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My reading of late has been short and fitful, somewhat like my sleeping pattern, ever since my dear husband passed away. I’m still in 2 book clubs, though, and have wanted to keep up with the reading for those.

When I started reading The Divorce Papers: A Novel by Susan Rieger, I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue. Initially, it brought back too many unpleasant memories of my divorce in 1979-80. But I kept reading and soon was engrossed in the unusual approach. It’s about Sophie Diehl, a young criminal attorney who gets roped into working on this very messy divorce taken on by her law firm. The entire book is written via letters, documents and email messages between the pertinent parties in this divorce (the couple divorcing, their daughter, both attorneys, her boss, and one of Sophie’s best friends). It’s a clever book. As I write this, I’m about 80% through, so I don’t even know how it ends, but I’ve enjoyed the read so far.

Recently finished Orphan Train: A Novel by Christina Baker Kline. It’s about a little known period of time (1854-1929) when orphaned children were loaded onto trains on the East Coast and sent to the Midwest to be adopted by families who needed or wanted children. Some were adopted by people who were unfit; some of the children were lucky and found good, loving homes. This is the story of one of the girls, Vivian Daly and her journey. Woven into the story is a much later period of Vivian’s life when many facts of  her earlier experiences are revealed. A very, very interesting book; there’s a love story in it too.

Since I’m a fan of Ann Patchett, it’s no surprise that I wanted to buy her most recent book, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. It’s a book of short stories, but not fictional ones – it’s a compilation of essays and articles she’s written over the course of her writing life. My favorite is the one in which she describes in intimate detail how she goes about writing a book. About the process, her thinking, and the the hard, hard work it entails. I loved every one of the stories. She is quite self-deprecating about the book – it likely wasn’t her idea to put it together as she never thought any of her essays were worth much. She wrote them to make a living. Each of the chapters (essays) has been updated and/or addended to, so she did have to put some spit and polish on all of them before sending this group to the publisher. She’s written essays for a very esoteric group of publications; some I’d never heard of. But I enjoyed the book from beginning to end.

Also just finished reading The Invention of Wings: A Novel by Sue Monk Kidd. What a story. Sometimes it’s a good thing to read the author’s notes before you read a book. I guess I’m glad I didn’t (in this case the notes were at the end of the book) because it was then, afterwards, that I read that one of the characters in this novel is fictional; the other two (sisters) were real. There’s a bit about the Quaker religion in this book too, which was different. This is a slavery story and about the beginnings of the abolitionist movement. Interwoven between the 2 sisters who make waves about anti-slavery is the poignant story of one particular slave and her hard, hard life. It’s heartbreaking in many respects, not just because of the violence and abuse heaped upon her. The book is almost a page-turner. Very glad I read it.

Also read The Four Seasons: A Novel of Vivaldi’s Venice by Laurel Corona. It was recommended to me by a friend, and I enjoyed it a lot. It has a rather unusual story line, all envisioned by the author from reading a tiny line of elaborate script from a journal at what remains of a foundling hospital (run mostly like a convent by Catholic nuns) in Venice. It said something like Antonio Vivaldi purchased “a bow for Maddalena Rossa.” That started the author’s novel journey. Two sisters are raised at the Ospedale della Pieta. One becomes famous for her violin skills; the other for her voice. One is married “out” and the other stays cloistered her entire life. Then you throw Vivaldi himself into the mix, as he really was paid by the Ospedale for his compositions and for teaching some of the residents to play instruments. It’s an enlightening story about Vivaldi himself (a priest, with a lot of questions about his piety). It takes place in the early 1700s. Fascinating story and I want to listen again in total to Vivaldi’s very famous work, The Four Seasons, as a result of reading this. I’ve heard it many times before, but it will have new meaning now.

IN THE POWDER ROOM: Our guest half-bath has a little tiny table with a pile of books that I change every now and then. They’re books that might pique someone’s interest even if for a very short read. The Art of Travel, a collection of essays about traveling (it’s not a how-to), gathering a variety of stories of some historic authors and where and why they traveled; The Greatest Stories Never Told; and Sara Midda’s South of France; also Forgotten Bookmarks: A Bookseller’s Collection of Odd Things Lost Between the Pages (just the cutest book – with a miscellany of things – letters, grocery lists, notes, reminders, confessions the author discovered hidden inside the books he purchased for his used bookstore); and The Trouble with Poetry (Billy Collins).

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small engraved sterling silver tea spoons that I use to taste as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Chicken, Soups, on August 3rd, 2012.

chicken_enchilada_soup

You’ll find very few crockpot recipes here on my blog. Not because I don’t like them – but just because I’m home all the time and usually prefer to make soups on the cooktop. I suppose this one wouldn’t have to be made in a crockpot – but gosh, it’s SO easy this way! If you’re employed full time or have a really busy schedule, this soup/stew will rock your world not only with ease but with flavor! If you love Mexican food, well, this is a shoe-in, then.

As I was cropping and adding text to my photos for this blog post, my fingers were almost itchy to get to writing about it because this soup is so fantastic! Oh my yes. Before I start writing I always work with the photos first, then I prepare the MasterCook recipe that gets exported to a pdf and as a text file (that goes into the box below). Once that’s all done (usually takes me 10-15 minutes or less) then I start writing. My mouth is watering looking at the photo above.

Back when crockpots first came out (wow, that was 1971), the recipes generally under-whelmed me. They lacked sufficient layers of flavor, I suppose. Yes they were easy. Yes, they helped with meal-making when I was a full-time working mom, and yes, the cleanup was easy too. But my first crockpot was ceramic, and back then you either had to brown meat in another pan (taking more time, and giving you another dirty pot) or you had to use raw meat, which is generally what I did. Now I know better – so much of the flavor in meat comes from that caramelization when it’s browned in a pan. So when I bought the Cuisinart Multi-Cooker, 7-Quart, all that changed because it has a heavy insert (coated in a nonstick surface) that can go right on the stove (to brown the meat first) and then you lift up the whole thing and put it into the crockpot. I don’t use it all that often, but I love it when I do. And I now have several crockpot cookbooks that are truly new-age – at least current age, with more steps to preparing it, but things come out tasting a whole lot better.

So back to this recipe. My friend Linda T was telling me about a crockpot enchilada soup she makes, that she got from her daughter Kristin. On the printed page Linda mailed me it said the recipe came Krissy, over at Dainty Chef, a blog. I followed Dainty Chef’s recipe nearly all the way through, only veering off with my combo of garnishes (I love cilantro). It’s one heck of a great recipe. In a nutshell, you first make a thin milk sauce mixture (I used 2%)  that gets mixed with some canned enchilada sauce. Now, I have to tell you, here’s where I veered off – it just happens that when we had family visiting recently, they went to one of their old family favorite restaurants, called Los Jarritos (on N. Garey in Pomona, no website, but you can read about it on Yelp). Our son-in-law, Todd, just loves this place too. This particular trip he had his mother Ann in tow (who just happens to be a great Mexican cook) and she usually buys a quart of their enchilada sauce whenever she’s there and takes it home. She did buy it and came to stay with us her last night, and put it in my freezer. You can guess what happened? She forgot it. So, my plan was to leave it there and the next time one of the family visits they could take it home (500 miles away). But then I got to this recipe . . . and I don’t have any canned enchilada sauce . . . and the lightbulb went off in my head . . . oh, I can use Los Jarritos’ sauce that’s in the freezer!

So there’s this saucy stuff (the thin milky sauce mixed with the enchilada sauce). First, though, you put into the crockpot a can of drained and rinsed black beans, some corn, Rotel tomatoes, some onion and bell pepper. Here I need to tell you something else – Rotel tomatoes are spicy hot. If you find them too hot, I’d suggest you use regular canned (diced) tomatoes and the juice, and add in canned green chiles and a bit of jalapeno for heat. For most adult tastes I think one can of Rotel would be fine. The restaurant enchilada sauce I used happened to have a lot of heat in it, so we had some really smokin’ hot soup.

enchilada_soup_crockpotThen you put the raw chicken breasts on top, cover with the enchilada sauce mixture and crockpot it on low for 6-8 hours (or on high for 3-4). About half an hour before it’s done, remove the chicken breasts and let them cool just a bit so you can handle it. Then shred it up into small bite-sized pieces and put it back into the crockpot and stir it all up to allow the chicken to re-heat. Meanwhile, prepare the garnishes. Scoop a heaping cup (or 2 for hearty eaters) of the soup mixture into a bowl and top with the garnishes of your choice.

What I liked: well, the flavor is paramount. It was fantastic. I loved all the layers of flavors – from the complex enchilada sauce to the textures in the beans, corn, tortilla chips and then the cool, refreshing cilantro and green onions. Altogether fantastic. It was easy enough – you do have to make the sauce, which does take 10 minutes or so. Open a few cans, but really that’s it until you’re ready to serve and need to fix the garnishes. Overall, very easy. I’ll make this for a big family dinner for sure. Maybe soon. A green salad on the side would be all that’s needed.

What I didn’t like: absolutely nothing at all! Will make this again. And again. It’s probably going onto my Carolyn’s Favs list.

printer-friendly PDF
MasterCook 5+ import file – right click to save file, run MC, then File|Import

Crockpot Chicken Enchilada Soup

Recipe By : Adapted slightly from Dainty Chef blog
Serving Size: 6-7
NOTES: Rotel tomatoes are very hot – if you want to tone it down, used canned tomatoes and add canned green chiles or jalapeno peppers to suit your heat tolerance. If you have a source (a Mexican restaurant) that makes their own enchilada sauce, it might be worth finding it. A good, thick sauce makes a big difference.

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 cups 2% low-fat milk — DIVIDED USE
10 ounces enchilada sauce
15 ounces black beans — rinsed and drained
14 1/2 ounces Rotel diced tomatoes and jalapenos — see note at top
10 ounces frozen corn
1/2 cup yellow onion — chopped
1/2 cup bell pepper — diced, your choice of color
2 whole boneless skinless chicken breast halves
1 cup Monterey jack cheese — shredded
1 cup baked tortilla chips, crushed
1/2 cup green onions — diced
1/2 cup avocado — sliced (optional)
1/2 cup cilantro — chopped
Sour cream for garnish, if desired

1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir in flour; keep stirring until smooth and bubbly. Remove from heat and add the chicken broth and ½ cup milk, a little at a time, stirring to keep smooth. Return to heat. Bring sauce to a gentle boil; cook, stirring constantly, until it thickens. In a large bowl, whisk together the enchilada sauce and chicken broth mixture . Gradually whisk in remaining milk until smooth. Set aside.
2. In a crockpot, combine drained beans, tomatoes, corn, onion, and bell pepper. Place the chicken breasts on top of the mixture. Pour sauce mixture over ingredients in cooker. Cover; cook on low heat for 6-8 hours or on high for 3 to 4 hours.
3. When you are ready to serve, remove chicken and cut or shred into bite-sized pieces. Add chicken back into the soup, mix together. Top with cheese and serve. Use your choice of toppings: avocado, chopped green onions, sour cream, cilantro and crushed tortilla chips.
Per Serving: 524 Calories; 19g Fat (32.0% calories from fat); 31g Protein; 61g Carbohydrate; 12g Dietary Fiber; 66mg Cholesterol; 541mg Sodium.

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  1. hddonna

    said on August 3rd, 2012:

    Hi, Carolyn! You came to the rescue again! I’m going to be gone for a few days and then come home with a house guest in tow. We’ll arrive home about noon on a Sunday, and we’re going to a concert that night. I was trying to think of a quick and easy supper, and this is it! We’re having your grilled pound cake with balsamic peaches while she’s here, too. (And by the way, your corn salad was a big hit at a family get-together last month.) Your recipes have a great track record with me. Thanks much!

    Oh, I’m so glad you tried the soup! I can’t wait to have a reason to make it again – for a big group! Happy you tried the corn too – I love that stuff. Hope you’ll be pleased with the pound cake. Great for summer outdoor dinners! Thanks, Donna, for telling me about your successes – it makes all this blogging worthwhile when I hear from people that they’ve made something and love it! . . .carolyn

  2. hddonna

    said on August 3rd, 2012:

    Oh, we had the pound cake with balsamic peaches when you first posted it, and many times since. That may be my all-time favorite of your recipes. Haven’t done the soup yet, the company is coming the weekend after next, but it sounds perfect for the occasion. It’s hard to find enchilada sauce in my supermarket. They had one brand–Hatch–and no mild except in green. I’ll use regular tomatoes and hope it’s not too spicy for my husband, who is very sensitive to that sort of thing. For that reason, I make things mild and offer something to spice it up for those who prefer it hotter. I’m thinking the milk sauce should help to tone it down, too.

    I just heard from a friend today that Trader Joe’s has a very good (and thick) enchilada sauce. I haven’t looked for it yet, but I will. It was the “thick” that perked up my ears. . . carolyn t

  3. Kalyn

    said on August 3rd, 2012:

    Bookmarked; this sounds so good!

    It IS so good. My mouth is watering just thinking about it! . . .carolynt

  4. hddonna

    said on August 3rd, 2012:

    Thanks for the tip. I’ll try it next time I get to TJ’s.

  5. hddonna

    said on August 14th, 2012:

    I finally got the soup made, and it was a big hit with my husband and the friend we had to lunch yesterday. I substituted regular tomatoes for the Ro-Tel and added a can of green chiles. I used the Hatch medium enchilada sauce, and since the can was 15 ounces, I just used half so I could freeze the rest for another batch. It turned out perfect for our tastes. I loved that it was so quick to put together. We’ll be having this again!

    That’s great, Donna. Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did! . . .carolyn t

  6. Jennifer

    said on October 8th, 2012:

    This looks great, my only concern before making this how did the milk not curdle after so long at high heat? Thanks!
    Well, good question, and I don’t have the answer! But it doesn’t – maybe because of all the enchilada sauce? I really don’t know – if you add milk to a gravy and cook and cook it (to reduce it, for instance) it doesn’t separate, so that’s the only thing I can think of, that once milk is added to the enchilada sauce it becomes a more stable gravy. . . carolyn t

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