With so many options being juggled in my head, I was growing restless as the date got closer.
As I started exchanging emails with one of the producers, I began to throw ideas: what about different kinds of Salsas, variations of that irresistible cold and wet Tres Leches cake, funky versions of Guacamole, or a sample of fresh Ceviches...?
Or, wait. How about something easy, tasty and flashy like Tequila, Cream and Chipotle Shrimp? It's so much fun to prepare, I told the producer. You ignite the pan, the flames come up right after the shrimp begin to brown, and then they wind down right before you pour the cream. Your guests feel special and impressed...
I had to agree that we were better off staying away from igniting anything on the set.
Oh, I got it! A chicken dish. Everyone wants a good chicken dish in their recipe box. And one of the tastiest ways to eat chicken in Mexican kitchens, no doubt about it, is Chicken Tinga.
Although it comes from the state of Puebla, it is so popular, that it is eaten throughout the country. So of course there are countless variations.
I have a favorite version. One that I have tweaked through the years until I found a balance of flavors that needs no more tweaking, if you ask me...
A great thing about the Tinga, is that you only need a handful of ingredients. Some are familiar to everyone, like tomatoes, onion and garlic. The other needed Mexican ingredients are readily available throughout the US these days, and people should become familiar with them, as they are absolutely blissful.
Such is the case of the Tomatillos, pictured above next to their cousins, the tomatoes... and the Chipotle Chiles in Adobo Sauce.
Pump up the sweetness of the tomatoes, the tart notes of the Tomatillos and the rich smoky, depth of the Chipotles with some Marjoram, Oregano and Thyme, Salt and Pepper....
Add some already cooked and shredded chicken, and you have a winner.
Catchy and irresistible, starting with the name, the Tinga is easy to prepare, packed with flavor, and once you make it, can be refashioned in a thousand ways. Plus it stores in the refrigerator well, and it's one of those dishes that add on flavor as its reheated.
After talking with Bianca, the food stylist in charge at the Today Show, we decided to cook the Tinga, and show the viewers a couple choices of how to play with it: Tostadas and what can be called Tinga'Dillas.
Here is Bianca on the set, right before the segment. She rocks, friends.
This is Bianca's hand, making a beauty out of the deliciously messy Tostada...
Here, that's a zoom out.
OK. It is so crazy in that set, but oh so fun, fun, fun crazy... And the whole food styling team is amazing.
That is the front of the set. Allison (there in the corner of the photo below) and I chose some colorful pots and pans to do the demo.
And you see that clock under the screen? It says 9:39. Segment was going to be shot at 9:46. Yes, I got dizzy and nauseated, and hyper and sleepy all at the same time...
So aside from the Chicken Tinga demo, there were the Tinga'Dillas paired with Guacamole and Grilled Corn...
And the Tostadas, set on that rustic piece of stone. We were going to do the Fresh Cheese and Mexican Cream, last minute.... to take it over the top. Why not?
The 4 minutes flew by.
When all was said and done, we ate the Tostadas and the Tinga 'Dillas. And after that, we hugged. I hugged them so tight, out of thankfulness, everyone there was so generous and warm.
From the lovely woman Roma, who fixed my hair (Thank the Heavens, I never know what to do with it and always pull it up), to the hilarious Gilberto, who did my make up (Thank the Seas, because I can hardly curl my eye lashes properly), to the professional Food styling team with Bianca and Allison and the rest, to the generous and kind producers Vivian and Alicia...
... and the gorgeous and warm hosts Natalie Morales and Ann Curry (who are even prettier in person, I swear!).
Oh Boy. What a team! If you want to watch the segment click here.
The Tostadas and Tinga'Dillas are perfect for casual entertaining. They can be messy, but its a delicious kind of messy. And after all, its the middle of the summer. If you get too messy, just turn on the hose!
CHICKEN TINGA RECIPE
Serves 4-6 (makes about 5 cups)
3 tablespoons safflower or corn oil
1/2 white onion, slivered (about 1/4 pound)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
8 roma tomatoes, or about 2 pounds, rinsed
2 tomatilloss, or about 1/4 pound, husks removed, rinsed
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or more to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
2 tablespoons sauce from Chipotle Chiles in Adobo, can add whole chiles if more heat is desired
5 cups shredded chicken
Place the rinsed tomatoes and tomatillos in a medium saucepan and cover them with water. Set the saucepan over medium heat. Once it comes to a simmer, cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the tomatoes and tomatillos are soft, thoroughly cooked, and smooshy but not coming apart. Remove them with a slotted spoon. Place in the jar of a blender or food processor and blend until smooth.
Heat the oil in a large and deep pan over medium heat. Once it is hot but not smoking, stir in the onion and cook until soft and translucent, for about 5 to 6 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until it becomes fragrant and lightly browned, about 1 minute.
Pour the tomato/tomatillo sauce on top and sprinkle the oregano, marjoram, thyme, salt and black pepper. Spoon in the chipotle Chiles in Adobo sauce. If you want it spicy, you may drop a whole Chipotle Chile in Adobo in there as well. Let the sauce simmer, stirring now and then until it seasons and deepens its red color, about 10 to 12 minutes. You may want to partially cover the pan as the sauce may want to jump out over your burners.
Toss in the chicken and combine with the sauce. Let it cook, stirring casually, until the chicken has absorbed almost all of the juices and the mix is moist but not juicy.
Makes 12 Tostadas
12 corn tostadas, such as Guerrero, Mission
1 1/2 cups refried beans, warmed up (can be home made or store bought)
3 cups Chicken Tinga
1 cup iceberg or romaine lettuce, finely sliced
1 ripe avocado, pitted, peeled, and sliced
1/2 cup queso fresco, Cotija or Farmers Cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup Mexican or Latin style cream
Salsa of your choice, such as Salsa Verde, optional
Place the tostadas on a large platter.
Layer a couple of tablespoons of refried beans on the tostada. Spread a couple tablespoons of Chicken Tinga on top and garnish with about 1 or 2 tablespoons lettuce, 1 or 2 slices of ripe avocado, 1 or 2 tablespoons of crumbled Queso Fresco and Mexican Cream.
Serve the salsa on the side for people to drizzle as much as they want.
8 large flour tortillas
4 slices Monterey Jack, Muenster Cheese, or Mexican Manchego
2 cups Chicken Tinga
2 cups guacamole(home made or store bought), on the side
Heat a non-stick skillet or comal over medium-low heat. You may also use the grill. Once hot, after 3 or 4 minutes, layer 2 flour tortillas, the cheese slices and the Chicken Tinga. Place 2 flour tortillas on top of the open ones, and let them cook until the tortilla on the bottom has begun to harden a bit. Flip to the other side with the help of a cooking spatula and let the quesdillas continue to warm up, until the cheese has completely melted and the tortillas have hardened on both sides. Repeat with the rest.
Serve with guacamole for your guests to spoon on top.