Thursday, January 5, 2012

Enchilada Casserole, Slow-cooker style

Ah, my masterpiece!

So yesterday I prepared my first (of many) slow-cooker recipes from Stephanie O'Dea, the chick who cooked with her crock pot each day for a year.  I decided to start with the Enchilada Casserole because I had been staring at the corn tortillas in our fridge for over a month (thank goodness they last that long!).  I was excited too, because I've always loved enchiladas and the silky, spicy enchilada sauce that is drizzled over the top of them.  I can usually tell how good the Mexican food is at a restaurant based on their enchilada sauce.  You have to be careful eating out, though, most places use flour as a thickener in their sauces and I've had to resort to using the table salsa at many a Mexican restaurant.  Anyhoo...

I had my crock pot, my tortillas and my enthusiasm; now all I needed was chicken, black beans, bell peppers, cheese and enchilada sauce, of course!  My husband called to say "Hi," and I told him what my plan for dinner was.  He suggested how I make it, meanwhile, I searched online for a recipe and came up with Emeril's Easy Enchilada Sauce.  I read him the ingredients and he suggested I go with his recipe, which didn't call for flour.  Yet his version called for chopped onions, garlic, carrots, celery and more, when Emeril's only meant pouring or spooning ingredients into a pot and mixing.  Because he thinks like a chef, his mind immediately falls to fresh ingredients where mine is more in line with Semi-Homemade.  I decided it would probably be better to go with my husband's (by the way, his name is Mike) recipe.  Now, I've tried to get him to write down recipes for me before, but it's usually a pinch of this, a bit of that and about so-much of the other stuff.  But by now he knows I need an actual recipe so this is what I got:

Mike's Enchilada Sauce
3 T. olive oil
3/4 yellow onion (or one small onion), roughly chopped
3-4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
1/2 of one jalapeno (seeded and without the rib), diced
1 carrot, diced
1 rib of celery, diced
splash of white wine
24 oz. of chicken stock (Mike makes his own)
10 oz. of tomato sauce (Mike's own, frozen)
2 T. cumin
1/4 c. chili powder
Salt and Pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large sauce pan, add onion, garlic, carrot and celery and cook on medium heat until soft and onion is translucent.  I would have also added the jalapeno here, but I looked all through the fridge and couldn't find it, oh well!  Less spice is fine for the kiddos anyway.  Add the splash of white wine (I used a little German Riesling).  Let that cook out and then add the chicken stock and bring that to a simmer.  Add the tomato sauce.  Allow all of that to come to a simmer and add your salt and pepper and taste (doing this I could only think of Mike nodding with approval - I usually tend to under-season things).  Add the remaining spices.  Allow to simmer a bit more, then taste.  Add more chili powder to taste.  Let it cook down a bit more, it'll likely be very thin.  I ended up letting it simmer for another ten minutes or so before I pureed it all with my hand-held mixer.  I made a bit of a mess and didn't get it as smooth as I would have preferred, but we don't have a blender and I was working with what I had.  To thicken it, you can cook it down a bit more, but I didn't want to risk it being too thick so I kept it thinner.

I let the sauce cool on the stove and I was off to the store for some ingredients.

Enchilada Casserole, Slow-cooker Style
2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded (use left-over if you have it)
2 bell peppers, one yellow, one red, diced
 1 can of black beans, rinsed
 2 1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
6 corn tortillas
26 oz. (approx) enchilada sauce

I didn't have any left-over chicken, which would have been easier, so I cooked the chicken in the oven at 350 degrees for about 25 minutes.  I shredded the chicken while still warm, shredded the cheese, rinsed my black beans and diced my peppers.  

I put all the shredded chicken into the enchilada sauce and let the chicken soak it all in...(I love the shimmer off the sauce).

Then it was time to grab the corn tortillas and start layering them in the crock pot.  Yay for 'assembly required'!

First two tortillas, then some of the saucy chicken.  I added black beans, then cheese, then peppers.  Repeat that for two layers.  On top, I finished with the remaining two tortillas, shredded cheese and the last bit of sauce. I realized then that I could have added some corn to the layers, but that will have to wait until next time.

I placed the lid on the crock pot and cooked it on low for four hours.  I resisted the urge to peek (as Stephanie's post said we shouldn't peek on this particular slow-cooker meal), but did lift the lid twice as that fourth hour was nearing the end.  My nostrils were filled with a spicy, cheesy aroma that made my stomach growl.  The kids were hungry and Mike was excited to taste my concoction.

The end result:
Yummy goodness.

I must say, if I was at a restaurant, I would have been impressed.  The sauce turned out great, the meal was fabulous and my son had seconds!  Then again, so did Mike and I!  I am also very pleased with my first attempt at enchilada sauce from scratch.  Much better than using the canned version.

On a side note: I think I've been completely overdoing it on the cheese.  Last night's meal had 2 1/2 cups of cheese and tonight's meal (an incredible frittata Mike made) was smothered in the stuff.  Needless to say, my whole cutting back on dairy has been shot and I may have to go dairy free for a week to recover.  Hopefully I'll make it this time ;)

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

FOOD and my crock pot!

You know what I love about the internet?  Blogs.  Food blogs, to be exact!  There are millions of them.  Do a search for food blogs and you come up with 1,260,000,000 of them!  I like to bake, and I have to eat gluten-free, so before Ms. Hasslebeck on The View had her on GF book and before more stores and restaurants started serving gluten-free food, we had blogs.  Obviously I'm not telling you something that you don't already know.  Just Google your desired dish, or even just the ingredients you have, and boom, thousands of options for your nightly dinner or dessert!

Something I've been talking about getting for a while is a crock pot.  We had one way back when, and never used it.  Now, with the two kids and my hubby and I busy with work, easy meals are far more desirable.  What easier than a crock pot meal??  I do casseroles, rice, pasta, etc. but you can't quite get the same effect as you do with a slow cooker.  A couple of months back I saw one on sale at the grocery store and picked it up!  Total impulse buy ;)

The first thing my husband did when I brought it home was give me an odd look and asked, "Why did you get that?"  "To cook our family fabulous meals!" I said, "Of course!"  Well, I think I've said this before, but my husband is a chef.  Chefs don't slow cook in crock pots.  They spend hours prepping their meals, tasting as they go, cooking on pallet and instinct.  I am not a chef.  It's my little joke.  It's kind of terrible really, but I tell people, "I don't cook, so I married a chef."  Technically he wasn't a chef when I met him, but he was going to culinary school.  What can I say, the way to my heart is through my stomach!

So back to my slow cooker.  The first thing I made was corned beef and cabbage.  It turned out well.  It was an easy first meal to make.  Add meat, add seasoning packet, add water and when you're ready, add carrots, potatoes and cabbage.  Done.  Easy.  So despite my husband joking about the fact that I bought a crock pot, who did I find using it a week later to prepare sausages and cabbage (yeah, okay we eat a lot of kids love it!)?  The guy who laughed at me for buying it!  C'est la vie.  He knows convenience when he sees it.

For my next recipe, I sought out an expert.  Stephanie O'Dea cooked with her slow cooker each day for a whole year, and documented it.  Another fabulous use of the blog.  You can see her list of recipes here.  And to top it all off, she cooks gluten-free!!  I found my inspiration through Pinterest.  It was a picture of Stephanie hugging her crock pot with the most glorious smile on her face.  Sure some of her recipes were flops, but she made it the whole year.  I decided to start trying at least one slow cooker recipe a week (at least my husband can say I'm cooking!).

Tonight's recipe is Enchilada Casserole, slow-cooker style.  Stay tuned for tomorrow's post to see how it went and to get the recipe.  PS I made homemade enchilada sauce, primarily because my hubby laughed at the idea of buying canned sauce and exclaimed how easy it was to make and second because I wasn't sure if I'd be able to find gluten-free sauce without having to drive all the way out to Whole Foods.  I based my recipe off of Stephanie's enchilada casserole, but changed a few things.