Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cookbook Review: A Well-Seasoned Kitchen

It’s hard to resist the premise of A Well-Seasoned Kitchen: Classic Recipes for Contemporary Living, a mother and daughter recipe collection. When Sally Clayton began to suffer from memory loss, her daughter Lee Clayton Roper decided to spend more time with her mother in the kitchen, remaking family favorites. The result is a loving tribute that’s touching and beautifully presented.

Mrs. Clayton was a woman who could whip up a meal for large numbers of unexpected guests from a few pantry ingredients (her husband liked to bring people home for dinner on the spur of the moment). She threw dinner parties for friends, and made fun snacks for the neighborhood kids. These stories and more are told in short paragraphs here and there throughout the book, and are a fun way of introducing Mrs. Clayton and her family. The header for each recipe provides more family lore, but never too much.
I wish that the recipes lived up to the stories, though. They’re clear and concise, and easy enough for most people to make. But what struck me is that a lot of them have similar ingredients, so there’s not much variety. There's an appealing, retro 1960s and 70s vibe, but that also means there’s a lot of frozen chopped spinach, cream cheese, and grated cheddar cheese in the recipes too.

The meat dishes are more interesting – Mrs. Roper says that the family is a bunch of carnivores at heart. The curries are good, basic recipes that people may not have tried at home, and don’t require exotic ingredients. And the book has quite a few ways to prepare pork tenderloin, which is a great dish for entertaining. I also like the seasonal menu suggestions in the back of the book, like the “Comfort-Food Snowy Day Dinner” and the “Casual Fall Get-Together.”

Still, I'm not convinced this is a book most people would turn to for everyday use, and for entertaining it falls short of books like Michael Chiarello’s Casual Cooking and Tyler Florence’s Ultimate, two that I think strike the right balance between really good food and relatively easy preparation. In my experience, unless you’re serving seasonal food at its peak (where you basically just chop it up and serve it with little fuss), making really good food does take a little bit of work. Nothing difficult, but more than the recipes in A Well-Seasoned Kitchen would have you believe.
Here’s one of the retro recipes from A Well-Seasoned Kitchen that will help use up some Thanksgiving leftovers: Turkey and Spinach Enchiladas. I’ve given you the recipe with the original ground turkey and with leftover cooked turkey. This recipe contains three of Mrs. Clayton’s go-to pantry ingredients (cream cheese, frozen chopped spinach, and grated cheddar cheese).

When I prepared it, I made all the filling but only half the enchiladas, and put the rest of the filling in the fridge. When I made the second batch of enchiladas a few days later, I found that the cream cheese flavor had mellowed and the whole thing tasted better. So if you have the time, make the filling a few hours ahead and put it in the fridge. Heat it up a little in the microwave before you fill the enchiladas to take the chill off.

Turkey and Spinach Enchiladas
Serves 6 (two enchiladas per person)
Adapted from Sally Clayton and Lee Clayton Roper’s A Well-Seasoned Kitchen: Classic Recipes for Contemporary Living
1 pound ground turkey, or 1 pound shredded leftover turkey (a mix of white and dark meat), about 3 - 4 cups
2 cups salsa, divided (a 20 – 24 ounce jar, I like medium chipotle salsa because it mellows the cream cheese a bit and adds a smoky flavor)
1 package (10 ounces) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
8 ounces cream cheese, cubed (low-fat or Neufchatel is fine, just don’t use non-fat)
12 (6-inch) corn tortillas (if all you can find are the extra-thin tortillas, use 24 of them and double them up, otherwise the extra-thin tortillas will fall apart when you bake them in the sauce)
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) chopped or diced tomatoes, undrained (I like fire-roasted tomatoes in this recipe)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¾ cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
½ cup sliced pimento-stuffed green olives (my addition, and they’re optional, but they add great flavor)
1 head iceberg lettuce, shredded, then rinsed and spun dry
½ cup sour cream
Salt, freshly ground black pepper, and hot sauce
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F 20 minutes before you plan to put the enchiladas in the oven. Spray a 9 x 13 glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking spray.
In a large nonstick skillet sprayed with a little cooking spray, brown the ground turkey, stirring constantly and breaking up the pieces with a wooden spoon. (If you’re using the leftover turkey, cook it for a couple of minutes to warm it up). Add 1 cup of the salsa, the squeezed spinach, and the cream cheese. Stir over medium heat until the cheese melts and everything is combined. Taste the filling for salt and pepper, and add some hot sauce if you’d like. It should be fairly solid and not runny.
Set the filling aside, or if you have time, put it in a covered container in the fridge for a few hours or more. (Microwave it for a minute to take the chill off before you proceed.)
Stack the tortillas on a microwave-safe plate, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave on high power for a minute. This will soften the tortillas. Check them after a minute and if they’re not flexible enough, cover them and microwave for another minute. Cover the plate of tortillas with a clean towel to keep them flexible as you use them.
Combine the remaining cup of salsa with the can of tomatoes (with their juice) and the cumin. Taste it for salt, pepper, and hot sauce.
Take one tortilla (or two stacked together, if you’re using the extra-thin ones) and put it on a cutting board or plate. Take 1/3 cup of the filling and spread it across the middle of the tortilla. Roll the tortilla up and put it seam side down in the greased baking pan. Repeat with the remaining tortillas. Pour the salsa/tomato cumin mixture over the enchiladas, spreading evenly. Bake for 20 minutes. Then sprinkle the shredded cheddar cheese and the olives on top and bake for 10 minutes more.
Divide the shredded lettuce among six plates. Place two enchiladas on top of the lettuce, and top with a tablespoon of sour cream and pass the hot sauce. Serve hot.

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