Tuesday, July 20, 2010

mexican lasagna, complete with sub-par photos

******Insecure blogger's disclaimer:  I read some blogs with gorgeous pictures of food.  This is not one of those blogs.  I don't have a fancy camera.  I don't know how to make lighting work for me.  But I can point and shoot, and I think it was an interesting experience anyway.  And a delightful and delicious result.  And one more thing I learned:  remembering to stop and take a photo between each step is difficult.  I didn't capture it all, but you get the idea.*****

I skipped over photographing the sauce-making, but you'll see the end result later.  These first few steps were mostly inspired by this recipe with my own alterations.  I started by browning a pound of ground beef and sauteing diced onions.  No measurement on the onions.  I added a packet of taco seasoning and followed the directions there (Pastor Ryan makes his own taco seasoning, but McCormick works for me).  I put that aside and started on the sauce . . . only to suddenly realize that I had neglected to buy enchilada sauce.  I made my grocery list from three different recipes, and I wrote down enchilada sauce even though I don't really like it.  When I was at Kroger, I thought I remembered how it was used in the recipes and decided I didn't need it, completely overlooking the fact that it was a key ingredient in the sauce I did plan to make.  So  I sauteed more onions and added some minced garlic and a can of black beans--which I drained but couldn't be bothered to rinse.  To this I added a can of Rotel (the recipe called for a 15 oz can, but I've never seen Rotel in anything but a 10 oz) and since I was without enchilada sauce, I added a can of diced tomatoes and a can of green chiles (I would have just used more Rotel, but I didn't have that either).  I supposed the sauce was both chunkier and runnier than it should have been, so I let it cook down more than I might have otherwise.  When I removed it from heat, I added the sour cream as instructed, and then I was ready to assemble:

I set up at the dining room table because I have a rule about no laptops in the kitchen.  This is the cast of characters:  tortillas, cheese, taco meat mixed with corn (I forgot to mention that I mixed the corn in after the meat was cooked and seasoned), the tomato and black bean sauce and salsa verde (that part came from Pastor Ryan as did the corn--I probably should have just reduced the portions from his huge recipe and made it, but it had rice in it, and I don't like rice in my Mexican food).

A few of the recipes I read said to spray the pan and others suggested starting with a thin layer of whatever sauce was being used.  PR used salsa verde, and told me that if I'd never tried salsa verde, I needed to immediately.  I believed him.

Next came a layer of torn-up tortillas.  The tortillas I used were burrito-sized and required a lot of tearing.  I think soft-taco size would be fine here. 

The taco meat/corn layer came next.  Logically the next step for me was the sauce and then cheese, but my primary inspiration said cheese then sauce, so that's the order in which I did it--and I forgot to photograph the cheese layer either time, but you know what shredded cheese looks like, right?

After the cheese came sauce.  I didn't say this up there, but you only use half of the meat and the sauce for each layer.  Halving them was the hardest part--which is probably why I forgot to photograph the sauce layer the first time around.  I caught it on the second round though.

After the sauce, I did another layer of torn tortillas, and a bit more salsa verde.  Then I started over with the remaining half of meat/corn, another layer of cheese, and the last of the tomato/bean sauce.  Finally I did a third torn tortilla layer, slapped on the remainder of the salsa verde and topped the whole thing with cheese (final count:  3 thin layers of salsa verde [one small can], 3 layers of torn tortillas [probably about five or six of the giant ones I was using], 3 layers of shredded Mexican blend cheese [it was a four cup package, and the cheese layers were pretty substantial], 2 layers of the taco mean/corn mixture, and 2 layers of the tomato/black bean/sour cream sauce.

In all its unbaked glory

A terribly unhelpful look at the layers.

I didn't bake mine until the next day so it spent the night in the fridge.  It was supposed to bake for 15 or 20 minutes at 350, but since mine was coming from a refrigerated state rather than the mostly warm state in which it was assembled and since I had a staff meeting in the hour leading up to serving time, I heated it (covered with foil) at a low temp for about 40 minutes and then kicked it up to 350 for the last 20 minutes or so.  Frankly if I hadn't had the starving masses waiting on me, I would have let it go another few minutes to get bubblier.  Let me also warn you that I have no idea how accurate or inaccurate the temperature settings are for the oven in our staff lounge, so cooking times could vary quite a bit from that.  If you were assembling, baking, and serving this all in one day, I think the fifteen minutes would be just dandy, as everything but the cheese is already cooked and warm.  Mine was certainly not too runny--in fact, I think I could have let the sauce be saucier with excellent results.  It cut into squares beautifully and kept its shape like lasagna should. 

I forgot the after picture until after we'd started to dig in, but this shows the layers off better anyway.

It's everything I love about Mexican food in a big, jumbled, layery mess.  Yum.

One of the thousands of recipes I read suggested sour cream as a garnish, and I couldn't pass up that opportunity either.  PR suggested freshly chopped cilantro too, which would have been perfect, but there was none to be had at Kroger on Sunday afternoon, though.  I was disappointed in the extreme, though I was also intrigued by the existence of a tube of cilantro paste I discovered--just not intrigued enough to buy it.  But even without cilantro, I still managed to eat two helpings at lunch yesterday (second helping pictured here), and I'm not ashamed to admit that.  I also had it for dinner last night and tonight.  I kinda liked it.

During the creating process I got a little concerned that it might be too spicy, but it definitely isn't.  In fact, I could definitely stand to heat it up more, but not if I were making it for tiny babies or my moma.

If I were a real food blogger, I'd have worked harder at making a useful, easy-to-follow recipe for you, dear imaginary readers, but I'm not.  I really don't think it needs a recipe.  Just gather up your favorite Mexican ingredients and get to layering with the variations that most appeal to you.  You could switch up your beans, go for corn tortillas, use that enchilada sauce that I didn't, add in your favorite salsa, nix the corn, substitute chicken for beef or go vegetarian, try it with rice, chop up fresh jalepenos, garnish with some guacamole.  The possibilities are endless, and as long as you have enough of everything to make a layer or two, you're good to go.  Several of the recipes I read called for actual lasagna noodles instead of tortillas, but that seemed weird to me--and I think tortillas are a thousand times better than noodles anyway.  So you could make that substitution, but I'd judge you for it.

But I'm a judging judger like that.

a first (and last) attempt at food blogging

When folks in our department have birthdays, we tend to use the occasion as an excuse to eat.  We typically have a lunchtime potluck and the birthday honoree gets to choose a theme.  Because of my love for all things baking--and the dozens of delightful dessert recipes I've collected from my moma and her sisters--I'm almost always in charge of cake.  This also works out nicely for me in that I don't necessarily have to conform to the theme. 

(Let me just mention as backstory here that I am great at following a recipe, and I have lots of success with those I've collected from the great cooks in my life--but I follow recipes.  I'm not one of those creative geniuses who experiments and creates new delights.  I'm rarely even the kind of girl who finds herself missing some key ingredient and improvises a delicious solution.  When I have a situation like that, I book to the store for the missing ingredient.  And because of my rather by-the-book cooking style, I also don't venture into new territory very often, recipe-wise.  I like to know what something's going to look or taste like in the end.  It's just the kind of hairpin I am.)

But in my role as resident dessert maker in our department, I haven't often had to branch out.  My strawberry cake (originating with my great-grandmother) is an oft-requested hit with the work folks as well as orange juice cake and Heath bar cake with a Butterfinger variation, depending on the preference of the birthday girl or boy.  Back in March, Ellie requested the most chocolate cake I could make.  It was a culinary adventure, to be sure.  I ended up making a dark chocolate version of Pioneer Woman's chocolate sheet cake in round layers.  I used a chocolate cream cheese buttercream icing (recipe from PW's Tasty Kitchen recipe site) as the filling between the layers.  Then I iced the whole shooting match with chocolate ganache (a million recipes out there, but I used this one I found on Tasty Kitchen) and then piped on some decorations with some whipped ganache.  It was a feat, a thing of beauty, and though I was blogging and sort of living and breathing other people's food blogging, I couldn't be bothered to take any pictures or write about it. 

In June we celebrated a couple more birthdays with a joint potluck, the theme of which was "exotic" foods.  And though I rarely feel compelled to make the dessert fit the theme, I did this time.  I chose to make pavlova, a meringue covered in fruit and whipped cream that I first encountered in Australia (though the internet is full of debate about whether pavlova is actually from New Zealand).  But I was also quite afraid that my first attempt ever at making meringue would be an epic fail, so as a back-up, I made Tres Leche cake (thanks again, P-Dub).  Both turned out pretty decent, I'm pleased to report. 

So the point I've been rambling towards is that lately I've been trying more new recipes with positive results, and that, imaginary readers, brings us to our most recent birthday potluck.  The theme this time was all things spicy, but the birthday boy (Cory the page to his many fans) had requested a cake iced with that chocolate cream cheese buttercream I first made back in March, so I thought I'd be doing somewhat of a repeat recipe, which was fine by me--that icing is a snap to throw together.  But Sunday I decided that I wanted to make something spicy in addition to the cake, so I went exploring.  By now you've realized that PW is my go-to for new recipes, so that's where I started, and that's where I found Pastor Ryan's Mexican Lasagna.  I was drawn to a few things about the recipe, but I knew it wasn't exactly what I wanted.  So I headed over to the fine folks at Tasty Kitchen and found ten more varieties of Mexican Lasagna, none of which were exactly what I wanted.  And in that moment, I became that person I am not--the inventive, off-the-cuff, thrower together of new recipes.  And since I was being a brand-new kind of cook, I grabbed the camera and became a food blogger too.  Or at least I will be in a minute.

Stay tuned for the next post where I'll actually get around to the recipe.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

once upon a time in may

Many moons ago I went on vacation with my whole lovely immediate family.  We hadn't done a week-long going someplace kind of trip since 2007 when Thumb was a wee baby.  Originally my lovely sister-in-law planned for their family to spend a week in May visiting Michelle and her crew in the DC area, and it somehow morphed into a whole-family trip when the rest of us invited ourselves along.

Shane and I drove to Kentucky and rode the rest of the way with my moma and the Popster, which broke the trip up into smaller chunks and gave us a buffer.  Shane and I have a history of grating on each other if we're left alone too long.  So our first stop was Lexington to see Ring and Pinkie play t-ball.  The weather was in question as it had been raining on and off.  It was clear when we got to the ballpark, but the infield was muddy.  All the coaches were hauling sand and drawing bucket-fulls of standing water from left field while the kiddos warmed up.
But just when it seemed like they were getting the better of it, the sky opened up again.  So we missed getting to see Pinkie play pitcher--a treat Coach Daddy had been saving for the game we were there to see--but we did get to see the little cuties in their uniforms. 
Pinkie was being especially uncooperative in posing, but I got this precious bit of sibling affection anyway.  Sometimes when you say ridiculous things like "act like you love each other," they will actually follow instructions.  Bless their little hearts.
Thumb and the Popster had fun too.

The next day we made it to Virginia.  I've got loads of pictures from the touristy things, but for this post, I'll just dump all the cute family stuff, including the two birthday parties celebrated during the week.  I fully acknowledge that there are more pictures here than anyone could possibly care about besides my moma, but I can't part with a single one--and I did pare it down considerably.  I'm restrained, trust me.
Thumb turned three on the Monday of our trip.  His party had a cheetah theme.
Cheetahs are his big deal these days, and he thought he was something special in his ear and tail.  He was right.
I love when babies squat like that.
 The cheetah cake.
Three generations of my favorite girls.  All three of them are going to find something to hate in this photo, but it's perfect.
When I asked Thumb what he thought he might get for his birthday, he told me "dames."  The only dame he got was Don't Break the Ice, which was a hit.
We've already seen a few shots of Ring's birthday which careful readers will recall was celebrated early since we were all together, but here's a professional level pose to show to Grams. who gave her that book.
I always say that my moma loves to iron, which is probably a ridiculous lie.  But she is great at it and easily conned into doing it for me when we're together.  Thanks, Moma!

We spent an afternoon at one of the coolest pools ever, but I don't have any decent pictures as I was swimming too, but I did get a couple shots of the Handful when they got into Michelle's big tub to cool off from an exhausting day of sight-seeing.
I ended up with lots of meal-time photos of Thumb, who's a huge mess-mouth.  Here's the lone cute, clean one.
Pointer and Ring, professional posers.
Pinkie wouldn't look at the camera, but at least I've got proof of those eyelashes.  That kid is pure gorgeous trouble.
Posers at the table, comedians at the bar.
Lego Rock Band featuring The Handful.  One of their greatest hits:  "We Will Rock You."
Nana and her girl.
Popa and his little freak-face.
Joshua and the mini-mes.
Michelle and her little clone.
Officially Pointer doesn't look like our side of the family, but I think there's some resemblance here.  Maybe it's just the glasses.
I practically had to chase him down the stairs to get a shot of his face.
My girl is into serious poses.  This kid is a perfect combination of her moma and nana and aunt Ellen.  It's hard not to think she's spectacular for it.
Getting a decent picture of all five of them is like herding cats.  But they do clean up nice.

I don't have photos of Will lying around recovering from back surgery or the hours of NCIS we watched after the kiddos were in bed or all the ice we went through or the trips to Wegmans or even the cute little Sophie dog, but those things happened too.  Still to come:  a post or two about the actual vacation-y bits of our vacation.

Friday, July 9, 2010


From the workplace:

Too busy with talk,
TV and cooking but no work

 Am I just touchy
Or is the world full of punks?
Stop being needy.

Construction sounds like
building eating itself. Shhhhhhhhhhhhh!
It's a library.

Playing on Webkinz
It's for a program, honest.
Makes me love my job.

Cutest kids ever
pass by the desk but parents . . .
They make me crazy.

Saturday, July 3, 2010


*****Lazy blogger with low standards note:  I didn't write this.  My #1 fan found my laptop sitting unattended during a family weekend together and decided to bring the imaginary readers up-to-speed on my activities.  But I do not take responsibility for the bad writing, which is not really his style, but rather his attempt to mimic my style.  I'm terrified that it's accurate.*****

Hi there imaginary readers,
You might not believe it, but here I am posting up an entertaining and fun post even though it's a holiday weekend and my family is in town.  You see how much I love you.  I'm taking time out of singing "You're a Grand Old Flag" in a rich baritone and marching with my moma to let all of you know that I'm sorry.  I know that I've neglected to post on any number of interesting ideas that the #1 blog fan gave me several weeks ago.  So here's something to satisfy him.  My top five favorite Ka-noo-noo Reeves movies in no particular order.

1. Speed
2. A Walk in the Clouds (Unlike #1 blog fan, I like this movie for reasons that have nothing to do with spicy latina actresses who used to date Ed Norton.) 
3. Parenthood
4. The Lakehouse
5. The Replacements (which I'm not even sure I've ever actually seen all the way through, but you know how I love  sports movies.  Or maybe you didn't, but it's a thing.  I love sports movies.)

This is a long conversation that we all had today.  So how about you imaginary readers?  What are some other good movies from this bad actor?