Friday, July 24, 2009

Nixtamal in Corona

It's not often that The New York Times reviews something in my old neighborhood of Corona. I had been hearing about a new tortilleria for a while, but hadn't made my way over there. And then it started getting press, and I realized it was my duty, as a chef, as a wanna-be Mexican, as a resident of Queens, to go. And after our experience today, I could not be happier that I answered the call. Our stomachs rumbled as we walked towards 104th street, and to our surprise, Nixtamal Tortilleria was standing across from Jose's old apartment. We took it as a good sign. Our original plan was to buy some masa to go, and then come home and make sopes, but as we walked into the tiny, sunlit space, the earthy aroma of corn triggered an urge to eat immediately, so we sat down at a table. First came the tamal. The chicken was tasty, the red sauce was good, but the filling was of the least importance. It was the masa that made it. It was light and spongy, Jose approved.

We were about to order our tacos when the woman, I assume she was one of the owners, recommended the carnitas. Now who are we to turn down carnitas? We accepted, and two beautiful tortillas arrived, filled with meat and topped with chopped onions and cilantro.

The carnitas were delicious, not crispy, but full of flavor, with nuggets of pork skin hidden in each bite. The tortillas were soft but not mushy, they didn't fall apart like the store-bought ones tend to do. We ate in silence, nodding our heads in unison as we ate, perfectly content to be where we were in that moment. It was peaceful, quiet, our stomachs were happy, or at least mine was. I sat back on the bench and had a sip of my Sidral soda before savoring my last bite. Jose ordered another taco.

The tortilla machine.

This is where the carnita magic happens.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Salad Days

It's been hot. We've been busy. We've been lazy. There has not been much cooking going on in our house lately. But we have been eating lots of salads. Here is the first of many, and this one was entirely Jose's creation. Red cabbage, grilled corn, toasted pumpkin seeds and pine nuts, carrots, radishes, basil, and scallions all tossed with mint pesto. Grilled skirt steak to top it, and that was our Monday night summer dinner. It was crispy, salty, sweet, and refreshing. I made nothing, and it was great. I'll make dinner tomorrow, I promise.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Happy to be Home

Chana dal with lots of tomatoes, onions, and spices

Chicken curry with chilies

Zucchini with black mustard seeds

Whole wheat chapatis

It's been a while since I've been able to write anything. It's been a while since I've been able to cook. The Fourth of July came and went, summer is here, although it really doesn't feel like it.
We've had a really long, bad week in the Markel/Gonzalez house, with emergency room visits and lots of staying indoors, but Jose is much better, almost back to normal, and we can finally get back to our regular routines. So yesterday, after going to the hospital to get stitches removed, we took a walk to find some ingredients and make our first real dinner this month. It was a beautiful and very hot day as we made our way to the Trade Fair on 37th Avenue and 75th Street, stopping here and there, just happy to be outside. Once the doors slid open, we wandered the aisles separately until we got lost. Past the section devoted to canned pickles and olives with Arabic script, next to bags full of spices, turning the corner were bottles of Brazilian palm oil nestled against Peruvian cans of aji amarillo, halal meats, organic chickens, Polish preserves, it went on and on. But when we both found ourselves in the spice aisle we knew what we wanted, and began to construct our ideas for an Indian dinner. A packet of chana dal, some chicken breasts, black mustard seeds, and whole wheat chapatis went into the red plastic basket, and we were on the express line and on our way home. I started to cook, and the house filled with the scent of cumin, of chilies, of onions and ginger, of tomatoes bubbling in a big pot, of curry, of cooking, of home, again.