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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of middle-aged high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, and wealthy) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Pork, on March 3rd, 2016.

pork_enchilada_casserole_serving

Mexican Comfort Food. Easy. Gooey with melting cheese, tasty with pork carnitas inside, and a bit of sour cream to make it over the top.

Of all the recipes on this blog, you can count only a few that are truly Mexican. Like Mexican restaurant combination plate items. Why? Because I have such wonderful Mexican restaurants within a few miles of my house, and their food is pretty darned good. In years past (prior to 1976)  I used to make Mexican dishes at home, but that was because they were: (1) relatively inexpensive to make; (2) could feed a lot of people; and/or (3) I couldn’t get decent Mexican food where I lived.

But now, and for the last 40 years I’ve lived close to a Mexican population and restaurants abound. However, none of them make casseroles. They make tacos, burritos, tortas, taquitos, enchiladas (chicken, beef or cheese) and tostadas. Oh, and chile rellenos (one of my favorites). Years ago I used to make a chile relleno casserole that used canned Anaheim green chiles filled with a mixture of cream cheese and Jack cheese, dipped in egg, then flour and briefly fried, then baked in the oven for 20-25 minutes. I haven’t made those in years. They don’t resemble the rellenos I get at my favorite local Mexican place, Jalapeno’s, on First Street in Tustin, CA. I eat there about once a week, where I often run into friends who read my blog (hi, Mary). It’s a very popular place in our neighborhood, and they make awesome Mexican food.

pork_enchilada_casserole_ready_2bakeSo why did I decide to make a Mexican dish? Well, I read the blog, Homesick Texan. Lisa Fain grew up in Texas, but has lived in NYC for a long time, and she misses her home town Tex-Mex food, big time. She regularly returns to Texas to visit, and her blog reads like a travelogue – she goes from restaurant to restaurant to stock up on her Mexican or Tex-Mex favorites. She can’t get enough of it. She created this casserole as an easy way to have pork enchiladas, but without the fussiness of filling and rolling up the corn tortillas and lining them up like soldiers.

All the ingredients that go into enchiladas are there, but she merely layered them in a casserole and you cut it into servings, kind of like lasagna.

I’ve now made this twice and have changed a few minor things: (1) I layered it 4 layers deep (not 3) which makes for a bit more  depth, obviously. (2) I added just a bit more cheese; and (3) I dolloped some sour cream inside the layers, not just as a garnish for serving.

poblano_salsa_verdeIf you go to Lisa’s blog, you can read her recipe which has you cooking your own pork. I chose not to do that merely because I’d have so MUCH pork left over, since I’m just a one person household now. So, instead, I stopped at Jalapeno’s one night and I bought 3/4 pound of carnitas, and they gave me the pork, but also a foam container of raw onions and a huge pile of cilantro. All things to use in this casserole too. Yippee! I did make the sauce, which was relatively easy. You could, if you live where grocery stores sell fresh tomatillo salsa, use that. Lisa’s salsa also has poblano chiles in the mix, which gives a lovely depth of flavor. I understand that some Mexican markets sell canned poblano (pasilla) chiles – I haven’t found them, but if so I’d just add one of those to the tomatillo salsa.

This casserole is SO easy to put together once you line up all the ingredients: the grated cheese, the shredded pork, minced onion, the salsa verde (see right), sour cream, and you merely need to soften the corn tortillas in a frying pan in a tiny, tiny bit of oil and put them in a casserole dish. Then you layer, and layer, and layer. Ending up with tortillas, salsa and heaps of cheese on top. Into a 350° oven it goes, and 30 minutes later you have dinner. Garnish with more cilantro and sour cream.

If I made this for a group, I’d definitely buy a pork shoulder roast and make the pork carnitas myself. Pork shoulder is one of the cheaper cuts of meat you can buy these days, and it’s pretty easy to do the long, slow cooking to get it to peak tenderness. Shred it pork_enchilada_casserole_wholeup, and just get all the ingredients together and the casserole all comes together in a jiffy. I’d serve this with a green salad with not too many vegetables (tomatoes, celery, green onions) and a vinaigrette of some kind. Have chips and salsa for an appetizer, and make Tres Leches cake for dessert. Done. Easy.

What’s GOOD: everything about this casserole is good – the pork, the cheese (yum), the tomatillo-poblano salsa, and all the cilantro, sour cream. Oh goodness, it’s just fabulous. Will definitely be making this again.

What’s NOT: making the pork from scratch takes a few hours; the salsa takes a bit of prep, but it will keep for a few days. Assembling the casserole is cinchy easy. Not much downside since I used pork carnitas from my local Mexican eatery.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Pork Enchilada Verde Casserole

Recipe By: Adapted slightly from Homesick Texan (blog)
Serving Size: 8

TOMATILLO-POBLANO SALSA:
3 whole poblano peppers — washed (also called pasilla)
1 1/2 jalapeno chile peppers — washed
1 pound tomatillos — husks removed
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup cilantro
1/2 cup water
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
ENCHILADAS:
1 pound carnitas — shredded (pork shoulder, already cooked)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
12 corn tortillas
3 1/2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese — (16 ounces)
1/3 cup onion — minced (either red or yellow)
1/3 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped cilantro — use some for garnish
3 tablespoons sour cream — for garnish

NOTES: You could easily use leftover pork (roast?) instead of making carnitas. It might not have quite the same flavor, but it would be close enough. Pork shoulder meat (long threads) would be more tender, so if using a roast, cut or tear into very small shred-like pieces.
1. SALSA: Turn on the broiler and place a rack 5 inches away from heating element. Line a cast-iron skillet or baking sheet with foil and place the poblano chiles, jalapeños, tomatillos, and garlic on the skillet. Cook under the broiler for 5 minutes, and then remove the skillet from the oven. Remove the garlic from the skillet and place into a blender. Turn over the poblano chiles, jalapeños, and tomatillos, and return the skillet to the oven.
2. Continue to broil the chiles and tomatillos for 5 to 7 more minutes or until they are nicely charred. After this time, remove the skillet from the oven. Place the tomatillos in the blender, and put the chiles into a paper sack or plastic food-storage bag, close it tight and let the chiles steam for 20 minutes.
3. Pour the 1/2 cup of water into the foil-lined skillet, swirl it around, and then pour this into the blender.
4. After the chiles have steamed, remove from the bag and rub off the skin. Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles and add them to the blender, along with the cilantro. Blend until smooth. You should have about 3 cups of salsa. Stir in the salt, taste and add more salt if you like.
5. CASSEROLE: Preheat the oven to 350°F.
8. In a skillet, heat up the vegetable oil on low heat. One at a time, heat up the tortillas in the skillet until soft and pliant, adding more oil as needed. After cooking, wrap in a cloth to keep warm. (It’s fine if you want to skip this step but note that the tortillas may get super soggy when they bake.)
9. To assemble the casserole, ladle 1/3 cup of the salsa verde into an oval ceramic casserole dish or a 9-inch cast-iron skillet. Place 3 of the tortillas in the pan, tearing in pieces to fill in any gaps.
10. Evenly top the tortillas with a third of the pork, 1/3 of shredded Monterey Jack, a third of the diced red onions, a third of the chopped cilantro, a drizzle of sour cream, and 1/3 cup of the salsa. Top that layer with 3 more tortillas and then add the rest of the pork, etc. Make 3 full layers, then top with the remaining tortillas, salsa and grated cheese.
11. Bake uncovered for 30-35 minutes or until the casserole is lightly browned and bubbling. Allow to rest for 5 minutes before serving. Serve warm topped with sour cream and cilantro.
Per Serving: 352 Calories; 21g Fat (53.4% calories from fat); 16g Protein; 26g Carbohydrate; 4g Dietary Fiber; 51mg Cholesterol; 459mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on March 3rd, 2016:

    How clever of you to think of getting the carnitas from your favorite Mexican eatery! I’ve kind of been in the mood to make a batch of carnitas, and this would be a great use for the leftovers.

    I see we have another thing in common–a penchant for chiles rellenos. I especially like them made with poblanos, my favorite chile. I have not found a local Mexican restaurant that makes them to my liking, though–they tend to be soggy and grease-laden and I am usually disappointed in them. You are fortunate to have great Mexican food so readily available. I know there are better Mexican restaurants in St. Louis than those in my suburb, so have not given up the hunt yet! Meanwhile, I’ll make my own carnitas and look forward to trying this casserole.

    There’s a restaurant here in SoCal (in Pasadena, actually – about an hour’s drive) that used to make the most amazing stuffed poblano chiles. They used ground meat – am not sure which kind – probably beef – with corn, aromatics, probably some minced veggies – and oodles of cheese. They partially opened up the chile from the tip end, but leaving the stem end intact and baked it until it was cooked through. It’s been years since I had it there and have never forgotten it. I’ve tried making it, but without a lot of success. I do love poblanos too – they have a very unique flavor. . . carolyn t

  2. Toffeeapple

    said on March 4th, 2016:

    I need to study Mexican cuisine, so many of the words used mean nothing to me, sad, isn’t it?

    Growing up in California, I suppose Spanish words just become part of the “landscape” of food. Our grocery stores have lots of Mexican food products, and all the border states – and many more moving northward – have lots of Mexicans and where they’ve moved, they’ve opened restaurants. Not always good ones, but there are lots of them here in the U.S. And I took Spanish in school, so I do know some of the language anyway – not that I can speak it – I can’t . . carolyn t

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