Restaurant Style Enchiladas

I’m looking forward to the day that we can all return to our favorite restaurants.

Our favorite local Mexican restaurant seems to be doing steady take-out business, during this time of isolation, but I’m sure that they’re not getting the same amount of business that they would if diners were allowed to come in to have a meal. 

I miss our favorite waiters.  I miss the comfortable, casual dining experience.  I miss my litre of Dos Equis with two limes!  Yes, these are hard times indeed!

I order takeout food about once a week to support our local restaurants but I have to say, the food just isn’t as appealing when it comes in squeaky, white styrofoam boxes.  I recently ordered molcajete, which, when ordered in a restaurant, arrives in a large, black stone mortar vessel.  Molcajete is an impressive dish!  Chicken, beef, shrimp, vegetables, chiles, fruit, nopales (cactus) and all sorts of other good things flow over the edges of the great stone bowl.  It is a symbol of prosperity and bounty but, when it comes in a styrofoam box, it just looks like table scraps and then there is a separate styrofom box that contains rice, beans and tortillas, wrapped in foil. 

So tonight, I want to honor our local restaurateurs by making a meal to honor the struggling fine dining establishments and the little Mexican casitas, like the one I love.

In honor of this momentous occasion, I’m using the last jar of my homemade salsa that I canned back in July, 2019.  I’m going to have to wait another two months for more fresh garden salsa…Aghh!

~ Enchilada Combination Platter ~  :   One beef enchilada, smothered in ranchero sauce, topped with queso blanco.  One cheese enchilada stuffed with roasted poblano peppers.  Served with rice, refried beans, sour cream and garden salad.

Ingredients:

6 corn tortillas, softened by simmering briefly in hot oil

Beef enchiladas:

4 chiles guajillo, seeded and stemmed

2 cups homemade salsa (tomato, onion, jalapeño and cilantro)

1 Tbs cumin

1 Tbs paprika

1 tsp brown sugar

¾ lb ground beef, browned

½ cup queso Chihuahua (any melting cheese can be used)

¼ cup half-and-half (or whole milk)

Cheese and Poblano enchiladas:

1 cup queso Chihuahua (Monterrey Jack cheese can be used as a substitute)

½ cup poblano chiles, seeded, stemmed, roasted and peeled.

Directions:

Before we get started, here’s something to consider…

As a former line cook at a Tex-Mex restaurant and as someone who wants to replicate a restaurant style dish, I suggest preparing as much of these ingredients in advance as possible.  Nothing impresses like being able to throw together a complex meal quickly.  Chop the vegetables, smoke the peppers, brown the ground beef, shred the cheese…you get the idea. 

Steam the dried guajillo chiles for 20 minutes. 

Slice the chiles down one side.  Scrap away the flesh and discard the thick skins.

Add the guajillo chile pulp to the salsa.  Add the cumin, paprika and brown sugar. Mix and set aside.

Brown the ground beef, but not to the point of completely browned.  The meat will finish cooking in the oven, later.

Assemble the enchiladas:

Add 1 Tbs cooking oil to an oven-proof skillet.  Place the skillet on the stove top and set heat to low. 

Lay 3 softened corn tortillas on a clean surface and fill them with ground beef.  Roll them up and transfer them to the skillet, seam side down.  Lightly brown the bottoms of the enchiladas.

Add salsa and guajillo chile mixture to the pan.  Top the enchiladas with more salsa.  Place in a 300° oven,  uncovered for 15 minutes.

While the beef enchiladas bake…

Lay 3 softened corn tortillas on a clean surface and fill them with crumbled Mexican cheese.  Top with chopped, roasted poblanos and wrap the tortillas to form the enchiladas.

Place the enchiladas in skillet, seam side down, and simmer over very low heat, covered, for about 10 minutes.  Covering the skillet is important.  These enchiladas need to be soft enough to cut with a side of a fork.

In another skillet, simmer the half-and-half for about a minute, until it starts to bubble.  Add the crumbled queso Chihuahua and turn off the heat. Stir until the cheese melts.  Keep warm.

Assemble the platters:

Nestle some chopped lettuce, tomato and carrot strips together on one edge of the platter.  Adorn with cilantro and sour cream. 

Add refried beans and Mexican rice to the other side of the platter, leaving the middle of the platter open for the enchiladas.

Carefully lay a beef enchilada on the platter and a cheese enchilada next to it.

Drip some white cheese sauce over the beef enchilada and the refried beans. 

Top the sour cream with pickled jalapeños.

Serve it like you mean it!

Los saludo cocineros y cocineros! Mantenga sus puertas abiertas … ¡Volveré tan pronto como pueda!

(I salute you, cooks and chefs!  Keep your doors open…I’ll be back as soon as I can!)

Te amo!  ¡Sé fuerte!

Back in the Saddle Again

I’m still reeling after last week’s epic gumbo battle so please forgive me if I babble for a bit.  For those of you who want to cut to the chase and see today’s recipe, scroll down until you find “Chicken Enchiladas”, in large, friendly letters.  But, know that you are missing all of the fun and I pity you.

When I was young, and by young I mean elementary school age, I recall that many home cooked meals featured Hamburger Helper or Cream of Mushroom soup.  I don’t know if it was because so many working parents didn’t have time to make dinner or if it was just clever marketing agents influencing those parents, but the fact was that those products found an indelible niche in American cuisine.

Campbell’s puts out about a zillion different kinds of soup but I swear I can only remember three from my childhood.  Tomato soup, Cream of Mushroom soup and Chicken Noodle soup.  Okay, to be fair, there was Chicken & Stars, but that was really just chicken soup with star shaped pasta, and it was marketed to parents of finicky and/or sick children.   

Cream of Mushroom soup took center stage, back in the 1970’s.  It found its way in many recipes.  The ubiquitous green bean casserole is a testament to the long-lasting power of Cream of Mushroom soup.  If you don’t have green bean casserole every Thanksgiving then,…well, you’re just not a real American. 

Cream of Mushroom soup, “America’s béchamel” 

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m not bashing Cream of Mushroom soup.  Cream of *Whatever* soup is instant béchamel in a can, and that’s a marvelous thing.

I remember having homemade chicken enchiladas for the first time.  I was 17 years old and having fun, hanging out with a friend.  His mother made us chicken enchiladas with Cream of Mushroom soup and canned green chiles.  Canned green chiles, back then, didn’t have clever graphics printed on the label, showing a thermometer indicating the “heat” of the chiles.  Canned green chiles were just that…canned green chiles.  They were hot and spicy, and that’s all you needed to know.  I loved those enchiladas. Thank you and bless you, Ginger!

But, when I discovered that I could make my own thickener from scratch, I felt a sudden rush, indeed, I felt a sense of empowerment!  I realized that I could thicken sauces or soups and have total control of flavors and textures!  A pad or two of butter and a spoonful or two of flour was the key that opened the door to an endless array of sauces.

For this recipe I used homemade green sauce and I made a homemade sauce from a simple roux and chicken stock.  If you want to use canned green chiles and cream of mushroom soup, that’s fine with me.  Just make sure you do it with love.

Chicken Enchiladas

Ingredients:

3 chicken breasts (mine started out frozen)

2 ½ cups chicken stock

4 or 5 garlic cloves

½ onion, chopped

10 to 12 oz green chile sauce

½ cup sour cream

8 oz Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded

2 Tbs butter

2 Tbs flour

10 corn tortillas

¼ cup cooking oil

Directions:

Boil the chicken in water until the chicken is fork tender.  Remove and allow to cool to room temperature.

While the chicken simmers, puree ½ cup chicken stock, green sauce and garlic cloves in a blender. 

Add the pureed sauce to a small skillet and simmer on low heat, to mellow the garlic, for 15 minutes.

Add the chopped onions to the skillet and simmer for another 15 minutes. Turn the heat off and allow it to cool to room temperature.

Add ¼ cup cooking oil to pan and set heat to low.  Soften each of the tortillas in the oil for a few seconds and remove to a plate.

Wipe the skillet clean.  Start a roux by adding the butter to the pan and set the heat to medium/low.  Add the flour and whisk until smooth.

Once the roux is smooth, add the remaining chicken stock.  Set heat to medium/high and whisk until the sauce has thickened. 

Add the green chile mixture and whisk for a minute.

Pour about one cup of the sauce into a bowl.  Leave the remaining sauce in the skillet and turn the heat off. 

Lay the cooked chicken on a clean work surface and smash with the broad side of a knife.  The chicken will break and fan out, making it easy to shred.  Shred the chicken by hand.

Add the chicken to the cheese and mix by hand.

Lay the tortillas on a work surface and add the chicken and cheese.  Roll the enchiladas and place in an oven-proof skillet, containing some of the sauce.  Once all of the enchiladas are in the skillet, pour the remaining sauce over them.

Bake in a 350° oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

Serve warm with rice or fried potatoes and guacamole salad.

Enchiladas Roja

This is the quintessential enchilada.  Seasoned ground beef, wrapped in corn tortillas and smothered with red chili sauce and topped with cheddar cheese.  If I am strapped for time, I use canned enchilada sauce.  Most stores carry a variety of brands and most brands offer at least two types of sauce: mild and hot. 

On this occasion I started from scratch.  I re-hydrated some dried guajillo and ancho chilies to make the base for the enchilada sauce.  As I mentioned in my previous post, I didn’t take a lot of pictures during the process but this is so simple to make, I don’t believe instructional photos are really that necessary.

Ingredients:

1 lb. ground beef

2 Tbs dried onion flakes

1 Tbs dried oregano

1 Tbs cumin

Salt (to taste)

16 oz sharp cheddar cheese (1 lb)

14 corn tortillas

3 Tbs butter

3 Tbs flour

2 cups prepared enchilada sauce (see the recipe here)

2 cups vegetable broth

Directions:

Brown the ground beef in a skillet.  Strain out the grease.  Return the skillet to the stove at low heat.

Crush the seasonings in a mortar and pestle and add them to the ground beef.  Stir and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add salt to taste. Transfer the ground beef to a large mixing bowl and cool to room temperature.

While the beef cools, prepare a roux with the butter and flour.  Add the vegetable broth and enchilada sauce.  Stir and simmer until thickened.   Pour about half of the sauce into a large ceramic or glass casserole dish.  Reserve the remaining sauce.

Grate the cheese and divide in half.  Add half of the cheese to the ground beef and mix by hand.

Lay tortillas on a clean work surface and add the beef and cheese mixture.  Roll the enchiladas and place them in the casserole dish.  Pour the remaining sauce over the enchiladas and top with the remaining cheese.

Bake at 350° for 30 minutes, or until the cheese begins to bubble and brown.

Serve warm.

Chicken and Spinach Enchiladas

I served two types of enchiladas during  a recent dinner party, along with Mexican rice, refried beans and guacamole.  I found myself forgetting to take pictures along the way because I was having too much fun visiting with friends and family. 

Consider this Part I of a three-part series of posts.

Ingredients:

4 chicken tenderloins

1 Tbs chicken bullion

1 tsp cumin powder

1 bay leaf

5 oz fresh spinach (I used half of a 10 oz bag)

4 Tbs butter

4 Tbs flour

2 cups vegetable stock

14 corn tortillas

1 lb Chihuahua cheese, cut into ½” strips

½ cup salsa verde

Directions:

Trim 4 large chicken breasts and remove the tenderloins.  Add the tenderloins to a pot of water (about 4 cups) and reserve the breast meat for another dish. Add the bouillon, cumin powder and bay leaf.

Cover the pot and simmer the tenderloins on low heat for one hour.  Turn the heat off and leave the pot covered for 30 more minutes. 

Remove the chicken pieces to a cutting board.

Partially flatten the chicken by pressing with the broad side of a kitchen knife.  Pressing the chicken breaks apart the meat and makes it easier to shred. 

Gently scrape the chicken across the grain to shred the chicken.

Note:  I stored the chicken in a seal-able container, along with the chicken broth.  This can keep for a few days in the refrigerator with no worries.

Steam the spinach for a few minutes until it begins to wilt.  Drain and set aside.

Start a roux with butter and flour.  Add vegetable stock and whisk until the sauce forms and thickens.  Add the chicken and chicken broth.  Continue to stir to incorporate.  Keep the heat set at medium and stir until the sauce thickens again. 

Ladle about 1 cup of the sauce into a ceramic or glass casserole dish. 

Arrange some tortillas on a clean work surface and place equal amounts of chicken and spinach on the tortillas.  Add a strip or two of cheese.  Roll the enchiladas and place them side by side in the casserole dish.  Continue rolling and placing enchiladas until the dish is full.  Pour the remaining sauce on top of the enchiladas.

Top with more Chihuahua cheese.

Lightly cover the casserole with aluminum foil and bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and uncover. Serve warm.

Enchiladas de Queso Chihuahua con Chili Poblano

This recipe is inspired by tamales with poblano chilis.  Most tamales I have eaten have been filled with beef, pork or chicken and, although I have had some great tamales over the years, one type of tamale remains unique among the rest because of its simplicity, clarity and sheer perfection.  If you’ve never had a green chili tamale you’ve been missing out on a wonderful thing!

Here in the United States, poblano chilis are mostly known as the main ingredient in chili rellenos…you know, the big green chili dipped in fluffy egg whites and fried to a delicious, golden brown.  As for Chihuahua cheese, well, it’s a soft, pale cheese, similar to, but not exactly like mozzarella.  Poblano chilis and Chihuahua cheese were made for each other.

Oh, by the way, mark your calendar.  I’m making a vegetarian dish!

Ingredients:

4 chilis poblano, roasted and cut into slivers

1 lb Chihuahua cheese (cut into ¼” sticks)

3 Tbs butter

4 Tbs flour

½ tsp cumin

½ tsp garlic powder

4 cups vegetable stock

14 corn tortillas (homemade, if you’re lucky)

¼ cup green sauce (salsa verde: tomatillo/serrano sauce)

* check out the recipe for salsa verde here *

Directions:

Rinse the poblanos under cold water.  Dry them off and place them on a parchment paper covered baking sheet.  Bake at 400° for 30 minutes, turning every 10 minutes. 

Once the chilis have blistered on all sides, remove them and place them in a plastic storage bag for about 15 minutes.  Steaming the chilis will allow you to easily peel away the outer layer of the chilis.

Once the chilis have steamed and cooled, remove them from the bag and place them on a clean work surface.  Remove the stems and peel away the outer “skin” of the chilis.  They should peel easily.  Slice the chilis lengthwise and lay them open.  Remove the seeds. 

Cut the cleaned chilis into thin ribbons and set aside.

Slice the cheese into ¼” sticks.  Set aside.

Start a roux with the butter and flour.  Add the cumin and garlic powder.  Simmer and whisk for a few minutes.

Add the vegetable stock.  Stir until thickened. 

Pour one half of the sauce into a large casserole dish.  Keep the rest of the sauce in a warm place.

Lay some tortillas on a clean work surface and add the fillings.  These will be some thin enchiladas!

Add 1 strip of cheese and an equal amount of poblano chili to a tortilla.

Roll the tortilla and place in the casserole dish.  Continue in this fashion until you run out of chilis, cheese or tortillas.  Pour the remaining sauce over the enchiladas.

Add some dots of the salsa verde along the top of the enchiladas.

Add strips of Chihuahua cheese across the top of the rolled enchiladas.

Bake in a 350° oven for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the cheese on top bubbles and begins to brown.

Note: I was hungry and I forgot to take a picture of the final dish.  I trust that you can imagine what the finished dish looked like…soft, creamy enchiladas with a toasted cheesy topping.  Yes…that pretty much sums it up.  Enjoy!

Spinach and Mushroom Enchiladas

Most of my entrée recipes contain meat, in some way or another.  Some recipes seem like meat, meat and more meat.  Other recipes lean toward vegetarian dishes…until I throw in some chicken stock.  This is a bona fide vegetarian dish. 

Until I started this blog I didn’t give much thought to other people’s recipes.  I have spent the last twenty-plus years relying on my own instincts and re-imagining dishes that I have had in the past.  But now I find myself perusing other cooking blogs and WOW, there sure are a lot of vegetarians and vegans out there!

I have gained an appreciation for what those cooks are doing.  It’s easy for an omnivore, such as me, to look at vegan recipes and think, “oh, those poor people…they have given up meat and they must be miserable.”  But, on closer inspection, I have found that vegetarians and vegans are bravely redefining what it means to be conscientious cooks.  Nutrition and taste can be achieved without meat.  There, I said it.

As I plod along searching for delicious and nutritious ways to satisfy my soul, I consider every lifestyle diet equally important.

This is one of those rare meals that came out just as I imagined it would.  The creaminess of the tomato based sauce and the three types of cheese made this a very gratifying dish.  It lacked a significant amount protein, which concerned me a bit but I grabbed a few handfuls of peanuts while I made this and life was good.

Ingredients:

7 green onions

2 garlic cloves, smashed

4 cups fresh spinach (8 oz)

16 oz fresh mushrooms

3 Tbs olive oil

2 Tbs butter

4 Tbs flour

2 tsp cumin powder

2 tsp chili powder

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

32 oz vegetable stock

6 oz tomato paste

½ cup half-and-half

8 oz Colby-Jack Cheese

4 oz sharp cheddar cheese

4 oz Mozzarella cheese

12 white corn tortillas

Directions:

Prepare the vegetables:

Chop the green onions.  Think of the green onion as three parts.  There is the white root section, the light green middle section and the dark green tips.  Cut and separate the green onions accordingly.

My recipe calls for 4 cups of spinach but I used more.  This might be considered a “heaping” four cups.  The beauty of fresh spinach is that it quickly wilts down to a much smaller amount when it is cooked. 

Chop the mushrooms.  I used baby portabella mushrooms because the price was right…any type mushroom will do.

In an oven proof skillet, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil at medium heat.  Add the chopped white ends of the green onions and garlic.  Simmer for one minute.  Add the spinach and stir.  After a minute, the spinach will begin to soften and wilt.  Add the chopped mushrooms and stir for another two minutes.  Remove to a bowl.

Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter.  Add the flour and whisk to make a roux.  Add cumin, chili powder, oregano, salt and pepper and stir to incorporate.  Add one half of the vegetable stock, (16 ounces) and tomato paste and whisk to thicken.  Add the half-and-half and whisk to mix.  Simmer on low heat to allow the sauce thicken. Thin the sauce with the remaining 16 ounces of vegetable stock. Simmer on low while the enchiladas are assembled.

Add the half-and-half.
Sauce will become very thick after adding half-and-half.
Add remaining vegetable stock to thin the sauce.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the mozzarella and cheddar cheese and 4 ounces of the Colby-Jack cheese.  Add the chopped middle sections of the green onions.  Add the cooked spinach and mushrooms.  Mix thoroughly. 

Soften the tortillas in a microwave or wrap in foil and warm them in a conventional oven.

Adding sauce to the pan keeps the enchiladas from burning

Add ½ cup of the enchilada sauce to the bottom of a large casserole dish.  Spread the sauce to cover the bottom of the dish.

Assemble the enchiladas:

Lay a tortilla on a clean work surface.  Add about 1/3 cup of the filling to each tortilla.  Roll and place in baking dish. 

Once all of the enchiladas are in the casserole dish, pour the sauce over the enchiladas and scatter 4 ounces of shredded Colby-Jack cheese on top.  Bake at 350° for 30 minutes. Top with chopped green onion tips and cilantro