The combination of work that requires evening meetings (mine), travel (my husband’s), school, a total lapse in routine (FIVE DAYS of school between December 17, 2010, and January 18, 2011), and the fact that it’s been an insanely cold winter have conspired against any free time I have had to write here. (Those things, as well as the Halloween Costumes that Ate October.)
Those factors have also steered me towards easy, flavorful comfort foods, and I’ve got two of those recipes on the menu this week. The first is a recipe of my mother’s creation. It’s a great way to use leftover roto chicken, as well as excess deli ham and turkey. (Seriously! Suspend any eye-rolls until you’ve tried it!) Also: bechamel!
Crepes Valenta (or, as my son calls it, “Tortilla Casserole”)
- 4 T butter
- 1/4 C flour
- 2 C milk, or 1 C milk and 1 C chicken broth
- 8 oz. Jack cheese, shredded
- 8 flour tortillas
- 8 ounces sliced ham
- 8 ounces sliced turkey (or, alternately, a couple of cups leftover chicken or turkey, or ham – this is actually great after the holidays)
- 1 small can whole green chilies, cut into strips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Make the bechamel (this is a very basic version of the classic white sauce) by melting the butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. When the foaming has subsided, add the flour and stir constantly with a whisk for a minute or so – you don’t want the roux to darken. Whisking constantly, add the milk/stock. Continue whisking until the sauce comes to a simmer and thickens. This shouldn’t be very thick; it should coat the back of your spoon. Add salt to taste. You can get fancy and add a little nutmeg, but it’s not necessary for this dish.
Cook or warm the tortillas. Spoon some sauce into the bottom of a square casserole dish. Put a tablespoon or two of cheese in the center of a tortilla, and add a slice of turkey and ham. Roll the tortilla and place it seam-down in the casserole. Repeat with the rest of the tortillas. Pour the rest of the sauce over the dish, and then top each tortilla with a strip of green chili. Spring any remaining cheese over the top, and bake until the cheese starts to brown and the sides are bubbly. Let sit for a few minutes, and then serve.
Tonight, I served this with a jicama salad – not a particularly colorful plate, but the jicama gave a nice contrast to the creamy goodness of the casserole. Definitely not sophisticated, but completely delicious and dead easy.
Tomorrow, we’re having Poppy Seed Chicken. (Did I mention that my husband’s been traveling a lot?) Not having lived in a sorority house at an SEC school (unlike several of my sisters), I had never heard of this casserole until I was nearly 30. It is, in every way, a stereotypical Southern casserole – except, there are no water chestnuts for crunch – but y’all, stereotypical Southern casseroles endure for a reason. Try this casserole, and you will fully appreciate those reasons. I do generally use reduced-fat and low-sodium ingredients, since the Poppy Seed Chicken relies on a highly-processed condensed soup as a main ingredient, and I use Ritz crackers for the topping. I can’t fathom serving this without something green to offset the creamy richness of the dish – I’ll probably cook some haricots verts tomorrow. Or, go old-school and serve it with a lovely tomato aspic, or with a leaf of iceberg lettuce topped with a dollop of mayonnaise and a sprinkle of shredded cheddar. Yum!
You can fancy up both of these recipes – I’ve made the tortilla casserole with aged Jack cheese from Whole Foods; tonight’s was with Kraft – but at the end of the day, I love them because they’re good and incredibly easy.
In other news, we had an ice storm here a few weeks ago and were housebound for five days. I stocked up ahead of time on milk, bread, breakfast cereal and fresh fruit, but other than that, we pretty much just ate from the pantry and the freezer – and we ate well. A generous relative sent us frozen lobster tails and beef tenderloin filet for a Christmas gift, so we had former the on first night and the latter on the last – those were probably our peak eating nights – and I did use up every frozen vegetable we had on hand. I stuck to comfort basics like red beans and rice, chicken and rice, and grilled cheese with tomato soup, and we finished off the January batch of marinara. I did a ton of baking, and used up all five pounds of flour and the two pounds of butter I’d bought while stocking up on basics. We had waffles and pancakes for breakfast, I made the easy cinnamon rolls from the Dorky Yankees’ Healthy Family Cookbook, several batches of cookies, and a tub of bread dough that we plowed through. I felt keenly fortunate to have a pantry and freezers so well-stocked with basics – Chris went out for milk and bananas on the fourth day of the freeze, but we never really ran out of anything.