I’m Sorry; I Made You Tostadas

Oh, blog. I’m trying. I promise. It’s not you; it really is me. The thing is, it’s getting awfully close to the time when I have to asterisk “From a Chicago Kitchen” to “From a Chicago* Kitchen… *actually Evanston.” The blog change is the least of my worries in this regard. I am excited to be in a new place, with my own (probably thrifted) things, and I definitely am excited for more grass. But nonetheless, moving, the literal act of moving, is the worst. The worst thing ever. Maybe worse than car accidents and flat tires and speeding tickets in snowstorms. Maybe. Moving has a chance in the battle against February. So, naturally, I’m very busy not packing and planning wedding activities and trying to enjoy the outdoors and (potentially) trying to train for a triathlon. I keep regretfully eating a sad dinner and consequently not blogging about it. I do have a small collection of things I’ve eaten and enjoyed, and they’re all queued up to be mentioned. I’m just doing a pretty shoddy job of mentioning them. So, again, to apologize, I’m sharing this recipe for tostadas.

Taco Bell gets a bad rap for pretty much serving the same thing via different mediums and in different combinations, but here I am telling you about mexican food and pretending these are at all distinct from tacos. But, guys; they are. Tostadas are crunchy and incredibly messy and fresh and hot all at the same time. It’s like if nachos and tacos had this really delicious baby, and then told you it was totally fine if you ate their baby and enjoyed it. (I’m sorry also that I’m tired and probably absurd). As a bonus, it takes approximately 10 minutes to make these, and about 2 minutes to prepare leftovers. The biggest advice I can give to make tostadas maximum delicious is: go fresh. Fresh corn tortillas, fresh tomatoes, crisp lettuce. These things matter. These things make your tostadas way better than Taco Bell, and more definitely worth the huge mess it makes to eat them. The kind of down your chin, all over your plate, who cares I’ll use my hands mess that we love. I think I’ve talked this up enough. Just try it.

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Vegetarian Tostadas

Serves 3 (6 tostadas)

6 corn tortillas

1 tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 can refried beans, vegetarian (I bought mine from trader joe’s)

1 small yellow onion, diced

1 bell pepper, diced

1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp. smoked paprika

1/4 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

Juice of 1 lime

1/4- 1/2 cup shredded cheddar or monterey jack cheese

1/4 cup salsa (freshly made or store-bought)

1 pint grape tomatoes, halved

1 cup lettuce, shredded

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.

To prepare the refried beans, heat 2 tsp. of olive oil over medium heat. Sauté the yellow onion and bell pepper in the olive oil. Once translucent (about 5 minutes), add salt, pepper, and spices to the vegetables and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the refried beans and lime juice and mix to incorporate. Continue to cook until the beans are heated through, about 2-5 minutes longer. Remove from heat and set aside.

Using about 1 tsp. of olive oil, lightly coat each side of the corn tortillas and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Once the oven has heated, cook the tortillas until just browning (watch carefully), about 3-5 minutes, then flip. Cook the remaining side until the tortilla is crisp, about another 3-5 minutes.

To prepare the tostada, top the corn tortillas with the refried beans and add shredded cheese, salsa, halved tomatoes, and lettuce. Eat and enjoy immensely.

If I had a margarita for you right now, I bet all would be forgiven. I can only hope these tostadas suffice.

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An Enchilada Dinner Party, Part 3: Spicy Slow-cooked Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas

Enchiladas are like tacos, or like most Mexican-inspired foods: they are subject to massive variation and yet, without fail, are delicious nearly every time. While the labor-intensive (yet rewardingly appetizing) vegetable enchiladas are distinct from the classic preparation in several ways, these chicken enchiladas are much nearer the traditional recipe. They have a kick, certainly, and the chicken is dramatically moist due to its slow-cooked preparation, but we’re back to basics with enchilada sauce here, topped with way too much cheese, of course. These enchiladas are ready for dinner so quickly, thanks to a little bit of advance preparation. If you don’t have a slow-cooker (or crock-pot), you could prepare the chicken by many other means: sautéing in a oiled pan, baking, grilling, etc. The slow-cooker does make things easy with primarily hands-off cooking time, requiring work only to chop some vegetables, assemble the ingredients, and, of course, prepare the enchiladas. Of the food presented at this dinner party, these were the favorites. They are spicy but not too spicy, flavorful but not unexpected, and cheesy but not overly rich. These enchiladas carry toppings exceptionally well, although I found a squeeze of lime to suffice. But if you have any guacamole left, any sour cream or creme fraiche (or even Greek yogurt), or some chopped cilantro on hand, by all means pile it on.

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Spicy Slow-cooked Chicken and Cheese Enchiladas

Makes about 24 enchiladas; Serves 12

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

3 cans enchilada sauce, divided

1/2 cup salsa (leftover roasted tomato and chile salsa would work well)

1/2 cup chicken stock

1 yellow onion, diced

1 green pepper, diced

1 jalapeno, diced

1 can diced green chiles

1/2 cup chopped roasted red and yellow peppers

2 tsp. cumin

1 tsp. garlic powder

1 tsp. smoked paprika

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

24 corn tortillas

4-5 cups shredded cheese (I used a “Mexican” blend)

The morning of cooking, pour out 3 cans of enchilada sauce into a shallow bowl and whisk in spices. Add a 1/2 cup of spiced enchilada sauce, 1/2 cup of salsa, and 1/2 cup of chicken stock to a slow-cooker and whisk to combine. Cover and refrigerate the enchilada sauce to use later. Add chicken, diced vegetables, and diced green chiles to the slow-cooker. Cover the slow-cooker, set to low, and cook for 6-8 hours, until chicken is easily shredded and cooked through.

To prepare enchiladas, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce to the bottom of two 13×9 baking pans (I used glass pyrex). Heat tortillas for about 20 seconds per side on a skillet or griddle. Dip the tortilla in the enchilada sauce, covering both sides. Rest the tortilla in the prepared pan and add about 1/4 cup of shredded chicken mixture to the tortilla. Top with 1-2 tbsp. shredded cheese, roll the tortilla tightly, and move to the corner of the pan. Repeat this process 23 times, filling two 13×9 pans with 12 enchiladas each (I found 10 fit longitudinally across the pan, with 2 transverse across the bottom). Top the enchiladas with an additional 1/2 cup of enchilada sauce per pan. Top the enchiladas with about 1 cup of shredded cheese.

Place the pans side-by-side in the oven, and cook at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes, rotating the pans once or twice during cooking. The enchiladas are done once the cheese has melted and the sauce is bubbly. Top with your favorite toppings and serve warm.

This recipe may seem straightforward, but the product is utterly scrumptious. If you’re to start with any enchilada recipe, I’d start here. The slow-cooked chicken really adds another dimension of succulence, but it’s the spices and aromatics that really develop the flavor. You’d never even think to doubt that canned sauce can’t be elevated after trying these. However, now that I think about it, I’d love to try my own version of enchilada sauce next…

Try these out, really. There are no regrets on enchilada night.

An Enchilada Dinner Party, Part 2: Roasted Tomato and Chile Vegetable Enchiladas

So you’re off to a great start for dinner: you’ve eaten a massive amount of guacamole, and you’ve sipped greedily on delicious sangria. But now it’s time to feast! I decided to make two types of enchiladas, primarily because I wanted to try out two different recipes. The vegetable enchiladas were significantly more labor intensive; however, they have the benefit of being vegetarian, (possibly) gluten-free, and (almost) every-other-dietary-restriction acceptable (vegan if you skip the cheese, which I’ve done previously. You don’t miss it if you pile on the guac to serve!). I’m not any of these things, but I do appreciate vegetables (massively so), and I like the idea behind making something a bit more non-traditional. To appease classic tastes, I also prepared (incredibly tasty) chicken enchiladas, which were simpler, more quickly prepared, and an all-around hit, so I’ll share those tomorrow. The vegetables in these enchiladas are pretty acceptable year-round, although I suppose fresh summer squash and corn could amp up the flavor a bit. Roasting and sautéing the vegetables imparts a more dramatic flavor, which sufficiently minimizes any “blandness” due to out-of-season ingredients. And, finally, we’re wrapping up all these veggies in a corn tortilla, smothering them in salsa, and baking them with cheese. Should we really be worried about anything?

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Roasted Tomato and Chile Vegetable Enchiladas

Makes about 24 enchiladas; Serves 12

24 corn tortillas

12 oz. manchego cheese, freshly shredded

Roasted Tomato and Chile Salsa

  • 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil
  • 6 roma tomatoes
  • 2 packages/cartons grape tomatoes
  • 1 large sweet onion, quartered
  • 3 jalapeno peppers, stems and seeds removed
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • 1 large lime, juiced
  • 1/3 cup fresh cilantro

3 tbsp. olive oil

1 yellow onion, diced

2 bell peppers, diced (any color)

1 jalapeno, diced

3 zucchini, diced

5 oz. shitaki mushrooms, diced

5 oz. cremini mushrooms, diced

2 cups frozen corn

3 tsp. cumin

2 tsp. smoked paprika

1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

2 tbsp. chile sauce

6 tbsp. all-purpose flour or cornstarch

4 cups vegetable stock

1/2 cup cilantro, chopped

Salt & pepper, to taste

To prepare the salsa, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large mixing bowl, toss vegetables with grapeseed oil and spices (leave out lime juice and cilantro). Pour the bowl’s contents onto the baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes, until the vegetables are browned around the edges. Once roasted, add the roasted vegetables to a food processor with lime and cilantro and blend until smooth. If your food processor is too small, blend in batches. Alternatively, you could use a blender or immersion blender. This salsa can be made days in advance and should be kept in the refrigerator.

If you’d rather save some time the night of cooking, dice/chop/prepare all the vegetables used for enchiladas the day before. They will keep well stored in individual containers in the refrigerator. This prep time is not to be dismissed; I believe I was chopping for well over 30 minutes. I’d highly recommend having everything prepared beforehand!

The day of cooking, heat olive oil in a Dutch oven or VERY large pot over medium heat. Sauté garlic for about 20 seconds, until just fragrant. Add onions, peppers, jalapeno, and zucchini to the pot and sauté until softened (time will depend on cooking vessel; I’d estimate about 10 minutes). Add mushrooms and sauté until softened and just releasing their juices, about 10 minutes longer. Pour in spices and chile sauce and mix thoroughly. Sprinkle flour over the vegetable mixture, and stir until flour has combined and cooked, about 3 minutes.  Add vegetable stock to the vegetables and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Or, if using cornstarch, mix cornstarch in about 1 cup of stock, whisking to combine. Add vegetable stock to the vegetables and, while stirring, add cornstarch-stock slurry and bring the mixture to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the temperature and simmer until the sauce has thickened. Add frozen corn, stir, and heat for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, add chopped cilantro, and stir. Set aside to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour an even layer of about 1/2 cup of salsa into the bottom of two 13×9 baking pans (I used glass pyrex). Now, set up your work station. The corn tortillas require heating on a skillet for about 20 seconds per side before use. I used a large griddle to heat multiple tortillas at once (with the help of my roommate preparing the chicken enchiladas simultaneously). I found working with about 2 heating tortillas was most efficient without burning or waiting. Next to the griddle or skillet, keep a large bowl filled with the salsa nearby. Have a large spoon ready in the vegetable mixture, and keep the shredded manchego cheese a quick reach away. To prepare each enchilada, heat a tortilla until softened. Dip in salsa on both sides, then let rest in the enchilada pan. Fill with about 1/4 cup of the vegetable mixture, then top with about 1 tbsp. of manchego cheese. Roll the tortilla tightly and move to the furthest corner of the pan. Repeat this process 23 times. I found about 12 tortillas fit in a 13×9, with a row of 10 running longitudinally, and 2 fitting transverse across the bottom of the pan. Once the enchiladas are all rolled and squished together, top with another 1/2 cup of salsa per pan and a thorough sprinkle of manchego cheese (may as well use it all!). I had some leftover vegetable mixture (as I only made 18 enchiladas), so I added some of that to the top as well.After this, your hands will be a sticky mess of sauce, salsa, and cheese, but nothing a quick hand wash can’t handle.

Place the pans side-by-side in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. I made these at the same time as two equally-sized pans of chicken enchiladas, so I rotated all 4 pans twice during cooking. Once the cheese has melted, the sauce is bubbly, and the entire floor of your condo building smells like mexican food, the enchiladas are done.

I don’t have a photograph of the finished product, because I slipped these into the oven after guests had arrived, and within minutes of being done they were somehow gone entirely. These can be eaten as is, unadorned, or topped with anything from a fresh squeeze of lime, chopped cilantro, guacamole, or sour cream. I’ve said these are labor intensive, but they are so delicious, so flavorful, and so worth it. They absolutely should be dinner for Brian.

Mexican-inspired Sweet Potato Bowl

When I buy avocados, I buy a lot of avocados. Once the craving hits, it’s easy to imagine eating an avocado at every meal for days and days. Avocados on toast, avocados on tacos, avocados in smoothies, avocados everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s January, which means avocados are both impractical and not in line with the culinary expectations of the season. Anyways, all of this is to say, I have too many avocados in my refrigerator, just chilling out at perfect ripeness totally ready to eat whenever I feel so inclined. I’ve shoved them aside, grabbing an orange, a carrot, the lettuce, the spinach… and then when finally my produce drawer dwindled to some constant bottom remnants, I found the urge to swing back to a Mexican- flavor-inspired meal. This dinner is pretty much always an option given my pantry and refrigerator staples. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t have a full jar of rice in the cabinet, and it’s rare not to have a sweet potato or two up on the top shelf. So while a deviation from the standard, unthinking, grab-and-go dinner fare, this is just as quick, just as easy, and probably just as available.  Plus! Look at that. We’re vegan, we-eat-plants people again; how healthy and economically-conscious of us.

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Mexican-inspired Sweet Potato Bowl

Serves 3-4

1 cup brown rice

1 can black beans (or about 1 1/2 cups previously cooked)

1-2 avocados, sliced

3 green onions, sliced thinly

1 large sweet potato, diced into 1 in. cubes

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp. cumin

1/4 tsp. garlic powder

1/8 tsp. cinnamon

Salt & pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

While the oven is preheating, bring 2 1/4 cups of water to a boil in a small to medium sauce pan. Once water is boiling, add brown rice, stir, and reduce the temperature of the stovetop to low heat. Cover the saucepan and simmer the rice for 25-30 minutes, until water is fully absorbed and the rice is fluffy*.

Toss diced sweet potatoes in olive oil and spices, spread evenly in a single layer on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven until fork-tender and browning, approximately 20-25 minutes.

Slice the avocado and season. Slice the green onions finely and set aside.

Once the sweet potatoes and rice are finished cooking, plate all ingredients together for visual appeal. If you’re like me, though, you want all of these flavors in one bite. If that’s the case, promptly mix all food components into a massive pile and enjoy immensely. Additionally, I know I used a plate for this meal, but I recommend a shallow bowl for neatness when mixing and tossing ingredients together.

This may barely count as cooking, more like preparing with heat, but do not underestimate the delicious contrast between a cool avocado and a spicy, soft-yet-crunchy roasted sweet potato. It’ll have you loading your refrigerator with avocados for weeks.

Brown rice is not always cooked to this ratio or for this exact amount of time, depending on brand and type. Please follow package directions for cooking if dictated otherwise.

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Fish Tacos

Fish tacos. Simple, fresh, delicious fish tacos. I know. It still should be time for soup. It’s some amount of negative degrees outside with extra wind for maximum numbness. I wasn’t supposed to drive to work today, per the meteorologist. I shouldn’t even go outside. Everyone in the education system is laughing at home right now, delighting in the unforeseen frozen temperatures and breaking into another Christmas present, cuddling up with something warm. But, but I want it to be warmer. I want to experience summer time, if only on my palate. I want something fresh and vibrant to lighten up the most gray of all views I’ve ever seen from my window (apartment, car, or otherwise). So I chose fish tacos. The epitome of beach lunches plated on my heavy ceramic serving-ware in my not-quite-heated-enough apartment with wind blistering my window frames. It’s dichotomous. But it’s simple, fresh, delicious… and, darn it, I just want avocados right now.

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Fish Tacos

Serves 4

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1 lb. wild Alaskan cod, marinated

Fish marinade:

  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. sriracha sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. chili sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika (or chili powder)
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

8 small corn or flour tortillas

2 avocados, sliced

1/4 white or red onion, diced

2 roma tomatoes, diced

Green leaf lettuce, chopped finely (or cabbage)

Spicy aioli:

  • 2 tbsp. mayonnaise
  • 1 tsp. sriracha sauce
  • 1/2 tsp. chili sauce
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 1/4 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • Pinch of salt and pepper, to taste

The night before serving, prepare fish marinade by combining ingredients above in a lidded jar or bowl, shaking or whisking vigorously to mix. Rinse and pat dry the fish filets, place in a dish with an available lid (I used a pyrex baking pan), and pour the marinade over the cod. Spread the marinade evenly over the filets on both sides, cover with the lid, and refrigerate overnight.

The day of cooking, heat a frying pan over medium heat with EVOO. Saute marinated fish for 5 minutes, flip, then saute for 5 minutes longer, until opaque and flaky. Set aside to rest, then break into bite-sized chunks.

While fish is sautéing, prepare the toppings: slice tomatoes, dice onions, slice avocados, chop lettuce, and prepare the spicy aioli by mixing the aioli ingredients in a small bowl and whisking together until smooth. Heat the tortillas in a frying pan over medium heat for approximately 30 seconds per side, or microwave them between damp towels for about 30 seconds.

Once the fish is rested, prepare your tacos. I prefer to spoon about a 1/2 tbsp. of aioli onto the softened tortilla, then place 3-4 pieces of cod on top. Follow up with a massive pile of toppings, choosing more or less of your favorites for your taco (I always go a little heavy on the avocado). A little Chihuahua cheese would certainly not be remiss here; however, I didn’t have any, and was certainly not braving the sub-zero (really) climates to purchase some. A margarita, though… that may have been a good idea. Surf’s up, Brian; dig in.