Friday, February 26, 2010

Valentine's Day and Tomatillo Enchiladas (They go hand-in-hand, you know.)

I was never particularly for, or against, Valentine’s Day. In middle and high school choral members would deliver singing Valentine’s and the only one I received was from my friends…as a joke. (It was only heartbreaking for a few moments after I realized it wasn’t from a boy. Cheeks aflame, I chastised my friends and pretended not to care. Note: You always care.) Some girls, like my sister, had boyfriends in high school. I was not one of them. Girls carried around roses and, even alone, I never minded their boxes of chalky chocolate and cheesy stuffed bears holding polyester hearts with things like, “I LUV you!”. The tackiness was sort of charming. I was genuinely delighted when a friend got a gift. Looking back, I often cringe with embarrassment at how I’ve acted in particular situations, but this wasn’t one of them. I hope my child realizes the silliness (and the fun) of high school, too. My sophomore year of college I was dating a boy from Pennsylvania while I was in New York. Off the cuff, I decided I’d get a tattoo that night and went with a group of girlfriends. That was probably my most memorable Valentine’s Day (having it etched in my skin helps I suppose).

Like most men, Matt does not understand Valentine’s Day, but has learned its rules well. For our first Valentine’s Day together, I mentioned coworkers who received bouquets in the office. “And then Heather got this one that went over her cube and even DONNA got one!” I said only barely concealing my angst. I thought it was very obvious – well, if you read between the lines – that I wanted a bouquet, too, damnit! Matt said it’s silly, it’s expensive, and the flowers from Giant (our grocery store) are just as good (note: they aren’t). The next year even more coworkers received flowers and there is nothing more pathetic that walking by the front desk twenty times in one day hoping one measly bouquet was for you. None were. An email ensued…something like this:

Date: 2/14/2006
Time: 3:34 pm
To: Matt
From: Kathryn
Subject: Hi
Today is Valentine’s day. All these girls are frolicking around with their flowers. Speaking of, am I getting any?

Date: 2/14/2006
Time: 3:52 pm
To: Kathryn
From: Matt
Subject: Re: Hi
Hey K,
I thought you said flowers were stupid? I can pick some up at Giant if you’d like. And a Cadbury bar. Fruit and Nut, again?

Date: 2/14/2006
Time: 3:53 pm
To: Matt
From: Kathryn
You can KEEP YOUR PRODUCE SECTION FLOWERS! Everyone is here with their pink and frilly flowers and their little love notes and they’re all googly-eyed and in love and it would be nice if you were a little more romantic, you know!!
P.S: Yes, please get me a candy bar. But I’m eating it all.

As a side note, I received flowers at the office the next year.

This Valentine's Day Matt was had a whole V-day arsenal, and after receiving a gorgeous vintage-inspired necklace from my favorite jewelry store in town, he said (not rudely, just matter-of-factly), "Well, don't go and expect this next year; this is a special treat." Ah...young love...

Because food and love and Matt all go hand-in-hand, I bought Matt the cookbook Everyday Mexican by Rick Bayless for Valentine's Day. Saucy! Spicy! Hot! Okay, I'm done with the play on words. Matt loves Rick Bayless. He has a PBS show and Matt watches it every Saturday when he comes home from badminton (with a can of tuna in hand and a bottle of Gatorade in the other - gourmet, indeed).

We cooked Rick's Tomatillo-Sauced Enchiladas with Spinach and Mushrooms. It was the first time I've ever bought tomatillos and they're delightful! Tart until heated and sticky when you cut into them, I was mesmerized by these little green buggers.

I love cooking, and can be a bit of a control freak in the kitchen. "No, you're not chopping that right!" I'd shout when my own knife skills are sub par, or "You call those onions caramelized?!?!". Letting go and cooking with Matt (and not tisk, tisking when the peppers are chopped and not finely diced) has been a long overdue and newly learned behavior. Now we often cook together, and I've relaxed and I can safely say Matt is knows his way around a kitchen more than the average husband. And now? And now he can cook a mean tomatillo-sauced enchilada. (We still have mishaps: for this he pulsed a whole bunch of Italian parsley instead of cilantro at first...but I love that he knows the difference between curly and flat-leaf parsley, so I let it slide.)

So here they are. I'm not going to kid you: the tomatillo sauce has to grow on you (it has a sweet-but-earthy resonance, almost like an old-world wine....I don't even know if I'm understanding myself, here, but you'll see), and for us, getting into the sauce and really digging it didn't take long. The next day we used the leftovers atop breakfast burritos stuffed with eggs, spinach, and cheese.

I love a little Mexican amongst the winter chill.

Tomatillo-Sauced Enchiladas with Spinach and Mushrooms
from chef Rick Bayless' book, "Everyday Mexican"

  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Fresh hot green chiles to taste (I like 2 serranos or 1 jalapeno), stemmed and quartered (Note: We used canned, because we're ghetto like that.)
  • 1 1/2 (about 10 - 12 medium) pounds tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut into quarters
  • 3/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil, olive oil, or bacon drippings
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
  • 1 large red onion, thin sliced
  • 10 ounces spinach
  • 1 cup shredded cooked chicken (optional) (Note: We did not use.)
  • Salt
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 3 tablespoons Crema, sour cream, heavy cream or creme fraiche (Note: We're no Rick Baylesses, so we used regular old sour cream.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)
  • 1 cup Queso Fresco or other cheese (Note: We easily found Queso Fresco at Wegman's.)

Turn on the oven to 350 degrees. With a food processor or blender running, drop in the garlic and chiles one piece at a time, letting each piece get finely chopped before adding the next. Add the tomatillos and cilantro; process until smooth.

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of the oil or bacon drippings in a medium (3-quart) saucepan over medium-high. Add the puree and cook, stirring nearly constantly, until the mixture has reduced to the consistency of thick tomato sauce, about 7 minutes. (The more you cook it the richer and sweeter it will be). Add the chicken broth and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes to blend the flavors.

While the sauce is simmering, heat the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons oil or drippings in a very large skillet over medium-high. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring nearly constantly, for a couple of minutes, until they begin to brown. Add about three-quarters of the onion and continue cooking, stirring frequently, for another minute or two, until the onion looks translucent. Add the spinach and optional chicken and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute or so, until the spinach is wilted. Season with salt. Cover to keep warm.

Lay out the tortillas on a baking sheet and spray or brush lightly on both sides with oil or bacon drippings, then stack them in twos. Slide the tortillas into the oven and bake just long enough to make them soft and pliable, about 3 minutes. Remove from the oven and stack them in a single pile; cover with a kitchen towel to keep warm.

Stir the crema into the sauce. Taste and season with salt (add the sugar here too if you’re using it). Holding a tortilla by the edge dip it into the sauce, then lay it on a plate. Spoon a heaping 2 tablespoons filling down the center, roll up and lay seam side down on a dinner plate. Repeat with 2 more tortillas, arranging them on the same dinner plate. Douse the enchiladas with about 1/4 cup of the warm sauce, sprinkle with a quarter of the crumbled cheese and garnish with some of the reserved onion and cilantro sprigs. Assemble the rest of the servings, and carry to the table without hesitation.

A note from Rick: You can simplify this recipe in two ways. First, you can skip the vegetable filling and use only shredded cooked chicken. And second, you can use store-bought tomatillo salsa (you'll need about 4 cups). Blend it until smooth, then transfer to a saucepan and bring it to a boil. Add the crema and check the seasonings (it will likely be quite spicy ande tangy, so you may want to add extra crema and/or sugar). At your restaurant, we make these vegetarian enchiladas with roasted root vegetables in the fall, put each portion in an individual heatproof dish, top with a sprinkling of Chihuahua-style melting cheese and run them under a broiler. Coarse shreds of smoked ham hock (or several rashers of crisp bacon) are really delicious in the (then non-vegetarian) filling.

My chopping Valentine.

Rolled like a true Mexican!

We ate them while watching the Olympics.


  1. that looks SO good. Thom hates the idea of flowers, his response to the hint? I got a really nice flower bucket thing and some seeds and dirt to plant my own, as they would be alive. Men and romance ....

  2. dude, you're missing the fifth ring! or was that deliberate in light of "o" infringement tensions? regardless, they look spectacular and they make me want to buy tomatillos on my way home this evening...

  3. Lindsey,

    The first batch of flowers I've ever received from Matt was pot of mums from the local gardening center...I KID YOU NOT!! I think what Thom bought takes the cake, though.

    Haha, I didn't even realize the red onion almost had the Olympic rings...I wasn't even trying to allude to it...oh man, I failed twice there! (But to just sound cool, let's say it's a response to the Olympic committee for "investigating" the Canadian women's hockey team for enjoying some beer after their win...what a joke and waste of time and resources! Let those poor girls have a drink!!

  4. Wowza, Matt knows the difference between curly parsley and Italian? I'm impressed! These look good, and I think I'll make them using store bought tomatillo salsa. You're one up on me, as I've never bought fresh tomatillos. FYI, my first valentine gift from your dad was a 14k gold heart locket in which he put a teeny tiny note inside, and the obligatory heart-shaped box of chocolates. That was an extravagnt gift back in 1972, because we were both college seniors with no money. I wear the necklace to this day. MONG

  5. Produce Junction carries cheap big bags of tomatillos!

    Also, what kind of note fits in a locket?! Inquiring minds want to know.

  6. Like I said, teeny tiny, on an itty bitty piece of paper. AND HE READ MY POST AND DOESN'T REMEMBER THE NOTE!!! MONG

  7. KATHRYN! I made this tonight for supper. It was phenomenal. Creamless and cheeseless, but still superb. Thank you for sharing your creativity.

  8. Oh, yay!! I will tell Matt, he'll be so pleased since he did a lot of the heavy lifting in this recipe.

    And it's not our's Rick Bayless': I mean, just look at this man's goatee...that's creativity right there!