I Miss Zantigo Chilitos!

October 9, 2009

LogoOnce upon a time, long,  long ago (actually, it was in the 70’s), in a galaxy (a city really, Norwood in fact), far, far away (250 miles to be specific) there was a Mexican fast food restaurant called Zantigo’s.   The Zantigo chain had a reputation for fresh, fast, simple, flavorful Tex-Mex at low prices.  Without a doubt, the most memorable item on their menu was an item known as the Chilito, a wonderful mixture of chili and cheese wrapped in a flour tortilla.  The Chilito was not merely a wonderful fast food product, but it was, beyond doubt, the perfect eating-while-driving entree.  The chili-cheese ratio was perfectly balanced to insure that after a minute or so of cooling off, the chilito simply would not drip, run, or drop into the lap of the unsuspecting driver.  Three chilitos was the minimum order for a real man (or woman), and to a Zantigo’s aficionado, there was simply no substitute.

Alas, Zantigo’s was a small operation, lacking the gargantuan funding of their primary competitor, Taco Bell (owned by the even more gargantuan PepsiCo), and as time went by, Pepsico took notice of Zantigo’s market penetration.  Eventually, PepsiCo bought Zantigo’s and folded their locations into the Taco Bell chain.  Some of us were aware of the acquisition, and took whatever measures we could to stave off the inevitable.  A friend of mine actually stockpiled Zantigo’s taco sauce packets in his freezer to ward off the day when he would no longer have access to its spicy goodness.  Even I was saddened when he informed me, about two and a half years later, that he had finally run out. 

When Taco Bell absorbed Zantigo’s, the Taco Bell menu took precedence.  Zantigo’s essentially disappeared.  But one small trace remained, a trace that still appears occasionally even today.  It’s called the chili-cheese burrito, and it’s pretty good, although Taco Bell simply can’t seem to get the proportions of chili and cheese right to make it a driving food.  You really don’t want to try eating a chili-cheese burrito in the car without a couple of napkins in your lap.  Nevertheless, it’s the only thing most of us have left by which to remember Zantigo’s (Ha! You thought I was going to end that sentence with a preposition, didn’t you?).

But this story has a (sort of) happy ending.  It seems that two brothers, Don and Kevin (no last names given on their website) have purchased the trademarks, recipes, and franchising rights to the Zantigo restaurants, and now have six locations in operation.  Unfortunately, all the locations are in Minnesota, so for the time being, I’m not likely to get a fix for my Zantigo jones any time soon.

So, today in Elyria, Ohio, I found a Taco Bell that was still serving the chili-cheese burrito, and consumed one reverently with a Diet Pepsi,  all the while silently praying for the success of a couple of fellows named Kevin and Don, somewhere in Minnesota….    http://www.zantigo.com/

Zantigo's menu - almost worth a drive to Minnesota!

Zantigo's menu - almost worth a drive to Minnesota!

Note: the parenthetical comment about ending a sentence with a preposition is inserted in honor of my high school English teacher, Sarah Kensinger, who is often in my thoughts as I compose this blog.

The Joy of Empanadas (or, How to Make Leftovers Presentable!)

July 19, 2009

I’m convinced that the first empanadas were made by an enterprising Mexican cook who was faced with unexpected dinner guests and a pile of unappetizing leftovers with which to create a meal.   You can stuff almost anything into an empanada shell, deep fry it, and create something that tastes better than the sum of its parts.  That’s what I call cooking for real men!  Unidentifiable morsels of meat soaked in chiles and sauce, wrapped in a pastry shell, and deep fried in hot grease – heavenly!!

Here’s what I came up with tonight at the spur of the moment.  A sort of Hostess Pig Pie, if you will, created from the remnants of Alton Brown’s Grilled Pork Tenderloin (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/grilled-pork-tenderloin-recipe/index.html), a can of salsa, and 10 Goya Empanada Discs.  Here are the specifics, though you can deviate to the max and still have a good meal:


Leftover Pork Empanadas

3/4 to 1 lb. leftover pork tenderloin (or pulled pork, or whatever’s handy)

1   7-3/4 oz. can El Pato Jalapeno Salsa (or about 1 cup of whatever you like)

1 pkg. Goya Empanada discs

Canola or other high temperature cooking oil

Shred and/or chop the pork.  Pour on the salsa.  Mix.

Use a serving spoon to deliver 1-1/2 to 2 Tbs. of the pork filling to the center of each empanada disc.  Using your finger dipped in icewater, wet the outside edge of the disc where you’ll be crimping the edges together.  Fold the empanada in half, join the two edges and crimp with a small fork.

In a large saucepan, place enough oil to submerge the empanadas, and heat to 360 degrees F.  Use a meat thermometer, and try to keep the oil temperature between 325 and 375 at all times.   Depending on the size of your pan, you may have to fry as few as two empanadas at a time.  When they float to the top, turn once or twice to brown them evenly.  If fully submerged, they will require about 2 minutes total cooking time to become golden brown.  Remove and drain on paper towels.   Serve with your favorite condiments and a side dish of vegetables, or whatever you like.


The nice thing about empanadas is that the filling can be made from almost anything from savory to sweet, from meat to vegetables to fruit.   They make great lunch entrees, dessert items, or appetizers.  Have fun!!



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