Food wrapped in food! (i.e., tacos are rad.)

I had an epiphany this week, which really explains a lot of what I cook and what I crave. Ready? Here it is:

Tasty edible things wrapped in other tasty edible things, as a concept, is a total win.

I’ve been craving tacos lately. All kinds of tacos. There’s a place here in Pittsburgh called Yo Rita!, which is one of the few restaurants that I very specifically crave once in a while. Most times if we’re thinking of going out, I’ll have a leaning towards a particular food mood or idea — Italian, or Thai, or charcuterie. But every so often (more often than perhaps I would like to admit), when a certain mood strikes, all I want is to go to Yo Rita!. Their concept is simple — gourmet tacos, fabulous margaritas. Many of the tacos aren’t necessarily Mexican in flavoring (how about black eyed peas, mushrooms, and greens? or salmon with pickled cabbage? or chorizo with a fried egg?), but they do it so well.

So all of this got me thinking about how funny it is that my list of go-to/favorite foods includes things like tacos, and sushi, and spring rolls, and vegetable-stuffed peppers and squash, and good sandwiches, and soup in a bread bowl …. Need I go on? I have no idea why it is that I have such an affinity for food wrapped in food — is it the efficiency factor? the finger-foods attraction? the two-for-one deal that appeals to my thrifty side? — honestly, who knows.

All that to say, I’m embracing this phenomenon, and here are some tacos I made to satisfy my craving. They’re vegetarian, but totally substantial. I used cremini mushrooms, tho you could substitute any flavorful mushroom, and added red wine to bring out the “brown” flavoring (umami, if we’re being technical).  Seriously, these are good without the wine, but that little bit of red wine adds a huge flavor punch. Then add some mild goat cheese for tanginess, a light cabbage slaw for texture and color, and cilantro and lime or lemon to brighten it up a bit.

Eat them with your hands! Two for one! So good.

For the tacos:
6 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 small onion, halved and sliced into ¼ inch slivers
2 tbsp olive oil
3-4 tbsp red wine (I used leftover Malbec)
2 med cloves garlic, chopped
1 pinch red pepper flakes (approx ¼ tsp)
Salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
4-6 fajita-size flour tortillas

For the slaw:
2 cups red cabbage, shredded/sliced very thinly
juice from ½ lime (approx 2 tbsp)
salt and pepper
drizzle of olive oil

For the garnish:
¼ cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped (I use most of the stems also)
Mild goat cheese or Gruyere
lime wedges

The how-to’s:

1. Thinly slice/shred cabbage (if you have a mandoline, use it!) and place in a bowl. Drizzle over olive oil (I used very little,  maybe 1 tsp) and lime juice. Salt and pepper to taste. Toss together, and let rest at room temperature until ready to eat.

2. Heat the 2 tbsp olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium high heat till shimmering. Add mushrooms and onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms begin to brown and onions start to caramelize. Turn heat down to medium low. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. Slowly add red wine and scrape up all the tasty brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Simmer until red wine has mostly evaporated. Remove from heat.

3. Lightly toast the tortillas over a gas burner or soften in the microwave (I like the burner — you get that slightly smoky flavor and pretty-looking brown spots).

4. Serve each tortilla with some mushrooms, topped with cheese, slaw, and cilantro. Garnish with lime wedges for spritzing.

(P.S. – pictures soon. Seriously.)

Biting the Bullet

I bit the bullet: I roasted a whole chicken.

Did I mention that I used to be a vegetarian? Well, sort of.

A few years back, during my early 20’s, (and we’re using “few” pretty loosely here), meat made its exit from my diet. I was just out of college, money wasn’t incredibly plentiful, and I was having some health issues that required me to take a pretty close look at my diet. It turned out that meat wasn’t really the source of the issues, but in doing lots of research about meat and how it’s raised commercially, I got pretty turned off of it. I was technically still ok with eating meat as protein, but only if it was free from hormones and antibiotics, was ethically and locally raised, etc. You know, the more expensive kind. The less-easy-to-find kind, especially ten(ish) years ago. What with my budget being what it was, and with my discovery that really, I didn’t miss eating meat that much, I edged it out of my diet entirely for a number of years.

Then, a few years ago, this guy came along. He was tall, and cute, and nerdy in the best sense — the intelligent, quirky, pay-attention-or-you-miss-things sense. The kind of guy with ideas and experiences that, if you could manage to get him to talk about them, were really compelling.

He was also a bit of a carnivore. And on top of that, a bit of a food snob. Whose parents also happened to own a small farm where they raised poultry and lamb the good, old-fashioned, free-range, nasty-chemical-free kind of way. And whose budget didn’t quite have the restrictions mine did. And who was (and is) perfectly willing to make a specific column in that budget for really good quality meat. Who could resist this guy? You can guess what happened to my pseudovegetarianism. (And my singleness, for that matter.)

Which brings us to the point at hand. I roasted a chicken. I, who had not really handled meat for… a number of years. I. Roasted. A. Whole. Chicken. By. Myself.

Now, we got this thing, this frozen hunk of poultry, from my mother-in-law (the one with the farm, remember?).  I had prepared, I mean really prepared, myself for this moment: the removal of bird innards. Psyched myself up really. I was going to thrust my vegetarian-ish hand right up into that chicken’s nether regions and yank out all the stuff you’re supposed to yank out. Without flinching. Or making faces. Then I was going to make the best stuffing you’ve ever imagined and stuff it back up into said nether regions.

Well, it was a surprising letdown (a surprise, and surprisingly a letdown), that I didn’t get to do that. The chicken, it turned out, was already pieced, innards removed and discarded. I didn’t have the pleasure of conquering that mountain this time.

But, by some combination of research, sheer luck, and the very basest of culinary instinct, the chicken was actually, miraculously, delicious. I used herbs that I had on hand to make a rub, and applied it liberally. Garlic, lemon, rosemary, sage. Yum.

Sometime I will actually post the real recipe and some pictures. For now, you just get the story.

Soon! I promise.