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Best Chicken Enchiladas

Food from our childhood evokes such strong emotion, doesn’t it? My mother’s Chicken Enchiladas were one of the staples of my youth — but honestly, they weren’t my favorite. Fast forward twenty years to the point where I started cooking for myself. This was one of the first recipes I tried making on my own. I considered what I didn’t like about them and knew with a little tweaking they could be so much better! Over time, I worked out what I think make these pretty much perfect. Unfortunately, at the time, I eyeballed everything and had to share the recipe verbally with a lot of suggestions. I’ve finally taken the time to figure out the basic measurements. However, I do have a few tips and suggestions to follow.

First, there are some recipes that are worth making in large quantity and this is one of them. I always make at least 2 meals worth (sometimes it turns out to be 3) and I freeze what we won’t be eating right away. There is nothing better than having some fool-proof meals ready to pop in the oven at a moments notice. The amount this recipe makes varies on a few things — size of tortillas, how many pans are used and how full the enchiladas are filled. The good news is, the recipe is quite forgiving and flexible. Second, I’ve tried many different varieties of chicken, but this is the one I keep coming back to. Yes, you could use a rotisserie chicken, but I found the meat to be drier and stringier than the large diced breast meat. You could also swap the breasts for thighs, but they weren’t quite meaty enough for me. I’ve seen my mom use canned and pre-cooked, packaged chicken (ACK!) but that completely makes my head spin. Whatever you do, don’t do that! Poaching the chicken in salsa is simple and gives a nice, subtle flavor.

Lastly, I realize these are not exactly traditional. Enchiladas are supposed to be made with corn tortillas but I prefer to use flour for these. I’d call this “American-Mexican” comfort food at it’s finest. All I know is, they are the number one thing my children and husband request I make.

Best Chicken Enchiladas
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Ingredients
  1. 6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  2. 1 jar of salsa (I always use Frontera Foods)
  3. 5 cups of grated cheddar cheese
  4. 3 containers of whole milk sour cream (16 oz/ea)
  5. 2 cans diced green chiles, drained (4 oz/ea)
  6. 1/2 can of cream of mushroom soup (optional)
  7. 1 TBL milk
  8. Freshly ground pepper
  9. Olive (or other vegetable) oil
  10. Flour Tortillas (approx 12-15 medium sized ones)
Instructions
  1. Place the chicken breasts in a large sauté pan. Pour the salsa over the chicken and make sure to coat all of the pieces evenly. Cover with a lid and cook over medium-low heat for 15 minutes (flipping them over halfway through.) Don't worry if the chicken isn't fully cooked through. It should be close, but definitely don't overcook it. Remove the chicken from the pan and set on a cutting board. Heat the remaining salsa in pan on high until substantially thickened and reduced. Once chicken has cooled enough to touch, slice it into bite-sized cubes and place in a large bowl. Pour the reduced salsa over the top.
  2. In a separate bowl, combine 2.5 containers of sour cream, the canned chiles (drain first), the mushroom soup mix (if using) and 3.5 cups of grated cheddar cheese. (These amounts are quite flexible. I usually just wing the ingredients in and stir until it feels right. It should be quite thick.) Mix well and set aside.
  3. Preheat oven to 375º F, if cooking right away.
  4. Now here's where it gets a little tricky; figure out which pans you want to use and what size your tortillas are. *See note below.
  5. Line up your baking dishes, place a little bit of oil in the bottom of the first one. Rub it around to coat the bottom and sides of the dish, so the enchiladas do not stick. Grab a tortilla, fill it with a 2" wide line of chicken all the way down the center of the tortilla, then spread the cream mixture over the top, following the line. They will look nearly equal in size, with perhaps a tiny bit more chicken than cream. Set the tortilla down in the pan and roll it up tightly, flipping to place the seam side down in the dish. I leave the ends of mine open. Repeat until the baking dish is full. Keep making more enchiladas and filling up other pans until you run out of chicken. Now, there should be extra cream mixture left over. If not, throw a little sour cream and cheese into the bowl. Add a splash of milk to the mixture to thin it out. It should be fairly runny. Pour this over the top of all of the enchiladas, then using a spatula spread it around. It shouldn't be a huge amount, just enough to lightly cover a little bit of every enchilada. Then sprinkle the remaining cheddar cheese over the top. Finally, I like to add some freshly ground black pepper for a little extra seasoning and color.
  6. If eating right away, bake in the oven for approximately 45 minutes or until bubbling and golden brown on top. These can also be made in advance and left in the fridge for a few hours. I personally like to freeze anything that won't be eaten that day. I cover the extra pans with plastic wrap, then a layer of foil. They can be cooked straight from frozen. It will likely take a few extra minutes, or if you can remember, take them out a little earlier to defrost prior to cooking.
  7. I like to serve mine with shredded lettuce, chopped tomatoes, sour cream, Cholula, salsa, and a side of refried beans. But they are just fine on their own, too!
Notes
  1. TORTILLAS: I've tried all different kinds of tortillas, from the "Traditional" Whole Foods brand, to the Flame Cooked ones at Trader Joes, to the "Traditional" Trader Joe's variety, to the Indian Life from WF, to most recently, the Siete Grain-free Brand Almond and Cassava flour variety. They are all different sizes and thickness, so it will change the amount of enchiladas you get in the end. The key is to pick whatever tortilla you like the taste of most.
  2. BAKING DISHES: I generally start with one 13x9x2 Pyrex, then fill a couple of smaller pans that I will freeze. Sometimes I do two 13x9x2 (and freeze one of them). Other times, I'll do a mix of 3 different baking dishes of varying size. It can be nice to occasionally make smaller portions for when I only need a couple of enchiladas. You want the enchiladas to fit snugly together, so it may take a few tries to get it right for your pan and how many are needed at one time.
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Poaching + Assembled

 

Repertoire: Winter Granola

Winter Granola
Winter Granola

I’m one of those people that can eat the same breakfast, day in and day out and never tire of it. In a perfect world, that would consist of a double espresso and a pastry. Alas, that doesn’t work for me. After about an hour I’d be shaking and foggy from lack of protein. 

Over the years, I’ve come to realize the best breakfast for me is granola. I eat it almost every day without fail, making large batches several times a month. You’d think I’d be sick of it by now, but I’m not. In fact, I crave it constantly. It’s also one of those recipes that keeps evolving and getting better with each experimentation. 

I call this my Winter Granola. It’s full of nuts and seeds, crunch and heartiness with just the slightest hint of sweetness. If that bothers you, you could certainly add some coconut sugar, but I don’t think it needs it. I know there are a bazillion different granola recipes out there, but this one is definitely a keeper. It’s paleo, vegan, vegetarian, easy to make and most importantly, energy sustaining.

Winter Granola
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Ingredients
  1. 2 lbs of rolled oats (gluten free, if preferred)
  2. 2 cups roughly chopped raw pecans
  3. 2 cups raw sliced almonds
  4. 2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
  5. 1/2 cup raw pepitas
  6. 1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
  7. 1/2 cup raw slivered almonds
  8. 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  9. 2 tsp ground ginger
  10. 1 tsp sea salt
  11. 1 cup of olive oil
  12. 1 cup of maple syrup
  13. 12oz of dried tart cherries
Instructions
  1. Set oven to 300 degrees F and make sure oven racks are in top 1/3, middle 1/3 and bottom 1/3 of oven. Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Stir well. Add the oil then the syrup and stir to coat completely. Spread evenly onto 3 parchment-lined baking sheets. Pat granola down so it is flat and even. Put one tray on each rack. Bake for 10 minutes, then move the trays up/down a rack so that each tray bakes on each rack for approximately 10 minutes (you'll do this 3 times). The key is to have nicely browned granola. If it's underdone, it will not taste right! Likewise, it won't taste well if it's burnt. Generally speaking it's about 10-13 minutes on each rack to get a nice golden brown color. Once baked, allow to cool on racks or stove top for several hours (this is when it sets and crisps up). Pour dried cherries on top, then pour into storage containers. Refrigerate or freeze (it tastes best cold).
Notes
  1. If you only have 2 racks in your oven, set them up evenly and cook the third tray on its own in the middle. It's important that the baking sheets do not have too thick of a layer, so I wouldn't recommend squeezing everything on to 2 sheets.
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Repertoire: Persimmon Salad

180360_PersimmonSalad I discovered this beautiful and unusual salad several years ago at my friend Jora’s house. Although I’d heard of persimmons, I couldn’t tell you what they looked like or how they tasted! Thankfully, that changed as soon as I ate this salad. It was love at first bite and now I look forward to seeing them in the store every fall. Funny how that happens!

For those like me who aren’t as familiar with persimmons, they have been grown in Asia for centuries but are also found throughout America, including a native variety specific to the Eastern US. However, there are two main Asian varieties sold in markets, the Fuyu and the Hachiya.

The Fuyu is squat and flat, shaped more like a tomato and should be eaten when it’s just barely soft. The Hachiya is longer and more oval shaped. It can be extremely tart if eaten before it’s ripe.

Here we use the Fuyu Persimmon, which happens to be my favorite. When purchasing, look for orange and firm-fleshed fruit. 

This recipe incorporates all of my favorite qualities and balance in a salad; sweetness from the persimmon, tartness from the pomegranate and lime, heat from the chile, smokiness from the cumin, crunch from the walnuts, softness from the fruit. It’s a fine introduction and also makes a fantastic Thanksgiving side dish, if I do say so myself. I’ve made it these past two years and I just love the color and flavor it brings to the table.

Have you had a persimmon before? Do you like them as much as I do? If so, I hope you’ll share a new persimmon recipe with me!

Persimmon Salad
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Ingredients
  1. 2 pounds Fuyu persimmons
  2. Juice of 1 lime
  3. 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  4. 1/2 serrano chile, seeded and minced
  5. Salt
  6. 1 tablespoon walnut oil
  7. 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds (about 1/4 pomegranate)
  8. 3 tablespoons chopped walnuts, toasted
  9. 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Instructions
  1. Cut off the tough green calyxes and slice each persimmon in 10 to 12 wedges.
  2. In a small lidded jar, combine the lime juice, cumin, about half of the chile, a dash of salt and the walnut oil. Tightly cover and shake hard to mix well. Taste the dressing on a small piece of persimmon. There should be just enough chile to add a suggestion of heat. If you'd like it hotter, add more and shake again.
  3. Combine the persimmons and the dressing in a work bowl and toss to coat well. Turn the salad out into a decorative bowl and sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds, walnuts and cilantro. Taste and add more salt or lime juice if necessary.
Notes
  1. (Walnut oil gives a nice flavor, but I've used olive and safflower oil and it works fine, too.)
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180360_PersimmonSalad_Head

Chromato

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These photos were part of an exhibit at the Fairbanks Resource Agency for their “Nourish Your Soul-stice” event, June 2012 in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Sweet Tooth

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