10 Delicious Foods That Should Be Taco Fillings

Baja Fried Fish Tacos | Big Girls Small Kitchen

This week, I interviewed Wes Avila of Guerrilla Tacos for my complete guide to tacos on First We Feast. At his Los Angeles taco truck, I learned, he changes the menu constantly, based on inspiration from what’s available or what he finds himself eating in his regular life. He told me he’s made tacos from leftover fideuà and from the Armenian sausages he buys in Glendale, his neighborhood. I loved how he talked about the creativity involved in translating his world into food, particularly tacos. Here’s how he puts it:

Wear what you dig. Cook what you like. If you like really spicy stuff, go for it. If you like exotic things, go for it. As far as you being the cook – professional or home – when you’re cooking something that comes from the heart…that’s when you can make something tasty. If you have good ingredients, and you can simply cook it, and not try to do some BS fusion crap you saw on TV but cook something you like, then you’re in the right direction.

As I so often do when I’ve been testing something for a piece, I ended up subsisting on tacos and leftover tacos materials for several days. I’m not sick of them. In fact, I’ve forgotten all about rice bowls and sandwiches, my usual vehicles for edible miscellany. Now, I want to wrap everything in a corn tortilla, just like Wes. Cooking what you like, right?! Here are 10 dishes from the archives I really like, which are suddenly begging for the taco treatment.

1. Chicken & Cauliflower YakitoriVegetables and chicken baked in a sweet soy sauce should come off the skewer and into your taco. Instead of salsa, drizzle on sriracha.

2. Manchurian CauliflowerThe Chinese-Indian favorite features crispy cauliflower in a sweet and tangy sauce. A dollop of yogurt would be welcome on top.

3. Paneer Bhurji. Paneer kind of reminds me of Mexican fresh cheese, and this dish evokes a spicy egg scramble, so maybe it belongs not just on any taco but on a breakfast taco.

4. Corn Pudding. Corn on corn! Add something crunchy to make the textures work, like pickled shallots or radishes.

Kitchen Stuff: The Handheld Mixer

Handheld Mixer

In a small kitchen, you don’t need a lot of equipment to cook great food. Still, you do need some pots, pans, utensils, and dishes–obviously. In the BGSK book, you’ll find a bare bones list of necessary tools, but I’ve long wanted to bring you a similar resource on the web.

So we’re going one by one, stocking up our virtual pantries and maybe our real ones too.

Over the weekend, we celebrated my mom’s birthday. While I zested lemon for the batter, my sister Kate tried to cream three-quarters of a stick of butter in a very old handheld mixer in my sister Jill’s kitchen. Once the cake (raspberry-swirled lemon cake with lemon cream cheese icing) was in the oven, we realized we’d had a really weird case of kitchen blindness. Jill has a stand mixer out on the counter.

The cake turned out great without the stand mixer’s super powers though. Handheld mixers are hardly as brawny, but they get the job done. And though stand mixers, particularly those in beautiful hues, make a generous housewarming present if you move into an actual house, when you’re cooking in a small apartment kitchen, they simply take up too much counter or cabinet space to justify their $400 price tag. That’s why, if you bake even a few times a year, I recommend directing your love to a much more accessible handheld mixer, one costs less than $40. You may have to beat your butter and eggs for a few extra seconds, and you’ll likely have to replace the mixer every four years when its motor peters out. But in the meantime, you won’t be put off by buttercreams or meringues–whether because you don’t own a mixer or because you don’t want to pull your heavy stand mixer out of storage.

(It should be noted, of course, that if you’re completely baking equipment phobic, you can always cream butter and whip cream with your spatula or whisk and your very strong arm.)

Here’s what you’ll make with your cheap and nimble handheld mixer:

Charmoula-Roasted Vegetables (with a Fried Egg)

Charmoula-Roasted Vegetables | Big Girls Small Kitchen

When you have documented, for anyone who would listen or read, that you’ll put a fried egg (or a handful of nuts) on top of anything, can you rescue this format (bowl of something + egg on top = B,L, or D) from the oblivion of those rando hodgepodge dishes meant to be eaten only in your own company?

Here’s one path to redemption: the fancy leftovers from a dinner party.

One of the only times I turn to actual recipes written by other people is when I’m hosting friends. It’s an odd habit, even a bad one. Dinner party rules say never to make a new recipes when eight hungry guests await the results, and they are probably right. I ran out of tin foil to cover the pans of the new-to-me fish, old-to-Paula Wolfert tagine, and the potato slices on top of the fish filets cooked so slowly that I dirtied an extra pot because it had a cover that kept the heat in better than tin foil. In the end, dinner was good (enough), and I didn’t breathe a word about the worrisome not-quite-soft potatoes to anyone at the table, a tenet from the rulebook that I do follow.

Anyway, the next day, I reheated the leftovers. Just the scraps from the pan–all the fish was gone. The charmoula–an ultra lemony Moroccan parsley marinade–had time in the oven to sink further into the vegetables and garbanzos that had cooked alongside the snapper filets, and as they roasted, they softened and grew tangy and tasty and flavorful. The potatoes, in particular, were way better than the night before.

How and Why To Build a Giant Nut Stash

Building Your Nut Stash | Big Girls Small Kitchen

If you want to cook seamlessly on weeknights and have something to eat when there appears to be nothing, here’s my advice: make like a squirrel and fill your larder with nuts (and seeds). I reach for almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, peanuts, pecans, pepitas, pine nuts, pistachios, sesame seeds,  sunflower seeds, or walnuts in about half of my cooking endeavors. Whether I want to make pesto, add crunch to a salad, or snack before my bike ride, I’m thrilled to rediscover my growing and miscellaneous buffet, and though I’m usually more minimalist about equipment and ingredients that belong in a small kitchen, right now I actually own all of the nuts listed in the second sentence of this paragraph, and I don’t begrudge them the space. Here’s how and why to build you a giant nut stash of your own.

Single-Layer Carrot Cake with Chocolate Frosting

Carrot Cake with Chocolate Icing

I didn’t expect to come back from a trip to the Southern coast of Western Europe with a new idea about carrot cake. I wasn’t sure there were any. But I did. Here’s how it happened. One day, on the way to see some more Gaudi in Barcelona, we stopped for lunch at a restaurant, La Pubilla, in Gracia, across the street from the Mercat de la Llibertat. Throughout our trip, the restaurants near the markets seemed to have the best food, and as the kind of tourist driven by her stomach, I find solid consolation in eating lunch directly after browsing market ingredients that don’t make sense to buy if you don’t have a kitchen. (As it goes, we did have an apartment with a kitchen in Barcelona, but we wanted to be out and about, not at home. I did cook (burn) these padron peppers, though.)

Chicken & Egg Donburi with Braised Rainbow Carrots

Chicken and Egg Donburi | Big Girls Small Kitchen

So much of the time around here, comfort food starts with the butter-bread-cheese trifecta or consists of just one thing–pizza–that I forget a whole other subset of soul-satisfying noshes, those based on rice. Donburi are just that: perfect, rice-based comfort food. At restaurants, they’re hard for me to order, since there are usually other important items on the menu that take precedent, like katsu and Japanese curry. Good thing then that they’re perfect make-at-home cuisine, unlike the deep-fried katsu (a mess!) and the delicious Japanese curry (a mystery of a recipe!).