Years ago, my wife and I went on a cattle drive. We played cowboy and cowgirl for a week, while moving cattle down from the Mugollon mountains of New Mexico to the dessert floor, near the town of Alma.
Keep in mind, prior to our cattle drive, my wife’s most memorable experience of horseback riding was being bucked from a horse, along with her sister, at her grandparent’s farm in Kansas. My experience with horses was hardly better. I spent three months on a ranch and occasionally moved cattle from one pasture to another. Most of the time, I fixed fences and learned how to be a ranch hand from my uncle John, and my younger cousins, Shane and Hugh. I was a city boy but I fell in love with the dessert Southwest.
Many years later, I accepted an invitation from my uncle to join him on a cattle drive. Cattle were grazing in the mountains during the summer and, as autumn approached, they needed to be driven down to the ranch for the winter.
We decided to join the drive, as long as we could make camp on the mountain, before the drive. We bought a tent and sleeping bags and we were dead set on camping. All of the ranchers, including my kind-hearted uncle, thought we were a little crazy, but we insisted on camping and, despite the bitter cold nights, I was glad we did.
We drove up to the mountain top, during the daytime and by late afternoon we made camp and started a campfire. I set up a Dutch oven over a fire and started boiling some pinto beans. How rustic! Living like real cowboys!
Six hours later, the beans showed no signs of softening. The sun dipped beneath the tops of the tall pine trees and, by early evening, the sky turned deep blue and the thin mountain air chilled quickly. A few minutes later, we shivering and cold, under a moonless sky.
We scooted closer and closer to the fire and were mesmerized by the glowing flames. We gave up on the beans and decided to eat granola.
We sat in silence for a long time, staring at the fire, and then we awoke from our trance and talked and laughed and told stories. It wasn’t long before the campfire was the only thing we could see. The mountain was quiet, except for the crackling fire and, even though we could see each other’s faces in the flickering light, we couldn’t see anything outside of the fire ring.
As the fire dwindled, the chill crept in and my wife grabbed a fresh piece of wood and jabbed it into the heart of the fire ring. Thousands of wild embers spiraled upward, into the black sky, crisscrossing and swimming upward, like tiny, weightless fairies, searching for the heavens. We watched the display, in awe. She jabbed at the fire again, and a new salvo of embers erupted. Again and again, we poked at the fire and watched as newborn embers whizzed into the black night. Each tiny ember followed its own trajectory and moved toward its own destiny. Some embers flickered and sputtered. Some embers sailed up high, beyond the dark treetops. Some embers sizzled and popped but every ember rode together on a whirling vortex that seemed chaotic but beautifully composed.
We received the U.S. presidential election results today and I am still buzzing.
My late night snack is a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with fresh apple slices. It’s a meal that keeps me young at heart and gives me unexplainable joy. Simple food for a simple person, I suppose.
Peanut Butter and Jelly
Two slices of bread
A copious amount of peanut butter
A generous splotch of jam or jelly
One crisp apple, cored and sliced.
Really? I think you can figure this one out on your own.
On a serious note, I am grateful be an American. It’s a complicated mess, at times, but I love the complicated messy people that I live with. We can achieve anything as long as we are compassionate to each other and as long as we are willing to work together. We are the embers that fly into the night sky, giving warmth and joy to each other, while we spiral upward.
June, 2020. It seems like years ago to me now. Beef prices rose quickly in May and I nearly cut beef out of my diet entirely as a result. That is, until my self-imposed deprivation finally got the best of me and I splurged on a big ribeye roast!
I consider the economy of my food choices when I shop so, when I saw the price of the large roast I took a deep breath and began portioning it in my mind. I figured I could get 10 thick steaks from the cut of beef and the thought of having 10 delicious, grilled steaks at $7.50 each made me realize that this might be a wise choice.
As I hefted the 7 ½ pound roast from the butcher’s case I took a look at the label on the package. “WHOLE NO ROLL RIBEYE” was proudly displayed at the top of the label.
I wasn’t familiar with the term “WHOLE NO ROLL RIBEYE” and I didn’t know if it was a good or bad thing. As it turns out, the term “no roll” means that the meat had not been graded by the USDA (US Department of Agriculture). Simply put, it might be a tremendous cut of beef or a not-so tremendous cut. It was, however, inspected by the USDA to ensure that it met the all of the safety requirements.
I can assure you that this was a perfectly fine cut of beef, good marbling and tender texture.
As I mentioned, this made ten 2” thick steaks, each weighing about ¾ pounds.
My intention was to make the classic American steak dinner, baked potatoes and a side of steamed vegetables or a garden salad but, my inclination to Tex-Mex cuisine overtook me and I turned this meal into a fiesta!
Ingredients for the salsa verde:
15 to 20 tomatillos (cut in half, radially)
3 serrano chiles
1 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs kosher salt
Ingredients for the pico de gallo:
2 ripe tomatoes, seeded and chopped
½ orange bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 jalapeños, stemmed, seeded and chopped
2 tsp salt
1 tsp Mexican oregano
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
Ingredients for the grilled steaks:
1 beef ribeye roast, 7 to 8 lbs
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp salt
1 ½ tsp cracked black pepper
1 tsp chili powder
Ingredients for the side items:
1 onion, sliced in half radially
3 serrano chiles
1 yellow bell pepper
4 medium russet potatoes
1 ½ cup prepared guacamole
2 cups fresh lettuce, rough chopped
1 ½ cups fresh cilantro leaves
16 oz prepared refried beans
Prepare the grill by heating some charcoal.
While the coals heat, slice the tomatillos and add them to a large mixing bowl. Add the serrano chiles and splash some olive oil over the tomatillos and chiles. Sprinkle the salt over everything and toss to coat everything with the oil and salt. Set aside.
Chop the tomatoes and chiles for the pico de gallo. Add to a mixing bowl. Add the spices and squirt lemon juice over the mixture. Toss briefly and reserve for later.
Peel the potatoes, slice into large wedges and air-dry in a colander. Set aside.
Remove the beef roast from the package, rinse under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Slice the roast into 2” thick steaks. Lay the steaks on a platter and dust each side with the spice rub. Set aside.
Heat some oil in large pan. Add the potatoes and fry until crisp. Remove and strain the oil. Return to the pan of hot oil and fry until crisp again. Stage the potatoes in an oven-proof serving dish in a 200°.
Add the hot coals to the grill and lay a sheet of aluminum foil on top of the grill. Spread the tomatillos and chiles across the foil. Cover the grill.
Start another batch of coals. These will be added to the dwindling coals and will be added to the grill prior to grilling the steaks.
Steam and grill the tomatillos and serrano chiles for about 20 minutes, turning occasionally. Once the tomatillos become very soft, and slightly charred, pull them off the grill. Remove the aluminum foil and discard.
Lay the half onion, yellow bell pepper and 3 serrano peppers on the grill. Turn every few minutes until each have charred. Pull the vegetables and reserve.
Reserve 2 of the chiles and the remaining tomatillos and chiles to a blender. Puree until smooth. Set aside.
Add the new batch of hot coals to the grill. Carefully lay the steaks on the grill. Sear and cook the steaks for 5 minutes. Turn the steaks and grill on the other side for another 4 or 5 minutes. Press the steaks with the side of your thumb for doneness. If the steaks spring back, they’re done. Remove the steaks and cover loosely with foil. Stage in a 200° oven.
Prepare the sides… guacamole, lettuce, cilantro and refried beans.
Pull the steaks and potatoes from the oven. Top the steaks with the charred onion, bell pepper and serrano chiles. I sliced the steaks into slightly smaller pieces before serving. Serve warm.
The Sun and Moon
You’d think that after working 10 or more hours per day, six days a week, I might just want to come home and crash without even thinking about making dinner but, you’d be wrong. I came home today wanting to cook; needing to cook. I didn’t know what I was about to make but I needed to clear my head, let off some steam and spend some time doing something that I enjoy.
Now, before you get the idea that I’m some sort of iron man, I’m not. I’ve been working six days a week for the past several months and it’s wearing me down, physically and mentally. My wife, who has also been putting in extra hours at work, has taken up the mantle. She’s whipped up some spectacular dinners over the last several weeks and I’ve gobbled them up eagerly. Her manicotti makes me melt like slabs of butter on warm bread!
On the occasions that we both come home exhausted, we order out. We’ve been ordering out once or twice a week during the last several months. Before the Covid-19 ordeal changed our lives, we only ordered out, or dined out, once or twice per month!
Strange times, indeed.
So…what to do for dinner? Comfort food is what I need, today. This is the end of a stressful work week and I want something that I can enjoy making as well as something that I will enjoy eating. I want to achieve a happy balance between the time it takes to make something special and making something that can be prepared quickly.
Quesadillas can be made in as little as two minutes. Toss some grated cheese onto a flour tortilla and top it with another tortilla and bake it in a microwave oven for less than a minute, and voilà!, it’s quesadilla time! But that’s a sad quesadilla. I want a quesadilla that satisfies!
This recipe makes 5 quesadillas, 3 with chicken and 2 with shrimp. Slice each quesadillas into thirds to make 15 triangles.
I used vegetables from the garden and other items I had on hand but quesadillas can be made from anything you like. A few tortillas and some cheese is just the beginning. Make them to suit your taste.
25 to 30 cherry tomatoes (about 1 ½ cups)
2 garlic cloves, mashed
2 green onions
1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 chile ancho, pequeña (a small, green ancho chile)
1 small red chile
1 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp chili powder
½ tsp Mexican oregano
½ tsp salt
¼ cup fresh spinach
7 jumbo shrimp (I used precooked shrimp)
1 lb chicken breast (about 2 chicken breasts)
8 ounces Monterrey Jack cheese
4 ounces Colby Jack cheese
1 Tbs butter
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 cup shredded lettuce
½ cup sour cream (crème fraîche)
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves
14 6” flour tortillas
Let’s make a zesty sauce!
Add the cherry tomatoes to a large skillet. Set the heat low/medium. Add about ¼ cup of water to the pan. Top the tomatoes with one chopped green onion and garlic.
Simmer for about 20 minutes, just until the tomatoes soften and break easily with a mixing spoon.
While the tomatoes cook, chop the bell pepper, jalapeño and other chiles. Set these aside, for now.
Add the cumin, chile powder, oregano and salt to the cooked tomatoes. Stir to combine.
Add the bell pepper, jalapeños and chiles. Turn the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning.
Simmer until most of the moisture is gone from the sauce. Set the sauce aside, clean the pan and get ready to cook some chicken.
Add a few tablespoons of oil to the pan and set the heat to medium. Add the chicken breast and brown on both sides. Once the chicken develops a crispy exterior, remove the chicken to a paper towel lined plate.
Remove the tails from the precooked shrimp.
Slice the shrimp in half, lengthwise. Set aside.
Dice the chicken and set aside.
At this point, you have readied all of the ingredients for the quesadillas. Keep all of the ingredients close together to make assembly a quick process.
Clean the skillet again, unless you like using lots of pans, in that case, use a new pan.
Add a tablespoon of oil and a tablespoon of butter to the pan. Set heat to medium/low.
Assemble the quesadillas.
Lay a tortilla on a work surface and add scatter some cheese evenly across it.
Add some of the shrimp.
Add small dollops of the sauce.
Add a few spinach leaves.
Add some chopped green onion.
Finally, scatter some more cheese on top.
Cover with another tortilla and gently add the quesadilla to the skillet.
Brown the quesadilla for 30 to 40 seconds and turn, to brown the other side.
Press the quesadilla a spatula. This will compress the ingredients and help melt the cheese quickly.
Remove the quesadilla to a cutting board and cut into thirds.
Repeat the process until all of the quesadillas are prepared. I made two shrimp quesadillas and three with chicken.
Add chopped lettuce and sour cream to the center of a serving platter and arrange the sliced quesadillas around the rim.
I’m pretty sure there’s a law that says we MUST grill something on Labor Day. Not being one to intentionally break the law, I will abide.
I’m sticking with an unconventional theme for today’s grilling, after yesterday’s Chicken Satay Salad. The law says we must grill but it doesn’t say what we must grill. So, today’s adventure includes red snapper filets, Portobello mushrooms and mini-eggplants.
As I ponder this seemingly odd grouping of food items I want to find taste sensations that will tie everything together. I’m going with citrus fruit, garlic and olive oil – – maybe this can be considered “Mediterranean meets the Gulf of Mexico”, who knows?
It’s a small affair this year…no big blow-out party, thanks to the persistent virus! This will serve three people.
The eggplant will take the longest to cook, followed by the mushrooms and red snapper.
8 to 10 mini-eggplants
3 garlic cloves sliced very thin
3 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 orange, sliced into ½” thick rings and cut in half.
Cut the eggplants in half from tip to stem but stop short of cutting completely.
Place several slices of garlic inside each eggplant.
Place the eggplants in a cast iron skillet, or make a reinforced tray out of heavy-duty aluminum foil.
Drizzle olive oil and balsamic vinegar over the eggplants.
Add a few pinches of salt and pepper.
Bake on a hot grill (400°) for 30 to 45 minutes. The temperature of the coals will diminish during the grilling process but that’s ok. Cover the eggplants, if necessary to steam and soften them but finish by uncovering them.
The eggplants are done when they are soft.
Serve hot, with orange slices on the side.
Grilled Portobello Mushrooms
2 Tbs olive oil
½ tsp balsamic vinegar
2 tsp garlic powder
2 Portobello mushrooms, stems and gills removed
½ cup panko bread crumbs
1/3 cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
3 Tbs grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped green onions
1 tsp oregano
½ tsp thyme
2 Tbs melted butter
Juice of ½ lemon
Using a spoon, scrape the gills out of the mushrooms. This will give you more room for the stuffing.
Mix the oil, balsamic vinegar and garlic powder together.
Marinate the mushrooms for about 10 minutes.
Mix panko bread crumbs, Mozzarella, Parmesan, green onions, oregano and thyme together. Drizzle the butter over the mixture.
Pack the center of the mushrooms with the stuffing, leaving a little room on the edges. Place the mushrooms on the hot grill and cook until the cheese melts and bubbles, (about 5 minutes). Remove from the grill, squirt a little lemon juice on the mushrooms and serve warm.
Grilled Red Snapper Filets
Salt and pepper to taste
Juice and zest of ½ lemon
Juice and zest of 1 lime
3 Tbs olive oil
Apply salt and pepper to both sides of the filets.
Squirt lime and lemon juice onto both sides of the fish.
Form a rimmed tray from aluminum foil.
Place a tablespoon of olive oil in the tray and smear both sides of the fish in the oil. Lay the fish on the foil, skin side down.
Grill for about 10 minutes over medium to high heat. The fish is done when it becomes firm to the touch and you start to see the oils in the fish sizzling on the foil.
Sprinkle lime and lemon zest over the fish before serving.
A Labor Day celebration, like no other.
Today’s recipe is a shout out to the many hard working people who continue to persevere as we face the Covid-19 pandemic. Two people in particular are on my mind tonight. My colleagues and I are not only putting ourselves at risk every day as we work during the pandemic but we have the added challenge of dealing with a poorly developed and prematurely deployed warehouse management system. We are flying without a net as we attempt to train employees on a system we barely know and yet, we somehow find a way to maintain our “game faces” as we strive to maintain our sanity during this absurd circus.
Happy Labor Day, guys…thanks for your strength, wisdom and humor. I’m honored and humbled to be on your team.
Okay, let’s get busy… Chicken Satay Salad
I don’t remember the first time I had chicken satay but I do remember how quickly I took to it! Grilled chicken on a skewer smothered in a sweet, peanut buttery, soy sauce…wow! I don’t know how or why Indonesians got their hands on peanut butter but they won me over with this!
I’ve made chicken satay several times and I have received mixed reviews, which is a polite way of saying that it wasn’t received well. Maybe it’s the peanut butter flavor that people don’t get, I don’t know. This recipe expands on the traditional satay by adding fresh vegetables and rice noodles. The satay sauce takes a backseat to the textures and flavors that the salad and noodles bring.
For the Marinade:
1/3 cup dark soy sauce
Juice of 1 lime
2 Tbs peanut butter
1 tsp Maggi sauce (it’s like soy sauce on steroids!)
1 Tbs chopped fresh ginger
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (stems included)
2 small, fresh red chilies, chopped (jalapeño, cayenne or Thai chilis) – optional
1 clove garlic, smashed
Combine the marinade ingredients in a bowl and mash with a spoon. Crushing the ingredients is an important step because it releases the oils and flavors and produces a very potent marinade!
Marinate the chicken breasts for one hour.
While the chicken marinates, make the sauce for the noodles and prep the rice noodles.
Ingredients for the sauce:
1/3 cup dark soy sauce
2 Tbs honey
½ cup warm water
3 Tbs peanut butter
Juice of two limes
3 Tbs cooking oil (I used olive oil)
1 clove garlic, mashed and minced
Add the dark soy sauce and honey to a mixing bowl. Add warm water and mix thoroughly. Add the peanut butter and mix to combine. Drizzle the oil into the mixture and whisk. Add lime juice and minced garlic and mix. Set aside.
Prepare the rice noodles:
8 oz rice noodles (Vietnamese-style rice Vermicelli noodles)
Soak the rice noodles in warm water for about 30 minutes. Strain the water and set the noodles aside. Start a large pot of water to boil on the stove. Boil the noodles for about 1 minute, or until the noodles are soft (al dente). Remove the noodles and strain. Rinse with cool water. Set the noodles aside.
Start the grill. Allow the coals to reach their peak before putting the chicken on the grill. The goal is succulent, smoked chicken, without charring the chicken. Pile the hot coals in the center of the grill and lay the chicken on the edges of the grill. Cook time will be about 40 minutes and the chicken should be turned every 10 minutes. Be patient. All good things happen in due time!
Grill the chicken until the internal temperature is at least 165°. To be honest, I rarely use a thermometer to check for doneness. I press my thumb on the chicken and when it feels firm, it’s done but, checking the temperature is a sure way to make sure the chicken is fully cooked.
While the chicken is on the grill, go back to the kitchen to chop some vegetables.
Ingredients for the salad:
1 cup fresh spinach, sliced thin
3/4 cup carrots, cut in thin strips
3 green onions, sliced in long strips
½ cup cilantro, chopped
Combine the vegetables in a bowl and set aside. While you’re at it, measure out the peanuts and set them aside.
Pull the chicken from the grill and let it rest for several minutes before slicing. Slice the chicken in ¼” slices and set aside.
Add the prepared noodles to a large mixing bowl. Heat the sauce in a pan until it begins to bubble and boil. Turn the heat off and add the sauce to the noodles. Mix until the noodles are coated.
Prepare the finished dish by adding some noodles to individual serving bowls. Top with sliced chicken and then top that with the vegetables and peanuts.
Serve at room temperature or chilled, for a refreshing summertime meal.
Dinner for one tonight. Every now and then my family has plans in the evening and we don’t to eat together. That’s when I consider making something to eat that I know I enjoy but others, not so much.
Tonight, no TV, no phone, no distractions. Just me, a knife, a cutting board and some fresh food. This was 30 minutes of pure joy and relaxation, which is exactly what I needed after a day of the chaos of my work day!
There’s something eerie about Vietnamese spring rolls. The translucent quality of the wraps appeals to me in a strange way. The texture is a little gummy and stretchy, which again, can be challenging. I remember being hesitant when I was introduced to them but, once I had one, I was hooked.
These are REAL spring rolls! Just one bite invokes thoughts of spring and summer. These aren’t the little fried doo-dads that you get from a Chinese restaurant. These are full of big, bright flavors and they have an elegance that fried spring rolls can’t deliver.
I used ingredients that I had on hand. I wasn’t about to make a trip to the store to find Thai basil. Any sort of crunchy green, leafy vegetables are perfect.
½ cup shredded cabbage
¾ cup Romaine lettuce, thinly sliced
1 green onion, sliced
¼ cup fresh basil
8 to 10 medium sized shrimp, boiled
4 spring roll wraps
3 Tbs Hoisin sauce
2 Tbs Sriracha sauce (use less, if you like but make don’t omit!)
1 Tbs soy sauce
Chop and slice the vegetables. Set aside
In a small bowl, mix the Hoisin sauce, Sriracha and soy sauce. Set aside.
Slice the shrimp in half, lengthwise and parboil. I added the shrimp to a small amount of boiling water and removed the shrimp after one minute.
Chill the shrimp in the freezer for a few minutes.
Prepare the spring rolls by dipping the wraps in a plate filled with water. Once the wrap becomes pliable, remove it to a work surface and add the fillings. Wrap by folding over the edges and rolling from bottom to top, just like folding a burrito.
Serve with the dipping sauce.
Serve with Vietnamese iced coffee, if you have the time to prepare. Otherwise, a nice crisp, refreshing beer will suffice.
There’s a reason why I turn to Mexican food so often. Mexican cuisine has a rich and long history of embracing other cultural cuisines while maintaining its own identity. Some cultures have a tendency to cling to strict tradition, when it comes to their cuisine, while other cultures are more willing to change and adapt.
When it comes to cooking at home, versatility and adaptability is the name of the game! So, when it’s time to plan a meal, I want to use items that I am familiar with but I want to combine them in new and interesting ways.
I can stuff anything I want into a tortilla and call it a taco. I can wrap anything I want in a tortilla and cover it with sauce and it becomes an enchilada. My imagination is only restricted by considering the taste, texture and nutritional quality of the final outcome. Once I consider those aspects, the rest of the process is a simple matter of deciding what cooking methods I want to use to achieve my goal.
I pulled some fresh chilis from the garden and I cooked down some fresh tomatoes to make a sauce. I had leftover smoked pork roast in the refrigerator and Monterrey Jack cheese and corn tortillas. The rest of the ingredients were spices that I always keep on hand.
And that is why I’m making Smoked Pork Enchiladas!
1 red jalapeño, seeded and sliced
3 small poblano chilies, seeded and chopped
1 Tbs cooking oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed
½ cup diced onion
1 ½ cups tomato sauce
2 Tbs red chili powder
1 ½ Tbs cumin powder
1 Tbs Mexican oregano, crushed
2 tsp garlic powder
1 lb. smoked pork roast, sliced and chopped
12 oz Monterrey Jack cheese
10 corn tortillas, softened by dredging in hot oil.
Prepare the chilies. Remove the stems and seeds. Slice the jalapeño into thin rings.
Remove the stems and seeds from the poblano chiles. Slice and dice the chilies.
Add 1 tablespoon of cooking oil to a large, oven-proof skillet. Set the heat to low/medium heat. After the oil is hot, add the chopped poblanos and garlic. Simmer and stir for five minutes, or until the chiles and garlic sweat and soften. Add the onions and saute for another 5 minutes.
Remove the chiles and garlic and place on a cutting board. Chop the chiles and garlic into smaller pieces.
Add the tomato sauce to the pan and cook at medium heat. Add the cooked garlic, chilies and onion. Add the red chili powder, cumin, oregano and garlic powder. Simmer and stir for ten minutes. Remove the sauce and place in a bowl.
Slice and chop the smoked pork and place in a mixing bowl. Shred 12 ounces of Monterrey Jack Cheese. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the chopped pork and 8 ounces of the shredded cheese. Reserve the other 4 ounces of cheese for the topping.
Spread the tomato sauce mixture across the bottom of an oven-proof pan. A thin layer is all you will need.
Prepare the enchiladas by placing a few tablespoons of pork and cheese mixture in a tortilla. Wrap the enchilada and place into the pan. Repeat, until all of the enchiladas fill the pan.
Cover the enchiladas with the remaining sauce.
Bake in a 350° oven for 30 minutes. Top the enchiladas with the remaining 4 ounces of cheese and sliced jalapeño. Return to the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and allow the enchiladas to rest for about 5 minutes before serving.
Serve with crisp lettuce, a splotch of sour cream and a whole, pickled jalapeño.
¡Más sabroso para Tex-Mex! (give it a tasty Tex-Mex finish)