Fajitas, (10-step Saturday)

Summer has definitely arrived!  Temperatures are reaching into the 90’s daily and the high humidity makes it swelteringly hot.  I spend most of my time going from one air conditioned environment to the next.  Saturdays are the exception. 

My yard is loving this hot, muggy weather.  If I don’t cut the grass every week I wind up with a jungle on my hands.  So, I psyche myself up and devote an entire day to yard work.  There’s grass to cut and bushes to trim.  The vegetable garden needs weeding and harvesting.  I try to cram it all into one day’s work, which doesn’t always happen.

The thing that motivates me to do all of this is the promise of an ice-cold beer and a delicious dinner from the grill, when the work is done. 

Step One:  put a beer, or two, in the refrigerator.

Step Two:  marinate some meat and refrigerate until needed.

Step Three:  Chop vegetables and fruit for the dinner and keep cool. 

Step Four:  Clean and prepare an outdoor grill.  Have tools and charcoal ready when they’re needed.

Step Five:  Do the yard work.  Get hot, sweaty, thirsty and hungry.

Step Six:  Take a long cool shower. 

Step Seven:  Open the beer.  Take a sip.  Take the beer with you for the next few steps.

Step Eight:  Start the coals for the grill.

Step Nine:  Grill the meat.

Step Ten:  Relax and celebrate your hard work with a cold beer, good food and good friends.

Saturday Fajitas (Fajitas para el sábado)

Skirt steak has become ridiculously overpriced during the last several years.  Beef, in general is sky-rocketing in price, due to the demand.  Skirt steak is a tough, albeit tasty, cut of beef.  It is comes from the diaphragm of cattle and therefore is muscular and tough.  A marinade that contains citrus will help tenderize and flavor the beef. 

Today, I am using a top round steak.  Top round is another a muscular cut of beef and is more lean than skirt steak but I like to use it as a substitute for skirt steak, when the price is right. 

Ingredients:

2 lbs top round steak

Juice of 1 lime

1 Tbs red chile powder (polvo de chile rojo)

2 tsp cumin powder (comino en povo)

1 cup salsa (tomato, onion, chiles, etc.)

1 yellow onion (cebolla amarilla)

1 red bell pepper (pimiento roja)

1 green bell pepper (pimeinto verde)

2 fresh jalapeños

2 cups freshly made guacamole a la Mexicana (ingredients below)

½ cup sour cream (crema fresca)

2 cups chopped lettuce (lechuga cortada)

1 cup chopped cilantro (cilantro cortada)

Soft corn or flour tortillas (tortillas suaves de maíz o harina)

Directions:

Apply lime juice to the beef.  Dust the beef with chile powder and cumin.  Slather salsa across both sides of the beef.  Cover and refrigerate until it’s time to grill.

Slice onions and peppers into rings.  Store in refrigerator.  Leave the jalapeños whole.  They will be grilled, later.

Prepare the guacamole:  The ingredients and the amounts of the ingredients should suit your personal taste.  I used 3 avocados, 1 chopped Roma tomato, ¼ cup chopped cilantro, 2 tablespoons chopped onion, ½ teaspoon garlic salt, ½ teaspoon oregano and the juice of ½ lemon.  Mix gently to combine.  Cover and refrigerate.

At this point you can clean and prepare the grill and set about to the yard work.  Before you head outside to prepare the grill, remove the beef from the refrigerator so that it can warm to room temperature.

After a cool shower and a sip of cold beer, start the coals for the grill.  Don’t be shy with the coals.  High heat is needed for medium rare beef!

As the coals heat, return to the kitchen and pan fry the onion and bell pepper rings in a skillet.  Add a tablespoon of oil to the skillet and then add the vegetables.  Stir for a few minutes, remove and keep warm.

Now, back to the grill.  Lay the strips of beef on the grill.  Find room for the jalapeños and lay them on the grill.  Turn the jalapeños frequently to produce a slight char on each side.  Turn the steaks after three minutes and grill for another two minutes. 

Remove everything from the grill and head back to the kitchen.

Set the jalapeños aside. 

Let the steaks rest for five minutes.  While the steaks rest, arrange the vegetables on a platter.  Add the lettuce, sour cream and grilled jalapeños to the platter. 

Cut the steak into ¼” slices and arrange the strips on the platter.

Serve with warm tortillas (and that second beer!)

Fill your days with hard work and reward yourself for a job well done. Cook your steaks with love but don’t cook your steaks well done!

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.

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. 

London Broil

If hearing someone say “London broil” conjures up mental images of a rustic steak house in merry old England I have some disappointing news for you.  London broil is an American concoction, used to describe a method of preparing lean and tough cuts of beef.  Specifically, flank steak or top round.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with lean or tough cuts of meat and one of the best methods to overcome the challenges that lean meat presents is to cook it at a very high temperature and for a very short period of time, hence, the appeal of broiling.  If broiling is not an option, a smoking hot cast iron skillet will work just as well.  In fact, one of the advantages to using a hot skillet rather than a broiler is that you can see and test the meat for doneness while it cooks.  If you prefer your steak cooked well done, don’t bother cooking a London broil.  You’ll wind up with something akin to leather.

So, I wanted steak tonight but I didn’t want to pay top dollar for a steak dinner.  Enter the London broil.  This recipe will feed up to 4 people, but I’m making it for 3.

Ingredients:

2 lbs London broil (top round steak)

1 Tbs coarse salt

1 Tsp finely ground salt

A pinch of cayenne powder

1 Tbs coarse black pepper

5 russet potatoes – wedge cut

2 cups cooking oil (I use canola oil)

1 lb fresh green beans

1/2 sweet onion – julienne cut

steak sauce (about 1/4 cup) – see recipe below

Directions:

Fill a skillet with oil, nearly half way and turn on the heat to low/medium.

Wash the potatoes and cut into long wedges.  Add potatoes to the skillet and cook for about 1/2 hour, turning the potatoes occasionally, to avoid burning.  When the fries are golden brown, strain the oil, sprinkle with salt and a pinch of cayenne, and arrange them on a large oven-proof serving platter.  Keep warm in a 225° oven.

While the fries are cooking, let’s prepare the steak sauce and green beans.

For the steak sauce:

Mix the following items together:

2 Tbs ketchup

1 Tbs softened butter

1 Tbs Dijon mustard

1 tsp soy sauce

1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1/2 tsp hot sauce

a pinch of brown sugar

For the green beans:

Steam green beans for about 15 minutes, or until they begin to soften.  Stage in a warm place.

On a clean cutting board, cut the raw steak into serving sized portions and remove any large, white portions of fat.  Sprinkle coarse salt and black pepper on each side of the pieces.

Heat a cast iron skillet on the stove to medium/high.  Add 1 Tbs oil.  When the skillet begins to smoke, it’s ready for the steaks.  Carefully add the steaks to the hot skillet.  Turn steaks over after 2 or 2 ½ minutes.  Cook for another 2 minutes, or until meat tests medium rare.  Turn the heat off and leave the residual steak juices in the skillet.

Pull the fries out of the oven and arrange the steaks on the platter, along with the fries.  Baste the steaks with the steak sauce.  Don’t worry about getting some of the sauce on the fries…your family and friends will thank you.

Turn the heat back on to low and add 1 Tbs of butter and the onions to the skillet and stir until the onions are softened.  Add the green beans and stir.  Once they are done, transfer to a serving dish.

For those of you still clinging to the mental picture of a merry old England, you might consider calling this dish London Broil and Chips.

Cheers, mate!