Mexican Lasagna

Recently, I have begun exploring the world of Twitter as both a student affairs professional and a food blogger. It’s quite fascinating, really. One of the themes that comes across the Twitter-radar every Monday is the concept of a meatless dinner. It’s tagged as #meatlessmonday and seems to be gaining quite the following. One of my goals this year was to explore more vegetarian eating, so this seemed like a perfect way to dabble and expand my repertoire of meatless recipes. Truthfully, at first I was intimidated. I could only think of about two recipes, and they were variations of beans and rice. Not very exciting, I know. Then I remembered Mexican lasagna, and my heart leaped for joy. I used to make this all the time, and as life sometimes happens, it just fell off the radar. Ladies and gents, boys and girls, children of all ages, it is back on the radar, and I am happy to share it with you for your own Meatless Monday enjoyment!

Mexican Lasagna [adapted from Healthy Cooking for Two (Or Just You!)]

Ingredients
1 can black beans (14.5 oz)
1 can diced tomatoes (14.5 oz)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
chopped green onions (Perhaps 2 – 3 stalks. Mine were very long and made a scant 1/4 cup.)
chopped cilantro, to taste (for some, this may be none)
1/4 cup diced green chiles
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup cheddar cheese
1/2 cup sour cream (I used low fat.)
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder (less if you are using strong Penzey’s chili powder)
6 corn tortillas

Steps
1. Empty black beans into a colander, and let drain while you are preparing the rest of the ingredients. The original recipe said to rinse them. I didn’t do this either time I made the recipe and cannot tell that my choice negatively impacted the dish. Feel free to rinse them if you wish.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
3. Open and drain about half the juice from your can of tomatoes. Then in a non-reactive bowl, mix the tomatoes, minced garlic, chopped green onions, cilantro, green chiles, cumin, and chili powder. Stir well to combine.

Tomato Goodness Mixture

4. Grate cheese.

Honestly, I rarely measure cheese.

5. Stir/whisk the sour cream to make it airy/light and easily spreadable.
6. In a non-stick pan (I recommend using an 8″ pie pan – despite what is pictured below), spread a small amount of the tomato liquid. You are just looking for a thin layer to cover the bottom of the pan. Put one whole tortilla down and break one tortilla in half to make it fit and cover the remaining space. Spread some of the tomato mixture on top, making sure to cover the edges. Spread about half of the beans on top of the tomato mixture. Top with about half of the Monterey Jack cheese.

     
7. Repeat the tortilla-tomato-bean-cheese layering process. This should use up your beans and Monterey Jack cheese.
8. Top with your final set of tortillas and the remainder of the tomato mixture.
9. Gently plop and spread the sour cream on top of the tomato mixture. I do mine in sections. It will be messy and imperfect. This is okay. Sprinkle your cheddar cheese on top. It is important to cover the edges of the tortillas with tomatoes or sour cream or cheese or any combination. If left uncovered while cooking, they’ll dry out and be bad eats.

Cheese on Top - Oven Ready

10. Put the pan on a jelly roll pan to catch any drips or cheese melts down the side of the pan and slide into the oven for 15 – 20 minutes until the cheese is gooey and melty and things are bubbling around the edges. When you take it out, let it sit for 5 minutes so it can cool. Otherwise, if you try to eat it immediately, it will be boiling-lava hot and take off the inside layer of your mouth. Not good.

Right out of the oven!

If you prefer it spicier, you can up the chili powder or add more green chiles or add fresh peppers. I made this twice and just happened to have the green chiles on hand the second time around. I am definitely going to try adding more the next time I make it. That’s why you won’t see them in the picture below, though. The first time I made this, I didn’t drain any of the juice from the tomatoes because the original recipe directed me not to. I didn’t remember whether or not I had from when I used to make it, so I went ahead and followed the directions. However, although the lasagna was still delicious, it was quite runny, and I didn’t care for all the extra liquid in the dish. Draining about half the liquid the second time around really did improve the integrity of the dish, in my opinion. You are welcome to try it both ways to see which you prefer. It is your kitchen, and you are the boss of it, after all. You could also swap out the kind of beans if you don’t like black beans or didn’t have them in the pantry. Mozzarella would be an agreeable swap for Monterey Jack.

I understand that for some of my friends, cilantro is an anathema, which does make me a little sad. However, for those of you who are practically in love with it like me, let me offer you a tip or two on chopping cilantro and herbs in general. First of all, I’m a bit of a cilantro purist in most cases. I don’t particularly care to eat the stems, without good reason admittedly. I think they carry the same cilantro taste as the leaves. I just don’t want to eat them. Unless the whole bunch is going in the food processor, I will take the few extra moments to pick off the leaves and toss the stems. However, don’t feel like you have to do this. It is probably easier to just chop the stems and all. If you are like me and are anti-stem, you now have a bunch of loosey-goosey leaves all over your cutting board, so now what? Well, dear reader, so glad you asked. Gather, bunch, and scrunch those leaves into a tight little pile under your fingers. Very carefully so as to avoid your fingertips, slice through the pile, moving your fingers back as your knife slices its way through the pile. At the end, either rotate the pile 90 degrees or your knife (whichever is easier), and slice again.




It will be a little messier this time through, but you’ll still get most of it chopped through a second time. Anytime I’m chopping herb leaves that are big enough to stack, scrunch, or roll, this is the method I use rather than chopping individual leaves. It works less well with smaller leaves like thyme, but you can still gather them into a pile and run your knife through, right to left, and it will do a fair chop job. Don’t be afraid to restack and cut again if necessary. I’ve also found that storing my herbs in either a container of water or a damp paper towel lengthens their life in my fridge. I put the plastic produce bag on top of the cilantro to help protect it from being banged up while in the fridge, too. No sense in letting your herbs go to waste if you can help it, right?

Meatless Monday is not a new concept at all. Much like many fashion trends make a reappearance many decades later, this food trend seems to have made a resurgence on the food scene. Way back, back in the days of World Wars I and II, there were national endeavors lead by Herbert Hoover, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Harry S. Truman to reduce our meat consumption in an attempt to aid the war effort. In 1917, New York City hotels managed to save about 116 tons of meat in just one week. That’s a crazy amount of meat, y’all!! In 2003, Meatless Monday was brought back as a public health initiative in conjunction with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for a Livable Future. There are environmental, financial, and health benefits to going meatless, even once a week. You can check some of them out here, but reducing your consumption of meat reduces the carbon footprint of your grocery bill, reduces the amount you spend on meat which can be some of the most expensive items in your cart, and can potentially help curb obesity. Those sound like pretty good reasons to give a try to me. Every little bit helps in all those areas. You can check out this website for more information and recipes.

When you make Mexican lasagna for one or two with the recipe above, there are definitely leftovers which is fine by me. You could wrap individual portions in plastic wrap, then freeze them for a later date. Me? I just pop the portions in the fridge for lunch later in the week. I microwave it for about a minute, perhaps a smidge longer, and it’s delicious eats at the office. Yes, please! I end up having Meatless Monday dinner, Meatless Tuesday and Thursday lunch, and it’s all quite delightful. I hope this recipe encourages you to give Meatless Monday a try. And if you don’t want to wait until Monday to eat it, I don’t blame you. Have a meatless whatever day you like. It is your kitchen, you know. 🙂 Happy eating!

Nutritional content: 1/6 of the pan – makes 6 servings in an 8″ pan
Calories: 257
Carbs: 26 g
Protein: 13 g
Fat: 12 g
Calcium: 20%
Fiber: 5.5 g
Iron: 5.4 %

Huevos Mexicanos

If you’ve been reading and paying attention to past entries, you may have noticed that I’m pretty much in love with all Mexican foods. It’s just such a delicious genre. I’m sort of sad for my friends who live in places where there aren’t breakfast tacos, huevos rancheros, and huevos mexicanos. In grad school, I remember the shock of a girlfriend when I told her that I liked to eat beans with my breakfast. She could hardly comprehend what I was saying to her. When I said that salsa for breakfast was equally delicious, I might as well have been speaking to her in another language, she was so dumbfounded. This recipe doesn’t have any beans nor did I have any with my breakfast that day, but beans would certainly make a positive addition to the meal. This recipe is not your most traditional version of huevos mexicanos, but the semi-homemade aspects certainly make it accessible to everyone. I used my Roasty Toasty Red Salsa, but you could certainly use whatever salsa you have on hand to tweak the recipe as your taste buds require. I doubt you’ll ever be disappointed.

Mmm...mmm...good!

Huevos Mexicanos

Ingredients
2 tbsp favorite salsa
1 whole egg
1 egg white
1 oz cheese – grated (I won’t tell if you use more.)
2 – 4 green onions, just the green parts
Splash of milk
¾ oz tortilla chip crumbs – more or less

Steps
1. Grate your cheese and keep handy.
2. Crack your whole egg into a bowl, and add the white of the other egg. Add a splash (I count to 1, sometimes 2) of milk. Beat vigorously until there are plenty of bubbles.
3. Using kitchen scissors, snip your green onions into wee pieces directly into the egg mixture.


4. Preheat your pan over medium-ish heat. My standard is usually 5, on the dial. I also recommend using a non-stick skillet with a bit of non-stick spray in it. Eggs have a surprisingly high stick factor, regardless of the type of pan. After 2 minutes of preheating, give the eggs a final vigorous stir and pour into the pan. Let them be until they begin to set up a bit.
5. Begin your preferred scrambling method. When they are starting to firm up in spots, toss in about a third of your cheese and stir. Within a minute of adding the cheese, pour in your salsa. Swirl/stir it together.

6. Let the eggs get nearly all the way done and dump in ½ to ¾ of your chip crumbs. If you put them in earlier, they will get soggy, and that’s not good eats. Stir the crumbs around and give the eggs no more than 1 more minute in the pan…unless you prefer drier eggs.


7. Put the rest of your chip crumbs on your plate, and top with about half of your remaining cheese. Do this while your eggs are getting their last bit of cooking.


8. Scrape your eggs out onto the chips and cheese. Top with the remaining cheese. Add the bacon you’ve been baking (see below), and voila! Breakfast is served!

I’m so excited to share with you my tip on green onions! I learned this gem from my grandmother a while back, and now I have 3 pots of green onions thriving on my balcony. When you buy a bunch of green onions from the store, save the white root ends to put in some dirt. Give them just a few days, and you will be rewarded with new growth. With time, they will grow tall and lanky, perfect for you to snip away when you need them. I really love to use green onions in a wide array of recipes but was frequently frustrated that I didn’t have any when I wanted them or that I was throwing away wilted, slimy onions that I didn’t use fast enough that week. Having my pots alleviates waste and frustration in my kitchen, which is always a good thing. I think I’ve planted two or three bunches over the last several months. It’s good to have them on a bit of rotation so they have time to regrow between cuttings. If you cut them too frequently, they’ll grow thinner than if you give them time to hang out a bit. I know that green onions are usually only fifty cents a bunch. However, when you throw away most of the bunch, it’s about forty wasted cents, which can add up. Give it a try; it’s super easy!

Finished Eggs Without Cheese

Recently, I’ve begun baking my bacon. As I do with other packages of meat, I split it up into two slice serving slices, wrap with plastic wrap, and freeze in a zip-top freezer bag. It defrosts pretty quickly with the method mentioned at the end of this post, and then it’s ready to pop into the oven. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. I line a pan with foil and use a rack to lay my bacon on, so it’s not sitting in the fat drippings. Baking time will vary, depending on your preferred doneness. It doesn’t get quite as crispy as I sometimes like it, but it’s so easy and still delicious that I am happy to give up the spattered stove and the split-second timing of done to overcooked and burned. Give it a try!

If you’ve never separated an egg before, you can go one of two ways. Well, if you happen to have an egg separator implement, by all means use it and skip to the next paragraph. However, if you don’t, never fear – it’s not a crucial kitchen tool. You can separate the two parts by cracking the whole egg into a bowl, then pouring the egg into your hand. Let the whites run out through your fingers until all that’s left is the yolk. Keep or dispose of the yolk as you see fit. You are less likely the break the yolk this way. The slightly less messy way is to do your best to crack the egg in half. Pass the yolk back and forth, carefully between the two egg halves allowing the whites to slip over the edges until it’s just the yolk in the shell. There is a higher chance of breaking the yolk with this method, but it’s a rare occurrence for me. Check out the Cooking Education page for some links on ways you can use those extra yolks for even less waste!

I wish you happy and delicious eating! Let me know what you like to make for breakfast. I’m always up for something new.

Nutritional Content – The whole thing
Calories: 355
Fat: 20 g
Carbs: 22 g
Protein: 21 g
Calcium: 33%

Don’t stress about the higher numbers; it is practically your entire meal. Your baked bacon, if you use center cut, will only add about 80 or 90 calories, depending on the brand.

Roasty Toasty Red Salsa

I love chips and salsa above all other foods out there, nearly. If we are in a fight and you want to send me a reconciliation gift, chips and salsa will be a guaranteed winner. If I am sick, chips and salsa will make me feel better. If I’m grouchy, I would like chips and salsa to the rescue, please! I will almost always pick the restaurant with free chips and salsa over the one without, or heaven forbid, the restaurant that charges for them. Those places are evil and might should be boycotted, in my opinion. Ahem. So salsa pretty much rocks my socks. If you pop over to the Food Memories page, you’ll see that I grew up with salsa and came by my affection for it honestly. My dad makes homemade salsa, and one day, I decided I was going to make my own homemade salsa, too. Oh boy! It was the start of a beautiful thing. At first, it was a more chopped up version of pico de gallo, made in tiny batches in my wee food processor attachment on my blender stand. Since then, I’ve graduated to an adult food processor and have been experimenting all over the place. I’ve learned that I love to roast my salsa ingredients. I have learned that kiwi salsa is delicious. I’ve learned that homemade salsa is for sharing as I cannot eat (or at least, should not eat) the whole batch. I suppose you could cut the recipe in half to make a smaller batch, but why deprive a friend of your culinary delights??  Have your friends over for game night, and let them marvel when you serve them homemade salsa. I won’t judge if you don’t put it all out so you can have some the next day; that’s only good sense.

DELICIOUS!

There are many more salsa recipes to come, but this is the most recent edition to come from my kitchen. Don’t be frightened by the surprise herb – it actually provides quite a pleasant taste. Thanks, Rick Bayless, for the inspiration!

Roasty Toasty Red Salsa (adapted from Salsas That Cookby Rick Bayless)

Ingredients*
1 lb Roma tomatoes (sometimes also called plum – the ones that are more oval than circle)
6 ounces poblano chiles (probably 2 regular-sized ones)
1/2 red onion (or to taste)
4 – 6 med-lg garlic cloves
1/2 cup tomato puree
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped (recommended, but optional for those who are not cilantro eaters – not a deal breaker)
1/4 – 1/2 cup water
dash of salt

Steps
1. Set your oven rack near the top of your oven, and turn on the broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, and lay out the tomatoes and peppers. Broil (maybe 5 – 8 minutes) until the skin is charred and blistered. Flip everything over to roast the other side. Continue this process until all sides are well blackened. Don’t be afraid of the char. You are likely to hear the skin sizzle and pop; don’t be afraid of that either. When everything is charred, pull the pan out of the oven and let cool.

2. Put the peppers in a plastic bag, and wrap with a towel. They won’t melt the bag, and it will help the skins come off later. Leave the tomatoes on the pan to cool.
3. While the tomatoes and peppers are in the oven, slice the onion into slices. Err on the side of thicker rather than thinner. Aim for a quarter to half inch slice. As much as possible, keep them uniform so they’ll cook evenly. That’s probably more important than width of the slice. Peel the garlic, leaving the last layer of papery covering (this will keep it from burning). On another foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet, lay out the onion and garlic. Roast them until the onions are soft, there is some char on the edges, and the garlic is soft when pressed. Stir a few times while they are roasting. This may take 15 minutes or so. Let cool on the pan when you take them out.

4. Using tongs, a knife, and/or your hands, peel the skins off the tomatoes, and pull the flesh off the core. I have yet to roast them long enough for the core to get soft – so get rid of the hard feeling middle. Do all of this on the pan so you don’t lose any juices. Leave the flesh on the pan to cool a bit before you go back to them in step 9. Discard the skin and core.

5. Using the same tools, over the same sheet of tomato pulp, if possible, pull off and discard the skins from the peppers. The blacker the skin is, the easier it will just peel right off. Tear open the peppers and scrape out the seeds, if you want a milder salsa. More seeds = more heat. Your call. Please don’t rinse them – you’ll lose flavor. They will likely drip juice into the tomatoes, which is okay. That’s why you are peeling them over the tomatoes in the first place.
6. Chop the peppers into small, bite sized pieces. They won’t get any smaller later in the prep, so dice away. Scrape the pieces and the juice from the cutting board into a clean serving bowl.

7. Chop your thyme and cilantro, and toss into the serving bowl.
8. Pulse your roasted onion and peeled garlic cloves in a small food processor to finely chop them. Add some of the tomato if the mixture needs some liquid to help facilitate the job. Scrape into your bowl with the peppers.
9. In the same food processor bowl, put the cooled tomatoes and their juices and whir away. Dump into the serving bowl where the peppers and herbs are waiting.
10. Stir in the tomato puree, and slowly add the water to get to the consistency you want. Go slowly with the water because you can’t take it back out. Season to taste with some salt, but go easy as your chips will likely also be salty.

*Notes about ingredients: I had ginormous Roma tomatoes so it only took 3 to make a pound. It would probably take 5 – 7 regular-sized Roma tomatoes for a pound. I was also using poblano peppers that my dad brought me which were WAY smaller than store-bought poblanos. My four were 6 ounces which is why I suspect 2 regular-sized ones would be sufficient. I don’t usually measure my herbs – I just chopped what looked good to me. I like lots of cilantro, so it’s possible I had more than 2 tbsp. I recommend not going overboard with the thyme until you are certain you’ll like it. I will probably add a bit more next time. Also, if you don’t have enough poblanos, I think Anaheims would be a good addition which will also decrease the spiciness.

Large Romas and Small Poblanos

I’m nervous about giving you a recipe with 10 steps. Please don’t be intimidated as many of the steps are simple. Plus I’m overly detail-oriented sometimes. 🙂 Many of the steps can be accomplished while items are either roasting or cooling. I promise you that it’s totally worth 10 steps! This salsa will be a little saucier because of the water and puree. Once, I thickened mine up using my immersion blender to chop it all up into smaller pieces. It’s delicious either way. Rick Bayless encourages you to use it in place of tomato sauce with fish or pork or even mac and cheese.

I watch a lot of “Good Eats” on Food Network, and Alton Brown frequently uses latex gloves (medical style) when dealing with peppers. At first I laughed at him, just a little, and thought it was sort of wimpy. But then…one unfortunate day, I got pepper juice in my eye. It came from my finger which had been washed, at least twice. There are hardly words to describe how terrible the experience was. I promptly went to buy rubber gloves, and now I’m a convert. It makes it easier to use your hands to seed the peppers, and then the gloves come right off into the trash without threat to your sensitive parts. I encourage you to try it, also. Safety first, people.

What is your favorite kind of salsa? Keep your eyes peeled for more salsas coming soon to a food blog near you. Happy eating!

Nutritional Information – 1/4 cup (This may be the best part!!!)      
Calories: 18
Fat: 0.2 g
Carbs: 4.1 g
Fiber: 1 g
Vitamin C: 27%