Mostly about food, this blog is just a place for me to throw things that are of interest to me. I appreciate you taking the time to stop by an look around. This represents just some of the stops on the various pathways that this amateur home cook finds himself.

You may find that these foods tend toward protein and away from carbohydrates - this is due to diabetic issues, so I try to only sparingly use carbs, and good ones at that. Of course, sometimes I forget....

Feel free to drop me a line with any suggestions or just to let me know what you think. Thanks!

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I want to thank you for the time that you spend here, and hope that you can find useful things here.


Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Contrary to some beliefs, barbacoa (bar-bah-COE-ah) is not Spanish for barbecue. Fairly well-known in South Texas and along the Mexican border, it remains either unknown or poorly-copied in most other areas of the country. After telling you the old way of preparing it, I'll show you a much simpler way that is every bit as good but much less work.

Traditional barbacoa de cabeza is made form a whole cow's head, which may be more of a challenge than most people want to take on! The head is then cleaned, eyes, ears and tongue removed, and then sprinkled liberally with salt and pepper. Then it is combined with chopped onions, garlic and maybe cilantro, wrapped in a burlap sack, then wrapped well in maguey leaves. A large hole in the ground is dig, and a large hardwood fire built in in. Once that is reduced to coals, the wrapped head is placed in it and covered with more leaves, dirt, and more coals. Then the whole thing is buried under more dirt and left alone all day, or even over night. The next day, you dig it up, and shred off all the meat you can. Quite a large production, but there is a simpler yet just as tasty method.

Barbacoa isn't just braised or baked beef, and it isn't pot roast made from a cow's head. What really gives barbacoa it's unique taste and texture is the quality of the fat and connective tissue that is unique to that part of the animal. Around here, you can generally buy barbacoa two ways - regular or all meat. The only difference is that the all meat barbacoa does not contain all the little glands and other parts which come from the head, it is only the meat itself. Call me a wuss, but I go the all-meat route. Unfortunately, many places serve 'barbacoa' made from all different parts of the cow - I've even heard of it being made from chuck roast or even bottom round and brisket! That's a shame, because the best and easiest way to make it only takes a little effort to locate just the right ingredient.
Above is a shot of two cryovac bags of cheek meat, about 3.5 lbs. each. Most of the good solid meat from the head comes from the cheek muscles, which obviously get a lot of exercise, as cows spend most of their lives eating. It's meat, just like a roast is meat, so there's no need to be squeamish about it. Ask your butcher, or in supermarkets that serve an Hispanic population, and you can find beef cheeks for sale fairly reasonably - these I picked up for $2.39/lb. Now I have to warn you, it doesn't look like a roast or steak might - it's pretty ugly stuff. But you can easily see that the fat and other tissue looks different that you are used to seeing, and that is what gives real barbacoa that special taste and mouth-feel. Nothing else will do, because like I said before, we aren't making pot roast here.
Preparation is simplicity. For each couple of lbs of meat you chop up one whole large onion, and add a rounded teaspoon of minced garlic. The recipe is scale-able for whatever amount of meat you use. Here I have used three very large onions, tossed in the garlic, and am sauteing it for a bit in some vegetable oil.
Once the onions are a bit translucent, in goes the meat. Some people say to remove the silver skin, hard fat and other things before cooking, but I find it much easier afterward. Water is added to almost cover, the pot is brought to a boil and then reduced to a simmer. Then the waiting game begins. This batch cooked for about 6 hours, or until the internal temperature in the thickest part of the meat reached about 200 degrees. You'll need to check occasionally to keep the liquid level up.
Once the meat is falling apart, you remove it from the cooking liquid. Reserve the liquid and strain out the vegetables.
Once it cools, you can shred the meat off of the remaining connective tissue, silver skin and other non-edibles. Nothing works better for this than hands; be prepared to spend a little time here so you don't miss any of the good stuff. Once shredded, the barbacoa will have a tendency to dry out rather quickly. I put the reserved strained liquid back in the pot, and add the meat back in. This will keep it tasty and moist, and you can serve it by straining or squeezing it out.
Barbacoa is a dish with a light and unique taste this can be lost if served among a lot of other flavors, like in enchiladas or other heavy sauces or salsas. Not that it wouldn't be good, but you'd miss some of the flavor nuances. Now on to the tortillas.
Since often corn tortillas can be rather delicate if just heated in a microwave, I give them a quick dip for just a few seconds in hot oil before serving. Just wait for the small bubbles in the tortilla and pull it out of the grease.
You don't want them crispy, but it gives them some firmness and keeps the tacos from falling apart. If you hear crunching when you fold them in half to drain, they might be overcooked. Just make sure and drain them well on paper towels.

In it's most traditional form, it is served on corn tortillas and topped with salt and pepper and sliced onions and chopped fresh cilantro leaves, then finished with a drizzle of lime juice. Sometimes, a simple fresh Pico de Gallo goes well. The meat is the focus, and all the waiting proves very worthwhile from the first bite. Here is a shot of the finished dish, prepared and served in the traditional style.
Barbacoa freezes very well, so preparing a large batch and saving some in vacuum sealed bags works well for always having it on hand when you want some! Here is 3 lbs. of today's batch headed for the freezer.
Oh, and that juice you reserved? Drizzle some of that on your dog's dinner and see how much he loves it!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Folding Food - Burritos and Chimichangas

Sometimes it's difficult to roll or fold chimichangas or burritos so that the filling doesn't leak out when heated or fried. Here's a little photo essay on the way I do it - works every time!

Lay out your large burrito-sized tortilla after warming it up in the microwave to make it soft and pliable. You want it fairly warm, but not cooked. Place your filling across it sideways, leaving an inch and a half or two at each end. Make sure you don't fill it too much. Here you see a layer of cheese going on first.I then added the rest of the filling. in this case, it is for "Quick and Cheesy Chimichangas." After filling, fold the sides as in the picture below. Notice below how the tortilla is folded tight to follow the contour of the filling - this is important to keep the ends from sticking out.
While holding the sides down, fold the bottom flap up and tightly over the filling as in the picture below. You are doing this to make sure there aren't any air pockets inside by keeping the tortilla right against the filling.
Next, fold the body of the food over and on top of the remaining flap on top. This is the best way to keep it from trying to unfold. Give it a couple of presses with your fingers to help set the shape.
Turn the beast over. if the outside flap (rounded edge) is too long and sticks out, you can tuck it under as I did in the picture below. Then pin the flap with toothpicks as shown to keep it from unfolding while cooking.
If frying chimichangas, I always do the toothpick side down first, to hold the set better. Here's some chimichangas I did this way and you can see how nice they held their form, even after toothpicks are removed.

Quick and Cheesy Chimichangas

Hungry and Tired - a combination that usually results in crappy fast food or blah food at home. After coming home form a weekend of camping and a long drive, I just wasn't up for a big production number in making a meal. So I came up with these - they are fast, tasty and simple. This recipe makes about 6 chimichangas

1 lb ground lean beef
1/2 onion
salt, pepper, garlic powder and chile powder to taste
1 jalapeno, minced (OPTIONAL)
shredded cheddar cheese
4 large burrito-sized flour tortillas (11-12")
oil for frying
sour cream, minced cilantro and chili powder for garnish

and last but not least -

1 can Ranch Style Beans


Chop up the onion and reserve. Brown the ground beef, seasoning to taste as you are cooking it. Mix in the can of Ranch Style Beans, heat thoroughly. When completely heated, add the onions and mix well. You don't want them to get soft and disappear, you still want a little crunch to them.
Heat a skillet of oil on the stove top to 350 degrees. There should be ebough oil to come halfway up the side of the chimichanga, about 3/4" to an inch. Warm the tortillas in the microwave so they are soft and pliable. Put a nice layer of cheese sideways across the tortilla.
Next, cover the cheese with the meat and bean mixture. For a quick tutorial on folding chimichangas and burritos so they don't leak, see my blog post, "Folding Food - Burritos and Chimichangas". Once all the chimis are made up, it's time to get frying.

This won't take too long, 1-2 minutes per side. Do the toothpick side first, so that it willl stay closed. then when that side is fried to a nice golden brown, turn it over using tongs so as not to splash the hot oil. Fry the second side, remove from oil and drain. Repeat for remaining chimichangas.

Serve hot with choice of toppings & garnish. In this picture, I used sour cream, minced cilantro and sprinkled ground cayenne pepper.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

My Big Chops

Sometimes nothing will do like a big fat smoked chop, hand cut from the big end of the loin. Well, today was the day. Here are 4 likely victims, between 1 1/2" and 2" thick. Seasoned with fresh ground salt and cracked pepper. Ready for the smoker:

Fresh out of the smoker. There's no way I can tell you how good these smelled. They deserved a special veggie side to go with them.

Here's a close-up of one of the chops - that was such a pretty color!

Served on a bed of sauteed veggies - Texas sweet onions, red, orange and yellow bell peppers, and sliced Crimini mushrooms. A really tasty treat.

Here's an inside view. There is the slightest smoke ring there, hard to see. Very tasty and juicy.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Torta Milenesa

Here's my take on a popular food found throughout Latin America, the torta (sandwich). Put that together with a good milanesa, and that's some great eating!

4 fresh telera rolls (or you can use sub, Cuban or hoagie rolls)
4 thin sandwich steaks, well marbled or tenderized, sized to fit rolls
1-1/2 cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs
vegetable oil (for frying)
1/4 lb fresh chorizo sausage, ground fine
1 can refried beans
4 oz. sour cream
4 ounces queso asadero (queso oaxaca) , can use Fontina or Monterrey Jack
8 thin red onion, sliced into thin rings
2 Roma tomato, sliced thin
fresh cilantro
1 avocado, sliced thin
shredded lettuce


  • Break eggs into a shallow pan for coating steaks.
  • Put breadcrumbs in a shallow dish for breading steaks.
  • Slice 8 very thin slices of red onion and set aside in refrigerator.
  • Slice 16 thin slices from the Roma tomatoes and set aside in refrigerator.
  • Slice the cheese into 4 slices and set aside in refrigerator.
  • Peel avocado, cut into thin slices. Set aside and sprinkle with lime juice to keep from browning. Set avocado aside in refrigerator.
  • Shred lettuce for 4 sandwiches and set aside in refrigerator.
  • Chop ½ cup of fresh cilantro and set aside in refrigerator.

Heat oven to 225 degrees.
In a small skillet, cook the chorizo until done, 5 or 6 minutes. Drain grease and set skillet in warm oven for later. Heat refried beans over low heat or in double boiler and keep warm on stove. Slice the rolls in half sandwich style, scoop out excess bread inside and place on sheet in oven to warm. Dip the steaks in egg bath, then coat in breadcrumbs and set aside.

Heat 1/4 inch oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Fry the steaks two at a time until golden brown, turn and repeat for other side. Put them on a plate to drain, top with the sliced cheese. Keep them in a warm oven until you build your sandwiches.
For each sandwich bottom half: coat with layer of refried beans and sprinkle the chorizo over it. Place two thin red onion slices on top of the chorizo on each bottom half.

Place cooked steaks over onion slices, top with shredded lettuce, tomato, cilantro and avocado slices. For each sandwich top half, coat with thin layer of sour cream.

Put the tops on the sandwiches and its torta time!

Chilaquiles with Smoked Pulled Pork

A new twist on chilaquiles, made with smoked pork and fresh tomatillo sauce. Often considered a breakfast dish, this version works for lunch or dinner as well.


6 corn tortillas

2 cups smoked pork, shredded

1 cup tomatillo sauce (recipe follows)

6 eggs

1 cup cheese (Queso Chihuahua, Monterrey Jack, or mild cheddar)

1 cup sour cream

¼ cup chopped cilantro

ground cayenne pepper for garnish and flavor


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Prepare tomatillo sauce.
  • Shred cheeses and set aside.
  • Chop cilantro and set aside.
  • Break eggs into bowl and scramble well.
  • Cut tortillas into short strips, ½” wide or so. Fry in hot oil until crisp – do not allow to burn. Drain on paper towels and set aside. Cut the pieces about this big:


Layer fried tortilla strips in bottom of greased 9x9 casserole pan. Layer shredded pork over tortillas, like this:

Tomatillos sauce must not be warm. Combine tomatillo sauce and raw eggs together, and pour sauce over pork. Scatter the cheese over the rest of the ingredients as below:

Cover and bake for 20 minutes to melt cheese and heat thoroughly.

Remove from oven, spread sour cream over top of casserole. Sprinkle top with chopped cilantro, lightly dust with cayenne pepper.

Cut down the middle, cut each half into thirds and serve. Serves six.


3/4 lb tomatillos

1 jalapeno pepper, diced

4 garlic cloves

½ onion, chopped fine
2 oz. heavy cream
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, minced

Salt and pepper to taste

Remove tomatillo husks. Place tomatillos in saucepan with water to cover halfway. Add garlic and jalapeno. Boil until tomatillos are soft, about 10 minutes. Drain. Transfer tomatillos, jalapeno and garlic to blender, add cilantro and cream. Blend to puree.

Taste sauce for salt and pepper, adjust as desired. Set aside to cool.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Insalata Caprese

Insalata Caprese ("salad in the Capri style" in Italian) is a nice fresh treat and a change from everyday meals. Made properly, it is light and refreshing and actually quite filling. You really need the proper ingredients, or it will never have the tryly fresh taste that is it's essence.

1/2 lb fresh mozzarella cheese
2 medium tomatoes, slice 1/4 " thick (very fresh or vine-ripened)
12 fresh basil leaves
coarse salt
fresh ground pepper
extra virgin olive oil (best you can afford)

2 T drained capers
2 oz. prosciutto

Overlap slices of mozzarella and tomato in a circular pattern around your plate. If adding prosciutto, include that in your pattern. I also included whole basil leaves as well in the pattern as well, although traditionally, they are torn up and scattered on top. If using capers, scatter them evenly across the salad.

Add the salt and freshly-ground pepper. Just before serving, drizzle the olive oil over the salad. Always do this last, as you don't want it just sitting in oil. Serve with torn fresh artisan bread.

Let's talk about the mozzarella. You just can't use the regular store-bought square block of cheese. Fresh mozzarella most commonly sold in a liquid, either salt water or whey. Sometimes it is shrink-wrapped, almost always it is in the form of white balls. The taste, texture and consistency of fresh is so very removed from the regular store bought stuff. If you can't find fresh mozzarella, skip making the dish. Looks like this:

Friday, March 13, 2009

Lamb Chops - Mmmmm

Never done Lamb chops on a smoker before, and I was given these beauties by my father, so I figured "What the heck"? I drizzled them with olive oil, applied some kosher salt, cracked pepper and powdered garlic, and let them rest on the counter. Some animals you just have to open and let 'breathe'.

TIme and hunger dictated that they end up being grilled for a quick finish. Below is the final result. You can see the nice color from the light smoke and the grill marks from the finish. Unfortunately, Hunger won out, so there are no pics of the sliced lamb, but it was hot, rare, juicy and tasty! Here you see it served with two sides; a nice rice pilaf wearing parsley and Crimini mushrooms broiled in butter and topped with Parmesan cheese.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Smoked Pork Chili Relleno Chimichangas

A new combination of two old favorites, Chilis Rellenos and Chimichangas. Add some smoked pork butt to the mix, and the combination of flavors and textures comes out really nice!

2 T vegetable oil
1 medium onion, diced
16 oz. mushrooms, sliced (I used Crimini)
1 carrot, diced fine
1 lg or 2 small jalapenos, minced
1 orange (or red or yellow) bell pepper, diced small
8 oz. smoked pork butt, chopped fine or pulled
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
4 4 oz. cans whole peeled Hatch chiles
6 oz. cheddar cheese, shredded
6 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
6 12" flour tortillas
oil for frying

In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Prepare all your vegetables as indicated above. Remove chiles from cans, reserving all liquid.
Above: peppers, diced onions and big ol' flour tortillas.

Below: sliced mushrooms, diced carrots, minced jalapenos and diced orange bell pepper.
Put onions and mushrooms in skillet, stirring occasionally and sweating until mushrooms reduce and onions are translucent.
Add pork and the rest of the vegetables to the skillet. Mix well to incorporate, then add reserved pepper juice. Salt and pepper to taste.
Turn off heat and allow filling mixture to cool. Prepare shredded cheese. Slice peppers down one edge and open them up as shown below.
Heat tortillas until soft and pliable. Layer your cheeses down the middle as shown below.
Lay out the chiles flat over the cheese and add the filling on top of the peppers. Keep the filling in a line down the center to make it easier to fold and roll.
Begin the 'burrito fold' as shown below. Fold one long side over, then tuck the ends in.
Now roll the entire folded chimichanga over on top of the remaining flap as shown below. Repeat for remaining tortillas. This does take practice, so don't give up!
Refrigerate chimichangas to set up filling and shape. When chilled sufficiently, remove from refrigerator and secure tight with toothpicks. Before frying run them through the microwave for 45 to 60 seconds to warm the insides back up.

Fry the chimichangas to complete the preparation.

Fill with enough oil to fill it a bit over halfway up the sides of the burritos. Heat oilto 360 degrees. Fry until golden brown, then turn over and fry other side.

Fill deep fryer with oil to proper level. Heat oil to 360 degrees. Put chimichangas in basket and lower into oil, frying to a golden brown.

Remove from oil, remove and discard toothpicks, and drain over paper towels. Serve warm with toppings of choice. Even with the two jalapenos, it is not a particularly spicy dish. you can vary the type and number of peppers to suit your 'heat tolerance'. And this is what all this work brings you, served with sour cream, salsa and dried cilantro:

Saturday, March 7, 2009


Time for another Tex-Mex treat, only this time it's for breakfast (usually). Migas (mee-gahs -"crumbs" in Spanish) is prepared many different ways with differing ingredients, and mine are probably never the same twice. But it's a rich mixture of textures and flavors, and any decent plate of migas is always a treat. It seems that migas always contains eggs and corn tortilla strips - everything else is flexible.

I can't stress how important the practice of mise en place is in efficient cooking. A good discussion of it can be found about 1/3 of the way down the page here. In all but the simplest dishes, it makes cooking much easier and more stress-free, especially if things have to go fast at times. What is it? It is the of practice of gathering and preparing all your ingredients, tools and utensils ahead of time.

Anyway, here are the fresh ingredients for the migas I made this morning for breakfast. Large plate, clockwise from top: minced jalapeno, diced tomato, bell pepper, onion and red and yellow bell pepper. Also showm are shredded cheese, 6 eggs, pre-fried bacon and chopped sausage, fried strips of red corn tortillas, and in the center - cilantro.
Start off by sauteeing the various peppers and onions until they just start to soften. It should only take a few minutes and a little bit of oil.Next, I added in the bacon and sausage. Keep cooking until it is all well-heated. While this is happening, break and scramble the eggs. Save the tomatoes for later.

We're going to move fast now, so it's good to have everything ready to go. Add in the eggs, mixing to incorporate.Now as the eggs are starting to cook, stir in the tortilla strips and incorporate. Just before the eggs have completely set, stir in the tomatos. Adding them at the end will preserve the color, testure and taste of them as opposed to tossing them in at the beginning. A nice fresh touch.

Keep a close eye on the food; be ready to plate at any time. The one thing you don't want to do is overcook the eggs, as most people always do. Remember, they will keep cooking a bit after pulling form the pan, so leave them a bit soft.

Plate up the migas, salt and pepper to taste, and add the cheese right away if you are using it. Here I topped the whole thing with torn cilantro leaves and Búfalo hot sauce. Serve immediately. Prepare for appreciative comments.