One of my favorite parts of living in Barrington is living near my parents and my brother. I know that Taco Tuesday is a thing for lots of families, but at our house, we do Taco Wednesday, because that’s the night that my parents and my brother come over after work for a super casual, low-key dinner with my husband and I and our boys.
If Sundays are a family dinner night or a neighborhood dinner night for you, I highly recommend making it a Taco Sunday.
If the weather’s nice, we eat outside while we take turns throwing the Frisbee or shooting baskets with the kids. My kids are so fortunate to have two grandmas and two grandpas who are very involved in their lives, and uncles and aunts, too. It’s such a gift for us to spend time with both sides of our family as often as possible, whether that’s in our driveway eating tacos and shooting baskets, or swimming at the pond at my in-laws house in Algonquin.
Like all families, our weeks are busy—work and travel and school and art classes and play-dates. Weeknight family dinners, then, are a chance to catch our breath, reconnect, relax and laugh and play together. These evenings are the opposite of stuffy, formal, just-one-more-thing-on-the-calendar nights—these meals are the home base where we exhale and connect and remember that the time we spend with the people we love is more important than the details and deadlines of the day.
The menu differs from week to week—sometimes I make barbecued black beans, sometimes a whole stack of quesadillas. Sometimes I braise chicken thighs in salsa and throw in onions and peppers. But some of our very favorite Taco Wednesday recipes are Henry’s Guacamole, Esquites, and Jennifer’s Catbirds.
I think every family has their own version of guacamole, and everyone thinks theirs is the best—but I’ll be honest: I’m pretty our son Henry’s is the best.
Our friend Joe says that garlic powder is the secret, and a chef friend named Brad says that everything in guacamole should be green—green onions, cilantro, lime. One of our favorite restaurants has a guacamole of the day that has all sorts of things in it—sometimes watermelon, sometimes pomegranate seeds, sometimes diced cucumber.
But as for our house, we keep it pretty simple, and pretty mild, because the kids aren’t into a lot of heat. We do keep a bottle of Cholula or green Tabasco (my favorite) next to the guacamole for those of us who like some spice.
When Henry and I make this together, I halve and pit the avocados, and then Henry scoops out the flesh and mashes it well. While he’s doing that, I cut the limes in half so that he can squeeze the juice over the avocados, and then I chop the tomatoes, jalapeño, onion, and cilantro. When the avocado and lime juice is mashed well, he adds in the rest of the ingredients, and stirs well.
Then the fun begins: we dig in with chips, and taste test to see if we need more heat, more citrus, more salt, whatever.
- 4 avocados
- the juice from 2 limes (or lemons, if you prefer)
- ½ an onion, red or white, finely diced
- ½ jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed, finely diced
- 1 handful grape tomatoes, chopped
- cilantro, chopped
- salt to taste
- Halve the avocados, and scoop the meat from the shells. Mash with a fork.
- Add lime juice, tomatoes, onions, jalapeño, cilantro and salt to taste.
- Garnish with cilantro and lime (or lemon) wedges.
Esquites/Mexican Grilled Corn
There are a million ways to make esquites, and my favorite is from Bien Trucha in Geneva. Once when I picked up takeout, I didn’t let the fact that I had no utensils stop me from tipping the takeout container straight into my mouth while driving.
- 12 ears of corn
- 1⁄2 cup mayonnaise
- 1⁄2 cup Cotija or feta cheese, crumbled
- Juice from half of a lime
- 1⁄4 teaspoon cayenne
- Shuck the corn, removing both husks and silks, and then soak the ears in water for at least 30 minutes. This keeps them from burning on the grill.
- Grill on high for 8 to 10 minutes, turning often. What you’re looking for is a mix of char and deep yellow kernels. When the corn is done, allow it to cool, and then cut the kernels off the ears.
- Mix together mayonnaise, Cotija cheese, lime juice, and cayenne, adjusting to taste. Mix with corn, and garnish with cilantro before serving.
- SERVES: 6 to 8
Jennifer is a native Californian, which means she has strong feelings about things like carnitas. I asked for her recipe after a Cinco de Mayo party where her carnitas stole the show. We’d just had a conversation about the evils of auto-correct, and then she sent me her carnitas recipe, which auto-corrected to Catbirds. The name stuck, and in our little corner of the world, these will forever be “Jennifer’s Catbirds.”
- 1 (3 1⁄2- to 4-pound) boneless pork butt, fat cap trimmed to 1⁄8-inch thick, cut into 2-inch chunks
- 1⁄2 can Coca-Cola
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 small onion, peeled and halved
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 2 tablespoons juice from 1 lime
- 2 cups water or beer
- 1 medium orange, halved
- 1 tablespoon sweetened condensed milk
- sour cream
- 1 jalapeño, minced
- lime wedges
- 1 cup cilantro
- 1 cup minced white or red onion, pickled or fresh
- 1 cup thinly sliced radishes, pickled or fresh
- Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and preheat oven to 300 degrees.
- Combine pork, salt, pepper, cumin, onion, bay leaves, oregano, lime juice, and water or beer in large Dutch oven (liquid should just barely cover meat). Juice orange into medium bowl and remove any seeds (you should have about 1 cup juice). Add juice and spent orange halves to pot. Add sweetened condensed milk and cola. Bring mixture to simmer over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Cover pot and transfer to oven. Cook until meat is soft and falls apart when prodded with fork, about 2 hours, flipping pieces of meat once about halfway through cooking.
- Remove pot from oven and turn oven to broil. Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to bowl; remove orange halves, onion, and bay leaves from cooking liquid and discard (do not skim fat from liquid). Place pot over high heat (use caution, as handles will be very hot) and simmer liquid, stirring frequently, until thick and syrupy (heat-safe spatula should leave wide trail when dragged through glaze), 8 to 12 minutes. You should have about 1 cup reduced liquid.
- Using 2 forks, pull each piece of pork in half. Fold in reduced liquid; season with salt and pepper to taste. Spread pork in even layer on wire rack set inside rimmed baking sheet or on broiler pan (meat should cover almost entire surface of rack or broiler pan). Place baking sheet on lower-middle rack and broil until top of meat is well browned (but not charred) and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes. Using wide metal spatula, flip pieces of meat and continue to broil until top is well browned and edges are slightly crisp, 5 to 8 minutes longer.
- Serve immediately with warm tortillas and garnishes.