New Taco Bell Entrée

Taco Hell has been my preferred national fast-food since Zantigos closed, these many years ago. Mostly I have a chilito (that being an item they carried over from the Zantigos menu) and something else.

I ran into a new special item (which means, I think, that it’s being considered for a permanent place on the menu, but that’s far from certain). They’re calling them “Cantina Tacos”, and they are really quite close to the tacos we got at Tacos Blass on the corner here when they were in business.  I’d rate the Taco Hell versions as about 75% as good; which for a national fast-food chain is doing pretty well.

They come in three fillings, steak, chicken, and carnitas. And currently you can get a set of three of them (any fillings) plus a large drink for $5.19.

They even come with wedges of fresh lime (neatly wrapped into the foil so they don’t touch the food).  I squeezed one into my drink and the other two over the food.

The actual dish looks more real than the photos on the web site; in particular, the web photos show the tortillas looking half like crisp corn tortillas, but they’re not, they’re soft (and hence not as yellow).

All the fillings were pretty good.  The carnitas lacked much juniper flavor, but had no serious false notes.

They’re served with onion and cilantro, no cheese or lettuce or whatever, just like the ones at Tacos Blass were.

Thin Mint Replacement!

For years, I have been looking for a good equivalent, competitor, or replacement for the Girl Scout’s Thin Mint cookies. (Why? Well, why not? I hate being dependent on one supplier, and I had started to think that perhaps the quality was slipping in recent years.)

This week, I finally stumbled on it. If my memory doesn’t deceive me, these are better than the latest batch of the real thing that I had (last summer).

It’s the Back to Nature Fudge Mint Cookies.  I got them from the “natural” section at Cub Foods (60th and Nicollet).

The box
A cookie

450° Oven

Tonight I tried a technique that I got from Lynn on The Splendid Table last weekend (while I was driving around town alone; that’s when the radio is on). She gave it in response to a college student who liked to cook and wanted a new technique (he started with stir fry, as did I).

Worked great.

It’s one of those general ideas that can be applied millions of ways.  If I understood right, the name comes from the fact that the oven temperature is really the only thing that holds true across the whole range of things you can do with it.

Here’s what I did:

Slice about 3/4lb of pork and marinate in lemon juice, olive oil, red wine, a couple of cloves of garlic, and rosemary.  Oh, and a good squirt of oriental pepper sauce.

Preheat oven to 450°.

Peel and slice one sweet potato pretty thin (3/16 kinda).

Cut one red and one green peppers into strips.

Cut two onions so they fall apart into strips.

Cut one yellow zucchini into 1/4inch-plus slices.

Dump the veggies into a pan as big as will fit (in area; doesn’t need to be deep).  Or two.  Pour on some olive oil, quite a lot of oregano, some basil, salt, and pepper.  Mix a bit.  Dump the meat and marinade over it, and get the meat spread out.

Put in oven until done.  Was about 50 minutes this time.

We ate it wrapped in burrito-scale tortillas; sort of Italian burritos.

Lydy and I voted it a success, but there were some leftovers anyway.

Chicken Tacos, Take 2

Did a second try at the chicken tinga tacos I originally tried in February, making the change I most wanted (ditching the canned chipotle in adobo sauce) and getting pretty good results.

I boiled half or so an onion, two cloves of garlic, and 20oz of boneless chicken breast with 3 chopped chipotle peppers (these were actually labeled “Morita”; in any case, smoked red jalapeño), for a bit over an hour.  Just enough water to cover by the end (I didn’t have to top it up).  Drain, reserving liquid.  Don’t bother trying to separate the chicken from the rest if you started from boneless like this.  Some rough stirring towards the end will break up the bits nicely, too.  Still, full breasts or a full chicken would probably be better, I will try that when I’m ready for a big batch.

Then I sautéed another onion and a bit and 3 cloves of garlic in some olive oil, and added 1/2tsp ground coriander and 1/2tsp whole cumin seed.  When this was well started, I added a small can of tomato sauce.  This was probably too much, or the wrong thing; 1/2 cup of minced tomato would probably have been better, or sauce rather than paste, or less.  Too much sweetness came through to the end, and I think it was from the paste.

When the tomato paste was well mixed in I added the meat and mixed it around a lot.  I started adding the reserved liquid back fairly early, to get the texture “right”.   In the end I used about 3/4 of the reserved liquid.

Serve in small white corn tortillas, with minced onion.  (And coriander leaf if you like that, which I don’t all that much, and didn’t have any on hand.)

The result was good.  I’d have liked more spice and a bit more front-of-mouth spice, probably some cayenne in with the spices would have been good.  And probably a 4th chipotle into the boiling stage.  The smokiness came through decently, and another chipotle plus the cayenne should give about the right heat.  Definitely less tomato paste, or some other form of tomato.

Two dinners plus 4 units of leftovers again.

I think after one more decent batch, I’ll be ready to do a big batch and have lots of leftovers.

Chicken Tacos

No pictures, I was overlapping with two other things.

First try at anything like this. I examined a number of recipes on the Internet before deciding what to do.

Boil a pound of chicken meat with half a chopped onion and some chopped garlic, in just enough water to cover. Get it thoroughly cooked, we’re going to pull it off the bone and shred it anyway. I used boneless breasts since we had a spare pound, but cheaper cuts with bones will probably work better. Remember that I specified the amount of meat, so compute properly if using cuts with bones and skin. Drain, save the cooking liquid. (Half an hour is about minimum, more like an hour is better for the texture we want.)

Cool and shred the meat. Discard bones and skin and lumps in the broth.

Saute a couple of minced onions and some garlic in oil. Add 1/2tsp cumin seed and 1/2tsp ground coriander.

Add 1 cup diced tomato.

Add one 7oz can chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced. I couldn’t find the dried peppers. I’d like to develop this recipe to not use this bit of processed food, and would definitely like the result to be less sweet.

Add perhaps half the broth from boiling the chicken; don’t make it too soupy.

Add the shredded chicken meat.

Cook for a while (an hour or a bit might be good if you have time). Salt to taste (I believe I used about 1/4tsp). Top up with broth if it gets too dry. You can cook much less, practically just enough to warm the meat and get it coated with sauce, if you have to.

Serve in soft corn tortillas.

Good with sour cream. Good with avocado.

The result was pretty good, and popular with those at the table. I found it good, but too sweet, and maybe too smoky (chipotle are smoked jalapeño). Fixing that would mean finding the dried pepper, and making my own sauce around them, which I’ll certainly do if I can find them.

We got two dinners and 4 lunches out of this, looks like.