This January, I began a new family tradition. Every Wednesday after work, I cook dinner at my Dad’s house. I started this tradition for three reasons, number one I wanted to improve the quality of time spent with my family. Number two, my Dad is disabled with Multiple Sclerosis and can no longer cook for himself. He can make himself a sandwich, but cooking is out, and who wants to live on sandwiches alone (except maybe Jared from Subway)? Reason number three is I wanted an excuse to cook a nice meal during the week, instead of impulsively getting fast food on my way home from work. Since my boyfriend eats at his mother’s during the week, I have no other person at home to motivate me to cook during the week.
I’ve been cooking dinner for my Dad almost every Wednesday for going on five months now. This alone has gone a long way in enabling me to establish positive, life-affirming, healthy routines in my life. Making a commitment and following through with it is a mindfulness exercise in-and-of-itself. It’s been a huge hit with my Dad, too. It’s also cut back on my fast food consumption, and my Dad’s frozen TV dinner consumption (yuck!).
So this Wednesday (yesterday) I made cheese enchiladas with green sauce. I decided to go to the local Mexican market chain to buy the ingredients. Originally, I planned to buy canned enchilada sauce, but when I looked at the ingredients and saw MSG, thickening agents, and food dyes, I thought, you know the heck with this crap, I’ll just make it from scratch. What’s the point in cooking if you’re just putting canned ingredients together anyway? So I ended up buying a big bag of tomatillos and a couple of fresh chili peppers. I also picked up some fresh, hand-made corn tortillas and queso fresco, fresh Mexican cheese. I was able to make two 9″x13″ pans of enchiladas for only $16 dollars! This could have easily fed up to 10 people, but I like to make a lot so that my whole family can have leftovers for at least a couple of nights.
Cheese Enchiladas with Green Sauce, from scratch!
To make the sauce, I first wrapped my tomatillos in a foil pouch, and assembled another pouch with several whole garlic cloves, a halved onion, and the two peppers. I roasted the foil packets for about 20-30 minutes on the barbeque grill. Be careful if you try this, because the tomatillos will expel their juices. Not only can the hot juices burn you, but you should retain them for your enchilada sauce, so put the foil packet in a casserole dish to transfer it back to your kitchen. You will absolutely die for the smell this roasting process produces!
Cheese Enchiladas with Green Sauce
While the vegetables were roasting, I assembled the enchiladas (and enjoyed the smell). I wrapped two or three long, thin slices of cheese in each tortilla and laid them in the baking dish. Then, when the vegetables were done, I placed them in a blender with some lemon juice and salt, and voila! Fresh, natural enchilada sauce with zero-zip-zilch MSG.
When the sauce was done, I poured it on top of the assembled enchiladas. Then I crumbled up some of the remaining cheese and sprinkled it on top. I baked the enchiladas at 425° F for about 20 minutes, until the cheese was bubbly and slightly brown. In hindsight, I wish I would have baked them at about 350° F because the bottoms were slightly hard. Then I could have crisped them up under the broiler for a minute or two…Next time, Gadget, next time.
Now, I don’t always cook everything from scratch, and if I really wanted to be a from-scratch purist about it, I would have had to have made the tortillas from scratch as well. But whether to use canned ingredients versus preparing ingredients yourself is always an interesting dilemma. Usually, I will only buy something canned if it is all-natural, and I will only buy an all-natural canned good if it is on sale or the price is right. If there are more than five or so ingredients in the can, and if there are any ingredients I can’t pronounce, or if there is MSG, I try to avoid it. Also, some stores try to charge outrageous amounts for natural foods, and it’s just not worth it. Furthermore, there are things that are just better fresh and not too much extra trouble, such as salsa. It really wasn’t too difficult to roast the ingredients and blend them, and it only took me about 30 minutes altogether.
My strategies when cooking are to maximize flavor and convenience while minimizing cost, packaging, and processed ingredients. I also love to cook “off the beaten path” and make up my own recipes as I go along. It feels adventuresome, and if it comes out well, you gain a sense of pride. What are your priorities when it comes to cooking a meal? Do you prioritize convenience, cost, or quality first?