Monday, July 28, 2014

Delicious Homemade Tortas!



Let me start this post by saying that I LOVE sandwiches.  They can be eaten at home or on the go.  They are easily customizable, easy to make and absolutely delicious.  The Mexican torta is no exception.  I grew up eating all sorts of tortas whenever I would visit Mexico City.  Some came from restaurants, some from little shops or huts and some were made at the local market.  As good as all those were my favorites were always the ones prepared by either my grandmother or my mother. Those always seemed to have the extra something and personal touch that made them stand above all others. 

Before jumping into how to make your own torta, let's take a look into what a torta really is.  At its most basic a torta is just a sandwich, in other words, it is two pieces of bread that have a bunch of tasty ingredients wedged between them.  What really differentiates a torta from other sandwiches is the type of bread used to make it.  A torta is made with a bolillo, which is an oblong crusty white bread with a soft interior.  


A variety of the bolillo is the telera though it has a more rounded shape, is divided in three sections, and is usually softer.


The bolillo is the foundation of a good torta, so having a good bolillo is essential.  Luckily finding good bolillos is not difficult, especially if you live somewhere with a significant Hispanic population.  Here in Houston I have a lot of choices.  I can always go to the panaderia (Mexican bakery) right down the street.  Or if I am doing my weekly shopping I can just pick some up at my local HEB in their bakery.  Heck I am even lucky enough to have La Michoacana (a local grocery chain catering to Hispanic clientele) that sells both bolillos and teleras.  If you are not lucky enough to have any of these resources at hand and simply cannot find bolillos or teleras, use French rolls or Italian bread.  My mom says even a baguette can be used in a pinch. 

Like with anything in life, there is a great variety in the types of tortas made.  Usually they are simply classified by what they are made with. For example a tora de jamon is a torta made with ham or a torta de huevos is one made with scrambled eggs.  Besides the main ingredient and the bread itself tortas vary by just how they are prepared.  Some are served cold or prepared simply while others are made hot on a griddle.  In Guadalajara there is a variation call the " torta ahogada" or drowned torta due to the fact that after the sandwich is made it is then smothered in a red sauce. 

Making your own torta is as easy as making a ham sandwich.  As stated earlier you will need some bolillos to start with.  Since bolillos come in whole pieces you will then need to split them in half.  Once the bread has been cut it is important to remove some of the migajon, or soft white part from the upper piece of the bread.  This will give you a concave piece of bread that will help hold the sandwich together.


Once you have your bread ready you can go ahead and leave it as is to make your sandwich or you can toast it in the oven.  We choose to toast our bread in a 350 degree oven for about 5-10 min.

While the bread was toasting my mom and I gathered up our sandwich fixings which included refried black beans, mustard, Mexican cream, queso fresco, sliced pickled jalapeno, ham, head cheese, fresh tomatoes, avocado, and red onion.


After the bread was done toasting, we were ready to build our tortas.  First thing we did was spread our cream on the concave side of the bread.  We then spread the black beans and mustard on the bottom half of the bolillo. 


Next we started piling on the meats. First the ham, then the head cheese. After the meat was arranged so it would lie flat against the bread we added the queso fresco.  Now we cut the cheese into slices, but it is possible and acceptable to crumble it and add it to your sandwich this way.




 Then we started to add the veggies such as the onions, tomatoes, and avocado.  It is important to try to add the veggies in a manner to keep them flat so that they won't slide off your sandwich. 


The last thing we added to the torta before topping it off with the other piece of bread was the pickled jalapenos.  The jalapenos add little kick as well as a nice tang to the overall flavor profile of the sandwich. 


All that was left to do was put the lid on the sandwich and enjoy.  The sandwiches were so massive that we simply had to cut them in half just to handle them.  They were a great lunch and so delicious.  They reminded me so much of my visits to Mexico City.


The beauty of the torta is in its simplicity.  A torta is so easy to assemble and to make it just how you want it.  For instance I know head cheese may not be the most popular ingredient.  If that is the case with you then just simply leave it out.  Are you a vegetarian?  Then make yourself a torta de aguacate (avocado)!  The choice is yours. Hopefully this inspires some of you to just go out there get yourself some fresh bread and go nuts! 


Thursday, July 17, 2014

Fonda Santa Rosa



A co-worker once asked me that if I had to choose just one type of food to eat the rest of my life what would it be.  My natural response was Mexican food.  I mean I grew up eating pretty much nothing but Mexican food.  I always loved my mom's cooking and I have very fond memories of both my grandmothers' tantalizing cuisine.  So when ever I find a place that comes close to replicating it I am more than happy to give that establishment my patronage.  Luckily I have found such a place in Fonda Santa Rosa.  My wife actually discovered the restaurant when we were looking for a place for dinner.  She found out that Fonda Santa Rosa was owned by the same people who are responsible for Tamales Dona Tere, a favorite place of ours for breakfast.  Naturally we were intrigued and as it turned out we loved the place.

FSR however has not really worked into heavy rotation of our places to go out to eat.  Not for any real rhyme or reason.  Therefore, my latest trip to FSR was with my mom.  She is currently living with us and it was just her and me for dinner.  After weighing some options close to the house and trying to determine what type of cuisine we wanted for dinner, I remembered that FSR was not too far away and quite delicious.  I also figured that my mom being a Mexico City native would appreciate a taste of home.

Of the multiple time that I have dined at FSR I have never experienced a full or busy restaurant.  This night was no exception.  The dinning area consist of several tables in an L shape around what is an open and very visible "kitchen".  This  area was occupied by a large family at one end and a couple of gentlemen at the other.  As we walked in we were greeted and invited to sit anywhere we liked by a friendly waitress.  My mom and I sat kind of in between the two parties.  The fact that it was so quiet gave the place a much more intimate feel. 



While looking over the menu my mom and I had a hard time deciding what we wanted.  The choices were so many and they all sounded tasty.  So to help give us some more time we decided to order some guacamole to start as well as some aguas frescas to drink.


The guacamole was served in a small plastic molcajete with some freshly made tortilla chips.  Not only were the chips fresh, but the guacamole was also exceptionally fresh.  I think it may have even been made only after we order it.  The flavor of the guacamole was quite exceptional.  It was well seasoned as well as very balanced.  The flavor of the avocados was dominant with undertones of sourness from the lime and spiciness from the chile.  It was just the right consistency, not being so smooth that it would seem derived from an avocado paste. 

The aguas frescas were a mixed bag.  My mom got the Jamaica (hibiscus) and I got the pineapple.  My mom's was just right.  It had the flavor that I have come to expect from that drink.  It was naturally tangy balanced out with sweetness derived from the added sugar.  My drink was not quite as flavorful as I would have expected.  It seemed quite bland and insipid.  I was hoping to get a bolder pineapple flavor.  My mom also made the comment that the pineapple tasted as if it was on the verge of going bad.

While looking at the menu we also noticed that they offered agua mineral.  Since we both hand not had one in a while we ordered one for each of us.  They brought us the typical 12 oz glass bottle of Topo Chico which we both loved.

At that point my mom and I had finally made up out minds about what we were going to have for dinner.  My mom decided on the Molcajete Mixto which is basically a small molcajete filled with a combination of beef, chicken fajitas and chorizo in a spicy sauce with tender cactus, Panela cheese, onions, and cilantro.  It was served with rice and refried beans on the side as well as a compliment of corn tortillas.


My mom absolutely loved this dish.  She was enthralled with the presentation as well as the flavors of the different meats. She quickly ate up the tender cactus and enjoyed making tacos from the meats and the plethora of corn tortillas given to us to accompany our meal. She also remarked that the chorizo tasted like real authentic Mexican chorizo.  She was also impressed with the quantity of food.  She had enough to eat her fill and take some home.

For my dinner I chose the Tampiqueña, which is a plate consisting of juicy grilled tender beef accompanied by mole enchilada, fire-roasted Poblano pepper rajas, fresh guacamole, Mexican rice and refried beans. The beef was a thin piece of steak resembling a cecina. It was excellently seasoned and tender as advertised on the menu.  It was great for eating with the tortillas.  The enchilada was sublime.  It was some of the best mole I have had in a long time.  My overall plate was portioned just right so that I ate everything without feeling as if I had over eaten.




As we were wrapping up dinner, my noticed the coffee and asked if it was cafe de olla, which is a coffee prepared with cinnamon and piloncillo.  The waitress informed us that it was indeed cafe de ollo and asked if we wanted to sample it.  My mom accepted.  As soon as she sniffed the coffee my mom's face was an expression of absolute joy.  The coffee was beyond good.  It was delectable with the spiciness of the cinnamon and the sweetness of the piloncillo.  It was so good, I ordered one to go.  I was unable to finish the coffee that evening, but saved it for the next day.  It was excellent even the next day drinking it cold.  My mom also mentioned that if it was this good, after having sat all day on a warmer, imagine how good it would be when it was freshly made.

The waitress told us about the buffet during the weekends from 11AM to 2PM.  They have pretty much all of their menu available for you to partake.  It sounds delicious but dangerous.  I could easily see eating myself into a food stupor.  I highly enjoy this quaint little restaurant and would encourage anyone who wants a taste of truly authentic Mexico City cuisine!


Doña Tere Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Middle Eastern Chicken and Chickpeas with Eggplant


 
Sometimes the best ideas come from a whim.  Such is the case for this recipe.  My wife and I had taken out some chicken for dinner and had no idea what to do with it.  We also had some eggplant and kale in the fridge as well as a can of chickpeas in the cupboard.  So we just decided to through it all together with some Middle Eastern spices and see what came of it.  Here is how we made it:

1 lb chicken thighs
1 white onion
1 -2 medium eggplant
1/2 bunch kale or about 2 cups chopped
2-3 tbsp za'atar seasoning
1 tbsp garlic powder
1 tbsp cumin
2 tsp marjoram
2 tsp coriander
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 can of chickpeas drained
salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp olive oil

The first thing you need to do is dice your chicken.  This recipe is a very good way to stretch out your protein.  A pound of chicken really only has about 4-5 thighs.


Next cut your vegetables.  Dice the onion.  The eggplant can be cut into quarters then cut into smaller pieces.




The kale is simply chopped.




Gather up your spices.



Add the oil to your cooking vessel and allow it to heat up. Once the oil is hot, add your onion and eggplant.  It is ok if some of you kale goes in as well.  Allow the vegetables to start cooking.


After the onion starts becoming translucent and the eggplant starts to soften, add your chicken and allow it to brown.


When the chicken begins to gain some color, add in your seasonings and stir. Let the chicken cook in the spices for a couple of minutes to allow the flavors to mingle.


Finally throw in your kale and chickpeas.


Give the kale time to cook down.  This will also give time for the chicken to thoroughly cook.


As soon as the kale has cooked down, season the dish with salt and pepper.  All that is left is to serve and enjoy!



Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Chicken and Barley Stew


As a chef I often find myself having a craving for a certain thing for dinner, then looking for a recipe online and coming away wholly unsatisfied with any of the choices.  That is usually when I just kind of go and make up my own thing.  Such was the case the other night when I wanted to make a chicken and barely stew.  The recipes I found online were either too boring or uninteresting. In the end I knew I was going to have to make my own dish especially since I was using a bunch of vegetables that I just happen to have in the refrigerator. So this is what I came up with.

What you will need:

1 lbs uncooked skinless, boneless chicken thigh, diced
1 can mushrooms, sliced
2 each chicken bouillon cubes
4 cups water
1 cup uncooked kale, chopped
1/2 lbs uncooked asparagus, cut into short pieces
1 small onion, diced
2 each cloves of garlic, minced
4 ribs of celery, diced
8 oz baby carrots
2 tbsp dried thyme
2 tbsp dried rosemary
1 1/2 cups uncooked barley
1/2 - 1 bunch of parsley, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
cooking spray

The asparagus should be bite sized.

MMM, aromatics!
Make sure to rinse your kale.
Your favorite brand will work.


 You will need a pan large enough to hold all your ingredients.  Keep in mind that this recipe will make quite a bit! Start by sauteing your onions, garlic, and celery until they are translucent and you can smell them.  Once they reach this point add your dried herbs and chicken and allow it to brown a bit.


Next add the barley and saute it for a minute, as if you were making a pilaf.


Add the water, bouillon, carrots and mushrooms.


Bring it all up to a boil, then down to a simmer.  Cover your pot and allow the mixture to cook until the barley is tender.  If the barley absorbs too much liquid, just add some more water.


When the barley is almost done, add the kale and asparagus.  These are delicate vegetables and will not take long to cook.  Essentially you want the asparagus to be tender and the kale to wilt down a bit.


Once the kale and asparagus have been incorporated, season the stew to your taste and top with the chopped parsley.  Now just serve and enjoy!




Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Blackened Pork Chops with Creole Peppers, Onions, Okra and Tomatoes


My wife had defrosted some pork chops for dinner, but we were unsure of what to do with them.  Fortunately my cast iron skillet had been left out.  That served as the inspiration for me to make blackened pork chops.  As a vegetable/sauce, I thought that a Creole themed vegetable would make perfect sense.  Here is what you need:

4 4oz pork chops
Blackening spice
2-3 tbsp high smoke point cooking oil
1-2 can diced tomatoes
1-2 green bell pepper julienned
3-4 ribs celery, sliced
1 white or yellow onion julienned
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 cup frozen okra
Creole seasoning
4 cups cooked white rice

The first thing you want to do is to preheat your oven to 350 degrees as you will finish the pork in the oven.  Next season both sides of the pork chops with the blackening spice.  For the spice you can either purchase one or make your own

After the pork is seasoned you are going to want to sear it in a very hot pan.  A cast iron skillet works best for this.  However, if you don't have one, just use a regular saute pan.
Next you nee to get your pan nice hot.  A good way to test the pan is to drip some water into it.  If it sizzles and skips right away the pan is ready.  Add about a tablespoon to a tablespoon and half of oil to the pan, just enough to cook the bottom of the pan. Traditionally blackening is done with butter, but I find butter has a tendency to burn, especially if you are not used to working with it at such high temperatures. For this same reason you will want to use an oil with a high smoke point such as canola, corn, or grape seed. DO NOT use olive oil.  It is too delicate and will burn!   When the oil is also hot, which should not take too long, add your pork chops to the pan.  The pork will want to stick to the pan.  This is OK as this is part of the sear and you are developing flavor and color.  You will know hen it is time to flip the chops over as they will no longer stick to the pan and will have a beautiful color.  If all the pork chops don't fit into the pan, then sear them in batches.


 After the chops have been seared just place them on a sheet pan with a rack so that they can go into your preheated oven.  The chops should take about 15-25 min., depending on how well done you want them.
While the pork is cooking in the oven you can work on the sauce.  First step is to heat a pan large enough to hold all your ingredients and add the rest of the cooking oil.  Next saute your onions, bell peppers, celery and garlic.  As they are cooking season them with some of the creole seasoning.  As with the blackening spice, you can purchase some or make your own
After the vegetables have softened a bit, add your frozen okra. Stir it and allow the okra to thaw a bit.
Once the okra is incorporated, add your canned tomatoes.
Stir and allow to simmer while the pork is finishing in the oven.  Taste it and adjust the seasoning. 

After the pork is done (I like to pull my pork out at 135-140 degrees) you are ready to serve your meal.
To serve simply place a cups worth of cooked white rice on your plate.  Lay a pork chop over the rice and top with about a cups worth of sauce/vegetables.  If you like spiciness, just add some Tabasco or Cajun hot sauce to your dinner.

Now just enjoy!