Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Mexican Pie

I met my BFF in September of 1986. We’ve lived less than 6 miles apart and more than 600 miles apart during our 30 years of life and 25 years of friendship, but I’m happy to say we settled down within about 70 miles of each other, albeit divided by the Red River. (Hi, C!)
Some of my favorite childhood memories with C revolve around her dad’s then-restaurant. Started as a hamburger joint, the super-successful endeavor soon expanded into all things Texan — barbeque, Tex-Mex, chicken fried steaks and a host of other delicious items. We spent a lot of time in that restaurant, whether it was eating with our families or working there during high school, and ate just about everything on the menu (and a few things we created ourselves, like corn fritters dipped in queso) at one time or another.
That restaurant is no longer there, but her family does have another location with the same great food and the childhood nostalgia factor. But since I don’t get to eat there as often as I’d like, tonight I decided I’d make my own version of one of their best dishes — the Mexican Pie.
Here’s what you’ll need to make 2 of your own:
6 Flour tortillas
1 can refried beans
1 pound ground beef
Hot taco seasoning
Queso (Need a good recipe? See here.)
Mexican blend cheese
Pickled jalapenos, for garnish
Start by browning the ground beef. When it’s good and brown, add the taco seasoning and water and simmer according to package directions.
While the beef is cooking, warm the refried beans. If you want them to taste better-than-canned, add a little vegetable oil and cheese as they cook and stir well.
Warm the tortillas.
On an oven-safe plate, add 1 tortilla. Cover in a layer of refried beans. Add a second tortilla. Cover in a layer of ground beef. Top with one last tortilla. Cover in queso. Sprinkle a little Mexican blend cheese on top and add a couple of pickled jalapenos. Repeat on second plate and stick under the broiler until the cheese melts. It’ll look like this, and you’ll be really, really happy:

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Brisket: budget-friendly and delicious!

Who says you can’t feed beef to a big crowd without blowing your grocery budget?
Enter the super flavorful brisket. When properly prepared (cooked low and slow), the cut becomes fall-apart tender. It also meets the government’s guidelines for lean.
I eat a lot of brisket on the job — it’s a staple at cattlemen’s events in Texas — but by far, my favorite is the Mr.’s
His super secret spicy dry rub and slow smoking technique makes for a craveable hunk of meat that’s as good on a sandwich a few days later as it is freshly cut. When we have leftover brisket, we usually save some as sliced beef (my favorite) and make chopped BBQ (his favorite) out of the remaining. To make chopped BBQ, all you have to do is chop the brisket and simmer it in your favorite BBQ sauce. Ours is Head Country’s Original. Sliced beef makes for great sandwiches and tacos, while chopped beef is great filler for sandwiches or baked potatoes.
Here’s what it looks like, freshly sliced:

Friday, August 26, 2011

The draft, the kitchen and the food

This weekend, my home will be filled with guys toting laptops and notebooks, their heads filled with rankings, rushing yards and injury reports.
See, the Mr. serves as commissioner of a fantasy football team and Saturday is draft day. It’s also his birthday eve, so the yearly event also serves as a birthday gathering of sorts.
In preparation for the event, we spent last night getting to a stopping point on the kitchen remodel so we could put most of the cabinet’s contents back in their places and have a usable kitchen. So far, we’ve stripped and sanded the top level of cabinets.  When we quit last night, it looked like this:

Once the weekend’s events are over, we’ll start stripping and sanding the lower level cabinets. Once we’ve made sure they all match, we’ll stain them. (If we run into a snag and they don’t match, we’ll paint.) Next, it’s on to paint the countertopsgoodbye, green! — and walls and re-grout the tile.
Tonight, the cooking begins. The Mr. will be smoking a brisket (post to come) while I’ll be baking his birthday cake, these brownies and making my homemade salsa.
What are you all up to this weekend?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

1 year as the Mrs.

Today is not your ordinary Tuesday. Well, not around here anyway.
Today marks the day, 1 year ago, when I married my best friend. The day my name — and my life — changed forever.
But since you’re not here to read “True love is your soul's recognition of its counterpoint in another” (..."I read it on a bumper sticker...") kind of stuff, I’ll stop there and instead share a few photos of that first day as Mr. and Mrs.

So, to the Mr., happy anniversary! And, to the rest of you, I hope you have a fantastic Tuesday!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cream-style corn

My kitchen is a mess.
Not an I just made a bunch of chicken fried steaks mess. Not even a I just made mashed potatoes for 12 (just ask my aunt, who is still cleaning the roasted garlic mashed potatoes I made some 5 Thanksgivings ago off her ceiling) mess.
Nope, it’s an epic mess of the DIY kitchen remodel variation.
We started on our project, which consists of stripping, sanding and staining our cabinets; painting the walls and countertops; and re-grouting the tile about 2 weeks ago, but kicked it into high gear over the weekend when we were able to dedicate all of our waking hours to the job. We made a lot of progress, but still have much to do.
We decided from the get-go we’d work in sections and try to keep at least part of the kitchen usable most of the time. This is especially important, I’m learning, when you live 30 miles from quality takeout. That being said, any cooking that can be done right now is on a small scale. It’s preferably grilling and something that uses very few dishes. (Which, by the way, are located on my dining room table and covered in a drop cloth at the moment.) There’s also been quite a bit of Sonic (pretty much the only choice in the town we small live in) eaten lately. But, tonight, I was bound and determined to actually cook something and was able to make a one-pot side dish that was as low-maintenance as it was good. Yay for successful experiments!
I had 3 ears of fresh sweet corn in the fridge that needed to be cooked pronto, so I decided to give homemade cream-style corn, one of my favorites but something I’d never made, a shot. Here’s what you’ll need to duplicate it:
3 ears fresh sweet corn
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

Cut the corn off the cob and transfer to a saucepan. Add enough water to just almost cover it. Bring to a boil.
Reduce heat to medium and add cornstarch, sugar, salt, butter and cream. Stir well. Cook about 10-to 15- minutes on medium heat, and then reduce to low. Let it simmer on low for 1- to 1.5- hours, stirring occasionally. The longer you leave it, the thicker it will get.
Taste and add additional salt or sugar if desired.
It’ll look like this:

Friday, August 19, 2011

Fun Fact Friday: The life cycle

Did you know beef cattle are raised and cared for in 3 different phases, each targeting a specific stage of their life cycle?

Calves are born on cow-calf operations. On these ranches, cattlemen are in the business to breed and raise cattle. As the calves grow, the rancher will decide which animals will become market animals and which ones will be kept as replacements (go back into the herd to be bred). Once weaned, many calves intended for market will be sold or moved to a stocker operation.

Stocker and backgrounding operations are where calves are grown out and prepared for the feedlot. Here, weanlings graze on grass and may start eating some grain to supplement their diets. Once, they reach 12- to 18- months of age, they are sold or moved to a feedlot.

Feedlots are where market cattle enter their final growing stage. In the feedlot, cattle are grouped with penmates of similar size. They eat a carefully-calculated ration and put on the fat or finish required to produce desirable meat.

In each of these phases, cattle are raised by men and women who believe giving animals the care, handling and nutrition they deserve is an obligation, not an option. They take their job — contributing product to the world’s safest and most abundant food supply — very seriously.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Pendleton mashed potatoes

Tonight’s entry is an original recipe I came up with last week and made tonight. I wasn’t sure it would work. (Obvious by today’s Facebook status — “Very excited about the semi-experimental side dish I have planned to accompany tonight's T-bone dinner. If it's a hit, it'll be on the blog tonight! And, if it's not, just forget we ever had this conversation.”) But it did, and I can’t wait to share it with you!

Here’s what you’ll need:
1 potato
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/8 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup Pendleton Canadian Whisky
Sea salt and coarse pepper
Wash and cut the potato into 4 pieces. (You can peel it if you want, but I prefer skin-on.)
Place the potato pieces in a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil on stove and cook until tender, about 35 minutes or so usually.
While the potatoes are cooking, add the heavy whipping cream and butter to a saucepan and heat on medium low. Allow to reduce. The process only takes about 10-15 minutes, but it won’t hurt to start it when you start the potatoes and just reduce the heat or even turn it off toward the end.
When potatoes are done, drain and pour into a mixing bowl. (I like to use my stand mixer if it’s not already in use.) Add the butter and cream mixture and the whisky. Mix using an electric mixer until you’ve reached your preferred consistency. Add some sea salt and coarse pepper and give it another quick mix.
I served these with grilled T-bones. I also had a salad, while the Mr. had green beans. I’ve learned it never hurts to have a back-up side dish when experimenting!
It looked like this:

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Beef empanadas with queso

I love On the Border’s beef empanadas. Pure deliciousness.
Several months ago, I decided I wanted to make my own empanadas at home. I didn’t find success immediately. Epic fail.
The first try resulted in a dish the Mr. dubbed beef donuts. While he thought they were pretty great (“Beef is good. Donuts are good. What’s not to like?”), they weren’t exactly what I was going for. The next try was better and the third try better still, but I wasn’t quite satisfied.
But last week I had a bit of an empanada epiphany and tonight’s version was born. They’re not only the easiest I’ve made yet, but also the best. My empanadas still may not rival OTB’s, but they’re really good, inexpensive and great dipped in the queso recipe below.
Here’s what you’ll need:
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 packet hot taco seasoning
1 cans Grands (or comparable large-sized) biscuits
Vegetable oil
Start by browning the ground beef. Once it’s cooked throughout, add the taco seasoning according to package directions and simmer.
Press or roll out the biscuits until they are larger and flatter — they’ll look like mini tortillas.
Add ground beef to one half of each biscuit, allowing a little room at the edge. Fold over and pinch to seal. Repeat with remaining biscuits.
Heat vegetable oil to medium high heat in a cast iron skillet.
Once it’s good and hot, add the empanadas carefully, allowing plenty of space around each. I cook about 4 or 5 at a time. Cook about 2 minutes per side or until golden brown.
Drain on paper towels.
Now, to make the queso. (Which, by the way, I usually make first since you can keep it warm for awhile. But do whatever is easiest for you.) There are lots of recipes out there, but my favorite queso is my own adaptation of Grady Spears’ version. To save time, I usually chop the vegetables and cheese the night before or earlier in the day and put them in Ziploc bags in the fridge until I’m ready to make the dish.
Here’s what you’ll need:
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup diced red onion
1/2 cup diced tomato
1 can chopped green chiles - hot
3 diced jalapenos, including seeds and spines
¼ cup milk
16 ounces of Velveeta, cut into cubes
2 cups grated Monterrey jack cheese
Salt and white pepper
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat until it begins to bubble. Add the onion and cook until it begins to become translucent, about 4 minutes. Add the tomato, roasted chiles and jalapenos and cook for another 4 minutes. Add the milk to the pan and then stir in the Velveeta. Decrease the temperature to low and stir the cheese mixture until it is melted and creamy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the Monterey Jack and season with salt and pepper. When the cheese has melted, serve or transfer to a slow cooker — it’ll keep all day.
When you’re all done, it’ll look like this:

Friday, August 12, 2011

Fun Fact Friday: More than just beef

Did you know cattle provide us with a lot more than just steaks and hamburgers?
Here’s a list of only a few of the everyday items we get from cattle:
Boots and shoes
Pet foods
Printer ink
Chewing gum
Want to see more? Check out this funny but true poster.
Happy Friday, everyone!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Steak butters

Want an easy way to gourmet up your steaks a little?

The answer’s as easy as butter!

Mix some of your favorite herbs and spices into some unsalted butter, roll it up, pop it in the freezer and you’re all set the next time you want your steaks to be just a little fancy.

And, the real beauty is, you can use just about anything. For example, while one of my favorite steak butters is Grady Spears’ Bandera butter, I didn’t have tomatoes or cilantro today. No problem! I just blended my butter with a few garlic cloves and a touch of cayenne pepper and called it good.

The basic steps are below, but feel free to try different ingredients and get creative with what you have in your kitchen.

Here’s how you do it:

Place 1 stick of softened unsalted butter in the food processor.

Add 3 cloves of garlic.

Sprinkle with cayenne pepper.

Mix until well blended.

Spoon mixture onto a piece of wax paper or foil and shape into a cylinder. (Or close. Mine never looks like a cylinder. I know this because the Montessori school was really big on shapes.) Wrap up tightly and freeze.

Just before you start cooking dinner, slice and place in fridge or on counter to let it soften up a little.

Add to hot steaks.

You’ll have something like this:

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Steak Monterrey

Today’s post is the final in a series of 3 flat iron steak recipes sponsored by the good folks at Certified Steak and Seafood. In case you missed the first 2, you can check them out here and here.
One of the Mr.’s favorite dishes at a local Mexican restaurant is their Chicken Monterrey. (Yes, he gets to eat chicken on occasion. It’s just usually not at home.) Of course, being the beef advocate that I am, I believed there was no reason you couldn’t make the same dish — strips of chicken covered in a spicy tomatillo salsa and melted cheese — with beef instead and make it better.
The problem is, most tomatillo salsas aren’t spicy enough for our tastes. So, I set out to make my own. I spent a good deal of time researching and brainstorming until I finally came up with something I thought would work. Now, if you don’t like a lot of spice, you could definitely adjust this recipe to suit your own tastes or use a bottled version. But here’s how I made mine:
1 pound fresh tomatillos
4 jalapeƱo peppers, including spines and seeds
2 Serrano peppers, including spines and seeds
1 habanero pepper
5 cloves of garlic
Lime juice
1 lid vegetable oil
1 lid vinegar
1/8 cup water
Sea salt and white pepper to taste
Start by peeling and washing the tomatillos. Cut them in halves and place them cut side down on a baking sheet. Broil for 5 to 7 minutes.
While they are broiling, wash the peppers and cut into chunks suitable for adding to a food processor. Peel/smash the garlic.
Add the tomatillos, peppers and garlic to the food processor. Add liquid ingredients. (I use about 2 squirts of lime juice.) Chop in food processor until it’s the desired consistency. Pour into a Tupperware-type container, stir in salt and pepper and move to refrigerator to cool. Salsa will be good for several days and the extra is great with chips or other Mexican-style dishes.
Now, fast forward to dinner time. You’ll need:
Flat iron steaks, seasoned with garlic pepper or fajita seasoning
Mexican blend cheese
Tomatillo salsa
Grill the flat iron steaks to desired doneness. That’ll be about 7 minutes per side for medium rare if you’re using a gas grill. Since you’ll be sticking them under the broiler briefly to melt the cheese later, you may even consider taking them off a minute or 2 sooner than usual.
Remove the steaks from the grill and allow to rest for about 3- to 5- minutes.
Slice steaks.
Add tomatillo salsa and plenty of cheese on top and broil just long enough to melt the cheese.
It’ll look like this:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Griddle me this

I went approximately 28 years without access to an electric griddle, and those were good years. But, then, a little more than 2 years ago, I met the man who became the Mr. He has introduced me to a lot of cool gadgets, but perhaps the best is the greatness that is the electric griddle. I’m not really sure if he’d ever used the family-size griddle that I found in the bachelor pad during one of my first visits here, but it immediately became one of my favorite items.
Once we were married and I’d moved into the bachelor pad, that thing went into heavy rotation. I’d use it for quesadillas, pancakes, hamburgers, sausage patties, toasted sandwiches — you name it.

But, as it goes with $30 items that you over-use and over-scrub, it couldn’t last forever. Over the weekend I decided it had cooked its last pancake and, instead of cleaning it, tossed it in the trash. (Which reminded me how much I would love a completely disposable or otherwise self-cleaning kitchen. One day.)
Needless to say, it had to be replaced immediately even if that meant waiting on the oh-so-cute zebra flats I’d had my eye on. I logged on to Amazon, compared products and their accompanying reviews and added one to my cart. Thanks to our Prime membership, the nice FedEx lady dropped it off this morning.
You know that saying, everything’s bigger in Texas? Well, this griddle is no exception. Unfortunately, the kitchen in the bachelor pad doesn’t live up to the Lone Star State’s hype, so I may be doing a little rearranging. Like storing the toaster in the laundry room. But, man, it’ll be cool to make so many pancakes at once!

Do you have an electric griddle? What are your favorite griddled items?