Monday, March 26, 2007

Improvised Mutant Enchiladas

My mother is a good cook. My friends used come over around dinner time because her food. I think she had more influence on me becoming a foodie than she planned. She never gave me formal cooking lessons, mind you. It was just her simple dishes, and killer results, that got me interested.

My Dad's not too bad in the kitchen, either. I remember a time when I was younger and my Mom was in the hospital. Dad took over the cooking that week. I was more than a little nervous. Here was a guy that worked in construction. Sure, he knew his way around a hammer and saw like nobody's business. Pots and pans? Who was he trying to kid?

I was wrong. He had the courage to introduce a skeptical pre-teen boy to stewed tomatoes. Thank you, Dad. They were the first, and best, stewed tomatoes I've ever had.

I think my Dad's courage in the kitchen wore off a bit on me, too. He gave me the courage to improvise.

I love to try out new ideas. Cruelly, I try them out on my family and friends. Still, the age old conundrum faces me just like it faces every other cook. What to do with the leftovers?

If the dish is particularly bad, I'll throw it out. At a certain point it's just not worth trying to salvage. Leftovers are great for lunches, but after few days of eating the same thing every day, it's time for some change. Sometimes you can use leftovers to build different, and better, dishes.

Let me give you an example. Last weekend we had a potluck dinner with some friends. I made up a huge amount of vaguely Spanish / Mexican flavored rice. I cooked up a bunch of rice and stirred in some crushed tomatoes, garlic, onion, chili powder, and so on. I would have added some red pepper flakes, but some people don't handle the heat very well so I'm always careful when cooking for others.

The problem I have cooking rice is that I make great Asian sticky rice but, I can't make the non-sticky variety very well. After making the rice, and stirring in all the other bits, I put it in a low temp oven to keep it warm, adding to the sticky factor. It was thick enough that, if you didn't have worry about the flies, you could probably use it to patch holes in sheetrock. It tasted okay, but just okay. Needless to say, there were a lot of leftovers.

I didn't want to throw it out, but it was obvious it wasn't going to get eaten by itself. I had to do something.

Summoning my father-given courage, I mixed together beef stock with some vegetable juice, chili powder, garlic, parsley, and lime juice to make a thin sauce. Next, I smeared sour cream over the top of flour tortillas, dropped in some of the leftover rice fiasco and a bit of grated cheddar cheese. Then I rolled the whole thing up like a burrito. I made about six of these.

I then poured a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of a roasting pan, and stuck the rice burrito things next to each other like the mutant concoctions they were. I poured the rest of the sauce over the mess and added some more grated cheese on top for good measure. Then I popped them in a 400 degree F oven until the cheese was melted and gooey, and the sauce had thickened a bit. Periodically I'd spoon some of the sauce from the pan over the top of these weird things just to keep the tops from drying out too much, and get the juices everywhere.

They were a hit! My culinary improvisation allowed me to save the day, and use up a good deal of leftovers, making an easy Sunday meal. My kids kept asking "What do you call this, Dad?" I didn't have a clue what to call it. I think I settled on "Mexican Leftover Surprise." The surprise part is that they had nothing to do with Mexico. Not really, anyway.

I think I should have stuck with "Mutant Enchiladas."

1 comment:

Mark said...

I know that MY kids would be MUCH more enthused about eating something "mutant" than a "leftover surprise"!