Saturday, November 6, 2010

Mexican Lasagna

No, I'm not a racist for calling it Mexican lasagna -- you can never be racist against lasagna. If I wanted to be more politically correct I could call it Enchilada Lasagna but it's more than that. It incorporates many of the staple foods of the central American region like corn, potatoes and beans; although my ingredients inevitably come out of a bag or jar, even if it's a produce bag, this is pretty much as authentic as you can get whilst striving to be fancy. There's not much Americanized about this except the fact that it's made in...gasp...a CASSEROLE DISH! I have recently realized that I could be the goddess of casseroles, but that's another entry and you probably knew that already if you've read the rest of my blog.

I wanted to make a few notes here about ingredients. Don't ever subject yourself to corn tortillas that do not resemble something made out of corn -- it should look like a big round raw corn chip rather than a stiff version of a white tortilla. The latter have no flavor, no fiber and simply are wrong, wrong, wrong. Also, I use Frontera enchilada sauce because it's the best and my attempts haven't come close. However, feel free to use any sauce you like, just keep the sugar far, far away. It amazes me how many "real" Mexican restaurants around here put sugar in their enchilada sauce. It's gross and that's why I make things like this at home instead.

Alas, the beans. I've taken a liking to dried beans, although they're much trickier to work with. They're cheap too. The night before you want to make this, take a cup of dried black beans and pick through them to remove any that are split, broken or shriveled. Sometimes there are little stones in there so be vigilant. Rinse them off then soak them in a big bowl of cold water overnight. If you don't feel like all that, use a 16 oz can of black beans rinsed well.

You will need:

1 cup dry black beans, soaked overnight OR 1 can black beans, rinsed
2 cloves of garlic, uncut
1 1/2 tbsp taco/burrito seasoning (some variation of paprika, red chili flakes, cumin, etc.)
4-5 small potatoes like fingerlings, cut into bite sized pieces
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 tsp salt
12 corn tortillas
oil for frying
2 cups enchilada sauce
2 cups pepper jack cheese, shredded
3/4 cup crumbled queso fresco

Take the black beans and mix with the stock, garlic, taco seaoning, salt and potatoes. Cover and simmer over medium- low heat in a medium saucepan for about an hour -- you want the beans to retain a firmness but not be crunchy either. Keep checking on them and stirring. In the meantime, take a skillet that's slightly larger than your tortillas and heat about half an inch of oil over medium heat in it. Once it's reached the right temperature, slide the tortillas into it and allow to fry for a few seconds. This may take some practice if you've never done it before, you want to fry just enough to make them pliable, so that's usually about 5 seconds. Much more and you'll just get really stiff, crunchy tortillas and those are harder to work with. Place them on a plate and allow to cool, this can take up to half an hour.

Preheat the oven to 415. Using a casserole dish, press 2-3 of the tortillas into the bottom and sides. Pluck the cloves of garlic from the beans (or mash them up and put them back in) and put about a quarter of the beans over the tortillas. Use 1/4 cup of the queso fresco over the beans, then enough enchilada sauce to cover topped with 1/2 cup of cheese. Repeat until you're out of tortillas, you don't have to put everything in exact order or use as much cheese as I did but you do want to make sure you've got the right amount of each ingredient. Leave the queso fresco off the top layer and finish it with enchilada sauce and some of the jack cheese. Let it bake for about half an hour, but keep checking to make sure the edges aren't burning. Take it out once the top gets bubbly and slightly browned.

Allow to cool for at least 30 more minutes. It's a little less runny than regular lasagna but not by much. Some people like a dollop of sour cream on the side. This also makes for great leftovers and holds its shape pretty well.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

How To Make Your Own Apple Cider (It's Not Hard)

This doesn't need a reason, apple cider is awesome and that's all the justification I need to make it. And it's cheaper/healthier to make it at home than to buy the premade stuff at the store.

You will need:

apx 6 apples, peeled and quartered with the seeds cut out
6 quarts water
1 cup honey
1 tbsp nutmeg
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
dash of cardamom
2 tbsp (at least) fresh grated ginger
1 cup sugar

Boil the water in a large pot and reduce to a simmer, then put in the apples. Add the spices, sugar and honey and allow to simmer, covered, for at least 4 hours. You can either lift the apple slices out of the cider and mash them for applesauce or mush them up a bit and allow to simmer longer to get a thicker cider. I opted for the latter.

Beans and Rice, My Way

No food is more familiar to me from my childhood than red beans and rice. At least once a week my mom would concoct kidney beans and kielbasa to serve over buttered rice, which was ironically one of my least favorite dishes. Now that I know stuff about nutrition and have to cook on a budget, beans and rice and I have become friends. I found a way to make it right for me. Maybe it will be right for you too.

NOTE: You could use canned beans for this if you must, but I prefer the dried so that's how I'm listing it. You'll want to soak them for about 8 hours in cold water.

you will need:

2/3 cup dried black beans, soaked and rinsed
2-3 whole cloves of garlic
2-3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp Mexican seasoning (some people have their own mixtures, I buy mine premixed)
5-6 small potatoes, like French fingerlings
1 cup jasmine rice
1 cup water
1/2 cup chicken broth
3 tbsp butter
1 cup monterrey jack cheese
1 onion, chopped into small strips when separated
oil for frying

Simmer the black beans and potatoes over low heat with the whole garlic cloves, spices and chicken broth. Cook the jasmine rice with the combination of water and chicken broth provided. Heat the oil over medium and once it reaches its full temperature, put in the onion. Allow to cook until barely browned and crispy then set aside. Stir the beans occasionally and set the rice aside once it's done, the beans should cook for 40-60 minutes. Add more broth if they start getting dry or if you're low on gravy. Combine the rice with the butter once it's finished while it's still hot, throw in a pinch of salt if you want. Serve the beans over a bed of rice, topped with the monterrey jack and fried onion.