Archive for November, 2015

Plantain Tacos with Spicy Crema

healthy fried plantains

“Number six, no beans, extra rice, extra sauce.” Such was my mantra, spoken in a perpetually raspy voice on each occasion when my parents brought me to my favorite restaurant – Versailles.

Some of my earliest memories belong to that no-frills strip mall restaurant – The rotund waiter looking down at me in my high chair with the biggest grin I’d ever seen, the white bread slathered in garlic butter we could never get enough of, the speedy service that left us waiting never more than five minutes for our food, and the cheesy décor alluding to a place I’d been told we couldn’t visit.

versailles cuban food

Cuban food is something I know about only through the lens of Versailles. What’s more, the Number 6 is all I’ve ever ordered there. The half chicken gives “garlicky” a new meaning. Marinated in Versailles’ signature Mojo sauce, a happy marriage of garlic, onion, and don’t-ask-don’t-tell spices, it’s then twisted and turned on a rotisserie until the skin is crispy and the meat falls off the bone. Alongside it come rings of almost raw onion, soaked below the rotisserie in Mojo drippings, buttery rice, and the piece de resistance – fried plantains.

versailles fried plantains

If Versailles is my favorite restaurant, plantains are my favorite food. The three piece rationing of sweet, smooth, fried perfection were never enough. When prompted to order more, my parents would suggest that we’d “See how I’m feeling” after we finished the Number 6. Sure enough, I was always stuffed, thoroughly garlic-breathed, and already dreaming of our return.

Today, eating at Versailles is of the highest priority whenever I visit home. The ambiance has been classed up a bit and I don’t quite fit in the high chairs any more, but nothing else has changed. Not the staff, not the white bread, not the speedy service, and definitely not the plantains.

spicy crema recipe

If I still lived in Los Angeles, that frying oil would course through my veins. Luckily, San Francisco is a place where, if you want something done, you do it your god damn self. And with that, I was on a mission to make my own plantains.

mission market sf

Gathering supplies in The Mission.

Hesitant to buy out Costco’s vegetable oil supply, I turned to my handy friend, coconut oil. With its high smoke point and mild flavor, it seemed like it just might be the perfect companion for my high maintenance plantains. Sure enough, it was. This recipe for fried plantains forgoes saturating the stuff in oil, manages to get the inside nice and smooth, and gives the outside a caramelized crunch. The best part is that there’s no three-piece limit in my house. No parents, no rules!

vegetarian taco recipe

Ingredients (serves 2-3)

  • 4-ish tablespoons coconut oil
  • 2 very ripe plantains (they should have lots of brown spots on the outside)
  • Salt
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 lime
  • Your favorite hot sauce

Sautee the plantains:

  1. Peel the plantains and slice them on an angle, about 1-inch thick each.
  2. In a heavy-bottomed skillet (I use cast iron), heat the coconut oil until melted.
  3. Once the oil is melted, add the plantain slices. Season with a little salt. Flip over after a few minutes, once the undersides have begun to brown. Continue sautéing until plantains are tender on the inside. Set them aside on a paper towel lined plate.

Make the Crema:

Combine sour cream, lime juice, and as much hot sauce as you can handle.

Prepare the Tortillas:

If you have a gas stove, turn a burner on low. Place a corn tortilla directly on the grate and use a spatula to flip it after 30-ish seconds. Repeat with remaining tortillas.

Taco Time!

  1. Drain and rinse the beans. Mix in a small amount of cumin and heat up in a small pot or in the microwave.
  2. Slice the avocado.
  3. Put it all together: taco, plantains, beans, avocado, crema and voila!

P.S. San Francisco does have some plantains that rival Versailles. My favorites are Limon’s fried plantains and Little Chihuahua’s plantain and black bean burrito. Even still, you never forget your first!

Parmesan Thyme Crackers // Are You My Mentor?

parmesan thyme crackers

Back when I was job hunting, someone told me to find a mentor. Someone to guide me in the right direction, push me to new limits, and help me discover the true me. Where was I supposed to get one of those? Amazon? There were no Groupon deals for mentors and for all the unsolicited promotional emails I was getting, none were selling me these professional spirit guides I’d heard so much about.

Luckily, I had a few viable candidates to consider for the job. At some point, someone told me that I couldn’t just pick a mentor – The whole point is that they see something in you, and choose by their own volition to coach you to success. Well, duh! Is my “only child” showing?

ina garten crackers

I carried on, scheduling phone calls and barging into the offices of various execs at the ad agency where I was freelancing. I got some sage advice, sure, but nothing stuck. Most of the people I spoke with had too-busy lives or ulterior motives to recruit me.

I was beginning to feel like the bird from that children’s book, asking “Are you my mentor?” to everyone I met. Then, I got a bagel with Gabi Moskowitz, who would become my first professional mentor. She’s a successful food blogger, Emerson alumna, and also happened to be my first counselor at Camp Tawonga (go Ladybugs!). When we met up, I was feeling hopeless as hell. I didn’t know what I wanted to be, where I wanted to go, or how I was supposed to get there. She asked all the right questions, stayed super attentive, and kept checking in on me until I had my wits about me. She did this not because she had to, but because she wanted to.

Soon, Gabi introduced me to a friend who worked at Chewse, and soon after that, I had my first big girl job. We check in every now and then to exchange stories (hers are a bit more “red carpet” than mine) and I know that when the next professional-cultural-geographical-intrapersonal identity crisis rolls around, she’ll be right there.

But having a job doesn’t make you exempt from needing a mentor. There are still plenty of questions, fears, and confusions that come with the part of being in your 20s. That’s where Shaina comes in. Shaina is my manager, my friend, and my mentor. I’m inspired every day by her brain, her, her warmth, and her ability to keep a clear, calm head when pressure is high. She is attentive, focused, and direct. She says it like it is with confidence. She runs toward problems and is eager to solve them. Plus, she makes a mean cheese plate.

homemade cracker recipe

A good mentor will stop what she’s doing when you need them. She helps you discover truths about yourself with patient and curious conversation. She gives you affirmation when deserved, but isn’t afraid to say it like it is. She doesn’t act like your mentor, but your equal, and places value on all of your words. She makes you feel smart. She teaches you what she knows, and is truthful about what she doesn’t.

Shaina knows a lot. She’s taught me how to have tough conversations (read this book!), make Excel my personal slave, and among many other things, bake the best crackers in the entire world.

parmesan crackers

The fact that Shaina bakes her own crackers is an excellent metaphor for what makes her so special. Sure, you can take the easy way out, assuming that crackers are just a store-bought vehicle for taking down a cheese plate, but that’s not the right way to do it. What Shaina does, she does with an eye toward detail, and another toward intention. If you’re going to eat a cracker, it’d better be a damn good one. And if it’s gonna be damn good, you’d better make it yourself.

easy homemade crackers

Hence, these Parmesan Thyme Crackers – your newest party trick. Imagine a savory shortbread cookie that buttery, a little salty, and a lot addictive. Best of all, it withstands the most stubborn spreading cheeses without crumbling. You know they’re good when you’re not even sad that the Triple Cream Brie is almost gone because there are plenty of those Parmesan thyme miracles left to sustain you.

pantry raid

Best of all, they’re super easy to make. The proportion of time spent to bonus points awarded is seriously unbalanced in your favor. Make these crackers for your next dinner party and throw an extra batch in the freezer for a rainy day. Better yet, share this recipe with your mentor and watch the student become the teacher.

(recipe by Ina Garten)

Ingredients (makes 12-ish crackers)

  • ¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 3 ounces grated or chopped Parmesan cheese
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • ½ teaspoon black pepper
  1. Whip the butter with an electric mixer until creamy.
  2. Add all other ingredients and mix to combine.
  3. Place dough on a lightly floured surface and roll into a 3-inch thick log. Wrap the log in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or over night.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with silicon baking mats or parchment paper.
  5. Unwrap the cold dough and gently cut into ¼ inch thick slices. Place on the baking sheet and bake for 22-25 minutes. Remove and place on a cooling rack for a few minutes before serving.
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