Friday, July 31, 2009

Adios Amigos (Carne Asada Tacos)

So here’s what happens when you announce that you are moving – the phone starts to ring and the email starts to fill up and you start seeing all the people you love. Usually for a meal.

Last night we had dinner with our friends, Jeff and Mary Weddle. Wonderful people. Amazing friends. We share many passions – like good wine, USC Football, and MEXICAN FOOD.

Oh yeah. The real deal MEXICAN FOOD, too. None of that foofy El Torito stuff. We head to Placentia and have it home-style.

Last night we hit a favorite Placentia spot, El Cantarito. Smaller than our other Placentia haunt, El Farolito, but a little more “local.” They’ve also got a great juke box that plays that wonderful polka-sounding Mexican music that gets the foot a tappin’.

El Cantarito also caters. Last year we put them to the test when they came over to our place and fed the Carroll College Fighting Saints Football Team, the night before their season opener at Azusa Pacific College. Carne Asada tacos, beans, rice, grilled jalapeños, multiple kinds of salsas. Those Montana boys never had it so good.

But you know… you don’t really have to buy out your Carne Asada…

With an assist from my brother Ed, we’ve got a recipe that will knock your socks off. It’s simple, simple, simple. As Ed reminds me, “they cook this stuff over a fire in a trash can down in TJ, so how tough can it be?” Another plus - this recipe scales easily – I’ve made it for as many as 75 people with excellent results.

Carne Asada Tacos

(Adapted from a recipe provided by my brother Ed Billings)


  • 2 ½ pounds skirt steak
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • ½ onion, fine chopped
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • 1 lime cut into 8ths
  • 1 bunch cilantro, stems and all
  • 1 bunch cilantro
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1 tsp fresh cracked pepper
  • ½ to 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded, stemmed and chopped fine (optional)
  • 1 dozen corn corn tortillas (the tiny ones if you can get them)
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • ½ cup hot salsa (if you can find the dark kind made from roasted chilies, even better)


Put the following ingredients in a large plastic zip bag and Marinade for at least 2 hours but no more than 8:

  • Skirt steak
  • Sliced onion
  • Lime juice
  • Bunch of cilantro
  • Cumin seeds
  • Salt
  • Pepper

Prepare meat for the grill

  • Remove the meat from the marinade and pat dry.

Cook/Chop the meat:

  • Grill meat over gas or fire grill for 5 – 6 minutes per side
  • Remove and cover with foil for 10 to 15 minutes
  • Chop meat into bite-sized strips.
  • Cover with foil to keep warm.

Prepare the garnish

  • Combine the chopped cilantro, onion and jalapeño pepper (you be the judge of how much of the latter to use)

Prepare “Salsa Blanca”

  • Mix the sour cream and salsa together in a bowl. Chill (you might reserve a bit for chip dippin' while you are grilling the meat. Yum)

Garnish the meat

  • Toss the chopped meat with ½ of the garnish. Cover with foil to keep warm.

Warm the tortillas

  • Sure you can use a microwave, but you’ve got the BBQ hot, so warm them on the grill and then place in foil to stay warm

Build your tacos

  • Place a ¼ cup or so of the meat in a warm tortilla; top with extra garnish, and a squeeze of lime.



Welcome to a Southern Fork in the Road (Jetlag Turkey and Swiss)

A Southern Fork in the Road - From Southern California to North Carolina, one bite at a time

First off – full disclosure. The title of this blog is not 100% original. However it is appropriate. I spent the better part of last Saturday at the Orange County Fair. A post in and of itself; but that will wait for another day.

I love the Fair. Not the rides or the fried foods (although he zucchini weenie was pretty darn good this year). I love the displays. The collections (why don’t I ever enter my cast iron dog doorstops?), the baked good (who know you could win a blue ribbon with haystack cookies?), the garden and flower displays (where my friend won multiple ribbons this year), and of course the paintings, photography and quilts (some people have a lot more free time than me – I envy them and vow to rearrange my life).

As I wandered the photographs in the Visual Arts portion of the Fair I came across one that made me stop my tracks. A picture of a fork laying right smack down the middle of a road. I stood there and stared as the full meaning of what my husband and I are about to do hit me.

In two weeks time, my husband and I will embark on a true adventure. Both California natives, we have spent our entire lives in Southern California. Okay, Steve did a brief year in Michigan for a job and a ski-season in Aspen. He also lived in France and Germany and survived 13 months in Viet Nam as part of the US Army. And I spent the summer between high school and college working at a resort in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Otherwise, we’ve lived in a 20-something mile triangle that includes Garden Grove and Whittier, where Steve and I grew up; Corona del Mar and Belmont Shore, where we spent our post college and pre-family years; Brea where we raised our son Will; and most recently Fullerton where we downsized after Will went off to Montana to attend college.

Next Stop: Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

So the photo at the Fair made me stop and think. About our lives and our recent decisions: to step out of our comfort zone; to leave friends and the places we know so well, for a different life, new opportunities and the chance to have fewer 7 a.m. conference calls and most important to be closer to my brother and his family who live in Chapel Hill.

But the photo of that fork was even more iconic for me.

Those who know me also know that the only place I truly escape is in my kitchen. Or the kitchens of friends. I love to cook. I love to create new dishes. I love to come home from a long day at the office, open the pantry, fridge and freezer and cook something from nothing that makes my husband smile.

Yup, it sounds corny but I love the satisfaction of knowing that what I create makes people happy. Plus chopping a pile of veg is a great way to relieve stress and work out the kinks that come from working at a keyboard and sitting on conference calls from dawn to dusk.

So, Okay – I liked the photo, why the Blog?

Many people have suggested that I blog about my passion for cooking and share my recipes online. I’ve also been asked if I will blog about what it’s like to go from being a Southern Californian to a Northern Carolinian. The two will come together on this little niche in the ether.

Welcome to my Southern Fork in the Road. In future posts I will share some of the highpoints of the road ahead. I will also provide a recipe chronicle of the days ahead. (Oh, and most posts will be shorter... this time I needed to set the stage a tad)

Today’s recipe is hardly a culinary breakthrough. Yet it is what I was munching on during a recent flight to Boston when I decided to start this blog. More exciting and creative dishes will follow. Promise. But for now, here’s one of my favorite ways to avoid Jet Blue Blues with the yummy sammy that packs well into a carry-on or handbag. It also pairs nicely with a house chardonnay or split of champagne, served from a plastic cup by your favorite airline.

Jet Lag Turkey and Swiss

2 slices hearty whole wheat bread.

3 – 4 slices turkey; smoked or otherwise – but get the best roast turkey from the deli

1 slice Jarlsberg or other good Swiss cheese. Provolone works, too.

A schmere of Best Foods Mayonnaise (or Hellman’s – I guess I’ll have to get used to that)

Equal amount of Dijon mustard

¼ cup arugula

(Optional – chutney)

You’ve made a sandwich before, so I shouldn’t have to provide instructions. But here’s how I put this one together:

  • Spread the mayo on one slice of bread
  • Spread the Dijon on the other.
  • Place the turkey next to the Dijon (yes, it makes a difference)
  • Top with the cheese, then the arugula.
  • If you use the chutney spread it on top of the mayo and then top the sandwich with the bread.
  • Slice half in two, as my Uncle Phil used to say
  • Pack in a baggie and you are off to the airport. Of course this can be done the night before.