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Monday, February 3, 2014

Raid The Fridge - Chicken and Vegetable   Enchilada Stack With Homemade Sauce     

My Grandfather "Buster" Wells ranched about 80 thousand acres for the Irvine Company of Southern California, back when I was in Elementary School. Quite a bit of it bordered along the the outside of the MCAS "H" Base where the enormous hangers are still located. Of course the base is closed but it's still interesting to me and I'm sure many others in this area, that those are a major landmark. You can figure your way just by seeing them.

Just newly expanded and opened Tustin Ranch Road has been cut through the old Airbase boundaries right next to the hangers. I get a funny feeling when I see them, a full sense of pride. My husband Greg used to be in the Marines and worked on helicopters on this base. Now instead of the base it's part of The District Shopping Center. Which is pretty cool when you think of it. The base during it's hay-day brought people together for the benefit of national security and pride, through hard work by Marines and civilians, cultivating a sense of home for all. It sat empty and dormant for a long time. Now as The District, it's once again cultivating a sense of home and pride. A gathering place for quite a diversity of nationalities. There are quite a lot of restaurants of all types to eat at, and the biggest Whole Foods Store I've ever seen. Which is where I get some of my gluten free flours and ingredients.

The names of streets in Irvine and Tustin have a lot of memories for our family. Jeffry Street was in fact named for the Jeffry family, and they used to live in a lovely old home. I remember Mr. Jeffreys made the dining table for his family, of which the wife was enormously pregnant at this visit. To accommodate her expanding tummy, he cut a hinged half circle out of one of the ends. That way she could scoot right up to the table easily. I was always impressed by that small but loving gesture. Their house was two storied and quite old, which unfortunately has gone by the wayside, as well as some of the most beautiful Hacienda homes with exquisite tile work and fountains in their inner court-yards. 
Myford Road was for the Myford Family. As a child we used to frequent these families' homes, and others dotted here and there around the fields and groves for gatherings, parties, and even movie premiers such as Alice In Wonderland, The Wizard Of Oz, and A Christmas Carol by Dickens. These were all black and white of course, and they scared the day-lights out of some of us younger kids, but we wouldn't have missed them for anything! The Alice In Wonderland had some really creepy characters; Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum were enough to give me nightmares! And then we would have to drive home to Orange. There weren't any street lights on Myford, Jeffrey or Valencia where my Grandparents ranch was. Since there were humongous Eucalyptus trees as wind breaks around all of the fields and groves it made for a very pitch black trip! And after these movies, a small kid's imagination is accelerating at break-neck speeds!

I'm talking about this today because of the Hispanic produce pickers and their families that loyally worked everyday. These were such generous and gentle people. The Forman for my Grandparents ranch was Poncho, and his wife was Maria. My family would go out to the fields all around those big hangers to pick produce for ourselves. We then would can, freeze, mass produce...you name it. I learned to eat chili rellenos at a very early age, especially for a Gringo. They burned my mouth, but the flavor was so intense and devine. Sometimes when we would be in the fields picking, Maria and the other wives would come to bring their men and families lunch, and always invited us. My Mom would anticipate this and always had something hidden in the car that she brought, like a chocolate cake. I knew I could smell chocolate, but she would tell me that I was nuts! There would be big pots of pinto beans, fresh tortillas, pork, chicken or beef, sweet cold drinks and many other delicious foods. If we were in the melon fields dessert was taken care of. We would search for the melon with the best hollow sound and had the most bees hovering around it. Then all you had to do was break it away from the plant and crack it open, then slurppily eat it. It was warm, sweet, and very sticky. You could always count on the bees becoming very interested at this point and had to really be on guard that you didn't take a bite with a bee on it.

So, todays recipe is Hispanic in nature, as the love for Mexican food was instilled and cemented by these simple events. I hope you love it as much as my family does. If we don't eat some type of Mexican food every week, and sometimes several times a week, we just go a bit crazy! It can be as simple as tacos to more involved  food preparation such as enchiladas, or rellenos, we just have to have it! And the funny thing about this food is that we enjoy many different takes on how it's prepared. A Restaurant we highly enjoy in Orange is Los Cabos Mariscos, which is Hispanic/Mexican/Cuban influenced. Works for us! We've eaten there for 22 years! They know us so well they really give us menus just for effect, because they know by heart what we all love. They are good friends and a great little place to eat, relax and enjoy.

So with that in mind, I share my:

GF Raid The Fridge - Chicken and Vegetable Enchilada Stack With Homemade Sauce     Serves 6-8

Enchilada Sauce:
1 1/2 cups cold water
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground oregano
1 teaspoon dried cilantro
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
2 Tablespoons California Chili powder, this has no heat so if you like it hot and spicy feel free to kick it up!

Other Ingredients:
18 corn tortillas
4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
3 cups shredded jack cheese - or pepper jack
3-4 cups leftover vegetables, (I used green beans, carrots, red bell peppers, sliced green onions, and tomatoes that had been roasted in the oven which makes them very sweet)
16 oz. small curd cottage cheese or the Mexican equivalent

Pre-heat oven to 350°F. 
You will need a 9" x 13" baking pan.
Have an extra baking pan ready to place your casserole on in case it's going to overflow while cooking.

Make the sauce first:
1. Pour the crushed tomatoes into a medium-large bowl, add the spices, salt and pepper-omitting or adding any others that you like. This is kind of a "free form" casserole so-to-speak, so don't be afraid to make it your own.
2. Your sauce will be very thick at this point. Add the water in 1/4 cup increments to thin it to the consistency you like. We like ours fairly thin, almost like tomato soup, so I add the entire 1 1/2 cups.
3. Set aside while you assemble your filling ingredients.

4. Add two medium ladles of sauce to the bottom of the baking pan, smooth it over the entire surface. Place 6 tortillas overlapping on top of the sauce. Sprinkle about a third of the cheddar cheese on top of tortillas, then add a half of the shredded chicken, and half of the vegetables. Add half of the cottage cheese, and a third of the jack cheese.  

5. Add a ladle of sauce over each tortilla middle of the first layer, (see photo directly below). Then place another 6 tortillas over the top and gently but firmly push each tortilla down to sort of smoosh the two layers together.

6. Repeat the stacking/filling instructions for the second layer.
7. The last 6 tortillas now go on top with at least a ladle full of sauce over each tortilla, plus a bit extra. Smooth the sauce out over all and decide if you want more sauce-don't forget that there's sauce in the other two layers that will cook and bubble up to the layers on top. You can always heat extra sauce and pass it at the table. Add the remainder of the cheeses and place in oven uncovered. 
8. Bake enchilada stack for 40-50 minutes. Sauce should be bubbling and cheeses should be melted and a bit toasty. You should be able to insert a skewer very easily. If not continue cooking for another 7-12 minutes, especially since the oven has been opened and heat has escaped.

9. Remove from oven and let stack sit for about 10-15 minutes. This helps to pull it all together just like lasagna; if you cut it too soon it slips and slides and makes a mess trying to serve it. This way it gets to rest and firm up some. Serve with a lovely green or fruit salad. It's delicious, and a great way to use up those extra veges!

Mmmm! Crusty Cheese!