Monday, December 19, 2011

It's the holiday season... so whoop-de-doo and dickory doc.

And don't forget to hang up your socks.

'Cause just exactly at twelve o'clock... he'll be comin' down the chimney. Down.

I finally got my Christmas tree decorated, and thanks to our recent purchase of Scat Mats, the tree and its associated decorations and presents are safe from the prying paws (and teeth) of sundry cats.

I'm just going to put this out there: I love Christmas music. I could listen to Christmas music all year long, and have a tendency to sprinkle some of it through my average work week.

There's a whole lot of great Christmas music out there, and thanks to Spotify and my iTunes collection, I can listen to just about anything I want.

Some of my favorite Christmas albums this season are:

A Very She & Him Christmas by She and Him - The twee cuteness of Zooey Deschanel is tempered nicely by the raw talent of M. Ward.

In the Park: Christmas (Various) - A collection of instrumental and vocal jazz, as well as choral music, that's classic and timeless.

Joy to the World by Pink Martini - the modern lounge act performs both traditional and international holiday music that's as beautiful as it is interesting.

The Hotel Cafe Presents Winter Songs (Various) - talented women sing beautiful holiday songs.

A Lovely Way to Spend Christmas by Kristen Chenoweth - I'm a fan of her Broadway vocal style, which translates nicely to Christmas songs.

A Christmas Cornucopia by Annie Lennox - Annie Lennox has a voice that was forged for winter-flavored song.

Country Christmas (Various) - A nice compilation of songs by some excellent country artists.

Great stuff, all of these.

Did I mention I love Christmas music?

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Updated authenticity.

We recently had a craving for Mexican food, but not the kind that's slathered in cheese and served with a side of gloppy beans. We wanted something a bit more authentic, but authentic isn't easy in the suburbs. However, there are a couple of local gems to be found here and there, and one of them is a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican place in KC called Ixtapa. It's not the most authentic in the world, but it's not On The Border, either.

My favorite thing on their menu is a plate of these delicious open-faced tacos with caramelized onions, grilled chicken, guacamole, cilantro and salsa verde. To. Die. For. And simple. So I figured I could recreate these little discs of goodness at home.

And I was right, for the most part.

We started at the bottom with the tortilla, and bought some corn tortillas from the grocery store. Next, we looked on the jarred salsa isle for some salsa verde. I know, I know - the best salsa is that which you make yourself, but I wanted these to be as easy as possible, and finding all the right ingredients for fresh salsa verde in December in a Kansas City suburb isn't all that easy. I settled for Pace Salsa Verde and believe it or not, this stuff is really, really good.

Next was the chicken, which is where we get nice and creative. I got some espresso rub from Spices Inc. a few months ago, and it's a little spicy, a little sweet, a little savory, and just seemed perfect for our tacos. So I covered some boneless, skinless chicken breasts in the rub, vacuumed sealed them, and popped the them in the Sous Vide Supreme for an hour at 146 degrees.

While the chicken was doing its thing, I caramelized some onions and Mr. Awesome chopped up some cilantro. When the chicken was done, we took it out of the vacuumed-sealed bags and tossed the breasts into a smokin' hot cast-iron skillet for a quick sear before slicing into strips/chunks.
Better-Than-Your-Average-Taco Tacos
Servings: 4

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Spices Inc. Espresso Rub (or another flavorful rub with a little heat)
2 large yellow onions, sliced
1/2 c. chopped cilantro
12 smallish corn tortillas
Salsa verde (we used Pace)
Guacamole (we used some store-bought organic guacamole)
Canola oil
Cooking spray
Salt and pepper
1 lime, for juice

Preheat the Sous Vide Supreme to 146 degrees F. Rub the chicken breasts with the espresso rub until sufficiently coated. Put the breasts in a food-safe plastic bag and vacuum seal on Medium. Put the bag into the Sous Vide Supreme and cook for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Remove the chicken from the Sous Vide Supreme, take out of the bag, and let cool slightly.

When the chicken is almost done, heat a wide-bottomed skillet coated with canola oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and spread them out to cover the bottom of the pan. Let the onions cook, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes. You want them to brown slowly, but not burn. If they stick, add a little bit of water. I keep a cup of water nearby and just splash some in there every once in a while. About halfway through cooking, season the onions with salt and pepper. The onions are done when they are very soft and caramel-colored.

Preheat a cast-iron skillet coated with canola oil over medium-high to high heat. When it's really hot, add the chicken and sear for 1 minute on each side. Remove from pan and slice into strips/chunks.

Preheat an indoor grill (like a Cuisinart or Foreman) to high heat. Spray a little cooking spray on each tortilla and grill for 1 to 2 minutes per side until warmed and soft. Don't overcook, or they'll harden up.

To assemble:
Place three tortillas on each of four plates. Top the tortillas with some caramelized onions, then chicken, the some guacamole, then cilantro. Squeeze a little lime juice on each taco. Put the salsa verde in a bowl on the table, and add a spoonful of salsa verde to each taco before eating it. You don't want to put the salsa verde on in advance or else the tacos will get soggy.

The biggest difference between my tacos and the ones served at Ixtapa is the tortillas. The Ixtapa tortillas are smaller and softer, and I like them better than the ones we found at the grocery store. I think I'll hunt around for a store that sells more Mexican products and would hopefully have a better tortilla selection. Better yet, maybe I can find a place that sells homemade tortillas... any thoughts?

As for my tacos, despite the not-perfect tortillas, they are really delicious. They go great with some red sangria and a little Latin-flavored chill-out music playing in the background.