Monday, May 30, 2011

Post 52.2: Hello Orange, Part 2 - Hello Potato Tacos (OC: Orange)

Now that I have been spending more time in the Orange County area, I have been able to wander around and discover some new food findings, the first of which is located right under my nose.  Okay, so 'right under my nose' isn't quite the exact GPS location, but this discovery did occur in the same plaza where the office is located... so it's really not that far from whatever is under my nose.

Pepito's Mexican Restaurant is not quite El Torito, not quite King Taco, but not quite El Pollo Loco either.  It's more like the kitchen and dining patio of your best friend's, little sister's, boyfriend's abuelita... just an open kitchen with counters made of tile, a cross between a restaurant and a café that serves authentic Mexican fare to locals.  It is not the kind of place that foodies would deliberately search and try, but it definitely is the kind of joint that gets the unsuspecting hungry coming back as regulars.  Pepito's is not a chain... it doesn't even have its own website.  But what it does have is an expansive menu complete with breakfast burritos and enchiladas... there are daily specials, Taco Tuesdays, a friendly staff with easily recognizable faces, cold cerveza, a fresh salsa bar, and holy hell... there are potato tacos.

So what is this infatuation I have with these newly discovered potato tacos? Well, you'd never know until you try.  I have come to love potato tacos because they are the most indulgent kind of tacos there are.  I mean... you can never go wrong with the house asada or the pastor that's made just right, but there's no amount of meat and tortilla that will make you feel like you're truly guilty.  If you polish off a 32 oz. rib eye with a side of mashed potatoes... you're a bad ass.  But if you polish off just two or three crispy shell potato tacos... hey, you're just bad.  

The root of your guilt stems from the potato itself.  Commonly made into French fries, tater tots, and bacon topped skins, it's not really thought of as the healthiest of vegetables.  Even though they are full of fiber, you know that it wasn't quite what your mom was referring to when she said, "eat your vegetables."  Whether or not you think potatoes are vegetables or corn tortillas are actually part of the vegetable food group, the lack of a true leafy green or a browned protein in your taco connotes a message that your meal is lacking some sort of nutrient.  

No matter.  Guilt is guilt.  If you get a chance to indulge in a crispy shell filled with a fluffy white vegetable more commonly thought of as carbs, then please don't let anything stop you.  You haven't lived until you've bitten into this ingenious invention.  It's one part grilled hash brown, a second part velvety mashed potato, and another part steamy baked potato... all wrapped within a crispy tortilla and doused with whatever salsa your heart desires.  (Not into spicy? Pepito's makes a Gringo salsa for the japaleño adverse.)  Oh, and did I mention the shredded cheese that comes on top? If you order the tacos for takeout, the cheese will melt in the container by the time you reach your destination (across the office plaza).  Ahhh... delicious, heavenly guilt.

Hola, Naranja.  Thanks for introducing Pepito's potato tacos.  I have a feeling Orange will be good to me.  Until the next carb-filled discovery, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20110411+0526

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Post 52.1: Hello Orange, Part 1 - International Potluck

Because last year's international potluck was so successful, we decided to hold another one at work again.  Having co-workers that represent a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds allows all of us to learn and enjoy the cuisine from all different cultures.  Basically, it's good to have good food.  Here's a look at what the Orange office brought in for the picnic in the conference room... along with 5 words that they would use to describe the food from their culture.

Empanadas with chimchurri sauce contributed by Steven
Peruvian (empanadas), Argentine (chimchurri sauce)

Everybody knows a delicious empanada.  Whether it's Mexican or Cuban or from another Latin American nation, these baked hemispherical pastries filled with ground beef and shredded chicken are more than just tasty.  They are savory... inspiring... addicting.  Could I be a pathological empanadic? I believe so, and I think it's safe to say that I wouldn't be the first.  The ground beef within the empanada has a fervent personality.  It's rich in spices, and the flavor permeates the air around your oral cavity, which leaves a satisfying, lasting warmth.  

With plenty of parsley, garlic, cilantro, oregano and bay leaves, the chimchurri sauce is tough enough to pair with the strength of the ground beef.  It's not as spicy as you would believe, but it's definitely full of flavor.  A squeeze of lime will help cut the oil that the herbs are swimming in and will give the sauce a bit of a citrus kick as well.  Truly delicious... break me open another empanada, please.

Medianoche sandwiches put together with Liz's personal spin

Traditionally these heavenly sandwiches were served to the hungry in Havana after dancing the night away at the local discotheque, hence the name medianoche or midnight sandwiches.  Well, in that case I might have to attach the medianoche title to Korean tofu stew.  With cheese sprawled over the ham, a crunchy bite from the pickles, and butter melted over the top of these rolls, the savory sandwiches are enough sustenance to have during any meal.  In fact, one co-worker mentioned that the medianoche name should be changed to mañana or morning sandwiches.  Hmm... good idea.  I'd throw a fried egg right in the middle of all that cheese... and I'd make sure the yolk was runny too.

Matzo ball soup made by Molly

The soup was actually made by Molly, a Chinese from Taiwan, but you'd never be able to tell that non-Jewish hands formed the matzo dough or that the chicken soup was concocted by the rotisserie chicken from Costco.  Authentic? Hell yeah.  It tastes like something I'd get at Brent's Delicatessen... sans the sodium and oil overload.  In fact, I prefer Molly's homemade chicken soup over the matzo ball soup at the local deli.  I wasn't even suffering from a cold, and I had three bowls.

Pork and vegetable steamed bao brought by Michelle

If life is like a box of chocolates, then opening a steamed bao is like opening presents on Christmas morning.  You may have a good idea of what's inside, and chances are you are probably right... but there's no amount of shaking or peering within the wrapper that will confirm your suspicions.  But... surprise! Pork and vegetable filling? Sure, I'll take it.  The pork and veggies inside are just salty enough to complement the white bread on the outside.  Great balance... and not at all greasy or oily like the buns I had on the streets of Shanghai.  I could eat these all day.

Night market sausages with raw garlic supplied by Michael from SinBala

I don't know a single person that has tried Taiwanese sausage and has not liked it.  It's impossible.  The lean pork sausage is bursting with savory juices and is surprisingly sweet.  Who knew? Probably Taiwanese locals and tourists who routinely tour the open air night markets after dinner each night.  Traditionally eaten with toothpicks and skewers, Taiwanese sausages may be treated as a night market snack, but it's hearty enough to top over rice as a full meal.  Sausage donburi anyone? The thinly sliced raw garlic is a smart ingredient to use not only to cut the sausage grease but to give the sweet sausage a contrasting bite.  Got to the party late? No worries.  Some co-workers say they this sausage is even better eaten cold.

Cabbage rolls with bacon presented by Doreen

At last year's international potluck, the Irish-Polish cabbage rolls were a hit.  This year was no different.  The cabbage rolls were the talk of the conference room.  The only difference was that these were made with pork instead of beef.  Made from Doreen's family recipe that has been passed down for over 130 years, the cabbage rolls were stuffed with bacon, rice, onions and tomatoes.  This neatly wrapped, hearty dish may pair well with beer.  Wait... didn't I say that last year? Polish cabbage rolls in 2010 and no beer... Ukrainian cabbage rolls in 2011 and no beer... I should have known.  Alright, bring on the Russian cabbage rolls next year.  2012 I'm ready for you!

Nasch and chrusciki from Adam

Like a pu pu platter, the traditional Polish nasch plate comes with an assortment of goodies intended to help open the digestive system for the main meal.  Nasch can be assembled with any items in the kitchen or the pantry.  It's almost a welcome offering to visitors or guests.  Our nasch came with smoked summer sausage (sub for kielbasa), brie and cubes of smoked cheddar (perhaps a sub for korycinski or oscypek), pickles (sub for ogorek kiszony) and crackers.  Snooki or not, there's something on this plate for everybody.

Chrusciki or angel wings are crispy ribbons of fried dough that remind me of a flat, twisted doughnut.  Topped off simply with some powdered sugar, they are great to munch on after a meal with some tea or coffee or even by themselves.  Had I been the first to create these pastries, I'd make a chocolate dipped version for sure.  Ooh, I just had an idea...

Snickerdoodles baked by Rachel 

Who doesn't love cookies? Snickerdoodles are like a traditional sugar cookie but are bumped up by the touch of cinnamon and the cracked surface, which gives it a unique aesthetic appeal.  The name may be complicated, but the cookie is simply satisfying.

Carrot cupcakes crafted by Amanda 

Who doesn't like cookies? Well, who doesn't like cupcakes? The cupcake revolution has everyone scrambling for a $4 dome-shaped cake in a high income bourgeoisie location nearby.  But cupcake revolutionaries have left behind the less than a dollar homemade cupcake.  Amanda's carrot cupcakes were spiced up with ginger... and not just by a little bit.  The cupcakes are chock full of sweet and spicy ginger, which kept me coming back for more.  Why are they so good? Perhaps it's because Amanda's grandmother was a baker at Mrs. Field's back before the modern cupcake revolution.  Hmm... Amanda, is your maiden name Field? Methinks either Grandma owned the place or stuffed the recipe cards in her pocket on her way home each night.  Either way I may have to start a counter revolution.  Anti-red? Maybe anti-red velvet.  The carrot cupcakes brainwashed the words 'red' and 'velvet' completely out of my mental cupcake menu.

Chocolate eclair cake created by Deanne 

What do lasagna, Shrek, dressing in San Francisco weather, an onion, and this chocolate eclair cake have in common? Layers! Building the eclair cake involves layering graham crackers, Cool Whip and instant French vanilla pudding... a repetition of the same layering process, and a healthy (that's figurative in all aspects) topping of chocolate frosting.  After two slices of this at the potluck, I began to wonder why it wasn't called chocolate ecstasy cake.  The cake was a great way to finish off a gluttonous buffet of a meal.

Thanks to everyone who participated, contributed, and labored for this international potluck.  Our eyes were opened to new dishes and new cuisines, and I can safely say that we hope more co-workers join us next year for this tasty tradition.  Until then, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20110426

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

F.A.T. News 7: World's Largest Model Airport

I've been losing myself in this video of the model airplanes taking off and landing several times now, and around the one minute mark I start to believe that the model airplanes are real.

This trumps all childhood Lego sets:
World's largest model airport opens to rave reviews
article by Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY

This is the coolest model I've ever seen in my life.  If I could have brought this home with me from Toys"R"Us as a child, I would have never asked for another toy or Lego set.  But then again the article says, the model airport took six years to build, and I'm sure I would not have had the patience or the attention span to build anything remotely similar to this back in the day.  That's major attention to detail... insane.  I'm going to click 'play' again now.  So cool.

ML - 20110506