Queso Fish Tacos

questo-fish-tacos

I live in San Diego, home of the best Mexican food in the world (outside of Mexico, that is). We take our tacos pretty seriously around here and my family can get pretty snobby when it comes to Mexican cuisine. It is part of the reason we will never leave San Diego. Ever.

Fish tacos are my husband’s go-to dish. There are so many great choices in San Diego, we usually go to Ranchos or El Zarape in North Park, but are always on the look out for new and delicious spots. (Comment with your favorite fish taco spot, and we’ll either try it or judge you) (half kidding – see above).

One of my favorite tacos shops in San Diego is Lucha Libre, which is a hipster taco restaurant in Mission Hills (and North Park!) San Diego with a luchador (Mexican Wrestler) theme, amazing salsa, and a line out the door. Go there. They are awesome. But my FAVORITE item on their menu is the queso taco – Where they melt cheese on the griddle and make it all crispy, then put it on a corn tortilla and fill it with carne asada, avocados and a secret cream sauce. It is a little sample of heaven on earth. But healthy? Probably not.

In true fearless flying kitchen fashion…I have to try to make the best in San Diego by combining everything I love about tacos (all while trying to make it a pinch more healthy). Why not do a mash up of this delicious cheese and meat filled taco with my husband’s favorite dinner?

Meet the Queso Fish Taco.

Grilled white fish (Tilapia or Mahi-Mahi, I used fresh tilapia from Trader Joe’s – Can’t beat the price either!) seasoned to perfection with chili and lime, a crunchy cheese and corn tortilla wrapper, leafy green cabbage slaw, home made guacamole. It really is the recipe for a perfect taco Tuesday…or any day..or, every day.

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First, I have to talk about my proudest discovery, which was mixing the Cruciferous Crunch Collection with the Cilantro Salad Dressing. I normally look at this salad mix when I am at Trader Joe’s and have never been inspired, since it seems too leafy and kale packed for my liking. But it is definitely worth the purchase. It could be great as just a regular salad tossed with a creamy dressing or used as traditional cole slaw, just with a leafier texture.

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Cruciferous Crunch Collection (Kale, Brussels Sprouts, Broccoli, Green Cabbage and Red Cabbage) mixed with Cilantro Salad Dressing

Fish Taco Slaw

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: super easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 bag of Cruciferous Crunch Collection
  • 2 Tbsp Cilantro Salad Dressing (or amount to taste)

Directions:

Mix well, until combined, and serve as cole slaw, or top with your favorite toppings and enjoy as a salad.

Next step, was some home made guacamole. Now, I can’t take too much credit here. I just copy the table side guacamole from El Torito. But it is delicious, and highly recommended.

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Homemade “Hibshman Guacamole”

Homemade Hibshman Guacamole

  • Servings: 10
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 5 Medium Avocados, sliced and mashed up
  • 1/3 of a yellow or white onion, minced
  • 1 Roma tomato, diced
  • Handful of fresh cilantro, diced
  • 1/4  Jalapeno, minced very finely (to taste)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt and Pepper to taste (go easy on the salt at first and try it with a chip. Usually don’t need too much salt because the chips are salted).

Directions:

Mix all ingredients together and enjoy!

Most fish tacos you find out and about are breaded and fried. Not my favorite. We also don’t have an outside grill, so I did a hybrid of the two, and pan fried the fish with a bit of butter (but no breading).

I also haven’t ever cooked Tilapia before.

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So, this was really quite the miracle that this turned out. But, in all fairness, I did a lot of research on it…

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Grilled tilapia with a chili-lime rub

Chili-Lime Rubbed Tilapia

  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • Zest of one lime
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • 2 Tilapia Filets, cut in half (four total pieces)
  • 1 Tbsp butter (or Olive oil…whatever)

Directions:

Mix everything except for the tilapia and butter together. Rub evenly onto the tilapia. Meanwhile, heat a skillet or griddle on medium-high heat and melt a pat of butter (or Olive Oil if you prefer. I like the flavor that the butter adds). Once the pan is hot and butter is melted, cook tilapia for about 4 minutes on each side.

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We ate our Queso Fish Tacos with pinto beans and watermelon. Other delicious sides include rice, grilled veggies, corn or a simple salad of bell peppers, tomato and cucumber with cilantro, lime, salt and pepper.

Queso Fish Tacos

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients

  • Eight corn tortillas (two tortillas per person)
  • 1 Cup Shredded Mexican Cheese
  • Chili-Lime Rubbed Tilapia
  • Fish Taco Slaw
  • Homemade Hibshman Guacamole

Directions:

See recipes above for Chili Lime Rubbed Tilapia, Fish Taco Slaw and Homemade Hibshman Guacamole.

To assemble the tacos, heat a griddle on medium-high heat, sprinkle cheese on griddle, the same size as the corn tortilla you are using. It will melt and then start to crust, and it is in between these two phases that you pop the corn tortillas on top, for about a minute. The bottom will crust up and the top will stick to the corn tortilla. Remove with spatula and put on plate.

Slice fish into large chunks and assemble on crispy cheese, then add your Fish Taco Slaw and Guacamole. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Tacoladas: Beef and Veggie Pie

Beef-and-Veggie-Taco-Pie

Do you remember math class in school? I do, and I remember two things in particular: One, was that I hated it. Two, was that I would get such a rush every time I found out I had the right answer when I checked the back of the book.

I sometimes get that same feeling when I COMPLETELY create and improvise a recipe from scratch. I am talking, no pinterest-ing, no internet searching. Nothing. And then it actually turns out, and it is delicious. Even better when there are lots of vegetables too! Such a rush.

So, behold my Taco Pie, aka. the source of this rush:

Taco Pie

Taco Pie. Er, Casserole. Er, …nevermind

Ok, that seems a little silly after I look at this picture. I mean, it looks like just any regular casserole, right? (Side note – If anyone can come up with a better name for this, please let me know in the comments below. It does not resemble a pie in any way shape or form, that is just what I keep calling it. And I think the term “casserole” can scare some people off with nightmares of cream of chicken soup and mayonnaise. )

From the bottom to the top, this casserole starts out with a hint of my favorite TJ’s salsa (I use the Trader Joe’s Roasted Tomatillo Salsa, but there are many you can choose from, just pick your favorite), then a layer of corn tortillas, cut into triangles.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

Now, many of my friends have gone back and forth over “what is the best corn tortilla found on the shelves of Trader Joe’s.” My personal favorite is the “De Mi Abuela: Wheat and Corn Tortillas” because they are a little bit thicker, and have lots of flavor. Not every one in my house is a fan of that one, so I usually end up getting the “Corn Tortillas” that are gluten-free and have minimal ingredients. They are just your regular, run-of-the-mill tortillas. And that is perfectly acceptable in a dish like this, that has so much flavor and other textures going on.

Trader Joe's Corn Tortillas

Left: De Mi Abuela
Right: Corn Tortillas

The next layer is a mix of 6 different veggies that have been sautéed in a little bit of olive oil. You could probably swap out some of the veggies if you have other favorites. It is kind of a cool way to clean out your fridge if you have just a few randoms laying around. While I had my cutting board out, I actually ended up dicing a lot more veggies than this, and then saving them for the following morning to add to an egg scramble.

Nothing more beautiful than a rainbow of veggies in a skillet

Nothing more beautiful than a rainbow of veggies in a skillet

After that layer, add some more corn tortilla triangles, then the layer of ground beef. I like lean ground beef (96% lean) because it is pretty inexpensive, and is easy to freeze and de-thaw. I also ALWAYS have some hanging out in my kitchen. But if you prefer a different type of protein, you could easily swap the ground beef with turkey, or even shredded chicken (YUM!) Simply brown the ground beef (or ground turkey or chicken) in a skillet. It can be the same one you just cooked the veggies in. Then add a can of diced tomatoes and a half packet of taco seasoning. If you like your food on the spicy side, add a little more. If you like it less spicy, add a little less. However, there was enough heat for me and my family with just half a packet.

Put that mixture on top of the corn tortilla triangles, then load the top up with some shredded Mexican cheese and bake in the oven until it is bubbly, about 20-25 minutes.

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I topped mine with some guacamole, salsa, sour cream and Jalapeño Greek yogurt dip. No, I am not a glutton, just indecisive. I think the Jalapeño Greek Yogurt dip won. It is my current favorite.

And the icing on the cake, is the leftovers are even better. I just love when meals get better with age.

Tacoladas: Beef and Veggie Pie

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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Ingredients:

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 medium onion, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 zucchini, diced
  • 1/2 yellow squash, diced
  • 1/2 package of mushrooms, diced
  • 2 cups kale
  • 1/4 cup salsa verde (Roasted Tomatillo Salsa)
  • 8 corn tortillas, cut into triangle wedges
  • 1 lb 95% lean ground beef
  • 1 can tomatoes with green chilies
  • 1/2 packet taco seasoning
  • 1/2 package Mexican cheese

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium high heat. Once warm, add onions and cook for a few minutes, then add bell pepper and cook for another couple minutes. Next, add zucchini and yellow squash, continue to cook for a few minutes. Then add mushrooms and cook for a few motte minutes. Lastly, add the kale.
  3. In a 9×13 glass dish, spread salsa along the bottom of the pan, then spread corn tortillas on top. Put cooked veggies on top. Do another layer of corn tortillas.
  4. In the same large skillet, brown lean grown beef. Once brown, add taco seasoning and tomatoes and cook on low for 8-10 minutes. Once cooked, add to casserole dish. Cover with cheese and bake for 25 minutes, until cheese is starting to bubble and brown. Remove from oven and let sit a few minutes before serving.

Suggested Side items – Black beans and a salad with Cucumbers, Tomatoes and Cilantro Dressing

Suggested Drinks – Trader Joe’s Organic Mango Lemonade (with or without tequila)

Coffee Rubbed Sirloin Steak with Mushroom and Kale Quinoa Pilaf and Broccolini

Coffee-rubbed sirloin, truffled quinoa pilaf with mushrooms and kale and a side of broccolini

Steak has always been one of my favorite foods. I’m not going to say that it is because it is the perfect vessel to chow down on A1 Sauce, but I am also not, not going to say that too. I am always so intrigued by steak toppings, and always am eager to try them, so I can compare them to my beloved A1 Sauce. You can imagine how excited I was to see the brand new product on the shelves of Trader Joe’s.

Another reason I love steak, is that the internal cooking temperatures aren’t as strict as they are with chicken (which I undoubtedly will overcook every time in fear of Campylobacter jejuni). You can eat a rare steak with little food safety risk. I didn’t follow any particular recipe for preparing the steak, just liberally rubbed the Coffee & Garlic BBQ Rub all over each side of the steaks and grilled them until they were medium rare.

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As for the side dish, I can’t think of a one I love more than rice pilaf, with its earthy, mushroomy flavors. I decided to try to make my own version with quinoa and truffle oil. If you thought rice pilaf couldn’t get more delicious, you have to try this!

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Mushroom and Kale Quinoa Pilaf

Ingredients:

1 C quinoa (tricolor)
2 C vegetable broth
1 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion or 1 shallot, diced
1 bag or container of mushrooms, sliced and roughly chopped
1/2 bag of kale, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and diced
1 Tbsp white truffle oil
1/2 Tbsp butter (again)
Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste

Directions:
Cook quinoa in rice cooker with veggie broth. Meanwhile, add butter and olive oil to a pan over medium heat. Once it is hot, add diced onions and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Then add mushrooms, garlic  and kale and continue to cook, about 4 more minutes. Once all the veggies are cooked through, add the cooked quinoa, additional Tbsp of butter, truffle oil and salt and pepper and turn on low until ready to serve.

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As for the vegetable side (because I firmly believe that dinner is not complete without vegetables. It is just my thing), I chose Broccolini, just stir fried with a bit of salt and pepper (in the grinder). I like my veggies with a bit of a crunch, so this doesn’t take very long at all.


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** FARMER’S MARKET SPOTLIGHT**

photo 1 (12)There are very few items that Trader Joe’s does not carry, and I have to look elsewhere for them. One of my all-time-favorite ingredients is White Truffle Oil. One of my favorite brands is “Bristro Blends” which is a vendor at several local farmer’s markets. I also have tried their Meyer Lemon Olive Oil and Heirloom Balsamic Vinegar, both of which are staples in my kitchen. They are pricey (and I am very cheap, so this is saying A LOT), but are worth every penny.