A TOP TEN! Chicken Tortilla Soup.

This soup is one of our top ten. It is so good! I make this one in my crock pot with frozen chicken breasts and it is super easy.  My daughter reminded me last night that I don’t put the tortillas in the soup. She’s right.  I should probably change the name.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

3 boneless/skinless frozen chicken breasts
2 14oz. cans of fire roasted tomatoes with chilies
1 10 oz. can enchilada sauce (mild, medium, hot, in the Mexican product aisle at the grocery store)
I medium chopped onion
3 cloves chopped garlic
2 cups water
4 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 package frozen corn
1 large can hominy, drained
1 large can black beans, drained
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
juice of one lime
salt & pepper to taste

You can’t do anything wrong to this recipe.  If you don’t have fire roasted tomatoes, no worries, just put in regular tomatoes.  You can add a can of green chilies.  You can use red or green enchilida sauce, you can add less or more of anything.  Last night I only had a small can of beans and a small can of tomato (I mis-read my recipe and didn’t even realize that I usually put large cans in!)  I had a large can of hominy in my pantry and decided to add it, it was delicious so now hominy has earned a spot on the ingredient list!  I didn’t add any salt last night because my chicken soup base is really salty.

Layer the frozen chicken breasts in the bottom of the crock pot, throw everything else on top, stir, and go have fun!  Heat on low for about 8 hours or high for 6. Just before serving, remove the chicken breasts and shred them with a fork.  Add chicken back in crock pot and serve topped with your favorite toppings.  We like pickled jalapenos, cheese, additional cilantro (most folks either love it or hate it.  I’m a lover, what are you?) and tortilla chips.

I am still working on a new  soup blog.  Waiting on some art work to come back from the “studio.”  Ahem, artist?  If you’re reading this, do you have any news for me about the banner photograph?

Cauliflower Soup With Stilton (sans Stilton)

Ahhh well, not all soups go into the 10 ten list.  This is one of them.  DId you think I would post a loser recipe?  No!  I reworked it into a winner!  Our soup last Thursday was Cauliflower.  Each week,  I study many different recipes and then usually work from 3 or 4 different ones.  One of the recipes I had pulled out last week included Stilton cheese.  Sounded wonderful to me.  I love blue cheese and the addition of Stilton into a pot of soup sounded divine to me.   I continually tasted the soup as it cooked and I thought it was a winner, and it was a winner, up until I added the Stilton.  It’s not that it was terrible, maybe the flavors were just too complex for me.  The addition of the Stilton added a flavor layer that I didn’t love. My kids didn’t love it either.  So I’ve reworked the recipe in order to post a Caulflower soup that is, umm, for lack of a better word, more cauliflowery.

Cauliflower Soup

  • 1 1-pound head cauliflower, cut into small florets (I used 2 small heads)
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 leek (white and pale green parts only), chopped
  • 3/4 cup chopped celery
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 3 cups canned chicken broth or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup (or more) milk

GIve a couple of turns of olive oil into your put. Add onion, leek, celery, and cauliflower. Cover and cook until onion is  tender but not brown, stirring frequently, about 8 minutes. Add flour and stir 2  minutes. Gradually stir in vegetable or chicken broth. Add 1 cup milk. Bring mixture to a  boil. Reduce heat. Cover partially and simmer until vegetables are very tender  and soup thickens, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Puree soup in  blender in batches until smooth. Return to same saucepan.   Bring soup to simmer,  thinning with more milk, if desired.

The original recipe called for cream and butter.  What I love about soups that get pureed is that once they are blended, they taste and look like a cream soup with nowhere near the calores.  If you make a lot of soup, you’ll really love a stick blender (also known as an immersion blender.)  A stick blender allows you to blend your soup right in the pot.   Enjoy!

Happy New Year!

What better way to start the new year than with a fabulous soup? This is my “go to”  new year soup which came from Chef Jeff Tunks and was printed in the Wall Street Journal years ago.  I double this recipe because my family loves it.

Black eyed peas are a traditional good luck food eaten in the Southern U.S.  The fat in this soup is virtually eliminated by crisping Serrano ham or prosciutto in the oven and adding it as a garnish.  The cilantro chimichurri adds fresh flavor for very little calories.

Black-Eyed-Pea Soup

1 cup black eyed peas
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 small yellow onion, diced
1 stalk celery, diced
1 carrot, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cups chicken or vegetable broth, plus more as needed
2 thin slices Serrano ham or prosciutto, julienned (I skip this often)
salt & pepper
4 teaspoons cilantro chimichurri (Do not skip this!  It adds a wonderful taste to the soup!)

The night before you make your soup, place the peas in a bowl and cover with water.  Soak them overnight.  The next day, drain and set aside.
To make the soup, heat the olive oil in a medium soup pot over medium heat.  Add the onion, celery and carrots and cook until they are tender.  Add the garlic, drained peas, bay leaf, thyme and both.  Bring the mixture to a simmer (do not allow this to boil) and cook, covered, over medium high heat until peas are tender, 60 to 90 minutes depending on how old your beans are.

Meanwhile (if you are adding the ham or prosciutto), preheat the oven to 300 degrees.  Place the julienned ham on a cookie sheet and bake until crisp (about 8 minutes.)  It will harden as it cooks, be careful not to burn it.  Set aside to cool.

When the peas are tender, place 1/4 of the soup in the blender and puree until smooth.  Fold this back into the rest of the soup.  Add more broth or water to adjust the consistency.  Season with salt and pepper.

To serve:  Divide the soup among 4 soup bowls, top with crisped ham pieces and a dollop of chimichurri.

Cilantro Chimichurri
1 cup cilantro leaves
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley leaves
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon, crushed red-pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon salt

In a blender, puree the cilantro, parsley, olive oil, vinegar, garlic, red pepper flakes, cumin and salt until smooth.  Refrigerate extra chimichurri for up to 1 week, can be used as marinade or sauce.

You’ll be sorry if you don’t double this soup recipe, it’s that good.  This recipe works with frozed black eyed peas too.  I have a favorite place to buy dried beans, here’s my plug: www.ranchogordo.com.  Rancho Gordo sells many types of dried beans, many heirloom varieties.  When I was in San Francisco last year, I made a special trip to the Ferry Building farmers market on Saturday morning so I could haul a suitcase full of beans back with me!

So, here’s my toast to all of you! (Raise your glass)  May you start all of your new years with a simmering pot of soup! Enjoy!

That’s Amore!!

My family has celebrated the cold weather by having soup every Thursday for the past 3 years.  We take turns, every family member gets a chance to pick their soup.  We have tried close to 100 different soup recipes.  I have a two basic rules to “Souper Thursday,” one, soups must be healthy as possible (so no stuffed potato soup and no cream soups, though I make a rare exception) two, no shortcuts allowed except to use boxed soup stocks.   Tonight was my night to pick and I have always wanted to try Italian Wedding Soup. I searched a long time through recipes trying to find the most “authentic” recipe.  Some called for pasta, some didn’t, some called for carrots and celery in the base, some didn’t.  Some added an egg and cheese, some didn’t.  Recipes that called for frozen meatballs or gave a meatball recipe that used garlic and onion powder instead of the real thing were out.  I took a little out of 3 different recipes and have to say that this was one of the best soups we’ve had.  And believe me, after trying 100 new soups, it’s really hard to say which are the best, we have lots of new favorites!  I took notes, dear reader, so you don’t have to try to meld several recipes into one. So here you go, from 3 recipes down to 1…drum roll please…

Italian Wedding Soup

For the meatballs:

 1 pound of meatloaf mix (beef, pork, veal or some variation)
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 cup shredded parmesan (I recommend you shred your own off of a hunk of the best Italian parm you can afford!  Stella shredded works too, but it’s not as tasty.)
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp dried oregano
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. fresh ground black pepper
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup Italian breadcrumbs  

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl with your hands.  Pinch a bit of the mixture and roll into a ball.  Heat a bit of olive oil in a pan and fry the meatballs on all sides.  Remove from pan and drain on paper towels.  Note:  my other recipes called for baking the meatballs in the oven at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  Next time I am going to try baking the meatballs instead of frying them.  You can also make them ahead and freeze them for later use.

For the soup:

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion diced
2 stalks celery with leaves diced
2 carrots, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
8-10 cups chicken stock
1/2 head of escarole, pull leaves off and soak in water to clean.  Tear into small pieces.
1 cup of acini di pepe precooked (this is really tiny pasta, about as big as couscous. I cooked it ahead of time so that the pasta wouldn’t absorb a lot of my liquid)
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup Parmesan/Reggiano

In a big soup pot, heat your oil and add onion, garlic, celery, carrot.  Cook until veggies are soft (about 15 minutes until carrots get soft).  Add stock and bring to boil.  When soup is boiling, add escarole and let simmer at least 30 minutes! This is an important step according to one of the recipes I consulted.  You want the greens to infuse your broth with their lovely fresh taste.  You can let the soup simmer longer.  I did, I just put a diffuser under my pot so the soup wouldn’t boil.  Add meatballs and cooked pasta and heat through.  Now comes the weird part, but I think it helped make this soup so delicious that I want more for dessert! In a separate bowl, beat your two eggs and add the 3/4 cup of cheese.  Plop the egg/cheese mixture into the middle of your soup and DO NOT STIR.  Make sure this mixture doesn’t scorch in the bottom of your pan.  This is where a heat diffuser comes in really handy, it keeps stuff from boiling when kept on a flame. My egg/cheese mixture sat in the middle of my pot and cooked.  When the eggs are firm, break up this mixture.  Your soup is now ready to serve.

I know this seems like a lot of work.  And it was more time intensive than some of the other soups I’ve made, but once the meatballs are made and cooked, the soup comes together quickly. And it’s worth every minute of prep time!   I swear, my family tasted love in their bowls!  Enjoy!  And let me know what you think when you make it!

P.S.  I’ve gotten several messages from cooks who have made this soup.  Baking the meatballs works and helps them retain their perfect roundness.  So far, this recipe has gotten “thumbs up”  from everyone who has tried it.

Do As I Say, Not As I Did!

I have been in the middle of a major project at home, ripping the carpeting from my stairs and painting the pine risers and treads under it. I am almost finished, and wanted to share some tips for anyone else crazy determined enough to attempt this project.

1. Don’t take the advice of your handyman when he tells you to “be sure you overfill your holes with epoxy wood filler.” Do you want to file down a mountain top with an emery board? No? Don’t overfill your holes, or you too will spend 30 hours sanding your risers and treads.

2. Make sure the lid on your primer is firmly tapped back down before you pick up the gallon to read the back for the drying time. Or wear really old shoes.

3. Which leads right into my next big tip! ALWAYS pour your paint from the front of your can. That way when you need to read the back, you won’t have obscured the writing with drippy paint. Smart, huh? That’s me, always thinking.

4. Don’t spit into the wind. And don’t pour black paint into your paint tray standing in your garage on a really, really windy day. For sure don’t pour the black paint on a super windy day standing next to a piece of furniture you just finished priming.  I’m just sayin’.

5. If you pour your paint correctly, you will be able to read the back of the can and find that you paint should dry in about 4 hours.  If your paint is still so tacky 5 days later that you can’t put your second coat down, get very worried. Pack all of your supplies up and head back to your paint dealer.

6. Be prepared to do touch-ups, or in my case, a full re-do.

7. Always, always maintain your sense of humor! 

Hello, Gorgeous!

I had been looking for a piece to put in my dining room for quite a while. For a long time, I had a black console table from Pottery Barn. It was what I called my “angry” piece. I rarely buy new furniture, but this piece was bought smack dab in the middle of a little hissy fit I was having. I believe it had something to do with a trip to Vegas that my husband took while I was at home with a baby. Now that’s a whole other post!  I never particularly liked the piece once it was delivered. It looked like it was made out of some type of resin or plastic and I learned my lesson about buying something from a catalog. But it was put to good use. It was the catch-all for everything in my house. The crayons and coloring books, toys, games, school papers.  A functional piece turned into a whole lot of ugly!  One day while sitting across from it, I thought “I need some pretty!” and I was thrilled to offer the Pottery Barn piece up when we needed a t.v. stand in the basement. I have some beautiful things that have been packed up for years because I haven’t had a place to display them.  So the hunt began for a cabinet to house my treasures that had been in hiding for too long.

I knew what I wanted, something small, something old, something I could paint, and a cabinet that had wood fret work in the doors. I searched for months, inquired about a few, and then I found it! But it wasn’t looking all that well. The cabinet was missing pieces of trim and had water damage on the bottom doors, but for $50 it was mine! And I had a vision.

It took some time, it took the wrong paint color to begin with, but my vision was eventually realized. I love this piece. As soon as I get my stairs painted I will unpack my china! 

Painted with Annie Sloan’s Olive and Old White chalk paint, interior painted with Ochre, finished with clear and dark wax.  Original hardware polished.  You can do it too!

Me and Craig, we got a thing going on!

I have a deep infatuation with Craig’s List. I will fervently scroll through listing after listing just to see what people are selling. About a year ago, I was looking for a new computer desk with lots of storage to corral the piles of stuff all around my house. This is before I fell in love with “Craig.” I went to my favorite furniture store, the store with mini coolers strategically placed around the store filled with water and mini bottles of coke that you could take, for free! I searched for the perfect desk and hutch. Sat down with a salesperson who looked through catalogs with me until we found the perfect desk, 3 of them actually, ranging in price from $1800 to $2200. Gulp. I came home with pictures; the salesperson kept calling me to see what one I had chosen and to place my order. I couldn’t do it! Couldn’t spend that kind of money, couldn’t see being comfortable with my kids using the computer on a $2000 desk, couldn’t even imagine how a piece this grand would fit into our casual home. By this time, I had devoted a lot of time to searching for the perfect piece of furniture, and even the less expensive pieces had lost their appeal. So I did nothing. Kept the computer on an old, banged up drop-leaf table and let all of the school papers stack up on my kitchen counter.

Then I met “Craig.” Do you know that anything you want or need someone close to you is selling? Do you want a Crate and Barrel sofa? Check. A Pottery Barn coffee table? Check. A Wakefield mid-century buffet for your dining room? Check. I looked for months for a computer armoire or desk with a hutch for storage. Found lots that could work, but none that really struck my fancy. Until one day, it appeared. A listing for a Ballard Design computer armoire called the “Grande Cambridge.” It’s beautiful and it’s now mine. A piece that originally cost over $1200, was listed originally on Craig’s List for $675, and with my superb negotiating skills (not really, I just asked. . .) I was able to get for $400.

The other day I pulled out the folder with the pictures of desks I had from my original shopping trip. I was going to throw it away. I kept it. It’s a reminder of my life before “Craig.”