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Best. Burritos. Ever…

Red Burrito

This weekend the weather turned off cool and crisp. Not cold, I don’t think my veggie plants are in any danger, but cooler than I like this time of year. (Then again, I’m into shorts and bare feet by Texas Independence.) Cool weather is a good excuse to break out the slow cooker and make some great Tex-Mex burritos. Okay, I really need no excuse, but hey..

I mentioned homemade burritos to PJ and she went into her happy-dance routine. I didn’t stop her this time, since she working on her exercises. Don’t you think a whole hour of celebrating a meal she hasn’t even had yet to be a bit much, though? There it is, though, and what can you do. Except go ahead and cook, I mean.

Here’s the way to do this. Start with good quality, lean round steak. London Broil by choice. About three pounds. That may sound like a lot, but given the prep time I want to get at least three meals out, at least. I started the big crock to warming while I cubed up the meat. You can use a cheaper cut of meat, like a blade roast, and still get great burritos; so if you’re on a budget (and who isn’t these days), shop the other cuts. Trim excess fat, of course, although leaving it on there and skimming off excess oil later will deepen the flavor (at risk to your beltline; you have been warned). Brown the meat in a skillet if you like, that’s a nice way to add more flavor. I skipped this step this time without any noticeable penalty.

Once the meat is cubed up, put it in a bowl with a couple of paper towels to absorb any extra liquid. Meanwhile, get out a large paper bag and put in a quarter cup of flour, a quarter cup of good-quality chili powder (like, say, Gebhardt’s), some cracked black pepper, and a tablespoon or so each of smoked paprika, dried Italian herbs, ground cumin, and cayenne or chipotle powder. Consider those last two optional, as they’ll add plenty of heat (which I like, but some don’t; no accountin’ for taste, I suppose). I don’t add any salt at this point, as usually there’s plenty in the chili powder; but if you use a salt-free chili blend, consider adding a couple teaspoons of salt. Shake the bag (take it from a pro, roll the bag top down good or you’ll be sneezing all day), then add the meat and shake again to coat the protein bits.


Momentary detour: Last fall I had a bumper crop of cayenne and serrano chiles, so I dried a whole bunch of them. About five gallons by volume, actually. So I decided to make my own cayenne powder. This is a great idea, but there are some tricks. For instance, be sure the chiles are thoroughly dry. If they’re still rubbery, put them in a dehydrator for a while (or overnight) on lowest setting and finish the drying. Next, don’t use any grinder that can possibly leak. Like one of those small coffee grinders. While those may be useful for normal spices, homemade cayenne powder is a powerful substance. (I hear the Army is studying it for use as a weapon. I know it kills cockroaches.) One good snoot of the stuff and your sinuses will take half a year to grow back. So here’s the best way: Use a cocktail blender. Only, don’t use the big carafe. Put the blade and base on a half-pint Mason jar, with the chiles inside. Yep, most blender bases have the same thread style as canning jars! Pulse the blender a couple times for pepper flakes, or grind away to make powder of any desired consistency.

As an added bonus, a gift from the Chile Underground elves directly to you, consider buying a separate base set for your blender. It may be the best $10 you ever spend, as it’ll keep your margaritas from having too much heat from leftover cayenne powder.

Pour a can of low-sodium chicken broth into the crockpot and then gently add the coated meat, including the excess flour-spice mixture. Dice up a medium Spanish onion (I had half a very large one left over from an earlier meal, that worked), and then seed and dice a bell pepper. I prefer red, but any color will do fine. Add the veggies to the pot and stir everything together. You can add some celery and salsa at this point if you like, making a classic carne guisada. I don’t do that for a burrito filling.

Stir gently to be sure there are no flour lumps, add more liquid (enough to at least cover the meat) as needed, then cover. I set the cooker for a couple hours on high, then turned it down to low and let’er rip. About six hours in, the mixture was ready to go. If the filling seems too thick, add some beef broth (or more chicken); if it appears too thin, use some beurre manié to thicken and let the pot cook for another 30 minutes. I’d added plenty broth as PJ and I both love extra gravy, and that makes a nice sauce for enchiladas later, so I planned on the latter technique. If you don’t know about beurre manié, you’re missing out on one of the three things the French ever got right. Learn about this mixture, you’ll not regret it.

Fat Burrito

Once the filling is ready it’s time to make the burritos. We use a 9 x 13 baking dish, which holds five large burritos. Starting with burrito-sized flour tortillas, add some filling and sauce, then put in grated cheese. We prefer Mexican blend, but use whatever you like. We add refried beans, though sometimes we have leftover borracho beans and use those instead. A few diced onions, some cilantro or salsa cruda, and then we roll the burritos closed and place them in the dish with the tortilla edges on the bottom. Into a 375 degree oven for 20-25 minutes, then we garnish with cheese, sauce from the crock, and whatever other toppings we want: sliced olives, salsa, cilantro, sliced scallions, tomatoes, whatever’s handy.

We don’t sauce our burritos when we put them into the oven, as we like the exposed edges at the ends to get nice and crispy and the tortilla to dry out a bit. That adds a nice crunch to some of the bites. Just watch that those edges don’t burn, as that’s not tasty grub.

We get a great dinner this way, with burritos left over for lunches early in the week. (PJ forgets hers sometimes, which only makes one of us grumpy.) The remaining meat and sauce (and there’s plenty) goes into a dinner later in the week, like stuffed baked potatoes, and the extra gravy we freeze for enchiladas later on. Such a deal!

Side note: This isn’t a fattening dish, unless you overdo the consumption. The meat’s lean, no oil added (unless you brown, and even then a tiny amount suffices), a quarter cup of flour over three (or more) meals; no real fat there! We even use fat-free refried beans. Guilt-free Tex Mex…

(Just in case you’re still wondering: French Fries are the second item, and I forget what the third one is.)

Enjoy the (Tasty Tubular Tex-Mex) Heat!


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