Saturday, June 4, 2011

Round 1, in which we learn about the importance of visual appeal

I went shopping, and started cooking, taking all these ideas with me.

I did a trial run of the beef, the avocado and orange salsa, and a green sauce. I skipped the taco strips and the queso fresco for this round.

Here is what I came up with:

Taco Beef

  • 1 ½ lb. cross rib roast
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 medium yellow onion, sliced thin
  • 3 cloves crushed garlic
  • 1 largo tomatoes, diced
  • ½ cup full bodied dry white wine
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 ½ tsp. cumin
  • 2 tsp. chimayo chile powder
  • 2 chipotles in adobo, chopped fine
  • 1 tsp. cocoa powder
  1. Rub salt and pepper into the meat. Brown it well on all sides, using a bit of the oil.
  2. Add water to pot, cover and turn heat down to a low simmer.
  3. Braise 2 ½ hours or until very tender.
  4. Let cool in braising liquid.
  5. Shred the meat and fat into the braising liquid.
  6. Heat the rest of the oil and saute onions and garlic just until onions turn clear.
  7. Add the meat and the rest of the ingredients. Simmer uncovered until liquid has nearly evaporated, 20 – 30 minutes, stirring periodically so meat doesn’t scorch.
  8. Refrigerate overnight to develop flavor.
  9. Reheat, remove bay leaves and serve.

Avocado Orange Salsa

  • 3 small firm avocados, medium dice
  • 2 medium oranges, sectioned and diced, juice saved
  • 1 cup jicama, cut into large matchsticks
  • 1 tsp. coarsely ground black pepper
  1. Combine all ingredients, including the juice released from sectioning the oranges. Toss well to coat the avocado with orange juice.

Salsa Verde

  • 5 green tomatillos, husks removed and coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, packed
  • 1 jalepeno, chopped fine
  • 2 to 3 T. lime juice
  • salt to taste
  1. Place the tomatillos in a saucepan with a little water to keep them from burning.
  2. Simmer for about 5 minutes or until they are soft.
  3. Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients.
  4. Puree sauce.

¼ cup pitted Kalamata olives, finely chopped.

The result was perfectly tasty, though not beautiful. Here is what it looked like. Not very attractive is it. The salsa verde, like all salsa verdes I’ve had, tasted wonderful, but was an unappetizing shade of brownish green. The Christmas plate I ate it on didn’t help either, I admit. I brought my taco fixings to work to eat for lunch and it was the only plate I could find. Overall, it needed brighter, more vibrant colors. I was also looking for brighter, more vibrant flavors.

The butcher was out of cross rib roast. Round was all I could get. I decide it would be good enough. It was not. As subsequent attempts have taught me, stick with cross rib roast. There is no substitute.

The cocoa and the tomatoes combined to make rich, earthy flavored taco meat. Tasted alone, it needed something to brighten it, but that, I hoped, is where the toppings would come in. They didn’t. I mean, they were bright and acidic, but the meat still tasted too heavy for this dish. It would need some adjustment.

We hadn’t originally discussed using tomatillos, they were a last minute inspiration in the grocery store. We really liked the flavor they added, but were less fond of the color. Time to explore alternatives for that as well.

The avocado orange salsa tasted great, but the chunks were a little large to go with the meat. Smaller dice next time. Also, the pepper didn’t seem to add much, or rather, as I, umm, ran out of pepper after grinding only ¼ tsp. we discovered it was just fine without it.

The olives were great.

Back to the kitchen to try again...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Deconstruction

Our next step was to deconstruct the taco in a bag and begin to reconstruct it. We broke the dish down into six basic components. We discussed each one, and possible directions to go in.

Meat: We were unanimous on the need to get rid of the ground beef, but what to replace it with? We started off with braised beef. Maya argued for braised pork. I wanted duck confit. In the end braised beef won out, a cross rib roast, to be precise. Initial spice ideas included bay, ancho chiles, cocoa, chipotle, and cumin.

Veggie: Iceberg lettuce and cheap tomatoes definitely wouldn’t cut it, but what would? We tossed a lot of ideas around and settled on a jicama, orange, and avocado salsa as having an appropriate blend of crunchy, sour, and creamy. We also agreed to try kalamata olives as a second topping to bring in a hit of salt.

Tortilla: Ideally we would make this from fresh masa, but as this is not available in southern Alberta we will stick to masa flour. Of course, the shape of the chips is also important. We reached surprisingly quick agreement that the tortillas should be cut into long thin strips and fried.

Sauce: Instead of jarred tomato salsa I suggested something simple with fresh cilantro and lime. Greg agreed.

Cheese: Cheap cheddar was out. A quick internet search revealed a simple and delicious sounding recipe for queso fresco (click the link, seriously, you need to make this). We had to try this, and urge you to try it too.

Bag: Maya is working on it. We give her complete creative freedom.

A high end dinner is never a single course. To do this properly we need more. We made a list of potential additional courses based on other foods commonly served along with taco in a bag. More will be revealed about these in future posts. We’re focusing on the main event first. Next up is the report of our first try of the reimagined taco not yet in a bag.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

What is taco in a bag?

For those of you who, like me, had never heard of this, it is a staple of North American hockey rinks, soccer stadiums and BMX tracks. Anywhere you find school-aged children engaged in after school sports, apparently you will find taco in a bag. Sometimes it is on the stadium menu.

Other times it is prepared by hockey/soccer/BMX moms who need to feed a large number of children quickly and economically.

Lisa and her boys came over and prepared taco in a bag. Here's how you do it:

First you need ground beef browned with taco seasoning.

You need shredded lettuce and chopped tomatoes,

not to mention grated cheese, a jar of salsa, a container of sour cream,

and a snack sized bag of Doritos.

To assemble it, you cut the bag open along the side, and squish it to break the chips into smaller pieces.

Some people prefer to keep them relatively large.

Others go for fully crumbled.

Next, you spoon in the toppings, mix, and eat.


Many people find it delicious, or so I’m told. Sadly, I am not one of them. Here I am, in possibly the worst picture ever taken of me, trying hard to enjoy my taco in a bag experience.

Not very convincing, is it. I didn’t think so. It was salty, extraordinarily salty, and as I mixed it together the meat cooled, coating everything in my little bag with an unpleasant layer of congealed beef fat. I still shudder to think of it.

Disclaimer: Before you leave us a comment about how much you love taco in a bag or take me to task for maligning it, remember that this is only my opinion, and I am a self-described hard core food snob.

As for Annelies, she conveniently called in sick and missed the tasting session, and Greg had to drive to Calgary at the last minute to participate in a triathlon, leaving me to take this one for the team.

Friday, May 20, 2011

It started as a joke. My friend Lisa likes to tease me about my inordinate fondness for fancy food. I was extolling the virtues of very high end dining establishments. She brought up taco in a bag. She said that until I tried taco in a bag I could not say these places are better.

I had never heard of taco in a bag. She described it to me. It did not sound promising. Our friend Annelies, who is a trained chef and has worked at high end restaurants suggested, on a lark, that we take it and turn it into high end fare. Thus the taco project was born.

Greg, also a trained chef, joined our team, I think because he likes a challenge. I’m not sure. He has never said, and I haven’t thought to ask him. So did Maya, who has no culinary training whatsoever, but is a graphic designer. If we are going to serve taco in a bag, we need someone to design the bag.

As for me, I don’t have any professional culinary training either, just a lifelong obsession with cooking that started as soon as I was old enough to hold a spoon. I’m mostly a dessert person, but I’m willing to move to entrees for this.

This blog chronicles our quest.