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Milanesa De Pollo

16 Dec

Did you ever fall in love with something on the menu at a restaurant, and then never really ventured away from your choice?  Has that option then been ripped from the pages of the menu, never to return?  Well, that is what happened to me with Milanesa de Pollo, at a Mexican restaurant called Los Cucos (which has awesome happy hour margaritas, btw).  Now… let me tell you what is so great about this dish.  Regular Milanesa de Pollo is merely a lightly breaded and fried chicken cutlet.  Nothing wrong with that.  But the one I had my food love affair with, was then smothered in ranchero sauce, and topped with Monterrey Jack cheese, melted under the broiler.  Think of it as a Mexican version of Chicken Parmigiana.  In case you’re not in the know, Ranchero sauce is a spicy tomato sauce flavored with peppers, onion, garlic, and spices.  It is very versatile, and worth making homemade, but can probably be easily found in the grocery store.

Let’s get this party started.  Can I get a frozen margarita with salt, please?

Milanesa De Pollo Ingredients

  • About 1/2 cup of flour for dredging
  • Breadcrumbs (use whatever pre-seasoned kind you like)
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts (Or however many you want, you’ll just have to increase the egg mixture.)
  • Enough oil to coat the bottom of your skillet
  • Salt and Pepper

Directions:

Butterfly your chicken breasts, and beat them til flat.  A rolling pin works great for this, or a meat tenderizer, or the bottom of a heavy pan… your fists?  Not so much…  If you wrap your chicken in plastic wrap before beating it, there is less mess.  This is a great stress reliever.

Now that you have your chicken pounded out, I hope you didn’t get carried away, season with salt and pepper.  After you’ve seasoned your chicken, dredge it in flour.  This step will help with keeping your breading on the chicken.

Take your eggs, and mix them with about a teaspoon of cool water, and beat lightly.  Dip the flour-dredged chicken in the egg mixture, and then into your breadcrumbs.  This process is best done in an assembly line.  Set up your plate of flour, bowl of egg, then plate of breadcrumbs, and the assembly line should end at your stove top.

In a large skillet, pour enough oil (vegetable oil, olive oil, whatever you have) to coat the bottom of the pan.  Heat the oil on Medium-High for a few minutes.  You want the oil to be hot before you start cooking your chicken.  Cook the chicken on both sides until golden brown.  (2-3 minutes on each side)

Now you’re ready to smother with your homemade ranchero sauce.  Place your Milanesa De Pollo in the bottom of a baking dish.  Pour Ranchero sauce on top, much like you would pour tomato sauce on Chicken Parmigiana.  Sprinkle with Monterrey Jack, and place under the broiler until the cheese is melted and bubbly.  This should not take long at all.  Please don’t ruin all your hard work by walking away from the oven.  This only takes a minute or two.

Ranchero Sauce Ingredients:

  • 2 TBSP oil
  • One large (28 oz) can of whole peeled tomatoes, drained and rough chop, or just squeeze in your hands
  • 1 tsp tomato paste (I honestly added this because I had some leftover in the fridge, but it does make a richer tasting sauce).re
  • 1 or 2 Jalapenos, I leave the seeds in, because I like spice, but you could seed it.
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, chopped or minced
  • As much cilantro as you like (optional).  I just tore off a hand full.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp of cumin (optional)

Add the oil to the bottom of a sauce pan and heat on medium low.  Sweat your onion and garlic in the pan.  This means, you don’t want any color on your veggies.  Cook until transparent.  You will be able to smell the onion and garlic when they’re getting close to being done.  Then, add your jalapeno, tomato, tomato paste, and cilantro.  Season with salt, pepper, and cumin.  Let this sauce simmer for at least 20 minutes.  Like any tomato sauce, the longer you allow the flavors to marry in the pot, the better it tastes.  Once you’ve cooked the sauce to your liking, you’re going to puree it in the blender or food processor.  That’s it.  Easy, right?

This is my first time making Ranchero sauce, so I’m sure I will tweak this recipe in the future.  If you have a tried and true recipe for your Ranchero sauce, by all means, use it.  That’s the great thing about cooking.  You can change recipes to adapt your own tastes.

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Refried Beans

25 Oct

I am weird.  At least I can admit it.  I love refried beans… pulverized.  You couldn’t pay me to eat beans in their whole-state.  There’s something about the texture.  I don’t like the little burst of the bean coming through that skin that sticks to your tongue.  Gross.  But, to get homemade refried beans, I have to start out with a pot of pinto beans.  I probably make a pot of beans once a week.  Those who have tasted my pinto beans before they’ve been smashed to death and fried in pork fat say they’re tasty… but I wouldn’t know.  I like making beans because they’re easy and cheap.  I’m all about trying to stretch my dollar.  There’s nothing better than a bean and cheese taco when you’re broke and hungry.

Okay, let’s get down to business.

What You Need:

  • 1 pound of dried pinto beans
  • ½ of a medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 or 2 jalapeños (seeded if you don’t want the spice)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp garlic powder (I’m guessing… I just kind of sprinkle a random amount)
  • 1 smoked ham hock
  • 1 handful of cilantro stems and all (totally optional)
  • Water to cover

Method:

Sort the beans.  Sometimes you can find little pebbles in your bag of beans (especially if you went for the cheapest brand available).  After you’ve sorted the beans, rinse them, and put them in a pot with enough water to cover.  Bring the beans to a boil, and then remove from heat.  Let the beans soak for one hour.  Don’t skip this step.  It’s important.  This is a quick-soak method.  If you have time, you can soak them over night in water, and you don’t have to worry about the boiling step.

After the beans have been soaked, drain the water, and put the beans in the crock pot.  Add the onion, jalapeños, cilantro, ham hock, garlic, and pepper (wait at least 2 hours to add the salt, because if you add the salt within the first 2 hours of cooking, the skins will never soften).  Add enough water to cover, plus at least another 1 inch above the beans.

Set the Crock Pot on low, and cook overnight.  Usually, I cook these beans when I get off work around 11pm.  Then, they’re in the Crock Pot around midnight.  I turn them off around noon the next day.  They’re probably done before 12 hours… but I’m thinking, the longer these sit in porky goodness, the better.  The beans are done when they’re tender.  If you cook the beans on high, they will be done in 5 or 6 hours.  Take a slotted spoon, and remove the cilantro and throw it away.  That’s why it’s best to just leave the stems on, because it’s easier to scoop them off the top.  They should float.

*If you want to just make pinto beans, you’re done.  If you want refried beans, continue…*

Making Refried Beans:

Now that you have a pot of pinto beans, you can make refried beans.  I usually mash and fry the whole pot at one time, but you don’t have to do that.  If you’re going to do the whole pot at once, you need about 1 or 2 teaspoons of BACON GREASE!  Yes, bacon grease.  It is delicious.  If you’re from the South, and your parents didn’t care about your health, chances are, your mom had a can of bacon grease sitting by the stove.  It’s liquid gold.  You could use lard, but the store bought brick-o-lard is pretty tasteless.

Now it’s time to get to business.  Mash the beans to death (in a skillet) with a handy-dandy potato masher.  This is a great work-out.  You can really take out your frustration on those beans.  Got screaming kids running around all day?  Have an idiot boss?  Work in customer service?  Fighting with your boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/pet?  Mash those frustrations away… whoa, don’t get carried away.  Next thing you know, you’re walking out of the kitchen covered in bean splatter.  I usually mash a couple of ladle-fulls at a time.  You want some of the liquid from the beans.  My boyfriend likes really thick beans, but I like them a little thinner, so I compromise… our beans are somewhere in the middle.  You can always add more liquid if the beans are looking too thick for your taste.  Add your bacon grease to the beans, and stir it up.  You’ll want to cook this on medium-high until the beans start to bubble… then a few minutes after that.  Stir them constantly once they start bubbling, because you don’t want to waste all of your hard work by letting them burn.   Once they’re heated thoroughly, and you’ve got the consistency you like, you’re done.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

14 Oct

When I think about Ina Garten, I don’t think Mexican food.  I think… gourmet dinners in The Hamptons.  In fact, I used to not watch her show, because I didn’t think she was relevant to me.  I’m not rich, I don’t live in The Hamptons, and I certainly don’t throw fabulous dinner parties with elaborate table settings.  However, I happened to catch an episode of Barefoot Contessa that completely changed my opinion of her.  She was making what she referred to as “Mexican Chicken Soup,” but I know it as, Chicken Tortilla Soup.  As much as I didn’t want to admit it, the soup looked amazing, and I couldn’t wait to try the recipe.  Unfortunately, that was in the middle of summer, and it was probably 99 degrees outside.  When the weather cooled down, I decided to try her recipe out… but I’m from Texas, and I couldn’t follow this New Yorker’s recipe without changing some things, and adding a little extra spice.  I cut the amount of tomatoes in half, I eliminated the carrots, celery and coriander, and added more tortillas and jalapeños.  You can find Ina’s unchanged recipe here.

Chicken Tortilla Soup (Recipe Adapted from Ina Garten)

  • 2 Whole Chicken Breasts (cooked and cubed or shredded)
  • 1 cup chopped onions
  • 4 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes
  • 4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced (I left the seeds in one)
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves
  • 10 (6-inch) white corn tortillas, cut into strips

Directions:

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the onions and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions start to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the chicken stock, tomatoes with their puree, jalapenos, cumin, 1 tablespoon salt (depending on the saltiness of the chicken stock), 1 teaspoon pepper, and the cilantro. Cut the tortillas in 1/2, then cut them crosswise into 1/2-inch strips and add to the soup. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes. Add the shredded chicken and season to taste.

Carnitas

24 Sep

I know… I know… The Blue Mixer?  And your first post is tacos?  I’ve been baking away for the past week, enjoying my brand new mixer, but nothing special enough to blog about.  Chocolate chip cookies, pumpkin bread, pumpkin oatmeal cookies with white chocolate chips (recipe from MyBakingAddiction.com if you like chewy oatmeal cookies), but I thought Carnitas would be great to write about, because it was hard for me to find a great recipe for it.

My boyfriend is from San Diego, so the second he made San Antonio, Texas his home, he was on the hunt for an authentic West-Coast Taco Shop.  He was disappointed for nearly a year, until he happened to spot a place in a shopping center, while he was getting his truck’s oil changed.  He was so happy when he described his findings to me,  There is a place, on 281 and Bitters that has a picture of the Sleeping Mexican wearing a sombrero, and it’s called a TACO SHOP, not a taqueria! So, of course, wanting him to get a taste of home, we went there for dinner.  They had Carne Asada Fries on the menu, which was a huge deal for my boyfriend.  1) Carne Asada Fries is strictly a southern California dish, and Texans have no idea what it is, and 2) Most Tex-Mex places don’t cook Carne Asada, we eat fajita, or ground beef (never shredded beef).  So, he ordered the Carne Asada Fries, and I got the Crispy Beef Tacos.  Our food came out, and while I was severely disappointed, he was in Heaven.  The menu didn’t say SHREDDED beef tacos!  I guess on the West Coast, it’s understood.  My tacos were served with thick refried beans, and Spanish rice with carrots, nothing like the delicious Tex-Mex I grew up with and was accustomed to.   I never wanted to go back again, and my boyfriend wanted to go back every night!  I knew we would have to go back, so decided I would have to order something new the next time.  The menu was daunting and unfamiliar to me, so I ordered Carnitas tacos, I had seen this before on Tex-Mex restaurant menus, but had never ordered it before.  My Carnitas tacos came out with a heavy handed garnish of cilantro and pico de gallo… I looked down in disgust.  I started scraping off the cilantro and pico de gallo, and added some green salsa from the salsa bar.  Oh well, I’ll just eat it without complaining, because I saw how happy he was to find this place.  With one bite, I was in love.  Wait?  I like cilantro?  The smell is so offensive.  Another bite, with more green salsa… This… is… amazing.  I was hooked.  The taco shop became a regular spot for us.  My boyfriend could get his taste of the West-Coast, and I could clog my arteries with slow-cooked pork.

After over a year of eating there, I wondered why I had never tried to make Carnitas.  The answer is probably because this Taco Shop makes it so well and so cheap (we’re talking two bucks for a taco, and four bucks for a burrito), that I didn’t need to.  But still, I enjoy cooking, and this seemed like a bit of a challenge.  What I didn’t realize, is that the challenge wouldn’t be making the Carnitas, but finding a recipe.

I searched long and hard for a recipe, with little luck.  Then, I found this great blog, Homesick Texan.  The writer of this blog is a Texan relocated to NYC.  Her blog reminds me of how much I love Texas, and how I’d never want to leave.  Which is funny, because I used to dream of moving away to NYC, when I was a kid.  I hated living out in the country.  I guess when you grow up in Texas, in a rural area, NYC seems like the complete antithesis of life as you know it.  Anyway, I digress… the writer of this blog has a fabulous recipe for Carnitas, that I have only made very minor changes to.

Carnitas (Adapted from Homesick Texan)
Ingredients:
3(ish) pounds of pork butt/shoulder (No, the butt isn’t “the butt.”)
1 cup of orange juice (not from concentrate, and if you’re feeling really ambitious, you can fresh-squeeze those oranges!)
3 cups of water
2 teaspoons of salt
1 or 2 Bay Leaves

Method:
1. Cut pork into three inches by one inch strips, add to a large pot with the liquids and salt. Bring to a boil and then simmer uncovered on low for 2 hours. Do not touch the meat, all you impatient people who like to stir things.  Leave that piggy alone!

*Note, if you live in South Texas, you should be able to buy pork that is labeled as Carnitas, and sometimes it is already cut up for you.  It is usually packaged in 3.5-4 lbs packages, and that will work just fine.)

2. After two hours, turn heat up to medium high, and continue to cook until all the liquid has evaporated and the pork fat has rendered (about 45 minutes). Stir a few times, to keep pork from sticking to bottom of pan.

3. When pork has browned on both sides, it’s ready (there will be liquid fat (i.e. liquid goodness) in the pan).   Don’t be afraid to let the outside get crispy, that’s the best part, for me.  Serve either cubed or shredded.  Don’t serve those bay leaves, throw those guys in the trash.

*Side Notes*  I don’t like recipes where certain aspects aren’t explained (Which is probably why I like Alton Brown so much).  I like to explain things so that even the most novice cook can feel comfortable recreating recipes.  So, let me explain a couple of things.  Orange juice:  This may seem like a strange ingredient, but it is necessary.  The sugars in the orange juice will help caramelize the meat, but don’t worry, it won’t make it sweet.  Also, you really need to make this dish uncovered, that’s why I made the text bold in the recipe.  I have made this mistake in the past with recipes, simply because I wasn’t paying attention, and I just assumed I needed to put a lid on the pot.  Putting a lid on this will trap in all of the liquid, which needs to evaporate in order to render the fat from the pork, and create the Carnitas.

Serving the Carnitas:

I like my Carnitas on doubled up white corn tortillas (If you buy the miniature ones, you can eat more!), topped with chopped onion, cilantro, and a lime wedge.  These tacos are even more delicious when you wash them down with a Pepsi or Coke imported from Mexico.