mexican

supper club: february

After a few months of hibernation, the supper club is back! And, according to attendees, better than ever. Inspired by a recent encounter with Chef Rick Bayless, I decided to throw a proper Mexican fiesta, complete with piñata. For the first course, I served ceviche. After much research, I hesitantly chose to use frozen fish: shrimp, calamari and scallops. While fresh fish would have been even better, the secret to my ceviche's success was slowly defrosting and "cooking" each type of fish for a different amount of time. The calamari (which was the toughest/most resilient) cooked for 2 1/2 hours in lime juice with thinly sliced red onion. I added the shrimp one hour and the delicate scallops thirty minutes before serving. In the Ecuadorian style, a sprinkle of corn nuts provided contrast in texture.

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For the main course, I threw a 9 lb pork shoulder in a slow cooker the night before the party. Rubbed with cocoa powder, chipotle chile powder, oregano, paprika, cumin, dark brown sugar, salt and olive oil, it roasted for 18 hours until pull-apart tender. I served it with corn tortillas toasted in a cast iron pan, Mexican crema, guacamole and roasted tomatillo salsa.

Mole dry-rubbed pulled pork, 8 hours into cooking.

Mole dry-rubbed pulled pork, 8 hours into cooking.

The pork was accompanied by a few vegetarian sides. For the black bean pomegranate salad, I soaked black beans overnight and cooked them until tender (but not mushy). To that I added pomegranite seeds, cilantro, lime juice, olive oil and a splash of red wine vinegar.

My roommates help prepare the black bean salad.

My roommates help prepare the black bean salad.

The Mexican corn crema was everyone's favorite dish. A simpler version of on-the-cob street corn, it was a mix of frozen summer corn (roasted on a sheet pan until blackened), cotija cheese, crema, chile powder and lime.

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For dessert, I dreamed up "mexican hot chocolate" pudding. Essentially, I doctored jello chocolate pudding with some spices. For liquid, I used a combination of organic whole milk and freshly-brewed espresso (about 4-parts milk to 1-part espresso). To intensify the flavor further, I added smoked cinnamon, chile powder and cocoa powder. When it came time to serve the pudding, I topped it with shaved dark chocolate, fleur de sel and candied orange rind.

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But of all the dishes, the one I had the most fun making were the buñuelo wonton strips. I have little experience with deep frying, so was a bit intimidated by the process. The secret was not to overcrowd the pan, so that the oil remained hot, which makes for a less greasy end product. A quick dusting of cinnamon, sugar and chile powder made these simple treats extra-addictive.

After dessert came the climax of the evening: the breaking of the piñata. We swang at it a few times with a broom handle, but it was my friend David's move to opt for a copper pot that led to a (literal) break through.

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Thanks to all who came to the supper club! Such a pleasure cooking for you.

Full Menu:

eater's digest: tacombi

Photos by Lauren DeFilippo

"What's your favorite New York taco?" Any self-respecting food writer should have had one, if not a few taco suggestions. Yet just six months ago, I embarrassingly realized I had never so much as eaten in a single Mexican NYC restaurant.

Like all foodie subjects on which I am lacking sufficient authority, I accepted, then attacked this challenge with gusto. From Mexicue on the Lower East Side to Toloache on 82nd Street, I ate at easily a dozen taco-wielding establishments.

Some were excellent, others so-so, but there was none that truly stole my heart...that is, until Tacombi.

Admittedly, I'm not just talking about the food - though Tacombi's al pastor de puerco is reason enough to rave. Rather, it was the garage-turned-block-party vibe of the indoor/outdoor space that truly won me over.

Ideal for a chilled-out Saturday brunch, an inventive first date or a rowdy round of afterwork cervezas, this is high-concept, low-fi feeding at its best.

We started off with crunchy homemade totopos and avocado-rich guacamole, balanced with smoky chili powder and salty cotija cheese. From there we shared a large serving of esquites, a exquisite, creamy cup of toasted corn comfort food.

Admittedly, there was a bit of a lunch rush, and our taco order got lost in the fray. Digesting from our appetizers, we sipped on the house Lupita sodas - the orange was excellent, but the pineapple far too sweet. It took a bit of inquiring after the demure, day-dreaming bus girl, but eventually arrived the grand finale.

Meaty - almost gamy - and rich with slow-cooked sauce, the al pastor de puerco was truly a taco lover's delight. The lighter, seared fish featured almost Italian flavors - capers and tomato versus the fruity salsa I anticipated - but it was cooked impeccably, so no complaint could be filed.

Perhaps that's the grand appeal of Tacombi. It's a dive (that's not really a dive) which leaves you smiling even when the service screws up or your taco comes topped with a strange assembly of ingredients. In short, exactly what your favorite little taco shop should be.

ingredient: tomatillos

Few things excite me more than a new ingredient.

Most people tend to discover new edibles by reading and following recipes to a T.  This has happened for me, on occasion (See: TastingTable’s fantastic okra recipe or David Lebovitz’s take on Ottolenghi’s Fried Beans w/Sorrel & Sumac), but my habit of mix-and-matching recipes or using them for “inspiration” means that obscure ingredients like sherry vinegar tend to get the shaft.

On the flip, I’m an impulsive ingredient explorer.  I eagerly purchase new varietals of familiar ingredients (fairytale eggplant, heirloom tomatoes of any shape or size) and splurge on items I’ve never before seen (long beans and purslane are two of my found-on-the-fly favorites).

My zeal for new flavors hasn’t always worked out to my advantage.  Once, in Paris, I bought a piment antillais (a habanero pepper), thinking that - since Parisians cannot tolerate any level of spice - it must be safe.  I was wrong.  And furthermore, I was most wrong in deciding to crunch into a morsel of that pepper raw to “see how spicy it was”.  One liter of milk and a whole baguette later, I finally stopped crying.

Needless to say, I’m less experimental with foreign spicy substances these days.  But that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy a good spicy salsa from time to time.

Cue the tomatillos.  I had never consciously consumed a tomatillo until one week ago, when my CSA bag arrived full of these little green, cloaked, tomato-like creatures.  Assuming they weren’t spicy, I cracked into one and was surprised by the seedy, dense interior.  After a bit of research, I learned tomatillos are a key component in  salsa verde.

Since I’m always up for an adventure involving my blender (which, yes, I use in the place of a proper Cuisinart on many occasions), salsa verde it was.  While I like spicy, I prefer something a bit milder than your typical salsa verde, so rather than jalapeno, I opted for a pickled Anaheim chile I already had on hand.

Salsa Verde (for the Cuisinart-deprived)

Ingredients:

A dozen or so tomatillos ½ a red onion De-seeded, pickled Anaheim chile A chopped handful of cilantro 1/4 cup lime juice A good squeeze of honey (I used alfalfa honey) salt to taste

1)  Chop tomatillos, onion, chile and cilantro – add to blender. 2) Add honey, salt, and lime juice to blender. 3) Use the ice/pulse setting to chop and a “poker” (usually a high-quality chopstick in my case) to push down the unchopped chunks in between pulses. 4) Patience, my friends. 5) And voila! After 3 minutes or so, you have an amazing, medium/mild salsa verde.

Note: Salsa verde is a great condiment for any leftover frozen turkey scraps you still have from Thanksgiving – turkey enchiladas!