Wednesday, October 31, 2012


OK, so, "disaster" is probably a strong word, but I wouldn't call this meal a success either. 

Arizona doesn't yet have an official state food, but many suggest that the chimichanga is really the only choice.  With origins in Tucson, chimichangas are apparently a basic staple for most Arizona residents.

I confess, I've only had chimichangas at chain Mexican restaurants; but, how can you go wrong with meat and cheese fried in a flour tortilla? The kids were totally game for this meal, just so they could repeatedly say "Chimichangaaahhhh!"  Who could blame them?

The problem with this meal was that I was overly ambitious in terms of time.  It was the night before Halloween.  Both kids had orchestra and it was critical that we carve pumkins.  In addition, Marc had two fiddle lessons to give and we HAD to watch It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown.  I figured if I made the meat filling while the kids were at orchestra and got all the other ingredients ready, I could quickly fry them after we carved pumpkins and be all done by the time Marc's fiddle students arrived. Sure.

The meat filling was the easy part.  I used our typical taco filling:  1 lb ground beef and half an onion sauteed.  Add 2T chili powder, 1T ground cumin, 1 tsp ground coriander, 1 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp cayenne, 1 1/2 tsp salt,  and 2 tsp corn starch.  Stir in 2T tomato paste mixed with 3/4 cup water and simmer until thick.

After I cooked the meat, I shredded some cheddar cheese and heated four large flour tortillas so that they would be soft and pliable.  Then, I heated several cups of peanut oil in a heavy pot.  I had forgotten to buy toothpicks at the store earlier, but Marc figured they would stay together if you put them in the oil seam-side down first.

I waited (and waited) until the oil thermometer read 350 degrees.  The first tortilla wasn't warm enough and wanted to tear when I tried to wrap it around the filling.  Marc said I had too much meat, so I took some out and started over.  Eventually, I had something that resembled a small burrito, and so I gingerly put it in the oil.  It immediately turned black.  I said several bad words about the quality of the oil thermometer and Marc (kindly) agreed to eat that one.

After turning down the heat, the second one came out a bit less dark and, as predicted, it did hold together even without a toothpick.  By now, I was feeling pretty confident, so I assembled the third chimichanga and put it in the oil.  Marc stood by with tongs, ready to turn it.  Suddenly, there was a gush of violently boiling oil.  Marc picked the exploded chimichanga out of the pot declaring, "there was too much filling!" over the roaring oil.  Nearly all of the meat burst out of the tortilla and promptly burned to a crisp in the hot oil.  I said more bad words.

A deflated chimichanga

But, we went with it.  One burnt, one passable, and one exploded chimichanga.  The fourth became a potential taco. For toppings, we served shredded lettuce, a couple types of salsa and sour cream. I made a basic salad for a side. 

The kids split the most normal looking chimichanga, and enjoyed it.  Despite the unconventional appearance, they did taste like chimichangas.  The cheese inside was nicely melted with the meat and you can't really go wrong with a fried tortilla, even a burnt one.  This was an interesting experiment, but will likely not make it into our regular rotation.  I might stick to the chain restaurants to get a chimi-fix.

Next up:  Connecticut.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

South Carolina

We headed south tonight, and on a muggy Iowa day shrimp and grits with sweet potato pie hit the spot.  Our CSA had a bumper crop of sweet potatoes this year, and over the past two weekends I baked, mashed and froze 10 cups.  No one in our house is a huge fan, though Marc and I like an occasional sweet potato hash.  The frozen, mashed potatoes will go well in quick breads and, of course, sweet potato pie.

I had never made (or eaten) sweet potato pie before.  The internet, not surprisingly, abounds with recipes.  I settled mostly on this one.  I also added orange zest, which several other sites recommended.  The filling would be easy to whip up by hand, but I used my mixer to ensure a nice, smooth texture.

After beating all the filling ingredients together, I stirred in the last three tablespoons of flour by hand.

The crust is a basic recipe:  cut 1/3 cup butter into 1 cup flour and a pinch of salt.  Use enough ice water to bring the dough together and press into a disk.  Refrigerate while you make the filling, then roll out and press into pan.

The texture was lighter and more even than I usually get with pumpkin. 

Now...on to the dinner!  I'm sorry to say that I had to use quick grits (apologies to all our southern friends) but they just don't sell "real" grits in Iowa City.

 Marc made chicken stock in the morning, and I used that for both the shrimp and the grits.  For the shrimp, I mostly followed Tyler Florence's recipe, though I used bacon rather than sausage.

Mince 1/2 large onion and 2 cloves garlic and saute in olive oil.  Add 4 slices chopped bacon and fry until crisp.

Add 2 tablespoons flour, stirring constantly to make a roux and then slowly add 2 cups of chicken stock. Keep stirring until it comes to a simmer and begins to thicken.  Then, add a bay leaf, salt, pepper and the shrimp.

Simmer until the shrimp are cooked through (about five minutes).

It was a pleasure to sit down to a new "blog meal"! Everyone found something to like. Both kids enjoyed the shrimp, Lucy "loved!" the grits but did not enjoy the gravy.  Maia declared the gravy "ok" but did not like the grits at all.

Marc and I enjoyed every bite.  Those southerners know how to cook.

Oh, the pie?

One of the best I've ever made, if I do say so myself!

Next stop:  Arizona.