Push It: A cookbook review, Tacos by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman

I submitted this cookbook review for the Food52 2016 Piglet, which is a tournament for cookbooks. Although my review was not selected, I sill enjoyed the process and The Piglet. I love cookbooks and have to restrain myself from buying everyone I read. Thank goodness for the public library system.

Tacos, Recipes and Provocations by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman

Immediately, Tacos, Recipes and Provocations by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman caught my attention. Alex’s opening declaration of love for the “Old El Paso” taco of his youth is not a typical opening line.  It is a statement that I, and probably most readers, could relate to. However, what becomes clear about this familiarity is how quickly it ends. Alex Stupak has taken the road less traveled using tacos and Mexican cuisine as his road map.  Tacos carries the reader along Alex Stupak’s culinary journey and how he uses the taco as an instrument to create new and noteworthy food, while respecting its Mexican traditions.

Push It: A cookbook review, Tacos by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman

Even though Tacos is co-authored, it reads as one compelling and authoritative voice. To read Tacos for its own sake, is a good read; to cook from it is a novel experience.  Sometimes, it is OK to rant and Alex delivers a few provocations scattered throughout the book. These declarations help personalize his story and defend his attitude, passion, and motivation to change his career path and open his Empellón restaurants. It is very evident Mexican food and tacos grabbed his curiosity. Ultimately, learning about it pushed Stupak into action.

Alex Stupak states in his introduction, “In Spanish Empellón means to push”. Within the pages of his book he reveals the results of his pushing to get to the “…good stuff on the other side”.

“Talking about tacos give us a chance to talk about cultural exchange, about idea appropriations and about the way we value – or undervalue – ethnic cuisines. That’s really what’s happening in these pages: We’re using the taco as a Trojan Horse. And it is time to open the gates.”

A primary purpose of Tacos is to get people inspired and make fresh tortillas.  Alex firmly believes tortillas are an essential ingredient of a taco and should be respected as such. Ultimately, a taco is only as good as the tortilla it is made with. He hopes the detailed directions in his book will motivate the reader to cast aside any reluctance and make fresh tortillas. Because, serving any taco with grocery store tortillas would be like eating savory taco filling wrapped in a paper napkin – a tasteless and pasty, disintegrating mess.

Push It: Cookbook review of Tacos by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman


Push It: A cook book review, Tacos By Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman

The tortilla instructions are precise with photographs illustrating each step . The recipe does not shy away from false hopes and mentions that mastering homemade tortillas will take practice. I have made the corn tortillas on three occasions and flour tortillas once. The corn tortilla flavor is slightly sweet with a warm and distinctive corn taste that wakes you up. The challenging part of making tortillas is to get the thickness just right so it cooks through and is not too heavy. Once you have mastered the traditional corn tortilla there are recipes for tortillas with additives like, saffron, beets, and chorizo. If the chorizo tortilla is anything like the green chorizo gravy, they will be addictive. Alex Stupak has succeeded in converting me to serve my tacos with a fresh homemade tortilla.

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© 2016 – 2017, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

A Hint of Summer on a Winter’s Day

I made a new discovery this past week. As I was walking around the produce department I spotted a fruit that I had never seen before, lemon plums. The color was what first grabbed my attention, a warm vibrant yellow with a thin smooth skin. Their shape is somewhat similar to a lemon and somewhat similar to a plum, but longer and a little larger. These days anything bright and warm looking will hold the attention of any skeptical winter weary person. The end of winter is here and we North easterners no longer see the virtue in the color grey. I stared at these lemon plums as if I was watching a long summer sunrise. Entranced, I collected some plums to buy and bring home.

Lemon Plums in season in winter.

My research informed me that lemon plums are in season now and from Chile. They are rare and I was instructed to snatch them up when I saw them. Lemon plums are picked when they are yellow and unripe. As they ripen they gradually turn the color of a reddish-orange, the darker they get the riper and sweeter they will become.

Ripening lemon plums

Ripening lemon plums

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© 2016 – 2017, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.


All salts are not the same.

Salt is a mineral, sodium chloride that comes from the sea. Even the salt we mine from the ground, originated from oceans that have evaporated and buried eons ago. How the salt is processed defines the type of salt it is. Each type of salt will have a distinctive taste depending on its processing and where the salt originated, (McGee, Harold, On Food and Cooking, The Science and Lore of The Kitchen 2004).

I use Diamond Crystal Kosher salt as my all purpose salt in my cooking and baking. I have discovered that not all Kosher salt brands are alike. Some brands are flaky, some are granular: the size of the crystals changes from brand to brand as well. Size and density of each salt granule will affect the weight and volume; therefore I only use one brand. Diamond Crystal Kosher salt was the only brand that was first made available to me at my local grocery store. Over time I have stuck with it because I prefer the size and shape of the crystals. With the smaller size crystals I believe I have more control sprinkling the salt on the food. Use what brand you have and if you are not sure how it compares to the salt in the recipe, start with a little less. You can and add more salt later in the recipe.

I prefer Kosher salt to table salt because of the flavor. Kosher salt does not have additives in it and I believe has a cleaner taste. I also use less salt cooking with kosher salt. The weight of a teaspoon of table salt is not equal to the weight of a teaspoon of Kosher salt or a teaspoon of sea salt. A teaspoon of table salt weights 6 grams. Whereas a teaspoon of Diamond Crystal Kosher salt weights 3 grams and a teaspoon of Maldon sea salt weights 4 grams. If you are interested in using less salt in your diet, you can start by replacing table salt with Kosher salt or sea salt as your all purpose salt.

When I use sea salt in a recipe, I use Maldon sea salt. I can get it easily and at a decent price, some sea salts are very expensive. I like the flavor and the flaky crystals. I am not a fan of sea salt crystals that are chunky and more like rock salt. The granules are too big and have a very concentrated dominating salt taste.

If Kosher salt is specified and you only have table salt, use half of the specified amount of salt in the recipe. Little by little you can add salt throughout the cooking process to suit your taste. This is only necessary to do if the recipe gives ingredient amounts in volume (teaspoon, tablespoon). If a recipe provides the weight, usually in grams, for the amount of Kosher salt, you should use the same amount in weight for table salt or sea salt. Salt is a great seasoning and is important to the flavor development in a recipe. Too much salt can ruin your meal, not to mention your spirits, if your food tastes like a gigantic salt lick.

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© 2016, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Lemon and Herb Roast Chicken: A Warm Blanket on a Cold Evening

Comfort food comes in many forms for me, and Roast Chicken is one of them. It is a comfort because of the time, smells and memories that are present while the chicken is roasting and the warm, caramelized flavors that linger while eating.  A reassuring and healing meal, one I often prepare for friends in need.

Roast chicken needs to be planned ahead, there is no rushing around here. Work and errands are done and activities are completed.  Life slows down and in my case it means everyone is home. When my kids were younger I often prepared roast chicken when the weather was bad, and we were comfortably housebound. Once the chicken was roasting in the oven, we could relax together. The smell of the herbs and roasting chicken fills the house and  is like being swaddled in a warm blanket on a cold blowy, winter evening.

9Lemon Herb Roast Chicken blogHerb Chicken-7lemon thyme and ginger

The very first main course entrée I made, completely on my own, was roast chicken. I was 16 years old. My dad, two brothers and I had to fend for ourselves while mom was away. Naturally, I volunteered to cook dinner, and without blinking, I decided on roast chicken. It is amazing how ignorance is bliss. You don’t know what you don’t know, and it never occurred to me that I could not do it.


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© 2016 – 2017, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Jumping In

I am just going to jump right in and not look back. Yes, I will make this leap ahead and hope that the fuel of courage, curiosity, and love is enough to power through the obstacles of angst, doubt and vulnerability. I am no stranger to jumping into new territory. The first major jump was when I moved from California to New York to attend college- sight unseen. It felt more like a standing long jump over the Grand Canyon, but I made it across and have stayed in the New York area ever since.  One would think I would be good at it by now. However it has been my experience that with each dive into new waters, it is as if I am beginning all over again.


Throughout all my new adventures in life there have always been a few constants. One constant has been my interest, appreciation and love for all things food and cooking related.  This passion, along with the urge to begin a new adventure, is nudging me forward to jump into the world of food blogging.

Brooklyn Bridge

I am a self taught cook. As a child I would watch my mother putter around the kitchen, and absorb her actions and intentions while she prepared our dinner. Occasionally, I would ask her a question and sometimes I was recruited to help. I remember mixing the meatloaf or basting the roast beef and potatoes, and feeling very important while I was squirting the pan juices over the meat. The warm smell of the roasting beef and rosemary filled our kitchen while Mom would look over my shoulder at the roast and say, “This is going to be soooo yummy.” (Yes, she did talk that way).  For the most part, other than my helping hands basting and mixing, I was left alone to figure out the secrets and skills of cooking.

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© 2016, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.