Tacotopia, Episode #2: The Taco Takes Texas

Though Texas is, like California, a border state, I don’t really associate it with tacos. Sizzlin’ pans of fajita chicken with bell peppers, yes — but not so much the humble and extraordinary taco.

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Last April, I made a Texas smoked brisket for my daughter Willa’s ninth birthday party. No, she did not ask for a brisket — I just thought it was a good idea. What little girl doesn’t dream of smoked brisket for her birthday?


Jon, Redeemed

Long-time readers may recall with a chuckle posts from the past about our pal, Jon — who, it always seemed, had ten thumbs when it came to cooking.

Or perhaps rather, it might’ve been a convergence of confusion and disinterest when it came to matters of the kitchen, as he made periodic attempts to host us for under-prepared dinner parties, or arrived triumphantly at a friend’s dinner party with a huge slow cooker full of his famous Jack Daniels-and-Coke sausages. (Recipe, in Jon’s words: “Jack Daniels, can of Coke, polka kielbasa. Cook the shit out of it.”)

Presenting dinner by Jon

Presenting dinner by Jon

We love Jon. So it is always with a bit of culinary trepidation but joy in our hearts that we accept a dinner invitation, as we did the other night. I typically offer to bring something, hoping he’ll ask me to bring the entire dinner (as he sometimes does). But this time he was firm: “Don’t bring anything.”

I obliged… mostly. (Preferring to not take chances on the beverage front, I did bring a bottle of wine.)

Jon would be serving tacos. In the past at Jon’s, we have had pizza and hamburgers, and he has often sought my help: “What do we need to do to make this taste good?” That would not be the case this particular evening. Jon opened the door and welcomed us with a heretofore unseen confidence.

For appetizers, there was cheese and crackers — the former, deftly sliced and fanned across the plate; the latter de-boxed with an almost theatrical flair.

“Can I get you a taco, Seanie?” he asked. I nodded enthusiastically, excited to watch his next move.

The taco

The taco

And then he presented it: a perfectly executed gringo American taco. The store-bought taco shells were crunchy, yet yielded just enough to the bite, revealing a layered interior of toothsome, authoritatively spiced ground beef, chewy and briny grated cheese, gossamer cubes of red tomato and the cooling crunch chiffonaded (i.e. chopped) iceberg lettuce. And, presciently avoiding another typical pitfall of the gringo American taco dinner, Jon provided plenty of everything — since there were thirteen of us, and you can’t eat just one of those tacos… nor two… nor three.

I could almost hear the collective cheer rising from Jon’s East Coast family, who had gotten used to reading about his foibles and missteps on this very blog. Jon was triumphant, having redeemed the family name and his own culinary dignity.

We looked forward to future dinners at Jon’s. What would he pull out of his chef’s hat next? Spaghetti and meatballs? Stir fry? Soup!??

Jon’s recipe: “Get some boxes of taco shells and a package of taco seasoning. Make the ground beef. Scoop some beef into the taco shell, top with shredded lettuce, tomatoes and cheese. And some onions and guacamole if you like.”

Consider the gauntlet thrown down — especially you East Coast Bucks!


Dad’s Night

In the interest of dispelling any outdated notions of men’s night out without the wives being about poker, cigars, cheap beer, pizza delivery and foul talk, I present an alternative: Dad’s Night in Topanga.

Host dad Dan tends to the important stuff

Host dad Dan tends to the important stuff

It all started with a text from my friend and oft-Skinny-Girls sidekick, Dan. His wife was out of town, he was at home with the kids, did we all want to get together over the weekend? Turns out my wife was going out for a “girl’s night” for a pal’s birthday on Saturday, and Dad’s Night was ON. More

Giving Jon a Second Look

My friend Jon has long served as comic relief for my blog. If my cheffy friends are the Shakespearean thespians, he is Falstaff, the bumbling kitchen clown. I like to post shots of his attempts to make himself dinner, or stories about his inviting his visiting parents over to our house for a meal.

A few nights back, we were invited to dinner at our friends the Tehranis, and Jon would be joining us. He called me beforehand. He wanted to know if he made his specialty, Coke-and-Jack Daniels sausage, if I would feature him on my blog again.

Jon, like a proud papa, and his sausages

Jon, like a proud papa, with his sausages

“The first time is free,” I said. “After that, you have to pay to be on it.” More


When I was in my 20s, I wrote a cookbook called “The Single Guy’s Cookbook & Guide to Entertaining.” My friend Mark (you may remember him as “Sidekick Mark” from previous posts) and I were at sushi one night talking about how impressive and economical it was to cook dinner for a date. Recite to her a little poetry you’d written with a glass of wine by the fire afterward, and she was yours. The recipes were simple and good, the advice intuitive… a book that was basically a guide for all those guys who burn toast or ruin a salad.

Jon's dinner

So it is with our friend Jon. Recently separated from his wife, he’s the guy who invites us over for dinner, and then asks what we’re having. He’s the guy who sends me pictures of what he’s preparing for dinner so I’ll feel sorry for him and invite him to our house instead. When his parents are in town visiting, he invites them to our house. He’s one of our favorite people and we love his kids, so we don’t mind. But I feel an almost philanthropic instinct to feed him. More