Homemade Refried Beans

These are labor intensive, but once you get them right, it’s impossible to go back to canned.

1 lb dried pinto or pink beans
1/2 lb bacon
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
salt to taste

Pick over beans for withered or broken beans and stones. Rinse beans VERY thoroughly with cold water in a colander (when you think you’ve rinsed them enough, rinse them a couple more times!). Place beans in a deep pot and cover with 6-8 cups cold water and allow to soak for 8 hours or over night.

Remove any floating beans and bring beans in soaking water to a boil, then reduce to medium simmer for at least 90 minutes. Add 1 tsp of salt to water and stir periodically. Add hot water as needed – you always want about 1 inch of water over the surface of the beans – along with 1 tsp of salt for every 2 c of added water. Occasionally skim foam from top of beans. When beans are tender, drain beans, reserving 2 cups of bean juice. DO NOT RINSE BEANS! Just set them aside.

In a deep skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until crispy and remove from skillet, allowing drippings to remain in pan. After all bacon is cooked and set aside, cook onion and garlic in bacon drippings until tender and translucent (if there’s not enough drippings, add a little vegetable oil). While onion is cooking, coarsely chop or crumble bacon.

When onion and garlic are done, turn heat down to low and add half of the beans to onion mixture. Pour about 1/2 c of the bean juice into the skillet and, using a potato masher, begin coarsely mashing the beans. Once you reach the desired consistency, add the rest of the beans and keep mashing and adding bean juice until you get the texture you want.

Stir in the bacon, cumin and chili powder and taste the beans. You will probably need to add more salt, stir and taste a few times. Save the bean juice in the fridge for reheating. Using plain water to rehydrate the beans will kill the flavor.

*I know. This is unbelievably fatty and salty. I know. Dried beans prepared from scratch require quite a bit of salt for flavoring and the bacon drippings provide the great texture and keep them from being crumbly and chalky. We only have them a couple times a year.

Chicken Enchilada Filling

This is completely invented. Anyone reading this more than likely knows of my Mexican food dependency. I especially love enchiladas filled with shredded chicken, but my attempts at this were always pretty bland. In a fit of pique, I threw together a sauce to combine with the shredded chicken and my trusty tester Cliff told me I had hit it out of the park. We like things pretty spicy, so adjust as needed to your own taste.

2 lbs chicken (I use skinless, boneless breasts, just because they’re easier to deal with)
1 onion, quartered
1 large carrot, cut into chunks
2-3 stalks celery, cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeño pepper, minced
1/2 c fresh cilantro, chopped
1 T chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1 T dried minced onion
1/2 tsp pepper sauce
1 small can tomato paste
2 small cans chopped mild green chiles

Put chicken, onion, carrot and celery in a large soup pot and add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30-45 minutes or until chicken is completely cooked. Remove chicken and set aside to cool, covered with a towel.

Combine all remaining ingredients in a small bowl and stir well, adjusting seasonings to taste. After chicken cools, shred with two forks. Add sauce to chicken and stir until well distributed.

Homemade Red Enchilada Sauce

Basic chili powder/tomato based enchilada sauce. I make a half recipe, which is still a little more than I need for one 9×13 pan of enchiladas (12-16). If you have freezer space, go ahead and make a whole batch.

4 T butter
1/2 c chili powder
1/4 c flour
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp oregano
5 c chicken or vegetable broth
1 can (400 g) tomato sauce

In a large, deep saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Combine all dry ingredients, stir well and add gradually to melted butter. Stir frequently until mixture is crumbly. Add chicken broth a little at a time and stir constantly, until all broth is added and there are no lumps. Keep stirring, add tomato sauce and bring to a gentle boil or until sauce is slightly thickened.

Little Texas

The Joint

Stradela Moara de Vant 31
Iasi, Romania 700376
Phone: +40.232.272545 Fax: +40.232.272545


Oh my goodness. I never would have believed it, but this place has the best TexMex I’ve ever had in Europe. Bar none.

I am seriously thinking about trying out their hotel facilities on my next trip to Iasi instead of staying at the Hotel Unirea (my “usual” pad, you might say).

Spanish Rice

Cliff has this cookbook from his parents that has great recipes. I really like to use it as a jumping-off point. When I am attempting something new, I refer to this book to see if it can give me some pointers. I usually hugely alter the recipe for flavor’s sake, but it’s a good place to start. The ingredients for this one have been heavily modified, but the cooking technique is direct from the book. Thanks, Betty (and Cliff, Sr.and Rose)!

1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped or pressed
2 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 hot green Thai chili, finely chopped (remove seeds for less heat)
2 T vegetable oil
1 c uncooked white long grain rice
2 1/2 c chicken bullion or broth
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1 T chili powder
1 8 oz can tomato sauce
1 tsp black pepper
5-10 drops Tabasco sauce (Cholula’s better)

Sauté onion, garlic, bell pepper and chili over medium-high heat just until onion becomes translucent. Add rice to skillet and stir well to coat with oil. Gently sauté rice, stirring frequently, until light golden brown.

Add all remaining ingredients. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cliff’s Quick, Dirty, and Zippy Arroz

I just invented this recipe about 5 minutes ago. Tasty and easy.

Fresh cilantro
Maybe a little butter.

Cook some rice. Probably any kind at all is fine.

While that’s cooking, chop up some fresh cilantro. You really can’t have too much cilantro.

Distribute the chopped cilantro in your rice, and then liberally apply Tajín. Enjoy.


The Joint

2829 Southwest Blvd.
Kansas City, MO

phone: +1 816.931.4849


Can’t go wrong with the famous ‘rita dip. I wish I could make that here at home. Of course, then I might never leave the house. Watch out for the annoying song on their website (last I checked).


I always love me some Margarita’s. I am of the opinion that this is the best tex-mex (i.e., tons of cheese on everything) you’re going to find in Kansas City. The salsa here is the best in town, the portions are HUGE (seriously, order a take-out box with the meal) and the service is incredibly fast. And, they have Mr. Pibb in the fountain. Mmmmmmmmm!!

Homemade Salsa

It’s time to update this one! I’ve simplified my salsa technique and now it only takes about 10 minutes active time. Roasting the tomatoes enhances their natural sweetness (sometimes improving lackluster produce) and reduces the odds you’re going to have a watery, sad salsa.

Note: If you don’t have a ton of storage space and cook a lot, you need a stick blender. Especially if it has a bunch of attachments (food processor bowls, whisks, etc.). I use mine at least a couple of times a week: smoothing out soups and sauces, making quick work of bread crumbs, whipping cream or egg whites, you name it. We have a 1.25 liter/5 cup blender attachment that makes very quick work of this.

8-10 medium tomatoes; Romas or San Marzanos are best, but any ripe tomato works
1 small white or yellow onion
1-2 hot green chilies; jalapeño or serrano are best, we can only get thai chilies
1 clove garlic
1 small bunch fresh cilantro
1-2 limes, juiced
1/4 t salt
1/4 t ground cumin

Heat the oven to 400°F/200°C. Slice tomatoes in half lengthwise, cutting out dense top of core but leaving the lower core and seedy goo. Lay all tomatoes on a large, rimmed baking sheet, cut side up. Sprinkle the cut surfaces with a little salt and roast for 30-40 minutes or until browned in spots and blistered. Set tomatoes aside to cool.

Cut top and bottom off of onion (the rooty and shooty bits) and slice lengthwise, discarding papery skin. Roast cut side up on a medium, rimmed baking sheet for 30 minutes or until browned in spots. If using a fleshy chili, stem and slice lengthwise and add cut side up to roasting onion for last 10-15 minutes of cook time. Since we use tiny thai chilies, we don’t bother roasting them. If you don’t like your salsa spicy, cut the seeds and membranes out of the chilies.

Place the roasted vegetables into a blender. Add peeled and quartered garlic, cilantro, juice of 1 lime, salt and cumin. Blend until large chunks are processed, taste and adjust seasonings as desired. This benefits from chilling for a couple of hours before serving.