Tuesday night is date night. It’s the one night when the kids go to Grandma’s house, and we, the kid-less parents, spend the evening searching for the best food our city has to offer.
Our area isn’t exactly known for being the real food capital of the world, or even the Southeast. Finding real food outside of our kitchen is hard. Pinellas County is the land of chain restaurants and stores, which means there’s a processed food option on every corner.
Honestly, as two people who love good food, and care about the quality of that food, it’s a bit depressing at times. I dream about moving to cities with craft-style delis, smoothie shops, and homemade donut shops (I’m thinking about you, Nashville and Portland). But, then again, it’s probably best that I don’t live in an area like that–our bank account would be in major trouble. Talk about temptation!
Anyway, back to date night…
Each year, a local newspaper publishes a top twenty-five restaurant guide. We live for this guide. It’s our go-to guide for date night. Most of the restaurants on the guide are local, and many of them take pride in the quality of their food. As soon as the guide comes out, we carefully read through the choices, take a look at the online menus, and create a plan/list for future date night outings. Essentially, we create a date night game plan each year based on this guide. It’s our goal to try at least one new restaurant a month. Some of these spots become favorites, and others, well…yea, they’re not so great.
At this point, we have a nice, small list of real food-focused restaurants we love to visit. As someone who works in the kitchen, a lot, it’s nice to step into someone else’s “kitchen” for inspiration. And a huge plus is not having a pile of dishes waiting for me (or Dustin) after a meal…talk about a date night mood killer ;).
A few weeks ago, we ventured out to one of the new restaurants on our list, a Mexican-inspired spot in Tampa. The restaurant featured a giant succulent wall and ceiling, which I talked about all night–sorry, Honey. And the menu looked promising, too. How can you go wrong with plantains, black beans, and build-your-own guacamole (a man literally pushed a cart around creating gauc for people).
One of our rules on date night is that we can’t order the same thing. We must try different drinks and dishes. I honestly can’t remember what Dustin ordered, but I remember exactly what I ordered: chicken enchiladas (with a red sauce) and a peach shrub (drink).
Those enchiladas were AMAZING! And yet, they were incredibly simple. They were made with just a tortilla, a house-made enchilada sauce, and shredded chicken and cheese. That’s it.
I’ve been thinking about those enchiladas for weeks now. Weeks! Since we probably won’t get back to the restaurant for a while (it’s a long, traffic-ridden drive for Tuesday night), I knew the solution to ending my enchilada daydreams was to just create a recipe in my kitchen. Today’s recipe is exactly that. Now, if I could just figure out how to recreate that succulent wall…
First, we’re going to start off with a basic enchilada sauce. This is a red sauce made with simple ingredients: a bunch of fragrant and bold spices, tomato paste, a bit of honey to balance the acidic tomatoes and spicy chili powder, broth, and my secret ingredient…diced green chilis. The green chilis provide just the right amount of unique heat and flavor. To thicken the sauce, I use a bit of organic cornstarch and water (no flour in this recipe).
If I’m going to dirty a saucepan and an immersion blender (or a regular blender), I’m definitely going to make the most out of the mess. So the very best part about this recipe is that it creates enough to make two enchilada meals. Since the recipe makes two servings (two enchilada meals), I recommend freezing half the sauce.
Later this week, we’ll pour this sauce over a simple chicken enchilada meal. A meal inspired by our date night adventures.
Homemade Enchilada Sauce
- Heat the oil in a saucepan, over medium heat. Once warm (just a few seconds later), add the spices and stir just for a second. Don't burn the spices--just warm them so they're fragrant. Then, whisk in the honey, tomato paste, broth, and green chilis.
- Bring the sauce to a slight boil (doesn't need to be a rapid or continuous boil). While you're waiting, in a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and water.
- Once the sauce begins to bubble on the sides, whisk in the cornstarch and water mixture. Cook the sauce, over medium heat, for another 2 minutes--just to allow the cornstarch to thicken a bit.
- Using an immersion blender, blend the sauce. Alternatively, you could use a blender--just be careful when blending warm liquids in a blender. If you're not using green chilis (see recipe notes), you may skip the step.
- Use the sauce to make enchiladas (this recipe makes enough for two enchilada meals--based on the recipe I'll share later in the week). Or, once the sauce is cool, pour the sauce in a storage jar and keep it in the fridge for a few days (about 3-4 days). I like to use half the sauce to make enchiladas, and freeze the other half for later.