Yesterday the snowpocalypse was predicted for central North Carolina. They were calling for up to 12 inches (we’ve gotten about 6 inches so far), which is simply unheard of around here. If you don’t live in the South, people tend to lose their minds here a bit when it snows. Everyone rushes out to the store in a mad panic for milk, bread and toilet paper. Then as soon as the snow starts to accumulate, people remember they just have to return that video or some other excuse, and they all go out driving. So far this morning, we’ve had about 400 wrecks. It’s definitely safer to cower indoors until it melts.
I did my provisioning yesterday (coffee, wine, bread — all the important stuff), so I am prepared to wait this thing out. This morning, I even made pancakes because I still have some buttermilk in the fridge. Snow makes even an ordinary Saturday seem like a holiday.
Last night, I made tacos, which I like to do on Friday nights because it’s a good way to use up the little bits of food that tend to accumulate by the end of the week: some chopped onion, a small hunk of cheese, half an avocado, etc. I added poached, shredded chicken and the remainder of the jarred salsa I have. To go with it, I made Mexican rice, similar to what is served on the combo platters in the low-end Mexican restaurants. The rice is cooked with a pureed mixture of tomatoes, onion and garlic. I’m not a big fan of rice anyway, and this recipe wasn’t a hit with me, so I don’t think I’ll make it again.
I might do some baking today, and make some soup. Snow on the ground puts me in a baking mood.
When you think about it, there’s really not much difference between a burrito, an enchilada, a taco and a tostada. The main differences are presentation and heating method. But you can essentially use the same fillings for all of these (and other tasty Mexican-style dishes). That’s why I always keep a pack of tortillas in the fridge. Using them, I can put together a quick dinner with pretty much what I have on hand, and I can mix it up many different ways to keep things interesting.
Here are what I see as the essential building blocks:
- The tortillas: I prefer the small flour tortillas, which are the most versatile, but you might like the larger burrito size, corn tortillas or hard taco shells. If I buy a lot, I freeze the extras.
- The filling: You can choose something very simple, such as browned ground meat or chopped onion, or pile it on. I like to use up leftovers, such as rice, beans or bean dip, cooked meats and grilled or roasted vegetables. Fried or scrambled eggs also work nicely.
- The cheese: Always required. I usually have something appropriate on hand, such as cheddar, Monterey Jack or even goat cheese.
- The sauce: Salsa will work. So will bottled or homemade enchilada sauce or chili sauce. Even barbecue sauce will do in a pinch.
- The garnishes: These are the finishing touches. Lettuce, tomato and sour cream are naturals. Also think pickled jalapenos, guacamole, raw onion or whatever you like.
Now here’s how you put it all together, from simplest to more complex:
- Tacos: Wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil and warm them for 10 minutes or so in a 400-degree oven while you’re preparing the rest of the ingredients. Let everyone assemble their own at the table.
- Tostadas: Toast the tortillas individually in a dry nonstick skillet for a few minutes per side. Serve open-faced and just pile it on.
- Burritos: Spoon the filling in a thick line down the bottom of the tortilla. Top with cheese and sauce. Fold in the sides to partially cover the filling, then fold the bottom over part of the filling and roll up. Bake seam-side-down in an oiled casserole dish at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, until bubbly. Garnish after cooking.
- Enchiladas: Traditionally, enchiladas are made with fewer filling ingredients than burritos, so they are rolled thinner. Prepare as for burritos, except top with more sauce and cheese before baking.
- Chilaquiles: Cut the tortillas into wedges and fry in a small amount of hot oil until crisped and browned. Layer the wedges in a baking dish with the filling ingredients, cheese and sauce, like a Mexican lasagna. Make three layers, ending with cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes, until bubbly. Garnish.
- Nachos: Spread tortilla chips on a baking sheet and top with the filling ingredients, sauce and cheese. Broil until the cheese melts. Garnish to serve.
Quick and Easy Enchilada Sauce
Time to make: 15 minutes
Yields: 2 cups
- 1 sm. onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1-2 chiles, chopped (optional)
- 1 tbsp. oregano
- 2 tsp. cumin
- 2 tbsp. chili powder
- 2 tbsp. Mexican or Southwestern seasoning mix (optional)
- 2 cups crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
Saute the onion and garlic in the oil over medium until the onion turns translucent. (Also add the chiles, if using). Stir in all of the seasonings and cook another minute or so. Add the tomatoes. Simmer until the sauce is no longer liquidy. Let cool and puree before using.
We don’t have a regular weekly taco night around here, but I do make tacos on a regular basis. They fulfill all the requirements of a weeknight dinner: quick, easy, uses whatever you have on hand. I prefer soft tacos with the small flour tortillas, and this filling works really well. It was a big hit last night. (You can also make this with shredded beef or pork, if you prefer.) I like to mix it up with the toppings, offering salsa, guacamole, sour cream, lettuce and tomato, and/or raw onion as the mood strikes me. Shredded cheese is not optional.
Shredded Chicken for Tacos
Time to make: ~30 minutes
Yields: Enough for 4-6 small tacos
- 1 large or 2 small boneless chicken breasts
- Chicken stock for poaching (use water if you don’t have it)
- 4-6 small flour tortillas
- Vegetable oil
- ½ onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Salt, pepper and seasoning mix to taste — I prefer Penzey’s adobo or chicken taco mixes
- Jalapeno hot sauce to taste, or substitute minced jalapenos or other green chiles
- 4-6 sm. tomatoes, chopped — I use whole canned tomatoes and freeze the remainder
- Toppings as desired
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil and let warm in the oven while everything is cooking.
Bring the chicken stock or water to a simmer. Submerge the chicken breast in the stock and poach until cooked through, about 10-15 minutes, depending on the thickness. Set aside to cool briefly, reserving the cooking liquid. Shred with a fork.
While the chicken is cooling, heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium. Add the onions and garlic. If you are using chiles, add them as well. Saute until the garlic turns golden.
Add the shredded chicken. Season and stir well.
Add the tomatoes and hot sauce, if using. Bring to a simmer, breaking the tomatoes up with the spoon. If the mixture starts to get too dry, add a spoonful or two of the chicken cooking liquid. Cook about 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have broken down and the liquid has mostly evaporated.
Spoon the filling into the warmed tortillas and let everyone top as they will.