You could hear the food rolling around in the back as the car came to a sudden, unexpected stop. In one unified and seemingly choreographed collapse, the canvas grocery bags had toppled over, letting go of their overly stuffed contents. Two bottles of wine clanked and banged into one another, perched on the precipice of a shatteringly terrible mess. It was red wine, no less. Were it not for the two loaves of whole wheat bread who so gallantly stood in as buffers (buy one, get one!), they surely would have broken, those wine bottles, spilling their dark red liquid all over the trunk of my car. I eyed the receipt that was sticking out of my purse, trying to remember what I’d purchased that could have spilled or burst or wreaked utter havoc in the way way back.
We almost made it, though. We almost cleared the tracks before the lights started flashing and the gate came down. Almost. I couldn’t recall the last time I’d had to stop for a train, and this one seemed to have come out of nowhere … the flashing lights and ringing bells catching me off guard and causing me to slam on my breaks. So alas there we sat, my two children and I, waiting for the impending arrival of the train that we could feel coming before we ever saw or heard it. Here it comes! Here it comes! All aboard! The kids were ecstatic, thrilled. We were first in line for the viewing of this train and last, incidentally, to arrive at the gymnastics class to which we were headed. Thanks, train.
And now, we wait.
Ten minutes into the wait, I’d all but convinced myself that it was a ghost train, barreling across the land with no end in sight. This can’t be real … this seems like a joke … we are going to be SO so late.
Eleven minutes into the wait, the kids began to bicker. One hit the other, there was a scream, a kick, a toss of a shoe. I wasn’t looking, though … couldn’t take my eyes off the ghost train. “Mommy!!!!! He hit me. I’m hungry! We need a snack…”
Twelve minutes into the wait, I’d had it. I needed help; help in the form of sustenance to calm the formidable opponent that was the sibling rivalry going on in the back seat. I jumped out of the car and made a dash to the trunk, flinging open the door with a hopeful heart. Please let there be something I can feed them. I scanned the damage that had been caused by my sudden stop and was pleased to see that the only real casualty had been a plastic container of salsa that had burst open ever so slightly. No harm, no foul, I supposed. Fortunately I always tote around an excessive amount of baby wipes wherever I go, so this salsa was no match for me (Mom win).
I spotted a family size bag of tortillas chips peeking out from one of the overturned bags and a block of cheddar cheese, and that seemed promising enough for me, seeing as how I hadn’t exactly planned on making a meal out of this occasion. The kids were fine with it, happy as could be to nibble on their chips and bits of cheese – deconstructed nachos – as they took in the front row-view of their first ever train.
The last train car came barreling around the bend and passed us by. The gate lifted and then the coast was clear, much to my kids’ disappointment. Here one second, gone the next. Brushing the chip crumbs off my own lap, I shifted the car back into gear and off we went to gymnastics class.
We were exactly thirteen minutes late.
Chilaquiles with Roasted Tomato Salsa RECIPE
*adapted from Julia Turshen’s wonderful new cookbook, Small Victories
Chilaquiles are such a special dish. This version received the highest praise from my husband, who I think was a little unsure of what he was eating at first. Simple. Straightforward. Addictive. The flavorful elements of this classic Mexican breakfast fare are few, but they pack a punch. Traditionally made from old tortillas that are fried and then soaked in warm salsa and then topped with cheese, chilaquiles came into my life fairly recently, but they’d been on my culinary bucket list for the longest time. After having made them several times now, I can easily claim this dish to be a very favorite meal of mine, and not just for breakfast – these are wonderful whenever you see fit to make them. You really should see fit to make them …
There are certain foods that I feel are leaps and bounds better when you take the time to make them fresh at home, and crispy fried corn tortillas are one such food (despite the fact that I still buy bags of the pre-fried chips, as my story clearly shows). But for recipes like this one, where the dish’s heart and soul really lie in the tortilla foundation, I always go with the DIY fry. The taste difference is almost incomparable – transporting. It’s worth the small bit of extra time. Promise. That being said, you can swap in good store-bought tortilla chips or tostadas in a pinch, for a quick-fix option.
Lastly, making a roasted salsa like this is a fantastic way to maximize tomatoes in the dead of winter, when they’re clearly not their best. The roasting process brings out their inherent sweetness and makes it possible to enjoy delicious-tasting fresh tomatoes year round. It’s a kitchen victory for sure.
1 lb. fresh tomatoes (vine-ripened are what I like here)
1 jalapeno chile, halved lengthwise and seeded
1 small yellow onion, sliced
1 tablespoon canola oil plus more for frying
Handful of fresh cilantro
1 clove garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
12 corn tortillas, cut into 1″ strips
Toppings: pickled red onions (see below for recipe), extra cilantro, sour cream, lime, cotija cheese (or feta, if you can’t find)
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper (or spray it well with a natural non-stick spray). Place the tomatoes, jalapeno, and onion on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with a tablespoon of oil. Roast the veggies for about 20 minutes, stirring halfway through, or until they look visibly softened and slumped down, with small brown spots beginning to form. Transfer the roasted veggies to a blender or a food processor and add the cilantro and garlic. Blend until the salsa is smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
Make the tortilla chips: Add canola oil to a large, heavy-bottomoed pot to a depth of about 1″. Heat to 350 degrees F., or until a small test tortilla bubbles and sizzles immediately upon hitting the oil. Fry the tortilla strips in batches for about 30 – 45 seconds per side, turning and stirring them when they begin to turn a light golden brown. Transfer the fried tortillas to a paper towel-lined plate or baking sheet and season lightly with salt while they’re still hot. Clean out the pot and return it to the stove.
Add the salsa to the large pot and set the heat to medium. When the salsa is simmering lightly, add the tortilla chips to the pot and stir to coat them in the warm salsa. Transfer the tortillas to a large serving platter (or individual plates) and begin adding your toppings. I add a scattering of pickled red onions, some sour cream that is flavored with a squeeze of lime, some cotija cheese, and some extra chopped cilantro (and sometimes fried eggs, which is traditional).
Beet-Pickled Red Onions
1 red onion, sliced
The liquid from one, 15-oz can of beets
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup vinegar (apple cider, red wine, white wine, etc.)
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
1.5 teaspoons salt
Combine all ingredients in a lidded jar and stir or shake until the sugar has fully dissolved. Let this sit in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes or up to two weeks.