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 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!

Camarones ala Diabla

Camarones ala Diabla is served at many Mexican restaurants.  The name of the dish translates to Shrimp of the Devil.  The evocative name of the dish might entice you try it or it might make you afraid of the spicy heat that it promises to bring.  I have had Camarones ala Diabla at many restaurants and I have yet to find one that truly brings the heat I want. 

My tolerance for spicy food is higher than most people tolerate and I understand that restaurants cater to the general public so, when I order Camarones ala Diabla I usually tell the waiter, “muy picante, por favor”, or “mas picante”.  Sadly, that usually results in more sauce, rather than a spicier sauce. 

The way I see it, if you’re going to evoke the “devil” in the name of a dish you sell, you should be prepared to deliver the devilish fires of hell.  Don’t hold back!  I want something that sizzles and stings!  ¡Yo quiero picante!

When you want something done right, sometimes you have to do it yourself!

My favorite local seafood vendor, Porter Seafood, rolled into town this weekend and I stopped by to pick up 3 pounds of fresh gulf shrimp.  $8.00 per pound might seem a little pricey, but it’s worth it.  Whole jumbo shrimp, fresh from the gulf, is a real treat.  I nearly cried for joy when I opened the bag and saw these big beauties!

Camarones ala Diabla is not very difficult to make.  All you need are fresh, jumbo shrimp and a wickedly spicy chile sauce. 

My recipe includes more chile de arbol than what most recipes call for and a few whole, crispy, fried jumbo shrimp, to top the dish.  Yes, the whole shrimp are meant to be eaten!  Whole, fried shrimp is a delicacy and it’s something that most Americans shy away from.  I won’t go into the experience of eating them whole except to say that they offer rich flavor, a wide range of textures and they look absolutely awesome!  If you’re even a little curious about trying whole, fried shrimp you should do it.  If the thought of eating a whole shrimp turns you off, don’t do it, but understand that you are missing a sensation that is worth overcoming the initial visual shock. 

Ingredients:

8 dried guajillo chiles, stems and seeds removed

8 dried chile de arbol chiles, stems removed (for a milder version, use 3 chile de arbol)

3 Roma tomatoes, chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped

1 tsp coarse salt

2 Tbs sesame seeds, or dried, crushed pumpkin seeds, (optional)

2 dried allspice berries, crushed (optional)

3 Tbs olive oil

1.5 pounds large raw shrimp, peeled and deveined

Reserve 3 whole, raw jumbo shrimp (do not remove heads, tails or shells)

½ cup milk

½ cup flour

1 egg

2 cups cooking oil

Sesame seeds or pumpkin seeds (semillas de sésamo o semillas de calabaza) add an earthy element to the sauce and the allspice berries (bayas de pimienta) add exotic flavor.  The recipe is fine without these but so much better when they are added.

Directions:

Left: Guajillo chiles: *** Right: Chile de arbol

Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles.  Chile de arbol are small and it’s not easy to remove the seeds.  Don’t spend too much time trying.  The seeds will be removed when the sauce is strained.

Steam the chiles in a covered pan or pot, filled with water.  Boil the water, add the chiles, turn off the heat, cover and wait 30 minutes. 

While the chiles steam, prepare the vegetables for the sauce.

Chop the tomatoes, garlic and onion.  Add these to a blender. Add the salt, sesame seeds and crushed allspice to the blender.

After the chiles have steamed, carefully remove them from the water and place them in the blender.

Blend at high speed until pureed.

Strain the sauce and discard the pulp.  This should leave about two cups of smooth sauce.  Reserve until needed.

Rinse the 3 whole shrimp under clear, cool water.  Set aside to air-dry on a plate.

Mix the milk, flour and egg in a bowl.  This will be used to dredge the whole shrimp.  Set aside for now.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 3 tablespoons olive oil.  Add the peeled, raw shrimp.  Sautee for a few minutes, until the shrimp turn pink.  Do not cook for more than a few minutes, to avoid over cooking. 

Remove the shrimp and set aside.

Add the sauce to the pan.  Once the sauce is bubbling hot, return the shrimp to the pan and stir for a minute.  Remove to a serving platter and keep warm.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add 2 cups of cooking oil. 

Once the oil is hot (350°), dredge the whole shrimp, one at a time, in the milk, flour and egg batter.  Carefully lay the shrimp into the hot oil, one at a time.  Fry the shrimp for one minute and then turn them over to fry on the other side for two minutes.  Turn once more and fry for another minute. 

Sorry, no pictures of this. I was having too much fun!

Carefully remove the shrimp and lay them across the top of the Camarones ala Diabla. 

Serve with the usual Mexican fare…tortillas, lime wedges, rice and beans…

Aye, caramba!  ¡Necesito una cerveza fría!

Don’t forget the cold beer!

Carnitas (Slow Roasted Pork)

Sometimes I get a grandiose idea and I get all fired up and I spend hours and hours focusing on my goal until the plan reaches fruition.  And then there’s all those other days, when the grandiose idea fizzles like a flat soda. 

Welcome to Flat Soda Day.

My idea was inspired by a craving for gorditas.  Gorditas, which translates to “little chubbies”, are puffy corn tortillas stuffed with meats and sauces, or whatever else you might want to put in them.  When made properly, gorditas are wonderfully crispy, warm, corn flavored pockets full of savory bliss.  Like so many Mexican dishes, they instantly make me feel at home when I eat them, regardless of where I eat them.

Step number one for gorditas:  prepare carnitas.  Carnitas, which translates to “little meats”, is typically made with pork shoulder and is slowly roasted and then shredded.  I tend to think of carnitas as the little brother of barbacoa.  Carnitas are more gentle in flavor than bold, beefy barbacoa but, carnitas are probably more versatile. 

In fact, carnitas are so versatile that I completely abandoned the notion of making gorditas and I decided to use them in burritos.  That’s ok.  I had some carnitas left over and made gorditas a few days later.

I usually roast a pork shoulder when making carnitas.  The fat ratio in a pork shoulder is precisely what is needed for good carnitas.  This time, I had a pork loin, which is very lean.  I also had a few small pieces of leftover beef ribeye in the refrigerator.  The fat content of the ribeye was just what the lean pork needed.  I added a little lard, to further bump the fat content up, and then I roasted the meat for about 6 hours at low temperature. 

Ingredients:

1 Tbs cumin

1 Tbs oregano

2 tsp paprika

2 lbs pork loin

1 cup orange juice

1/4 cup cooking oil

1 onion, chopped

1 jalapeño, sliced

1 ½ Tbs lard

¾ lb beef ribeye (cooked to medium rare)

Directions:

Combine the cumin, oregano, paprika and oil in a small bowl. Mix together.

Coat the pork loin with the spices and oil.

Combine the remaining ingredients in a large Dutch oven.  Add the pork loin to the Dutch oven. Cover and cook at 250° for 6 hours.  Remove from oven.  Shred the meat with two forks. 

Heat a cast iron skillet.  Add shredded meat to the skillet and sear for a few minutes, or until the meat begins to char.  Turn the meat and sear for another minute.  Remove meat.

Serve in any number of dishes.  Burritos, enchiladas, gorditas, flautas, chalupas, tacos…

Pozole

Nothing warms the soul like a bowl of good, hot soup.  Pozole is much more than just a bowl of hot soup!  Pozole is the heart and soul of family and tradition in Mexico.  It is often served during holidays and special occasions.  It’s a cold remedy during the fall and winter months and it’s the sort of thing contains everything that is good for the body, mind and soul. 

The warmth of the broth is essential.  The heat of the chiles restores drained energy.  The depth of flavor from the vegetables and meat make it a meal by itself.

It’s a strange thing, posting recipes on a food blog.  I prepare food and then I post the recipes and pictures, sometimes right away and sometimes days and days later.  This post is the last in a series of posts from a dinner party that my wife and I hosted nearly two weeks ago.  The memory of the party is still clear in my mind.  Good friends and family gathered around to share stories and we had some laughs and we learned just how much we mean to each other.  The food that I served seems so distant now but the memories of our visit remains fresh, like homemade bread, warm from the oven. 

As with previous posts in the series, I did not capture all of the process with pictures.  The most glaring omission, in my opinion, is that I didn’t take a picture of the finished dish.  Heck, I didn’t even take a picture of the pozole after adding the hominy, which is a real tragedy, since hominy is the key ingredient in pozole.   

The pozole was sort of an afterthought as I planed the meal.  I had already decided to serve green enchiladas and red enchiladas, along with guacamole and Mexican rice.  I thought it would be nice to open with a soup.  Pozole seemed right for the occasion.

Ingredients:

2 lbs pork shoulder

¼ onion (no need to cut)

3 bay leaves

1 tsp coarse salt

1 tsp cracked black pepper

4 to 8 guajillo chiles (4 for mild  heat, 8 for caliente!)

1 tomato, diced

1 tsp dried oregano

6 garlic cloves

4 Tbs flour

4 Tbs butter

2 cups vegetable stock

1 large can of hominy (30 ounce can)

Directions:

Cut the pork into large pieces.

Sear the pork in a Dutch oven at high heat for a few minutes.   Stir to lightly brown the meat.

Add water to the Dutch oven to cover the pork by about two inches.  Add the onion, bay leaves, salt and pepper.

Set the heat to low and simmer the pork for two hours.  When the pork is tender enough to shred with a fork, remove to a platter and reserve the liquid.

Steam the guajillo chiles for 20 minutes, until softened.

Puree the chiles, tomato, oregano, garlic and 1 cup of the hominy and 1 cup of vegetable stock in a blender. 

Strain the mixture to remove the seeds and pulp.

Add the butter and flour to the Dutch oven and prepare a roux.  Add the remaining vegetable stock and about 3 cups of the broth from the cooked pork.  Whisk to incorporate the mixture.

Add the pork and pureed vegetable mixture.

Simmer for 15 minutes.  Add the hominy and simmer for another 15 minutes.

Serve in bowls.  Prepare a platter of condiments including sliced iceberg lettuce (or cabbage), cilantro, sliced onion and sliced jalapeño.  Place the platter in the center of the table so that guests may add what they like to their soup.

Enchiladas Roja

This is the quintessential enchilada.  Seasoned ground beef, wrapped in corn tortillas and smothered with red chili sauce and topped with cheddar cheese.  If I am strapped for time, I use canned enchilada sauce.  Most stores carry a variety of brands and most brands offer at least two types of sauce: mild and hot. 

On this occasion I started from scratch.  I re-hydrated some dried guajillo and ancho chilies to make the base for the enchilada sauce.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I didn’t take a lot of pictures during the process but this is so simple to make, I don’t believe instructional photos are really that necessary.

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground beef

2 Tbs dried onion flakes

1 Tbs dried oregano

1 Tbs cumin

Salt (to taste)

16 oz sharp cheddar cheese (1 lb)

14 corn tortillas

3 Tbs butter

3 Tbs flour

2 cups prepared enchilada sauce (see the recipe here)

2 cups vegetable broth

Directions:

Brown the ground beef in a skillet.  Strain out the grease.  Return the skillet to the stove at low heat.

Crush the seasonings in a mortar and pestle and add them to the ground beef.  Stir and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add salt to taste. Transfer the ground beef to a large mixing bowl and cool to room temperature.

While the beef cools, prepare a roux with the butter and flour.  Add the vegetable broth and enchilada sauce.  Stir and simmer until thickened.   Pour about half of the sauce into a large ceramic or glass casserole dish.  Reserve the remaining sauce.

Grate the cheese and divide in half.  Add half of the cheese to the ground beef and mix by hand.

Lay tortillas on a clean work surface and add the beef and cheese mixture.  Roll the enchiladas and place them in the casserole dish.  Pour the remaining sauce over the enchiladas and top with the remaining cheese.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes, or until the cheese begins to bubble and brown.

Serve warm.

Chicken and Spinach Enchiladas

I served two types of enchiladas during  a recent dinner party, along with Mexican rice, refried beans and guacamole.  I found myself forgetting to take pictures along the way because I was having too much fun visiting with friends and family. 

Consider this Part I of a three-part series of posts.

Ingredients:

4 chicken tenderloins

1 Tbs chicken bullion

1 tsp cumin powder

1 bay leaf

5 oz fresh spinach (I used half of a 10 oz bag)

4 Tbs butter

4 Tbs flour

2 cups vegetable stock

14 corn tortillas

1 lb Chihuahua cheese, cut into ½” strips

½ cup salsa verde

Directions:

Trim 4 large chicken breasts and remove the tenderloins.  Add the tenderloins to a pot of water (about 4 cups) and reserve the breast meat for another dish. Add the bouillon, cumin powder and bay leaf.

Cover the pot and simmer the tenderloins on low heat for one hour.  Turn the heat off and leave the pot covered for 30 more minutes. 

Remove the chicken pieces to a cutting board.

Partially flatten the chicken by pressing with the broad side of a kitchen knife.  Pressing the chicken breaks apart the meat and makes it easier to shred. 

Gently scrape the chicken across the grain to shred the chicken.

Note:  I stored the chicken in a seal-able container, along with the chicken broth.  This can keep for a few days in the refrigerator with no worries.

Steam the spinach for a few minutes until it begins to wilt.  Drain and set aside.

Start a roux with butter and flour.  Add vegetable stock and whisk until the sauce forms and thickens.  Add the chicken and chicken broth.  Continue to stir to incorporate.  Keep the heat set at medium and stir until the sauce thickens again. 

Ladle about 1 cup of the sauce into a ceramic or glass casserole dish. 

Arrange some tortillas on a clean work surface and place equal amounts of chicken and spinach on the tortillas.  Add a strip or two of cheese.  Roll the enchiladas and place them side by side in the casserole dish.  Continue rolling and placing enchiladas until the dish is full.  Pour the remaining sauce on top of the enchiladas.

Top with more Chihuahua cheese.

Lightly cover the casserole with aluminum foil and bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and uncover. Serve warm.

Enchiladas de Queso Chihuahua con Chili Poblano

This recipe is inspired by tamales with poblano chilis.  Most tamales I have eaten have been filled with beef, pork or chicken and, although I have had some great tamales over the years, one type of tamale remains unique among the rest because of its simplicity, clarity and sheer perfection.  If you’ve never had a green chili tamale you’ve been missing out on a wonderful thing!

Here in the United States, poblano chilis are mostly known as the main ingredient in chili rellenos…you know, the big green chili dipped in fluffy egg whites and fried to a delicious, golden brown.  As for Chihuahua cheese, well, it’s a soft, pale cheese, similar to, but not exactly like mozzarella.  Poblano chilis and Chihuahua cheese were made for each other.

Oh, by the way, mark your calendar.  I’m making a vegetarian dish!

Ingredients:

4 chilis poblano, roasted and cut into slivers

1 lb Chihuahua cheese (cut into ¼” sticks)

3 Tbs butter

4 Tbs flour

½ tsp cumin

½ tsp garlic powder

4 cups vegetable stock

14 corn tortillas (homemade, if you’re lucky)

¼ cup green sauce (salsa verde: tomatillo/serrano sauce)

* check out the recipe for salsa verde here *

Directions:

Rinse the poblanos under cold water.  Dry them off and place them on a parchment paper covered baking sheet.  Bake at 400° for 30 minutes, turning every 10 minutes. 

Once the chilis have blistered on all sides, remove them and place them in a plastic storage bag for about 15 minutes.  Steaming the chilis will allow you to easily peel away the outer layer of the chilis.

Once the chilis have steamed and cooled, remove them from the bag and place them on a clean work surface.  Remove the stems and peel away the outer “skin” of the chilis.  They should peel easily.  Slice the chilis lengthwise and lay them open.  Remove the seeds. 

Cut the cleaned chilis into thin ribbons and set aside.

Slice the cheese into ¼” sticks.  Set aside.

Start a roux with the butter and flour.  Add the cumin and garlic powder.  Simmer and whisk for a few minutes.

Add the vegetable stock.  Stir until thickened. 

Pour one half of the sauce into a large casserole dish.  Keep the rest of the sauce in a warm place.

Lay some tortillas on a clean work surface and add the fillings.  These will be some thin enchiladas!

Add 1 strip of cheese and an equal amount of poblano chili to a tortilla.

Roll the tortilla and place in the casserole dish.  Continue in this fashion until you run out of chilis, cheese or tortillas.  Pour the remaining sauce over the enchiladas.

Add some dots of the salsa verde along the top of the enchiladas.

Add strips of Chihuahua cheese across the top of the rolled enchiladas.

Bake in a 350° oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cheese on top bubbles and begins to brown.

Note: I was hungry and I forgot to take a picture of the final dish.  I trust that you can imagine what the finished dish looked like…soft, creamy enchiladas with a toasted cheesy topping.  Yes…that pretty much sums it up.  Enjoy!

Steak Ranchero Tacos with Fried Potatoes

Tacos de Carne Ranchero con Papas Fritas… Steak Ranchero Tacos with Fried Potatoes.

Well, here I go again with another Tex-Mex recipe.  I never knew just how often I go to Tex-Mex until I started a food blog.  Mexican cuisine is just so versatile that it’s hard to resist. 

Growing up in Texas meant that I was surrounded by Tex-Mex.  It was only natural that I gravitated to Tex-Mex when I started cooking.  Now that I live in Mississippi, I suppose I could refer to my Mexican dishes as Miss-Mex, but it just doesn’t sound as cool as Tex-Mex.

When I cook Mexican food I don’t aim to achieve “authenticity” in a recipe.  I have to laugh when I see Mexican restaurants that claim to serve “authentic Mexican food”.  I’m sure that those restaurants mean well but, if you want authentic Mexican cuisine, go to Mexico.

Consider everything that goes into a meal…the vegetables, the fruit, the meats, the spices.  They are a product of the sunlight, rain and soil of the region that they come from.  Anyone who has moved from one place to another usually recognizes a difference in the taste of the local water.  Every aspect of our natural world is unique to specific regions and even though those differences may seem subtle, they play a major part in authenticity. 

The point is, it doesn’t matter what you call it.  It just needs to be good.  Learn cooking methods from other cultures and apply them to what you want to make.  

This recipe was intended for two to four people. 

Ingredients:

1 ½ lbs top round beef roast

1 Tbs garlic powder

1 Tbs red chili powder

2 tsp cumin powder

1 ½ tsp salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

½ tsp chili piquin powder (or cayenne)

3 green onions, separate white from green parts

2 garlic cloves, smashed

2 ripe tomatoes

¼ cup prepared picante sauce

1 medium yellow onion (chop half and slice the other half)

12 corn tortillas

½ cup chopped cilantro

1 cup shredded lettuce

1/2 cup cotija cheese

12 corn tortillas

2 russet potatoes (or 1 very large potato)

1 cup prepared guacamole

1 lime

Directions:

On a clean cutting board, cut the beef into ½” steaks. 

Remove the tough connective tissue.  Look at the white strips and feel them with your fingers.  If they feel tough, cut them out. 

Combine the garlic powder, chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper and chili piquin in a small bowl. 

Sprinkle the spices over each side of the steaks.  Set aside.

Wash and scrub the potatoes.  Dice potatoes into ½” pieces. 

Heat a skillet to medium/low and add about ¼ cup of vegetable oil.  Add the potatoes and fry until golden brown and crispy. 

Strain the potatoes and keep them warm until ready to serve.  I usually keep them in a bowl on top of the stove, with the oven set to 250°.

Chop the other vegetables and slice the lime into quarters.  Set aside.

Prepare the ranchero sauce:

Heat a skillet to medium and add 1 tsp cooking oil.  Add garlic and chopped white parts of the green onions and sauté for about 30 seconds.  Add about half of the chopped tomatoes, half of the chopped yellow onion and the picante sauce.  Simmer for several minutes until the vegetables are fully cooked and soft.  Remove the sauce and keep warm.

Prepare the tortillas

Heat a skillet to medium.  Add ¼ cup of cooking oil.  When oil is hot, prepare the tortillas by cooking on each side until the tortillas are firm, but not crisp. 

Store the tortillas in a warm place.  The stove top works for me.

Heat a skillet to high heat.  Add 1 Tbs cooking oil.  Once the oil is hot, add the steaks to the skillet.  Leave the steaks alone…don’t mess with them.  Once you see a char developing on the bottom of the steaks, turn them over and cook for another minute, or so.  Total cook time should be about 2 or 2 ½ minutes.  Don’t overcook them!

Remove the steaks to a clean cutting board. 

Slice into ½” strips. 

Heat a skillet to low/medium heat and add the steak and ranchero sauce.  Cook for a minute, just to warm everything. 

Prepare the tacos

I like to use two tortillas per taco. 

Add strips of steak to each taco.

Add chopped lettuce, cilantro, diced tomato, sliced yellow onion and chopped green onion.  Squirt some lime juice onto the tacos.

Top with guacamole and cotija cheese.

Serve with fried potatoes.

Barbacoa de Res

Before we get down to business let me just say that barbacoa is a very special thing.  Barbacoa is more than just slow cooked meat.  Much more.  Preparing barbacoa is a time-honored tradition in Mexico.  The tradition spread to Texas years ago, along with the Mexican immigrants who introduced the cuisine.  Anywhere you find a sizeable Mexican population you are bound to find barbacoa. 

The origins of barbacoa are steeped in history and culture.  Ancient cultures, and not-so-ancient cultures, adhere to the notion that the animals we eat should be respected and treated with reverence.  When an animal is slaughtered it should be treated with dignity and it should be thanked for the sustenance that it provides to us.  Using all parts of the animal pays respect to the animal.  This ritual is a sacred rite and one that is increasingly disappearing in our modern culture.

Barbacoa is typically served on weekends.  It is presented to family and friends as a celebration of life.

Cooking methods vary from place to place.  Traditionally, barbacoa is made from young goat (cabrito), lamb (borrega), beef (res) or pork (cochina).  The entire animal is often used, including entrails and stomach.  If you want to make barbacoa the traditional way you will need to dig a pit, line it with fire resistant bricks, slaughter and butcher an animal, obtain some agave leaves (hojas de maguey), prepare an intensely hot fire and layer all of the ingredients in the pit, cover the pit with sheet metal and wait for several hours. 

I don’t have an underground brick oven…but don’t think for a minute that I haven’t considered making one!  I have had authentic barbacoa on a few occasions and words can’t sufficiently describe how rich and wonderful  the experience was. 

Since I don’t have an underground pit, I buy beef shoulder roasts (chuck roast) and braise the meat in a Dutch oven, or a covered casserole dish.  Sounds simple, when you compare this to the effort involved with the traditional method, right?   

The chuck roast is a tough, muscular cut of beef, which means it contains a good amount of collagen.  When you cook it at a low temperature for a long period of time, the collagen dissolves and becomes gelatinous, and that is what makes the meat moist and succulent.  

If you have the luxury of living in a place where you can get fresh beef from a butcher, ask the butcher for a “blade roast”.  A blade roast is a shoulder roast that contains part of the shoulder blade.  As the roast cooks, the bone imparts rich flavor and the meat that is next to the bone becomes very tender. 

In Mexico, barbacoa is served with soft, warm corn tortillas.  Here in the states, we tend to use warm flour tortillas.  Both kinds of tortillas are equally good in my mind, when it comes to barbacoa tacos.  If you want to make this meal even more special, find freshly made corn tortillas or homemade flour tortillas.  See my recipe here for homemade tortillas

Okay, let’s make some barbacoa!

Ingredients:

Beef shoulder roast (chuck roast) 3 to 5 lbs.

2 Tbs cooking oil

2 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock)

3 or 4 dried guajillo chilis, stemmed and seeded

3 or 4 bay leaves

2 Tbs dried onion flakes

2 Tbs paprika

2 Tbs cumin powder

2 Tbs garlic powder

2 Tbs oregano (Mexican oregano is preferred)

Directions:

Heat an oven to 225°.

Apply salt and pepper to the raw meat. 

Sear the meat in a hot skillet, with a little oil.

Add the stock, bay leaves and most of the spice mix to a Dutch oven or casserole dish. 

Spread the rest of the spices on top of the meat and cover.

Braise in the oven for 5 hours.

Pull the meat from the oven and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Shred the meat with two forks and transfer to a serving bowl.  (Make sure to remove any stray bay leaves and chilis before shredding.)

Serve with warm tortillas, guacamole, fresh tomatoes, onions, cilantro and lime wedges. 

To complete the meal, include side dishes like refried beans, borracho beans, fried potatoes or Spanish rice.

Above all, as you sit down to eat, consider the ranchers and farmers that made the meal possible.  Consider the sacrifices that we all make for each other as we try to make each other happy, safe and healthy.