Tres Leches Cake

I made Tres Leches Cake several years ago, and liked it more than I expected. When I decided to have a small Cinco de Mayo party this year, I wanted to try the recipe from Smitten Kitchen. (Or maybe I had a Cinco de Mayo party this year because I wanted to try the recipe. Sometimes it’s hard to tell.)

Tres Leches Cake, literally a three milk cake, is a cake soaked in a mixture of three kinds of dairy, generally sweetened condensed milk, evaporated milk, and cream. In this recipe, the cake is a (butterless) sponge cake, but simplified so it’s made entirely in a (single) stand mixer bowl. Very lightly sweetened whipped cream takes the place of frosting.

I liked this recipe more than Alton Brown’s recipe, which I made before. This cake was very delicious. It was milky and sweet, without being tooth-achingly sweet since it’s slightly sweetened whipped cream for frosting. The texture of the cake held up even after several days. Since the recipe says to reserve extra milk for serving, very little liquid leaked from the cake when I cut it. I didn’t find the extra milk necessary since the cake stayed very moist.

Technical details: This is usually where I say “the recipe was simple.” And it wasn’t hard – for a sponge cake. Like many people, I find standard sponge cake recipes, where you whip egg whites to soft peaks and stiff peaks, and fold in other ingredients without deflating said perfect egg whites, to be a little tricky and nerve-wracking. This recipe is nice because I could whip the egg whites (consulting the internet for pictures of “soft peaks” and “stiff peaks,” because I still need visual reminders), and use the stand mixer to add all remaining ingredients except flour. Since I could use the stand mixer for everything else, I didn’t worry (much) about deflating the cake when I folded in the dry ingredients. [Admission: I used the stand mixer on low for my first two additions of flour, contrary to the instructions; this didn’t ruin the cake.] With soaking the cake, I only worried that the milk would overflow the pan since my cake rose higher than the edge of the pan on one side thanks to my not-level oven. After I topped the cake with whipped cream (which also rose above the pan), I inverted a second pan over it as a cover.

The only change I might try next time would be to use half-and-half instead of heavy cream in the three-milk mixture – save a handful of calories.  Continue reading Tres Leches Cake

Fajitas

I finally have a favorite recipe for fajitas. It’s delicious, fast, and incredibly easy to make. Previously, I made fajitas before using a recipe from a cookbook I’d had for years; they were always tasty, but I recall the recipe being a little involved, though I can’t remember how. But leave it to Smitten Kitchen to again give a delicious, streamlined recipe that I can count on.

chickenfajitas

What do I love about this recipe? Little things. You cook the vegetables before the meat, then add it back – I can’t recall ever seeing that in a recipe like this (which is essentially a stir-fry). The marinade for the meat has little liquid, so you don’t have to drain it. You just dump the meat into the skillet, and there’s no mess and no waste! I’ve made this with beef and with chicken, and they were equally delicious, but I favor using beef mainly because I can buy precut stir-fry beef.

The marinade was flavorful but not spicy. The meat and vegetables cooked perfectly in my cast iron skillet. It was quick for me to combine the spices and lime juice (I use bottled) to marinate the meat and to cut the vegetables (while Amelia had her afternoon snack), and that could easily be done the night before. The fajitas took very little time to cook, and were great as leftovers too.

beeffajitas

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Horchata

My friend Kate had a vegan taco night at her house. There are a number of delicious vegan foods – like salsa or guacamole – that I could have made to take that night. Instead, I decided that it was the perfect time for me to make Horchata.

That’s right – horchata is dairy-free. Really. The beverage is basically a rice-almond milk.

refreshing Horchata
refreshing Horchata

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Kung Pao Chicken Tacos

I’m going to complain about a rather tasty dinner I made.

Yes, complain. Because although Kung Pao Chicken Tacos were tasty, it was an awful lot of prep for 5 minutes of eating dinner.

I know that I’m the person who makes her own vanilla extract; who takes the time to make my own bread from scratch, sometimes even if I knead it by hand; who will roast chickens for fun; and who will even take the time to make candy on the stove. But after work, several short and easy steps just seem frustratingly numerous and time-consuming. I particularly don’t like the drudgery of chopping things for dinner after work.

Maybe it’s just the weeknight timing that’s frustrated me with this recipe today. Luckily, my time spent produced good food. Here’s how I made yummy tacos.

Continue reading Kung Pao Chicken Tacos

Black Bean Soup

My friend Theresa had a favorite recipe for black bean soup to share with me before I left my job last October. In an effort to eat healthily (and inexpensively – beans are cheap!), I decided I would go ahead and try it!

Black Bean Soup

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Homesick Texan Carnitas

Carnitas are delicious! That said, my experience with them at restaurants was hit-or-miss – sometimes they were good, and sometimes they weren’t. The delicious experiences stuck with me, though, so I was excited when Deb at Smitten Kitchen posted about Homesick Texan Carnitas.

This recipe appealed to me because it had a short list of ingredients, and the cooking was largely hands-off. Take a boneless pork shoulder/butt and cut it into pieces; the recipe says 2-inch pieces but I both trimmed fat from mine and cut mine smaller. Put in a pot and add orange juice, lime juice, cumin, garlic, and salt (my juice and garlic was bottled, not fresh); top with enough water to cover the meat. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 2 hours. Next you’re supposed to turn up the heat, evaporate the liquid, and fry the pieces in rendered fat from the pork shoulder (which is a fatty cut).

I have a gas stove, so I didn’t turn down my heat enough. The meat is apparently all supposed to still be covered while it cooked, but all my liquid disappeared by two hours since my temperature was higher. At this point, I stirred the pork, not caring if the pieces fell apart. I didn’t get a good sear on any of the pork – in fact, stirring it probably prevented a sear from happening, so be gentle if you stir your pork. I made these twice, in fact, to try to get a better finish on the meat, but I made the same mistake twice – higher heat with faster cooking times, plus I stirred the pork.

Homesick Texan Carnitas, with salsa and slaw

I didn’t mind trying it twice, though, because it was delicious both times! Since pork shoulder is fatty, it’s a very forgiving cut. The carnitas were moist and tender from the long cooking time, even though the pork finished faster with higher heat. The pork had a great citrus flavor. I didn’t have any cilantro the second time I made these, and I really missed it. I preferred eating the carnitas with rice rather than tortillas; I’d ideally serve them with guacamole, cilantro, and a green salsa.

This is a good recipe, perfect for those weekend days where you have the time to cook a dish for a long time, but you don’t want to spend much time in the kitchen.

Pan de Muerto Bones

I enjoy baking, and it seemed like if I were going to make bread that was shaped like bones (and wasn’t intended to be a dog biscuit or a cookie for a dog-themed party), the appropriate time would be before Halloween.

Pan de Muerto Bones (literally “Bread of the Dead,” shaped like bones) caught my eye when I first saw it, sometime last year. Bone-shaped rolls looked fun, and the thought of scents of citrus and anise wafting through my house as I made soft, fluffy bread called to me.

However, I didn’t have the time. Now that I’m more-or-less settled in my apartment, it’s time to bake some delicious bread. The recipe yielded 18 bones – definitely more than my husband and I could (or should) comfortably eat, so I planned to make them when I would have some friends over. I could have halved the recipe, but what would have been the fun in that?

I could tell you a little more about Pan de Muerto or Day of the Dead (which encompasses All Saints Day, November 1, and not just/necessarily Halloween), but I honestly don’t know more about it than what I learned in high school Spanish 12+ years ago, or what I’d look up online. I’d rather just tell you about making and eating this bread.

Pan de Muerto Bones

Continue reading Pan de Muerto Bones

Mexican Chocolate Cream Pie

With the hot summer weather, I’ve really wanted cream pies. Recently I’ve made a Key Lime Pie (very refreshing and satisfying, and soooo easy – I strongly recommend it); a lemonade pie that never set; and a chocolate peanut butter ice cream pie which, although not a cream pie, was cold and refreshing (and a hassle since I’d rather just eat ice cream). With those gone, I decided that I finally had to make the Mexican Chocolate Cream Pie recipe.

I originally put off making this pie because I didn’t feel like making a pie crust. I’m glad I did make the crust, though, because it was much better than a store-bought one, and it wasn’t too difficult to put together. The crust was graham cracker crumbs, cinnamon, a little salt, sugar, butter, and an egg white. I tossed in the whole white that I separated from the yolk used in the pie, rather than measure it. The mixture was easy to press into the pie dish, and smelled great while baking.

The filling was more work-intensive, but also not incredibly difficult – just a standard custard. Whisk together sugar, cocoa, cornstarch, salt, cayenne, an egg, one egg yolk, and espresso powder (which I skipped) in a bowl. Heat milk in a heavy saucepan to 180F; I used a thermometer because it’s easier that way, but you can also just heat until bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Gradually whisk the milk into the cocoa mixture, little by little as to not cook the eggs. Return the mixture to the pan and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Remove from heat, and stir in dark chocolate, or chocolate chips as I did.

The recipe says to cool the filling in an ice bath. I didn’t, but I did allow it to cool a little, stirring now and then, before I poured it into the crust. I covered it with plastic wrap, put the pie in the fridge, and topped it the next day with Cool Whip and a few graham cracker crumbs.

Mexican Chocolate Cream Pie

This pie was really good. The cinnamon graham crust complimented the chocolate well. The cayenne was noticeable as a heated aftertaste in the throat and on the tongue. This wasn’t the best chocolate filling ever – that honor still goes to my grandma’s recipe – but it was still a pretty rich chocolate. The crust was best right after I made it, and got a little soggy over time. Overall, this was a great pie, and worth making again.

Hot Tamales!

I grew up eating tamales from a can. We would usually top them with chili. [They’re a little bland on their own.] Tamales were one of my favorite foods as a kid, but I went a long time without eating them. After a long hiatus, I finally had Hormel tamales again, and they were still nostalgically satisfying with chili.

Since they were one of my favorite foods, I’ve tried ordering tamales in (Tex-Mex?) restaurants. They’re not a main draw on any menu, but they’re usually available as a single item a la carte or in a combo. I’ve usually been disappointed when I’ve tried them, because they’ve usually been dry. I enjoyed ones from Chevy’s. I love the ones at Rosa’s Cafe and Tortilla Factory, and I usually get some when I visit my parents, who live in Texas. Both of those places have tamales that are flavorful, and definitely not dry. The best tamales I ever had were from a vendor at a Metro subway stop in Mexico City. They were cheap, and they were the largest tamales ever – a square tamal the size of the palm of my hand, wrapped in a banana or plaintain leaf.

I’ve had frozen tamales as well – Trader Joe’s makes some tasty ones. They cost at least $2 for a package of 2. For some reason it seems like a lot to pay, but I suppose it’s not particularly surprising, because they’re pretty labor-intensive to make.

I’ve been talking about tamales for a little bit, but what are they? They’re simply a cornmeal dough stuffed with a filling and wrapped in a corn husk. I get the impression that most people haven’t tried them. I could be wrong. However, I know I think my husband hadn’t tried one until he met me. I’ve also never seen my friends try them at Mexican restaurants.

It’s been a long-standing dream of mine to make tamales. I finally decided this year that I needed to try it. I wanted to make pork tamales. I kept putting it off because I wanted to try an authentic recipe if I was going to take the time to make them. Eventually I decided to make Alton Brown’s recipe for Hot Tamales. Its authenticity is debatable, but Alton Brown knows how to make good food, so I was sure the recipe would turn out.

Hot Tamales

This recipe took me all Sunday afternoon to make, so it’s certainly not a process for the faint of heart. You have to make the pork filling, make the masa, soak the corn husks, assemble, and cook.

I started soaking corn husks before I began to cook anything. I actually had some pork already cooked and frozen, so I thawed that to use. It turned out that I had twice as much pork as I needed, so I doubled the spice mixture. I knew I’d need the cooking liquid, so I heated up water to speed up the thawing of my pork. You’re supposed to put half of the spice mixture in the liquid, but I wasn’t making a double-batch of liquid. I added a third of the spice mixture to the liquid, meaning that the water had more spice than it was probably supposed to. I simmered the pork briefly, then let it cool. I sauteed onion, garlic, and jalapeno, added the remaining spice mixture, and stirred in the shredded pork.

While the pork mixture cooled, I made the masa. I only made a single batch of masa to start, even though I had twice as much pork. I used half cornmeal and half fine cornmeal that I happened to have. I mixed it with baking powder and salt. Instead of using my hands, I cut in shortening (in place of lard) with a pastry cutter, which worked just fine. I added about 3 cups of liquid to the cornmeal and mixed it together. I didn’t have any trouble getting the dough to the right consistency, moist but not wet.

Once the corn husks, masa, and pork mixture were ready, it was time to assemble the tamales. I had a little trouble following the directions in the recipe, and I had trouble getting started. Luckily Alton Brown has an excellent video showing how to roll tamales.

Once I took a look at the video, I got back to rolling tamales. I honestly cannot explain how to roll the tamales – the best way to figure it out is to watch the video. It went much more quickly after I did that.

I didn’t have twine to bind the tamales together in bundles, so I put my 8-quart stock pot on its side so I could stack the tamales in it. They fit snugly. I made a second half-batch with the remaining corn husks and (some of the pork), and cooked them similarly in a much smaller pot.

I poured the reserved liquid that I used for the pork back into the pan, making sure to not pour it on top of the tamales. I misread the directions and boiled them for 12 minutes (whereas the directions said to bring to a boil, which would take 12 minutes). I reduced the heat to low and simmered them, uncovered, for at least an hour and a half. I thought they were a little dry, so I put the lid back on them and simmered them for a little longer to try to make them softer.

Hot Tamales – what was left after eating them for 10 meals

These tamales had a great spicy flavor. They were very satisfying. Some of them were more moist than others, and I’m not sure what the difference was. I liked the moist ones better than the drier ones. These are better than any tamales I’ve ever bought. I ate 4 tamales for lunch just about every day for a week, and I didn’t get tired of them. I poured a little water over them in my container to help steam them as I microwaved them, and to make them a little softer and less dry. After eating them for 10 meals, I decided it was time to freeze whatever was left. I double-wrapped them in plastic wrap in bundles of 4, and put them in freezer bags.

Tamales took a huge amount of time to make. It easily ate up the majority of my Sunday afternoon. It would have been a little better if I’d made Alex help me roll the tamales, as that was about an hour’s worth of work that would be best if divided among multiple people. That said, cornmeal and pork are not pricey, so this was an inexpensive recipe to make for the quantity of food you get. A single batch yields between 48 and 60, so it’s great if you have a lot of people to feed, or if you’re willing to eat tamales forever like I am. I wouldn’t make this recipe often, but I really enjoyed the final product. They’re also supposed to freeze well, so I can have weeks worth of lunches. I think I’ll try this recipe again.

Mexican Hot-Chocolate Cookies

My friend Jill made Mexican Hot-Chocolate Cookies as part of a December cookie bake-off, and they sounded great. I had to try them. The cookies are basically chocolate snickerdoodles with cayenne mixed into the cinnamon sugar that coats the outside.

This was a pretty straightforward recipe to make. After I mixed together the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, and salt), I creamed margarine with sugar in a separate bowl with an electric hand mixer. I added the eggs, and gradually added the flour mixture. The recipe says to use heaping tablespoons to measure the dough. For some reason, I decided to eyeball it. I ended up getting a couple more than the 32-cookie yield the recipe said I should get.

{Edit: The second time I made these, I also got more cookies. Also, if your cream of tartar is old, your cookies won’t spread out. They’ll be little balls – delicious, but not the same. If they don’t spread out, still take them out at the right time – don’t overbake!}

You roll the dough into balls, and then roll them in the cinnamon-cayenne-sugar mixture. I have Indian “chilli powder” that I use in place of cayenne.  I didn’t know if it would be hotter than regular cayenne pepper, so I decided to make a test cookie. The cinnamon-chile powder sugar was spicy on its own (I tasted it), but it wasn’t nearly so hot once it was on a cookie. {Edit: Be sure to use the full 1/2 teaspoon of chile!} I baked the rest of the cookies on silpat-covered baking sheets at 400F for 10 minutes – any longer than that and they got a little too crisp.

Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies

These were fantastic cookies. They turned out beautifully. I love cookie dough that you roll into balls before baking; the cookies spread out evenly as they bake and turn out perfectly round (and, they practically look store-bought). The few Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies I ate the night I made them were good, but they became uniformly soft and chewy, even out to the edges, after being in a sealed container overnight. The chocolate cookie was rich and chewy. Some of the cookies were hotter than the others, but that mostly just depended on how the cayenne pepper settled in the cinnamon sugar. A few cookies were a little spicy as you ate them; for most of the cookies, the cayenne left your mouth warm after you ate the cookie. I took some to work, and everyone there really liked them; we had friends over, and they all liked them too. I really enjoyed this recipe; it’s a keeper!