Mexican & TexMex

10 years ago, if you’d told me that I’d move to the far west, cookie-cutter suburbs of Houston and judge most of the restaurants frequent-visit list by the quality of their playground and not necessarily the food, I might have laughed in your face.

Probably would have, actually. All those margaritas I made with Mrs Ts neon-green bottled mix would have no-doubt left me pretty giggly.

But here we are 10 years later. In the far west, cookie-cutter suburbs of Houston. And we judge most of the restaurants that we frequently visit by the presence of a playground, the quality of said playground, and lastly: the food.

One of those restaurants shoots to the top of that list simply because of the playground. Because why else would anyone pay more for average TexMex when you can get better, for less?

But we have a 4 year old with endless amounts of squeals and climb-up-the-slide energy. And they have free ice cream and a covered playground smack-dab in the middle of the cookie-cutter suburbs. They are, as you can imagine, raging successful.

And sometimes being able to talk over a bowl of chips and green sauce on a patio while The Little plays 20 feet away is totally worth it. So you pick your battles. And I made peace with it once I discovered their Fish Tacos with double Cucumber-Mango salsa. Because the fresh, crunchy, and sweet salsa has been the best thing I’ve tasted there.

At home, we ditch the oily coleslaw and heavy chipotle mayo that comes on the restaurant version in favor of keeping it light and simple: chile-lime grilled fish, thin slices of avocado, cucumber-mango salsa, and whatever crumbled cheese I have (queso fresco or goat cheese).

Fresh, bright, light, and flavorful. And if we had a rocking playground like that our backyard, we’d never have to go back.

Grilled Chile-Lime Fish Tacos with Cucumber-Mango Salsa

Flaky white fish seasoned with chile and lime is topped with a sweet, fresh scoop of cucumber and mango salsa and queso fresco.

Ingredients

  • For the fish:
  • 1 lb tilapia
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges
  • Chile powder (I used chipotle)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • For serving:
  • 1/2 cup diced mango
  • 1/2 cup diced cucumber
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • Small handful of cilantro, chopped
  • 1 small jalapeno, seeded and chopped
  • Tortillas
  • Crumbled cheese (queso fresco or goat cheese)

Instructions

  1. Preheat your grill to medium-high.
  2. Squeeze a couple of lime wedges over the fish and then season both sides with salt, pepper, and dust with chile powder.
  3. When the grill is heated, lightly spray/brush the filets with olive oil and cook for ~4 minutes each side.
  4. In a medium bowl, stir together the mango, cucumber, red onion, cilantro, and jalapeno with a pinch of salt and the juice from 1-2 lime wedges (to taste).
  5. Squeeze the remaining limes over the fish when it comes off the grill.
  6. Flake the fish into large bite-sized pieces and serve on tortillas topped with a generous scoop of salsa and crumbled cheese.

Notes

Yields: ~6 servings

Source: Confections of a Foodie Bride

Estimated time: 30 minutes

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Margarita-Glazed Baby Back Ribs

Everyone has someone in their family that is the go-to person for cooking a specific dish. In my family, I am not that person for ribs.

But I have not given up.

Margarita-Glazed Baby Back Ribs

At a cookout in 2011, with a Fine Cooking magazine in one hand and a margarita in the other (possibly my problem), I slapped my very first rack of ribs on the grill while a hungry group of people salivated.

30 minutes later, I was in the kitchen trying to pick off scorched foil from scorched meat – or maybe it was bone… it was all black, hard, and crusty and there was very little distinguishing the two. And Jason was outside trying to prevent the garage from catching fire.

It wasn’t a total loss. Just maybe half the ribs. And 7/8 of my pride.

Margarita-Glazed Baby Back Ribs

This year, with my trusty ol’ Fine Cooking magazine in one hand (I still had it and just dropped it into the recycling bin today) and a margarita in the other (clearly not the problem!), I slapped my I-have-lost-count rack of ribs on the grill while (fewer) hungry people salivated. And then 2 hours later, I texted my little brother: My streak of not burning the ribs and my house down is at 3 years!

These are, hands down, my very favorite ribs that my little brother doesn’t make. And only partly because the recipe uses 4 shots of tequila.

Baby back ribs are marinated overnight in a tequila-citrus-chile powder marinade that’s reduced with – wait for it – more tequila and citrus. The grilled, fall-off-the-bone-tender ribs are finished with the “margarita glaze” before they are inhaled by your family and everyone is left staring at you wondering why you didn’t make more.

Margarita Glazed Baby Back Ribs

Tender baby back ribs are marinated and glazed with tequila and citrus.

Ingredients

  • For the marinade:
  • 2 racks (~4 lbs) pork baby back ribs
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • Juice of two limes, zest from 1
  • 1/4 cup tequila
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp soy sauce
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tbsp ancho chile powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • For the glaze:
  • 1/2 cup tequila
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 lime juice
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • Fresh cilantro

Instructions

  1. Cut each rack of ribs in half and place 2 sections each in a gallon zipper bag.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the marinade ingredients and pour half into each bag.
  3. Seal the bags, turn to coat, and place in a baking dish in the fridge.
  4. Let marinate overnight, turning a couple of times.
  5. Transfer the marinade to a pot and add the glaze ingredients. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to a simmer.
  6. Reduce glaze to a thick sauce.
  7. Heat grill to 250-300 degrees.
  8. Wrap each rib section in a foil pouch and cook (indirect heat recommended but my grill isn't big enough to accommodate two racks over indirect heat).
  9. Cook for ~90 minutes and tear into one of the pouches to see if the meat is tender and is pulling from the bone.
  10. Carefully open the foil pouches and glaze the ribs, leaving the foil peeled back so the sauce will caramelize.
  11. Cook for 5 minutes and then glaze again.
  12. Repeat and then transfer to a foil-tented platter to rest for 10 minutes.
  13. Cut ribs and serve any remaining glaze on the side as a sauce.

Notes

Yields: "12" servings (don't count on it)

Barely adapted from Fine Cooking

Estimated time: 14 hours 30 minutes

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Queso-Smothered Chicken Fajita Burgers

Who needs tortillas?

I mean, I do. Gosh, any world without tortillas is one I do NOT want to live in.

But you don’t need tortillas. At least, not for this “burger,” anyway. And it’s actually how this burger came about. Fajita Night with tortillas that ended up being moldy easily turns into Fancy Burger Night.

Cheesy, messy, fork-and-knife Fancy Burger Night.

Queso-Smothered Chicken Fajita Burgers

And while we’re confessing super, insanely deep things: Can you believe I almost didn’t serve these on a bun? The defeat of finding that those fresh-made tortillas weren’t so fresh after all, I nearly made the fajitas into a salad.

Guys. A salad.

Cooler heads prevailed (thank you, Jason!) and we ended up with Queso-Smothered Chicken Fajita “Burgers” instead. And it was a good thing, too. Because 1) Those tortillas had inflected a pain that only a messy burger could fix. And 2) EAT ALL THE CARBS AND CHEESE AND MORE CARBS.

Queso-Smothered Chicken Fajita Burgers

Because guess who has 2 half-marathons on the calendar, a dried queso drip down the front of her shirt, and a belief that, after 2 cherry margaritas, mustache selfies will never get old?

[giggle]

THAT GIRL.

Queso-Smothered Chicken Fajita Burgers

Juicy chicken fajitas smothered in queso and served burger-style.

Ingredients

  • 2 chicken breasts
  • 1 large white or yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
  • 2 green bell peppers, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • Oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Lime wedges
  • 4 burger buns
  • Chile con Queso

Instructions

  1. Preheat your grill to medium-high.
  2. Brush the chicken with oil and season with salt and pepper.
  3. Toss the vegetables with oil and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Grill the chicken 6-7 minutes each side, until juices run clear.
  5. Grill the vegetables on a vegetable pan next to the chicken (or a double-folded sheet of foil with a few holes poked in it), stirring occasionally, until nicely charred.
  6. Let the chicken set at least 5 minutes before slicing.
  7. Top each burger bun with sliced chicken, a generous mount of vegetables, a squeeze of fresh lime juice, and a scoop of melty queso.
  8. Serve with a fork, knife, and my favorite skinny margarita.

Notes

Yields: 4 servings

Source: Confections of a Foodie Bride

Estimated time: 45 minutes

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Barbecue Chicken & Grilled Pineapple Nachos

I have been on a major grilled pineapple kick lately. Like, mayjah.

Guacamole, burgers, margaritas, and of course – those nachos.

Barbecue Chicken & Grilled Pineapple Nachos

The other two people in this house are not so… passionate about grilled pineapple. There have been eyerolls and little remarks and sighs.

Nor are they passionate about taking the contents of 5 leftover bowls from the fridge and making… that.

But those other two people in this house didn’t complain one bit about dinner last night.

Barbecue Chicken & Grilled Pineapple Nachos

The Internet’s favorite queso serves as the cheesy nacho base, which I then topped with leftover chicken tossed with barbecue sauce, grilled pineapple, thinly sliced red onion, weapons-grade-hot chopped jalapeno (but only on half – Thank, God!) and cilantro.

OF COURSE THEY DIDN’T COMPLAIN.

BBQ Chicken & Grilled Pineapple Nachos

Cheesy nachos topped with barbecue chicken, grilled pineapple, and red onion.

Ingredients

  • 14 oz bag of tortilla chips
  • 1 recipe Chile con Queso
  • ~2 cups of shredded chicken (from about 2 small chicken breasts)
  • 1/2 cup barbecue sauce
  • 3 grilled pineapple rings, diced*
  • Thinly sliced red onion
  • Chopped fresh jalapeno
  • Large handful of cilantro, chopped
  • *Slice fresh pinepple 1/2-inch thick, remove core, and grill over med-high for ~5 minutes a side, until charred.

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 425.
  2. Spread the tortilla chips on a large baking pan.
  3. Toss the shredded chicken with barbecue sauce in a small bowl.
  4. Top the chips with queso, barbecue chicken, sliced red onion, and diced pineapple.
  5. Bake for 7-10 minutes and remove from oven.
  6. Top with jalapeno and cilantro, serve hot.

Notes

Yields: 8 servings

Source: Confections of a Foodie Bride

Estimated time: 30 minutes

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