Saturday was a good day not to leave the house.  Outside, temperatures were in the 90s, and the air in our neighborhood was smoky from the wildfires blazing to the northeast.  Inside, there was a baseball game on television, a fridge full of iced tea, lemonade, and beer, and a cookbook full of things that I very much wanted to eat.  So, I spent the day with the Junior League of Phoenix’s Pomegranates and Prickly Pears, and considered it very well spent indeed.

While the Reds-Dodgers game was still on, I sent Brady out in the hot, polluted air for tortilla chips.  It would be, I told him, worth his trouble to do so.

Tomatillo Verde Sauce with Avocado

Tomatillo Verde Sauce with Avocado

Tomatillo Verde Sauce with Avocado

2 to 4 serrano chiles
10 ounces tomatillos, husks removed
1 garlic clove
1 tablespoon coarsely chopped pickled jalapeno chile
1 tablespoon pickled jalapeno chile vinegar
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1 avocado, chopped
1/3 cup finely chopped onion.

Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and add the serrano chiles. Boil for 5 minutes and add the tomatillos. Boil for five minutes longer and remove from heat; drain.

Combine the serrano chiles, tomatillos, garlic, jalapeno chile and vinegar in a blender and process until pureed. Add the cilantro and salt and process until blended. Combine the puree, avocado, and onion in a bowl and mix well. Taste and adjust the seasonings and serve with tortilla chips.

Makes 2 cups

I decided to use only three serrano chiles, mostly because after seeding them, I wiped a drop of sweat off my cheek, which immediately set the entire right side of my face afire.  Though the salsa verde had a nice kick to it, next time, I will throw caution to the wind and add all four.

This is a delicious salsa with big, fresh flavors and excellent served as soon as it’s made (when it’s still pleasantly warm) or chilled.  The next time we have people over to watch some kind of sporting event, I’m making a bowl of this and a bowl of pico de gallo (for which there’s also a recipe in Pomegranates and Prickly Pears, although here it goes by the name it’s better known as in the Mexican state of Sonora — salsa de bandera).

Considering what I had planned for the main course, I thought it wise that we start off with a nice green salad.  This one has a little southwestern flair, and also gave me the opportunity to purchase my very first jicama.

Jicama Green Leaf Salad with Honey Mustard Dressing

Honey Mustard Dressing

Jicama Green Leaf Salad

Jicama Green Leaf Salad

1 cup honey
1 cup Dijon mustard
1 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup olive oil

Salad

1 head each green and red leaf lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces
1 cup grated carrots
1 cup grated red radishes
1 cup julienned jicama
1 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 cup pepitas (roasted pumpkin seeds)

For the dressing, combine the honey, mustard, vinegar, wine and olive oil in a food processor and process for 1 minute. Pour the dressing into a jar with a tight-fitting lid and store in the refrigerator.

It's toasted!

Please indulge me my gratuitous Mad Men reference: It's toasted!

For the salad, toss the green and red leaf lettuce in a bowl. Add the desired amount of dressing and mix until coated. Divide the lettuce mixture evenly among 4 salad plates. Artfully arrange the carrots, radishes, jicama, pine nuts and pepitas over the top of each salad.

Serves 4

This salad reminds me of a passage from Poppy Z. Brite’s wonderful G-Man and Rickey series (Liquor, Prime, Soul Kitchen) about two men opening and running a liquor-themed restaurant in New Orleans (a must-read for those into cooking, restaurant culture, and the Gulf Coast).  In the first book, they hire an amazing chef who requests that they put him at the salad station, a universally hated job.  When they ask why on earth he would volunteer for this, he says something to the effect of, well, everybody hates making salads because nobody ever bothers to do it right.

If people think salad is boring, it’s because they’ve never had a good one.  And this salad is very, very good.  And those toasted pepitas and pine nuts?  If you have any left over, they make fine munchies.  Just be careful when you’re toasting them because there is very little wiggle room between “perfectly toasted” and “charred to the bottom of the pan.”

I was very excited about the main course because I’d never made proper enchiladas before.  Oh, I’ve made things “called” enchiladas, but I never made them from a good recipe, and I’d certainly never made enchilada sauce from scratch before.  One important note:  Ralph’s was out of ancho chiles, so I had to substitute New Mexico red chiles (a substitution recommended by the Cook’s Thesaurus).  New Mexico chiles in a Phoenix recipe… sacrilege!  But if you’re able to make these with the anchos, your enchiladas will turn out looking quite a bit different (though still tasty).

Ancho Chile Cheese Enchiladas

Ancho Chile Sauce

Enchilada sauce

Enchilada sauce

4 cups chicken stock
4 large ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 tablespoons corn oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, chopped
2 tablespoons corn oil
2 tablespoons flour
4 teaspoons cumin
1 tablespoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
Salt and pepper to taste

Enchiladas

1 1/2 cups corn oil
12 corn tortillas
5 cups (20 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese

For the sauce, bring the stock and ancho chiles to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for 10 minutes or until the chiles are tender. Remove from heat, reserving the chiles and cooking liquid.

Heat 2 tablespoons corn oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2/3 of the onion and cook for 3 to 5 minutes or just until it begins to soften, stirring constantly. Combine the sauteed onion, reserved chiles, 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid, and garlic in a blender and process until the consistency of a smooth paste.

Heat 2 tablespoons corn oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Whisk in the flour until blended. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon. Add the reserved chile paste, cumin, sugar, oregano, remaining reserved cooking liquid, salt and pepper and mix well. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes or until thickened, stirring frequently. Cover the sauce and keep warm over low heat.

I was glad I bought the 30-pack of corn tortillas, since I broke three and dropped one on the floor.  These were hard-won enchiladas.

I was glad I bought the 30-pack of corn tortillas, since I broke three and dropped one on the floor. These were hard-won enchiladas.

For the enchiladas, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Heat 1 1/2 cups corn oil in a deep skillet over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Fry the tortillas 1 at a time in the hot oil for 2 seconds per side, turning once. Immediately dip the tortillas into the chile sauce to coat. Place the tortillas on a large plate and sprinkle 1/4 cup of cheese over the bottom third of each tortilla. Roll to enclose the cheese and arrange seam side down in a single layer in a baking dish. Spoon the remaining chile sauce over the enchiladas and sprinkle with the remaining 2 cups of cheese and remaining onions. Bake for 10 minutes or until the cheese melts.

Enchiladas with a side of chips and tomatillo sauce

Enchiladas with a side of chips and tomatillo sauce

Serves 4 to 6

After dinner, the heat got the better of me, and I felt entirely too sapped of energy to make dessert.  So, my sweet husband volunteered to take over on kitchen duty.  Ironically, I’d originally chosen this dessert because creme brulee is one of his favorites, and I’d planned to make it especially for him.  However, Brady is a good sport, and a pretty darn good cook, too, so he volunteered to take over on creme brulee duty.  This would prove more challenging than anticipated.

Lemon Creme Brulee

Lemon Creme Brulee

Lemon Creme Brulee

2 cups cream
6 egg yolks
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Grated zest of 2 lemons
Sugar to taste
Lemon zest, fresh blueberries or fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Heat the cream in a saucepan over medium heat just until hot; do not scald. Whisk the egg yolks and eggs in a bowl until smooth. Add 1 cup sugar to the eggs gradually, whisking constantly until blended. Stir in the lemon juice and lemon zest. Add the warm cream gradually, whisking constantly.

Pour the lemon mixture into six 6-ounce ramekins and arrange the ramekins in a large baking pan. Add enough hot water to the baking pan to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Sprinkle the top of each creme brulee lightly with sugar to taste. Caramelize the sugar with a culinary torch. Garnish with additional lemon zest, fresh blueberries or fresh raspberries.

Serves 6

Some of you have heard this story already, but when Brady and I lived in Wisconsin, we happened to come into possession of a culinary torch.  While we used it once or twice for making creme brulee, we soon began using it chiefly for automotive purposes.  At the time, I was driving a 1985 Dodge sedan, and between December and March, the locks would regularly freeze up.  You know what’s really good for thawing out the locks on your car?  A culinary torch.

Sadly, when we went digging through the drawers for the culinary torch this weekend, it was nowhere to be found.  Perhaps it is in Wisconsin still.

Undaunted, Brady pulled a MacGyver.  He cranked up the broiler, stacked up each individual brulee in unused ramekins, and proceeded to lay down on his side on the kitchen floor, stick his hand inside the broiler, and hold each creme brulee directly under the flame.

It was totally hardcore.

And the lemon creme brulee was wonderful.  I think that food tastes especially good when you’ve had to overcome some kind of culinary adversity to get it.

So, my thanks to Brady.  He can be my pastry chef in the Junior League kitchen anytime.

And very special thanks to Jill Kipnes and the women of the Junior League of Phoenix for sending me a copy of their wonderful cookbook.  They’re involved with many terrific community programs in the Phoenix area, including early education programming with the Children’s Museum of Phoenix, and the Girl Scouts First Saturdays program, where they serve as troop leaders for over 500 girls in Phoenix (you can follow what they’re up to on Twitter).

Thanks ladies, and keep up the good work!

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