Carnitas (Shredded Pork Tacos)

Home cooks are always on the lookout for economical ways to make a meal.  When it comes to selecting meat, beef has become something I only buy on rare occasions, due to skyrocketing prices.  Pork and chicken prices have also increased over the last few years, but good deals can still be found.  Chicken thighs and leg quarters tend to be the least expensive cuts.  Pork loins and pork rib meat find their way into my shopping basket more and more, because of their affordability.

Country-style pork ribs are cut from the area of the hog where the loin meets the shoulder.   Country-style ribs are a blend of lean white meat and rich dark meat, which makes them a versatile cut of meat.

Carnitas are typically made from roasted pork shoulder, but they can be made from slow-cooked pork loin, too.  Since I chose country-style rib meat for this recipe, I chose to sear the meat in a pan and then gently stew, with broth and vegetables.

Homemade tortillas make this Mexican dinner even more special!

Ingredients:

2 lbs. marinated country-style pork rib meat

¼ cup cooking oil

1 medium sized onion, chopped

1 large jalapeño, seeded and chopped

1 cup picante sauce (salsa)

1 cup chicken stock

Chopped lettuce, tomatoes, and onions (for the tacos)

1 lime, sliced

10 warm flour tortillas

Tapatio hot sauce

Directions:

I’ve got to confess that I forgot what I used in the marinade for the pork.  Most likely, I used a combination of tomato sauce, dark soy sauce, lime juice, dried onion flake, cumin powder, red chili powder, paprika, garlic powder, and a pinch of turmeric.  A marinade will help tenderize the meat, but it’s not necessary, since the meat will be braised in a little stock and vegetables, until it becomes tender

Absorb excess moisture from the pork with paper towels.

Seed and chop the jalapeño.  Chop the onion.  Set these aside.

Add cooking oil to a cast iron skillet (or any other oven-proof pan).  Set the heat to medium/high.

Sear the pieces of pork on all sides.  Remove the pork and keep in a warm place.

Add the chopped jalapeño and onion to the skillet and sauté at medium heat for about 3 minutes.

Add the salsa to the skillet and stir for about 1 minute.

Add the chicken stock.

Return the pork to the skillet. 

Cover the skillet with aluminum foil at bake in the oven at 350º for 40 minutes.

Carefully remove the foil.  The pork should be fork tender.  If the pork is not tender, return to the oven for another 10 minutes. 

Shred the pork and mix with the braising liquid. 

Serve on warm tortillas and add lettuce, tomato and onion. 

Serve with fresh lime wedges and Tapatio hot sauce.

  • If you’re familiar with Tapatilo hot sauce, you might be wondering what looks different about this particular bottle.  The regular image of the sombrero-wearing Tapatio has been replaced by comedian Gabriel ‘Fluffy’ Iglesias, along with Fluffy’s chihuahuas, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Tapatio.

Going South

On any given day, I can search my refrigerator and find fruits and vegetables that, only a few days before, were vibrant and beautiful.  What sad fate is in store for those items, that I have passed over and ignored?  Often times, they sit, tucked away in the deepest corners of the produce compartment of my refrigerator until, one day, I acknowledge the awful truth.  All good things must come to an end.

But, before I throw in the towel, I like to find a way to use the fruits and vegetables that have “gone south.”  I am reminded of an excerpt from Jacques Pépin’s book, “Heart & Soul in the Kitchen” entitled, ‘For the love of wilted vegetables’.  Jacque is a kindred soul who, like me, hates to see anything go to waste. 

Today’s example is a lime, a lemon, a jalapeño, and a wedge of onion, that have past their prime, but not past their worthiness.

I was going to make salmon today and I was pawing through the refrigerator, looking for a lemon, when I came across these sad little items.  They inspired me.  In fact, I tossed the idea of salmon to consider what sort of noble thing I could do with the slightly wrinkled and discolored fruit and onion. 

A marinade!  Yes, indeed!

The pieces came together in my head quickly.  I will marinate some chicken and make chicken fajitas for dinner. 

Marinade ingredients:

Juice of 1 lime

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 jalapeño, chopped

1/4 large white onion, chopped

1 tsp garlic powder

1 tsp black pepper

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp oregano

1 1/2 tsp ground dried onion

1 1/2 tsp cumin powder

1 1/2 tsp Tajin seasoning

1 tsp smoked paprika

2 tsp chili powder

Three hours later, after allowing the chicken to thoroughly marinate, dinner was served.

What can you do with your vegetables and fruit after they have gone south?

Imagine the possibilities!

Arroz con Pollo Étouffée

Arroz con Pollo Étouffée, con per miso, s’il vous plaît

In other words, I’m in a spastic, frantic frame of mind!

It’s nearly two hours past my normal bedtime and I’m pausing to let the day’s events soak in. I’m submitting this post without editing, and that’s a scary thing for me. I don’t usually spend a lot of time editing what I write but, I rarely throw caution to the wind by allowing my hands to type out the thoughts in my head without giving consideration to the quality of prose or grammar. Today is a day when I violently throw caution against the wall, just to hear it make a satisfying “splat”.

It’s been a long day. It’s been a long week. Many successes and many failures. So goes the life of a work-a-day-Joe, such as myself. I wanted to leave work today in time to ship a package to a loved one. That didn’t happen. During the drive home, I was stuck in traffic, behind a sea of cars and a parade of police cars and emergency vehicles that maneuvered through the gridlock toward an accident. I found an alternate route, only to encounter another accident. I gnashed my teeth, still reeling from the tremendously bad day at work, and crept along, thinking about what I could make for dinner, once I arrived home.

It never came to me. I was so preoccupied by the events of the day that I couldn’t focus on what to make for dinner. Once I arrived home, I immediately went to the refrigerator and started pulling out items. I pulled out some fresh vegetables, left over chicken and a little bit of butter. I went to the pantry and grabbed some rice, olive oil and flour. I put everything on the kitchen counter and stared at the items and started to put everything together, in my mind.

I texted my wife, who is out of state, visiting my mother-in-law. I gave our dog her daily antibiotic, because she’s healing from a vicious fight with a racoon.

Time to put dinner together, eh?

I pulled out a few fresh tomatoes, yes I still have tomatoes from the garden, and that’s something that I cling to, in these trying times. I shaved some dried thyme leaves from the stem, another gift from the garden. I pulled out a carrot, 3 semi-wilted green onions and two partially frozen celery stalks from the “crisper drawer” from the refrigerator. Why are my vegetables freezing in the refrigerator?!

I wanted to hear some music but I didn’t want to fight with Alexa and the almighty Amazon. I’ve had enough of that. I imagined that I was listening to ZZ Top’s “Asleep in the Desert” and I went to work.

Once I started putting everything together, I tried to put a name on the thing I was creating. I was leaning so heavily on Tex-Mex and Cajun concepts that I decided that this would be a marriage of arroz con pollo and etouffée. It was a beautiful marriage. You should have been there!

Ingredients:

2 Tbs olive oil

1 fresh red serrano chili

3 chicken breasts (about 1 pound)

3 cloves garlic, smashed

1 carrot, peeled and diced finely

2 stalks of celery, slightly frozen and diced finely

1 jalapeño, seeded and diced finely

2 Tbs melted butter

1 1/2 Tbs flour

4 Roma tomatoes, diced finely

2 tsp crushed, dried thyme leaves

3 green onions, chopped, separate white and green parts

1 ounce shrimp bouillon cube

1 1/2 cups chicken broth

1 tsp Cajun seasoning

3 cups cooked white rice

Directions:

Prepare steamed white rice.

While the rice cooks, heat the olive oil in a large skillet.

Add the chicken and serrano chili and cover the pan. Simmer at low heat for 10 minutes.

Turn the chicken over and add the garlic. Simmer at medium heat for 15 minutes. Remove chicken and keep warm.

Chop the vegetables.

Removed the chicken from the skillet and keep warm. Deglaze the skillet with a little water.

Add 1/2 cup chicken broth and the vegetable (excluding tomatoes). Simmer covered for 10 minutes.

Mix the melted butter and flour. Add the mixture to the skillet. Set heat to low and whisk for a minute.

Add remaining chicken broth. Add shrimp bouillon, Cajun seasoning, tomatoes and thyme. Stir over low heat for a few minutes.

Cover and simmer for 5 minutes.

Shred chicken into bite-sized pieces and add to the skillet. Mix to combine.

Add cooked rice, a little bit at a time. Mix and add the rest of the rice.

Simmer for a few more minutes.

Serve in large bowls with soft bread, on the side.

And there you have it. Stress has been relieved. Once again, good food prevails.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to sit down and jot it all down while listening to the soundtrack to the Terry Gilliam move, “Brazil” and Joni Mitchell’s album, “Hejira.”

Life is strange. Life is good. Life goes on.

Let it all come out. Don’t hold back. Share the ups and downs with the ones you love and, when you sit down for dinner, be a listener.

And now, it’s 3 hours past my bedtime. My pillow is calling!

Shrimp with Chipotles in Adobo Sauce

Camarones con Chipotles en Adobo

About chipotles:

Chipotles are smoked chilies.  Jalapeños are most commonly used but, poblano, morita and meco chiles are also used.  The chilies may be smoked to a point where they are hard and dry, or they may be smoked to a point where they remain soft and pliable.

About adobo sauce:

There are many ways to prepare adobo sauce.  Adobo typically has elements of sweet, tangy, bitter and salty flavors.  Adobo sauces can vary in flavor, depending on the ingredients.  Imagine the many different kinds of barbecue sauces.  Same thing.

For this meal, I chose to lightly smoke and char the jalapeños and I made an adobo sauce from leftover tidbits in the refrigerator.  The base of the sauce was a spicy ketchup that I made by adding some hot sauce to the ketchup. To that, I added a little barbecue sauce, a little soy sauce, a pinch of brown sugar, and a few dashes of liquid smoke.  The finished sauce was full of flavor, but not too spicy. 

Ingredients:

1 head of garlic, peeled and mashed

¾ cup olive oil

¼ cup lime juice

1 lb jumbo shrimp

Salt and Pepper to taste

Chipotles in adobo (about ½ cup)

Lime wedges for serving

Corn tortillas (softened in hot oil)

1 cup lettuce, chopped

Directions:

Add olive oil and garlic to a ceramic dish and bake in a 325° oven for 30 minutes.

Remove the dish from the oven and add lime juice.  Return to the oven for another 10 minutes.

Remove from oven and mash the garlic to form a paste.  I browned the garlic a little too much and it wouldn’t mash properly, so I removed the garlic.  The oil carried the garlic flavor nicely.

Peel and devein the shrimp.  Reserve the shrimp shells for shrimp stock.

In a large skillet, add 3 tablespoons of the garlic oil and set heat to medium.  Add the shrimp and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Sauté the shrimp for about 3 minutes. 

Remove the shrimp and keep warm.

Add the chipotle sauce to the remaining garlic oil.  Mix to combine.

Add the mixture to the skillet and cook for a minute or two.  Add the shrimp to the skillet and stir briefly.

Turn out to a serving platter.

Top with diced green onions.  Serve with lime wedges, lettuce, warm tortillas, and Mexican rice.

Sabrosa Carne Asada con Brisket

Just a quick post to let everyone know that I haven’t fallen off the edge of the earth!

Inspiration has been in short supply for the last several weeks.  Too much work and not enough play, I suppose.  I need to remedy that!

Today’s menu is inspired by  Carne Asada, which translates to grilled meat.  Sabrosa simply means tasty.  So this is a tasty carne asada with beef brisket.  Carne asada can be found in all of the Latin American countries.  The choice of meat varies, region by region.  The carne asada of my youth was a Tex-Mex version, usually made with marinated skirt steak, grilled over high heat, to produce of wonderful char on the meat.

Today’s carne asada is a result of looking for ways to use leftover smoked brisket.  The ten pound brisket provide my family with several meals, most of which were centered around warm slices of soft, smoky beef, covered with homemade barbecue sauce, but this time I changed things up a bit.

No recipe, this time, except to say that I sautéed onion, garlic and tomatoes and I charred a few jalapeños in a skillet.  I smothered the brisket with the vegetables and served it family style.  Black beans and warm, soft, corn tortillas finished the deal.

Enjoy life.  Spend time with friends and family.  Savor every moment!

Smokin’ !

It’s been two weeks since my wife and I returned from our 4-day trip to New Orleans and I still haven’t managed to submit a post about the adventure.  I think I’m still reeling from the experience and, even though the trip is still fresh in my mind, I’m finding it difficult to write about.   We had a wonderful time in New Orleans.  It’s a fantastic city with so much to offer.  I’m sure I will find time to share the details…someday!

Today was devoted to the joy of barbecue and smoking a brisket.  I try to make smoked brisket at least once a year and it’s always worth the effort.

Smoking a brisket is no easy feat, at least for me.  It takes between 12 to 16 hours to cook, which makes for a very long day.  I started this morning at 3:30 with a cup of chicory coffee, warmed up from yesterday’s cold pot.   Outdoor temperature was about 80° but the humidity was near 100°!  It was so humid that the newspaper I used for the charcoal chimney starter was limp and soggy by the time I was putting a match to it.  It took 3 attempts and about 30 minutes just to light the coals!

I bought a new offset smoker yesterday and I decided to break it in with a brisket.  I didn’t know if I was being foolish or confident.  Fortunately, the brisket came out just fine. 

By 4:00 p.m. I was pulling off the cooked brisket and life was good. 

We served the brisket with homemade Texas-style barbecue sauce, potato salad and a refreshing cucumber salad.  And for desert, homemade cheesecake, compliments of my wife.

This was the sort of Sunday meal that will keep me inspired throughout the upcoming work week!

The Frugal Burrito

Odds and ends.  Bits and pieces.  Those little leftovers from previous meals that were too good to throw away but too small to make a meal, on their own.

Go ahead, take them out of the fridge and set them on the table.  Imagine how they can be used to make a brand new meal. 

The ingredients are like colors on a painter’s palette, or notes and chords, waiting to be arranged to make music.  These are the elements of creation!

Some of my favorite meals have started this way. 

Reinventing leftovers can be rewarding in many ways.  There is satisfaction in knowing that good food won’t be wasted and there is the feeling of exuberance that comes from self-expression and creative thinking.

I made this dish way back in April, 2020, during a time when I was sheltering at home, in an attempt to stem the tide of the pandemic.  If there was ever a time to think frugally, it was then.  People were hoarding toilet paper, disinfectants and many store shelves were empty.  What a time! 

Burritos with Cheese Sauce

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups leftover enchiladas (ground beef, corn tortillas, cheddar cheese, salsa)

½ cup cooked ground beef

1 cup sautéed vegetables (onions, tomatoes and mushrooms)

3 10” flour tortillas

1 Tbs olive oil

16 oz grated cheddar cheese

2 Tbs butter

2 Tbs flour,

1/3 cup milk

1 tsp hot sauce

¼ cup sliced, pickled jalapeños

¼ cup diced green onions

¼ cup chili-garlic sauce

½ cup sour cream

½ cup chopped iceberg lettuce

2 Roma tomatoes

Directions:

Chop the enchiladas into tiny pieces with a kitchen knife. 

Add the chopped enchiladas to a large mix bowl and add the cooked ground beef.

Chop the sautéed onions, tomatoes and mushrooms.

Add the chopped vegetables to the mixing bowl.

Mix everything together thoroughly.

Divide the mixture into thirds and assemble the burritos.

Add olive oil to a large skillet and set heat to low/medium.

Carefully lay the burritos in the pan, seam side down.

Sear the burritos on all sides until they are light, golden brown.

Remove the burritos to serving plates and keep in a warm place.

Add 2 tablespoons of butter to the skillet and set the heat to low.

Once the butter melts, add the flour and whisk, to form a paste.

Simmer the butter and flour, while whisking, for about one minute.

Add the milk and whisk to combine. 

Gently fold in the grated cheese and turn the heat off.  Mix until the cheese sauce is smooth.  Avoid over-mixing the sauce, to prevent the sauce from breaking.

Once the cheese sauce is warm and blended, cover each burrito with the sauce.

For a mild burrito, top with green onions. 

For a spicier burrito, top with chili-garlic sauce and jalapeños.

Serve with sliced tomato, chopped lettuce and sour cream.

Year End Tamales

2020 has been one heck of a ride and I can’t think of a more suitable way to wrap up the year than by wrapping it up in tamales.  Tamales might just be the perfect metaphor for 2020.  I was fully prepared to offer a long lament about the year 2020, now that the year has finally come to an end, but I feel a greater need to close the door to the past year and move on.

Anyone who has made tamales knows that it requires time, dedication and stamina, beyond the scope of preparing a typical meal.

There comes a point in the tamale making process where it seems like it will never end and I wonder why I chose to make them, in the first place.  The only thing that carries me beyond that moment of futility is a steadfast determination and a belief that I will find satisfaction, when the job is done.

I could go on and on about the agony and ecstasy of making tamales but, I don’t want to discourage anyone from making tamales.  Making tamales is a rite of passage.

My method for making tamales takes two days.  On the first day, I roast the meat and make the sauce.  On the second day, I prepare the masa dough, assemble the tamales and then steam them.

Day one:  Roast the meat and make the sauce.

Ingredients for the meat filling:

5 lb Pork butt (shoulder roast) (substitute with chicken or beef)

¼ cup cooking oil

1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces

1 Tbs coarse salt

2 tsp cumin powder

2 tsp cracked black pepper

3 or 4 bay leaves

2 Tbs dried onion flakes

2 tsp red chile powder

2 tsp dried Mexican oregano

2 cups chicken stock (or beef stock)

2 Tbs rendered bacon fat or rendered beef fat

Directions:

Wash the roast in cool water and pat dry.  Add the oil to a large Dutch oven and set the heat to high.  Sear the roast on each side and then set it aside to cool.  Discard remaining oil from the Dutch oven.

Combine all of the spices (cinnamon stick, salt, cumin, black pepper, bay leaves, dried onion, chile powder and oregano) and grind them in a mortar and pestle.

Coat the roast with the blended spices and return the roast to the Dutch oven.  Add 2 cups of stock.  Cover the Dutch oven and place in a 225° oven for six hours.

Remove the Dutch oven from the oven and let the roast rest for about 20 minutes. 

Shred the roast with forks and add some of the shredded meat to a large skillet.  Add a few teaspoons of rendered fat to the skillet and set the heat to medium/high.  Stir the meat for several minutes and remove to a large bowl. Repeat the process until all of the shredded meat has been fried quickly in the skillet. 

Ingredients for the sauce:

20 dried guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded

3 chile de arbol, stemmed and seeded

3 allspice berries

1 tsp fennel seed

1 tsp sesame seed

2 tsp dried onion flakes

1 tsp garlic powder

1 ½ tsp salt

8 oz tomato sauce

Directions:

Stem and seed the chiles. 

Steep the chiles in hot water for at least 30 minutes. 

Remove the chiles and place them in a blender.  Add some of the water, used during the steeping process, to the blender. 

Puree the chiles and strain over a large mixing bowl to remove the pulp. 

Move the sauce from the bowl to a large skillet.  Set the heat to low and simmer. 

While the sauce simmers, toast the allspice berries, fennel seeds, sesame seeds and dried onion in a pan, at low heat.  Keep the different items apart in the skillet because the onion flake will toast quickly and will need to be removed first.  Continue toasting the other spices until they become fragrant.

Grind the toasted spices in a mortar and pestle and add the garlic powder and salt. Add the spices to the sauce.

Add 8 ounces of tomato sauce to the sauce.

Whisk and stir the sauce at low heat for about 15 minutes.  Remove the sauce to a large bowl.

Return the shredded meat to the pan and set heat to medium.  Add some of the sauce and mix.  Once the sauce is thoroughly mixed with the meat, remove the meat and allow to cool to room temperature.  Once the meat has cooled, place it in an airtight container or sealable storage bag and refrigerate.

Day two:  Prepare the masa and assemble the tamales.

For the masa:

1 package of corn masa (4 lbs)

Baking powder

Lard or vegetable shortening

Water or broth

Follow the directions on the bag of masa.  Most masa mixes call for the addition of baking powder, lard and water.  The general idea is to add baking powder, lard and water to the masa and then mix to produce a fluffy, wet dough.  I used water and added some chicken bouillon and dried Mexican safflower leaves, (azafran en flor), to give a warm color to the masa. I soaked the bullion and safflower in warm water before adding it to the masa mix.

Soften corn husks by soaking them in warm water for 45 minutes to an hour.  A clean sink full of hot tap water will do the trick.

Add some water to a tamale steamer and place the steamer on the stove top.  Set the heat to medium and cover the steamer with a lid.

Prepare a large area to assemble the tamales.  Arrange the work space so that others can help assemble tamales.  Each person will need to be able to easily access the corn husks, masa and filling, and a tray for the wrapped tamales.

Lay a corn husk down on the work surface. 

Apply about 2 tablespoons of masa to the center of the husk and smear the masa out toward the wide end of the husk.  Don’t spread the masa across the entire husk.  You will want to leave the edges of the husk clean.

Place about 2 tablespoons of the filling on top of the masa.

Roll the corn husk and finish by folding the pointed end over and placing the tamale on a staging tray or dish.

Once you have prepared a few dozen tamales, place them vertically in the steamer, with the folded ends pointed down.

Steam for an hour and then turn the heat off.  Carefully remove the tamales and stack them on a tray.

Continue steaming tamales until they are all cooked.

At this point they are ready to eat or, you might want to wrap them in aluminum foil, in sets of 3 or 4, to save for later, or to send as gifts for friends and family.

I like to take packs of tamales to work and give them to co-workers. 

You can freeze foil-wrapped tamales for weeks or months.  To reheat, remove the foil and place in a microwave oven for about 30 seconds, or keep them in foil and warm them in a conventional oven for about 20 minutes at 350°.

Tamales can be topped with enchilada sauce, smothered in a warm cheese sauce or they can be eaten just as they are, hot or cold.

Best wishes to all of you during the upcoming year!  Keep your family and friends fed with delicious food.

Chicken Flautas with Cream Cheese

This is what’s known in the biz as a two-fer.  Yes, I know I just posted a chicken flautas recipe but these two recipes were made four months apart, so I feel vindicated and clever for presenting another fun-filled flautas episode.  Consider it and encore, or maybe a sequel.  Either way, flautas deserve attention and they should be enjoyed as often as you can make them, or eat them.

Juxtaposing these two different approaches to flautas illustrates the versatility of Mexican cuisine.  You can wrap anything you want into a corn tortilla, fry it and call it a flauta.  Amazing!

Once again, for this recipe, I had the benefit of starting with chicken that had previously been cooked. 

Ingredients:

3 cups chicken, cooked and shredded

8 oz cream cheese softened

1 ½ tsp cumin

1 tsp salt

1 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp Mexican oregano

Red and green chiles (about ¼ cup)

1 1/2 cups spinach chopped

6 corn tortillas

cooking oil for frying

Directions:

Soften the tortillas by adding them to hot oil for several seconds.  Set the tortillas aside.

In a large bowl mix together the shredded chicken, cream cheese, cumin, salt, garlic powder, oregano, chiles and spinach. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Form the mixture into long logs, or snakes, if you like.  Portion the mix by cutting them into sections.  This makes it easy when it comes to rolling up the flautas.

Assemble the flautas by adding a portion of the mix and rolling them up in the softened tortillas.  Skewer two flautas together with a toothpick, to hold them together while they fry.

Pour enough cooking oil into a skillet to about ½” in height.  Set the heat to medium.

Cook the flautas in the hot oil, gently turning with tongs once or twice until they are golden brown on both sides.

Remove the flautas to a paper towel-lined plate.

Serve warm.

But wait, there’s more! 

Flautas are wonderful crispy treat but I think of them as an appetizer.  Here’s an easy way to incorporate them into a full-fledged Mexican feast.

Cheese Enchiladas in Red Sauce

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups Colby-Jack cheese

1 cup onion, diced

6 corn tortillas, softened in hot oil

2 cups prepared red enchilada sauce

cooking oil for frying

chopped green onions for garnish

I used homemade red enchilada sauce but the store-bought variety will work, too.

Directions:

Mix the grated cheese and diced onion in a large bowl.  In the same bowl, separate the mixture into six equal portions.

Pour some enchilada sauce into a 8” or 9” glass pie pan.  Pour just enough sauce to cover the bottom of the pan. 

Roll the enchiladas, just as you rolled the flautas.  Place the enchiladas, seam side down, into the pie pan.

Cover the enchiladas with the remaining sauce.

Bake at 300° for 20 to 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let the enchiladas rest for 5 minutes, before serving.

Serve with Mexican rice and guacamole salad, or sour cream.

Bienvenido a mi casa!  Buen appetito! 

Chicken Flautas with Ricotta Cheese and Mushrooms

I’m convinced that one of the secrets to imaginative cooking is learning how to resist going to the store when you realize you are out of an essential ingredient for a dish.  If necessity is the mother of invention, adversity might be the father.

Lasagna just isn’t lasagna without the lasagna pasta.  That’s a fact.  So, if your heart is truly set on having lasagna and you don’t have the pasta, go to the store and get some.  But, if you’ve just come home from a long day at work, you might dread the thought of getting back into the car to face the teeming masses at the grocery store just to pick up a box of pasta.  That is the conundrum I faced today. 

I reluctantly switched gears and started to think of alternatives for dinner.  I wanted to use the ricotta, because it had been in the refrigerator for a few weeks.  I rummaged through the refrigerator and found some chicken thighs that I had grilled, the previous weekend.  The needle of my culinary compass quickly swung from Italian to Tex-Mex, (who would have guessed?!)

I imagined how I could use cheese and mushrooms and chicken to make flautas (taquitos).  It’s during these kinds of moments of brilliance when I become convinced that I’m on the verge of making a brand new, never-seen-before creation.  I use the flash of inspiration and get to work.

This sort of inspiration is actually a façade, as any honest cook knows, but it is an excellent motivator!  Here is what the all-knowing internet has to say about the matter:  From hispanickitchen.com, “Requesón is a soft Mexican cheese similar in texture to ricotta cheese. It has a mild flavor that can be used for both sweet and savory dishes. Because this cheese doesn’t melt completely when in contact with heat, it is the perfect cheese for golden fried taquitos.”

Chicken Flautas with Ricotta Cheese and Mushrooms

Ingredients:

4 grilled chicken thighs (skin on)

1 cup of uncooked rice

1 Tbs olive oil

1 Tbs butter

3 Tbs cup diced onion

4 large white, button mushrooms, chopped

15 oz ricotta cheese (or queso requesón, if you’re lucky enough)

1 tsp Mexican oregano

¼ cup cooking oil

12 corn tortillas

For the garnish:

1 small white onion, sliced

1 large ripe tomato, sliced

1 orange, sliced

2 cups mixed greens (spinach, lettuce, etc.)

½ cup sour cream

½ cup salsa

Cilantro leaves (as much as you like)

Directions:

Remove the skin from the chicken thighs and reserve one of the skins to flavor the rice.

Set the rice on the stove to boil.  Add one of the chicken skins and cook the rice according to the directions on the package. Remove the skin before serving.

Shred and chop the chicken. Set aside.

Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet. 

Add the onions and sauté until the onions begin to brown.

Add the mushrooms and stir for one minute. 

Remove the onions and mushrooms to a bowl and set aside.

Add the ricotta cheese to the onions and mushrooms.  Mix to combine. 

Add the oregano and mix thoroughly.

Add the shredded chicken and mix.  Set aside.

Soften the tortillas by frying in hot cooking oil.  Set aside.

Prepare the flautas.  Lay a tortilla on a work surface and add about 3 tablespoons of the chicken mixture.  Form the chicken into a thick bead and roll the tortilla. 

Skewer the tortilla with a toothpick. *Yay for toothpicks*

Assemble the rest of the tortillas and skewer them in sets of three.

Fry the rolled flautas in hot oil, turning a few times, until they are crispy and golden.  Remove to a paper towel-lined plate.

Assemble the flautas on a large platter and adorn with the garnishes. 

Enjoy with a delicious red wine, which was intended to pair with the lasagna!