Tag Archives: Mexican Food

Road Trip, post 4: Cal-Mex is no Az-Mex, but it’s a good 2nd

Santa Rosa, CA

I’m going to admit my bias against California burritos right up front.  My Mexican food habits and predilections were formed largely in Arizona, so I just can’t wrap my head around a tortilla wrapped around rice.  In Arizona, burritos are filled with lots of things, but not rice (unless you’re eating at Chipotle or another fresh-mex chain), so in California I pretty much steer clear of burritos, which sometimes makes choosing a taqueria difficult since so many of the online reviews focus on burritos.

You can’t swing a dead cat around these parts and not hit a taqueria, but Taqueria Santa Rosa on Mendocino Avenue seems to be one of the most popular.  I’ve been here twice and the first time had the carnitas plate, based upon online reviews.  Like the reviews said, the carnitas were certainly crispy, but they were also too dry.  On my second visit, I got tacos with carne asada and pollo asado and these were spot on– especially the carne asada.   The chicken came with a salsa verde and the beef with a red sauce.  Rice and beans are very good, as are the chips and salsa (not complimentary).  The chips are served with both an incredibly fresh-tasting red salsa, and a green salsa that is unlike any other I’ve ever had.  It seems to be a blend of traditional salsa verde and guacamole and kept me dipping for more.

The hubs had a burrito that’s about the size of a newborn, and after he eats it he looks as if he’s in his third trimester carrying a burrito baby.  I never get to try this because 1) as I mentioned earlier I’m not keen on the CA burritos and don’t press the issue and 2) If I reached for a bite I might draw back a stump.  Anyhow, the boy likes it and it usually seems to satisfy his man-wich appetite.

When we make it back to Santa Rosa there are other taquerias I must try, but I don’t expect I’ll ever find anything to meet the impossibly high standards set by the Arizona-style green chile chicken burros.

Road Trip, Post 2: The movie star, the Mexican restaurant and a moral

Winslow, AZ

So we pull into this town, famous because of its mention in the Eagles song “Take it Easy”, after 16 hours on the road and ready to rip each others’ heads off while hunting for a motel in the middle of town instead of along the interstate.  We finally found one and headed to find some food, and based upon the state of the motel room, I wasn’t expecting much food-wise from Winslow.

I once lived in Arizona for 10 years and knew next to nothing about Winslow or anything in it.  But I lived here long enough to know that if you find a Mexican restaurant with a lot of cars outside, it’s probably worth venturing in.  So we went into the Casa Blanca Cafe and after picking out my usual (Green Chile Chicken, the dish I use to test the worthiness of a restaurant) I looked around and spotted someone who looked VERY familiar sitting at another table.

“Oh my God! That’s the dad from Family Ties,” I told my husband.  Then I thought, “It couldn’t be.  We’re in Winslow-freaking Arizona.”  But then I heard him talk and, sure enough, it was Michael Gross.  Then I started debating whether or not to say something to him.  I had my camera.  Do I ask to get my photo with him? Do I get his autograph? My husband told me to leave him alone, but I was unconvinced.  This is where the evening took a much more interesting turn, if you’re food obsessed like I am.

A man walks in, his arms full of jars of honey, and walks over to Dad Keaton’s table and starts handing out honey to him and his seven dining companions.  I love honey and I was super jealous. I no longer cared about getting a photo with a hollywood star, I wanted to talk to the beekeeper about his honey.  I summoned him over and he told me about the different varieties he had including desert wildflower and a camelthorn honey (we also discovered that his brother lives about 10 miles away from my hometown in Missouri which is also where I currently hang my hat).    The camelthorn was most intriguing.  It turns out this plant is considered one of the “dirty dozen” invasive species of the southwest, but this beekeeper was using it to make honey.  Sadly, he had none left, but it is on my list of honeys to try.

So Michael Gross leaves, and I’m having a few regrets about not asking him for a photo until a woman pops up out of the booth behind us while the waiter, waitress and I were talking about our celebrity sighting.  She starts talking to my husband and me and it turns out she’s the owner of the restaurant. 

Helen Ribera looks like she could be anybody’s Nana.  She’s dressed in a purple print top and is wearing a large, striking necklace that hits just above her waist.   She proceeds to tell me that she’s owned the restaurant 40 years and that she makes sure everything in her restaurant is made from scratch.  The beans soak overnight and are cooked slowly starting in the morning.  She makes sure the rice is made in 4 quart pots so everyone gets it fresh– no bain maries keeping food warm here.  The honey served with the sopapillas? She gets that from the honey man who was in the restaurant earlier.  It was so great to find a small-town restaurant that’s committed to fresh, homemade, local-when-possible food.  The food doesn’t have to be fancy; at Casa Blanca  it’s just good and simple home cooking.

The green chile chicken enchiladas, which were excellent along with the homemade beans and rice

The green chile chicken enchiladas, which were excellent along with the homemade beans and rice

Sopapillas with honey made locally in Winslow, AZ

Sopapillas with honey made locally in Winslow, AZ

 Mrs. Ribera was an absolute gem and I’m so glad she told us about her restaurant and her food.  After meeting her, I no longer minded that I didn’t talk to Michael Gross.  In fact, I decided I’d rather have her picture than his.  Unfortunately, she had already left when I went to ask if I could take her photo.  But I managed to talk our waiter, Stephen, and the waitress who is also Mrs. Ribera’s granddaughter, Brianna, into letting me take their photo.

Stephen and Brianna, servers at Casa Blanca Cafe

Stephen and Brianna, servers at Casa Blanca Cafe

So the moral of the story: Flash and fame may be impressive, but it’s usually the quiet people who have the best stories to tell.

* For those who are wondering what Michael Gross was doing in Winslow, it seems he was on some sort of train tour.  Winslow is a big railroad town and it turns out Michael Gross is a train and railroad enthusiast.

How to make tortillas (a.k.a. You’re not in Arizona anymore)

Spoiled.  That’s what I was.  Living in Arizona, I was surrounded by great Mexican food (I’m not talking about authenticity here, if you want to argue about that, go find another blog).  Fresh tortillas were a dollar a dozen.

And then I moved to Adelaide– about as far away from Mexico as one can get, which essentially makes it a gaping black hole of tortilla making.  For a while, I made do with Old El Paso corn tortillas that smelled sort of like Play-doh and had the consistency of fake plastic puke.

Luckily, I found a shop here called Chile Mojo which is run by an American who was probably about as homesick for Mexican food as I was.  Lo and behold, Chile Mojo carries masa harina.  My next problem was a tortilla press.  Chile mojo had metal ones, but since they’re imports they’re expensive.  I shopped for tortilla presses in Arizona, but was underwhelmed by the selection and the price as well.  So my very handy hubby made me a tortilla press that works like a dream.

Until you get the hang of it, making tortillas is a tad time consuming, but when my options are fake plastic puke tortillas or the real deal, I’m happy to give up half an hour of my time.  And there is nothing like the smell and taste of fresh tortillas.  The aroma is amazing– they really smell like fresh ground corn, which is something you’ll never find in store-bought bag.

Making the dough is simple.  In fact, you don’t really even need exact measurements. 

Pour the masa harina in a mixing bowl– just eyeball it– a cup and a half to two cups will make plenty of tortillas.  Add a pinch of salt and just a dab (a teaspoon or so) of cooking oil.  Fill a measuring cup with hot tap water.  Pour in about half a cup, maybe more, and stir it into the masa harina with your hands. Keep adding water bit by bit until the mixture is just moist.  You want it just past the crumbly stage but not sticky.  Form the dough into a ball, cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap, and then go do something else for about an hour.

When the dough is ready (it’s not going to rise or anything, it just needs to rest for an hour), heat a non-stick skillet over high heat (don’t use oil, you don’t want to fry them).  I use my Calphalon griddle, which I adore.  While the griddle is heating, roll the tortilla dough into just-smaller-than golf ball-sized pieces.

Line the tortilla press with plastic wrap on each side, place one of the dough balls on the base…

put the lid down and press. 

Lift the lid, then carefully peel the tortilla from the plastic wrap and place it on the hot skillet. 

 Be prepared to tear your first few tortillas, but don’t cry, pobrecita, just roll it back into a ball and do it again.  Let it cook on one side for about 30 seconds and flip it.  The first side should have brown speckles.

  Let  it cook on the other side for about the same amount of time, maybe less, then flip it one more time and finish it off on that side for about 10 seconds.  The tortillas are supposed to puff up when they cook. Sometimes mine puff a lot, sometimes they don’t  but they still turn out fine.  Take the tortilla off the skillet and place between the folds of a clean dish towel.  Eventually, you’ll find a rhythm and be able to press a tortilla while one is cooking to speed the process along.

The last time I made corn tortillas, I used them to make cheese enchiladas.

Ready for the sauce and cheese…

Time to go in the oven…

Hot and bubbly, topped with green onion.

Plated with some refried black beans, which, I must admit, look pretty unattractive, and a green salad with a creamy chipotle dressing.  Delish.

Now, even if I do ever wind up living in tortilla central (Phoenix) again, I’ll probably make my own from time to time, just because nothing tastes better than homemade.

You named your restaurant WHAT? The Sequel

The last thing I want to be reminded of when I go to a Mexican restaurant is the nasty bout of TD I brought home after eating a salad in Mazatlan.   

So naturally, a Mexican Restaurant named Montezuma’s summons up a memory lane I’d rather just not go down.

Montezuma’s is a pretty big Mexican restaurant chain in Australia, and an internet search shows there are Montezuma’s in NY and Pennsylvania, too.  Now, I realize that Montezuma was an Aztec ruler and it’s not unheard of to name restaurants after royalty.  But when that person’s name is most commonly associated in popular culture with Montezuma’s Revenge, I’d think twice before putting that person’s name on my restaurant.  Or menu:

Would Montezuma’s Delight be the opposite of Montezuma’s Revenge?  And what, exactly, would the opposite of that be?  Two opposites that come immediately to mind for me are both pretty unappealing.