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Saturday, April 24, 2010

I think it was something I ate....

I've recently indulged in a couple of my "comfort foods" that aren't terribly healthy, but my oh my, are they ever comforting!

:: First off, here's my favorite thing to do with leftover tacos. Here in Buffalo we have a chain called Mighty Taco. It's typical fast-food tacos, but of general higher quality than, say, Taco Bell. I like to get the Super Mighty Pack when I go there. This is four of their Super Mighty tacos (which I order with medium sauce and sour cream, for anyone wondering such stuff). Since I can only really eat two of the tacos in one sitting, I then bring the other two home and over the next day or two, indulge in this.

First, you take a leftover Mighty Taco Super Mighty and put it in a bowl:

Begin with a Taco


(If you can do this without looking like a wide-eyed mad scientist lunatic, good for you.)

Then, you slather the thing with Nacho Cheese Sauce or Salsa Con Queso from a jar, like so:

Schmearing the Cheese Sauce


Now, put the thing in the microwave and cover. We have a nifty dome-thing for microwave cooking; since we got this, we've cut down our "microwave food splatter" by 90 percent, with the other 10 percent mainly coming from when I forget to use the thing or when we nuke something that we don't realize is going to splatter. Hey, there are some contexts in which I'm all in favor of food being splattered on something, but the inside of my microwave isn't one of them.

Anyway, I set the nuker for three and a half minutes. As much as I appreciate that I can reheat leftovers quickly in the nuker, I had it when there are cold spots in the middle, so I tend to nuke the living hell out of things.

And then, we wait. And you know what? Waiting three and a half minutes when you're hungry and you're nuking something you like to eat is a really long time! So how do I pass the time? Maybe I stretch a little:

Streettcchh!!


Or maybe play the opening drum riff to "Hot For Teacher" on my thighs:

Waiting....


Waiting for the microwave is also a good time to practice one's Russian step dancing:

Try a Russian dance step or two


Or, just surrendering to the ennui entirely:

Snore....


But finally, the 210 seconds do elapse, and then, the final dish!

Yummm!!!


Oh, sweet sweet molten taco-ey leftover goodness!

:: And then, there's the Chili Dog. Oh, mama.

First, of course, you have to make chili. I like to experiment with chili recipes on occasion, but for the most part, when I make my own chili, this is how I do it. Generally I make a huge pot of it and eat a few bowls of it along with fresh cornbread. And then, to kill off the leftovers, I'll either eat future servings by pouring reheated chili over a bed of corn chips (this is heavenly!), or I'll make Chili Dogs.

So: making chili. I start with meat, onions, garlic, salt, pepper, a tablespoon or two of peanut oil, a teaspoon or so of crushed cumin seed, and a pile of chili powder. If I have green pepper on hand, I'll dice up some of that and throw it in as well. We don't always have bell peppers around, though. This time, we didn't.

Starting the meat mixture


The meat in this case is Bob Evans Hot Breakfast Sausage, which makes for great chili. Sometimes I'll use ground pork. I rarely make chili with plain ground beef; I love the flavor the sausage gives, as well as the extra spice. I just pile all of that into a pot and cook it down until the meat is completely cooked.

Cooking the meat mixture


Meat mixture, cooking away


Here's the meat when finished:

Finishing the meat


Once the meat mixture is complete, I transfer it into the waiting crock pot. Next comes the addition of a bunch of ingredients that come in cans, which means a lot of can-opening. And in the scullery here at Casa Jaquandor, can-opening always results in a scene like this:

ITS NOT TUNA!!!


I'm trying to avoid being tripped by the cat who is winding through my legs, under the assumption that the can being opened contains tuna.

In terms of canned stuff for the chili, I use:

1 large can of crushed tomatoes
1 can of diced tomatoes (unless I happen to have fresh tomatoes on hand, in which case I'll just dice those up instead of using the canned stuff)
2 cans of beans

I like my chili to be more of a hearty soup than a stew, but if you want your chili thicker than I typically make it, this is where you'd add a can or two of tomato paste. I rarely bother, though.

By way of beans, I used to always use the canned beans that were "chili ready", meaning they came packed in a spicy sauce that you could dump right into the pot. However, I've been trying to cut down on the amount of sodium in my cooking, and canned foods tend to be loaded with salt. I've thus cut the beans down to one can of the "chili beans" and one can of regular red kidney beans.

Over the last year or so, I've seen "No Salt Added" canned vegetables showing up on the shelves at The Store. This is a major boon. I've grown terribly tired of the excessive salt in everything, and as I've cut back, I'm noticing overly salty food more and more now. It's amazing how foods taste once you've started to recalibrate your taste buds for a lower-sodium diet; there are foods now that have me sprinting for the water bottle that I didn't bat an eye at before. (By way of editorializing, I think that maybe we can put the brakes on demonizing smoking for a bit and instead direct some energy at all the unnecessary salt in American food.)

Anyway, I dump all of that into the crock pot, along with the meat mixture. (Doesn't matter if you put the meat in first and then the canned stuff, or vice versa.) Only two ingredients remain in my typical chili: a few dashes of Worcestershire sauce, and a nice-sized helping of hot sauce.

Here at Casa Jaquandor, there is only one hot sauce: Frank's. I've never liked Tabasco; it's gotta be Frank's. (Cholula is acceptable. But no Tabasco!)

After a bit of consideration as to just how spicy I want my chili...

Is it enough?


I go ahead and pour some in.

When to stop, nobody knows....


Note that I don't mess with the shaker cap, that allows the dispensing of hot sauce in nice little drips and drops. Nope: I pour it right in!

And I never ever ever EVER actually measure hot sauce. That way, madness lies.

Now all I do is stir the pot a bit to blend everything together, put the lid on, and walk away. If it's early in the day I'll start with the pot set on "Low", but then I'll put it on "High" at around 5:00 pm (planning on eating sometime between 7:00 and 7:30). So it crocks away, happily filling the apartment with the scent of wonderful chili.

Here's the finished pot:

The Chili - finished


As I noted above, Day One is simply bowls of chili with slices of warm buttered cornbread on the side. Day Two might be the same way. However, after that, I change things up a bit with the leftovers: the afore-mentioned chili-over-Fritos, perhaps. If I make an unusually thick chili, I might make a Chili Sandwich by putting reheated chili between two slices of rye toast. (By the way, I never reheat chili in the microwave. I just think it reheats better on the stove. I just scoop a serving into a small saucepan and heat it up on the burner.)

But ultimately, there's the Chili Dog, which is pretty easily done. It's a hot dog with chili on it, right? Well, I have some practices here as well:

First, the hot dog must have some flavor to it. My favorite hot dogs are Sahlen's (a local Buffalo brand), but my favorite national brand is the Angus Beef dogs from Ball Park. These are terrific.

Second, I will only boil a hot dog in one case: The Daughter likes Kraft Mac-and-Cheese with a cut-up hot dog in it, so I'll boil the dog in the same water I cook the noodles in. As a rule, I don't like the texture of boiled or steamed hot dogs, and I'll only accept them if I'm getting a dog from a street vendor in some city or other, and frankly, I can't even remember the last time I did that. Hot dogs are best cooked on a grill. Failing that, I'll pan-fry them in a bit of cooking spray until they've browned a bit, and then I'll pour some water into the pan to cut down on the smoking and heat them all the way through.

Third: When making a Chili Dog, I always toast the bun. This is because the bun will soak up a lot of moisture from the chili, and if I don't toast it, the bun will pretty much dissolve into the chili.

Fourth: When I make Chili Dogs at home, I make no allowances for picking up the dog and eating at as one would normally eat a hot dog. I assume that a fork is needed.

Fifth: Diced onions and shredded Cheddar cheese are a must.

So, here's the procedure for a Chili Dog at Casa Jaquandor: toast a bun, put a hot dog in the bun, smother the thing in reheated chili, and then top with diced onion and shredded Cheddar cheese. The result?

Chili dogs: yummm!


Happy eating!

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