Includes: Elvira’s, Tubac, AZ; BK’s, Tucson, AZ; St. Jacques, Raleigh, NC; and more
Well, a number of people have mentioned how much they enjoyed reading my food adventures while I was in Tuscany. Several even suggested that I continue blogging. So … A Tarheel Tastes Tuscany is now A Tarheel Tastes! ‘Cause I do it all the time. (Taste, that is.)
Even if not another soul reads what I jot down, the fact is I like thinking about and talking about and writing about and eating food so much that I’ll get plenty of pleasure from blogging. I’ll just pretend someone’s out there, even if they’re not!
Anybody new here … the original Tuscany blog posts are archived under September.
(By the way, how do you like my new banner photo? It’s a Red Hook Lobster Pound lobster roll that I ate in Brooklyn with Erin in August. My favorite way to eat lobster in the whole, wide world.)
Vegetarian or not?
Let’s get the vegetarian thing out of the way first off. When I’m at home, I’m mostly a pescatarian (those who eat fish, but no other animal flesh). Many strict vegetarians don’t believe in throwing that word around. Oh well, it works for me. And I don’t eat seafood that often — but I sure do like it when I do.
But when I travel, I indulge in the specialties of wherever I am. And if they contain meat, so be it. I still prefer to avoid eating too much, even when traveling (wow, did animal protein slow down my normally speedy and happy digestive system in Italy!).
Other exceptions: Once in a while lamb calls out to me. (Oddly enough, it’s the only meat I ever crave.) And if my being a pescatarian is a big pain in the ass to those around me I’ll sometimes cave in.
My reasons for avoiding meat are more health-based than anything. (I do draw some lines in the sand, though — like foie gras. Ugh.)
So … I apologize to all you hard-line vegetarians out there, but that’s just the way it is. Let’s move on.
Here’s some of what I’ve been doing, food-wise, since I last blogged. (Sorry, this post will be l-o-n-g. Catching up to do.)
Yum, here goes!
A mere nine days after I returned from Italy, I was on a plane headed for Arizona — and Sonoran food!
We were stationed in Tucson back around 1970 — when I was 10. My adoration of Sonoran-style Mexican food must have taken root way back then, because no other Mexican lives up to it in my book.
We “ate some memories” (as one of my aunts puts it) at places that were in Tucson in ’70 and are still there now (and looking much the same), such as El Charro and Casa Molina. But we had two truly memorable meals at establishments that came into being more recently. And they couldn’t have been more different from each other.
The first was a fabulous lunch at Elvira’s in Tubac, Arizona, which is south of Tucson and not too far from the Mexican border. Apparently the chef, Ruben Monroy, had run an Elvira’s in Nogales, Mexico (a kind of split border town — one Nogales is in Mexico, and right across the border is Nogales, Arizona) and decided to open one in Tubac.
The interior design was pretty fantastical. Dripping glass and bizarre blue lights and etc., as you can see.
Those of you who are my Facebook friends know that my mom had her first-ever tequila shot (your first “hola” shot at Elvira’s is just 50 cents) at this momentous lunch. She was scared to try it — thought it would burn. But she followed our tutelage like a pro, and after she threw it back she murmured, “Ummmmm!” So I ordered her another. By the time lunch was over she’d had three shots and one margarita! (Sorry I didn’t upload a photo of the famous first shot — she got mad enough when I put it on Facebook!)
The food was fabulous. Outstanding, creamy guacamole. And Mushrooms Ajillo — oh my god! Mushrooms sauteed in butter, olive oil and two types of chilies: guajillo and chile de arbol. They were possibly some of the tastiest mushrooms I’ve ever put in my mouth.
I had the Chili Poblano Frida Kalho. The chili was stuffed with squash blossom (memories of Tuscany!), roasted corn and chihuahua cheese, and was covered with a bean chipotle sauce. It was spicy and awesome. Everybody else seemed to enjoy their lunches, too. A great time was had by all.
The day before we left Tucson we went to BK’s, one of the several spots famous for serving Sonoran hot dogs. The decor was the extreme opposite of Elvira’s — a cheesy Mexican fast food joint complete with bad, slightly lewd Hispanic videos. But all the cooks were Mexican, and one was even wearing a cowboy hat — so I knew we were in for a treat.
Sonoran hot dogs are wieners wrapped and grilled in bacon and nestled inside an ultra-soft, closed-end bun called a bolillo. It’s then smothered in mayo, ketchup, mustard, relish, salsa and grilled onions — and that’s before you go to the massive fixins bar, which was full of all kinds of condiments, some that I recognized and others that I didn’t. I loaded mine up, and it was indeed tasty.
But even better, in my opinion, were the caramelos — kind of a loose quesadilla. I had read online about how fantastic they are and the reviews were spot-on. I had a carne asada and mushroom version. It contained the perfect amount of jack (caramelos aren’t as cheese-laden as our typical American quesadillas are, and are fatter and not as smushed flat), yummy carne asada that had been cooked over wood and mushrooms. The mushrooms appeared to be the canned variety, but oddly enough they didn’t detract from the overall effect — in fact, they added a nice touch of moisture.
I almost wished I hadn’t had the hot dog so I could have had another caramelo!
As always, I’ve been cooking and eating lots of good stuff back home in Raleigh.
A couple of stand-outs:
A Korean barbecue tofu burrito from the Korean BBQ truck at the second annual Cooke Street neighborhood carnival (spicy!)
Desserts from a cooking class at St. Jacques restaurant. Lavender creme brulee, chocolate mousse, and (the best, to me) a really different apple tart. Usually I’m not much for apple-y desserts, but this one was really great. The base was puff pastry. This was topped with a very, very flavorful apple cream, and finally cooked apples. The beauty of this tart was that the whole thing can be prepared in advance, and warmed up (or not). You can even make it for a crowd, on a big cookie sheet. Great idea.
And finally, my dinner tonight was so pretty and perfect for a cold, rainy autumn night that I had to share a photo. A colorful hash made from onions, yukon golds, sweet potatoes and beets, scented/flavored with fresh sage, topped with a poached egg and accompanied by frisee salad. (Thank you, Cooking Light magazine.)
Now I have to sign off to go make Giada’s chocolate honey almond tart to share with friends tomorrow night. Life is delicious!