Mexican Alambre

The Mexican market by our house upped it’s game tenfold. The new management is transforming this small corner store into a legit market. The meat counter alone is enough reason to go. Cactus being the second. The only thing that would make this place even sweeter would be a bakery, but I really don’t need all of that. More marinated meats please. The price and quality meet at an intersection that makes your mind explode. Every time we get something from there, we’re doing a double-take at the price. It just doesn’t feel right, but I’m not going to complain.

Having access to Mexican chorizo is worth its weight in gold. There aren’t substitutes for it. When you remove it from the casing, the stuff at the corner market cooks down into an almost liquid form of spicy goodness. This dish was inspired by La Cocina. It’s like fajitas but made better. It takes everything I love about them [meat and veggies and adds even more meat, more veggies [cactus], and generous amounts of Oaxaca cheese. Be still my heart. You can make tacos out of them, obviously, but I’m much more into shoveling it in by the forkful. Tortillas just take up stomach space.

Mexican Alambre

Inspiration: Food.com

Ingredients

  • 1lb thinly sliced steak
  • 1lb chorizo, casing removed
  • 1 green bell pepper, sliced thin
  • 1 medium yellow or white onion, sliced thin
  • 1 cup strips of nopales [cactus], rinsed and drained if using the jarred variety
  • 1-2 jalapeños, sliced
  • 4oz+ Oaxaca cheese, shredded
  • tortillas for serving

Preparation

Heat a large skillet on medium high heat. Add the steak and brown on all sides before removing from heat to a paper towel lined plate. Add the chorizo. Break it up. When it’s halfway cooked, add the vegetables. Cook until tender. Add the remaining steak. Sprinkle with the shredded cheese. Stir in or place under a broiler to melt. Serve with the tortillas. Or with a fork. Fingers work well too.

Cannoli Pound Cake

I’m back in the thick of tax season, which means one thing [other than 60 hour weeks and y’know, stress]: catered dinners.

Oh yes. We try a lot of random local restaurants and caterers four nights a week. Sure, I’ll be sick of it before April, but until then, it’s something to look forward to. This latest caterer, Hunt & Gather Catering, has been by far my favorite. We started last week with some delicious Morrocan food — chicken tagine, couscous, chickpea and sunchoke salad, grilled onion flatbread. The highlight so far though has been this flank steak and romesco sauce, sauteed leeks and greens with browned butter, wild mushroom fregola pasta that had a creamy comforting risotto-style texture, and home baked breads with TRUFFLE BUTTER. Who has truffle butter at work? We do. I ate a ton with dinner, had more for dessert, and then it was a breakfast of champions. It takes all my willpower not to eat it by the spoonful. It ranks up there with foie gras for me. It’s amazing.

Speaking of amazing food, it’s been hard not to post these recipes out of order. This pound cake was the best baking I’ve done in a long, long time. It marries together some of my favorite things, which is something Smitten Kitchen is pretty good at doing. Her cookbook was one of the few that I actually keep on hand. I don’t think I would ever try to make the real deal. The idea of cannoli just sounds like a lot of work. Making it in a cake? Way more my style. Whenever I see cannoli [plural of many cannolo, by the way], I think of my tour of them in Boston for work. We went to Roman Candle Baking Co. in Portland the other night and they not only had them on the menu, they had them for $3. That’s rare to see outside of a city with a Little Italy neighborhood like Boston and San Diego. I didn’t have one because I was too busy gorging on pizza and arancini, but I’ll be back for one. They are a hard-to-resist dessert. Even for me.

Anyway, this cake came together like a dream. Finding tiny chocolocate chips proved challenging, and I’m not sure why. I didn’t want to run the risk making my own with chopped chocolate. I wanted to follow the recipe to a tee. The only substitution I made, which was purely out of necessity, was using vermouth instead of Marsala or white wine. Well, I had white wine, but I didn’t want to open a whole bottle just for a little bit. Vermouth it was, and vermouth was just fine. Zest of both lemon and orange are nonnegotiable. If you’ve had a real cannolo, you know what I’m talking about. The same goes for the chopped pistachios. All of it. 100% nonnegotiable. Just do it. Trust me. Trust Smitten Kitchen. It becomes a one bowl masterpiece that you lick any surface that batter comes in contact with. My god. So good. Don’t over mix so it rises and doesn’t become too tough. It’s a dense, moist cake but it’s not too heavy. It makes for good breakfast. Who doesn’t love cake for breakfast?

Cannoli Bread

Inspiration: Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • Zest of one orange
  • Zest of one lemon
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon vermouth or Marsala
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta [don’t compromise here, eat all the fat]
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • A pinch of allspice
  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup mini chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup pistachios, finally chopped

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 350° and spray an 8 1/2″ and 4 1/4″ bread pan with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, orange and lemon zest. Use your fingers to really disperse it evenly. It’ll be light and fragrant. Whisk in the olive oil, vermouth, ricotta, and eggs until smooth. Add the baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and allspice. Gently stir in the flour until it’s evenly dispersed. Fold in the chocolate chips and pistachios.  Pour the batter into the pan. Smooth it out as best as possible. Bake for 55-65 minutes until a toothpick comes out clear. Mine took closer to 65 minutes. Allow to cool before inverting on a cooling rack. It’ll keep for several days covered. Good luck seeing if it’ll last that long.

Enchiladas Suizas

There is something supremely satisfying about making your own enchilada sauce. I have no shame in using the canned variety, especially since you can find such a good ones these days from small-batch vendors, but that sense of accomplishment is addictive. I’m much more of a green over red sauce kind of person, so that’s what I made. Roasted tomatillos make the best kinds of sauces. I have a few recipes saved [here and here] to try at some point. Famous last words. For every recipe I try, another three join the list at least.

If you take the time to do this, please don’t do what I did. Move the rack of the oven closer to the broiler. My impatience kicked in. It was harsh, but ultimately worth it. Once you get the blackened vegetables ready to go, the rest of it comes together very, very easily. Enchiladas are great vehicles for whatever filling you choose — meat or veggie. I went with  simple chicken and cheese so I could focus on the flavor of that sauce. Do yourself a favor and heat up your tortillas before you feed them. I found that they would crumble a bit when I dipped them in the sauce and tried to roll in the filling. It didn’t affect flavor, of course. Despite putting an entire jalapeño in the sauce, it lost all heat. I could have used a little more. I think I’d consider having another jalapeño or even a habanero available in case the jalapeño wasn’t hot enough like it was. All of the remaining sauce and filling ingredients go on top of the enchiladas and baked in the oven so the cheese melts and the sauce gets nice and bubbly. They are really good. Really, really good.

Enchiladas Suizas

Inspiration: Food52

Ingredients

  • 1 medium white onion
  • 4 large tomatillos
  • 2 poblano peppers
  • 1 jalapeño pepper [see above for notes on spice]
  • 4 cloves of unpeeled garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 large handful of cilantro, save the rest for garnish
  • 1/2 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • Juice of one lime
  • Salt
  • 2 cups shredded or ground chicken, cooked
  • 2 cups shredded cheese [oaxaca or other melts white cheese]
  • 8 small corn tortillas
  • Sour cream, avocado, radishes, etc for serving

Preparation

Turn your broiler on high. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Chop the onion into quarters, or even smaller if your onion looks like argue. The more surface area touched by the heat, the better flavor you’re going to get. Remove the husks from the tomatillos. Arrange all of the vegetables and the garlic on the baking sheet. Place under the broiler until the vegetables start to blacken. Rotate them occasionally to get all sides.

Remove and allow to cool. Peel the garlic and remove the blackened skin and stems from the poblanos. Add them and the other vegetables to your blender. Pour the chicken stock and lime juice over the top. Blend until smooth. Taste for salt and more spice. Pour the sauce into a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 20-30 minutes until the mixture reduces.

Preheat the oven to 350° and ready a baking pan. Making each enchilada individually, dip the tortilla into the sauce. Add some chicken and cheese to the tortilla and roll it up. Place it seam side down in the baking pan. Continue this for the remaining seven tortillas. Sprinkle the top with any remaining chicken and cheese. Pour any remaining sauce all over the top. Bake for 15 minutes until the cheese is melted. Allow to cool a bit before serving.

Jok with Chicken [aka Rice Porridge]

Ohhhh man. There is a new food cart downtown that serves all the jook and bao I could possibly want. Jook is rice porridge of the Chinese variety. Jok is rice porridge of the Thai variety. I had no idea until now. The more you know. Anyway, the cart is aptly named the Jook Joint, and you can add some pretty awesome proteins to it, like their 12-hour brisket. It has a little bit of a sweet sauce, but it’s a-ok with the fish sauce goodness that you find in a porridge like this. The soft boiled egg isn’t a bummer either. It’s stellar comfort food. There are a few other places in town that serve it, like Sen Yai, with all the squeaky pork or fish that you could possibly want. Making jok been on my to-do list for awhile. Gotta love checking something off the list.

It’s really easy to make, but requires a little bit of babysitting because you don’t want it to burn to the bottom of the pan. It makes a ton because the solution to keeping it from burning is adding more and more water. I kept adding more and more fish sauce because I didn’t want the flavor to get too diluted. Like most soups, it’s really customizable. I used chicken, but you often seen pork or seafood. There are often soft-boiled eggs, but I couldn’t be bothered. Because rice porridge like a more smooth risotto, you probably have an idea how filling this can be. It’s just like that. It tastes just as good day one as day three. We ate it and ate it and ate it again. The recipe I originally used no longer exists, apparently. Their website went down. This one from Rachel Cooks Thai is very familiar.

rice porridge

Ingredients

  • 1 cup jasmin rice
  • 10+ cups of water
  • 1 pound ground dark meat chicken
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced or grated
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce + more to taste
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Green onions, soft-boiled eggs, diced chilies, or other hot sauce for serving

In a large pot, add the rice and 6 cups of water. Bring the water to a boil before turning down to a simmer. While the rice simmers, heat a skillet on medium high. Brown the chicken and add the garlic and ginger. Leave the chicken a little chunky to add texture to the rice when you add it. When it’s nearly cooked through, add a tablespoon of the fish and soy sauces. Add the fully cooked chicken and any remaining juices to the simmering rice.

Stir the rice occasionally to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Add another cup anytime it starts to get too thick. At least another four cups is needed to achieve the typical creaminess. When the porridge is ready, stir in the remaining two tablespoons of the soy and fish sauces. Taste for more. I always love more fish sauce.

Blue Cheese Pasta with Spinach

We spent Valentine’s Day doing the things we normally do. Soccer game. Laundry. Eating. Food coma induced naps. This is the life.

We ate at Por Que No? Taqueria for tacos, red beers, chips and guac and followed it up with drinking chocolate and churros at 180. It sounds romantic, I know, but we do this kind of thing regularly. Why save it for one day? On a slightly unrelated note, this chocolate bar is the key to Andrew’s heart, in case you were wondering. And now I wish I hadn’t gone to their website. They had a small, perfectly good selection at WM Goods, but now I want ALL OF THEM. Sigh. Sometimes too much information is a bad thing. Trying a new-to-me pizza place tonight, Pizza Jerk, because pizza.

We made this pasta dish a few times now [and by we, I mean I made and we ate and he cleaned up], and it’s turning more and more into a vehicle for making steak this way. A little simple cast-iron action. It’s the only way to go when I’m too lazy to get outside on the grill, which has been a lot these days. This is a sneaky way to eat an entire 5oz container of spinach in one sitting and not realize it. It breaks down against heat of the pasta and you hardly taste it with the love-it-or-hate-it taste of blue cheese or gorgonzola. It’s so delightfully simple—cheese and pasta water. I’ve tried it with a few different pastas. It benefits from something with nooks and crannies. It captures that cheese sauce better. From there chopped nuts, fresh cracked pepper, or red chile flakes are yours to experiment. With the sliced steak, I found it didn’t need much else. The steak juices would get caught in those same pasta nooks. So good.

[sorry mom! blue cheese AND medium-heavy-on-the-rare steak]

Blue Cheese Pasta with Steak

Inspiration: The Splendid Table

Ingredients

  • 8oz pasta, trottole or other curly pasta
  • 4oz gorgonzola or blue cheese
  • 4-5oz container of baby spinach
  • grilled steak, chicken, or other protein for serving

Preparation

Bring your pot of salted pasta water to a boil. Make sure you use a pot that has a lid. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions minus 2-3 minutes. It should still be very dente so it can continue cooking with the sauce.

Reserve a cup of the pasta water before draining the pot. Return the pasta to the pot and add the cheese, 1/4 of the pasta water, and the spinach. Stir to combine and cover. The heat will melt the cheese and wilt the spinach. Now is a good time to cook your protein.

After a few minutes stir the pasta and add more water as necessary. I end up using at least half, sometimes more. The spinach will stick together which is mildly irritating, but ultimately ok. Season with fresh cracked pepper before serving.