Semi-acceptable stand-in

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I hail from the great Southwest Texas city of El Paso. That dear city might not be known for much but it is famous for it’s incredible food. Being situated right at the border of Mexico and New Mexico, the cuisine of El Paso is like no other. It’s the perfect combination of the best Tex Mex, chile-centric New Mexican, and classic Mexican food. I look forward to the trips home not just to see friends and family but to EAT! But when I can’t be out in the west Texas town of El Paso  I have my trusty Seasoned with Sun cookbook from the Junior League of El Paso. First published in 1974, Seasoned with Sun has found its way into almost every kitchen in El Paso…and at least one kitchen in Chicago! The introduction to the cookbook says the collected recipes “represent a rich heritage, indeed. Some have the spice of Indian life, often with a Spanish accent. Others have the flavor of the Old West. But all are American classics.” When I’m feeling a little nostalgic for the home cooked comfort food of El Paso I turn to the pages of this cookbook. I own a copy of the original 1974 print but there have been many reprints and recipe updates since then. Bringing a little bit of the Southwest into my Chicago home is always a special food moment for me.

The little gem I made here is so comforting and a semi-acceptable stand-in for the real chile rellenos I love so much. But who is going to turn down the opportunity to dig into a chile relleno casserole made with browned lean ground beef, sharp Cheddar cheese and juicy chunks of New Mexican green chile? Not this gal.

If you want to get your hands on this classic cookbook it can be purchased here.

 

Chile Relleno Casserole

Serves 8

1 lb lean ground beef

½ c chopped onion

½ t salt

¼ t pepper

2 4-oz cans diced green chiles

1 ½ c grated sharp Cheddar cheese

1 ½ c milk

¼ c flour

4 beaten eggs

Dash Tabasco

½ t salt

¼ t pepper

Preheat oven to 350. In skillet, brown beef and onion in a little oil; drain off excess fat. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place half the chiles in a casserole dish, sprinkle with cheese. Add meat mixture and another layer of chiles. Combine remaining ingredients and beat until smooth. Pour over meat mixture and bake until knife comes out clean (45-50 min). Cool 5 minutes and cut into 6-8 squares.

What a taco should be

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I woke up the other morning absolutely craving my Grandma Deanna’s famous tacos. They may not be famous outside of our family and my group of close friends but I’m positive they would be world famous if everybody was lucky enough to try them. I can’t remember the first time I ate the tacos but I do know she’s been making them for many years. It was always exciting to have her call me and say she was having a taco night and that I needed to come over for dinner. In the past, I brought several friends to various taco nights and I had talked them up so much I was afraid my pals would be left in utter disappointment. But I needn’t have worried because they always found the tacos to be even better than I had claimed they were. Taco night was always a glutenous affair for me. My record for tacos consumed in one sitting is seven.

I would arrive at grandma’s house to find that she had prepped all of the toppings earlier in the day. Bowls of shredded iceberg lettuce, chopped plump tomatoes, a mound of golden cheddar cheese, pungent white onions and a jar of fiery local pico de gallo. With the arthritis in her hands getting worse and worse as the years went by I don’t know how she managed to shred all of that cheese. I once tried showing her how she could easily do it with her food processor but I think it was too high tech for her to do alone. I always offered to prep everything when I got there but I think she liked having it done before people arrived. She would then stand at the electric skillet frying everyone’s tacos almost as fast as we could eat them. I would always tell her to sit down and enjoy a few tacos before finishing them but more often than not she would insist on letting all of us have our fill before feeding herself. Her health isn’t too good these days and I don’t know if she’ll ever be able to make these for me again. Instead of letting the amazing grandma tacos disappear into the void I wanted to perfect them while she’s still with us so I can ask her all the necessary questions. And that’s exactly what I did. I called her up, got the low down on everything from browning the meat to skillet temperature. I like to think I did her proud.

What makes these so delicious? Perhaps a little bit of nostalgia is involved but it also might be the way the fragrant meat is fried inside of the tortilla which melds the two together in a crispy, oily goodness. Add in the cool crunch of the lettuce, the sweetness of the tomato, the buttery bite of the cheese and the eye popping spice from the pico and it’s a combination that transcends all preconceived notions of what a taco should be.

A quick note: If you set your oven to 250 and line a baking dish with paper towels you’ll allow the tacos to drain themselves of excess grease and remain warm while you finish frying the tacos. I prop the tacos up along the wall of the baking dish to allow for maximum drainage.

 

Grandma Deanna’s Famous Tacos

 
1 lb lean ground beef
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 t ground cumin
salt and pepper
9-10 good quality corn tortillas (I prefer white corn)
1/2 -1c vegetable oil
1-2 c shredded mild cheddar cheese
1/2 head shredded iceberg lettuce
1 tomato, chopped
1 onion, chopped
good quality salsa or pico de gallo
Place a medium skillet over medium/high heat. Add the ground beef, garlic, cumin, salt and pepper and cook until just browned. Taste for seasonings and adjust, if necessary.
Add enough vegetable oil to an electric skillet to measure 1/2 an inch. Heat the skillet to 350 or use a candy thermometer to measure the temperature of the oil if you’re using a regular skillet over the stove. You might need to adjust the heat during the course of the frying so as not to burn the tacos or let the oil get so cool that the tacos just soak up the oil without frying at all.
Place about 2 T of the beef into the center of a tortilla. Fold the tortilla in half and start by frying the bottom while holding the two sides up using a pair of tongs. Once the bottom has set lay the taco on one side while you fry the bottom of the next taco. I fry two at once. Lay the second taco on it’s side and flip the first one onto the other side. Fry them to your desired crunchiness. Grandma always made sure they were just crispy enough to provide adequate crunch but still pliable enough to stuff in the toppings without cracking the entire thing in half.

Place fried tacos in the baking dish and transfer to the oven while you fry the remaining tacos, adding more tacos to the oven as you go.
Stuff the tacos with your desired toppings and enjoy!
Serves 4

Seasoned beefy creaminess

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My boyfriend was feeling less than stellar last night so I made a quick trip to the grocery store to get a few things to make him chicken noodle soup. I made a beeline for the kale and rotisserie chicken (such a quick way to get cooked chicken for a dish and you can save the carcass to make a new batch of chicken broth the next day) but paused in front of the raw meat display for just a moment. “I should make SOS for breakfast tomorrow.” That thought ran through my head in that brief moment. I didn’t even think twice before I grabbed a pound of ground beef and then cut across the aisle to get a loaf of bread. It was decided. I would make SOS.

What is SOS you ask? It has several names depending on where you’re from or when you grew up. It’s also called “hamburger gravy” or “creamed ground beef.” But nothing beats SOS which hilariously means “Shit on a Shingle.” While it might taste like seasoned beefy creaminess it looks like sh*t on a plate. My grandpa served in the Army during Vietnam and Korea and ate pounds of this stuff, I’m sure. I read somewhere once that some form of SOS has been served in the Army since 1910. I’d bet that’s because it’s cheap to make a boat load of it, it’s incredibly filling and it’s damn good! When my grandpa (whom I always called Popop) returned home he would whip up a batch of it for his children on the weekends. Luckily, my mother caught the SOS bug and, in return, whipped up her kids a big batch on the weekends. That’s how the love of SOS has trickled down my family through the generations.

I almost never make SOS. In fact, the last few times I had it was when my mom made it. It’s not exactly a healthy choice for a meal and even a small portion leaves you stuffed. But when I’m wanting something comforting and nostalgic it’s the perfect fix. And it’s so simple to make. First, you need a pound of ground beef. It’s important that there is enough grease in the pan after browning the meat to make the gravy so I always get 80/20 ground chuck. You’ll also need some all-purpose four, milk (whole milk is best but I only had 1% and it worked fine), salt, pepper, and a loaf of white bread. I’ve tried using wheat bread before and it’s just not the same. Granted, if you’ve never had SOS before and you only have sliced wheat bread you won’t even know the difference.

1. Cook the meat in a large skillet over medium heat, breaking up the beef with a spoon, until it’s cooked through.

2. Sprinkle a healthy amount of flour over the meat and stir it up good to make sure you cook out the raw flour flavor. Keep adding more flour until all the grease has been absorbed.

3. Pour in about 1/4 cup of milk and stir until it’s almost absorbed. Keep adding more milk and stirring until the mixture is creamy. I can’t really tell you how much milk it will end up being. Sometimes it’s more, sometimes it’s less. Add a generous amount of salt and even more pepper. Let it all simmer for a few minutes to get nice and thick.

4. Toast a few slices of bread and cut them up into bite size pieces. Spoon the SOS onto the bread, and sprinkle with more pepper.

It has to be said that SOS is best enjoyed on cold mornings and/or overcast days. I’m just sayin’.