WALLA WALLA TABLE - Quick, easy family fare

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Picking up where I left off with our last article on grocery shopping, what does $80-$100 get you for the week?

Depends on what you have in your pantry and what you have purchased for the week. My week's worth of groceries actually stretched into almost two weeks' worth of meals. How, you wonder?

I was able to make carne asada tacos one night with the steak and the corn tortillas I had on hand, some tomatoes, onion and some premade salsa. Dinner took 30 minutes to get onto the table start to finish. The leftovers translated into lunch for my wife on two occasions later in the week. With the ground beef, we made a batch of dog food, and a small meatloaf.

The chicken thighs became fried chicken for dinner on Saturday with the in-laws and I used the potatoes to make a gratin. There was already cream and butter in the fridge and some cave-aged gruyere, so that was a no-brainer. I had some lettuce (red leaf) still in the fridge that was made into a quick salad with a simple dressing of extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper (and yes, my kids actually eat this and LOVE it).

The bones from the chicken were dispatched into a pot after dinner and boiled with water, to which I added some vegetable scraps, carrots, celery and onion. This became a basic quick chicken stock from which a risotto was made along with those cremini mushrooms and some leftover white wine the next day.

Since we had the beans, tomatoes, cheese and flour tortillas, and we needed a really quick dinner after our daughter's softball practice, it was burritos one night later in the week. Burritos and tacos can be effective ways to sneak some vegetables into your family's diet. Breakfasts were used to consume the bacon, eggs and vegetables in omelettes and scrambles.

Which brings me to my next topic, tacos, burritos and even enchiladas are a great catch all for leftovers and odds and ends. Feel free to experiment with all kinds of things. Who says your cooking has to be doctrinal? Not me. Leftover short ribs? Short rib tacos. Left over grilled or baked vegetables? Veggie burritos. You get the idea. Don't limit yourself by cultural traditions. The entire "fusion" movement was all about breaking down those geographical and cultural barriers with our food.

One thing I did manage to do this weekend was make enchiladas. Since we usually have some extra "store bought" cheddar on hand making homemade enchiladas is easy and cheap. I usually make a batch of chile sauce (ranchero sauce to some) a few times a year and keep some frozen for moments like this. Making these is SO easy I did it while cooking breakfast last Saturday morning.

Homemade enchiladas

Corn tortillas, uncooked at room temperature

Cheese (or if you prefer meat of your choice, shredded), cheddar and jack grated

Sauce (see recipe to follow)

Heat sauce with 1 cup of chicken stock in a wide shallow sauce pan or skillet over low flame. Working one tortilla at a time, dip into sauce for 30 sec to 1 min until soft. Carefully remove with tongs, being sure not to tear. (If you find that the tortillas are too soft, reduce your heat and reduce your softening time.) Place sauced tortilla on a plate or into a baking dish, fill with grated cheese, roll and repeat until you have enough enchiladas (if you are making meat filled, add your meat in place of or in addition to the cheese). Use remaining sauce to cover enchiladas in dish, top with more cheese. Bake at 375 F until cheese is bubbly (we call this done). Let cool slightly for 5 to 10 min and serve. (see that was simple, right?) If you make enough ahead these keep well frozen too. Make them in small batches and place into fridge on the morning you want to serve. When you need them just bake and within 30 min., dinner.

Ranchero Sauce

Dried chiles - I use a combination of New Mexico, California, Pasilla, Guajillo, and Ancho when I can find them. Find your own blend of spiciness and flavors that you like.

Onion (1), white or yellow, medium to fine dice

Garlic, (2 to 3 cloves), mashed

Oil or fat for cooking. (you can even use EVOO here, does not matter)

Ground cloves, ground cinnamon, ground cumin, ground allspice, ground Mexican oregano (the amount of each will be up to you and the quantity you are making)

Salt and fresh ground pepper

Chicken stock

Tomato paste (optional)

**For this you will need a FINE mesh strainer**

Into a stock pot place chiles and cover with HOT water. Cover and let sit for 20 min. to soften. In a large skillet or saucier, add lipid (fancy word for fat) of choice and heat over med flame. When hot add onion, hear sizzle. When the onion is translucent add garlic and reduce flame to low. Once garlic is softened, add spices, about ¼ tsp of each clove, cinnamon, allspice, about 1 tsp of oregano, about 2 TBSP of ground cumin (here you can add the tomato paste if you so desire, I do not). Add salt and pepper, pinch of each. Stir and cook until the spices become fragrant. Turn off and remove from heat, set aside.

Once the chiles are softened, remove the stems and place in a blender or food processor. Add about 1 cup of the water the chiles were soaked in. Puree until smooth. Add more liquid if necessary, water or stock until desired consistency is achieved; not soupy, but not too thick.

Strain all of this chile mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove seed, skins and any stems that you did not get. Once filtered, add to onion mix and return to heat over a low flame. Cook for another 10 to 15 min. to fully integrate flavors. Taste. If it is bitter add a bit of salt and a bit of sugar - not too much! The flavor shoud be mildly spicy (unless you want it hotter), earthy, and balanced, with no one flavor dominating.

This can be cooled and stored for two weeks in the fridge or almost indefinitely in the freezer. When ready to use defrost, heat and add stock if necessary to thin.

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