Impromptu Lunch

I have a standing weekly appointment with my best friend.  Frequently this means cooking together.  Rather, I cook, and he politely offers to help, to which I generally reply, “No worries.  I got this.”

This standing appointment is flexible, as standing appointments go.  Things are rarely predetermined.  Often they are preceded by a phone conversation similar to this one.

“What did you want to do?”
“What did you want to cook?”
“I don’t know.  What proteins do you have around?”
“I have some pork chops I need to use.”
“Ok, what vegetables do you have?”
“Avocado.  Some roma tomatoes?”
“Do you have an onion?”
“Okay, I’ll bring one. Garlic?”
“Ok, I know what we’ll do.”

I highly reccomend this approach to cooking.  When I say to myself, ‘I want mushroom risotto’, I often have to buy mushrooms, arborio, chicken stock (if there isn’t any in my freezer), parmesan, etc.  All of a sudden, I’ve spent $26 on a simple meal. If i’m not planning anything else to use more mushrooms, arborio, chicken stock, parmesan, then that meal is a lot more expensive than it needs to be.  I say this knowing that when you really need mushroom risotto, money is no object.  Which is as it should be, any Italian would tell you.  However, I like the creative challenge that limited options offer.

So, Achiote Pork with Salsa Roja, Red Pepper Rice, and Refried Beans

We did this with 5 pork chops, but it could be done with any number.  The marinade can be saved (if it has not come into contact with the pork), for a week or so, and is good on chicken, steak, fish*, shrimp*, what have you.


1/2 cup orange juice

Juice of 1 lime

2 cloves garlic, finely minced

1-2 Tbsp achiote paste**

Mix together all ingredients.  Place pork in a plastic bag or shallow dish, pour marinade on.  Be sure to coat all sides with the marinade, and put marinating pork in the fridge for 20 minutes or up to 2 hours***.

Achiote Pork 

Heat a pan on medium high.  Grill pan if you have it.

Put on enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan or the grill grating – veggie oil would be best here, since it’s relatively high heat.****

Depending on the thickness of the pork (ours was about an inch thick) Cook the pork on one side for 2-3 minutes, flip, repeat.  If the pork is not cooked all the way through, then you can cook it some more.  I recommend the oven to finish though, if it’s brown enough on the outside.  You can see in the picture that the pork is a lil’ pink.

I personally like mine that way. People cook pork to death because they’re afraid of trichonosis.  I spit on trichinosis. Ptwooie.  Take that, larvae. You don’t scare me.  Okay, maybe a little.

Seriously, if you are serving the elderly or those of compromised immune systems, cook the pork until it’s firm to the touch.  Then stop.  For real.  There’s no rebound from dry pork and even the salsa roja isn’t going to redeem that puppy once you’ve desiccated it.

We were cooking in a nonstick pan because that’s all Todd had.  So, we didn’t get a great sear, but it was still delicious.

I’ve since begged him to get a grill pan, and he has relented.  I recommend this one –

It’s pretty affordable and fairly easy to maintain.

Once it’s seared/grilled, allow your meat to rest for 5-10 minutes.*****

Slice against the grain in thin pieces, or shred with two forks.

Salsa Roja

I generally have around the 5 ingredients I need for any good salsa (not counting salt).

Tomatoes (or tomatillos for salsa verde), onions, garlic, cilantro, lime juice.

I wanted a roasted salsa to bring another layer of flavor to our tacos so, I blackened the tomatoes on the burner.

It was rough with romas.  I recommend getting a bigger tomato that won’t fall through the burner grate.  I also blackened the garlic and onions in a pan

Mmmm.  Happy, roasty char.

Pop these in a blender with the tomatoes, cilantro, and lime.

If you want heat, add jalapeno peppers or serranos to that list.  Unless you forget to tell your best friend to get those at the store, and he just happens to have sriracha around.

Adjust with salt.  Start with a hefty pinch.  Add more as needed.

The most frequent critique I hear when making salsa is, “It needs something, but I don’t know what.” Try a little more salt.  Then more lime.  Repeat until happy.

If you go too far…

With the salt – add another tomato

With the lime – add a pinch of sugar.  Yes, sugar.

Salty and Limey enough, but still not quite right?  It’s probably the tomatoes.  Add some tomato paste.

Go through your checklist.

Everybody likes their salsa different.  That’s the beauty of making your own, but here’s a rough guide.

2-3 roma tomatoes or 1 large tomato
2-3 tablespoons of cilantro
3 garlic cloves
1 small onion
Juice of 1/2 a lime
1/2 – 1 tsp salt

(1/2 a jalapeno, 1 serrano, or a few squirts of sriracha)

Red Pepper Rice

1 cup rice
2 cups chicken stock
1 roasted red pepper
Salsa roja to taste and salt to taste

How to roast a red bell pepper if you don’t already know.

Toast the rice in a pan for a minute.  Add the two cups chicken stock.

Bring it to a boil, reduce to a simmer.  Cover it and let it simmer for 15 minutes.  Turn off the heat.  Let it sit for 5 minutes. Do not lift the lid. Your rice is just fine and would appreciate finishing its sauna undisturbed thank you so much. It’s been five minutes? Ok, now you can take off the lid. Add red pepper and salsa roja. Taste.  Adjust.

Refried Beans

This one is by far the easiest.  I use canned beans because I never can remember to soak my beans over night.

Enough vegetable oil to cover the bottom of the pan you’re using
1 can beans, pinto is traditional, black are great too
Salsa roja
Chicken stock

Drain and rinse beans.  Smash ’em with whatever you have handy.  Todd used a meat mallet.  I use a potato masher when I’m at home.  The Mexican chef I used to live with used the bottom of a glass.  Whatever does it for you.

Add oil to preheated pan.

Add beans.

Add some chicken stock and salsa roja.  About 1/4 cup each.

Cook until thick, stirring frequently.

Taste.  Adjust seasonings. (Salt primarily)

That’s it.   Garnish with cheese or cilantro if your lil’ heart desires.

This lunch took about 45 minutes from start to finish.  I’m pretty sure I went in this order –

Marinate meat. Char pepper and other vegetables.  Start rice and blend salsa.  Start beans. Strip and dice pepper.  Cook meat.  Get garnish together while meat is resting and beans and rice are finishing.  Assemble.  Chow down with a beer.  Exclaim over how great the food is.  Lapse into food coma.

When slightly recovered from the food coma, the incredibly predictable question arose, “What should we do for dessert?”

Luckily, Todd, inferring from vast prior experience that this situation would present itself, had headed my sweet tooth off at the pass and bought some peaches.  So I half-improvised a peach crisp.

I say half improvised because I always have access to my failed experiment, Gourmet for 10 Dollars a Day, that I full-on intend to complete at some point, which houses a lot of my go-to recipes, including one for apple coffee cake which features a killer streusel topping.

Peach Crisp


3 unripened peaches
1-2 tbsp honey
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of salt

Cut peaches into 1/2 inch slices.  Toss with honey, cinnamon, and salt.


1/4 cup sugar (brown if you have it.  We didn’t.)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces

Combine sugar, flour, and cinnamon; add butter and break up butter with fingers until mixture resembles coarse meal.
Sprinkle streusel evenly over filling.

Bake in cake pan at 375 until golden brown and “crispy” looking on top.  I think it was about 30-40 minutes?  Check it at 20.


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