Friends, it’s summertime. I am down in Texas this week trying not to melt as I make plans and preparations for fall gardening and an impending chicken coop (stay with me for that adventure).
Did you know that Vietnamese culture is very prevalent down here? Vietnamese is actually the third most spoken language behind English and Spanish. So I was noodling on a new cocktail idea and thought to combine some ingredients that would really represent the Gulf Coast region: basil used in Vietnamese cooking, lime juice, Tajín, Topo Chico and Western Son Gulf Coast Lime vodka.
I often refer to beverages as “summery” and this one is a summer super star. Bottoms up my lovelies!
WHAT YOU NEED:
1 ounce of fresh lime juice
1 1/2 – 2 ounces Western Son Gulf Coast Lime Vodka
1/2 ounce Cointreau
1 tsp. agave nectar
6-8 leaves of Thai basil
6 mint leaves
1 tsp. Tajín
In a rocks tumbler muddle the herbs vigorously. Add the top four ingredients. Put some ice in a shaker. Add the ingredients of the tumbler to the shaker and SHAKE IT!
In a saucer drag the teaspoon of Tajín into a little line. Use one of your spent lime rinds to wet the outer perimeter of your rocks tumbler. Coat the wet area in the Tajín.
Add fresh ice to the glass. Pour the contents of the shaker into the glass and top with Top Chico.
Imagine, if you will, that you are 11. That you are seat belted into a giant Buick LeSabre, next to your sisters. Imagine the Judds coming through the car speakers, and singing along in harmony with most of the people in the car. Imagine one of your sisters gets car sick. A lot. Imagine mom giving Dramamine to all of us, because there’s one kid who likes to get sick, but that shit will knock the other two of you out for awhile. Imagine your sleepy little feet landing in a pyrex casserole dish full of a beautifully executed King Ranch Chicken casserole in the floorboard. Welcome to my childhood.
The King Ranch is a big place in Texas. There is a casserole named after it. Enough about that.
MY family ranch, The Stanton Ranch, is in Johnson City, Texas. While nothing to sneeze at, in terms of acreage and acclaim it is no King Ranch. But that didn’t even enter our minds while we traversed its creeks and rivers in our inner tubes, fished, made the most of its ample venison and generally enjoyed being around our relatives.
And we all knew how to eat. Mom, Aunt Marcie and Granny would generally do a casserole or two ahead of time for ease and convenience while we were all up at the ranch, much preferring to spend time in the creek or playing cards than sweating over the stove.
For issues of freezability and portability, the casserole is a solid meal. In this version, I have taken the classic King Ranch Chicken casserole and made it palatable. Reduced are the cans of condensed soup, and more complex flavors take their place.
What you need:
1 lb uncooked white meat chicken, cubed
1/2 cup + 1/4 cup white wine
2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp Mexican oregano + 1 tsp Mexican oregano (I use Bolner’s Fiesta Spices for this, it’s really the best)
1 tbsp cumin + 2 tsp cumin
1 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp lard (or olive oil or butter)
1 large white onion, chopped
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp white pepper
4 oz button mushrooms, sliced
2 tbsp masa harina or flour
1 can Rotel tomatoes
1 10.5 ounce can Cream of Mushroom condensed soup
4 tsp chopped pickled jalapeños (optional)
16 corn tortillas
4 oz shredded cheddar cheese
4 oz shredded monterey jack cheese
In a saucepan, combine 2 cups chicken stock, 1/2 cup white wine, 1 tsp Mexican oregano, 1 tbsp cumin, 1 tbsp chili powder and 1 pound of chicken. Bring to a gentle simmer and allow to stew for about a half hour. Remove from heat, allow to cool on its own.
Preheat oven to 375.
Melt 1 tbsp lard in a large saute pan. Add the chopped onion, sweat. Add the garlic and sliced mushrooms. Add 1 tsp Mexican oregano, 2 tsp cumin, 1 1/2 tsp salt, and 1 tsp white pepper.
Scatter 2 tbsp masa over the entire mixture. Stir and allow the raw flavor to be cooked off.
Shred the cooked chicken into the mixture and stir. Add the cooking liquid from the chicken plus an additional 1/4 cup white wine. Stir to bring the masa and liquids together.
Add the condensed soup and Rotel tomatoes. Add the chopped jalapeños (optional).
Spray a rectangular 9×13 casserole dish with cooking spray. Cut 10 of the tortillas in half. Line the bottom of the casserole dish using the straight edges of the halved ones to make the perimeter, then covering the middle with two whole tortillas. Spread 1/3 of the chicken mixture over the tortillas. Repeat this process 3 times, so that there are three layers of tortilla alternating with 3 layers of chicken mixture.
Cover the top with the grated cheese.
Bake for about 30 minutes, until cheese is bubbly.
This is a dream in the freezer. Cover tightly and shove her in for a rainy day.
Also, I slathered mine with The Gentleman Caller’s All-Purpose Chili Sauce #1 http://thegentlemancaller.net/the-gentleman-callers-all-purpose-chili-sauce-1/ and then topped with a sprig of micro cilantro that I sprouted earlier.
Are you looking forward to 2017 as much as I am? We always can choose hope over fear. And that’s what we do here at The Gentleman Caller: I am choosing to hope you love this recipe rather than fear it burns your tongue off.
I am kidding! You know I love spicy things, but this, despite being full of chilies, is actually deep in flavors without being overly hot.
Today I present to you The Gentleman Caller’s All Purpose Chili Sauce #1. I say #1 because there will likely be sequels, like with a good movie franchise. Consider this my sauce franchise. Most people think that by the time you get to #3 the franchise has lost its luster, but I promise you that in my sauce franchise I will not offer you a “Rocky 7”, a “Halloween 3”, or a straight to video “The Return of Jafar.” May they all be “The Empire Strikes Back.”
This is an all purpose sauce for use on top of tamales, burritos, really anything Mexican. Yes, I am bastardizing Mexican cooking. I am not Mexican. I am TEXican. Take it or leave it. But when you taste it, you are going to want to TAKE IT.
What you need:
(This is to yield about 2 cups)
8 cloves garlic*
1/4 white onion, rough chopped
2 tablespoons lard (or shortening or vegetable oil)
14-16 guajillo dry chili peppers
1/3 cup canned diced tomatoes**
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1 allspice berry, freshly ground (1/4 teaspoon)
1 whole clove, freshly ground (1/8-1/4 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon masa harina
1 1/2 cups chicken, turkey, pork, or vegetable stock
*If you are a garlic lover (as I am) you may use 8, 10, up to 12 cloves of garlic. If you do, add a little more honey.
**You may substitute Rotel diced tomatoes and green chilies for a bit more punch.
Use your kitchen shears to snip the stem off your chilies. Cut a slit up the center of the skin; use your thumb to remove the seeds.
Fill a saucepan or metal mixing bowl half full of very hot water (over 120 degrees). In a dry cast iron or any pan that gets really hot, roast the chilies on high heat till they begin to smoke a bit. You will be able to smell them. Transfer the chilies to the hot water bowl. They should be covered. Allow steeping for at least 15 minutes.
In a large saucepan or small Dutch oven, melt 1 tablespoon of the lard. Sauté the onion. As the onion cooks, smash the garlic cloves and add them to the onion/lard sauté. Add the tomatoes to sort of deglaze them. Add half the chicken stock and allow to come to simmer. By now the chilies should have steeped. Add them to this mixture. Pour this entire mixture into a blender carafe and process at high speed until very smooth. Warning: hot liquid in the blender tends to explode on you. Either leave the lid ajar or process in half batches.
Once that mixture is smooth, you can re-use the pan or Dutch oven you just used to melt the remaining lard. Delicately whisk in the masa. Keep stirring as it begins to bubble. Add all the spices and allow them to open up. Pour the contents of the blender into the masa mixture. Whisk it as it comes to a simmer. If it’s too thick, add more stock. Add the honey. Taste for salt level; based on how salty your stock is, you might require more salt.
Simmer while whisking slowly for about 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow it to sit and marry.
Taste again before serving to test for salt and sweet levels. If it needs it, add more salt or honey. You be the judge. Be judicious.
This sauce is obviously not difficult and packs a flavor wallop. You can dip quesadillas in it. You can pour it on simple ground beef for tacos. I invented it for tamales. But we pour Ranch dressing on anything. Think of this as Tex-Mex Ranch Dressing.
That’s it for now. Olé caballeros.
The Gentleman Caller
I’ve said it once and I will say it again: before I go to the electric chair I am going to have chips and salsa. There are mornings when I wake up and have that craving and literally plan my day around getting good chips and salsa. And you know what? In New York City it takes some planning. That whole Pace picante sauce ad campaign had tremendous validity to it.
Several years ago I devised a homemade salsa recipe out of necessity and it’s damn good. I have tinkered with it, and I modify it from time to time, but right now I am presenting to you the basics.
I present to you The Gentleman Caller’s Patented Salsa!
Note: this recipe makes your hands stink and if you are careless about touching your eyes or your junk after handling jalapeños, wear some gloves.
Assemble your ingredients.
One 32 oz can of plum tomatoes
scant half of a large red onion
large jalapeño pepper
bunch of cilantro
juice of 1 1/2 limes
whisper of lime zest
capful of cider vinegar
capful of extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves of garlic
a teaspoon of salt (that you will likely adjust)
1/3 teaspoon of sugar
Get out your blender. Rough chop your onion, jalapeño, cilantro tops and add to blender carafe. Add the lime juice and microplane a touch of zest. While the microplane is out grate the garlic into the carafe. Add the vinegar, oil, salt and sugar. If you’d prefer, you can use a teaspoon of honey instead of the sugar. Pour the tomatoes on last.
Put the lid on your blender. Pulse on low patiently to desired consistency. I like it pretty chunky but it’s delicious smooth as well.
When you reach the desired consistency, stick a spoon pretty deep in there and taste it. You will probably need to add some more salt and possibly some more sweetness, but you really can’t know till you taste. Tomatoes vary tremendously in sweetness, and sometimes the acidity of the limes and things differ. Just be patient and go a little at time.
This salsa is pretty piquant, but if you don’t like super hot food, remove the ribs and seeds from the pepper. Also, cilantro is very polarizing. If you don’t like cilantro, google another recipe. I’m kidding. You can leave it out. It won’t taste as good, but you can totally leave it out.
Careful if you take this to a party. Once your friends taste it, you will be asked to bring it constantly.