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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Chicken Enchiladas, My Revamped Recipe

I love making chicken enchiladas. Oh, they usually take the better portion of the day, and are a bit messy, and balancing the ingredients in the chili sauce, I've learned, is a try and try again system of failures and advancements, failures and advancements. But it's the aromas that fill my house when I'm making them that I enjoy the most.

I remember when I was in nursing school, learning that the sense of smell is most closely tied to our memory of all the senses. I believe it. Every time I cook Mexican food, specifically, enchiladas, I have those rare, fond childhood memories of being a little girl in my mother's kitchen, surrounded by Aunties and sometimes an uncle or two who were in town for a visit, my Grandma Nieves, and usually a cousin or two, or eight. If I close my eyes and block out the sounds of reality TV coming from my own living room, I can hear the mariachi bands playing from the old cassette tapes, I can hear the sounds of my mom and my aunts singing along and I can see Mom lifting her apron to dance. Cooking, in that kitchen, with those women, was a treat, a joy, and a learning experience. Each had their own way, each differing from the other. But when combined, their culinary wisdom created some of the most extraordinary gastronomical experiences of my life. They imparted a touch of their culinary wisdom into my developing and influential young mind, and for that, I owe a debt of gratitude. Each time I cook, be it Thai, Mexican, Italian, or purely southern-comfort foods, I draw on those early years. I use those experiences to help me be the woman I am today, not just in the kitchen, but in my life in general.  I remember to laugh, when there needs to be laughter, I remember to dance, and to enjoy my work. I compromise, and try to be a team player, even when I full heartedly believe that my way is the best way, because you know what? I always believe that my way is the best way, even when it isn't.
Enough about my neurosis, moving on...
Here's how I spend a day cooking and reminiscing:

Chicken Enchiladas

First things first, you gotta have your meat just right. *snickers, chuckles, and snorts* Ah! I crack me up.
OK, Start by adding your cut of choice to a covered dish (I'm a leg girl, I like boneless, skinless thighs), smother the chicken with seasonings, I like to use a sprinkling of red chili powder, fresh minced garlic, cilantro, oregano, ground cumin, tarragon and that little packet of heaven, Goya Sazon with Azafran. Let this chill in the 'fridge for for a least a few hours. The longer is sits, the more the chicken will absorb the flavors, so usually, first thing in the morning of the day that I'll be making this dish, I do this, just after starting my coffee. After a few (six or so) hours, it looks like this:

Don't worry, that red is just from the tarragon, chili and the Goya. It looks like a bloody mess, but it's not really. 
*alternate method- prepare your meat the night before, and then let that puppy chill in the fridge overnight.

When you're ready to start cooking, pre-heat the oven to 350, pour about half a can of beer over the meat, I like to use Modelo Negro, and throw that bad boy into the oven. The beer adds a depth of flavor that I really like, but you can also simply braise in some hearty chicken stock. I use a casserole dish, lightly greased and covered. Let that baby braise for about an hour and a half, or until it is falling apart tender.

Depending on how long it marinated, how big the pieces are, how many times you opened the oven to experience that fantastic blast of yumminess wafting into your nostrils…Just sayin’, cooking times may vary a bit.  Poke at it with a fork every now and again. It’ll eventually get to the falling apart stage. This is right where you want it.

When it is tender, but not quite falling apart, I chop up and add sweet yellow onion, green pepper, jalapeno, and more garlic. You can almost never have too much garlic. That’s why we have antacids!

When a fork is easily shredding your meat, it’s time to add a few pinches of chili powder, and some more cumin and oregano, and then stir, stir, stir...until you have this:


Sometimes, I add olives, black or green, or both. Sometimes I leave this as is. This time, I left as is. Now, chop some more onion, jalapeno, and garlic, since the others have flavored your chicken, but evaporated into the meat, sweat them in olive oil, and add to this mix, then set aside to cool a bit.

With the chicken mixture ready, you can begin making the enchilada sauce.
I start with oil, I like extra virgin olive oil. I don't really measure, but I guess it's about 1/4 cup? Not much more than that. I like to use a medium sized sauce pan. Heat the oil then add a few pinches of flour, and stir, stir, stir. Pretend you're making a gravy, or a roux if you will.  Add some red chili powder. For this dish, I used about 1/4 cup of chili powder. Stir, stir, stir! Don't let it burn. Now I add tomato puree, a little at a time, to incorporate it well. Then add about 1 1/2 - 2 cups of chicken broth and cumin, oregano, salt, pepper, and a bay leaf. Let this boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer. Stir to smooth, add more stock if it becomes too thick.

While this is simmering, I like to sweat yet more onion , garlic and jalapeno. When the onions are translucent, add to this sauce. Taste your sauce along the way, if you want it hotter, add some crushed red pepper, or more jalapeno, unseeded. I take the seeds out, I am married to a Gringa, after all.

Spoon some of this sauce into a casserole dish, just enough to cover the bottom, but first, fish out that bay leaf and properly dispose of it; It's done its job, and believe me, no one wants to bite into it. Blech!

Now, you can begin to assemble.

Take your yellow corn tortillas, (not flour, NEVER FLOUR!) and either heat in the microwave, covered with a damp cloth for about 45 seconds or you can heat in a pan for a few seconds each side, you’ll see it puff up a bit, that’s what you’re aiming for.
Dip a tortilla in the chili sauce

Add a spoonful of chicken to the tortilla, then a sprinkle of cheese, I like to use Monterey Jack and Sharp Cheddar. Roll tortilla, and lay seam side down in prepared casserole dish.

Continue until you've filled up the dish. Then spoon some chili sauce over them. MMMM...just look at these

Now top these beauties with more shredded cheese and, if you like, some olives and onion. 

Cover with foil and Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes, then remove foil and bake another  10 min to toast  tops. Remove from oven, sprinkle with fresh chopped green onion, and look at what you've made!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Bob Marley Microwave Cake

I posted once before about a Cake in a Cup recipe, but it was not nearly as easy as this one. And really, if you are anything like me, easy does it trumps all.

Here's what you'll need:

1 box angel food cake mix
1 box cake mix of whatever flavor you choose
1 gallon size zip lock baggie or other sealable storage container
2 Tablespoons cold water

First, take both cake mixes and dump them into your zip lock bag or other sealable container. Give them a good shake and make sure the dry mixture is well blended. You can store this mixture in an airtight, dry container kept in your pantry or cabinet until you are ready to use it, one delicious serving at a time.

Now, you've decided you want some cake, but not too much cake. Maybe just for you, maybe just for two. You don't want to have to make a whole cake. So here's where I'm gonna help you out of this predicament. Grab yourself a large coffee mug, I like to spray the inside of mine with no stick spray, but that's just me. Place 3 tablespoons of that cake mix mixture and 2 tablespoons of cold water in the cup* and make like Bob Marley and Stir it Up, little darlin', stir it up! Come on, baby...
Squeeze the excess air out of the zip lock bag and reseal for longer storage time.
Now, place that cup full of stirred up goodness into the microwave and zap it for 1 minute.  Top with whipped cream, icing, powdered sugar, fruit compote, or whatever topping your little heart desires.

You're welcome!

*You can also add nuts, chocolate chips, dried fruits like cranberries, raisins, etc- go crazy! Experiment. That's what life's all about, after all.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Please, don't pet the dog

Last night, after dinner, The Wifester had the wonderful idea to take dessert over to her brother's house as a fun way to get a little play time in with our nephews. Needless to say, we were deemed the fun aunts again, and fun was had by all. Especially the nephews.One is turning four this summer and the other is coming up on a year. They are such cute boys and so smart! These are fun ages. Especially the nearly four year old. He's so curious and excited about everything. Sometimes I watch him and think, honey, I hope you never lose that curiosity or that capacity for sheer joy.

Well, to make a long story short, my sister in law told us, over ice cream cake with sprinkles and crunchy, cookie insides, about an event that occurred at her office that was weighing on her mind. She has a coworker who is physically disabled, and is in a wheelchair. I don't remember if it was MS, MD or something else...regardless, the cause of the disability is inconsequential. This particular coworker has a service dog. Another co-worker, in a meeting with all the staff present, announced that they wanted to introduce everyone to the "office dog" and invited everyone to go over and pet the dog. 

This is wrong on so very many levels. First, this person was calling attention to the fact that this person is disabled. Not cool. Second, service dogs should never be pet without first being granted permission by his/her handler. To do so can confuse the dog and make him forget that he is at work, and has a job to do. As you may or may not know, service dogs for disabled persons are highly trained, and so are the people that they are placed with. The two become a real team, one that requires strict adherence to rules, discipline, and specific reward when appropriate. The are far beyond a "pet." They are integral to a disabled person's ability to complete every day tasks that you and I may take for granted. They are working, just like you are when you punch in on that time clock, or sit down at your desk in that cubicle. They need not be distracted from the task at hand, as serious injury can occur to their human counterpart.

It is with this on my mind that I decided to post this guide to interacting with a service dog team:

Service Dog Etiquette

When you meet a person with a service dog, please remember that the dog is working. Don't do
anything to interrupt the service dog
while it is performing its tasks.
Some Rules for Interacting with People with Service Dogs.
1. Speak to the person first. Do not aim distracting or rude noises at the dog .
2. Do not touch the service dog without asking for, and receiving, permission.
3. Do not offer food to the service dog.
4. Do not ask personal questions about the handler's disability, or otherwise intrude on his
    or her privacy.
5. Don't be offended if the handler does not wish to chat about the service dog.
What if you don't like dogs or are afraid of dogs?
Place yourself away from the service dog. If you are a business person, discreetly arrange for
someone else to wait on the person. You may ask the person to have the service dog lie down if
it does not interfere with its work.
What if the service dog barks, growls, or otherwise forgets its manners?
Find out what happened before taking action. Was the service dog stepped on, poked, asleep and dreaming, performing its job (some alert their owners to oncoming seizures by barking once or twice)? If the dog's behavior is disruptive or destructive, you may ask the person to remove it from the premises.
What if other people complain about the dog being present?
Explain that the service dog is medically necessary and that federal law protects
the right of the person to be accompanied by the service dog in public places.

Monday, March 4, 2013

B.S.L. is pure B.S.

For lack of time in actually writing a post this weekend, I decided to post a copy of the letter I sent to my city council and mayor.

Dear City Council Members,

I am writing today about the city’s ordinance 506.00, and specifically in reference to 506.03 which bans pit bull and pit bull breeds as well as pit bull mixes.  This ordinance specifically names three individual breeds, American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and The Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and then goes on to state that “any dog of mixed breed which has the appearance and characteristics of such breeds” is also banned. This leaves identification of these breeds open to easily made mistakes. There are roughly twenty breeds of dog often erroneously identified as “pit bulls”. 

I personally know of a situation in which a man’s beagle was misidentified as a “pit bull”, and law enforcement required his owner to obtain genetic testing to prove that the dog was, in fact 100% beagle. Another instance that I have been made aware of occurred right here in Lakewood. A Boston terrier was misidentified by law enforcement as a “pit bull” puppy. This situation again required the owner to obtain expensive genetic testing to prove that his dog was actually a Boston terrier, and not a pit bull puppy. 

A simple Google search will quickly render dozens upon dozens of articles discussing the media misreporting a “pit bull attack”, or a victim identifying the attacking dog as “pit bull”, only to later find that the dog was actually a Labrador, a Rottweiler, a Bulldog, a Rhodesian Ridgeback, a Boxer, etc. One could easily site such breed mix ups ad infinitum.  A Mislabeled dog is an unnecessary cost to the constituents of Lakewood.

A broad definition of what a dangerous dog is, based upon appearance rather than behavior, is akin to racial profiling. Back in Nashville, where I lived prior to moving to this area two years ago, there was a very bad problem with Mexican gangs. Northern Mexican and Southern Mexican gangs were constantly fighting over territory. Nashville also has a very large Hispanic and Latino population consisting of good, hard working, law abiding people from many countries, not just Mexico. Due to the Mexican gangs being so very violent, should Nashville have outlawed all people of Hispanic or Latino heritage, or who appear to be predominantly Hispanic or Latino rather than arresting only those individuals who made trouble? Absolutely not. Yet, this is precisely what is being done with pit bull breeds.

Passage of this ordinance in Lakewood has not addressed the root cause of any vicious dog problem, and it is having a negative impact on responsible, law abiding dog owners.  It has been documented that there is little usefulness in using breed-specific legislation as an attempt to protect a community’s citizens from dog attacks or bites. The American Veterinary Medical Association Task Force on Canine Aggression and Human-Canine Interactions has stated that breed-specific legislation has no merit and that targeting those individual dogs, of any breed, that commit acts of aggression will directly address the problem. (citing reports from CDC, 1997; CDC, 2003; AVMA, 2001)

In fact, temperament evaluations by the American Temperament Test Society have given American Pit Bull Terriers a very high passing rate of 90.6 percent. The average passing rate for the other 121 breeds of dogs represented in these tests was 77 percent. Based on this extensive testing conducted by professional dog temperament assessors, pit bulls are less likely to bite or attack than Golden Retrievers.

Obviously, I am strongly opposed to this ordinance banning pit bull and pit bull type dogs from Lakewood. I ask that you revisit and revise the city’s position on this discriminatory breed-specific legislation (506.00-506.03). 

A much better alternative to breed-specific legislation is to support reasonable, enforceable, non-discriminatory laws to govern the ownership of dogs and to hold irresponsible dog owners to a higher social, legal, and financial accountability.
I am asking that you reverse this ordinance because any such law that is specific to breed does not address the real problem, irresponsible dog owners.
Many Lakewood residents, including dog owners like myself, have insightful, practical ideas to ensure that well-behaved, well socialized pets, of all breeds, are the norm for this city. Let’s work together to make Lakewood both safe and dog-friendly.
Are there any plans to speak with resident dog owners? I would like to be a part of the discussion group. 

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