Simple Green Chile Enchilada Sauce

Fresh from the oven.

Fresh from the oven.

I’m one of those people at the grocery store that is always reading the labels on food jars, standing there squinting under the fluorescent lights at the purposefully small print and clogging up the aisle traffic.  Sorry about that!  In my defense, once you start this habit, you just cannot stop; I have to know what is in those bags and boxes and cans.  The list of ingredients that freak me out are primarily added sugars of any kind to things that don’t need sugar (i.e. spaghetti sauce) and strange unpronounceable additives.  To this end, I wind up buying a lot of basics and making my own when I cannot can my own.  This strategy offers peace of mind and a smidge of savings in my bank account.

I used to rely heavily on mass produced enchilada sauces until my label reading habit turned me off with the high fructose corn syrups.  Since I declared my sauce independence, I have experimented to find a sauce that is delicious, quick and cheap to make on a regular basis.  I prefer green enchilada sauce to red, but you could easily swap out ingredients to make a red sauce if you prefer.

Simple Green Chile Enchilada Sauce

  • 1 -4 medium sized roasted green chiles (depending on spice level), stems removed and chopped
  • 2 fresh garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 28 oz. can of tomatillos, chopped
  • tsp – Tbsp of ground cumin
  • sprinkling of salt
  • sprinkling of pepper
  • fresh lime juice (if available)
  • fresh cilantro (if available)

Slightly chop the chiles, garlic and tomatoes and place in blender.  Add the remaining spices and blend until a smooth and thick consistency sauce-like consistency.   This recipe is a simple platform for sauce and can be adapted to your own liking.  If tomatillos are too tart, try a can of regular tomatoes.  If roasted green chiles are unavailable, try canned chiles.  I guarantee you that whatever way you choose to make your enchilada sauce, it will be so much better than the canned stuff.  The above recipe makes one 9 x 11 inch pan worth of enchiladas with sauce on the bottom and top.

Let’s talk about enchilada structure now.  I used to be one of those people who meticulously rolled up my ingredients into the tortilla and hoped that it wouldn’t crack and break apart in the pan.  This method is why people do not make enchiladas on a work night.  Now, I simply layer the tortillas lasagna-style: 1 layer of tortillas (slightly overlapping), then the filling, a top layer of tortillas and sauce which is so much simpler!  Aesthetically, yes it is more of a casserole but the flavors are the same and the frustration level during prep is minimal.  Try it sometime, it is a better way to construct.

I love to make enchiladas.  My favorite combination is spinach, black beans, sauteed red onions, corn and queso fresco (soft crumbly Mexican cheese).  I often make the enchiladas vegetarian because I just love vegetables, but enchiladas are a bit like pizza and you can experiment to your hearts content.

It is a great feeling to realize that you can make the same thing that comes in a can healthier and better.

Making Sauerkraut – A Smashing Good Time

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I like to get up close and personal with my food preparation.  I’m not afraid to don my apron and get my hands right in there for the sake of something yummy.   And, making sauerkraut is the perfect way to be both hands on and hands off.  Let me explain.

Sauerkraut is a form of controlled decomposition.  If you wonder why it smells so funky, that is because healthy bacteria are digesting the cabbage and breaking it down —  this is the process of fermentation.  If the idea of fermentation grosses you out, then you’d better abandon yogurt, beer, coffee, cheese, chocolate and even bread.  Fermentation is everywhere, propagating good bacteria and it is a natural way of preservation.   Now we are learning about how helpful these beneficial bacteria are to our bodies.  Instead of trying to eliminate all bacteria, we need to better understand how to cultivate the good microbes and add them to our diet.

But I digress, I became interested in making sauerkraut a few years ago because I actually enjoy the taste.  It is tangy and I enjoy it on a grilled cheese with sauteed mushrooms, almost like a reuben.  It’s also a great condiment with perogies.  Making sauerkraut is quite simple.  The process involves a lot of smashing and then a lot of letting it ferment without intervention.  To make, first take a cabbage and chop it roughly into small pieces, or you can use an antique kraut board, but this device looks to me like a surefire way to visit the local ER doc.  Place the chopped cabbage in a metal bowl, add some coarse kosher salt and then start smashing it.  For a smashing implement, you can use the flat end of a rolling pin (pins/handles removed), or make something out of scrap wood.  The main thing is that you need to speed up the breakdown of the sauerkraut by smashing it up.  Once you get to a point where your cabbage is covered in liquid, you can then loosely pack the cabbage into mason jars, leaving at least an inch from the top to allow for air.  I can’t emphasize this enough:  don’t pack your jars too tightly — it creates a pressure during fermentation and will rupture the glass.  I did this once, arriving home to a hissing sound from my cabinet and when I opened up a jar under pressure, it spewed partially rotted cabbage all over my ceiling.  Oh, and this was when I was experimenting with red cabbage and living under the roof of a supremely neurotic landlord.  Not awesome, but lesson learned: don’t pack the container!  Once in the jar, you can add a bit of spicing.  I prefer to add a couple of juniper berries and some caraway seeds.  Now, you just let nature do the rest.  Store in a cool, dark place for at least 2 weeks.  Check on the kraut often to make sure it’s not drying out; if dry, add a brine solution of salt and water to top.  Check on the actual fermentation and when it’s done and tastes like sauerkraut, transfer to the refrigerator to slow the fermentation and preserve.

Freshly smashed and into the jar.

Freshly smashed and into the jar.

 

Why make your own sauerkraut when you can buy it?  For one, with a single cabbage you can make at least two quarts of kraut for a fraction of the price.  Second, you can experiment with different types of cabbage, and still the best I’ve ever made was from an heirloom dark green Jersey cabbage varietal.  And, it can be a stress reducer for what is more therapeutic than smashing something to smithereens for the sake of good food?  Finally, because it is homemade, you are getting all of the beneficial probiotics out of the food that are lost in the commercial production of sauerkraut.  Fear not the fermented cabbage!  By making your own kraut, you are continuing a long tradition of food preservation.

 

Easy Peasy Ravioli

 

Spring inspired ravioli

Spring inspired ravioli

Wonton wrappers, wow!  I have always wanted to make my own raviolis, but the thought of crafting fresh pasta to the perfect pouch-like consistency was intimidating.  While perusing my daily round of food and design blogs, I stumbled upon this recipe for Minty Pea and Arugula raviolis on The Kitchn.  Since I love arugula (this blog could have been Arugula and Whales!), my interest was piqued.

I made a few adaptations to the original recipe.  As an abundance of fresh local produce is lacking in my neck of the sagebrush, I could not find the fresh mint for the recipe, so I supplemented with lemon juice and dried basil.  Amazingly, we do occasionally have arugula in our store and I lucked out getting a bag in the close-out  produce bin for 99 cents.  Also, I used frozen peas.

The assembly line

The assembly line

This recipe was super simple, light and very easy to create for a weeknight dinner.  Wonton wrappers are amazing and I love knowing about this shortcut to ravioli making.  Mid dinner, I was already plotting my next rounds of raviolis:  homemade ricotta and spinach arugula pesto, artichoke heart and red pepper pesto, spiced ground lamb, butternut squash, and of course, mushroom.  Although I am an avid creator, I am always grateful for reasonable shortcuts.   I cannot wait to expand my ravioli repertoire!

I Love Brussels Sprouts!

Like a tree hugger, a stalk hugger.

Like a tree hugger, a stalk hugger.

Before we get started, let’s get one thing straight:  this post is NOT an April Fool’s day prank; I can — and will — declare my love for Brassica Oleracea any day.  Per Wikipedia, the name derives from the original cultivation in Belgium, beginning as early as the 13th century.  (Proving their timelessness!)  They are part of the same family as cabbage, thus their mini-cabbage appearance, which admittedly makes them pretty damn cute.  Brussels are super healthy for you, chock full of vitamins A, C and folic acid plus a plethora of other healthful compounds.

I didn’t eat sprouts as a child, so I’ve never had some memory of a mushy mess holding me back from an appreciation.  I started eating sprouts about 7 or 8 years ago, and I’ve never looked back.  Primarily, I roast these in the oven, dressed simply in olive oil, salt, pepper and a little lemon juice.  I’ve also made other dressings and toppings, always keeping the sprouts as the main star, but my preparation hasn’t strayed far from roasting . . . until now.  Courtesy of  the amazing cookbook (no hyperbole, truly amazing) Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi, I have a new means to enjoy them:  Brussels Sprouts and Tofu.  This recipe is quick and simple, and involves searing the sprouts until crisp and browned.  Using my well-seasoned cast-iron pans, these became almost carmelized with a sweetness and crunch I’ve never achieved from roasting.  I was stuck in a preparation rut and now I’ve seen what I’ve been missing.

A lot of my cooking involves just that, cooking.  I improvise often and my measuring cups are mostly saved for baking.  What I appreciate about actually following a recipe is that it gives you an example of how things can work, knowledge which you can then add to your existing repertoire.  The tofu/sprouts recipe was excellent, but what stood out to me was all of the options expanding upon this concept.  And that is what cooking is all about: experimentation.  I’m taking my sprouts recipes to the next level!

Sometimes You Just Need To Stir. Or, Demysitifying Risotto.

Yum!  All that stirring pays off.

Yum! All that stirring pays off.

Ah, risotto.  Just the name conjures up creaminess, decadence and gobs of time stirring a pot to a perfect consistency.  What if I told you that risotto is actually not that hard?  Or time-consuming?  Or that all that stirring is actually therapeutic?

Years ago I discovered the miraculous properties of this dish.  It is one of those dishes that requires very few ingredients, can be made in infinite varieties, never fails to impress friends, and is a true pleasure to make.  Two of my personal favorites are mushroom or corn.

Having the fixings on hand for a batch of risotto is important for you never know when you’re going to have a hankering for some stirring.  As for ingredients, all you need are:  stock or broth, onions/shallots, arborio rice, a vegetable of choice (mushrooms, butternut squash, asparagus, tomatoes, carrots, etc.), splash of wine/sherry/vermouth, and cheese (parmesan, romano, asiago, jack, provolone, even cheddar). As you can see, I’ve discovered the dish to be an infinitely versatile dish with few rules.

Some days I just return home from the job, mind a-racing, heart a-thumping and I know that I need to do something that requires mindless movements with a stomach warming reward.  These are the days I turn to risotto, not just for a tasty meal but for the aforementioned unconventional rewards.

Is risotto time-consuming?  Not particularly, especially when you consider that even a frozen pizza takes about a half hour to bake.  Does it need constant attention?  Sort of, but that extra attention is what makes this dish so meditative to make, and delicious to taste.  Personally, risotto is one of the most comforting meals to eat and to make.  It is very inexpensive and you can incorporate various ingredients to your liking.  In life where there is so much that you cannot control, isn’t it good to know there is a meal out that benefits from your attention and also tastes amazing?

Below is my adaptation of a corn risotto recipe.  (We received a bounty of corn this summer from a neighbor and froze it for preservation.)  I am not a stickler for exact measurements, so once you get the hang of this dish, you can adapt as necessary.

For the love of stirring — basic corn risotto recipe

  • 4 cups broth or stock (or, use stock concentrate and water)
  • 1/2  cup chopped onions or shallots — how ever much onion you prefer
  • 1 – 1 1/2 cup corn (frozen is what I use)
  • 1 cup arborio rice (gluten free, often found in bulk sections of your grocery)
  • splash of wine, sherry, vermouth (not necessary, but tasty)
  • 1/2 cup of grated cheese  (provolone, jack or even cheddar work well here)
  • Optional:  bacon, chipoltles (chopped with some adobo sauce to taste)

In a separate saucepan, heat the stock or broth to a low boil.  Keep warm to utilize during cooking.

In a medium pot, saute the onions in about 2 Tbsp. of olive oil, or do a combo of 1 Tbsp. butter and 1 Tbsp. olive oil. (I have chopped up one piece of bacon, cooked that and then sauteed the onions in bacon drippings, too.)  Saute the onions until translucent and fragrant — about 5 minutes.  Add the corn, and cook until slightly warm, a few minutes.  If using chipotles, add them at this point.  Chipotles are strong, so use caution here!  Add rice and coat the rice with the corn mixture.  Add a splash of wine if available, and again stir to coat.

Now begin adding the stock 1/2 cup at a time.  Stir to incorporate and make sure that the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.  The rice should not boil, but remain at a medium temperature throughout the pot.   Stir fairly consistently until nearly all broth is absorbed before adding the next 1/2 cup.  Continue until the rice is cooked and creamy and there is little to no broth left in your second saucepan.  This should take about a half hour or so.  The rice will be slightly al dente, and the dish will be creamy.  Remove from heat and stir in your cheese and any herbs you’d like to add.

Voila!  A calmer mind, an exercised wrist and a warm meal to enjoy!