Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Carpool Wars: Battle Taco!

Given how intense this thing is getting, I clearly need to update the "Feud" entry on Wikipedia:

"A feud (ˈfjuːd'), referred to in more extreme cases as a blood feudvendettafaida, or private war, is a long-running argument or fight, often between social groups of people, especially families or clans.

Famous blood feuds

The Hatfield clan in 1897.

Carpool Wars: Battle Taco!
The latest skirmish between the carpool clans was brutal, as usual.

First, the battle lines were drawn:

A taco, by definition, is a tortilla folded around a filling, so that's the basic limit. 
Tortillas can be corn or flour, homemade or store bought. 
The filling can be anything -- meat, veggies, combination, etc. 
The tacos themselves can be fried or not, rolled or soft. 
Because condiments are such a personal thing, I'd suggest we each have a "recommended" configuration (including specific toppings, if any), but allow the judges to customize their own if they choose from your available condiments.

Available condiments?
Try five different homemade salsas, freshly chopped mangos, various types of crumbled and grated cheese, quick-pickled onions, shredded lettuce, thinly sliced radishes, chopped cilantro, ripe tomato wedges, sour cream, dill cucumber spears, olives, diced white onions, and fresh avocado.

Now picture them rigidly separated into four distinct sections of a big table, and pity the fool that tried to put one woman's cotija cheese on another woman's chicken taco.


The tacos themselves?
Two fried, two not.

The tortillas?
All corn.  Some grilled, some freshly heated on a cast iron griddle.

The fillings that could be anything?
Shredded chicken.
Grilled swordfish.
Slow roasted beef brisket.
Smoky sirloin and chorizo.

Homemade guacamole and chips, in a gorgeous authentic molcajete.
Caesar salad.
Seasoned refried black beans.
Fresh Hibiscus tea.
Margaritas, too.
Juicy watermelon.
Mexican bread pudding and salted caramel shortbread bars.

And after all that work?
The verdict was perfectly split, four ways.

Yep, this this particular vendetta may go on for years**.

And now....The Battle Taco contenders!

Shot and a Beer Sirloin and Chorizo Tacos
Base recipe courtesy of FG10, who swore up and down that these were the tacos to beat.  She was so right! Her original called for pork shoulder in place of the sirloin, and I added the chorizo into the mix.  These are labor intensive, but unbelievably addictive.  The taste winner of the day!

2 large dried chipotle chilies
2 large dried ancho chilies
12 oz. Mexican beer (I used Negro Modelo)
1/4 cup silver Tequila
3 1/2 lb. thick sirloin steaks, cut into cubes
1 lb. Mexican chorizo, casings removed
2 tsp. kosher salt
1 Tbs. vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
3/4 lb. tomatoes, chopped
2 tsp. dried Mexican oregano
2 tsp. ground cumin

Preheat oven to 350.

Wipe chilies clean with damp cloth. In a dry, heavy saucepan over medium heat, heat chilies until fragrant and puffy, turning to keep them from burning, about 3-5 minutes.  Remove from heat and cool, then trim to remove seeds, stems and membranes.  Place chilis into a bowl, cover with beer and tequila, and allow to soak while you work on the rest of the meat.

Season steak cubes generously with salt. Heat oil in heavy large overproof pot, such as Dutch oven, over medium high heat. Brown the steak cubes in batches, turning as needed, until seared but not cooked through. Transfer steak to a bowl and set aside.

Add chorizo to the pot, breaking up with a wooden spoon, and cook through.  Transfer chorizo to the bowl with the steak, leaving all the chorizo drippings in the pot.

Add the onion and garlic to the pot, and cook until soft, stirring often.  Stir in beer mixture, tomatoes, oregano, cumin and the steak and chorizo. Add water or more beer, if needed, so that the liquids barely cover the meat. Bring to boil over high heat.   Cover, then transfer the pot to the oven and bake 3-4 hours, until the steak is falling apart.  Fish any remaining chilis out of the mixture.  You can shred the meat to make tacos or burritos, or serve as a stew with accompaniments.

To assemble tacos:
Large, deep skillet
Vegetable oil, for frying
Kosher salt
Grated cotija cheese and/or shredded Monterey Jack cheese (I used both)
Place to drain your tacos before serving

Follow the directions on how to fry a taco on this YouTube video.  Their hint about adding salt to the oil before frying?  Genius!  Each taco should include a good portion of the steak mixture and a nice amount of cheese.  These can get greasy, so be sure to set up a way to drain the tacos, preferably tilted up on one end, over plenty of paper towels for a few minutes before serving.

Serve with Tomatillo Salsa (recipe follows), chopped onions that have been soaked in ice water and a splash of champagne vinegar for 30 minutes and then drained, chopped iceberg lettuce, diced tomato and sour cream, if desired.

Click to print this recipe!

Fresh Tomatillo Salsa
Recipe adapted from: Simply recipes.  A little spicy, a lot tangy, and the perfect foil to the rich, meaty, fried tacos.

1 1/2 lb. tomatillos
3/4 c. chopped white onion
1/2 c. cilantro leaves
1/4 c. fresh mint leaves
2 Tbs. fresh lime juice
1 tsp. sugar
2 jalapeño peppers, stemmed, seeded and chopped
Salt to taste

Remove papery husks from tomatillos and rinse well.
Set oven to broil. Cut the tomatillos in half and place cut side down on a foil- or silpat-lined baking sheet. Broil for about 5-7 minutes, just until skin is lightly blackened.

Place tomatillos, onion, cilantro, lime juice, sugar, and peppers into a blender or food processor and pulse until all ingredients are finely chopped and mixed. Season to taste with salt. Cool in refrigerator for at least an hour before serving.

Click to print this recipe!

Mexico City Style Swordfish Tacos
From Christy D.  Melt in your mouth fresh fish, paired with mango, avocado, crisp onions and fresh cilantro, on hot grilled corn tortillas.  Easy yet decadent, and perfect for summertime eating.  The creativity winner!

Fresh swordfish steaks, about 1 inch thick
Plenty of fresh lemon juice
1/2 c. vegetable oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Smoked paprika

Place fish in a baking dish and squeeze lemon juice to cover the bottom of the pan by about 1/8".
Flip over fish in lemon juice after 20 minutes. Then add about 1/2 cup of vegetable oil. Sprinkle both sides with salt, pepper and lots of smoked paprika.  Cover and marinate for 30-40 minutes, turning fish once or twice.

Pre heat outdoor grill to medium, then grill the fish for 5 minutes each side. Remove from grill and cut into small cubes (about 1/2 inch to 1 inch or so). While the fish is on the grill, heat up the corn tortillas on the other side of the grill - about 10 seconds each side and then place them in a kitchen towel and cover them to keep them warm.

Serve fish in the tortillas along with chopped onion, cilantro, avocado and mango.

Click to print this recipe!

Shredded Brisket Tacos with Chipotle Dressing 
The chipotle dressing here is killer!  We all agreed this dressing made everybody's tacos taste 10 times better.  As for the brisket, it's tender, flavorful, and makes a delicious taco.  The originality winner, from Christy F.

For the brisket:
4 lb. trimmed beef brisket, preferably the flat half
1 large yellow onion, chopped
10 black peppercorns
4 dried bay leaves
3 medium cloves garlic, crushed
2 serrano chiles, coarsely chopped
1 Tbs. kosher salt

For the chipotle dressing:
1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 c. fresh lime juice
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 medium cloves garlic, chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 7-oz. can chipotles in adobo

To serve the tacos:
30 6-inch fresh corn tortillas, preferably homemade
Toppings of your choice, such as: sliced avocado or guacamole, chopped ripe tomatoes, shredded iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced radishes, crumbled queso fresco, small sprigs of fresh cilantro, chopped fresh or pickled jalapeños

Cook the brisket:
Put the brisket ingredients in a 6-quart Dutch oven and cover with 10 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat and then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and partially cover. Simmer until the meat is falling-apart tender, about 4 hours. Add hot water as needed during cooking to keep the meat submerged.

Transfer the brisket to a cutting board and let sit until cool enough to handle. Reserve the cooking liquid. Scrape away and discard any fat from the brisket. Using your fingers or two forks, tease the meat into shreds. Cut the shreds crosswise into 1-inch pieces. Transfer the meat to a medium mixing bowl and moisten with 1/2 cup of the reserved broth.

Make the dressing:
In a blender, pulse the olive oil, lime juice, vinegar, garlic, 2 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper until mixed. Drain the canned chipotles, pouring all of the adobo sauce into the blender. Add chipotles to taste and purée the dressing. (One chipotle will give the dressing a little heat, two or three will produce a medium-hot dressing, four or more will make a fiery dressing.)

Add just enough of the dressing to the shredded beef to moisten it. Cover the meat in the bowl and chill it in the refrigerator for an hour or so.  Chill the dressing, too.

To serve:
After chilling, the dressing will have pooled in the bottom of the meat bowl; toss to redistribute. Transfer the meat to a serving bowl or platter and drizzle with a little more dressing. Serve cold, as is customary, at room temperature, or warm with the fresh tortillas, letting guests assemble their own tacos with the toppings of their choice.  (Christy served hers warm!)

Make Ahead Tips: You can make the beef brisket filling and the sauce up to five days ahead and refrigerate in airtight containers.

Click to print this recipe!

Cindy's perfectly fried (as in, not a smidge greasy!) chicken tacos featured grated cheddar, pickles, tomatoes, green leaf lettuce, fresh tomato salsa, and her Mama's incredible, but oh-so-secret hot sauce.   I'm telling you, don't even think of asking for the recipe.

The sides and desserts:

Lucas' Hibiscus Tea
Can you say refreshing? I thought you could.

1/4 c. of dried Hibiscus leaves
1/2 c. sugar or to taste
4 cups water

Bring the water to boil, add hibiscus and sugar and remove from heat. Let steep for 20 minutes. Strain and pour tea into a pitcher filled with water and ice.

Click to print this recipe!

Straight out of Trader Joe's Refried Black Beans
A staple of taco night at our house.  Also makes an easy appetizer dip with chips for a party.

Go to Trader Joe's. Buy a couple of cans of their refried black beans, and a jar of their fat-free black bean dip (it is with the chips). Put the beans into a mixing bowl, add about half of the bean dip, and stir until combined. Put the bean mixture into a baking dish, cover with shredded cheddar cheese (I used the Trader Joe's mexican mix, already shredded), and a handful of green onions, chopped.

You can bake it at 325 for 15 minutes, or even microwave (if you use a ceramic or glass baking dish) for 3-4 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly and melted.

Click to print this recipe!

This dessert, from Cindy, is layered with cheese and soaked in a syrup made with piloncillo, a type of brown sugar used in Mexican cooking.  It is a traditional Lenten feast dish.

1 1/2 c. piloncillo or packed light brown sugar
1 stick cinnamon, preferably canela (Mexican)
2 eggs
8 oz. stale bolillos or country white bread, cut into 1 inch cubes
8 oz. queso Oaxaca or a mixture of swiss and cheddar
2/3 cups raisins
1/2 cup roughly chopped almonds
8 tbsp. unsalted butter, cubed and chilled

Vanilla ice cream for serving

Heat oven to 350.

Bring sugar, canela and 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil in a 2 quart saucepan over high heat; cook until reduced by a quarter. Discard cinnamon and set aside to cool. Once cool, whisk in eggs until smooth.

Combine bread, 3/4 of the cheese, raisins and almonds in a bowl; pour syrup over the bread mixture, and toss until evenly coated. Transfer to a 8x8 baking dish, sprinkle with remaining cheese and dot with butter; cover dish with foil. Bake until pudding is bubbling hot and cheese is melted, about 10 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until cheese is lightly browned, about 12 minutes more.

Scoop into bowls and serve with ice cream, if you like.

Click to print this recipe!

Salted Caramel Bars
Go to this post on What's Gaby Cooking.  Make them the way she tells you to, instead of leaving out the vanilla until the end, like I did.

* Even with a new head judge replacing the prior corrupt official.
** Next up:  Battle Braise!  Featuring a whole new judging category, best wine pairing.

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