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.

 

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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Dish #7: Ropa Viejas with Moros y Cristianos (Cuba)

Ropa Viejas, which translates to “old clothes” in Spanish, is a common dish in Cuba. It consists of shredded beef (hence the “old clothes”) in a tomato-based criollo sauce. The Criollo people is the name of a caste system of the overseas colonies established by Spain. Like many Cuban dishes, this one originates from the Canary Islands, which is a chain of Spanish islands located off the coast of Africa (which also has some influence on Cuban cuisine).
There are probably numerous ways to make this dish since it is such a staple in Cuban homes, but I found this recipe in my Eva’s Kitchen cookbook. I remember when I first got this book when it came out, I remember thinking that it looked really good, but never actually got around to making it. When I decided to do this blog, I thought it would be perfect.

So far, most of the recipes I’ve made have been my own, but I followed this one to the letter, so credit goes to my friend Eva for this one. (See? Friends. My son wouldn’t stop staring at her…)

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Eva Longoria’s Crock-Pot Ropa Vieja (FYI: Doing this in the crock pot is AWESOME! It makes it much easier and it makes your house smell amazing…)

2.5 lbs Beef Flank Steak
6 Tbls ground cumin
4 Tbls Olive oil
2 cups Beef Broth
1 15 oz can or 2 8 oz cans tomato sauce
2 6 oz cans tomato paste
2 Tbls distilled vinegar
8 garlic cloves minced
1.5 tsp kosher salt
1 large onion chopped
1 green bell pepper seeded and sliced into strips
1 red bell pepper seeded and sliced into strips
1 bunch cilantro  (I loathe cilantro, so I only added a little bit. If you like it, add more)

Preparation

1. Take 3 Tbls of the cumin and rub on the steak all over. Take 2 Tbls of the oil and heat it over medium-high heat in a nice big skillet. Brown flank steak on both sides and then throw in crock-pot.

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2. In a large mixing bowl mix together the beef broth, tomato sauce, tomato paste, vinegar, garlic, salt, the rest of the cumin, and the remaining 2 Tbls of olive oil. Stir well. Add the onion, bell peppers and cilantro and again, stir until well blended. Add to the crock-pot.

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3 .Cover and cook on low for up to 10 hours (mine went for around 9) or on high for 4 hours. You know it’s ready when the meat falls apart after being pierced with a fork. When done, take meat out and shred with 2 forks. Return the meat to the sauce and let stand for 15 minutes.

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I served my Ropa viejas with Moros y Cristianos, which is a Cuban rice and beans dish that can be found in pretty much every Cuban restaurant and household. It’s name is a direct reference to the African Moors (black beans) and the Spanish Christians (white rice) as part of the Islamic conquest of Spain and the Reconquista, another period of fighting between the Christian and Muslim people. Cuban food is heavily influenced by Spanish, North African, and Carribbean cultures and this dish is a representative of that.

This is another one with a ton of ways to prepare, so for this one, I did make my own recipe based on what I read about it. Apologies if it isn’t traditional enough, but it was tasty!

2 cups of cooked white rice
1 can of black beans (alternately, you can buy Cuban-style black beans at Trader Joe’s, if so, skip everything and just heat and eat :0) )
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 a yellow onion, chopped
3 slices of bacon, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, mined
1 tsp oregano
3 bay leaves

In a skillet, cook the bacon and onion in the olive oil until the bacon is crisp and the onions are soft and slightly browned. Add the garlic and cook until soft (you’ll be able to tell by the fragrance). Add the can of beans with the liquid, rice, oregano, and bay leaves. Mix together and let simmer for about 5-10 minutes. Take out the bay leaves before serving.

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Serve together and enjoy. I promise you will. It was probably one of my favorite dishes I’ve made so far.

(Side note: add a little cheese and wrap in a tortilla and it makes a yummy burrito the next day!)

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Dish #5: Shish Barak (Lebanon)

Shish Barak in Yogurt sauce is a Lebanese dish likely held over from when the region was occupied by the Ottoman Turks. When made correctly, I could see this being a sort of comfort food.

This may have been the first dish that didn’t really come out how it was probably supposed to. I post this here with apologize to Lebanese people everywhere.

This took me what felt like a long time to make. I’m sure with a lot of practice this dish wouldn’t take nearly as long as it took me tonight.

I will say the flavors of this dish were fantastic, so I will definitely be taking another go at it.

I’m not going to spell out the recipe I used because it’s long, but know that I used the dough from this recipe and the meat and yogurt from this recipe.

I started out making the dough. It was very easy, though I had to add a bit more water to make it come together.
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While the dough was resting, I made the meat mixture. Most often in Lebanon, when red meat is eaten it is lamb. I’m not huge fan of lamb, so I made mine with beef, which I think is acceptable. It was seasoned with Lebanese spice which has things in it like all-spice and nutmeg and the whole thing smelled like Thanksgiving. If this is a common spice used, it must smell like Thanksgiving there all the time! Though I guess Lebanon doesn’t have Thanksgiving so…. Bottom Line: meat was delicious!

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Next I rolled out the dough and cut little circles. Make the dough is on the thin side. I used a small biscuit cutter to make my circles.

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Then you stuff the dumplings. Traditionally, these are small, but honestly, I would have preferred to make them bigger so there was more meat in each bite.

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If you can, get help here. It’s tedious 😦

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Set those aside and make the sauce. The recipe called for Labneh but Greek yogurt is just fine. That’s what I used. The sauce is yogurt and some water melted together in a pan. Once it’s hot, add salt, garlic, mint and lemon juice. Garlic and lemon are popular in Lebonese cuisine, though I think this sauce could have used more garlic.
Add the dumplings and let them cook in the sauce.

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The sauce is where I messed up. Granted the flavors were there and it was a great flavor palate, my yogurt fell apart because my heat was too high. It resembled ricotta cheese instead of the creamy yogurt it was supposed to be. Next time I’ll have to fix that.

I would definitely recommend making this dish, but maybe on the weekend when I won’t feel so rushed.

Enjoy!

Dish #3: Lomo Saltado (Peru)

I actually hesitated about doing this dish because theoretically this blog is about me trying new things and I’ve had this many times before. But it’s also just about exploring and introducing all 5 of you reading this to new cuisines.

I was first introduced to Lomo Saltado from a food truck that used to come to my husband’s old office. I liked it so much I had to learn how to make it myself.

Lomo Saltado comes from Peru and is part of the chifa influence of the country’s cuisine. A large influx of Chinese people immigrated from the southern region of China to Peru (mainly Lima) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Naturally, the cuisines merged and today Chinese-Peruvian food is some of the most popular dishes in the country.

Here is my take on Lomo Saltado, which I must say, my husband requested seconds of, which always makes me happy.

1 lb beef steak (whatever cut you like) cut into thin strips, about 1/8″ to 1/4″
Half an onion, thinly sliced
1 Roma tomato, sliced
1/4 cup white vinegar
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2-3 cloves minced garlic
3/4 tablespoon cumin
White rice
Frozen French fries (or you can be fancy-schmancy and make them from scratch)

In a bowl, combine the first 7 ingredients.

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Heat vegetable oil in a large wok or skillet over medium high heat. Add meat mixture. The meat will cook pretty quickly, so make sure the rest of the dish (rice and potatoes/fries) is ready to go.

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Once the meat and onions are almost done, add the tomatoes. Do this last so they don’t get mushy.

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Serve the meat and with the fries over rice. Spoon some of the sauce the meat simmered in over the dish. Enjoy!

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There is an optional green sauce you can serve it with too. I’m not sure how traditional it is, but the food truck made it and it was delish!

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In a food processor, combine cilantro (to taste, I don’t like cilantro, so I didn’t use much), 1 seeded jalapeño, 1/2 an avocado, and 4oz of sour cream.

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I hope you like it!!

Dish #2: Köttbullar (Swedish Meatballs)

Swedish food was definitely something I wanted to make sure to include on this foodie journey. My Great-Great-Grandfather, Charles Strom, was born in Sweden in 1880, so it is quite literally in my blood. My husband’s Great-Great-Grandfather, Sven Lundberg, was also born in Sweden in 1857, so you see why we would be interested in exploring the culture. (thanks, Ancestry.com!)

Most cultures have some sort of take on the meatball. Swedish meatballs became very popular in the US when Scandinavians settled here and brought their delicious recipes with them.  The Swedish meatball itself is thought to have been brought to Sweden by King Charles XII after his exile in Istanbul.

In my research, I’ve discovered that there are many ways to make these meatballs. Breadcrumbs, soaked bread. All beef, a mix of beef, pork and sometimes veal. Just salt and pepper, a variety of spices. Mostly it is served with potatoes and cream sauce with Lingonberries, but sometimes it is served with egg noodles. The point is, it seems to be more of a method as opposed to a fast and hard recipe. After reading up many different takes, I went ahead and just made up my own recipe and I have to say that it was delicious!

First, my Lingonberry Tale: It is hard to find Lingonberries in SoCal. It is easier to find Lingonberry preserves, but still not easy and I didn’t feel like driving 16 miles down the 405 to the closest IKEA. I found them at Ralph’s near my work. I thought to myself, “Great! I’ll pick them up after I get back from my trip!” I went today and they were gone. Moral of the story: If you see them, pick them up! I ended up using cranberries because all the websites I looked at say that is the next closest match.

Swedish Meatballs with Gravy and Mashed Potatoes

Meatballs
1 pound each ground beef and ground pork
2 pieces white bread
milk
half a yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1 egg
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon All-Spice
Flour (for dredging)

Gravy
6T butter
6T flour
1 10.5oz can beef broth
milk

In a bowl, break up the bread in a bowl and put just enough milk for the bread to soak up. It shouldn’t take much. In the same bowl, add the meats. Mix well. Add in onions and garlic. You can chop and dice if you want, but I just ran them across a grater because I don’t like big chunks of onion. It made for a nice texture in the meatball. Add in the egg, salt and pepper to taste (just a heavy pinch or two), and All-Spice. Use your hands and mix it all together.

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Form the balls. You can make them big or small, just make sure they are all roughly the same size. Dredge in flour.

Melt butter over medium-high heat and put the meatballs in the skillet. Let them cook for about 15 minutes, flipping halfway through.  Don’t crowd the pan. I had to do mine in two batches.

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The dusting of flour gives it a nice crunch on the outside. I love the texture!

The dusting of flour gives it a nice crunch on the outside. I love the texture!

After the balls are done, set them aside. Use the same skillet to make the gravy. I had to wipe mine out a bit and add fresh butter because the butter started to burn. Mix together the butter and flour until it gets clumpy like wet sand. Add the beef broth slowly, stirring with each addition. Add enough milk to get the consistency of a sauce. Keep stirring until it is all incorporated.

Serve with mashed potatoes and a side of lingonberry perserves. A bite of the meatball with a little of the berry is really quite tasty.

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I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did!