Tex-Mex Archive

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

three-bean chili

three-bean chili

In my fantasy recipe-writing league, I’d cover everything, a million questions you hadn’t even thought to ask yet. Every recipe would work on a stove, slowly braised in the oven, on a grill, in a slow-cooker, a pressure-cooker, on a train, in a car, or in a tree. You could make the vegetarian carnivorous, the carnivorous paleo, the gluten-full gluten-free, the sour cream could always be swapped yogurt which could always be swapped with buttermilk, or milk and lemon, or soy milk and vinegar. We’d find a way to put kale in everything. You could use flat-leaf parsley instead of cilantro (because cilantro is the devil’s herb, naturally) or none of the above, because green flecks = grounds for dinnertime dismissal. We’d make food that your picky spouse, your pasta-eating kid, and your pesky fad-dieting house guests would applaud at every meal, and all of those promises made by food writers greater than myself in tomes more epic than this blog of food bringing people together for the happiest part of everyone’s day would be made good on at last.

what you'll need
how to get things started

Of course, I’d also write about one recipe a year. Despite understanding this, sometimes I get carried away with The Dream of this kind of recipe-writing. I make Lasagna Bolognese with homemade noodles (but you can use store-bought), homemade bechamel (but you can use ricotta; just don’t tell me about it), and bolognese with milk, wine or both. We make Hot Fudge Sundae Cake for crazy people (everything, down to the cookie crumb filling, homemade) or for people with a life (everything, down to the cookie crumb filling, store-bought). We make Lazy Pizza Dough on three different schedules, whatever your orbit demands that week. And in this episode, I found as many ways as I could dream up to make a three-bean chili, so nobody would have an excuse not to make it.

cooking the dry spices, indian-style

Continued after the jump »

Thursday, March 20, 2014

sizzling chicken fajitas

chicken fajitas with the works

Fortunately, for like nutritional balance and all that boring grown-up stuff, we did not entirely subsist on double-chocolate banana bread for the last few weeks, tempting as it may have been. We’ve also been making chicken fajitas like it were the early 1990s and they were all the new rage again.

for the chicken marinade
start marinating the chicken in lime juice

I don’t mean to mock the dish. I have fond memories of going to Tex-Mex restaurants in strip-malls (New Jersey, represent!) in high school and college, the kind of places that served slushy margaritas in cactus glasses and had waiters hurrying loud, sizzling skillets of meat and vegetable fillings from swinging kitchen door to various tables. But once the dish cooled, expectations usually did as well. Mounds of extras (chopped fresh onions, tomatoes, peppers, and cilantro were the standards) turned them into passable tacos, but without the fixings, they were deceptively dull despite their dramatic entrances. I never imagined a future where hacking the dish to our satisfaction would be probably the only meal we’ve ever eaten four times in three weeks; we’re a little addicted and it’s amazing how well it works on a weekday night. [Or where I'd make my own corn tortillas for it, but that for another day, when I've returned to my sanity.]

rainbow peppers make things prettier

Continued after the jump »

Thursday, August 1, 2013

charred corn crepes

charred corn crepe stack, mexican street corn style

For the last three summers, I have had “fresh corn crepes” on my cooking wish list. I was mesmerized by the idea of mixing roughly chopped kernels of the ridiculously sweet bi-color corn we get around here with eggs, milk, some melted butter and salt and cooking them thin and lacy in a pan. What I didn’t have was a clue of what I’d do with them, you know, besides just eating them. Whenever I thought about them, I fell down a culinary philosophical rabbit hole — Why not just put corn on a plain crepe? Does a recipe require a reason, a bigger purpose? Did this need to be done? Was it going to raise the bar somehow on crepes or was it just cool that you could do it? I have found myself at a handful of restaurants lately that have me questioning all the things I love to do in the kitchen (namely, mixing disparate things to make a new thing I think would be quite delicious) because I felt that they were innovating for the sake of innovating, and not actually making a grander version of anything while they were at it. Oh, you cannot imagine how dull the inside of my head has become. The worst outcome of this was that I never made the crepes, despite still wanting to very much.

snap, crackle, charring the corncharred corn smells amazing

Fortunately, after spending the first half of this week chasing a philosophically fascinating (“Can this really work?”) but utter flop (“No, it cannot.”) of a recipe, I was so tired of cooking and thinking about cooking I told my husband my earrings hurt. Like, I was tired to my earlobes. But I had corn. And I had milk and eggs and flour. And so I gave them a spin and they were every bit as delicious as I’d always imagined they’d be, especially the batch where I first charred the corn over a gas flame as a makeshift grill, like we once did here.

de-cobbing the charred corn

Continued after the jump »

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

mama canales-garcia’s avocado-shrimp salsa

mama canales-garcia's avocado shrimp salsa

I’m not a summer person. Is it uncool to admit that you sort of hate sweating? Probably, so it’s a good thing you already knew I was a dork. New York City summers seem to be endless strings of heatwaves, and humidity so thick that even 82 degrees can feel like 105. Being pale and freckled, I seem to go through my body weight in sunscreen each summer, and still burn. Inside, the window air-conditioner units are always buzzing and always too cold; I consider summer something I must endure until my real love — crunchy fall leaves, cardigans, apple cider stands — returns in late September.

tomatoes, jalapeno, onion, avocado and shrimp
tiny shrimps, cut tinier is triply redundant, right?

Or so I thought. This summer, something has shifted and it’s like I finally paid attention, and when I did, I realized I’ve had it all wrong. Summer is awesomely, fantastically busy, and with only the good stuff, long days and social butterfly weekends. We haven’t even put the kid to bed on Sunday night before we start discussing how many friends-with-pools/barbecues/ferry excursions/beach towns/playground sprinklers/grilled anything we might be able to stuff into the next weekend. When the heat starts melting your brain, and with it, any ridiculous attempts at dissecting something you read in The New Yorker that week, you get to instead have intense discussions about the ideal popsicle format, how to best fill water balloons, which beaches have the silkiest sand and who makes the best Aperol Spritz. (Buvette, you’re winning.) I realized that there’s barely a month left to summer yesterday, and felt sad, because we need more time. The whole time I’ve been kvetching, summer waged a quiet war on my view of the seasons (“Does fall have watermelon this good? I didn’t think so!” “When was the last time you saw a rainbow through a sprinkler in January?!”) and it won.

chop this: small tomatoes or big

Continued after the jump »

Friday, November 4, 2011

homesick texan carnitas

homesick texan carnitas

I am embarrassed by how long it took me to discover carnitas, or “little meats” that are usually braised then roasted, and are as far I quickly became concerned, the very best thing to pile on a blistered corn tortilla. I had my first one just a couple years ago. I was pregnant at the time and protein-rich foods were ten times as delicious as they normally were so when I became obsessed with having another, and then another, I chalked it up to baby madness. But that kid is now two, and my carnita fixation has gone nowhere. (And no, people, I’m not pregnant. In fact, I’m pouring whiskey into my coffee as we speak, just like I always do after preschool drop-offs.)

orange and lime juice

The only thing greater than my love for carnitas was my wonderment as to how they were made. I imagined that getting a flavor so complex, and a texture so nuanced — somehow fork tender in the center and caramelized to a crunch at the edges — was best left to the experts, and so I continued to pay a tremendous markup in a city not known for excellence-on-a-taco because I knew I’d never pull it off as well at home. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I learned that one of the most famous recipes for carnitas has but three ingredients: pork, water and salt. Three! I still can’t get over it. I tell people about this all of the time — vegetarians, even, who nod politely; my husband, who thinks it’s cool, but perhaps a little less than I do; this old lady on the crosstown bus who heard me talking about them on the phone… But wait, there’s more: not only do you only need three ingredients to make carnitas, the cooking technique is kind of brilliant. The meat braises in the water and salt (this is the tenderizing part) for a few hours and then, once the water cooks off, it fries itself in its own rendered fat (thus creating those addictive crisp ends). Did you just get hungry too?

pork butt/shoulder

Continued after the jump »


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