December 28, 2005

Meg's Americanized Enchiladas

I originally got the idea for these enchiladas from the More-With-Less Cookbook, but they've probably morphed quite a bit from that by now. (I don't really know because I haven't looked back at the recipe in probably 15 years.)

- 1 jar of your favorite salsa. (i usually use Frontera's Jalapeno Cilantro Salsa.)
- 1 package whole wheat flour tortillas (note: wheat flour tortillas and whole wheat flour tortillas are different entities.)
- 1 can beans (refried or whole, it doesn't matter. black or pinto also doesn't matter. i always use black (i think they're tastier.) but will use refried or whole based on what i have on hand.)
- meat is optional. i sometimes fry up chunks of chicken and toss that in for the kids' and rob's benefit.
- cilantro is optional. i love the flavor, but i don't always have any one hand.
- onions are optional.
- lots of cheddar cheese. (i like to really heap it on top so the size of your container will determine the amount of cheese you need.)

Pour a little (maybe 1/4 cup) of the salsa into the bottom of your pan. I usually use a brownie pan to make my enchiladas in. Wiggle the pan until the salsa has covered every bit of the bottom. This should keep your enchiladas from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

If you're going to add meat and/or onions, cook them up in advance. I don't think I've ever put beef in, but I don't see why you couldn't. If I add meat it's usually diced cubes of chicken that I've fried up in a bit of oil. When I add onion, I usually chop up one medium sized onion and fry that in a bit of oil.

To make the enchilada, hold a tortilla in one hand and slop some beans into it with the other hand. If you want to add meat, tofu, cilantro or onions (or even cheese) you can do that now. When I make these, I often just put the beans inside (because I've forgotten to fry up the onions in advance) then I throw any other extras on top of the rolled up tortillas later. Roll up the tortilla until you have a long tube and smash it into one end of your pan. (I say smash because often the ends of the tortilla are longer than the width of the pan. You don't want those ends sticking up because they'll dry out so try to mush them down in. Also make sure they get well covered with salsa and cheese later.)

Once you've filled the pan with filled and rolled tortillas, throw any other extras on top that you might have forgotten to stick inside. Then dump the rest of the salsa on top of the enchiladas and make sure to spread it everywhere. Anything not salsa covered will most likely dry out in the oven and be kinda yucky.

Next, cover the top with cheese. When I used to make these, I'd take the time to grate the cheese and pour that on top. Now I'm too lazy, so I just pull out the cheese slicer, make several slices and use that to cover the top.

Everything currently inside your enchilada pan is either pre-cooked at this point, or can be eaten without having been cooked. So your goal isn't really to cook everything up as much as to warm it through and melt the cheese. I usually put these in the oven (at 350) for about 20 or 25 minutes. Once the cheese is starting to brown I know they're ready.

You'll notice that in the picture I've dug in from two sides. The closer side has chicken, for the kids. The farther side is where my veggie version was located. :-)

December 22, 2005

Pirogi / Pedaheh

Even though the little forms we used did the edge crimping for us, I still liked to pinch a bit more just to be sure the pirog was completely closed up. Otherwise we'd lose most of the filling during the boiling later.

My dad's family is Ukrainian (his grandparents came over in the early 1900's). One Ukrainian (Byzantine Catholic) tradition that we try to keep when eating with my grandmother is to avoid meat on Christmas Eve. So for this Christmas Eve we are going to have homemade pirogi (I use this name for them because more people seem to be familiar with it, but I believe that is the Polish term. My great aunt has fits every time I say pirogi. It should be pedaheh.) and hopefully a Salmon Wrapped in Pastry dish that my dad used to make. (But he can't really help us with it any more. So it might all depend on whether we can find his old recipe.)

Though my great granny (the one off the boat) used to make pedaheh for us, my grandmother (the next generation down) never made it. And my mom is (mostly) Irish, so she sure couldn't teach me. Therefore, though I'm using someone else's recipe (I can't even remember whose at this point.) the whole procedure that I go through is pretty much my own. I'm sure it's pretty similar to what other pedaheh makers go through. But then again, what do I know? I've never made pedaheh before with anyone else that knew what they were doing.

So without further ado - Pirogi making by Meg and company, recipe included.

The recipe has been lost in the transition as Picasa doesn't have the means of posting a lot of text along with each separate photo. But you can still get the main idea here. I'll try to add ingredients at some point.

December 19, 2005

What IS the reason for the season?

A new phrase became popular (in some Christian circles, at least) about a decade ago: "Jesus is the reason for the season." I started seeing this plastered across shopping bags (from Christian stores that were capitalizing on the commercialism of Christmas) and this year I've heard my daughters singing a song by that title that they apparently
learned in Sunday School. But is Jesus really the reason for the season?

The holiday currently referred to as Christmas actually began long before the Christ was born for whom the mass is said. The winter solstice has long been a cause for celebration, not only because it marks the beginning of longer days, but it was also the time when many farm animals were slaughtered and their meat preserved for the winter (as it was far more cost effective to turn them into meat than to try to feed them through a long, hard winter).

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from the end of December until the beginning of January. The men would find the largest logs they could and, after hauling them back to the village, would set
them ablaze. The citizens would then party for as long as the log burned, sometimes for as long as 12 days (hence the 12 days of Christmas).

In Germany, many believed that the god Oden would fly overhead at night determining who would prosper and who would perish in the coming year ("gonna find out who's naughty and nice").

The Romans celebrated for an entire month each winter, honoring the god Saturn in a festival called Saturnalia. During that time food and drink was plentiful, the poor were treated as royalty with the rich waiting on them, and gifts were given.

Many upper class Romans also celebrated the birth of Mithras, god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25th. This was often considered to be the most important holiday of the year. The emperor
Constantine was said to be a follower of Mithra before his supposed conversion to Christianity.

There is no where in the Bible that states what day Jesus was born, nor that it should be celebrated by his followers. Though Jesus commanded his disciples to remember his death and resurrection (which takes place every Easter (Btw, Easter is the name of an Anglo-Saxon goddess.) as well as with every serving of communion), he never spoke of his birth as an item of note.

The first evidence of a Christian feast of the Nativity (which is what Christmas was called before it was called Christmas) is found in 200 AD in Egypt, and was celebrated in spring (at times in either March, April or May). In time, Christians were celebrating the Nativity on many different days, most on the same day as the feast of the Epiphany, January 6th. But in the 380's AD, Chrysostom gave a
sermon in which he argued that December 25th was the most appropriate day for the celebration and apparently the church fathers agreed. Christmas wasn't called by that name until some time in the middle ages (some say as late as 1810) when Christ Mass was contracted.

In the early 17th century, the rise of Oliver Cromwell and the Puritans led to an abrupt about face concerning the celebration of the Nativity. Generally a time of raucous debauchery, the Puritans
outlawed it entirely. The pilgrims brought this attitude with them when they came to the Americas and from 1659 to 1681, Christmas was outlawed in Boston. Even in other parts of the country, Christmas
was seen as an English holiday and not celebrating Christmas was a sign of independence. Eventually that mindset eased and on June 26, 1870, Christmas was declared to be a national holiday.

Over the next 135 years, Christmas has continued to morph and change, keeping the gift giving it inherited from Saturnalia, as well as the holly and mistletoe from pagan fertility rituals, but adding on a
distinctly American component as well -- Santa Claus as we know him today, a rolly polly man in fluffy red and white vestments. The Christmas that most Americans celebrate today is a well blended series of pagan rituals with a dab of "Christian meaning" tossed in.

That's certainly not to say that Christmas can't still be a meaningful time for Christians. Recognizing that God would be willing to take on human flesh for mankind's sake is definitely a cause for
celebration. But at the same time, for Christians to get in a huff that some stores would hang signs saying "Happy Holidays" rather than "Merry Christmas" is akin to early Romans who might have
complained that their celebration of Mithra was being co-opted by some odd group of monotheists (also referred to as atheists since they had no pantheon of gods).

So go out and find the largest log you can and throw it on the fire. Kill the fatted calf and pour the ale. Hang the mistletoe and string the evergreens about the house. Give gifts and make merry, for tomorrow is SaturnaliaJuvenalia, Yule, the birth of Mithra, the Feast of the Nativity, Christmas!!!

December 8, 2005

oooh, cool! now i can have the kids make their own snowflakes without having to clean up a bunch of teeny little pieces of paper all over the floor.