Chicken Enchiladas: Green Chile Style

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Living for a few years in the South-westish, if there is such a place, marked me for life as a fan of a certain style of Southwest- style Mexican food. There were two restaurants in my teen years that served white enchiladas, made with a spicy green chile sauce that I swooned over. Served with homemade corn tortillas on the side (more carbs, please!) I was inspired when a local natural foods store began carrying additive and preservative-free corn tortillas to make my own enchiladas. Another breakthrough was Lauren Groveman’s versatile recipe for fajita seasoning, which I use for chili and enchiladas in addition to enchiladas.

I still have my Tucumcari, New Mexico Rattlers t-shirt (best high school mascot, ever!) even though I just passed through. Though I now live in the land of sushi, grass fed beef, and green smoothies, there are certain times when my spirit cries out for the kind of Mexican food you can’t buy out West.

Hence, I’ve had to be creative and assemble my own facsimiles of southwest Mexican-American comfort food. This dish can be assembled quickly as a casserole, using less tortillas, and everything can be assembled without a huge effort if you have chicken breasts already poached. I always poach extra if I’m making chicken salad because they do come in handy. My version of green chile enchiladas follows:

2 poached chicken breasts, reserving broth

1 package corn tortillas (Whole Foods sells additive-free fresh tortillas)

1 small onion, diced small

1 clove garlic, minced

1-2 small cans diced green chiles (available mild to spicy depending on preference)

2-3 tsp. fajita seasoning (recipe to follow)

Cheese Sauce:

3 tbsp. flour

2 tbsp. butter

1 cup cream

1 cup chicken broth

salt and pepper

1 ½ cups grated Monterey jack cheese

½ tsp. fajita seasoning

¼ cup sour cream

Sauté onion until soft over medium heat. Add garlic, stir briefly, add green chiles. Add 2-3 tsp. of fajita seasoning and let spice blend saute with vegetables for a couple of minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Prepare cheese sauce as for a standard white sauce, adding cheese at end. Reserve ½ of sauce. To remaining sauce, add sour cream off heat.

Add sautéed vegetables to reserved sauce (the batch without sour cream). Fold in diced chicken. Either fill tortillas with chicken mixture and roll or layer with tortillas in casserole. Top with cheese sauce and sprinkle with a little Monterey jack cheese and cilantro, chopped. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes. “Lord, this is good,” you’ll find yourself saying, sneaking a few spoonfuls before dinner. You’ll thank he beautiful diversity of America- the cultures, places, and ingredients that inspire regional cuisine.

Fajita Seasoning: (recipe by Lauren Groveman)

  • 3 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 3 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 3 tablespoons black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons aromatic dried oregano, crumbled
  • 3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

To Sweden With Love

photo-3 We had bought some store-bought cookies. Their cloying, artificial taste got me off my butt and facing the stand mixer with the triumvirate of cookie bliss: Butter, Flour, Sugar. I also decided to crack open the new Spritz Cookie Press I had bought at a warehouse store a few weeks ago. I had tried automatic cookie presses, Swedish cookie presses, but sadly, none could compare to my Mom’s cookie press which was purloined by a grinch who “borrowed” it one Christmas. After ignoring the directions that came with my new cookie press, I was off and running with a stainless-steel ratchet style tool that could double as a Krav Maga weapon! The only Spritz cookie recipe I found was in my Mom’s hand. She had telephoned a Minnesota woman she babysat for years ago for her recipe but she had apparently found it flawed: it was crossed out with the words. “NO, NO, NO…this is BAD.” Fortunately, the manual I had ignored boasted a single recipe. It was supposed to be mixed by hand. Not likely in my world.

CLASSIC SPRITZ COOKIE

2 sticks unsalted butter (1 cup)

1/2 cup sugar

1 egg

2 cups all-purpose flour

pinch of salt

1 tsp each vanilla and almond extracts

colored sprinkles

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy; add egg and beat well. Add flour, salt, and extracts, mixing briefly. Follow directions (as if!) for cookie press, and bake for 10-12 minutes at 350. Decorate with sprinkles immediately after removing from oven. In a matter of under 30 minutes, a heavenly aroma emanated from the oven, and we had a crisp, not-to-sweet, Swedish classic cookie. The new cookie press sliced my hand like a knife when I washed it. I guess that’s why they said to put it in the dishwasher. But, as my mechanic says, “You’ve gotta suffer, man.” It was definitely worth it for this cookie that is both rich and austere, a tribute to cold nights and Swedish ingenuity.

Are You There, God? It’s Macaroni and Cheese

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After a month of green smoothies, protein shakes, and fruit and yogurt smoothies, my spirit cried out for a meal. I wanted eggs and toast for breakfast, and mac and cheese for dinner. I finally realized there is a reason why we have breakfast, lunch, and dinner…we’re supposed to eat three times a day. I’m enjoying the re-set, back to eating food after a scary month of dental procedures that reminded me of the joys of eating, and chewing food. If I am brutally honest, I was also using my dental procedures as a way to see if I could lose a few pounds. Multitasking is my specialty. My autobiography, to paraphrase Judy Blume, should be titled, “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Geneva, and I Need To Lose At Least Fifteen Pounds.” I have been blessed with many things, but a fast metabolism is not one. But, since I need to live long enough to outlive and outperform my enemies, eating well is a must.

My love for macaroni and cheese  began with the little individual portions served from steam trays at cafeterias. Yep, growing up in the Midwest and South, cafeterias were the perfect place to have lunch or dinner on a budget. No tipping, lots of choices, and generally everyone could get at least an approximation of what they wanted. I always got macaroni and cheese, glorious in its elbow-macaroni cheesy goodness. Sometimes the top was crusty with breadcrumb topping, sometimes cheesy, sometimes grainy and sometimes smooth. The little bowl was mine and mine alone, but there were no leftovers. Where to get more mac?

My first forays into macaroni and cheese cookery began with the ubiquitous Kraft mac and cheese in the blue box. The orange powder was more like a science experiment than dinner. When I began coking in earnest, mac and cheese was one of the first dishes I attempted. The building block of homemade mac is a white sauce. Thus, I became white sauce’s bitch, pathetically attempting mastery of this devilish process called roux. Lumpy sauces, burnt sauces, and thin not-sauces, thick sauces like glue. I did them all. Finally, something clicked after my numerous mistakes (including the time my grandmother seamlessly demonstrated how to make a white sauce and laughed at my disaster on the stove). Like everything in life, it’s trial and error. And errors are how we learn. The key for white sauce is threefold: 1)stir the roux for two minutes to avoid a raw undercooked taste. Equal parts butter and flour. 3) add your liquid in gradually, stirring to prevent lumps 3) You can always make a sauce thinner,  but you can’t make it thicker.

Next was the cheese. American- Yuck. Velveeta. Yuck. Cheddar, yes, but it usually wasn’t sharp enough, and it was too yellow. Mozzarella: stringy. Colby: weird. Italian Cheeses: no. not for this. Blue Cheese? God, no. Believe me, I’ve tried them all. I finally came across a perfect three-cheese combo last year: Aged White Cheddar, Muenster, and Monterey Jack. Now for the pasta. Elbow macaroni is best. Don’t get weird on me with other shapes. I’ve done it, and rigatoni or farfalle and cheese sauce don’t work together. Get a good Italian pasta and cook it firm, not soft. Toppings? A must. I’m a fan of the crunchy film on mac and cheese.

Macaroni and Cheese

1 box elbow macaroni, cooked

White Sauce:

1/4 cup flour

4 tbsp unsalted butter

2 cups milk

salt and pepper

squeeze of fresh lemon juice

Lawry’s garlic salt (thank you for this tip, Patti LaBelle!)

cayenne pepper (a smidge)

Melt butter over medium heat. Blend in flour with a whisk, cooking for 1-2 minutes to make a roux. Add about 3/4 c of milk slowly, stirring all the while. Wait ’til this becomes lump-free with your constant whisk work, and add remaining milk and seasonings. Stir over medium heat until thickens. You’ll get bored, but that’s normal. Your sauce should be medium: not thick and not thin. The cheese will transform its texture and firm it up, so err on a looser sauce initially.

Add cheese: 2 parts grated white cheddar, 1 part grated muenster  and monterey jack. Something like 2-3 cups depending on how cheesy you like your mac. Reserve a little for your topping. Add more milk if it seems too thick. Taste for seasoning. Blandness is a no-no. Envelop macaroni and cheese sauce together. Stir. Pour into a buttered casserole dish and top with buttered browned breadcrumbs and cheese. (For the breadcrumbs, toast crumbs in a little skillet with a dab of butter. Stir until you are bored and they get toasty and yummy). Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25-30 minutes or until bubbling and topping is golden brown. And oh yes, enjoy. We enjoyed it so much we forgot to take a picture, but I’ll work on that shortly.

Sometimes dreams can come true. Mac and cheese, on demand, from your own oven. And I’ll take comfort in Michael Pollan’s words, that if you cook your own food from scratch, you can enjoy the pleasures of eating it without a smidge of guilt, and, in fact, with gratitude and thankfulness. Eating, and nourishment, of body and soul is a gift.