Friday, April 26, 2013

Foodie Fridays: Chicken Mole Enchiladas

Cinco de Mayo is fast approaching, and although we don't usually celebrate this holiday, since it is on a Sunday this year, I thought it would be a perfect time to create another tablescape as well as try a new recipe.  I selected Chicken Mole Enchiladas as the recipe.  My husband loves authentic Chicken with Mole Sauce, and I once signed up for a cooking class to learn how to make it.  Imagine my dismay when I found out that the traditional method takes all day!  Luckily, there are prepared sauces available in the supermarket.  The most common one is the Dona Maria brand which comes in a jar:

From Walmart

This sauce is concentrated and must be thinned with liquid to use.  Recently, though, I discovered a new version by the same manufacturer that comes in a paper box and is ready to use:

From Walmart

I love it when convenience foods become even more convenient!  This product makes an already simple recipe even easier.  Of course, if you want to take the time and make the effort, you can make the sauce from scratch, but I prefer to at least start with the quick version.  In fact, at first I wasn't even sure I was going to like this -- the sauce straight from the box is rather harsh and bitter, and even when mixed with the chicken I did not find it especially appealing.  However, once I had the casserole assembled and baked, the end result was quite delicious.  It may even be worth expending the energy to make a truly homemade batch one of these days!  Here is my fast and easy version:

Chicken Mole Enchiladas

1 tsp. oil
1 box (9.5 oz.) ready-to-serve mole sauce (you will only use about half of the sauce)
half of a rotisserie chicken, meat removed and shredded (I used a breast and a thigh)
9 small (6-inch) soft corn tortillas
4 oz. shredded cheese (I used a cheddar-mozzarella blend)

Add the oil to a large skillet over medium heat.  Pour in the mole sauce and heat through.  Spread a little of the sauce on the bottom of a greased 7x11-inch baking dish.

In a large bowl, combine the shredded chicken with enough mole sauce to moisten.  If the tortillas are not at room temperature, wrap them and heat in the microwave briefly to soften.  Put about 1 tablespoon of the chicken mixture on one end of a tortilla, sprinkle with a little cheese, and roll up.  Place in the baking dish, seam side down.  Repeat with the remaining tortillas.  Pour more of the sauce over the enchiladas, then sprinkle with the remaining cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes until heated through.  I covered my baking dish with foil -- I am not sure if this is necessary, but I did not want my casserole to dry out and this seemed to do the trick.  Cool slightly, then serve.  Serves 3.

Note:  Obviously, you can easily double this recipe and bake it in a slightly larger pan to serve six people, but since it is just the two of us I decided to make less just in case one of us did not like it.

Three enchiladas are just right if this is served as a main dish with a simple accompaniment like a salad.  If you intend to serve these with other hearty dishes, such as refried beans and rice and/or other Mexican favorites (tacos or quesadillas, for example), then I would recommend only serving one or two per person.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

This 'n That Thursdays: Amusingly Unnecessary Kitchen Gadgets

From Foodista

I admit it -- I have a fascination with gadgets.  Several of our kitchen drawers and pantry shelves are filled with interesting devices that rarely get any use.  The microwaveable pasta-cooking jar, the plastic tomato slicer, the garlic press, juicers of various sorts, a strawberry huller and a cherry pitter, hamburger patty shaper (we don't even eat hamburgers!) -- you name it and I probably have it.  Some have proved to be quite useful (I love my Kuhn Rikon Spill STOP Silicone Lid), but most just sit around gathering dust and I really should get rid of them.  But how can I when they are just so fascinating?  In fact, here are a few more that I am trying my best to avoid adding to my collection:

1) Egg Cuber Square Egg Press

From The Green Head

Why would anyone want to cube an egg, you ask?  Well, for those with OCD like me, the idea of uniformly shaped hard-boiled egg slices as opposed to the haphazard ones from a typical ovoid egg is quite appealing.  Look at how nicely a square slice fits on a Triscuit cracker:

From Everything Eggs

Is that not perfect?  The Egg Cuber Square Egg Press is an essential gadget for obsessive-compulsive types.  Now if only it could slice as well as square the egg, it would be perfect!

2) Obsessive Chef Cutting Board

From Uncommon Goods

Another gadget for the OCD individual -- the Obsessive Chef Cutting Board!  Uniform size when chopping food is a necessity for someone with this propensity (affliction?) and a graphic cutting board with measurements will assure precise control of size when cutting up recipe ingredients.  Seriously, it is all I can do not to order this gadget right now!

3) Condiment Gun

From Kitchen Contraptions

Now here is a gadget for those who like to play with their food.  Whether you prefer catsup or mustard, the Condiment Gun is ready -- it comes with a cartridge for each:

From Gadgets and Gear

Better order two of them, one for each condiment.  That way you can let the condiments battle it out at the dinner table!

4) Pizza Scissors with Server

From Geek Alerts

For anyone who has trouble slicing and serving pizza (is that possible?), the Sagaform Pizza Scissors with Server is there for you.  It ensures that you cut all the way through the crust, and the server means that you can lift each slice without touching it:

From Givetu

If you want one of these, act now, because they are getting harder to find and eBay only has ten left!

5) Candy Sorting Machine

From Dornob

I think this has to be the most uselessly amusing gadget out there -- it is a Candy Sorting Machine!  If you absolutely detest your assorted-color candies (M&Ms, Reese's Pieces, Skittles, etc.) all mixed together, this sophisticated contraption senses and sorts them by color:


After (from Egenriether)

I am not sure that this device is even available for purchase, but if not that is probably a good thing.  I don't know how I would ever explain the (probably considerable) expense of this gadget to my husband should I ever get the chance to buy one!

These gadgets are only a few of the ingenious but totally superfluous devices available to those of us who have absolutely no will power to resist them.  I may still be waiting for my flying car (weren't we promised this invention decades ago?), but at least in my kitchen I can rest assured in the knowledge that if I want to serve square egg slices with precisely cubed veggies and perfect pizza slices, all slathered with shots of catsup and mustard and accompanied by color-sorted candies, then I am covered!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wish List Wednesdays: Caramel Leather Weekender Bag

Our recent trip to Washington DC convinced me that I need to update my travel bags.  I have been using a backpack in addition to my rolling carry-on suitcase, which is functional but certainly not attractive.  I saw a woman at the airport who was carrying a chic leather bag that was attractive as a large purse and also roomy enough for all of the travel essentials that inevitably will not fit in the suitcase.  Her bag was similar to this Caramel Leather Weekender Bag from Floriana.  With two outside pockets, two inside pouches, adjustable side buckles, and both tote handles and a shoulder strap, this soft leather bag is perfect for travel.  At $179 it would be an investment, but I think I would get my money's worth very quickly.  Of course, there is also the Really Red Leather Handbag:

Slightly smaller than the weekender bag, but the same in every other way.  And that color (red is my favorite)!  It costs $10 more for some reason, maybe because of the color?

How do I choose?  The weekender bag is so practical, but the handbag is so stylish!  I'd better make a decision soon -- I have already decided that I am never carrying a backpack to the airport again, and I need an alternative now!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On the Home Front: Washington DC Trip

From Public Asian

We are home from our trip to the nation's capitol, and aside from the fact that my husband now has a miserable cold we had a good time.  We were there to attend the 40th anniversary of the Tyler Prize for Environmental Achievement awards ceremony:

From Colorado State University

While I enjoyed meeting all of the people involved with this private foundation, I am glad that the event is only held once a year because that is about all of the formality I can stand!

We had a pretty full schedule most of the time, but we did have one free afternoon and spent a little time on the National Mall.  We were too late to view the famous cherry blossoms around the Jefferson Memorial pictured above, but did get some photos of slightly darker but equally lovely cherry blossoms around the National Museum of American History:

They also had some lovely and well-established wisteria vines growing on a wall behind the museum:

My husband was starting to feel the effects of the cold that was coming on, so we only visited one museum.  The National Museum of Natural History had a temporary exhibit on display called "Orchids of Latin America" that had been recommended to us, so we toured that one and were not disappointed:

And speaking of orchids, this trip coincided with our anniversary, so my husband bought me a vase of orchids from the hotel florist for our room:

Simple but striking -- just the way I like floral arrangements!

Just so you don't think that all I do is take pictures of flowers, here is one of the Smithsonian Castle:

Although I have to admit that the vast majority of my pictures are of flowers, so who am I trying to fool?  Anyway, we enjoyed our trip and it would have been nice to have a little more time to see more of the sights.  I guess we will have to plan another visit soon!

Sunday, April 21, 2013

On the Homefront: Wisteria and Sunshine Table

What? No Dalmatians on the table?
Somehow they just didn't seem appropriate this time
(but they will be back)!

Oh, lovely, lovely wisteria!  It is wisteria season in our part of Georgia right now, one of the many reasons spring is such a beautiful season here.  At this time of year you just can't miss it -- the intense fragrance, the luxurious abundance, the lovely pale purple flowers cascading down from the roadside trees.  These wisteria vines may be considered invasive pests, but what gorgeous pests they are!

I've mentioned my favorite movie, "Enchanted April" (1992), in a recent post.  One of the memorable lines in the movie is from an advertisement for the Italian castle available for rent which the four protagonists decide to share.  "Wisteria and sunshine" are promised to the renters, and this they find in abundance.  I decided these harbingers of spring would be a wonderful basis for a tablescape, especially since at the moment we too have a profusion of wisteria (and sometimes even sunshine!).  I chose a yellow and subtle purple color scheme, with some earthy brown to hint at a garden theme.  The yellow items on the table (placemats, dishes, and a couple of the candles) are round to represent the sun, while the floral tablecloth, napkins, and of course the flower arrangement bring wisteria to the mix.  In reality, wisteria on the dining table is not such a good idea, as the fragrance is overwhelming, but for a fantasy table it is quite lovely!

Portmeirion Botanic Garden tablecloth from HomeGoods; my favorite dark brown wooden bead placemat from Target (they are almost always on our table); round yellow woven paper placemat from Tuesday Morning; floral chintz napkin from a local flea market; yellow dinner plate and salad bowl (Block Basics by Cerind of Portugal); purple bread plate (Calvin Klein The Khaki Collection Cargo in Plum) from Tuesday Morning; wine glass inherited from my husband's mother; I can't remember where I got the water glass, wooden napkin ring, or faux wood-handled flatware.  The wisteria was harvested from vines growing in our roadside trees.

The menu for this meal was also inspired by a scene from my favorite movie, when the ladies, unaccustomed to eating long strands of pasta, attempt to figure out how to consume spaghetti with some semblance of grace.  Although not very authentically Italian, this menu is such an old-fashioned comfort meal.  It was served on almost every occasion I can remember as a child when groups of people came together for a shared dinner, whether as a fundraiser event, a girl scout outing, or just a casual gathering of friends.

Since I am allergic to beef I serve my spaghetti with nontraditional turkey meatballs, but of course ground beef can be used.  Any marinara sauce will do, from jarred storebought to a secret family recipe -- click here for a quick and easy homemade sauce, or here for a spaghetti recipe complete with turkey meatballs and a mushroom marinara sauce (you can leave out the meatballs, mushrooms, or even both if you like).  Back in the day, the salad would be served with Italian dressing, but for more modern times balsamic vinaigrette is more likely to be offered.  Italian bread can either be sliced, spread with garlic butter, and heated in the oven until warm, or simply warmed, sliced, and served with flavored olive oil for dipping, which seems to be popular now (although apparently this practice is not endorsed by Italians!).  In my youth these spaghetti dinners almost always ended with ice cream, but nowadays you might try gelato or Italian ice (or get all fancy and make a tiramisu!).

Wisteria and Sunshine Italian Dinner menu:

Chianti or Pinot Grigio
Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce, Meatballs, and Grated Parmesan
Green Salad/Italian Dressing or Balsamic Vinaigrette
Garlic Bread* or Italian Bread with Dipping Oil**
Ice Cream or Gelato/Italian Ice

*Garlic Bread

1 loaf Italian bread
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 C. butter, softened

Cut the loaf into 1 1/2-inch slices, almost but not quite all the way through.  Combine the garlic with the butter.  Let the mixture stand for a few minutes, then spread on both sides of each bread slice.  Wrap the loaf in foil.  Bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

Note:  If you are fresh out of garlic, substitute 1/4 tsp. garlic powder (this is the way we always made it when I was growing up during the processed food years, because we never had fresh garlic).  You can gussy up this recipe with fresh parsley or other Italian herbs, paprika, or even cheeses, but I like to stick with the plain basic garlic bread myself.

**Italian Bread with Dipping Oil

1 loaf Italian bread
1/2 C. extra virgin olive oil
1 T. dark aged balsamic vinegar
fresh basil chiffonade for garnish (optional)

Warm the loaf and cut into slices.  Pour the olive oil into a shallow bowl or small rimmed plate.  Drizzle or swirl the balsamic vinegar over the top and garnish with basil.  Serve with the bread.

Note:  Again, the possibilities are endless when it comes to additions for this recipe -- fresh or dried herbs, Parmesan cheese, salt and/or pepper, even minced sun-dried tomatoes -- use your imagination, or keep it simple, which is the way I prefer.

Of course there is the usual bowl of chocolates, which could also serve as dessert  -- Lindt Lindor truffles again, this time in almond and hazelnut flavors.  We even have Amaretto and Frangelico as after dinner liqueurs, should anyone wish to indulge.

Wisteria, sunshine, and a simple Italian meal -- I almost feel as if I've been whisked away to a seaside villa on the coast of Italy!  Maybe some day I will experience the real thing, but for now I am enjoying my own version right at home.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

On the Homefront: April Blooms

Carolina jessamine

After a very long and wet winter which just seemed to linger on and on, it finally feels like spring has arrived.  Even though we are a bit chilly this morning, plants are flowering in abundance now.  I took these photos last weekend -- some shrubs have since leafed out a little more, but the blooms are still abundant.

Carolina jessamine and Azalea




Wood hyacinths



The following photo is not of flowers, but I was happy to see that my pineapple mint has returned!  This is my favorite mint, but it can be a bit temperamental.  It is not happy unless light and moisture conditions are just right.  I have tried planting it in various areas around our yard and have not been successful.  I hope that I have finally found a spot where it will grow vigorously.