Still cooking after all these beers: Salsa, Flour Tortillas, Chicken Tacos and Quesadillas

24 Feb

I realize it has been quite some time since I’ve done a cooking post.  A busy schedule, empty pantry, and lack of motivation of late have largely kept me out of the kitchen recently.  A trip to the grocery store this morning changed all that, and thankfully gave me the culinary kick in the pants I needed to get my lazy butt back in the kitchen.  A crisper full of fresh produce almost always leads to salsa.  Salsa goes great with tacos.  A little more cheese and a soft taco becomes a quesadilla.  This is how my brain works.  Let’s dive into some simple Mexican staples that can be thrown together in a matter of minutes from a modest set of ingredients.

Salsa

Fresh salsa is so easy to make and endlessly tweakable – I honestly don’t remember the last time I bought a jar of salsa (and quite frankly can’t help but think it tastes like spaghetti sauce).  Simple restaurante-style salsa takes less than 10 minutes to make and $5 worth of ingredients will net you about a quart.  No joke.

Ingredient rundown:

  • canned diced tomatoes
  • small to medium-sized onion, diced
  • bell peppers (any color, fresh or quickly roasted and diced)
  • jalepeño, minced
  • fresh cilantro, chopped
  • fresh garlic, minced
  • fresh lime juice
  • Seasonings – salt, cumin, garlic powder, dried Mexican oregano, epazote, dried chipotle, chipotle in adobo

How I do it:

  1. Mince 1 small onion, 1 small bell pepper, 1 large clove of garlic, cilantro (more the better), 1 jalepeno, 1 chipotle in adobo (optional).
  2. Throw that stuff in a blender
  3. Add one 1 14oz-ish can of diced tomatoes.
  4. Add a dash of salt, cumin and garlic powder, juice of one lime (I like to throw a pinch each of dried epazote and Mexican oregano for depth of flavor)
  5. Blend until nearly liquefied.
  6. That’s it.

I go this stuff faster than water.  Luckily it’s just as affordable.  A great cheap, healthy and quick snack and condiment to have around.

Flour Tortillas

I’ve actually never made tortillas from scratch, though I had a neighbor in California that would make them for me after school as a child.  A pat of butter and dash of salt made for a simple but decadent snack.  My lack of soft taco-sized tortillas at home and a little curiosity led to a quick search and a simple recipe, courtesy of texascooking.com

Ingredient rundown:

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (they warn against bread flour, but that’s what I had on-hand for pizza dough and it worked just fine for me)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup lukewarm milk (2% is fine)

I ended up making a half recipe, which made enough dough for 4 6-8 inch thick and chewy tortillas.  I also added a dash of garlic powder and a splash of the adobe sauce from the canned chipotles for a little character.

How they do it:

  1. Stir together the flour and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and vegetable oil to the lukewarm milk and whisk briefly to incorporate. Gradually add the milk to the flour, and work the mixture into a dough. It will be sticky.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a surface dusted with flour and knead vigorously for about 2 minutes (fold and press, fold and press). The kneading will take care of the stickiness. Return the dough to the bowl, cover it with a damp cloth, and let it rest for 15 minutes. (This dough will not rise, but it needs a rest.)
  3. Divide your dough into 8 balls of equal size, cover them, and let them rest again for about 20 minutes. Avoid letting them touch, if you don’t want them to stick together.
  4. Dust your work surface with flour. Working one at a time, remove each piece of dough and pat it into a 5-inch circle. With a rolling pin, roll out the tortilla, working from the center out, until you have a 7- or 8-inch tortilla a little less than 1/4 inch thick.
  5. Transfer the tortilla to a hot, dry skillet or griddle (I used a 12-inch cast iron skillet with great results). It will begin to blister. Let it cook for 30 seconds, turn it, and let the other side cook for 30 seconds. Remove the tortilla, place it in a napkin-lined basket and cover with aluminum foil. Repeat for the remaining tortillas.

Chicken Tacos

With the salsa and tortillas knocked out, we’re a few fillings away from some pretty gnarly tacos.  I just bought a boatload of chicken thighs so my protein was settled.  I always like a little contrast from the usual salty-spicy core of tacos so in this case I though some lightly pickled onion and jalepeño would work well.

Ingredient rundown

  • tortillas (see above)
  • boneless chicken (I’m partial to dark meat, breasts will work fine, too)
  • strip of bacon, thinly sliced
  • onion and jalepeño, sliced into thin slivers
  • sweet bell peppers, thinly sliced
  • white vinegar
  • cilantro, chopped
  • salt, pepper, spicy rub (I always have plenty of Penzeys Northwoods Fire on hand)
  • salt and pepper

How I do it:

  1. Thinly slice half a small onion and jalepeño, add chopped cilantro and a healthy splash of vinegar and let soak, stirring often, while you prepare the chicken
  2. Rub chicken with salt, pepper and spicy seasoning blend.
  3. Add sliced bacon to hot skillet to render some fat out before adding seasoned chicken.
  4. Brown chicken for4-5 minutes on each side until lightly crispy and caramelized.
  5. Add sweet peppers during last few minutes to lightly saute.
  6. Remove chicken and slice into bite-sized strips.
  7. Assemble tacos with salsa and optionally, lettuce, sour cream and shredded cheese.

Quesadillas

As I said before, a soft taco is some extra cheese and a hot pan away from being a quesadilla.  (I also make a not-so-secret sauce out of ranch dressing and chili powder that I spread thinly on the tortilla before topping with cheese and other fillings – thanks college roomie Kate for that gem).  I add a scant teaspoon of vegetable oil to a skillet over medium heat and cook for a few minutes on each side until golden brown and flaky-crispy.  The thick homemade tortillas really crisped up nicely into borderline gordita territory.  It’s good to be back.


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26 Responses to “Still cooking after all these beers: Salsa, Flour Tortillas, Chicken Tacos and Quesadillas”

  1. mat February 24, 2010 at 9:16 AM #

    Hey great post!

    I live in Mexico now and have always found “American Style” Mexican food to be tastier than the real Mexican cuisine! Great easy recipe for salsa, I’ll try that. Thanks for some grest recipes.

  2. livethegreenlife February 24, 2010 at 9:37 AM #

    I make my own flour tortillas all the time! They are so much better than store bought. I make about 2 batches, and my recipe calls for water instead of milk. I think that I’ll try your recipe this weekend. I let them cool and then store them in a air tight container. They can stay fresh for over a week.

    For breakfast, my husband puts a slice of American cheese and some scrambled eggs in one and then just lightly browns the sides in a skillet. Delicious!

    Check out my blog:
    livethegreenlife.wordpress.com

  3. Lakia February 24, 2010 at 10:48 AM #

    This is like one of my favorite foods. I will definitely be trying this recipe, thanks for shairing.

  4. m February 24, 2010 at 11:21 AM #

    Wow, I can’t imagine making tortillas from scratch. These look really good! Granted, I like my salsa a little chunkier, but yours does look delicious. :]

  5. Nikki February 24, 2010 at 11:24 AM #

    Congrats on your wordpress frontpage placement…. And you’re making me hungry! All these photos look amazing and the recipes make them seem easy.

    • 43north89west February 26, 2010 at 2:38 AM #

      Thanks! That’s the idea. I’m all about taking the veil of unattainability that so many dishes have. You’d be surprised how simple so much of what you love to eat is to make at home with a little initiative and patience. Just have to take the plunge.

  6. ancientfoods February 24, 2010 at 1:25 PM #

    Great post. I like my salsa a bit hotter but I like your recipe. Have you ever tried Navaho fry bread? It turns out thicker sort of on par with the bread used for gyros also its deep fried. It’s a New Mexico thing I guess but I lived there for many years.

    • 43north89west February 26, 2010 at 2:36 AM #

      My salsa usually ends up on the hotter side too. At least that’s what my friends tell me as they fan their mouths 🙂 I haven’t tried the Navajo fry bread but have seen it before on TV food shows. My tortillas definitely had a bready, pita-like quality to them that I enjoyed and especially when I fried them in a little veggie oil for the quesadillas, had a great flaky crunch. Love that.

  7. Rick February 24, 2010 at 1:38 PM #

    Looks great! Now that I’m funemployed, I think I’ll treat the wife to some homemade messican!

    • 43north89west February 24, 2010 at 8:28 PM #

      Good! You gotta pull your weight one way or another

  8. ian in hamburg February 24, 2010 at 2:37 PM #

    I haven’t a clue how your recipe would taste, but great pun in the headline! Love it.

  9. Gloris February 24, 2010 at 2:59 PM #

    Gracias!

  10. pyrit February 24, 2010 at 3:00 PM #

    Great, yummy post and photos!
    I recently discovered that making quesadillas is easy and quick.

  11. Sunnee Summers February 24, 2010 at 3:02 PM #

    Everything looks awesome! I would love to try these in my kitchen.

  12. Kevin February 24, 2010 at 4:42 PM #

    My family loves Mexican food, even though we are Italian, but we’re going to try these recipes out this weekend. Thanks!

  13. jrvitalis February 24, 2010 at 5:50 PM #

    Looks awesome! Thanks for sharing!

    http://jessicavitalis.com Stop Pinching Your Sister!

  14. Mimi February 24, 2010 at 8:22 PM #

    Best.Title.Ever!

  15. pt4themind February 24, 2010 at 8:43 PM #

    Ok, now this looks like good eating. Thanks for sharing this.

  16. Nina February 24, 2010 at 8:43 PM #

    Hi Travis –

    I have recently, within the last year or so, begun to enjoy cooking. Quesadillas are one of my favs!

    These look excellent and I am in a hurry to try all of your menu items here.

    I’ll be back for more recipes in the future.

    Congrats on the WordPress front page!

    ~Nina

  17. tylerandalyssa February 24, 2010 at 10:02 PM #

    Just made the flour tortillas. You just saved me a lot of money; here in Japan tortillas are a rare commodity. They taste great! http://tylerandalyssa.wordpress.com

    • 43north89west February 26, 2010 at 2:32 AM #

      That’s awesome! This was my first time as well and I was shocked at the simplicity. Anytime I can knock another prepackaged, processed staple out of my diet, I’m a happy man.

  18. billy February 25, 2010 at 12:17 AM #

    Im new to blogging and i read some of of your post.would you mine if you could check out my post at http://bjbd.wordpress.com. i need to hear your thoughts about my work.thanks a lot

  19. SErG February 25, 2010 at 5:27 AM #

    Профессиональная раскрутка сайта!

  20. Citizen Pete February 25, 2010 at 6:23 AM #

    That headline [the reference] is fantastic. And everything looks dangerously delicious!

  21. manila_love February 25, 2010 at 6:27 AM #

    your quesadillas look really tempting. Everything here looks wonderful to make and eat! Thanks for the recipe i shall try them out!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Meal Planning « James & Co. - February 25, 2010

    […] bizarrely, last night one of the linked posts on the WordPress main page was on just this topic: Still Cooking After All these Beers. So that’s fate: I have to try it […]

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