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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Dish #14 Chile Relleno (Mexico)

Oh, it’s been awhile since I’ve done one of my global dishes. Guess I should have known I’d get side-tracked! Anyway…

If you’ve ever been to a Mexican restaurant (and living in Southern California, I’ve definitely been to my fair share!), you’ve probably seen chile relleno on the menu. Chile relleno (“stuffed chile”) is a traditional Mexican dish that originates from the city of Puebla in Eastern-Central Mexico.

Fun fact: In the store, you will find Poblano peppers. This is what you want for this recipe. Sometimes they are mislabeled as “Pasillo” peppers. This is not an accurate name (since they are named for the city of Puebla), but the pepper is the same. Also, these are NOT hot or spicy peppers. They have a really mild flavor.

Initially, they were stuffed with meat and cheese, though current versions are mostly cheese. Although, you can find them stuffed with pork, raisins, and nuts as well. The ones I made, were all cheese, but I could see where adding, say carnitas, would be really delicious. Which, incidentally, is how they can be found in Guatemala.

This seemed to be one of those authentic dishes, where I’m sure every Mexican grandma makes her own version, and since I’d never had chile relleno before, I was left guessing on how to make mine. There were hundreds of recipes to go through! I finally came up with this one.  It was good. I think the batter needed more salt/flavor. That part was pretty bland. But mixed with the tomato sauce and the cheese, then it was so delicious! I will definitely make this again.

If anyone has a tried and true recipe, I’d love to try it! Or if you happen to know Marcela Valladolid and she wants to personally teach me her way, I’d be ok with that too!

First, start with a handful of cherry tomatoes and 1/2 a diced onion. Drizzle with olive oil (I highly recommend this garlic olive oil from Trader Joe’s if you can get it. I use it all the time). Sprinkle with salt and put in the oven at 400 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

After the tomatoes are roasted, add them to a blender or food processor. Add a bit more oil and 1/2 tablespoon oregano, and some garlic. Blend well.

For the batter:
With a whisk, mix together 1-1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup corn meal, 1/2 tablespoon baking powder, 4 eggs, and 1 cup milk. Add a hefty pinch of salt and pepper. It should be pretty thick, like pancake batter. Set aside.

Char the outsides of the peppers. Just put them straight over the flame. They will make a crackling sound, but that’s ok. You want the skins to blister and blacken.

After you blacken the skins, put the hot peppers in a plastic zip lock bag for a few minutes. This will create steam which will make it much easier to peel the peppers.

After about 5 minutes in the steamy bag, you can take the peppers out and just rub the skin off with a paper towel.  It’s OK if you leave some of the skin on; the char will add to the flavor.

Next, take a small knife and cut through the top layer only, down the middle.

Remove the seeds and you will have just the empty pepper vessels, waiting to be filled up!

I think you can put a wide variety of cheese in here. I slathered a nice layer of cream cheese (about a spoonful on each pepper and then spread out) and a mexican cheese mix (preshredded. You can find this at the grocery store).  Fill ’em up!

Now, surgery time. Take some toothpick and seal them back up. DON’T FORGET THESE ARE IN THERE WHEN YOU GO TO EAT IT!!! SERIOUSLY! DANGER AHEAD!! WARN YOUR GUESTS!

Dip the stuffed peppers in the batter and then add to hot vegetable oil to fry up. About 5 minutes on each side. I don’t know if they should be this messy or not, but I’ll chalk it up to being my first time!

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 Serve with the sauce and enjoy! Like I said, I didn’t know what to expect but it was yummy! Maybe I’ll order one at a restaurant so I know what it should taste like and make mine a bit better!

What do you think?

Pea and Parmesan Risotto 

You may remember back in October, I made arancini which was one of my favorite foods from my trip to Italy. I said you start with risotto. You can use that as your risotto recipe, but this is my go-to risotto recipe. And yes, I have to have a go-to risotto recipe because my husband loves the stuff and requests it frequently. Plus, it’s easy because it uses ingredients I pretty much always have on hand.

Pea and Parmesan Risotto

1 ¾ cups Arborio rice (this is important; it really needs to be Arborio)
4 cups chicken broth, warmed in a pan
½ cup dry white wine (optional. You can substitute for ½ cup chicken broth)
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
½ leek, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup of frozen peas
1 cup of shredded parmesan cheese

In a large skillet over medium high heat, melt the butter and olive oil. Add the leeks and garlic and cook until soft and fragrant. Add the rice and stir around until slightly toasted.

Add the wine to the rice and stir to combine into the rice. Turn the heat down to medium and about 1 cup at a time, add the chicken broth. Wait until each cup is absorbed before adding the next one. This is a low and slow process to allow the rice to absorb all the broth and release it’s starches, giving you a really smooth and creamy risotto. Make sure you are stirring frequently throughout.

After all the broth is incorporated, add your peas and cheese. The peas should thaw quickly and the cheese will melt into the rice.

And that’s it! It makes a great side dish, especially for chicken, which is how my hubby requests it.

Dish #12: Chicken Parmesan (Italy)

I love Chicken Parmesan. It’s so warm and comforting to me. I mean, you have pasta swimming in a rich tomato sauce topped with crispy chicken covered in gooey cheese. What’s not to like? And it’s easy to make, so even better!

Not surprising, this dish originates from Italy. While the exact origins are unknown, the northern town of Parma and the southern regions of Campania and Sicily all claim it as their own. The dish is referred to simply as parmigiana and is made with fried eggplant (aubergine). The version using a breaded and fried meat (veal, chicken) is popular in other countries, particularly those with a high Italian immigrant population.

My recipe is very basic:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breast, butterflied so you have 4 thin-ish pieces
salt
2 eggs
1-1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I use panko)
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
4 sliced provolone cheese (mozzarella works great too)
Extra virgin olive oil (a couple big tablespoons is fine. Enough to cover the bottom of the pan)
Prepared spaghetti noodles
Tomato sauce (jarred or homemade ) /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d2a/73440846/files/2014/12/img_2889.jpg

In one bowl, beat up your eggs with a fork.

In a second bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, oregano, basil, and garlic powder.

Add your oil to your skillet over medium high heat. Prep the chicken while it gets up to a hot temperature.

Dip a chicken breast in the egg, covering all sides. Let the excess drip off.
Dip the chicken in the breadcrumb mix, covering all sides. Press the crumbs in so it really sticks.
Repeat with the other pieces of chicken.

When the oil is hot (flick a little water in the oil and it should sizzle), put the chicken in. Cook it for about 5 minutes. Flip the chicken over to the other side. Ladle some sauce over the top and top with a couple pieces of cheese on each piece of chicken and put the skillet into a 350 degree oven (make sure your skillet is oven-safe. If not, you can let the chicken sit in the skillet for a couple minutes to crisp up and then transfer to a baking dish and add your sauce and cheese at that point). Let the chicken finish cooking in the oven, probably another 7 minutes, or until the cheese is all melted and gooey. (Check the chicken before serving to make sure it’s cooked all the way. The timing depends on how thick the chicken is).

Coat the noodles with sauce and put on a plate. Top the noodles with the chicken and serve, probably with a light green salad because it’s a pretty rich dish. /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d2a/73440846/files/2014/12/img_28911.jpg

If you’re feeling particularly carby, serve some garlic bread on the side. Because, yum. /home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/d2a/73440846/files/2014/12/img_2892.jpg