Whether you celebrate Cinco de Mayo (Fifth of May) or not, it’s almost always appropriate to eat Mexican food. I honestly believe I must have had a former life as a Mexican because I could eat that food three (or more) times a day.
So I look forward to Cinco de Mayo each year to give me a valid excuse for my Mexican indulgence!
Because I was usually in a hurry to eat something when I came home from a long day of teaching, or even today as a stay-at-home author, one of the easiest meals for me to make is a simple pulled pork taco from my slow cooker.
I start out with the meat from pork steaks or chops, cubed in 1-inch pieces. (You also could use beef or chicken.) Then I dump in a 24 ounce jar of either red or green salsa (any style). The “heat” depends on your taste, but mine usually goes for the hottest.
To this you can add a bit of chopped onion, garlic, or more spice. I generally toss in two or three of the tiny Thai peppers from my garden. Uh…I like spicy!
Cover and cook on low all day until you get home – eight to 10 hours.
Sometimes I put it in a bowl, top with sour cream and chopped cilantro to eat like soup. If I plan to do this, I add a can of drained corn or black beans to the pot (or both).
If I want it as a taco or tostado, then the pork is so tender you hardly have to shred it. Spoon it in or on a warmed up tortilla, add chopped lettuce, grated Mexican cheese, a dollop of sour cream, chopped cilantro, and maybe even another spoon of salsa.
I could eat a dozen of these, but I’ll try to contain myself!
These two photos were taken in the patio of Tres Hombres in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, which sadly no longer exists. That was my “go to” place for Mexican food when I was in town. Each year, if it was your birthday, they would bring out this enormous (and heavy) sombrero for you to wear. Then they sang to you and took pictures!
From an early age, as a preacher’s kid (or P.K. as everyone referred to us) I was led to believe that you can’t get into Heaven without a covered dish. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the Midwest where a potluck supper was a primary social occasion, but usually a casserole doesn’t appeal to me. It always felt like an unappetizing way to get rid of leftovers.
Since I’ve become an adult, I have discovered that a casserole doesn’t have to be the lifeless, tasteless dish I remembered from childhood. I adapted this recipe from the March 2011 issue of Cooking Light, and made it into one of those “quick and easy” ones that might be worth fixing from time to time.
Chipotle Chicken Casserole
Coat either an 8-inch square glass baking dish or a glass loaf pan with cooking spray. Heat oven to 425 degrees F.
I used 5 of the largest chicken tenders (breast meat) out of a large Costco package. I zapped them in a microwave until softly cooked. In other words, they weren’t raw but they weren’t overcooked, either.
I shredded these into a bowl and added about 1 ½ tablespoons of chopped cilantro, 3 ounces cream cheese (fat-free works here), ½ teaspoon each of ground red pepper and ground cumin, plus salt and pepper to taste.
In a saucepan, sauté half a large onion and lots of garlic (I used 6 cloves). Add a cup of chicken broth, and about a cup of your favorite salsa verde and a little water. I used my own chipotle salsa; see my recipe here. I stirred in the chicken, cream cheese and seasonings combo with the liquid mix in the saucepan.
In a large skillet, I heated 10 6-inch corn tortillas, about a minute on each side, then cut them into quarters.
Starting with a layer of the chicken mixture, alternate layers of the tortilla quarters, ending with the chicken mix. Sprinkle shredded cheddar cheese, or Mexican Cheese mix over the top and bake for 15 minutes until lightly browned and the cheese is bubbly.
Before serving, I topped it with more fresh chopped cilantro and served with sour cream on the side. Fat free sour cream can be used here, if you are watching your fat intake.
I might add more salsa next time, as it seemed a bit dry to me. Also, I like things fairly spicy, so I suggest you use your own taste buds to determine how much to add. I served this with corn on the cob and salad. It made two meals for two people, but we ate large servings. Again, let your own needs determine how many it will serve.
I think this could easily be doubled if you plan to take it to one of your own potluck occasions! This is one of those recipes that you can play around with, I think, but isn’t that true of most casseroles?
In November, I wrote a post about El Pachuco, the Mexican café at the bottom of my road. I love to stop by there to pick up supper for myself as often as I think I can afford the calories. When I drove by yesterday, there was a sign out on the road that said “fish tacos.”
Well, that’s my favorite way of having tacos, so I couldn’t resist going in. Evie had acquired some fresh ono, a delicious local fish. For $6 I had two huge fish tacos filled with fresh ono chunks lightly braised in olive oil, dressed with lettuce, tomatoes, salsa, grated cheese, and sour cream, plus beans and rice. Oh my!
“Ono” means “delicious” or “good to eat” in Hawai`ian and there is no doubt that these tacos were ono! Thanks again, Evie, for being there!
Chicken Mole (moh-lay) may be an acquired taste for some, but I have loved it from the moment I first tasted it eons ago. Making the sauce from scratch can be quite a process, starting off by boiling a chicken (preserving the broth), then getting the meat off the bones.
After that, you mix the broth with a combination of peanut butter, chili powder, cumin, garlic, and other ingredients, depending on the recipe you find.
My friend Evie who runs El Pachuco gave me a faster recipe that uses a jar of Mole base (like Doña Maria). She boils her chicken and strains the broth. According to her recipe, she slowly adds the broth to the Mole base in a pan, creating a smooth sauce.
She says that at this point, you can add chocolate, chilis, peanut butter, almond paste, wherever your taste takes you. Let this simmer until a thicker gravy develops. Add the chicken and serve with Spanish rice, and tortillas (either corn or flour).
This still seemed like too much trouble for me. I wanted something I could allow to cook while I went off to teach for the day.
In a blender, I combined 2 cans fat-free chicken broth with a jar of Mole base. I poured the whole lot over about six large chicken tenders in a slow cooker, added 2 cloves of slivered garlic, about 2 tablespoons of wild rice, a heaping tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder, and some crunchy peanut butter. I let this combination cook on slow all day.
When I got home, the Mole was ready and the consistency was just right. I served it with corn tortillas and black beans. A dollop of sour cream goes well with this. Add a few sprinkles of fresh cilantro out of your garden.
These shots of Chicken Mole were made a couple days after the original batch was made. I added the leftover black beans to the sauce, cooked up two more chicken tenders in a pan and added the sauce to it. I froze the rest of the sauce for another time. Easy!
When I lived in Tucson, I had a friend who was dating a Mexican girl. He went to her family’s home for Thanksgiving dinner where they had a turkey and all the trimmings that we’ve come to expect in the USA. In the middle of the table, however, was an enormous bowl of refried beans upstaging the turkey. As American as they thought they were, they still had to have their refried beans.
So instead of writing about a more traditional Thanksgiving meal, I thought it would be fun to I talk about one of my favorite places to eat at any time, including Thanksgiving.
If you are a visitor driving around the island, please stop at Evie’s El Pachuco for some wonderful Mexican food. You’ll find it on the corner of Tiki Lane and Highway 11. Watch for it on your left as you drive through Ocean View going from the Kona side to Hilo. They are open from 11 in the morning to 6 in the evening, Wednesday through Sunday. Tamales are available on the weekends only.
Here is a copy of her menu so you’ll know what to expect. There are also weekly specials that are not on the menu. She promised to make a mole soon.
Evie was just delivering two plates of chicken enchiladas with rice and beans to two customers when I walked in. I restrained myself from grabbing one of the plates.
Back in the kitchen, her husband, Jimi, let me take pictures of the food in the hot serving pans – chicken, pork, rice, beans. He was making an extra batch of beans because they were about to run out. He’s the strong arm around the place.
A little background on Evie and Jimi Gonzales: Jimi was originally a welder shipfitter/pipefitter building commercial fishing boats. Evie was a bookkeeper. In the 70s, Jimi bought an acre in Hawai`i Ocean View Estates (HOVE) with $50 down. They continued to work in California while they paid it off. Then during vacations, he began to build.
Like many HOVE residents, Evie and Jimi eventually moved to Hawai`i to get away from the air pollution in California and to provide a better environment in which to raise their young son (now a DJ on Oahu).
At first their new home was a simple shell with no walls, but it did have an outdoor shower and outdoor toilet. Using the talents of his trade, Jimi built an outdoor cooking area similar to a barbecue pit where Evie made their meals over a fire – including even baking cakes!
About 7 years ago, Evie brought her mother back from Arizona to live with them. She also brought back a thirty-pound block of masa, planning to use it a little bit at a time. When she got it to Hawai`i, it was frozen solid. She had to do something with all that masa, so she made a big bunch of tamales, sat on the side of the road on the back of her van to sell them. Within a couple hours, she had sold them all, and decided that might be a good way to make a little money.
The kind of masa Evie needed wasn’t available here so she started buying small bags of maseca to keep the tamales rolling. She found a distributor and now buys maseca for tamales made of white corn in fifty-pound bags.
I first met Evie when she catered for a Leadership Conference I attended a few years ago. It was some of the best food I’d tasted since I left Tucson – and I knew Ocean View had a gem. But I didn’t know where to get more of her food.
Then I discovered her again one day on my way to our Ace Hardware here in what many residents call “The View.” She was parked alongside the road, selling tamales and more out of her van. For several years, I would buy Evie’s tamales on my way to pick up those items a homeowner can’t live without.
Then she moved down to the parking area of Ka’u Outpost on the highway, just down the road from my house. Almost every day when I drove home from teaching, I saw her sitting patiently on the back of her van. If I had stopped to pick up something every time she was there, I wouldn’t have been able to get in the front door of my house! But I did stop as often as I dared.
They have now found an indoor home in one section of the Ka’u Outpost, with little tables where you can eat or wait for take-out. If you’re lucky, she may have some freshly baked brownies or other baked treats to tempt you, as well.
I started this post to help spread the word about this special little Mexican restaurant, but didn’t realize I’d get drawn into such an intriguing history lesson. When I asked “What does Pachuco mean?” I was taken to an entirely new adventure. Evie said “It’s the description of a certain kind of person,” and began to tell this story.
In the 30s and 40s, young Mexican-Americans formed their own subculture and were called “Pachucos,” or “Chukes.” I had no idea they were the original zoot suiters. For great pictures and an interesting commentary on this era, check out this article. Also, I recommend that you turn up your speakers and go to this site to get a flavor of the zoot suiter. I’m old enough to remember guys wearing the zoot suit! There was no zoot suit for Jimi today!
Jimi came from Chavez Ravine, which is now the site of the Dodgers Stadium. Originally, this area of Los Angeles was the home of Mexican-American families tending their small farms. In the early 50s, L.A. declared eminent domain over the land and the home owners were offered a paltry sum of money for their properties.
The next ten years were violent ones as the owners resisted being ousted to make way for the Stadium. The unfortunate and sad story can be found here. There is a reunion of the Pachucos from Chavez Ravine in Los Angeles every July.
The story of Chavez Ravine and the Pachucos come together because Jimi’s father and Evie’s father were both Pachucos. The logo for El Pachuco, our very own authentic Mexican restaurant, shows a “Day of the Dead” (“Día de los Muertos”) character in a Pachuco stance, wearing an aloha shirt and khaki shorts. I love it!
To read a recent account of the situation at Chavez Ravine, read this article.
A side story: Jimi was cooking in the kitchen as I sat at one of the little tables talking with Evie. I had placed my purse on the floor near a door in the kitchen, but Jimi came running in to say I should get my purse up off the floor immediately! He said that if you set your purse on the floor, all the money will run out of it and you’ll always be broke. This site gives a more complete answer to that saying. It’s a sign of respect for your hard-earned money not to put your purse on a dirty floor. I don’t think my purse would ever get dirty on the floor of Evie’s and Jimi’s kitchen!
If I could eat one specific cuisine three times a day, it would be Mexican. Over the years, I’ve learned to make quite a few traditional Mexican dishes. I’m not even sure where some of them came from now. I’ve made them in my own way, of course, so they have a touch of “Lucy” in them.
I first made this dish back in 1964, soon after I moved back to California from Alaska. It quickly became a family favorite at a time when my children could have been picky, but they weren’t.
Serve this with plenty of hot tortillas, a spicy salsa, and a cool sherbet to end the meal. This also goes well with small boiled or steamed red potatoes. Make it as spicy as you wish. I tend to like mine rather hot.
Chicken, Chilies, and Corn Casserole
You can either cut up a fryer, or use a bag of chicken parts. I usually made it with all breast meat. Shake it up in a bag of seasoned flour and brown in hot canola oil. Put the chicken into a large baking dish and put to one side.
In the same skillet, melt about three tablespoons of butter or margarine. Add the leftover flour, 1 ½ cups milk, and a can of fat free chicken broth. Mix it well and bring to a boil.
Add a 12-ounce can of corn kernels (or an equal amount of fresh corn cut off the cob) along with a large can of chopped and peeled green chilies. Mix this together and pour over the chicken.
Cover and bake at 350 degrees F. until chicken is well cooked. Sometimes I simply let it simmer on top of the stove. Need I say it’s an easy meal to fix?