Shanita’s Arroz Verde con Puerco

One of the first things I did when we got back to Austin after the New Year was email Shanita with an order for two jars of Hal’s Hot Love!  The fridge was near-empty, and so I subsequently made a run to Wheatsville to stock up on all the basics (for us: coffee, butter, eggs, and grits!).  I noticed some moderately priced, pre-sliced pork, so I grabbed a portion, having no idea what I would do with it.  I’m not really a big pork eater; I don’t really enjoy pork chops or ham–just bacon!

When Shanita dropped off our salsita order, we started talking about recipes, and she suggested I use some Hal’s to spice up the rice I was considering cooking.  Thus a brilliant idea was born–I will be having Shanita’s Arroz Verde regularly!  I decided to throw the quickly pan-cooked pork in there, along with some sliced green bell pepper and a garnish of homegrown jalapeños.  So easy! This one was a surefire, spicy winner.

2 cups white rice
1 Tbsp butter
1 lb. sliced pork (I used boneless chops)
1/2 green bell pepper, sliced lengthwise
1/2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup cream
1/2 cup Hal’s Hot Love jalapeño and roasted garlic salsa
1 raw jalapeño, finely sliced

1. Combine rice, a dash of salt, and about 4 cups of water in a medium stock pot and bring to a boil. Stir; reduce heat to simmer and cover. Cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, and adding more water if necessary.

2. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add pork, bell peppers, cumin, and half the black pepper. Sauté until pork is just cooked through (you do not want to see any pink meat), about ten minutes, stirring frequently.

3. Drain rice and return to stock pot. Away from the heat source, drizzle in the cream, salsa, salt, and the rest of the black pepper and mix thoroughly with a large spoon.

4. Spoon portions of rice out into bowls, and top with pork and pepper mixture; garnish with jalapeño slices and serve immediately.

Makes four servings.


Stella’s Frijoles Negros Refritos

Special double shout-out to Shanita in this post! Both for the delicious salsa seen here, and for the motivation to properly cook my own pot of beans!

For the crock pot
1 lb. dried black beans
1 heaping tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chili powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium yellow or white onion, roughly chopped
~1 Tbsp Cholula hot sauce
room temperature water

For the skillet
2 Tbsp bacon fat or lard
2 Tbsp olive oil, halved
1 tsp salt
1 tsp garlic powder
fresh cilantro, for garnish

I didn’t soak these beans. There are varying opinions on this, and most cooks claim that soaking the beans for eight hours or longer will make them easier to digest (e.g. less gassy). I honestly cannot tell the difference, and even the eminent Diana Kennedy, in From My Mexican Kitchen: Techniques and Ingredients, says soaking is generally a waste of time. I leave it up to you.

1. Pour dried beans into a colander in the sink and rinse thoroughly with cool water, removing any stones, debris, or damaged beans.

2. Put the beans into the crock pot, pour in room temperature water just high enough to cover, and turn heat to high. Cook for about one hour, adding more water if necessary.

3. Reduce heat to low. Add all other crock pot ingredients, stir, re-cover, and cook for six to eight hours, stirring occasionally and adding more water as necessary. Try the beans after about four hours to see if they are done. Allow the water to be absorbed in the final couple of hours of cooking time, or drain off excess before continuing. Here you can either freeze, refrigerate, or re-fry the beans (as below).

4. Over medium heat, melt bacon fat or lard in a large, flat skillet. Add olive oil, then stir in beans. Using a potato masher or table fork (I find the latter works much better), smash all of the beans in the pan, stirring in the oil as you go. Add salt and garlic powder, to taste. You can leave your beans chunky, or smash them to a smooth consistency; I prefer the latter.

5. Scoop out beans and serve garnished with cilantro, cheese, and/or sour cream.

You can also freeze or refrigerate refried beans. Try to use them within one week if refrigerated. To reheat, sprinkle with water and microwave; or, re-fry a second time.

Shown here with breakfast tacos and Hal’s Hot Love, a creamy garlic jalapeño from Shanita’s Salsitas.

Beef Enchilada Casserole with Chipotles

1 lb. ground beef
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 large white onion, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 oz. chipotle chiles, finely diced*
1 cup enchilada sauce
4 fresh corn tortillas
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated
sliced black olives, to garnish
sour cream, to taste

1. In a large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat. Add raw beef, breaking it up with your spatula or spoon. Add onions, garlic, salt, pepper, and chipotles, and stir. Cook for approximately 15 minutes, or until beef is thoroughly cooked, stirring frequently.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the enchilada sauce in a separate skillet if you haven’t done so already. Cut the tortillas into strips about one half inch wide, and set aside. Preheat oven to 350° F, and grease a medium casserole pan with a little olive oil (I use a 1.5 quart Pyrex dish).

3. Once the meat is evenly cooked, turn off your burner. Spoon out about one third of the meat directly into the casserole dish. Add a light layer of enchilada sauce, and top with one third of the tortilla strips, criss-crossing them on top of the sauce. Repeat two more times, to use up all of the meat and tortillas. Pour any remaining sauce over the top. Bake at 350° for approximately 25 minutes.

4. Carefully remove the casserole from the oven and place on the stove top. Add the grated cheese to the top in an even layer, and return to the oven for approximately 5 minutes, or until the cheese has melted.

5. Remove the casserole from the oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Plate each serving using a large, flat spatula, trying to keep the shape of the casserole as you ease each piece onto a plate (it’s tricky!). Top with black olives and sour cream, and serve.

This casserole will also keep very well in the fridge for 3-4 days, and makes a rich, hearty meal of leftovers on a weeknight.

*For these, I used the regular old chipotles-in-adobo in a small can (3.5 oz.). If you have fresh chipotles on hand, even better. Also, note: adjust the proportion of chipotles for desired spiciness. Using about half a small can results in a nicely spicy, but not hot, casserole. Use less if you just want a little kick; throw in the whole can if you’re brave like my mom and really enjoy a strong chile flavor.

Travis High Tamales

I was recently on the hunt for some fresh, locally-made tamales (’tis the season!), and a friend got me in touch with the fine folks at the Travis High School Culinary Arts Institute. Last year, Relish Austin‘s Addie Broyles covered the students’ tamalada for the Austin-American Statesman; read her excellent piece here.

For the past two years, culinary arts instructor Rob McDonald has invited parents to help students in his three classes to put on a weeklong tamalada, a tamal-making party that features an assembly line of people helping prepare the Christmas tradition popular in many Latin American countries.

Last week, we picked up six dozen (you read that right) tamales, sampling all three of Travis High’s 2011 flavors: traditional pork, chicken (pictured), and queso and jalapeño. And these are some tasty tamales! The medium to large and generously filled husks, stuffed with well-seasoned meat (or cheese and spicy chiles!) rolled in expertly executed, velvety masa are probably my favorite comestible way to get into the holiday spirit.* Though I come from an pretty exclusively Anglo family in East Texas, my great-grandmother Tollie used to make a huge batch of tamales every Christmas, and one of my aunts carries on the tradition. Maybe the fact that Granny grew up in Arizona had something to do with it…?

Every year I mean to try my hand at making tamales (thanks to ye olde job, I can’t make it back to East Texas in time to learn firsthand from family); I even have a tamale pot that my stepmom gave me a few years back! Maybe someday… Anyway, it’s an all-day (or, even, all-weekend) job, and I’m grateful that the culinary students at Travis High have done my work for me. And don’t forget that tamales freeze well, so there’s no reason not to buy several dozen at a time!

Unfortunately the Travis High tamales are all gone for this year, but they will be selling to the public again in February, when the students will be creating chocolate covered strawberries. These treats will be available by the whole and half dozen, and the students will also be selling pretzels – all to support this amazing program for aspiring culinary professionals. The Institute will be taking orders from February 1st through 14th, with pickup on the 13th and 14th, just in time for Valentine’s Day!

Before winding up, I have to note that, of course, no plate of tamales would be complete without Shanita’s Salsita’s award-winning roasted jalapeño and garlic salsa, Hal’s Hot Love.** Shanita’s is having a couple of open house salsita tasting parties this month, on Sunday, December 18, and again on Sunday, December 18. For details, contact Shanita through her web site. You won’t be sorry!

Institute of Hospitality and Culinary Arts
William B. Travis High School

Contact them here.

*Latkes are gaining. Fried foods with sour cream are my madeleine.

**Hal’s is my kryptonite.

Review: Enchiladas Y Mas

Enchiladas Y Mas is one of those places that often pops up in Austinites’ conversations about “the best enchiladas,” followed quickly by jokes about “y mas” and then, if you’re really unlucky, Bed, Bath, and Beyoooooond.  But I digress.

This is going to be a comparatively short review.

I have only been to Enchiladas Y Mas twice.  The first time, in 2008 or 2009, I was vegan.  I met a friend there, and he ordered a huge, cheesy, greasy plate of enchiladas.  I had nachos.  Without cheese.  Or meat, obviously.  Or sour cream (God, have I mentioned how much I love sour cream?  I can literally eat it with a spoon!).

But this time I was determine to do it right.

I couldn’t resist ordering the straight-up Tex-Mex cheese enchilada plate; that’s “Enchiladas con queso” on the menu, and comes topped with chile con carne sauce, chopped onions, and industrial strength yellow cheese.  Just like it should be.  Eric ordered the cheese enchiladas with verde sauce, of which I also snuck a sample.  Since I didn’t eat anything but chips and salsa (standard, just right) and enchiladas, that’s all I am qualified to comment on, but damn if they weren’t tasty!

Although I think Polvo’s is overrated in general, I love their cheese enchiladas with poblana sauce.  On the more Mexican side of Tex-Mex, I enjoy the passable (and cheap!) plates at Janitzio and Taqueria Arandas No. 5.  Though I have a special, nostalgic place in my heart for Anglo Tex-Mex museum El Patio, I think Matt’s El Rancho is pretty terrible (wonderful childhood memories notwithstanding).  And I have no strong feelings one way or the other about Maudie’s, Curra’s, Chuy’s, or many of the other local enchilada standbys.

So I was pleasantly surprised when my classic cheese enchiladas arrived, and they were well-nigh perfect.  Warm, oozing, yellow cheese?  Check.  Slightly spiced, kind of thick, cumin-y sauce?  Check. Generously included, well seasoned, tender beef?  Check.  Tasty corn tortillas nicely rolled and smothered in sauce?  Check.  Nearly-raw chopped onions sprinkled atop?  Check.  Jaw-smacking, flavorful refried beans?  Check.  Slightly dry, well-cooked, seasoned Spanish rice?  Check.  A pool of grease around the edges of the plate?  Check!

I could eat this meal every single day for the rest of my life.  (It might not be a long one, though…)

Eric’s cheese enchiladas with salsa verde and grated white Cheddar were also excellent.  He ate everything on his plate!  (If you know him, you know this means he reallyenjoyed it.)  He was even more delighted by the fact that Enchiladas Y Mas serves ice cold Shiners.

We stopped in on a Friday night.  We were almost put off by the line, and ended up waiting a good fifteen minutes, but it was worth it.  There’s a line for a reason.  We were ushered into a brightly lit table in the large central dining room.  The decor is pretty typical and nondescript.  It’s a bit too bright for my liking, but, on the other hand, I like to see my enchiladas (and take photos of them).  The service was good–attentive but non-intrusive.  There was another fifteen minute wait for the enchiladas, but of course that is a good sign.  Did I mention it was definitely worth the wait?

So the moral of this story is: you probably won’t be able to just pop into Enchiladas Y Mas, especially at a busy time like a weekend evening, but you will get a delicious, freshly cooked plate of absolutely delectable enchiladas.  Note that the enchiladas range from $6.25 to $8.00, and rice an beans aren’t included in this price–they are $1.50 extra (for both).  I am not a fan of this kind of pricing, but for less than $10, it was still a deal in my book.

Also, don’t go to Enchiladas Y Mas and order vegan nachos.  You may have to wait a half hour for your dinner, but don’t be stupid and make yourself wait two years to try these cheese enchiladas.  D’oh!

I am still on the lookout for the Ultimate Cheese Enchilada Plate, but, for now, Enchiladas Y Mas is my number one destination.  I don’t want to say they have the best enchiladas in town, because there are about 4,208 other places I haven’t tried yet, but–they’re really, really good.

Enchiladas Y Mas
1911 W. Anderson Lane
Austin, TX 78757