Free Range on Food: Tex-Mex, our Super Bowl Smackdown and more

Jan 29, 2014

Every Wednesday at noon, Food section staff members and guests answer your burning culinary questions.
Past Free Range on Food chats

Greetings, all, and welcome to today's chat! What's on your mind? We've got Super Bowl sandwiches on the brain, naturally, after Tim and I engaged in a friendly little recipe battle for the section's eighth -- can you believe it? -- Smackdown! His short ribs sandwich versus my cauliflower/romesco one. Anybody care to cast a vote?

We also had a fun, interesting piece by Friend of Food Pati Jinich on Tex-Mex, its development, and her take as a Mexican cook who has spent some time in the Lone Star State.

Pati is joining the chat today, so we'll have lots of help on the Mexican (and Tex-Mex) cooking front!

We'll have a giveaway book for our favorite chatter today: "Pati's Mexican Table," signed by hers truly!

Enough windup. Let's do this!

The Nutrition Action Newsletter suggests roasting thin wedges of savoy cabbage. But how do I wash the cabbage so I can still slice it? Do I soak halves? And do I leave part of the core when I slice it, to hold the leaves together in the wedge? Joe, what's your favorite way to use savoy cabbage?

Since the outer leaves protect the inner leaves of head cabbage like savoy, I just remove the outer couple of layers without washing. You can leave part of the core if you want, sure, but I think it's kinda nice when the leaves separate in the roasting and in the tossing/turning you might do with tongs, either to keep it browning evenly or when you remove the wedges.

My favorite thing to do with any kind of cabbage is ... grill it! (But you can use the broiler instead for this same effect.)

 

Any suggestions for substantial but snack-like vegetarian food for my Superbowl party? I need something that is satisfying enough for dinner but is still casual. Also, I sprained my ankle so I need something that doesn't require a lot of standing to prepare. I'm having wings, crab dip, guacamole and queso. Please don't suggest chili with beans; I live in Texas and we consider that an abomination.

How about chili with beans? (Sorry, couldn't resist.)

So, let's review the criteria:

-- substantial

-- snacklike

-- veg

-- satisfying

-- can be prepared with minimum of standing (!)

How about today's Panino di Pizza With Cauliflower and Romesco? You can certainly sit while you form the dough and use the food processor, right?

Other thoughts:

Carrot Hummus

Roasted Eggplant Dip

 

Regarding last week's poster whose frozen chicken stock made him/her ponder savory shaved ice or granitas, there's actually a Korean soup that's basically a savory slushy. I believe it's called mul-naengmyeon (pictures in this post). Pretty sure I saw it on the menu at Honey Pig, or at least a picture of what I remember it looking like. It was one of a few savory dishes I had in Korea that were not only served cold, but downright frozen. Icy salmon come to mind as well.

Kinda cool. Slushy chicken stock would have to be really, really free of fat, otherwise I'd think that the tongue-coatng aspect could be unpleasant. But that's just me. Next shut-in day, perhaps I'll play around with it. 

There have been some recent questions about good brands of whole wheat pasta. I find brown rice pasta to be an excellent alternative...much closer to regular pasta in both taste, texture and (after cooking) color. I prefer the Trader Joe's brands, though they don't have a great selection of shapes. Whole Foods has greater variety and they are fine. You do need to read the cooking instructions carefully...the Trader Joe's brown rice pasta directions are virtually the same as regular pasta, but those I've purchases at Whole Foods say to bring to the boil, turn OFF the heat and let sit for XX minutes instead of boiling throughout. Try it and see...I've stopped buying white pasta entirely.

Thanks!

So enjoyed the column on Tex Mex food, or the faux food part of it. When we lived in SanAntonio in the "80's my husband and I discovered a restaurant being run in the living room of a Mexican grandmother who served up the most delicious meals, artfully seasoned and mouth watering with the varied spices and chiles, and fresh and fragrant corn tortillas. They also served fajitas, bursting with flavor, long before they became popular in the North. It was eye-opening, especially since my main exposure to TexMex was Taco Bell.

Hi! I hear you... You were lucky to find that place. Home made is best!

I absolutely adore the flavors of Tex-Mex and cook it at home often. A few months ago I picked up some blue cornmeal on a whim. I used it a few times to make cornbread, and it tasted fine, but came out an odd purple color. Any tips for using this ingredient? I was thinking of making homemade tortilla chips or using it as a breading for fish, but any specific guidance you may have would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much!

That is common with blue corn meal. The colors become much more intense after it is cooked. But you can use it exactly as you would regular cornmeal. Have you seen blue corn? They are gorgeous and if you see them in the sunlight, they look kind of purply...

Our 10-inch nonstick skillet is ready for the recycling bin, because the nonstick coating is beginning to flake. I'd like to replace it with a "conventional" pan and move our stash entirely away from nonstick coatings. BUT... there are a few tasks (such as frying eggs) that I just can't quite figure out in conventional skillets. Clearly, it is possible, as it was done for generations before nonstick coatings were available. But HOW? I tried once in an extremely well seasoned cast iron, with visions of The Old Days dancing in my head. I ended up with an unmitigated mess and a lot of scrubbing to do. If it matters, we have a glass-top electric stove (gah!). Thanks.

Lodge makes pre-seasoned cast-iron skillets in all sizes; I'd think that one of them would be just right for eggy enterprise. I've cooked in them and eggs don't stick. (Also, lowering the heat when you cook eggs might help a lot.)

When you want to thicken a liquid how do you decide between using flour vs corn starch. Also what is arrowroot? Thanks!

From the Food Lover's Companion: Arrowroot is the dried, ground starchy product of a tropical tuber called arrowroot. It is more easily digested than wheat flour and has about twice the thickening power in a sauce or pudding. And it doesn't impart a chalky taste, like cornstarch. So keep those qualities in mind when you're deciding which one to use! 

Enjoyed your smackdown article, but I'm looking for easier things to eat for my superbowl party. Any favorites?

Easier to eat, or easier to make? I have to say, both ours qualify as easy to eat (well, I'll have to take others' word for it w/Tim's sandwich, but it sure looks like it), and my sandwich -- shameless plug here -- is also super easy and quick to make!

Did you browse our previous smackdowns? Lots and lots of options!

Is there a substantial difference between Tex-Mex and New Mexican food? My dad was from southern Colorado and the New Mexican style of food is what he grew up on (and subsequently, we did too).

Lines get increasingly blurry. The more that Tex Mex evolves, it incorporates more Mexican ingedients and basic cooking techniques to the Mex side of the equation. It can be similar to New Mex. However a way to try to distinguish, is that New Mex, usually doesn't have the old Tex-Mex usual suspects: heavier gravy or thickened sauces, seasoned ground meat with limited spices, a lot of cheese. It appears to be a fresher take than Tex Mex. 

Hi all-- I've been trying to cut back on my meat intake for a variety of reasons, but lately I've found myself in a rut where I'm eating baked fish or a bean-based soup or chili 3 or 4 times a week. Do you have any ideas to get me out of my rut? I'm suffering from a bean and fish overload!

You're familiar with Joe's Weeknight Vegetarian recipes, right? There are about a year's worth of dishes in that collection. Check them out.

Aw,shucks!

If someone asked me what I wanted for my last meal, it would be two crispy ground beef tacos, a soft shredded chicken taco (in a fresh flour tortilla), perfectly silky refried beans (you can keep the rice), and tons of hot thin and crispy chips with super spicy smoky blended salsa and a bowl of queso. Plus two or three margaritas, of course. This was my standard meal at my favorite Tex-Mex place in Dallas where I grew up, but they closed and to this day I still haven't found a replacement nearly as perfect (the closest was a tiny place in Sealy, TX, but that certainly isn't an easy trek). If you can guide me to a great ground beef taco anywhere in the DMV (DC or VA preferred), I would be your best friend forever. I'm now so hungry for one I could cry.

You know? I usually ask for double or triple beans and no rice.  I will let others jump in here on ground beef taco, haven't found a great one... 

Back when I was still at City Paper, I went on a hunt for local Tex-Mex because, like you, I ached for a classic combo  platter. The closest I found was Cantina Mexicana in Crystal City. I took some former Texans like myself to double check my opinion, because it had been so long since I ate good Tex-Mex. They gave it a thumbs up, too.  It's been awhile since I've been there, but at the time I went, Cantina Mexican was nearly as good as the stuff I had in Texas.

I was excited on a recent trip to Houston that I might get some good enchiladas. I went to a well regarded restaurant (forget the name) and got the same old cheese glop with refried bean stuff as anywhere else. I'm afraid I'm going to have to stick to California for enchiladas and keep ordering fajitas at Tex-Mex.

Well, that's the thing about Tex-Mex. It's not refined, or at least in its early incarnations in Texas. It was a lot of brown gravy, a lot of processed cheese, a lot of ground beef. Subtle, it is not. But for many of us, it is comfort food par excellence.

Pati, What alternatives are there to using banana leaves for cooking? I think some of the leaves I buy at my local store have too strong a smell.

Hi!

Ok, first off, if the banana leaves have too strong a smell for you, you can open the packet, unfold the leaves, and let them "air". Furthermore, many cooks, gently "toast" the leaves, you can do that by placing them in a baking sheet and in the oven at 300 for 10 minutes. 

If you want other options

-if you are cooking something small, (like tamales, fish packets, meat packets) you can always use moistened corn husks (just soak in warm water for 10 minutes, they barely have a smell and are great for holding in moisture); you can also use swiss chard, or chaya (if you are familiar with it, it is similar to spinach and can be found in some latin markets).

-I If you are making something big, like barbacoa... go for aluminum foil, and add more aromatics onto wat you are cooking:  a dried bay leave, avocado leave... 

But I love banana leaves, if it is nice outside: let them air for a while!

 

Friend of mine wants to do a "mash cake" for her baby's first birthday; the thing is that she doesn't want any sugar, dairy or flour in it. She can use nuts and eggs so I thought that a paleocake will do it, or even a Hungarian style cake (dobos torte) made of banana and eggs pancakes, but what about the frosting? Most sugar free frostings call for whipping cream or cream cheese. I thought that maybe meringue is a possibility? Will that hold without any other ingredient? Suggestions are welcome!!!

Wow, you must be a pretty good friend to take this on.

Gotta say, I'm a little stumped. A meringue wouldn't work if the same sugar-free restriction applies to the frosting since it's, well, mostly sugar. Chatters?

For the frosting, what about whipping some coconut milk with coconut oil, vanilla flavoring or maybe a little agave nectar? Maybe even some of that arrowroot....

I suggest a watermelon. No added sugar, dairy or flour, and baby can mash away to heart's content.

I'd like to get a few interesting cookbooks for a friend's wedding gift. The couple enjoys cooking and is adventurous in the kitchen-- so they don't need the basics. Any suggestions for interesting, advanced cookbooks? Any cuisine would be welcome.

I was lucky enough to get the Jeni's ice cream cookbook for Christmas, and it's fabulous. Her recipe base generally calls for 1.5 oz of cream cheese, and my family generally has no use for the other 6.5 oz in the package. Can I freeze it in 1.5 oz increments for future ice cream batches? I wasn't sure how it would hold up.

Good question, because I run into this same dilemma with that cookbook. People are on either side of the debate about to freeze cream cheese or not. To some extent, I think it depends on what you're making, but I'm not sure if the degradation in the quality of the cream cheese would affect the way Jeni has you incorporate it into the ice cream base. I'm rather cautious, so I'd maybe not go with the frozen stuff -- I'd hate to end up with a less than perfect ice cream with all those other good ingredients. Then again, if you don't mind experimenting, give it a shot.

I just read your advice from earlier this month to rinse brown rice and white rice before cooking. Uh-oh, I never do this. I do pick out "floaters" before turning up the heat. What bad things might I be cooking into my rice? Doesn't rinsing wash away nutrients? And should I assume that pre-cooked, microwavable rice was rinsed before packing?

I'm surprised you're still alive, honesly. ;-)

Seriously, the nutrient loss is minimal, according to such experts as my friend Andrea Nguyen. You're rinsing off surface starch so you get less clumping and a fresher, cleaner taste, she says. And I have found the same.

You should assume, yes, that pre-cooked, microwavable rice has been rinsed -- and more.

Do you or the chatters have a recommendation for a fresh fish market that isn't the usual grocery store? Looking for a place that sells wild salmon and flounder in particular. Thanks.

I'd check out the BlackSalt Market, in front of BlackSalt, the restaurant, in the Palisades. A good, if pricy, fish market. Here's a link to its Web site. Cannon's in Georgetown is not bad, either. If you can brave the cold, the Maine Avenue Fish Market by the waterfront can have good fish.

 

In a couple of weeks, the District Fishwife, a new fishmonger in Union Market, is expected to open. It will have both prepared foods and fresh fish for sale. It's  not clear yet what kind of fish will be available.

Try A&H Gourmet and Seafood Market in Bethesda. You might come away with that small paella pan you didn't know you were missing.

I was just chatting over on Sietsema's live Q&A last week and one of the posters asked for a recipe for the Brussels Sprout and Mushroom hash I made the day before. Caveat - It was totally a flung-together fry-up based on food in my fridge, but here it is (the amounts are estimates - use your best judgement :)): 1-2 OZ diced panchetta (you want enough for both flavor and fat) 6 medium sized sprouts - cut into 1/4" slices 6 smallish cremini mushrooms - cleaned but left whole 1/4 cup chicken broth 1 clove garlic, minced 2 T (or so) grated romano cheese Salt/pepper to taste - fry up the panchetta to render the fat at med-high temperature, add in the sprouts to start them browning/cooking, then as they start to brown, add the mushrooms brown up to your desired brownness (but don't completely cook) and then add the broth and cover to steam the sprouts to desired doneness (I think they should still be toothy but not raw/crunchy - just a couple of minutes). At this point, the broth will probably be mostly cooked off. Let it cook off and add the garlic to cook for about a minute - just to cook out the sharpness and then toss in the romano. Finish with salt & pepper to taste.

Thanks!

There is no need to follow that cooking method (I am assuming it is the Tinkyada Joy noodles-- the only place I have seen that method and the most popular ones). That is to save energy. Boiling them like regular pasta works just fine.

Is it possible to braise meat for too long? I made the Slow Baked Hanger Steak in Demi Glace and where i expected melt in my mouth deliciousness, I instead got a bit dry and stringy (still tasted fine though). if it helps any, I halved the amount of steak called for and used about 3/4 of all the other ingredients.

Hangar steak already has a stringy quality. Many don't  like that cut of meat because of its texture (although I personally love hangar because of its deep, rich beef flavor).

 

But texture aside, the meat shouldn't dry out, as long as there is braising liquid in the pot.

That is some high maintenance friend you have. The kid is going to eat almost zero of the cake at age 1, so the no sugar/dairy thing seems a bit over the top.

Yep, that's sorta what I was getting at (politely) in suggesting the watermelon.

Amen, Pati Jinich! The Tex-Mex obsession with cumin -- and the widespread supposition in the US that adding cumin to dishes makes them Mexican -- has frustrated me for years. I also share your perplexity over the goopy food ladled out in some restaurants, and something you didn't mention, namely putting so much chili pepper in dishes that the taste is lost rather than enhanced.

I hear you! Great thing is there are so many more spices and ground dried chiles available, that many cooks are starting to play with layering of flavors, rather than topping it off with one or two... 

I enjoyed the tex-mex article today and it got me thinking of the "Mexican" food of my youth - southern Californian Mexican. There was tex-mex but it was not what I craved. I was in the DC area for about 15 years before I found a bowl of menudo that tasted like home. Any thoughts on the similarities and differences between socal mex and tex-mex? Signature dishes, etc.? Thanks!

That is a great question!

Tex Mex has strong traits from cattle ranching and mining Northern Mexican food from the states of Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Sonora.. Heavy on the flour tortillas, beef, cheese, cream. So Cal Mex draws more from what is know as the "Baja Cuisine" from the states of Baja Clifornia and Baja California Sur: they have a lot of seafood, tacos WITH seafood -hence the rage over fish tacos- and more shredded fresh vegetables. That also has to do with the fact that the same cuisine in the Bajas has experienced a transormation and a boom in the past decade or so.

I'm a little late to the party on the raw milk article you guys ran last week, but I'm so upset about it that I'd still like to address it. Basically, that was some really shoddy journalism (as a full-time professional journalist for the past seven years, I'm not a complete yahoo, although I do understand this is still my opinion). It was an incredibly vague article - it gave absolutely no specific scientific evidence for either side of the argument (well, there was a line about raw milk being 150 times more likely to cause problems, but how was that established?). It didn't question the rep of the Weston A. Price foundation (a pretty darn biased group) when she quoted a study that the story implies was basically supported by the British Columbia CDC. However, a quick Google search shows the study was just presented at a BCCDC forum in which the BCCDC specifically says that the views of the presenters are not necessarily their views. In fact, the BCCDC clearly says on its website that raw milk is not safe for consumption (http://www.bccdc.ca/foodhealth/dairy/default.htm). Then there's the lede - it basically implies that both sides, including the fda, are extremist views and that we should look to the middle for a good answer. But the fda has based its position on hundreds of scientific reports - it's not extremist for the government to say that raw milk is dangerous because it is. I'm not even sure what the point of the article was - why now? There doesn't seem to be any news angle to hang it on. It certainly wasn't an indepth look at the issue. Really it just seemed to be a mouthpiece for raw milk advocates by giving them equal footing with the government, when this is one case where that is actually a poor misrepresentation of the truth. The worst part is that I know you guys can do great journalism, as exampled by the recent series by Tamar Haspel, who gets down to the actual data of hot-topic issues. Her story on the fat benefits of organic milk was wonderfuly reported. Tamar gave clear data and had a recent item to focus the story on. So why run that sad excuse of a story on raw milk? I'm obviously not a fan of raw milk, but I could have taken it better if the author had at least done a better job of reporting.

Thanks for the thoughts, and sorry you were disappointed (and glad you like Tamar, as do we!), but one thing is bugging me: I think you just read the sidebar, and not the main story. The main story was simply a look at people who are big fans of raw milk, and the lengths they go to get it. It was about that community. The sidebar was trying to show some of the different arguments. But I'll make sure writer Whitney Pipkin hears your thoughts and, if she's available this hour, can respond.

Is there a good way to remove fat from soups and stews without having to wait to cool it overnight to harden? Spooning the liquid out always seems to be a fairly Sisyphean effort and I'm not sure how I'm supposed to maneuver a heavy pot full of meat and veggies into those fat separator cups I've seen occasionally. If I have to buy a product to accomplish this, is there one you recommend in particular? (and yes, I know the flavor is better with the overnight method, I just don't always have the forethought or time to cook ahead!)

Ask, and you will receive! There is a device called a fat separator, and it does exactly what you want: remove the fat from stews and soups.

 

Fat separators, such as this one from OXO, are also heat resistant, so you don't have to wait for the liquid to cool.

Pati-- What's your opinion about using fresh masa vs. masa harina for tortillas and tamales? And have you found a local source for fresh masa? The only one I know of is Moctec in Landover, which isn't exactly convenient. You have to order two days in advance and drive all the way out there to pick it up.

Hola! No doubt about it: nothing beats fresh masa. But as you say, it is hard to get north of the border. Hopefully there will be more and more "tortillerías" as time goes by. Meanwhile, don't despair, masa made from Masa Harina can be pretty fabulous. And to be honest, that is what many Mexican cooks use in their homes in Mexico! It is convenient and easy and always on hand. 

Trcik is: when making your masa form masa harina, you have to make sure that you add enough water. I have found that many brands call for less water than a batch needs. You need to make sure your masa is malleable, like play dough. That one you roll it out or press it down, the edges appear smooth and not cracked. If they are cracked: add more water. That simple trick makes or breaks good masa from masa harina. 

A Cantina Mexicana opened up across the street from me on Columbia Pike in Arlington and it is so overwhelmingly meh. Sigh. I dreamed a dream of tacos gone by...

Sorry to hear that. I may have to check it out myself.

Apparently I was living in a cave because I just found out about the unholy marriage of tater tots and nachos. I loved the Smackdown but in our normally healthy-eating household, the Superbowl is not a veg-friendly event. Is there a WaPo approved Totcho recipe?

These Potato Chip Nachos With Chipotle Beef  are as close as we get, I think. But it's a tasty kin. 

America's fascination with tater tots: Wave your gel manicured hand in a small circle, then Discuss. 

I don't know about arrowroot but cornstarch is gluten free so I use that when cooking for gluten free family members. I have not noticed a gluey factor but then again I don't use much.

Arrowroot is GF. 

In a spate of enthusiasm, I bought four persimmons at the grocery store last week. I got home and then couldn't really find a way to use them that appealed to me right then. How do you use them? Peel them? Do they need to be cooked? Best in desserts? Please help!

Well, when I've gotten fabulous persimmons, I've just eaten them out of hand, like an apple. But if you don't want to do that, here are some recipes:

Amelia's Persimmon Date Nut Bread

Amelia's Persimmon Date Nut Bread

Persimmon Tarte Tatin

Fennel, Persimmon and Pomegranate Salad

Fennel, Persimmon and Pomegranate Salad

Persimmon, Pomegranate and Pecan Salad

Persimmon, Pomegranate and Pecan Salad

I know flat leaf parsley is vastly preferred to curly leaf, but I wound up with a bunch of the latter - any suggestions for a recipe where the curly stuff might be preferred? Thanks!

Well, I don't know about PREFERRED, but you could certainly make a nice tabbouleh with curly parsley to good effect. Or blend it up with lemon zest and garlic for persillade, and use that as a garnish for soups/stews or roasts.

Submitting early: I was intrigued by the mention of this hash last week, as at least one other chatter was. I searched the Internet and found a couple of sources for recipes that look a lot alike. http://joythebaker.com/2013/10/mushroom-and-brussels-sprout-hash/ and http://www.closetcooking.com/2013/12/brussels-sprout-and-mushroom-hash.html. Haven't tried them yet but they look promising.

Thanks!

Hi Foodies! Such great memories in your Tex-Mex article today. I spent quite a few years of my youth in Texas and visiting Mexico. I fiinally perfected my recipe for terlingua tacos, and will occasionally still make some on a weekend. The taste always takes me back to the taco trucks during that fateful spring break on The Yucatan where I was touched by another man for the first time. I did want to ask if you have any recommendations for getting that fajita/carne asada taste in vegetables, as these days I much prefer vegetarian fajitas. Thanks!

Yep! Make a good spice mix with bold choices: make sure not to overpower the mix with too much of either spice that you are using. I like to use allspice, (pinch!) of cumin, black pepper, ancho and/or chipotle ground pepper, maybe a touch of cinnamon. Something else that helps to get that "asada/o" taste is to char or broil some garlic and onion, mash it up and add to the mix!

Boy, there is enough on the internet about cast iron to make sifting through it a FT job! I am a huge fan and have 4 different CI skillets. I do fry eggs in them but (1) they are well seasoned from years of cooking, (2) I do use oil or (gulp) bacon fat, and (3) cook on gas. Much as I love it, I think it is going to take a bit of effort if you decide to switch to CI. I still use a non-stick pan for scrambled eggs and omelets.

I loved the article on Tex-Mex food today. As somebody with no claim to Texan or Mexican culture, I had always thought of Tex-Mex as absurd cheese-bombs with bland rice. But then I had the perfect Tex-Mex meal. I visited a friend's family who happen to own some hotels and restaurants in West Texas and they made us enchiladas. Seeing all those dried chilis turned into a sauce was eye-opening, but what really sealed the deal was placing a fried egg on each plate of enchiladas. I don't know if it's traditional Tex-Mex or Mexican or if both cultures consider it blasphemous, but I do know it was delicious and life changing: yes, a fried egg truly does make everything better.

I agree! Both cultures love the fried egg on top as far as I know. I grew up eating leftover red rice with sunny side eggs on top many Saturday  mornings. Makes me sigh with nostalgia. And on top of chilaquiles: few things that can beat that!

My all-time least-favorite adaptation of Mexican food was in southern California rather than Texas: Guacamole that was made with as much sour cream as avocado! I remember complaining that this was not guacamole and the restaurant staff insisting that real guacamole has sour cream so I must have been eating at bad restaurants before. Have you had any Cal-Mex encounters of your own?

Cal-Mex is another one of those Mexican cuisine variations that's hard to define. (Ask Pati!). I wrote about the Cal-Mex as defined at Taqueria el Poblano in Alexandria, which was started by Glen Adams, a Southern California transplant. 

 

My takeaway? Cal-Mex, sort of like Tex-Mex, " is what you remember it to be."

I just made the jump to a lovely big slow cooker thinking I'd be able to effortlessly whip up loads of meals that'll last for days or that I could freeze for later, but other than steel cut oats, soups, and the occasional chicken (which I'm still trying to make into a serviceable alternative to my Zuni's roast chicken recipe), I'm at a loss. Most of the recipes I've found just seem really heavy and...brown. Any ideas or resources for light, healthy meals that I can make in a slow cooker?

Good for  you. Here are a few, from our Recipe Finder. (Well, that last one's not quite healthy but light-tasting and different for a spin on meatballs):

Orange Black Beans With Cumin

Thai-Inspired Slow Cooker Tilapia

Chickpeas With Sunchokes and  Chorizo

Mexican Turkey

Pork Apple and Lemon Thyme Meatballs

If you are on the VA side of the river, I have gotten pretty nice pieces of fish from the market in the Mosaic District at Merrifield (can't remember the name now), but they have been very helpful when I needed lots of oysters and mussles for holiday meals (and super fresh).

Would that be MediterraFish? I haven't been there, but here are some details on the place, including hours.

Pok-Pok by Andy Ricker; Jerusalem by Ottolenghi and Tamimi; The Food of Morocco by Paula Wolfert; and what about Pati Jinich's book? Or was that question just a ploy to be given her book at the end of the chat?

Due to unforeseen circumstances, I have six blocks of cream cheese in my refrigerator that I would like to use and get OUT. Other than a cheesecake (or, maybe, perhaps if you can recommend a very GOOD cheesecake), what are good ways to use these up? Dips only use one or two bricks at most, and I only expect a handful of people this weekend, at MOST.

If you have only a handful of people coming over, and you have six blocks of cream cheese, can I humbly suggest that the laws of math and physics are not working in your favor, and that unless each person eats the equivalent of 1 (or 2?) blocks, you're going to be left with more. So ... freeze it, and use the blocks here and there in some savory baked casserole when you thaw to make up for the change in texture.

So do I. Especially if it's black beans. Any tortillas will provide the big helping of starch; I don't need rice (usually blah) as well.

When cooking eggs in a conventional pan, you need to use enough fat. People who have been accustomed to non-stick cookware are often fat-phobic, and don't understand how much it takes.

Any suggestions for storing small bags of spices? They are taking over the spice drawer and hiding more frequently used spices in the plastic round containers.

Transfer them to jars! Get a little funnel for the job, and while you're at it, sniff through all your inventory and toss anything that smells as if it's lost potency. If that's not enough, look at devices/strategies at places like Container Store (or hire a pro service like Shelf Genie) to help you maximize your space in drawers and on shelves.

I'd love to read sometime about recipe development. When I work out a new recipe (usually riffing off another recipe), it can take a while before I figure out the best proportions, etc. It doesn't help that a lot of times when I cook, I just eyeball the amounts of seasonings. It'd be nice to have some insight into what the professionals do! P.S. This chat has inspired a lot of new methods, flavor combos and food purchases over the years.

Good topic; we'll think about how best to make that happen. Once you think you're pretty close to the recipe you want, that's when measuring becomes more critical. 

Hi Patti, do you have a favorite recipe for tortilla soup? Thanks!

Yes! Here ya go: My Favorite Tortilla Soup

Aside from beans, are there any Mexican dishes that can be prepared in the slow cooker? Due to that pesky day job, I use the slow cooker a couple of times a week. We love Mexican food and would like to incorporate the two. Haven't checked out your cookbook yet but I'll look for it.

SO many!!!

You can make this Steak and Salsa stew or Carnitas

(and thank you for considering my cookbook!)

 

I really love enchiladas that have sour cream on/in them, or in the sauce, but the one time I tried to bake with it the sour cream sort of "separated" and it kind of came out weird looking and tasting. Do you have any suggestions? Or should I make some sort of a sauce on the side to drizzle over instead?

YES!!!! I never ever bake with sour cream for that reason. Try to find Mexican Crema or something similar, like Salvadorean or Latin style. It is thinner, tangier and holds the heat better. If you can't find it, use heavy cream. I usually use sour cream when it goes on top, or after the dish has baked.  

There's a good fish stand in Eastern Market too.

Yes, good call. Southern Maryland Seafood has been around since the 1930s.

Pati, Come back to San Antonio! I promise it is not all substandard Tex Mex. Heck, you can even get a nice cochinita pibil taco from a taco truck. You just have to find the right place. Saludos, Alex

Hahaha! Alex! you are making my day. I love San Antonio and in fact will be back there on March 27th for the KLRN Chef Series Dinner. Will look for that Pibil taco, Alex. 

Saludos!

No mention of Maine Avenue??

Yes, I mentioned it in my original response. But as I said earlier, you have to be willing to withstand the cold weather right  now. Although I guess you could consider it an act of solidarity: Empathize with the workers at the Maine Avenue Fish Market who have to stand out in this polar vortex and go buy their seafood!

Go to Kraft's website, where there are practically hundreds of well-organized recipes for Philadelphia cream cheese

Yep, of course. But I doubt any of them result in something that uses 6 blocks but serves just 3 people, right? 

Having friends for dinner and making my tried-and-true cream based veggie lasagna. However, I usually use a jar of alfredo sauce but remembered that one guest can't eat sugar, which of course is in all processed foods! Any recommendations for a homemade alfredo sauce recipe? Thanks!

Maybe what you need is more of a mornay sauce -- basically a bechamel with cheese. If you follow the sauce directions in this recipe for a Gruyere, Spinach and Mushroom Lasagna (hey! could it fit the bill?), you'll be good. 

How would you serve Mahogany Short Ribs in winter? What would compliment them well? (I don't need recipes, necessarily, just sort of categories or ideas). Thanks. Hoping to make them this weekend, maybe wtih hot & sour soup as a starter. We'll see.

Polenta.

I'm feeling a bit under the weather and am working from home today, and wanted to take the chance to cook something time consuming for dinner. I just had pasta with oxtail ragu last night so I'd like to give beef stew a rest, but other than that, I'm open. Any recommendations for a fun project for a cold day at home? Thanks!

You're willing to go to the store, I hope. How about a Tangia of Lamb Shanks With Saffron and Cumin (Parts I and II)? Or a tuna confit? Or Chicken Basquaise?

I've got a sack of sweet potatoes that's been sitting around since Thanksgiving, and no inspiration at all for using them. The usual baked preparations, soup, etc. are just not sounding appealing. Help?

Not really a texmex question but recently my mom made some chocolate. I'd like to try and introduce it this coming Sunday to my American family. Would go great with this cold weather also. But I want to add something to spice it up. Any ideas?

Yep, I do!

You can use a Mexican Chocolate bar like Abuelita (which I love and munch on at night... ) or you can make your own, like I do in this recipe

In any case, you can spice it up more, by adding more cinnamon, a bit of allspice (a couple berries), a couple cloves, or even a bit of ground chile ancho or chipotle. However: if you decide to add the whole spices or chiles, toast for a minute on a hot skillet or comal set over medium heat.Be careful not to burn them, but make them fragrant and you will see their color change. They will blend better with the rest of the mix. 

You might find interesting a recent article by America's Test Kitchen on the emergence of "cheese product" in supposedly Tex-Mex cooking. They attribute it to government-supplied cheese in the Depression era, and even an '80s-era "unemployment cookbook." http://www.americastestkitchenfeed.com/food-of-yore/2014/01/the-american-cheese-surplus-and-what-it-has-to-do-with-tex-mex-enchiladas/

Yes, I've read that before elsewhere, and it may well be true. But the tradition has continued long after the Depression ended and restaurants could have used any other cheese.

 

But this the paradox of Tex-Mex for those of us who love all kinds of food: It's not about good ingredients. In fact, sometimes it's far from it. It's about comfort and tons of cheese and good friends and hot Texas summers and cold margaritas with a salted rim.

Here - a VERY good cheesecake recipe that uses 5 blocks! It claims to be the classic Lindy's recipe. http://www.saveur.com/article/Recipes/Lindys-Cheesecake I have always replaced the crust with a cookie/graham cracker crust.

There is one way up Connecticut Avenue, near Chevy Chase Circle. the name totally escapes me at the moment. there is a bagel shop across the street, which is pretty good too.

use some of those Kraft Website ideas, make a few casseroles, and bring them to shelters for people who are struggling in the cold and snow.

Husband has decided to lose the equivalent, to a teenager in weight (his words)...he likes the low carb diet but adding lower sugar fruit. The only issue that he is experiencing is that he's getting extremely tired of eggs for breakfast. Any suggestions? Not allowed flours, potatoes, rice....high carb foods.

How about a parfait made with Greek yogurt? Maybe with some of that fruit and a little honey, if that's allowed.

How about posole, either red or green?

That too! I have a great red pozole recipe

You can make it with chicken, or pork butt/shoulder, or a combination of both. 

It won't use it all, but a couple of packages could go into a smoked salmon or smoked trout mousse, which is incredibly easy to maek in the food processor and is a very tasty party appetizer.

"America's fascination with tater tots" When I was a child, my mom made us eat healthy. But then my dad lost his job, and we got free lunch. This was my exposure to what "normal" people ate. And there were a LOT of tater tots involved. I think we are all trying to re-create childhood memories when we eat tater tots. Also, they are easy to cook. (And I really really would like a way to insert hard returns into replies here. I KNOW this is going to come through as a wall of text rather than nicely spaced as I have it here in the little box.)

Interesting. Maybe it's the ratio of  soft interior to crunchy exterior, too. Were millennials raised on tater tots?

 

Just use two consecutive paragraph/returns to put some air in the response. We do not take off points for style. :)

Do you find fresh guajillos and anchos somewhere or are these (reconstituted?) dried chilies?

Hi, 

Th Guajillos and Anchos are always dried chiles. For example, the Anchos, are Poblano chiles that have been dried. You need to rehydrate them in your kitchen, bit it is incredbly simple. Literally, soak or simmer in water. 

I forgot to mention that this wasn't for this weekend--just an accident of poor grocery shopping after leftovers from baking for a wedding shower! I didn't want it to go to waste, couldn't justify using it all this weekend, and didn't know what to do with a whole cheesecake! But, armed with the knowledge that I can freeze it without much damage, I am not so frazzled by my glut of cream cheese.

Great!

I use canned beans (kidney, chickpeas etc) quite a lot. I rinse them to use them in soups and with other items like kale. Is it bad not to rinse the beans. Is it unhealthy to have/use the liquid. Thanks for all you do! Makes life so much easy.

Yes, rinse! Helps reduce the sodium, and cuts down on a slightly metallic taste. Plus, if you're worried about BPA in can linings, can't hurt to rinse away this liquid, right?

Leftovers! Get out of the "MUST eat ONLY breakfast foods for breakfast" mold. Leftovers make an awesome breakfast, and quick to boot!

I had a root canal this morning, my first and hopefully last. Anyone with ideas for something that will be soft in my mouth as I anticipate a lot of pain and a good deal of pain medication?

Paspalas! Or another soft egg dish. 

Riffing off of the other tortilla soup question...I had a tortilla soup at a resort in Mexico on my honeymoon. The broth was a clear tomatoy-chicken-y broth. By that, I mean that it was red, but it was...clear. Most recipes I've seen have more of a chili-like base. I'm probably not doing a very good job of explaining this, but any idea how I can recreate that broth?

It is simply a much lighter broth: less tomatoes and/or chiles and a lot more chicken or veggie broth. 

The Spicy Sweet Potato Wedges from Smitten Kitchen get me every time. I've adjusted the recipe for lots of red pepper flake and whatever else I've got a hankering for, and can eat them all by myself.

You may be tired of sweet potato casserole, but I love this recipe. It's a take on the famous Ruth's Chris version--no marshmallows. It is a bit sweet, so if you're going to serve with dinner, maybe cut down on the sugar. This recipe (http://www.the-girl-who-ate-everything.com/2010/11/sweet-potatoes-ruths-chris-style.html) will use 3-4 sweet potatoes, depending on size. You can also make sweet potato chips or fries--I've baked both in the oven with fairly good results (375-400 until done)

Ahh,I. Read the story online yesterday and did not see it was connected to another story. That at least clears up the purpose of it. However, I still maintain my position that the story deserved a lot more reporting. There's been a LOT of research done on raw milk that shows it's just not safe. (FDA reports 2,659 illnesses attributed to raw milk since 1987, including 3 deaths and 2 miscarriages.)

Here is the latest FDA information on raw milk. You need to put all statistics into context, though. Leafy greens generate far more illnesses among Americans than raw milk.

Hello, Pati Jinich! I have been making tortilla soup every two days because of this cold weather and eating it every day, even twice a day. Is there anything else as wonderful and warming? Do you ever blend the chilies into the broth? Please share your own recipe! Muchas gracias!

Oh, this is one of my favorites Creamy Poblano Soup

Well, you've baked us until we puffed to form a dome, browned all over and sounded hollow when tapped, so you know what that means -- we're done!

Thanks for the great q's today, and thanks to Pati for helping us handle them!

Now for the giveaway book: The chatter who started with "Amen, Pati" will, of course, get a signed copy of "Pati's Mexican Table." Send your mailing info to Becky.Krystal@washpost.com, and we'll get it to you!

Until next week, happy cooking, eating and reading!

In This Chat
Joe Yonan
Joe Yonan is editor of the Food section; joining us today are deputy editor Bonnie Benwick, staff writer Tim Carman, Spirits columnist Carrie Allan, Smoke Signals columnist Jim Shahin and editorial aide Becky Krystal. Guest: cookbook author and public television host Pati Jinich.
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