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
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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.

Cookies and Cooking Blogs

When I was growing up, I had a Mom who worked part-time as a nurse. Part-time meant she often worked late shifts or weekends. What that meant for me as a self-focused and hungry child, as children are wont to be, is that Mom was often there when I walked home from school, and I was often lucky enough to smell from the backyard the wafting smell of fresh-baked cookies emanating from the kitchen. After our collie greeted me as though I was the prodigal daughter (though I had only left home that morning) I would sneak a few warm cookies off the cooling rack and avoid my homework. I could let it all hang out as I complained about the indignities of  school and always found a comforting presence near Mom at the old yellow formica kitchen table as she rustled about making dinner. The cookies were simple, delicious, and wholesome. Mom often slipped in healthy stuff like nuts, coconut, and wheat germ. They were delicious, and cookies are still one of my favorite treats. Handheld, individually portioned, creative and quick for the cook, cookies are still “It.” I was touched when I read the foreword to Thomas Keller’s “Bouchon” bakery book, which at its beginning, weaves a beautiful story of his hardworking single mother and the role of cookies in their family and pantry. He shared a recipe for homemade pecan sandies which were luscious. Keller’s story, full of respect and admiration for his Mom, brings to mind the old saw about how a man treats his mother is how he will treat you. So ladies, look for a man who is kind, thoughtful, and considerate to his mother. If not, RUN in the opposite direction!

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On another note, the cooking blog has proven far more challenging than I anticipated. When I cook, I am in action- it is all focus, physicality, timing, and attention. Writing is more introspective and dream-like, creating an altered consciousness. So far, merging my cooking, photography and writing styles has not felt natural or easy. I have work to do, and it’s not as easy as it looks!
So, as the summer winds down, and I am left remembering grilled chicken, zucchini, onion, and tomato frittata, summer soups, Midwestern potato salad, and clam chowder consumed at the beach with briny air being the best accompaniment, none of which I have a photographic record of, but fond and happy memories thereof. I wish us all a subtle transition into autumnal abundance, when the sun sets earlier, the nights grow chillier, and our kitchens turn again into hearths, the center of our homes, and gatherer of family and friends.

Pecan Sandies

Hands-on time 20 min. Total 45 min.

Makes 1 1/2 dozen

2 cups all-purpose flour (250 grams)

¾ cup coarsely chopped pecans (80 grams)

¾ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (170 grams)

¾ cup plus 2 tsp. powdered sugar (90 grams)

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Toss together flour and pecans in a medium bowl.

2. Beat butter at medium-low speed with a heavy-duty electric stand mixer until smooth. Add powdered sugar, and beat 2 minutes or until fluffy, stopping to scrape bowl as needed. Add the flour mixture, and beat at low speed 30 seconds or just until combined.

3. Shape dough into 2-inch balls; place 1 ½ inches apart on 2 parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Flatten each ball into a disk.

4. Bake at 350° for 22 to 25 minutes or until light golden, placing 1 baking sheet on oven rack one-third down from top and 1 baking sheet on oven rack one-third up from bottom.

5. Cool on baking sheets on wire racks 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire racks and cool completely (about 15 minutes). Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Store in an airtight container up to 3 days.

Recipe adapted from the Bouchon Bakery cookbook.

Midwestern “Cobb” Salad

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My Midwestern take on the famed Cobb Salad is a blend of the solid Plains I grew up on and a little of California’s visual verve- a redux of a Midwestern classic, the layered salad. Classic Cobb Salad contains bacon, chicken or turkey, diced tomatoes, avocado, blue cheese, and chopped hardboiled egg, all non-negotiable basic ingredients. The ingredients rest in stripes atop a bed of green chopped lettuce. Layered salad’s base is iceberg lettuce, practically the only lettuce I knew existed until I left the Midwest! In a classic layered salad all the ingredients are placed in layers over the lettuce, preferably in a glass bowl to show off the vibrant colors. Iceberg lettuce has gotten a bad rap lately, but it has quietly made a resurgence with wedge salads and is one of my favorite lettuces to this day, especially on burgers, sandwiches, shredded for tacos, and in this salad. This salad combines the visual appeal of a Cobb salad with the classic ingredients of a layered salad. The dressing is a creamy dairy-based recipe with a little sharpness from the onion that is a lovely complement to the salad. The salad can be assembled in about 15 minutes if you have already prepped hardboiled eggs and lettuce. It is great dinner option when the summer heat hits and you don’t want to turn on the oven. To wit:

Two heads of iceberg lettuce, washed, dried and cut into medium pieces

Two beefsteak tomatoes, diced

1 cup peas (frozen is fine)

1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese

4 hardboiled eggs, diced

5 strips bacon, cooked crisp and chopped into small pieces

Dressing:

1 cup mayonnaise

1/2 cup sour cream

salt and pepper

1 tsp sugar

1 tsp champagne vinegar

2 tsp grated onion

milk to thin to desired consistency

 

 

 

Banana Bread

I have been searching for something lately to take the edge off my sugar and carb cravings in the morning. If I was like my slender cajun cousins, whose father led the way,  eating cereal and ice cream in a large salad bowl while remaining achingly thin, I would begin the day with croissants and doughnuts, or perhaps one of the new pastries, a cronut, a diabolical doughnut made from  fried croissant dough. I could not in good conscience accompany my A.M greek yogurt and fruit with such an indulgence, and since it would immediately go to my posterior, I came up with “Plan B.”

Banana bread came to mind. I grew up enjoying my mother’s banana bread, made in a dark tin loaf pan but with half the sugar of the recipe (my mom didn’t believe in sugar, or too much of it at least). It was good, but not great (sorry, Mom!). My next choice was the Starbucks banana bread recipe I had copied and tucked in my recipe binder. For some reason the coffee behemoth oddly decided to print the recipe for their banana bread online for a brief while. The recipe makes an astonishingly good loaf of banana bread and is even loved by avowed banana bread haters. So, instead of a cronut, I enjoy a modest slice of this bread with my breakfast, content that I am eating bread and cake, but with fruit and nut goodness. My only secret? Not using overly ripe bananas, because I simply don’t like overly ripe bananas in smell or taste. THis is a quick two-bowl recipe, and I did cut the sugar from the original recipe. Mom, you are always right.

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Sort-Of Starbucks Banana Bread

2 c flour

1 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1 egg

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup canola oil

2 tbsp buttermilk

1 tsp vanilla extract

2-3 bananas mashed with a potato masher

1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 325 deg.

Mix together dry ingredients; blend egg, oil, sugar, and oil until combined. Add dry ingredients; mix well and fold in mashed bananas

and 3/4 cup walnuts, reserving 1/4 cup for topping. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan (parchment paper/cooking spray) and bake for

one hour. Remove from pan and let cool to room temperature before serving.

 

 

You Can’t Always Get What You Want…But You Can Get What You Need

O, Onion Dip

Some things we eat are not noble. They are just astonishingly, lip-smacking good. Onion dip is one such item. Inspired from the packets of french onion dip mix and prepared dip eaten at gatherings, this retro-inspired dip purloined and adapted from Southern Living magazine is an admittedly guilty pleasure. Some virtuous people have been known dip raw vegetables in this concoction, others simply go for the classic standby, potato chips. It can be used as a salad dressing and bread spread. Image

 I have seen people swoon over this. Hide some in the back of the fridge for yourself when you make it. You can make it as tangy or creamy or oniony as you like. Just don’t try it with reduced fat sour cream and mayonnaise. I did once and it was the only time the onion dip remained uneaten. Caramelized onions are one of the best investments a cook can make. They are great on focaccia or pizza, and this dip. Make some today and keep on hand.

 

Informal Recipe:

caramelized onions: chop as many onions as you wish into dice. Put in a hot pan with oil and butter. Salt, pepper, and stir, tending to occasionally and keeping heat low enough so they don’t burn form the natural sugars. Add more oil as needed. Keep tending for 20-30 minutes. Caramelized onions like to be stirred occasionally, left alone, and on low heat. Kind of like some people.

Dip:

caramelized onions

mayonnaise

sour cream

buttermilk

chopped parsley

salt and pepper

1 part mayo, 2 parts sour cream, 1 part buttermilk is the dairy ratio I prefer in this recipe. Tangy but mellow. Perfect after blending but even better the next day after the flavors blend and the caramelized onion bathes in dairy goodness.

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