Carne Asada – Roy Choi recipe

This week I was set to host a midweek dinner party and thought a Mexican spread would be fun. While in the early planning stages of the get-together I almost either forgot (or more likely started denying) how many tiny dishes can go into a taco dinner for 8 people. Little did I think about how I would end up building on the details along the way. You need the taco meat of course, then a pot of beans, fresh salsa, then again maybe two kinds of salsa, guacamole, maybe even homemade tortillas, and so on…it all builds up fast. (don’t forget rice – probably with stock and tomatoes…) At some point you might start driving yourself mad with all of the additions. In the end it was definitely too much prep work for a Wednesday, but it came together nicely and everyone left happy. Oh well, next time I host a weeknight dinner party, I’ll stick to a nice hearty one-pot stew.

Grinding ancho chili powder.
Grinding ancho chili powder.
Jalapenos, post-broil.
Jalapenos, post-broil.

This skirt steak tacos were made with a nontraditional recipe from the LA-based chef Roy Choi. It calls for an amazing flavor combination including orange juice, a seemingly excessive amount of ancho chili powder, and a hearty glug of good ol’ Budweiser. The addition of Japanese mirin wine helps give it more of a twist to a traditional Mexican flavors. I mixed up the marinade the night before as it had a ton of steps. I broiled the jalapenos to create a charred exterior, juiced the citrus, and had one extra step that was not specified in the recipe but I ended up having to do: grind my own ancho powder as I only had whole chilies. The skirt steak was added to the mix in the morning for an “overnight” or 8-hour marinade. Really the marinade is a little time-consuming but works like a charm. I will certainly make this again as everyone was raving. The flavor is spot-on, the meat was tender, and it easily pairs with traditional taco accoutrements.

The finished product.
The finished product.

On a side note, we pan seared the steak on a cast iron skillet, as we are apartment dwellers without a grill. The smoke level in the house was intense, like really really thick and not great for when you have guests, but I would do it again with better ventilation and perhaps no visitors to a smoky grease cave. Still, super worth it for the flavor.

The rest of the dishes were super traditional and mostly taken from a falling-apart 25-year-old edition of Rick Bayless’s cookbook Authentic Mexican: Salsa Mexicana, Guacamole, Salsa Verde Cruda, Brothy Beans, Mexican rice, and homemade tortillas. I also made sure to have queso fresco, crema (sorry, store bought!) and chopped cilantro for toppings. Next time I’ll go for a few unique changes in the rest of the spread for fun.

Recipe Credit: Roy Choi, NY Times

Kitchen Mess: 4 out of 4 stars. Red powders, sticky juice, possibly smoke, and all sorts of dirty bowls.

Recommended for: tacos with a twist, large groups, summer grilling

Not Recommended for: midday dinner, food purists

Lunchbox Harvest Muffins, or what to do with that leftover zucchini half in the fridge.

This recipe saved my life since it was published 2 years ago, if I want to be a little hyperbolic. At the very least it has saved an overstuffed refrigerator veggie drawer from rotting on many an occasion. I like to use it when there seems to be an excess of carrots, zucchini, and other random fall vegetables hanging around waiting to be put to use.

Never the prettiest food, but always tasty.
Never the prettiest food, but always tasty.

It’s one of my favorite ways of using up any extra (shredded-or-to-be-shredded) vegetables, especially since it allows you to mix and match as needed. I like to think of it as a “choose your own adventure” sort of muffin.

The veggie ratios can be changed up and I’ve never had a problem with taste or texture. Last time I used mainly grated zucchini with a little beet thrown in for good measure. I didn’t even have an apple on hand, and while it didn’t have the same flavor depth it might have had with this addition, it was still yummy.  When I use the recipe I almost always coarsely grate the veggies, but you can do a fine grate too-  whatever you prefer here.

This is definitely a moist muffin. I think the amount of oil in the recipe will tend to keep the end product soft no matter what you do with the shredded veggies. You could probably try to lower the amount of oil used, but I would test that out a small amount at a time. Using whole wheat pastry flour seems to be important, as I tried using regular whole wheat once and it ended up heavier than expected. (should have known better.) If you use the weights listed in the recipe, you’re pretty much good to go. Overall it’s a versatile muffin recipe, ready for tweaking here and there.

Recipe Credit: NY Times

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4 stars. I can usually make this with minimal bowls.

Recommended for: Using up extra veggies, muffin lovers, fall lunchbox treats

Not recommended for: Anyone who dislikes “veggie breads” AKA picky eaters

Hummus, Israeli Style

Hummus is another one of those recipes that I can make in my sleep. To me it’s usually about mixing it to taste, finding a balance between the lemony acid and the salt. I tend to keep other seasonings like cumin in a supporting role. It also helps to know your preferred tahini/chickpea ratio.

Even if I tend to throw this type of dish together by intuition, I think there’s nothing wrong with testing out specific recipes that have perfected the form. Going back to carefully measured out ingredients on occasion makes the final product that much tastier.  So yes, it was time for me to welcome a break in hummus-making spontaneity, all in the name of improvement.

The Israeli-style hummus showcased in the September 2015 Bon Appetit is definitely a recipe I’ll use again. I plan to continue using at least one of the steps involved, most notably the part where you steep the garlic and lemon juice then filter the liquid through a sieve. This step is pure genius. I need to do more research and see if this is a normal part of the recipe in Israeli households. (If this is the case, it has been omitted in many, many American cookbooks.) If not, I enjoy this added touch to an old standby. To me this element is what has been missing in my versions of homemade hummus. I tend to like a teensy essence of garlic, but find that even adding one clove can be too overpowering. Boom, my garlic issues have suddenly been solved out of nowhere.  
hummus

Recipe Credit: Bon Appetit

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4 stars. Surprisingly a lot for hummus, thanks to the garlic sieve action.

Recommended For: Parties, midday lunch, snacks, dinner for one.

Not Recommended For: Parties in which you have decided that hummus is overdone and you need to make some other less popular puree/tapenade/mush for crackers. I’ll leave that decision up to you!

Blueberry Pecan Crunch Pie

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Success.

After being away for 3 weekends in a row, it was time to settle in at home and make something comforting. Pie is always at the top of the comfort list, but what kind? I tend to be indecisive about what flavor to make, especially since I try to limit pie baking to once every 6-8 weeks or so in an attempt to try and not eat a whole pie every week. (Tough and painful choices, I know.)  After much hand-wringing, blueberry ended up at the top of the list, mainly because I couldn’t remember the last time I had baked one.

Since it had been so long since I made a blueberry version, I ended up easily finding a recipe that I hadn’t used before: a pecan crunch pie from a 2001 Food and Wine compilation. The ingredients are straightforward and classic but with some embellishments like a nutty crumble topping (always yum) and toasted pound cake crumbs sprinkled on the par-baked crust.

This recipe is overall a strong one. The blueberry flavor is definitely enhanced with the addition of both lemon and ginger, but there’s nothing overpowering about either piece. The tartness of the blueberries was balanced with the sugar level. The pound cake crumb barrier kept the crust from getting soggy, which I call a huge success in the quality of the final product.

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Deep dark fruit drips.

What would I tweak? Two things. First of all, the pie crust recipe calls for a food processor, which in my opinion makes it easy to overmix the crust. I felt that it was competent but slightly tough. Next time I would stick to my own crust recipe without the machine.

The other piece I would tweak is the topping. The pecans are great, but perhaps it would be better to use brown sugar rather than granulated in this part of the recipe.

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Tomorrow, pie for breakfast.

Recipe Credit: Food and Wine

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4 stars. Depends on how messy you are with rolling out the dough.

Recommended for: A bumper crop of berries, potlucks and picnics, summer or when you’re missing summer

Not Recommended for: Hmm….I would say this could be universally adored unless you have a nut allergy.