A Taco Casserole
Cinco de Mayo celebrations can be a gauntlet of high-carb dishes for those having to track those carbs by dietary choice or a medical condition. Matt Stocks, Melissa’s organic procurement manager, and a carb counter himself, provides this month’s recipe that he created in order to enjoy the flavors of Mexico in spite of his own dietary limitations.
“A few years ago, I was diagnosed with type 2 Diabetes,” Matt explained. “I was shocked because I had never shown any signs of this disease, though my doctor said it was most likely handed down from my father. I was faced with the challenge of having to make changes to my lifestyle that started with learning to cook with substitute items that are better for my condition. This is all still pretty new to me so I must admit that I still struggle with old dietary habits and temptations, though it gets easier every day not to “cheat.” This is one of my favorite dishes to combat my Mexican food cravings, so I figured it would work well this month for Cinco celebrations!”
While Matt’s recipe is very low in carbs, one does not need a diagnosis of anything but an appetite to enjoy this layered casserole of goodness! And if one thinks that healthy cannot be almost decadently delicious, the many flavor components that go into this dish prove otherwise. Matt uses several fresh and processed from fresh items from Melissa’s pantry of products to create this dish. Starting with three of our most popular Hatch Pepper items: Hatch powder, Hatch salsa as well as a jar of whole red and green Hatch peppers. While on paper that may seem like Hatch overkill, but each lends a separate and unique set of flavors to the whole.
Matt Stocks has been overseeing the procurement side of Melissa’s Organic Fruit and Vegetable department for 23 years. He came aboard just as the demand for organics in the marketplace was exploding from a niche “health food store” clientele to what is now a still burgeoning category offered by most all regional and national grocers. At times, when supplies are not able to keep up with demand, the marketplace becomes very competitive. So, Matt spends much of his time searching out growers, both domestically and globally, to contract with in order to guarantee year-round supplies of some of the most popular fresh crops.
“The most interesting aspect of my job is the organic growers themselves and what they deal with in order to bring a crop to market without all the tools that their conventional counterparts have at their disposal. For instance, if conventional growers have a bug problem, they simply call their chemical suppliers to eradicate the problem in a few days. Organic growers must train Hawks to keep the rodents and other birds from eating their crops, import geese to protect raspberry vines, use beneficial nematodes (parasites) for the biological control of fungus and gnats or sometimes spray with very weak, non-chemical based natural solutions to get rid of diseases over time. Every grower must develop a unique set of methods and “trade secrets” to battle the natural predators depending on the crop and local conditions. It’s a fascinating part of the business of growing fresh organic produce, which the consumer is only vaguely aware of without really grasping what it took to get a head of organic romaine, for instance, to retail.”
While Matt must source both fruit and vegetable items, he admits to being most comfortable with the more volatile market of fresh vegetables, although he says he is getting better at the fruit procurement side of the business. This is not unusual in the produce industry. Row crops, both organic and conventionally grown, react to adverse field conditions much more immediately than most fruit crops, fresh berries being the exception. For planning purposes and to attract business, prices are usually projected a week ahead of delivery. While most fruit supplies and pricing do not change quickly, one good rainstorm or freeze can interrupt or destroy a row crop overnight, creating immediate price hikes and supply shortages based on the produce industry’s prime directive—supply vs. demand = price. So, Matt must be “right” 100% of the time with his projections of veggie supplies and pricing for a multitude of items every week. If all goes according to plan, he is an “invisible” part in the field-to-fork distribution chain. However, one rainstorm can knock out or delay a harvest already presold based on Matt’s projections. It’s like a good printing of a book—people only notice the typos. For decades this writer has always considered himself a “fruit guy” as I could never really get a good grasp on the market changes in the vegetable category quickly enough. For the most part, the produce industry at the wholesale level is divided into fruit and vegetable specialists with very little cross-over.
Ha, I have always considered that those who deal with vegetables must walk to the different drum beat as it definitely takes a special “market sense” in order to anticipate the myriad variables that affect the ebb and flow of that volatile marketplace. It turns out that when Matt is not losing sleep over his current romaine projections he is, in fact, a real drummer!
“I have a B.A. in Music Performance on Drums and Percussion from Cal State Long Beach. I even played steel drums in my music professor’s professional band for five Years. Currently, I play drums in a classic rock band called Quad-X. We have been playing together for 16 years, which is longer than most rock bands last. For this feature, I was asked who I would invite to my own table for dinner if I could. That’s easy – the late Buddy Rich, the greatest drummer to ever live! Ask just about any famous drummer who was their biggest influence and I would wager that most would say Buddy. He just did things that nobody else could do. He was known as the Drum Wonder from the age of four, but died much too young at 65. I would have given anything for just one lesson from him!”
Matt claims bragging rights to his daughter Josie’s accomplishments; she graduated from USC in Animation and is currently working on a screenplay. Many at Melissa’s know Matt’s wife, Rosa, who worked in the Graphic Arts Department for 13 years. Matt credits Rosa for keeping his tendency to “cheat a little” on his new dietary mandate to a minimum in spite of his whining about it. And, yep, it was a workplace romance that took seven years to blossom into marriage just a year before she left the company. Seven years? Could have been a psychological way to offset all those quick decisions demanded daily in the trenches of his veggie procurement battles? Though, what does this simple fruit guy know about it?!
Cinco de Mayo Taco Casserole
1 pound ground beef
1 medium white onion, diced
½ teaspoon Melissa’s Red Hatch Pepper powder
¼ teaspoon salt & pepper
1 can cream of mushroom soup, concentrate
½ soup can full of water
3 Roma tomatoes, diced and separated
1 jar of Melissa’s Hatch peppers
1 jar of Melissa’s Hatch Salsa, Red & Green blend, medium
1 bag low-carb whole grain tortilla chips
1 can sliced black olives, separated (retain ¼ cup for garish)
1 pound cheddar cheese, grated
1 Roma tomato, diced (garnish)
¼ cup Black Olives (garnish)
Brown meat with onions, Hatch Chile Powder and salt and pepper to taste.
Combine mushroom soup, water, ¾ of the diced tomatoes, Hatch pepper, Hatch salsa in sauce pan. Simmer uncovered until most of the liquid has dissipated and a thick, stew-like mix is achieved.
In a large casserole, using half of all components, layer in the following order: chips, hamburger, olives, soup mixture and finally the cheese. Repeat a second layer in the same order.
Bake @ 375°F for 25 minutes, remove and top with remaining diced tomatoes and black olives. Return to oven for another five minutes. Serve family style with optional sides: guacamole, sour cream and/or salsa.
Disfrute/Salud (Enjoy & Cheers!)