Wednesday, March 24, 2010

austin + sour cream tomatillo enchiladas

My spring time trip home to Texas is one of ritual. The way other cultures welcome spring with dances and ceremonies, I embrace the new season with barbeque and SXSW. I have been fortunate enough to have my spring break the past few years land at the end of march, arguably Austin's most beautiful time of the year, and also the week of SXSW. So straight from finals, intense amounts of stress, and Chicago's winter I arrive to a weekend of bluebonnets, red bud trees in bloom, and my favorite bands playing for free. It's amazing. School forgotten, I am free to float around Austin, soaking up the sun, while Chicago begins it's thaw.

Food may be the most important part of my Spring ritual. Music is a close second, but food literally replenishes me after the long (terrible, cold, miserable, unbearable...) winter. First there is the obligatory trip to Lockhart, TX for the most incredible brisket, then a fried avocado taco at Torchy's, and a trip to Austin is never complete without a cherry lime slush. All this eaten in 75 degree weather.

I will stop there, to prevent more of you from moving to Austin, clogging up the highways, and making me wait in excessive lines for SXSW shows! I mean you, Black Keys fans. So for all of ya'll stuck up North, here is the closest approximation to a certain Austin Tex-Mex restaurant's Deluxe Tomatillo sauce, the most heavenly use of sour cream that enchiladas have ever known. I made these enchiladas for a potluck right before my return home, and again a few days later with my mom. They got every Texan at the table's seal of approval. Sorry I can't send you some of this sunshine but this is just as satisfying, I swear. Beneath the chicken, you'll find my veggie-fied version with black beans and acorn squash.

Deluxe Tomatillo chicken enchiladas
adapted from Homesick Texan

makes enough for 5 hungry Texans

-2 pounds chicken thighs
-salt & pepper
-olive oil
-1/2 medium onion diced

deluxe tomatillo sauce:
-3 cloves garlic, minced
-1 serrano chile, diced (adjust if your a spice wimp)
-2 Tbs butter
-2 Tbs flour
-2 cups chicken broth
-2 cups sour cream
-1 tsp cumin
-1/2 cup chopped cilantro
-8 fresh tomatillos, husked removed and sliced in half
-teensy bit of cayenne
-salt & pepper to taste

for enchiladas:
-12 corn tortillas
-2 Tbs canola oil
-2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
-1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Preheat oven to 350.

Bake chicken, sprinkled with salt and pepper and the olive oil, in the oven for 30 minutes. Once cooled, shred with two forks and set aside. Turn oven to broil.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat, once warm add serrano chile. Cook until softened, 4 minutes, add garlic and cook for another. Add flour and cook for another minute. Add chicken broth to pot and whisk over heat until thickened. Stir in sour cream, cumin, cayenne, and cilantro until smooth. Remove from heat.

Place halved tomatillos in oven under broiler, and cook for about 5 minutes on each side until blistered but not black. Place broiled tomatillos and sauce in blender and blend on low until smooth. Turn oven back to 350.

This step may seem silly but crucial in preventing tortilla cracking: Heat canola oil in a skillet and cook tortillas one by one in skillet until soft, adding more oil if needed. Wrap in paper towel to keep warm.

To start assembling the enchiladas, pour one cup of sauce into bottom of a 9 x 13 pan. Place about 1/3 cup chicken, 1 tsp onion, and 1 Tbs cheese in each corn tortilla before rolling tightly and placing seam side down in the casserole dish. Pour remaining sauce over enchiladas, top with remaining cheese, and bake at 350 for about 25 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and lightly browned.

Top with cilantro, serve, and pretend you're in Austin with me!

Veggie Deluxe Tomatillo Enchilada
To make these into a vegetarian's dream, replace chicken broth with vegetable broth in sauce. Instead of chicken filling use thinly sliced acorn squash, brushed with olive oil, and baked for 15 minutes. Fill enchiladas with acorn squash, black beans, diced onion, and cheese. Totally different, but really good.

Friday, March 5, 2010

a fennel salad and a photo

There is a wonderful feeling that comes from carrying heavy bags filled with fresh produce. This feeling, somewhere between productivity and peace, makes it worth carrying these two bags on two different forms of public transportation more than four miles. 

Or maybe I'm just crazy, going weak kneed at the sight of cheap fennel and organic blood oranges. I'm such a sucker for a good deal. 

With spring teasing me with 40 degree days (!) and sunshine, my internal seasonal clock has me craving fresh vegetables. After a winter diet comprised mostly of cheese and carbs, my body has begun to protest, demanding nutrients. I placated it with this salad.

Subconsciously I began forming this salad at the store, buying fennel and blood orange, but it only really began to take form on the bus, when my wandering mind remembered this awesome post from one of my favorite food blogs, The Kitchn. Paring it down from it's leafy abundance I created a minimalist, healthy, and tasty side for some homemade pizza. 

It was really good. I once claimed I wasn't a fan of sweet-savory combos, but this salad is living proof I was lying. The saltiness from the olives and the pecorino is the perfect contrast to the rich sweetness of the blood orange and the slight anise flavor of the fennel. This is the perfect accompaniment for the first picnic of Spring. But I might wait for 50 degrees to do that...

Fennel, Blood Orange, and Olive Salad
makes enough for 4 side salads

-1 fennel bulb, sliced very thinly
-2 large blood oranges, segmented
-1/4 cup pitted olives, chopped in half (I used kalamata)
-an ounce of pecorino romano or parmesan, or to taste
-2 Tbs olive oil
-2 Tbs lemon juice
-salt & pepper to taste

Assemble together the fennel, blood orange segments, and olives. Shave the pecorino over, using a vegetable peeler.  Toss with olive oil & lemon juice. Enjoy. 

* On a side note, many thousands of thanks to my wonderful sister Eva for the great camera I now have to document all my culinary adventures. Please bear with me as I attempt to improve my food photography!