Saturday, November 23, 2013


I was craving chili with all the fixings. A pointed out that it was over 90 degrees outside (this was back in September), hardly the ideal weather for simmering a hot pot for several hours on the stove. A countered with a request for beef tacos. I pointed out that I needed leftovers to take to work, and tacos are very annoying to transport because I have to store each component in a separate container and assemble them all at my desk. We needed a compromise, something spicy and beefy but not overly heavy, something compact and portable. Enchiladas were the perfect solution.

It turns out that I’m such a rube of a northern Midwesterner that I didn’t know authentic enchilada sauce doesn’t have tomatoes in it. I guess I always assumed that’s what made it red—and in Minnesota in the 1980s, that may have been the case. (My enchilada experience is not vast, since I avoided them for most of my youth because they were usually made with corn tortillas, which I hated.) Poking around online for enchilada recipes, however, I soon learned from Homesick Texan that genuine Tex-Mex sauce is essentially a gravy that starts with a roux, spiked with plenty of chili powder and thinned it with broth. Easy done. I wasn’t sure I liked it when I tasted it on its own, but it was awesome when baked into the enchiladas, deep and dark and smoky. (I vaguely recall adding some chipotle chili powder into the mix to enhance the smokiness.) Even if the filling I used here doesn’t sound good to you, you should still try this sauce and swap it into the enchilada recipe of your choice—it’s one of those amazing kitchen tricks that goes from “I’m not sure this is going to work…” to “I can’t believe I made that!” in a few minutes flat.

I chose a recipe from Confections of a Foodie Bride that combined the chili gravy with a straightforward spiced-beef filling, but cut the meatiness with some beans. Refried beans aren’t my favorite (although they’re growing on me), but they melt into the background here and create a wonderful creamy, saucy consistency. It was my first time buying canned ones, but it turns out Trader Joe’s fat-free refried beans are pretty darn good, at least for this purpose.

Still thinking of chili and tacos, and wanting to make things a bit healthier and more colorful since it was still technically summer, I topped the enchiladas generously with shredded lettuce and a pico-de-gallo-type salad made of cherry tomatoes, avocado, green onions, cilantro and lime juice. Probably not authentic, but excellent all the same.

Not surprisingly, the enchiladas were delicious and are destined to become a repeat favorite. Apparently A and I need to disagree about what to eat more often, if it results in this type of tasty compromise.

Chili gravy:
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup flour
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 cups chicken broth
1 pound lean ground beef
1 tablespoon olive or vegetable oil
½ medium yellow onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 14 ounce-can refried beans
16-20 small flour tortillas
2 cups Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, shredded

1. To make the chili gravy, heat the ¼ cup oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Whisk in the flour and continue stirring for 3 to 4 minutes until the roux is light brown.

2. Add the pepper, salt, garlic, cumin, oregano, and chili powder and continue to cook for 1 more minute, stirring constantly.

3. Add broth slowly, stirring while the sauce thickens.

4. Turn heat to low and let simmer for 15 minutes while you make the enchilada filling.

5. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add ground beef to the pan, breaking up with a spoon, and cook thoroughly. Drain excess grease from the meat and set the meat aside.

6. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in the same skillet and add onions, cooking until softened. Add garlic and cook 1 minute more.

7. Return cooked beef to the pan and stir in chili powder and cumin. Stir in the refried beans and ½ can of water. Stir until smooth and cook until bubbly.

8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While it heats, put ½ cup of chili gravy into a 9x13 baking pan and spread it evenly.

9. Add ¼ to ⅓ cup beef mixture to the center of a tortilla and top with a pinch of cheese. Roll up and place seam side down in the pan. Repeat until all the beef mixture is used. Pour remaining chili gravy over the enchiladas and top with remaining cheese.

10. Bake 12-15 minutes in the oven, until cheese is melted and bubbly. Serve unadorned or with garnishes of your choice (e.g., cilantro, green onions, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado).

Serves: 8-10 (2 enchiladas each)
Time: 1 hour
Leftover potential: Great.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


I know, it’s not strawberry season for most of you, and it’s not popsicle weather either, and this picture is kinda crappy. (Popsicles turn out to be surprisingly difficult to photograph, especially when they’re melting—it actually was popsicle weather way back when I made these—and I really want to eat the subject. Hunger is my number-one obstacle to becoming a better food photographer.) But I had to share, because popsicles! I made them! And they were delicious. So you’ll just have to bookmark this for next summer.

When I was a kid, my mom used to make pudding pops (from Jell-O boxed pudding mix; pistachio was my favorite) in Tupperware molds. (These, to be precise.) Periodically I’ve seen fancy foodie popsicle recipes on blogs and in magazines and thought about making them, but it never seemed worth buying special equipment for. Popsicles are refreshing and all, but I’ll happily pass them over for ice cream. Then I won some popsicle molds (these, to be precise) in some random departmental contest at my old job…and promptly shoved them into a deep back corner of the cupboard and forgot about them for nearly a year, until I spotted this recipe at Joy the Baker. Roasted strawberries and toasted coconut? Hold the damn phone.

Why didn’t anyone tell me popsicles could be this good? They’re a snap to make but don’t taste like anything you can buy at the store: creamy coconut milk with toasty coconut shreds, rich red strawberry concentrated via roasting, not too much sweetness and just a hint of lime for contrast. This immediately launched a popsicle obsession for me, but none of the other recipes I’ve tried so far have held a candle to this one.

Trader Joe’s only sells a light coconut milk, which works well for most uses but would have been too icy when frozen, so I tried TJ’s coconut cream instead and it was fantastic for this purpose, thick and rich with a purer flavor than any other coconut milk I’ve had. I also used TJ’s shredded coconut, which is only mildly sweetened, far less sugary than the Baker’s stuff. I daresay you could use straight-up unsweetened if you wanted. I had to make this in two half-batches because I only have six popsicle molds, but it was no big deal—I made the full amount of roasted strawberry puree and stored half of it in a sealed container in the fridge for a few days, where it held up just fine until I was ready to make the other popsicles, at which point I concocted the rest of the coconut mixture.

1/3 cup sweetened shredded coconut
1 pound fresh strawberries, hulled
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
Juice of 1 lime, divided
1 (15-ounce) can whole-fat coconut milk or coconut cream, well shaken
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sprinkle coconut onto a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven until golden brown, about 3-5 minutes (keep a close eye on it). Remove from oven and place coconut in a small bowl to cool.

2. Place strawberries on the baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Place in the oven to roast until fragrant and soft, about 18-20 minutes. Remove from the oven and add the strawberries to the bowl of a food processor or blender. Add 2 tablespoons sugar and juice of half a lime. Blend until smooth.

3. In a small bowl, stir together coconut milk, remaining lime juice, 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, and vanilla extract. Stir the toasted coconut into the milk mixture.

4. Dollop a spoonful of strawberry into the bottom of each popsicle mold. Stir coconut milk and add to the popsicle molds, filling them about 2/3 full. Spoon more strawberry into each mold and top with remaining coconut milk.

5. Add popsicle mold sticks and lids. Freeze for at least 6 hours before serving.

Yields: About 10 popsicles
Time: 40 minutes (plus 6 hours to chill)
Leftover potential: Of course. Ours were eaten within a week, but they should keep in the freezer as long as you like (within reason).

Wednesday, November 06, 2013


I’m determined to get caught up with this thing, which means you’re going to have to put up with nonseasonal recipes for a little while longer. This one is from Cooking Light, and while it seems pretty plain at first glance—bread, meat, greens, onion, and mayo—it definitely adds up to more than the sum of its parts. I usually find steak monotonous, but the peppery arugula, sweet and briny onions, and citrusy herbed aioli jazz things up. The aioli is actually my favorite part, and I say this as a recovering mayonnaise hater of long standing. To me, concocting my own mayo makes all the difference, and when you spike it with garlic, herbs and extra lemon, it’s irresistible. I knew this recipe would be a surefire hit with A, who loves red meat and sandwiches in equal measure, but I was surprised how much I enjoyed it too, and as a bonus it wasn't hard to throw together. I’ve made it twice already, and it’s likely to keep popping up on our menu through all seasons.

I made a few tweaks to the original recipe. I always find myself corrupting the finicky purity of Cooking Light recipes, but my only less-healthy change here was to add salt to the onion pickling mixture, because I think pickles should be at least somewhat salty. (I ahbor sweet pickles, so the 2 tablespoons of sugar seemed excessive to me, but I went with it as written and while I wouldn’t snack on the onions by themselves, they really work on the sandwich, their sweetness offset by the other ingredients.) Other than that, I merely swapped in basil, which seems more appropriately summery, for the tarragon, which I dislike. And it seemed a bit awkward to make one giant sandwich and then slice it into fourths—plus I wanted to save half of the food for leftovers the next day—so instead I just cut the bread into fourths to begin with and assembled the sandwiches separately.

¼ cup water
¼ cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra to taste
1 cup thinly sliced red onion
¼ cup canola mayonnaise
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 pound flank steak, trimmed
1½ teaspoons olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 12-ounce French baguette
1 cup arugula leaves

1. Combine first three ingredients plus 1 teaspoon salt in a medium microwave-safe bowl; microwave on high 2 minutes or until boiling. Stir in onion. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes.

2. Preheat grill to medium-high heat.

3. Combine mayonnaise and next four ingredients (through garlic). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

4. Rub steak evenly with oil; sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place steak on grill rack; grill 5 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness. Remove from grill; let stand 5 minutes. Cut steak across the grain into thin slices.

5. Cut baguette in fourths crosswise, then cut the pieces in half lengthwise. Place bread, cut sides down, on grill rack; grill 1 minute or until toasted.

6. Drain onion mixture and discard liquid. Arrange one-quarter of the steak evenly over each of the four bottom baguette pieces; top evenly with onion and arugula. Spread mayonnaise mixture over cut side of each top baguette piece and place the top pieces on the sandwiches.

Serves: 4
Time: 35 minutes
Leftover potential: OK, if all components are stored separately and only assembled just before eating.