It just goes to show – no matter your age, you’re never too old to start liking a new food. For the last, well – 40-ish years or so – I had never made a particular item in our kitchen. And with our love of Mexican food, it seems unlikely that this item, very common in Mexican cooking, has never made it to our table. But the fact is that for the last, well – 40-ish years or so – I have had a disdain for this comestible. We’re not sure what caused a change of heart, but this week I purchased, cooked, and ate…beans. Many of you just became completely indifferent to this post, but for those of you who have known me for a while, you know that eating beans here is a big deal.
Now before anyone gets too celebratory, I must concede that it was refried beans that I made – but again, for someone who has never ever, ever prepared or even liked beans, this was a culinary event. So what was the motivation after all these years to finally consume some legumes? Back in December we visited a place called Gloria’s Café in Los Angeles, a Salvadoran restaurant with terrific food. At said eatery we were served refried beans, and they were terrific. For some reason that experience came to the forefront of my foodie brain this week and I bought a can of Goya’s Rancheros Refried Pinto Beans to make some bean, rice, and cheese burritos. The “Ranchero” refers to the beans being cooked with tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, and spices, and even on their own, they were quite tasty. Wrapped in a flour tortilla with rice and cheese, they were even better.
The main reason for my not liking beans is their texture – I just don’t enjoy those semi-firm, slippery little buggers. But frijoles refritos are very mushy, so that helps explain why I can tolerate – nay, like – that varietal of bean. And it only took me, well, 40-ish years to figure it out.
Oh, you want the recipe for the burrito? Sure – ok, it’s pretty complex. Take a large flour tortilla. Cook some rice. Heat the beans until hot. Spread the beans on the tortilla. Scoop some rice on the tortilla. Crumble cheese on the tortilla. Roll up the tortilla. Eat. Enjoy!
As I was chowing down voraciously on a delicious homemade chicken burrito last night, it struck me odd that until a couple of weeks ago, I had never made burritos at home…ever. I love burritos. My wife loves burritos. Why the heck did it take me this long to make them at home? Maybe being from California, where good burritos are available in so many locations, I never felt the need to make them at home. But even being removed from the Golden State for almost six years now, I still don’t know why it took this long. It’s not like I needed fancy ingredients only available to the restaurant industry or anything. Well, whatever the silly reason, I’m sure glad I’m making them now, because that burrito last night was just as good as the burritos available in most places here in Albany (I know, that’s not saying much) – but we do have Chipotle and Moe’s, both of which do make decent burritos, but I have to say that mine were a viable substitute. So in case there are others out there like me, who for some inexplicable reason feel opposed to composing a burrito symphony at home, here’s my recipe. This is a great time to use leftover chicken (or from a rotisserie), but of course any meat will work (or none at all if that’s your thing). Those of you who enjoy beans should add beans, and of course you can throw in any of your other favorite burrito fillings not listed here. Will this be as good as what you can get at an authentic taqueria? Of course not – but it’s still darn tasty. Enjoy!
The MHK Burrito
(makes 2 burritos)
2 burrito-sized flour tortillas
1 cup cooked white rice
2 chicken thighs and drumsticks, cooked and shredded
1/2 cup shredded Jack cheese
1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
1 tomato, diced
1/2 cup salsa (bottled or made fresh – I used Frontera’s tomatillo salsa)
Heat a large skillet on med-high. If chicken is cold or at room temperature, heat until hot. When skillet is hot, place one tortilla in pan and heat about 10-15 seconds per side until warm and flexible. Place tortilla on a plate; add rice, chicken, cheese, cilantro, tomato, and salsa. Make sure all ingredients are near the middle of the tortilla. Starting from the end closest to you, fold tortilla just over the middle, covering the filling. Carefully fold in both side of the tortilla over the filling, then finish folding to the end, wrapping it all up. Repeat for second burrito. Eat!
None of the MHK staff had been to Pepper Jack’s in about 3 years, probably due to the fact that we found the food to be a bit boring and very average. But now that the 10-year-old burger, cheesesteak, burrito, and wrap eatery has moved to a new location on North Allen Street, we thought we’d give them another shot; as it turns out, we should have given them another go much sooner.
Pepper Jack’s menu is essentially fast food, but they throw some culinary curveballs into the mix, offering creative ingredient combinations for their panini, sandwiches, wraps, and even their cheesesteaks (advertised as “authentic Philly cheesesteaks). The chicken pesto panini has roasted peppers, red onion and Provolone, and the Santa Fe features chicken salad with cheddar cheese, salsa and hot peppers. For wraps, they have a cheeseburger club with bacon and all the fixin’s; a breakfast wrap with eggs, ham, cheese and homefries; a cranberry turkey wrap with mushroom cornbread stuffing and cranberry sauce; and the buffalo chicken wrap with Pepper Jack and blue cheeses. There are also items like the BBQ Pulled Pork sandwich, chicken or steak burritos, salads, and an array of finger foods like jalapeno poppers, curly fries and boneless Buffalo wings. It’s a fairly extensive menu; even vegetarians will find a few things to try. They also have homemade desserts.
We called in our order and we were told it would only be about 15 minutes; this timetable was right on the money. We ordered the Deluxe Philly, the Red Hot Philly, the chicken burrito, and the Turkey Club Wrap, along with sides of fries and onion rings.
Both Phillys were very good – the steak was sliced razor thin, and the soft roll absorbed the juices nicely. The Deluxe came with onions, bacon, mushrooms and Swiss; it was very tasty, but the mushrooms were pretty much non-existent – they were either omitted, or just weren’t enough to discern in the sandwich. The Red Hot Philly had onions, hot peppers, Frank’s Red Hot sauce, and Pepper Jack cheese. It was perfectly spiced – good heat but not too much, and the slight crunch of the peppers was a nice contrast of texture. But it did leave me wanting more cheese, especially on a cheesesteak. It was there, but I wanted more of that melted gooeyness in each bite.
The chicken burrito was a good size, stuffed with rice, black beans and cheese. The ingredients were well-proportioned and it tasted great, though it would have been even better with some salsa or sauce. The Turkey Club wrap was very basic, just turkey, bacon, lettuce, tomato and mayo. While the turkey was not freshly carved, it was better than average, and it’s always nice to see a restaurant do the really simple dishes well. The fries were far better than we remembered them being from 3 years ago – these seemed to be freshly cut, skin-on, and the outside stayed crisp while the inside remained soft and fluffy; very delicious. The onion rings had a great crunch to them while the onion inside stayed tender; again, very delicious.
You won’t find anything over $8.99 on the menu, and the portions are hearty without being obnoxiously large. With the new location, Pepper Jack’s is looking to expand their delivery area and make delivery service more efficient, as well as bringing in new business-lunch customers from nearby Central Avenue. If they keep serving quality food, that shouldn’t be a problem.
The Mouse House Kitchen gives Pepper Jack’s 4 out of 5 stars!