Hello everyone. I am really happy to be back on this site at long last, and I truly have missed being here. I will try to make up for my absence with a plate of soul-satisfying Chipotle Chilaquiles, prepared especially for you. I realize that’s a lot to ask from a single recipe, but once you taste it, I know you’ll thank me.
The reason for my hiatus would take a year’s answer or none at all, and I will merely confine myself to saying that 2012 was Year Of The Major Curveball. There were huge personal upheavals and professional ones too, a year of trying to roll with the punches as gracefully as possible but with varying degrees of success. (As a result, most of my creative projects—such as this blog—got pushed to the furthermost edge of the proverbial back burner.) In coming to the end of a most challenging year, I was simply grateful that to have made it through 2012 and that everyone I love survived it too.
However, some good things happened towards the end of 2012, such as this delightful new job and that crazy adventure. I also took myself to San Francisco for a late August escape, treating myself to some much-needed downtime in that beautiful Northern California light, along with a good dose of culinary inspiration. One of the most outstanding meals during that fabulous week was a plate of to-die-for chilaquiles from the Primavera tamale stand at the farmer’s market outside the Ferry Building. I’ve been on a mission to recreate it for myself ever since.
Chilaquiles, a traditional homey Mexican dish, are made by briefly simmering lightly fried corn tortillas in a brothy tomato-chile sauce. The trick is to cook the tortillas just long enough so that they soften a bit but not so long that they become mushy. I cheat a little by using thick-cut tortilla chips instead of the tortillas, and I don’t think the dish suffers in the least from this timesaving measure.
I served this dish for the annual New Year’s Day gathering of my One-Year Plan club. I brought two large pans of chilaquiles to the table, and everyone loaded up their plates with the tortilla casserole along with simmered black beans and softly scrambled eggs. I set out dishes of chopped onion, cilantro, radishes, avocado, crumbled feta and sour cream so that people could garnish their plates as desired. It was the perfect food for a brunch when everyone had stayed up far too late the night before, ringing in the new year with much merriment. In other words, this is excellent hangover food! But I always find it totally satisfying, no matter what I was doing the night before. We were a tired but happily well-fed bunch that day.
As we all took stock of the previous year and tried to map out goals for the new one, my one overarching goal was to “Reclaim my writer self”. As much as I love playing the violin and relish creative time spent in my kitchen, I know I feel out of balance when I am not writing as well. So, here I am back on Kitchen Fiddler, with a renewed commitment to being here much more often. I am grateful for a new year and a clean slate, and I hope that you will join me for this year’s culinary and creative adventure. Happy 2013!
One Year Ago: Butterscotch Pots de Creme
Adapted from a recipe in Mexico: One Plate At A Time by Rick Bayless
This tortilla casserole lends itself well to variation, and I have served this with crumbled chorizo or shredded chicken stirred into the finished sauce. Good refried beans or black beans are an excellent accompaniment, as are scrambled eggs to round out a hearty brunch.
For the chilaquiles:
1 28-ounce can good-quality crushed tomatoes
1 canned chipotle chile in adobo, seeds and all (use 2 chiles if you’re brave and like a lot of heat!)
1-½ tablespoons olive oil
1 large white onion, finely diced, divided
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
8 ounces thick homemade-style tortilla chips
The remaining diced white onion
Crumbled mild feta cheese or cotija cheese
Thinly sliced radishes
Sour cream thinned with a little milk
Place the crushed tomatoes and the chipotle chiles in a blender jar. Blend to a coarse puree.
Heat the oil in a large deep skillet or a medium-sized Dutch oven over medium heat. Add half of the diced onion and cook until golden, stirring frequently, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute; do not let the garlic brown.
Raise the heat to medium-high and add the tomato puree, stirring constantly for 4 to 5 minutes until the mixture thickens. Stir in the broth or water and season to taste with salt. (The sauce can be made up to 3 or 4 days ahead up through this step. Cover the sauce and store in the refrigerator till ready to use.)
Right before serving, set out the remaining diced onion, crumbled cheese, chopped cilantro, sliced radishes, diced avocado, and the sour cream in individual bowls.
Bring the brothy sauce to a boil and add the tortilla chips, coating all the chips well. Cover the pan and turn off the heat, letting it stand for 5 minutes but no longer. Uncover the pot and stir to make sure that the chips have softened slightly. (You want them to be a little chewy but not soggy.) Spoon onto plates and serve immediately, sprinkling liberally with the various garnishes. Serves 4.