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me_in_paris_198That’s me, on a trip,  sitting in a Paris restaurant.
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Just finished reading a really sweet memoir, called Champagne Baby: How One Parisian Learned to Love Wine–and Life–the American Way by Laure Dugas. The author is very young, considering she’s written a book already (good for her, I say!). She was born to an old Champagne family in France, and paid little attention to anything regarding the wine business until her uncle (the CEO) offered to send her to the United States to do a 6-month tour with the vineyard’s distributor. She was fresh out of college and hadn’t really decided what she was going to do exactly. She’d be the spokesperson (brand ambassador they called her) for the family. Despite having a boyfriend, she made the leap anyway. Each chapter tells the story of her journey in America (with little language skills) or about what she learned about wine. And what she learned about long-distance relationships too. If you’ve never experienced much French wine, this would be a good introduction (she explains all about the different French wine regions and how/why they raise the grapes they do), but it’s woven into the very interesting life she led, living on a shoestring, meeting other French ex-pats in New York, and her thoughts on going to California, Boston, Memphis and other cities. When her 6 months were up, she wasn’t ready to go home. You’ll have to read it to find out what she did then. I liked the book immensely.

If you’ve been reading this sidebar much over the years, you’ve rarely seen mysteries here. Great for an airplane read, maybe, but I don’t find them (usually) gripping enough. But one of my book clubs is reading a book by C.J. Box, called Open Season (A Joe Pickett Novel). Joe Pickett is a game warden in the wild country of Wyoming. He’s a good man. A family man. A good husband. AND a dogged investigator whenever anything goes awry in the hills. Usually it’s a murder of some kind. He writes a really good book that incorporates the mystery, lots of character study, some family stuff, but also a lot about the animals, the flora and fauna of the parks and land, and this one is also about an endangered species. I could hardly put it down. I’m SO glad I read this, and yesterday I visited my local library and checked out two more of his books. They’re easy reads; not overly long. But very absorbing. You’ll fall in love with Joe Pickett’s daughter Sheridan, too.

A page-turner of a book, Before the Fall by Noah Hawley grabbed me nearly from the first sentence. A small group of people take a private jet out of Martha’s Vineyard. Sixteen minutes later the plane crashes into the ocean. Two survive, a 4-year old boy and a single guy, an artist/painter, who ended up on the plane almost by happen-chance. What might have looked more like a fluke accident turns a bit sinister when you begin to learn more about the passengers on the plane, and the crew; the parents of the young boy, and a few others. Each person is scrutinized through the author’s lens and his/her culpability is analyzed. The painter and the boy form a bond because the man rescues the child and they swim miles and miles to shore. It’s just riveting. It’s not a James Bond type of thriller, but a real-life kind of drilling down into the core of each person on the plane. What I will mention, though, is that once you’ve read this, there isn’t a whole lot to discuss as a book club read, which is often the case for mysteries. Once the case is solved, there isn’t much to talk about except the characters, perhaps.

Also read another book by Haruf, called Eventide. It’s a bit of a carryover from Haruf’s book Plainsong (see review a paragraph or so down). Haruf is a “spare” writer. There is sufficient description. You definitely get a sense of place and the people, but there isn’t much emotion elicited. You have to scratch it out in between the lines. He’s a wonderful writer IMHO. I’ve now read 3 of his novels. This book takes place in high and deep Colorado country, and it’s a small town, with small town kinds of goings-on. There are some unsavory characters, and the heartwarming ones too which make the book worth reading. Good over evil, for sure. Worth reading. Too bad Haruf died in 2014. His books will be missed.

Eight Hundred Grapes: A Novel by Laura Dave. I bought it because it’s about Sebastapol, a cute little town in California wine country, in Sonoma County, although it’s on the fringes of the more mainstream wineries. A daughter of a friend of mine recently moved there, and when I visited her a few months ago, I was charmed by the cute downtown and the small village feel to it. Anyway, although the backdrop of the entire book is about the winery, the wines, the fields, the processes of wine making, it’s more about the family relationships. It seems that everyone (mom, dad, 2 sons, wife of one, a daughter [who is the protagonist] and her fiance and his ex-girlfriend) is in the midst of extreme turmoil. I swear, when I think about authors as they toil away in their aeries writing, they compile a big long list on a huge whiteboard of all the different awful things (divorce, affairs, fistfights, love lost, love gained, screaming and yelling, public drunkenness) they can make happen in one book and they pick and choose, yet make every effort to pack in as many of them as they can. No one in this family is immune from high levels of emotion and action or acting out about something or many things. I enjoyed the book despite those character flaws which occur on nearly every page. You have compassion for each one of them. Yet they’re a close family nonetheless. I haven’t read any of Laura Dave’s other books, but I suspect this one will be a winner. It’s not on any best-seller lists, but amongst book club readers, I believe it’s a strong contender.

When one of my book groups gathered last week, we discussed a bunch of books that we might read for our next Sept-August “year.” We select them all, for the whole year, in advance. On the list of 18 possible ones (we’ll read nine only) was an old classic – I guess you could call it a classic – Plainsong – by Kent Haruf. Since it was published some years ago I dropped by the library, and sure enough, they had a copy. I came home and devoured it in one fell swoop. What a story. Tender, yet harsh in some respects. It tells the story of a group of small-town people (a teacher – a man separated from his wife, but he has the 2 boys who both play prominent roles in the book; a single woman caring for her aging and Alzheimer’s driven father; a young teenage girl who should have known better, but got pregnant; a couple of very old brothers, both single, struggling along with their ranch). All this takes place in a small town in eastern Colorado. I laughed. I cried. I wanted to reach through the pages to some of these characters to give them a hug. It’s a winner of a book. I may have to read more of Haruf’s books. The prose is spare, yet you can feel the anguish, the pain, the love, the caring. What a book!

 

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 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

  7. Heather

    said on March 21st, 2015:

    Just thought I would comment that we LOVE this recipe. It has become a staple in our house. I have yet to find one that tops it. So THANK YOU!

    Wow, that’s great! Thank you! And thanks for leaving a comment. I’d even forgotten about that recipe – I’ll have to make it sometime soon, too. . . carolyn t

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