Mini lasagnas are on my mind and in my hands…

Mini Wonton Lasagnas

Like many of my friends, my friend Oliver is really into food. I wouldn’t say he’s as obsessed as I am, but I do know we share a tendency to pour over online menus, planning our meals before we even set foot in the restaurant. We also cook dinner together once a week before settling in to watch a few hours of (usually pretty trashy) TV. It’s one of those random routines that has worked fairly effortlessly for us for years.

The only hard part is deciding what to make each week. While our food preferences can vary a bit (I probably couldn’t pay him to try foie gras), the main issue is actually our timeline — we meet at 7pm and try to be done cooking within thirty minutes so we have ample TV time.

Even working with this limitation, we have put out some damn good food, including this crispy orange chicken and a roasted rack of pork with vegetables. But one of my favorite things we cooked recently were this little mini lasagnas, made by using wonton wrappers.

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Homemade tortillas, smoked brisket tacos & a trip to Texas

Smoked brisket tacos on homemade tortillas

Smoked brisket tacos on homemade tortillas

My mind is on BBQ, Tex-Mex and tacos.

This could be because my husband and I will soon be traveling to Austin for a week to eat and drink our way through the city. (Hello Franklin Barbecue — we’re coming for you!)

Or it could be because of Podnah’s Pit — a Portland BBQ institution that within the last few years opened La Taq, their sister restaurant. La Taq specializes in seriously tasty Tex-Mex and is responsible for introducing my husband and me to a previously unknown form of deliciousness: smoked brisket tacos.

Ever since January, when we first dined there, my husband has been dreaming of them. In fact he’s already slipped away once without me to indulge in a late-night taco fest. Not that I’m bitter. Well I would be but he was smart enough to bring me home a chicken sopa.

A few weeks ago I found myself at home with the remainder of my bag of masa and a pound of smoked brisket (bought straight from Podnah’s). It seemed like the kitchen gods had a plan for me!

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Sopes Fabulous!

Homemade Sopes

Sopes with seasoned ground turkey, black beans, tomatoes and cilantro.

I have been trying to put a dent in the giant bag of masa I bought and so far I’ve been pretty successful. I used the tortilla press my husband brought home ages ago and made a dozen or so homemade tortillas, which were crazy good. I also went on a bit of a sopes bender.

Sopes, pronounced so-pez in case you’re unfamiliar, are like little masa bowls — ready to be filled with whatever delicious things you want. I discovered the magic of sopes fairly recently. I had eaten them before but it was the chicken and chile sopes at Portland’s La Taq that really haunted me. I’ll admit, mine were not quite that good but they were still pretty awesome for a first attempt!

I started by making a dough from the masa by blending it with warm water and a bit of salt. Once the mixture came together and was moist but not tacky, I divided it into eight pieces. Those pieces were then rolled into ball and flattened into disks, resembling thick tortillas.

In a hot pan with no oil, I heated the sopes on one side until brown spots started to appear. Then one at a time, I removed them and crimped the edges up to form a small shallow bowl. Once I had them crimped, it was time to fry them. While I’m fairly certain you can deep fry these guys (and I’m sure that makes them even tastier), I went for just enough oil to get them all brown and crispy.

Bottoms up! I did think the masa was a bit bland so I sprinkled salt on each shell after it was fried.

Bottoms up! I thought my masa dough was a bit bland so I sprinkled salt on each shell after it was fried.

Then the hard work is done! Seriously, you are already half-way to eating.

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Homemade pupusas turned me into a greedy food hoarder…

Homemade Pupusas with Pickled Vegetables

Homemade Pupusas with Pickled Vegetables

In the past few years I’ve gotten really into pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish. They have taken over my mind and made me do things like brave a rather shady looking pupuserie that shares its parking lot with an even shadier looking porn store. (Totally worth it, by the way.) I’ve also eaten pupusas from a few food carts around town. Each pupusa journey ended in happiness, but the more I ate, the more determined I became to make them myself.

Finally last Saturday, after spending the morning googling recipes, I decided the time was right.

I picked up a huge bag of masa (I’m envisioning tamales, tortillas and endless pupusas in my future) and some queso fresco. I decided to skip making the typical pupusa accompaniment, curtido (a pickled or fermented cabbage salad), since I had some homemade pickled veggies to use up. I also had some braised beef that needed a good home and so the project was a pretty affordable one — always a good thing when you don’t really know what you’re doing!

But regardless of my inexperience, by following the recipe and instructions from The Kitchn carefully, my pupusa adventure was a delicious success.

Masa!

Masa!

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The curious case of cookies combined with carbonnade…

Beef Carbonnade w. Beer, Marmalade & Gingersnaps

A beef carbonnade made with marmalade and gingersnaps.

Have you been to Gourmandistan? It’s a land known for its food — a place where things are often cooked in duck fat, strange and unusual flavor combinations are discovered and pork is a prized beast. It’s also the inspiration for this post, as I continue to try out one recipe a month from some of my favorite blogs.

Many things that Steve and Michelle (the primary residents of Gourmandistan) cook intrigue me, but when it came time to pick one dish to make, I already had the winner in mind. The title for the original post with the recipe was so clever it gave me some serious blog-envy, but it was the ingredient list that solidified my decision.

Gourmandistan’s version of a beef carbonnade, adapted from a Daniel Boulud braising cookbook, includes the following: Chimay beer, beef, bacon, creme fraiche, orange marmalade and gingersnap cookie crumbs. It’s like a list of my favorite things!

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Sticking to a cleanse is easier when you’re eating steak!

Seared Striploin, Orange-Parsley Chimichurri with Roasted Beets and Carrots.

Seared Striploin, Orange-Parsley Chimichurri with Roasted Beets and Carrots.

As you all may know, I’ve been participating in the Bon Appetit Food Lover’s Cleanse. The refined-sugar-and flour-free eating plan has resulted in several dreams involving fudge and bread but so far I’ve managed to make it through without a single cheat. Of course, it’s fairly easy to stick to a cleanse that involves (at least a little) red meat.

Yes, this beautiful steak dinner was still part of the 2014 FLC and it was so satisfying it nearly made me forget about wanting a beer. Nearly.

The recipe was Hanger steak with Orange Oregano Chimichurri but I made a few substitutions. The first issue was that I hadn’t bought hanger steaks from work and trying to find them at the nearest grocery store was totally unsuccessful. I turned instead to another steak known for its leanness, the striploin. In the chimichurri, I used some home-dried thyme instead of dried oregano because that’s what I had on hand. I also added a bit of mint because I live on the edge.

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