Tag Archives: tacos

A Cinco Taco Party

Happy almost Cinco de Mayo!  I love, love, love, that it is falling on a Friday this year since I already do Fiesta Friday.  It also marks the 2 year anniversary of A Capitol Contessa being born, so lots to celebrate.  If you want to kick your celebration up a notch there are some cute ideas here on how to make your taco night extra special.

First up the margs – those are a given but how cute would it be to serve them in Patron bottles?  The mini bottles are sort of pricey but you can use the tequila inside and then just wash them out and reuse the bottles anytime you want to fiesta.

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You could serve my spicy grapefruit margaritas from my very first post in honor of the anniversary (skip the salt air though as I am not sure how you would get it into these bottles).  If you are pressed for time, I like to cheat with this skinny margarita mix from Williams Sonoma.  I usually HATE margarita mixes because they taste super fake and have way too much acid but this one is great – I just doctor it up with a couple squeezes of fresh lime juice and you are good to go.  Now we need to talk decor – Mexican themed of course.  I like to throw down some serapes as table covers (they are excellent for hiding salsa spills).  I also found these colorful votive candle holders at the dollar section of Target – definitely look around close to Cinco de Mayo and you can find some cute items that you can pull out every Fiesta Friday.

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Since this is a special party I always think favors are the way to go.  You can always do mini tequilas but I found these incredible bags of sea salt for margaritas in beautiful handwoven bags.  A really nice touch and something your guests can use over and over again at their own homes.

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Ok on to the menu – the most important part!  You need a great starter to go with those adorable margaritas so try my queso and poblano dip.  I also set out regular salsa – I love Rick Bayless’s Chipolte Salsa, it’s the only jarred salsa I will eat.

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Then on to the tacos – I went grilled chicken for ease but you could also make my carnitas or my Carne Asada tacos.  I just simply marinate chicken breasts for an hour or so in lime juice, olive oil and grated garlic and then throw in the grill.  Cause really it’s all about the toppings right?

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I like to have as many toppings as possible and lots of them are things you already have in your house.  If all the queso and salsa aren’t gone from earlier set those out for the tacos.  Then chopped red onion, grated cheese (jack is my fave), some sautéed peppers and onions for a fajita type feel, sour cream, chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce…and on and on – the limit is your imagination!  I had some yummy mole sauce from a local Mexican market that I threw out there – those places are gold mines of inspiration.  Also make sure to set out hot sauces (we have maybe thirty), heat up some store bought tortillas and you have taco night.

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To finish off the evening make life easy – grab some mango or strawberry popsicles from the store and call them paletas (Mexican popsicles) – especially good served in a glass of mezcal as a night cap!

Thank you to everyone for making A Capitol Contessa even more popular in its second year as in its first.  We had over 7,000 visitors!!!  It really is a joy for me to share my cooking and entertaining adventures with the world.  Raise a margarita and have a great Cinco de Mayo/Fiesta Friday!

Slow Cooker Lamb Tacos

I hope you all saw my post on Thursday about the fantastic new Mexican resturant in DC, Espita Mezcaleria.  Everything I ate there was delicious but the lamb barbacoa tacos were out of this world.  Before my second bite I told Patrick I needed to figure out how to make these at home.  I have had lamb tacos before but usually they consist of grilled lamb that has been thinly sliced or ground lamb served in hard shells.  The Espita tacos had richly sauced braised lamb folded into their homemade tortillas.  A slow cooker seemed like the best way to ensure that the lamb got fall-apart tender.  Lamb shoulder would be perfect for this but it can be difficult to find most of the year, whereas lamb leg you can pretty much always  track down.  I bought my lamb boneless and pre-butterflied because that’s all they had at the store but I promise it’s really easy to do and a good skill to have.

It really doesn’t have to be perfect at all since it’s all going into the slow cooker – if you are butterflying for the grill you want to make sure the meat is even thickness.  This recipe is a little more fussy than most of my slow cooker recipes – you want a decent amount of liquid to cook the lamb in but then you should cook it down to help concentrate the flavor.  If I really had all day I would have cooked all of the liquid down to the 1 1/2 cups needed but the house smelled too good to wait.  The lamb at Espita had a nice smokey, spicy sauce on it so I thought chipoltes were in order.  I used the dried peppers in the cooking process and then chipoltes in adobo to flavor the sauce.  If you cannot find dried chiptoltes in the store, any dried chili pepper will do.  As for the chipolte puree, I just take a can of the chipoltes in adobo (which you know about from here) and puree it in the food processor.  I use what I need and then keep the rest in the fridge for whenever I want to add a little kick (it will last indefinitely because of the vinegar content).  If you don’t want to do that just take one or two of the chipoltes, smash it with a fork and add them to the lamb along with some of the adobo sauce.  I served the tacos with chopped raw onion, some purple cabbage and a squeeze of lime.  I also added some of my Habanero Hot Sauce which I will be posting on Tuesday (yowza it’s hot!).  This would be perfect for Cinco de Mayo celebrations, just make it this weekend, pop it in the freezer and then defrost for next weekend!

Slow Cooker Lamb Tacos 

  • 3 dried chipolte peppers, stems removed
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 1/2 to 3 pound boneless leg of lamb, butterflied
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 gloves of garlic, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon coriander
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups of beef stock
  • 1-2 tablespoons chipolte puree (a can of chipoltes in adobo pureed)

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.  Add the dried chilis and toast them in the dry pan for 3 or 4 minutes, flipping once, until they darken a bit and you can smell the chili.  Remove and put into the slow cooker.  Add the oil to the pan and salt and pepper the lamb while you wait for the oil to heat.  Once the oil is hot add the lamb to the pan and brown on one side without disturbing it for 5 minutes.

Flip and cook for 5 minutes more until both sides are nice and brown.  Remove the lamb from the pan and add to the slow cooker.  There should be enough fat from the lamb and the oil in the pan but if not add a touch more canola oil   Add the onions to the pan and lower the heat to medium. Cook for a minute or two and then add the garlic, cumin, oregano, coriander and salt and pepper.

Cook for another 2 minutes until the onions are softened.  Add the can of tomatoes and use the liquid to deglaze the pan of any brown bits stuck on the bottom.  Add the contents of the pan into the slow cooker with the lamb and chipoltes.  Add beef stock so the liquid comes up at least three-quarters of the way up the lamb (you may not need all 3 cups).  Turn on the slow cooker to low and cook for 5 to 6 hours.

Carefully pull out the lamb and place it on a cutting board to cool (it’s ok if it falls apart a bit as you do this as you are just going to shred it anyway).  I used a large spatula and a wooden spoon to get it out of there.  Pull out the dried chipoltes and toss.  Pour the rest of the content of the slow cooker and its liquid into a blender or  food processor (carefully!) and blend until smooth.  Transfer one and a half cups of the puree to a saucepan and bring it to a simmer.  Simmer over low for 30 minutes until the liquid has thickened a bit, stir in desired amount of chipolte puree.

While the sauce simmers shred the meat once its cool enough to handle, it should fall apart very easily.  Once the sauce it done combine it with the shredded lamb.  You can serve right away or store in the fridge for several days or the freezer for several months.

Glorious Carnitas

I have said it before and I will say it again – my next door neighbor Ben, is by far and away one of my best customers.  He always likes what I cook, has a huge appetite and likes a wide range of food.  Having him over always gives me an ego boost and usually means I don’t have to find tupperware to hold any leftovers!  However, when I made these carnitas and tested them out on him, I knew they were on a whole other level.  The recipe serves 8 but at the end of the night there was nothing left in the plate…and there were only 3 other people eating besides Ben!  They are indeed the perfect carnitas.  Tender, crispy and juicy, flavorful and not greasy – carnitas nirvana.  I got the methodology from Cook’s Illustrated – braise the meat for a long time, cook down the cooking liquid to a glaze, then toss the meat with the glaze and crisp it up under the broiler.  This method makes these carnitas perfect for making ahead.  Yes, pretty time-consuming but not at all labor intensive and absolutely worth it.  The recipe calls for a 4 pound pork butt (often Boston butt – why people why???) roast.  Unfortunately my local super market has only been selling gargantuan 9 to 10 pound roasts so I had the pleasure of hacking one in half early in the AM so I could get it braising.  Just another joy of cooking!

You can serve these delicious carnitas on their own or as part of a taco filling.  I paired them with rice and beans and as many hot sauces that can fit on our table.  Happy fiesta Friday!

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Carnitas

  • 3 1/2 to 4 pound boneless boston pork butt roast, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 onion, peeled and halved
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 orange, halved

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.  In a large dutch oven place the pork, water, onion, lime juice, oregano, cumin, bay leaves and salt and pepper.  Using a strainer, juice the orange over the mix in the dutch oven, catching the seeds.  Throw in the juiced orange halves for good measure.

Over high heat bring the liquid to a boil, then cover and place it in the oven.  Bake it in the oven for 1 hour, carefully stir the pork around and then bake it for another hour.

Use a slotted spoon to remove the pork and set it aside in a bowl to cool.  Use that same spoon to scoop out the onion, orange halves and bay leaves and trash them.  Place the dutch oven over high heat and cook the liquid over high heat.  Stir it pretty frequently – you want it to reach a glaze like consistency so cook for about 10-12 minutes.  If you over cook it just rehydrate with a little water.

When it’s done turn off the heat and start shredding the meat.  Use two forks, or just your fingers, and break each piece in two or three large pieces.  You don’t want it super shredded, you want bite size chunks.  Stir in the glaze and season it with salt and pepper.  At this point you can let the mixture cool, cover and put it in the fridge for a couple of days (if you do make it in advance take the meat out of the fridge an hour before you want to serve it so it can come to room temperature).  When you are ready to finish the carnitas, heat your broiler.  Line a cookie sheet with tin foil and then place a baking rack over the foil.  Place the glaze covered carnitas on the baking rack and put it in the broiler.  Broil for 5 to 7 minutes, flip the pieces and then broil for 5 to 7 minutes more.

Aji Amarillo Sauce

I hope you all enjoyed the rundown of Ocopa, a terrific Peruvian place here in DC.  This place is right in my neighborhood but if you are not so lucky I thought I would follow it up with a Peruvian recipe of my own.  One of the things Peru is most known for, at least here in the US, is their terrific rotisserie chicken that they serve with super flavorful dipping sauces.  There are a bunch of to-go chicken spots in the DC metro area and each has their own recipie for their aji amarillo sauce (translates into yellow chili pepper sauce) that is carefully guarded and never given out, even to super nice food bloggers.  Google didn’t really help me much, as many of the recipes I found on there either relied too heavily on the pepper paste or had too much mayo.  After a lot of tries I think this comes pretty close to what I was looking for but will leave it to all of you to judge.  Yes, you do have to go out and buy aji amarillo paste to make this.  However, it’s incredibly good and lasts forever in the fridge.  You can find it at a lot of supermarkets these days in the latin foods section, but if not there are lots of brands online.  My favorite brand is Doña Isabel and they sell it on LaTienda.com, a super dangerous website with lots and lots of yummy things.  They even provide a bunch of recipes so you know what to do with that left over paste.  Mental note – I must get to their brick and mortar store in Williamsburg, VA.  Traditionally as I said this sauce would be served with a rotisserie chicken that had been marinated in Peruvian spices.  Since I don’t have my own rotisserie I  either just go out and buy one and serve the sauce alongside, or grill up some chicken.  I like this Food and Wine marinade that approximates the flavors nicely.  Last time I served this sauce, Patrick wanted tacos (I know I know) so we did a Peruvian Mexican hybrid and used the sauce as a salsa with the grilled chicken, some flour tortillas and grilled veggies.  I used yellow peppers, and served the quinoa salad on the side with yellow corn – yellow taco night. Delicious.

Aji Amarillo Sauce

  • 2 green onions, roughly chopped
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons aji amarillo paste
  • 1/2 cup light sour cream
  • 1/2 cup light mayo
  • 1/4 cup cilantro

Combine everything in the food processor and puree until smooth.  Season with salt and pour into a bowl.  This will last for a week in the fridge.

Short Rib Tacos

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Yea I know, what won’t this woman put in a taco??  Pretty much nothing but honestly these are incredible, not just because of the flavor but how easy they are.  Time consuming sure but the “hands on” time is almost zero.  I got the methodology from Cooks Illustrated – if you have never picked up their magazine it’s definitely worth a try.  They basically do all the work for you by testing and retesting different ingredients, proportions and cooking methods in a super methodical, almost scientific way.  I can find sometimes the flavors a bit lacking, but the techniques they share are always spot on and flavor is easy to enhance with some tweaks.  This method is just genius because it cuts out the two most annoying things about slow cooking – browning and chopping.  Browning meat is incredibly important to flavor, as the heat carmelizes the sugars in the meat and really develops them.  By lifting the short ribs out of the liquid it’s braising in on onion slices these folks have discovered a way to get the browned meat without having to spend the time cooking each side before adding it to the pot with the aromatics.  Also by pureeing the sauce you lose the need to chop any of the veggies, meaning all you have to do is slice an onion and then everything else is just tossed in the pot.  I did this in a dutch oven but you could easily convert this to a slow cooker (especially in the summer not to heat up the house).  I included both so you can do either.  This recipe makes a ton so perfect for your next taco party.  It can be frozen for up to 6 months so if you don’t eat it right away divide the rest into smaller portions and then you can have pulled short rib tacos on a week night and blow everyone away.

Short Rib Tacos 

  • 1 ½ cups beer (I used Negro Modelo)
  • ½ cup cider vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
  • 6 ancho chiles, stemmed and torn into 1 inch pieces (I leave the seeds in but you can take them out for less heat)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 2 teaspoons oregano (dried)
  • ½ teaspoons ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1-2 large onions, sliced ½ inch thick slices
  • 3 pounds boneless short ribs

Take the short ribs out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before you are going to cook.  Pat them dry with paper towels and season well with salt and pepper.  Preheat your oven to 325 degrees (if using the dutch oven).  Then dump in the beer, vinegar, anchos, tomato paste, garlic, bay leaves, cumin, oregano, clove and cinnamon in a large dutch oven (or slow cooker).  Season with salt and pepper again and then nestle in the onion rounds so they form a layer on the bottom of the pot (or slow cooker) that will keep the short ribs from touching the bottom.

Depending on the size of your onion it will probably only take one but have a second on hand just in case.  Place the short ribs on top and cover.  Place in the oven and cook for 3 hours (if using a slow cooker cook on high for 3 hours or on low for 6 hours).  The meat, even without browning, should have a nice crust on it.

Take out the meat and put it in a bowl.  Pull out the bay leaves and then blend the onions and the liquid in a blender or food processor.  The original said to trash the onions but why throw away flavor??  At this point you could probably just use the sauce but I like to get as much fat out of it as possible.  Easiest way to do this if you have time it to place it in the fridge or freezer until the fat creates a solid layer on top that you can scrape off (that will take a couple of hours).  If not just let sit until the fat rises to the top and skim it off.

Shred the meat with 2 forks or your fingers and stir it into the sauce.  It can be served right away, or stored in the fridge for a couple of days and the freezer for a couple of months.

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