Enliven Meals With The Robust Flavors Of Mexican, Southwestern Cuisine

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Tex-Mex Tortilla Bake and Easy Layered Mexican Spread offer robust flavors for a hearty weekday meal. Both dishes can be prepared ahead. Look over recipes for Mexican, Southwestern and Tex-Mex dishes for creating delectable meals for your family. PHOTO BY ANN CIPPERLY

By Ann Cipperly

Now that the warm weather over the holidays is gone, the cold days of January are here bringing thoughts of hearty dishes for dinner. Warm the family up quickly with the spicy flavors of Mexican and southwestern inspired dishes. Most of these dishes only need a salad to complete the menu. Individual creamy flans with a decadent caramel topping for dessert will make any weekday meal feel special.

When I was growing up in Opelika, my Mom didn’t make anything resembling Mexican, except tacos, and we didn’t have those often. While I prepared several southwestern inspired dishes over the years, it wasn’t until our daughter, Donna Woodham, moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico, that we dined on authentic, fiery chili embellished dishes.

It seemed every dish in Albuquerque or Santa Fe included chili peppers, even in scrambled eggs. Our daughter would bring us bags of chocolate-coated pecans that looked so yummy until we bit into them and discovered they were almost too hot to eat.

While Donna was living in Albuquerque, we visited twice during the winter months. We were not fond of Albuquerque where the landscape appeared to be brown everywhere. Santa Fe was different and interesting with numerous art galleries and shops to explore.

The girls would spend the day in town browsing the art shops and having a scrumptious lunch, while the guys were on the slopes nestled high in the Sangre de Cristo mountains. I was surprised to find the second oldest church in America at Santa Fe. At the end of the day, we would meet for a delectable dinner before making the drive back to Albuquerque.

Coyote Café was our favorite restaurant in Santa Fe, offering modern southwestern cuisine. Scallops were served with mascarpone rice and Calabrian chili, while pork chops were paired with squash and cotija. Elk tenderloin was served with black garlic mashed potatoes. Caramel crème brulee was the perfect dessert to cap a scrumptious meal.

At Donna’s spacious home in Albuquerque, we enjoyed sitting on an upper back balcony with a view of the Sandia Mountains. It was a good place to unwind after a day touring Old Town in Albuquerque and dining at Mexican restaurants. Some of the dishes were too spicy for our southern palate.

Donna’s favorite restaurant for Mexican cuisine was Garduno’s in Old Town that we dined at several times. The restaurant serves classic Mexican, including enchiladas, tacos with guacamole and chili con queso, burritos, chimichanga and fajitas.

We have also savored Tex-Mex cuisine on numerous trips to Texas.

At home, our favorite is the Tex-Mex Tortilla Bake. Cream cheese is spread on tortillas with green chilies added. Instead of the cream cheese, you can use shredded Monterey Jack cheese. The tortillas are nestled in a sauce with ground beef, canned tomatoes and enchilada sauce and then topped with shredded cheese, if desired.

Over the years, several local good cooks have shared Mexican recipes that have become favorites at our home. One of the first cooks I interviewed who had a love of Mexican dishes was Jeannie Johnson. She doesn’t live in Opelika now, but her daughter Becky Brown does and has also shared Mexican recipes over the years.

Jeannie and husband, Lanier, lived in Opelika for many years before moving to Birmingham. Jeannie and Lanier both love Mexican food and traveling to western states.

Jeannie recalls that in 1965 when she and Lanier had been married one year, her parents took them across country to California. The first night they stopped for dinner near the Texas border. They ordered enchiladas. “We were both hooked on Mexican food then,” recalls Jeannie. “For the next two weeks at every restaurant, we ordered Mexican food.”

Becky remembers that her mother frequently cooked Mexican dishes when she was growing up in Opelika. She has carried on her mother’s love of Mexican food and often serves her recipes and ones she has developed when entertaining. Becky, who is the public relations coordinator for Opelika City Schools, is married to Bill Brown.

Now that the holidays and Auburn football games are behind us, don’t let the winter doldrums set in. Enliven meals with the bold flavors of southwestern, Tex-Mex and Mexican cuisine.

Easy Creamy Burrito Casserole

Donna Woodham

1 lb. ground beef or venison

1 onion, chopped

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 package taco seasoning

2 cans Mexican stewed tomatoes, drained

6 large flour tortillas

1 large can refried beans

4-6 cups shredded taco or cheddar cheese

1 can cream of mushroom soup

4 oz. sour cream

Sliced jalapeños, optional

Brown beef or venison. Add onions, bell pepper and taco seasoning.

Stir in stewed tomatoes. Slice tomatoes if necessary. Bite size is preferred.

Add optional jalapeños, if desired.

Mix soup and sour cream in a separate bowl.

Spread half of the sour cream mixture in the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish.

Tear up 3 tortillas and spread over sour cream mixture.

Spread half of the refried beans over the tortillas.

Put half of the meat mixture over that.

Add a layer of cheese. Repeat the layers.

Sprinkle cheese over the top and bake, uncovered, at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Aztec Salad

Jeannie Johnson

1½ cups (12 oz. can) whole kernel shoe peg corn, drained

1 cup drained kidney beans

½ cup chopped onion

1/3 cup chopped green pepper

2 Tbsp. chopped pimento

¼ to ½ cup Kraft Catalina Dressing

4 ripe avocadoes, cut in half

Except for avocadoes, mix other ingredients together. Chill. Spoon into avocado halves on a bed of lettuce.

Pueblo Chicken and Rice

Jeannie Johnson

4 cups cooked rice

16 oz. can tomatoes, drained and chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

2 cups cooked chicken in bite-size pieces

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup sour cream

2 cans whole green chilies, seeded and cut into strips

3 cups shredded jack cheese

2 ¼ oz. can sliced ripe olives, optional

In a large bowl, combine rice, tomatoes, onion and chicken; season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon half the mixture into an even layer in a greased two and a half quarts casserole dish. Cover with half of the sour cream, green chilies and cheese, then add all of the olives if using.

Repeat layer with remaining chicken mixture, sour cream and cheese.

Bake uncovered in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or until hot throughout. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. Serves 6 to 8.

Chimichangas

Filling:

1/2 tsp. salt

1 lb. lean ground beef

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 tsp. ground cumin

1 tsp. dried oregano

1/4 cup canned chopped chiles

1/4 cup bottled taco sauce

1/4 cup sour cream

2 Tbsp. cider vinegar

Sprinkle salt in medium skillet and place over medium heat. Add beef, garlic and spices. Cook and stir with fork until meat crumbles and loses its pink color. Stir in remaining filling ingredients, remove from heat and cool.

Assembly:

1/2 cup margarine

6 large flour tortillas

4 oz. cheddar cheese, grated

Toppings: 1/2 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup bottled picante sauce. guacamole

Melt margarine in skillet. Place each tortilla in warm oleo until soft; drain and place on a flat surface. Mound a large spoonful of filling in center of tortilla and fold envelope fashion to seal filling inside.

Place tortillas seam side down in a large baking dish. Bake in 450 degree oven for 15 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese and return to oven for a few seconds. Serve with sour cream, picante sauce and guacamole.

Can prepared ahead of time.

Chalupas with Assorted Toppings

The late Mary Samford gave ne this recipe years ago. She was a lovely and gracious lady who enjoyed entertaining.

4 lb. pork roast, minus fat, cut in chunks

3 peppers, jalapenos

1 ½ tsp. oregano

2 Tbsp. chili powder

3 cloves garlic

2 lb. pinto beans, soak overnight in water to cover

1 ½ tsp. each of salt and pepper

Toppings: corn chips, salsa, shredded cheese, chopped onion, shredded lettuce, sliced black olives, chopped avocado, chopped tomato, sour cream

1 box Aztec salad shells

Combine all ingredients in large pot: cover with water. Cover top and cook 6-8 hours, stirring frequently. It will fall apart and become “mushy.”

This can be made and frozen, or refrigerated for a couple of days. Reheat in casserole dish with top on in oven or in a double boiler over hot water or it may scorch. Don’t put it over a high flame. When ready to serve, I put a large spoonful in the bottom of an Aztec salad shell (follow heating directions on box).

Have bowls with toppings lined up, and guests can serve themselves as much or as little as they like. You may prefer to serve guacamole in place of avocado. Serves 12.

Tex-Mex Tortilla Bake

A family favorite at our house for many years.

1 lb. ground beef

1 onion, chopped

1/2 tsp. salt

Two 14 1/2 oz. cans stewed tomatoes

1 can enchilada sauce

8 flour tortillas

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

1 can green chilies, drained

1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese or cheddar

Cook beef until brown and onion is tender; season with salt and drain fat. Stir in tomatoes and enchilada sauce. Bring to a boil and simmer five minutes.

Spread cream cheese on tortillas; sprinkle green chilies on top. Fold in half. Pour half of beef mixture into a 9 by 13-inch pan. Top with tortillas. Pour remaining sauce down center of tortillas. Top with cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Betty’s Individual Flans

1 can sweetened condensed milk

5 whole eggs

8 oz. cream cheese, softened

1 tsp. vanilla

1 large can evaporated milk

1 cup sugar

¼ cup water

Put first four ingredients in blender; mix thoroughly. Slowly add evaporated milk, mixing just until blended.

Combine sugar and water in a saucepan; stir over low heat until sugar is dissolved. Turn heat to high and let cook without stirring until golden brown. If sugar begins to crystallize around edges, use a wet utility brush to gently scrape the sides.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray ramekins with nonstick spray and quickly pour the sugar/water (caramel) just covering bottom. Add the custard and place ramekins in a pan. Place pan in oven and pour in water until it is halfway up the outside of ramekins.

Bake approximately 45 minutes or until the custard is set and begins to pull away from sides.

When done, remove ramekins; place on cookie sheet. Cover and place in refrigerator for at least four hours prior to serving. Flans will keep several days in tightly sealed ramekins.

When ready to serve, run knife blade around edge to loosen custard and turn onto dessert plate. Can garnish with fresh fruit and mint.

Black Bean Dip

Becky Brown

1 can black beans, drained

1 white onion, finely chopped

1 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

Juice of ½ fresh lime

½ Tbsp. fresh cilantro, finely chopped

8 oz. jar Pace picante salsa

Garlic salt to taste

Mix ingredients together and serve with tortilla chips.

Make Ahead Nachos

Store the topping in the refrigerator until ready to place on chips and top with grated cheese. They can then be warmed in the microwave or oven.

2 Tbsp. butter

½ cup finely chopped onion

1 tsp. garlic powder

4 oz. can chopped green chilies

16 oz. can refried beans

½ tsp. chili powder

½ cup or more shredded mozzarella cheese

16 oz. bag tortilla chips

2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese

Sliced jalapeno peppers, optional

Place butter in 2-quart casserole; microwave on high for 25 to 45 seconds. Add onion, garlic powder and green chilies to butter; cover. Microwave on high 2 minutes. Stir and continue to microwave about 2 minutes until onion is tender.

Stir in beans and chili powder; microwave high 1 to 3 minutes covered. Stir in mozzarella cheese; microwave on high 30 seconds. Chill mixture.

Place chips on plate; top each with a heaping spoonful of bean mixture. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and a slice of jalapeno pepper. Microwave 60 seconds or bake until cheese melts.

Bean mixture can be stored in refrigerator several days.

Easy Layered Mexican Spread

Sally Sewell

1 can refried beans

1 cup sour cream

8 oz. picante sauce

2 chopped tomatoes

Shredded cheddar cheese

2 green onions, chopped

4 ½ oz. can black olives, sliced

Spread beans in a 12 by 8 baking or serving dish. Layer the remaining ingredients and top with the olives. Serve with chips.

(I sometimes substitute chunky salsa for the picante sauce and chopped tomatoes.)

Mexican Salad Dressing

1 pkg. ranch dressing mix

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup buttermilk

1 oz. chipotle in adobo sauce from a can (adjust for desired heat)

Using a food processor puree chipotles; then in a mixing bowl with a wire whip, blend all ingredients together.

Chicken Enchiladas in White Sauce

8-10 flour tortillas

3 cups cooked chicken, cubed

3 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese

¼ cup butter

¼ cup flour

2 cups chicken broth

1 cup sour cream

4 oz. can green chilies

Layer each tortilla with chicken and Monterey Jack cheese. Roll tortillas and place seam side down in 9 by 13 inch greased baking dish.

Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add flour, stirring constantly. Mix in chicken broth to make thick sauce. Remove from heat and stir in sour cream and green chilies, stirring until smooth. Pour over tortillas.

Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until hot. Can make ahead and store in refrigerator until ready to bake.

Beef or Turkey Enchiladas

Allison Drake

1 lb. ground turkey or ground beef

½ medium onion, chopped

½ large bell pepper, chopped

½ poblano pepper, chopped

1 small can diced chili peppers

8 corn and flour tortilla blend

1 can red enchilada sauce

1 ½ cups shredded cheddar cheese

Brown meat and drain excess fat. Add in onions and peppers and cook until soft. Add in diced chili peppers.

In a 9 x 13 baking dish pour about half of enchilada sauce into pan and assemble each enchilada by scooping 1/3 cup of meat mixture and cheese into each tortilla. Place in pan seam-side down.

Continue to do this until all of the tortillas are full. Pour the remaining sauce on top and sprinkle cheese on top.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until bubbly hot. Good served with cilantro and sour cream and side of black beans.

Guacamole

4 ripe Haas avocados

3 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice (1 lemon)

8 dashes hot pepper sauce

½ cup small-diced red onion (1 small onion)

1 large garlic clove, minced

1 tsp. kosher salt

1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits, and scoop the flesh out of their shells into a large bowl. Add lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, onion, garlic, salt, and pepper and toss well. Using a sharp knife, slice through the avocados in the bowl until they are finely diced.. Mix well and taste for salt and pepper.

Mom’s Skillet Fiesta with Tortillas and Toppings

Melanie Constance

1 cup uncooked rice

1 beef bouillon cube

1 lb. ground beef

1/4 cup onion, minced             

1 Tbsp. chili powder

1 Tbsp. cumin

1 (16 oz.) can petite diced tomatoes

1 1/2 cups frozen corn

1 can black beans, rinsed

Salt and pepper to taste

Flour tortillas

Toppings: salsa, sour cream, guacamole, cheese

Cook rice according to package instructions, adding beef bouillon.

Brown beef in a large skillet on medium heat, add onion and cook on low until onion is tender, about 3 minutes.

Add seasonings, tomatoes, corn, beans and salt and pepper to beef mixture. Once rice is cooked, add to mixture, stirring well.

Serve mixture on flour tortillas with salsa, sour cream, guacamole and cheese.

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