Monday, November 26, 2018

The Whole Enchilada

It seems that being a mom of a middle schooler is more demanding of my time than anticipated.  I've still been cooking, of course, but finding time for pix and writing has been a challenge.  But, I'm here now, so let's talk about Mexican food.

I'm willing to bet that Mexican is the most popular cuisine in America.  Everybody loves Mexican. Chances are that you have taco shells in your cabinet, cans of refried beans in your pantry and tortillas in your fridge.  Like everybody, so do I.  It's great to have these staples on hand, especially for those hectic week nights when you can whip up some tacos in the blink of an eye.

One of our favorites is enchiladas.  The beautiful thing is that they really aren't hard to make, you can create a filling out of anything and they freeze beautifully.  While canned sauce is convenient, I'm here to tell you that it's soooooo much better if you make it yourself.  (Refried beans too, but another time!) My daughter often finds the canned enchilada sauces too spicy, so making my own solves that problem.  And it's has a few steps, but they aren't difficult and the result is so worth your while.

 Place about 8 dried guajillo peppers in a saucepan.  Cover with water and bring to a boil.  Then, turn off the heat and let the chiles soak for about 45 minutes.

Then, you remove the stems and split them open to remove the seeds.  The seeds need to go because since they were dried, they are hard and yucky.  You don't want hard and yucky in your sauce.

Save the soaking liquid.  It is like liquid amber.

Next, place your chiles in the blender with a cup of the soaking liquid and give them a good whirl.  You want to let it run for a minute or two so that the skins get finely ground.  Then, strain the puree, using a spoon to press on the solids to get all the chile puree that you can.  Rinse your blender with another cup of the soaking liquid, then pour it over the solids in your sieve.  Press some more, then discard the solids. 

Heat 1 Tbsp oil over medium heat, add 1 garlic clove, halved.  When the garlic becomes fragrant, discard. Add 1 Tbsp flour to the garlic oil and cook for about a minute.  Next, add the guajillo puree to the roux and mix well.

This is 3/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp oregano, 1/4 tsp cumin and 1/4 tsp of garlic powder. Add these spices, along with 1 tsp white vinegar to the sauce.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until sauce becomes slightly thickened.  Taste it and adjust salt to your taste. That's it.  Homemade enchilada sauce.  I use this sauce for my tamales as well.  

So, why is it so great to make your own?  First, it's easy.  Second, it's inexpensive.  Dried chiles are not a pricey item and you can even find them at places like Wal-Mart, if you're willing to sacrifice your humanity and enter a Wal-Mart, that is.  The rest of the ingredients are in your kitchen right now.  And third, it simply tastes so much better than the canned product.  No added sugar or excessive salt either. Give it a try and you'll find yourself doing the macarena right in your kitchen because you are so excited and pleased with yourself!  Ole!

Friday, July 13, 2018

In the style of the Shepherd

Around here, the little Akre crew can dig on some Mexican food. As children of the 70's, Neil and I are nostalgically fond of the good ol' American Tex-Mex ground beef taco with crunchy shell, cheddar, onion, tomato, lettuce, etc., you get my drift.  Make no mistake, I still make these kind of tacos every time we have one of those busy weeknights. I.LOVE.TACOS.

But, as we have aged and evolved, we have been fortunate enough to actually experience Mexico and myriad really, good, authentic Mexican restaurants and Mexican people here in the U.S.  As time has gone by, our knowledge (by "our," I mean Americans in general) of true Mexican food has gradually been realized.  True Mexican style tacos are something relatively new to many Americans, as many of our brethren still flock to the standard Tex-Mex "Somebody's San Jose" and order crap like the "Speedy Gonzales" or the ubiquitous "Lunch #3."  

One of my favorites is Tacos al Pastor.  I've always wondered about the "al" part of this name, so I checked into the history of this dish.  From what I've read, this dish was actually introduced to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants.  It was inspired by schwarma, also one of my favorite dishes, so this is all starting to make sense.  If you are unfamiliar with "al Pastor," it is a mixture of marinated pork, onion and pineapple served in a warm corn tortilla and topped with finely diced onion, cilantro and a squeeze of lime.  

So, as you can probably deduce by now, I like making stuff at home.  I recently got a shipment of beautiful boneless, center cut pork chops.  Pastor time!  It is surprisingly easy to make and so worth the small amount of effort.

Guajillos:  I use these for enchilada sauce, my tamales and now for this!
Chop up those finishing touches for your tacos

Boneless pork & pineapple in marinade
Draining off marinade

Cookin' up that goodness!

Taco al Pastor with homemade refried beans
Tacos al Pastor
5 dried Guajillo chiles
1 chipotle pepper 
1 med onion, chopped
1 can pineapple chunks 
1/8 cup vinegar
1 Tbs minced garlic
1/2 tsp cumin
1 lb (roughly) boneless pork, cut into small cubes
1 Tbs canola oil
Corn tortillas
Chopped cilantro
Chopped onion
Wedges of lime

1.  Boil about 1 cup water and soak chiles for about 10 min to soften.  Cool, then remove stems and seeds.

2.   Chop onion, strain pineapple and reserved the juice.

3.   Transfer guajillo peppers, chipotle pepper, half of the chopped onion, 1/2 of pineapple juice (save the rest for another use), vinegar, garlic and cumin in food processor.  Puree until smooth.

4.   Transfer mixture to saucepan and bring to a boil; cook until raw onion taste subsides, about 2 minutes.  If you want it spicier, add some adobe from the can of chipotles. Cool then combine in a ziploc bag with pork, remaining onion & pineapple.  Refrigerate and marinate at least 2 hours, up to 24. 

5.    Drain meat/pineapple mixture & discard marinade.  Heat a bit of oil in skillet.  Add pork and pineapple and cook until dark golden brown and cooked through, about 15 minutes. 

6.   Dry "fry" corn tortillas in skillet to soften.  Add meat, pineapple, finely chopped onion, cilantro and give it a good squeeze of lime.

I served our tacos with homemade refried beans. These are so simple, you'll wonder why we ever bothered buying them in a can.

1. Take a 30 oz. can of pintos and "lightly" drain them.
2. Heat about a Tbs oil and add a couple of garlic cloves.
3. When they are lightly brown, crush them up with a fork.  Or, if you prefer, just use minced garlic.  The point is to flavor the oil. 
4. Add beans, 1 tsp chili powder, 1 tsp cumin, salt to taste.
 5.  Cook about 5 min until beans are heated.  Mash with potato masher until consistency you like.  Squeeze in some lime juice, stir and enjoy! 


Monday, May 14, 2018

Indian Quickie

Monday is "laundry day," right?  Well, as good as a big pot of red beans and rice sounds, I had no means to produce that today.  I did do a boatload of laundry, however.  No, for us, it was mommy's super quick Indian night here at the grand Chez Akre.

I am an uber-enthusiastic fan of the Indian "simmer sauces" found at Aldi.  These sauces are how I first introduced the Wunderkind to Indian food, which is one of her favorite cuisines, to this day. These jars of goodness simply call for you adding veggies and meat of choice and it's dinner time.  

I already had a baked chicken breast in the fridge, so I chopped that, chopped some fresh spinach, and half an onion.  For added protein, texture, etc. I also used 1/2 can of garbanzos. All I had to do for our dinner tonight was start a pot of Basmati rice, saute the onion, add my pre-cooked chicken, veggies and sauce and wait.  

I also had one more piece of naan (also available at Aldi) in the fridge.  I smeared on a thin layer of ghee, to add some flavor and popped it in a 400 degree oven for about 5 minutes, as my entree simmered. 

In literally minutes, we had Indian curry on our plates and in our mouths.  

 This is an incredibly easy way to introduce yourself or others to the flavors of Indian cooking.  Of course, doing it all from scratch is a wonderful adventure.  However, on a weeknight when nobody wants to spend tons of time in the kitchen, you can't beat this simmer sauce.  We've tried the Jalfrezi, Tikka Masala and the Korma and love them all. Couldn't be any quicker to cook and it's still an interesting and hearty meal without a whole lot of work.  Try it!  You'll like it!


Thursday, May 3, 2018

Kitchen Six: Seriously Good Food

We all know the phrases/sayings/cliches about how lucky we are if we end up with one good friend. I am fortunate to be able to say that I have 5, not counting my sister. I've explained this so many times to my daughter, who is at the age where she experiences the "friend du jour" concept. My true golden friends are all ladies I met in college. My friend and roommate at Wofford, Heidi, will attest to my freshman assertion that we were there to form "Big Chill relationships."  We succeeded.

So, this is the year that we all hit 50.  Except one December baby, who quietly already celebrated hers and then tried to con the rest of us into thinking it was this coming December. (You know who you are.) Heidi hosted Leigh, Lourdes and myself at her home in Atlanta this past weekend for us to reunite, laugh, cuss like sailors, drink like hobos and generally bask in the glow of our 50 year old awesomeness! (I'm still 49, btw.)

I could go on and on about the weekend, but you are here because you like FOOD.  So, get this...Heidi and her husband Lloyd, along with friends, have invested in a restaurant in their neighborhood of the big ATL. They've been in business for a little over a year.  Their executive chef,  Jason Jimenez, has been named as one of Atlanta's "Up and Coming" chefs. He creates a menu features 6 appetizers, 6 entrees, 6 desserts, every 6 days.  

Leigh, Me, Heidi, Lourdes


It's like going to Cheers, but a lot nicer. The interior is upscale, yet casual and comfortable and hip. The staff all seem to enjoy being there and were in tune with their customers. To say the atmosphere is friendly is an understatement.  And, from what I've been told, the goal was to create an environment for neighbors to see each other and enjoy some really damn good food.  Having been there, I can affirm that they have achieved that goal.

Ok, let's talk about the food.  The best part, right?  So, we clearly set out to really explore this menu because we almost ordered everything on it.  Per Heidi's recommendation, we started off with the hushpuppies and pimento cheese.

The pimento cheese was served with homemade crackers which were wonderful. They were firm enough to stand up to the cheese but yet tender enough that they just melted in your mouth.  The cheese was topped with pickled peppers and homemade bread & butter pickles.  The flavor of the cheese was prominent, which is sometimes lacking in other pimento cheeses I've sampled.  When my buddy Lourdes bit into a hushpuppy, I thought I was in that "When Harry Met Sally" diner scene.  Yes, I'll have what she's having too.  They were phenomenal.  Everything you want in a puppy...super crispy, not greasy, the inside was tender and then spiked with shrimp and peppers. To take it one step further, they were served with a poblano cream.  Ohhhh, Jason...

In the midst of all this was the GA mule.  I can't even remember exactly what ingredients the Kitchen Six folks used to make this cocktail, but suffice to say, you need to order one. I had a Hendrick's and tonic because I haven't had it in forever. 

Lourdes and her GA mule.  It's like I'm sitting next to a movie star.
 Our fantastic waiter informed us of a special salad not on the menu that day.  We opted to have one to share.  It was beautiful.  Mixed baby lettuces, apricots, toasted almonds and a blueberry vinaigrette.  Simply delicious.

Leigh and Lourdes both chose the Roasted Chicken because Heidi said she doesn't know "what he does to that chicken" but it's so good.  They agreed.  It was served with cute fingerling potatoes and a grilled lemon. 

 Heidi selected the Pan-Roased Red Fish which, honestly, I don't know if I've ever had. The skin was so delightfully crisp and the fish was perfectly cooked.  Another winner.

 I decided on the Glazed Baby Back Ribs.  It was a toss up between these and the Beef Short Ribs.  The baby backs were served alongside grits and with a side of sauteed apples.  As the lady placed my plate on the table, she said "These grits are gonna change your life."  Instantly intrigued by that prospect, I dove into those grits.  They were indeed fantastic and I do, in fact, feel much better about my world! The ribs were great; nice and meaty and lean (y'all know how I am about fat on meat.) I'm not sure exactly what the glaze was composed of but it doesn't matter because it was just delicious and I wasn't there to dissect anyone's recipe!

Now it's time for dessert.  We took Heidi's advice again and ordered the Decadent Cake, which is a flourless chocolate cake and the Vanilla Pot de Creme.  Ok, I'm not a huge sweet eater, but good Lord, these were good.

This is the Decadent Cake.  I put a dramatic filter on this picture to illustrate to you the sheer gravity of this cake.  You can just imagine this showing up in a film like Casablanca. It's like a bite of the best ganache-y fudge ever. Chocolate fanatics would sell their souls for this cake. Like the grits, this will change your life. 

The Vanilla Pot de Creme is also pretty life-changing.  Rich vanilla flavor with a nut crumble and whipped cream on top.  One of us, who shall remain nameless, practically licked the bowl. 

The moral of this story is this:  if you live in, around or near Atlanta, you should seek out Kitchen Six.  If you find yourself visiting Atlanta, you should seek out Kitchen Six.  If you know people in Atlanta, you should tell them to seek out Kitchen Six. I think my friends (and their friends) and this chef have created a very special environment and exceptional food.  I wish we had something like this place in my neighborhood.  But, we don't, so I'll just have to get to Atlanta more often.  Heidi, just keep my room ready.  


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