Sunday, February 24, 2013

Green garlic chicken enchiladas

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Of all Mexican food, I think I love enchiladas most of all.

I can't promise these are the most authentic chicken enchiladas you'll ever make, but they do have a few things going for them:

  • Quick and easy homemade enchilada sauce
  • Leftover roast chicken or store-bought rotisserie chicken
  • The mild flavor of green garlic if it's in season
  • Cheesy deliciousness! (Well, okay, that's true of most enchiladas)

I make my enchiladas with flour tortillas, but if you prefer corn tortillas, by all means use them.

Note: The canned chiles in adobo sauce give the sauce a smoky backstory, but they also add a little heat. No one in my family objected, but if your kids are really resistant to spicy food, use some mild chili powder instead of the canned chiles.

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Green garlic chicken enchiladas
Store-bought rotisserie chicken and an easy homemade enchilada sauce make these chicken enchiladas quick to put together. If green garlic isn't in season, use fresh garlic cloves and green onions instead.
  • 3 15-ounce cans diced and peeled tomatoes in juice
  • 2 canned chiles in adobo sauce
  • 1/2 large onion, peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro (stems and leaves)
  • 1 fresh lime, peeled (cut away skin and use entire remaining fruit)
  • 4 cups meat from leftover roast chicken or store-bought rotisserie chicken, coarsely shredded by hand
  • 3 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese (or any combination of Monterey jack, cheddar, asadero cheese or queso quesadilla)
  • 4 large stems green garlic, white and green parts, finely chopped (or substitute 2 cloves fresh garlic plus 4 green onions)
  • 10 medium-sized (8-inch) flour tortillas
Make the enchilada sauce: Put the tomatoes with juice, chiles, onion, cilantro, and lime into a blender or food processor. Blend until smooth.Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.In a large bowl, combine the chicken, 2 cups cheese, 1 cup enchilada sauce, and chopped green garlic. Mix well to combine.Spray a 9x13 baking dish with nonstick cooking spray, then pour in about a cup of the enchilada sauce, spreading it to cover the bottom of the pan.Working on a flat surface or large cutting board, lay out one tortilla. Spoon about 1/3 cup of the chicken mixture in a line down the middle of the tortilla. Roll the tortilla over the filling, then place the filled tortilla seam side down at one end of the baking pan. Repeat with the remaining tortillas, cozying the enchiladas up against each other. When you've made all the enchiladas, pour another cup or two of the sauce on top and spread it around with the back of a spoon so that all the tortilla surfaces are coated with the sauce. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese.Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake about 45 minutes. Uncover the enchiladas, then bake 5 minutes more. Serve hot.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 10 enchiladas

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Truffled avocado mousse on toast

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Avocado mousse with fresh truffles on toast (Photo: Lynne Hemer, Cook and Be Merry)

When you're planning the menu for a big party, always include one or two truly simple dishes.

That's how this truffled avocado mousse was born. Every summer I throw a themed foodgasm party called Trufflepalooza. Last year I made 20 different truffle-laced dishes for 200 people. Of the 20, a few were very complicated. A few were easy but labor-intensive. I needed a no-brainer.

Ripe avocados. Creme fraiche. A splash of truffle oil. A pinch of truffle salt. A squeeze of lemon. Pureed, piped onto toast rounds, garnished with Italian black summer truffles from my connection at Sabatino Tartufi.  A perfect combination.

Serve these with a fruity white wine or a sparkling Prosecco before your next dinner party. If you don't feel like breaking out the cookie cutters to make the rounds of bread, pipe the truffled avocado mousse onto crackers or slices of cucumber.

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Truffled avocado mousse
A simple puree of ripe avocados laced with black truffles. Pipe a swirl of this creamy mousse onto toast rounds, crackers or cucumber slices.
  • 2 ripe avocados, any variety
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup creme fraiche
  • 1 Tablespoon black truffle oil (I prefer Sabatino Tartufi black truffle oil)
  • 1 generous pinch truffle salt (I prefer Sabatino Truffle Sea Salt)
  • 4 dozen 2-inch rounds white bread, toasted (cut with a cookie cutter from 1 loaf soft white bread)
  • 1 fresh or canned black truffle
Put the avocado flesh, lemon juice, creme fraiche, truffle oil, and truffle salt into the bowl of a food processor. Blitz until the ingredients are completely combined and the mousse is smooth as silk. Taste and add more salt if necessary.Transfer the truffled avocado mousse to a zip-top plastic bag fitted with a small star tip. Carefully pipe a swirl of the avocado mousse onto each round of toast. Garnish with grated or minced fresh truffle. Serve immediately.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: approximately 4 dozen pieces

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Euro Greens creamy green soup {dairy-free}

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It pays to have friends in high places.

A few weeks ago I ended up with a half-dozen bags of assorted greens from Cut 'n Clean Greens, a local southern California company that grows all kinds of greens and packages them in ready-to-eat-or-cook bags and plastic containers. My friend Dorothy of Shockingly Delicious has been working for them for a while now. When we planned the "Kale-a-palooza" event for our Food Bloggers Los Angeles group, Dorothy brought the Cut 'n Clean folks and trucked along a whole mess o' greens to give out to the group.

I particularly liked their bagged Euro Greens mix, which contains Swiss chard, mustard greens, turnip greens, and kale. I turned it into a deliciously creamy green soup.

Nothing could be easier than this creamy soup. You start with onions and garlic. When they've sweated with a little olive oil, you add the bag of greens, one potato, and chicken broth. Cook, blend, done. Maybe finish with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Why the potato? It gives the soup a little body and a creamy mouth feel, even without cream.

Throw in a few croutons, a handful of popcorn, or some Goldfish crackers, and even the kids won't complain. Not that mine ever complain about soup. Well, hardly ever.

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Euro Greens creamy green soup
This soup uses one bag of Cut 'n Clean Greens' Euro Greens mix. It's creamy but contains no cream!
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 large onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 12-ounce bag Cut 'n Clean Greens Euro Greens mix
  • 1 small potato, unpeeled, diced (any variety)
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 fresh lemon, juice only
  • salt and pepper to taste
In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until the onion is translucent, about 3 minutes.Add the greens, potato and chicken broth and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer the soup about 20 minutes, until the greens and potato are very tender. Blend the soup until smooth using a hand-held immersion blender or a countertop blender. Return the soup to the pot (if using a countertop blender). Add the lemon juice and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve hot.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 6-8 servings

Friday, February 8, 2013

Homemade oatmeal bread with flax seeds

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I have been on a bread-baking tear lately. A rampage, even. I don't think a day has gone by in the past month when there has not been homemade oatmeal bread on the counter.

Why oatmeal bread? I've tried many combinations of grains for homemade bread. My former favorite homemade bread recipe combines white flour, whole wheat flour, wheat germ and cornmeal. But this version, with rolled oats, white flour and flax seeds, seems to be my family's hands-down favorite.

The trick to good bread at home is to ignore all that crap most bread recipes spout about satin-smooth dough that feels like a baby's bottom.

The best bread comes from dough that is so wet it is impossible to knead. It does not clean the bowl when you mix it in the stand mixer. You cannot punch it down and fold it. It is loose and wet, like muffin batter.

Wet dough looks like a blob on the counter but, after an hour in a heavy pot in the oven, turns into bread with a golden thick crust and a moist, flavorful interior. Let it rise a good long time. Don't worry if it seems like a shaggy mess and sticks to your fingers when you try to shape it. All will be well.

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Homemade oatmeal bread with flax seeds
This recipe turns out beautiful loaves of artisan-style bread, with a thick crust, chewy interior and sourdough-like flavor.
  • 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 1/4 teaspoon honey
  • 2 1/2 cups warm water (approximate)
  • 1 cup rolled oats
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup flax seeds
  • 1 Tablespoon salt
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the yeast, honey and 1/2 cup warm water. Stir with a spoon and let stand 5 minutes. The yeast will "bloom" and start to foam. As soon as you see the yeast activating, move on to the next step.Add the oatmeal, all-purpose flour, flax seeds and salt to the bowl. Fit the mixer with the dough hook and turn it to low. With the mixer running, start adding the warm water in a slow stream. Stop now and then to let the mixer distribute the water among the dry ingredients. Keep adding water until the dough comes together. It should be wet and should NOT pull away from the sides of the bowl completely - you're looking for the texture of thick muffin batter. The dough will require different amounts of water on different days - the weather affects this - so don't be afraid to use more if you need to.When all the ingredients are incorporated and the dough is clearly one single entity but still very wet, let the mixer run for 5 minutes. (This will start to develop the gluten.) After 5 minutes, stop the mixer, remove the dough hook, remove the bowl from the mixer, cover it with plastic wrap, and stick it in a warm place for 12 hours or overnight. The dough will rise a bit and get bubbly.After 12 hours or the next morning, scatter some all-purpose flour on your counter and spray a sheet of parchment paper with cooking spray. Using a spatula or dough scraper, carefully turn the dough out of the bowl onto the counter, trying to disturb its bubbly structure as little as possible. Sprinkle a little more flour on top and, using your hands, gather the ends of the dough toward the center of the pile, making a rough "ball" (in quotation marks because the dough will be very loose and will be more of a blob than a ball). With the "seam" side down, set the blob of dough onto the prepared parchment paper. Spray a piece of plastic wrap with cooking spray and loosely tent that over the dough. Leave the blob of dough on the counter for about 2 hours. It won't really rise, but it will expand a bit - that's fine.While the blob is resting, put a cast iron or heavy enameled covered Dutch oven into your oven and turn the heat to 450. Yes, you want to heat the pot with the oven.When the blob has finished resting and the oven is hot, carefully remove the pot from the oven and take off the lid. Carefully lift the parchment and plop the whole thing into the pot, paper and all. Cover the pot immediately and return it to the oven. Bake covered for 30 minutes, then remove the lid and bake the loaf uncovered another 20-25 minutes. Remove the loaf from the pot and cool on a rack or board at least 30 minutes before cutting.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 1 large loaf

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

How to plan the perfect Girlfriend Getaway

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Patti, Erika and Dorothy at Hofsas House, Carmel-by-the-Sea

Husbands are great, but sometimes this girl just needs some girlfriend time.

Which is why I jumped at the opportunity to hit the road for a Girlfriend Getaway with two of my best food blogger pals: Patti Londre of Worth the Whisk and Dorothy Reinhold of Shockingly Delicious.

Thanks to the generosity (and PR-savvy) of Carrie, the third-generation owner of Hofsas House, the three of us drove up the California coast and spent three jam-packed days and two ultra-cozy nights in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

We were wined and dined. We unwound and de-stressed. We shopped 'til we dropped. We hiked up and down the hills of Carmel village. We plopped our middle-aged butts in the sand and soaked in the glorious winter sunshine.

Soaking in the winter sunshine at the beach in Carmel-by-the-Sea

And we talked. And talked. And talked some more. I don't think we got even the teensiest bit tired of each other.

We had the perfect Girlfriend Getaway, and you can too. Here's the magic formula:

Pick the right girlfriends. Patti, Dorothy and I have known each other about three years. (Well, technically Dorothy and I have known each other longer, because our kids went to preschool together, but we didn't really get to be friends until we connected as food bloggers.) We know each other, but it's not like we've got decades of history or inside jokes that might make someone feel left out. We're still learning about each other's pasts. That made three days of nonstop conversation easy and fun. We also have similar temperaments: no-nonsense, up for anything, willing to lead or follow.

Toasting to a delicious dinner at Fandango in Pacific Grove

Make it a road trip. Car trips are so much more relaxed. You don't need to make your stuff fit into a carry-on bag. You can stop where you want and go anywhere once you get there. And it's okay if you accumulate treasures (very important - see below). Of course, this requires having someone willing to drive, which I always am. I like to drive. 

Enjoy the journey and stop along the way. It's about five and a half hours from my house in Santa Monica to Carmel-by-the-Sea. On the way up we jumped off the road in Buellton for an early lunch at Pea Soup Andersen's, a California road trip institution, and then again in San Luis Obispo to explore the pretty-in-pink Madonna Inn. On the way down we sacrificed speed for beauty by spending an hour on Carmel Valley Road, a glorious two-lane highway where I wouldn't have been surprised to see a "happy cow" California cheese commercial in progress. Getting there and back was certainly more than half the fun.

The dining room at Pea Soup Andersen's in Buellton

You'll find Hap-pea and Pea-wee at the bottom of every bowl of pea soup at Pea Soup Andersen's 

The Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo, pink and girly all year round

The bar at the Madonna Inn

We stopped to watch the seals along Monterey's 17-Mile Drive

Stay at a place that feels like home. Chain hotels are for business trips. A Girlfriend Getaway deserves a hotel with personality. Hofsas House, a big pink lodge built down the side of a hill over looking the Pacific, was the perfect home base for our trip. They serve breakfast in the tiny lobby, which means you start every day chatting with the proprietors about your plans. My room was cozy and comfortable; lighting up the Duraflame log in my private fireplace in the evening relaxed me instantly. We had separate rooms, but if you're into the slumber party thing, Hofsas House has many rooms big enough to share.

My room at Hofsas House had a king bed, a fireplace, a kitchenette, and a glorious ocean view

Spring for Hofsas House's wine and cheese package so you can sip while you watch the sun set over the Pacific

Eat well, drink well. Patti, Dorothy and I love food - we know that, you know that, and the wise PR folks who arranged this trip knew that. They showed us the best of the area. We had terrific tapas at Mundaka in Carmel-by-the-Sea, elegant Continental fare at Fandango in Pacific Grove, and a delicious farewell lunch at Jacks Restaurant in the Portola Hotel & Spa at Monterey Bay. We also tagged along on Carmel Food Tours' three-hour culinary exploration of Carmel-by-the-Sea, during which guide Staci shared local Carmel history as she led us through tastings of cheese, wine, charcuterie, chocolate, olive oil, vinegar, pizza and pasta at local shops and restaurants.  

Bouillabaisse at Fandango in Pacific Grove

Staci leading the Carmel Food Tour
Sharon at The Bountiful Basket led us through a tasting of olive oils and infused vinegars

The selection at The Cheese Shop in Carmel

Fresh sea bass from Monterey Bay at Jacks

Spinach gnocchi at Casanova, considered the most romantic restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea

Don't get up too early and don't go to bed too late. You don't want your Girlfriend Getaway to feel like work. For me, being awake at either dawn or midnight feels like work. I'm old. Your mileage may vary.

Play to your strengths. I drove and navigated. Patti suggested pit stops. Dorothy took notes. We all took pictures. 

A tiled balcony in Carmel-by-the-Sea
Look for treasures. Okay, that's code for "shopping." Trip souvenirs always have a story attached, which makes them extra-special.

The embroidered pashmina I almost bought (but didn't) 

Patti digging for gold in the garden at Pink Trash & Treasures in Buellton

My favorite trip souvenir: A big bracelet from Pink Trash

Push your conversational boundaries. We got into everything you'd expect middle-aged girlfriends to get into. Husbands. Children. Aging parents. Wild college years, how we met our husbands, how we lost our virginity (um, not in that order). With true girlfriends, nothing is off-limits.  

Indulge each other's whims and pass no judgment. We ate fast food tacos on the road because Patti had free coupons. We lingered in a shop over a teal blue pashmina because I couldn't decide whether I had to have it. Patti let Dorothy have the front seat in the minivan to keep car sickness at bay. And no one complained when the winding valley road I chose added an hour and a half to the drive home.

Spend part of your Girlfriend Getaway planning the next one. Once you find a good Girlfriend Getaway team, the possibilities are endless. Will our next road trip take us to San Diego? Palm Springs? Santa Barbara? Solvang? Big Bear? San Francisco? Stay tuned....

Tree huggers

Thanks to Carrie at Hofsas House, Chef Brandon at Mundaka, Fandango, Staci at Carmel Food Tours, Chef Jason at Jacks Restaurant, and all the lovely people of Carmel, Monterey and everywhere in between for a wonderful Girlfriend Getaway!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Postcard from Carmel: The coolest dining room table in the world

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Yeah, okay, I'm a furniture geek.

I spotted this ultra-fabulous round wooden dining room table in Carmel during my Girlfriend Getaway with fellow food bloggers Patti Londre (Worth the Whisk) and Dorothy Reinhold (Shockingly Delicious). When I saw the ingenious way the table went from big to bigger, I had to pull out my camera.

I love dining room tables that expand. But I hate having to store extra leaves elsewhere in the house. Watch the video and look at how this one is engineered. I thought my own draw-leaf table was cool. This one is WAY cooler.

Location: Carrigg's of Carmel in Carmel-by-the-Sea. The salesperson was not too nice to me, actually - you may be able to hear her telling me to "get a life" as I'm rolling - so I'm not suggesting you shop there. But if you're into cool furniture and you're in Carmel, stop by and take a look.