Mexican Lasagna 

A while back, I posted a recipe for Ropas Viejas which came from one of my favorite actresses Eva Longoria’s cookbook Eva’s Kitchen. (PS: Eva, I know you are busy being amazing, but when are you going to crank out another cookbook??) 

I actually met Eva once back in 2011 when she first published this book. She was doing a book signing at Willams-Sonoma, so my son, who was only 1 at the time, and I went to the mall to meet her. 

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She is teeny tiny. Like, pocket size. But she is just as beautiful as you would imagine she would be and she was very sweet. The more I read interviews with her, the more I like her. 

Over the past 5 years that I’ve had this book, I’ve made many of the recipes in it. The Mexican Lasagna is probably my husband’s favorite of the bunch. He requests it often and since it is so delicious, I have no problem adding it to my menu plan. 

There are many great things about this recipe: 1. it freezes really well, so make two and freeze one; 2. it passes the leftovers test; 3. it is completely adjustable to your preferences. Sometimes when I make it, I follow the recipe to the “T”. Other times, I wing it and change things up a bit. You can change the meat, you can change the cheeses, you can change the veggies. Do it how you want to and it will most likely be just as delicious as Eva intended. I would suggest doing it the way the book says first and then make your adjustments. 

Here’s my simplified take on Eva Longoria’s Mexican Lasagna: 

2 pounds ground beef (well, 2 packages. You know they aren’t always exactly 1 pound. I just got 2 packages so it’s probably somewhere between 1.5 & 2 pounds)

1 packet of taco seasoning (or make your own: 2t garlic salt, 3t cumin,1.5T chile powder, 1.5t onion powder)

1/4 cup water

4oz cream cheese

1 can low-fat refried beans (or you can make a batch of my healthier slow-cooker beans)

1 jar of salsa (whatever you like, just not pico de gallo or similar style. It should be more of a picante style salsa)

2 cups of cheddar cheese (which is really an arbitrary number. Use a lot, use a little. I usually err on the side of more cheese)

2 tortillas

In a skillet, brown your beef. Add your taco seasoning and stir to combine. Add your water and bring to a boil, then to a simmer until the water evaporates. Add the cream cheese and stir until the cream cheese is melted into the beef and all combined. Adding the cream cheese just really takes this filling over the top. I sort of “stole” the idea from these Mexican Stuffed Shells that are another family favorite over here. The cream cheese makes this meat mixture dreamy.

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Now you can assemble:

Spray a round baking dish or pan with cooking spray. Start the first layer with one tortilla. Spread with a layer of the beans, then a layer of the meat mixture, then top with salsa and cheese. Top that with a second tortilla and repeat the layers ending with cheese. 

You could probably do less fillings per layer and do more layers, but I liked it this way. img_7986img_7987

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes until all the cheese is melted and gooey.

  
  

This is a very easy dish, perfect for busy weeknights. You can make it ahead of time and even freeze it.

 

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Not Quite Refried Beans

There is this little hole-in-the-wall Mexican food place (“place” because it’s not quite a restaurant, not quite a taco stand) here in Culver City called Cinco de Mayo that my hubby and frequented quite a bit in our younger, more metabolism-friendly days. It’s right next door to another, much more famous Mexican food place called Tito’s Tacos. The line at Tito’s is always a mile long. The line at Cinco doesn’t get that long until Tito’s closes (Cinco is 24 hours). They are both very, very delicious (isn’t that usually the case with hole-in-the-wall places? As long as there’s a A in the window, I’m good).

So anyway, we still will go every so often, but these days, I try to make my Mexican food at home since it isn’t exactly the healthiest choice going to one of these restaurants.  It’s sometimes a challenge to “lighten” up Mexican dishes, but I think I’ve done a good job for the most part. Everything in moderation, right? These beans are perfectly lightened up. They are just as good as the “real thing” but there is no added fat. Its just beans and seasoning. A great, healthy carb source chock full of protein.
I don’t know how long I’ve been making these beans, but I make them a lot. Refried beans, traditionally, are not very good for you and are full of lard (the good ones anyway!). These have no added fat at all. They are not really refried, but they taste just like them and the texture is almost spot on.  They are perfect for bowls and burritos, nachos and tacos, I’ve even put them in enchiladas.  And the best part? They are made in the slow cooker! Set it and forget it, my friend. Couldn’t be easier.
The recipe amounts tend to change each time I make these, so I tried to write this down exactly as I did it this time. Hopefully that helps. I have posted these before and the amounts may be a little different, but the process and the end result are the same, so don’t call me out on it. Please?
2-1/2 cups of dried pinto beans
1/2 a diced onion
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tsp salt, to start
1 tsp pepper, to start
1 tsp cumin, to start
8 cups of water (started with 6, added a couple more later in the cooking)
In a slow cooker, add your beans, onion, garlic, and seasonings. Top with water. It will look like a lot, but trust me, you need it.  The beans will soak it all up and it is better to have too much, that you can drain out, than not enough, which will cause the beans to become dry and burn.
Set the slow cooker to high and cook for 8-10 hours. Mine went 10-1/2 because that’s when I got home and they were perfect.

  When the beans are ready, turn off the slow cooker and drain most of the water out. Save this in case you need to add more for texture.
 

Mash the beans. You can use a potato masher, which works well. If you have an immersion blender, use that. If you don’t have one, get one because they are amazing kitchen tools. I love mine!

If your beans seem dry, add a bit more of the cooking water. Make them the texture you like.
At this point, I also do a tasting. They may be pretty bland still, because I don’t add too much seasoning at the beginning. Taste them and see what you need to add. I almost always add more salt and cumin, sometimes a little garlic powder. You do what you like. Be careful not to make them too salty though. You will ruin the whole batch. Don’t ask me how I know that. That’s why I just add a little at a time.
We put these in a sealed bowl in the fridge and eat them throughout the week.

Dish #11: (Diet friendly!) Beef and bean burritos (Mexico)

Ok, so I haven’t posted in awhile and I think I need to take some time off already. The hubby and I are going to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic in May and that means we have a mere 5 months to get beach body ready!! So, unless I find something particularly in line with our meal plan, there won’t be many posts from me for a little while. I do promise some Dominican-inspired recipes when I get back though!

I wouldn’t just leave without saying goodbye, so here’s a delicious dish to get you through to my return!

(Diet Friendly) Beef and Bean Burritos

Living my whole life in Southern California (Culver City, by way of Bakersfield and Long Beach), Mexican food has always been an option for any meal I could want. And as delicious as it is, it really isn’t the healthiest of choices! I’m always looking for ways to make it little bit friendlier on the waistline and I think this one fits the bill.

Burritos, or a preface to the modern burrito, has been around for many, many years. The precise origin is unknown, but it is known to have been common among the vaqueros of northern Mexico in the 19th century, the California Central Valley farmworkers, and the Sonoran miners. Either way, the common denominator in these theories is the convenience factor of a packet of food wrapped in a tortilla for the hard workers.

Burritos are most commonly found in Northern Mexico, i.e. Ciudad Juarez, where people can buy them from street carts. Mostly, they are only filled with 2 ingredients, like a meat and refried beans. Burritos started to become known in the US in the 1930s. In California alone, there are at least three different styles of burrito: Mission Burritos in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego style. All have more ingredients than the traditional Mexican burrito and are much larger!

This burrito is sort of a mix match of different types and I don’t really have a set recipe. It is all up to your specific tastes!

Beef
1lb Lean Ground beef (90-95%)
Taco seasoning (2t garlic salt, 2t cumin,1T chile powder, 1t onion powder. I try not to use the taco seasoning packets if I can help it. They are chock full of sodium. But, you know, sometimes I do because that’s real life.) You can adjust the seasonings if you need to suit your own tastes

Brown the beef in a skillet, just before it’s done, add the seasonings and continue cooking until done.

Beans
I make these in the crock pot and they are so good, you won’t even miss the fat usually used in refried beans!

All you need is dry pinto beans and water. However much beans you put in, make sure they are well covered in water. It’s better to put too much than not enough. I did 1 cup of beans and like 6 or 7 cups of water. You can always drain water at the end, but if there isn’t enough while it’s cooking, the beans will dry up and burn.

In the crock pot, add the beans, 1/2 an onion diced, 3 garlic cloves, 2 t cumin, 1 t salt. Top with water.

Cook on high for 6-8 hours.

Drain most of the water into a container. Keep it just in case the beans are too dry when you mash them and you need to add more liquid. Mash the beans with a potato masher or an immersion blender (my favorite method) to your desired consistency. Add more seasoning if you need. I found that most times I need to add a bit more salt. Just remember, you can always add, you can’t take away.

Assemble

I used these multigrain tortillas from Mission Tortilla, and surprise, surprise! they were yummy!! And at only 100 calories a pop, I’m all for it. Now, they aren’t huge, but I felt satisfied after one burrito. (Portion control!)

Put a smear of beans on the tortilla, spoon the meat onto the beans and top with a little cheese (everything in moderation, you guys), and tomatoes. You can add lettuce if you want. I know my husband likes to put his fair share of Tapatio on his.

I promise you, it was so yummy! I think red meat tends to get a bad rap, but if you get a really lean beef, you should be fine. It is loaded with protein and iron.

If the beef really bothers you, you could easily substitute ground turkey or chicken.

Also, if you call the whole thing a Beef and Bean Wrap instead of a tortilla, it sounds healthier :0)

Enjoy!

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