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 %

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Philly by Food, Part 1

Recently, I spent a week in Philadelphia for work and for play. When you spend a week out of town, living in a hotel room, you eat out pretty much every meal. That’s a lot of eatin’ out, folks. The good news is that Philadelphia makes it verrry easy for you to have good eats all week. Additional good news is that I’m here to tell you all about the good eating I did all week long. Believe you me, I did not have any idea that Philadelphia had such good food. There was so much good food that to tell you all about it will take two blog entries. I promise you, it’s worth the reading! The food in Philly was pretty much an unknown for me so there were pleasant surprises all week long…and then there was scrapple. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The first night in Philadelphia, my girlfriend and I were trying to decide where to go, and every restaurant website we pulled up had music playing. I said to her, “What is it with restaurants in Philadelphia that they have to have music on the websites??” What I didn’t know at the time is that all the restaurants we looked at were owned by this fellow named Stephen Starr. Turns out he’s a big deal restaurateur in Philadelphia who apparently believes in music on his websites. You can check out his overview website here: http://www.starr-restaurant.com/ to see his many endeavors. I ended up visiting three of his restaurants while we were there, and they were all muy delicioso! Mr. Starr also knows what he’s doing in terms of ambiance and decor – all his restaurants were very visually engaging.

El Vez was the first Starr restaurant I went to, full of skepticism for eating Mexican food north of Dallas. Bless their hearts, people who live up north (or even just outside of Texas) always say, “I know this really great Mexican restaurant. You’ll love it!” *cricket, cricket* It’s just not the same, and we both know it. Every now and again, there is a surprise gem, but on the whole, this Texas girl judges Mexican food outside state lines, at least a little bit. Now the specialty of El Vez is their guacamole. They have six or so varieties from which you can choose. I did order one, and I judged it to be quite delicious. It was the Cesar Chavez: tomato, basil, onion, Oaxaca cheese, with a pasilla-basalmic reduction on top. All for the reasonable price of FIFTEEN DOLLARS!!!!! People. It’s guacamole, not goldamole. El Vez surely does think their guacamole is quite special. I had a hard time stomaching the $15 price tag for guacamole, but it really was oh-so-tasty. It was a fairly large molcajete of guacamole, to their credit, and we ate it all. I also had the adobo tuna tostadas to round out my meal. They came from the appetizer portion of the menu, but it was just the right size to go with the mountain of goldamole I was consuming. They were light and quite delicious. I was quite glad I wasn’t obligated to share them. Alas, I didn’t think to take any pictures, but here are some I found online of the goldamole and the tostadas.  Judge’s ruling is that the goldamole is worth it at least once. Heck, if I’m back there again, it’s likely I’ll splurge for a different type. In the meantime, I may start experimenting with my own guacamole.

Super Good Guacamole

Adobo Tuna Tostadas

The Continental Mid-Town was my second Starr restaurant, and I actually went to this one twice. It is that good. I did only have dessert there both times. Drool. So Good. One of my favorite food genres is tapas. I love small plates of food. This place has dessert tapas! How great is that?!?! The second time I went, my girlfriend and I ordered several of them to share so that we didn’t have to pick just one for ourselves.

All four desserts together were impressive.

The first time I went, my other girlfriend and I did solo desserts. Either way is a delightful experience. The desserts really are single-serving-sized so you can eat the whole thing and not feel like you over-indulged.

Four Desserts?? Yes, Please!

I think my favorite of the four I’ve sampled is the s’more. The bottom layer is a graham cracker cake that is way more delicious than you can even imagine it to be. I was picturing a graham cracker-esque item. No siree. It’s a soft cake that tastes like graham and cinnamon. Next is a chocolate layer covered in a warm, melty, toasty marshmallow. Seriously, they torch the marshmallow before it comes out to you. Hello, attention to detail!

S'more!

I also really enjoyed the milk chocolate Guinness and Earl Grey ice creams. This is a big deal for both as I don’t particularly care for the original beverages in either case. But the ice creams were surprisingly tasty. Homemade pretzel balls with caramel sauce were also a hit for me. The baklava was tasty, but I always find it tricky to eat. The peanut butter cup was like an expanded Reese’s peanut butter cup so that’s pretty much deliciousness on a plate. It’s all soft peanut-butter-chocolaty goodness. That’s all that needs to be said about that, right?

Milk Chocolate Guiness Ice Cream, Pretzels, and Caramel

Baklava and Earl Grey Tea Ice Cream

Peanut Butter Cup

This is the place to go for desserts, y’all. It’s also the place to go check out the bathrooms downstairs and then make conversation with your tablemates about why on earth you think they’d make the mirrors like that? Oh yes, you can see through the mirrors into the bathroom from outside. It’s a little strange and disconcerting to be washing your hands at the sink, knowing people could be watching you from the other side. There are also stuffed animals upstairs by the bar. I made a photo op out of them. Twice. Enjoy. 🙂

You'd do it too.

We sure did rock it!

There are also crazy "chairs" upstairs.

My third Starr restaurant experience was Jones. It didn’t have the fancy chairs or crazy stuffed animals that Continental has, but the food was still quite delicious. We were there on St. Patrick’s Day, so we had some apple martinis with caramel sauce on the rim. I’d never had an apple martini before, but this was quite the marvelous green beverage. The caramel sauce on the rim was a nice touch that made it taste pretty much like a caramel apple. Stacey had the most ginormous chicken pot pie I’ve ever seen in my life, and I had the ALT: avocado, lettuce, tomato, and mozzarella on multi-grain toast with lemon aioli. YUM! It was delicious.

It was so very tall!

I ate the first half of the sandwich and then took the guts out and mixed them with my side salad greens for an equally delicious “second course.” Go, me and my creative thinking! It was fresh and totally satisfying after a week of a lot of less-than-healthy foods.

Yummy sandwich and salad!

Stacey gave her pot pie two thumbs up as well. We were seated next to a fireplace which totally provided delightful ambiance while we ate and enjoyed our after-dinner coffee cocktail with Bailey’s. Sheer deliciousness. Stephen Starr takes his food and his ambiance verrry seriously, y’all. The least you can do is go see what he’s all about. You won’t be disappointed.

Delicious food, drinks, and ambience!

I hope to get back to Philadelphia one day and make it to more of Stephen Starr’s restaurants. So far, the man has not steered me wrong, so I feel good about setting foot and fork in more of his restaurants. I encourage you all to give his establishments a try if you are ever in the area. Stephen Starr only accounted for three of my evening meals whilst I was in the city of Brotherly Love, so there was plenty of opportunity to enjoy food outside of the Starr empire. I’ll share those foodie experiences with you all in the next blog installment. Y’all come back now, ya hear? It’ll definitely be worth it. After all, you haven’t even heard about scrapple yet. 🙂

To be continued…

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.