la carta de oaxaca

Mexican food is necessary for my survival. When I begin to become deficient, my body starts to lag, sputter and spout off puffs of smoke. “Time for a top off,” Husband says, and he takes me to one of my favorite joints to be replenished.

Aside: Could we make cars that run strictly off of Mexican food? Seattle hippies, get on it. Obama? Give them money, please. Watch for me next year on Time’s 100 Most Influential People list. Rainy Day Gal, the woman who founded the movement for clean-burning enchiladas.

I am so freaking smart sometimes that I blow my own mind.

This is one of said favorite joints, or it is now. Being the Mexican food junkie that I am, it may surprise many of you that I had never visited here before. According to Mexican food savants, It’s pretty much the end-all, be-all of Seattle’s Mexican food scene.

Deep in the heart of Ballard, surrounded by a slew of bars, pubs, restaurants and shops, Carta (as locals call it) can get crazy-busy—it’s in a happenin ‘hood. But unlike the number of establishments that stay in business around here because of frat boys and friday nights, it’s here for exactly what it promises: southern Mexican cuisine. And it does a damn good job at it.

I didn’t intend to order the halibut tacos when I dreamed up a trip to this place. In fact, it’s really the last thing that I would order to judge a Mexican restaurant. But when I read the little blurb on the menu that described tender grilled fish topped with fresh pico and a sweet, spicy chipotle sauce, I knew they had to be mine.

The halibut itself was truly the highlight—incredibly fresh and not over-seasoned, not fried and not disguised in a tartar-esque sauce. Simply grilled, served on fresh tortillas with a sweet, tangy sauce. This is how fish tacos should always be. Always. Do we need another movement here? I will call this one, “The Movement for Delicious, Non-Fried Fish Tacos.”

My brother, who works in the area and was able to join us for lunch, went with the Molotes: a sausage and potato blend wrapped in tortilla and fried, topped with house made mole, hot sauce and guac. I’m not usually one for two starches in one dish (potato plus tortilla, in this case), but I thought that the filling was nicely complimented by the fresh corn taste of the tortilla breading. And the mole sauce? Oh my. It was richer and more intensely flavored than any other mole I have ever tried. I could actually taste the chocolate and it gave the sauce a beautifully rounded flavor, as opposed to chain restaurant mole that tastes more like watered down beans mixed with cocoa powder.

Let the “Movement for Exceptional Mole Sauce and Riddance of Bean-Flavored Mole Impostors” begin. Sign my petition at the bottom of the page.

Husband chose the Tacos Enchilados: mini chicken enchiladas fried and topped with that gorgeous mole sauce and queso fresco. Very tasty and not overly-stuffed. Light, crisp, and covered in that addictive spicy chocolate sauce.

I’m all out of creative movement names. Just eat these dang things. It will change your life.

And little bear? She happily noshed on little bites of everything we were having, plus one of mom’s makeup brushes swiped from a bathroom drawer at home. She’s so damn cute she won’t ever need that makeup stuff.

But in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll tell ya that she dropped my favorite makeup brush in a pile of cigarette butts as we were walking down the street after lunch. I considered replacing it, remembered that it cost $30, and then promptly soaked it in a bath of shampoo and disinfectant once we returned home. But I’ll never put on my blush without thinking of where that dang brush has been ever again.

Oh, is that two makeup brushes you see in her hands? Yep. One is a freebie Clinique, a.k.a. “Lucy’s brush” from now on. The other is clean, de-contaminated, and under lock and key in my makeup drawer.

Brush debacles aside, I’m pleased to say that I’ve found a new fill-up station for when my tank starts to run low. Do you think a body could run on mole sauce alone? It’s worth a shot, right?

And Jamie Oliver, watch out. There’s a new revolutionary in town, and I’m taking this movement guerilla-style.

-RDG

day 9: banana tarte tatin

My husband and I have issues. We’re trying to work through them, but sometimes it just seems like there’s no hope.

Here’s the glitch: we both like green bananas. Yellow? No thanks. The tiniest fleck of brown? Compost. God forbid–brown? Get it our of our kitchen. Stat.

So when the days go by and we’ve forgotten to eat the bananas in the two day window that we will actually consume them, what in the heck are we going to do with them?

I have a solution. This may save our marriage. And our over-ripe bananas.

I know you have some in your kitchen too. So c’mon. Let’s roll.

Grab those ripe little buggers. Three or four of ’em. Throw an orange in there while you’re at it (for zesting only).

These guys would have been thrown out two days ago in our household. Waaaay too much brown goin’ on there. But for this recipe, the riper the better. They taste more banana-ey that way.

Also grab some frozen, ready-to-bake puff pastry. Keep in mind that one sheet takes about 40 minutes to defrost, so plan accordingly.

What did people do before frozen, ready-to-bake puff pastry? Make their own or something? Twas a hard-knock life.

Finally, you’ll need a half stick of butter, one cup of sugar (baker’s sugar, if you have it–granulated if you don’t), and some tasty cinnamon. Non-tasty cinnamon need not apply.

First, cube up the butter. Place it in a pan that is stovetop and oven safe*. This guy is enameled cast-iron, but you could also use a dutch oven. Put the butter over low to medium-low heat to get it melting.

*If you don’t have a pan that would work, don’t fret. You’ll just have to be extra careful transferring the hot caramel into a baking dish.

Meanwhile, halve the ‘nanners…

…and zest half of the orange.

Once the butter is melted, add the sugar.

Stir until combined…

…and continue cooking until the sugar is dissolved and you’ve got yummy, golden caramel. This should take 5-10 minutes over medium-low heat, or maybe a bit longer if you’re using regular old granulated sugar. Be SUPER CAREFUL: this stuff BURNS. Wear oven mitts and an apron to protect yo-self.

Very carefully lay the bananas down in the caramel mixture and sprinkle with the orange zest and a few dashes of cinnamon.

Lay out one sheet of defrosted puff pastry on a floured surface. Roll it out into whatever shape your pan is–we’re going to lay it on top of the bananas. My pan was round, so it wasn’t so much rolling as it was tucking.

Very, very carefully lay the shaped puff pastry on top of the bananas. It should come up to the edge of the pan and cover the banana mixture fully. Prick it a few times with a knife or fork. Toss it in a 350° oven for 25-30 minutes, or until the pastry is golden.

I have a good feeling about this one.

Now, CAREFULLY (and I do mean CAREFULLY–I channeled my over-cautious mother for this part) place a plate over the pan. We need to flip this sucker out face-up while it’s hot or else the caramel will meld to the pan and life as we know it will be over. Oven mitts, aprons, a welding mask–suit up, people. Flip it over quickly and cautiously.

Are we all okay? No burns, scalds or scratches?

Good.

Oh. My. Goodness. (Over) ripe bananas have never looked so good.

Let it cool for a few minutes before serving.

Right about now is when you’ll have your family hovering in your kitchen. The aroma will be completely irresistible.

I decided to carve it up like a pizza pie for ease of serving.

A dollop of whipped cream, a dash of cinnamon, and…

heaven. Pure, unadulterated heaven.

Let’s just say heaven didn’t last long.

The bananas became infused with the warm caramel, the crust was flaky, and the whole time eating it I couldn’t help but think, “this is comfort food.”

Good think we always have bananas turning brown around our house. We’ll be making this a lot.

Happy 9th Day of Bakemas!

-RDG

You can find the recipe for Jamie Oliver’s Banana Tart Tatin right here.