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Posts Tagged ‘cooking’

Look Who’s Cooking!

My newer readers don’t know this about me but for many years (well at least three) I stopped using my stove, using only the microwave to heat and cook things.  I love my microwave but it leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to cooking.  It eventually got to where I wasn’t even cooking.  I was only heating things up in the microwave which meant I was eating a lot of packaged frozen food and occasionally, left overs that my daughter would give me.  Part of that was that my health was not very good.  I really had no desire to do much of anything.  It was very difficult for me to move around.  If something was not at my arm’s reach, I could not bend down to reach for it or reach up to grab it (and I’m very short so that left a lot of things that were out of my reach).  Then I had my surgery in April and things got immediately better and as my recovery progressed, I have been able to do more and more.  And I have been able to enjoy so much more which has left me wanting to do more.

So, I’m cooking again!  I used to love to cook and I still do, I’m just out of practice.  However, over the past three weeks, I’ve been using the stove to cook at least two of my meals each day.  I still have it.  I’m so glad that my flair for combining ingredients hasn’t left me.  I’ve still got it.  I’ve even made my own hot sauce, which I had never done before.

That all means I’m now eating heathier and I am happier.  I’m feeling more and more like me!  In the past couple of weeks, I’ve made chicken with zucchini and tomato with a some soupy liquid.  I’ve also made four or five different dishes with a small seasoned pork roast that I got on clearance.  I’ve used chicken breasts to make myself shredded chicken burritos and chicken sandwiches.  I’ve made ground beef tacos.  I’ve made chicken soup!  Add to this all the fresh fruits and veggies I am enjoying  and it translates to a happier and healthier me!

Yup!  Look who’s cooking!

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Enchiladas

I think we all know them as tortillas with chile on them and filled with all manner of good stuff and topped with cheese. However, a friend’s recent Facebook post reminded me that I didn’t always know enchiladas as being stuffed and rolled.

 

Traditionally, an enchilada is just a tortilla fried and dipped in chile salsa and served flat and stacked. That’s what a true enchilada is. However, when people began adding stuffing and toppings to them, they evolved into what we know them now, although few of us know the extent of the variety to be found in enchiladas.

 

As I was growing up, the only kind of enchildas we had were corn tortillas fried then dipped in the salsa and then sprinkled with chopped onion and shredded cheese and stacked one on top of the other. No meat. No rolling up. Nothing fancy. This is how my parents had always known and had enchiladas and how we, all the kids, had them. In fact, this is how they were and still are served in many parts of northern Mexico…or at least those that have not yet been inundated with tourists. Then we rented the “apartment” side of our house to a couple and became good friends with them. The husband taught my mom how to make enchiladas stuffed with ground beef, lettuce, tomato, onion, olives, and cheese, then rolled up and topped with more chile sauce and cheese then put in the oven to melt the cheese and kind of set all the ingredients. Very delicious. The only sad thing is that after that, we never had the also very delicious flat and stacked enchiladas that my mom used to make. In fact, I had forgotten all about them until my friend’s post!

 

Years later, when I married, my husband used to say that I should learn to make enchiladas suizas like his mother always made. I had never heard of them! He explained that they were chicken enchiladas topped with sour cream and avocado. That didn’t sound too good to me because although I love avocado, I dislike sour cream but I listened and thought about it. I just didn’t know how they were made. Then I found a cookbook with favorite recipes of home economics teachers. I don’t remember where I found it but it was one of those cookbooks put together as a fundraiser. As I looked through it, I found a recipe for chicken enchiladas that included sour cream and avocado as a topping. I was really excited to try it and when I made them, my husband liked them. A lot. So success! Or at least success until the next time we went to visit his mom and dad. He told his mom about the enchiladas and she asked me how I made them. I explained it to her and she said they weren’t really enchiladas because I didn’t dip them in chile salsa and that’s what made them enchiladas. So the next time I made them, I fried the tortillas and dipped them in salsa, just like I used to do with the beef ones I had learned to make, but I stuffed them with the chicken mixture (secret recipe which I let everyone in on if they ask) and served them with guacamole and sour cream on the table to be added by each person. Wow! The reaction I got was incredible!

 

It became my specialty dish. For many years I served them for the faculty at the kids’ elementary school for Cinco de Mayo and whenever asked to bring a dish to a luncheon or dinner, it was my chicken enchiladas that were most requested. And then, after my divorce, I became very active with my college alumni association and brought my chicken enchiladas to every function. I haven’t made them in a while but my son is visiting soon so maybe it’s time to whip up a batch!

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We had a gas stove in the kitchen. It was almost always on. Good things came from that stove and the best part was that my mother was always there, at the stove, near the stove, using the stove and wherever my mother was, I wanted to be.

My mother made flour tortillas for every meal. She was in the kitchen making the dough–the masa–before the rest of us were out of bed in the mornings. When I was dressed and ready, I would go into the kitchen and watch her. I sat at the red formica table and watched my mother bring the rolling pin out then she would dust the table with flour and take one of the little dough balls and set it in the middle of the flour. She’d begin to move the wooden rolling pin back and forth over the little ball, flattening it, turning it over, and flattening it some more until it grew big enough and thin enough to cook. By then the black cast iron griddle (called a comal) was hot enough to cook the tortillas and my mom would put the thin layer of masa on the griddle for just a few seconds then flip it over. She would spend the rest of the time walking the four steps between the stove and the table to flip the tortillas over as she kept rolling out more tortillas to cook. I was always scared that she would burn her fingers when she turned the tortillas over.

I loved the smell of tortillas cooking on the griddle. Tortillas, when they are cooking, smell of warmth and freshness. The smell meant that when the first one was cooked and had cooled a little, my mom would let me have it. I would be the first one to take the round flat tortilla and fold it in half, tear a piece off of it and put it in my mouth, tasting all the work and the love my mother had put into that one perfect tortillas.

I was always amazed that none of the tortillas burned while she rolled out more and more. It all looked so easy. Somehow my mother timed it just right. While she rolled out the tortillas, I would sit at the table and talk to her, asking her questions about what she was doing and why she was doing it and what would happen if she did it differently. She would answer my questions and sometimes she’d laugh and ask me why I was so full of questions. I asked her once why her fingers didn’t burn when she turned the tortillas over and she said it was because she didn’t use the fingers. She said she used her fingernails. That’s why she couldn’t ever wear pretty polish on her fingernails, because if she did, it would burn. Another time I asked her how she got the tortillas so round and perfect. My mom said the secret was to run the rolling pin over and back just one time, then to turn the tortilla a little bit before running the rolling pin over and back again. She said you had to keep doing it like that, roll over and back, flip, roll over and back, flip, until the tortilla was ready to cook. Sometimes she would tell me I should run and play outside with my brothers and sisters but I never did. I liked to be inside, with my mother, next to her, talking to her and learning from her. As she cooked on the white O’Keefe & Merritt gas stove, my mother and I kept each other from being lonely.

When the tortillas were all done, enough for the nine of us, she would put everything away and start on the food. I got to stay and watch and when I was old enough, I got to help her with the cooking. That’s how I learned to make tortillas and my three sisters didn’t. That’s how I learned to make the enchiladas, tostadas, the menudo, chile verde, and all the other foods our family loved to eat every day and my sisters didn’t. That’s how I got to spend many hours talking to my mother and listening to her, learning from her and letting her learn about me, and my sisters didn’t.

My mother did other things in the kitchen and I learned to do those, too. I remember that she used to iron in one corner of the kitchen and I remember her sewing our clothes when we tore holes into them. But one special thing that I loved most that my mother did in our pink kitchen was sing. She almost always had the radio on and when the radio was on, she would be singing. She knew the words to all of the songs and when there was a new one, one she didn’t know, she would take a piece of paper and write the words then she’d put it next to the radio until the next time they played the same song and when they did, she’d rush over to the radio, grab the paper and write down more of the words until she had them all. Then the next time the new song was on, she could sing it without looking at the paper. I loved hearing the music but I loved hearing my mother sing more! I learned the words to some of the songs and sometimes I would try to sing them too. One song I liked was called El Caballo Blanco. It told the story of a white horse that escaped and ran from one city to the next, admiring the countryside of Mexico. I liked that song because I had been to some of those places. When the white horse died in Ensenada at the end of the song, it always made me sad.

Sometimes my mother would take me by the hands and twirl me around the kitchen as the music played and as her mouth sang the words to the songs. My mother loved music. She loved singing. She loved dancing.

When I think about my mother, these are the times I like to remember. Those days were filled with wonder and love and the promise of good things.

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