All You Need Is Love…And Taco Nights.

Nothing cures a…well, ANYTHING…better than a taco night! If you’re looking for an easy, quick and fun meal, tacos are a great idea. Meat (or meat alternative), shells, toppings, DONE! They’re quick to make and probably even quicker to eat, if you get as hungry and excited as I do.

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Taco nights have always been a guilty pleasure of mine…until I started realizing there was no reason for me to feel guilty. I had the idea, for years, that tacos were unhealthy. Totally not the case! What is a concern is the trans-fats that some store-bought taco shells contain. Many are made using hydrogenated soybean oil. There are ways around this! Some brands are better than others, check out the labels at your grocery store or try visiting your local health food store or organic grocery aisle for healthier options. You can even use soft tortillas or wraps. Continue reading

Peace, Love, Perfect Guacamole.

Making a perfect guacamole is a really useful (and tasty) skill to have. This delicious Mexican dip is a healthy snack, a good appetizer, and a perfect addition to a pot luck or barbeque menu. This is one of the first dips I taught myself to make, because it’s one of my favourites. It’s one of everyone’s favourites!

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I’ve gotten so many compliments on my guac over the years. It is time I share my secret. (Not too much of a secret…it’s pretty simple, actually.)

A few important guacamole rules I live by:
1. RIPE AVOCADOS
2. NO GARLIC
3. USE CILANTRO
4. SAVE THE PITS

Your avocados have got to be ripe for maximum sweet, creamy, delicious avocado flavour and mashing potential. You can tell an avocado is ripe when its skin has darkened and it is soft when you squeeze it.

Here are some videos I found on youtube that might help if you have avocado problems:

Despite popular belief, authentic Mexican guacamole doesn’t include garlic. When people ask me why my guac tastes different from theirs…it’s usually the garlic. So, save your garlic for something else!

Cilantro is a key ingredient in a good guacamole. Cilantro and lime are like a Mexican flavour-match made in Mexican flavour heaven.

A common problem when using avocado is that the avocado will start turning brown. This browning occurs once the avocado flesh is exposed to the oxygen in the air. (Same thing that happens with apples.) Although slightly brown avocado is still safe to eat…it’s not very nice to look at. There are  few things I do to keep my guac super green, and so far, it’s been working amazingly!
1. Lemon/lime juice slows down the browning process and is already one of the ingredients
2. Save the pits and put them back into your bowl of guacamole after you’ve made it. Food specialists claim that keeping the pit in the avocado also slows browning. It works for me!
3. If I need to store my guacamole, I use plastic wrap pressed right up onto the dip itself. Make sure there are no air bubbles. This way your guac comes in contact with as little air as possible. Refrigerate.

Perfect Guacamole

Ingredients:
I’ve made this so many times that I don’t measure my ingredients anymore. Your main ingredient is the avocado, all the other ingredients can be used to taste. Add ingredients bit by bit and taste as you go! TIP: don’t over-do the onion…may result in lethal onion breath burn.

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1/2 jalapeno pepper (or to taste)
  • Approx. a quarter of a red onion, not too much!
  • Fresh cilantro about 5-6 sprigs (wash and trim ends)
  • Juice of 1 lime (Can substitute with lemon juice. But lemons are bigger, you may not need to juice the entire thing.)
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tomato, remove all the seeds, diced (optional, I don’t always add tomatoes)

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1. Cut avocados in half. Remove pits and save for later. Scoop out all the avocado flesh into a bowl.

2. Finely chop red onion, cilantro, and jalapeno. I use a food processor. The processor will make sort of a paste-like mixture and your dip will be smoother. For a more chunky guac, chop with a knife. If you’re not a fan of spiciness, you can remove the jalapeno seeds. Jalapeno peppers aren’t generally too hot. I usually use half a pepper and leave the seeds in. Transfer chopped mix into the bowl with the avocado.

3. Add lime juice, salt, and pepper.

4. Mash, mash, mash, mash, mash. You avocados should be ripe enough to mash in the bowl with a fork. Continue mashing and mixing until everything is smooth and well mixed together. You can mash more or less depending on whether you like a smoother or chunkier dip.

5. Add in your chopped, deseeded tomatoes before serving. The seeds are removed to get ride of the excess water/juices. Without removing all the innards of the tomato, the juices will leak out and your guacamole will end up being really watery. If I’m bringing my guac to a friend’s, I always play it safe and keep the tomatoes on the side. Mix them in right before eating. That way you avoid watery pools forming. (I don’t have tomatoes in my photos because I didn’t add any this time around.)

6. To prevent browning, stick the pits back into the dip and lay plastic wrap right onto the top of the guacamole (no air bubbles.) Refrigerate if not serving right away.

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6. Serve with tortilla chips. 🙂

¡Buen apetito! xx

 

Mexican Feasting At La Carnita

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There’s almost no better way to celebrate a birthday than with a taco feast. Tacos are one of many pleasures in my life (with an emphasis on fish tacos). All my taco tasting actually began when I declared my life to be a continuing hunt for the best fish tacos in Toronto. I have to say though, there are a bunch of bests. I can’t choose one, that’s silly. There’s so many yummy variations, and I love them all. So naturally, when my birthday-girl-of-a-friend asks if I want to go for birthday tacos at La Carnita…I say HELL YES.

I’ve been to La Carnita a few times and cannot get enough of it! This once pop-up turned perma-restaurant serves delicious Mexican street food and has a great drink menu as well! It’s definitely a Toronto taco hotspot. The food and drinks are moderate to highly priced. I’d say two people could spend within 50 dollars for drinks and a satisfying spread of food (including an app and dessert). Totally worth it though. The atmosphere is super relaxed and they play great music (not too loud). When you walk into the restaurant, you are instantly greeted by the wonderful aroma, old-school hip-hop, and friendly staff. And The charming restaurant is dimly lit with unique light fixtures and full of dark, rustic furniture. The walls are covered in custom free-hand graffiti and murals, and it is always packed. They don’t take reservations, so you just have to pray they won’t be too busy. You can leave your phone number and they’ll text you when a table becomes available for you.

The best way to pass the time while waiting for a table is to take a seat at the bar (if it’s not completely full), and choose a delicious drink from their drink menu. They have great Mexican beers as well as wines and some really unique, yummy cocktails. I order a drink and I’m usually seated before I even finish it. I generally order a mojito…because I love them. However, this time I decided to try something new. Our drink selections:

The boys ordered beers (boys do that), but didn’t end up choosing Mexican varieties. They went for a pint of Muskoka Mad Tom IPA and a bottle of Liberty Ale. We girls opted to try beer cocktails. They were new to us, and quite delicious! My drink was called the Bread & Butter and involved mixing a bottle of Negra Modelo with iced lime juice in a chili and salt rimmed glass. She chose to try the OG Michelada, which was like a delicious spicy beer caesar. This was a mix of Clamato, lime juice, hot sauce, and a cold can of Tecate. If you like caesars, that’s a good one to try. I have a friend who lives and dies by La Carnita’s Who Shot Ya, which is a pink bourbon-based drink, and apparently delicious. It’s a mix of bourbon, ginger, lemon, and hibiscus grenadine. So creative!

As predicted, a table was ready for us before we were even five sips into our drinks. We sat down, got comfy, and began to devise our taco plan of action.

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If I could, I would order everything on the menu. They have a selection of yummy starters. We always start with the crispy housemade tortilla chips (that are dusted in ancho chile powder..yum!). The toasty chips can come with one side, or all three that they have to offer. We always do all three (again, don’t ask me to pick one). They make slight changes to the menu throughout the year. This visit we had a trio of guacamole, a fresh housemade salsa fresca, and a mezcal chipotle pate. I checked out their current menu and they’ve replaced the salsa with a sikil pak (Mexican pumpkin seed dip)…a reason for me to return! Chips are great! Dips are great! We ordered more tortillas to finish our remaining dip. “Umm, NO I’m not done with that!”

I’ve got to go back to try some other starters. I’ve had a swordfish ceviche there in the past that was delish. They also serve Mexican meatballs, avocado mango salad, and Mexican street-corn (when in season) charred to perfection with a Mexican crema drizzled over top.

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Now for the main event…TACOS! La Carnita does a variety of different tacos. All have their own kind of flavour and are yummy in their own way. The restaurant also offers daily taco specials, so there’s a featured taco for every day of the week. One of the features I have yet to try (but I’ve heard all about) is a crispy squid taco that they’ve named Squid The Kid (love their fun taco names). Crispy squid + mango hot sauce + crema + lime cabbage + red chillies + cilantro…sounds like Mexican seafood heaven to me. I’d like to go there when I die, please.

Side note about the strategic food-ordering skills I’ve developed with my boyfriend to maximize how many yummy dishes we can taste in one meal (that I’ve mentioned in other posts)… Our taco eating secret is to order all different tacos and eat half each. This is the best way to enjoy all the different flavours, and not have your jeans burst open during your meal. (If you explode, you probably won’t be able to ever eat again…big foodie fail). We usually do four tacos between the two of us.

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This visit, our quartet decided on two orders of In Cod We Trust, La Carnita’s famous voltron fish taco. I’m not religious, but I definitely believe in cod. 🙂 This taco is a MUST every time I go. (I told you about my fish taco addiction.) Fried cod + voltron sauce + lime crema + pickled red cabbage + cilantro = fish party in your mouth (pickled cabbage is one of my fave taco toppings).

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IMG_5185In Cod We Trust (half-devoured)

We also ordered two Crispy Avocado & Frijoles tacos.  These are so yummy and a great vegetarian option. Beans + crispy avocado + chipotle sauce + queso fresco (cheese) + cilantro = creamy, crispy, beany goodness.

IMG_3519Crispy Avocado & Frijoles taco

Another one I always go for is the Tostada De Ceviche. I gravitate towards the seafood options, and I LOVE ceviche. Swordfish + guacamole + coconut + habanero + tomato + cucumber…on a crispy tostada. The tanginess of the ceviche with the guacamole (and a bit of spice) is wonderful.

IMG_5157Tostada De Ceviche (two on the left)

A really good taco, if you’re not seafood-crazy, is the Pollo Frito. Chicken + peanut mole sauce + pickled green cabbage + salsa fresca. My favourite part about this is that the chicken is SPICY. I love a good kick to my food, and this was a very pleasant surprise. The pickled cabbage and spicy kick work wonderfully together.

The Beef Cheek!!! Another taco that offers some good, spicy flavour. Ancho braised beef cheek (tender creaminess) + lime avocado + green cabbage + pickled jalapeno + crispy shallots = spicy, cheeky love wrapped in a tortilla blanket.

IMG_3520Beef Cheek up front, Pollo Frito behind

One of the boys chose to go for the Thursday featured taco, the Cochinita Pibil. This is braised pork + orange jicama salsa + pickled onion + queso cotija. (The pictures tell me there may have been some guac in there too.) Never tried this one, but it looks almost like juicy pulled pork and I was told it was tasty and reminded him of chili.

IMG_5165Cochinita Pibil taco

When the taco platters start to arrive I get excited for what’s coming. We each bite into our first tacos and smile. So great sharing good food with good people. We spent our time eating, drinking, chatting, comparing tacos, and picking favourites. Before I even knew it, I was stuffed.

I’m not too much of a dessert person, but it was a birthday celebration after all. The dessert menu consisted of Churros, Paletas, and Tres Leche Cake. I pointed out that there were four of us, and three churros in a single order. We sort of hesitated to order six of these Mexican doughnut sticks. We were so full. However, the waitress laughed and said not too worry about it. People fight over churros, they would be eaten. We took her word for it and asked for two orders.

It was a smart decision, because they were delicious. Warm, crisp, and sugary, and served in a cup of warm housemade cajeta (sweetened caramelized milk). Non-dessert-eating me ended eating two churros, and scraping every last bit of cajeta from the cups. Sometimes I like dessert…

When you get your bill, it always comes along with a free limited print of a Dia de los Muertos inspired skull done by different artists. I think you can buy the prints too. It’s just one more thing I love about La Carnita. The work they do with art and the support they give artists. They’ve incorporated some amazing art in their restaurant, in the lighting and the art and murals on the walls. Super cool.

IMG_5209The print I got with my last meal to add to the collection 🙂

In a city as cultured as Toronto, there are so many great restaurants to try! La Carnita is one of my favourite Mexican restaurants. If you haven’t been there, you should give it a try. I think you’ll love it. 🙂

They’re located near College & Bathurst. On College St. just west of Bathurst St. (501 College St. Toronto, Ontario, Canada.) Check out their website!
http://lacarnita.com/

Happy feasting! xx