Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese. ~ CK Chesterton

Howdy Yall! It's time to lick your lips and drool as we discuss yummy vittles and Texas testaments to taste!

I hope you enjoy your time with us. Please be sure to drop by and leave a message or a hello. We want to know how to better serve you!

~Blue Zebra

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Better Living Through Breakfast Tacos

I am a Texan, bred, born and raised. Our family dates back for generations in the U.S. to the American Revolution. Our ancestors not only fought in the War for Independence from England, we also had at least one relative who fought in the War for Texas Independence during 1835-1836. My Mom used to regale us with the stories from her mom about how Grandpa Gilbert fought with General Sam Houston against General Santa Anna, commander of the Mexican army in the infamous 18 minute Battle of San Jacinto, the battle that ended the war and resulted in Texas independence from Mexico.

The Battle of San Jacinto took place just 20 miles due east, along what is now Interstate-10 and present-day, downtown Houston, in San Jacinto. This famous battle resulted in the surrender of the Mexican forces, capture of their general and the creation of the Republic of Texas, never recognized by our Mexican friends. It wasn’t until Texas became a state, about 9 years later, that we officially became Texans.

We lived this lore as children and often took road trips to see the giant monument. Erected at the turn of the 20th Century, it memorialized the brave men who fought in the battle. The San Jacinto Monument stands 15 feet taller than the Washington Monument, for which it was modeled. To a child, it inspires dreams and fantasies of life during that time. Seeing Grandpa Gilbert’s name in writing on the monument only served to fuel the fanciful dreams of seeing General Sam Houston under the famous oak tree, just after battle, accepting the surrender of Santa Anna and our grandfather standing right beside the renowned leader…of course that did not happen. Our grandfather was not standing beside Sam Houston.

I also remember the respect and admiration my dad and mom had for the Mexican people. I believe they honored them, in part, because of a shared belief in the ideal that is the sanctity of family (not that our family wasn’t as dysfunctional and torn as the next, cuz we’ve certainly had our issues). But they shared a common, strong commitment to family.

Dad worked with many Mexican workers in the construction business of a young Houston and I still remember the day he came home raving about this delicious breakfast one of the men shared with him. He called them tacos and they were made with egg, potato and salsa. He described them as one of the best breakfasts he’d ever tasted.

It wasn’t until my college years in Austin, however, that I really became indoctrinated into the “way and philosophy” that is the Breakfast Taco. A sandwich that isn’t a sandwich, an icon of TexMex culinary excellence, the breakfast taco could just be the perfect food. There are so many combinations: potato and egg, bean and egg, meat and egg, bacon and egg – the list continues for miles. It is cheap. It is filling. It is fast food cooked from slow ingredients. It is comfort food for the soul of every Texan, worldwide.

Blue Zebra Breakfast Tacos
Yield 4 Tacos (6-7” tortillas)

For breakfast tacos:

4 Eggs
1 Tbsp Water
½ - 1 Tbsp Olive oil, butter, or bacon grease
2 oz Leftover Meat (I use bacon, sausage, leftover brisket or pulled pork)
¼ Cup Cheddar or Monterey Jack Cheese (optional)
¼ Cup Salsa* (optional)
4 Flour Tortillas* (6-7” Diameter)
Salt and Pepper to taste

For cottage fries:
4 Baby New Potatoes (1-1/2” diameter)
1/8 tsp Garlic Powder
1/8 tsp Cumin Powder
1 Pinch Coriander Powder
1/8 tsp Paprika (smoked paprika is awesome in this)
Salt and Pepper to taste
Olive oil

For sautéed veggies:
½ Zucchini, cut in ½” pieces
½ Yellow Squash, cut in ½” pieces
¼ Onion, coarsely chopped
4 Mushrooms, sliced
½ Tomato, small, seeded, ¾” dice
1 Clove Garlic, sliced
Salt and Pepper to taste
Olive oil

For tacos:
Crack eggs into bowl and add water. Using a fork or wire whisk, vigorously beat the eggs until the yolks and whites are well-mixed and the eggs are frothy. Using water, keeps the eggs tender. Milk or cream can actually make them tough. It’s also cheaper to use water, right?

Prep and assemble all of the elements for the tacos: shred the meat, grate the cheese, make the salsa (or open a jar), separate a few cilantro leaves if you have them. These fillings can be as sumptuous as you want or as bare-bones and empty cupboard as necessary. This is a poor man’s breakfast but kings of all nations love them, too! Have the potatoes cook and the veggies sautéed and waiting.

Heat a skillet to medium heat. Add about a tablespoon of oil. Do not use margarine here (as much because of transfats as because the water in the margarine will separate and cause problems with sticking).

When the oil is heated, give the eggs a final stir and pour into pan. Slowly move the eggs around, scraping the bottom of the pan, forming curds. For those who are unfamiliar, this is called scrambling eggs.

Just before done, remove eggs from heat and finish stirring. Salt and pepper the scrambled eggs. Eggs should be moist and fluffy, they will continue to cook for the next few minutes. Remove to a plate.

Add flour tortillas to the pan and cook one at a time, heating briefly on both sides. (Option: place 4 tortillas on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and nuke in a microwave for about 30 seconds to heat them through).

Assemble your tacos and enjoy! Add salsa, avocado, cilantro, lime or other condiments.

For Potatoes:
Wash and cut potatoes in quarters and then in half (you will have 8 pieces per potato). Don’t bother drying the potatoes because the moisture will help keep them plump while cooking in the microwave. Place on microwave safe plate. Cover with 2 layers of wet microwave safe paper towels. Nuke for about 3 minutes or until potatoes are fork tender.

Heat skillet to high heat and add oil. When oil is hot, remove paper and pour potatoes into pan. Do NOT stir them!

Sprinkle the tops of the potatoes with seasonings. Again, do not stir the potatoes around. Let them sit for about 2-3 minutes before stirring to rearrange them. This will allow them to brown on the first side. You are trying to get them crispy and brown outside and keep them moist and creamy inside. Microwaving until done is the secret to getting potatoes that are browned on the outside and cooked through on the inside!

Potatoes will take about 6-7 minutes to fully brown on all sides. Remove potatoes and reserve for tacos. Serve them either on the side or as part of a potato and egg taco. Amazingly awesome!

For Sautéed Veggies:
Wash and dry veggies and split squash in half lengthwise. Cut into ½ inch pieces. Prepare all other veggies as noted in above recipe. Heat skillet to high heat. Add oil and heat through.

Add veggies, except for tomatoes, and seasonings and saute over high heat until “just tender” or al dente, about 8-10 minutes. Don’t over stir. You want them to be browned in places. In the last 2 minutes of cooking, add tomatoes. Taste and adjust seasoning. Remove from pan and reserve for tacos. Serve veggies either on the side or as part of a veggie version of breakfast tacos. So great!

Blue Zebra NOTE:
*Flour tortillas and salsa are available at most grocery stores. They will “do” in a pinch and works as a quick solution for the time-conscious. But for the very best result, making these elements from scratch is always going to make a better taco. There is a night and day difference.

The recipes for flour tortillas and salsa choices will be available soon. I will post them under the recipe section as soon as we solve the recipe database dilemma, so please have patience with us! :D

Breakfast tacos, as previously stated, can have many fillings. One of the favorite ways to use leftover meat in our house is to use a couple of ounces in our breakfast tacos, about ½ ounce per taco. I do not warm the meat because it imparts a re-warmed taste. Instead, I let the heat from the warm tortillas and hot scrambled eggs warm the meat up to temp.

But meat isn’t essential to making great breakfast tacos. Two of my favorite BTs are potato and egg or bean and egg made with pinto beans, mashed and refried a bit, prior to assembling. I also use the veggie saute, shown above, with great success. Veggie BTs are so satisfying you don’t even recognize the lack of meat.

The humble breakfast taco is nourishing, and will “stick to your bones” as my grandmother, WaWa, used to say about food that carried a person through the day. The breakfast pictured above is a HUGE serving for most and only costs about $1.10 to make per plate, including 2 cups of coffee with cream. It’s simply another illustration how the egg is man’s best friend for people on a budget. So take my advice, make breakfast tacos at any time of the day. Better living through breakfast tacos!
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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Little Miss Muffet and Her Crumpets

Little Miss Muffet sat on her crumpet, eating her curds and whey… (Ok, maybe she didn’t sit on a crumpet, maybe it was a tuffet! But I don’t exactly know what a tuffet is either. We don’t have tuffets in the South…but we do have princesses and Sweet Potato Queens!)

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine over at another site, about what people in the UK call English Muffins. Someone made the comment they thought they were called crumpets and from there we completely threadjacked the original poster’s thread on English Muffins. I admitted that I’d never had a crumpet before and I don’t even think I’ve seen one. Have you?

Growin’ up we often had a big Sunday breakfast, brunch really. We would go to church and then everyone would get in the kitchen and start cooking and visiting with each other. We sometimes sat at the table and visited for hours. It was a lazy and delicious way to catch up with everyone and just treat the day easily.

We had the usual Southern fare: biscuits, pancakes, waffles, toast, muffins or the like; never all at once, mind you. It was an either/or proposition. Occasionally we would have an English muffin, but they were expensive and a real treat in our house. I think I maybe only had them 4 or 5 times in my first 18 years of life. So it’s no surprise, despite having visited many different types of restaurants in many towns, that I would not be familiar with crumpets.

I vowed to make up for that blank spot in my culinary history. I decided to make them. Thanks to browndog for passing along the recipe from Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery. Elizabeth David, so I am told, writes recipe books with an insight into English history and is “chatty” in her delivery. She sounds like someone I’d love! :D

I added her book to my wish list but I will go ahead and post the recipe here.

English Crumpets
By Elizabeth David’s English Bread and Yeast Cookery
Yield: 8-10 Crumpets

3 cup or so unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp dry yeast (1/2 oz. fresh)
2 1/2 cup milk and water mixed (a generous measure)
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp sugar
2 Tbsp oil

Second Mixing:
1/2 tsp baking soda
2/3 cup warm water or a little more

Warm the flour in an earthenware bowl in a low oven for 5 minutes.

Warm the oil, milk, water and sugar to blood heat. Use a little of this to cream the yeast. (I proofed active dry yeast in 1/2 cup warm water and reduced the quantity of milk showing here by 1/2 cup.)

Mix the salt with the warm flour, stir in the yeast, pour in the liquid, and stir the batter very well and vigorously, until it is smooth and elastic. Cover the bowl, leave batter to rise at room temp until the whole surface is a mass of bubbles and the mixture looks as if it were about to break. This will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Forestall the natural falling of the batter by beating it down yourself with a wooden spoon.

Dissolve the baking soda in the warm water and stir it into the bowl. Cover the bowl and leave the batter to recover, for about 30 minutes. This time, put it in a rather warmer place, unless you need to delay the cooking of the crumpets, in which case use cold water for dissolving the soda and remove the bowl of batter to a cool place.

Cooking the crumpets:
Grease the griddle very lightly, also the crumpet rings.

Put 4 rings on the griddle; pour enough batter into each to come almost to the top. Let them cook very gently, 7 to 10 minutes. By this time there should be a mass of tiny holes. If the holes haven't appeared, the batter is too thick. Add more warm water or milk to the batter before cooking the next batch.

Once the crumpets have set, it should be easy to slip off the rings and turn them over. They only need 3 minutes on the other side. (Just enough time to add a little color to the 2nd side.)

Browndog comments, “Here is what Elizabeth David has to say about her crumpets: ‘Personally, I find crumpets edible only when freshly cooked, warm and soaked in plenty of butter. Toasting makes them tough and alters the whole structure. I think it preferable to reheat them in a covered dish in the oven, with butter. When all is said and done, crumpets are only yeast pancakes confined to rings and so made thick and of a uniform size.’”

Blue Zebra NOTES:
This recipe was very easy. I used 3-1/2” rings that I bought at Sur La Table for $0.95 each. I was a little skeered cuz I just didn’t know how thick to make the batter. As my spill-over pictures show, don’t fill your rings any more than 2/3 full or you will have trouble. I cooked the crumpets about 12-13 minutes over low heat, in a cast iron skillet. I then flipped them and cooked for another couple of minutes on the second side. I only removed the ring after cooking on both sides.

These are delicious. They taste quite like a very thick blini (yeasted pancake) and much, much better than your average pancake. They are totally worth making again. The next time I make them; I will begin the batter the night before and retard the batter in the fridge over night.

I made a big Sunday breakfast. It will be the only thing I will cook today. Dinner tonight will most likely be watermelon salad and leftover chicken. The breakfast consisted of scrambled eggs, cheese grits, bacon, homegrown tomatoes, and homemade crumpet with butter and amaretto/peach/pecan jam, and a slice of watermelon. It’s incredible to me, but again, this entire huge meal was only about $1.10 including 2 cups of coffee. Amazing, yes?
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