Thursday, March 23, 2017

Arepa Mania!!!
Venezuelan Arepa's Two Ways

As you know, I have been on a quest to make Arepas, a sort of English-muffin-like "pan" made with fine white corn meal and, as we all know, I have not been quite successful.  Until now!  Two of my friends from Venezuela recommended a particular brand of white corn meal to use.  I went to EVERY mom and pop Mexican grocer and large Latino grocers in my town and then some and I could NOT find it Anywhere!  And then, more than ironically, I found it in a large box store quite by accident. I will leave it there. 

This obsession with making authentic Venezuelan Arepas came at an opportune time for me. As I have alluded to on my humble blog's facebook site, In-House Cook (please look me up!), life sometimes throws monkey wrenches into your goals and plans in life and deflates you, and wrecks you. Despite things happening, when the going gets tough, I get to the kitchen.  And that is just what I did.  Twice. It seems that from pain has come two pretty darn amazing Arepas, one with chicken and one with flat iron steak; both seasoned, marinated and seared.  Let's get to the recipes, shall we?

The filling for my first successful batch last weekend I had incorporated chicken which I'd seasoned, marinated, seared and braised. Let's get to my spice rub and marinade, first. While the theme was certainly Latin flavors, I changed up my spice mix a bit but my aromatics are the usual suspects. 😊 

2 tablespoons smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground chile ancho
1 teaspoon ground coriander seeds
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano


Fresh Ingredients for both the marinade and for braising...

2 Fresno chiles, sliced into rings
1 yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/3 cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup diced fire roasted green chile

Some of the braising ingredients: Salsa Ranchera, diced fire roasted green chiles, fire roasted diced tomatoes and 2/3 bottle of Mexican beer. Not included in the photo (I forgot):  1 8-ounce can El Pato Sauce (spicy tomato sauce). 

I seasoned six boneless/skinless chicken breasts, let them sit for thirty minutes.  Next, I added a third of the beer, a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil, a clove of garlic, a tablespoon of onion and a bit of cilantro and fresh oregano, salt and pepper, two tablespoons mirin, two tablespoons Worcestershire sauce, two tablespoons El Pato sauce and two tablespoons red wine vinegar to a large bowl and whisked it togetgher.  I added the chicken to the bowl and allowed the chicken to marinate for an hour. 

After an hour marinating, I added four tablespoons evoo to a large skillet over medium-high heat and I seared the chicken thighs until a good crust formed; on a couple, the marinade even blackened, which added amazing flavor.  Sadly, I have also suffered from bronchitis the last 13 days, and last weekend I could not smell Anything (still cannot) but, I can taste just fine. So, I am sure the aroma was just as incredible as the taste turned out to be.  The dog I was dog-sitting sat with me in the kitchen the entire time licking her chops, so I am quite sure it smelled pretty wonderful.  

After seering the chicken about three minutes per side in the hot skillet, I removed the thighs and plated them and set that aside. To a large dutch oven, I added the drippings after scraping the skillet with a wooden spoon to get up the burnt bits up, also over medium-high heat.  I added the onion to that, sauteed it for three minutes, then added the remaining garlic, sauteed for another two minutes. I did not add salt to the onion because of the salt in the rub already on the chicken and in the marinade. 
Next, I added the beer, a cup or two of water, diced tomatoes, the remaining roasted green chiles, the remaining El Pato sauce, the salsa ranchera and stirred well and brought the mix to a boil. I added another tablespoon of my spice blend and also fresh oregano sprigs and a little fresh cilantro, and nestled the chicken thighs into the mixture in the dutch oven. The chicken should be slightly submerged.  Reduce the heat to low, cover and allow to simmer low and slow for two hours. 

After two hours, the chicken will fall apart. You may need a slotted spoon to get it all out, because the chicken will fall apart, I promise!!! After you get all of the chicken out, raise the heat to medium-high again, and reduce the remaining sauce by two-thirds, so it is thick. Use the wooden spoon to stir every minute or two to prevent burning. You will add some of the reduced sauce to the shredded chicken. Trust me, this is incredible flavor!

While awaiting the sauce reduction, take two forks and shred the chicken that did not readily fall apart. This will literally take two minutes. When the sauce has reduced by two thirds, which should take about fifteen minutes, add a heaping ladle or two to the chicken and toss the chicken with the sauce.  Add more sauce, if you wish!

Now, with the chicken handled, turn your sites to the arepas.  This process is so simple and easy and it is so versatile; there is practically no end to the flavors you can add to the corn meal, sweet or savory!  I went on a bird walk, sorry, but as I mentioned previously, it my new obsession! 😋

First, you have to get your hands on fine white corn meal.  As I mentioned above, it was quite a search for me, but I finally found it.  Follow the directions on the package.  I added two cups of water to a large bowl and added 2.5 cups of the white corn meal, half a teaspoon of garlic salt and a teaspoon of ground cumin, a little at a time to the water and whisked it until the batter became too thick, until it became a dough ball.  I let the dough ball rest for three minutes, per the directions. I had added some of the corn meal to a cutting board and allowed the dough to rest on that. Afterward, I separated the dough into sections, rolled it into balls, and created English Muffin sized round about half-inch thick discs.  This is a little larger than the directions state to, and I did not make ten dough balls, but six. That was just my conscious decision. 

In a skillet over medium-heat, I sprayed the skillet with evoo non-stick spray.  I also sprayed the arepa disc tops and placed them sprayed side down.  While the directions state you should fry the arepas about 3.5 minutes per side, because mine were larger, I had to fry them eight to ten minutes, until they gained a golden brown color. 

Finally, I used a break knife to cut the arepas once they had cooled for a few minutes. Because they remain hot inside longer than the outside, I learned to immediately add cheese to the top and bottom of the arepa, then add filling.  I also added torn fresh cilantro the arepas.  

One more!!!

But wait!  We are not done yet!  Yesterday, I created an all new filling!  I was delighted, however, when my two Venezuelan friends both told me how authentic these looked and that I had done well.  How humbling! And what an amazing feeling!

Now.....Onto Carne Asada Arepas!

Carne Asada Arepa

While the chicken was quite a luscious, intensely flavorful filling, this flat iron steak arepa filling was insanely delicious!  And I promise, this recipe is far shorter but much more eye-brow raising than the previous recipe.  I took some very unusual flavor risks which paid off amazingly.  Let's get to it, shall we?

1 - 2 flat iron steaks (one small steak feeds two)
1 yellow or red onion, 1/4 finely chopped, the remainder sliced into crescents
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped or grated
fresh oregano and thyme, 4 sprigs each

1 teaspoon green tea
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon ground coriander seed
1.5 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 rounded tablespoon smoked paprika

Additional ingredients for the marinade
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 generous tablespoons Mirin
1.5 cups Mexican beer (I used Tecate)
1 cup ruby red grapefruit juice
1 cup cranberry-pomegranate juice
1/2 cup El Pato (spicy tomato sauce)

Season the meat with salt and pepper.  

Add the dried spices and herbs to a bowl and mix well.  Add half of the spice mix to the flat iron steaks and set aside for thirty minutes. 

Add the additional liquid marinade ingredients and the remaining dried spices and fresh herbs to a large bowl and whisk together well. 

Pour some of the marinade to the bottom of a rectangular pan and place the meat atop it.  Pour the remaining marinade atop the meat.  Use a fork or tongs to snuggle the meat into the marinade as best as possible.  

Place the remaining fresh herb sprigs to the marinade. 

Marinate the meat for an hour, if possible.  I had the time, and I actually marinated the meat for two hours. 

Sear or grill the carne asada (flat iron steaks) as you wish, at least four minutes per side.  As you can tell, I prefer my steak rare but with a good caramelized crust.  Remember friends, color means flavor!!!

Color means flavor!

After searing or grilling the carne asada, remove it to a cutting board and allow it to rest a several minutes; the meat will continue to cook a little bit and the juices will redistribute. These are all good things!

Slice the meat after several minutes. 

Next, following the directions on the package (as mentioned in the chicken filling recipe, above), make the arepas.  

Use a bread knife to slice open the arepas like an English muffin.  In my case, the arepa was so hot inside that I jumped at the chance to place cheese on both the top and bottom to start melting.  Deliciousness! Add any sauce you want, if any, cilantro, or whatever greens or slaw you wish.  I went simple, cilantro, my favorite hot sauce and closed up shop.  What delicious eating!

I hope you will try one or both of these arepa fillings and make it your own! This is a true comfort food winner, and, despite my ramblings, the time involved is only what you can offer it.  If you cannot marinade meat, then spice rub and sear. You will not, however, regret it if you make this when you have a nice lazy afternoon to give the meats time to marinate.  

As always, friends, Thank You for your time and consideration!  Now, go cook something great for someone you love!!!  

In-House Cook

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Great Enchilada Caper

When I was younger, almost every extended family get-together included enchiladas. I am told I loved my aunt's version when I was a kid, but I apparently lost my taste for it once I entered middle school.  Afterward, no one really made enchiladas that I could get hooked on until my friend's mom sent me some (we were neighbors) and I loved them. The flavors were layered, complex and truly Mexican, flavors which I love. I never made them, however, afterward.  Now, I know enchiladas are "Mexican Food 101", one of the most made Mexican food dishes in the USA, and of all of the dozens of taco dishes and carnitas dishes I have made over the last ten years, I have never made enchiladas.  Not once.  I am deeply shamed and we must never speak of it. 

I decided to get over myself and make enchiladas.  I am always trying to expand my horizons and try my hand at new things, new dishes.  On a side note, a bird walk, I am often asked why I do not make dishes with shrimp, abalone and mussels as well as mushrooms.  I am allergic to mushrooms and shell fish. However, I have decided to get over that, too, and expand my horizons and prep dishes with those, too, although just the aroma of mushrooms sauteing makes me quite ill.  I have to figure that part out, still, and I will need taste testers because, well, there is the whole allergic issue.   Alright, back to enchiladas!  I decided that if I were going to make this dish I was going to do it my way, use my own methods, herbs and spices. Since I grew up with the ground beef version - and I do not find anything wrong with that, folks - I decided to use chicken and spice it up, season each layer of the dish, from the chicken to the tortillas, the sauce and the cheeses.  Let's get to it, shall we?

I began by toasting the cumin and coriander seeds to make my Mexican Spice Blend. I then combined and ground the following spices and dried herbs in my spice grinder. 

Recipe for my Mexican Spice Blend

3 rounded tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon granulated onion
2 teaspoons chile molido or your favorite chile powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 partly rounded teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon toasted coriander seeds
1 rounded teaspoon toasted cumin seeds

I know that this is the same photo that I used for my previous blog post but it always looks the same. 😋

I simply seasoned both sides of six boneless, skinless chicken thighs and three chicken breasts.  I added three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over medium high heat to a skillet and seared the chicken in batches without cooking them all the way through.  In the meantime, I prepped the other ingredients for braising the chicken so it'd be tender even through the baking process.  

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, grated or finely chopped
1 28-ounce can Cento tomato puree
2 14.5-ounce cans fire roasted diced tomatoes
1 large bottle of Corona beer
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
2 rounded tablespoons of Mexican Spice Blend
2 cans fire roasted diced green chiles*
1 28-ounce can chile ancho sauce*
1 4-ounce can Salsa Ranchero
1.5 cups Mexican Fiesta Cheese Blend

Now, in the same skillet in which I'd seared the chicken, I added the finely chopped onion and sauteed it for about three minutes over medium heat.  I did not add salt to the onion as the salt from the spice blend on the chicken had salt enough in it. I am seriously trying to monitor and diminish my sodium intake. Afterward, I added the garlic and gave it two more minutes.  Next, I'd transferred the onion and garlic to a slow cooker. To that, I added half a bottle of Corona beer - delish, I know! - and one 28-ounce can of tomato puree (I love Cento), 2 14.5-ounce cans of fire roasted diced tomatoes, two tablespoons of my Mexican Spice Blend, the can of salsa ranchero and 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro.  I thoroughly stirred the liquids and spices together to incorporate well.  I snuggled all of the chicken breasts and thighs into the braising liquid.  I added another fourth of the beer bottle and stirred once again. I set the timer for 5 hours on high.

After a long five hours, long due to the mouthwatering aroma in the kitchen all day, I removed the chicken and shredded it.  Very simple and easy by that time!  It practically fell apart by itself.  

The combination of thigh meat and breast meat was delicious, and I used that combination because the friend I was cooking for wanted the breast meat and I wanted the thigh meat, so we compromised.  Next time, because I really enjoy chicken thigh meat, all juicy and flavorful, I will use that for  my next batch of enchiladas. I want to make my own sauces, both chile ancho and salsa verde with fresh tomatillos, Anaheim and serrano chiles, garlic and onion and cilantro.  Looking forward to spring fresh veggies and herbs!

Alright, now for the learning part.  I KNEW that I should have heated up my corn tortillas before using them, but I thought that if I heated up my store-bought chile ancho sauce I'd dipped the tortillas in before filling and rolling, that would make them more pliable.  Wrong.  Lesson Learned:  Heat Up The Tortillas First. We must never speak of it again.  

I reduced (but not enough; next time!) the braising liquid after skimming off much of the fat renderings and used some of that to mix with the shredded chicken to add even more flavor to the meat. I added some finely chopped onion I had reserved, along with diced fire roasted green chiles to the meat and mixed that together with tongs. I dipped a tortilla in the ancho enchilada sauce, placed it in a baking pan I'd sprayed with non-stick spray, added about two tablespoons of meat, some cheese and fresh cilantro, rolled the tortilla and moved it to the side of the pan.  I continued the process, but because I did not heat the tortillas up properly, as I mentioned above, some of them tore. I tucked those under the enchilada roll next to it in hopes that in the baking process, sauce and cheese oozing downward would cement it together.  BOOM! 😊  Mic Drop!  That worked quite well. 

Reducing ancho sauce for the tortilla hot tub.

Dipping and filling and rolling and placing. 

Oven ready!

You can see the two rolls in the center right that did not work out so well.  The cheeses did cement it together nicely, thankfully. 

I have to mention that the above photo does not show everything.  I added more cheese atop what you see and then baked it for 25 minutes at 350-degrees. 

Final product!!!

Lovely melted cheese with diced fire roasted chiles oozed in, topped with olives on half of it (my friend loves olives, but I am not partial to them, except in a tapenade).  

Annnnnd plated!

I garnished with fresh cilantro, Tapatio and salsa ranchero sauce.  I was very pleased with the combination of flavors and the textures.  I think I am back to loving enchiladas again!

I'd love to hear your tips and flavor combinations.  Drop me a line!  You can visit my Facebook blog site at In-House Cook and leave me a message!  Or, you can follow me on Twitter: @grnmn1 

Thank You!

Now, go cook for someone you love!  They will love you for it!

As always, Thank You for your time and consideration. 

In-House Cook

Monday, February 20, 2017

En Un Santiamen -- Carne Asada Tacos In A Jiffy

En Un Santiamen Carne Asada Tacos
In-A-Jiffy Steak Tacos

Several years ago, a lovely friend, who is most sadly no longer with us, taught me that when you are on a budget and have company coming (my son and I were company), you can make a wallet-friendly and extremely flavorful meal for family and friends and be satisfied that everybody will be quite happy.  

I made carne asada tacos several evenings ago for three friends for under $15.00 and here is how I did it.  My local grocery store, like all stores across the country, have fantastic monthly sales on their meats.  I bought two packages of thin cut tri-tip steaks for $5.00 per package, an onion, garlic, fresh cilantro, two limes and a package of small flour tortillas. I had cheese at home already. I also have my pantry stocked with a large array of spices and dried herbs. 

First things first, I wanted my asada to be authentically flavored.  I made a batch of my Mexican Spice Blend, added it to three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and two tablespoons of fresh squeezed lime juice and a splash of Mirin, sweet rice wine vinegar and some fresh thyme from my potted herb garden. 

Recipe for my Mexican Spice Blend

3 rounded tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon granulated onion
2 teaspoons chile molido or your favorite chile powder
1 tablespoon dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 partly rounded teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 rounded teaspoon cumin seeds

My finely ground spices and herbs.

I add all of the spices and herbs to my spice grinder and finely ground it all. I added some of the spice blend - about two tablespoons - to both sides of the thinly sliced tri-tip and added those to a pan with the evoo, lime juice and Mirin.  I tossed the steaks about the coat them all and let them marinate for thirty minutes. I had that time available, but if you do not, fifteen minutes would be fine, too. 

In a skillet over medium-high heat, I added two tablespoons of evoo, and, when the oil began to ripple, I added the thinly sliced marinated steaks. I had to sear and saute the steaks in two batches.  Thinly sliced steaks take only three minutes per side over medium-high heat, as I mentioned above. When they finish searing, I removed the steaks, allowed them to rest a few minutes and, after draining some of the steak renderings, I added a tiny splash of evoo and the chopped onion, finely chopped garlic, some of the fresh oregano and thyme and sauteed that until I finished slicing the steaks into small slivers. 

After sauteeing the onion an garlic, I added the steak slivers and sauteed the mixture until the onions were a bit translucent. The aroma of steak and aromatics (onion and garlic with the herbs and spices) filled my kitchen and my friends were thrilled. 

I saute ingredients until the onions become translucent. 

To serve, use whatever tortillas you like, whatever cheese you like, and whatever other condiments you like.  Some like shaved radishes, cilantro, scallions, lime.  I love it all, but simple cheese and my favorite Salsa Ranchero makes me very happy 

My philosophy? Tacos should be a food group!

Everyone has their own recipe, but I thought I would share my recipe, simple, inexpensive, flavorful and a family favorite as it is. Making that recipe brought forth the memory of a dear supportive friend no longer with us. Now, go cook for someone you love!  You will be glad you did!

And as always, Thank You for your time and consideration. 

In-House Cook