Sunday, January 22

Tortilla Soup

When I was pregnant with my son I craved Mexican food.  The warm, robust chilies in enchilada sauce; the fresh, green flavors of avocado and cilantro in guacamole; the smokey tang of fajitas.  I wanted it all.   At the time I lived in Florida where good, authentic Mexican food is hard to find.

That Christmas I drove to New Mexico to visit my family.  My grandmother had prepared a huge pot of Tortilla Soup which was simmering away when I arrived.  I don't know what it was, probably my over-sensitive pregnancy nose, but the smell of that soup blew me away.  It was exactly what I needed after two long days on the road.

I came home craving that soup more than anything.  So I came up with this recipe, and have been making it this way ever since.

I know that this is probably not a traditional Mexican soup.  This is simply a fusion of some of my favorite Mexican flavors - warm and spicy cumin; fresh coriander and garlic; smokey chipotle; creamy avocados; crunchy, salty tortilla chips.  It's got it all.

Normally I make our tortilla chips at home by frying corn tortillas, but for this recipe I simply use good, store bought chips along with canned beans.  It's so much easier and soup should be uncomplicated.  An easy and comforting end for a busy day, or a very long car ride.

Tortilla Soup

1 Tbsp olive oil
2 chicken breasts (or 1 lb ground beef)
1 small onion, chopped
1 yellow or orange bell pepper, chopped
1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn
2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
4 cups chicken stock (or beef stock if using ground beef)
1 can (14.5 oz) organic fire roasted tomatoes
1 can (8 oz) organic tomato sauce
3/4 tsp dried thyme
3/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1 - 2 tsp TABASCO® brand Chipotle Pepper Sauce, to taste
2 cups cooked black beans (or one can, rinsed and drained)
Corn tortilla chips (organic or all natural), to garnish
Grated cheddar or Monterey Jack
Chopped avocado, or homemade Guacamole

Heat the olive oil in the soup pot.  If using chicken, season with salt and pepper and brown the meat on both sides. Then remove to a plate (if using ground beef, season it and brown it, add the vegetables to cook with the meat).  Saute the onion and bell pepper with a pinch of salt and pepper in the oil for 5 minutes.  Add the corn and garlic and cook another minute.  Add the spices and cook for a minute longer.  Pour in the chicken stock and both cans of tomatoes.  Add the chicken back to the pot and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.  Remove the chicken and shred with two forks.  Add the shredded chicken, black beans, and TABASCO to the pot and simmer for 5 more minutes.  Taste for seasoning and add more TABASCO if needed.

To serve, lightly crush a handful of chips and place in the bottom of the bowl.  Ladle the soup on top.  Garnish with more chips, grated cheese, and avocado.

shared with: melt in your mouth monday, sunday night soup night, mangia mondays, hearth and soul

Tuesday, January 3

A Day at the Zoo with Nut-Free Cranberry and White Chocolate Granola Bars

I can't believe how warm it's been.  Like May in January, and from what I've read, it's been unseasonably warm all over the country.  C had only a few days before he went back to school, and I couldn't let the beautiful weather pass us by without a hike through our mountain zoo.  My muscles, having barely moved since last summer, were aching for the work, and after being cooped up inside for so long during the holiday season I really needed to be outside in the fresh mountain air.   In fact, I was so looking forward to our day at the zoo that, on Monday night, I set my alarm early so that I could make a big batch of granola bars to take with us.

After a cup of good coffee, I spent the quiet part of the morning, before the kids awoke, baking the granola bars we'd enjoy later.  It was peaceful and unhurried.  I haven't baked by myself for so long that I'd forgotten what it was like to not be constantly interrupted and questioned.  I watched the sun rise through my kitchen window and tint the sleepy world pink.

Fresh, homemade granola bars are amazing.  Especially if they are still warm out of the oven.  These granola bars are one of my favorite travel foods. They keep well and travel nicely. They're nutritious and filling, and the perfect finger food for a day trip to the zoo.   I always make these with cranberries, and I had some peanut-free white chocolate chips (which I order from here) left over from the holidays, so I add those to this batch as well.

The pre-made granola bars in the grocery store are never safe for people with nut allergies.  Here in the States they all either contain nuts or are processed with them. If you live in one of those countries that segregates nut and peanut ingredients, I envy you.

We ate our simple picnic of cheese, granola bars, and apple juice, while listening to the sounds of  roosters crowing and peacocks cawing.

I love being here.  You can see for miles . . .

And who can resist the magical allure of an old-fashioned carousel?  Its enchanting music can be heard throughout to zoo . . .  

This carousel was constructed in 1926 and made it's debut at the 1932 World's Fair!  What a treasure to have so close!

When I'm traveling with these granola bars, I wrap them individually in parchment paper and then seal them in a Ziploc bag. They are soft and a little sticky on the bottom.

Nut-Free Cranberry and White Chocolate Granola Bars

2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
3/4 cup wheat germ
3/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries
1/2 cup white chocolate chips (nut-free)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 honey
1 large egg

Preheat your oven to 330 F (165 C), and line a 13 x 9 inch baking pan with foil.  Spray the foil well with non-stick cooking spray.  In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the wheat germ, stirring constantly, until fragrant and "nutty."  Remove from the heat and pour into a large mixing bowl along with the oats, cranberries, white chocolate chips, cinnamon, and salt.  Mix well.  In a smaller bowl or measuring cup whisk the oil, honey, and egg.  Add the wet to the dry and mix well.  Pour into the baking pan and spread evenly.  Lightly wet your finger tips and press the mixture firmly and evenly into the pan.  Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden.  Allow to cool in the pan until set, then transfer to a cutting board and cut into bars.  Store in an airtight container.

P.S.  I need your help deciding on a name for this blog!  Please tell me what you think.

Monday, January 2

Penne with Parmesan Butter Sauce

Several weeks ago, during the craziness of our Christmas preparations, I spent the day shopping with my mom and my kids.  It was a cold, grey, windy morning and I was already frazzled and quite agitated at the crowds of people and the insane traffic.  And I was so hungry.  Since I'm not much of a breakfast eater, I'd left the house that morning with nothing more than 3 cups of coffee.  That wasn't helping my mood any.  So, between the chaotic stores, we stopped at the nearby Olive Garden to rest awhile, enjoy lunch, and regain our sanity. 

As soon as we were seated I asked for a food allergy menu for E (as I always do when eating out).  The cheerful manager was quickly sent over (as they always are) to answer any questions I might have.  I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the entire menu (save for one dessert) was safe for people with peanut allergies!  I'm always a little nervous when eating out with E, and this put me at ease immediately. 

C, who was weaned to Parmesan cheese as a baby, picked out his favorite pasta - Penne a.k.a. Swiper ears (because if you split them lengthwise they look like the fox's ears on Dora the Explorer).  My little, budding gourmand chose a Parmesan-Butter sauce to complement his pasta.  I'm telling you, that was the best thing any of us had to eat that day!  In fact, Mugga (my mom) and I kept stealing bites off his plate.

We ended up having a lovely day, and I came home dreaming of re-creating that pasta.  Here's what I came up with.  Served with fresh fruit, this is one of my kids favorite lunches.  Normally I add a pinch of nutmeg to my Bechamel sauces, but this one actually tastes better without it.  I love the pure, nutty flavor of the cheese with just a warm hint of garlic.  This recipe makes enough to serve two hungry kids and one hungry mama for lunch.  If you want to make a larger batch simply double the recipe.

Penne with Parmesan Butter Sauce

1/3 lb (152 g) mini penne
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 small clove of garlic, peeled and slightly smashed
2 tsp flour
3/4 cup organic whole milk, warmed slightly
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a medium sauce pan, cook the pasta in salted, boiling water until al dente.  Drain and set aside.  Turn the heat to low and, in the same pan, slowly melt the butter and the whole garlic clove together until they both begin to brown.  Be careful not to burn the butter.  Remove the pan from the heat and take out the garlic.  Whisk in the flour and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute.  Whisk in the warm milk and turn the heat to medium.  Whisk until the sauce boils and is thickened.  Remove from heat and whisk in the cheese and a good pinch of salt.  Stir until the cheese has melted, then toss the pasta in the sauce.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Serve with freshly ground pepper on top.

P.S.  I need your help deciding on a name for this blog!  Please let me know what you think.

shared with: mangia mondays, melt in your mouth monday, monday mania, hearth and soul, full plate thursday, family fresh meals