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Chicken Enchiladas and Fond Birthday Dinner Memories

I don’t know about you, but, for me, the most difficult part of preparing meals for my family is deciding what I am going to make. Once I’ve decided on the menu, making the shopping list, going to the market, and cooking the meal are a piece of cake.

I often ask my husband, “What are you hungry for this week?” He smiles and says, “Whatever you want to make is fine with me.”

I growl and mumble under my breath, “Grr. Help me out here. Give me some ideas.” Well, finally, this week, he made a request—Chicken Enchiladas with a Tomatillo Sauce—which my family think is one of the best recipes in my cookbook. I have made this recipe dozens of times and making it again this week brought back fond memories.

My daughter, Jenny, always requests this recipe for her birthday dinner. When my granddaughter, Aliyah, was about four years old, I took her with me to the grocery store to purchase ingredients for her mother’s birthday dinner. After we finished shopping, she looked up at me and asked, “So what kind of party is mommy having?”

“A birthday party,” I said.

“No what kind of birthday? Sponge Bob? Princess? Sesame Street.”

“Mommy is an adult. She doesn’t have theme parties.”

“Well, she should,” Aliyah stomped her feet in determination. “She should have a princess party.”

I thought for a while and said, “Okay, a princess party it is.” Aliyah and I went to the party store and purchased matching plates, cups, napkins, blowers, loot bags, party favors, balloons, party hats, and even a piñata and a crown for her mother. We spent hours filling the piñata with candy and hanging up crepe paper streamers. Besides the piñata, the most enjoyable part of the evening was seeing the surprised look on my daughter’s face when walked into her princess party. Ever since that day, we always go all out—we have a theme party no matter what the age of the birthday person. Birthdays are special days—they honor the day an extraordinary person comes into the world. Thank you to my husband for requesting this for dinner and allowing me to reminisce about theme parties for adults.

What are your family’s favorite birthday recipes? What are your fond memories?

Chicken Enchiladas with a Tomatillo Sauce Serves 6

Tips on making this recipe: Getting good quality tomatillos is difficult. I always purchase a few extra just in case. If part of the tomatillo has started to deteriorate and part of it is still good, don’t throw the whole tomatillo away. Just discard the portion that is past its prime. Extra tomatillos will not change the taste or texture of this sauce.

For the Tomatillo Sauce:

2 dozen tomatillos, husked 8 jalapeño peppers, stems removed and seeded 3 cups canned chicken broth 2 tablespoons cornstarch 1 to 2 tablespoons water 1 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped In a large saucepan, boil tomatillos and jalapeño peppers in chicken broth over medium-high heat for 7 to 10 minutes. Dissolve cornstarch in 1 to 2 tablespoons of cold water to form a smooth paste. Add cornstarch paste to the boiling mixture along with salt and cilantro. Boil sauce for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove sauce from the heat, cool slightly, and purée in a blender until smooth. Makes enough sauce for 6 enchiladas. For the Filling:

½ cup half-and-half 8 ounces cream cheese, softened 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and shredded ¾ cup finely chopped onion ½ teaspoon salt Beat half-and-half and cream cheese until smooth. Add chicken, onion, and salt to the mixture and blend well. For the enchiladas: 6 burrito-size flour tortillas 1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese 1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese For the garnishes: Crumbled queso fresco cheese Shredded lettuce Chopped tomatoes Sour cream Guacamole Salsa

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spoon a thin layer of tomatillo sauce into a greased 9 X 13-inch baking dish. Spread each tortilla with a thin layer of tomatillo sauce. Put one-sixth of the chicken mixture down the center of the tortilla, roll tortilla, and place seam side down in the baking dish. Spoon remaining tomatillo sauce over tortillas. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes, or until tomatillo sauce bubbles. Remove the foil, sprinkle with Cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, and continue to bake until cheese is melted. Serve with desired garnishes and any remaining tomatillo sauce.

Shopping for Tomatillos: Choose firm, dry tomatillos that fit tightly into their husks. Check to be sure the husks are dry to the touch. Underneath the husk, a tomatillo should be green, which is an indication it is not totally ripe—its preferred state. Do not buy sticky or yellow tomatillos. Storing Tomatillos: If kept in their husks, placed in a paper bag, and refrigerated, tomatillos will keep up to 1 month.

Shopping for jalapeños: Select firm, plump chiles with shiny skin and a fresh smell. Do not buy wrinkled or soft chiles. Also, if the skin is mushy towards the stem end, or if the skin is soft, or brown, the chile will be inferior.

Storing jalapeños: Refrigerate in plastic bags for up to 1 week.

Shopping for cilantro: These leaves have a lively, pungent fragrance, which some describe as a mix of orange and sage. Cilantro is the name given to the lacy, green leaves of the coriander plant and is best purchased fresh. Select leaves with a bright, even color with no sign of wilting or yellowing.

Storing cilantro: Cilantro will keep 1 week in a plastic bag when refrigerated. To help prolong the life of cilantro, place it in a glass of water, stems down, cover with a plastic bag, secure the glass with a rubber band, and refrigerate. Change the water every two days.

Shopping for onions: Onions should be dry, firm, and shiny with a thin outer skin. Do not buy onions that have sprouts. They will taste bitter. The neck of an onion should be tightly closed. Do not buy onions that have dark patches, soft spots, or black mold. Storing onion: Onions should be stored in a cool, dark, dry, well-ventilated place. Do not store onions and potatoes together. Potatoes give off moisture that can cause onions to spoil. Shopping for chicken: Chicken should feel cold to the touch when it’s in the supermarket cooler. Grocery stores do from time to time have trouble with refrigeration, so never purchase a chicken that feels warm. Always check dates on packages. If the chicken has reached its “Sell-By” date, cook or freeze it that same day. Never purchase product that has passed its “Sell-By” date.

Storing chicken: After purchasing, go directly home and put your chicken immediately into the refrigerator. If you’ve purchased fresh chicken, it is best to use it within 1 to 2 days.

Carol Ann

Carol Ann Kates is the award-winning author of cookbook, Secret Recipes from the Corner Market and Insider Grocery Shopping Secrets. She’s an expert in how to shop, select, and store produce for maximizing home cooking outcomes and minimizing time and money spent. As a former supermarket and deli operator, Carol Ann shares grocery-insider wisdom—the same expertise you used to receive when patronizing a mom-and-pop establishment. Contact her at and explore her website,

Copyright 2021 All Rights Reserved Carol Ann Kates

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