Veggie Enchilada Casserole


Veggie Enchilada Casserole!

Ring in the new year on a saucy note with a spicy vegetable enchilada casserole. Stuffed with black beans, corn, potatoes, and Colby Jack cheese, then topped with a rich tomato-based sauce that has a good bite from chopped green chilies – this dish is perfect for those who are busy entertaining during the holidays. And it pairs well with beer, red wine, and even a decent champagne or sparkling wine. What more do you need?

The best part? You can make the sauce a few days in advance, freeze it, and then you are left with only 25 minutes of prep time and a half hour of cooking time. Great food in under an hour!

For the sauce:

Put the following ingredients in a stock pot, stir, and then apply enough heat to simmer for twenty minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking on the bottom of the pan. Let cool, then transfer to a blender or food processor. Blend until you have a nice smooth sauce. Store in the freezer until you are ready to make the enchiladas. On the day you make them, thaw the sauce either in a microwave oven or in a sauce pan on the stove top. Bring it back to a simmer, then you are ready to go!

2 cups of vegetable broth

1 can of diced tomatoes

1 can of tomato sauce

2 small cans of chopped green chilies

1 small can of tomato paste

4 cloves minced garlic

1 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon cumin

1 teaspoon onion powder

For the enchiladas:

4 medium Russet potatoes, diced into pieces a little smaller than, well, you know, dice.

A few dashes of olive oil

1 can of cooked black beans

1 can yellow corn

16 ounces of shredded Colby Jack cheese. Vegan option: any nondairy variety such as Daiya-brand Jack cheese will do!

12 corn tortillas (six inch diameter) or 6 flour tortillas (twelve inch diameter)

Optional: sour cream for the final topping. Vegan option: try Vegan Gourmet nondairy sour cream!


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. You will also need a fairly large saute pan, a 13 x 9 inch casserole dish, and a dinner plate.

1. Saute the diced potatoes with the olive oil until the potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes. While they are cooking, check to see if your sauce is hot yet, and then get the rest of your mis en plas. Once the potatoes are done, remove from heat. You are ready to assemble the enchiladas!

2. If you are using the twelve-inch flour tortillas, cut in half. This will help the enchiladas fit in the casserole dish.

3. Put a few spoonfuls of sauce in the casserole dish. Spread evenly on the bottom of the dish. You don’t need much; you just want a barrier between the tortilla and the dish surface.

4. Place a tortilla on the dinner plate. Coat the tortilla with a thin spread of sauce, then spoon on some potato, black beans, and corn. Finish the filling with a sprinkle or two of shredded cheese.

5. Roll up the tortilla, being careful to keep as much of the filling inside the enchilada as possible. Place it in the casserole dish. Repeat until you have used all of your tortillas.

6. Drizzle more sauce on the enchiladas. You can also add any leftover potatoes, black beans, and/or corn. Finally, top with the remaining shredded cheese.

7. Bake in your preheated oven for 30 minutes.

Serve topped with a dollop of sour cream. This dish works well alone or with added side dishes such as rice, stir fried green beans, or both. And don’t forget your beverages!

Buen provecho, mis amigos!


The whole enchilada!

The whole enchilada!









Cross Keys Vineyard – just in time!

Cross Keys Vineyard comes through!

Cross Keys Vineyard comes through!

Taking a short break from the throes of Nanowrimo to bring you this important message:

Virginia produces some very nice wine.

There, I said it. And I’ll even give all the purists who think good wine can only come from France, or at worst – California, some time to regroup. Take a seat. It’ll be alright.

What is the current fad? Oh, yes. Stay Calm and Drink Wine? Well we are in luck! Our quarterly shipment of wine just arrived from Cross Keys Vineyard, an awesome little winery located in the northwestern part of the Commonwealth, hidden among the shadows of the Massanutten Resort and the Shenandoah Mountains.

Today’s assortment included a Meritage, a Merlot, and a Fiore, which is fairly new to their fleet of award winning wines. To quote from their website, the Meritage is a blend of Cab, Merlot, and Petit Verdot, aged 15 months in oak barrels. The Merlot is just that, a fine Merlot that, like the Meritage is aged in both French and American oak barrels. The Fiore is an off-dry rosé, blended with Cab, Merlot and Pinot Noir. It is very light, “crispy” as they say, and one of my new favorites. I would give you fancy descriptions along the lines of this wine reminds me of springtime in my mouth, with just a hint of clover, blueberries, and fresh mountain air. But instead, I’ll give you the layman’s version: they are pretty darned good! Not too stuffy, yet packing just enough punch to remind you they have some moxie.

Yes, I used the word moxie. Either you have it or you don’t. And these wines have it in buckets.

Eleven wines are in production at present, and I like most of them. The Tavern? If you like port then you have a winner. Since it was not selected for the wine club shipment this time, I may just have to go online and buy one, or two.

Cross Keys, in comparison to other wineries, is a new entrant, planting the first vines only in 2001. But the key to their success is the dedication of the Bakhtiar family, and the superb vintners and staff who make the magic happen each year. And again, I send them our thanks.

Bonus: Now I know what’s for dinner!

And if you are ever in their neighborhood, stop by for a tasting and a tour. Cross Keys is Virginia’s little bit of the Mediterranean, found just outside of Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Try it!



Did you know Virginia has good wine?


Cross Keys Vineyard

I have blogged about a few of our vineyards in the past and after a recent visit to Cross Keys Vineyard up in the Shenandoah Mountains, I feel it is high time to blog about them again.

First, let’s get through the obligatory disclaimers. There’s a whole post about this, but let me summarize: I receive no compensation, no remuneration, no kickbacks, no swag, no nothing for blogging about commercial establishments. If I recommend it, that means I would take my in-laws there. If the product or place is less than good, I usually give it another try at a later date, then if it’s still bad, I just won’t talk much about it. Like mom said…if you can’t say something good, don’t say anything at all.

Back to the Cross Keys. Located near Harrisonburg, VA, this is a relatively new winery. They have tours and tastings, all led by knowledgeable staff. It’s still a small operation, so the tour didn’t take too long, which was fine with us since that put us closer to the tasting. Also, as the many weddings scheduled will attest, the Mediterranean style architecture is something to behold!

I had the “Reds” tasting and my lovely wife tried many of the white wines. You could also do a full tasting and sample everything. Your choice. It was at this point that I realized that the owners had hired two excellent vintners, one from Cognac, France and one from South Africa. This is not what I expected to find in the middle of the Virginia highlands. The whole experience was like stumbling upon a great microbrewery; this being great wine that only a handful of people have tasted. This wine is now at the top of my wishlist. We ended up taking a six-pack with us. I’ll probably join their wine club eventually in order to receive four deliveries a year.

Deliveries? Why yes. Remember when I said this was a small operation? Cross Keys only produces 3,000 cases a year. They supply wine to a few local restaurants and sell the rest to people who take the tour or join the club.

As for the wines, like I said, I tried the reds. The favorite of everyone on the tour was the “Tavern.” Almost a port, this red wine has brandy added. If only this could have been the grog served at all of those Marine Corps Mess Nights…

For an every day red, I prefer the “Joy” red. Named after one of the neighbors (and isn’t that a great concept?!) Joy red is slightly fruity but not too dry. You can’t go wrong with this wine; even non-wine drinkers will like it.

For those with more sophisticated palates, you might try the Petit Verdot. On the white wine side of life, my wife chose the Chardonnay. And she doesn’t really drink wine so that should tell you something.

Now I know there are well over 100 wineries in Virginia, and there are people out there trying to visit all of them. That’s not me. But I will say this…

If you find yourself up in Harrisonburg, Virginia, perhaps at the Massanutten Resort or at James Madison University, take an hour out of your day and go visit the Cross Keys Vineyard

And don’t forget to try the “Tavern!”


Looking south from Reddish Knob on Shenandoah ...

The Shenandoah Mtns. - Perfect Climate for Grapes!

Heart Healthy and Tasty, too!


Emma Pearl Merlot, 2009

The problem with cooking good-tasting food is that it gets eaten before anyone can get a decent photo! Fortunately, my intrepid (and future Pulitzer winning) pho-tog, Emma, had already taken a photo of the wine – an integral part of this heart-healthy dinner.

Easy to cook, not too time intensive, and definitely tasty – try this sometime!

1 cup long grained rice
2 cups water

3 – 4 serving sized fresh salmon fillets (wild caught preferred)
4 dashes of lemon juice
2 ounces of light brown sugar
2-3 ounces of lite soy sauce, just enough to dissolve the brown sugar

3-4 head of fresh broccoli
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic


Steamed Rice
– Okay, this is easy if you use a rice cooker. Just follow the directions. If you don’t have a rice cooker, then go get one! I use a Black & Decker model (see disclaimer post) that costs $11. That’s two trips to Starbucks. Just do it!

When the rice has about 15 minutes to go…

Grilled Salmon
– Dribble the lemon juice on the salmon fillets
– In a bowl, mix brown sugar with soy sauce. Dribble some on the fish.
– Spray some non-stick cooking spray into a skillet, then begin to heat skillet on the stovetop, set to medium high.
– Carefully place the salmon in a the heated skillet, skin side down. Cook for about 8 minutes or so.

Okay, while the salmon is cooking for that 8 minutes…

Stir Fried Broccoli
– Heat up a sauce pan, add some Olive Oil once the pan is noticeably warm.
– Add some fresh broccoli, chopped to a size of your preference.
– Stir in a little minced garlic (you can never have too much garlic!)
– Stir.
– Don’t burn the broccoli, you may need to reduce heat.

By now, the salmon has cooked for those 8 minutes…

– Flip the salmon; cook for a minute – just enough to sear the top.
– Flip the salmon back onto the skin side. Add a little more of the brown sugar-soy sauce marinade.
– Cook until salmon is flaky. It probably won’t take too long.

If everything works out as planned…

– The salmon will be done when…
– The broccoli is hot, dark green, and still al dente, and…
– The rice cooker “dings!”

Pairs very well with a glass of red wine. I used a nice Merlot, shown above!

Great taste and great for Heart Health, too!


Snowed In


Snow smacks the Eastern Shore of Virginia

The snow started falling last night, which was technically still December 25th, so I guess we can say we did, indeed have a white Christmas on the Eastern Shore.
The good news – we have plenty of food. Leftover salmon from our Asian-Pacific themed holiday dinner (did I tell you we almost never have “normal” meals?) along with deli turkey, Havarti cheese and some nice Boule. Given that Santa gave me three bottles of wine, all is not lost.
The bad news – the main road is clear, as is the bridge leading back to Virginia Beach, but farm roads like ours are still covered with snow. I would try to traverse them tomorrow to get to work, but the farmers dig deep ditches alongside the country roads to keep people from driving into their fields. Now those trenches are filled with snow, so you won’t know that you are driving into one until…well, you get the picture.
Once I do get back to the mainland, I have a culinary plan.

Turkey Chili.

Stand by. It’ll be good. Perfect for the cold days of Winter.

New look – new food adventures!


So I was at work today, in the maw of the cube farm machine, when a nice lady asked me “How was your Fourth of July?” We had just returned from a long weekend off and most of my fellow gray partition warriors were hard at work, already trying to determine when the next long weekend would occur. I looked up from my computer screen and realized that yes, she was, indeed, talking to me.

“Why, I had a great time. We watched a parade and some fireworks on the Eastern Shore…”

Then came the reply.

“Eastern Shore? Now where *is* that, exactly?”


I explained that if she drove down the road for about 15 minutes, she would come to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. “The land on the other side of that bridge…is the Eastern Shore.”

“I never knew that” she replied.

That is when I knew it was time to give Exploding Potatoes a specific mission: Explore the Eastern Shore of Virginia and give a weekly report of my culinary adventures.

Trust me…it will be worth the toll…

Stay tuned.

Baconfest 2010 – Bacon Pimento Cheese Burgers (with a twist)


The Bacon Pimento Cheese Burger

The snow has pretty much stopped falling, but the temperature has continued its downward slide, causing the streets to become slick with ice. My fellow drivers in Virginia Beach are skill-challenged enough in good weather – poor conditions just bring out the best of the worst. Time to light a fire in the fireplace and enjoy a hearty meal of traditional modern American fare: the cheeseburger.

Zingerman’s (remember, this is a baconfest based on the book, Zingerman’s Guide to Better Bacon,) has a recipe for homemade pimento cheese. Where’s the pig, you ask? On top of the pimento cheese burger, of course. I added a few things to spice the burger up a little, but the pimento cheese recipe is straight from the book. My esteemed photographer, Mr. Roostre, had one and he loved it, too! Try this recipe and you’ll never go back to golden arches again. And is that such a bad thing? Really. Have you seen the movie Super Size Me?

Pimento Cheese
8 oz. Sharp Cheddar Cheese, shredded
1 cup mayonnaise (use real mayo, not “salad dressing””)
1/2 cup roasted red pepper, diced into small little squares
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon Cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
dash of sea salt

Directions (you’ll love this…)
Mix well.
Eat. Make sure you save some for the burgers!

The Burger
8 oz. ground beef – use good quality beef, don’t go for anything too lean.
1 teaspoon minced garlic mixed into the beef – this is the twist!
Black pepper, put on both sides of the patty as it cooks
– cook the patty until it reaches an internal temperature of 160 degrees.

2 slices bacon, cooked separately, until crispy

1 slice tomato
lettuce (optional)

Putting it all together – from the bottom to the top:
Lower bun
Cooked beef patty
Pimento cheese – the heat from the burger will warm it up just enough!
Top of bun

The cayenne comes through but is very unobtrusive. Just the right amount of zing.

Perfect for a snowy, Winter night. Pairs well with a glass of Cabernet Franc from the Chatham Winery on the Eastern Shore. I put a link to the winery over on the side – check it out!

The problem is not with your set…


If all had gone according to plan, you would be seeing a photo of coriander basil spiced kielbasa, served with garlic oven-roasted potatoes and peas, corn and carrots that were sautéed in butter. The perfect comfort food for a night like tonight, where the temperature has dropped into the low 30’s (F) and the wind is kickin’ strong enough that crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel would be an experience you don’t want to remember. If only the camera had worked…

So instead, let me talk about our department holiday dinner a few night’s ago.  It was an awesome time at a well-kept secret in Norfolk, Virginia (maybe I shouldn’t mention it, then?)  Anyhow, if you find yourself in the Ghent area of Norfolk, specifically on Colley Avenue, check out Enrico’s.  It’s a family owned/operated Greek and Italian restaurant that looks kinda iffy on the outside but well worth the time to go inside.

The interior reminded one of our party of a classic bar from the thirties. Dark, rich tones; a certain earthiness. We had the back area to ourselves, cordoned off by a semi-transparent curtain that kept us separated yet still connected to the rest of the cafe. It was a nice touch that owner’s John and Maggie Tsouris decorated the elevated dining area with framed prints of Virginia Opera posters.

The menu had a little bit of Greece and a little bit more of Italy, all cooked with home recipes that I would guess have been in the Tsouris family for years. With 15 of us, we probably ordered over half the menu, including four fabulous chef’s specials.  First, however, we started our culinary adventure with appetizers. The hummas with pita and the dolmades were excellent. To be fair, not all of my dinner companions were “into” Greek food but in the end there were no appetizers left on the plates.  That should say something!

For an entree, three of us had the Souvlaki, tender pork loin grilled to medium on skewers, set on rice pilaf, surrounded by feta cheese and Greek olives. An eerie quiet descended upon our end of the table as we three lucky diners squelched our conversation in order to scarf the perfectly cooked pork. I don’t recall hearing much being said by the other dozen of us, either, so the grilled shrimp limone and all his friends must have been equally as astounding.

While not really a wine aficionado, I will say that Enrico’s wine list was just as popular as the menu. There were the obligatory bottles of Merlot (Aussie wine – Penfold as I recall) and Cabernet (Chilean.) The surprise hit, however was a Greek wine from John’s family hometown in Greece. A nice red wine, Amplelou gris red was the favorite of the night. We also noticed that, for whatever reason, there were no French wines on the list. Hmmm…no one complained.

Now, for those of you who have worked in the food service arena, you will know that no matter how good the food, the experience can be negated by poor service. Fortunately, our server matched the quality of the menu. She handled our party of 15 with a calm yet humorous demeanor. She not only knew the basic components of the four specials, she also knew how they were seasoned and cooked. This was not a $2.13 an hour “associate” who gets graded on how much flair they have pinned to their ballcap; no, our server was what we all hope for when we go out to spend our hard-earned pennies on dinner: pleasant, helpful and accurate. I heard numerous kudos being given by my companions, and I would bet those comments were not just said, they were meant.

John and Maggie Tsouris have a hit on their hands. Not too expensive, make Enrico’s Ristorante a stop on your next culinary excursion. Don’t forget to save room for dessert.  We were too full to have it!

Happy eating!  Oh yes, anyone have a good camera that needs a good home???

Chicken Pesto Pizza

chicken pesto pizza

This was awesome!

Thank goodness I live on a street that looks dreadful enough at night that wayward Halloween characters always stay away.  Keeps the puppies from going crazy, which in turn keeps me from going crazy. Man, that’s a benefit that Carlos the Realtor never mentioned, so I guess I should buy him a coffee the next time I see him.  (Hmmm…maybe I should let him remind me of this post; it’ll show that someone actually reads this blog.)

But enough about me, let’s talk chicken pesto pizza.

I use a pizza dough recipe from Wolfgang Puck. Makes 4 small, 2 medium, or 1 big pizza.

3 C. Flour

1 tsp salt

1 TBspn honey

2 TBspn Olive Oil

3/4 C. cool water

1 package dry yeast

1/4 C. warm water (100 – 110 degrees)

1.  Combine salt, honey, olive oil, 3/4 cup cool water in a small bowl. Mix well.

2.  Dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water. Use a thermometer to ensure temp is no higher than 110. Let sit for 10 minutes.

3.  Put the 3 cups of flour into a large bowl or on a large counter or cutting board.  Create the classic volcano, complete with crater.  This will come in handy.

4.  Pour the yeast into the other liquid ingredients. Mix gently.

5.  Pour the liquid into the crater and start mixing.  If it’s too sticky, add a touch of flour, but not too much.

6.  Once the dough has started to become a single mass, turn it out onto a flour-dusted counter or cutting board and start kneading.

7. With the dough ball now smooth, put it into a buttered bowl, Cover with a towel and let rest 30 minutes.

8.  Punch down, roll into a tight ball.  Divide into smaller balls if making small or medium pizzas. Lightly dust with some cooking spray and cover with film (Saran Wrap.)

9.  Refrigerate dough until one hour prior to use. Let dough raise to room temperature.

10.  Using whatever technique you dare, shape into pizza. Being of German descent, I lack “tossing skills” so I put the dough ball on a pizza pan and used my French rolling pin to spread the dough out.

11.  No matter how you did it, if your dough is in the shape of a pizza, you have almost succeeded. You must now “dock” the crust. Take a fork and stab the pizza, creating little holes all over the disk.  This will help steam escape during baking.  Makes for a much better crust.

Back at the ranch…

1/2 to 1 baked chicken breast, chopped up into small peices.

3 – 6 TBsp pesto (amount depends on how much chicken you use)

Mozzarella cheese

Parmesan cheese

Artichoke hearts (get the stuff already prepared and marinated in oil; sold in little jars)

1/2 red onion, sliced

2 – 3 TBSpn Olive oil

2 cloves garlic

So here’s how it all works:

Take 2 cloves of garlic.  Press them, putting the meat into a small glass bowl.  Add 2 – 3 TBspn Olive Oil.  Let steep while prepping everything else.

Shred enough mozzarella to cover the size pizza you have chosen. Shred about 1/4 of that amount of Parmesan.

Coat the chicken with the pesto.

Assembly time:

Cover the dough with the shredded mozzarella and Parmesan cheese.

Evenly distribute the pesto-chicken and red onion.

Add artichoke hearts to taste.

Drizzle the garlic-olive oil over the entire disk.

Add a bit more cheese if you want.  You really can’t have too much, in my opinion.

Bake on a stone or a circular pizza pan at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until crust done and cheese melted.

Serve with a good glass of wine.  I always recommend the Merlot from the Williamsburg Winery in Virginia.