Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chicken and Corn Enchiladas Verdes

One of my food goals this winter is to use up the jars and freezer bags of food that I worked so hard to put up over the summer.  Sometimes it can be a challenge to change the way meals are planned.  Rather than thinking of what I want to eat first and planning from there, I have to think about what I have on hand.  

Even though it can be challenge, it also makes life so much easier.  Meals that, before, would have involved a lengthy process to make, are now quick and simple.  In addition to the veggies I froze and foods I canned, I also spend time every month or so boiling and shredding chicken breasts.  I freeze the shredded meat in bags two cups at a time.  When a recipe calls for shredded chicken, I remove a bag, microwave it for one or two minutes and use it in the recipe.  It saves me so much time!

This recipe combines shredded chicken, summer corn from the freezer, and home-canned roasted salsa verde.  It takes enchiladas from a meal that would normally be time consuming to one which can be made in 30 minutes. 

In this recipe, the chicken is mixed with corn kernels, cheese, and sauce, and stuffed into flour tortillas (yes, I realize they're usually made with corn tortillas, but I like to be different).  The heat from the roasted salsa verde (mine is a little spicy) is tempered with sour cream which also adds richness to the sauce.  The whole thing is topped with more cheese and baked until hot and bubbly.  You can also double this recipe and freeze it, but if you do, you will need to allow it to thaw and bake it a little longer to heat it through.  

I think this would be equally delicious made with black beans or even zucchini during the summer months.  With zucchini, it would taste a lot like Chicken and Vegetable Tostadas (which, by the way, is another fantastically tasty use for salsa verde).

Chicken and Corn Enchiladas Verde-  serves 4-5 (approx. 9-10 enchiladas)

2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
1 1/2 cups frozen corn kernels, thawed (or use fresh, if in season)
2 cups Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 8 oz)
16 oz jar roasted salsa verde (homemade or store-bought)
1/2 cup sour cream
9-10 (6 inch) flour tortillas
salt and pepper, to taste
chopped cilantro, to garnish

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

To make the sauce, mix the salsa verde and the sour cream in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.  Spread 1/2 cup sauce in the bottom of a 9 x 13 baking dish.

In a large bowl, mix the chicken, corn, 1/2 cup sauce mixture, 1/2 cup cheese, salt and pepper to taste.  Set the chicken mixture to the side. 

Wrap the tortillas in a damp paper towel and microwave 1 minute to soften.  Working with one tortilla at a time, spoon a scant 1/2 cup chicken mixture in the center of the tortilla and roll it up.  Place it seam side down in the baking dish.  Repeat until all tortillas are filled.  Spoon the remaining sauce on top of the tortillas and top with the remaining cheese. 

Bake for 20 minutes until melted and bubbling. Serve sprinkled with fresh cilantro.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Spiced Peach Crisp: Using What's Been Put Up

The more I can, the more I realize that there are some things that my family really eats and other things that we can live without (or at least with less of).  As much as I love jam, we really have a difficult time going through it all.  Sweet pickles, on the other hand, were gone before winter even hit, telling me that I need to make twice as many pints this summer.  When I look in my cabinet, my jars of pasta sauce are dwindling while plenty of jars of spiced pickled pears (as tasty as they may be) are still patiently on the shelf awaiting their turn at the table.  One of the things that has turned out to be a real hit around here are the quart jars of Cardamom Peach Pie Filling that I put up using a recipe on Sweet Preservation. 

Over the summer, as I was blanching, peeling and slicing peaches to freeze, I decided to can four quarts of this filling to try.  Not sure that we would go through even that much, I put the jars in the cabinet where they sat until a couple of months ago.  One night, in the mood for something sweet, I decided to whip out a jar and sprinkle it with a crisp oat topping.  It was a hit, and since then, I have used up two more jars leaving me only one in the cabinet.  I am guarding that last jar, saving it until just the right moment.  The filling is lightly spiced, very tasty, and the peaches offer a burst of summertime flavor.  Most of all, it makes the easiest dessert ever.  Simply dump the contents from the jar, top it, and bake.  It literally takes 15 minutes to put together max and is ready for a big scoop of vanilla ice cream in under an hour. 

The crisp in these pictures was taken to a lunch at work which is why there are no pictures of the inside.  I thought people at work may think me a little strange if they saw me taking photos of my food before eating it.  You can see the filling bubbling up on the sides of the dish around the crispy, crunchy topping.  The topping, by the way, is made a little differently than most.  It is usually standard to cut the butter into the flour mixture while it is in solid form, but, in this case, the butter is melted and then mixed with the other ingredients.  I find that it gets crunchier this way and browns more evenly (your arm will also thank you as it is much easier to mix this way).    

The recipe that follows is for the topping and baking of the crisp only.  If you wish to make the filling, click on the link at the top of the post.  I will definitely be making this filling again this summer and will try to remember to take pictures of the process to post then.  For now, you will just have to make this dessert for yourself to see the results.  You could easily make one quart to try if you have frozen peaches on hand or make it with another fruit such as apples. 

Peach Crisp Topping (and baking directions): 
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup rolled oats
1/4 tsp kosher salt

Melt the butter.  Gently stir the sugar into the butter until combined.  Add the flour, salt and oats and stir until all ingredients are just moistened.  Crumble the topping over the filling in a small baking dish (8 inch square or small oval gratin dish).  Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until the topping is nicely browned and crisp.  Sometimes I find it necessary to lightly spray the top with cooking spray during the last five minutes of baking to get it as brown as I like, but this is not necessary from a taste standpoint.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Pot of Beans and a Bit of Frugality

Merriam-Webster defines frugal as "characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources" while another dictionary defines frugality as "prudence in avoiding waste."  

I used to be a bit of a spendthrift.  If I wanted something, I bought it.  Often I regretted it afterwards like the time I bought the ruby red high heels which are still sitting in the bottom of my closet.  Who did I think I was? Dorothy?  The older I get though, the more careful I am with money.  I think that's what happens when you become an adult and start making your own.  You realize that your parents were right when they continuously repeated, "money does not grow on trees."  In today's world, I think people are becoming even more careful with money, whether due to economic conditions or the desire to get back to a simpler lifestyle.  One way we can be frugal is by watching the amount of money we spend on necessities and using up what we have before buying more.  

I know it may sound silly, but when I hear the word frugal, an image of a pot of beans pops into my head.  What?  You mean, that's not exactly what you think of first?  Actually though, a pot of beans is a perfect example of frugality because they're inexpensive, use very few ingredients, and can be used in so many ways.  You can make a simple pot of beans stretch into multiple meals and still have some leftover.  

I recently decided that I should begin making a pot of beans on a regular basis to eat alone and incorporate into other dishes.  For very little effort or money, you can have so much pay-off.  So, on Saturday evening, I prepped one pound of "new crop" pintos to soak, and on Sunday I spent time reading a magazine as they simmered away, unattended.  The recipe I used was for borrachos and was slightly adapted from lastnightsdinner at Food52.  I will not post the recipe here since it is not mine, but I will say that I changed it slightly to fit what I had on hand.  Rather than using bacon, I used 4 ounces of diced salt pork which eliminated the need for additional salt in the recipe.  I also used only 1 1/2 cups of dark beer and a pint jar of home-canned crushed tomatoes. The result was a tasty pot of spicy beans which made an excellent and filling dinner with a slice of thick honey oatmeal bread and a spoonful of chow-chow relish that I made over the summer (this is, by the way, my favorite use for chow-chow).

Borrachos with a spoon of chow-chow on the side
Now, while beans are cheap and easy, the really great thing about them is what you can do with the leftovers.  While you can freeze them to eat later, they also make wonderful additions to other meals.  Here are two ways I used the beans later in the week.  

Bean Reincarnation #1-  Tacos:  While we eat tacos once or twice a month around here, we try not use a lot of meat in the filling.  I usually use about half a pound of ground turkey combined with another ingredient.  I use a reduced sodium taco seasoning or a homemade blend and add a little water before allowing it to simmer for several minutes.  You can use whatever taco seasoning you prefer, but rather than one pound of meat, add only half that along with 2 cups of the above mentioned borrachos.  Cook as you normally would an all-meat filling.  Just be careful with the salt as the beans are already salted.  This is perfect for a quick taco dinner, taco salad or burrito filling.  

Bean Reincarnation #2- Bean Cakes:  Another way to use the leftover  borrachos (or any beans you have on hand) is to give them a quick grind in the food processor, chill the mixture a bit in the fridge, mold it into patties, and lightly fry them in a skillet.  The beans are already perfectly seasoned and need no additional ingredients beyond a bit of salsa and sour cream to top them off.  This would make an excellent side dish to any number of meals while also being a great stand-in for refried beans (actually you could eat these as refried beans simply by skipping the frying step).  They are also filling enough to be eaten as a main course, just remember that they are not vegetarian since they are cooked with a bit of pork.  

So, there you have it.  The next time you want to feel frugal or just want several nights of meals at your fingertips, cook up a pot of beans. 

Do you invent new uses for beans?  If so, let me know how by posting a comment.  I would love to know what you do with the leftovers.  


Sunday, January 15, 2012

Week in Review: Cookbooks, Bread, and the Beginning of Homemade Vinegar

I love cookbooks.  They can be old, new, ragged, or pristine.  It doesn't matter to me.  The relaxation and inspiration I get from sitting down in the evening or on the weekend with a good cookbook is beyond measure.  Often, I love the stories and words from the author as much I love looking at the actual recipes.  I am a little embarrassed to admit this, but I have so many cookbooks that they take up an entire bookshelf and lead my husband to think that I should enroll in some sort of twelve step program.  I can't help myself.  I still go in search of new books at consignment shops where they are cheap and usually in fairly good condition.  I don't always find cookbooks that interest me on every trip, but sometimes I rack up and find several in one visit. 

This is a portion of the books.  There is a small overflow in the guest room as well.

This is what recently happened to me at a local thrift shop.  I was browsing the books when I noticed a box of cookbooks that had been priced but not put on the shelf yet.  I started digging and found the mother load.  Four cookbooks, several that I have wanted to own for a while but have never purchased (I especially love anything by Deborah Madison).  I scooped them up and was very careful not to leave them alone lest someone see them and end up with them instead.  Vegetables by James Peterson, The Savory Way by Deborah Madison, and Vegetable Love by Barbara Kafka all go through varied ways of preparing vegetables, some with bits of meat and some without.  I am especially excited about using these books once the weather warms up and vegetables become abundant once again.  The Bean Book by Roy Guste takes you through almost any bean or pea imaginable while giving several methods of preparing each.  I am already planning several bean dishes out of this book.  As you can see, it really doesn't take much to excite me.

Speaking of excitement...on that same trip, as I was heading to the check-out with my finds, I noticed a bread machine box that had never been opened.  I asked if I could untape it and peak inside, and what do you know?  The machine was still intact with its original wrapping.  I figured that for the low price of ten dollars, I could definitely buy the bread machine to try it out.  I had been thinking of purchasing one anyway because we love to have homemade bread but don't often have the time to make it.  I know some people think a bread machine is cheating, but I would rather have fresh homemade bread from a bread machine than store-bought bread any day.

So in addition to the new cookbooks and bread machine, I have also spent this week researching how to make my own vinegar.  As some of you may remember, I have homemade muscadine wine leftover from around Christmas and I was trying to come up with a use for it.  I made my usual batch of wine jelly, but I still have over half a gallon left.  The thought popped into my head to turn it into vinegar.  After finding this article online with details about homemade vinegar, I looked up a local company selling home brewing supplies, and purchased a vinegar mother.  
Vinegar mother poured from an 8 ounce jar.  You can see the darker mass floatin the liquid.

The vinegar mother is a starter made of bacteria (good bacteria that you want to grow) which helps turn the wine or cider into vinegar.  When I received the jar of vinegar mother in the mail (you could also get a mother from a friend who makes vinegar), I poured it into a bowl to examine it.  The liquid in the jar looked and smelled like red wine vinegar but had a gelatinous mass (the mother) floating inside.  

Two cups red wine
I poured the contents of the jar (it was 8 oz total) into a one gallon glass jar and added 2 cups of my red wine and 1 cup of water.  I covered the jar with cheesecloth and have it in the warmest dark area of my kitchen.  Now I just have to wait and watch.  I will add red wine to the mixture in a week and a half and will then have to be patient for several months as it does its thing.  I am taking a little leap of faith by putting this on the blog at this point because I have no idea how it will turn out or if it will even work.  I figure that part of the fun is seeing what happens even if it fails.  I will keep you posted on the vinegar project as it progresses.  

If you look carefully, you can see the mother floating in the front left corner of the jar.  We'll have to wait and see if she does her job.

Now I am off to have a piece of my "cheater" bread machine bread (honey oatmeal), finish cooking a pot of new crop pinto beans I picked up at the farmers market, and read a cookbook.  I love the weekend!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Pickled Beets and a Simple Salad

One of the most rewarding yet sometimes difficult things to do is to find interesting ways to "use up what you put up."  When I look into my freezer and cabinets I find lots of great tasting foods that I worked hard to put there, and I want to make sure I am taking advantage of all of their nutritional value.  Pickled beets are one of the items that we love.  My husband grew up eating them, and I began loving them after trying some of his aunt's beets that she puts up each year.  They are lovely to have on hand; earthy with the winning combination of sweet and sour all rolled into one extraordinary looking vegetable. 

Beets are truly underrated.  People either love them or hate them, but those who hate them have often been subjected to the grocery store canned variety which are really nothing like great, fresh-from-the-garden beets.  Pickling them helps them hold onto the qualities I love in beets fresh from the ground while also giving me a food item that can be used instantly.  

We often eat pickled beets as a side at dinner with casseroles or sandwiches or just as a snack straight from the fridge, but they can also be added to salads, sandwiches, and soups with great success.  

Since my canning season is over until spring, I want to begin to keep track of some of the ways I use the things I preserve.  Here is a simple, satisfying salad full of flavor and nutritional value.  It is composed of tender greens lightly tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette with walnuts, pickled beets, and a round of panko-crusted fried goat cheese.  Of course, you can alter these ingredients as you see fit by changing the greens, nuts, or by simply crumbling some soft cheese on top of the salad. 

Below are the recipes for the pickled beets and the salad.  In some areas of the country, beets can still be found right now at local markets.  If you are able to get your hands on beets, they are easy to can and are well worth the time you have to put into them.  Just be sure to wear gloves or you will have jewel-toned fingers for a day or so (I am speaking from experience). 

Pickled Beets- makes 4-5 pint jars

1 gallon (about 25 medium beets 2-3 inches each in diameter), scrubbed
2 cups granulated sugar
3 1/2 cups white vinegar
1 1/2 cups water, plus extra for boiling beets
3 1/2 tbsp pickling spice, tied tightly in a piece of cheesecloth

Place the beets (peel on) in a large pot and cover with warm water.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer 20-30 minutes until a knife slips in and out of a beet easily.  Cool the beets (for faster cooling place in a ice water).  Once cool, slip the peel off of each beet and trim the stem portion away.  Slice each beet into 1/4 inch thick slices.  If the beets are larger, you can cut the slices in half also.

In another large non-reactive pot, bring the vinegar, water, sugar, and cheesecloth sack to a boil.  Simmer 15 minutes.  Remove the cheesecloth spice sack and add the beet slices.  Simmer 2-3 minutes to heat the beets through.  Pack beets snugly into sterilized pint jars.  Ladle pickling liquid into jar to cover, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Use a bubble remover or chop stick to remove air bubbles.  Adjust headspace.  Top each jar with a sterilized lid and ring and process 30 minutes in a boiling water bath.  Allow to sit in canner 5 minutes after processing time is complete.  Remove to a towel to cool for 24 hours.  Check seals, label, and store. 

Pickled Beet Salad with Walnuts and Fried Goat Cheese-
serves 4

Balsamic Vinaigrette:
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1/2 tbsp grainy Dijon mustard
2 small cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid and shake until well blended.  Alternately, place all ingredients in a bowl and slowly whisk in the oil until emulsified. 

Fried Goat Cheese:
1 egg white beaten with 1 tsp water
3 tbsp panko breadcrumbs
4 slices of goat cheese
2 tbsp olive oil

Heat a skillet with the oil on medium high heat.  Dip each round of cheese into the egg white and then coat in the breadcrumbs, pressing the crumbs into the cheese.  Place the cheese rounds into the skillet and cook 1 minute until lightly browned.  Flip and repeat with the other side.  Carefully remove the cheese to a towel until ready to use (the inside of the cheese will have melted slightly so it easily loses its shape). 

Other Ingredients:
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
16 pickled beet slices
4 cups tender salad greens of your choice

To assemble the salad, toss the greens with enough of the dressing to lightly coat the leaves.  Place 1 cup of greens in the center of each salad plate.  Gently lay four beet slices on the edge of each mound of greens.  Place one goat cheese round on each plate, and sprinkle each plate with a tablespoon of walnuts.  Drizzle a little more vinaigrette over each salad and serve.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A Night of Pancakes and Relaxing

I am sure many of you have already gotten back to "real life," but tonight is my last night of winter break.  School starts back tomorrow, and while in many ways I look forward to it, I am also sad to see my days of relaxing in the warm coziness of my little house come to an end.  Today, I spent a day in a workshop (which thankfully ended early), and then came home.  I have things I really should be doing, all work related, but I have decided to enjoy this last night by blogging, watching TV, and eating pancakes for supper.  

I realize pancakes are technically for breakfast, but when you just want something comforting and quick for supper, pancakes are the way to go.  Tonight was perfect for pancakes because my husband, although he likes them, does not love them.  In fact, he does not love any breakfast food. So, when he called to say he was going to be late, I took advantage and made my favorite pancakes, several slices of bacon, a sliced orange, and a cup of herbal tea.  A humble but deliciously satisfying meal.  

So, let's get down to it.  These pancakes are heavenly.  They are light and airy with a slight tang from buttermilk and sour cream.  They practically float off the plate.  The only thing holding them down (well, besides gravity, of course) is a generous drizzle of berry syrup.  The syrup is made of a mixture of blueberries and blackberries, but you could use any berries available.  I make this syrup a lot during the winter months.  It offers bright flavors and is a perfect way to use all the berries I freeze throughout the summer.  You can choose to use fresh or frozen berries, but whatever you choose, make them the best you can get your hands on.  You can also use lemon juice rather than orange juice in the syrup, but in the winter, I almost always have oranges around.  Even though they are not local, there is just something about oranges that says winter to me.  You could, of course, opt to eat the pancakes with maple syrup or molasses instead, but who would pass up luscious berries on a cold January evening?  Certainly not me.

So, whether you eat these for supper, breakfast, lunch, or sometime in between, enjoy!

Sour Cream Pancakes with Mixed Berry Syrup (adapted from The Bride & Groom First and Forever Cookbook)- serves 3-4

Berry Syrup:
2 cups mixed berries, fresh or frozen (I use half blueberries and half blackberries, but any choice of berries will do)
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/2 tbsp orange juice
1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
1/4 tsp orange zest, optional

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 sour cream
1 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp melted butter, plus more for unmelted butter for swirling in the pan

Berry Syrup:
Combine the berries, sugar and butter in a small saucepan on medium heat.  It will be dry at first, but the berries will release their liquid within a couple of minutes.  Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook 5 minutes.  In a small bowl, whisk the orange juice, cornstarch, and zest (if using).  Slowly stir the juice mixture into the berries and simmer one more minute until slightly thickened.  Remove from the heat to cool slightly. 

In a small bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, sour cream and baking soda until smooth and combined.  Gently stir the flour mixture into the buttermilk mixture until just combined.  Stir in the melted butter. 

Heat a non-stick griddle or cast iron skillet over medium heat.  Once hot, swirl in a small sliver of butter.  Spoon approximately 1/4 cup of the batter onto the skillet and cook 2 minutes or so until lightly browned.  Flip the pancake and cook 2 minutes more until cooked through and golden brown on both sides.  Remove the pancake to a warm plate and repeat until all the batter has been used. 

To serve, stack several pancakes on a plate and drizzle with the berry syrup.  Enjoy! 

You can chill any leftover batter and use it the following day.  The taste of the pancakes will be the same but they will not be as light and airy as the day the batter is made.  The syrup can also be refrigerated for use within 2-3 days.  The syrup is excellent over ice cream or cake as well.