Monday, August 5, 2013

"The Taste of Summer" & "Thyme in a Bottle" (by '70's singer Jim Croce's widow, Ingrid) - Summer Vegetable Guacamole Salsa & Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas

Date I made these recipes:  July 21, 2013

The Taste of Summer – Inspired Recipes for Casual Entertaining by Diane Rossen Worthington
Published by:  Bantam Books
© 1988
Recipe:  Summer Vegetable Guacamole Salsa – p. 42-43
*purchased at Arc’s Value Village Thrift Stores

Thyme in a Bottle by Ingrid Croce (Ingrid is the widow of 70’s singer Jim Croce, composer of Time In A Bottle, Bad, Bad Leroy Brown and more!)
Published by:  CollinsPublishers
© 1998
Recipe:  Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas – p. 207-208

People, this has been some kind of summer, has it not?  First those of us in the Midwest practically froze to death waiting for summer (which did not start until mid-May, if that seeing as how it snowed on May 3rd).  Then the nation roasted under sweltering heat the third week of July (when I made this recipe) when temperatures spiked into the mid-90’s (although high, they were not as high as last year when we broke all kinds of records). It rains, it pours, we’re happy, we’re not.  (Let me just say that on June 21, we experienced a rain storm of monumental proportions, such that I felt like my house had been driven through a car wash. Yikes!)

And then, as per usual, we started our descent into what I consider fall weather – mid 70’s. We are expected to stay at this [freezing cold temperature] weather pattern for a few weeks.  This is all too soon, just too soon.

And so as I do every year when August is rounding the corner, I mourn.  I get nostalgic for those hot days of bright sun, high in the sky, with nary a cloud in sight and when life seems just perfect.  Yes, I know – we have a while to go before summer is officially over but yet let’s not lie to ourselves:  come September 1st, we start putting away our summer clothes and our memories and start shoring up for yet another fall and winter.

To combat the inevitable cool-down, I pulled two books off my shelf, one called (appropriately) The Taste of Summer from which I made a really delicious salsa and Thyme in a Bottle, the title of which is a play on a Jim Croce song from the 70’s, Time In A Bottle; this cookbook was written by his widow, owner of Croce’s Restaurant, Ingrid Croce.  Every year, I always think “If only I could bottle this heat.  If only I could bottle the sun” and of course this year, “If I could save Time In A Bottle…” but just because I can’t but doesn’t mean I cannot get all wistful about the prospect.

 I don’t have much to say about The Taste of Summer as that title just sums if up, but I do have a bit to say, as I always do, about the Thyme In A Bottle cookbook, specifically about the fabulous songs written by the late singer, Jim Croce.

If you were alive in the 70’s and halfway coherent (and by that I mean you weren’t sitting in a baby carriage somewhere), you would have heard some of these famous tunes getting endless air time on the radio:

  • Time In A Bottle – 1972
  • You Don’t Mess Around with Jim – 1972
  • Operator - 1972
  • I’ve Got a Name – 1973
  • Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown – 1973
 My brother became totally enamored with Jim and not only did he play his album (yes, kids – album) over and over but he bought the sheet music to all his songs and spent hours banging out “Leroy Brown” on the piano.  If memory serves, he even played that song for a piano recital one year.  And why wouldn’t he?  Jim Croce was a genius songwriter whose works are still popular, years after he died in a plane crash in 1973.  Time In A Bottle still makes me tear up, to wit:  “If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I’d like to do…is to save every day till eternity passes away…just to spend them with you…” (©1972 James Croce/EMI Music Publishing).  Sniffle.

This walk down Jim Croce lane prompted me to reflect on my life in high school in the 70’s and how odd it was to me that every graduating class from my high school, a very small high school in a very small town, selected a class song, typically from the Top 40’s lineup, that summed up – well, sort of – how we felt about moving into the next phase of our life post-high school.  The class song should never be confused with a school song – that we didn’t have – or the school fight song that we did.  Jim Croce’s “Time In A Bottle” was in contention the year I graduated, 1976, but it lost out to “Brian’s Song” a/k/a “Hands of Time.”  Let’s just say you have not lived until you’ve heard high school boys trying to sing this awfully high song at the commencement ceremony.  (Had this graduation been from my Catholic grade school, rest assured that “Sister” would not have tolerated the mumbling and rumbling from the guys in my class.)

For the record, and because I know you are dying to know, other classes selected the following songs to usher them out the door of William G. Mather H.S.:

1973 – Morning Has Broken by Cat Stevens (now known as Yusuf Islam…I still can’t reconcile that one)
1974 – With a Little Help from My Friends by The Beatles
1975 – We May Never Pass This Way Again by Seals and Crofts (who I saw in concert in college in the fall of 1976.  This concert was a

Out of these three pieces, Morning Has Broken was probably the easiest to sing but the Seals and Crofts tune would have taken top honors in the screechy category had not my class gone with Brian’s Song - yikes, the octaves! (This popular movie theme was written with lyrics but is best remembered as a piano piece - would that my class had remembered that little detail.) 

Other things to note from my high school years were that every class selected a class flower, a class motto, a class poem (1976 only?) and a class color that was always different from the school colors of orange and black - always.  In fact, the yearbooks covers were never orange and black nor did they match the class colors.  I have no idea why that was, it just was.   The yearbook color for the class of 1972 (when I was in 8th grade), for example, was yellow and orange and yet their class colors were purple and white.  Well that makes a whole lot of sense, no?  But then my class should talk—when one graduated in 1976, the Bicentennial Year, one accepted the fact that the class colors (and yearbook cover) were red, white and blue.  (Let me just add that I often summarize this period of time and the use of shall we say “other pharmaceuticals” with the statement “It was the 70’s.”  If you were growing up during that time, then that sentence probably says it all; if you were born much later well then…never mind.)

And so back to the 70’s and to summer and to the cookbook…so Jim Croce died (a very sad event in the music world) and his widow, Ingrid, eventually started a restaurant called, appropriately, Croce’s and then wrote this cookbook filled with recipes from the restaurant as well as a bio of Jim and stories of their life together with their son, A.J.  All the recipes looked good but I was drawn to the Green Chile Chicken Enchilada recipe, primarily because it paired so well with the salsa from the Taste of Summer cookbook.  I also liked her take on the enchiladas as they were stacked, almost like tostadas, and then sprinkled with sauce and cheese and chicken rather than ending up looking like Mexican lasagna (usually over-cheesed and overly goopy) as most modern day enchiladas do (in my opinion).

And so I made these recipes and hummed a few bars of my favorite Jim Croce songs and looked at the temperature (high 80’s) and just enjoyed the moment.  And okay, fine, thought about how to save summer in a bottle.  Maybe next year.

Summer Vegetable Guacamole Salsa – serving size not given
2 large tomatoes (about 1 pound), peeled, seeded, and finely diced
½ medium sweet red pepper, diced (about ½ cup)
½ medium sweet yellow pepper, diced (about ½ cup)
1 large carrot, peeled and diced (about ¾ cup)
½ cup corn kernels (about 1 medium ear)
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley
1 jalapeno chile, seeded and finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1 medium avocado, peeled and cut into ½-inch pieces
(optional) extra cilantro leaves for garnish

Combine all ingredients except the avocado in a medium mixing bowl.  Refrigerate for 1 hour.  Spoon into a serving bowl.  Right before serving add the avocado and taste for seasoning.  Garnish with cilantro leaves and serve with fresh tortilla chips.

The salsa may be prepared up to 4 hours ahead through step 1 and kept in the refrigerator.

Ann’s Note:  This salsa is incredibly fresh and just has “summer” written all over it!

Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas – serves 4
Twelve 6-inch-round blue corn tortillas
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 chicken breast, cooked and shredded
4 tablespoons green onion, chopped
6 tablespoons fresh tomato, diced
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, grated
6 tablespoons sour cream

For the green chile sauce (you will need 1 ¼ cups – the recipe makes 1 ½)
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 tablespoons onion, finely diced
2 green Anaheim chiles, seeded and chopped
1 cup chicken stock or water
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
Salt, to taste
½ chicken breast, cooked and shredded
1 teaspoon roux (if needed) – roux is a mixture of equal parts fat (butter) and flour

To make the enchilada sauce:  heat the olive oil in a large saucepan until hot but not smoking.  Add the onion and sauté lightly.  Add the green chiles, chicken stock or water, and garlic and bring to a boil, stirring frequently.  Remove from the stove and puree in a food processor until smooth.  Put the chile puree back in the saucepan and bring to a boil again.  Season with salt and check the consistency, which should be smooth and creamy.  Stir in the shredded chicken.  Add roux if needed.  Remove from the heat and cool.

Next, assemble the enchiladas: soften the tortillas in a pan with a little hot oil for 30 seconds on each side.  On a baking sheet put 4 stacks of 2 tortillas each.  Put 2 tablespoons of Green Chile Chicken Enchilada Sauce on top of each stack of tortillas.  Next, put half of each of the following: chicken, green onions, tomatoes, cheese, and sour cream.  Place 1 tortilla on top of this mixture, followed by the rest of the chicken and cheese.

Bake in a 350 oven for 8 to 10 minutes until the cheese is melted and bubbly.  Remove from the oven.  Garnish with the green onion, tomatoes and a dollop of sour cream.

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