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Cooking with the Monkey

I've never really been one to make a huge pot of stew and have it sitting in my fridge for a week. If I'm going to cook a lot of food for a large party of guests, though, I do like to go all out. For the purpose of this little How-To, I'm going to walk you through the makings of an entire Tex-Mex meal. Note that I said Tex-Mex, not Mexican. I do not live in Mexico and therefore, I do not cook Mexican food. The differences between the cuisines will have to be left for another time.

Before we start, what is carne guisada? Carne guisada, for me, is a thick, meaty stew-like concoction with enough heat to knock your socks off if you're not careful. It's best served with a side of rice and beans of some sort with a big pile of warm, homemade tortillas to sop up all the juices.

Now that you're ready to embark on this adventure, you need to make a list and run to the store to get a few things. I prefer getting my meat from a trusty meat market, but if you don't have one nearby just grab it from the meat section of your local supermarket. You'll want to get as much of the prep work done the day before you have a large group of people wandering through your house looking for food. This takes HOURS to cook, so be warned.

Figure out how many people you're going to be feeding and then head off to the store with this list (can be halved):

For Carne Guisada:2 serrano peppers2 jalapeno peppers1 onion (yellow or white, doesn't matter)1 head of garlic (you'll need 5 cloves)4 lbs chuck roast (if your supermarket offers cut up stew meat, make it easy on yourself and buy that instead of the whole roast. if you're buying the roast, bone out is best for this application)1 T cumin1 T chili powder1 t oregano¼ c cilantro (adjust this to your taste, I only use about a tablespoon. And for the love of little green men, use fresh!)1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes, or 3 fresh tomatoes, dicedbay leavesa bottle of dark Mexican beer, or other dark beer (I prefer to use Shiner Bock, but it's difficult to get outside of Texas)Some flour or other thickening agent (potato starch, corn starch, arrowroot, something like that)

For Beans:1 lb pinto beansonionchicken, or other, stocksmoked ham hocks, bacon, or salt porkseasonings to your taste

For Rice:1 - 1 ½ c rice (long grain white, basmati, jasmine, etc)1 can tomato sauce1 red bell pepperabout a quarter to half an onionNote: I like to add some corn and peas to my rice, but that's because it adds a little bit more nutrition to it. Add what you want.


If your supermarket does not offer stew meat, which is basically cut up chuck roast, grab a 4 pound roast with NO BONE. I stress this because if you get it with the bone in it, you're going to have to remove the bone as you cut the meat up and that's just a pain in the ass. If you like deboning meat then go right ahead.

Anywho, take your slab o' meat and cut it down to about 1-inch cubes. It is ok to not have exactly 1-inch cubes of meat. Set those aside until you're ready to cook them. If you're going to cook them immediately, keep them out. If you're going to cook them tomorrow, put them in a ziploc in the fridge. If you're going to cook them next Thursday, put them in a ziploc and get as much of the air out as possible and stick them in a freezer. If you froze them, pull them out a full day before you are planning to cook and put them in the fridge to thaw.


Now that you have your meat all cut up you're ready to cook.

Get out a big pot or a dutch oven. For this amount I use a 7 qt enameled cast-iron dutch oven and it fits just fine. Get that bad boy heating up on your stove with a couple tablespoons of oil in it. The oil doesn't matter (I use olive oil), use what you've got.

When it's hot, brown the meat on all sides. You will more than likely have to do this in batches. As the meat browns, chop the peppers and onion and get them ready. Mince your garlic and put it somewhere separate.

Remove the meat and set it aside. This is where I make a roux in the bottom of the pan. If you're not using flour to thicken things, you can skip this and add a slurry of starch or throw some arrowroot powder into it later. If you're using flour, you're going to want about ¼ cup of light roux. Get it smooth and let it cook for about 5 minutes. It doesn't have to be dark, but you don't want the raw flour taste because that's not good eats to anyone.

When the roux is done, throw in your vegetables. It's going to look disgusting, but just go with it. Stir it CONSTANTLY for a good 5 to 10 minutes. You don't have to break your arm, just keep it moving so nothing burns. Once the vegetables have softened a bit, throw in your garlic and cook it for another minute or so. Throw the meat, tomatoes, spices, cilantro, a couple bay leaves, beer, and 2 cups of water into the pot and mix it really well. Bring the whole thing to a boil and then turn the heat down to a simmer and cook it for 5 hours, stirring occasionally. If you're cooking beans with this, this would be a good time to get those going.

The Beans

Author's Note: This is my method of making beans. If you already have a good savory bean recipe, use that. I do not soak my beans overnight, nor do I salt them until the very end.

Sort your beans and take out anything that's not a bean. Soak them overnight if you must, but I don't. It's seriously not necessary.

Get out another large pot and a 32 oz package of chicken broth. Yes, you can use bouillon and water. It's the same thing. Start the stock warming on the stove and get your veggies ready. I roughly chop an onion, a couple of jalapenos, and some parsley or cilantro if I have it. Since you just put carne guisada on the stove, you've got cilantro. Throw all of that in with the stock and add your beans. Throw in any spices (I add cumin, black pepper, and a very small amount of powdered habanero) you like EXCEPT SALT. If you salt your beans right now they can turn out hard later and that's no bueno.

Here's where I vary depending on what I'm making. If I'm making refried beans, I add smoked ham hocks. If I'm making a pot of beans for my dad to enjoy, I add salt pork or bacon. If I'm making borracho or charro beans, I add bacon. Do what you want, but know that if you're making refried beans you're going to have to pull the beans out later without as much of the chunky stuff. An alternative with the bacon is to cook it in a pan with some onions and peppers and then puree that in a blender or food processor and add it to the cooking beans.

If you're adding salt pork, then score the rind and toss it in. If you're using bacon, cut it into pieces and throw it in. If you're using ham hocks (for the love of little green men, use smoked!) just toss them in.

Bring this to a boil for at least an hour if you didn't soak your beans. If you soaked your beans, bring it to a boil and then reduce that to a simmer for several hours. I cook mine the same amount of time as the carne guisada. Stir them occasionally and add water if the liquid gets too low.

If you are making refried beans:

Using a slotted spoon, scoop as many of the beans into a hot cast-iron skillet as you can. Then use a potato masher to smash them all to hell. Stir them and add a little of the bean liquid to make them smooth out. If you used ham hocks, make sure not to get too many big chunks of the meat. Small chunks are fine as they'll fall apart and mash just fine. Careful of the bones! When the beans are the consistency you like, turn off the heat and serve.

The Tortillas

You will need:

2 ½ c all purpose flour (you can do this with whole wheat as well, or half all-purpose and half whole wheat)2 ½ t baking powder1 t salt½ c lard or shortening PLUS 2 T1 c hot water (HOT, not boiling)

In a mixing bowl, add the flour, baking powder, and salt and stir it to combine. Cut in the lard or shortening with a pastry cutter - it will cut in very easily - until the chunks are pea-sized.

Mix in the water until a dough forms. IT WILL BE STICKY. Knead the dough in the bowl (I turn the dough over and rotate the bowl to knead, no need to dirty a counter for this) until it's less sticky. Your hand will be mostly clean when the dough is ready, and it will have cleaned the sides of the bowl. If it seems to be extremely sticky, add in more flour a tablespoon at a time.

Now cover it and let it sit for an hour. Go run a load of laundry all the way through. The dough will not rise, it just needs to rest.

Go and pull off chunks of the dough and make dough balls. I generally make about a dozen and a half tortillas out of one batch, and those are big fluffy tortillas. If you prefer smaller, thinner tortillas, make more balls. Place the balls on some parchment paper, cover, and let rest for another half hour or so.

Now's where it gets messy. On a well floured surface with a well floured rolling pin, roll the dough balls into something that resembles a tortilla. If you prefer thinner tortillas, here's where you want to roll them out really thin. If you like big fluffy tortillas, don't roll them out so thin. Don't be discouraged if they come out looking like an amoeba, you'll get better at making circles with practice. The key is to lift the dough and rotate it fairly often. If you're used to rolling out circles of dough, this should be a cinch.

Heat a pan on the stove til it's hot. You're going to be cooking these on a dry skillet. I have a flat cast-iron pan I use to cook my tortillas. Slap the tortilla onto the hot surface and watch in wonder as it bubbles. Flip it and cook the other side. You're going for a nice golden to dark brown color where the dough bubbled, not black. If your pan isn't hot enough, the tortilla will still cook but it will be pale. These are called "tester tortillas" and are meant to be eaten by the cook as a way to sustain their energy as they stand over a hot stove cooking tortillas. You'll get the hang of it and your tortillas will be fine. It's hard to ruin them, really, unless you burn it. Everybody burns at least one, it's no big deal.

Put your cooked tortillas into a tortilla warmer (with a paper towel to catch the steam so they don't get soggy) or place them on a tea towel and fold it over. Serve warm with... everything.

Note that once you feed your family or friends fresh homemade tortillas, those flavorless circles of cardboard you can buy in the store will not compare.

I have made the dough up to three days in advance and kept it in the fridge. It's handy when you only need a few tortillas at a time but don't want to cook the whole batch at once. I have not frozen the dough, so I don't know what would happen if you tried it.

The Rice

Author's Note: This is my method of cooking Mexican rice. It may not be your method, or you may just not like Mexican rice. I prefer to serve rice with my carne guisada as it tames some of the heat and I just like rice.

1 to 1 ½ c white rice1 can tomato sauce¼ c chopped onion1 chopped red bell pepper¼ cup corn (optional, for those of you out there that like more than rice in your rice)¼ c peas (optional, for those of you out there trying to force more veggies down your family's throat... like me)Some chicken stock, I eyeball this, so I don't have a measurement for you type-A's out there. I'd guess about a cup.Salt to taste

In a skillet, toast the rice with a tablespoon or so of oil. Olive oil, vegetable oil, fancy-pants safflower oil, doesn't matter.

When the rice starts turning a toasty color and smells... toasty, add in the tomato sauce and the veggies. Stir it around so the rice is nice and coated in the tomato sauce, add enough chicken stock (yes, you can add water but come on! Chicken stock has so much more flavor!) to cover the rice and bring it to a simmer. Cook about 20 minutes, or until the rice is cooked. Yes, you will have to taste it.

Bonus Salsa Recipes

Roasted Pepper Salsa

2 poblano peppers1 serrano pepper1 jalapeno pepper2-3 tomatillos½ an onionjuice of 1-2 limessalt to taste

Preheat your broiler.*

Cut the stems off the peppers, slice them in half and remove the seeds. Place them cut side down on a pan.

Remove the husks from the tomatillos and rinse the sticky off of them. Cut them in half and place them cut side down on the pan with the peppers.

Slice and onion into rings. I used half an onion for this recipe, but a whole onion would be fine. If you're using half, cut it into half-rings. Place these on the pan with everything else.

Place the pan on the top rack of your oven right under the broiler. Roast the veggies until they're blistered and black, checking often. The tomatillos will be very juicy, so beware of hot squirting juices! Turn the onions so both sides get charred.

Toss everything into a blender or food processor, squeeze the lime juice into it (if you get a lime that doesn't give up a lot of juice, use two) and add a teaspoon of salt or so. I also like to add half a teaspoon of black pepper. Pulse until it's the consistency you prefer. This will keep in the fridge for about a week. If you prefer less heat, leave out the serrano.

*As an alternative, if you have a gas stove, you can char the peppers over the gas flame. It's just easier with the bulk of this recipe to put it all under the broiler.

Red Salsa

1 can whole peeled tomatoes, or 2-3 fresh tomatoes, peeled1 jalapeno1 serrano½ onionjuice of 1-2 limessalt to tastedash of sugar1 T cilantro (or to taste)1 t cumin (or to taste, I add more)

Put all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until it's the consistency you desire. This will keep in the fridge for about a week.

At this time, your carne guisada is done cooking, your beans are done cooking, and you're dead on your feet. Grab a beer and a bowl and for the love of little green men, sit down and dig in. After a full day of cooking, you deserve it.

As this is for a group of people (or a week of leftovers) figure on 2-3 tortillas per person.

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