Refried Beans

March 16, 2010

An important side dish for lots of tex/mex fare. In this case, it was the first layer for my party Tostadas from the weekend, so pre-manufactured refried beans were out of the question. (Chris Kimball says spackle is spackle)

Chris also says to start your refried beans by using canned pinto beans. But I started with dried beans (soaking them the night before).  Not only did this cut my bean cost from $3.80 to $0.80, more importantly, it lets me avoid the awkwardness of opening four cans in front of my dinner guests. The 1-1/2 hour cooking time wasn’t a big deal, because I was cooking all day anyhow.

I ran most of the cooked beans through the food processor, with chicken broth, and reserved a cup of whole beans to give a better texture.  Then I cooked some diced bacon, then sauteed the onion, poblano chili and jalapeno in bacon fat for 5 minutes, then added garlic. Finally I added the processed and whole beans to the pan and cooked until warmed throughout.

The whole process only took about 25 minutes of work. Mostly it’s a matter of patience while the beans soak and cook. I give them only 3-stars, but refried beans are never intended to be more.

Rating: 3-star.
Cost: $2 (for doubled recipe).
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 4:00 PM. Dinnertime 6:30 PM.


Tostadas de Tinga

March 14, 2010

Having been disappointed with the lack of flavor from the Carnitas, I was looking for a spicier version of Mexican pork to serve at my son Matthew’s 11th Birthday party.  Fortunately Cook’s Illustrated just published a new recipe for Spicy Mexican Shredded Pork Tostadas (Tinga) With Homemade Chorizo. For the party I doubled the recipe, and ended up with lots of leftovers (yum, just look at photo!)

Tostada of shredded pork with homemade chorizo. The only recipe variation was the addition of refried beans as the bottom layer.

I cut four pounds of pork into 1-inch cubes, seasoned and cooked in water for 90 minutes then shredded with a potato masher. I then turned an additional two pounds of pork into homemade chorizo; seasoned, chopped in a food processor and slightly cooked. The whole thing is then cooked more; with tomato sauce, chipotle (dried jalapenos) powder.

I fried the tostada shells one at a time in 3/4-inch of oil, holding each down with a potato masher.  Most of the $7 in garnishes went to avocado for the guacamole.

Everybody at the party unanimously rated this recipe 5-stars. Also, my Mexican friend explained that Tinga refers to the spicy shredded pork (not another word for tostada).  I had wanted to use the plural “Tingas”, but he explained to use the singular “Tinga”.


  1. I bought the picnic shoulder rather than the boneless butt (not available), so it took about 30 minutes to trim down.  Both cuts are from the shoulder, but I had to remove the shank.
  2. While I doubled the recipe, I did not double the 6-cups of water. 6-cups was enough to cover, and since most was discarded later I wanted to concentrate the flavors.
  3. I didn’t break the chorizo up sufficiently when cooking, so there were some larger-than-desired chunks.

Rating: 5-star.
Cost: $17.60 (for doubled recipe) plus $7 for garnishes.
How much work? High.
How big of a mess?  Huge mess.
Start time 2:00 PM. Dinnertime 6:30 PM.

Mashed Potato Casserole

March 11, 2010

A significant upgrade from the regular run-of-the-mill mashed potatoes. In addition to milk, I included sour cream and a little dijon. Then topped with grated cheddar cheese and homemade bread crumbs.

Cook’s Illustrated also has a make-ahead variation (a real time saver) that I wanted to try from my son’s 11th birthday party this weekend. Unfortunately,  the heavy rain in the forecast forced me to change menus (to Mexican), so I cooked and ate this casserole all in the same evening.


  1. I realize that these are not supposed to be mashed potatoes, but the texture of the potatoes was a little too soft for my liking (too much milk). Next time I’ll add the milk little by little, which is the proper way to make mashed potatoes anyhow.
  2. I halved the recipe, since this wasn’t for any special occasion and I didn’t need 8 to 10 servings of mashed potatoes.

Rating: 3 1/2-star.
Cost: $2.50 (four to five servings as a side dish)
How much work? Medium. (mostly due to homemade bread crumbs).
How big of a mess?  Medium.
Start time 5:00 PM. Dinner time 6:45 PM.

Mashed Potatoes with sour cream and topped with grated cheddar cheese and homemade bread crumbs.


March 5, 2010

Simple enough in theory, but my over ambitiousness (wanting to make two varieties) caused both recipes to suffer.  The “fried dough” variety was 3-star, but the “baked chocolate” variety was no-star ( inedible as donuts, 2-star as cookies). Also, I made 4 toppings; not knowing which would be good (chocolate glaze, glazed, powdered and cinnamon-sugar). But even with all the problems, the kids were very happy, which made it worth all the mess (at least 30 minutes cleanup).

While Chris doesn’t have a donuts recipe on his website, Matt got the idea of making donuts from Creole Fried Chicken episode (Chris mentioned how to reuse the oil). I only wish ATK had a recipe, so that the list of problems wouldn’t be so long.


  1. Baked Chocolate donuts were supposed to be cake-like. Instead, they were more rock-like. I threw most of them away, even after frosting them.
  2. The chocolate glaze was too slow to thicken, so it mostly just dripped off the donuts.
  3. The glaze thickened, but didn’t get as thick to get the nice coating that I wanted.
  4. The fried dough was the best, 3-stars, but still could have used more complexity of flavor in the dough.

Rating: 3-star.
Cost: $3 for 2 dozen.
How much work? Medium.
How big of a mess?  Huge.
Start time 5:00 PM. Dessert time 9:00 PM.


Fresh donuts for the first time since I was a kid.


Blackout Shrimp Tempura

March 2, 2010

No, “blackout” isn’t part of the recipe, but that I made it during our 4 day blackout (after a heavy 18-20″ snowfall).  My limitation: I had gas to run the stovetop, but not electricity to run the oven.

Given my deep love for shrimp in all forms, I was surprised that this was my first time eating Shrimp Tempura; a lightly battered shrimp, briefly fried, and served with a soy-scallion sauce.  The tiny shrimp fried to perfection in about 1 minute. To my surprise, I could only give these shrimp 4-stars.  The frying masks the shrimp’s natural tenderness and subtle flavors.  Overall, a great recipe if you’re want to fry the shrimp, but not in the same league as the Shrimp Scampi from a few days ago.


  1. I only had tiny 31-40 count shrimp, not the massive 8-10 count shrimp the recipe calls for. But, these were what was on sale, and the blackout meant “use ’em or loss ’em”.
  2. The technique of making two 1/4″ slits on the underside of each shrimp didn’t straighten out this tiny shrimp.  Oh well.
  3. I only had 1 pound of thawed shrimp (left over from Shrimp Scampi), not the 1-1/2 pounds the recipe calls for. That’s why there were only 2 servings.
  4. Since I had no power to run the oven, I couldn’t keep them hot in a 200 degree oven while cooking the remaining batches.

Rating: 4-star.
Cost: $6 for 2 servings. (1-lb shrimp)
How much work? Low.
How big of a mess?  Low/Medium.
Start time 3:00 PM. Dinner time 3:35 PM. (I had to cook/clean during daylight)

Lightly battered fried shrimp makes for a definite upgrade from Red Lobster, but not as delicious as shrimp scampi.

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