Tex-Mex Lasagna

Lasagna is one of my absolute favorite dishes. I love the simple sheets of pasta, the tomato sauce, the risotto cheese, the hamburger meat, and whatever cheese I decide to throw on top (usually a blend of mozzarella and mild cheddar). But the recipe I want to share with you today isn’t traditional lasagna. There isn’t even any pasta in it.

I use the term extremely loosely, considering that it normally refers to the dish I related above. It means “cooking pot” in Greek, so technically it could be any dish at all.

The story behind my Tex-Mex Lasagna comes in from the days my brother would bring home enchiladas from his friend’s house. I LOVE enchiladas, especially the ones made from a Mexican mother’s hands. She gave me the recipe, but I always found it really hard to roll the enchiladas. It was really time-consuming.

So I started trying to figure out a way to make the enchiladas without having to roll them. I finally figured out a way to do so by layering the tortillas, meat, sauce, and cheese (veggies optional), rather than rolling the meat and cheese inside of the enchilada.

Now, the reason I didn’t call them enchiladas: The word itself means a rolled tortilla with meat inside. Hence, Tex-Mex Lasagna. I will forewarn you that I tend to eyeball a lot of stuff, particularly my spices and cheese. When I make this, I use anywhere from 2 cups of cheese to 6 cups; sometimes I only need one can/jar of enchilada sauce, sometimes I need three. It’s all about taste and the size the pan and how many people I’m going to end up feeding. With that said…

The recipe is fairly simple:

3 teaspoons oil, separated (canola or corn works best)

1 pound hamburger meat

2 cans/jars of enchilada sauce

Appr. 50 corn tortillas

2-6 cups of Mexican-style cheese

Spices: Chile powder, black pepper, basil, oregano, garlic powder, chives, all to taste.

Optional:

1 onion, chopped

3-4 green onions, chopped

1 bell pepper (red, green, yellow, orange?)

Use any other peppers you like, to taste. I cook for a family without a spicy appetite, so I leave out these.

Fry the onion and bell pepper in one teaspoon oil till the onions are translucent, then add hamburger meat. Cook through. Add spices in the meat. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put the remaining oil in the bottom of a 13×9 pan, followed by a little enchilada sauce. Put in 9-12 tortillas, just to cover (it’s okay if there are holes). Drain the meat, then spoon some on top of the tortillas.

Put more tortillas on top and enchilada sauce on top of those, just to cover. I put cheese on top every layer, but you don’t have to. Repeat this layer until you come to the top of the pan. The last layer should cover any remaining meat mixture, followed by sauce, and then cheese.

Place in the oven until the cheese melts (20-45min). Put green onions on top and bake for another five minutes. Pull it out, cut it up, and it’s ready for noms! =D

Boxed Brownies and Other Food Memories

After completing my homework for the rest of the week today, I noticed that there was a box of brownie mix on the counter. My mom mentioned sometime in the last few days that today was her blind friend Jesse’s birthday. She cooks for him and usually makes him something special for his birthday every year. But this time, she has a migraine and I imagine that she was going to bake the brownies for him before that.

So, I looked to see that we had enough oil and eggs and started mixing them up. As much as I hate to admit it, I love boxed brownie mixes because they’re simple, they taste good, and it doesn’t require a lot of waiting to have warm brownies ready for some vanilla ice cream. So I found a second box.

The first box is already out of the oven and cooling off, soon to head over to the birthday man’s apartment if I can rouse someone to deliver it.

The very first time I made boxed brownies was with my paternal grandma. She couldn’t have sugar (I actually didn’t find that out until I was around twelve) but the simple joy of mixing something was what made it special. I probably wasn’t even old enough for school yet. Grandma let me lick the spoon, but when I made brownies with my Aunt Nancy and cousin Whitney, we weren’t allowed. My memories of those times are special to me because I haven’t seen my aunt and cousin since I was around twelve; as a matter of fact, it was also the last time I saw my grandmother, who passed away a few years ago now.

I remember best, though, making grandma’s potato bread. I was the only grandkid there, a big deal when you think about how many children and grandchildren she had! Best, I remember squishing the potatoes up with my hands, and folding them into the dough, rolling it out on the counter in flour. Baking isn’t really something my mother enjoys doing, aside from the occasional chocolate chip cookie batch.

Grandma visited us as often as she could, but with us living in Virginia (or Tennessee) and her in Michigan, it was difficult for her to do so. I never once visited my paternal grandmother in Michigan. With so few visits and so long ago when they occurred, it’s no small wonder that I don’t remember many details about her. She was very small and her hair was cut short. She had really pretty eyes. I remember that, but I don’t remember what color her hair was, and I’ve only been told that I inherited her eye color. I don’t remember it.

But I remember baking brownies from a box with her and baking bread from boiled potatoes. I remember stuffed risotto cheese in a big pasta seashell. I remember gluten-free pancakes, which were surprising delicious in a time when I knew it didn’t have sugar in it. I remember beach sandwiches with wonderful new flavors in them — like apple pieces in chicken salad.

I remember very little of what my grandmother looked like, but I remember her cooking well. I remember that she had a beautiful smile, even though I couldn’t tell you how thick or thin her lips were, or even if she wore dentures or not. She had a wonderful laugh, too; but I couldn’t describe its sound.

So instead I remember her every time I open up a box of brownie mix to make for someone else, hoping that maybe it will be a trigger for their memory too.