Thursday, May 31, 2012

Chipotle Garlic Tacos with Taco Lita Sauce

In one of my favorite episodes of Ken Burns's Baseball, the opening features the writer Robert Creamer, reminiscing about his youth:

"When I was in the army I was lonesome, I missed baseball. There was a World Series. I went to the PX to listen to the World Series game on the radio. And I was sitting there feeling a long, long way from home.... And an old sergeant came in. He's sitting down in front of me and he took out a cigar and lit it and that cigar smoke drifted back into my face. And I could smell the Polo Grounds. I felt at home." 

Look, I'm not sitting around pining for Pasadena. It's exciting here, and this was all about making a big change in my life. It wasn't supposed to be easy. But there are of course several things I miss. And when it comes to food, there is one thing that I have been missing most of all. It's not a Double-Double (which I expected it to be), it's not Zankou Chicken, and it's not even my local taco truck. It's those Americanized tacos from Taco Lita, crunchy and fresh and slathered with that delicious hot sauce. 

So you can imagine my excitement when I opened a drawer yesterday, looking for a pen, and found three packets of that taco sauce. I didn't think any of them had made it back here with me. Seeing those three yellow packets reminded me immediately of home and the above quote from Baseball. For a second I felt like I was back at one of the orange tile tables with packets of hot sauce in front of me.

I emailed Elizabeth: "Tacos tonight?"

Twice before I've used Rick Bayless's taco seasonings - the chili and cumin sauce for some beef tacos I made back in January, and the key lime and cilantro sauce for shrimp tacos I made in March. (The former was delicious; the latter was good but much spicier than I'd anticipated. I made them for myself and my parents, who really didn't enjoy the heat.)

Since chipotle and garlic are two flavors I love, I figured I'd give it a try.

I got a pound and a half of ground beef. "Did you get it at Paisanos?" Elizabeth asked me later.

"From now on, just assume that's where I get every meat unless I tell you otherwise," I said.

Not long after we arrived in Brooklyn, we were watching HSN one night (yeah, that sounds funny to me, too) and saw Todd English hawking his Greenpans. (We'd seen them before a year or two ago.) We were in the market for a new set of pots and pans and HSN was offering them on sale that day, so we figured let's give them a try.

Some of the reviews (a lot of them, actually) say that the Greenpans lose their non-stick properties after a few months, and that may indeed be true, but so far I really like them. I browned the ground beef in the pan, probably five minutes or so, and drained most of the fat.

Then I added the chipotle-garlic sauce and mixed it up.

I had already diced up half an onion and placed it in the slow cooker before I browned the beef. So I added everything together, set the dial for low, and closed the lid. I left it alone for four hours.

While Elizabeth was on her way home I prepared the accoutrements: extra-sharp cheddar, diced sweet and green onions, cilantro, lettuce, and sour cream.

After those hours in the slow-cooker, the onions caramelize and meld with the flavors of the sauce and beef. And the smell is awesome.

I like both flour and corn tortillas and I don't care if they're soft or hard. But Elizabeth prefers the soft, flour variety, so that's what I used.

I made my first taco the way I have been eating my Taco Lita tacos for years: meat, lettuce, cheese, and a packet of that sauce. Damn was this good.

For my second taco, I added sour cream and used not one but two packets of sauce. Also good. 

Elizabeth had cut open an avocado - I did all the prep work but I refused to slice the avocado for her - and placed it on the table. I put these two items in front of it so I didn't have to look at the avocado while I ate.

"Did you just build a wall so that you don't have to see the avocado?" she asked, in that way people sometimes ask questions and laugh simultaneously because they already know the answer.

For my third and final taco I decided to add some of everything, plus the Trader Joe's corn and pepper salsa. I ran out of my Taco Lita sauce so I used Tapatio.  This was my least favorite of the three tacos, but it was still very, very good.

I need to start making tacos every week.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Park Plaza Restaurant

This is a tale of two different meals. Not long after we arrived in Brooklyn, Elizabeth's dad and her great-uncle were telling us about a meal they had from a diner called Park Plaza: penne pasta in vodka sauce with shrimp. I was dubious, but they assured us it was good and invited us to come over and try it one night soon. So we did.
The roll was good but they only gave us one little one.

I have to admit, the pasta was quite good, much better than I ever would have expected. I am not a particularly big fan of pasta, but this impressed me. The shrimp were a good size and well cooked, and the vodka sauce was one of the better ones I have ever had. (Take that with a grain of salt, as it is a very small sample size.)

I didn't love the meal by any means - in truth I prefer our weekly jaunts to My Little Pizzeria tenfold over this meal - but it was a good dinner. As it turns out, Park Plaza is open until 1:30 AM during the week and 24 hours on the weekend, so the other day when my brother got into town at 11 PM and was in need of dinner, I took him to Park Plaza. (There is another place one block away from us that is open 24 hours, but I have heard a not-small number of anecdotes about food poisoning caused by the place.)

It was close to midnight and almost empty. We both looked over the huge menu for a few minutes before making our decisions. 

Normally I have no problem with tap water, but I saw a fridge full of bottle water that looked ice cold and I wanted one. 

My brother requested a coffee and a fruit punch.

"Together?" the waiter inquired.

"Yes," my brother said, before considering the question further: "Well, not in the same glass, if that's what you're asking."

A container of slaw and pickles was placed in front of us. The slaw was that same runny, straight-out-of-a-gallon-container stuff that diners all across the country use. Fortunately I like that stuff. The pickle was just okay.

 My brother started with a crock of French Onion soup, which he said was fine.

My brother had the fried chicken, with the carbohydrate-intensive sides of fries and mac & cheese. ("All I've eaten today is a cookie and a few Pringles," he explained.) He started chowing down on the chicken, which I thought looked terrible. I told him so.

"Yeah, it's not very good, but I'm really hungry."

I had the buffalo chicken sandwich. It arrived on a bun with nothing else: not the advertised lettuce and tomato nor the blue cheese I had requested (after being prompted to by the menu). At first I thought about saying something but then I realized I didn't really care.

The bun was soft and fresh. The chicken breast was large and covered in sauce. It wasn't really good, but it wasn't bad. (The fries were terrible, but at this point in my life I enjoy the fries at perhaps 1/10th of the restaurants I visit.)

I am willing to return to Park Plaza if I need food after midnight, and I would be willing to eat that shrimp pasta again (but only if someone else wants to) but other than that I don't think I'll be back. It's just a regular diner, and there are plenty of those around.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Ghang Thai Kitchen

When my brother was in town the other day, after we finished what we were working on, we went for a walk, looking for someplace to get food. I could tell my brother wanted Thai food - not that that required any special skills on my part; just as I am always up for Chinese or pizza, he is always in the mood for Thai.

Wandering down Court Street, we passed by Ghang and my brother said that looked good. So we popped in. There was only one other table occupied and we took a table close to the front window. 

Not surprisingly, there was a lunch menu and we both selected items off of it .

My brother drank a Thai iced tea in five seconds. He was thirsty.

My brother selected soup and vegetable dumplings to start off his meal. He did not care for the dumplings at all so he gave me one. I thought it was really good. 

I selected the salad and spring rolls. I had hoped the dressing would not be too peanut-heavy but it was. I couldn't eat it. I can't really get upset, that's always a risk inherent in getting a Thai salad. 

The spring rolls, on the other hand, were fantastic, some of the best I have had in a long time.

My brother had a wok stir with beef, requesting the "basil" flavor and ordering it medium spicy. He ate almost all of it (and all of the beef) but when he went to use the restroom I took some of his veggies. They were delicious. 

I got a wok stir as well: chicken with the ginger flavor, asking for it to be "spicy." I really liked this, although I think I liked my brother's basil-flavored sauce more. Curiously, his dish tasted spicier than mine. But mine still had plenty of heat.

I would be glad to go back to Ghang any time for one of their lunch specials, or perhaps just an entire order of their spring rolls. But first I'm going to try some other Thai places and see what's out there.