Friday, January 21, 2011

Mexico Month - Ground Beef and Pickles Tacos

One of my favorite things to do other than cook is shop. In fact, I have often considered featuring both fashion and cooking in this blog, but I really hate taking pictures of myself, let along posting them for all the world (okay, for the 3 people who read this blog) to see.  In a quest to dress well, I read a lot of fashion websites.  My favorite is Style by Santina, of course, but I also love Refinery 29.  I read each of those sites pretty much every day.  

Earlier this week, or maybe not this week but some time recently, I was perusing Refinery 29, and saw an article entitled ground beef and pickle tacos.  I love tacos, I love beef, and I REALLY love pickles, so of course I clicked the link.  Some chef I've never heard of is - I guess - famous for making them at some restaurant in LA I've never heard of.  And he talked to some radio station or something and gave his recipe.  All this information doesn't matter... except the giving the recipe part.

It's pretty rare to discover a great recipe through reading about fashion, let alone a gem like this one.  And during Mexico month?  Perfect.  

I made them tonight for dinner, and my goodness they're good.  Not that I had any doubt, but wow.

1 lb ground beef
2 boiled russet potatoes (I did not include potatoes in mine)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp dry oregano
2 Tbsp paprika
Salt and pepper to taste

8 oz. cheddar cheese, grated
Pickle chips or sandwich pickles
Soft corn tortillas

1.  Cook the ground beef with the dry spices.  Remove from heat and let cool for 30 minutes.
2.  Heat the tortillas then fill with the beef.
3.  Close both ends of the tortilla with toothpicks.
4.  Fry in canola oil about 2 minutes on each side.
5.  Once cooked, place on paper towels, open and add cheese and pickles.
6.  Eat.

I was really worried about the frying part.  I am terrible at frying things, but these were actually really easy.  I put about a 1/2 inch of oil in the skillet, warmed it up, and since you can just lie the taco on its side, it was really easy to fry.  2 minutes on each side was too long, though.  It needed more like a minute and a half or so each side.

Bon appetit.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mexico Month - Mexitalian?

Okay, I am a little embarrassed to post the meal I made for dinner tonight.  But, it's been a tough week for cooking, and if I don't post this meal, there may not be any new posts this week at all.  First, I will give my excuses for my lack of/laziness with cooking this week: work and the Blazers.  

That said, tonight I boiled some angel hair pasta, tossed it with warmed tinga poblana, and crumbled some cotija on top.  

A little weird and very non-gourmet, right?  

Why would I do such a thing?  

I will tell you why.  I still have a lot left of that huge pot of tinga poblana I made, and I really do not want it to go to waste.  I have already eaten it plain as a stew for at least 4 meals, as tacos once, as a breakfast thing once, and as filling for tamales which I ate over two days.  I was planning to make enchiladas with it next, but I just haven't found the time.  

When I got home from work today - late, may I add - I just couldn't bear the bore of warming up a bowl of the tinga poblana and eating it plain again, and a quick check of my fridge and cupboards revealed very little in the way of other options.  Until I saw pasta.  Why not treat the pork stew like a spaghetti sauce?  And you know what, it was delicious.

And, as an added bonus, the name of my meal reminds me of my Italian best friend who is currently residing in Mexico... and looking a little like a local.  Yes, I think she's a Mexitalian.

Bon appetit.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mexico Month - Tamales

One of the many wonderful things about the Authentic Mexican cookbook is the extensive background on Mexican cuisine.  The tamal section begins with 2.5 pages of the history and tradition of tamales followed by 4 pages of general information on tamal making.  Only after this introduction are the actual recipes presented.   I love that.

For me, tamales remind me of family.  I don't order them very often at restaurants because I am very picky about only eating good ones, and the good ones are the ones that my mom gets from one particular lady.  So, for me, tamales are best eaten at the kitchen counter at my parents house chatting with my family and shielding my tamales from my dad who swore he didn't want one, but once I have one it looks really good to him, and he wants to eat it all.

I have only made tamales myself one other time, and it enough time has passed since that I forgot how long it takes.  My mexican cookbook declares that tamal making is a festive event where part of the party is the getting together to produce the tamales.  I think next time I make them I will be more Mexican about it and make it a party.  It sounds much for fun that way.

I also want to note that I am fortunate to have an international market very close to my house that sells all sorts of Mexican and Central and South American foods.  Where else would I buy masa harina, dried cornhusks, and lard?  Unfortunately for me, the smallest quantity of lard they sell is a 2.5 pound tub.  What I am going to do with the approximately 2.45 pounds that remain is beyond me.

First step:  The first step in tamal making is preparing the cornhusks (or banana leaves, but I will only talk about the cornhusk covered type here).  The husks should be simmered in water to cover for 10 minutes, weighted with a plate to keep them submerged.  Then, let stand off the fire in the water for a couple hours until the husks are pliable (Erin's note:  I never have "a couple hours" to let the husks stand.  I have found that an hour is plenty.)

Second step:  While the husks are soaking, you can begin to make the tamal dough.  Masa is the main ingredient of the dough.  You can make the masa starting with corn, or if, like me, you don't have that kind of time or patience, you can make a substitute recipe.

Masa Fingida para Tamales

2/3 cup (4 oz) quick-cooking (not instant) grits
3/4 cup (3.5 oz) masa harina

1.  Pulverize the grits in a spice grinder or blender as thoroughly as possible.  Transfer to a medium size bowl.
2.  Stir in 1 1/4 cups boiling water and let stand for 10 minutes.  Measure the masa harina and stir until thoroughly homogeneous.  Cover and cool to room temperature.

Third Step:  Prepare the dough.  

4 oz. (1/2 cup) good-quality, fresh lard
1 recipe Masa Fingida para Tamales (above)
About 2/3 cup broth (preferably light flavored poultry) at room temperature
1 tsp baking powder
Salt, about 1/2 tsp

1.  If the lard is very soft, refrigerate it to firm a little.  Then, with an electric mixer, beat it until very light, about 1 minute.
2.  Add half the masa to the lard and beat it until well blended.  As you continue beating, alternate additions of the remaining masa with douses of broth, adding enough liquid to give the mixture the consistency of a medium-thick cake batter.
3.  Sprinkle in the baking powder and enough salt to generously season the mixture, then beat for a minute more, until about 1/2 tsp of it will float when placed in a cup of cold water.

Fourth Step:  Set up the steamer for the tamales.  If you are steaming less than 20 tamales, you can steam them in a collapsible vegetable steamer in a large, deep saucepan.  (Erin's note: My large stockpot came with a steamer, and I use this.  It's a little small, but it works.)  Line the steamer with extra husks to protect the tamales from direct steam contact and to add more flavor.  Make sure that there are small openings for drainage, so condensing steam will not pool.

Fifth Step:  When ready to form the tamales, separate out the 16 largest and most pliable husks - ones that are at least 6 inches across on the wider end and 6 or 7 inches long.  You can overlap smaller ones if necessary.  Pat the chosen leaves dry with a towel.

Tear extra and extra husk or two into 1/4 inch wide, 7 inch long strips - one for each tamal.  

Sixth Step:  The filling.  I think this step should have occurred earlier in the process, but I already had the filling from the tinga poblana I made earlier in the week.  Tamales can be filled with pretty much anything you want, in my opinion.  Some of my favorites are chicken with green sauce, poblano chile and cheese, and pork in red sauce.  So, you should have some sort of filling ready by this point.

Seventh Step:  To form the tamales in the cornhusks, lay out a large, lightly dried cornhusk with the tapering end toward you.  Spread about 3 Tbsp dough into an about 4 inch square, leaving at least a 1 1/2 inch border on the side toward you and a 3/4 inch border along the other sides (with large husks, the borders will be much bigger).  

Spoon the filling, about 1 1/2 Tbsp, down the center of the dough.

Pick up the two long sides of the cornhusk and bring them together (this will cause the dough to surround the filling).  If the uncovered borders of the two long sides you're holding are narrow, then tuck one side under the other; if wide, then roll both sides in the same direction around the tamal.  If the husk is small, wrap the tamal in a second husk.  Finally, fold up the empty 1 1/2 inch section of the husk (to form a tightly closed "bottom" leaving the top open), then secure it in place by loosely tying one of the strips of husk around the tamal.

As they are made, stand the tamales on the folder bottom in the prepared steamer.  Don't tie the tamales too tightly or pack them too closely in the steamer; they need room to expand.

Eighth Step:  When all the tamales are in the steamer, cover them with a layer of leftover husks; if your husk-wrapped tamales don't take up the entire steamer, fill in the open spaces with loosely wadded aluminum foil to keep them from falling down.  Set the lid in place and steam over a constant medium heat for about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours.  Watch carefully that all the water doesn't boil away and, the keep the steam steady, pour boiling water into the pot when more is necessary.

Tamales are done when the husk peels away easily; tamales made with the substitute masa may seem a little sticky when they are done.  Let tamales stand in the steamer off the fire for a few minutes, to firm up.

Once the tamales are done, I like to put a little salsa or hot sauce on them then eat them.

I have so much more to say about tamales, but this post is already ridiculously long, so I will stop here.

Bon appetit.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mexico Month - Reliving Rollie's

I woke up this rainy Portland Saturday morning especially wishing I was still in Mexico.  To cheer myself up, I decided to recreate the breakfast B, S, and I had on New Years day at Rollie's.  It was sort of a strange decision considering the meal I ate at Rollie's did not stay in my stomach due to my massive hangover, but I guess I just miss being in Sayulita THAT much.

My breakfast was missing the potatoes and refried beans on the side, but the coffee and hot sauce are straight from Sayulita. 

1.  Warm about 2 Tbsp oil in a large skillet.  Lightly fry a large corn tortilla.
2.  Place the fried corn tortilla on paper towels to drain the excess oil.
3.  Layer hot sauce, cheese, and chorizo on the tortilla. (Erin's note: I didn't have chorizo, but I did have an enormous pot of tinga poblana.  So, I layered the tinga poblana and cheese instead.)
4.  Set the oven temperature to broil.
5.  Place the tortilla and toppings on a baking sheet in the oven.
6.  Cook until the cheese is melted and starting to brown, about 10 minutes.
7.  Take out of the oven, add a dash of hot sauce, and enjoy.

An essential element of a Mexican breakfast, especially if esta crudo, is the michelada.  It is basically a spicy red beer, and it is one of my very favorite drinks.

2 parts Mexican beer
1 part tomato juice
Dash of Worcestershire
Dash (or more, depending on how spicy you like) of hot sauce
Juice from half a lime
Freshly ground pepper

Combine all ingredients in a large glass.

Below is a pic from my breakfast at Rollie's.  How well do you think I recreated the breakfast?

Bon appetit.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Mexico Month - Tinga Poblana

I have mentioned my Authentic Mexican cooking book before here.  It is an excellent cook book despite the white dude from the United States that graces the cover and authors the book.  I know I will be using this gem quite a bit this month.

I picked up my newest shipment of meat, a half of a pig this time, right before Christmas, so I knew it would be pork I was to be cooking.  (Note: There is not an inch available in my freezer for anything except meat.  I couldn't even fit all the pork I picked up; I brought one huge ham to my parents for Christmas and the other ham is living in a friends freezer until I have more room in mine.  Who am I?)  I had an itch to cook up a huge hunk of meat for my first Mexico month post from Portland, so I opened to the Authentic Mexican index and started looking.

The tinga poblana, or pork with smoky tomato sauce, potatoes, and avocado, jumped out at me for two reasons.  First, it is a chipotle based sauce, and I love chipotle peppers.  Second, there is a variation of the recipe for fillings instead of the traditional stew, so I knew I could make a huge batch, eat some as stew and use the rest for other recipes.  

As an added bonus, it is a perfect meal to display in my new serving ware.  I received a salsera from Ben and Santina for Christmas, and while in Sayulita, purchased a serving bowl to match.

My older sister got me beautiful seahorse plates for Christmas as well, so, I am feeling pretty stylish with my presentation.

1 lb lean, boneless pork shoulder, trimmed
1/2 tsp mixed dried herbs (such as marjoram and thyme)
3 bay leaves
2 medium (about 10 oz total) boiling potatoes like the red-skinned ones, quartered
1 28 oz can tomatoes, drained
4 oz chorizo sausage, removed from its casing
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 canned chiles chipotles in adobo, seeded and thinly sliced
4 tsp of the adobo sauce from the can of chiles
Salt, about 1/2 tsp
Sugar, about 1/2 tsp

For the garnish:
1 ripe, medium avocado, peeled, pitted, and sliced
4 oz Mexican queso fresco, cut into 8 fingers

1. The meat.  Bring about 1 quart salted water to a boil in a medium sized saucepan (I used my dutch oven), add the pork, skim the greyish foam that rises to the top during the first few minutes of simmering, then add the herbs and bay leaves.  Partially cover and simmer over medium heat until the meat is tender, about 50 minutes. (If there is time, let the meat cool in the broth.)  Remove the meat, then strain the broth and spoon off all the fat that rises to the top; reserve one cup.  When the meat is cool enough to handle, dry it on paper towels and shred it.

2. The potatoes, tomatoes, and chorizo.  Boil the potatoes in salter water to cover until just tender, 12 - 15 minutes; drain, peel (if you want), then chop into 1/2 inch dice.  Seed the tomatoes, if you wish, and chop into 1/2 inch dice.  Fry the chorizo in the oil in a large, heavy skillet (again, I used the dutch oven) over medium-low heat until done, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to break up any clumps.  Remove, leaving as much fat as possible in the skillet.

3. Browning the main ingredients.  Raise the heat to medium and add the onion and pork.  Fry, stirring frequently, until well browned, about 10 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and cook 2 minutes.

4. Finishing the stew.  Add the chopped tomatoes, oregano, and chorizo, mix well and simmer 5 minutes.  Stir in the potoatoes, the reserved cup of broth, chipotle peppers, and adobo sauce.  Simmer gently for 10 minutes to blend the flavors, then season with salt and sugar.

5. Garnish and presentation.  When you're ready to serve, scoop the simmering tinga into a warm serving dish and decorate with alternating slices of avocado and fingers of cheese.

My pork shoulder weighed something like 6 or 7 pounds whole, and there was probably 3 pounds or so of shredded meat.  I did not do such a good job of multiplying the recipe above for the increased amount of meat, but it still turned out great.  I used cotija cheese, not queso fresco, as I love cotija.  Lastly, I had to use Whole Foods chorizo which does not compare to real Mexican or Spanish chorizo.  Next time I make this recipe, I will plan better and go to a Mexican market for the chorizo.

I didn't get to enjoy this meal until the third night of cooking. The first night I simmered and shredded the meat (you can imagine that a 7 lb piece of pork takes quite a while longer to cook that 1 lb of cubed meat), the second night I finished off the stew, but had a Blazer game to attend so couldn't finish preparing the meal, and the third night I finally got to enjoy the fruits of my labors.  

I ate the stew in taco form, as you can see above.  I am excited for all the possibilities with this meat.  I'm not sure what to make with it.  Tamales, perhaps?

Bon appetit.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mexico Month - Fried Huachinango (Red Snapper)

So, this isn't a cooking post, I don't really have much to say about it in general, and I really hate having a picture of myself on this blog.  But a fish skeleton drinking a margarita?  The world must see that.  This was our lunch on New Years Eve.  Ben and Santina told me about the enormous margaritas at one beach restaurant, and NYE, a day designed for drinking in excess, seemed like the perfect day to drink one.  I swore I wasn't going to eat, but a fried red snapper - huachinango in Mexico - is not an item I can refuse.  And after sampling a morsel, I basically attacked the fish.  I ate, with some help from my friends, every available piece of flesh except the eyes.  Delicious is an understatement.

We also had fried shrimp with this meal.  As these two guys were so hard at work peeling shrimp, and I thought they deserved a mention and a picture.

Bon appetit.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Mexico Month - Toro Two Ways (and a Ceviche)

On the day of my 30th birthday, we went fishing.  I have never been ocean fishing, and it generally seemed like a good excursion.  Besides, the chance to catch - and, yes, kill - a fish or two to eat with my formerly vegetarian best friend was too good to pass up.  We spent a lot of time not catching anything, got really close to some humpback whales, then finally caught three Pacific Jack Crevalle, or Toro, as the Mexicans call it. I had never heard of this fish, but our guides assured us that it is delicious.

I should mention here that after returning from fishing, our guides beached our boat, but we did not leave the boat.  We stayed to drink and hang out for quite a while.  It's a trip hanging out on a boat that is not actually in water.  I am sure one of our guides, Victor, will not mind being featured on my blog.  He was clearly enjoying the relaxing time.

Back to cooking...

We had leftover - and uncooked - Mahi Mahi from the fajitas we made the night before, so first thing on the list was ceviche mixto.  This isn't exactly a recipe I can write out, especially since my job was to dice veggies, but generally one should dice equal parts fish, tomato, green bell pepper, and onion.  Place the fish in a bowl and squeeze some lime on top.  Let cook.  Add remaining ingredients along with some minced serrano (or jalapeno) peppers.  Enjoy.  

The ceviche was just an appetizer, and we still had lots of toro left.  We decided to cook it two ways; one a simple seasoning of salt and pepper sauteed in oil, the other dredged in flour and cooked in butter and garlic.

Overall, a perfect meal.

Bon appetit.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Mexico Month - Mahi Mahi fajitas

My 2010 blogging ended poorly with no posts since Montreal.  I aim to fix that in 2011 starting with January as Mexico month.

I turned 30 on January 2, and to celebrate I visited Santina and Ben in Sayulita, Mexico.  I love Mexican food, and I was fortunate to not only eat a lot of good food but also cook good food during my trip.  I am going to post my meals from Mexico, then spend the rest of the month cooking Mexican food.

New Years day was the first time we cooked at home.  Ben and I were hurting pretty badly from partying the night before - estábamos crudos, as the Mexicans say - so it was a perfect night to stay in and cook.  Also, we had been burned the day before by a  fish market completely sold out of fish, so we (perhaps I should only speak for myself and say I?) were/was itching to cook.

We didn't even have to consider what to cook; we already knew we would be making fajitas.  It's an easy meal to throw together, and you couldn't wish for anything more delicious.  Santina took care of the rice, beans, fajita veggies, and cooking the fish.  Ben and I took care of the pico de gallo and guacamole.  I know, it was a bit uneven, but Ben and I were in a weakened state.

I don't really have a recipe to post.  The pico is diced tomato, green bell peppers, onion, and serrano peppers with lime squeezed over the top and seasoned with salt and pepper.  The guac is smashed avocado with a couple spoonfuls of pico, lime, and seasoned with salt and pepper.  Santina seasoned the fish with salt and pepper then cooked in a pan with a tiny bit of oil.

I hadn't eaten all day, and I was really excited the my stomach felt strong enough to eat dinner.  I put back 5, yes 5, fajitas.  That's how good they were.

Bon appetit.