Saturday, February 15, 2014

Reinventing A Super Bowl Snack: Queso and Tacos al Carbon

I don't know if anyone has heard, but almost two weeks ago the Denver Broncos lost the Super Bowl to the Seattle Seahawks . . .  by a lot. The Broncos were actually favorites to win by two points, and I guess when Seattle found that out they decided to open up a can of whup-ass on Denver and never let up.

For the past two weeks since the game I have tried to be respectful of the broken hearted Broncos fans in my house, and have been careful not to even utter words like football, Broncos, Seahawks or blow out. I knew things were easing up when I accidentally said "Super Bowl" and my husband didn't flinch. It's been a rough couple of weeks, but this was a promising sign.

Looking back, I had a funny feeling that Sunday morning. There were some bad omens. First, the movie I had been waiting on seeing had moved on from the only theater in town leaving me no other choice than to stay home and find a movie on Netflix.

Next, the salsa I had purchased the day before, which seemed to be ok when I put it in the cart, had obviously been opened and probably spit in, or worse, peed in, by some lowlife prankster, so no salsa for my family. I don't know about your house, but no salsa on the table around here is like a kiss without a hug.

Then I somehow burned the nacho cheese flavored taco shells that were to be a big surprise on the buffet table. There's not much more embarrassing for a food blogger and cooking contester than burning prepackaged taco shells. I could have told you right then and there, there was a bad moon rising.

As it turned out my burnt taco shells really didn't matter anyway. For some reason no one had much of an appetite when it came time for the halftime feast. My son said that the halftime show was his favorite part, not because he likes Bruno Mars that much, but because the misery on the field stopped for a few minutes.

Not being a football lover, I wasn't traumatized, nor do I understand this type of fan disappointment, but I am trying to be sympathetic. I mean for heaven's sake, I totally understand what Peyton Manning went through, after all I did burn those taco shells, so I know humiliation too.

So there I was, left with a bunch of uneaten snack foods, doing my best to repurpose them into a meal that wouldn't remind anyone of the big game. Since the jewel in the crown of my family's party buffet is always the gringo queso (named because it has no relationship whatsoever to anything even remotely Mexican), I decided to salvage it first.

My queso starts out innocently enough as a combination of sauteed peppers, onions and tomatoes that are then doused in a smooth cream sauce.  It soon goes to hell in a hand basket though with the addition of lots of processed American cheese.  I know, I hate that too, but what can I say? I just love the stuff. Besides I only make it a couple of times a year, so back off haters, this is Super Bowl food.

Tacos al Carbon

Traditionally the meat for these tacos is grilled, but this recipe can be easily brought inside and cooked in a cast iron pan. Just be sure to get the pan good and hot before you add just a little bit of oil and the meat.

2 pounds skirt steak or flat iron steak
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon mild chili powder
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice
8 large flour tortillas (for delicious homemade flour tortilla recipe, click here), warmed

Set meat out, covered to bring it to room temperature.

Place salt, chili powder, garlic, cumin, coriander and pepper into a small bowl and stir to combine; set aside.

Pour 1 teaspoon of the lime juice on one side of the steak. Distribute it evenly with the back of a spoon. Sprinkle with up to 1/2 of the spice mix (you can use less if desired). Flip the steak over and repeat with the remaining lime juice and spice mix; set aside.

Preheat an outdoor gas or charcoal grill to high. Place meat on a lightly oiled, red hot grill and cook for approximately 5 minutes on each side (depending on your desired doneness and thickness of your steak). Remove from the heat, cover and allow to sit for 10 - 15 minutes. I find this step to be very important to let the juices redistribute into the meat. This not only gives you juicy meat, but it prevents you from having bloody, soggy tortillas if you like your meat on the rarer side.

Slice the meat into 1" bite size cubes.  Place 4 ounces (about 1/8 of the meat) in a line down the center of a warmed (I just do this in the microwave) tortilla. Roll up like a cigar. Place seam side down on the serving plate and cover in as much queso (recipe follows) as you want. Serve immediately.

Makes 8 large tacos.

Gringo Queso

2 tablespoons light olive or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 of a medium size sweet yellow onion, finely chopped
1 small pasillo or poblano pepper, finely chopped
1/2 medium size red or orange bell pepper, finely chopped
1 large jalapeno pepper, finely chopped (optional for a little fiery spice)
1 large garlic clove, crushed
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups warm milk
1 pound American Cheese, cubed
2 rounded tablespoons shaved Parmesan cheese
1 large ripe tomato, finely diced
2 tablespoons lightly packed, chopped fresh cilantro

Heat oil and butter in a large sauce pan over medium heat. When the oil and butter begin to sizzle, add the onion and peppers. Saute until they begin to soften, approximately 5 minutes. Add the crushed garlic and saute for one minute longer.

Sprinkle the flour over the oil and vegetables. Stir to form a roux. Slowly add the milk to the pan, stirring vigorously.  Continue stirring until mixture starts to boil.

Reduce heat to medium low and add the cheese cubes. Stir until the cheese is melted.  Add the Parmesan, tomato and cilantro. Stir until blended.

Serve immediately or I prefer to make this several hours before serving to let the flavors marry, then gently reheat it before I serve it.

Makes about 3-1/2 cups.

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