View from the Suburbs: A Great Fall Weekend, Just To Put You in the Mood for Corn Tortilla Pie

 

Corn Tortilla Pie–It’s an easy comfort dish just right for a fall supper.

This has been one of those perfect fall weekends–nothing out of the ordinary, but every aspect enjoyable.

The mornings have been fresh, so Annie and I went to the dog park both mornings.  Yesterday, we both got shots–bordetella and flu.  (You can guess who got which.)  I took Annie to our new veterinary–Hearthstone Animal Clinic.  The staff is  very accommodating and friendly, and the clinic is bright and clean.  We were in and out so fast that Annie didn’t even seem to realize she had been to the vet.

I did a good bit of gardening both days.  I’m starting to amend my vegetable garden, so I went to Lowe’s and got more bags of cow manure.  (It’s already decomposed–no smell.)  The okra is about to play out, but even so, I canned another pint of them with a few of the peppers, which are just coming into their own here late in the fall.  I’ve already put up 28 pints of pickled okra;  I think they should be called artisanal pickles, because I’ve only canned a few pints at a time, the most was 4 pints when the okra was in its prime.  (“Put up”–I hope this usage isn’t losing its meaning.)  I’ve already tried a jar of the early ones.  Tasty!

After our jaunt to the dog park, the morning was still so refreshing that we stopped off at Bear Creek Park and took a walk by the animal pens.  The park is only a few miles down the road from my house, but since I moved here almost a year ago, I had only driven by.  Today before stopping, we drove through the expansive picnic areas, playing fields, and the golf course, and then through part that is just natural reserve full of pines and other trees.  The most exotic animals there are the rheas from South America, but there are also buffalo, deer, burros, emus, turkeys, pot-bellied pigs, goats, and a white reindeer.  Annie was none too interested in the animals, but one turkey seemed to be infatuated with her.

Now that it’s a bit cooler, I feel like using the oven more.  Here’s casserole dish of my own creation that I have made several times.  I like Mexican food, but I know that I can’t compete with the authentic dishes, so this recipe is easy to put together and satisfies that hankering for that Mexican taste.  I call it “Corn Tortilla Pie”.

Corn Tortilla Pie

1 1/2 pounds of ground turkey (or lean ground beef or pork)

1 large onion chopped

1 clove garlic finely minced or pressed

olive oil

1 tsp. chili powder

Salt and pepper

1 can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes

3/4 cup ketchup

2 cups frozen corn or 1 can chili-style beans

1 package (approximately 2 cups) Kraft Mexican Style Shredded Four Cheese

1 small can whole green chiles

22-24 corn tortillas

Heat a splash of olive oil in a skillet.  Add the chopped onions, cooking until translucent.  Add the garlic, and let cook a few seconds more.  Add the ground meat, and cook until just done.  If you use ground beef, drain off any grease.  Add the chili powder, and salt and pepper to taste.  Then add the stewed tomatoes and ketchup.  (You can use salsa or hot sauce to make this dish more picante.)  Turn up the heat and cook until the liquids start to bubble and thicken just a bit.

While the meat is cooking, turn on the oven to 325 degrees.

In a large flat baking dish (I use a 9 x 13 glass one), add a splash of olive oil.  Use one of the corn tortillas to spread the oil onto the bottom and sides of the dish.  Line the bottom and sides with approximately 8 tortillas so that the dish is covered.  Spread half of the mixture over the bottom tortillas.  Then cover the meat with all of the frozen corn (or beans).  Sprinkle about 3/4 cup of the shredded cheese on top.  Cover with another layer of tortillas (approximately 8).  Spread the remaining meat mixture on the tortillas.  Tear the green chiles in half and arrange them over the meat, and sprinkle with another 3/4 cup of the cheese.  Cover with the last 6 tortillas and sprinkle them with the remaining 1/2 cup of cheese.

Bake for approximately 40 minutes until the tortillas on top are crispy and the cheese is golden.

Take out of the oven and let rest for about 10 minutes.  Use a knife to cut through and a spatula to lift to the plate.  Serve with a salad, and you have supper!  This makes 8 good-sized portions.

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All Part of the Weekend Heat: Katydids, El Rey, and Nathan Adrian

Katydid--all that's left is the shell.

The katydids were singing big time last evening when Annie and I took our walk.  (Today I found the shell of one on the leaves of a plant in the backyard; hence, the new banner.)  Aside from the bugs’ buzzing, the neighborhood seemed almost deserted.  I’d say that with all this August heat that everyone was out on the back veranda having a mint julep; that is if people had verandas and still drank juleps.  But by the time the sun is nearly gone, it’s pleasant enough.  There’s a coziness about our little sub-division, as it has it’s own physical boundaries, and the style of the homes and all the mature trees, give it a feel all its own, unlike many of the others out here in the county that just slide from one into the other, without a feeling of being some place.

With all the heat of the day, this morning I was up early to get the plants watered and start the sprinkler for the front grass.  Each week day, I swear to myself that I’ll sleep late on Saturday, but when it’s time for Annie to go out in the morning, every green thing that needs a drink pulls me to the task.

After a shower and some coffee, I was after the Saturday errands.  Even at 10, every stop I made had the sun blistering down and the heat radiating up from the cement.  As I was gadding about, I stopped for lunch at location of one of my favorite Cuban-slash-Mexican places, El Rey.  When I lived in my apartment, I made an El Rey drive-thru run at the one on Washington almost every week.  This one sprang up among all the new shops on the north side of I-10 near Memorial City.

Michael Phelps swimming to victory in the 100 Butterfly.

Finally, I made it back home, and after some time of just soakin’ up the AC, I clicked on the TV.  NBC had on the National Swimming Championships from Irvine, California.  At first, I thought it was live, but after looking for other results, I found out that most of what they were showing was pre-recorded.  Anyway, I got to see Michael Phleps winning the 100 Butterfly and Nathan Adrian beating out Ryan Lochte adn Jason Lezak in the 100 Freestyle.  Both were pretty exciting races.  You can check out all the results and other news about the National Swimming Championships here.

Nathan Adrian prior to his win in the 100 Freestyle in the National Championships.

Adrian all smiles after his victory.

View from the Suburbs: Quest for the Best Mexican Restaurant

Discovery of the weekend--Tostada Regia--on N. Gessner, Houston, Texas

If Prilosec is doing its job, Mexican food is my favorite, and when I lived “in town”, I’d get my fix about once a week.

My FFMP (forever favorite Mexican place) in Houston is El Paraiso, right in the heart of Montrose, on Fairview.  I started going there not long after I moved into Montrose in 1984.  Even through all these years, the great quality and homecooked taste of the food have never changed.  There’s even one waitress who has worked there since the days when I started eating at El Paraiso, and she still looks the same as she did “back in the day”.  It’s a favorite of business people and other workers for lunches, but starting later in the afternoons, every “type” of person you might encounter in Montrose might be represented among the clientele, and the atmosphere is one of the friendliest around.

When I moved near Memorial Park, I soon discovered El Rey at the corner of Washington and Shepherd.  Though the small interior can get crowded, nothing can beat going through the drive thru for either tacos al pastor or una torta.   Even jostled around in a styrofoam box, the portions are large and delicious.  El Rey’s frijoles a la charra are some of the best.  Since I moved out this way, there’s an empty lot about a mile away that says, “El Rey–Coming Soon”.  I keep wondering, “How soon?”

For the most part, I’ve been eating at home since I moved out here to the ‘burbs.  My kitchen is spacious, and I find that usually I’d rather make something for myself instead of going out.  There’s most every kind of fast food place and a wide variety of ethnic restaurants within a very short drive.  Even so, I haven’t ventured much beyond McDonald’s and a couple of Chinese buffets.

But for about the last month, I’ve been needing my fix of Mexican food.  Even though I’ve made some myself, it’s just not the same.  There’s every type of Mexican food place that one might imagine, from the mobile stands to chain restaurants.  With my taste buds hankering for some flavor, I’ve decided I have to try one new place every week.

There are several Mexican places right near the corner of Eldridge Road and S. H. 529, all in the strip centers that line that corner. I’ve tried two so far, Taqueria El Monarcha and Lupita’s Restaurant, both of which advertise themselves as estilo Michoacan.

First, I tried Taqueria El Monarcha.  Despite being in a storefront building, the place has a bit of character and the staff were attentive.  I ordered asado de puerco (roasted pork).  The meat came in the form of small pieces of meat, cooked almost to the point of being burnt, but were just crunchy and delicious.  The plate came with plenty of hot tortillas, good portions of refried beans and rice, and lettuce and tomato for any tacos you might roll up.  Ten bucks, including a tip, and I was out the door.  The food is good, but the back room, which might feel a bit cozier than the dinette style front, was filled with a family birthday party.

About a week later, I tried Lupita’s Restaurant.  Granted, it was long after lunchtime mid-week, but based on my experience, I won’t go back.  First, upon entering, there wasn’t the expected smell of spicy Mexican food, but just the odor of Pine-sol.   There was only one other customer in the bright, but sterile dining area.  The lone waitress seemed unsure of herself, somewhat hesitant to wait on this “gringo”.  I ordered carne guisada (stewed beef).  El Paraiso’s carne guisada has always been the gold standard for me; their version is simple but so good–nicely cooked chunks of meat covered in the thick gravy it has been cooking in.  Lupita’s carne guisada came floating in a dark red sauce, which I think was made from chile poblanos. I’m usually OK with dishes made with these chiles, but this tasted something like a soup made with chile powder.   The red sauce that came with the chips tasted very similar.  On the other hand, the green sauce was bright and delicious.  I can’t finish with Lupita’s without mentioning “the entertainment”.  Like El Monarcha and other taquerias, Lupita’s has two big screen TVs, but the court-type show in Spanish that was on while I was eating my meal was more disgusting than a Jerry Springer dream.  Obviously, the participants and the case were fake, but supposedly, these two 20-something girls had masturbated this rancher’s stallions in order to get the semen to use as face cream for themselves and to sell in spas–and all the details were included.

Today, I was out running errands, and by 1 o’clock, the toast and coffee I had while paying bills were long forgotten.  I decided to try one of the many restaurants along Gessner, north of I-10.  N. Gessner here in the part of Houston known as Spring Branch, and it’s peppered with Hispanic and Korean restaurants and shops as well as some Vietnamese noodle places.  These are all mixed together with the typical American Baskin ‘n Robbins, brake mechanics, donut shops, and Walgreens.

I took a chance and stopped at Tostada Regia, which had caught my attention other times when I had passed by.  I was hungry and this place was the right choice to satiate my appetite.  I ordered tostada ranchera, but first came a large basket of chips and three dishes of salsa: a very good green one, a spicy cooked red, and then a pink one, which the waiter told me was a habanero salsa.  It was hot, but no hotter than the red.  My order came quickly, and the plate held this very large tostada–7-8 inches–with a crispy flat tortilla on both the top and bottom, filled with shredded chicken, lettuce, onion, and Mexican-style sour cream.  I added the green sauce to it, and I couldn’t stop eating it.  Not to mention, on the side, there was a cup of  delicious chicken caldo with rice.

Tostada Regia has a comfortable atmosphere.  With the attentive staff ready at the waiting to serve more tea and water and the rustic wooden tables and benches, it reminds me of the old La Jalisciense that used to me on Montrose near West Gray.  The restaurant had customers coming and going, though, not quite the diverse crowd that could be found at La Jalisciense.   That doesn’t matter, and it doesn’t matter that Tostada Regia is not quite in my vecindad;  it’s close enough that I’ll go back when I’m out running errands or just when I need “a fix” of good Mexican food.