Taco, I Can’t Quit You

Bruce was having trouble posting a comment on my “Goodbye, Year of the Taco” post.

“What did you want to say?” I asked, being that I was now standing beside him in person and could simply accept the comment first-hand.

“I was going to ask why the Year of the Taco has to end.”

“Well,” I replied, “It doesn’t really end. That was more for the narrative and thematic purposes of my blog.”

He looked puzzled, but the answer seemed to comfort him.

The kids and I on the hunt — the prized lion's mane!

The kids and I on the hunt — the prized bear’s head!

As it happened, we were at Bruce and my mother’s house deep in the forest of Sonoma’s Russian River Valley for our annual holiday visit, and there would be tacos on the menu. Our second evening there, we had a crab feast. The next day, the leftover crab made for a perfect lunch of one of my favorite tacos.

However, it was the taco invention I would stumble upon that evening that would prove to be the culinary epiphany of the visit.

The set up is important: A favorite ritual of mine and the kids’ when we visit my mother is to go mushroom hunting in the woods on her property. Around Christmas time, we usually find abundant quantities of one of my favorite mushrooms, the matsutake. This year, because of a deluge in the days preceding our arrival, the matsutakes were mostly washed out and soggy. But as we nosed our way through the woods in disappointment, we discovered an equally delicious treasure: A fallen tree boasting a large shaggy growth of bear’s head mushroom. Jackpot!

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My sister, who is vegan, noticed the mushrooms and asked if I might cook her some — it’s one of the few toothsome, satisfying meat-like foods she can eat. I heated some olive oil in a pan, fried a little garlic and scallion, and added the mushroom, torn into pieces.

Because it was water-logged, it at first took on a stew-like appearance. But as the liquid cooked off, the mushroom began to crisp up. I was looking for even more crispness, so I sprinkled some rice flour (sis is also gluten-free) over the top, and flipped the mushroom in the pan. As it became more golden, more crisp, it began to take on an unlikely resemblance — it looked just like pork carnitas!!!

Bear's head carnitas browning in the pan

Bear’s head carnitas browning in the pan

This was an opportunity I could not let pass. I grabbed some tiny street-taco-size corn tortillas, the leftover salsa from the crab tacos and some onion and cilantro, and in an instant we were eating wild mushroom carnitas tacos.

The Year of the Sandwich was not off to a very convincing start.

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Wild mushroom “carnitas” tacos
serves 4-6

1 lb. bear’s head or lion’s mane mushroom (available in autumn/winter at some specialty stores or Asian markets)
1 large scallion, chopped
1 large clove garlic, minced
4 tbsp. olive oil
1/4 cup rice flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 small brown onion, finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
12 taco-size tortillas
hot salsa such as salsa naranja

Clean the mushroom of any dirt and debris, without washing it if at all possible. Tear or cut into medium-size pieces.

Heat the olive oil over medium high, and add the garlic and scallion. Cook about 1 minute, stirring, and add the mushrooms. Cook for about 3 minutes, until the mushrooms begin releasing their water. Stir, and continue cooking until all water has cooked off and the mushrooms are beginning to crisp up. Sprinkle with rice flour, and gently turn mushrooms over with a spatula. Continue cooking until they begin to brown and crisp on the floured side. Turn once more, cook about 2 minutes more, and remove from heat.

With the spatula, lift the mushrooms onto a piece of foil, and keep warm in the 180-degree oven.

Toss together the chopped onion and cilantro.

In the same pan you cooked the mushrooms in, toast the tortillas a few at a time over medium-high heat, about 1-2 minutes per side, until they begin to crisp slightly and turn golden (add a bit more oil for each round).

Compose the tacos: place a few pieces of mushroom carnitas in each tortilla. Top with onion/cilantro mixture, and drizzle with a little salsa.

More Cool Gadgets That Take Up Space You Don’t Have

The best obscure one-use gadgets come from Europe. My friend from Austria gave me a spaetzle maker. How often to YOU make spaetzle?? Probably less often than I, which is a couple times a year — often once around Oktoberfest. The spaetzle maker takes up almost one whole drawer all by itself. But when I make spaetzle, I sure am happy to have it.

The spaetzle maker

The spaetzle maker

I also have a raclette stove, which takes up the better part of a whole cupboard shelf. Raclette is an Alpine French cheese that you melt on tiny skillets, and then mash together with boiled potatoes and cornichons. The last time we used it, George W. Bush was president. But boy, is it cool. More

Goodbye, Year of the Taco

In the first weeks of January, I declared 2016 would be the “Year of the Taco” at Skinny Girls & Mayonnaise. And the year did not disappoint.

The last taco

The last taco

I ate delicious tacos in East L.A., Mexico and Hawaii. I added six new taco recipes — including air-dried pork, Veracruz-style fish and Oaxacan turkey mole — to a blog that already boasted nearly a dozen. It was a good year. More

Globalization, Topanga Style

Globalization is a bit of a loaded word these days. Obama likes it, but Trump sorta scrunches up his nose and waves his arms about it.

We celebrated the globalization of our own little coastal California canyon recently with “Heritage Day” in my 5th grader, Willa’s class.

The Heritage Feast

The Heritage Feast

“Dad, what’s our heritage?” Willa asked about a week before her heritage presentation was due. Her mother and I cobbled together an approximate lineage. Between the two of us, she was probably close to 50% Irish, I contributed my 25% Swedish, plus some English and Welsh; my wife added German and Norwegian, plus a bit more English and Welsh. More

Thankful (But Not for Grasshoppers)

I had just finished my last post about my pal Mike and his wife Bridget harassing me from Oaxaca with their photos and videos of delicious meals, when they returned — bearing gifts!

There was a lovely and colorful dishtowel, a jar of black mole paste which to this cook is as good as its weight in gold, and there was a small jar of chapulines — roasted grasshoppers.

Chapulines

Chapulines

On the adventurous eater scale of 1 to 10, I consider myself about a 7. I’m no Anthony Bourdain. But I’ve recently been venturing more deeply into the euphemistically named world of “variety” meats, have sampled the slimiest offerings the world’s oceans put forth, and am a fan of such culinary curiosities as Japanese fermented natto and the stinking durian. There’s not a lot I won’t try, at least once. But one taxonomic class I have steadfastly resisted ingesting is that of the insect. More

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