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Lemme guess–you saw the title of this post and immediately wanted to bail, didn’t you? I get it. I do. Who, in these crazy, busy times, wants to spend time making a taco filling that takes two days?

Well, nobody, unless you have good reason to. And believe me, you have reasons.

Let me count ‘em for you:

1. Everyone loves tacos

2. Almost the entirety of the 2-day taco process is hands-off and wicked easy

3. The 2-day taco is mind-altering and life-changing and…bonus! so much easier on your backside

4. Easier on your backside = more tacos in your future

5. Did anyone say more tacos?

 

Can you really argue with that reasoning?

Here’s the deal. Taco filling made in the slow cooker needs a little extra love but the payoff is huge. The cut of beef you use here–well marbled chuck roast–is completely transformed into something unctuous and fall-apart tender when you cook it low and slow. That juicy and flavorful beef beats the daylights out of your Mama’s ground beef tacos of yore. We’re all a little grown up now to be eating those ground meat tacos, don’t you think? Those tacos were great when you were in Toughskins and saddle shoes but we’re a little past that, eh?

The only problem with these slow cooker tacos is, well, guess why the meat is so luxurious and crave-worthy? F-A-T. That pretty marbling on the chuck roast is fat. Fatty cuts of meat are incredibly well-suited to the slow cooker but if you’re at all health conscious, it may give you a little pause before you tuck into a huge plateful.

That’s where the 2-day method comes in.

Day One (morning): Season your beef, sear it off, plop it in the slow cooker with a few other things, set the timer for 6-8 hours and forget it.

Day One (afternoon/evening):Once your beef is fall apart tender, turn off the cooker, cool it down a little, and store the beef and the cooking liquid separately in the refrigerator overnight.

Day Two (whenever): Remove your containers from the refrigerator and be absolutely stunned and perhaps a little horrified at how much solidified fat has risen to the top of the braising liquid. No worries, gentle readers. Just grab a big spoon and remove and discard all of it. You now have a healthy, concentrated, low-fat braising liquid. Scrutinize your beef a little and remove any globs of fat that might be cozying up to it because that fat has done it’s job–thanks for playing!–but now you don’t need it anymore.

Day Two (whenever): Re-introduce your tender beef to that yummy braising liquid and heat it through. Gather up a whole mound of goodies and toppings to serve on the side and Viola! Amazing tacos with just a fraction of the butt damage.

I predict that once you eat these tacos, you are going to want to crown me Queen of All Things.

Who just gave you a recipe for cantina-style tacos that feed a crowd? Who gave you this recipe just before big-game season? And, most importantly, who just gave you a way to do this without having to buy jumbo granny underpants in the near future?

Ahem.

I will be anxiously awaiting my tiara.

 

 

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Slow Cooker Braised Beef Taco Filling

makes enough taco filling to feed about 6 people

2 1/2 pounds chuck roast, cut into 4 roughly equal pieces

1-2 tablespoons canola oil

3 garlic cloves, minced

2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons chile powder

salt and pepper

1 large onion, peeled and quartered

2 bay leaves

1/2 cup Mexican lager beer

 

For serving:

warm tortillas

salsa or pico de gallo

cilantro

sliced radishes

avocado slices

cotija cheese

lime wedges

 

Season the beef generously with salt and pepper. In a large skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the beef and brown on both sides, working in batches if necessary as to not crowd the pan. This should take about 6 minutes. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, add the beef to the slow cooker.

Add the garlic, spices, onion and bay leaf to the meat and stir well. Pour in the beer.

Cover and cook on the low setting for about 6-8 hours or until the meat is fall-apart tender. Cool meat and cooking liquid and then refrigerate separately overnight (you can transfer the beef and liquid to 2 Tupperware containers or just drain the liquid into a container and throw the slow cooker insert with the meat into the refrigerator, covered).

Remove solidified fat from the top of the cooking liquid and remove any chunks of solidified fat from beef. At this point, you can put them back together in the slow cooker and heat it up that way, or do it on a pot on the stovetop if you’re in a hurry.

Discard bay leaves and check for seasoning. Adjust as necessary. Shred beef finely with 2 forks if it’s not already falling to pieces. Remove beef from the cooking liquid and place on a platter.

Serve beef with any accompaniments you wish. But don’t forget the beer!

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One of my goals for the new year is to be more organized regarding the contents of my freezer. I’m pretty good at keeping track of what’s in the refrigerator and weeding things out during the week that aren’t at their prime, but when it comes to the freezer, I’m pathetic. I have no real idea what’s lurking in the back of my freezer, even when I go to the trouble of labeling containers and freezer bags. I just lose track, and I end up having to throw lots of things away because they’re freezer-burned to a state of sadsadsadness.

I hate wasting food out of sheer disorganization and stupidity. It’s painful. I’m going to do better, I swear.

I had a prepared pie crust in the freezer that just kept staring me in the face once the holidays were over. I’d purchased a pack of two frozen crusts, and used the first for our Christmas chocolate-bourbon-pecan pie (that post is coming). The remaining crust stuck out like a sore thumb whenever I opened the freezer door, and I just couldn’t look at it anymore. It needed to be put to use, stat.

I am one of those freaks who doesn’t really like pie. I didn’t even eat a piece of the swanky pecan pie I baked for my holiday guests–I much preferred indulging in a coffee spiked with Kahlua and cream. That’s my idea of the perfect dessert. There are only two kinds of pie that tempt me at all–pumpkin and key lime–and even in those cases, I prefer them with a graham cracker crust, not a pastry crust. I’m not really a pastry crust girl.

Except when it comes to quiche, which I adore. I know, I’m an odd duck. I’m okay with that.

I’m an even odder duck because I don’t want my quiche for breakfast. I have trouble with eggs in the morning. In my opinion, quiche is best indulged in for lunch or a light supper, preferably sitting next to a crisp green salad and a nice glass of wine. Give me that meal any day of the week.

Quiche is definitely an indulgence, and I don’t eat it often, but when I do, I always think, “Why don’t I eat quiche more often? Quiche is damn delicious.”

Quiche is also the ideal platform for using up leftover ham or stray wedges of cheese that are loitering in your refrigerator. You might as well throw in a few handfuls of herbs or scraps of vegetables while you’re at it. Quiche is quite easygoing and makes friends with just about any type of filling ingredient.

The only fussing you should do with your quiche is to make sure that you use the best (read: organic) dairy and eggs you can get your hands on. What makes quiche so incredibly tasty and rich are the dairy and the eggs, so don’t skimp! I mean it!

Once you get your hands on those quality ingredients, the rest is simple. For something so luxurious tasting, it’s a cinch to make. If you’re a stickler about pie crust, feel free to make your own. I’m perfectly happy to use the frozen kind. In the time it takes for the quiche to bake, you can whip together a lovely green salad or a plate of fruit. When the quiche comes out of the oven, let it cool for 20 minutes or so, pour some wine and dig in. If you’re like me, you’ll fantasize that you’re in a lovely little streetfront cafe in Paris.

I ate my quiche when it was bone-chillingly cold and blizzarding outside, but for a few minutes, I felt like I was very chic and very French. It was a very good way to spend part of the afternoon.

 

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Yummy Quiche

makes 1 quiche, serves 6

 

1 pie shell (I used frozen)

1 shallot, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 eggs

2 egg yolks

1/2 cup milk

1/2 cup half and half

1/2 cup cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

freshly ground pepper

1/2 cup diced cooked bacon, ham or any protein you wish

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, chives or basil

1 cup Gruyere cheese, grated (feel free to use cheddar or jack or even feta)

chopped fresh thyme

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saute chopped shallot and garlic in a little olive oil in a skillet until just softened. Remove from heat and cool. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, egg yolks, milk, half and half and cream. Add salt and a few grinds of pepper. Stir in shallot mixture, diced bacon/ham and fresh parsley/chive/basil. Stir in all but 2 tablespoons of Gruyere.

Place pie shell/pan on a large baking sheet. Pour in the egg mixture. Top with last of the cheese and fresh thyme.

Bake for about 45 minutes or until quiche is just barely jiggly when you wiggle the baking sheet. Quiche will continue to cook through as it rests.

Ideally, serve this with a nice green salad and a glass of wine.

 

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I think every December plays out kind of like a broken record for us. We do the hard-press, energetic push to Christmas Day and then once the wrapping paper and the Christmas feast dishes are cleared away, we fall into a heap. A beaten, slothful, ridiculous puddle of nada. I’m not inclined to leave the house for at least three days after Christmas. The way I see it, there are two kinds of people: those who hit the mall the day after Christmas and those who hit the couch instead. I’m firmly on Team Couch. I know this about myself, so I usually stock up on groceries pre-holiday, because nothing makes me crankier than to have to shlep to the supermarket on December 26th. I don’t care if we have to live on leftover ham and slightly stale pie for several days–I’m NOT making a grocery run.

Then when January comes, I’m usually ready to get back in my kitchen. I’m also suddenly compelled to get rid of all the cookies, candy and junky snacks lingering in my refrigerator and pantry. There just comes a point where I can’t look at that stuff one. more. day. It’s time to clear the decks and push the re-set button.

I don’t go completely Draconian in January–we still have cheese and bread and slightly embarrassing cereal choices in the house–those things don’t change. What does change is that I suddenly truly crave simple, healthy, flavorful food. I want less cookie, more vegetable in my life. The starchy casseroles and gratins don’t sound so appetizing, because let’s face it, December was pretty excessive in that department. My snug jeans bear testament to that.

Problem is, January is also usually cold and downright shitty miserable in these parts, so salad doesn’t really sound like a delicious menu item, either. Maybe some people come home on a dark, snowy evening and crave a nice big salad, but I’m not one of them. Bleak mid-winter weather screams for something warm, something to chase the chill from your bones. Salad doesn’t cut it.

This is why it’s often soup to the rescue at Chez T. during January and February. The first few months of the year, my trusty soup pot sees a lot of action. I make at least one batch of soup a week, if not more. You can fill a stockpot with lots of nutrient-dense, protein-rich, lip-smacking things. You’ll feel comforted and taken care of. You won’t spend hours in the kitchen and you’ll have leftovers to tote to lunch for a few days. That sounds like a pretty good deal, don’t you think?

If you’re nodding your head in agreement, I encourage you to try this recipe for Chicken Poblano Tortilla Soup. Tortilla soup is one of those dishes that just makes my tummy and my soul happy. It’s hearty enough to call a meal and is full of those familiar, zesty Southwestern spices. It’s got all sorts of yummy toppings that add texture and layers of flavor, so it’s anything but boring. Sure, things like avocado and cheese and crumbled tortilla chips aren’t diet food, but you’re garnishing your bowl with them, not mainlining them like a plate of nachos. And what’s in the bowl is healthy enough that you can afford to splurge on a few delicious extras.

I’ve made plenty of tortilla soups in my day, but this one’s got to be near the top of my favorite variations. When I first read the recipe in Cooking Light magazine, I wasn’t sure if this was going to have enough spice and punch for my tastebuds–it seemed so simple and straightforward. There wasn’t a call for 8 different spices or 4 kinds of chiles, and I’ve made recipes for tortilla soup that entailed exactly that. Nope. This recipe is easy enough for a weeknight but tastes like it’s been simmering on the stove all day.

I made a few minor tweaks to the recipe, like pureeing the soup before adding the chicken, because I like my tortilla soup on the smooth side. For me, the toppings add enough body and texture, but if you like your soup really chock-full of chunks of vegetables, leave that step out. I also didn’t think my poblano chile had enough oomph, so I added in some jalapeno. You can decide on whatever spice level you like. Heed the warning I give in the recipe regarding the poblano chile! Poblanos are fickle little bastards! Some are blow-your-socks-off hot and some barely even register on the richter scale.

If you really like leftovers, feel free to double the recipe. This soup is light but feels like you’re eating something naughty. I like that! So go ahead and set that re-set button. You won’t regret making this, I promise.

Happy 2017, Readers. I know so many of us have been eagerly anticipating a fresh start to the year. Let’s make this a year to gather our loved ones close, to appreciate the gifts we have, to fill our souls and our tummies with healthy and satisfying things.

Let’s do this.

 

 

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Chicken Poblano Tortilla Soup

slightly adapted from Cooking Light

serves 6

 

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onion

1 cup chopped carrot

2 chopped garlic cloves

1 poblano pepper, chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, diced *optional, see note at bottom*

4 cups low-sodium chicken stock

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 (14.5-oz) can diced tomatoes, preferably fire-roasted, undrained

4 ounces tortilla chips, divided

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

12 oz. shredded rotisserie chicken

For garnish:

1 avocado, diced

crumbled queso fresco or Cotija cheese

lime wedges

sour cream

 

Heat a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add oil to pan and swirl to coat. Add onion, carrot, garlic and poblano pepper. Saute 8 minutes. Add stock, salt, pepper, cumin and tomatoes; bring to a boil.

Cover, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Finely crush half of tortilla chips and add them to pot. Cook, stirring, until chips begin to break down, about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and cool slightly.

Puree soup with an immersion blender or puree in a regular blender.

**taste for heat at this point! Poblano peppers can range in heat from mild to quite fiery–it’s a crapshoot. If you like the level of spice in your broth, proceed with recipe. If you want more heat, add jalapeno in two batches, purring and tasting for desired spice level both times. If, for some reason, you’ve gotten a really zippy Poblano and feel like your broth is too spicy, add more chicken broth in half cup increments and taste as you go.**

Put pot back on heat and bring to a bare simmer. Add chicken and cilantro.

Ladle soup into 6 bowls. Top with remaining tortilla chips and any garnishes you wish.

 

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Humbuggery

November 29, 2016

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 24, 2016