January 7, 2015
First Taste of LA
You can smell the rich scent of the beef cooking from halfway down the block. So that is, of course, the first thing that you order at Mexicali Taco & Co. The name makes it sound a lot fancier than it is. This is a humble place on an odd stretch of Figueroa Street – not quite Chinatown, not quite downtown – where the tacos are a fine example of simplicity.
The carne asada taco is just that – grilled beef, hacked into chunks and slipped onto a flour tortilla (the owners bring them up from Baja, and they're fantastic). You dress the taco yourself, from the bar in the back, where you have a choice of salsas, and an entire array of vegetables: cucumbers, radishes, pickled red onions. This is made totally to your own taste.
There are other great options here. Vegetarian tacos, filled with mushrooms, zucchini and a single grilled scallion. Tacos de camaron, the Baja way, with cheese.
Something called a vampiro, which also involves cheese and lots of garlic. Guacamole, of course, which is particularly good spooned onto the gueros – those completely addictive whole chiles pictured at the top.
If you like food that's made with pride, with good ingredients, and with such simplicity that there's nothing to hide behind, then this is the taco for you.
702 N Figueroa St., Los Angeles (213) 613-0416, Mexicali Taco & Co.
January 3, 2015
That, my friends, is the head of the capon I cooked for Boxing Day dinner. (Capons are castrated roosters; they are larger, firmer, fatter and juicier than ordinary chickens. They're less active than your regular rooster, which makes the meat especially tender. And because these capons are older than commercial birds, they have a lot more flavor. )
Simply roasted, with butter rubbed beneath the skin, the capon made a very festive dinner. I stirred the juices into a bit of roasted lemon juice, which made wonderful gravy. But six of us failed to finish the entire bird, so the next night I made capon pot pie.
It's been a long time since I had pot pie, and this one was so comforting I've resolved to add it to my winter repertoire.
Probably won't be using capon next time around, but this recipe would, I'm sure, work equally well with chicken or turkey.
Capon Pot Pie
2 celery stalks
2 medium carrots, peeled
1 large onion
4 tablespoons butter
fresh thyme or parsley
salt and pepper
leftover chicken or capon, shredded (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken stock
1/4 cup white wine
1 cup heavy cream
1 egg yolk
Dice 2 stalks of celery, 2 medium carrots and an onion. Saute them in 4 tablespoons of butter for a couple of minutes. Add a teaspoon of salt, a few grinds of pepper, and a bit of chopped fresh thyme or parsley. Toss in your shredded bird, add a quarter cup of flour, and stir for a couple of minutes until it's nicely incorporated.
Add a good splash of white wine and two cups of chicken stock, stirring constantly. Add a small package of frozen peas.
Break an egg yolk into a cup of heavy cream, mix well, then stir some of the hot chicken mixture into the cream. Now slowly stir the cream mixture into the contents of the pan and stir, over low heat, for about 5 minutes. It should become deliciously saucy. Taste for seasoning and pour into a casserole or deep-dish pie pan.
Cover with pastry, cut in a few slits to let the steam escape and bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for about half an hour until the crust is golden.
This will serve 6.
You can top this with any kind of pastry; frozen puff pastry works well too. Here’s what I used:
Put a cup and a half of flour into a bowl, sprinkle in a half teaspoon of salt and cut in a stick of cold butter.
Beat an egg into small bowl; pour out half, reserving to brush on the crust. To the remaining half add 3 tablespoons of cold water and a teaspoon of apple cider vinegar. Mix into the flour and butter mixture, then pat it into a small disk, wrap in wax paper, and set in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use it.
Roll out the pastry until it’s a bit larger than the casserole or pie plate and fit over the chicken mixture, decoratively crimping the edges. Stir a bit of water into the reserved half egg, brush over the crust, cut in a few slits and bake.