January 17, 2018

Dear friends,

Temperatures dipped here to the low 60s last weekend, so hearty cooking was on my mind. I know I won’t get much sympathy from friends back in Ohio, where half-inch-thick ice encased cars, porch steps and anyone foolish enough to stand still for long.

In Okeechobee, Fla., where Tony and I are camping, the cold snap meant wearing my Fiona the hippo sweatshirt in the mornings and foregoing the swimming pool for a couple of days. Tough life.

I warmed up our camper one day with a seasoned roast bubbling in the slow cooker. Later I shredded the meat and layered it in a casserole with cheese, black olives, green onions and salsa. I baked the casserole — actually, I had enough for two — and scooped the gooey, meaty mixture into warm flour tortillas.

Making the filling this way and having diners scoop and roll their own tortillas is an easy way to make burritos for a crowd. I baked one pan of filling and froze one for later, but you could assemble the casserole in an oblong cake pan for one big batch of burritos if you are feeding a crowd.

Sorry to write and run, but I gotta go — the pool is calling. Don’t hate.

 

FRESH BAKED
SHREDDED BEEF BURRITOS:
• 2 lbs. boneless chuck roast, trimmed of fat

• 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
• 1 tsp. ground cumin
• Salt, pepper

CASSEROLE:
• 1 can (15 oz.) fat-free refried beans
• 2/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
• 1 cup chopped green onion
• 1 can (5.5 oz.) sliced black olives, drained
• 2 cups (or to taste) chunky salsa
• 2 cups shredded Monterey Jack and Colby mixed cheese

For the beef, up to two days in advance: Place roast in a baking pan and rub all over with the cayenne, cumin, salt and pepper. Add enough water to come halfway up sides of roast. Cover tightly with foil. Bake in a preheated, 350-degree oven for about 3 hours, or until very tender.

 Remove foil and cool slightly, then shred meat with two forks. Season well with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for up to 2 days.

For the casserole: Spread 1/2 can of refried beans in the bottoms of two 9-inch-square baking pans. Top evenly with the feta cheese. Spread a half-cup chopped onion in each pan, then the black olives. Divide meat between the two pans. Top each with 1 cup of the salsa and 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Cover tightly with a double layer of foil.

Casseroles may be cooked immediately, refrigerated for up to two days, or frozen. If not frozen, bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 40 minutes or until heated through.

Or freeze one or both for up to 6 months. Bake frozen casserole at 400 degrees for 45 minutes, then uncover and bake 30 minutes longer or until hot all the way through.

To serve, scoop spoonfuls of the casserole into warm flour tortillas. Pass hot sauce at the table if desired. Each casserole makes 6 burritos.

GUT CHECK
What I cooked last week:
Yellow rice with Cuban black beans, sausages and fried local peppers.

What I ate in restaurants last week:
Marinated, roasted and shredded Cuban pork, yellow rice and black beans, fried ripe plantains and yuca fries with garlic dipping sauce at El Cubanito in Port St. Lucie, Fla.; two hamburger Happy Meals with fries on two trips to McDonald’s; a great chicken and sautéed onion taco with cilantro at a food truck in Indiantown, Fla.; a breaded pork cutlet sandwich at Pogey’s Family Restaurant in Okeechobee, Fla.; liver and onions, mashed potatoes and gravy at Lakeside Family Restaurant in Okeechobee; a sausage-egg burrito and coffee at McDonald’s.

Note: McDonald’s is the only place near my campground where I can access wifi. Hence the breakfasts and Happy Meals. I did get a really cool pair of cartoon cat glasses with one Happy Meal, which made it all worthwhile.

THE MAILBAG

From Chris O., Charlotte, N.C.:
Regarding your search for Cuban food, I’ve always heard people rave about red beans and rice, but I’ve never had any. It sounds simple to make, but what makes Cuban red beans and rice so good? Are they different from New Orleans’ recipe?

 

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Dear Chris:
The seasonings are entirely different. In addition, New Orleans red beans and rice is spicy hot; the Cuban version is not. I like them both. My real fave, though, is Cuban black beans. They are long-cooked, deeply flavored, and dumped over white rice at the table.

BLACK BEANS AND RICE
• 1/2 lb. dried black beans
• 1 1/2 quarts water
• 2 large onions, chopped
• 1 green pepper, chopped
• 4 cloves garlic, chopped
• 1/2 cup olive oil
• 1 tbsp. salt
• 1 oz. bacon
• 1/4 lb. ham bone
• 2 tbsp. oregano
• 3 bay leaves
• 1/2 cup vinegar
• Cooked white or yellow rice
• Chopped onion for garnish (optional)

Wash and sort beans. Cover with water by 2 inches and soak overnight. Or bring to a boil, remove from heat and let stand 2 hours.

Drain beans. In a skillet, fry onion, green pepper and garlic in olive oil until tender. Add to beans along with the 1 1/2 quarts water, salt, bacon, ham bone, oregano and bay leaves. Cook over low heat until beans are tender and of a thick consistency, about 2 to 3 hours. Add vinegar a few minutes before serving. Serve over rice, topped with raw chopped onion.

From Pat S., Hudson:
Regarding popovers, when I lived in Great Britain I think I saw them add meat drippings to the muffin tin (at least a half inch), then heated the tin and then added the dough Maybe that’s why they didn’t stick. I’ve also seen Yorkshire pudding made in a large cast iron skillet; it looks like a Dutch baby when it’s done. Just some thoughts. Thanks for all your good info and recipes.

Dear Pat:
I’m getting the idea that the more fat, the better. My popovers released from the pan after I let them cool for about 5 minutes, but they still required a bit of prying. Maybe Anne K., below, has the answer.

From Anne K.:
I really have to disagree with most of what you wrote about popovers. I have been making them for 50 years. I would suggest watching the Barefoot Contessa’s popover video. She has it exactly right. Popovers fall out of the pans if properly greased.

Dear Anne:
I am far from an expert popover maker, and am glad for any help I can get. I watched the video you mentioned (others should Google “barefoot contessa popovers youtube”), and Ina Garten’s recipe and method are similar to the one I tried — and failed with — the first time. There are some differences. She says to heat the muffin or popover tin for exactly two minutes, and to bake the popovers at 425 degrees for exactly 30 minutes. She stirs the batter until smooth, unlike the stir-to-moisten technique I followed on my second,  more successful attempt. Her popovers turned out high and fluffy. I will try Garten’s recipe the next time.

Interesting fact I picked up while researching Garten’s method: Before switching careers and becoming the Barefoot Contessa, she was a nuclear policy analyst in the Nixon administration.

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