Life Changes and Mexican (aka, Spanish) Rice

It seems like forever since the last time I was in the kitchen or  blogged.  Life has gotten in the way.  It’s been busy and filled with lots of changes, all for the better, of course.

I had been experiencing this quarter-life existential crises over the last six months, and I couldn’t pinpoint exactly what was causing all this turmoil within myself.  After some serious soul searching, I realized that I was feeling unchallenged and bored with my current job.  My dream job.  The job that challenged me.  Excited me.  I actually looked forward to going to work.  I’m not kidding.  The job was perfect for me.  I get bored easily, it’s just my personality.  But this job kept me on my toes, and challenged me minute-to-minute, hour-to-hour, and day-to-day.  It was a fast-paced environment with very little down time.  I didn’t think I was ever wanted to leave this job.  Ever.  If you asked me five years ago what my five year career goal was going to be, I’d quickly respond with my current job.  Patient care was my thing.

So as you can see, I really struggled with the idea of no longer feeling satisfied by my job.  I felt like I was (and still am) letting down my mentor who I admire, and helped mold me into the clinician that I am today.  I didn’t want to accept the idea of needing to find another job.  I thought this unsettled feeling of my career would pass with time, and so I let time pass.

Well, time didn’t resolve my problem.  As my lucky stars would have it, while at a mutual friend’s wedding, my coworker’s husband mentioned his company was looking to hire.  This intrigued me.  A light bulb went off and I realized that I needed a new career move.  So I applied for two completely different jobs within the pharmacy sector, and I recently accepted the position as a pharmacy IS (information systems) specialist within the company I currently work for.  I start my new position in a month and a half.

The job will be VERY different from what I do now.  I’m going to be a pharmacy computer geek, and I’m so excited by this!  It’s certainly going to challenge me in a whole different way, and I know it’s going to require a lot of my time and attention.  I won’t be involved in direct patient care, which doesn’t bother me anymore.  I’m actually relieved of not being heavily involved with patient care.  Patient care has burnt me out, as well as the nature of the emergency room, and long hospital work hours.

Let’s see, other changes… my brother and sister-in-law will be moving to Zurich, Switzerland, for amazing job opportunities to advance their careers.  They have committed to a two year contract.  So not only did we get the keys to their amazing condo in Manhattan, but we also get a free place to stay when we visit them next summer.  Viva la Europe!

And last but not least, my partner has decided to pursue a second Master’s degree, this time in fine arts.  She current has her Masters in special education, but her passion has always been art.  She’s a talented painter, and would benefit greatly with a MFA.  So, she’s planning to apply for the upcoming 2012 school year.  What does this mean for us?  Well, back for another long distance relationship.  Hopefully, she’ll only be 2.5 hours away.

Too many changes.  I wanted some comfort food today, and Mexican food was what I needed.

What are your comfort foods?

Mexican Rice

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cups long grain rice
1 yellow onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups fresh tomatoes, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
3/4 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt

Heat oil in a large skillet, and brown rice over medium high heat. Add onion and garlic, and saute, stirring frequently for about five minutes, or until the onions have softened.

Add chicken broth, tomatoes, cumin, chili powder, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until the rice is tender and liquid has been absorbed, about 20 minutes.  Fluff the rice when the rice is cooked, and then cover with the lid for another five minutes.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

What’s in a name and spicy barbacoa beef tacos with cabbage and jalapeno-cilantro aioli

I think I can safely say that most people know their drugs by the most common brand or generic names (i.e., Tylenol, Motrin, Sudafed, Vicodin, levothyroxine, etc).  But did you know that medications actually have not two, but three names?  Yes.  That’s right.  THREE.

If it isn’t already hard enough to remember the names of the brand and generic names, let alone pronouncing the generic names (i.e., acridinyl anisidide… try saying that 5 times).  But there is actually a third name just to confuse you even more. Each drug has a brand name (or proprietary name), generic name (or non-proprietary name), and lastly, the chemical name.

The chemical names are derived from rules established by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC).  The rules allow chemists and scientists to name it so that any other chemists/scientists can identify the structure based on the chemical name.  To simplify the chemical name is where the generic name comes into the picture.  So when a drug manufacturer develops a new drug, they start with the chemical name, give it a generic name, and then a brand name.

Check this:

Chemical name: 1-[4-ethoxy-3-(6,7-dihydro-1-methyl-
7-oxo-3-propyl-1H-pyrazolo[4,3-d]pyrimidin-5-yl)
phenylsulfonyl]-4-methylpiperazine
Generic name: Sildenafil citrate
Brand name: Viagra

Such a long and hard chemical name, right?  No pun intended.  Okay, maybe just a little bit.  Heehee :)

This is an interesting lesson, right?  Or maybe not?  I can geek out on this stuff all day, which is probably a good thing being a pharmacist and all.

Alright, enough of the boring stuff.  Let’s get to the good stuff!…

Barbacoa Beef Tacos with Cabbage and Jalapeno-Cilantro Aioli (adapted from Food.People.Want)

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons lime juice
4 canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
3 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 teaspoons dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt or 2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons olive oil oil
4 pounds boneless chuck roast, excess fat removed
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
4 bay leaves
Jalapeno-Cilantro Aioli
Cabbage
Warm tortillas

Preheat the oven to 275°.

Combine the apple cider vinegar, lime juice, chipotle chiles WITH adobo sauce, garlic cloves, cumin, oregano, clove, black pepper and salt in the bowl of a food processor or blender and puree until completely smooth. Set aside.

Dry the roast all over with paper towels, cut away any excess fat and slice the meat into 4 evenly sized pieces. Heat the 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a very large, oven-proof pot set over high heat. Working in batches, sear the beef on all sides until deeply browned, about 10 minutes. [You don't want to sear all the meat at one time or else it will steam rather than sear.  You want the sear.]

Add the chicken stock first to “deglaze” the caramelized bits at the bottom of the pot, and stir for one minute.  Then add the chile puree and bay leaves to the pot and stir until the beef is well-coated, and bring to a boil.  Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking.  Reduce the heat to a simmer, about 5 minutes, and then cover the lid with tin foil and add the lid to create a very tight seal. [This is to ensure that the moisture doesn't escape too quickly during the long braising process.]  Place the pot in the oven and braise the meat for 5-6 hours, removing the lid during the last hour or so to allow the simmering liquid to reduce slightly.

Allow the beef to cool slightly, spoon off any easily removable fat from the braising liquid and then use two forks to pull/shred the beef into bite size pieces.

Serve spooned onto warm corn tortillas with cabbage and drizzled with some jalapeno-cilantro aioli, or your favorite taco toppings.

Makes about 20 tacos.

Baked Chicken Taquitos

My brother and I grew up in the back of the kitchen of our family restaurant.  No joke.  We had our own little study/play area.  It was pretty sweet, as I look back in retrospect.  [The play area, that is.  Not growing up in the back of the kitchen.] We had our own 13 inch TV with our old-school Nintendo unit hooked up to keep us entertained, out of trouble, and out of any danger from the kitchen chaos itself.  My parents had very little time to spend with us because they worked all day long.  Well, except for the fact that they still found ways to breathe down our necks to finish our daily homework assignments.  Ahh, Asian parenting.  So quality time was limited in our family.  As I was growing up, I longed for the “normal” family units that my friends had.  But my parents did their best to spend time with us.  My parents would take us to [insert fast food chain] after they closed up the restaurant for the night, order food, and we’d eat in front of the TV.  This was our way of spending quality family time.   So food, albeit it wasn’t always the healthiest, was our way to spend time together.

One fast food chain we used to frequent as a family was Jack In The Box.  Do you remember when Jack In The Box used to serve beef taquitos (and tacos)?  It was probably during the early 1990s when they rolled out with this menu item.  I can’t believe I’m going to say this, and am a little embarrassed to admit this, but I thought they were really, really tasty.  They were the perfect snacky, greasy, finger foods.  I’d ask for an order of taquitos (I think it was five taquitos to a box), and beg my parents to buy the guacamole and sour cream on the side for an additional charge.  I think Jack In The Box was my first introduction to guacamole and sour cream, and possibly even “Mexican” food.  Hysterical, yet pathetic, right?

I don’t know if they still sell them or not, but I do crave them from time-to-time, like I crave french fries from McDonald’s.  Mmmmmmm.  But I haven’t had fast food since 2006, and won’t start now.     So I’m always on the hunt for healthier alternatives…

Baked Chicken Taquitos (adapted from Our Best Bites)

1/3 cup Toffuti cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup salsa verde
1/2 lime, juiced
1 teaspoon chile powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons green onion, chopped
2 cups cooked and shredded chicken
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
10-12 (6-inch) corn tortillas
Salt, to sprinkle
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.  Line a baking sheet with foil and lightly coat with cooking spray.

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine softened cream cheese, salsa verde, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, minced garlic, cilantro, green onion.  Stir to combine.  Add chicken and shredded cheese, and combine thoroughly.  Season with salt, if necessary.

Heat corn tortillas until soft and pliable, about 30 seconds, on a plate with damp paper towels inbetween and on top of the tortillas to “steam.”   Spoon about 3 to 3 tablespoons of the filling onto the lower third of each tortilla, and roll tightly.  Place taquitos, seam-side down on the prepared baking sheet.  Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling.

Lightly spray the top of the taquitos with cooking spray, and sprinkle with salt. Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until the tortillas are crisp and golden.  Serve with your favorite salsa, guacamole, and greek yogurt.  Yum!

Makes 10 to 12 taquitos.

Spicy, Lime-y, Cilantro-y, Chunky Guacamole

I looked in my refrigerator yesterday and freaked out over all the container-filled left over foods.  Usually that’s a good thing right?  Most people probably wouldn’t get stressed out over left overs.  In fact, most people probably think it’s a good thing to have left overs.  But I have a fear of left over foods.  It all started when I moved away for Pharmacy school.  My parents would come visit me in San Francisco and would stock my refrigerator with good ol’ Mom’s home cooking.  It was truly a great and generous thing that they did.  I think they thought I was starving and/or didn’t have enough time to cook for my own.  Little did they know that I gained a lot of weight partying, and eating.  Anyhow, after they went back home, I would freak out about all the foods that I would have to eat before it spoiled.  I grew tired of left overs after 3-4 days of straight left overs.  It wasn’t even an enjoyment.  It was just a process of shoveling food down my mouth for lunch and dinner.  And trust me, I LOOOOOOOOVE my parents’ cooking!  I also hate wasting food period.  Wow.  I just went off on a tangent.

I had a lot of cilantro from over the weekend that I didn’t know what to do with.  I also had a lot of limes, tomatoes, and avocados hanging out on my kitchen counter waiting to be hacked up for my weekly sandwich wraps for work.  But the avocados and tomatoes were getting just a little ripe, and I knew I wouldn’t eat the tomatoes because I hate mushy tomatoes.  It’s true.  The texture is just gross.  Luckily, I found half of a red onion in a tupperware container in the refrigerator, and decided to make guacamole… the perfect way to NOT waste these ingredients!

Just a side note, do you remember how expensive avocados were about a decade ago or more?  I was just reminiscing recently how expensive some fruit and vegetable items were and how difficult they were to find at times.  I used to beg my parents to spend some money to buy me two or three avocados for $4 per avocado just so that I could make guacamole.  I’d maybe get to taste half an avocado once or twice a year.  But now that the prices have come down significantly, I can make guacamole any time and any day of the year.  There’s always an abundance of avocados no matter what grocery store you shop at now.  It’s absolutely wonderful and convenient.

So getting back to my original post, I love my guacamole extra lime-y.  And spicy, and chunky, and cilantro-y.  It’s the only way to eat guacamole.  No garlic, no cumin.  Just love.


Spicy, lime-y, cilantro-y, and chunky guacamole

4 avocados
2 roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1/2 red onion, minced or finely diced (about 1/2 cup)
1/3 cup cilantro, chopped
3 limes, juiced
2 jalapenos, minced (remove the seeds and pith if you don’t like it spicy)
1 teaspoon salt

Cut avocados in half, and remove seed. Scoop out avacado from the peel, put in a mixing bowl.

Using a fork or potato masher, mash the avocado, while leaving it chunky. Add the chopped red onion, cilantro, tomato, and salt. Mix together. Next add half of the lime juice, mix well, and adjust to your likings. I like a really lime-y guacamole, so three limes is perfect.

Chili peppers vary individually in their hotness, even with the seeds and pith removed. So, start with a half of one chili pepper and add to the guacamole to your desired degree of hotness.

Enjoy immediately with your favorite tortilla chips. I cut and baked my organic corn tortillas at 400 degrees in a small toaster oven for a few minutes, and they turned out perfectly.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

(Healthy) Chicken Enchilada Casserole Verdes

In my quest to make healthy, almost authentic, homemade Mexican food, I’ve thought about a few things I wanted to try.  Mostly, I’m hoping to make dishes that will satisfy and satiate my partner’s cravings for Mexican food.  If you haven’t read my two previous posts, my partner’s one vice in life is Mexican food.  I originally thought (or hoping) it was Chinese food, but have learned over the last several years that it’s Mexican food.  She is a glutton for anything Mexican, but mostly nachos, burritos, tacos, beans and rice.  She can eat Mexican food for several days in a row when she gets on her Mexican food kick.  And she’ll try to satisfy these cravings from Mexican restaurants to Taco Bell.  I know.  I know.  Taco Bell.  Sigh.  She eats very healthy majority of the time, but it’s the Taco Bell that drives me crazy.  No.  Actually, it kills me.  Like a slow painful death.  So we struck a deal as of yesterday, and that was if she stops eating Taco Bell, I’d cook her healthy Mexican food more regularly.

So I found a really tasty recipe for homemade chile verdes sauce, and had lots of leftover shredded chicken, and thought chicken enchiladas verdes would be the perfect first Mexican food dish to start off with.

Don’t let the title fool you.  I know that “healthy foods” can sometimes mean lacking flavor; however, this is anything but lacking of flavor.  This recipe beats out the chicken enchiladas verdes that I get at Mexican restaurants.

Chicken Enchiladas Verdes

24 Mission Foods’ Extra Thin Corn Tortillas (taco size)
3 chicken breasts, shredded
1 cup Cotija cheese, crumbled
6 cups homemade chili verdes sauce
2 cups shredded low-fat Mexican cheese blend
Greek yogurt (instead of sour cream), optional
Guacamole, optional

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Toss together the shredded chicken, 1/2 cup of chili verde sauce, and 1/3 cup of the Mexican cheese blend.

Spoon a thin layer of the tomatillo sauce on the bottom of the 11×7-inch baking dish.  Place 4 corn tortillas, overlapping as necessary, in the bottom of the baking dish.  Cover with one-third of the meat mixture; top with 2 cups of chili verde sauce; sprinkle with 1/3 of the cotija and shredded cheese.  Repeat layers twice, then top with remaining tortillas.  Pour chili verde sauce over tortillas; sprinkle evenly with cotija and remaining shredded cheese.  Bake at 400° for 20 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Makes 3 servings of 2 casserole squares each.

Calories per serving: 400 calories

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