Monday, August 30, 2010

Tony's Burrito Mex

I rarely eat out, which is probably why I have become such a cooking fanatic. I want to eat great meals, affordably. That means cooking at home.

And I usually don't consider buying lunch at a cheap Mexican restaurant eating out--it's more about getting yummy calories in my hungry stomach. Which is why I didn't give the food at Tony's Burrito Mex, on the corner of Belmont and Damen in (Roscoe Village) Chicago, much thought. When I think of eating out somewhere blog-worthy in Chicago, I think of Xoco, or La Frontera (which I have yet to visit) or some other famous (read: expensive)Chicago eating establishment.

But I forget that in big cities, the small, cheap eateries can serve up some great and notable meals.

My husband and I had just finished a morning of dancing and drumming at Le Bagatae's African drum and dance conference in Hamlin Park and were heading back home to Madison. We recalled that we had eaten at Tony's the previous year and it was memorable. This time, we ordered chicken burritos, slathered with green mole and avocados, and a chorizo burrito for our son. We made a "pit stop" before getting onto the car which took me past the kitchen--and gave me a clear view of one of the cooks straining freshly made enchilada sauce through a sieve.

Practicing my mediocre Spanish, I asked "Haces el mole aqui?" "Si," answered Adrian, "Hacemos todos los moles aqui...verde, rojo, enchilada, todos." After that I started saying something about how I thought most enchilada sauces in restaurants came out of a "lata." And then added a dose of French to show off (not really, I just speak whatever foreign language comes to mind when I can't think of the right word). "C'est bien que ustedes hacen las salsas frescas aqui." I don't know if Adrian, the cook, smiled because I complimented the sauce, or because my Spanish is so pitiful. Anyway, I was duly impressed, and he let me take a photo of him making mole.

I love stumbling upon great little eateries. It might be the norm to make homemade sauces at Mexican restaurants, but I wasn't aware. Tony's makes some great food, and I look forward to finding other great (read: cheap) eateries in Chicago next time we visit. And this was cheap (read: inexpensive); a "small" burrito set us back only $4. Wash it down with delicious horchata, and you have a great, fast meal. Gracias, Tony!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

CSA Week 8 - Grilled Mango-Habanero Salsa

Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing, but not when it comes to grilled and roasted salsas! I love the combination of sweet fruit with hot peppers, and acidic tomatoes; mango is one of my favorite fruits to put in salsa. I know, that's nothing new, but it is so good! Recently, in a moment of infatuation with our gas grill, and fear of the impending season change, I decided to roast and grill a load of tomatoes, peppers, garlic and mango and make some salsa.

I had accumulated a huge selection of tomatoes from my garden and our CSA-Red Zebras, Green Zebras, red slicers, yellow slicers and pear tomatoes. I plopped those on the grill, and then picked a jalapeno, an aji amarillo and a habanero from my garden and placed those next to the tomatoes. A large clove of homegrown garlic that had been drying in my kitchen joined them.

Finally, I peeled and thinly sliced two mangos and put the slices on the grill. The flesh of the tomatoes and peppers charred slightly and the tomatoes began to exude delicious juice. After rotating them a few times, I took them from the grill and set them in a bowl, amazed at the rich colors and divine smell that they produced. Honestly, the simple flavors of roasted fruits and vegetables makes my heart sing in a way that nothing else can.

The smell of roasted peppers hung in the air and I quickly plopped them in the bowl along with the tomatoes. The mango caramelized nicely on each side, and the flavor grew more intense and earthy. How do I know? You think I let that mango go straight into the bowl? No way!

With all of those delicious fresh ingredients I decided to keep the rest of the salsa simple-a handful of cilantro, some fresh garlic, lime and salt. After feeding it (accompanied by pulled Willow Creek pork) to some good friends who came to celebrate my husband's birthday, I still had enough salsa left to feed an army. I quickly canned it last night, hoping to preserve some of summer's flavor and bounty for those cold days to come. I'm glad we have some summer left (still pesto and salsa verde to make!) but fall, I'm (almost) ready for you!

Grilled Mango-Habanero Salsa

12 or so tomatoes of varying sizes, plus some cherry tomatoes for fun.

2 mangos, peeled and sliced into ¼ inch thick slices.

2 cloves garlic, 1 roasted, 1 crushed

1 jalapeno

1 habanero

1 aji chile

1 tsp salt

½ cup cilantro, chopped

juice of 1 or 2 limes


Wash tomatoes and remove stems.

Grill for about 6-10 minutes, turning as neccesary until skin starts to split.

Grill mango slices the same amount of time, turning once.

Grill peppers until skin blackens and blisters a bit, turning once also. Takes about 10 minutes, but may need a bit longer.

Put 1 clove of garlic on grill with skin still on about 10 minutes, 'til soft. Turn once.

Put cilantro in food processor and pulse until chopped finely.

Put tomatoes in processor, half at a time, and pulse until just chopped.

Peel peppers if you wish, de-seed and add to processor. Start with ½ habanero at a time*

Coarsely chop mango and add to tomatoes, along with roasted garlic, in processor and pulse again until

it is chunky.

Squeeze fresh garlic, lime (start with one) and salt and pulse again.

Mix all together to taste.

Enjoy with pork, or chips or anything else you like.

*Use gloves when cutting habanero as it is very hot and will burn skin.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

CSA Week 8- Zucchini Filled with Corn, Chiles and Smoked Cheese

Sometimes a little extra effort can make a huge difference. After grating zucchini for bread, and grilling it with a little salt and olive oil, I decided it needed a bit of dressing up.

I went to one of my favorite cookbooks, Fields of Greens by Annie Somerville. So far every recipe I have tried has been simple and delicious, with many surprising flavor combinations. I browsed the index for zucchini recipes and decided on “Zucchini Filled with Corn, Chiles and Smoked Cheese.”

The combination of fresh sweet corn, spicy chiles and creamy cheese, with the grilled zucchini and patty pan squash was just sublime. I served it with CSA potatoes, grass-fed steak from the farmer's market and chimichurri from my parsley patch. It was one of the best summer meals yet.

Dressing up that zucchini reminded me that I should dress up a bit more myself. I always feel better when I do; a little extra effort goes a long way.

Zucchini Filled with Corn, Chiles and Smoked Cheese

6 medium zucchini (1 also used large patty pan squash, but they are harder to fill)

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

olive oil


Preheat oven to 375. Cut zucchini in half and scoop out seeds and flesh, leaving about ½ inch of shell.

Brush inside of zucchini with garlic and olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and place on baking sheet, cut side down. Bake about 20 minutes, until just tender.


1 tbsp olive oil

½ medium red onion, chopped

1 tsp cumin

salt and cayenne to taste

3-4 ears of corn, shaved

3 garlic cloves

1 cup diced zucchini (I used stuff I scooped out).

2 jalapenos or serranos

2 tbsp cilantro, chopped

1 tsp marjoram

2 oz smoked cheddar (I used fontina which was delicious!), grated.

You can use oven to bake, but I used grill. Preheat to 375. Heat olive oil. Add onion, cumin, salt and cayenne. Cook until onion is soft. Add corn, garlic and zucchini and sautee for about 5-10 more minutes. Add chiles, cilantro, marjoram and cheese and heat through. Fill zucchini and grill about 10-15 minutes until zucchini is soft and browned on outside.

TIP (thanks Rachel Ray):

Shave corn using bundt pan. Place corn upright in center and shave down, letting kernels fall into bundt pan. Works great!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Confetti Salsa Fresca

I love tomatoes. The large wooden bowl in my kitchen holds my garden's bounty; a voluptuous yellow tomato, bold as the sun; smaller Green Zebra tomatoes, a hint of yellow permeating the green striations; Sungold tomatoes, each small berry sending a juicy burst of sweet and tart flavors into my mouth; some kind of red slicer, possibly Brandywine (who cares? It is so good!), its red flesh beckoning from under the mass of entangled green leaves, alluding to the possible danger of my love affair with tomatoes.

The danger? Not that they are members of the Solanaceae family, which also includes poisonous Nightshades and Datura. No, my problem is that I have now too many tomatoes and too little time. They are ripening before my eyes, and I have already frozen two bags of blanched tomatoes. I am in heaven these days, enjoying the combination of the delicate yet pungent flavors. I feel so alive eating these fresh fruits. Yet they are taking over my counters. I know, too many tomatoes is not a bad problem to have. It could be worse.

You could have to endure hours of conversation about this beautiful fruit affair, like my husband does. Just imagine...Me “Honey look at these, just look at these beautiful tomatoes!” Him: “Wow, yeah.” Me: “Isn't it amazing that these grow in our yard, that these come from the earth?” Him: “Yeah, that's great.” Me: “No, really, look at all these! They are so delicious, aren't they?” Him: “Yes, really great!” Torture.

So far I have enjoyed a lot of fresh tomato salads,such as the classic tomato with cucumber and viniagrette, and of course tomatoes sliced on sandwiches. I am saving some of the Sungolds to make jam, and want to try my hand at the Heirloom Tomato and Lemon Mascarpone Tart, one of the entries in Food 52's recipe showdown. Last night I made a simple salsa fresca, and because of the gorgeous colors, called it “Confetti Salsa.” I love way salsa fresca allows the fresh flavors of the tomatoes really burst forth. Check out the recipe below.

What are your favorite tomato recipes?

Confetti Salsa Fresca

4-5 heirloom tomatoes, fresh as can be in various colors, chopped.

½ small red onion, chopped

1 small handful cilantro

1 clove garlic, minced

hot peppers to your taste, chopped (I used 1 jalapeno, and ½ green habanero, from my garden.)

½ lime


1-2 tsp vinegar

Mix together in a bowl and serve with anything or by itself!


Thursday, August 5, 2010

CSA Week 7 - Too Cool Sides

You can do it. No, I can't. I can hear the argument in my head. I am not one to give up on ideas, but I'm also trying to stay sane.

I had a grandious idea of cooking complex meals from different cookbooks each week using veggies from my CSA. But you know what? I failed. Okay, I didn't fail all together, but I barely made two recipes this week.

How do you stay-at-home-parents with other ambitions do it? I can barely type a word without one of my kids asking for computer time. They don't want to "help" with cooking unless it involves cheese or chocolate. So I end up throwing dinner together, and don't find it all that special. No, I know it's better than what most people eat. But blog-worthy? Nope.

My day off from kids, well you know the rant. Clean, check blog, cook, check Facebook, laundry, check blog, make and cancel appointments, update status, weed the garden, read other blogs, etc. Anyway, I'm still trying, but darn it all I got to were sides this week. Of course we ate "food." Grilled pizza, pasta and meatballs, grilled pizza (cold) and pasta and meatballs (reheated). Even as I blog, I am cooking meat for soft tacos. With instant seasoning mix. Delicious.

Next week will be better (ha!), but for now, here are the two sides that I made. Does that count?

Here they are:

Cucumber Salad
1 or more cukes, peeled and seeded
thin slices red onion,
sungold tomatoes halved
6 basil leaves chopped
handful gorgonzola cheese
dressing (vinegar and oil)

I love the fresh combo of cukes, tomatoes and red onion. But I added a local gorgonzola cheese, Sungold tomatoes and basil. Then I topped it with 2 leftover viniagrettes--a champagne vinegar-garlic dressing and a red wine viniagrette.

Warm Cabbage and Tomatoes
adapted from one of my favorite cookbooks, Marcus Samuelsson's Soul of a New Cuisine

1/2 cup Spiced butter (great recipe at 101 Cookbooks)
1/2 head cabbage
1 red onion, sliced
4 tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp mustard seed
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp Berbere (try this one from FatfreeVegan)or chili powder
1/2 tsp cardamon
1 tbsp fresh grated ginger

Sautee cabbage and onions until soft, add garlic and tomatoes and spices and cook another 10 minutes until all flavors are blended. Yum!