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In my previous post, I extolled the virtues of machaca, a Mexican shredded beef of which I am inordinately fond. My standard plan when visiting family in Phoenix, is to stop by my favorite restaurant for a machaca chimichanga. The beef is no better than in a giant deep-fried burrito sauced with both fiery red and green chili sauces and sour cream, known as “Christmas style” in those parts. It is one of my favorite things of all time. While the beef is a fairly do-able thing to pull off in a home kitchen, deep-frying a giant burrito at home has never appealed to me. There are very few things I deep fry at home – chicken, egg rolls and a packzi or two are the occasional exceptions and a single chimichanga will not be added to that list anytime soon. When the machaca craving hits and December is months away what I’ll now do instead is whip up a batch of machaca enchiladas. Very delicious and a bit easier to pull off.

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I grew up in Phoenix and though I’ve now lived in Chicago for a good long while, my ideas of Mexican food were formed early in that hot, desert community at a lot of small mom & pop corner restaurants. “Our” Mexican food was influenced from the northern part of the country, just south of our Arizona borders, with a lot of local specialties thrown in. Say what you will about pollo fundito, a sort of square fried chicken burrito in a jalapeno cream cheese sauce that’s never seen the light of day in Mexico, but it’s pretty delicious and something with which every Phoenician is familiar and I’ll take a cheese crisp with green chilies over an ordinary quesadilla any day.

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All right. If you’ve been reading along the last few weeks, you know that my little garden plot has been rather prolific this summer on the tomato front. A steady 3-5 pounds have made their way home each week and I’ve been plugging along, making all kinds of things. This week I have a two-fer; two final tomato recipes for the season. Two recipes that are easy, delicious, perfectly do-able for a quick weeknight dinner and highlight what’s best about these late season tomatoes. So get in there while the going is still good and all these amazing tomatoes are still hanging around the markets. They’ll be gone before we know it.

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Around this time every year, I try to come up with a creative spin on Irish food for St. Patrick’s Day beyond the standard corned beef and cabbage or things tinted green or soaked with Bailey’s. I think the food of the Emerald Isle, like much of the UK, gets a bad rap. It’s the same situation everywhere: you get the good and you get the bad and I’ve had some phenomenal meals in Ireland. I’ve also had a few wretched ones. Whatever. In researching traditional Irish food, a few things come up repeatedly:  boxty, colcannon, soda bread. I had heard of someplace – in Southern California maybe? – that was doing boxty as a sort of potato pancake-crepe hybrid with various hearty fillings, and the thought stuck with me. Since I’ve had boxty exactly zero times, it’s been on my list to try for some time. But things are funny.  Sometimes what starts out as one thing, turns into something else as wonderful discoveries are made along the way.  And while this started out as an experiment in boxty, it was the filling that took me by surprise. Go figure.

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Like many travelers, I became obsessed with pizza while traveling through Italy.  It’s unavoidable.  It was the late ’90’s, my boyfriend and I had quit our jobs and were taking three months to travel right after I finished my final graduate school course in Rome.  To make our limited funds last the entire trip, we’d alternate between really nice and really cheap meals.  It’s no surprise that we ate a lot of pizza while in Italy – cheap, plentiful and filling, it made for a good snack or meal. And it was delicious!  Truth be told, we ate a lot of everything in Italy.  It was glorious.  There were authentic Napoletana style pies down south and thick slices sold by the weight farther north.  We tried them all. It was where I enjoyed my first real pizza margherita overlooking an old city wall in Naples, discovered incredibly fresh buffalo mozzarella that couldn’t have been more than a day old, and to my delight, a pizza with an egg in the center, the yolk running deliciously every which way.  All were wonderful, other worldly.  Between the pizza and the gelato, I was happy.  I discovered a lot of glorious things in Italy but this is definitely when my obsession with pizza di patate began.

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Jet lag is evil.  No matter how I try to prepare or counteract, it leaves me flattened, sometimes worse than others.  Earlier this summer, for reasons that are unclear, I opted to arrive in London at the grotesque hour of 6am.  Granted it was an impromptu trip, hastily booked before starting a new job but my thought was I could sleep the whole way there and hit the ground running.  That did not happen for one key reason:  old Hollywood musicals via the in-flight on-demand system.  Gets me every time.  By the time I arrived at my friends flat, everyone was just starting to wake and greet the day, ready for a hearty round of site-seeing. They were obviously over their jet lag.  Mine was just starting.

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As usual, I’m late to the party.  I learned about Ottolenghi, the eponymous London restaurant founded by Yotom Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, from the owner of small bed and breakfast in the Dordogne Valley long, long after everyone else.  I had to go all the way to France to learn about a couple of Israeli cooks who own a lovely food shop in London.  Yet somehow, that seems fitting.  By the time I got up to speed, their second cookbook Plenty had been published and their third, Jerusalem, was on the way.  They cooked in a manner I could instantly relate to – vegetable heavy and calling on the familiar yet exotic flavors of the Mediterranean, Italy and North Africa with a good does of California. I liked it.  A lot.

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