Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Tu Taco Taco Shop {dining out}

"I'm building an empire," 23-year-old Victor Osuna told me during a recent visit.

The owner and driving force behind Tu Taco Taco Shop in Chula Vista, just blocks from Hilltop High, grew up in the business – his mother owned two taco shops which are currently run by his uncle and brother. Though Victor never performed the duty of cook, he did practically ever other job in his mother's eateries.

"I didn't start cooking until I decided to open this shop," said Osuna.

Osuna's turning point from helper to owner came when he became a father.

"I have two daughters," he told me. "I want to make something here. See it grow and, eventually, open a second location. This one will go to my oldest daughter; the next one will be for my other daughter. That way they each can have something I built for them."

On the Saturday afternoon I visited, Victor was manning the open kitchen with a young cashier running the front. In between cooking, I asked him if he was usually the one at the grill top.

Tu Taco Taco Shop owner, Victor Osuna, mans the grill top while finishing up a customer order.

"Well, yeah," he started, "I don't just run the show. I am the show." With passion and pride he added that he can do every task it takes to run his business, from ordering, to register, to hooking up and maintaining equipment as well as dreaming up all of the menu items.

"I like to experiment," said Osuna. "I put different ingredients together and if it tastes good and it's different, then I put it on the menu."

Different, indeed.

Yes, you will find the typical tacos here like asada, chicken and rolled tacos. But expect to find menu items that you'll probably need to ask for descriptions because their name might not give you any hints, especially if they reside on his "hidden menu."

For example, I ordered "Tacos Perron," street sized tacos that were a sweet and savory combination of carne asada and adobada.

The shell was a crispy flour tortilla that somehow escaped disintegrating with that first bite. Usually not a fan of fried flour tortilla tacos, I was pleasantly surprised at how perfectly the flour tortilla married with the two meats. The adobada itself was one of the best I've had. As a self-taught cook, Victor beamed when I mentioned this to him.

Asked what his favorite menu item was, Victor said his most popular, the “Flamin' Hot Burrito."

The Flamin' Hot Burrito is one of several items off of Osuna’s Flamin’ Hot menu, dishes with a hefty addition of XXtra Flamin’ Hot Crunchy Cheetos. This particular burrito is one of Tu Taco Taco Shop’s most popular items and a particular point of pride for Osuna. He made the burrito one day while experimenting in the kitchen. An employee give it a try and suggested it needed to be on the menu. First, a quesadilla is grilled. Once melted, the quesadilla is pulled open and a healthy layer of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos that have been pulverized into a a fine powder is spread out over the tortilla. Then it is wrapped around what is basically a California Burrito bursting with carne asada and fries.

By the name of it, and knowing what a heat wimp I am, I knew it would be much too spicy for me.  My sister Ellie, however, who was my dining partner on this visit and is a far more adventurous eater than I, jumped at the chance to try it.

My sister said it had tons of flavor and though a little spicy, not overwhelmingly so. Commenting on it’s generous size, however, she said it was a meal for two and wound up having to take half of it home.

One of the things I love most about being a part of the San Diego food community is discovering small independent restaurants like Tu Taco Taco Shop and having the opportunity to share them with others. I would recommend this shop, not just for the food but for the passion behind this business. I do ask that you have patience, though. Food doesn’t always come quickly from the kitchen but that has more to do with the complexity of some of the items – his Flamin’ Hot Burrito, for example, is made in several stages so it takes some time to build – than it is a commentary on the quality of service. If anything, it’s a testament to it.

Tu Taco Taco Shop
1419 Hilltop Dr Suite D
Chula Vista, CA 91911
(619) 882-2920

Instagram: @tutacotaco
Facebook: TuTacoTacoShopCA

Monday, January 1, 2018

Top 5 Recipe Posts of 2017 on Confessions of a Foodie

Happy New Year, friends! 

Well, 2017 wasn't as productive here on Confessions as I had originally planned. Not going to start the new year with negativity or regrets. Instead, lets focus on the positive, shall we? 

A new year brings a clean slate: 12 new chapters and 365 chances to do something you love, to grow, to share, to live in gratitude. 

With that said, here are last year's top 5 posts in case you missed one. Click on the titles to go to the recipes:

Friday, December 8, 2017

How to impress a bunch of food bloggers {#IFBC2017} + Mini Sage & Delicata Frittata {#recipe}

Ever eat something at a special event and think, "Man! I could eat this every day!"?

Then you go home and you can't stop thinking about it.

Like, ever?

That's this mini frittata. But more on that later. First let's chat about the event that started this frittata obsession of mine.

"I want everyone to feel good after eating something I've prepared," Chef Kimberly Medici, owner and executive chef of Table Nectar announced to the 25 food bloggers gathered before her. With a background in nutritional education, Medici delivered on that bold statement and then some.

The scene for this glorious mid-morning soiree on a Sunday in early October hummed with anticipation as the smell of pork belly cooking in a wood-burning oven swirled around us. Seated on an open terrace at Skinner Vineyards & Winery in Somerset near the Sierra Foothills in El Dorado County, we were privy to rolling hills with breathtaking views. This picturesque setting proved to be a scrumptious ending to a whirlwind weekend of the annual International Food Bloggers Conference (#IFBC). The vineyard. along with several other El Dorado County wineries, and Table Nectar welcomed us for a culinary farm to table/vine to table tour de force.

As we meandered from table to table, sampling wine from the various wineries hosting us, we were treated to passed appetizers. Medici began the day's feasting with these Thai Canteloupe Seed Milk Gazpacho Shooters.

"I used the seeds along with the flesh of the melon to give the soup a nutritional punch," explained Medici. Finished with a swirl of crème fraiche, a drizzle of sweet almond oil and sprinkling of crispy prosciutto, it was like a Mexican agua fresca's more refined city cousin–fuller-bodied and scented with the cool, waning days of a California summer. It was paired with a refreshing fruit-forward 2016 Reisling from Gwinllan Estate Vineyard and Winery.

I am a total sucker for romesco and Medici's interpretation did not disappoint. Local fire-roasted heirloom peppers provided the base of her Romesco Crostini, while salt-cured black olives cut through the rich, nuttiness of shaved Manchego.

I wanted more. Truly. But I refrained.

It was paired with two wines: a 2013 Viognier from Perry Creek Winery and 2014 Estate Mouvedre from Skinner Vineyards & Winery. I enjoyed both wines equally with this memorable appetizer.

"Food and wine pairing is art meeting art," commented David Fleming (above in white shirt) of Fenton Herriott Vineyards. "First and foremost, wine is a meal enhancer. Secondly, it acts as a digestive aid. And thirdly, we drink wine for the pleasure of the company we keep." After Medici settled on the menu for the day's brunch, she sent her tasting notes to the wineries who then paired their wines with a course. Fenton's 2016 Rosé, with it's heady fragrance of pear and pineapple, paired beautifully with Medici's salad course of Lemon Scented Riccotage Stuffed Squash Blossom.

Served on a bed of crunchy raw zucchini capellini enveloped in a freshly made pesto (the spiralized squash rested slightly salted overnight in a strainer in order to remove excess water, enabling it to retain a nice snappy crunch), the hero of this dish was the perfectly fried delicate squash blossom bursting with a lemon-scented combination of ricotta and cottage cheese. With honeyed heirloom tomato jam on the side (be still my heart!) and a dusting of rough chopped pistachios, this was Medici's tribute to summer.

"I love this time of year," said Medici (above) of our early October meal. "You can combine the tail-end of summer produce with the first appearances of fall produce."

Medici's ode to early fall was next as the main course made its way to our tables. Finally, that heady scent of pork arrived in all it's caramelly-goodness: House-Cured Fennel & Apple Braised Pork Belly adorned with the sticky, unexpected but oh-so-welcomed salted caramel and a crown of pear relish topped with a scattering of pomegranate arils resembling little red gems. Such an elegant dish, I had to take out my iPhone in order to Instagram it on the spot. Were I a more ambitious cook, I would have attempted to re-create this dish rather that it's counterpart on the plate, Slow-Roasted Garlic, Chard & Delicata Squash Frittata. Don't get me wrong, the frittata did become an obsession but that pork belly was like none I'd ever had before, especially with the caramel taking it over the top.

I believe it was Kyle of, one of my table companions, who noted that the frittata tasted like the perfect little bite of Thanksgiving with it's fried sage, delicata squash and creamy aged gouda. I couldn't agree more. It was paired with a super smooth 2015 Grenache from Shadow Ranch Vineyard and a wonderfully peppery 2014 Estate Sangiovese from Smokey Ridge Ranch. Both, in my opinion, equally enhanced the flavors of the dish. For the pork belly, we had the 2014 Cabernet Franc from Madrona Vineyards (I and a few table companions found it a bit soft after having had the more rounded Sangiovese). Our second generous pairing wasn't vino but rather Henrietta Stitch Hard Cider from Delfino Farms. Pleasantly surprised since I am a hard cider fan, I found the clean, slightly sweet effervescent cider a welcome counter-balance to the rich pork.

Remember the rosemary shortbread I posted in October? Medici's dessert was the inspiration. She served us a Fig & Goat Cheese Tartlett. Sitting on rosemary shortbread, a smear of goat cheese was topped with slices of near end-of-the-season perfectly ripe figs. A generous pour of sweet local honey and aged balsamic swam together on the plate, providing a lovely contrast as it hit the palate. While in the midst of savoring this ambrosia, Jody Franklin, the Executive Director of Tourism with El Dorado County Visitor's Authority, our guide for the day, was desperately trying to round us up to continue on to the second half of our day of touring Historic Downtown Placerville. No one at our table budged, all of us determined not to rush the pleasure of this perfect dessert. It was paired with a 2014 Old Vine Zinfandel from Lava Cap Winery.

Once finally on the bus, we headed to downtown Placerville, were divided into groups and proceeded on a wine and food crawl of the main street where we partook of more local wines, chocolates, cheese, olive oils and eateries before heading back to the bus for our final destination.

Our day ended at Boeger Winery for more wine tasting where the enticing smell of meat grilling mingled with the welcomed mustiness characteristic of an old wine cellar. The winery's Tempranillo was my choice to accompany our prime rib feast, a memorable end to my best day of the three IFBC conferences I've attended thus far. Now armed with the knowledge that El Dorado Wine Country has so much to offer, I'm already dreaming of a return trip, complete with a stay at a local B&B.

Next year, IFBC is off to New Orleans, a city I've been fascinated with ever since I read my first Anne Rice novel at the tender age of 13. I've already signed up and booked my room. Auntie is joining me so we can explore the city together before the start of the conference.

I frittata, you frittata
So, as you can tell by my lack of frequency in my posting, I've hit a bit of a culinary slump, the kind that accompanies an unsettling of my soul. And with that unsettling, oftentimes comes a reversion to a previous, more comfortable state. All this is double-speak to basically say, my adherence to a planned out, balanced approach to my diet took a back seat this year while I continued to deal with the fallout from loss and the worry of an uncertain future.

To help remedy that, and knock me out of my tendency to numb, I'm once again attempting to plan out my meals, arming myself with choices that are better for me. This includes a solid homemade breakfast, difficult for me to do when I'm rushing out the door in the morning to get to work on time.

Thinking back to my day touring El Dorado, I couldn't get the frittata out of my head.

Using the taste memory of Medici's frittata, I set out to make my own interpretation of this easy, eat-on-the-go meal. Several go arounds became my staple morning ritual while I searched for a balance of flavors that suited me. I love portable foods, and this one has helped to get me back on track in the mornings. I hope you give it a whirl.

Until next time, friends! Be well... xo, ani

print recipe

Mini Sage & Delicata Squash Frittata
Don't rush browning the onions, their sweeter, richer flavor play off the roasted squash nicely. I used whole wheat bread as well as rosemary bread. If you can get your hands on a crusty loaf of rosemary bread, you'll definitely take these babies over the top. Yum. We pick up our rosemary loaves from Costco (2 loaves for $5!). When whisking the eggs, be very gentle so you avoid whisking in air. Over-aerated eggs will rise dramatically while baking then deflate as they cool, creating a tough texture. Also, as for prepping the muffin pan, I've buttered, used oil, used cooking spray and used baking spray. Baking spray gave me the best results. I'm not one who likes frittata "crusts" as I'm not at all a fan of even slightly browned eggs. The baking spray kept the eggs from sticking while not adding excessive browning to the edges.
  • 1 delicata squash
  • extra virgin olive oil, as needed
  • sea salt and black pepper, as needed
  • 1 small onion, sliced into half moons from root to tip
  • 24 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 cup cubed rosemary bread
  • 6 organic or free range eggs
  • ½ cup half and half
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ cup coarsely grated aged gouda
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.Wash and dry the squash. Cut in half length-wise, scoop out and discard the seeds. Slice squash into half moons and spread the slices out in a single layer onto a sheet pan. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil adding a sprinkling of salt and pepper, to taste. Toss to coat then bake for 20 minutes, flipping once halfway through cooking time. Remove from oven, allow to cool enough to handle, then cut each slice in half; set aside.While squash is roasting, add 2 tablespoons of oil to a skillet on medium low heat. Carefully drop in the onions and sauté until lightly browned but not burnt, about 10-15 minutes. Remove to a plate and set aside.Line a plate with a paper towel. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet. Once warm, add some of the sage leaves about a half inch apart. Cook for 30 seconds then flip and cook for an additional 30-40 seconds, removing them to the towel-lined plate. Repeat until all leaves have been fried.Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet. Once shimmering, add the bread cubes and cook on all sides until golden. Remove from heat.Crack eggs into a small bowl and break the yolks with a fork. Add the milk and spices then scramble the eggs gently, trying not to incorporate too much air.Spray the muffin pan with baking spray. Distribute the croutons evenly between the muffin cups then follow with the onions, squash, gouda, and then the egg. Top each frittata with parmesan cheese and two sage leaves.Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the centers are just set but not browned. Allow to cool in the tin for 5 minutes then carefully remove to a wire rack to fully cool before storing in an airtight container. Will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 12 mini frittatas

FTC notice: As a Citizen Blogger for the International Food Blogger Conference, I received a reduction in my registration fees in exchange for agreeing to write a minimum number of posts before, during or immediately following the conference, topic to be of my own choosing. This is the second of those posts. As always, photographs and opinions are wholly my own.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Need to indulge? True Pound Cake to the rescue

It’s the scent that grabs hold of you first. 

Escaping through the nooks and crannies and crevices, seeking out a willing host, penetrating your nostrils as it races towards the memory center of your brain and suddenly, you’re 7 years old again, pulling out your very first cake from the red Easy Bake oven you got for Christmas just a few days earlier. 

You can’t help yourself. You need another hit. So you inhale deeply, taking in the scent again. 

And, oh! That scent! It fills your head until you’re weak in the knees.

Now you’re 14 years old, your mother’s big red Betty Crocker spiral-bound cookbook laid out before you while you cream butter and sugar together with the well used white Oster hand mixer your mother received as a wedding gift. Then you’re measuring out the flour, which despite your careful endeavors, winds up looking like snow all over the front of your favorite t-shirt. There's maybe even a little in your hair, too. Next comes the cracking of the eggs, and unconsciously you're biting your lip in concentration, praying no shell gets past you. And before you know it, there’s that scent again.

Oh, that scent! Rich. Nutty. Buttery. Sugary.

It smells like childhood.

It smells like home.

That Betty Crocker butter cake was the first from scratch cake I ever made. Sure, I’d been making cakes by myself a few years already before attempting it but those were from boxes. No, that butter cake? That started a life-long love affair. Not that I make them all that often. Good butter isn’t cheap. Plus, good butter cakes have no shortage of calories. 

But every once in a while, I find the need to go back to those moments in my youth where the biggest thing I had to worry about was not over-baking my creations. And this cake does that.

For years, I’ve thought about making a "true" pound cake. It's named pound cake for the simple to remember ingredients made up of typical pantry staples in the 1700’s: 1 pound butter, 1 pound sugar, 1 pound flour, 1 pound eggs. After reading stories of success and failure from various sources, I decided this past summer that it was time. 

This is not the light, delicate pound cake you pick up at your local grocer or baker that leaves your fingers just a little greasy. No. This pound cake is dense, rich, with a wonderful texture that slices cleanly and holds up to next day toasting and a big scoop of vanilla ice cream. 

Debates abound as to whether adding flavoring is allowed in a “true pound cake." I found references suggesting that later recipes from the mid-1800s did suggest rose water, brandy or essence of orange be incorporated if desired. I added vanilla. And a pinch of good sea salt to balance out the sweetness. And I’m still calling this a true pound cake. Even with my cheat or two. 

Ready to give this a try, too? Let’s bake. 

Since the butter is the main flavor in pound cake, buy the best you can afford. I've tried lots of different brands, and my favorite is Kerrygold, an Irish butter from grass fed cows. It's a European style butter, meaning that it's churned longer than your average American-made butter, resulting in less water and higher butterfat. For baking, this can help cakes rise higher and for pie making, less water and higher butterfat results in flakier crusts. Two other brands, also European style, that I love are Plugrá and Strauss.

Place room temperature butter in a bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment. Oh, and by the way, do not preheat the oven; this batter needs to go into a cold oven.

Beat the butter on high for three minutes. Scrape down sides of the bowl and beat for five full minutes on the highest setting. There is no leavener in the recipe; the lift comes from the air beaten into the butter. So don't rush it. 

Sift the powdered sugar, working out all the lumps. I find it much easier to sift over a large piece of parchment paper instead of into a bowl, especially if you're using a stand mixer. After sifting, you can easily pick up the parchment, fold it in half and carefully guide the sugar (or flour) into the stand mixer

Add half the sugar to the bowl of the stand mixer. Mix on low for 35 to 45 seconds, then beat on high for 3 minutes.

Repeat with the rest of the sugar. The batter should be super light and fluffy, like buttercream frosting.

Weigh out a pound of eggs.

It took 9 eggs for me to reach 1 pound. Your count might vary, depending on the size of the eggs, so be sure to use a kitchen scale.

Add the eggs one at a time, beating on medium after each addition until the egg is just incorporated before adding the next egg. Once all of the eggs are beaten in, add the vanilla and beat just until incorporated, about 35 seconds on medium speed.

Ok, so here's a little cheat. All-purpose flour and cornstarch are two of my pantry staples. Cake flour is not. So, I used cornstarch and sifted the flour three times to lighten the flour a little instead of buying cake flour. Start by measuring out 1 pound of flour.

Remove 8 tablespoons (or ½ cup, leveled, I just found measuring spoons to make less of a mess).

Add 7-8 tablespoons of cornstarch or enough to bring the weight back up to 1 pound of flour.

Sift the flour. Pour the flour back into the sieve, and sift again. Pour the flour back into the sieve again, this time adding the fine sea salt (if using table salt, reduce the amount to ¼ teaspoon), and sift a third time. You've now basically made your own cake flour.

Switch out the whisk attachment for the paddle attachment. Add ⅓ of the flour to the butter mixture. Beat on medium just until incorporated. We don't want to over mix at this point as you risk deflating the butter and making the cake tough. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add another ⅓ of the flour and mix until just incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the remaining flour. Beat again until just incorporated.

I don't know about you, but I have three different kinds of non-stick spray: olive oil, Pam, and baking spray. Baking spray has flour IN the oil so you save a step and you don't have pockets of dry flour in your finished baked goods. So, here, I've prepped two 9-inch loaf pans with baking spray.

Evenly divide the batter between the two pans. I like to dump most of the batter in the pans then place them on the scale and add the last bit of batter, weighing the pans to make sure they are equally filled.

Use a rubber spatula to smooth out the tops. Lift the cake off the counter a few inches and let drop to help dislodge any air bubbles. I forgot to do this so I had big holes in a few slices. Doesn't affect the taste, of course, but it isn't particularly pretty. Also, I didn't do here but if you want that telltale sign of pound cake – the crack down the center – after smoothing, run the spatula vertically about an inch deep down the center of the batter, essentially "cutting" the batter. This will encourage the splitting. Place the pans into a cold oven on the center rack. Set thermostat to 275 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 1 ½ hours or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean to nearly clean with just a crumb or two.

Set the cake on a cooling rack and let cool in the pan for 20 minutes.

Carefully turn out the cake and allow it to cool completely before storing. Personally, I find this part really hard. Warm pound cake. C'mon!

I'm not big on frosting so this cake hits all the right notes for me. I hope you enjoy my tips guys. And, of course, this cake. Until next time … xo, ani

print recipe

True Pound Cake
True pound cake, aka, the original pound cake recipe, has been traced back to the late 1700s. Use the best quality butter you can afford, preferably, European style (I like Kerrygold).
  • 1 pound butter, room temperature
  • 1 pound powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pound (8-10) large eggs, room temperature
  • 1 pound, minus 8 tablespoons all purpose flour
  • 7-8 tablespoons cornstarch
  • ½ teaspoons fine sea salt
Beat butter on high for three minutes. Scrape down sides; beat for five full minutes, until butter is lighter in both color and nearly tripled in volume.Sift powdered sugar. Add half to butter and beat on low for 30 seconds then beat on high for 3 minutes. Scrape down sides. Repeat with remaining sugar. Add vanilla and beat on high for 30 seconds.Beat in eggs, one at a time on medium high, just until fully incorporated, stopping to scrape down sides as needed. To make homemade cake flour: measure out flour to 1 pound. Remove 8 tablespoons of flour. Add 7-8 tablespoons of cornstarch to bring flour back up to 1 pound. Sift flour onto a sheet of parchment paper. Repeat sifting two more times, adding the salt during the third sift.Add ⅓ of flour to butter, beat on medium just until incorporated. Scrape down sides. Repeat with next ⅓ of flour, beating on medium until just incorporated. Scrape down sides and repeat with remaining flour. Spray two 9-in loaf pans with baker's baking spray (baker's spray has flour added, if you use regular cooking spray, lightly dust the pan with flour after spraying). Divide batter between the two loaf pans, weighing them on a kitchen scale to ensure the batter is divided evenly. Place pans into a cold oven. Turn oven on to 275 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake for 1 ½ hours or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pan for 20 minutes. Carefully turn out cake out onto a cooling rack until completely cooled.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: Two 9" loaf pans