Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m all about eves. I like the days and nights before something’s going to happen – the anticipation, the planning and the ongoing discussion and preparation of food, food and more food.
I can’t exactly pinpoint when “eves” became so important to me, but I think I’ve narrowed it down to one day late in November when I was eight years old, and my family had just moved from Washington, DC to California. I found my mother, an avid cook and “armchair” traveler, sitting on the floor in the kitchen, scouring her December issues of Gourmet and Sunset magazines, looking for ideas for our family’s first Christmas Eve party on the West coast. She was turning pages and muttering, “What could I possibly serve when it’s sunny and 70 degrees? It just doesn’t feel very Christmas-y.”
Note: The Christmas night dinner menu was non-negotiable–Roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, green beans and persimmon pudding. Mom tried to change the menu one year, but was met with so much resistence from family members that she went back (and still goes back) to the same menu. The Christmas Eve meal, however, was fair game.
So back to the kitchen and my mother. Ever the multi-tasker, even before that word existed, my mother is a fan of the one dish casserole that can be prepared the night before and popped into the oven just before guests arrive, so that she can actually enjoy the evening and spend time with family and friends, rather than be trapped back in the kitchen. She’s just opened Sunset’s Mexican Cookbook and is eyeing the chicken enchiladas and guacamole recipes.
Almost on cue, I scream, “A Mexican Christmas,” and race out of the room, returning seconds later with my favorite book, Nine Days to Christmas,” a story about a little girl’s first Christmas posada (a festival celebrating Mary and Joseph’s search for lodging) and pinata in a small town in Mexico. My mother smiles like the Grinch contemplating Whoville, and so begins the mad dash to Christmas Eve dinner preparations.
So now the theme and the menu are set: chicken enchiladas, a green and red salad made with avocados and a chili-lime vinaigrette, tortillas, homemade salsa and guacamole, margaritas for the adults, hot cocoa (made with a touch of cinnamon) for the kids, sugary churros and a flourless chocolate cake.
And of course, there’s the pinata. The weekend before Christmas, my sisters and I work to recreate the book’s large golden star with tassles – using newspaper, tissue paper and the inevitable liquid starch to hold it all together. We worked a full day, allowing the pinata to dry for 48 hours before filling it to the brim with small candies, toys and coins.
Christmas Eve finally arrives. The house is filled with the smell of herbs and spices, and my hands are stinging from grating chiles. The buffet table has been set with large wooden candle sticks and a colorful runner that looks like a Mexican blanket. And my dad has hung the pinata outside from a large oak tree (far away anything breakable), where in just a few hours, we will break it open, blind-folded, with tennis rackets. My parents are in their bedroom getting dressed.
And I’m sitting on the outside steps – wearing my embroidered purple Mexican blouse, taking it all in with a happy sigh, waiting for everything to start.
Do you celebrate any “eves”? If so, what is your eve tradition? Tell us in the comments.
Green Chile Chicken Enchiladas Recipe from The Sunset Cookbook
Makes: 10 enchiladas; 5 servings
Time: 50 minutes
1 lb. roasted, skin-on green New Mexico, Poblano, or Anaheim chiles (see Quick Tips below)
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. butter
5 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth, divided
10 corn tortillas (7 to 8 in. wide)
2 cups coarsely shredded cheddar or jack cheese, divided
2½ cups shredded cooked chicken (see Quick Tips below)
1. Preheat oven to 400°. Peel, seed, and chop chiles.
2. Heat oil and butter in a large frying pan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add chiles, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, 3 minutes. Add 1 cup broth and simmer until reduced by a third, about 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, prepare tortillas: In a small frying pan, bring remaining 2 cups broth to a gentle simmer. Very briefly dip a tortilla into broth to barely soften, then transfer it to a large baking sheet; repeat with remaining tortillas (you may need two or three baking sheets). Do not overlap or tortillas will stick.
4. Divide 1¼ cups cheese among tortillas and top each with the shredded chicken. Wrap tortilla around filling and transfer, seam side down, to a 9- by 13-in. baking dish.
5. Pour chile sauce over enchiladas and top with remaining 3⁄4 cup cheese. Bake until cheese is bubbling and browned, 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with sour cream.
Quick Tips: Order fresh or frozen New Mexico chiles from the New Mexican Connection (newmexicanconnection.com). Or, to roast them yourself, broil the chiles until blackened all over; let sit until cool, then peel off skin with the help of a paper towel (don’t wash it off; rinsing dilutes the flavor). For the chicken, you’ll need about half the meat from a roasted 2½ – to 3-lb. bird.
Make ahead: Up to 1 month, frozen.
Per 2-enchilada serving: 526 cal., 50% (261 cal.) from fat; 32 g protein; 29 g fat (13 g sat.); 38 g carbs (4.2 g fiber); 1,402 mg sodium; 117 mg chol.