Let’s talk about nachos, shall we? Now, I’ve gone on record stating my preference, which is for the traditional type of nacho where all the ingredients are on one chip. While this is how all nachos were served when I was young, I find this style more and more a rarity. I also realize that sometimes I am in the minority.
Take another Texan friend of mine in New York, for instance. He’s a Tex-Mex purist through and through and like myself loves his nachos made the correct way. That said, the other day he mentioned to me a place that served pile nachos and conceded that they had been delicious. “You should try them,” he said. “I think you’ll like them.”
Well, long story short, the nachos were sampled and while as a pile of chips topped with meat, beans, and cheese they were good. But it was a frustrating eating experience as many chips were either soggy from too much topping, or sadly bereft of any toppings, which wasn’t ideal either. It was a mess and ultimately didn’t satisfy all of us as we started fighting over who got what. It wasn’t fun and dare I say it, this pile of chips was not how nachos were intended to be.
I won’t continue down this path because I’ve made my preferences known before, but I thought it was important to share because as I was explaining to my friends why proper nachos are indeed better, one gave me steely look and said I needed to open my mind a bit and get beyond the traditional nacho made with cheese, jalapeños, and refried beans.
To defend myself, I first pointed towards my new book, which has a plate of Crazy Nachos on the cover, a popular Dallas dish that is so named because beyond the usual cheese, beans, and jalapeños there are also taco meat, guacamole, and sour cream on each chip. Crazy indeed! And not only do you get a mess of toppings but every chips has all of them, so everyone is happy.
Then I started thinking about other nacho variations found throughout the state, which adhere to the classic form of all the toppings contained on one chip. For instance, there are sour cream nachos, which are primarily found in restaurants across Dallas, though while not as common, they’re available sometimes in San Antonio, too.
Sour cream nachos, which are sometimes called sour cream chicken nachos because they’re usually made with said meat, are classic Tex-Mex. While there are slight differences available, basically the standard format is this: You take a chip, top it with sour cream, add some cooked, shredded chicken, sprinkle on some white cheese such as Monterey Jack and then run the dish under the broiler until the cheese has melted and the sour cream is warm and bubbling. To finish, you top each nacho with a piquant jalapeño, though if you want to keep it mild you could totally forgo this step.
Sour cream chicken nachos are much like their other Dallas Tex-Mex counterpart, sour cream chicken enchiladas, yet in just a more crisp and bite-sized form. This is a nacho for the dairy lover, for one who doesn’t really like the heat, as they are not super fiery and instead just a comforting blend of cream and cheese. This is not to say, however, that they are boring. No, they are simply a less exotic and earthy dish than others in the Tex-Mex pantheon but they are still delicious, especially if you are a fan of sour cream, chicken, and cheese.
To make my sour cream chicken nachos, I first make a salsa verde with tomatillos, poblano, and jalapeño chiles. Then I toss cooked, shredded chicken with the poblano salsa along with some sour cream. I fry some chips, layer them with the toppings, bake them, and then serve them with the remainder of the salsa on the side. (Of course, shortcuts can be taken, such as not frying your own chips, using a pre-made salsa, and even picking up a roasted chicken from the store.)
While I know plenty of people will disagree with me that nachos should be served this way, that’s fine because it leaves more nachos for the rest of us. That said, while these sour cream nachos may take a bit more effort as you attend to each chip, I have yet to have one person turn down these nachos, and yes, as with pile nachos, we'll also often find ourselves fighting over that last bite. I reckon some things never do change!
Austin-area friends: This Saturday, October 25th, from 11 to 11:45, I’ll be speaking in the Texas tent at the Texas Book Festival with a book signing afterwards. (Signed books make wonderful gifts and this will be my last Central Texas appearance before the holidays.) The festival has an amazing line-up of authors and I'm super excited to attend, and I look forward to visiting with some of y'all there!
Sour cream chicken nachos with poblano salsa verde
For the poblano salsa verde:
1 poblano chile
2 jalapeños, seeded, stemmed, and cut in half lengthwise
1/2 pound tomatillos, husked
3 cloves garlic
1/8 medium yellow onion
1/2 cup cilantro
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
For the chicken:
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1/4 cup sour cream
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon lime juice
For the nachos:
8 corn tortillas or 32 intact tortilla chips
Oil for frying
1 cup sour cream
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
32 sliced pickled jalapeños
Cilantro, for garnishing
To make the poblano salsa verde, place the poblano under the broiler until blackened, about 5 minutes per side. Place the poblano in a paper sack or plastic food-storage bag, close it tight and let it steam for 20 minutes. Peel the chile by gently rubbing off the skin then remove the seeds. Place the poblano in a blender.
Meanwhile, place the jalapeños, tomatillos, garlic, and onion in a pot. Cover with water, bring to a boil, and then turn down the heat and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes or until all the vegetables are soft. Transfer the vegetables to the blender along with 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Add the cilantro and cumin to the blender and blend until smooth. Add salt to taste.
Toss the chicken with 1/4 cup of the salsa along with 1/4 cup of sour cream, cumin, and lime juice. Save the rest of the salsa for serving. Taste and adjust seasonings, adding salt to taste if needed.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Cut the tortillas into quarters. Pour enough oil in a heavy skillet to come up 1/2 inch up the sides and heat to 350°F. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can test the temperature by sticking a wooden spoon into the oil. If it bubbles around the spoon, it should be ready for frying. In batches, fry the quartered tortillas for 1 minute, turning once or until golden brown, and then remove. Drain on a paper towel and sprinkle lightly with salt. (If using pre-made chips, you can skip this step.)
Place the chips close together but not overlapping on a baking sheet, and top each with 1/2 tablespoon of sour cream, 1 tablespoon chicken, and 2 tablespoons Monterey Jack cheese. Bake in the oven for 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted. After removing the nachos from the oven, top each with 1 jalapeño slice and cilantro, if you like. Serve warm with salsa on the side.
Yield: 4-8 servings
Thursday, October 23, 2014
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
When I was growing up, you could count on several suppers happening that week—our weekly visit to the cafeteria, a trip to our favorite Tex-Mex restaurant, a concoction my mom made called bean salad, and a skillet dish made up of fried sausage, potatoes, and cabbage.
Eating out at both the cafeteria and for Tex-Mex were always good fun—you’ll get no complaints from me here. The bean salad, however, was a bit more traumatizing, as it was essentially Frito salad without the Fritos and a whole lot more healthy. I was not a fan. (That said, in my new book I do include an updated Frito salad that does pay homage to my mom’s old favorite.)
But of all our family’s mainstays, I’d say the one I adored the most was the skillet dish of sausage, cabbage and potatoes. It’s so simple and yet comforting, it’s curious that as an adult that I seldom make it for myself.
I decided to remedy that recently, after I bought some fresh and smoky kielbasa sausage. When I asked my mom about the recipe, however, she said that she made it with the sausage that you get at the store—nothing fancy. Actually, all three ingredients are pretty humble, yet there’s a bit of magic that occurs in the skillet that makes this dish so enchanting.
First you fry some potatoes. Then you add the sausage to the mix, and let them get juicy and crisp. Lastly, you throw in a whole mess of cabbage, and let it surrender to the pan drippings until it’s soft, salty, and slick.
While there wasn’t much I needed to do to improve on the original sausage, potato, and cabbage skillet fry, I did choose to jazz mine up with some added jalapeños for a bit of heat. I also threw in some caraway seeds, as their anise-like flavor play well with the Eastern-European influenced dish. Lastly, while we didn't do this growing up, I now serve mine with a bit of mustard, as it's tanginess cuts some of the richness of the sausage.
As we’re heading toward those colder and shorter days where the only things you can find at the farmers market are usually cabbage and potatoes, this simple skillet fry will go into heavy rotation in my home. And when I’m looking for some Texas comfort and warmth, a plate of sausage, potato, and cabbage served with tangy mustard is always a welcome meal.
Austin-area friends: Saturday, October 25th, from 11 to 11:45, I’ll be speaking in the Texas tent at the Texas Book Festival with a book signing afterwards. (Signed books make wonderful gifts and this will be my last Central Texas appearance before the holidays.) The festival has an amazing line-up of authors and I'm super excited to attend, and I look forward to visiting with some of y'all there!
Sausage, Potato, and Cabbage Skillet Fry
2 tablespoons olive oil or bacon grease
2 Russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/4-inch cubes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pound smoky kielbasa sausage, cut into 1/4-inch-thick rings
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
2 jalapeños, seeds and stems removed, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups shredded cabbage
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Yellow or whole-grain mustard, for serving
In a large deep skillet or wok, heat up the oil on medium-low heat and add the diced potatoes. Season the potatoes with the salt. Cover the skillet, and cook the potatoes for 5 minutes. After this time, take off the cover, stir the potatoes and make sure that none are sticking to the bottom of the pan. Cover the skillet again and continue to cook for 5 more minutes.
Take off the cover and add to the skillet the sausage, onion, and jalapeño, and cook uncovered stirring occasionally for 8-10 more minutes or until the potatoes and sausage are cooked. Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.
Add the cabbage, caraway seeds, and the cayenne to the skillet, and cook while occasionally stirring for 5 more minutes or until the cabbage is soft and tender. Add salt and black pepper to taste. Serve warm with the mustard on the side.
Yield: 4 servings
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
Here’s a question for you: Do you eat ice cream pie with a spoon or a fork? And while we’re on the subject—do you place your slice of ice cream pie on a plate or do you place it in a bowl? While I suppose there is no right or wrong answer, it has been something for me to ponder as I’ve made my way through a pan of Mexican coffee ice cream pie.
Ice cream pies became popular in Texas in the 1950s. At this time, home freezers were arriving on the market and demonstration agents would travel around the state showcasing their company’s appliances abilities to keep things cold and solid. It was quite a luxury to not only make ice cream but then to also spoon it into a pie crust and freeze it again for later to serve as a pie.
The most common flavor for ice cream pies during this time was strawberry. It was the choice of the demonstration agents and also one that the local dairies usually sold, too. When I spoke to my grandmother about the subject, she concurred that not only was it a popular dessert at the time but indeed, strawberry was the flavor of choice. Though as much as I like strawberry ice cream my favorite ice cream is coffee. So when I got an itch to share an ice cream pie with you, I decided I would it be coffee, or rather, Mexican coffee, flavored instead.
Mexican coffee, which is also known as café de olla, is coffee that’s been brewed with that rich, dark sugar known as piloncillo, and then spiced with vanilla and cinnamon. Sometimes orange zest is added to the coffee, as well. It’s a fine cup of coffee and the bittersweet coffee combined with the dark sugar and warm cinnamon is especially suited for cooler days.
To make my Mexican coffee ice cream pie, I took my basic ice-box pie filling of cream cheese and sweetened condensed milk, and then infused it with brewed dark roast coffee, cinnamon, vanilla, and orange zest. That said, I have to admit originally I was aiming only for a chilled, not frozen, coffee-flavored pie. But after I realized it wasn’t going to set properly in the refrigerator, I threw it in the freezer overnight and was delighted to discover that the simple combination of a few ingredients created an ice cream filling that didn’t require churning or a specific maker.
As for the crust, I opted to go with a chocolate graham cracker crust. While chocolate isn’t a traditional addition, I love the combination of chocolate and coffee together so it worked just fine for me. And then to finish, I topped it with cinnamon vanilla whipped cream and some chopped chocolate because a little more chocolate never hurt anyone.
Now, this pie might not be for everyone. That said, if you’re the sort of person who likes to conclude a meal with a cup of coffee and perhaps a piece of chocolate, this is the pie for you. Or if you’re the type of person who likes to begin their day with a cup of coffee, this is also the pie for you. And if you’re the type of person who loves coffee ice cream and always wondered how it would taste in a pie, then this is definitely the pie for you. Though you don't have to take my word for it. Last week when I was in Texas, I made this pie for my mom's birthday. She said it was the best thing ever. (And then she asked for the recipe.)
Making the pie takes little effort though you do need to freeze it for about 8 hours before you can enjoy it. This means, that if you’re like me, you’ll make it the night before so you can have a slice in the morning, as everyone knows that coffee is a fine way to being a day and if you can get your morning coffee in the form of a slice of pie, all the better! The only thing you need to decide is whether to use a spoon or a fork (or a plate or a bowl). But no matter how you serve it, this Mexican coffee pie will put a smile on your face, which isn’t a bad way to end (or begin) your day at all.
Mexican coffee ice cream pie
For the chocolate graham-cracker crust:
1 1/2 cups finely crushed graham crackers (about 9 large rectangles)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 tablespoons butter, melted, still warm
For the Mexican coffee ice cream filling:
1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, room temperature
1 14-ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup brewed strong coffee, such as espresso or a dark roast
1 teaspoon freshly grated orange zest
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the whipped cream topping:
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons sugar
Pinch of cinnamon
1 ounce dark chocolate, finely chopped
To make the crust, preheat the oven to 350°F and lightly grease a 9-inch pie pan. In a food processor or with a rolling pin, finely crush the graham crackers until they’re the texture of sand.
Mix well the graham crackers with the cocoa, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Stir in the warm, melted butter until a dark dough is formed. It might be a little crumbly, but that's okay. Pat the dough into the pie pan, using your hands, a measuring cup, or a spoon to get it even. Bake for 7 minutes and then let the crust cool for 30 minutes.
To make the filling, in a blender mix together the cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, coffee, orange zest, cinnamon, and vanilla extract. Pour into the cooled crust, and then place in the freezer covered for at least 8 hours to freeze the filling. (I cover my pie with another pie pan.)
After the filling has frozen, make the whipped cream. First place the mixing bowl and the beater in the freezer for at least 20 minutes so they can chill. To whip the cream, place in the chilled mixing bowl the cream, vanilla, sugar, and cinnamon and then whip with the chilled beater until soft peaks form. Be careful not to over whip the cream. Spread the whipped cream over the frozen filling then sprinkle on top the chopped chocolate.
If you’re hungry, you can serve the pie immediately, but if you don’t mind waiting another hour, place the pie back in the freezer so the whipped cream can become more firm.
Yield: 8 servings