ADVENTURES IN DOMESTICITY: Mexican Food Edition

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With swine flu making travel to Mexico ¡muy off limits!, my friends and I thought we’d bring some South of the Border action to Hollywood last night by whipping up a minor Mexican feast at mi casa. It all started when my friend Bets revealed that she had a bunch of avocados that needed to be used. This naturally led to guacamole fantasies, and from there, an entire menu was devised. On tap for us: guacamole, grilled corn salad with queso fresco and lime, and something called chilaquiles, which I soon learned was like a big, flat, casserole version of an enchilada — or Mexican lasagna as I termed it in my head (probably incorrectly because I’m sure there’s something out there called Mexican lasagna already). Needless to say, we had our work cut out for us.
After the jump, photos of our cooking experience.

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Things started off on a humble note: shredded pepper jack cheese in a bowl. Actually, it’s more like chopped pepper jack. (I only had slices in my fridge.)

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Bets got to work cooking up two chicken breasts.

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Exceedingly proud for reasons unknown to me.

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The recipe actually calls for the breasts to be boiled and then shredded, but our chicken was frozen; so this seemed easiest. We didn’t mind the chunkiness.

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Meanwhile, in the blender, I added milk, cilantro, canned green chiles, and several tomatillos. I’d never worked with tomatillos before and found them to be sticky and annoying. Is that normal?

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GRRR! I clutch the blender, ready for action!

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They blendin’! They blendin’!

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Meanwhile, once the chicken was done, we tossed it with green onions, chile powder, salt, pepper, the pepper jack cheese, and parm. This would be our filling.

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The tomatillo sauce is blended, but not done. It’s a little bland. We add salt, pepper, a dash of hot sauce, a serrano pepper, and a little more green chiles. Oh, and cayenne and red pepper flakes. Yeah, it required a lot of boosting, but in the end, it tasted delicious.

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And now l’assemblage: first went down a third of a cup of the sauce. Then a layer of flour tortillas. Then half the chicken mixture. We then added a layer of Mexican cheese mix (not in the recipe) just to boost the cheesiness. We then added a second layer of tortillas, topped it with the rest of the chicken mixture, and added more cheese.

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Bets rocks the layering duty.

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Look at the way she handles those tortillas. She may be from Michigan, but she very well could be from the heart of OAXACA!

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After the final layer of tortillas are administered, we then poured the remaining tomatillo sauce over the entire dish (and, of course, topped with more cheese, this time pepper jack too).

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Ta da.

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Here’s Bets just dickin’ around.

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The two of us pose with our creation before it goes into the oven.

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With the chilaquiles in the oven, I got to work on the guacamole. I’d actually never made it before. Bets had purchased a bag of exceptionally ripe avocados from the Farmer’s Market, and needless to say, they were put to good use. In this bowl: avocados, lime juice, salt, a smattering of green onions, minced garlic, cilantro, and some tomatoes.

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Meanwhile, on Bets’s side of the kitchen, she got to work on the grilled corn salad. Not sure what was in this bowl presently. Cilantro? Our documentation skills kind of fell apart for this portion of the evening.

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After twenty minutes, the chilaquiles comes out of the oven where it had been cooking at 375 degrees. It’s looking melty and delicious.

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The corn salad takes form. The recipe actually called for grilled corn on the cob that would be later shaved, but we instead threw canned corn into a skillet and cooked it for about eight or ten minutes. Not the same, but a fine alternative.

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Queso fresco, etc.

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Bets employs a reamer to squeeze lime juice into the salad. It is highly amusing to her.

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We begin to set the table. Presentation is not my strong point, but I have a noticeable lack of serving plates and bowls.

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The guacamole, looking quite charming in my Target brand cereal bowl.

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Sadly, the corn salad does not fare well in the presentation department.

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Bets partakes of the chips and dip.

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As do I.

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IndianJones, who coincidentally stuffed himself with homemade veggie enchiladas at his apartment just an hour prior, sits on the couch and watches from afar.

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And now the main course. Bets tries to artfully arrange her plate — note the tortilla chip standing erect atop the sour cream — but my photographic skills undermine any effort on her part.

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Ever the student of Tyra Banks, Bets somehow manages to FIND THE LIGHT with her plate.

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And here Bets is drawn to said light.

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Time to eat!

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Gnom nom nom?

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Success!

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And now I’m full (although, that didn’t stop us from getting frozen yogurt afterwards).

THE VERDICT: No surprise here — everything turned out great. The guacamole was delicious (if I do say so myself), but I won’t dote on that because it’s a pretty standard thing, and really, it’s mostly because the avocados were perfectly ripe. The chilaquiles, meanwhile, were a perfect example of Mexican comfort food. Rich, tasty, and totally satisfying, the dish was surprisingly good. At times it tasted like stacked quesadillas, and at other times, it tasted like stacked enchiladas (shocking, I know). Either way, the chilaquiles totally hit the spot. I was also impressed with the degree to which the tomatillo sauce thickened in the oven — probably thanks to the milk (nonfat skim, I should mention). It really made for a hearty entree, and even better, it wasn’t that unhealthy. There was no oil, no butter, and no fat added. And truth be told, even with the added cheese, there still wasn’t that much (plus, it was spread out over an entire casserole). Diet fiends could easily modify this dish to be even healthier — use whole wheat tortillas, substitute chicken with veggies, etc. (although, again, given that two breasts are spread out over an entire casserole, the amount in each serving is really very minimal).
As for the corn salad, it was almost the perfect side dish to the chilaquiles. The two dishes completely played off each other in a wonderful way. On its own, the salad was very tasty, but in the context of the larger meal, it really soared — if I may be so bold to use such flowery language.
For those looking to make these recipes, here are the links:
Chilaquiles: http://thecrepesofwrath.wordpress.com/2008/09/23/chicken-chilaquiles/ (note that I used fresh tomatillos, not canned. And also note that you should definitely season the tomatillo sauce to taste before you move forward).
Grilled Corn Salad with Queso Fresco and Lime: http://www.bitchincamero.com/mel/2008/07/my-favorite-grilled-corn-salad/
Now, off to the gym (hey, it may have been healthy food, but not in the quantities that I ate it in…)