Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Pasta Fazool!

Dean Martin had a pop hit in the early 1950's that became his signature song. In 1987 Norman Jewison used the song repeatedly in his hit movie, Moonstruck. The song to which I refer is, "That's Amore."

In that song, one line reads, "When the stars make you drool just like pasta fazool,
That's amore."  

Pasta fazool is Sicilian slang for  pasta e fagioli, an Italian farm wife soup that features both beans and pasta. Often, the soup is prepared as a meatless dish, but the version I will post in this blog entry is decidedly full of chicken.


Four chicken thighs
Two small onions diced
Two ribs celery rough chopped
One large carrot sliced in bite size pieces
Four baby bella mushrooms chopped
28 ounce can San Marzano tomatoes
19 ounce can cannelini beans
Double handful baby spinach
2/3 cup dry ditalini or other small pasta
Five garlic cloves sliced
Six cups chicken stock
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 Tablespoons Italian seasoning
salt and pepper

Secret Ingredient 

2 inch cube Romano cheese rind


Season and brown the chicken thighs.

Add all the other ingredients except the spinach and pasta to a slow cooker. Crush the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Submerge the browned thighs in the raw soup.

Set the slow cooker to low and simmer for six to eight hours. After cooking, taste test the soup and add salt as needed. Once well seasoned, remove the skin and bones from the chicken thighs and discard. Tear the meat into bite size chunks and return to the crock. Add the spinach and the pasta and continue to simmer until the pasta is al dente, about 20 to 30 minutes more.

Serve with crusty bread and a simple salad.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Enchilada Casserole (Mexican Lasagna)

As I have focused the last two posts on Latino flavors, I thought I would change pace - not.

You start with this:

From this point you make a Rick Bayless style Pico de Gallo. You dice the onion and rinse it well in cold water to remove the sting and burp. Seed, pith, and dice the Serranos (1 or 2 depending on heat preference) Next you seed and dice the tomatoes. I always throw the seed bundles in a strainer and strain the tasty juice back into the salsa. Crush a clove of garlic and mince it very finely. Add two generous pinches of salt and quarter teaspoon of the chili powder. Juice the lemon. Mince a small double handful of the cilantro and combine everything.

Once you have made the Pico de Gallo, use a small amount to make guacamole.

Use the guacamole to sustain you as you prepare the rest.

Make the filling:


1/2 onion, diced
1 pound ground chuck
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
salt to taste
1 clove garlic, minced
1 can corn, drained
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup Pico de Gallo
Olive Oil


Fry the ground beef and onions, with the spices, in a non stick skillet until the meat is brown and the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and fry another two minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the beans and corn, the salt, and the Pico de Gallo.

Next we assemble the casserole.

More Ingredients

18 corn tortillas, cut in half (Do not use flour tortillas. They turn gummy in this casserole.)
1 large can mild red enchilada sauce.
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded.


Coat the bottom of a greased 9 X 13 baking dish with enchilada sauce.
Use 12 pieces of tortilla to cover the sauce on the bottom of the dish.
Place 1/2 the filling on the tortillas. Sprinkle a handful of the cheese on the filling.
Working in the opposite direction, layer another 12 pieces of tortilla over the first layer of filling.
Add the rest of the filling and another handful of the cheese.
Add one more layer of tortillas, again alternating the direction you lay them.
Cover the dish with the remaining enchilada sauce.
Sprinkle the rest of the cheese over the surface.

Bake, uncovered at 350 degrees for 45 to 50 minutes.
Let rest 10 minutes before cutting and spooning the results to bowls. I promise you will love this.

Travel and freezing:
I have never done it but I bet the dish can be assembled and frozen for later thawing and baking. I know it travels well in an insulated carrier for reheating.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Family Classic - The Sequel

Mexican Surprise

When I ask my lovely wife about something that happened when the children were little, quite often her response is simple. She will tell me, "That was the 80's. I don't remember the 80's." However, one evening in the 80's has become memorable.

One Tuesday or Thursday evening, she picked up the girls from after school care and arrived home to discover the refrigerator and pantry were nearly bare. Children become really grumpy if they don't eat, so she took what she found and went to work. She used frozen pre-made hamburger patties, taco seasoning, rice, salsa, and Velveeta to make a one pot meal. When the girls asked, "What are we having for dinner?" she answered,"It's a surprise." When I got home from rugby practice I asked what was left from dinner. She gave me the same answer.  It was really good.

Over the last thirty years we have collaborated to change the recipe to something a bit more elegant, but it remains a one pot comfort food that everyone likes.


1 and 1/3 cups of uncooked basmati rice
1 pound ground beef
one can drained corn
one can drained and rinsed black beans
one large onion diced
one small or half of a large jalapeno diced
1 cup mild chunky jar salsa
2 teaspoon high quality chili powder
1 Tablespoon ground cumin
2 large pinches of salt
2 cups water
2 Tablespoons olive oil
Velveeta or Queso


In a dutch oven over medium heat saute the onion and jalapeno in olive oil with the spices added. When the onion is nearly translucent, add the ground beef and continue to cook until the meat is browned. Add 1/2 cup of water and continue to cook until water evaporates.

Add the rice and continue to cook until the rice begins to look chalky. Add the salt and the salsa and stir to combine. Cook for two or three minutes until the steam begins to rise, then add the water.

Bring the mixture to the boil, reduce the heat to simmer and cover the dutch oven. Simmer for 20 minutes. Leave the pot covered and turn off the heat. Allow the dish to rest at least 20 minutes. If no queso is available, slice Velveeta in thin slices and scatter over the casserole to melt before serving. If queso is available, serve the Surprise and pass the queso separately.

Variation: If you need to take a potluck dish and it needs to be vegetarian, make this recipe without the ground beef. Transfer it to a preheated slow cooker for the simmer stage, add the cheese, and switch the setting to warm. Call it Cheesy Salsa Rice.

A Family Classic

Bless their hearts, my mother's side of the family was interesting. My grandmother had two sisters and a brother that survived to adulthood. They were Cantwells from the Fort Smith/Jenny Lind area of Arkansas. At different times in the 1940's my grandmother and both her sisters moved to El Paso, Texas. Eventually, both of my mother's sisters moved to Texas as well.

That circumstance meant that family vacations involved two day road trips from Tulsa to El Paso in my father's Dodge. It also meant the visits were loud and chaotic. I first met and grew to love Eberle during those visits. Eberle was my mother's aunt and actually the one who primarily raised her. Somehow she was Mer Mer to me and she always seemed to have time for me, even during the circus of the family gatherings.

When she first showed me this recipe, I had to drag a chair to the stove to watch. Yes, I have fiddled with it since then, but what I will show you here has all the basics she showed me. My mother, my sisters, all of my cousins, and all of our children make their own version of this dish.

One last bit to explain the importance of this recipe in our family. When Nancy and I lived in London, we would ask visitors from the states to smuggle in the ingredients we could not find in England. Who knew Velveeta and mild green chilies would be so hard to find there?



one 2 pound brick of Velveeta Queso Blanco or Original, cubed into about 32 pieces
one onion, diced small
one small jalapeno or 1/2 large jalapeno, seeded, pithed, and diced small
one 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes
one small tin chopped mild green chilies
one rounded 1/4 teaspoon high quality chili powder
salt to taste
2 Tablespoons olive oil


In a large, heavy bottom sauce pan over medium low heat, saute the onion with the jalapeno and chili powder in the olive oil until the onions turn translucent. Add the green chilies and the tomatoes and the large pinch of salt. Bring the mixture to the boil and add 4 or 5 of the cheese cubes. Stir frequently as the cheese melts to avoid scorching the cheese.

As each addition of cheese melts add the next and continue to stir frequently. As soon as the last cheese cubes are added and melted, remove the queso from the heat. To store, cover the surface with cling film to prevent a skin from forming.

These are good examples of spice to use. The chipotle is the hot one.

There is no substitute

This is the mix just before you start adding the cheese.

Properly cooked, you should be able to recognize all the different flavors.

I believe if you try this version, you will never again use rotel. If you want more heat, use the chipotle spice and more jalapeno. It will shame any rotel based heat from cayenne.

For a Super Bowl dip that will make the neighbors talk, fry two pounds of chorizo, drain the fat, and add the cooked meat to the queso.