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May 31, 2012 09:18 PM

June 2012 COTM, The Homesick Texan: Appetizers; Chiles, Soups, and Stews; Tex Mex Classics

Please use this thread to report on the following chapters from the June Cookbook of the Month:

Appetizers, pages 90 - 177
Chilis, Soups, and Stews, pages 122 - 146
Tex Mex Classics, pages 153 - 180

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  1. Fajitas, p. 171 (a variation of Tacos al Carbon, Small Apartment Style, p. 169)

    I don't live in a small apartment these days. I have, so I understand the need for adaptation, but it just doesn't apply to me. I have a backyard, with a nice patio and several grills. So forgive me for not following the cooking instructions, because fajitas really should be grilled. I did make the marinade as outlined in the recipe. The marinade is lime juice, garlic, cilantro, a jalepeño, cumin, salt, and pepper, all whizzed up in a blender. The recipe instructs you to marinate for 2 to 8 hours. I did two. The lime juice turns the surface of the meat an unappetizing gray color. I'm not a big fan of most marinades, and this one is no exception. They don't do much to tenderize, or flavor the meat. Salt, is really the only seasoning you need to grill flavorful meat. And skirt steak is as flavorful as it gets.

    The end note to the recipe says if you want to grill the meat, "5 minutes per side should do the trick". Should? Skirt steak is pretty thin, so if your grill is really hot, 5 minutes per side will be too much. I'd also like to note for those of you using a skillet: she says you may have to cut your steak in half for it to fit. As if you only have one piece. Skirt steak is thin and comes in long strips. Two pounds, for me, amounted to three strips, each 12-15" long. Plan to cook your meat in batches, if you make a full recipe.

    Finally, a note on cutting the meat. If you use real skirt steak, the grain will run perpendicular to the long side of the steak. If you cut horizontally in thin strips, as pictured in the book, you will be cutting WITH the grain, not across it. What you need to do is cut the long strips of meat horizontally into 3-4" rectangles, then cut each of those, going the other way (across the grain), into thin strips.

    The fajita recipe calls for you to saute onion and bell pepper in oil to serve with the sliced meat. I also did these on the grill, in one of those mesh pans so the pieces wouldn't fall through the grates.

    Well, you can see I had a lot of beefs, no pun intended, with the directions in this recipe. But in the end, making the adjustments I've noted above, my dinner was pretty darn good. I won't use this marinade again, though. I think just salt and pepper gives a better result. Served with corn tortillas (recipe calls for flour), and pico de gallo (p 54) and guacamole (p 50).

    1 Reply
    1. re: MelMM

      MelMM -- after reading this it's obvious to me you're familiar with these foods! (I'm sure now it will also be obvious I've never been to Texas in my life.)

    2. Pastoral Tacos (from the website)

      This is a pork taco -- I marinated a small shoulder roast overnight rather than use cutlets. Then gave it 9 hours in the slow cooker. The marinade uses pineapple juice, white vinegar, *smoked paprika*, (sound familiar?) and red and black pepper. Pictured are a few slices, I'll slice 'em smaller when they go into the tacos.

      The pineapple salsa I'd call piquant -- small diced pineapple, shallot, cilantro, jalapeno (I used milder green chiles) and fresh lime juice. Great stuff, wonderful with the meat! Tonight I won't be afraid to enclose these two inside a warm little corn tortilla and eat up / chow down.

      4 Replies
      1. re: blue room

        Well done, blue room; I love tacos al pastor!
        What is that I see, do you have Aubrey Beardley kitchen tiles?

        1. re: L.Nightshade

          All manner of story related tiles -- I couldn't do expensive kitchen so I did whimsical.

          I don't think I've ever had anything in a taco but ground beef!

          1. re: blue room

            What fun! I love that princess and the pea picture. Looks like Arthur Rackham? Very cool tiles; I've never seen any like that,

            1. re: blue room

              Oh, you need to try fish tacos! They are more southern California, not Texan, but they are fantastic.

        2. Chorizo Empanadas - p. 95

          I got an early start on this book because I'll be traveling for the second half of the month. I honestly can't remember having empanadas when I lived in Texas other than from the precious care package that came from my college boyfriend's roommate's mother, so I was curious about this recipe. I was also a bit anxious to make these for a party that a friend from Argentina would be at. She refuses to eat the Chilean empanadas that are occasionally delivered for work functions here, so I had no idea what she would think of these. I needn't have feared because these were a huge hit and a week or two later, my friend borrowed the recipe to make them for a picnic.

          It's much easier for me to find the ingredients to make chorizo here than it is to find Mexican chorizo, so I used the recipe for chorizo that's in the book. I used the full jalapeno (with seeds as I'm always too lazy to remove) and the chorizo and the spiciness was right on the line for my more spice-averse guests (which did not stop a group of 6 from devouring all but 2 of the empanadas).

          The crust is a mixture of cream cheese, butter, flour, and salt that comes together very easily and rolls out quite nicely. Her directions make it sound like you should roll out all of the dough at once. I have no idea who has the counter space and the patience to do that, but I certainly don't, so I broke off pieces to roll it out. To cut it into 5" rounds, I used a bowl as a cutter.

          The filling is made of crumbled cooked chorizo (if you make your own, you don't even have to worry about removing it from the casing) mixed with grated Monterey Jack, sliced black olives, garlic, diced jalapeno, cilantro, and cumin. She calls for 2 tsp of filling in the middle of each empanada. I think I was closer to a tbsp for each of mine. After putting the filling in, fold the dough over and crimp the edges with a fork. The empanadas are brushed with an egg-milk wash. She calls for topping them with sesame seeds, but I omitted those as it just seemed odd to me. They're baked at 375 for 25 minutes or until browned.

          I had a bit of filling leftover and that got saved and mixed (along with some leftover jalapeno filling) into some scrambled eggs for breakfast tacos the next morning which I highly recommend.

          12 Replies
          1. re: TxnInMtl

            This sounds like something I'd like to try, but I'm just not a big fan of chorizo. Do you think this would work with chicken?

            1. re: Blythe spirit

              Most of the flavor comes from the chorizo, so if it's the pork you're trying to avoid, you might make her chorizo recipe using chicken or turkey instead. You might also try her green chorizo recipe. I haven't made it yet, but it looks interesting in different. If you don't want to go that route, I think you still might want some more flavoring for the chicken. An ancho sauce would be closer to the original, but I'd be tempted to try cooking the chicken with a salsa verde.

              1. re: TxnInMtl

                Those are some great suggestions; thanks TxnInMtl. I actually like pork - just tend tofindChorizo heavy and not to my liking. If I'm going to indulge and eat pork then the flavor has to be great or it's not worth the calories :-). I did take a closer look at the recipe for homemade Mexican Chorizo and am thinking I should give it a chance, as it might be different from the Spanish Chorizo. Your suggestions sounded good too -especially the chicken with ancho sauce idea.

                1. re: Blythe spirit

                  If you have a Trader Joes in your area, they make a very tasty soy chorizo.

                  1. re: LulusMom

                    LLM, thank you for steering me toward this product - I tried it today and it's delicious! I was very skeptical and was pleasantly surprised.

                    1. re: Blythe spirit

                      So glad you liked it! I was skeptical too at first, but it is pretty darned tasty. We make a pasta with it and olives that is killer.

                  2. re: Blythe spirit

                    If you've only had Spanish chorizo, it might be worth trying the Mexican chorizo once as they are quite different (and in this preparation, you'll be eating more crust than meat).

              2. re: TxnInMtl

                Chorizo Empanadas – p. 95

                We enjoyed these although I did find the filling to be drier than that in other empanadas I’ve made or purchased in the past. As TxnMtl notes, the chorizo really shines in this dish so its important to use a good quality, well-seasoned sausage. Since TxnMtl did such a terrific and thorough job explaining how this comes together above, I’ll just build on her feedback:

                • I used 3/4lb of chorizo to fill my pastry shells and I still had some of the filling left over
                • As TxnMtl points out, the recipe suggests 2tsp of filling per empanada. This is simply inadequate. I referred to my other empanada recipes and 2tbsp was the typical amount required for a 5” pastry. Inconsistencies/errors such as this are a theme in this book it seems
                • Instead of rolling out and cutting the dough as LF suggests, I find it much easier to break off golf-ball sized pieces of (refrigerated) dough and roll into a 5” disk when I’m working with cream cheese pastry dough. No cutting required
                • I omitted the cumin. LF seems to call for this in every recipe, whether it’s necessary or traditional or not it seems. In this case, IMHO you wouldn’t even taste ¼ tsp of cumin with 1 lb of well-seasoned chorizo.

                Good but not great for us. We liked the flavour and always enjoy the flaky crust produced by a cream cheese pastry but it the filling was a bit dry for us. I ended up making an avocado lime cream sauce for dipping the following day when I served these again and this definitely helped.

                1. re: Breadcrumbs

                  Ha -- these are planned for tonight -- I made homemade chorizo yesterday!
                  I agree about the book -- I don't mind if it isn't "authentic" -- it is, after all, her own remembered cuisine. But physical problems like way too little filling in a crust are telling.

                  1. re: Breadcrumbs

                    I'm sorry to hear that! I've made these twice and a friend of mine has made them as well without having any issues with dryness. I wonder if her chorizo recipe is bit moister than store-bought? Your empanadas do look lovely though even if they ended up a bit dry.

                    1. re: TxnInMtl

                      That may very well be the case TxninMtl. I purchased my chorizo from a Mexican butcher who makes his own. It's outstanding but one of the reasons we like it is that it isn't very fatty and the grind is chunkier than typical store-bought chorizo.

                  2. re: TxnInMtl

                    Chorizo Empanadas -- from the website


                    We enjoyed these very much -- Mr. blue room especially, I'd have to say.

                    I usually buy chorizo from Colosimo's, a Utah sausage company since the 1920s. The chorizo I made was darn close! I made sure the mix was moist (just add water!) because Breadcrumbs mentioned dryness. I also left out the cinnamon, always sorry when I put cinnamon in meat dishes. We aren't big fans of heat (wimps!) so I kept it pretty mild.

                    The crust was so simple, literally 3 ingredients. Salted butter, cream cheese, flour and you're done.

                    (I've never been happy with the yellow of egg wash on pastry -- I like a nice dull matte finish.

                    It made a lot -- good thing we like them. Here's the 1st batch right out of the oven hot on the parchment--

                  3. Queso Cookies - p. 97

                    Queso is one of my favorite things and I am forever sad that it is impossible to find queso in restaurants up here. Every restaurants serves horribly overloaded nachos that just result in sad, soggy chips, but not a single one has queso which preserves the integrity of the chip while giving you delicious melted cheese. The problem with serving queso at parties though, especially non-Velveeta queso, is it requires some babysitting (or a fondue pot) to keep it nicely liquid. These little cookies give you the flavor of queso without the difficulty of keeping it warm. They went over well with my guests, although they were upstaged by the empanadas. These are much less work than the empanadas though. The cookie name also seemed to confuse some people. These are not sweet at all.

                    I went ahead and made these in my stand mixer to make mixing the butter easier. To make, all of the ingredients (butter, cheese, flour, diced jalapeno, salt, cayenne, and cumin) are mixed together until they form a ball. The inclusion of cumin is a bit odd to me and I might be tempted to leave that out in the future. Marble sized pinches of the dough are then broken off and pressed on to a baking sheet. The cookies cook at 350 for 20 minutes and you're done.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: TxnInMtl

                      Yum! Note to self--skip the cumin in all of the recipes! HA!


                    2. Chorizo-Stuffed Jalapenos - p. 111

                      Growing up in Texas, I always thought of myself as residing on the milder end of the spice spectrum. Living in Montreal, I am closer to the high heat end. I thought the cream cheese in this dish did an excellent job of cutting the heat. However, when I served this, one of my friends made a face that looked like I was trying to kill her. Another friend refused to even try these because the empanadas were already at the upper end of her spice tolerance. The filling is great (leftovers are fantastic for breakfast tacos) and I think it would work well in a mild pepper instead of jalapenos if you or your guests aren't quite up for a jalapeno.

                      To make, cut jalapenos in half and scoop out the seeds and pith. Fill with a mixture of cooked Mexican chorizo (I used the recipe from the book), cream cheese, goat cheese, chopped cilantro, dried oregano, cumin, minced garlic, cayenne, and lime zest. She calls for 2 tsp per jalapeno half, but ours were too small for that. Broil until brown and bubbling. I think ours took a bit longer than 8 - 10 minutes.