Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Green Chile Enchilada Casserole

This casserole is one of the easiest things in the universe to put together and make. It travels well and is delicious at a variety of temperatures from piping hot to lukewarm, which makes it an excellent dish to take to a potluck dinner. I have only rarely run across a person who didn't love this dish.

Here's what you need:
That's it -- a big pile of cheese, 12 to 16 corn tortillas, some cream of mushroom soup, an onion, and some green chiles. Dump it all in a pan and you're good to go!

Okay, maybe not that simple. You do need to open those cans of mushroom soup and add the chopped onion and green chiles to make a sauce:
I use Cream of Mushroom soup, but almost any "cream of" soup can be used instead. Or you can make a white sauce if you don't like to use processed soups.

Green chiles are easy to find in cans. Ortega and Old El Paso both sell 4-oz cans of chopped green chiles that are just about the right amount for this recipe. The canned green chiles come in both hot and mild versions, so that you can tailor the spiciness to the group that is going to eat the enchiladas. For this particular casserole, I used really hot frozen green chiles that are not universally available.

I generally heat up the sauce a little to make it smoother and more spreadable. Once the sauce is ready and the cheese is grated, putting the casserole together takes minutes:
 The only other preparatory step I should mention is ripping up the tortillas. I generally rip them by hand into quarters:
I mention this step only because I once asked my then-fairly-new husband to make this dish and he didn't understand that he was supposed to rip up the tortillas before putting them into the casserole. What ensued still tasted wonderful, but looked a little odd.

Start assembling the casserole by putting a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of the pan. I usually spray the baking pan with Pam cooking spray before adding the sauce. This particular casserole is in a foil pan because I was taking it to someone else's house for a communal meal, but I usually make it in a glass 9x13 pan.
Top the layer of sauce with a layer of ripped-up tortillas.
Then put another layer of sauce on top of the tortillas.
Next, go wild with the cheese! I use Monterey Jack cheese and some Colby Longhorn cheddar.
The rest is simple -- repeat the tortilla, sauce, and cheese layers two more times for a total of three layers of tortillas, sauce, and cheese. The final layer of sauce looks something like this:
And cheese on top before putting it in the oven:
That is really all there is to this casserole. Pop it in the oven at about 375 for about an hour.
And then take it out. The cheese should be nicely browned.
I should mention that this casserole is very versatile in its baking times. You can cook it at a lower temperature with other foods. As long as the cheese is all melted and browned, you're good.

My mother used to make this casserole all the time, not only for family meals but also for potlucks and other communal meals. Not being vegetarian (and not keeping kosher), she would often add shredded chicken to her sauce. I've never tried making it with any of the chicken analog products that are on the market, but it would probably still be tasty.

Green Chile Enchilada Casserole

2 cans cream of mushroom soup
1 can evaporated skim milk*
1 large onion, chopped
1 small can chopped green chiles
12-16 ounces monterey jack cheese, grated
6-8 ounces mild cheddar cheese, grated
12-16 corn tortillas, torn into quarters

Combine the soup, milk*, chopped onions, and green chiles. Stir until fairly smooth - some small lumps are no problem.

*Note: I almost never add the milk to the sauce because I find that it makes the casserole too soupy.  Sometimes if it looks like I won't have enough sauce for the final layer, I will stretch the sauce a bit by adding small amounts of canned milk. At least one of my sisters always adds the canned milk because she likes the soupier casserole. So experiment -- find what works for you.

In a 9x13 pan, spread a thin layer of the soup mixture over the bottom to coat. Use about 1/3 of the tortillas to cover the bottom, add a layer of the soup mixture, then a layer of cheese.

Add two more layers of tortillas, then soup, then cheese.

Bake at 350 to 375 degrees for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until casserole is bubbly and cheese is nicely browned.
These cooking instructions are almost infinitely variable. You can bake it longer at a lower temperature, or for a shorter time at a higher temperature. You can cook it for 30 minutes or so, then continue cooking it later.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Hamantaschen, a week late

Hamantaschen are a traditional food for the holiday of Purim, which was this past weekend. I spent a lovely afternoon last week making hamantaschen with some friends and their children and I took lots of pictures so that I could post them here, along with instructions.
And then I got busy with other Purim-related things and never got around to updating this blog. Well, better late than never. Today -- not only delicious hamantaschen cookies, but also a traditional mohn (poppyseed) filling for them.

The primary ingredients of the mohn filling I make are poppy seeds, raisins, and walnuts.

Take 2 cups of poppy seeds and soak them in boiling water until the water cools, then drain off the water. I always wondered about the purpose of this step until this year, when I measured my two cups of poppy seeds after they had soaked.
Lo and behold! There are now four cups of poppy seeds!

After that, put the poppy seeds in a pan (I have found that a shallow pan such as a frying pan is best) with one cup of boiling water and cook off the water.
After a while, the poppy seeds will be mostly dry and the water will have evaporated. If there's still a little water at the bottom of the pan when you are tired of this step, just pour it off.

Along with the two cups (now four cups) of poppy seeds, you will need 8 ounces of walnuts and 8 ounces of raisins.
The poppy seeds, walnuts, and raisins need to be ground up together in a food processor. I don't know about you, but my food processor isn't big enough to handle all of this at the same time, so I process the mixture in two or three batches.
It doesn't look totally homogenous, as you can see, but there shouldn't be any obvious pieces of walnuts or raisins when you're done. I put my various batches into a big bowl and stir it up really well, then add the rest of the ingredients:
Sugar, honey, egg, jam, nutmeg, spices, a lemon..... and mix it up really well again.
Now all that's left is making and filling the hamantaschen!

There are many, many recipes for hamantaschen dough out there. Over the years, I have made many of these recipes with my own two hands (and the hands of my children). I have made hundreds of dozens of hamantaschen, and this is the recipe that I always come back to. It is a slightly sweet cookie-type dough that is very forgiving (we originally found it in a holiday publication for preschoolers).

Start with a cup of oil and a cup of sugar.
Beat the sugar and oil together. Add two eggs, one at a time, beating well after each. And add a couple of teaspoons of honey. I take the honey measurement on faith as I never measure it any more. I just squeeze honey into the dough until the consistency looks right.
Now gradually add 3 and a half cups of flour. I generally use two cups of unbleached flour and 1-1/2 cups of whole wheat flour, but this is not a requirement. Also add 2 teaspoons baking soda and a dash of salt. Beat the dough until all the flour is incorporated.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. I usually roll it out in two batches, so only use half the dough.
I turn the dough ball over to get a bit of flour on the other side before rolling it out. I have discovered, mainly by watching other people, that rolling out cookie dough is an art form. Getting the dough an even thickness throughout means that you can't roll over the edges of the dough.
I happen to have a set of round biscuit cutters in sizes from 1/2 inch up to 3 inches, but if you don't have this kind of largess in your arsenal, use any round object (e.g., a glass) to cut out your cookies.

Transfer the cut-out circles onto a cookie sheet (greased or lined with parchment) and continue rolling out dough and cutting circles until you are out of dough. Do I need to mention that scraps from cutting out cookies can be reused?

I get about 40 cookie dough circles from one batch of dough, with small scraps left over for sampling.
Now comes the fun part -- filling the cookies and shaping the hamantaschen! There are lots of choices for hamantaschen fillings.
Along with the mohn, these are the fillings we used this year. Solo makes a variety of other fillings, but I had an order for 2 dozen prune hamantaschen from a friend so that's the only one I used this year.

Basically, you put a generous dollop of filling in the center of the dough circle and then you fold up the edges of the circle to make a triangular cookie. Step one, pinch together one corner:
Step two, make two more corners to enclose the filling.
Personally, I like to leave an opening in the middle so that the filling is visible, but some people like to totally enclose the filling so that it is a surprise. Others like to make alternative shapes.
When I am making lots and lots of hamantaschen, I generally do a production-line kind of thing where I start all of the hamantaschen on the tray (step 1):
And then turn the tray to do the other side.
Yes, those are two different trays of hamantaschen. The one shown first is all mohn, and the second one has some chocolate fillings as well. Doesn't matter -- they all work the same way.

One important note -- you really need to pinch the dough together and make sure that it stays together. Too much flour on the rolling out surface can be a problem because the dough won't stick to itself. Messy hamantaschen can result, especially if you use a jam filling:
 Once your hamantaschen are filled and shaped, pop them in a 350 degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes.
Then take them out and enjoy!
Mohn Filling

2 cups poppy seeds (about 10 oz.)
1/2 lb. raisins
1/2 lb. walnuts
1 egg
2-3 tablespoons jam
1/2 cup sugar
juice and rind of one lemon
1/2 cup honey
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon each nutmeg, ginger, cloves

Soak poppy seeds in boiling water; when water cools, pour off and then put into a pot and cook, stirring
pretty constantly until dry.

Grind seeds, nuts, and raisins together well. (You may have to do this in multiple batches.)

Mix ground mixture with rest of ingredients. Mix well. Taste and adjust seasonings and sweetness/tartness if

Hamantaschen Dough
Makes enough for about 40 cookies.

1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
3-1/2 cups flour (We use 2 unbleached white, 1-1/2 whole wheat)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons honey

Beat oil and sugar together.

Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.

Add honey, continuing beating.

Gradually add flour and baking powder (sift them together if you insist - we never do). Mix well, using hands at the end if absolutely necessary.

Roll dough out to 1/4-inch thickness (don't roll too thin). Batter may be slightly oily. If the batter is crumbly and won't hold together, adding an egg yolk or egg white usually does the trick.

We sometimes roll the dough between pieces of waxed paper if it seems necessary, but usually we don't.

Cut dough into 3-inch circles, or a near approximation. Put a generous amount of filling in the center of each circle and fold up the sides to form a triangle shape.

Bake on greased cookie sheets at 350 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown.

LEARN FROM OUR EXPERIENCES DEPARTMENT: Don't double the recipe, don't refrigerate the dough.