We – that’s both the artists-and-critics “we” and the people-in-general “we” – have a habit of conflating difficulty and quality. If something is hard to do, or hard to understand, we tell ourselves that it must also be in some way better than a similar thing that is simple or clear. This is a tendency that needs to be watched out for and kept on a tight leash, because for every complex and difficult thing that it encourages us to appreciate, there’s something plain and straightforward that it tempts us to pass by.
Herewith, by way of edible illustration, is a simple recipe that produces a better-than-store-bought enchilada sauce. (This comes in especially handy if you happen to live, as we do, in a locale where the grocery store doesn’t carry any strength higher than Medium.)
Red Enchilada Sauce:
2 T oil (canola or vegetable)
2 T flour
2 T chili powder
1 T cayenne
1 T powdered chipotle pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cumin
1/4 tsp. oregano
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
- Mix up the seasonings – chili powder through oregano – in a small bowl. (If the mix as given looks too hot for your taste, go with 4 T of mild chili powder instead of the chili powder/cayenne/chipotle mix. If you want an even higher octane, go with a 2 T chili powder/2 T cayenne mix, or experiment with other powdered hot peppers until you’ve got a blend you like.)
- In a saucepan, heat up the oil and add the flour. Mix it up and cook it for a minute, stirring so it doesn’t burn.
- Add the chili powder and other seasonings. Stir it up some more – it’ll be a thick paste.
- Add the chicken stock, and use a whisk to stir it up so that the mixture doesn’t clump up or stick to the bottom of the pan.
- Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.
Either use immediately or decant into a glass jar or similar container and use later.
This makes enough for one batch of enchiladas.
(Which has nothing to do with writing, and which most other people have probably known about for ages):
If you’ve got a rice cooker that came with a steamer basket, the steamer basket is very handy for turning uncooked chicken breasts or tenders into cooked chicken suitable for shredding or dicing and incorporating into things like enchiladas or pot pies or any other recipe that calls for cooked chicken bits.
Well, okay . . . this is like writing in one respect: Don’t automatically assume that the idea you’ve just had is old hat, or is no good because it is old hat. Because you can always take that old idea and use it to make something new and tasty.
I’m going to be at the La Belle Winery in Amherst, New Hampshire, participating in a short fiction slam with other former students and instructors of the Odyssey Writer’s Workshop. (Jim Macdonald and I were guest instructors there, once upon a time.)
I’ve never participated in a slam before (group readings at conventions and the like, yes, but that was within the tribe, as it were) and certainly never one at a winery.
This should be fun. If you’re in or around Amherst NH this weekend with $25 burning a hole in your pocket ($15 if you’re a student; $10 if you’re a teenager), you might think of stopping by.
Because there are some days when all you want to do is shove some ingredients into the crockpot and leave them alone for six or eight hours.
(I’ve been having a week like that, full of necessary but distracting things like purchasing a new car – well, to be more specific, a new-to-us car. Now that we’re no longer transporting our offspring to and from college on a regular basis, there’s no need to continue nursing along the 18-mpg mini-van, so we’ve got a nice 27-mpg hatchback instead.)
Tonight’s dead-simple entrée is Crockpot Chicken Paprikash, which makes no claim to be authentically anything, other than dead simple.
- 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
- 1 teaspoon hot paprika (or 1 T plus 1 tsp of whatever paprika you’ve got, plus a pinch of cayenne pepper)
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and halved
- 1.5 – 2 pounds boneless chicken thighs, cut up
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
- 1/2 cup sour cream
In the slow cooker, stir together the sliced onions, the salt, the garlic, and the paprika. Spread the mixture evenly over the bottom of the crock.
Layer the chicken on top of the onion mixture.
Add the stock. Cook on low for 6-8 hours or until chicken is tender.
Stir the sour cream into the sauce. Serve over egg noodles.
Optionally, you can cut up and add some mushrooms to the paprika-onion mix. Very few things are not improved by adding mushrooms. (The things that aren’t improved by adding mushrooms are usually improved by adding chocolate.)
For years I didn’t have a crockpot, because all my previous encounters with the technology had been in the early days, before the invention of the removable stoneware crock, and doing cleanup on a piece of kitchen gear that couldn’t be fully immersed in water pretty much negated all of the time and labor saved on the prep and cooking end.
Then one day I looked around in the kitchen department of the local hardware store and saw that things had changed since I was an impecunious grad student, and I was, as they say, enlightened.
This particular recipe is about as mindless as they come, which is a blessing on those occasions when you’ve got a cold, or a deadline, or just a bad case of too much of the daily grind:
Chicken with Onions
- 4 large onions, sliced thin
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more if you like)
- 4 to 6 split chicken breasts, either bone-in or boneless
- hot cooked rice (or orzo pasta, or whatever starchy substrate you prefer)
- Put the sliced onions in the bottom of the crockpot.
- Lay the chicken breasts on top of the onions.
- Add the garlic, lemon juice, and cayenne.
- Cook 4 to 6 hours on low.
- Serve over rice or orzo or whatever you prefer
Here – have a recipe.
- 3 cans of buttermilk biscuits
- 1 cup sugar
- 3 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2 sticks butter
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Open up all three cans of biscuits and cut each biscuit into quarters.
Next, combine the white sugar and the cinnamon in a 1 gallon zip-lock bag and shake it to mix them up evenly.
Drop all of the biscuit quarters into the bag of cinnamon-sugar mix. Seal the bag and shake it until the biscuit quarters are evenly covered.
Fill up a bundt pan or similar baking pan (we use a panettone mold around here.)
Melt the two sticks of butter and the half cup of brown sugar together in the microwave, or in a saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Once the brown sugar/melted butter mix has become one color, pour it over the pan full of biscuit pieces.
Bake for about 30-40 minutes until the crust is a deep dark brown on top. Then remove it from the oven and allow it to cool on a wire rack for about 15-30 minutes.
Turn it out onto a plate; pull it apart with two forks to serve.
This is the quick and easy version. You could get fancier, I suppose, by making up a batch of sweet yeast dough, either by hand or in a bread machine, cutting or tearing the risen dough into approximately 36 pieces, and forming the pieces into balls which you then coat in cinnamon sugar as above. Then put them into the baking pan and allow them to rise a second time before going on to the melted butter and brown sugar step and proceeding with the recipe from there.
But in all honesty, the biscuit version tastes just fine, and is a whole lot faster and easier.
(Also: I have no idea why it’s called “monkey bread.” One theory is that the bread takes its name from a fancied resemblance between the pattern of the stacked lumps of dough and the pattern of the bark on the trunk of a monkey-puzzle tree . . . but I think that may be stretching it.)