Part of an occasional series about cooking from scratch even though I hate to cook…
Anyone who’s been reading this blog for at least a year knows what we here in Jenworld always eat for dinner on Thursday nights.
Tex Mex is one of the major food groups here in Jenworld, along with chocolate, pasta, and au gratin. (Bonus points to anyone who can combine two or more food groups into one perfect food.)
This is such an ingrained habit that pretty much every Thursday afternoon, there’s a conversation that goes like this:
Girl child, “What’s for dinner?” [pause] “Oh wait, it’s Thursday. Never mind.”
Even though we call Thursdays Nacho Nights, really, we eat all kinds of Tex Mex — nachos, tacos, enchiladas, and more. The basis for our meals is pretty much always slow-cooked beans.
Up until recently, I’ve cooked our beans on top of the stove; however, I just got a slow cooker, which has utterly revolutionized how I cook beans. Here are both cooking methods, starting with stove-top:
- Either the night before or first thing in the morning, soak some beans in water in a heavy pot. (We cook in this.) The type of beans you use is up to you, but some good option are kidney, pinto, scarlet runner, and black. The amount you cook is up to you, but about 1/2 pound will feed all of us with plenty of leftovers. Start with 6-8 cups of water and be prepared to add more regularly.
- A few hours before you want to eat, bring the beans to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium-low and cook until the beans are done. Check regularly to see if you need to add water. (This is very important, because you don’t want the beans to burn.)
- About a half hour before you want to eat, add a little salt, a dollop of olive oil, and any other flavors you like. We like a little garlic, maybe a little crushed red pepper, and maybe some minced onion.
- If you’re using a slow cooker, all you need to do is throw the beans and water in, turn the thing on, and walk away. You don’t need to soak the beans first and you probably won’t need to add water throughout the day, but you’ll still want to check on occasion, just to make sure. I tried this for the first time last week and it was so easy that I can’t imagine doing it any other way. As far as I’m concerned, our new slow cooker will pay for itself just by making our Thursday nights easier.
That’s it. That’s all you do. Super easy, eh? These beans are awesome on nachos, in tortillas, as a side to tacos… you get the idea. I also like them mixed with brown, wild, or black rice for lunch.
You know what’s a yummy addition to this meal? Tex Mex pot roast!
This is Pete’s creation and one of my favorite things is when he makes this on Sunday afternoons. He’ll start early in the afternoon and the smell of spicy beef fills the air for hours.
- Heat oven to 350F.
- Several hours before you want to eat, brown a pot roast on all sides in olive oil in a Dutch oven/heavy pot. (Like the one I linked above.)
- Add Ro-Tel or salsa or a little water and some spices to braise the meat, plus any additional spicy spices (yes, I know I’m being redundant) you think would taste good.
- Cover the pot with a lid and stick it in the oven. You’re going to braise the meat for hours. About two hours in, flip the beef over. DO NOT cook at a higher heat — you need a low, slow cooking time for this. The braising will tenderize a tough cut of meat, but it’s a slow, patient process.
- This could also be done in a slow cooker, but it’s going to take longer than two hours — in my slow cooker, my options are 4 and 8 hours. You can’t sear the meat on all sides on the slow cooker, but Pete and I debate the importance of that step anyway. Lazy cooks (like myself) can just skip that step.
- Pull the meat out when it’s pretty much falling apart at the cellular level. Shred it and add it to tacos, tortillas, enchiladas, etc.
You could also substitute a pork roast for a beef roast and have a damn fine meal. In fact, I encourage you to give that one a try. Unfortunately, both of our girls have sworn off pig after an encounter with a particularly adorable Babe-esque creature (complete with wagging tail), so I don’t cook pork products as often as I think I should be.
[And all of my Jewish readers just shuddered. Sorry folks.]
I could eat slow-cooked beans and this Tex Mex pot roast and be happy about it. As it happens, while we have the beans every week, the pot roast is maybe a once-a-month thing. If we have some chicken left over from an earlier dinner or in the freezer, we might add that to our Thursday night dinner instead.
Other important additions to Thursday night dinners in Jenworld:
- jalapenos – Pete goes through quite a few of these every week. We grow them fresh during the summer and then the rest of the year he gets them from the grocery store. They’re super cheap — usually well under $1 each. The important thing is to wash your hands well after cutting them because the pepper’s burning capability will linger for hours. Trust me, you don’t want to touch your eye or some other body part with jalapeno pepper juice on your hands, so scrub with the diligence of a surgeon.
- cheese — Duh. Au gratin is one of our favorite food groups here in Jenworld. The easiest option is to buy bags of shredded chedder or Tex Mex blend cheeses, but that’s more expensive. The cheapest option is to buy big blocks of cheddar and use a box grater to get your cheese on.
- salsa — Whatever you like, however spicy you like. Pete goes for medium-to-hot, depending on the brand, while the girls and I abstain.
- rice — If you’re having beans, rice is a nice accompaniment, especially since beans and rice make a complete protein. We like brown rice with our Tex Mex, but will occasionally have wild or black rice as a way to mix things up.
- other veggies — It depends on what we’re eating (nachos vs. tacos, for example), the season, and even our moods (sometimes, veggies are just too damn healthy), but some old standbys are corn (either fresh or frozen, never canned), onions and green/red peppers (Pete eats this, while the girls and I gag), chopped mushrooms (great in cheesy quesadillas), and chopped tomatoes.
So that’s the primer on Thursday nights here in Jenworld. I know that many of y’all have your own Tex Mex traditions, so please share the culinary yumminess with the rest of us.