spices

Hollandaise Sauce

Here is the post implied by the ending of the recent herb steamed asparagus post, in which I finally tried making hollandaise sauce almost but not exactly as indicated in this recipe. I had bought two bunches of asparagus, and planned to do this with the second one, just because.

Weird, right? It doesn’t smack of frugality, and I have no reason to want hollandaise, having never, as far as I can recall, eaten it before in my life.

The thing is, the perceived difficulty of cooking eggs and keeping them liquid intrigued me. The idea of mother sauces intrigues me, especially since I rock at sauces and gravies generally. The presumed similarity to making homemade mayonaise intrigues me.

Finally, it’s part of the quest to make variants of plain old asparagus.

So. The recipe. I used 4 yolks, as it said. Most recipes I perused called for 3 yolks. My eggs were extra large, for what it’s worth, not large. I’ve had a goofy little egg separator for 30+ years and, as far as I can recall, have never used it. Until now! For one egg. Which told me doing it with my hands, as I have seen TV chefs do, was vastly better. The gadget was too small, and failed to separate the white as fully or quickly as my fingers. I saved the whites for another experiment, in a cake, since it was my birthday and I am the cook here.

I got about 3 tablespoons of juice from a lemon I had remembered to buy for the purpose, and used one for the hollandaise. See the aforementioned cake for the fate of the rest.

Now, every other recipe I looked at called either for (mostly) a tablespoon of water or (less often) a tablespoon of cream. Or maybe it was milk. This recipe had neither, but I used water anyway, and good thing. I could see it being even better with cream or milk.

I used salted butter. I do not as a rule have unsalted in the house. I buy it if I plan something I know calls for it, and care enough to comply. Some recipes specify unsalted. Some do not. I melted it carefully in the microwave, managing to come out with a complete melt that was no more than room temperature. In just one place I saw mention that sometimes clarified butter is used in hollandaise. I thought that sounded right, so as best I could, I mostly skimmed off the foamy milk solids. (If, like me until relatively recently, you have no idea what is meant by “clarified butter,” that’s all it is: melted butter with the light colored scum you see floating on top skimmed off. It sounds fancier and more intimidating than it is.)

The pinches of salt and cayenne were as directed, though I went very light on the salt, considering the salted butter.

The recipe describes the lemon juice and yolk mixture doubling in volume. I’m not sure mine doubled, though my dubiousness was mooted by seeing that it did increase in volume.

The method described for using a stainless steel pan with a saucepan is great as a makeshift double boiler. Granted, doing this made me pine for a double boiler, and I even found that there are pans sold that come with both steamer and double boiler insets. I checked, since logic suggested the possibility to me.

I would emphasize that pretty much continuous light whisking/stirring is imperative to keep the egg from cooking into solids. It has to cook as a liquid. When it was obviously done, I set the metal bowl into another bowl with shallow, cool water in it. That arrested the cooking process. Shortly after, I changed the water for warm so the sauce wouldn’t get too cold.

I steamed the asparagus with herbs, but less strongly than I had the first time. I thought the flavor would go well, even though the sauce would add flavor and a change of texture profile. That sounds all fancy.

The result?

It was tasty, but too lemony for me. I can’t imagine it is meant to taste that lemony. It was a bit thicker than perhaps is ideal. And that’s with the water the recipe didn’t include! I could have put in a tiny bit more to thin it, but didn’t bother. If I make it again, I would start by reducing the lemon. I would probably use milk or cream instead of water. I might experiment with seasoning the sauce. Heck, I’d be interested in using the basic technique for an eggy sauce to diverge into doing my own thing entirely.

Was it hard to make? No. I didn’t find it tricky at all. I can see how it could go terribly wrong, sure. But I had perceived the making of a sauce in which eggs are cooked liquid to be extremely difficult. Anyone paying adequate attention could do it. Now I know.

Herb Steamed Asparagus

I love asparagus. It’s expensive, except briefly each year, when it’s more affordably expensive. I usually buy some then, having it once or twice a year. One of the kids eats some, but basically it’s exclusive to me. All the less incentive to buy it much.

It was on sale at Hannaford for $1.99/lb in time for Easter, so I got two of the standard bunches, super fresh.

Normally I steam it. When I was young, there was no steaming. You put veggies in water and boiled them into submission. I might still be doing that if my uncle hadn’t gifted me a small steamer pan some sixteen years ago. Asparagus can also be roasted/grilled, or can be sauteed/stir fried. I tried the frying pan with lots of butter and some seasoning method last year. It was good, though could have stood some improvement.

I started out planning simply to steam it, going medium-old school. Then I had an idea!

I put half the asparagus from one bunch into the steamer basket. I sprinkled that semi-liberally with tarragon, dill and celery seeds. I added the other half of the asparagus. I topped that with smaller amounts more of dill and tarragon, plus some black pepper and a little salt. Steamed until done as normal.

The asparagus smelled great cooking as a result of the herbs. Might not have hurt that it was exceptional asparagus, not at all bitter. Better still, it was fantastic! Normally I would slather asparagus with butter, maybe some salt and pepper, but it stood by itself, infused with seasoning in the cooking.

The choice of herbs was purely what sounded right to me, not a recipe or something I’d read. Your mileage and herb choices may vary. I mean, not everyone has tarragon or dill on hand! I’m blessed with a crazy big collection of seasonings. The tarragon was part of a gift pack of Penzey’s herbs, or I might never have bought any even now. I’ve found limited uses for it. I can be good on eggs, obviously with certain veggies, and the best thing I’ve done with it before the asparagus, in making potato soup. The dill I use more regularly. I am not a fan of dill or sour pickles. Sweet for me! However, it’s good in certain gravy applications. I make something I call faux Stroganoff, or a scrambled hamburger flavored the same, and dill is an important component. The sub for it, which I actually used before I had any dill, was a tiny amount of caraway seeds. I found those imparted a robustness to the gravy flavor. But I digress.

Highly recommended. I used the same method for the second batch of asparagus I made, but less heavily seasoned, and that’s a different experiment and post…

Unexpect Food Pantry Needs

I found it interesting to see 1o Things Food Banks Need But Won’t Ask For. Spices particularly struck me, because I have thought about what if I couldn’t afford those. I mean, really couldn’t afford those. Not just name brands, less common items, or to order from Penzey’s. I can see going to Walmart and buying a bunch of their 50 cent, perfectly good garlic salt and garlic powder to donate, or going to Job Lot and buying a bunch of their $1 spices, most of which are just fine (poultry seasoning is an exception). When I was single, I pretty much used Italian seasoning, garlic powder, cinnamon, chili powder, and not much else. Just hadn’t explored enough yet, or learned the joys of cumin or allspice. One can go far on the few basics, plus salt and black pepper. The chocolate also struck me. Made me wish I could buy hundreds of chocolate bars to donate to the local pantry. Which is funny, since it would be entirely appropriate for us to use their services, and donating is well above our means for now. Socks? Paper goods? Baby stuff? Who’d have thought of that!

Storing Cilantro

This year I attempted to grow some herbs, of which the most successful was cilantro. Which at this point is flowering prolifically, in an attempt to become coriander. I started the stuff inside, then planted it in front of my building, for lack of a better place, in not very good soil, in a sunny location. Cilantro thrived, relatively, and a basil plant survived but is tiny. The basil I want to transplant into a pot for the winter. I may do that with cilantro, but it’s kind of tall. In fact, it seemed to have gotten tall and flowered over producing nice leaves, so more of the leaves look feathery than I might have expected.

I don’t have a lot of use for it, in any event. I’ve used a little already. It’s so strong, it goes a long way. I would never have gotten interested, but one time I tried fish tacos. The cilantro on those was so good, I figured I had missed something. My previous experience with it was a jar of dry, part of a big spice set I was giving years ago. The cilantro may as well have been dried grass clippings. No scent. No discernable flavor effect on food. Apparently it is particularly prone to lose flavor when dried. Or so I learned when I searched for info on drying it, finding that freezing is recommended as an alternative.

This morning I picked one stalk, the only one not flowering, brought it in, and trimmed the leaves/small stems off the stalk to freeze. We’ll see what happens, but hey, the same thing has come in handy with onions. Perhaps I’ll do another plant dried, just to see what happens, and let one go to seed – if it can before the frost – to get coriander. I grew coriander once, in my teens, before I’d ever heard of cilantro or been aware anything but the seeds could be eaten. I had no use for it beyond it was an herb and I planted an herb garden. I decided I wasn’t keen on coriander at the time, based on the smell of the seeds and how the scent clung to my hands.

Anyway, in the future I am more likely to buy herbs already started, since it was sketchy starting them from seed. If I do plant seeds, I’ll toss them in the ground outside, see what happens and not expect much, rather than undergoing what proved to be a devastating transplanting process.

I love the idea of fresh basil, but the thing I want the most is fresh rosemary. That sprouted reluctantly, but did not survive. I’ll eventually just buy some in a pot, cutting to the chase.

Growing Herbs

As much as an experiment for the kids as for practical reasons, I bought seeds and attempted to grow rosemary, savory and cilantro. I could barely afford the seeds, and have no place reasonably available outside. When I unearthed an old bag of potting soil from where I’d stored it, I finally planted a few seeds of each in three old tea cups. Not exactly ideal.

The results so far: rosemary never even attempted to sprout. Savory sprouted, but put out shoots so long and sensitive they promptly died back down. Cilantro seems to be coming forth robustly enough to survive, and a handful of plants sprouted. I’ll need better conditions for it to transplant into, obviously.

Anyone have experience growing these or other herbs inside? Or outside?

In reality, I once grew cilantro, before I’d ever heard of cilantro, in the late seventies, outside the kitchen door of the house where I grew up. I grew it as coriander, and learned I found the smell of the coriander seeds disgusting and tenacious on my hands. It, mint, and parsley, if I recall correctly, all grew like weeds, no problems at all. At the time, it was a matter of curiosity. I was into gardening then, but not cooking.

I’m dubious as to the value of doing this for any kind of savings. Not without a yard and an herb garden. And not as compared to dried, bottled, commercial product when comparing just money and effort. Maybe not even compared to fresh, which I have never bought and used.

I had some dried cilantro for a while. It smelled like dried grass and seemed to add nothing to food. I wondered what the fuss was. Until I had some fresh in fish tacos and it was delicious.

I’ll probably keep it to this and not much else, but I’d be intrigued to try growing some others eventually…

Chili and Refried Beans

Sharon has what sounds like a tasty and easy chili recipe, complete with actual measurements. I notice it doesn’t call for chili powder, but you’ll note that it includes all the components of chili powder: cumin, cayenne pepper, garlic and oregano. I also love cornbread with chili. Her post and the cold weather inspired me to make some last night, even if it is nontraditional with pasta and red sauce. The kids just love it, until they get full and merely turn it into tiny crumbs.

I made my version of chili the other day and meant to write about it, so I thought it was funny we were doing unplanned chili synchronization between households.

First a bit about history.

Once upon a time, I used to make what I call faux chili based on cheap cans of Campbell’s Pork & Beans. Which isn’t so odd, in that they are pinto beans in a tomato-based sauce, and chili seems to be made normally with pinto and/or kidney beans. I considered it both tasty and part of eating cheap, which will be the topic of another post Real Soon Now. Let’s just say I didn’t know from eating cheap, and didn’t know at the time that cans of those beans on sale 3 or 4 to a dollar was not that cheap.

Back then, I’d cook up some pepper and onion if I had it, ground beef, toss in beans, season it mainly with chili powder, add some ketchup and a squirt of yellow mustard, add sugar or brown sugar as needed, and serve it to myself for 2 or 3 big meals. It was quite good. I believe I also used tomato paste at least sometimes.

Lately I’ve discovered the joys of dry beans, taking it back closer to scratch and being really cheap. When I knew I was spending my last cash for probably a couple weeks on stocking up groceries last week (except a little reserved for milk and a few other run-outs), knowing the rate we’d been using them and comparing the unit price, I bought a 64 oz. bag of pinto beans instead of the customary one or two 16 oz bags.

Dry beans require planning. You can’t get to 5:00 or 6:00 and say “hey, let’s have beans!” We put them in a pot of water, bring it to a boil, then turn them off and let the gassiness soak out of the beans for an hour or more before draining them and adding fresh water for the actual cooking.

At that point you have beans on their way to ready for whatever you mean to make. Heck, you could serve just beans with some butter, salt and pepper on them, the way my father loves shell beans. When I set out to make chili, I wasn’t sure if it would be truly ready on time, and even if so, we would also want refried beans around in the next couple days for burritos.

I cooked 16 oz. of beans, 2 cups dry, and when they were cooked enough, I took two cups or so wet out of the pan, and some of the water as needed, for refried beans.

For the refried beans, I actually used a medium sauce pan. I threw in a generous chunk of butter (probably 3 tablespoons), cooked a handful of chopped fresh garlic, onion and green pepper, all of which are optional or could be replaced with dry seasonings. All you really need is beans, if you want nothing more than their yummy flavor. What I missed is an effective masher, and I’d not cooked the beans to the point of mush before splitting them for refried and chili.

When the flavoring veggies were cooked right (translucent onions, for instance), I threw in the beans, did a lot of smooshing and stirring as best I could, adding liquid as needed to keep them from being too stiff and dry to work with or to cook without burning. I also added I forget what else, but mainly cumin, not a lot, and possibly some red pepper, cilantro or oregano. The beans came out tasting mostly like beans, to give some idea; more enhanced than flavored. They were absolutely fantastic and got raves. We did indeed have burritos that night and let the chili simmer longer. It was interesting making two suppers at once, but a huge treat not cooking the second day.

The stiff texture of the beans made me picture making sandwiches based on them. I figured mix a small amount of finely shredded meat in with them, maybe use meat broth to imbue them with meat flavor, and there you’d have a serious meat stretcher or substitute. Which means I just reinvented the idea of falafel, sort of.

Back to the chili…

My new favorite thing to do is make chili not with expensive ground beef, but with the cheapest on sale beef, like top round for London broil at $1.69 or whatever. By comparison, I recently bought 90% ground beef and by buying it in a 6.67 lb package at BJ’s got the remarkably low price of $2.29. Chili would be fine with the fattier ground beef, fortunately, but we normally buy and freeze one kind and use as needed, rather than running to the store specifically for a variant for a meal we decided to make.

I cut the beef into small chunks and add it to a frying pan with, optionally, stuff like chopped garlic, pepper and onion. I add spices to it, or to the butter before it goes in, including but not always celery flakes, cilantro, red pepper, black pepper, paprika, allspice, ginger, cumin, oregano, and chili powder. Without the real versions added, that would include garlic and onion. I basically stir regularly and cook until done, letting some of the juice cook off but keeping some.

If I ever remember, I will probably throw a small amount of vinegar in with the meat not long after it starts cooking.

In the meantime, I’ve thrown some chili powder and maybe other spices into the beans. Tomato-based stuff can go in before or after the meat. I normally use tomato paste, as small can, and ketchup, using more as needed later to adjust the flavor. Diced tomato, tomato soup, or whatever would work, depending what you have and what you like. The beauty of chili is it’s highly variable and a matter of taste.

A little vinegar can be good, giving it added tang, especially if you are not using ketchup, or have too little ketchup on hand. I keep forgetting until the chili is well underway, and then this time I added too much. The small dribble turned into a good sized glug. It didn’t ruin the chili, but it added more tang than I planned and needed to cook and soak in far longer to balance the flavor.

After everything is mixed together, it’s just cook, stir, taste, adjust as needed. I normally throw in a not insignificant amount of brown and/or white sugar. I normally add more chili powder at least once, and perhaps other spices depending how strong the flavor seems. If you get it too spicy, it remains too spicy, but at least sugar tends to ease the bite.

What amounts to no more than 3/4 of a 16 oz. bag of beans and no more than 2 lbs of beef makes us two good meals. It can be served with shredded cheese, a dab of sour cream, tortilla chips, bread and butter, or corn bread as mentioned earlier. It can be made thinner or thicker. It can be made in greater or lesser proportions of beef to beans. It can be made hotter or milder. Whatever I start with, mine tends to come out in a particular taste range, frankly almost identical to the taste I used to achieve starting with Campbell’s beans and owning a smaller variety of spices. I haven’t tried it on hot dogs yet…

I actually have pictures off the camera in time to use them in the actual post. Some orphan pictures should follow today in their own post. I had some fun with raw ingredient or cooking stage pictures this time around, just plain trying to get interesting pictures.

Partially cooked and then mostly done refried beans:

The chili, done or near the end:

Shredded Pork Tacos

Okay, I have mention a couple topics I was going to talk about once I felt I had time. Close enough.

First, shredded pork tacos, as shown in this pictorial. The kids normally get the various ingredients loose on their plate, which is handy for pictures that show said ingredients.

Here is the recipe as originally found [dead link – glad I replicated the recipe below] here:

4 Flour tortillas (or taco shells)
1 Cup chicken broth
1/2 Cup enchilada sauce
1 Boneless pork roast 2 1/2 lbs
Choice of toppings such as shredded cheese, lettuce, tomato, olives (ick), avocado, sour cream, or presumably anything else you might think is appropriate.

Trim the fat and put the pork in a crockpot, add broth, and cook on low 8 – 10 or high 4 – 5 hours.

Remove meat and discard broth. Shred meat. Put 2 cups of the meat in a medium saucepan, mixing with the enchilada sauce and heat on low to medium heat until hot.

Heat the tortillas or taco shells as needed and assemble as desired, like any other taco.

I was tempted to experiment, but I stuck with the recipe as closely as I could. In my case, “chicken broth” meant a single chicken bullion cube dissolved in a cup of hot water (I fill a Pyrex cup and microwave 2 minutes, then drop in the cube).

In my case, I had five frozen pork loin steaks that came to about the right weight, which it turned out made exactly two batches of meat filling. I used the crockpot on high about four hours, flipping the meat a few times.

The pork came out tasty but extremely salty. Probably salt content of the bullion combined with the cooking method soaking it in so well.

I had a 10 oz can of I forget which brand of enchilada sauce. That made half a can close enough to what the recipe required for each batch. I would imagine brands of the sauce vary. I can see why you’d use it as a quickie surrogate for the type of liquid and spices you’d use in traditional taco meat.

We used our standard burrito size flour tortillas, which we heat on a round flat pan, flipping a time or three as needed. When I start burning my fingers, it’s hot enough. Heh. You can tell, and it’s a matter of taste whether you want only to soften, or to crisp them slightly. The former is more traditional, but kids happen.

I shredded a bunch of cheese. For this sort of thing we usually do a mix of Monterey jack and medium cheddar, but it depends what we have. The second night of these it was mostly a Colby/jack marbled cheese that’s tasty on crackers. The anti-veggie crowd might stop there, or there plus sour cream.

We had lettuce and tomato on hand, so I cut up some of that. The girls have a surprising love of that stuff, especially tomato.

We put it together and it was fantastic. It tasted oddly similar to something you’d eat at Taco Bell. Fascinating.

Which makes me think of my reaction when I bought cumin for the first time. Cumin smells like Taco Bell. So I assumed cumin is an ingredient of enchilada sauce and… Helllloooo Google!… I looked it up and sure enough, it is. In fact, my impression is that enchilada sauce is essentially Mexican gravy. Some recipes call for tomato sauce. Others don’t. They all call for oil, flour, water or beef stock, and spices, prepared similarly to the way I would make gravy. Go figure.

Anyway, I was looking at recipes for barbecue shredded pork when I found the taco recipe. Those are an interesting and varied lot. I’ll want to try the taco variant again, but in a more do-it-yourself, experimental way. I’d also like to try the barbecue variant, which I should be able to pretty much make up as I go along. I wouldn’t object if anyone has a good recipe to share, though.

On a final note, some of the barbecue shredded pork recipes actually call for cloves. I’m intrigued by that. I have some whole cloves and would love to use them more. They smell divine. I had thought of them as being much stronger and more bitter than these give the impression of being. I could see it being good, imbuing the pork with a hint of cloves to work with the relatively strong flavor of barbecue sauce.

Herbs and Spices

Just a short note about my writing conventions here. You will see me say “spices” generically to mean both herbs and spices, which are technically two different things. However, they are both flavoring or taste enhancing ingredients used in cooking or embellishing food, achieving the same result. So please bear with me when I shorthand them, much as I might say “his” to mean “his or hers” or “people’s” generically.

Way Too Many Words About Italian Seasoning

Making spaghetti with red sauce last night made me think about Italian seasoning.

I start with jar sauce, usually Francesco Rinaldi. Wal-Mart’s store brand works too, but requires modification, whereas if I had to I could eat the name brand as is. That used to be the case for my long time favorite, Prego, preferably the chunky garden veggie variety, but a while back they changed the flavor for the far worse and sent me wandering in the sauce wilderness.

Generally I am taking a pound of ground beef, less if it’s all I have, crumbling it into a pan with a little butter and spices, cooking it up, dumping the sauce in, stirring, simmering, and further flavoring to taste. It’s never exactly the same, but it’s always good, and always within a certain range.

Anyway, a key ingredient is Italian seasoning. Was what is The Matrix Italian seasoning?

Apparently that’s a matter of opinion or taste, within a certain range. I have two brands. One is better, and the list of ingredients differs.

Before I go on, let me note that I am not at all a snob about premixed convenience mixtures of seasoning. Heck, that’s what chili powder is. Not to mention curry powder, which I don’t own (though I think I have all the component ingredients to make my own) but I know many people do. Pumpkin pie spice. Apple pie spice. Garam masala. Celery salt. Garlic salt. Pickling spice. Lemon pepper. You name it.

The Italian I use most is a plastic bottle by McCormick, subtitled “Classic Herbs.” When I open and sniff it, the smell makes me think of two or three herbs that each have a similar smell. Sure enough, one of those is first on the list, which goes:
Marjoram, thyme, rosemary, savory, sage, oregano, and basil.

The alternate Italian was part of a round spice rack, an awesome gift from my in-laws, and is one of twenty spice bottles that came with it. Speaking of Italian, we’ve entirely used and refilled the oregano bottle since getting the set.

When I open and sniff that Italian, it smells of basil. Which you’d think would make me prefer it, as basil has a sweeter taste. Perhaps I’ve been misguided all this time. Anyway, sure enough, the list on that bottle goes:
Basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, and garlic.

The difference is in the lack of sage, which I think of as more of a poultry seasoning, and savory, and the addition of garlic, which I happily add – but not always, and not necessarily in large amounts – myself.

Interestingly, I’ve cooked things like what I call random chicken with exactly the spices in the McCormick Italian, except the basil. Well, except I usually include red pepper, black pepper, ginger, and maybe things like celery. Which is why I’ve taken to sometime sprinkling in a bit of that, as well as whatever individual items I include.

None of the above tells us the proportions of the ingredients in the Italian seasonings, but it’s easy to imagine mixing and matching to create your own to taste. Or skipping the blend and using the separate ingredients. In my sauce, I usually use one or more of the individual ones to modify the flavor anyway.

Still, I’m likely to buy more of the McCormick after it runs out. Too convenient, and it has an excellent flavor. I’ve used it to season chicken that was fried, or baked with a crumb coating, and in other things. Makes me wonder how many other variants on “Italian seasoning” exist in the world.

Burritos

[Edited]

One thing we eat all the time is burritos and related items. They’re easy, flexible and tasty.

The ingredients start with flour tortillas. These can be from the store, or they can be homemade. For the former, we prefer Manny’s brand Market Basket’s store brand. Usually it’s the burrito size, but the smaller ones work fine too. For the latter, we naturally like Mama Jedi’s Flour Tortillas. These are much tastier than store bought, if a lot less uniform.

That is perhaps all that is consistent about the ingredients here, though cheese is also customary. I could imagine leaving it out if there were no cheese or you were not a cheese eater (the youngest is not a cheese eater in some contexts, despite outgrowing the dairy allergy, and this is one of them). Thus the list of ingredients is mix ‘n’ match, with some combos more likely than others. Possible ingredients are:

Meat – Chicken, Steak, or Hamburger. Presumably pork, venison, etc. could work too.
Cheese – Usually shredded with a grater, normally some combination of cheddar and/or jack.
Refried beans, usually canned but can be homemade easily and cheaply.
Shredded lettuce
Chopped tomato
Corn
Rice
Sour Cream

I’ve also tried adding salsa, and if you were fanatical about onions or such those could work.

Corn or rice are potential sides, as well as potential ingredients [in practice those have become primary, due to preference of the kids, and we have abandoned lettuce and tomato for the most part]. We are more likely to use them if we don’t have beans, lettuce or tomato, or have eaten too many beans too recently.

For chicken, I thaw if needed, cut into small pieces or strips, and cook them in butter or oil I’ve heated with spices. Cook until somewhere between done enough to eat and crisped fairly well. Spices vary to taste. More can be added later in the frying. Typically I use black pepper, red pepper, garlic powder, cumin, cilantro, and a touch of powdered ginger. [I don’t remember ever using ginger! I do use Turkish oregano, which I prefer to Mexican oregano despite the context. Sometimes also paprika or chili powder in modest amounts. Amounts vary depending which meat. I sometimes add a tiny bit of powdered cloves to burger, but would never add that to chicken. Also, I left out salt.] Only the first two are what I would consider absolutes. You can also use chili powder instead or in addition. that is essentially a mix of red pepper, cumin and garlic, though somehow with a distinctive flavor I don’t seem to get from combining the individual items. You can also use some oregano, some celery flakes [I don’t remember ever doing this, though with chicken it could work] or salt, or a touch of allspice [applies more to beef, just as with cloves]. That’s just what I have tried or what comes readily to mind; the sky is the limit. You could make a more traditional poultry spiced chicken to serve in wraps with other ingredients; use the tortilla as a delivery system without pretending to be Mexican about the flavor.

For steak, I thaw if needed and then fry it whole. I either spice the butter or apply a dry rub. The dry rub came out so amazing when I tried it recently that it is likely to become my method of choice. The spices are similar to what I’d use for chicken, but stronger to be able to penetrate. You could use a grill if you have one, make a marinade, pretty much do whatever you want. Cook to your preference. I like steak well done [I’ve become less vehement but still prefer it not too rare], but it’s better if you get it off the heat still slightly pink, or at least not too overcooked. I slice it into thin/small pieces and try to ditch any fat or gristle you’d not want to run into while chewing.

For hamburger, I spice the butter [actually, I don’t normally use any butter, especially for fatty burger, and I just spice the meat], crumble in the burger and cook it up as if I were going to make scrambled hamburger, or were doing the initial prep for a store bought taco making kit. Speaking of which, taco seasoning from one of those would also work [turned out the kids hated commercial taco mix compared to my own], with or without other spices, especially in the hamburger variant. Hamburger can be stirred into the beans if you’re using them, or used as a separate ingredient. You may want to add a dribble of water to the beans to thin them and let the meat mix better. The result can also be served with tortilla chips, rather than as a burrito filling.

Chop, grate, and heat as appropriate for the other ingredients of your choice. A can of refried beans – we have a mild preference for Old El Paso, with Taco Bell probably second, but none we’ve tried are actually bad, and we prefer traditional, but low fat/no fat/vegetarian labeled ones can be okay – heats up quick in a saucepan. [We’ve come to prefer Ortega, which conveniently cost the least, at least at Market Basket.]

You’ll want a big flat frying pan. We have a round one, flat like a griddle, the kind of thing good for pancakes, which is perfect. Use that to heat your tortillas one at a time. Call it medium heat. Lay it down, give it a moment, flip it over, give it another moment. If it starts to have pockets inflate with hot air, it’s probably ready to flip or remove. The goal is to warm and soften, unless you like them crisped a bit. You can use the microwave, but they aren’t as good that way.

With the ingredients and tortillas at the ready, everyone can start piling on whatever they like. If it’s with beans, I usually put beans, meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato if available, and sour cream. Speaking of which, we’ve found sour cream is best served with a small plastic “baby” spoon, to get dabs the right size. If there’s no beans, usually I’d smear on sour cream, add meat, rice and/or corn, and cheese.

Fold up the tortilla around the fillings, burrito style, or fold it like a taco if you like. Leftover meat, beans or cheese can be used to make quesadillas the next day.

The beauty of all this is it needn’t be spicy. When I make it, it’s usually less spicy than it probably sounds. Or you can make it more spicy. You can make them more or less meaty. You can make them vegetarian-ish, using just beans plus other ingredients. In fact, bean burritos are quite good, and can be faster to prepare.

Do you make anything similar to these? Any ingredients I’ve overlooked or ideas I’ve not tried?