Thursday, May 10, 2012

Cinco de Mayo Celebrations!

I've mentioned this before, but I'll say it again.  My two favorite ethnic foods to make at home are Mexican and Italian dishes.  They are the easiest to recreate authentically.  Sure, it's still possible to recreate Chinese, Thai, and Indian food, but they are often very ingredient heavy (thus, the many layers of flavor that are evident)...and how often do you happen to have fresh lemon grass on hand?  Besides that, now that my oldest son is also allergic to coconuts, that pretty much cuts out most homemade Thai food for me.  I'll have to get my coconut and nut fix on date nights (when there's actually time for that...ha!).

So, in anticipation of Cinco de Mayo, I planned many Mexican dinners.  I will tell you this, there is nothing better than a dinner that you have high hopes for that turns out even better than expected.  And there's nothing worse than dinner that is bland when you thought it was going to be bursting with flavor.  I tried a chicken tortilla soup recipe that I have literally been meaning to try for at least three years now.  For one reason or another, it just kept being pushed onto the back burner.  This time around, I was going to make sure that it happened no matter what.  For how simple the recipe sounded, it was surprisingly time-consuming.  It was a Martha Stewart recipe.

Martha Stewart has rarely failed me, but there have been 3 or 4 instances where I have been less than impressed.  It was a recipe that was light on the spices, but often, I have been surprised by how simple recipes and ingredients allow the basic flavors of the dish to shine through.  I thought it was going to be like that.  But it was bland.  Bland, bland, bland, bland, bland.  So, I was disappointed with that one because I was hoping for more.  But the idea is a good one.  It was a basic broth with chicken.  That was it...but to that, you added whatever soup toppings you wanted.  I mean, it was the soup version of a potato bar or salad bar.  Take a crowd pleaser and allow your diners to dress it up to please their individual tastes.  Perfect idea for a dinner party!  Well, I'm glad I tried it before presenting it to guests at a dinner party--because it wasn't guest-worthy.  But I still like the idea.  So, I'm going to have to tinker with the idea and dress up the broth so that it is more flavorful.  If you have a good base, the toppings will shine through even better.  So, that's my chicken tortilla soup assignment.  I'm going to create a great broth/base so that I can realize my dream of a successful and delicious tortilla soup bar.  :)  Coming soon to a blog near you.  (Also coming soon, some Mexican-style bread recipes that work wonderfully as sides for your favorite Mexican foods--expect that blog in the next few days).

Luckily though, the soup was the only true dud--though I did have one other partial dud.  Though I intended to, I will not be including any Mexican dessert recipes this time.  I made some flan.  It tasted fantastic...but I screwed up on the caramelized sugar, so it didn't come out of the ramekin very smoothly, and as a result, it turned out ugly.  I don't think it was an error in the recipe--rather, it was an operator error (yes, I make mistakes).  So, I'm going to have to try to perfect my flan-making skills and see if that's the best recipe or if there's one that works a little better before I commit it to our blog.  I don't want to share mediocre recipes here or pretend that something was fantastic and flawless when it was not!

But let's move past my failures!  I made a number of other delicious and delightful Mexican dinners and accompaniments which I am going to share with you today.  Oh, and not to toot my own horn or anything, but I created my very own recipe for chicken enchiladas and I'm not going to was GOOD.  I was so proud of myself!  I kept trying to find a recipe that would match what I wanted to accomplish, and I really couldn't find I combined some ideas and made up my own recipe.  I used a green enchilada sauce recipe from Our Best Bites, but the rest was all my idea.  It was sooo delicious!  I will be making that one for years to come.  So, enjoy some lovely enchiladas among many other yummy Mexican selections below!

Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas


12 tortillas (8-10 inch tortillas--I used the uncooked tortillas that you cook yourself over the stovetop)
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 cup sour cream (I used light sour cream)
1 1/2-2 lbs. shredded or cubed cooked chicken breasts
2 cups salsa verde
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 1/2-2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
3-4 cups green enchilada sauce, canned or homemade (recipe below)


Poach chicken and shred or cube it. 

Mix together cream of chicken soup, sour cream, chicken, salsa verde, ground cumin, and 3/4-1 cup of Monterey Jack cheese.

If using uncooked tortillas, cook them in a pan over the stovetop.  Otherwise, wrap the tortillas in a slightly damp paper towel and microwave them for 30 seconds to a minute (or until they are warm and pliable).

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spread about 1 cup of green enchilada sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. 

Fill each tortilla with 3-4 tbsp of the chicken mixture.  Roll up and place in the baking dish.

If you have any of the chicken mixture left over after filling the tortillas (I did), spread it evenly over the top of all of the enchiladas.  Then spread 2-3 cups of green enchilada sauce evenly over the top of your enchiladas.

Sprinkle with remaining Monterey Jack cheese and bake for 45-60 minutes or until the cheese is nicely melted and the enchiladas are warm and bubbly.

Makes 12 servings.

Source: Again, this one came from my own mind.

Notes: As mentioned above, I used a homemade recipe for the green enchilada sauce which I found on Our Best Bites (an awesome food blog).  This enchilada sauce recipe makes a TON!  Probably double what you will need for my recipe.  But it freezes well and can be used as a dip for tortilla chips, or a sauce for tacos, burritos, or tostadas in addition to enchiladas.

Green Enchilada Sauce (Kate's Knockoff Cafe Rio Recipe)


2-3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, minced
5-6 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 green peppers, chopped
1-2 jalapenos, seeded and membranes removed for less heat, if desired
1 1/2 lb. tomatillos, husked and quartered or halved
1/2 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp cumin
4 cups chicken broth
2-3 tbsp sugar (optional and to taste)


in a large saucepan or stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Saute onions and garlic until tender and fragrant.

While onions are sauteeing, combine tomatillos, green peppers, jalapeno peppers, and cilantro in your blender.  Process until smooth; you may have to do it in batches and/or add some chicken broth to make things blendable.

Pour the tomatillo mixture over the onions and garlic and add chicken broth, salt, pepper, and cumin.  Simmer 15 minutes-1 hour, depending on the consistency you want.  You can increase the heat to high and boil it uncovered to speed up the process.  Or, you can simmer the sauce in a slow cooker all day, if you prefer that method.

Source: Our Best Bites

Notes: This was fantastic.  It makes a ton, so be prepared to freeze some of it.  It is super easy to make because you pretty much just throw everything in a blender and then let it cook on the stove.  You can also decide how chunky or smooth you want your sauce to be and blend it accordingly.  I kept mine a little chunkier.

Above: I made these again in 2013, but I used canned green enchilada sauce. While I prefer the homemade sauce, these still tasted great. If you use the canned enchilada sauce, you can add a little sugar, to taste so that it is more similar to the homemade green enchilada sauce. If not, it will be saltier and spicier. Just do whatever is your preference!

Mexican-Style Shredded Beef


1 boneless beef chuck shoulder roast (about 3 pounds)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 cup salsa or picante sauce
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon cornstarch
Taco shells


Place roast in slow cooker.  Combine cumin, coriander, chili powder, salt, and red pepper in a small bowl.  Place beef in slow cooker.  Pour spices over beef and top with salsa.

Cover; cook on low 8-10 hours or until meat is tender.

Remove beef from slow cooker.  Trim and discard excess fat from beef.  Shred meat with two forks.

Let cooking liquid stand 5 minutes to allow fat to rise.  Skim off fat.  Blend water and cornstarch until smooth.  whisk into liquid in slow cooker.  Cook, uncovered, 15 minutes on High until thickened.  Return beef to slow cooker.  Cover; cook 15-30 minutes or until hot.  Adjust seasonings.

Serve as meat filling for tacos, fajitas, enchiladas, quesadillas, or burritos.  Leftover beef may be refrigerated up to 3 days or frozen up to 3 months.

Source: This recipe came from a cookbook called "Simple 1-2-3 One Dish" ISBN-13: 978-1-4127-2323-7

Notes: This had such a great flavor.  It was really flavorful, but not too spicy.  I used it as a burrito filling.  I filled the burritos with this beef, some rice, beans, and corn.  Yum!

Above: This is how I served it for my little ones.  :)

Chipotle Chicken Taco Salad



1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2/3 cup light sour cream
1 tablespoon minced chipotle chile, canned in adobo sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
4 teaspoons fresh lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt


4 cups shredded romaine lettuce
2 cups chopped roasted skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 2 breasts)
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup diced peeled avocado
1/3 cup thinly vertically sliced red onion
1 (15 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (8 3/4 ounce) can no-salt-added whole-kernel corn, rinsed and drained


To prepare dressing, combine first 7 ingredients, stirring well.

To prepare salad, combine lettuce and remaining ingredients in a large bowl.  Drizzle dressing over salad; toss gently to coat.  Serve immediately.

Tip: Add a spoonful of adobo sauce for a spicier salad.  Kidney or pinto beans also taste great in this dish.

4 servings (serving size: 2 1/2 cups)

Nutrition information: 249 calories, 8.2 g fat, 23.3 g protein, 25.1 g carbohydrate, 7 g fiber, 50 mg choelsterol, 2.2 mg iron, 650 mg sodium, 106 mg calcium.

Source: Cooking Light, August 2006 (and available on

Notes: I've made this recipe as written a few times before.  It is wonderful.  This time around (as pictured), I made the recipe without chicken and with diced tomatoes instead of the grape tomatoes.  I wanted to lighten it up even more (since I'd already blown my calories for the day!) and I had accidentally used the last of my grape tomatoes the day before.

If you are going to eat the entire salad within the day of preparation, I would suggest tossing the dressing mixture with the lettuce.  However, if you aren't going to eat it within the same day (as my family wasn't able to), I would suggest topping the lettuce with the dressing mixture.  If you toss it, the moisture in the dressing mixture will wilt the lettuce and the entire salad will be no good the next day.  But if you add the dressing mixture to the lettuce each time you eat, it can last 2-4 days.

Santa Fe Chicken


2 cups instant white rice, uncooked
1 can (15 oz.) black beans, rinsed
1 yellow pepper, chopped
1 can (10 1/2 oz) condensed cream of chicken soup
2 cups water
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
4 small boneless skinless chicken breast halves (1 lb.)
1/2 cup Taco Bell Home Originals Thick 'N Chunky Salsa
1 container Philadelphia Cooking Creme Santa Fe blend (my addition--see notes for substitution)
1 cup Kraft Mexican Style Finely Shredded Four Cheese


Heat oven to 400 degrees F.

Combine rice, beans, and peppers in 13x9-inch baking dish.  Mix soup, water, and cilantro; pour over rice mixture.

Top with chicken, salsa, and Santa Fe Cooking Creme.

Bake 45 minutes or until chicken is done (165 degrees F), topping with cheese for the last 10 minutes.

Recipe Tip: Save 50 calories and 6 g of fat, including 3 g of saturated fat, per serving by preparing with 98% fat-free reduced-sodium condensed cream of chicken soup and Kraft Mexican Style 2% Milk Finely Shredded Four Cheese.  If you don't have fresh cilantro, use 1 tsp ground coriander instead.

4 servings.

Nutrition information: 640 calories, 17 g fat, 100 mg cholesterol, 1090 mg sodium, 78 g carbohydrate, 10 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 45 g protein.


Notes: I LOVED the rice mixture in this recipe.  It was so flavorful and creamy.  It was perfect.  I didn't have a yellow pepper, I had a red pepper, so I used that instead.  I also added a drained can of corn to the rice mixture.  I also had some chicken tenderloins that I wanted to use up, so I used that in place of the chicken breasts.  I would also say that this recipe can serve 6-8 people.  It makes a ton of rice.  So, if you top it with chicken tenderloins, it could feed a lot more people.  If you are serving 6 people, this decreases the calories to around 400 per serving.

However, I thought that the chicken could have been more flavorful.  I would definitely sprinkle it with some spices next time around (such as cumin, a light dusting of chili powder, or a Mexican spice blend).

I added some Santa Fe Cooking Creme.  I had bought it because I wanted to give it a try, but then I couldn't figure out what I wanted to use it in.  When I found this recipe (especially since it had "Santa Fe" in the title), I thought it would be the perfect addition.  If you want to still add this element but don't have the cooking creme, I would suggest the following mixture: 1 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup milk, 2 tablespoons (or to taste) taco seasoning well blended.

I was so in love with this rice mixture, that I made it again--without the chicken--to serve as a side dish (I actually made it to go along with the Mexican-Style shredded beef recipe found above for the burrito filling).  However, here is my word of caution: when you make this recipe as is (with the chicken), the chicken keeps the rice moist and creamy.  It also takes longer to cook this way.  If you are cooking the rice mixture alone to serve as a side dish, decrease the oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake only until the rice is cooked and the moisture has been absorbed (30-45 minutes).

Slow Cooker Chalupa Bowl


1 pound dried pinto beans
1 (3 1/2 pound) bone-in pork loin roast
2 (4 ounce) cans chopped green chiles
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 (32 ounce) box chicken broth
1 (10 ounce) can diced tomatoes and green chiles with lime juice and cilantro
8 taco salad shells
1 small head iceberg lettuce, shredded
Toppings: shredded Monterey Jack cheese, pickled jalapeno slices, halved grape tomatoes, sour cream, chopped avocado, cilantro, etc.


Rinse and sort beans according to package directions.

Place pinto beans in a 6-quart slow cooker; add roast and next 6 ingredients.  Pour chicken broth evenly over top of roast.

Cover and cook on high 1 hour; reduce to low, and cook 9 hours.  Or, cover and cook on high 6 hours.  remove bones and fat from roast; pull roast into large pieces with two forks.  Stir in diced tomatoes and green chiles.  Cook uncovered, on high 1 more hour or until liquid is slightly thickened.

Heat taco salad shells according to package directions; place shredded lettuce evenly into shells.  Spoon about 1 cup pork-and-bean mixture into each shell using a slotted spoon.  Serve with desired toppings.

8 servings

Source: Southern Living, October 2005

Notes: I assembled this the night before and put my slow cooker pot in the fridge so that I could simply put it in the warmer and turn it on the next morning.  I wasn't going to get up at six in the morning to get dinner ready!

One of the reasons I wanted to try this recipe was because I had a bag of dried pinto beans in my pantry that I have had no idea what to do with.  I prefer canned beans because I have always had a hard time getting dried beans to turn out tender--no matter how much I have soaked the beans or how long I have boiled them, I always end up with tough beans!  I figured that if the beans turned out tough in this recipe, I could remove them completely when I removed the pork to shred it.  But luckily, the beans were tender and delicious!  I think this recipe would work just as well with canned pinto beans--you would just decrease the cooking time because the lengthy cooking time in this recipe is due to the use of dried beans--not because the pork needs that amount of time to cook.

I added the can of tomatoes at the beginning of the cooking time rather than at the end.

The flavor was wonderful.  It wasn't overwhelming (meaning, it was good for my kids too), but it was just fulfilling.

I meant to put some canned jalapeno slices on top, but in the hectic rush to get my family fed, I totally forgot.  It would have been yummy though!  I'll have to remember to do that with our leftovers.

I used uncooked flour tortillas rather than taco salad shells, simply because that's what I had on hand.  This meat/bean mixture would work great as a taco filling, in taco salads, burritos, tostadas, quesadillas, and even enchiladas.

Cilantro-Lime Rice


1 cup long-grain white rice
Coarse salt
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove


In a medium saucepan, bring 1 1/2 cups water to a boil.  Add rice and 1/ teaspoon salt; cover, and reduce to a simmer.  Cook until water is absorbed and rice is just tender, 16-18 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a blender, combine cilantro, lime juice, oil, garlic, and 2 tablespoons water; blend until smooth.  Stir into cooked rice, and fluff with a fork.

Source: Everyday Food, April 2008. You can find it here.

Notes: Holy cow!  I can't believe how good this tasted for how easy it was!  This is going to be my go-to Mexican rice recipe from now on!  Yum!


  1. Okay, you really need to be working up your own recipes for some of these contests. Do a search online. You could make big money! Better than a part time job.

    These look so good! Can't wait to try some of them.

    Maybe I should be eating dinner at your house!

  2. Yum! Those all sound and look delicious. You must have been making a lot of mexican lately! II'm gonna have to try your enchilada's! Although the sauce sounds expensive and time consuming. Was it?

  3. Mom, you should come and have dinner at my house! Peter would love it. You know that.

    I need to do some more experimenting and creating, but yeah, it would be fun to enter some of those recipe contests.

    Laurie, the enchilada sauce really wasn't expensive. Besides the tomatillos, green peppers, and jalapenos, I always have the rest of the ingredients on hand. And basically, you just dice and saute the onion, throw the rest in the blender, and let it simmer until it reaches the thickness you want. So, it was really, really easy.

  4. Oh, and I forgot that I added ground cumin to the chicken filling mixture for the enchiladas. I corrected the recipe within the post. Sorry!