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March 20th, 2010:

Pepper Springs Cookbook: Unstable Enchiladas

sour cream chicken enchiladas

EnchiladaPlate4Pepper Springs Cookbook barely makes it into the list of my holdings that qualify as cookbooks. It’s a little wirebound booklet with a rigid back that stands up to display the recipe of choice, and all the recipes rely on sauce or flavor mixes sold by the company. We got it in a holiday gift box from Dale and Peggy (Scott’s brother and his wife), and when I started looking for a ShreddingChickenrecipe to use from this book I had to double-check that we still had any of the mixes left that were included in the package.

I began with a rotisserie chicken (Southwest flavor, why not?), which I shredded apart — a time-consuming and greasy task to be sure, but less overall effort than roasting your own. Once that was done and I’d grated some ChickenNCheesecheese, I followed the directions for preparing the corn tortillas for filling: “heat the tortillas which have been wrapped in a paper towel for about 25 seconds in a microwave.” These turned out not to be the ideal instructions for my particular tortillas. It’s possible the ones I was working with were too stiff, or started from too cold a temperature, but the 25 seconds in the microwave did not BrokebackEnchiladassufficiently soften them to roll and stay rolled. The first one broke as I was putting it into the pan; the next one unfurled, distributing chicken and cheese around the pan. I reheated the remaining tortillas periodically but it was no use; I had to hold rolled enchiladas against the side of the pan with one hand and work single-handed to fill the others until I’d arrayed enough to stay SauceIngreds2reasonably close to their rolled form when I let go. And as they cooled, all of them ruptured. By the time I was done, the pan looked like it held some perverse variant on soft tacos. Maybe I needed a tortilla that was more initially pliable; I’d say mine were typical of supermarket corn tortillas, but perhaps I should lay hands on the ones featured on the cover of the newest issue of EnchiladaSauceEdible Queens. Or maybe I should have soaked the tortillas briefly in chicken broth or milk. Too late now; my enchiladas had become enchilada casserole.

Anyway, what one is supposed to do is fill each tortilla with shredded chicken and grated cheddar, roll it up, and lay it in a baking pan. I sighed and moved on to the sauce, which was a TheBookletfairly simple white sauce base. I made a roux with a melted stick of butter and half a cup of flour, then whisked in half a cup of milk and two cups of chicken broth (the booklet says a can, but everything I could find was in aseptic quart packages). I noticed here that the recipe had listed 1-1/2 cups of milk in the ingredients but directed me to stir in half a cup, and nowhere did it say what RecipeCloseupto do with the remaining cup. So I eyeballed the baking pan and the liquid currently cooking up for sauce, and added the rest of the milk to the pot. I stirred constantly until the mixture began to thicken (not all that long; there was a pretty high ratio of roux to liquid here), then removed the pan from the heat and stirred in a packet of Pepper Springs Southwest Chili & Onion EnchiladasSaucedToBakeDip mix and a cup of sour cream. The sauce smelled great.

And this is where the recipe ends. The first half of the page concludes with “prepare the sauce as follows and pour it over the enchiladas.” The page itself ends with instructions to stir the dip mix and sour cream into the sauce. Nowhere does it say whether to bake the enchiladas, BakedEnchiladasor at what temperature. Now, it is possible that the intention was for the enchiladas to be complete at this stage, and for the cook to pour on the sauce, then dish up supper immediately. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an enchilada recipe that did not call for baking, but it doesn’t seem impossible. However, when I considered the previous issue of the wayward cup of milk, I decided that it was EnchiladaPlate5more likely the baking instructions had simply been omitted. Regardless, my shattered corn tortillas were not yet ready to eat. So I preheated the oven to 375, poured the sauce over the fragmented enchiladas, and baked the casserole for 20 minutes, which seemed to bring the tortillas to a satisfactory consistency.

This is something that bothers me about little throwaway cookbooks like this. They’re intended for the inexperienced cook, the one relying on mixes and processed ingredients, but all too often they are shoddily edited. Of course as an editor I’m always annoyed to see a published work that hasn’t been edited properly, but it’s particularly galling in a cookbook for inexperienced cooks because they are less likely to have the fundamental skills to solve the problems that the editing mistakes cause.

Well, rant mode off. The baked enchiladas tasted good; while not pretty, they had a nice spicy flavor that helped keep the sour cream sauce from being too heavy.

Verdict: Not quite as expected, but satisfactory. But a good illustration of why I don’t like to rely on processed mixes too much.