Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Just When You Thought You Knew Someone (Anna's Taqueria Review)

During the dog days of summer, almost all of our cooking involves the grill. But in extreme heat (record-breaking temps this week), the last thing on my mind is to put myself in front of an open fire. A bowl of cereal would suffice if it were just I. But the littles need more sustenance. Local eatery here we come!

Everyone has his or her “go-to” place for take-out. They are often affordable, quick, and consistent. No menu is needed as you often order the same thing. And it is unlikely Instagram-worthy. It’s the unsung hero of family dinners, yet always welcomed enthusiastically.

One of our go-to take-out places is Anna’s Taqueria. My husband and I have been going to Anna’s since our days as BU undergrads. The place is a Boston institution. Now celebrating 15 years, Anna’s has six locations all over the greater Boston area. Anna’s is one of the most beloved taquerias in the area – and that’s saying a lot for a town that has more burrito joints than you can shake a tortilla chip at.

For years (and years, and years…) I’ve been ordering the same thing – grilled chicken burrito with cheese. Anna’s menu includes lots of great options such as quesadillas, tacos, and Mexican plates. But since my college days, I very rarely stray from my grilled chicken burrito.  And now as a mom with two hungry boys, we still frequent Anna’s and they too will order the same thing visit after visit – chicken burrito for my oldest and rice and beans for the 3 year old.

So when I got an invite to attend a summer picnic hosted by Anna’s to try other items, including a soon-to-launch new kid’s meal, I knew it was time to be “adventurous” and try something new.

So how did it go? The boys loved their kid’s meal – a mini version of Anna’s Mexican plate. They got a choice of rice or beans (pinto beans), choice of chicken, steak or grilled veggies (chicken) and a small quesadilla. They attacked it as if it was a deconstructed chicken quesadilla and went to work reconstructing it their taste.

For the grown-ups, they had range of burritos to try: including grilled chicken (of course), chicken ranchero (spicy with peppers and onions), carnitas (roasted pork), chili verde (pork in spicy sauce), al pastor (rotisserie-cooked pork), steak, steak salsa roja (spicy pepper-based sauce), barbacoa (shredded beef in chili sauce), lengua (slow-cooked beef tongue) and grilled veggies.

photos courtesy of Anna's

We also got to try some of their house-made drinks such as Horchata (traditional, sweet, cold Mexican drink made from ground almonds and milk) and Jamaica (Mexican fruit punch made from boiled Passion Flower petals). So good.

So let it be known, on June 27, 2012, I retired my grilled chicken burrito obsession and have moved on to my new favorite – the al Pastor burrito. And yes, washing it down with house-made Horchata.

So if you haven’t been to Anna’s (the horror) or haven’t tried something new, I encourage you to go. Like today. It pays to be adventurous. Just not sure if I’ll ever be so adventurous to order THE CUBIO. For those that aren’t familiar with the Cubio, it is not for the faint of heart (it isn’t even on the menu). But here’s a hint: three super burritos rolled into one.

Anna's Taqueria (Brookline, Beacon St) on Urbanspoon

Disclosure: Thanks to Anna's Taqueria  for hosting the event, which I received free of charge. I have no material connection to the brands, products or services mentioned. As always, opinions are my own.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Macy's Great American Chefs Tour with Ming Tsai

I am a big fan of the original reality TV – cooking shows. You get solid entertainment in the raw without the manufactured drama like some shows (shows that sound like "shmeal mouselives" for example). So when I heard Chef Ming Tsai was doing a live cooking demo as part of Macy’s Great American Chefs Tour, I was there faster than a carload of hungry chefs racing to their next elimination challenge on Top Chef.

In partnership with KitchenAid, celebrity chefs from Macy’s Culinary Council (if there was a Cooking Hall of Fame, these chefs would all be in it) are touring the country, making stops in over 15 cities this summer. These chefs will visit Macy’s, culinary schools and other venues, doing live cooking demonstrations while dishing out cooking tips and samples at these events.

Cut to last week where Chef Ming Tsai (of Blue Ginger fame and a formidable media empire of his own) prepared Shrimp, Mango and Herb Summer Rolls and Wok-Stirred Veggies and Rice Noodle Salad. As he prepared these dishes on stage, he managed to get the audience laughing, asking questions, and drooling as he deftly maneuvered from ingredient to ingredient like the pro he is (he did defeat Bobby Flay in Iron Chef America after all).

Shrimp, Mango and Herb Summer Rolls w/Mango Puree

Wok-Stirred Veggies with Rice Noodle Salad

Here are some cooking tips I learned from this experience:
  • Use fish sauce sparingly… the stuff is pungent. And you don’t want to know how fish sauce is made!
  • To drain and stop pasta from cooking, drain in a salad spinner
  • When cooking with green onions, use the white part for flavor and finish with the green part for garnish 
  • For fresh lime juice, roll limes with your hand before squeezing. Then slice in half and use tongs to squeeze.
  • Champagne pairs well with just about everything. Or as Ming puts it “it goes with everything, including mornings.”

I’ve always been a big fan of Ming Tsai – love his cooking shows, cookbook, recipes (his Asian Chicken Noodle Salad is one of my summer favorites), and restaurant. And thrilled to see that he’s coming out with a new cookbook this fall – wahoo!

Meeting an Iron Chef with Viola Cay
So if you get a chance, check out any of these other Macy’s Culinary Council events. And get cooking this summer. Can’t think of anything better than some fresh summer rolls while watching an episode of Top Chef Masters… or Storage Wars.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Grilled Butterflied Lemon Chicken

Move over hot dog. Here comes a new 4th of July staple.

Summer, so it feels, really only just began. The kids finally started day camp this week. We've already had two heat waves in the northeast. And I've already eaten many, many hot dogs and burgers. And it isn't even the 4th yet. Is it unpatriotic of me to just say "no" to hot dogs, burgers, and potato salad this Forth of July? Because I don't think my stomach (or waistline) could have another for a while.

So instead of the usual Independence Day fare (because we know our Forefathers chowed on dogs and sliders while drafting the declaration), we are going to grill some... wait for it... chicken. Gasp! All kidding aside, we found a fantastic recipe for butterflying and grilling a whole chicken. With some sharp kitchen shears and a little patience, it is probably the tastiest, juiciest chicken you will make this summer.

Butterflied Lemon Chicken
Adapted from Cook's Country Backyard Barbecue: 
The Absolute Best Recipes For all Your Summer Favorites


  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 (3.5-4 lb) whole chicken
  • 3 lemons
  • 1 tablepsoon minced fresh parsley
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, mashed to a paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil


1. Combine lemon zest, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper in a small bowl.

How to butterfly a chicken

2. Butterfly chicken: Start with the breast-side down, cut along both sides of the backbone, beginning at the tail end. You can freeze the backbone for making chicken stock later. Flip the chicken over and with the heel of your hand, flatten the breastbone by pushing down firmly until you hear a crack.

3. Loosen chicken skin covering breasts and thighs by sliding your fingers between skin and meat, then carefully rub zest mixture evenly under loosened skin.

Transfer chicken to rack set over a baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes to 24 hours. 
4. (For a gas grill) Turn all burners to high, cover, and heat grill until hot about 15 minutes. Leave the primary burner on high and turn off other burner(s).

5. Clean and oil grates. Place chicken, skin side down, on cooler part of grill, with legs closer to hotter side. Cover and cook until skin is well browned (45-55 minutes). Meanwhile, place lemon halves (cut side down) on hotter part of grill and cook until caramelized (5-8 minutes) and transfer to a bowl. 

6. Carefully slide chicken to hotter part of grill and cook for about 5 minutes longer (until deeply browned and breasts register 160-165 degrees and thighs register 175 degrees). Transfer chicken to carving board, tent loosely with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes. 

 7. While chicken cooks, squeeze about 3 tablespoons lemon juice into a bowl. Stir in parsley, mustard, garlic, sugar, and season with salt and pepper. Slowly whisk in oil until emulsified. 

Carved chicken chinese style - chop bone-in

8. Carve chickens and transfer to a platter. Pour vinaigrette over chicken and serve. You will see fireworks once you take a bite!

What are some favorite summer barbecue recipes? 


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