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.

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. 

Grilled Corn on the Cob and Baked Potatoes

I like to grill corn on the cob in the husk but, since I could only find corn cobs with the husks already removed, I used heavy duty aluminum foil to prevent the corn from burning.

Ingredients for the corn:

4 corn cobs

4 Tbs softened butter

1 tsp salt

½ tsp chili powder

¼ tsp cumin powder

Directions:

Wash the corn and remove any corn silk.  Allow the corn to dry.  Combine the butter, chili powder and cumin powder until it forms a paste.  Smear the corn cobs with the buttery mixture.  Wrap each corn cob tightly in heavy duty aluminum foil.

Place the corn on a hot grill and grill for about 20 minutes, giving the corn a quarter turn every five minutes.  Keep the corn in the foil until ready to serve.  Leaving the corn in the foil will allow the corn to continue steaming.

Baked Potatoes (on the grill)

As I see it, there are two types of people.  Those who eat the potato skins and those who don’t.  Baking them on the grill allows for both options.  Coating the potatoes with oil and salt and wrapping them in foil will produce a baked potato with a soft skin, or jacket, if you prefer.

Ingredients for the potatoes:

4 large baking potatoes (I’m only making 3 this time)

1 Tbs olive oil

1 ½ Tbs kosher salt

Directions:

Wash potatoes and let them air-dry.  Rub the potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle each one generously with salt.  Wrap tightly in heavy duty aluminum foil and place on a hot grill. 

Bake on the grill for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the potatoes yield when gently squeezed.  Use an oven mitt when squeezing the potatoes. 

Corn and Potatoes…ready to come off the grill

Salsa Verde

I like all kinds of food, but I turn to Mexican cuisine more often than not.  Mexican cuisine can be simple or complex.  As a home cook, I often head down the simple path…tacos, enchiladas, fajitas…   But, there are times that I want to go “all out” and make something special. 

Salsa verde is one of those special things that I can’t resist.  It is an essential component in my Mexican Flag Chimichangas, which I will share with you soon.   

The salsa verde that I am making is comprised mainly of tomatillos and serrano chiles.  There are many types of Mexican green salsas but this particular one is common to many dishes.  The thing that I find funny about making salsa verde is that it can be prepared simply and quickly, or it can be a time consuming project.  I have chosen the time consuming variation, because I am poco loco, which is to say, a little bit crazy. 

First, let’s get something straight.  Tomatillos are not green tomatoes.  Although the tomatillo is in the same family as tomatoes, they are not the same thing.  Tomatillos can be found in grocery stores all over the U.S., due to an ever-growing population of Latinos.  And to that, I say gracias!  You can buy salsa verde in a jar, but homemade salsa verde is mas sabroso (tastier.)

Smoking tomatillos on the grill makes it even better!  So, lets grill some tomatillos.

This recipe will yield about one quart of salsa. 

Ingredients:

12 tomatillos

5 serrano chiles

1 Tbs coarse salt

1 Tbs olive oil

3 garlic cloves

1 small onion

¼ cup chopped cilantro

1 tsp salt

1 tsp sugar

Directions:

Peel the stems and husks off of the tomatillos and pull the stems off of the serranos.  Slice the tomatillos in half (along the equator, if you know what I mean).  Toss the tomatillos, serranos and garlic cloves in a bowl with the coarse salt and olive oil.  Set aside.

Directions for grilling:

Wrap the grate with heavy duty aluminum foil, covering about ¾ of the grill.  Cut slits in the foil to facilitate air flow.  You can skip this if you feel lucky but, I know from past experience that little things, like peppers and garlic, can find a way to slip through grating before you know it!

Heat charcoal briquettes and place them in the grill.  Lay a piece of piece of wood on top of the coals.  I used mesquite wood but hickory or oak is fine.  It’s all about your flavor preference.

Place the foil-covered grate on the grill and then place the tomatillos, serranos and garlic on the grate.  Close the lid of the grill and wait several minutes.   Open the grill and inspect the everything.  Once the bottoms have blackened, pull them off. 

Purée

Drop the smoked tomatillos, chiles, garlic, the teaspoon of salt and the tablespoon of sugar in a blender.  Add the diced onion, cilantro and a splash of water.  Purée for several seconds.  That’s it.  You have made salsa verde!  Store in a mason jar and allow to cool before refrigerating.  The salsa will last about a week.  If you want to extend the life of your salsa add about 2 Tbs vinegar.