Saturday, January 23, 2010

Green Chili Chicken Enchilada Stacks

Dinner for Breakfast

Some mornings just lend themselves to projects - you know, some meaningful activity either inside or outside. Other mornings, well, not so much. Today was one of the latter, a snuggle-under-the-covers kind of morning, where watching raindrops create racetracks as they slid down the windows was my favored activity. Then the raucous squawks of a lone seagull grabbed my attention as he cruised by the window on some important mission. Finally the audible squawking of my own stomach reminded me it had been a long time since dinner. Thoughts of that dinner, and the plate of leftovers in the refrigerator, nudged me out of bed. Dinner for breakfast; now that's a great start to to a day.

Friday night’s dinner was delicious, a freeform recipe creating a stacked green chili chicken enchilada plus a side salad of baby spinach, orange segments, avocado chunks and slivers of fennel. It helped to have some packets of my homemade tomatillo - poblano sauce in the freezer, fresh cilantro and roasted chicken meat in the fridge, and a new package of almonds in the pantry. Almonds were a new addition to my usual mix of ingredients, with ground almonds in the sauce and slivered almonds in the filling.

Recipe? it's the usual story; I used something from a favorite chef, another online site, or maybe even a magazine, and then tweaked it until I liked the taste. 

So there I sat, pondering, how did I put together last night's version? Well, here's my typical process for building stacked or layered enchiladas.

Stacked Chicken Enchiladas

Green chili sauce:
 1. Roast a dozen dehusked tomatillos, a few fresh poblano chilies, a handful of peeled garlic cloves and a quartered onion. (In a pinch, canned mild green chilies can substitute for fresh, but I don’t like the tinned flavor of canned tomatillos.)
 2. Transfer the above ingredients to blender; add ½ bunch of fresh cilantro; pulse to puree the miture a bit (a few small chunks are okay). 
3. Heat a bit of oil over medium-high heat in a cast iron skillet; add blender mixture. Stirring often, cook until color darkens and sauce thickens.
4. Reduce heat to low; add some chicken broth to thin; season to taste with salt and pepper, Mexican oregano and ground cumin; simmer gently. Add a small handful of ground almonds (optional). Keep warm in the skillet; as needed, use cornstarch/broth mix to thicken, or add some broth to thin.

Filling options:
Shredded, cooked chicken (thigh meat is a favorite)

Strips of roasted sweet peppers
Shredded cheese (pepper-jack, swiss, Monterey jack…)
Chopped green onions
Fire-roasted corn (TJs frozen is a good choice)
Minced, seeded jalapeno chilies
Slivered almonds
Sliced green olives
Avocado chunks or slices
Fresh cilantro
Place selected filling choices in bowl; add some sauce; mix gently (or keep separate on platter if you want to change up the layers)

Building the stack:
1. Preheat oven to 350.
2. Lightly oil a round pie plate (pick a size slightly larger than the tortillas you are using). Spread a thin coating of sauce on the pie plate.
3. Dip a tortilla into the skillet of warm sauce, coating both sides; place on pie plate. Top with thin layer of filling mixture; sprinkle with more cheese.
4. Repeat step 3; do it again as often as you like.
5. Top with one last sauce-dipped tortilla; press gently but firmly to even up the layers. Sprinkle with any remaining cheese and drizzle any remaining sauce over the top (don’t make it too soupy).  
6. Cover with foil (tented high so it does not contact the stack). Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest for a few minutes; cut into wedges and serve.
Optional toppings: sour cream, salsa, cilantro, guacamole... or nothing at all.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Chili Magic

Chili is one of winter’s comfort foods, a flavorful tonic when unending gray, soggy days dampen the spirits. It has also worked it’s magic on cold, stormy days in spring while we’re cruising up north. Today there are chili reminders are everywhere I look around the kitchen… 

A Southwest cookbook collection calls out to me, "chili, chili, cook up a batch of chili..."

Chile and garlic ristras hang from the ceiling, bottled spices and hot sauces lurk in cabinets, bags of masa show up in the freezer, and a grocery ad features beef. What’s a cook to do? Make chili, of course.

Easy to say, but it is a challenge to decide which recipe to use. Usually it’s a combination of ingredients and methods selected from favorite cookbooks, magazines and online sources... freeform chili cookery. No matter, I know that my favorite red chili will always include a variety of chiles, Mexican oregano, cumin, garlic, onions, tomatoes, masa and beef.

My chili begins with dried chipotle, ancho and mild New Mexico pods, heated in a dry cast iron skillet to soften. This really perfumes the kitchen! Sometimes I stem and seed the chiles and grind up the pods in an old coffee grinder. 

Other times after softening I remove seeds and stems and whiz the pulp in a blender with enough water to make a thick slurry. Either way, there’s always more than enough for one batch of chili. It keeps. On board the boat, jars of chili powder and various ground chiles stand in for the real deal. 

We like a mix of browned chunky beef and ground beef, simmered for hours in its spicy, tomato chile sauce, with beans as a side dish. But if I need to stretch a batch for unexpected guests, then I’ll add extra water and toss the beans into the mix. Pinto beans, red beans, black beans - they're all good, backed up with garlic, onion, spices and a touch of orange juice and zest. 

Final touches can include a hint of chocolate and a bit of masa harina in a slurry for thickening. The personalized taste treat comes in the “fixins and mixins”, toppings to brighten the layers of bold chile flavors. Favorites include chopped fresh cilantro, minced white onion, diced avocado, shredded cheddar or Jack cheese and sour cream. 

 (Recipe link to follow - after I work out how to link a recipe page to this one)

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Homemade Goat Cheese

It's wet outside, really dark and gloomy, prompting an inside project instead of an outside adventure. Just the kind of weather to mess about with a new cooking challenge.

SeriousEats ranks high on my list of favorite food blogs, one of the first sites I read each morning. There's always a link to an article that interests, a chat thread that intrigues, or a recipe that just begs to be tried. Last week a post on homemade goat cheese would not be ignored. I thought about it for days. OK, I’ll admit it, I also loved the idea of cooking something from a blog titled Kiss My Spatula.

The simple process sounded like fun and did not call for any strange ingredients, though goats milk isn’t routinely found in my fridge or on my shopping list. Is it even available at a local grocery? No problem, Trader Joe stocks it (as do Whole Foods, PCC, AmazonFresh and others).

Today had nothing pressing scheduled so it was a perfect day for the cheese making experiment. So I printed the directions...

...and gathered up all of my ingredients.

Next I slowly heated the goats milk to 180 F…

...and then added lemon juice to curdle the mix. (No, the lemon zest is not for the cheese, but you can’t waste that precious stuff. It will find a home in tomorrow’s biscotti recipe.)

Finally I ladled the lumpy, curdled mix into cheesecloth...

...tied the corners to form a bag, and hung it from a wooden spoon to drain. (At this point I had some doubts.)

It dangled there, ignored, for about an hour or so until it looked like this. Not too pretty!

Salt, grated garlic, Herbs de Provence and chopped parsley added flavor and perked up the appearance. One quart of goats milk produced a lovely 6 ounce mound of cheese. 

Bon appetit!

Tasting notes:
1. The cheese had a crumbly, grainy texture that resisted spreading on slices of French bread - so we smooshed it into submission and munched away. Next time I won't let it drain as long, or might mix some of the drained whey back in.
2. I tried mixing a 50-50 blend of goat cheese and cream cheese, hoping to improve the spreadability without impacting the flavor. The result was a tasty goat cheese spread, but not really a goat cheese.
3. The shredded, raw garlic had too pronounced a bite. I will check the remaining spoonful of cheese tomorrow and see if it has mellowed out. NOTE: the garlic's bite did ease by the next day, but the overall flavor still needs something.
4. The next batches will feature different herbs and spices, just for fun.

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