Back in the Saddle Again

I’m still reeling after last week’s epic gumbo battle so please forgive me if I babble for a bit.  For those of you who want to cut to the chase and see today’s recipe, scroll down until you find “Chicken Enchiladas”, in large, friendly letters.  But, know that you are missing all of the fun and I pity you.

When I was young, and by young I mean elementary school age, I recall that many home cooked meals featured Hamburger Helper or Cream of Mushroom soup.  I don’t know if it was because so many working parents didn’t have time to make dinner or if it was just clever marketing agents influencing those parents, but the fact was that those products found an indelible niche in American cuisine.

Campbell’s puts out about a zillion different kinds of soup but I swear I can only remember three from my childhood.  Tomato soup, Cream of Mushroom soup and Chicken Noodle soup.  Okay, to be fair, there was Chicken & Stars, but that was really just chicken soup with star shaped pasta, and it was marketed to parents of finicky and/or sick children.   

Cream of Mushroom soup took center stage, back in the 1970’s.  It found its way in many recipes.  The ubiquitous green bean casserole is a testament to the long-lasting power of Cream of Mushroom soup.  If you don’t have green bean casserole every Thanksgiving then,…well, you’re just not a real American. 

Cream of Mushroom soup, “America’s béchamel” 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not bashing Cream of Mushroom soup.  Cream of *Whatever* soup is instant béchamel in a can, and that’s a marvelous thing.

I remember having homemade chicken enchiladas for the first time.  I was 17 years old and having fun, hanging out with a friend.  His mother made us chicken enchiladas with Cream of Mushroom soup and canned green chiles.  Canned green chiles, back then, didn’t have clever graphics printed on the label, showing a thermometer indicating the “heat” of the chiles.  Canned green chiles were just that…canned green chiles.  They were hot and spicy, and that’s all you needed to know.  I loved those enchiladas. Thank you and bless you, Ginger!

But, when I discovered that I could make my own thickener from scratch, I felt a sudden rush, indeed, I felt a sense of empowerment!  I realized that I could thicken sauces or soups and have total control of flavors and textures!  A pad or two of butter and a spoonful or two of flour was the key that opened the door to an endless array of sauces.

For this recipe I used homemade green sauce and I made a homemade sauce from a simple roux and chicken stock.  If you want to use canned green chiles and cream of mushroom soup, that’s fine with me.  Just make sure you do it with love.

Chicken Enchiladas

Ingredients:

3 chicken breasts (mine started out frozen)

2 ½ cups chicken stock

4 or 5 garlic cloves

½ onion, chopped

10 to 12 oz green chile sauce

½ cup sour cream

8 oz Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded

2 Tbs butter

2 Tbs flour

10 corn tortillas

¼ cup cooking oil

Directions:

Boil the chicken in water until the chicken is fork tender.  Remove and allow to cool to room temperature.

While the chicken simmers, puree ½ cup chicken stock, green sauce and garlic cloves in a blender. 

Add the pureed sauce to a small skillet and simmer on low heat, to mellow the garlic, for 15 minutes.

Add the chopped onions to the skillet and simmer for another 15 minutes. Turn the heat off and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Add ¼ cup cooking oil to pan and set heat to low.  Soften each of the tortillas in the oil for a few seconds and remove to a plate.

Wipe the skillet clean.  Start a roux by adding the butter to the pan and set the heat to medium/low.  Add the flour and whisk until smooth.

Once the roux is smooth, add the remaining chicken stock.  Set heat to medium/high and whisk until the sauce has thickened. 

Add the green chile mixture and whisk for a minute.

Pour about one cup of the sauce into a bowl.  Leave the remaining sauce in the skillet and turn the heat off. 

Lay the cooked chicken on a clean work surface and smash with the broad side of a knife.  The chicken will break and fan out, making it easy to shred.  Shred the chicken by hand.

Add the chicken to the cheese and mix by hand.

Lay the tortillas on a work surface and add the chicken and cheese.  Roll the enchiladas and place in an oven-proof skillet, containing some of the sauce.  Once all of the enchiladas are in the skillet, pour the remaining sauce over them.

Bake in a 350° oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

Serve warm with rice or fried potatoes and guacamole salad.

Preparing Enchilada Sauce

Salsas Verde y Roja

Some good friends are coming to visit next weekend and I want to make something special for them.  One of my friends is a native Texan, currently living in Boston.  Now, I know that good Mexican restaurants can be found all over the country nowadays but you can’t always find good homemade Mexican food. 

I am nearing the zenith of peak season at my work and I have only had one day off this week.  I thought it would be wise to get some of the prep work out of the way so that I don’t have to slave away in the kitchen while my friends are here.  I want the dinner to come together quickly so that I can spend time visiting with my friends, rather than bouncing around in the kitchen like a madman.

I’m preparing enchiladas  – –  some red, some green.  I’m making the sauces today and I’ll keep them in the refrigerator until I need them.  I almost bought canned enchilada sauce today, which would be perfectly fine, but a 20 ounce can of the stuff was selling for over $3.00, and I just couldn’t bring myself to pay that much for salsa, when I can make it for less than half the cost.  Plus, what kind of food blog would this be if I just showed pictures of me opening cans of stuff and dumping them in a pot?

Red Enchilada Sauce (Salsa Roja)

Ingredients:

12 guajillo chiles

4 or 5 ancho chiles

2 to 5 chiles de arbol (these are spicy!)

1 Tbs olive oil

2 garlic cloves, smashed

1 medium sized yellow onion, roughly chopped

1 tsp salt

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp dried oregano

Directions:

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a heavy pot. 

Cut the stems off the chili pods and remove the seeds and loose pieces of fibrous ribs from the interior.  Add the chiles to the boiling water, turn the heat off and cover the pot with a lid.  Allow the chiles to steam for at least twenty minutes.

Garlic, Salt, Cumin and Oregano

In a large skillet, add olive oil and sauté the garlic and onion for a few minutes.  Add the salt, cumin and oregano and stir.  Turn the heat off and let it rest for a few minutes.

Strain the chiles and reserve the water.  Remove the chiles de arbol and set aside.

Add the softened chiles to a blender.  Add the sautéed garlic, onion, salt, cumin and oregano.  Add about 2 cups of the chili water to the blender.  Pulse a few times and then puree the mixture.  Taste the sauce.  If you want more heat, add more chiles de arbol.  Strain the mixture and keep the pulp. 

Add the sauce to the large skillet and add the strained pulp back to the blender.  Add the remaining two cups of chili water and puree again.  Strain again and add the liquid to the skillet.  Discard the pulp.  Simmer the sauce for about 10 minutes on low heat.  Allow the sauce to cool before transferring to a storage container.  The sauce will stay fresh for about a week in the refrigerator.  This should make 4 cups of sauce.

Green enchilada sauce (Salsa verde)

Ingredients:

8 tomatillos

2 or 4 fresh serrano chiles

½ small yellow onion

¼ cup cilantro, leaves and stems

3 garlic cloves, roasted

1 tsp salt

1 to 2 tsp  sugar

Directions:

Peel the husks away from the tomatillos and remove the stems from the serranos.

Slice the tomatillos in half, along their equator.  Slice the serranos, lengthwise.

Lay the tomatillos on a backing sheet.  Add the cut serranos and garlic cloves to the baking sheet and place in a 400° oven for about 15 minutes, or until the tomatillos begin to char.  Remove the chiles, tomatillos and garlic from the oven. 

Place the roasted tomatillos and garlic in a blender.  Add the salt.  Add one or two serranos to the blender…reserve the remaining serranos, for now.

Chop the onion into ¼” pieces.  Chop the cilantro, including the stems.  Cilantro entero!.

Add the onion and cilantro to the blender. 

Puree the mixture in the blender and then taste (after the blender has been turned off, thank you.)  It will probably have a bitter taste.  Add a little sugar and blend again.  Taste and add a little more sugar.  Two teaspoons of sugar should be enough to tame the sauce.  If you want a little more heat, add some more serrano.  Blend again and taste.  The sauce should have some kick but I recommend keeping it fairly mild. 

That’s it!  The salsa verde is ready.  This should make about one pint of sauce.  Store covered in the refrigerator for up to one week. 

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.

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.

Borracho Beans (Frijoles Borrachos)

Borracho translates to “drunk” in English, so these are “Drunk Beans”.  I suppose they are called this because one of the ingredients is beer.  The alcohol cooks out and, honestly, I can’t detect the flavor of beer in the final soup.  I guess I include the beer out of habit.

The soup is very flavorful and satisfying.  It warms the heart, as any good soup or stew should.

Ingredients:

1 lb dried pinto beans

½ lb of Bacon

1 onion, chopped

2 jalapeños or serrano chilis, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

4 or 5 tomatoes, chopped (or a 15 oz can of diced tomatoes)

1 bottle of beer (I used Shiner Bock)

4 cups Chicken Broth (32 oz carton)

1 tsp ground cumin

1 cube of tomato bouillon

½ cup chopped cilantro

½ tsp salt

¼  cup fresh lime juice (about 3 limes)

Directions:

Wash and sort the beans.  Remove any shriveled beans and stones.

Presoak the beans.  You can soak them in water overnight or, you can use a faster method.  I prefer the fast method.

Fill a large pot with water and bring it to a rapid boil.  Add the dry beans and boil for two or three minutes.  Turn the heat off and cover the pot.  Allow the beans to soak for an hour.  Reserve 1 cup of the water from the beans and drain the rest of the soaking water. 

Put the beans in a 7 quart Dutch oven (or a large oven-proof pot).

Cook the bacon in a pan.  Don’t overcook it.  Remove the cooked bacon and keep bacon fat in the pan.  Chop the cooked bacon into ½ inch pieces and set aside.

Chopped onion, jalapeño and yellow bell pepper

Add the onions, jalapeños and garlic to the pan and simmer on medium heat.  Stir until the onions are softened…about 3 minutes.

Notice the slice of red habanero. I stirred it along with the other peppers and onions for about 30 seconds and then I removed it.
Add everything to the pot and cook for 5 hours.

Add all of the ingredients to beans in the Dutch oven, except for the lime juice.  Stir to combine.  Cover the Dutch oven and cook on the stove top at low heat for 4 or 5 hours.  Stir every hour, or so.  When the beans have softened, the soup is ready to eat.  Turn off the heat and add the lime juice.

After 5 hours of simmering…ready to eat.

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.