Baked Chilaquiles – an amazing breakfast on a beach in Mexico or in your own kitchen

chilaquiles with egg
I remember this one year, my friend Cali, actually paid me to go to Acapulco, Mexico and shoot her wedding.  We had moments like this:IMG_8371bridegroom
It was also the hottest I’ve ever been in my life, so I went ahead and cashed her check. ūüôā ¬†However, there were extremely enjoyable moments, and one of them was having chilaquiles for breakfast, along with various fresh-squeezed juices. ¬†I had never had chilaquiles before (pronounced: chee-lay-quee-les) and it was a bit of a revelation. ¬†Tortilla chips softened with a rich tomato or chili or black bean sauce, mixed with tender bits of chicken and plenty of cheese. ¬†This is actually a pretty typical breakfast for Mexico. ¬†That may be ignorant of me to say, as I’m sure they have cereal, too, but when we got to go back with Cali and Alex to visit ¬†Alex’s home in Mexico City a few years later, (um, yeah, we’re lucky to know them) it was pretty common to see things we’d associate with dinner, served for breakfast. ¬†Like enchiladas or tostadas. ¬†Not everything had to have an egg on it like we feel compelled to do, here. ¬†Case in point: our version of chilaquiles sure enough had eggs on it. ¬†However, it’s a delicious addition! ¬†Matt made us this breakfast and I shot the picture, so once again, this is a true Family Meal kinda post. ¬†We all contribute in different ways throughout the week and I’m always so happy when he has a plan for Saturday breakfast!

chilaquiles topped with scrambled eggs

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Baked Chilaquiles*
serves 6

10 oz thick tortilla chips
1 – 28 oz can whole tomatoes, drained
3 serrano peppers, seeded and roasted
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small white onion, sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 1/2  cups chicken or vegetable broth
Salt to taste,about 1/2 teaspoon
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
5 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup shredded cheese, such as Monterey Jack or Mexican Chihuahua cheese

Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Scoop tortilla chips into 13 x 9-inch baking dish.

In the oven, place seeded serrano peppers, cut-side down on a baking sheet and roast until blistered.  We did this under the broiler.  Take out and let cool.
Coarsely puree tomatoes and serrano peppers¬†in a food processor or blender. Heat oil in large saucepan; add onion and saut√© until golden, about 7 minutes. Stir in garlic, cook 1 minute, then stir in broth, tomato puree and salt. Heat to boil. Stir in cilantro. Set mixture aside. ¬†In a separate pan, heat 2 tablespoons of butter over medium heat and scramble the eggs and a half teaspoon of salt till they’re almost done. ¬†Remove from heat. ¬†Pour the sauce over the chips; coating them evenly with the sauce. ¬†Layer the almost-done scrambled eggs on top of the sauce. ¬†Sprinkle with cheese and bake until lightly browned on top and bubbling, about 15 minutes.

Garnish with extra cilantro and a few extra chips on the side.

*adapted from Rick Bayless’ recipe,¬†Chipotle-Baked Tortilla Casserole

Coffee Infused Tres Leches Cake

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There are three things that make a dessert experience truly great:
1. The occasion
2. The company who helps you eat it
3. The number of leches involved

This particular dessert experience was one I will always remember. ¬†My friend, Becky came into town for a few short days and because of her husband’s nomadic ways, they have traveled far away from Lubbock, I fear, never to return. ¬†I cherish the times she comes back into town and actually spends some good, quality time over at our house. ¬†I shot Becky and Trevor’s wedding four years ago and we became fast friends, immediately glued together by our love of food and cooking. ¬†I was elated when she said she’s spend the better part of the day with me, so the first question we naturally discussed was, “What are we going to bake?!”

Becky is one of those people who¬†knows¬†how to cook. ¬†It’s in her soul – she was taught from a very early age how to work her way around a kitchen, learning from her father and grandmother. ¬†Becky’s happy place is in the kitchen, and so naturally, we both had a zen-like afternoon baking together. ¬†We shared stories, we complained about bad food and we ATE our creation with gusto and silent, head-nodding approval between bites. ¬†It was perfect.

We decided to do Rick Bayless’ Coffee Infused Tres Leches Cake that I’d recently seen on his show, Mexico, One Plate at a Time. ¬†Rick Bayless is one of those safe names in the cooking world. ¬†If the recipe is from his show, or from one of his many restaurants,¬†or amazing cookbooks,¬†you can rest assured the recipe will work, and will become one of your favorites to return to again and again. ¬†This has happened to me many times and this cake happily joins the ranks.

This cake is intense. ¬†It should be paired with a strong cup of black coffee and nothing else. ¬†The addition of the coffee in the milk mixture is pure genius. ¬†It cuts the richness just right and adds depth where there might just be a generic sweetness. ¬†It has this incredibly creamy texture with hints of cinnamon and coffee. ¬†It’s the best tres leches cake I’ve ever had. ¬†(And I grew up around here – I’ve had plenty.) ¬†It made me think of the wonderful flavors of horchata, and I think next time I make this, I’ll replace horchata for the heavy cream.

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Coffee Tres Leches Cake*
serves 6

For the cake:
1 cup all purpose flour
¬ĺ cup sugar
1 ¬Ĺ teaspoons baking powder
Salt
4 eggs at room temperature
¬ľ cup vegetable oil
¬ľ teaspoon vanilla extract, preferably Mexican
¬Ĺ teaspoon cream of tartar

For the milk mixture:
1 cup heavy cream
1 12-ounce can evaporated milk
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
¬Ĺ cup freshly brewed espresso or strongly brewed coffee
1 teaspoon vanilla extract, preferably Mexican
¬ľ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup sugar
5 egg whites at room temperature
¬Ĺ teaspoon cream of tartar
extra cinnamon for dusting (or cocoa powder – or espresso powder would be good, too!)

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin pan that makes 6 large muffins with muffin papers. Or, I don’t have a huge muffin pan, so I used little ramekins and lined the bottom of each with parchment. ¬†Just do it and you won’t be sad, scraping your cake off the bottom of the dish.
Place the flour, 6 tablespoons of the sugar, the baking powder and a pinch of salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Separate the eggs, dropping the whites into the bowl of a mixer and the yolks into a medium bowl.  Add the oil, vanilla and 2 tablespoons of water to the yolks and mix well. Beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until they start to thicken and form soft peaks.  Gradually add the remaining 6 tablespoons of sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form.
Add 1/3 of the flour mixture to the egg yolks and mix well. Gently fold in 1/3 of the beaten egg whites. Repeat, alternating the flour mixture and egg whites until everything is thoroughly combined.¬† Scoop the fluffy batter into the prepared muffin tins, place in the hot oven and bake until the tops spring back when touched, 20 to 22 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, then take the individual cakes out of the dishes and invert them into a deep 13×9 inch baking dish.

Combine the heavy cream, evaporated milk, condensed milk, coffee, vanilla, cinnamon and a pinch of salt in a bowl and mix well. Slowly pour the mixture over the cakes, soaking them thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour to allow the milks to be absorbed into the cakes. ¬†It actually took longer than that for mine to absorb. ¬†We spooned the mixture over the cakes and poked extra holes in them so they’d soak up more milk. ¬†In the end, I still had some leftover, so don’t worry about that.

Combine the sugar with 1/3 cup water in a small (2-quart) saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat, swirling the pan gently until all the sugar is dissolved.  Dip a brush in water and use it to clean the sides of the pan so no sugar crystals remain.  (This is an important step in keeping the syrup from recrystallizing.) Lower the heat to medium and boil the syrup until it reaches soft ball stage (about 240 degrees).
While the syrup is boiling, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar and a pinch of salt until the whites form soft peaks.  Drizzle in the hot sugar syrup very slowly while the mixer is running.  Continue to beat until the bottom of the bowl is cool.  This takes forever, so do what Becky does and place ice packs on the outside of your bowl.  Or peas.
To serve, place each soaked cake on a plate, decorate with a big dollop of meringue, toasting the peaks with a kitchen torch.  Sprinkle with the cinnamon or cocoa and eat with great gusto!

*only slightly adapted from the original recipe

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Thank you for that afternoon, Becky.  It will sustain me for months to come.  Until next time!  XOXO

Weekend Fare: Pork Carnitas with Fire Roasted Salsa

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Every time we have someone over for dinner, we think a few days ahead of what we should make. ¬†If it’s someone we are not 100% sure we’ve cooked for or not, we almost always ask each other, “Have we made them carnitas, yet?” ¬†The answer is usually “yes…but I’m sure it’d be okay to make them, again.” ¬†This is the kind of recipe that is so easy it feels like cheating, and people always ask, “What did you put on these?!” and it’s awesome to be able to say, “salt.” ¬†And that’s it. ¬†Salt, water, pork. ¬†This is yet another example of how amazing pigs are. ¬†And, this recipe makes a TON. ¬†So you can feed at least 8 people if you have a couple side dishes and some tortillas.

The weather is looking more and more like summer, and while it’s not quite grilling weather, this recipe is about as close as it gets to being full-blown patio summer-fare. ¬†We always have a little mise-en-place set up to go with these soft tacos: chopped onion and cilantro (necessities) and here I have pictured some shredded sharp white cheddar and a fire roasted salsa. ¬†(not pictured, but always in my heart is my ultimate guacamole recipe, which deserves its own blog post. ¬†And it will get it)

This salsa is also our go-to homemade salsa. ¬†Beats anything out of a jar by a mile and is completely able to be altered to your heat preference or even your cilantro preference. ¬†There’s two people in this world. ¬†Those who think cilantro is the greatest and goes well on anything from Thai to Mexican cuisine, and those who think cilantro tastes like soap. ¬†I’m very glad I wasn’t born in the second camp. ¬†My brother was, and he’s made this exact salsa recipe without cilantro and swears it’s the greatest he’s ever made. ¬†So there you go. ¬†Not¬†coincidentally, both of these recipes are from Rick Bayless. ¬†He’s our absolute go-to for Mexican cuisine. ¬†Not only is he an amazing chef and cookbook author, but he COULD be the nicest person to ever appear on television, and probably in real life as well. ¬†One day, we will go to Chicago and spend the week doing nothing but eating at his various restaurants. ¬†Until then, we’ll live vicariously…

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Pork Carnitas

4 pounds bone-in pork shoulder, cut into 1 1/2- to 2-inch slabs
Salt

Moist cooking.   Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut each slab of pork in half and lay the pieces in a baking dish (they should fit into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish without being crowded).  Liberally sprinkle with salt (about 1 teaspoon) on all sides.  Pour 1/3 cup water around the meat, cover tightly with foil, and bake for 1 hour.

Dry cooking.   Raise the oven temperature to 450 degrees.  Uncover the meat and cook until the liquid has completely reduced and only the rendered fat remains, about 30 minutes.  Now, roast, carefully turning the meat every 7 or 8 minutes, until lightly browned, about 20 minutes longer.  Break the meat into large pieces and serve on a warm platter, sprinkled with salt.

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This is what the meat should look like before you shred it.  Nice and glistening in its own fatty juices and caramelized from the oven.

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Fire Roasted Salsa

1 to 2 fresh jalape√Īo chiles
3 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice, preferably fire roasted
1/4 cup (loosely packed) chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Salt

In a small ungreased skillet over medium heat, roast the chiles and garlic, turning regularly, until they are soft and blotchy brown, about 10 minutes for the chiles, 15 minutes for the garlic.

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Cool until handleable, then pull the stem(s) off the chile(s) and roughly chop.  Peel the skin off the garlic.  Scoop into a tall measuring cup and pulse with an immersion blender until smooth (or in a regular blender, but this is so much cleaner.  I hate cleaning my blender.  I hate my blender.)

Add the tomatoes with their juice.  Pulse until you have a coarse puree.  Scrape into a serving dish.  Stir in the cilantro and lime juice.  Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2  teaspoon.  You’re ready to serve.

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Try to keep a list of everyone you make this for, as to not appear a one-trick pony like we have numerous times. ¬†We can cook more than this, we swear…we just don’t want to.