Archive for the ‘Mexican’ Category

Our favorite el cheapola Mexican restaurant recently closed down. This is sad, not just because we enjoyed the company of the owner and the staff and the food was pretty darn good for the price, but because now we have to A) find a new place not too far away or B) make our Mexican food at home.

Having an almost 9 month old baby is not particularly conducive to restaurant hunting so yesterday I went for option B.

Whenever I make tacos I make extra meat and freeze the leftovers for nights just like last night. We need something in a hurry, and thawing cooked hamburger is pretty darn speedy. We also had half a package of flour tortillas in the freezer (also a quick thaw) so the result was obvious. Quesadillas!

I call these leftover quesadillas not because they are leftover, but that they are generally made from leftovers (and pantry staples). They are fast, flexible and delicious! Use this recipe only as a guideline. Feel free – in fact I insist – on adjusting amounts and ingredients based on what you have in your fridge and your own personal tastes and preferences.

KKF Leftover Quesadillas

1.5 cups cooked and seasoned taco meat

1 14 oz can pinto beans or black beans, drained and rinsed

1 10oz can Rotel-style tomatoes (diced tomatoes with green chiles)

1 cup corn kernels (I pull them straight out of the freezer)

1.5 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Chipotle tobacco (to taste)

Salt (to taste)

Flour or corn tortillas

For toppings: sour cream, green onions, cilantro, more cheese, avocados or guacamole


Mix all ingredients except for the tortillas (obviously) and toppings (or heck, throw them in and be your own man) in a large bowl. Throw a tortilla on a heated pan (cast iron would be nice for this) and top with as much filling as you want and top with another tortilla. I usually leave a good half inch of space around the edges to help keep everything inside. How much filling depends on the size of your tortillas and how fat you want them to be, but keep in mind that when you cut them too excess filling will come spilling out the sides.

Heat over medium heat until the bottom of the tortilla is browned and crispy. Using a large spatula, flip and brown on the other side. The cheese in the filling will make it stick to the tortillas, but if you find it’s not sticking very well you can sprinkle a little extra cheese on the tortilla before adding the filling and that should help.

Move to a wooden cutting board and let it rest for about five minutes (if you can). Cut with a pizza cutter and top with your choice of garnishes.

That’s it. Dinner is served in like 20 minutes. Take that, Rachel Ray!

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It was a bacon smokin’ Saturday yesterday so I decided I wanted something simple for dinner – tacos. As usual, my simple dinner grew and expanded into a monster. Before the pork sides were even snugly in the smoker, the menu had become grande.

Frit-No Lay Bean Dip

I started off with bean dip. Test Subject Bill loves Frito’s bean dip. Since I’m not crazy about him eating out of cans, I found this taste-alike recipe and decided to give it a try. It was ridiculously simple. If you buy that canned crap, please try this and you’ll save not only money but score one for your health too! Bill said it was very close to the canned version (I wouldn’t know) but I had used smoked paprika instead of regular and it threw it off a bit. Lesson for next time…

I tossed together some guacamole and got my taco seasoning ready for the Nature’s Harmony ground beef. Finally, it was time for the big deal: I was going to make tortillas.

I carefully selected this recipe from Allrecipes. It was simple and had good reviews. And it calls for LARD. Not freaking Crisco or “shortening” or some other mystery sludge that will make your arteries harden up like the statue of liberty in the Day After Tomorrow. Ok, so the author’s insistence on lard is what really turned me on to this recipe.

Tortilla in pan, rolled and waiting, and ball of tortilla to-be

Anyway, I mixed up my flour and baking powder and salt. When it came to the lard, it calls for two tablespoons. Two…for four cups of flour? No way. I used four tablespoons of lard. That made me happy. The water went it and I mixed it all up, then split it up into 24 little balls. Things were getting exciting. I was ready to roll out and fry ’em up. I heated my Lodge cast iron skillet and rolled out my first tortilla.

It was reasonably round, although it took a lot of flour to keep it from sticking to the counter. I tossed it in the hot skillet and got to work on the next, and the next. Each tortilla got flipped shortly after it bubbled up. Brown is good, black is bad. Simple enough, right? All was well until Test Subject Bill came down stairs and started looking around the kitchen.

“What are you burning?” he asked.

Husbands have lost body parts for asking that question.

Non-Smoking Tortilla

“It’s pretty smoky in here,” he continued after I completely ignored him. I looked around. He was right. Crap. The excess flour on my tortillas was falling off into the pan and…well…burning. Double crap. “You’re going to set off the smoke detector.”

At that very second the damn thing began WAILING. I understand a smoke alarm is either on or off but it was acting like it was Dante’s Inferno. Panic entered the Kung Fu Kitchen. I screamed at Bill to shut it off (which he can’t) and dashed to start opening windows. After we opened four windows and I turned the heat off the alarm shut up. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a KKF first. I have never before set off the smoke alarm. And Bill is the first spouse to survive asking that question.

All limbs in tact, Test Subject Bill snags a tortilla.

Older and wiser, and with windows open, I got back to my tortillas. This time I made sure to shake off ALL excess flour and rolled them out super thin. I discovered that it was actually a good thing for them to stick to the countertop – it held them in place to get rolled out thin, and they were elastic enough to pull off without tearing. KKF is good, KKF is wise.

It took a good hour for me to make it through my 24 tortillas. I had some that were sort of round, some that were quite amoeba-like, and one that looked suspiciously like Australia. They were ugly as sin…but they tasted great! I have to agree that they really are so much better homemade than store-bought, plus you can be assured that they are made with healthful pastured lard when you do it yourself!

KKF tortilla topped with guac, bean dip, salsa and cheese!

Test Subject Bill and I enjoyed our Mexican fiesta while watching The Guild: Seasons 1 & 2
on Netflix streaming through the Blu-Ray. Well…we were able to get through most of Season 2 before Netflix started crapping out and we had to call it. However, with a yummy taco with guac and salsa I canned last summer and bean dip and a homemade flour tortilla…I was able to survive many technical difficulties!

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Clearly, the fall school semester has begun. That’s when I practically drop off the face of the earth. But I’m surfacing this morning to reminisce about the fun I had with tomatoes this summer. Although it almost still feels like summer in Georgia…kind of annoying as I’m ready to start wearing sweaters! I was actually still able to get tomatoes at the farmer’s market two weeks ago…amazing! Anyway, here is a happy memory from this summer’s tomato haul:

When you make every effort to eat seasonally, tomatoes are one of those things that are truly treasured. A fresh, homegrown tomato in the heat of summer is a special thing. But I don’t want to forget that in the middle of winter. “Fresh” grocery store tomatoes are a sad, tasteless waste of money. Enter the water bath canner and 24 pounds of tomatoes I picked up from a happy vendor at the farmer’s market.

As I was picking through the tomatoes for my canning projects I heard another market customer come up to the farmer and tell them in a hushed voice about how they had the best tomatoes in the whole market. This is the kind of stuff you want to hear when you’re preparing to drop sixty bucks on ‘maters. The farmer replied that it must be the soil…or the love they have for growing. Ah. That’s something you can never buy at Publix.

When I got home I had several ideas for what I wanted to do. I knew I wanted to make the garlic-basil tomato sauce from the Ball website. But how much did I want to make? And there was something else nagging at me…

I recently pronounced my disgust for jarred salsa. Yet when I was home in Iowa for my niece’s wedding in July my sister in law provided me with a taste of a jar of her home canned salsa and it was good enough for me to ask for her recipe. Perhaps I was too quick to judge. Maybe I shouldn’t condemn all jarred salsa until I have tried my own…

So I ended up with three different salsa recipes. Janet’s recipe, one from the Ball website, and one from Cooks.com. It was going to be a salsa brawl to the finish, and a really really long weekend in the kitchen. I had pickled jalapenos to can as well.

Basil garlic tomato sauce/soup.Tasty!

The tomato sauce turned out delicious, but very thin. Next time I may strain the tomatoes a good bit. Or just eat it as soup…it bares a fair resemblance to my tomato-basil soup.

The three salsa recipes smelled fantastic cooking away on the stove prior to filling the hot jars. Only the Ball recipe called for cilantro, one of the ingredients I feel a good salsa needs to have. But after tasting Janet’s cilantro-free salsa I am in a bit of a quandary as to whether it really is a requirement.



Janet’s Salsa

5 cups tomatoes

1 green pepper

1 red pepper

1 large onion

1 banana pepper (optional)

½ cup vinegar

¼ cup tomato paste

1 T sugar

2 tsp crushed red pepper

1 T salt

1 tsp garlic salt

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and cook for one hour. Pour into hot jars and process for 30 minutes.

I used about four pounds of tomatoes for this and it yielded six half-pint jars. I did not use banana pepper but did use two large and one small jalapeno peppers. (Later I made the same recipe again but added fresh garlic to the mix. I am incapable of leaving anything alone.)

At first I thought the addition of tomato paste was really odd, but as things got cooking and I saw how liquidy all the salsas were I understood, and I actually ended up adding it to both other salsa recipes otherwise they would have been soup instead of dip. Next time I am definitely being more cautious about how much juice I allow to make it into the pot.

For the pickled jalapenos, I didn’t have any carrots to include so I used some of the multi-colored bell peppers I got at the farmer’s market instead. Hopefully that doesn’t wreck the recipe. I plan to include these pickled peppers in black bean soups and such this winter.

I was excited to be able to use almost exclusively items from my farmer’s market for these recipes. The tomatoes, of course, but also the red and green peppers, the jalapenos, and the onions. Only the cilantro and seasonings were store-bought.

Canned pickled jalapenos, salsas and tomato sauce.

At the end of the weekend, I had six pints of garlic-basil tomato sauce, six half-pints of Janet’s salsa, six pints of pickled jalapenos and onions, and three pints each of the Ball salsa and Cooks salsa. I’m still a big fan of Janet’s salsa, but the Cook’s salsa kind of caught me by suprise. It was the one I was least excited about but turned out to be the most interesting (and a little hotter than the other two). Test subject Bill likes the Ball recipe with the cilantro. A suprising success story for all three recipes, and I stand corrected. I will eat jarred salsa if it’s home made!

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Ever since I learned how to make guacamole, it has been a staple in our house. If I’m making anything Mexican related, there will be guacamole. And why not? It’s so easy and freaking delicious. To kick things up a notch, I made my own chips to go with it this time. Again, super easy.

For the chips, I located some leftover small flour tortillas from last week’s tacos. I knew there was a reason I kept them. I cut them up into sixths and spread them out on a cookie sheet, then sprayed olive oil on them from my Misto. For seasoning, I sprinkled kosher salt all over them, then gave them a very light coating of cayenne pepper. They went into a 300 degree oven and I turned my attention to the dip.

Smashed guac and handy avocado tool

For my guacamole, I usually use two ripe avocados (gives when squeezed, but not mushy), nice and yellow-green inside (not black/brown or any other color) that I pull out of the skins using this handy tool (use the red one for avocados) and then roughly mash with a couple of forks. This recipe is highly scalable based on your personal tastes and the particular flavor nuances of your ingredients, but I usually go with 4-5 cloves of garlic, minced (I use this garlic twist  and LOVE IT – makes mincing garlic an absolute breeze), one jalapeno pepper, minced, about a teaspoon of salt and several good turns of fresh cracked black pepper. I mix everything together with the juice of one lime, then taste. I usually adjust the seasonings two or three times before it’s Goldie Locks juuuuust right.

The chips came out of the oven after 10 or 15 minutes. I didn’t time it, just pull them when they look very lightly browned; if you’re not sure, break one in half. If they are crunchy, they’re done. If they don’t break, leave them in longer. They turned out light and crunchy and just a little hot.

Guacamole and chips fit for a kung fu master

I plated up my guac and chips, then decided to top it all off with some of my lacto-fermented roasted tomato salsa. It was beautiful and had a taste worthy of a fiesta. Next time we have guests over for dinner I am SO making this.

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The Spice is Right

Apparently I’ve been on a spicy roll lately. I was quietly perusing the farmer’s market and came across these fantastic looking poblanos. I had to have some. Suddenly all my weekend cooking plans were completely rearranged, all due to some chiles.

Poblanos just beg to be stuffed, and these ones were no different. Earlier this year I did some shrimp stuffed poblanos and they turned out well, so I decided to take that idea and run with it.

But before I could do anything else, there was another urgent matter. Salsa. I chopped and diced and threw together my CSA tomatoes, farmer’s market sweet onions, garlic and jalapeno, and some cilantro, lime and salt n pepper. I took several bites to make sure it was good.

For the poblanos, I roasted them in the oven, turning often until they were mostly blackened, then steamed them in a covered dish. I know that the skin is just supposed to peel off effortlessly, but peeling these poblanos made me remember why it’s been eight months since I did this. It really is a pain in butt. Then you have to carefully open it and pull out the seeds. This would be easier if you have slave labor (aka children) to help. The kitties told me I was on my own.

pork stuffed poblanos1For the stuffing, I cooked up some Nature’s Harmony Farm ground pork and seasoned it with this chipotle seasoning from Whole Foods. I stirred some sour cream and cilatro into it and was suprised at how really fantastic it tasted. I lined my baking dish with a bunch of chopped tomatoes that didn’t make it into the salsa and arranged my poblanos onto them, stuffing them with as much pork mix as they could take. A sprinkle of mexican cheese went on and into the oven they went until the cheese was all nicely browned and bubbly.

pork stuffed poblanos plate1They were delicious, if I do say so myself. Spicy and savory, with the extra kick of the salsa on the side…mmmm…. Test subject Bill went back for seconds.

Happy Labor Day, everyone! I have some pickles calling from the fridge, reminding me to enjoy the fruits of my labor…hope you do, too.

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Many moons ago my mom showed me an easy enchilada recipe. After a series of adjustments, this is pretty much how I’ve been making them for the past eight or nine years: brown ground beef. Fill flour tortilla with beef, some canned enchilada sauce, chipotle sauce, roll up. Put them in a glass baking dish, cover with more canned enchi sauce and pop in the oven for 20 minutes. Add cheese and bake another five minutes or so. That’s it.

Well, that’s all fine and good but since I’m…well, me…I decided to seek out a homemade enchi sauce. Based on this recipe and the ensuing comments, this is pretty much what I did: melt 3 T butter in a sauce pan. Stir in 3 T flour to make a roux. Stir in 1/4 cup chili powder. Stir in 2 cups of chicken stock. Stir in a little over half a can of tomato sauce.  Add 1 t garlic powder, 1 t oregano and 1 t cumin. Simmer for 10-15 minutes. Repeat as above but using the homemade sauce (and I added some black beans to the beef mix since I was making a few more than usual).

Store bought (top) vs. home made (bottom). Topped with white cheddar from a local Georgia dairy farm!

Store bought (top) vs. home made (bottom). Topped with white cheddar from a local Georgia dairy farm!

I was nervous about how the homemade sauce would turn out so I did two pans of enchiladas – one with the homemade sauce and one with the canned sauce (just in case it was a disaster we would still have dinner).  The darker one is the stuff I made. It looked a lot like the canned version, just darker. Smelled good and tasted ok on its own. But the real test was Test Subject Bill. Would he approve the new sauce? Would his highly refined taste buds (er, whatever) reject the non-Old El Paso version?

Bill commented that the canned stuff is sweeter, but he complained that both versions were missing “something.” The elusive “something” remains unknown. His half Mexican heritage did not help us one bit in the spice detection department. However, upon adding more cumin and more chili powder, he announced the homemade version acceptable. “Ok,” he said. “You can make enchiladas using your sauce.”

Wooooohooooo! It’s every kung fu girl’s dream to have her sauce deemed acceptable. I felt so validated.

Beef and bean enchiladas and guacamole!

Beef (local Georgia grass-fed, of course) and bean enchiladas and guacamole!

Now, for the nitty gritty. I think what will make this sauce better is to saute fresh garlic with the butter and forget the powder. I hate to add sugar, but I think honey would make it taste funny. So he might have to live without it. Also, I plan to seek out some higher quality chili powder and use a little more tomato sauce next time. Other than that, I think it was a pretty tasty experiment.

As for the accompaniment, I love guacamole. And it’s so easy – once I learned how to make it I couldn’t figure out what they sell those stupid spice packets for in the store. Mash two avocados. Mince three or so cloves of garlic (or to taste). Finely chop a jalapeno (I used the fresh one that come out of my garden! I couldn’t believe it!). Squeeze the juice out of half a lime. Mix all together with a little salt and pepper and you’ve got yourself some fresh, tasty guac. I used to make it with only one avocado but Bill would eat it all and I would get none so I had to add the second one.

So the only serious problem I have with my enchiladas right now is the tortillas. I am highly suspicious of the ones I get at the store. There’s questionable ingredients on the package. (At least I avoided the one that listed partially hydrogenated vegetable oil….gag me.) I guess that just leaves one alternative…I am going to have to learn how to make tortillas.

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Stuff it

First of all, happy new year from the kung fu kitchen! Hope it’s filled with good eats, peace and happiness!

My first blog of 2009 revolves around stuffing it. In this case, I’ve roasted and stuffed some beautiful shrimp stuffed poblanos. This was the first time I roasted peppers at home. Or anywhere else for that matter. I was a little intimidated, although with a few successes under my belt I was feeling confident. So I cranked up the broiler and went to town.

It took a little bit longer than the recipe stated to broil, and they didn’t get all black like I expected but they looked done enough so I quit turning them and pulled them out to steam. When it was time to peel, I was amazed. The skin just came right off in my fingers. The seeds within were another matter. When I tried to grab them they went everywhere, including other places inside the pepper. So I didn’t quite get all of them but I wasn’t worried. Poblanos aren’t that hot…right?

Shrimp Stuffed Poblanos

Shrimp Stuffed Poblanos

When it came to the creamy shrimp stuffing, I had my sour cream and cilantro all ready. I chopped the green onions and kept them to the side (Bill’s not a fan) then turned to the salsa portion. I had a jug of salsa I picked up at Costco that I was going to use. I pulled it out of the pantry and realized that it said PLEASE REFRIGERATE. Oh, crap. It had been in the pantry for at least a week. I didn’t think it was worth risking food poisoning for jarred salsa, so I improved with a can of Rotel and a can of regular diced tomatoes. It seemed to work out. I tossed in my shrimp, mixed and stuffed. They turned out rather pretty, I think, and not to shabby for a first try.

Stuffed Poblanos with Spicy Black Beans

Stuffed Poblanos with Spicy Black Beans

I served them up with a side of my own special spicy black beans (can of black beans and some chipotle Tobasco), topped with the green onions and some fresh cilantro and it was rather attractive on the plate.

Test subject Bill approved until he came across some of the random seeds that had escaped eviction from the pepper. Then it got a little hot. Then a lot hot. Then I realized my fingers were burning from removing the charred pepper skins. Ok, so maybe I wrong about the heat level. Maybe I just got an extra hot batch of poblanos. But next time I’ll wear gloves and make sure I get ALL the seeds outta there.

Speaking of next time…these were very tasty and had nice presentation. I think with a little tweaking this would be a fantastic dinner party dish. Next time I’ll make sure I actually have salsa (preferably my homemade, mmmm), drain the salsa a bit (it got a little watery), chop up the shrimp a little finer and add some cheese to the stuffing so it holds together better. Also, after stuffing them they go back under the broiler, but mine were toasty on top and lukewarm in the middle after the cooking time recommended in the recipe so I think I’ll go cooler and slower for that part of it. Pretty soon I may have a specialty. Weee!

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