shop. And it is spectacular. You may have seen them on Man vs. Food.

One of my absolute favorite things is kitchy theme decor, and this place has it in spades. From the entrance to the back wall, the dining room is slathered in bright colors and lucha libre artwork. It is an homage while still being appropriately tongue-in-cheek. Even the bathroom (one of the key signs of a good restaurant, in my opinion) is decorated in old photographs and is brightly colored.

The food is no different. They add distinguishing character to a majorly prevalent series of dishes by introducing their own unique flare.

I was feeling particularly ravinous, and ordered both the lauded Surfin' California burrito (as touted on Man vs. Food) AND, at Matt's recommendation, a queso taco.

The former I highly recommend watching the video for - it is a drool-worthy, shrimp-and-steak-laden burrito with a magical sauce and FRIGGIN' FRENCH FRIES. Be still my heart. (No, really, I'm sure the cholesterol is stopping things up inside of me).

But what I really want to talk about today is the amazing queso taco, the hidden star behind the image above. What this is, is a crispy, grilled cheese patty that is put on a taco with your favorite fixings. It is everything good in this world as far as texture and taste. It was SO good, that the next morning we had to make breakfast tacos and try it ourselves. And then a week later on dinner tacos. And then write about it now. It is that pervasive.

Look at that crispy goodness. Here are what these beauties are comprised of:

  • Flour tortillas 
  • Grilled queso
  • Pork chorizo
  • Avocados tossed with fresh cilantro
  • Shreded Iceberg lettuce mixed with diced tomatoes (a "gringo taco" favorite in Los Angeles)
  • Quick pickled red onions
Here are some quick breakdowns of how to make the queso and the quick pickled red onion. Enjoy!

Grilled Queso

Jack cheese (or a jack/cheddar blend), grated

To prepare, heat up a nonstick skillet. You won't need any oil or fat, as it will come right from the cheese. Start by heating up a few grated pieces of cheese so test the temperature. You want it hot, but not smoking.

Once to temperature, drop approximately 1/4 cup cheese into the center of the pan and shape it into a desk with a spatula. It will be gooey at first, so test the firmness by lifting up the edge slightly with your spatula. It should not crush into itself, but lift up like a pancake. This time varies dramatically based on cheese and heat of pan, so keep your eye on it.

As soon as you can lift the edges, slip your spatula under the cheese in as close to one fell swoop as possible and flip. Grill it a few more minutes on that side and remove to cool on a plate. The final texture should be a light yellow (or white, if using white cheese) color, not brown, and crispy but not super hard and cracker-y. You'll know when you taste it. Heaven.

Note: I tried this with just cheddar, and it was far too melty to form. I highly recommend including, if not using all, jack cheese.

Quick Pickled Red Onions

1 red onion
1 cup red wine vinegar (white will work in a pinch), thinly sliced
1 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Grab a jar with a lid or otherwise close-able container and add vinegar, sugar and salt. Close the lid and shake them up so the sugar dissolves a bit. Then, add the onions, close the lid again, and shake once more. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes, or as long as you have available. I turn it over every once in a while to help the undissolved salt and sugar distribute more evenly.

Open up and BAM! Pickled onions! Use on absolutely everything.

Bridget Jones Perfectly Summarizes Weight Loss

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I have had many conversations with my co-conspirators (read: women) about our body image, which usually falls under one category:

1. One of us ate super healthy item / did not eat super unhealthy item - PRAISE US!

2. One of us will outline a day of overeating / specific item chow down (looking at you, bread), and the other will reassure the binger that it is not only perfectly normal, but damn well deserved. Alternative: the supporter will tell the binger that it in fact did NOT count for some perfectly good series of reasons.

3. We will together plot a never-before-thought-of AMAZING plan for how we will trick ourselves into losing weight via strategies that feel very gratifying to plan, but much less gratifying to enact (read: not drinking on weeknights, eating only one carb-heavy side a day, planning out a meal plan for the month a la Real Simple magazine).

4. Usually after a glass of wine, one of us will throw out the following: "You know, I don't look that bad, anyway! Plus, when I was 21 I thought I was enormous and look how good I think I looked now by comparison - I look SPECTACULAR to my 40-year-old self right now, so there you have it. ::insert grated cheese into mouth::"

I keep thinking back to Jim Gaffigan's sagely take on working out in his Mr. Universe special:
"And I'm one of those people whenever I do work out, I immediately have grand plans. 'I'm gonna work out every day.' Then the next day I'm like, 'Well, not EVERY day. I gotta let my muscles breathe a little. I'll work out every OTHER day.' Then the next day I'm like, 'Eh, I'm happy with the way I look.'"
5. We will decide to just stop trying altogether. Really, we put way too much time into this. We will be spectacular women no matter WHAT size we are, dammit! Take THAT Photoshopping fashion industry! Plus, when we get pregnant someday, it will undo all of our work anyway.

How I feel after an average weekend - Image Courtesy: http://moniquill.tumblr.com/ 
So when I picked up the audiobook for Helen Fielding's new Bridget Jones installment, Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy, and got to the following section, I practically had to pull my car over from laughing. It is the best summary of the over-the-top, weight-centric-without-actually-feeling-awful-all-the-time woman.
"Am never going to gym again. Am never going to lose the weight, never and don't bloody well care. Was consumed with rage whilst lying on front with bum in air failing to lift weight bar with ankles. Looked round to see everyoen contorted ludicrously in machines like Hieronymous Bosch painting. 
Why are bodies so difficult to manage? Why? 'Oh, oh, look at me, I'm a body, I'm going to splurge fat unless you, like, STARVE yourself and go to undignified TORTURE CENTRES and don't eat anything nice or get drunk.' Hate diet. Is all fault of SOCIETY. Am just going to be old and fat and eat whatever I like and NEVER HAVE SEX AGAIN and WHEEL MY FAT AROUND ON A TROLLEY."
The unsurpassable Bridget Jones (read: Helen Fielding), everyone.


I do truly believe that all women of all sizes are beautiful, etc. etc. etc. Whether or not I apply this to myself is almost directly correlated to my level of bloat.

Dog Kisses

Do you kiss your dog on the mouth?

I do.

I kiss him on the snout. I kiss him on the side of the snout. I eagerly accept / prompt kisses and I sometimes blow at his face when I have eaten something tasty to get more kisses.

That is all. Someone please tell me I'm not the only one.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sesame Brown Rice Salad with Chicken and Peanuts

Courtesy myrecipes.com
I remember when I started my first-ever post-college job. I was an assistant to an animation executive and working out of his house. His current assistant (whom I was replacing) was about 24 years old, and, in my eyes, an incredibly fashionable and chic working woman. 

After two days of reviewing logins, spreadsheets and personality quirks, we sat down for lunch. I started to heat up my then go-to Lean Cuisines, and she pulls out a dish comprised of zucchini, roasted red peppers and brown rice. This simple lunch was so healthy, so craftily prepared at home and so apparently effortless that it immediately became a symbol of adulthood. I didn't even want to eat it, as much as be the person who would make that casually.

Cut to: 2014, and it would appear I have arrived. After a week of honeymoon binging at an all-inclusive Mexican resort, Ryan and I were in need of some food hangover cures. He dug into Cooking Light, and found a recipe for an amazing brown rice salad that utilizes the Amazing Endless Possibilities Costco chicken and bits and pieces of produce you have laying around (the onions and carrots can be substituted for chopped anything). The dressing is a simple sesame lime, and retains its flavor over several days of sitting in tupperware.
Try it out on a weeknight - it cannot be beat. Plus, don't you want to inspire a new generation of cooks?

Sesame Brown Rice Salad with Shredded Chicken and Peanuts

From myrecipes.com


1 cup long-grain brown rice

2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/3 cup sliced green onions
1/4 cup dry-roasted peanuts, divided
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, divided
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
4 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
2 garlic cloves, minced


Cook rice according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Transfer rice to a large bowl; fluff with a fork. Cool. Add chicken, carrot, onions, 2 tablespoons peanuts, 2 teaspoons cilantro, and salt to rice; toss to combine.

Combine juice and remaining ingredients in a small bowl. Drizzle oil mixture over rice mixture; toss to combine. Place 1 1/2 cups salad on each of 4 plates. Sprinkle each serving with 1 1/2 teaspoons remaining peanuts and 1/4 teaspoon remaining cilantro.

Marie Simmons, Cooking Light 

JUNE 2007

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Kate Spade's Occasions - The Best Parts

I love me some Kate Spade. I love my Kate Spade red purse. I love the streamlined, classic a-line dresses I get on sale at the outlet. I love love LOVE my collection of Kate Spade oversized gemstone stud earrings. 

So when I was browsing entertaining books at the library and noticed she had authored a pretty little red book called simply Occasions, I happily checked out and tore in. 
Kate Spade's Occasions | Noble Hostess

Is it cute and fun? Of course! Is it charming? Absolutely. Is it escapist? Damn straight, it is. This "How To" entertaining guide is also an superb example of what I call "lifestyle porn." Think any house from a Nancy Meyers movie. 
Like most entertaining books, this is written for the nervous host or hostess, just beginning to entertain. There are tips and tricks for menus, creative party themes and hostess gift recommendations. Where the lifestyle porn seeps in is with the "everyday" tips for people who own sprawling houses and can afford to hire caterers. My husband, upon me reading some of my favorite parts aloud, harkened back to an episode of the hilariously British BBC series "Black Books." In this, a constantly drunk, acrimonious book store owner describes the hosts of a previous dinner party to his friend.
"Gerald's a food writer. He had a big hit with that thing, you know, "Basic Meals For the Ultra Rich"." - Bernard Black, Black Books
That is what Kate Spade's "Occasions" is reminiscent of. "Basic Meals For the Ultra Rich." And let me tell you, it is a pretty darn fun time. It can even help you entertain, if your friends take turns reading random tips from its pages (as we did one night). So, to make it easier for you (and for my own record-keeping), here are the most comedically lush upper-crust party 'tips!'


"FOR THE GUEST ROOM: ...American quilts, deeply colored (and that includes pink)."
 Do Marshalls and TJ Maxx count as "American?"
"MIDNIGHT BREAKFAST FOR TWO: "You've been dancing, it's late, and you're famished. What better time to make something quick, but with a dash of elegance, such as a plate of softly scrambled eggs with salmon caviar."
Finally, a casual use for all that caviar I have hanging around!  
"OUTDOOR DINING MEANS: ...Throwing open the French doors and moving the inside outside."  
In my mind they open into the gardens of Pemberley.
-A case of wine ("I don't know anyone who doesn't like this.")
-A season's worth of tennis or golf balls
-A wooden bowl with ripe peaches, tied with a pale green ribbon"
These highlights are probably my favorite advice. In my group, my friends are courteous and generous, and always come with a nice bottle of wine, champagne, cheese, etc. Can you imagine if someone brings a CASE of wine? I rarely have a case of wine around the house at any given point! 

The inclusion of a "season's worth of tennis or golf balls" is compelling for two reasons. a) The implication of the reader alternatingly golfing and playing tennis by season is deliciously upper-crust. b) The continued implication that this has been done so often that a season yields a specific, quantitative amount is spectacular. 

...Admittedly, I kind of would like to try out the wooden peach bowl. You have me there, Kate!  
This header alone...  
"And I stay away from canned beer. It makes me think of the Indy 500 or something. All that metal!"  
Fair enough, I can't see Kate downing a Miller Lite.
"Whenever I'm having a party, I explain to a caterer that I think the food should be filling, but also easy to eat and beautifully presented."
I daydream of having a caterer for some of my parties, don't you?
"PETER [THE CATERER'S] SPECIALTIES... Caviar 'ice cream' cones - potato cones filled with crème fraîche and topped with sturgeon caviar."
My God that sounds opulently amazing. Like an h'ors dourve at a very upscale ballroom wedding.
"Instead of using the standard red-and-white checked gingham, use tiny black-and-white [gingham] for your tablecloth and bright red cotton napkins as an accent."
So much gingham!
Again, the header alone. I would love to have a weekend party! Does drinking late into Saturday evening and having a friend spend the night on your couch count as a weekend party?
"GUEST ROOMS... [Buy a] terrycloth robe and slippers. Embroider 'Guest' on the robe and have several pairs of slippers embroidered with 'Guest' on one foot and 'Sleepy,' 'Best,' and 'Hungry' on the other."
This. Just this. 

Final Thoughts

So, in conclusion, if you want to grab a glass of wine and curl up with this little peek into lifestyles of the rich and famous, by all means do! Slip on your embroidered robe and grab the sturgeon caviar, my friends. One last pet-friendly note: it is worth noting our Kate Spade also loves having her dog, Henry, at her cocktail parties. And that is pretty darn cool.