Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Another slow day it seems..... Perfect time to post!

Slow days seem to be the norm here in Las Vegas, the economic downturn is felt in all corners of this once "small town" that now hosts almost 2 million people! If you read the statistics on the city is says that the city has over 500,000 people but the metro area is around 2 million. What's the difference anyway? You feel the whole area and there is no separation from one to the other so I never saw the point of separate entries, but that's just me..... all I know is that there are lots of people now, traffic, etc. and with one of the highest unemployment rates around, it tends to color the city in a dull shade of gray.

When we first moved here around 1989 or so we were coming from San Diego- CA and tired of the traffic congestion, problems at the border, bad employment climate, rising prices, etc. This most favored spot in California's Sunshine State had about 2 million people (if you included the County plus our neighbors to the South) and while it was my home town, it was more of a "been there - done that" kind of thing by that time, but Vegas only had 500,000 and you could feel the difference...... The first apartment we had on the Southwest part of town had a view of the Spring Mountains as far as you could see and the desert was all around us. We didn't even have neighbors and you could sense the wide open spaces. (You can see this if you watch "Pay It Forward", a movie filmed in my daughter's old high school which was close by and had the same views). All that's changed now and the present landscape now holds wall to wall homes and no desert anymore.

Anyway, you all know the story: big economic boom, housing / banking / employment / you name it we got it boom, everybody wanted to come to the #1 start over place in the US and so the little city became a big one and here we are...... after the boom came the bubble and then the bubble burst..... !POP!..... and now all the king's horses and all the king's men can't put the bubble together again. The shards are still strewn all over the place.....

So here I sit looking out my kitchen window writing my blog while I work up today's menu and try and come up with something creative to say and keep busy. It's another slow day since my FIRST job just died; my SECOND job has just been canceled; my THIRD job has mostly hit the fan while my FOURTH job has been reduced to less than part time hours. I have another TWO jobs lined up that if I add them both up might give me another less than part time job but I'm still trying to see if they will materialize at all..... which is why I've got time to have my coffee, talk to you while I write this and plan on being able to read my library book this afternoon while I share the sunbeam's with Kitty. "In Living Color" was a tv show during the 90's which showed a West Indian family and each had at least 20 jobs and sometimes it seems like I'll be able to reach that total pretty soon if I keep picking up more jobs.

But back to the food and creative ways to stretch the food budget. I got an email from a couple of friends (one in Colorado and another in W Virginia) asking me for ideas on how to make the most out of leftovers or how to clean up the fridge without having to throw things out.... so with this in mind I came up with some ideas for them and maybe I can give you some ideas as well.

Picadillo Compuesto.- A Mexican staple which my family loves. The basic ingredient is always ground beef (or pork / lamb / chicken) and anything else is up to you. Here is one of our favorite versions which I use as a filling for "Chiles en Nogada", empanadas, enchiladas, tostadas, sopes, tacos, burritos, chimichangas, stuffed peppers / cabbage / zucchini's, used as a filling for lettuce wraps, egg rolls, over pasta, as a casserole (with cornbread topping or bisquits), on a pizza topped with cheese, etc.....

1-2 lbs ground beef
1/2 cup onion, chopped fine
1 potato, peeled and chopped in small cubes
3-4 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tomatoes, chopped in small cubes
2 tbl cilantro leaves, chopped
1/3 cup raisins
1/3 cup slivered almonds, toasted and peeled
1/3 cup biznaga (cristalized cactus candy) chopped in small cubes
1/3 cup green olives, stuffed with pimento and cut in slices + 1 tbl of the brine
1 cup tomato sauce
1 cup chicken stock or water
salt & pepper to taste

Optional ingredients you can add: (all in cubes or small pieces): apples, pears, prunes, capers, shredded coconut, Serrano chile pieces, zucchini, jicama, rice (add more liquid since this will absorb)

Cook the meat, drain the fat as needed or not. Add all the rest of the ingredients, mix well and allow to come together and cook for about 10 min or until the potatoes are cooked. Taste and adjust seasonings.
NOTE: You can see from all the ingredients that almost anything could be added, so if you have a little container of this or that you can add this as well. Anything can be used and will be great.

Tinga.- This is something along the lines as the Picadillo but different but can be used with the same thinking. This dish from Puebla is usually used with pork but you can see how this can also be done anyway at all....

1 1/2 lbs boneless pork loin or shoulder, cut in cubes
1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bay leaf

1/4 lb chorizo
2-3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
3 tomatoes, roasted
1/2 cup prunes, chopped
1/3 cup slivered almonds, peeled
2 canned chipotles en adobado (that's two chiles, not two cans and I would start with 1, taste then decide if you want the second one)
1 tbl dried oregano

Cook the pork in water to cover with the half onion, two of the garlic cloves and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil, lower heat and simmer 45 minutes or until the meat is tender. Remove the meat, let it cool a bit, and shred it. Set it aside.

Remove the casing from the chorizo and fry it over medium-high heat, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until it is browned and crumbly. Remove and drain it very well on paper towels. Pour off all but one tablespoon of the fat from the pan. (If you are not using chorizo, heat one tablespoon of vegetable oil in a pan.) In the same pan, saute the sliced onion until soft. Puree the tomatoes, remaining two garlic cloves, chipotles and oregano in the blender. Add this puree to the onions in the pan, and cook for about five minutes, or until a thick sauce forms. Return the chorizo to the pan, along with the shredded pork, and mix well to combine.
NOTE: I like it with shredded chicken, turkey and leftovers since the chipotle sauce is yummy! You can add some leftover rice, combine and use as a stuffing too.

These two recipes above I sometimes make in large portions (when the meat is on special so I can take advantage of the savings) which I use a part on the day I make it as usual while I separate 3-4 other daily portions for 4, put in zip-lock bags or Tupperware and freeze for end-of-month or a day when I don't feel like doing anything and a quick but tasty dinner is needed. You could freeze individual meals too so your family can pop into the microwave at a moment's notice or take with you as lunch at work.

Curried Rice.- Another quick and satisfying dish that can take whatever you can throw at it, but here's an easy version.... You can use the individual spices used in curry but this way you only need the one....

2 cups rice (long grain is the one I like best)
4 cups chicken stock (can add more until rice is tender)
2 tbl olive oil
3 green onions, thinly sliced including the green part
1/2 red pepper, cut in small squares
1 tbl curry
1-2 apples, peeled, cored and cut in small cubes
1-2 zucchini, cut in small cubes
1/2 cup jicama, peeled and cut in small cubes
1/3 cup raisins
1 tbl mint leaves, chopped
1 tbl parsley leaves, chopped
1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pan with cover, put the oil over med-high heat. Add the rice and stir fry about 2-3 min. Add the curry and onions and fry for 2 more min. Add the chicken stock and the rest of the ingredients, except the sour cream, parsley and mint and make sure it's boiling. Lower heat to simmer, cover and let cook for about 15-20 min.

When the rice is tender, add the parsley, mint and sour cream and mix well. Serve.
NOTE: Add other ingredients if you like: fish, chicken, peas, etc.

Uh oh, just got a call and it seems I've just picked up a very-very part-time investigation job too but have to check out the details. Have other irons in the fire so we never know what our future holds but for today (could change tomorrow) it's Vegas, food blog and sharing the sun with Kitty which is not a bad forecast for my afternoon, don't you think?

Think I'll look and see what I can dream up for tonight's dessert too.... If I cook up something interesting, I'll be sure and let you know.... TTFN!
Maybe I should re-arrange my schedule, dropping the mostly dead jobs while moving up the terminal ones and still-alive ones.....

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