Taste of Bloomington 2012

In honor of August 24 being the first “Flavors of 4th Street” international food festival that I will be blogging about, I am posting some salivating photos from this year’s “Taste of Bloomington,” as a teaser.

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“I’d rather fillet a roma tomato than dice a red onion.”

Avocado skins make for perfect portions.

It is 11:08 p.m. and I am finally at my computer, ready to blog about my experience of making a double-batch of guacamole. I aimed to perfectly craft guacamole in taste and appearance, to the best of my abilities.

My abilities took four hours.

I researched which guacamole I wanted to test out, and I decided on Alton Brown’s (no relation that I know of) recipe on foodnetwork.com. It’s Alton Brown, so the recipe’s perfect to near-perfect already, right? Scientifically and culturally proven to be perfect, usually! Or that’s how I perceive it on his TV show. Anyways, I had a whole spread planned out in my head of what I wanted to make for dinner and I went to the store to buy all the ingredients. I completed one “dish,” and it wasn’t even my proposed entrée.

If Alton Brown says to seed a Roma tomato, you do it.

My love for cilantro and garlic portrayed simply. This took time and distracted me, too. Creative Design by Haley Brown.

I’m not a chef; I cook for fun, and I don’t do it often enough. I believe that what I make shouldn’t be visually boring or flavorless. But I know sometimes that’s just its nature. I find myself looking at food photos online or in print and I just love coming across good photos/recipes. My bookmarks are piling up, and if I’m going to cook it, I need to share it. I love food, I love photos and I love food photos, so I might as well combine everything using the cooking/writing/photography skills that I have developed from my family, friends or on my own and by means of my college education. Alas, here’s my personal niche in food blogging/plogging (photo blogging). And if I’m not cooking it, I’m going out to restaurants to order it. (I’m already developing my food album on Flickr and Pinterest.)

I grew up not liking guacamole, avocados or onions, but somehow over the years I developed a better taste for guacamole. Still working on the onions but I really can’t stand them (unless they’re “masked” which is hard to do, but definitely not plain onions).

I think my appreciation for good guacamole happened during my Spring Break vacation in 2009. My mom, sister and I went to California to visit my aunt and we traveled along the coast from Oakland to Santa Barbara. It was at Post Ranch Inn where we took an evening to relax after hanging out on Pfeiffer Beach. We sat on the deck of Sierra Mar, Post Ranch Inn’s restaurant, atop the cliffs and looked down and across the Pacific Ocean during the sunset all while enjoying tortilla chips and a trio of salsa, black beans and guacamole. It was one of the most tranquil spots I’ve been in. The dinner we ate much later was probably the most exquisite meal ever, but I can’t even attempt to recreate that moment and that meal, and I am still overwhelmed by it and grateful for indulging in it thanks to my mom and aunt.

Later that week we headed to Santa Barbara. For lunch one day, we ate at Sandbar Mexican Restaurant and Tequila Bar and again ordered guacamole to go with our chips and salsa. I don’t eat guacamole a lot, or hardly ever, but I think I got a major craving recently because not only did I miss that whole trip and those memories, but let’s face it, a hint at a vacation every so often is nice if it has been awhile and you’re not preparing for one for the future.

Four hours of peeling, scooping, chopping, dicing, filleting, mixing, mashing and preparing guacamole and photographing it in between and after. Unfortunately I don’t have any cool gadgets to help out the process, such as the ones my grandpa used to collect, but I may need to invest. It took my Chicago Cutlery Santoku knife to halve the avocados, my C.C. paring knife to extract the fruit from its skin and a spoon to scoop it out. I managed to keep the skins intact to create serving boats for the guacamole and I added a finishing touch of minced cilantro on top.

Guac boats.

When I cook, I try being thoughtful, methodical and cautious. Baking is a slightly different story consisting of not-exact measurements and it usually doesn’t turn out as well as my cooking results do. At least guacamole is filling. (Avocado superfood!) My double-batch bowl of guac topped with lime juice, plastic wrap and a lid will hopefully hold over for a while in the fridge.

Tomorrow’s a new day and a new dish, and I’m thinking burritos.

If your chips don’t come in a bag like this, you’re doing it wrong. (The only tortilla chips from my local grocery store that I can approve.)

Side note: Not sure why I gravitate towards Mexican or Tex-Mex foods for cooking/blogging (Cheesy Gordita Crunch rendition was posted earlier). I even have a Spanish night planned. Italian will come later; I have a great pasta sauce recipe that I haven’t made in years. Plus I need to steal some family recipes and share what the Brown/Freeman/Stegman/Huffman/Carlson clans can whip up, but our tradition with sharing recipes is to leave out an ingredient so the dish is never the same/authentic. (Puzzler!)

Semi-Homemade Cheesy Gordita Crunch

Homemade Cheesy Gordita Crunch

Update: I started a new “Food Photography” album on Flickr.

It was a limited-time product, but now it is a mainstay on the menu. Taco Bell describes it as a “warm, pillowy flatbread covered in a melted three-cheese blend, wrapped around a crunchy taco and topped with a zesty Pepper Jack sauce.” One of my favorite items to order off the Taco Bell menu is the cheesy gordita crunch. As a recent college graduate, yes, Taco Bell is still a guilty pleasure.

I still live right off campus from Indiana University, and this week is Spring Break but I’m not on vacation. How about serving up cheesy gordita crunches and throwing together a fiesta?! Sand not included.

I was shopping in WalMart recently and came across some shelf products made by Taco Bell. I had no idea that they offered packaged salsas and sauces, so I purchased the Spicy Ranchero Sauce hoping that it’d be a good substitute as a cheesy gordita crunch sauce.

Spicy Ranchero Sauce, Ortega taco shells, cheese, and On The Border hot salsa. Not pictured: taco seasoning, ground chuck, water, lettuce, and Taco Bell Mild Sauce

You could definitely make your own sauces, salsas and tortillas and get really creative with it, but my idea came about quickly and I went for the faster, packaged selections instead. It’s actually a simple taco recipe, just with craftily constructed shells. I put the Spicy Ranchero Sauce on the side, and turns out I didn’t really like it anyways. Maybe just melting pepper jack cheese would have been more suitable. I can try that next time.

Start with:

1 box of Ortega Grande Taco Shells, Hard and Soft Tacos. It comes with 8 hard shell tacos and 8 soft tacos and is perfect for “cheesy gordita crunch”-making.

1 lb. ground chuck. This is enough to make six, depending how much fills the shells.

1 cup water.

1 pkg. taco seasoning mix.  I had Kroger’s on hand.

Lettuce. I had bags of romaine salad on hand that I sliced up.

Taco sauce. Of course, I used mild sauce packets from Taco Bell.

1 package of blended Mexican cheeses. The Great Value brand I bought at WalMart had Monterey Jack, Cheddar, Queso and Asadero cheeses.

Salsa. I typically have four different salsas in my fridge because I’m picky, but now my favorite is On The Border Hot Salsa.

Shells on top of cheese-covered tortillas. Photo credit: Isaiah Ashba

Ortega directions I followed but improved on:

Taco-seasoned ground chuck. Photo credit: Isaiah Ashba

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Remove hard shells from container and arrange on baking sheet.
  2. While waiting for the oven to preheat, brown the beef in a pan on the stove and drain the fat. Stir in 1 cup water and packet of seasoning mix, then heat until thickened while stirring mixture often.
  3. Place baking sheet with hard shells in the oven and bake for 3-4 minutes.
  4. Using a hot pad, remove sheet from oven, then take out soft tortillas from container. Shells will be hot, but gently move them to the side of pan or on another clean surface. Place soft tortillas on the baking sheet and sprinkle cheese on tortillas, covering the surface but still leaving space around the edges for cheese to melt. Place shells directly on the tortillas. Make an even amount of shells and tortillas. Bake for roughly 20 seconds, depending on oven. The cheese needs to be softened and melted but not completely.
  5. Remove baking sheet. Quickly but gently fold tortillas around shells and press together firmly around sides and bottom. Be careful because shells are fragile.
  6.  Fill newly made gordita crunch shells with beef, taco sauce, salsa, lettuce, cheese and enjoy!

Isaiah takes a bite.