Being Flexible In The Kitchen

No, I’m not talking about doing your exercises in the kitchen – I’m talking about being willing to experiment a bit, being creative. See, I’m the sort that reads cook books for fun. Sometimes it seems I am constantly scanning recipes – not for specific dishes to make, but rather for inspiration, for concepts, for things that can give me a place to start… but also something I can “make my own”.

Maybe there’s an ingredient in a recipe I don’t really care for, or don’t have, or can’t get… or sometimes I just wonder if I can’t just plain make it better. What I made last night sort of falls under those last two. The chicken-spinach enchiladas I made are based off the Keep Your Hands off Mama’s Spicy Spinach and Chicken Enchiladas recipe posted by Kristin over on StuftMama.

If you check out the original recipe she uses a jalapeno-yogurt dip from Costco. Now, I have a Costco membership – but it’s out of the way and I’m not about to go running there on a Sunday night for a yogurt dip. Especially not when I have yogurt, a couple jars of my homemade pickled jalapenos and my homemade hot-pepper sauce at home already. I did have to stop at the store on the way home to pick up a few things, but the sauce… well, that’s one of those where I felt “I can make my own”.

Enchilada Fixings

It looks like Kristin was practicing some kitchen gymnastics of her own. I don’t know if she didn’t have canned enchilada sauce or what, but she used some roasted red pepper and tomato soup from Trader Joe’s. I didn’t have either, but I did find a similar soup at the Wedge (a local co-op). I also needed some chicken. Originally I planned on just getting a rotisserie chicken – these are great for flexible meal options – but they had chicken breast on sale, buy-one-get-one, so I got a couple packages of those instead. I cooked some up about the easiest way possible, I boiled them.

It was about two pounds of chicken in a small pot with about 3 cups of water, I got the water boiling then turned down to medium and less than 15 minutes later they were done. I need to start cooking chicken this way more often. I had forgotten how moist the breast meat stays, and in this case it made shredding it for putting in the enchilada much easier than broiling or baking. I did put a touch of chicken bouillon in the water too, so besides the extra meat I’ve got the “broth” to use for something later as well… I may have to make a small batch of soup of it or something.

Ok, back to the enchiladas. For the sauce, I took about a cup of yogurt and let it drain a bit in a lined wire mesh sieve to try and get even more of the whey out. You may or may not want to do this depending on how thick your yogurt is to begin with and how thick you want it to end up. I let it sit there while the chicken cooked and in the meantime I chopped up some jalapeno slices. I used what would be about the equivalent of 2-1/2 or 3 jalapenos and put them in a bowl with about 2 tablespoons of my hot-pepper sauce (which honestly… this last batch wasn’t all that hot, but is still very tasty). Then when the chicken was done cooking I took them out of the pot and put on a plate to cool down a bit, followed by taking the yogurt and mixing it in with the peppers and hot sauce.

At this point, I wanted it to still be a bit thicker, and did something that may sound a bit odd… but it works. You could do this to help thicken up all sorts of dips or sauces, especially uncooked ones. I stirred in a couple tablespoons of ground flaxseed. See, the fiber in the flaxseed soaks up water, trapping it, and thickens up your sauce. I could have used some chia seeds too (I had just bought more at the co-op), but the ground flaxseed basically disappeared in to the background in this case. I also stirred in about a teaspoon or so of cayenne pepper.

I let that sit a few minutes while I shredded up one of the chicken breasts and heated up six corn tortillas in the microwave for a few seconds to make them a bit more flexible for rolling them up and grabbed some spinach out of the fridge. Then I turned the oven on to 350 and grabbed a small baking dish. The one I used is about 9×7 and fit the six tortillas perfectly, making three for dinner and leaving three for next days lunch. You can adjust the quantity here to fit how many you want to make overall.

I poured about 1/4-1/3 cup of the soup in the bottom of the baking dish, then started filling and rolling the tortillas.

Enchilada Filling

The first one, I put down some spinach, then some sauce, then some chicken. Spreading the sauce didn’t work very well, it just moved the spinach around… so the rest of them I did sauce, spinach, then chicken. See… stay flexible! After putting all six in the pan I poured most of the rest of the soup over the top. The two serving container of soup I bought would easily do twice as many enchiladas as I made… so if you’re cooking a meal for 3-4 people, you’ll only need one box. Personally, I had no other immediate use for the soup so I pretty much just used it up here.

As Kristin mentions in her version, you could put some cheese on the inside,but these are quite tasty without. She also used some taco seasoning on her chicken… I didn’t, so these actually turned out rather mild. Next time I may try something more on the chicken , or maybe spice up the soup a bit in order to kick things up another notch or two. That’s the other nice thing about being flexible in the kitchen, being able to adjust for your personal tastes, or even just your current mood.

The pan of enchiladas gets baked for about 20-25 minutes (the more you’re cooking the longer it will take) and while I didn’t put any cheese inside, I had a small chunk of some nicely aged cheddar that needed using up so after I put the pan in the oven I shredded it up and sprinkled it over the enchiladas when there was about four-five minutes left on the timer. Quick tip, when shredding softer cheeses like cheddar, give your grater a quick spritz of non-stick spray. It won’t be enough to really add any fat, but keeps it from just sticking to and gumming up the shredder.

Baked Enchiladas

They looked good, really good. Though in retrospect, a light sprinkling of some fresh, chopped cilantro would have been nice… both visually and flavor-wise. While I let them rest on the stove top I cut up some romaine lettuce and got out the salsa, then plated a couple up.

Plated Enchiladas

In case you’re wondering, I’m not going to give you an actual recipe here. Because that would sort of defeat the point of this, in that you should try to be flexible in your cooking sometimes. And besides, this “recipe” could have soooo may variations. Use a nice whole-wheat flour tortilla instead of corn. Use some grass-fed beef (either fajita style or ground) instead of chicken, use an actual enchilada sauce instead of the soup… I think you get idea.

The important thing here is, by being willing to be flexible, to experiment, to adapt, you come to realize that cooking doesn’t have to be any sort of a big deal. It doesn’t have to be difficult or frustrating. Quite the opposite, it can be liberating and fun. And even if you’re using some pre-packaged items like… odds are it’s still going to be much more healthy than anything you’ll get from a drive-thru or for take-out.

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2 Responses

  1. January 30, 2012

    […] easily get three or four servings. I recently wrote a piece for my nutrition blog about being flexible in the kitchen, and this is a great example of that I think. It would be a great way to use some some left over […]

  2. April 23, 2015

    […] link to the original recipe. I think it turned out great… and is just another example of how being flexible in the kitchen can really pay […]

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