Thursday, July 31, 2014

Northern Mexico Beef Tacos

These tacos are one of those recipes that I would place in the semi-complicated category.  Each step is very simple, and the actual hands-on time is minimal, but you do need to spread the work over two days.  On the first day, you boil the beef with onion and garlic, and then pop in the fridge.  I was worried that boiling the beef would make it dry and flavorless, but I trust Rick Bayless and my trust was definitely not misplaced!  By the time the tacos are ready, the beef is moist and really delicious.  On Day #2, shred or chop the meat, and then crisp it up in a skillet with onions, garlic, jalapenos, and tomatoes.  So yummy -- I loved the flavor and the meat really looked and tasted like something you could get at a good taco truck.  Plus, it was super tender.  As a bonus, leftovers reheated well and made for an awesome lunch at work the next day.  You can adjust the spice level here by adding more (or spicier) chiles, or by adding a spicy salsa.  We kept things at a more mild level with one jalapeno and medium salsa, plus sour cream to cool things off and provide a little tang.

Northern Mexico Beef Tacos
(adapted from Authentic Mexican by Rick Bayless)
Serves 3-4

1 pound lean, boneless beef chuck, flank, or brisket, cut into cubes (I bought "lean beef stew meat" and it was excellent)
1 medium onion
3 cloves garlic, peeled
2 T oil
15-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained
2 green onion, root ends removed, coarsely chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (more to taste)
Warmed tortillas, to serve
Taco fixings, to serve (we used sour cream and salsa)

1. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan.  Add the meat and 1 tsp salt, and skim off the grayish foam that rises to the top.  Slice half the onion and halve one clove of garlic and add to the meat.  Reduce heat, and simmer until the meat is very tender, about 1 hour (or up to 90 minutes depending on the cut).  Let cool, and chill in the fridge overnight.
2. The next day, spoon off the fat that has risen to the top.  Transfer the meat to a cutting board, and strain the broth.
3. Shred or chop the beef into small pieces.  
4. Mince the remaining half onion and 2 garlic cloves.  Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add the onion and garlic.  Saute for about 5 minutes, and then add the beef.  Cook until well browned and starting to get a bit crispy in places, about 8-10 minutes.  Watch things carefully and make sure to stir every so often.  (You don't want to stir constantly or a crust will not be able to form on the meat.)  
5. Turn the heat down to medium, and add the tomatoes, green onions, and jalapenos.  Cook for about 4 minutes.  Stir in 2/3 cup of the reserved broth, and simmer until the liquid has evaporated but the meat still looks nice and juicy (about 8-10 minutes).  Season with salt to taste, and serve wrapped in warmed tortillas.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Green Onion Slaw

I served this slaw with pulled pork, and it was the perfect light, acidic side to serve with a richer main dish.  It has great crunch and really brightens up a plate.  I love how the purple cabbage contrasts with the bits of green pretty!  A word of warning -- only make this dish if you like green onions.  I love them, and I really enjoyed the slaw, but my fiance was not such a big fan.  Leftovers do okay, but the slaw is definitely best the first day you make it.

Green Onion Slaw (adapted from Bobby Flay, via Smitten Kitchen)
Serves 6-8

1 cup green onions, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1-2 jalapenos (depending how spicy you like it!)
2 T mayonnaise
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
1 small head purple cabbage, finely shredded

1. Combine the green onions, red wine vinegar, jalapenos, mayonnaise, and oils in a blender or food processor and season with salt and pepper.  Blend or pulse until the dressing is emulsified.
2. Toss the cabbage with about half the dressing, and then add more as needed (the amount will depend on the size of your cabbage and how sauce-y you like your slaw).

Friday, July 11, 2014

Yogurt Chicken Kebobs with Zucchini

My track record with Cooking Light recipes is kind of fifty-fifty.  Sometimes they end up tasting too "healthy" to the point of not actually being super enjoyable, but other times the recipes are fantastic! Luckily this chicken skewer recipe is of the delicious variety.  The yogurt makes the chicken extra tender, and the spices add great flavor.  I wasn't as crazy about the zucchini -- I think next time I would also toss it with the yogurt sauce (there was plenty) to add more flavor, or perhaps use a different vegetable like cherry tomatoes or bell pepper.  In any case, the chicken was more than tasty enough to make up for slightly lackluster zucchini, and the recipe came together quickly on a weeknight.  Definitely a winner in my book!

Fair warning: microwaved leftovers were fine, but definitely not as tasty as on day 1.  If you're serving two, I would plan to just make a half recipe rather than planning on leftovers.

Yogurt Chicken Skewers with Zucchini (adapted from Cooking Light)
Serves 4

7 ounces 2% plain Greek yogurt
1 T olive oil
1 T lemon juice
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground coriander
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound chicken breast, cut into cubes
2 zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch rounds
Spray oil

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Soak 5-6 wooden skewers in water.
2. Mix together the yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin, ginger, coriander, and garlic.  Add the chicken breast cubes, and stir well to combine.
3. Thread the chicken and zucchini onto the skewers, alternating pieces of meat and veggie.
4. Line a heavy baking sheet with foil, and spray with oil.  Arrange the skewers on the baking sheet in a single layer.  Sprinkle generously with salt.
5. Roast 10 minutes, flipping the chicken skewers halfway through.  Then turn on the broiler, and broil a few minutes on each side, until the chicken is charred in a few places.
6. Check a piece of chicken in the middle of a skewer to confirm it is cooked through, and then serve.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Secret Recipe Club: Beef and Bean Enchiladas

My partner for this month's Secret Recipe Club was Sarah of Things I Make (for Dinner).  As you probably know if you are a regular reader of the blog, I am kind of obsessed with enchiladas.  I often make them without any recipe, but when I saw Sarah's post on beef and bean enchiladas, I knew I wanted to try her version!  The filling is simple and tasty -- total comfort food filling.  You could easily make this with shredded chicken if you prefer that to beef.  And, I love making my own sauce.  This version is easier than using chiles or tomatillos, and way more delicious than sauce from a jar.  My only caveat is that the recipe makes a lot of sauce.  I am a big fan of saucy enchiladas, but I would recommend using only half the recipe if you are using flour tortillas (as I did), as they can get a little soggy with too much sauce.  If you want to go the extra saucy route, I recommend swapping out flour tortillas for corn, which tend to hold up a little better.  Thanks for a great recipe, Sarah -- we really enjoyed these!

Beef and Bean Enchiladas (adapted from Budget Bytes, via Things I Make (for Dinner))
Serves 4

For the sauce:
1 T vegetable oil
2 T all purpose flour
2 T chili powder
2 cups water
3 ounces tomato paste (half a small can)
2 tsp cocoa powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp garlic powder
Pinch cayenne pepper (more to taste)

For the enchiladas:
1 pound ground beef
1/2 packet taco seasoning (I used Trader Joe's brand)
1 can refried beans
10 taco-size tortillas (flour or corn -- your choice)
2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and spray a 9x13 pan with oil.
2. Make the sauce.  In a medium pan, heat up the oil over medium heat.  Add the flour and chili powder.  Stirring constantly, wait for the mixture to bubble and then cook for one minute.  Slowly whisk in the water, and then whisk in the tomato paste, cocoa powder, salt, cumin, garlic powder, and cayenne.  Bring to a simmer, and cook until the sauce is slightly thickened.  Set aside.
3. Make the filling.  In a large skillet, brown the ground beef, breaking it up as you go.  Add the taco seasoning and cook for a few minutes.  Once the beef is cooked through, add the refried beans and stir together until they are heated through and nicely combined with the meat.
4. Wrap the tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave for about 30 seconds until they are slightly warmed and pliable.
5. Spread a little bit of sauce in the bottom of the prepared pan.  Fill each tortilla with about 1/3 cup of the filling, roll up, and then arrange in the baking pan.  It will be a tight fit, but they should all go in.
6. Cover the enchiladas with the sauce.  I used all the sauce but felt like it was too much -- next time I would use half the sauce and freeze the other half for another time.
7. Sprinkle the enchiladas with the shredded cheese.
8. Cover with tin foil and bake 20-30 minutes, until the cheese is melted and the sauce is bubbling.  Let rest for a few minutes before cutting into the enchialads and serving.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cilantro-Walnut Pesto

I haven't always been a huge pesto fan, I think because the pre-prepared versions can sometimes be not-so-great, and because making it at home always seemed to involve lots and lots of expensive fresh basil and pine nuts.  As it turns out, you can make pesto from pretty much any fresh, leafy herb and any type of nuts you have around.  If the combination sounds good, it will probably taste pretty good!  And, you can make a smaller batch that will fit in a mini chopper (easy cleanup!).  Here, I team up fresh cilantro, walnuts, and Manchego cheese to excellent effect.  The flavors go together really well -- I love the "green" flavor of the cilantro with the slight bitterness of the walnuts.  And, Manchego cheese is pretty much amazing no matter what it goes in!  What made this pesto even better was that it helped me finish up two things that had been languishing in my fridge (cilantro that I had bought to garnish Indian food but then totally spaced on, and the end of a wedge of Manchego).  We used some on pesto salmon and the rest to spruce up pasta.

Cilantro-Walnut Pesto

1/2 cup walnuts
1 large garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1/3 cup grated Manchego cheese
1 cup tightly packed fresh cilantro (aim for mostly leaves, but some stems are okay)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 T neutral oil (like vegetable or canola oil)
1-1/2 tsp red wine vinegar
1/2 tsp salt (or to taste)

1. Place the walnuts and garlic in a food processor or mini chopper, and process until they just start to break down.  Add the cheese and pulse another few times.  You want the nuts and garlic to be finely chopped but not turning into 'walnut butter,' so keep a close eye on things.
2. Add the cilantro and pulse a few times.  Then add the oils, red wine vinegar, and salt, and pulse until the pesto is as chunky/smooth as you like it.  Taste and add more of anything to make things taste perfect!