Mesquite Smoked Chicken Tacos

For those of you following my blog you may have noticed that I’ve been quiet for a month, or so.  These last few months have been rough.  Covid-19 is alive and well in the U.S. and I, along with many others, are adapting to the situation as best as we can. 

I haven’t stopped cooking but I have to admit, my spirits have been down and I find it difficult to do much more  than wake up, go to work, eat, sleep and repeat.  I’m sure I’m not the only one experiencing those kind of feelings.  I’ve been relying on tried and true recipes much of the time and I’ve been making lots of comfort food, most of which is not new or novel or worth posting.  You get the idea.

This particular dish, Mesquite Smoked Chicken Tacos, was something I did back in early March, when many people in the U.S. were staying at home to avoid transmitting the virus.  I took all three weeks of my vacation from work and I tilled my garden with nothing but a shovel and my bare hands, day after day.  I ventured out to buy seeds and seedlings and planted all sorts of vegetables. 

I returned to work two months ago and I’ve faced all sorts of challenges.  So, you may see posts from me frequently or there may be big gaps between them.   Such is life.

When I began making this recipe, I came across and onion that had started to sprout, in my pantry.  I’m not the sort of person that throws anything away without consideration so, I cored the onion, used the edible part of the onion and planted the core.

Here’s what became of that onion core I planted.  It should be ready to harvest in a few weeks.

For this recipe, I used a small charcoal grill, along with a few chunks of dry mesquite, for smoke.  Any hard wood would be fine…oak, hickory…  But, true to my Tex-Mex heritage I opted for mesquite.

Ingredients:

2 lbs chicken breast, cut into 1” thick slices

8 oz can tomato sauce

1 Tbs cumin powder

2 tsp red chile powder

1 tsp oregano

1 large onion, diced

4 jalapeños, fire roasted, steamed, peeled and diced

3 Roma tomatoes, chopped

Corn tortillas, briefly fried in oil

1 cup iceberg lettuce, chopped

2 green onions, chopped

½ cup sour cream

Directions:

Marinate the chicken in the tomato sauce, cumin, red chile powder and oregano for at least an hour.

Start the charcoal grill.  Add a few pieces of mesquite to the coals, when the coals become hot.

Once the grill is screaming hot, lay a cast iron skillet on the grate and add a tablespoon of cooking oil.  Add the whole jalapeños and let them sizzle and char on all sides. 

Remove the jalapeños and take them inside to steam in a covered skillet with a scant amount of water for a few minutes.  Turn the heat off and allow the jalapeños to steam for about 10 minutes.

Add the chicken to the cast iron skillet and return it to the charcoal grill.  Cook the chicken over low heat for about an hour, turning the chicken every 15 minutes.

While the chicken cooks, remove the jalapeños from the skillet and peel away the charred skins.  Remove the seeds and stem and then chop the jalapeños into small pieces. 

Add the jalapeños, onion and two tomatoes to the skillet and simmer at low/medium heat for several minutes, until the onions begin to soften.  Remove to a serving bowl.

Chop the remaining tomato and sprinkle with garlic salt and oregano.  Set aside.

Soften corn tortillas in a little hot oil.  Set the tortillas aside until you are ready to assemble the tacos.

Remove the chicken from the grill and roughly chop into bite sized pieces.

Assemble the tacos by adding some chicken followed by some of the cooked tomato, onion and jalapeños, followed a little lettuce and then add a small dollop of sour cream and top with fresh, seasoned tomatoes and green onion.

Serve with rice and beans, a fresh salad, or fruit.

Chicken/Basil Sausage with Angel Hair Pasta

Okay, I have to admit, I was flying without a net on this one.  This whole Covid-19 pandemic thing has kept me off balance, in every aspect of my life. 

It’s not uncommon for me to rummage through my pantry or refrigerator to scrape together a meal.  Often times, everything comes together nicely because I know which food items pair well with other items.  Next thing you know, “Dinner is served!”

But this was a case of “Oh no, what am I going to do with all of this stuff?”  That kind of thinking at the onset usually leads to questionable results. 

The only reason I had angel hair pasta was because I picked it up by accident.  I meant to get spaghetti…you know, real spaghetti, not the dainty, angel haired variety.  I have found that I am not very observant in the grocery store, now that I’m wearing a mask and trying not to over-handle items on the shelves.  The chicken sausage looked interesting, so I picked it up.  It was stuffed with chopped basil leaves and it seemed like something fun to try.  I had sun dried tomatoes, packed away in my freezer, a few fresh tomatoes, a few pieces of broccoli, some Parmesan cheese and a few semi-fresh hot dog buns in my pantry.  All of those ingredients are worthy, in their own right, and could be put to good use but my mind drew a blank when it came time to put everything together.

As it turned out, the dish qualified as real food.  The sauce was a little too thick but, the leftovers were great!  I added a cup of water to the leftovers and put it in the microwave for two minutes and voila!  Perfectly, creamy.

I mention all of this to illustrate a point.  Being a home cook isn’t easy, especially with the added stress of a pandemic and civil unrest.  Some  home cooks, myself included, come home every evening and are faced with the daunting task of making something delicious and nutritious and…something that we haven’t already had three times this week, for goodness sake!

Ingredients:

3 cloves roasted garlic, mashed

½ cup sun dried tomatoes

1 ripe Roma tomato, sliced into 1/2” discs

1 tsp fresh rosemary, diced

1 tsp cracked black pepper

1 tsp coarse salt

2 Tbs butter

¼ cup half and half (milk and cream)

2 cups water

2 large pieces of broccoli, stems and leaves included

8 oz chicken sausage (4 links)

2 cups cooked angel hair pasta

½ cup shredded Parmesan cheese

A few hot dog buns

Directions:

In a hot skillet, add 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tsp of mashed roasted garlic.  Simmer for a minute.

Add the half and half and 1 cup of water and cook for a few minutes.  Add the Parmesan cheese and turn the heat off.  Remove the cheese sauce to a bowl and keep warm.

In a separate pan, boil some water and add the broccoli.  Cook until tender.  Remove and slice into long pieces.  Set aside.

Slice the tomato and set aside.

Cook the pasta according to the directions, drain and set aside.

In a large pan, add a little olive oil and then add a teaspoon of mashed, roasted garlic.  Simmer for a minute and then add the chicken sausage.  Simmer at medium heat, turning the sausages occasionally.

Remove the sausages and cut into 1” pieces.

Return the sausage back to the pan and sauté for a few minutes.

Add the sun dried tomatoes and rosemary, stir for a minute. Add the fresh tomatoes and simmer at low/medium heat for five minutes.

Add the melted cheese mixture.  Stir briefly.

Add 1 cup of water and the cooked broccoli and stir to combine. Add the cooked pasta and mix. Top with a little more grated Parmesan cheese. Serve warm with toasted, buttered hot dog buns.

Remember, making dinner is really just an invitation for families to sit together.  Conversation at the dinner table is the real prize.  Dinner-time conversations will linger in hearts and minds long after the food is gone!