Tres Tacos (Three Tacos)

In my never-ending attempt to rid my refrigerator of leftovers I found myself falling back on a familiar theme: Tex-Mex.  Mexican cuisine can be made with all sorts of things and that’s what makes it so easy to rely on, when having to decide what to scrape together for dinner.

For this meal, corn tortillas tied everything together.  I made three different types of tacos, two with beef and one with turkey.  All of them shared some of the typical taco toppings like lettuce, tomato, onion, cilantro and sour cream.  Each one had at least one signature ingredient and each had a different kind of cheese.

Each taco had its own, unique quality.  Everyone that ate them had their own favorite.

This was fun to make but, I have to admit, it didn’t come together as quickly as I wanted.

I had some tomatoes from the garden that needed to be used so I cooked them down to a sauce and added jalapeños, onion and garlic.  I pureed the sauce after it cooked for about 40 minutes.  Normally, I would use picante sauce from a jar but I just can’t resist fresh sauce, when I have the ingredients in my garden.

One more comment before we jump into the recipe.  I sometimes use two corn tortillas per taco, instead of just one.  These tacos are prepared like “street tacos”, which is to say they resemble authentic Mexican tacos.  They are not the crispy corn tortillas that you might find at a grocery store, or ones that you might get at a fast food restaurant. 

The tortillas are heated just to a point where they are still soft and pliable.  Doubling up on the tortillas means that the tacos are more durable.  I hate tacos that fall apart in my hands!

Ingredients:

½ cup beef barbacoa

½ cup cooked ground beef

½ cup cooked ground turkey

1 cup prepared spicy tomato sauce

1 Tbs chipotle in adobo sauce (diced)

¼ cup sautéed sliced mushrooms

½  cup borracho beans, drained

¼ cup spicy mayo/sour cream sauce

½ cup grated cheddar cheese

½ cup cotija cheese

½ cup grated Monterey Jack cheese

¼ cup diced tomatoes

½ cup shredded lettuce

¼ cup diced onion

½ cup cilantro

6 pitted black olives, chopped

¼ cup sour cream

18 corn tortillas

lime wedges

Directions for the salsa:

If you don’t want to make fresh salsa, use a store bought salsa of your choice…otherwise, this is what I did to make the salsa for this dish.

Dice 6 to 8 small to medium sized tomatoes.  Add to a large pot and simmer at low heat.  Dice ½ onion and smash 3 garlic cloves and add those to the pot.  Add 1 tsp dry oregano and 1 Tbs cumin powder.  Simmer at low/medium heat for 30 to 40 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning on the bottom of the pot.  Puree the contents.  Now you have fresh sauce!  Set this aside.

finished salsa

While the sauce is cooking, prepare the rest of the ingredients for the tacos.  You will be chopping, peeling and slicing vegetables so keep a bowl handy for the refuse. 

carrot, mushroom, lime and olives
onion, tomato and cilantro

Peel, chop and dice all of the vegetables.  Set aside.  Grate the cheese and set aside.

Break apart and crumble the meat.  Lay the meat in separate piles on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and warm in the oven at 250° for about 15 minutes.

Heat a pan, or a comal, on the stove to low/medium heat.  Add a little oil and cook the tortillas on each side.  Add a little more oil after two or three tortillas are cooked.  The tortillas should cook for about 20 seconds on each side.  Remove to a plate and keep warm.

I kept forgetting what I was going to put on each taco so I decided to write it down on a 3×5 index card.  Not a bad idea, especially for someone with the attention span of a gnat, like me.

Even after writing this down, I still switched the cheese on two of the tacos…go figure!

Directions for assembling the tacos:

I recently got some taco holders as a gift and, although I don’t use them often, they made it easy to assemble tacos and they made a nice presentation.

I worked on all three tacos simultaneously.

For the barbacoa taco:

Start by adding some barbacoa.  Add borracho beans, followed by salsa and cheddar cheese.

For the ground beef taco:

Start with ground beef.  Add minced chipotle sauce, salsa and cotija cheese.

For the turkey taco:

Add ground turkey, followed by mushrooms, followed by the mayo/sour cream sauce, Monterey Jack cheese and black olives.

Top all three tacos with lettuce, tomato, onion, carrot, cilantro and finally, a small dollop of sour cream. Serve with lime wedges.

Leftovers…I mean, Nachos!

I was pondering what to make for dinner the other day.  I didn’t really want to cook but I was hungry.  Sound familiar?  I opened my refrigerator and saw several small containers of leftovers.  After a quick survey of the items it became obvious that Nachos was the best, and easiest solution. 

This was one of those times when the amount of the leftovers was exactly what I needed to make a meal. 

Ingredients:

1 cup Shredded chicken (left over from chimichangas)

½ cup refried beans  (left over from chimichangas)

¼ cup tomato sauce (left over from salsa roja)

3 Tbs diced onion (left over from chimichangas)

1 chipotle pepper in adobo (left over from chimichangas)

2 slices processed American cheese (left over Egg sandwiches)

1 cup sliced Muenster cheese (left over from white cheese sauce)

2 smoked serrano chiles (left over from salsa verde)

Restaurant style tortilla chips – not leftovers!

Just look at the amount of empty storage containers this meal provided.  This is what victory feels like for the home cook!  I couldn’t be any more proud!

Directions:

Distribute tortilla chips on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.  I like to use parchment paper because it makes for very easy clean up. 

Lay the slices of Muenster cheese across the tortilla chips.  Slice the serrano chiles and scrape away the seeds.  Mince the serranos and sprinkle on top of the cheese.  Mix the refried beans with the tomato sauce and drop dollops of the bean mixture on top of the cheese.  Mash and mince the chipotle pepper and adobo sauce and combine with the shredded chicken.  Mix by hand and distribute the chicken over the refried beans.  Sprinkle the diced onions over the nachos.  Finally, tear apart strips of the American cheese and place on top of the nachos. 

Bake in a 400° oven for five to ten minutes, or until the cheese melts.

Serve with sour cream, salsa, lettuce, tomato or any other toppings you desire…but try to use up leftovers in keeping with the theme of the dish!

Ribeye Steak with Chipotle Butter

Some people say they dream in color and some say they don’t.  I dream in color and I can dream in taste and smell, too.  Afternoon, weekend naps start with thoughts about what to make for dinner.  Trying to recall what is in my pantry and my refrigerator makes me drowsy.  Those thoughts roll over and over in my mind and before long, I fall asleep.  But, afternoon naps are short-lived.  I sleep just long enough to catch a glimpse of a dream and when I awake, I know what I will prepare for dinner.  I can taste it.  I can smell it.  I have already prepared the meal in my dream.   I get out of bed quickly and get to work. 

This afternoon’s dream was of the vivid Tex-Mex variety.  Vibrant colors and bold, spicy flavors are what I have in mind for my ribeye steaks.  This is food worthy of celebration!

Ingredients:

3 beef ribeye steaks (1 pound each and 1” thick)

2 Tbs cooking oil (Canola or Olive oil is good)

2 Tbs cumin powder

1 Tbs coarse salt

1 Tbs freshly ground black pepper

½ red bell pepper

½ yellow bell pepper

½ green bell pepper

4 Tbs softened butter

2 Tbs chipotle adobo sauce

Directions:

Remove the steaks from the packaging and allow them to warm on a platter, at room temperature, for about 20 minutes. 

While the steaks rest, slice the bell peppers into ½ inch rings and set aside. 

Prepare the chipotle butter by combing the softened butter with the chipotle adobo sauce.  Set aside.

Prepare the charcoal grill. 

I use a charcoal chimney to heat the charcoal briquettes. 

If you are not familiar with a charcoal chimney, you need to be.  Starting coals with a charcoal chimney means that you don’t have to use lighter fluid.  Lighter fluid can impart a greasy, oily flavor to meats and vegetables. 

I like to rip apart old newspapers or paper grocery bags, or even pieces of the charcoal bag, to start the fire for the chimney.  This is a good way to recycle paper and it gives me an opportunity to tear stuff up and burn things.  The primal urge to destroy and burn things runs deep…

While the coals heat, prepare the steaks.  Brush the steaks lightly with olive oil and sprinkle each side with cumin powder.  Liberaly apply salt and pepper to both sides.

Once the coals turn gray, dump them in the charcoal grill and spread them out evenly.  Add some mesquite wood, if you have it.  Clean the grill with a steel brush and then swab the grill with a some cooking oil and carefully lay the steaks on the grill, keeping at least 1” between each steak.  

Add the sliced bell peppers and grill them for a minute or two, until they start to char.  Remove the peppers.

Grill the ribeye steaks for 3 minutes and then turn them over.  Cook for another 3 minutes to achieve medium rare steaks.  Remove the steaks and brush with chipotle butter.  Rest the stakes under a foil tent for 5 to 10 minutes before slicing. 

That sounds simple right?  Well, it is and it isn’t.  When it comes to grilling meat to a desired level of doneness, there are many factors to consider.  Grilling for 3 minutes on each side will probably produce a good, medium rare steak but my preferred method for checking doneness is by pushing on the meat with a finger.  Assuming that the steak is one inch thick, or more, I give it 3 minutes on the first side, at high heat.  This produces a good char and thoroughly cooks the meat on that side.  Then, after flipping the steak over, I let it go for about 2 minutes and then press the center portion of the steak with my finger of side of my thumb.  If the meat yields easily and feels soft or mushy, it is still rare.  When I push down and feel a slight resistance and the meat returns to its form, like a mattress would, I know that it is medium rare. 

If you are in doubt, pull the steak.  You can always pop it in the oven or put it on a skillet to finish.  You can’t un-cook a steak. 

Serve family style on a large platter with grilled corn on the cob and baked potatoes. 

Salsa Roja

This red sauce works well with lots of Mexican dishes. It’s rich, smooth and mild. It should provide a nice counterbalance to the chunky,spicy green sauce.

Since the grill is still hot, I am going to put a char on the tomatoes. This can be done in the oven at 400° but, like I said, my grill is ready and waiting and, since it’s summertime, I don’t want to heat the house up if I can avoid it.

This recipe calls for chiles en adobo, which are smoked, dried jalapeños (chipotles) that are packed in a sort of barbecue sauce, called adobo.  I prefer to buy chiles in adobo in little 8 oz cans.  One can carry me through several recipes and they last a long time, in the refrigerator.

Ingredients:

6 dried guajillo chiles

6 small to medium tomatoes

1 Tbs olive oil

½ onion, diced

3 garlic cloves, smashed

1 cup water

1 chipotle jalapeño in adobo sauce

1 tsp adobo sauce

½ teaspoon Mexican oregano

1 teaspoon salt

A pinch of freshly cracked black pepper

Directions:

Cut the ends off of the chiles and slice them lengthwise.  Remove and discard the seeds and fibers.  Chop the chiles a little and set them aside. 

Roast the tomatoes on a hot grill.  When the tomatoes start to char, remove them. 

In a large skillet, sauté the onions and garlic in olive oil on very low heat.  Once the onions have softened, add the water, chipotle jalapeño, adobo sauce, guajillo chiles, oregano, salt and black pepper.  Cover and simmer for a few minutes.  Chop the tomatoes roughly and add to the pan.  Simmer for 10 minutes and then turn the heat off.  Leave the sauce alone for 10 more minutes, which should be long enough for the chiles to soften. 

Pour the contents into a blender and puree.  Strain the solids and discard.  You may need to scrape the strainer with a flexible spatula.  Pour the sauce into a jar and allow it to cool.  Refrigerate until needed.