Work hard, play hard, is one of the mantras kitchen folk live by, and it certainly seemed to take effect here in the cycling house today. At the halfway mark, today brought with it a feeling of jubilee. Perhaps it was the crystal clear sunrise, the 75 degree weather, the 80 miles the cyclists rode, or the birthday of Jill, one of the riders. What ever it was, tonight felt celebratory.
As the riders settled in after a ravenous lunch and afternoon showers, guitar music echoed through the cavernous marble tiled house as mojitos were muddled. Punctuated by laughter, the music lifted the mood as the rum widened smiles.
While I didn’t ride 80 miles, I did go the extra mile, driving for an hour to buy tortillas. What appeared to be “just across town” on a map of Tucson became an hours drive across the sprawling city, one continuous strip mall. After just one wrong turn, I ambled down a side street ridged with speed bumps, past chain linked yards holding cacti and pitbulls, to the Anita Street Market. Behind a chain link fence of its own, the caged windows and small sign gave little indication of the magic inside. Upon entering the smell of fresh corn tortillas overwhelmed me and I knew I was in the right place. I was in the kind of place worth driving an hour to just for tortillas.
As I was selecting my tortillas, I placed my hand on a bag and was taken aback. They were steaming hot! Not only were these tortillas made in this unassuming storefront, far off the beaten path, but they had just been made.
I bought 7 dozen, which didn’t total more than 10 dollars, and made it home with closer to 6. Once in the car, trapped inside with the tortillas, the aroma tortured me until I gave in and ate one, two, five.
Back at the cycling house I knew I needed to do everything I could to fill these tortillas well. I enlisted my sous chefs, the wonderful kids who run this place while training themselves, and we created a feast fit for the flatbread. We simmered chicken in spices, pickled carrots and jalapenos in bay and oregano, mashed avocados, roasted tomatillos, chopped this and that. But the favorite of the evening was the filling made for the vegetarians, one of yams, caramelized onions, and queso fresco. It was best inside the amazing 4 inch corn tortillas with pickled carrots and jalapenos, and an extra helping of the fresh cheese.
2 large yams, roughly 1 pound a piece, cut in 1/2 inch cubes
2 cloves garlic, minced
2/3 cup oil, approximately
1 yellow onion diced
1/4 cup queso fresco
1. Toss the cubed yams with the minced garlic, salt, and 2 to 3 tbsp of oil. Roast in a 400 degree oven for half an hour, until cooked through.
2. When the yams are cooked through, remove them from the oven and set aside. Over medium high heat, warm 1/4 cup oil in a large skillet and cook the onion until caramelized. Add the yams and mash lightly into the onions, tossing to mix well. Taste and check seasoning, correcting with salt as needed.
3. Fold in the queso fresco, and serve.
Pickled Carrots and Jalapenos
1 1/2 cup vinegar
1 1/2 cup water
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp Mexican oregano
6 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic
4 large carrots, sliced into thin coins
2 jalapenos, sliced into thin coins
1. Bring the water, vinegar, and sugar to a simmer. Add the bay leaves, oregano, garlic, carrots, and jalapenos. Remove from heat and allow to stand for at least 3 hours, cooling at room temperature.