Last-Minute Cinco de Mayo Party at Home: Smoky Beef Brisket Street Tacos

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With Cinco de Mayo only cinco days away, it’s time you started thinking about your party plans. You know, and I know, and all the other sane people on the planet know that every Mexican restaurant from here to Jupiter is going to be jammed packed with people fighting for a table. Even if you were forward-thinking enough to make a reservation, you’re still gonna wait a long time to be seated. Sure it’s fun to go out and celebrate with tequila-guzzling, sombrero-wearing, chips-and-salsa-munching party animals, but doesn’t it sound more fun to have a few friends over for a casual party where you can enjoy good food, good conversation, and still make it to work the next day (btw, Cinco de Mayo falls on a Monday this year, yeesh!)? Below is a quick and easy Cinco de Mayo menu that you can prep the day before, then throw into the crockpot to cook while you bide your time at work waiting for the festivities to begin.

Smoky Beef Brisket Street Tacos

Also known as carne deshebrads, these super easy, super tasty tacos take a couple minutes to prepare, and even less time to vanish. Seriously, beware because they are highly addictive and will be requested by family and friends for every occasion from here on out. Consider yourself warned!  Just don’t forget to marinate the brisket overnight so that it can reach its full flavor potential. (Recipe slightly adapted from Muy Bueno cookbook, by way of my aunt, by way of her daughter-in-law)

Serves 4-8

Tacos

  • 2-4 lbs. beef brisket, fat trimmed (½ lb. per person)
  • 2 oz. brisket marinade, (preferably Claude’s Brisket Marinade Sauce), or 2 tsp. liquid smoke per pound of brisket
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 12 oz. beer (preferably Blue Moon)
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Fresh cracked black pepper to taste
  • 8-16 corn tortilla, warmed (about 2 per person)

Toppings (choose any combination of the following or add your own)

  • 1-2 cups crumbled or shredded Mexican cheese, such as cotija or queso blanco, or another cheese
  • 1 cup Crema Mexicana or sour cream
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro leaves, torn
  • 1-2 cup white onions, diced
  • 1-2 cups fresh tomatoes, diced
  • 2-4 avocados, sliced
  • 3-4 cups shredded cabbage or lettuce
  • 2-3 limes, cut into wedges
  • Lots of pico de gallo/salsa

The night before:

Place all of the taco ingredients (except tortillas) into the baking dish of crockpot or slow cooker, then cover and refrigerate overnight to allow the brisket to marinate.

Chop and prepare all the taco toppings (except for the avocado which will turn brown), cover and refrigerate.

The day of:

Place baking dish in the crockpot and set to cook on LOW for 8-10 hours or HIGH for 4-6 hours.

About 30-mintues before the brisket has finished cooking, slice the avocado and remove the other toppings from the refrigerator. Also, warm the tortillas by stacking 5 of them on top of each other, then wrap in tin foil and place in an oven preheated to 350° for 15-20 minutes (you can warm multiple packets of 5 tortillas at the same.)

Remove the brisket from the crockpot and place on a large serving platter. With two forks, shred the meat and drizzle a couple tablespoons of cooking liquid over top.

Set out toppings and allow guests to build their own tacos.

Sidekicks:

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  • Serve tacos alongside Mexican rice, and guacamole with chips.
  • With this meal you have plenty of wonderful thirst-quenching companions. Serve with Mexican beer such as Pacifico, Modelo, Sol, Dos Equis, Victoria, or Carta Blanca, to name half-a-dozen, and/or a pitcher (or three) of homemade strawberry-watermelon daiquiris.

Guacamole

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Guacamole

  • 3 ripe avocados
  • ½ tomato, seeds removed, diced
  • ¼ white onion, diced
  • 1 small jalapeño, seeds removed, minced
  • the juice of 1 lime
  • 4 sprigs fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
  • 2-3 dashes hot sauce (optional)

Cut the avocados in half and remove pit. Scoop out avocado from the peel, put in a medium bowl. Mash avocado with a fork until slightly smooth with some chunks of avocado left.

Add tomato, onion, jalapeño, and lime juice. Stir until combined, then season with salt & pepper, and a few dashes of hot sauce if you’d like. Serve with tortilla chips.

*If you have a small food processor, you can use it to chop the ½ tomato, ¼ white onion, jalapeño, and lime juice until chunky, then add it to the mashed avocado. Or, for a super quick version, add ½ cup jarred salsa to mashed avocado and mix until combined.

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Guacamole is best served fresh, but if you do refrigerate it, place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of guacamole, the cover the entire bowl with an additional piece of plastic wrap.

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Mexican Rice

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Mexican Rice

Serves 6-8

  • 2 Tbsp. olive or vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 green pepper, finely diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 2 cups dry long-grain white rice
  • 1½ cups spicy tomato juice (2 – 5.5oz cans of V8)
  • 2 cups chicken stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen (thawed) peas
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes, seeds removed
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste
  • chili powder (optional)
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh cilantro, finely chopped

In a large, straight-sided skillet, heat oil until shimmering. Add onion and pepper and sauté until soft and onion begins to become translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook until just fragrant, about 1 minute. Add rice and cook until it begins to toast, about 1-2 minutes.

Add tomato juice and chicken stock and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Once liquid begins to boil, immediately reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, or until rice is soft but not mushy.

Add peas and tomatoes and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Season with salt & pepper and chili powder, if you like it extra spicy.

Transfer to a large serving bowl and sprinkle with cilantro. Serve hot.

*Rice can be made the day before, refrigerated, then quickly reheated in the microwave the day of the party.

Strawberry-Watermelon Daiquiris

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The thing I always hate about making frozen drinks at home is that unless you own a Vitamix (which I desperately want but feel bad about dipping into the Toddler’s college fund to buy), I always end up with huge chunks of unblended ice that clog up my straw. By pre-freezing the watermelon for a few minutes and using frozen strawberries, I’ve found that I can bypass those pesky ice cubes altogether and still get the creamy, frosty effect that you’d get from your favorite Mexican restaurant.

Strawberry-Watermelon Daiquiris

Serves 4

  • 2 cups peeled, seeded, and cubed watermelon
  • 2 cups frozen strawberries
  • ½ cup light rum
  • ¼ cup fresh lime juice
  • ¼ cup triple sec
  • ¼ simple syrup *

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Place watermelon in a bowl and pour rum over top, then freeze for 40-60 minutes. In a blender, add watermelon and remaining ingredients and blend on high until smooth.

Pour into glasses and garnish with a wedge of watermelon.

*To make simple syrup, add 1 cup white sugar and 1 cup water in a sauce pan. Bring water to a boil and stir until sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool. Simple syrup can be stored in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

CHECK BACK FRIDAY FOR A QUICK AND EASY MEXICAN DESSERT YOU CAN SERVE WITH THIS MEAL!
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Dublin Coddle Crockpot Version!

Dublin Coddle Crockpot Version!

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Hey, everybody! I just did a little online research and found out that you can make yesterday’s Dublin Coddle in your crockpot as well, here’s how:

  • 1 lb. bacon strips
  • 8 good-quality port sausages
  • 4 onion, sliced
  • 1 leek, some green tops included, sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 6 starchy potatoes, such as russets, peeled and cut into 2 or 3 large chucks
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • Fresh cracked black pepper

In a large skillet, cook bacon until just starting to crips. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Let cool, then slice in thirds widthwise, set aside.

In the same skillet over medium heat, add the sausages to the bacon fat and cook, turning, for about 15 minutes, until evenly browned. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into thirds, widthwise, set aside.

Also in the same skillet, gently cook the onions for 7-8 minutes, until soft but not colored.

Layer the onions, sausages, and bacon in your crockpot, seasoning each layer with plenty of black pepper. Add the leek, herbs, and garlic, and finish with a layer of potatoes. Season with a little more black pepper, then pour in the stock. cook at high (4 hours) or low setting (8 hours) until done.

Dublin Coddle

Dublin Coddle

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Dublin Coddle is a traditional Irish comfort food that dates back to the seventeenth century. Because practicing Catholics are prohibited from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, it is thought that this dish came about as a way to cook up leftover meat at the end of the week. The first time I tried it was at an Irish Festival in Weston, MO and I was surprised at how flavorful it was for its simple ingredients – onions, potatoes, sausage, and bacon – but wow, I was impressed! Ever since then Dublin Coddle has singlehandedly replaced Chicken Pot Pie as my all-time favorite Irish meal! (Recipe slightly adapted from The Complete Irish Pub Cookbook)

Serves 4-6

  • 1 lb. bacon strips
  • 8 good-quality port sausages
  • 4 onion, sliced
  • 1 leek, some green tops included, sliced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 6 starchy potatoes, such as russets, peeled and cut into 2 or 3 large chucks
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • Fresh cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 300°F. In a large skillet, cook bacon until just starting to crips. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate. Let cool, then slice in thirds widthwise, set aside.

In the same skillet over medium heat, add the sausages to the bacon fat and cook, turning, for about 15 minutes, until evenly browned. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into thirds, widthwise, set aside.

Also in the same skillet, gently cook the onions for 7-8 minutes, until soft but not colored.

Layer the onions, sausages, and bacon in the bottom of an oven/flame proof casserole dish (or Dutch oven) with a lid, seasoning each layer with plenty of black pepper. Add the leek, herbs, and garlic, and finish with a layer of potatoes. Season with a little more black pepper, then pour in the stock.

Cover the casserole dish tightly and bring to a boil on top of the stove. Transfer to the preheated oven and cook for 45 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender.

Sidekicks: Serve with plenty of dark Irish soda bread to mop up the juices and a Guinness.

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Stuff My Kid Eats: Sweet & Sour Molasses Chicken and Rice

Stuff My Kid Eats

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Being natives of the Pacific Northwest, my husband and I both love Asian food, and have been taking our toddler to Japanese and Thai restaurants since she was three weeks old. Meal after meal she’s observed us (with an equal amount of curiosity and amusement) as we use chopsticks to shovel rice and sashimi into our faces. Other than chicken katsu, she hasn’t very adventurous in what she was willing to try. It wasn’t until we took her to her first Chinese restaurant a while back that she really began to show an interest in Asian cuisine. Throughout dinner, she assumed the usual routine: request a peanut butter sandwich, settle for pork fried rice, beg for chopsticks, accidentally poke herself with them, resume fork usage, spill rice over the table and floor. But then, after the meal was over, the waitress brought us our check…and a fortune cookie. This crunchy, individually wrapped treat with a secret message inside was just the thing she needed to turn her into a believer. Now, whenever I set the table with chopsticks, her enthusiasm for dinner increases tenfold. It doesn’t matter what I serve (and we don’t even have to give her a fortune cookie at the end of the meal, either), we just have to be willing to talk about her trip to the Chinese restaurant for the rest of the evening: “Do you remember the restaurant with the fish tank, and the cookie with the paper inside, and the chopsticks, and the tiny glasses, and Mommy’s spicy soup, and the pretty flowers on the table, and Daddy’s funny broccoli, and the, and the, and the…?”

Sweet and Sour Molasses Chicken and Rice

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This is a very loose (and healthy) adaptation of Chinese sweet & sour chicken. My family has been making it for years, and I’m not sure where the recipe came from anymore. I have a second generation photocopy that has some ingredients scribbled out and others written in, there are soy sauce drips across the top, and an entire corner is torn away. I’d love to credit the original author, but without forensic assistance, I don’t believe that would be possible. 

Sweet & Sour Molasses Chicken and Rice

Serves 4

For chicken:

  • 2 Tbsp. low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. molasses
  • 2 Tbsp. sesame oil
  • 4 chicken breasts

For rice:

  • 1 cup dry basmati, jasmine, or other long-grain rice (or brown rice, if you prefer)
  • 1¾ cup water
  • 3 Tbsp. coconut or peanut oil
  • ½ cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. molasses
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ inch fresh ginger root, peeled and minced
  • 4 Tbsp. jalapeños, diced (or mild green chiles, diced)
  • 2 scallions, including green tops, thinly sliced
  • Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 425°F. Lightly mist a baking dish with cooking oil.

In a medium saucepan, bring water to a boil. Add rice and stir for one minute. Reduce temperature to low and simmer, covered for 20 minutes, or until rice is cooked.

With a meat mallet, pound chicken breasts to a ½-inch thickness and prick all over with a fork. Season with salt and pepper, and place in baking dish. In a small bowl, whisk together soy sauce, molasses, and sesame oil until combined. Pour molasses sauce into baking dish with chicken, turning chicken so that it’s fully covered. Bake for 15 minutes, turning chicken half way through. Remove baking dish from oven and carefully pour molasses sauce into a small bowl. Return chicken to oven and increase temperature to broil. Broil for 2-3 minutes or until chicken becomes brown and crispy at the edges. Remove baking dish from oven and let rest 10 minutes before slicing.

Meanwhile, whisk together oil, vinegar, molasses, garlic, ginger, and jalapeños (or chiles) until combined. Once rice has finished cooking, pour vinaigrette into the rice pot and stir until combined. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide rice among 4 plates. Lay 1 breast of sliced chicken on top of rice, and spoon 1-2 Tbsp. molasses sauce over chicken. Garnish with sliced green onions.

Sidekicks: 

  • A plate of steamed broccoli would serve as a quick, easy side dish, and an excellent sponge for the delicious molasses sauce you don’t want to go to waste.
  • Serve with sake; either Junami (rich, medium-bodied), or a sweeter variety.

New Orleans Red Beans & Rice

New Orleans Red Beans & Rice

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Guess what, folks? Fat Tuesday is just a week away (which means Spring is fast upon us), and what better way to close out the winter season of gluttonous eating than with a big bowl of red beans & rice (even if it is the healthy version)! In New Orleans, red beans & rice was traditionally served on Mondays, because that’s when the women of the house would do the weekly washing — a chore that would take all day. Before scrubbing the clothes, they would take the left over ham hock from Sunday night’s dinner, add it to a pot of beans, then set it atop the stove to simmer. Nowadays, we don’t typically wash our clothes by hand, or serve a large ham for dinner on Sunday night, but that doesn’t mean we can’t honor this Southern tradition, especially at the kickoff of Mardi Gras. And not to get too modern on you, but this recipe calls for a crockpot. Gasp! “Laissez les bons temps rouler!” as they say in New Orleans, or “Let the good times roll!” (To adapt this dish for vegetarians, see Vegetarian Modification at the end of the recipe.)

New Orleans Red Beans & Rice

Serves 4

  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups dried red kidney beans
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 green bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 3 celery ribs, chopped
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. dried sage leaves
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • ¾ tsp. fresh ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp. turmeric
  • ½ tsp. cayenne pepper (see Tips)
  • ¼ tsp. red-pepper flakes (see Tips)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 14 oz. package Andouille sausage, sliced into ½-inch coins
  • 1 ham hock (see Tips)
  • ½ tsp. Kosher salt
  • 3 cups cooked long-grain rice
  • ¼ cup green onions, thinly sliced, for serving

In a crockpot, combine all ingredients up to the ham hock. Stir well, then nestle ham hock into the middle of mixture. Cover and cook on LOW heat for 8 hours or HIGH heat for 4-6 hours.

Find bay leaves and discard. Gently remove ham hock and set aside. Once cool, cut meat away from bone, dice, and mix into beans. Season with salt and pepper, then spoon over top a bowl of cooked long-grain rice. Top with sliced green onions.

Sidekicks:

  • I like my red beans & rice SPICY! so I always have a bottle of Louisiana Hot Sauce on the table, that way I can add as much heat as I want.
  • Because of the aforementioned spice, I need something cool to extinguish the fire, and beer does just the trick. Try something crisp and light like a Pale Ale or Lager.
  • If you prefer wine over beer, uncork a bottle of Beaujolais, Shiraz, or Gewürztraminer instead.

Tips:

  • I wait to add the cayenne pepper and red-pepper flakes until after I dish my toddler’s serving. If you don’t like too much heat, omit one or both. Also, in that case, the spicy Andouille sausage can be replaced with a mild smoked sausage.
  • Fresh ham hocks can be purchased at your local butcher, or prepackaged ones can be found in the meat section of most grocery stores with the spiral cut hams.

Vegetarian Modification:

  • Omit the sausage and ham hock
  • Add 1 vegetable bouillon cube to the crockpot
  • Substitute smoked paprika for regular paprika

Soup’er Bowl Food – Cincinnati Style Chili

Soup’er Bowl Foods

With Super Bowl XLVIII quickly approaching, I wanted today’s soup to be something hearty enough to sustain you while you’re cheering for your favorite team. Even if you aren’t a football fan, as I am not, you may likely find yourself either attending or hosting a party this Sunday. With that in mind, I’m dedicating this week’s recipes to dishes that can be enjoyed by Seattle and Denver fans alike. Go Hawks! (My husband made me add that last part.)

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Moving around the country as much as we do, I’ve been able to taste a wide variety of chilies. It seems that everyone has their own unique recipe with a “secret” ingredient they’ve vowed never to share, not even under the threat of torture. I am one of those people. When I was writing this blog, I did a lot of soul searching as to whether or not I wanted to post my chili recipe. There are very few recipes that I don’t share, and this is one. I considered including an abbreviated version, leaving out a few key ingredients, but alas, my conscience got the better of me. So here it is, folks, the full, unadulterated version of my Cincinnati Style Chili.

Cincinnati Style Chili

Serves 8

  • 1½ lbs. ground Beef (20% fat)
    1 lb. ground hot Italian sausage
    1 Tbsp. olive oil
    1 white onion, chopped
    2 green peppers, chopped
    3 celery stalks, chopped
    2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
    1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
    1 6 oz. can pesto/basil tomato paste
    2 bay leaves
    1 can of light beer, preferably a lager
    2 Tbsp. dark molasses
    4 cups homemade beef stock (see recipe in Homemade Stocks)
    2 cans dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
    1 Tbsp. flour
    3 Tbsp. water
    Chili Spice Blend (recipe below)
    Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

In a heavy skillet set over medium-high heat, brown the ground meats in two separate batches. Drain and set aside.

In a large stock pot, sauté onion, peppers, and celery in olive oil until tender, about 8-10 minutes. Add diced tomatoes (breaking apart with hands) and juice, tomato paste, minced garlic, bay leaves, and molasses. Add ¼ cup Chili Spice Blend. Stir and cook until the juices from the tomatoes thicken and become bubbly, about 5-8 minutes.

Add beer and cook until liquid reduces by half, about 3-5 minutes. Stir in beef stock and reserved meat and bring to a boil, then immediately reduce to a simmer. In a separate bowl or shaker cup, mix flour and water to create a “slurry” — you’ll want to whisk or shake the mixture until flour has dissolved and the slurry is smooth with no clumps remaining. Add to chili. Taste and season with salt & pepper and more Chili Spice Blend as needed.

STOVETOP INSTRUCTIONS:
Partially cover and simmer for 6-8 hours, stirring occasionally. 15 minutes before removing from heat, add drained beans and continue to cook.

CROCKPOT INSTRUCTIONS:
Pour chili into crockpot and stir in dried kidney beans, cover, and set on LOW heat for 8 hours.

*This chili is best when made a day ahead, as time in the refrigerator allows the flavors to marry and the chili to thicken.* Pour chili into a storage container and chill, uncovered, until cool. Cover and continue to chill overnight.

Reheat slowly over medium heat, stirring often so that chili doesn’t burn to the bottom of pot. Remove bay leaves. Taste and season with salt & pepper and more Chili Spice Blend if needed.

Chili Spice Blend

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This recipe makes about ¾ cup of seasoning. I use the entire ¾ cup in my chili, but start by adding ¼ cup at a time, then add more as you see fit. 

In a bowl or small jar, mix the following ingredients:

2 Tbsp. each of:
brown sugar
cinnamon
coco powder
cumin

1 Tbsp. each of:
chili powder
dried oregano

1tsp. each of:
allspice
cayenne pepper
coriander
garlic powder

½ tsp. each of:
cardamom
ginger
nutmeg
red-pepper flakes

Sidekicks:

  • You’re gonna want a beer with this chili! Not only is it a Super Bowl tradition, but beer will cut the heat you’re likely feeling after a few bites. Try a German hefeweizen, who’s banana notes pair well with the sweeter spices, or another light beer, such as a lager or pilsner. If you’re not a beer drinker, uncork a bottle of zinfandel instead.
  • Also, cornbread. But not the overly sweet stuff you get from a box-mix. The recipe below is quick and easy, and can hold up against the weight of this chili.

Savory Skillet Cornbread

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The addition of red bell peppers, leeks, and savory spices makes a nice accompaniment to this hearty chili. If you don’t have a cast-iron skillet, use a 9-inch square baking pan. (This recipe has been adapted from Everyday Food)

4 Tbsp. butter
2 cups stone-ground yellow cornmeal
3 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. herbs d’provence (dried rosemary or thyme can be substituted)
2 large eggs
2 cups low-fat buttermilk
½ red bell pepper, diced
½ leek, white and light green parts only, diced
fresh cracked black pepper

Preheat oven to 425°. Put butter, peppers, and leeks in a 9-inch cast-iron skillet; place in oven until butter is melted and peppers and leeks are soft, about 5-8 minutes.

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Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk cornmeal, sugar, baking soda, herbs d’provence, black pepper, and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs and buttermilk.

Carefully remove hot skillet from oven; immediately pour butter, red peppers, and leeks into the buttermilk mixture, and whisk to combine. Using a pastry brush, coat bottom and sides with remaining butter.

Stir cornmeal mixture into buttermilk mixture until just moistened. Scrape batter into hot skillet; bake until golden, about 25 minutes. Let cool at least 10 minutes before slicing and serving.