Welcome to the Melting Pot

Tex-Mex Vegetable Enchiladas

We have friends who just returned from adopting their son in China. Welcoming a child into your family through adoption has its own set of joys and challenges. Instead of watching an ever growing belly, prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) carefully gather and tend sheaves of Apostilled documents from a minion of professionals like social workers as well as government agencies you don’t know exist. This pile of documents – the dossier – can weigh as much as a newborn baby when complete. If adopting internationally, the physical and emotional fatigue of travel rivals hours spent in labor. A family may be in the air or on the road for as long as 24 hours. The resulting jet lag from traveling to some place where it is yesterday can make one feel like they took a hand full of sleeping pills and chased them with a bottle of vodka – that was my experience anyway. This is a time to get to know each other and set up a routine . . . a time when it is helpful to not have to worry about getting food on the table.

With this in mind, a friend has arranged meals for the newly expanded family. I have a few go-to meals for such occasions. They can best be described as comfort foods – lasagna or calzones along with salad and brownies perhaps. This time, I opted for Tex-Mex enchiladas (Everybody Likes Sandwiches is a great site, by the way). I came across this recipe years ago and it became a favorite immediately. I had relied on a tomato-based sauce for enchiladas before this, one from Mollie Katzen of Moosewood Restaurant fame. I experimented with dried chile sauces once or twice, but the results were bitter. I do love this Tex-Mex version, but healthy, it is not – an oil-based roux with spices and broth added. I increase the vegetables to make up for lack of nutritional content in the sauce. I have stuffed the corn tortillas with diced, pan-fried zucchini and mushrooms, chopped onion and grated sharp cheddar . . . even cauliflower florets, onion and cheese. This time I added – you guessed it – kale! I chopped kale, sauteed it with some oil and a pinch of salt until wilted and added it to diced onions and grated sharp cheddar. Any combination works. You just need about 2 cups of filling. A simple slaw rounds out the meal in the winter; corn on the cob in the summer.

In addition to enchiladas, Sean will be introduced to curry and frittata the first week he is home. Welcome to the melting pot, sweet little boy!

P.S. Lori, a dear friend, is making her way to China to adopt her third daughter in just a few days. Check out her blog if you want to follow along.

Tex-Mex Enchiladas

Recipe adapted from Everybody Likes Sandwiches

for the chili gravy
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon garlic pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano or epazote
1/8 teaspoon dried chipotle (I have also omitted this – it depends on how spicy you want it.)
2 tablespoons chile powder
2 cups vegetable broth or water (I use water mixed with 1/2 teaspoon Better The Bouillon)

In a medium-sized pot, heat up oil over medium-high heat. Stir in flour and mix with a wooden spoon until the flour mixture browns, about 3-4 minutes. Add in the garlic powder, cumin, oregano, chipotle and chili powder and cook for another minute, all the while stirring like the dickens. Add in broth and turn heat to low, whisking sauce to smooth out any lumps. Let the sauce simmer and thicken. If the sauce gets too thick, add in a bit of water and whisk.

for the enchiladas
8-10 corn tortillas
1 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 small onion, diced (reserve some to sprinkle on top)
about 3/4 cup mix of diced or chopped sauteed vegetables (see above)
2 cups chili gravy

Preheat oven to 400F. Wrap the corn tortillas in a damp towel and microwave for about 1 minute 30 seconds. They should be pliable and bend without cracking. Set aside, keeping them wrapped in the towel while assembling.

Mix together the cheese, most of the onions and sauteed vegetables into a medium-sized bowl. Pour half a cup of the gravy into the bottom of a square baking pan. Assemble the enchiladas by putting a few tablespoons of the cheese-onion-vegetable mixture into the center of the corn tortilla and bringing the edges together so they overlap. Place each rolled tortilla into the baking pan seam-side down. Repeat with remaining tortillas. Pour the gravy over the enchiladas until covered (you may have a little left) and sprinkle more cheese and reserved onions over top. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until sauce is bubbly and cheese has melted. Makes 8-10 enchiladas.


There’s Something About Pizza

Pizza topped with kale, Field Roast Italian Sausage, feta and mozzarella

My brother is a devotee of Barnaby’spizza in South Bend, Indiana. So much so, he has spent some time trying to replicate their flaky crust. More recently, he is on a neo-Neopolitan crust kick. Karen, my friend and college roommate dissects and eats her beloved pizza with surgical precision – toppings first, then crust. She describes it as the perfect food . . . all food groups present and accounted for. And, delicious. What else could you want? People love their pizza.

We are no different. Friday nights are sandwich or pizza nights. When pizza is on the menu, I often make a batch of dough and freeze half – same with the sauce. I have experimented some, but always seem to go back to Deborah Madison’s crust and pizza sauce recipe in Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. As for toppings, there is always cheese for Alia. The other one is an improvisation – thinly sliced potato and Maytag blue cheese with a sprinkle of thyme with no sauce; a mix of mushrooms with smoked mozzarella sprinkled with minced flat-leaf Italian parsley and garlic; or caramelized onions and Field Roast Italian Sausage with mozzarella and Parmesan. Never more than three toppings though – preferably only two – because any more than that results in a muddled, confused pizza, in my opinion.

Tonight it was sauteed kale (yes, again!) and Field Roast Italian Sausage with crumbled feta and mozzarella for us. According to Luca, “Sometimes experiments turn out really good.”

Friday Night Pizza Party

Crust (adapted ever so slightly from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast (one packet)
2 tablespoons olive oil (I don’t bother with extra virgin when I baking or pan frying for that matter. I save it for vinaigrettes when you can really taste it)
1  1/2 teaspoons salt (sea salt or kosher)
1/2 to 1 cup whole-wheat flour, to taste (I use 1 cup)
3 to 3 1/2 cups flour (I usually only need about 2 1/2 cups)

Pour 1/2 cup of the water into a mixing bowl, stir in the yeast, and set aside for 10 minutes. Add remaining water, olive oil, and salt, then beat in the whole wheat flour followed by enough white flour to form a shaggy dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured counter and knead until smooth, adding more flour as needed to keep it from sticking. For a crisp, light crust, pizza dough should be on the moist side, which means it will be slightly tacky.

Put the dough in an oiled bowl, turn it once to coat, then cover with a towel and set aside to rise until doubled in size (about 40-60 mins). I find the top of the refrigerator is a good place for the dough to rise. Turn the dough onto the counter and divide into the number of pizzas you want (I usually find one recipe makes 4 pizza crusts that are a little more than 12″ in diameter). Shape each piece into a ball, set on a lightly floured counter, cover with a towel, and let rise for another 20-30 mins.

While the dough rises the second time, you can make the tomato sauce (below) and prepare the toppings you want. If you are using  a pizza stone, place the stone in the oven and set to 500 degrees. You can also use a large round pizza pan or a large cookie sheet. The idea is to put the crust on a really hot surface so it starts crisping immediately,

Tomato Sauce for Pizza (from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 garlic cloves sliced thinly

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 28 ounce can crushed (preferably fire-roasted) tomatoes (I like Muir Glen brand)

Warm the olive oil over medium heat in a 10 inch skillet (I use cast iron) with garlic and a little black pepper. Add the tomatoes and a pinch of salt and raise the heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until the juices are evaporated and the sauce that remains is thick enough to mound on a spoon with no surrounding watery liquid. Taste and add salt and pepper for a flavorful sauce. This is a simple sauce so seasoning is key.

  • Shaping the Dough

Taking one ball at a time, flatten it into a disk, pushing it outward with your palm. Working from the middle, push the dough out with your fingers until it’s flatter. Then, I get out my marble rolling pin and roll it into a rough circle less than 1/4″ thick. The crust can best be described as thin and chewy. Adjust the thickness to your preference.

  • Baking the Pizza Crust

I own a pizza stone and peel. These are helpful if you make pizzas often. A pizza pan or cookie sheet will work, but not as well.

  • Using a Pan?

If using a pan, carefully take it out of the oven. It’s hot! Sprinkle a little cornmeal on the pizza pan to keep the dough from sticking. Place the rolled out crust onto your pizza pan and brush with a little olive oil and prick with the tines of a fork. Put the pan into the oven and let bake for about 5 minutes or until it starts to brown SLIGHTLY. Poke big bubbles that form with a fork.

  • Using a Stone?

Sprinkle a little cornmeal on the peel to keep the dough from sticking. Place the rolled crust onto your peel and brush with a little olive oil and prick with the tines of a fork. Shake the peel slightly to be sure it isn’t sticking. Carefully slide the crust onto the stone. This takes a little practice. Let bake for about 5 minutes or until it starts to brown SLIGHTLY. Poke big bubbles that form with a fork.

  • Topping the Pizza

Take the crust out and add toppings as you like. Tonight, I put on a thin layer of tomato sauce, then chopped, sauteed kale and Field Roast Italian Sausage. I finished it off with crumbled feta and shredded mozzarella. I also made a cheese one – thin layer of tomato sauce and shredded Parmesan and mozzarella with a sprinkling of smoked salt when it came out of the oven. Put the pizza back in the oven for 5-7 minutes until cheese is melted and bubbly. Remove pan from the oven or remove the pizza using the peel.

Let the pizza rest on the pan or peel for 10 more minutes so it is easier to cut. If all goes well, you will have a thin and chewy crust that holds it shape under the tasty toppings. No droopy pizza here!

Is it easier to order out? Yes. Is it as good? No way!


Me:  A (kale pizza)

Scott: A (kale pizza and cheese pizza)

Luca: A (kale pizza) A and half a + (cheese)

Alia: A (cheese pizza)


Kale meets cheese in a corn tortilla

Scott takes Luca to Cub Scouts a few times a month, so Alia and I fend for ourselves at dinnertime. Sometimes, I heat up leftovers for her and grab a handful of peanuts for myself. I think I am missing an opportunity for some one-on-one time with our quickly growing imp. So, I decided we would sit down and eat dinner just the two of us. While Alia rambled on about our cats, the birthday cards she made for Scott (Happy Birthday, Scott!), Flat Stanleyand James’ return to daycare, we ate Spanish rice leftover from Sunday night along with quesadillas stuffed with kale and cheese.

Some nights, planning dinner is like a segment of “Use It Up” on Everyday Food on Martha Stewart Living radio (Not sure if it is on any more. We cancelled our Sirius). Listeners called in with random ingredients and Sandy Gluck gave them recipe ideas. I had a bunch of kale that was starting to go south in the fridge. There was also some Greek feta and shredded mozzarella I always keep on hand . . . and a package of corn tortillas I bought for tempeh tacos. I had this recipe pinned on Pinterest.

The topic of kale came up a few months ago at a party. A friend asked a group of well-seasoned home cooks how we worked kale into our diets. Then, and over the course of a few months, we had so many suggestions we could have written a kale cookbook – kale and potato Spanish tortilla, kale and potato enchiladas, kale lasagna, kale and ricotta stuffed shells, sweet potato kale pizza, kale and feta egg bake . . . and how about kale pesto? I could go on, but I think you can see that kale is very versatile. Use it much like you use spinach – even in salads. It is a much sturdier green, which I appreciate. Spinach can break down into slimy goop so easily. Kale has a backbone and keeps it shape and some of its texture. Here is another recipe to add to the kale cookbook.


adapted from Serious Eats (makes about 9)

2 tablespoons oil

1/3 cup minced red onion

3/4 pound curly kale, chopped (You can also use the flatter lacinto variety . . . what ever is available)

1/2 teaspoon salt (Start out with a scant 1/2 teaspoon and add more if needed. The original recipe calls for 1 teaspoon and that was a bit too much. The amount of salt depends on the saltiness of the feta you use.)

1/4 teaspoon crushed red chile flakes or to taste

2 cloves minced garlic

1 cup diced feta cheese

9-12 corn tortillas

1 cup shredded mozzarella (I keep a bag of Kraft shredded mozzarella in the fridge ever since Cook’s Illustrated gave it a decent rating in a taste test. It is not organic, gourmet cheese, but it tastes pretty good and keeps well.)

In large (12-inch) skillet (I use cast iron), heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and beginning to brown, 3-5 minutes. Add chopped kale with any water clinging to leaves, along with salt, chile flakes, and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until greens are tender, about 10 minutes. Add water as necessary to keep skillet from drying out.

When greens are cooked, stir in feta and remove from heat. Season to taste with salt if necessary. Transfer to a bowl and wipe out the skillet. Resist the urge to eat all the filling before it makes it into the tortillas.

In the same skillet, heat remaining oil over medium-high heat until shimmering, using a spatula to spread evenly on surface. Add as many tortillas as will fit and cook on one side until softened, 2-3 minutes. Flip, then spoon 2-3 tablespoons of filling onto tortillas. Sprinkle a tablespoon or so of mozzarella on top of the filling. Use a spatula to fold tortillas in half.

Cook until tortillas are golden and cheese is melted, 2-3 minutes per side. If necessary, keep cooked quesadillas in warm oven until all are cooked. Repeat with remaining tortillas and filling. Serve immediately.

I served with leftover Spanish rice.


Me:  A

Alia: D (She ate it but with much prodding.)