Taco Tome

Last Friday’s paper had a large article about a book promotion event for The Tacos of Texas, a newly released book by Jarod Neece and Mando Rayo, a former El Pasoan, both of whom now consider themselves taco journalists.  The book is the product of 7,000 miles of driving around Texas eating tacos, interviewing local taco eaters and recruiting members of the Texas Taco Council for the promotion and perpetuation of tacos.

fullsizeoutput_b90 The promotion event was free tacos in different styles by four different chefs. There were traditional tacos, Tex-Mex tacos and New Americano Tacos. The gates opened at noon and the lines ran out the gates and up the block at Memorial Park’s special activity area.

I didn’t not choose to wait in long lines for a free taco.   Instead, I had tacos and enchiladas at nearby Doña Lupe’s instead.  Afterwards, I returned to the park go find the lines still were long. The book buyer line was very short. Go figure – 45 or more minutes or in line in the sun for a taco or five minutes in line and $20 for a book.

img_2728 I purchased the book, waved goodbye to some friends in who’ve been in line line in the sun and headed home in the air conditioned comfort of my truck.

At home, I kicked back and read the introduction to the book and then skipped ahead to the chapter on El Paso. There are interviews with the owners and chefs at restaurants, taquerias and with local celebrities and just folks who know their way around a taco. Somehow, they failed to interview the Gringo Gourmet for the book

Each of the sections of the book follows this pattern of interviews and offers a list of five “bests” for tacos, based on the interviews. You’ll have to read the book to find out who is on the list!

Folks who read this blog know that there is a category called play with your food. Dishes there start with a basic premise and adapt it into something individual.  It evolved from reading Bon Appetit’s Cooking Without a Recipe feature on their e-mail feature series.  I use their model and list ingredients and tips on methodology if needed, but don’t create a formal recipe with things like quantities and measures.  It becomes a fun adventure for me and no one, so far, has complained or been harmed by my creations.

The book calls tortillas, fillings and salsa the trinity of tacos. It also says a taco can be anything served in a folded-over taco, the exception being taquitos which are rolled and fried tacos sometimes called flats, and what folks in the north and eastern parts of the state call a breakfast taco that looks suspiciously like an egg burrito to me.

The book does have recipes from each of the five “bests” in each locale and a few from the local celebrities. It will be fun to try some from the different regions of the state – even those bastions of Mexican food, Midland-Odessa, Abilene and Dallas.  I will give the authors credit for been unbiased-ish in their statewide taco tasting.

I am enjoying the book greatly. It is fun for foodies to read and to be inspired by some new approaches to tacos.

After a night of reading The Tacos of Texas I woke wanting a chile based breakfast. Here’s how the taco exposure affected a couple of breakfast favorites in this house – the Chile Relleno al Flojero (lazy man chile rellenos) and enchilada montages (stacked enchiladas with an egg on top).

Bye the book definition of a taco being a tortilla filled with something, my Relleno al Flojero must really be a cheese stuffed green chile taco.  It loses something in the translation, but the flavor is still there.

I usually use three tortillas for my breast enchiladas with egg.  But under the taco spell, I decided to fill the tortillas in half with a green chile, cheese, onion and dollop of red chile sauce, then top the taco looking enchilada with more red chile, onion and cheese.  I made two and added the requisite fried egg and christened it tacolada montada.  I think this breakfast will appear on the the table again soon, perhaps with a side of refried beans that the authors call Mexican mayonnaise.

From the bottom” green chile and cheese taco AKA Chile relleno al flowers and tacoladas montadas – eggs topped cheese enchiladas folded like a taco instead of stacked – warning: tacoladas are not finger food.





I’ve posted shakshouka or shakshuka before. I’m doing it again, because today it fits in the “Play With your Food – Cooking Without a Recipe category. I’ll post a recipe for Shakshuka below as a starting point for you and then have fun with it as I did this morning.

I inventoried the pantry and fridge and found I didn’t have all the ingredients in the recipe.  I did have things that were close to it and decided to give it a go anyway.

What I pulled together were:

A bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 small white onion, peeled and diced

One good sized garlic, diced

One large fresh tomato

One can of diced tomatoes

One tube of tomato paste

A jar of green chile sauce

Four eggs

A bunch of cilantro.

Some crumbled Mexican Cotija cheese

Kosher salt

That’s sort of like the list of ingredients in the recipe, don’t you think?

Sweat the onions in olive oil, when soft, add the garlic followed by the tomato sauce, diced fresh tomato and the can canned tomatoes.  Cooked off about half the liquid, taste and added a couple of pinches of salt.  Then stir in four tablespoons of El Pinto Green Chile Sauce. I love El Pinto Green Chile Sauce and El Pinto Red Chile Sauce. They are manufactured by twin brothers who have the El Pinto Restaurant in Albuquerque, NM. Their salsas are good, but a little too Northern New Mexico style for this border guy. I tell people that the green chile sauce is huevos rancheros right out of the jar and the red sauce is enchiladas, slightly thinned, is enchiladas right out of the jar!


Lower the heat under your skillet and carefully break four eggs into the mix. Cover the pan and let the eggs cook in the shaksuka until the whites are set and the yolks still soft.  When the eggs are nearly done, lightly sprinkle a few pinches of Cotija cheese over it all to add another subtle layer of flavor.

Cotija cheese, a little cilantro and a few sliced yellow grape tomatoes finish the shaksusa and it’s breakfast!

Below is a very good recipe for Shakshuka.  I hope you’ll try it and that you’ll make it your own by adding your own special touches to the basic tomato/egg stovetop casserole.




1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 medium brown or white onion, peeled and diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1 medium green or red bell pepper, chopped

4 cups ripe diced tomatoes, or 2 cans (14 oz. each) diced tomatoes

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 tsp chili powder (mild)

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp paprika

Pinch of cayenne pepper (or more to taste– spicy!)

Pinch of sugar (optional, to taste)

Salt and pepper to taste

5-6 eggs

1/2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley (optional, for garnish)


Heat a deep, large skillet or sauté pan on medium. Slowly warm olive oil in the pan. Add chopped onion, sauté for a few minutes until the onion begins to soften. Add garlic and continue to sauté till mixture is fragrant

Add the bell pepper, sauté for 5-7 minutes over medium until softened.

Add tomatoes and tomato paste to pan, stir till blended. Add spices and sugar, stirwell,and allow mixture to simmer over medium heat for 5-7 minutes till it starts to reduce. At this point, you can taste the mixture and spice it according to your preferences. Add salt and pepper to taste, more sugar for a sweeter sauce, or more cayenne pepper for a spicier shakshuka (be careful with the cayenne… it is extremely spicy!).

Crack the eggs, one at a time, directly over the tomato mixture, making sure to space them evenly over the sauce. I usually place 4-5 eggs around the outer edge and 1 in the center. The eggs will cook “over easy” style on top of the tomato sauce.

Cover the pan. Allow mixture to simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the eggs are cooked and the sauce has slightly reduced. Keep an eye on the skillet to make sure that the sauce doesn’t reduce too much, which can lead to burning. image: Some people prefer their shakshuka eggs more runny. If this is your preference, let the sauce reduce for a few minutes before cracking the eggs on top– then, cover the pan and cook the eggs to taste. Garnish with the chopped parsley, if desired. Shakshuka can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. For breakfast, serve with warm crusty bread or pita that can be dipped into the sauce (if you’re gluten-intolerant or celebrating Passover, skip the bread). For dinner, serve with a green side salad for a light, easy meal.

Cooking Without a Recipe

I’ve mentioned the Bon Appétit online “Cooking Without a Recipe” feature a few times. I have borrowed that title as part of new category on this blog: “Play With Your Food – Cooking Without a Recipe.”  I’m enjoying experimenting with everyday staples in new ways and writing about the experience.

You probably have realized that I love chiles rellenos (stuffed long green chiles). They are a lot of work and can make quite a mess if you fry them. My mother made crispy crusted chile rellenos rather than the traditional soggy egg battered version. I’ve replaced her crushed cracker crumbs with panko to make a crusted  baked relleno and a stuffed green chile in a pan-browned corn tortillas that I call chiles rellenos al flojero – lazy guy chiles rellenos.

Panko crusted baked chiles rellenos.
Chiles rellenos al flojero – lazy guy chiles rellenos.

Now, I’ve done a riff on that and combined my rellenos  flojeros with the fixings for huevos rancheros another breakfast favorite, ranch style eggs and chile. You warm corn tortillas, cover them with a green chile sauce of chile, tomatoes, onion and garlic and top them with soft fried eggs.  There’s something magical about silky soft egg yolk and chile sauces. If you use green chile sauce on one, and red sauce in the other, it is called huevos divorciado – divorced eggs.

Huevos divorciados – one chile and egg topped tortilla with green sauce, the other with red chile sauce.

Playing with my food, I made chiles rellenos al flojero, then drenched them with green chile sauce and topped them with a soft fried egg as I would for huevos rancheros. I’ll have to call this riff huevos rancheros rellenos because the tortillas are filled with stuffed chiles and folded. What ever I call it, it was a terrific breakfast made without a recipe a by playing with my food.

Huevos rancheros rellenos – best of both worlds – stuffed green chiles and green chile sauce drenched tortillas toped with eggs. Would this breakfast two days in a row be a bad thing?

Steamed Egg Bliss

I read about steamed eggs and got curious.  One recipe was for blending eggs and a little water, putting then mix in a small pan, covering it and placing the pan in a larger one and steaming it in the oven.  The result was a fluffy, puffy egg that, because of the size of the pan, was just the right size for sandwich.  Interesting, but I haven’t tried it yet.

What I did try was cooking eggs in a steamer basket over a half inch of water.  Add water to a sauce pan, place eggs in a steamer basket, bring water to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pan and steam for about seven minutes.  Remove the eggs to an ice water bath. When cool enough to handle, peel them.  The result is tender white and a silky smooth  yolk.  I discovered that it takes practice.

The first time I steamed eggs, the ones I was peeling remained in the ice bath.  As the eggs cooled off, the membrane around the white glued the shell and white together making it almost impossible to peel the egg without tearing chunks out of the white.  I was really disappointed by this.  The eggs were delicious, but ugly.  And the ones that had stayed the longest in the ice bath were really chilled through.  This was not what I had hoped for.

Egg whites torn in peeling are lot the look I’d hoped for.

It was time to get busy in the Gringo Gourmet Academy Test Kitchen and figure out how to make this work. The taste is so good! I wanted the appearance to be just as good.

A couple of days later, I wanted an egg garnish on avocado toasts, so I made hard boiled eggs.  Again, I put the cooked eggs in an ice bath to prevent the gray ring around the yolk that sometimes happens.  Again, the eggs were hard to peel after the ice bath.  I tried a YouTube video inspired peeling method that worked pretty well. It was very entertaining.  Chip away some peel at both ends of the egg, place it to you lips and blow very hard. The boiled egg pops out of the shell into your hand.  It was fun to do this with a couple of eggs but I think it is a technique I will save for Easter eggs after the hunt. The  youngsters will get a kick out of watching and trying it.

This morning, a Sunday, I gave it another go.  I steamed the eggs, and this time plunged them in the ice bath and immediately took them out.  They were much easier to peel while still a little warm. As they cooled, it became a little more challenging.  I tried blowing one. The soft white and yolk didn’t stand up to the blow and I had to clean up the countertop and backsplash.  I did have to laugh about it.  I served the virtually empty and deflated egg white to a friend and told him it was a low cholesterol egg since he takes a cholesterol medication.

My last peeling attempt was to crack the shell on the side and remove enough to allow me to slip a soupspoon between the egg and shell.  Carefully I worked the spoon around the egg and was able to remove it easily and neatly.  A little of that adhesive membrane remained on the shell, but none was on the egg. I was greatly relieved that I had smooth eggs to plate this morning.

While the eggs were  steaming and peeling was going on, I cooked a few strips of thick-sliced bacon and placed them on paper towels to drain.  After removing most of the bacon drippings, I sautéed some chopped onion and coins of tiny fingerling potatoes.  The potatoes were a mix of blue, red skinned and white skinned potatoes.  I had used most of the white skinned ones the first time I steamed the eggs.  This time, I had more blue and red potatoes than white, so the presentation potatoes were dark.  I removed the potatoes from the pan and dumped in the remains of a box of mixed spinach and arugula leaves to add a little flavor and color to the plate. A slice of multigrain toast was included to sop up the silky egg yolk.

What a difference a smooth white makes on the plate over a pitted one!
Sunday breakfast bliss. Steamed eggs on wilted greens, bacon, sautéed fingerling potato coins and toast to soak up silky egg white.


Crepes – Sweet and Savory, What’s Not to Love?

Sunday morning, I needed to use some macerated strawberries and fresh blueberries that were waiting in the fridge. Rather than top a bowl of cereal with them, I decided to make crepes.

Crepes sound difficult but are only as hard to make as you want them to be. I use a very simple recipe that works with minimal hassle.

After enjoying the berry crepes for breakfast, I still had about half a recipe of batter left. A fond memory of a crepes treat years ago inspired me to experiment.

Strawberry and Blueberry crepes in a strawberry yogurt sauce.

Back in the 1980s, the Hotel Paso del Norte was renovated and expanded into an El Paso showplace replete with a Tiffany glass dome over what had been the lobby and now is a bar. After the renovation, the historic Trost designed hotel became the Westin Paso del Norte*. I had the pleasure of organizing a number of functions there for the then Texas Tech Regional Academic Health Center at El Paso.

I was invited to a Chef’s Table, a private dining area off the kitchen of the hotel where guests enjoyed an elegant meal with then Chef Paul Bellegarde. We dined on blue corn crepes filled with quail in an exquisite sauce. I was naïve enough to ask Chef Paul for the recipe. He pulled an old chef trick on me. He gave me the list of ingredients, but no quantities and told me to figure that out for myself.

I made the blue corn crepes a few times and filled them with chicken in an herby sauce; they were quite passable. I have never tried to cook quail and don’t really know if I could find them in El Paso. I know there are some in a flood control basin near my house, but I am not a hunter, especially within the city limits.

As I thought about what to do with my leftover batter, I thought about Chef Paul and the many great meals of his I enjoyed. He later served as chef de cuisine for the Hospitals of Providence and for the University Medical Center here in El Paso.

As I worked out what might be a good thing to do with my batter, I decided on savory crepes with a chicken and green chile filling and sauce. I used measurements equivalent to half the original crepe batter and substituted corn meal and mesquite flour for the white flour. Mesquite flour has a nutty/sweet flavor and made a good tasting batter. The corn meal added a little texture and helped hold the batter together. I combined the left over batter and my amended version. That gave me six good-sized crepes and one not so good that became my test taste and reward for all the work. I felt I was on the right track .

It was still morning, so I made my crepes, let them cool, layered them between sheets of waxed paper and refrigerated them until evening.

Crepe cooking in a shallow skillet.
A finished crepe.

For my sauce, I sauted onion and garlic, added low sodium chicken broth and then boiled two chicken thighs and about ¾ lb of chicken breast to make an enhanced broth. I skinned the thighs and removed the bones, but boiled the bones in the broth. By the way, this was done without a recipe, but I am giving you the ingredients!

When the chicken was done, I removed the meat to a platter cool a little and strained the savories and bones from the broth. I removed the thighbones and celery pieces and scraped the onion and garlic bits back into the broth. When the chicken was cool enough to handle I cut it into about a 3/8 inch dice, covered it and set it aside. I also diced a few roasted and peeled and green chiles. For garnish and kick, I brushed oil on a couple of jalapenos and lightly charred them on the grate of a gas range burner.

As dinnertime neared, I made a roux using equal parts butter and flour. As the roux thickened and lost its raw taste, I began to add small amounts of the broth and stirred like crazy with a small beater to make a smooth sauce. When the sauce was simmering and of a good thickness, I added the diced chicken and chopped chile and brought it up to temp. I didn’t want the roux and sauce to be too dark in color because mesquite flours cooks dark by itself.

I warmed my crepes in a pan and filled them with chicken and chile removed from the broth with a slotted spoon so they wouldn’t be too soggy. I wanted to tuck the sides and ends of the crepes to make a nice package on the plate. That’s not as easy as it sounds. It is a skill I’ll have to work on another day.

On the plate, I drizzled a bit of sauce over the crepes, sprinkled chopped cilantro and pickled red onions on top and served them with a simple salad.

Cornmeal and Mesquite Chicken and Green Chile Crepes. A flame roasted jalapeño adds a little kick.

I was very pleased with the texture of the crepes with the corn meal. It added a very subtle rich undertone to the dish. The mesquite flour made the crepes a little darker than they might have been otherwise. There was no sugar in the original recipe. The mesquite made the crepes a little sweet that balanced the rich chicken sauce. I had been worried about the sweetness, but it was just right.

Below are the original recipe for the crepes and the half-recipe with corn meal and mesquite flower I developed. If you choose to try this recipe, you could use all corn meal – white, yellow or blue, and it would work. If you want mesquite, get food grade meal from a reputable source.

I made the half recipe because I had what looked like half a recipe of left over batter to begin with. You could halve the original recipe or double the corn meal and mesquite version.



1 Cup flour

1 1/2 cups milk

2 eggs

1 tsp vegetable oil

¼ tsp salt


Combine flour, milk, eggs and oil. Add salt.

Heat a lightly greased 6-inch skillet; remove from heat. Spoon in 2 Tbsp. batter; lift and tilt skillet to spread the batter evenly. Return to heat and brown on one side only. Carefully using a spatula, release the edges of the crepe from the pan. Peek under the edge to check doneness. Your batter and subsequent crepe are very thin, so you don’t need to brown both sides. To remove, invert pan over paper toweling.

Repeat with remaining batter. Fill with your favorite filling.

Note: You may add a Tbsp sugar to the batter if you are making sweet filled crepes.



¼ Cup plus one Tbsp corn meal

2 Tbsp mesquite flour or meal

¾ Cup milk

1 egg

½ tsp vegetable oil

dash of salt


Combine corn meal, mesquite flour, milk, egg and oil. Add salt.

Heat a lightly greased 8 inch skilled; remove from heat. Spoon in ¼ Cup batter. Lift and tilt skillet to spread evenly. Return to heat and brown lightly. This crepe will be a little bit thicker than the simple crepe above. Loosen the edge of the crepe all around and peek under the edge to check for doneness. The surface should be honey colored. Carefully take the edge of the crepe between the thumb and forefinger of each hand and turn it over. After a minute or so, that wide will be done. It will have spots of color and not be an even brown like the first side. Slide the finished crepe out of the pan onto a waiting plate.

Repeat with remaining batter. Fill with a savory filling.



Chopped onion

Minced garlic


Chicken broth

Chicken thighs, skinned and boned, but use the bones in your broth

Seeded and chopped long green chiles

Butter and flour for a roux


Re-read the description above and cook the filling and sauce, or as Chef Paul instructed me, go figure it out and make it!


I like pickled red onion as a garnish on dishes with green chile. I slice onion strings using a hand held mandoline (a chef’s knife works, too). I put a generous half cute of the onion strings in a glass measuring cup and cover them with white vinegar. I microwave them for a minute to a minute and a half and let them cool until needed. They become a very tasty garnish.

*A few years ago the Mexican Camino Real hotel chair acquired the Paso del Norte and operated it. Sadly, it has declined considerably. The property has been acquired by and El Paso group who, this month, announced their intent to restore the hotel to its former glory and make it a showplace convention hotel. The city has given them 10 years of tax rebates to encourage the project. Let’s hope it becomes a star in downtown again.


Does a Club Newsletter Item Count as Being Published?

Cactus, Chorizo and Eggs

I’ve been a member of the 70+ year old El Paso Cactus and Rock Club for at least ten years. Some time ago, we hosted the club meeting to show off the work we had done on our back yard, including cactus landscaping and a brick patio. I remembered I had a Prickly Pear Cookbook on the shelf and decided it would be fun to do a cactus oriented luncheon. Every dish included prickly pear cactus in it in some form or another.

When the club started an annual public program for Cactus Appreciation Month, I was invited to do cactus cooking demonstrations. My cooking style is cactus  dishes that are more modern than traditional. I have some cookbooks from authors in Arizona who make very exciting dishes featuring prickly pear pads and fruits and flower buds from cholla cactus and many more foods from native plants. I’ve learned from them and have created a few recipes of my own. I say this way of cooking is “estilo Gringo” – Gringo style.

I am happy to say I’ve developed a reputation and have done demonstrations and classes in Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. I have become the Gringo Gourmet  My daughter built the Gringo Gourmet blog site for me for Christmas in 2013. I enjoy writing the blog and shooting the food photos. I even get some reader hits on the site! Of course it doesn’t hurt that I post food pix on FaceBook with a link to the blog.

This long winded introduction leads to my being asked to provide a recipe and photo(s) for the El Paso Cactus and Rock Club quarterly news letter. I try to come up with something original for each issue and have fun inventing recipes and doing amateur food-styling for the newsletter. I also come up with new ideas for my demo dishes that way.

The next issue will feature what I consider the most difficult meal to prepare – breakfast. I tend to think of breakfasts fit for a farm hand – biscuits and gravy, pancakes and waffles, sausages, toast, eggs over easy cooked in pan drippings. And of course there must be butter and a variety of jams, preserves and jellies on the table. I cannot conceive of a green smoothie for my breakfast! Once or twice a year I fix what we called “big breakfast” in the good old days. The rest of the time, we try to enjoy more healthy fare and pretty much succeed. It still can be a challenge to make a country boy really want a healthy breakfast.

For the next Cactus Club Newsletter, I wanted to do a Gringo Gourmet more healthy twist on a Mexican egg and chorizo burrito breakfast.  I’ve added prickly pear cactus the mix and serve it in a flour tortilla.

First Gringo twist – I chopped about half a pound of prickly pear paddles into a half-inch dice. I cooked the cactus in about two teaspoons of canola oil. The cactus released its mucousy okra-like sticky secretion. I added a tablespoon of water at a time to the pan which created steam that helped evaporate away the sticky stuff.

Diced prickly pear cactus pads simmering in the pan.

Second Gringo twist – bulk chorizo sausage made fresh with ground pork at local markets. It is surprisingly lean and just as spicy and tasty as the mushed mystery meat plastic tubes labeled chorizo. I don’t mean to be crude, but I’m told that tube chorizo is made of ground lips and a**holes. I don’t want to visit a processing plant to find out if that is true. I’ll stick with ground real meat as the sausage base.

Ground pork with chorizo seasonings = bulk chorizo.
Browned and crumbled and ready to be added to the cactus and eggs.


I bought my market made chorizo and browned it with some chopped onion and garlic. There was minimal fat in the pan when it cooked. It was a texture similar to hamburger after been broken up and stirred in the pan.

When the cactus was an Army green color I added four beaten eggs and swirled them until they began to firm up, then I started to stir them and made sure the cactus was well mixed in. Before they were too well set, I placed an estimated half cup of the cooked chorizo and stirred it into the eggs as they finished setting up.

Cactus, chorizo and egg scrambled and ready for breakfast.

I tried three different platings of the eggs and chorizo for the newsletter. Each plating included the cactus, egg and sausage mixture, some refried beans and a handful of grape tomatoes for color and their special sweet-tart taste.

IMG_1859    IMG_1851    IMG_1866

First was a breakfast burrito made with a whole wheat tortilla. Please note that what I call a breakfast burrito would be called a breakfast taco east of the Pecos County line. Go figure that out. The second plating was three tacos. I softened the corn tortillas on a cast iron griddle until they were soft tender and had a little color. The final presentation was a griddle crisped flat corn tortilla topped with the egg and chorizo, some grated Mexican cotija cheese and a dollop of red chile salsa for a little extra kick.

The three platings tasted pretty much the same. Their difference was the tortilla and prep of the corn tortillas.

I do enjoy the bulk chorizo because I feel more like I know what is in it. That is important to me. I’ve been researching chorizo recipes and next time I’ll buy ground pork and make my own. I’ll report on that when it happens.

After word

I had left over cooked chorizo in the fridge and decided to add it to stacked red enchiladas the way some cooks add hamburger to theirs. Of course, I had to have an egg on top since it was for breakfast. I liked the enchiladas with a runny egg yolk best of all.

Enchiladas with chorizo and a runny egg. I may have to run out and buy some  bulk chorizo before fixing dinner tonight!

Boys Have to Have Toys

I am admirer of food photography. My meat market guy tells me I buy meat to photograph, not to eat.  Not so.  I eat what I photograph, but sometimes it gets cold while I indulge in being a food stylist wannabe.

This morning, I wanted to try a new approach to the ham, apple and cheddar panini I made last week. I built a new version substituting Swiss cheese for cheddar and leaving out the mayo. I took pictures along the way…

Layering bread, mustard, apples, ham to be followed by Swiss cheese.


My panini press is small. It holds two sandwiches, but not at an angle which is more attractive in my opinion.


My solution is cut the sandwich on the diagonal, but not corner to corner.  A little more interesting visually.

Here’s where the boy’s toy comes into play. My studio is the least uncluttered corner of the dining table. I don’t want to invest in fancy lighting, so I found a something to try in the cheap gifts from Brookstone section of the department store during the holidays. I’m finally beginning to play with it.

Messing with light.

It is a little LED flashlight and octopus tripod. My intent is to try and deal with some shadows and reflections in my photos. My overhead dining light sometimes shows up in reflections and sometimes creates awkward shadows. I want to see if a little extra light might help. I can see it is going to take some practice.

This little guy puts out a lot of concentrated light. The light has three LED bulbs and is about 3.5 inches long. On the tripod, it can be about 8″ high. The tripod legs flex and can lower it a few inches.

The light is little but powerful for its size. I’m wondering if I need two of them to aim from both sides.

With a little tinkering, I was able to take a photo of the sandwich that I like. There will be more experimentation with the light.  I have noticed the whites are on the yellow side, so I’ll learn to manage that in time.

Here, again, is the lighted photo I liked.

By the way, I like the ham, Swiss and apple panini, but overdid the dijon mustard by putting it on both slices of bread.  One would have been plenty.

No Recipe Breakfast, but Some Handy Techniques – or Inventing the BCT

I had a craving for a late breakfast/early lunch BLT – classic bacon lettuce and tomato. I was out of L and only had a partial carton of grape T’s. I wasn’t about to let mere ingredients stop me!

My goal was to create a BCT sandwich – bacon cheese and tomato. I recalled a bacon cooking technique I had tried and liked but hadn’t used in a long time.  I sliced four pieces of thick-sliced bacon in half, put it in a pan and added a half inch of water and set it to simmer. Boiling the bacon renders the fat without splattering drippings everywhere.. When the water in the pan evaporates, the bacon crisps up nicely in the drippings without making a spatter mess and it doesn’t curl.

Bacon slices coming to a simmer in a half inch of water on the stove top.
The water has evaporated leaving drippings in the pan to crisp the bacon. You can save the drippings for another use. I blot up bacon dripping with shredded news paper and toss them into the garbage when they are cooled. Makes clean up easier.

While the bacon cooks, I made a blistered tomato sauce, a favorite you’ve seen here before.  I halve the grape or cherry tomatoes using a technique friend Darryl taught me. Fill a saucer level with the tomatoes. Top with another inverted saucer and slice between the saucers to halve the tomatoes.  Watch your fingers while holding the two saucers tightly together and move the knife through. It is a slick trick. I fill the depression in the bottom saucer tightly so the tomatoes don’t get pressed agains the far edge by the knife blade. I prefer a serrated blade for the slicing.

Once the tomatoes are halved,dump them into a hot dry sauté pan and let them get a slight blister or char. Reduce the heat and add a tablespoon or so of water to steam the tomatoes and cook them faster. I like to sweat the juice from the tomatoes and let them soften and caramelize.  The result is a thick, chunky sauce with a flavor reminiscent of sun dried tomatoes’ intensity.  This time I mushed the tomatoes a little with a potato masher to make them thicker and spreadable.

Grape tomatoes go into a hot dry pan.
Blistered tomatoes ready to mash a little and let dry out a tiny bit more.

Now the assembly of the BCT. Toasted multi-grain bread, a schemer of mayo to seal the bread, a slice of sharp cheddar to hold the tomatoes, a heaping spread of blistered tomato sauce, strips of crisp bacon and the toast topper for the sandwich.

BCL under construction. Layers of toast, sharp cheddar, blistered tomatoes and bacon.

There is always an internal debate over adding a second slice of cheese on top of the bacon.  Fortunately, the second slice of cheese won!

The BCT is now an official creation of the Gringo Gourmet Academy. No recipe. Just ingredients that work together and a review of some good techniques to try.

Playing Without a Recipe for Breakfast

I was putting things away and glimpsed my underused panini press. Inspiration hit – panini for breakfast.

Ingredients and Method

Whole grain bread, sharp cheddar cheese, a slice of ham a schmear of whole grain Dijon mustard on one slice of bread and a schmear of mayonnaise on the other, and then, the clincher, Pink Lady Apple sliced thin on a hand-held mandoline and layered between the cheese and ham.  A few minutes on the heated panini press and it was love at first bite.


My favorite apple is the Honey Crisp for flavor, texture and sturdiness under heat.  A very close second is Pink Lady which is just a tiny bit more sweet than the Honey Crisp.

For this breakfast sandwich, the earthy bread, richness of cheddar and ham accentuated with a bit of  mayo, contrasting with the tart sweetness of the apple slices and the tang of dijon all worked together. I couldn’t wait to taste it and had to force myself to slow down enough for a picture. I’m wondering, “Next time maybe Swiss cheese and rye bread?”


Sometimes You Have to Satisfy a Craving

I am unashamedly addicted to chile. I crave green chile, red chile, hot chile, mild chile, just about any kind of chile and need a regular fix. The need is stronger than coffee craving some days.  Today is one of those days. I woke up wanting chiles rellenos, but didn’t want to deal with the mess of stuffing, breading and frying or baking them. I’ve posted pictures of what I call chiles rellenos flojeros (lazy guy chile rellenos) which are simply cheese, and a green chile in a warm corn tortilla.  That works, but didn’t sound quite right for a day that promises to be busy and long.

I decided to do a notched up version of rellenos flojeros by spritzing corn tortillas with olive oil and warming them in a skillet to give them a little texture and color.  I buy roasted green chile almost every week, peel it and keep in the refrigerator for when those cravings hit. I cut a slit at the top of two chiles per serving and stuffed them with colby jack cheese. I left the stems on the chiles because I wanted them to be recognized as chiles in my photographs.  They next went into the microwave for about a minute and a half to warm the chiles and melt the cheese.

I folded the chiles in to my warm tortillas and placed two on a plate, added some warmed green chile sauce and topped them with an egg and a scattering of asadero cheese. You might say they were “smothered” tacos, but since they were based on stuffed chiles, they are rellenos flojeros suaves to me (slick or swell lazy guy’s chiles rellenos).  Whatever you might call them, they hit the spot and quelled that chile craving.

Chiles rellenos flojeros suaves. Deliciosos!
A closer view of a bite of stuffed chile in a tortilla.