Cooking On The Cheap: Tex-Mex Cheesesteak

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February 28, 2010 by skwishface

T’other day, I had a craving for cheesesteak. Out of the blue, apropos of nothing, one minute I’m shuffling work emails and the next WHAM! Must have cheesesteak.

Having survived two pregnancies, I know a craving when I see one. Cravings cannot be reasoned with. Cravings don’t care that you’re on a budget and can’t just hop out to the only local cheesesteak shop that you know of and indulge in some greasy instant gratification. They have demands, and they expect to be obeyed immediately. Cravings are jerks like that.

But I am a thinking, rational adult human. I am no slave to my stomach. Behold the triumph of higher thinking! I was able to ignore this craving and move on with my life.

For two whole days.

Then the weekend hit, and somehow the ingredients for cheesesteak made it onto our grocery list. It’s a mystery. One that may never be solved.

Tex-Mex Cheesesteak
4 toasted sammich rolls

for the meat
2-3 pounds cheap beef (I used chuck shoulder steaks)
1/4 cup lime juice
1/4-1/2 cup olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, grated or minced
2 tsp dried cilantro (or fresh, if your kitchen is better stocked than mine)
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper

for the sauce
1 small white onion, chopped
3 canned green chiles, chopped
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
2 cups monterey jack cheese (shredded)

(for a printable version of this recipe, go here)

This is not traditional cheesesteak. It’s got alot of Tex-Mex flavor involved because … well, I just can’t help myself. I’m a Tex-Mexican. This is how I roll.

We begin with the meat. Remember that budget I mentioned earlier? Well, when you’re marinating the hell outta the meat, then grilling it fast and slicing it thin, and then slathering it in sauce and cramming it in a toasty bun … well, let’s just say this is no time for filet mignon. I asked The Husband to obtain the cheapest cut of beef he could get his hands on. And he obliged me.

He nice, The Husband.

Now, for the marinade. Lime juice in a beef marinade is magic. Fresh lime juice is extra magic, but also takes time and effot to obtain. There’s all that tedious slicing and squeezing of little green fruits.

Okay, so it’s not that tedious. But if you, like me, have a tiny benevolent dictator in your life who has your daily schedule planned to the minute, then you can be forgiven for taking a few shortcuts.

Her Highness is content to allow my kitchen puttering to continue. For now.

The marinade is a simple, potent mixture of ingredients that is much quicker and easier to put together than it is to photograph. I recommend mixing up the marinade in a bowl big enough to accomodate your meat, that you can cover and stick in the fridge without risk of contaminating your other groceries.

And so it goes ….

Lime juice, salt, pepper, cilantro whisked together.

Grater = lazy girl's minced garlic. Look ma, no knives!

Olive oil whisked till it's all thoroughly combined. Ta-da! Marinade!

Toss in the meat, make sure it's all coated in the marinade. Be briefly ooked out because raw meat is ooky.

Cover tightly to keep the ookness contained. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

There! That was fun. While the meat is soaking up all that flavorful goodness, go do whatever it is that you do with a few hours’ free time. In my house, it was laundry, naptime, crochet, sweeping endless tile floors, and post-naptime snacktime. My life is a thrill a minute, folks. No one can live at this speed!


Marinating time has passed, dinnertime looms ahead. Now we consider the sauce that will make this cheesesteak be cheesesteak. Sure, we could just melt cheese and call it done. But why do less when you can do more?

This logic is flawed, I’m sure.

Oh well. To the sauce! First we consider flavory goodness that will also add texture to the finished sammich.

On a side note: The Husband usually does the grocery shopping. I give him a list, and he blazes through the store at Ludicrous Speed, getting the job done in a fraction of the time it takes if I do it. But he also loathes “weird” food. Like peppers and onions.

It must have pained him to even put this in the cart.

Marriage is compromise. I wanted the deliciousness of green chiles and onion in my cheese sauce. The Husband wanted to never physically encounter these particular ingredients. This is an issue I often run into, and there are only two workable solutions. One – puree the veggies so fine that he doesn’t even know they’re involved. Or two –

Chop 'em big enough that he can eat around them.

Love is a many-splendored thing.

Heat a smidge of olive oil in the pot that you plan to cook the sauce in. Then toss in the chopped onion and peppers. Sautee around over medium-high-ish heat until they’re all translucent and juicy.


Once they’re cooked, haul them out of the pot with a slotted spoon, so the flavory juicy goodness you’ve created stays behind. All the rest of the sauce ingredients are going in this pot so that not one bit of flavor is wasted.

And now please forgive me for this blog post’s second photo montage.

Butter! Because life is too short not to.

Flour! Because the sauce will need thickening.

Whisk! Because the flour needs to cook in the butter for a bit.

Milk and cheese! Because I forgot to photograph the milk heating to a simmer first.

Now at this point, there’s alot …. alot … I mean it’s really endless … of whisking. Monterey Jack cheese melts up beautifully, but it’s reluctant to incorporate into the sauce. It will ball up around your whisk and give you attitude. I have no pictures of this, because I was too busy whisking and cussing under my breath. Which apparently takes both hands.

Stick with it, though, and your patience will be rewarded. Whisk the rebellious cheese in with the warm milk over medium-ish heat for about nine years, or until the cheese finally relinquishes its hold on the whisk and gives in to the sauce.

Like so.

At this point, the sauce is a bit thin. But give it time. Let it hang out over medium-low heat and ponder its role in the universe. Stir it every now and then to let it know how much you love it. It’ll thicken up nicely.

And once it does, you can re-introduce it to some old friends.

You could not hope for a happier reunion.

In the meantime, the sun is setting and my grill pan was in wretchedly poor light, so I didn’t get a pic of the actual grilling process. Suffice it to say, this happened:

It's amazing what a few short minutes on a screamin'-hot grill pan will do.

If you don’t have a grill pan, just a big skillet will do. So long as it can get wicked hot so you can quick-sear the outside of the meat and leave the center nice and red and tender.

Of these things are happiness made.

Let the meat rest for a bit after it’s been cooked, then slice it up thin and across the grain. Don’t take any pictures, though. That would be silly. 

Next, toast up some sammich buns. If you trust yourself to keep an eye on them, you can slice them in half and slide them under the broiler in your oven. Normally I don’t, because very few people are more easily distracted than me, but I was feeling cocky.

To my delight, they turned out a wonderful golden brown. Which I promptly hid under a mound of juicy, tangy beef, creamy cheese sauce, and succulent veggies.

Craving: satisfied. Very very satisfied.


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