Friday, February 17, 2012

An Evening at the Rio Grande: Spectacular Spinach Enchiladas

A couple of weeks ago the blogger group I belong to was invited to a dinner at the Rio Grande restaurant in downtown Denver.  Hosted by Owner, Pat McGaughran; CEO, Jason Barrett; and Food and Beverage Director, Steve Richter, they wanted to unveil some of their dishes from their new and improved menu and were hoping that we’d help spread the word to our readers.

Pat McGaughran started the evening off by giving us a little history of the restaurant.  He explained that he started his business back in 1986 with two of his childhood friends from Houston.  After wandering around the US, Mexico and Central America the three of them found themselves sleeping on the floor in the apartment of one of their big sisters who was a college student at Colorado State in Fort Collins.

After a while she tired of their company and basically told them to get a haircut and get a real job (or something like that).  Faced with the reality of adulthood, they did what many of us only dream of; they started making margaritas and Mexican food and selling them.  And sell them they did.  Long story short, a bazillion margaritas later, there are now six locations across Colorado. 

Although proud of their reputation for serving some of the best margaritas in Colorado, they would now like to expand this reputation to their food.   For 2012 they have assembled new culinary talent, sourced better ingredients and refined recipes in an effort to give their customers the best from scratch food around.

Now I have to be honest here and tell you I’ve had some really poor Mexican food since moving to Colorado from Texas.  We often say that the only thing that we can count on is being disappointed when looking for a decent cheese enchilada in this state.  Well, no more.  After mentioning that this is my personal litmus test of any Mexican restaurant, I was presented with a delicious cheesy enchilada doused in a rich brownish red enchilada sauce.  Mmmmm, just like Houston.  First test passed.

Our tasting then continued with a spicy and fresh Shrimp Diabla, which was perfectly cooked shrimp in a fiery chile de arbol sauce, which I must say goes quite nicely with one (or two) of their fruity frozen strawberry margaritas. We were then presented with a crispy salad selection with a variety of dressings, fresh from scratch guacamole, tender locally sourced beef fajitas, hand-pressed homemade tortillas and hot and cheesy chile con queso so good that even my 17 year old chile con queso snob of a son would love it.  I know that we were served more, but by this time my second margarita was kicking in and it was all a blur from that point on . . . until dessert.

As if I needed to stuff myself with anything more, I couldn’t resist dipping my spoon into their chocolate crème brulee which, after cracking through the crisp sugary layer, yielded a smooth and creamy, chocolaty custard with just a hint of ancho chile.  By this time I was so full that I could only manage to humor my hosts by taking a couple of bites of my usual favorite, sopapillas.  The Rio’s sopapillas are made from some of their fresh dough fried and served with honey.  Sometimes the simpliest things are the best, especially when they are served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

So, if you find yourself in the beautiful state of Colorado and you have a craving for some wonderful Mexican food, give the Rio Grande a try; or if it’s been awhile since you’ve visited one of their locations, be sure to stop by and check out their new menu items.  Oh yeah, I’m sure I don’t need to remind you but I will anyway, be sure to have one of those famous margaritas while you're there.

Since I have a policy of always adding a recipe at the end of my posts, the Rio was good enough to give me their recipe for their DELICIOUS spinach enchiladas.  I just love the addition of yellow squash.  It really adds a pleasant texture to a dish that sometimes needs just that little added something.  One other note, this calls for 10 enchiladas containing 1/2 cup of the filling.  This makes a really super fat enchilada so this recipe could easily be stretched to make 14 - 16 enchiladas.

Rio Grande’s Spinach Enchiladas

10 - 16 corn tortillas
5 cups spinach mix (recipe follows)
4 cups tomatillo sauce (recipe follows)
8 ounces jack cheese, shredded (I used pepper jack)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat corn tortillas on a hot griddle; quickly top each tortilla with 1/2 cup of the spinach mix.  Roll the filled tortilla and place in a greased 15 x 10” baking dish.  Repeat with the remaining tortillas and spinach mix.

Cover the enchiladas evenly with the tomatillo sauce, working quickly so that the tortillas do not dry out and split.
Sprinkle all of the cheese over the enchiladas and bake for 15 minutes.  After 15 minutes, turn the oven to broil and watching closely, brown the cheese.  Serve immediately.

Spinach Mix:
3 cups diced yellow squash (about 3 medium size squash)
3 cups red onion (1 very large onion)
1 tablespoon chopped garlic (about 3 large cloves)
2 pounds fresh spinach
1/2 cup vegetable oil (this could be reduced to 1/3 cup if you want)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3/4 pound cream cheese, cut into 1” cubes and softened to room temperature

Cut squash and red onions into 1/2" cubes; set aside.

Heat oil in a large stock pot over medium heat; add the squash and onions to the hot oil and sauté until they are slightly softened (about 4 – 6 minutes).  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute longer before adding the spinach (I had to add my spinach in batches because my pot wasn't big enough to fit all of it in at once.  This worked great just stir it well before and after each addition).  Mix well, cover and reduce heat slightly; cook for approximately 2 minutes or until the spinach turns a bright green.

Remove the mixture from the heat and add the cubed cream cheese, mixing gently until it is dissolved and the mixture resembles spinach dip.
Tomatillo Sauce:
Ok, I’m going to be honest with you guys from the start.  I had full intentions of making this from scratch like they do at the Rio, but the tomatillos at my local supermarket were very small, hard as rocks and super expensive.  To be quite honest, I landed up buying a 16 ounce jar of prepared salsa verde and mixing it with the sour cream to make my sauce.  I am happy to report that it was very good.  So if you have a hard time finding tomatillos, use this as your Plan B.

2 – 1/2 pounds tomatillos
3 – 4 jalapenos
1 cup diced onions
1/2 tablespoon salt
1 ounce cilantro
1/2 tablespoon minced garlic
1 – 3/4 cups sour cream

Roast the tomatillos in a hot 350 – 400 degree oven until they turn an olive color (10 – 15 minutes).  Cool them to room temperature.  Add all the ingredients except the sour cream into the blender and mix thoroughly. 

In a mixing­­­­­­­­ bowl place the blended tomatillo mixture and sour cream.  Gently mix the two together; set aside.


Cranberry Morning said...

That looks fantastic! We were in Denver in October. Not it looks like we need to go back there and check out the Rio Grande!

Just for Cooking said...

Oh my, looks wonderful!

Vickie said...

Thanks for sharing their recipe! I too suffer from "non-Texan" Mexican food up here, so making it at home is the only way to get some decent flavor. Going to have to give this a try.

The story of the restaurant owners was very entertaining. I just love a success story like that.

Barbara | Creative Culinary said...

Well, your photos are spectacular of this dish. I do believe we need to join together guacamole, this enchilada, my blood orange margarita and that chocolate brulee for one meal.

It's taken a while but I'm actually hungry again and this would absolutely be perfect today. In lieu of that I'm heading to Steak & Shake for dinner. :)

Lea Ann (Highlands Ranch Foodie) said...

Well good. I have to admit I had no interest in attending that event because I do-not like that restaurant. I've been a few times, haven't been back in years...rowdy bar atmosphere, turn tables as fast as they can, typical Colorado bad version of Mexican food, etc. However, their Margs are world class. :) I'm glad to hear you liked it and I will give them another chance.

Karen Harris said...

@Lea Ann: I so wish you would have come as this dinner would have changed your mind. The three people who were there know that there are issues and are really interested and concerned about how to fix them. The new menu items are really, really good and I'm a Tex-Mex snob. It takes more than a free dinner to win me over but they really did a great job. I did express that the food we had that night was better than what I had at the Park Meadows location in the past. They said that they would look into it and I have no doubt that they will.

Midwest to Midlands said...

You had me at margarita! Wish I could go there for the rest of the meal, but only in the summertime!

Kaye Bacon said...

We go to the Rio in Fort Collins all the time and I have never tried these! They look fantastic!! I always go for the fish tacos, they are to die for and well the margarita is the bomb!!