31 March 2014

Eats: cheesy chicken and rice enchiladas for you and yours

I’m back! Back in STL, back to work, back to blathering on for paragraphs about whatever I managed to do around my house recently. My trip to California was absolutely fantastic, filled with great talks and thoughtful feedback on my own work and a whole lot of making new science friends. It was exhausting in the very best way, but fortunately I had the weekend to travel home and re-group. So now I’m BACK!

It was, I admit, nice to not have to cook dinner for a week. Before I left, I was cooking a LOT – the birthday cakes for me and Mr. P, a birthday cake for a work colleague, and a dinner for another colleague. That last one was for a work friend who lost her mother, so we took turns bringing her dinner. I learned when I lost my father that the number one thing you can do for someone who loses a parent is FOOD. Maybe it’s my indulgent Germanic roots, maybe it’s my Southern hospitality, but I firmly believe that cooking for someone in a time of need is the single most comforting thing you can do.

So. I made her a sympathy pie (it can be any kind of pie, really, but I made this one. I just call it sympathy pie because giving someone pie when they are sad is the best sympathetic act there is.) I made her a big green salad because you start to feel physically bad in addition to emotionally bad when you don’t eat vegetables. And I made her enchiladas, because they are secretly a casserole when you fill them with rice, and because cheese is a Certified Comfort Food, and also because they are delicious.

The nice thing about this recipe is that it’s hard to scale down. You’re basically going to be stuck with one 9x12 pan of enchiladas, and a second 8x8 pan for... your bereaved friend? Your freezer? Your giant family that won’t be satisfied with a 9x12 pan? Your call. In my case, I made a 8x8 pan for my friend (in disposable aluminum, so no need to return!) and a 9x12 pan for Mr. P and me.

Here’s how I made them! I started by salting, peppering, and baking three small chicken breasts (I would’ve only used two if they’d come from anything but the most petite chickens ever):

You know, just stick them in the oven covered in foil until they’re done. Should take about thirty minutes! I usually do this when I’m making other stuff in the kitchen and refrigerate until it’s time to use them. As an alternative, rotisserie chicken would be amazing in these enchiladas, too!

You also need to prepare the secret weapon:

Yeah, yeah, boxed rice. But trust me, you want rice in your enchiladas. You already eat rice on the side, right? This way, it’s all in one dish. As a bonus, the boxed seasoned rice will serve to flavor the rest of the dish – you could use plain white rice, but then I’d suggest stirring in some extra seasoning. Ideally, use specifically Rice-a-Roni Spanish Rice. Just prepare as written on the box, but DON’T add the suggested tomatoes or beef. You only need the rice!

Once the rice is done, stir in one block of cream cheese, one small can of green chiles, and diced jalapeño to taste (I used less than a whole pepper, as I didn’t want to make it too spicy for my friend, but if it had just been for us I’d have used more!). I also added seasoning to taste – lots of chili powder, cumin, and black pepper.

Everything in the mixture is cooked, so don’t be shy about sticking in a fork and tasting to make sure it’s right!

Then dice and shred the chicken and stir it in. You can even use the same pot to avoid dirtying dishes! Oh, and if you wanted to make this a vegetarian dish instead, you could easily sub in beans at this point.

Ok, the filling is good to GO! Time to start wrapping it up in some flour tortillas (I used the Mission brand medium sized for these).

I believe I was able to fit six big enchiladas in the 8x8 pan, and another eight in the 9x12 pan. This makes a lot of enchiladas! Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo of the enchiladas in the pan, because it would be nice to illustrate this point: if you’re going to freeze your enchiladas instead of serving them right away, DON’T put any sauce or cheese on them! Freeze the filled tortillas until they’re fairly solid, THEN add the sauce and cheese. Like so:

See how the sauce pools up over the enchiladas, which had been previously frozen for about four hours? I’m convinced that pouring sauce over warm tortillas instead only serves to soak up the sauce and make the tortillas soggy, whereas frozen tortillas stay intact, even with the thawing and baking to follow. Maybe it’s all in my head, but it seems to work better this way – it doesn’t hurt to try!

Oh, and for the record, I just used my favorite off-the-shelf jarred enchilada sauce and shredded cheese. You can make this as fancy or as simple as you want!

When it comes time to eat them, you can either defrost and pop in the oven for less time (say, 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes) or go straight from frozen if you have the time and finances to pay your gas bill (perhaps 75-90 minutes). Either way, you should cover the pan with foil, and remove the foil only for the last 10 minutes or so, just to get the cheese a little brown and bubbly. And that’s it! Delicious, cheesy, spicy, FILLING enchiladas, DONE!

Enchiladas are indeed a bit more work than spreading out an impromptu taco bar across the kitchen countertop, but since this makes a double batch, you get two dinners out of it! And if that second batch goes to a friend, well then... that little extra effort is sort of the whole point. Hope you and your lucky enchilada recipients enjoy!

Finally, this week’s back-from-Cali meal plan:

Sunday: baked barbecue chicken, cornbread (mix from our most recent Batch Nashville box!), and roasted broccoli

Monday: spaghetti carbonara with peas and, I’m thinking, maybe a little avocado (like this recipe perhaps?), plus a side salad

Tuesday: teriyaki chicken with rice, broccoli, and asparagus

Wednesday: taco night with chips & salsa

Thursday: chicken piccata with asparagus, rice, and any leftover cornbread

Friday: pesto tortellini with a side salad

Saturday: leftovers

That’s it and that’s all, dear readers! It’s good to be back!


Janice said...

Welcome home! it's good to go, but even better to return home.

Have you ever assembled breakfast burritos? I do it once in a while. They are quick to do(about 30 min makes about 25 of them depending on what size tortilla you use). Wrap individually in wax paper. Put them all into a Zip lock bag, pop in freezer. In the morning, pop in microwave for 60-90 seconds. Boom, breakfast to go or sit and enjoy. ;)

Stacy said...

Yummy! Finally made these tonight. Thanks for the 'comfort' food recipe!