Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Chicken Tortilla Stone Soup

The soup that I made last night was inspired by the story of Stone Soup. If you’ve never heard the story, you should check it out. It has a good moral at the end.

As a volunteer, “stone soup” meals are common. It’s the end of the week, there are a few random vegetables or cans in the kitchen, and somehow the night’s cooks put together a delicious meal. This was especially true last night. We are on spring break, so most of my housemates are out of town. This also means that there were fewer groceries in the house. We basically had whatever was leftover from the week before.

I only needed to cook for two (myself and Peter), but I knew that two of my housemates would be back from chaperoning a group of students late in the evening and might want a bite to eat. I also wanted leftovers so that I wouldn’t have to cook today. So, I made this big pot of soup that could have easily served 8 out of the bits and pieces of things that were in the kitchen. I know it might seem like it has a lot of ingredients, but it was really a little bit of a lot of different ingredients. It was a good recipe for using up things like the few stalks of wilted celery in the fridge and the last couple yellow onions that were starting to go bad.

Chicken Tortilla Stone Soup

The first step is optional. I needed broth or stock if I was going to make soup for dinner and decided to make my own. You definitely do not have to do this, but I did. Here’s how I did it: Washed and coarsely chopped up 3 smallish yellow onions (peels on), 2 medium Idaho potatoes (peels on), 4 stalks of celery, 2 carrots (peels on), 3 cloves of garlic, a handful of fresh parsley. I put all these things in a Dutch oven and covered them with water. I added the following seasonings to the water: 1 teaspoon of sea salt, 1 teaspoon black pepper, 2 bay leaves, ½ teaspoon of dried thyme, 1 tablespoon dried basil. Feel free to adjust the seasonings as much as you like. If I hadn’t had fresh parsley around, I would have used dried. I might have also added oregano. Now, you just put your covered Dutch oven full of goodness on the stove and bring it to a boil. Once it starts to boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for at least one hour. I let mine go for about an hour and a half. Once it’s done, strain the broth and throw out the veggies. If you’re like me, you hate to throw out the veggies, but I don’t know what else to do with them. They are no good for adding to your soup because all of their flavor has gone into making your yummy broth. Ok, your stock is done and you can start on the rest of the soup. While you’re starting your soup, your stock can just be put in a bowl or container and set aside. Or you can make your stock ahead of time and store it in the fridge.

Ok, the soup! First, is to make some rice. I cooked ½ cup of rice. Follow your package instructions for making the rice.

Put your Dutch oven on the stove over medium heat and add a couple tablespoons of oil (olive or vegetable are fine). Dice one onion (I had half a yellow onion and half a red onion and just used those up) and add it to the pot. Peel and slice 4 carrots and add them to the pot. Dice one bell pepper and add it too. Cook these until they are almost tender, about 5-7 minutes.

In the meantime, heat a skillet with a tablespoon of oil. Chop 1 or 2 chicken breasts or thighs into bite sized pieces. I had two small chicken thighs that needed to be used up, so that’s what I used. You may want a more meaty soup and want to put in 2 or 3 chicken breasts or thighs. Once they are chopped, add them to the skillet and cook them until they are done all the way through.

Back in your Dutch oven, add 2 cloves of garlic, one large (28 oz) can of tomatoes, about a cup of frozen corn, and your desired seasonings. I wanted a spicy, Mexican, tortilla soup, so I added: 1 teaspoon cumin, 2 teaspoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon cayenne, and the seeds from 5 or 6 dried chili de arbol pods. This might sound like a lot of spice, but it wasn’t overwhelmingly spicy. If I had had cilantro, I would have gone lighter on the chili powder and skipped the chili de arbol altogether and just added a bunch of cilantro. Add your stock to the pot. You should have about 4 to 6 cups of stock. If you didn’t make your own veggie stock, store bought is fine. Chicken stock would be equally great.

Bring the pot up to a boil. Then add your cooked rice and chicken. Allow your pot to simmer for at least 10 minutes to let the flavors combine. It could easily simmer for much longer, if you wanted. We served ours with a little Mexican style sour cream (simply called crema), shredded colby cheese, and broken tortilla chips.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Grilled Lemon Chicken Salad

Yum yum! I literally just finished eating this meal with my grill master and fiancé, Peter, and I had to post this so you could eat it as soon as humanly possible. The recent sunny, warmer days have inspired Peter and I to go outdoors to do more of our cooking. I absolutely love when Peter grills. He enjoys cooking with me on a regular basis, but he puts so much love into his grilling and it shows in the results. Often our grilled meals are delicious in a very simple way. This is the first example of this for the 2009 grilling season.

In contrast to the last meal I posted, which served my ravenous 7 person volunteer community, this meal served the two of us perfectly with no leftovers. It would be super simple to double or triple depending on your needs. 

Grilled Lemon Chicken Salad

Preheat your grill (or oven, although you might have to experiment with cooking temperature and time).

While the grill is heating up, prepare one large boneless, skinless chicken breast by trimming the excess fat and butterflying it.  If your chicken breasts are smaller, you may want to use two, but ours was jumbo sized and one was plenty for the two of us. To butterfly, place chicken on cutting board with your non-knife hand palm down on top of the chicken breast. Cut into the chicken with your knife parallel to the cutting board and holding it firm with your non-knife hand. Once you get started, you can open the chicken breast up like a book. Do not cut all the way through. You want one piece of chicken that opens and closes like a book.

Season chicken with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Cut one lemon in half and cut three or four very thin slices off one half. Place these slices in the inside of your chicken book. Squeeze the remaining juice from the half you cut slices from onto the chicken. Close the book and sprinkle the outside with more salt and pepper and Italian seasoning or your favorite herbs. Put your chicken on the grill. Cook 7-9 minutes on each side.

Meanwhile, wash one romaine lettuce heart and pat dry. Cut the romaine heart in half lengthwise so that you have two long, slender half-heads of lettuce. Brush the flat side of the lettuce with oil and squeeze juice of the other half lemon onto each side.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Right at the end of the cooking time, move your chicken breasts off the main rack. This is where this recipe gets really interesting. You’re going to grill the lettuce. Turn the grill to high, throw the romaine hearts onto the grill grate, flat side down. Grill for about a minute. You just want to wilt and crisp up the flat side of the romaine hearts.

Put the chicken and the romaine lettuce on a plate and eat! We also grilled a green bell pepper to go with our meal, but it was more of a side than part of the dish. 

Friday, March 20, 2009

Community Dinner

I live in an intentional community with six other members as part of a volunteer program. Community dinners are an interesting part of living in community. We have a huge whiteboard in the stairwell near the shared kitchen that contains a crazy schedule that anyone outside of the community would probably think was a secret code. I guess it kind of is.

According to the secret code, last night was my night to cook with one of my other community members and we were both very much in the mood for something vegetable-y. We were craving spring food. We decided that most of the week's vegetables left in the fridge needed to be used and this is what we came up with. It easily fed a ravenous group of seven living on meager wages, so cut it down for the amount of people you are feeding.

Roasted Veggie Stew

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Chop any combination of the following veggies (or whatever you have on hand) into large chunks: 5 potatoes, 2 bell peppers, 1 onion, 2 heads broccoli, 10 button mushrooms. Mince 3 cloves of garlic.

Pour about 1/4 cup of olive or vegetable oil into a very large bowl. Add salt and pepper and your favorite seasonings (we used oregano, basil, and red pepper flakes, but I think it would also be great with rosemary, thyme, tarragon, or parsley). I didn't measure my seasonings, but I'd estimate that I used about a 1/2 teaspoon of each. Add your veggies to the bowl and mix until everything is evenly coated with oil.

Spread your veggies out onto cookie sheets and roast in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes.

When they are almost done roasting, get a large dutch oven or soup pot out and start heating it up on the stove. Add about 3 cups of water or chicken or vegetable broth to the pot and heat to boiling. Add one 12 oz. box of short pasta (we used bowties). Add 3-4 cups of diced tomatoes (we used fresh, but canned would work just as well). Take the roasted veggies out of the oven and add to the pot. Add one small can of tomato sauce. Let everything simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally. Taste, adjust seasonings, and serve.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Healthy Baking

I love to bake. For better or worse, I can get away with doing a lot of it because I am one of those hated few who can eat almost anything without worrying about what the scale says. Everyone says that this will get me in trouble in the future. My response: Enjoy it while I can.

I also find that when I’ve had a less than stellar day (like yesterday) I often find myself in the mood to bake. That probably sounds like a very unhealthy habit (which it probably is), but I really think it is the act of creating something that I find stress relieving, not the eating of the sweets. Don’t get me wrong though, I do love to eat what I bake.

Sometimes I do guilt myself into trying to bake something “healthy” though. The recent spring weather has made me crave fresh produce and lighter meals. I didn’t make either of those last night, however, because I really wanted to bake. But I did try to bake something “healthy”. I don’t think I was completely successful. I wanted something that was like a granola bar, but a little bit more like an oatmeal cookie. Less crunchy, more soft. What I tried to adapt was this recipe from one of my favorite cooking blogs, Smitten Kitchen.

I replaced the raspberry filling with some dried cranberries that I had rehydrated with a little lemon juice, water, and cinnamon. I was hoping this would make them less like a coffee cake and more like a granola bar. It did, but I wasn’t totally satisfied with the result. If anyone has suggestions for other adaptations or has a favorite cereal bar recipe, please share!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Fruit and Nut Salad

Just as an FYI, I probably won't be posting much of anything about sewing for awhile because I am in the process of making my wedding gown. This is a HUGE project and I am documenting it as I go, but I don't want to spoil the surprise before the big day. So, be patient and you will be rewarded with many posts about my experiences sewing my own wedding gown. I feel especially obligated to share what I've learned/am learning because there is a huge lack of information available to home sewers about sewing fine garments.

Now to the good stuff...tasty, refreshing fruit and nut salad. This is just the kind of salad that can be enjoyed anytime of year. I'm not asking you to go out and find something obscure or that's only good when it's at the peak of ripeness. No, this salad will do most anytime of the year. I had it first at a B&B last summer and recreated it shortly after. I keep on tweaking it depending on the occasion or my mood. Feel free to do the same when you make it!

Fruit and Nut Salad

Mix half a package of cream cheese, about 4 oz., with about 1 Tbs. of brown sugar (add more or less to taste) in a medium bowl. If you want really fluffy, light cream cheese, use an electric mixer. I just used a fork and kind of mashed the cream cheese and brown sugar against the side of my bowl until everything was well incorporated.

Chop 2 granny smith apples (or other variety, I just liked the contrasting color of the green skins) into 1/2 pieces. You want the pieces to be small enough to fit on a spoon. Clean about a half a bunch of red/purple grapes (again, you could use green if you choose, but I would definitely go with seedless grapes for this salad) and pull them off the stems. You want about an equal amount of apple pieces and grapes. Be sure to dry the grapes because you don't want to water down the cream cheese mixture. Roughly chop 1/2 cup of pecans (once again, feel free to substitute walnuts, almonds or other nuts).

Mix the fruit and nuts into the cream cheese mixture. This takes a bit of patience because the cream cheese doesn't like to evenly coat the fruit at first.

As a bit of garnish you could make some candied nuts to sprinkle on top or you could just sprinkle it with a bit of brown sugar to make the top sparkly. As long as the fruit was nice and dry when you mixed it with the cream cheese your salad should last 3-5 days in the fridge in a sealed container.

Let me know if you find some great variations on this salad. I would love to continue playing with my food!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

All in the pot simple potato soup

Meals that can be made all in one pot are some of my favorite go-to recipes. Chili, stew, soup...all fantastic one pot wonders. One of the best things about these dishes for me is that they hardly require a recipe at all. They are so versatile. I love when I find a recipe that sounds tasty and I can still make it even if I don't have all of the exact same ingredients on hand. 

It was miserably rainy and cold in Chicagoland today, so we (my fiance, Peter, and I) were definitely in the mood for an all-in-the-pot kind of meal. We were eating at his apartment and he had plenty of potatoes on hand, so potato soup it was! I wouldn't say that this soup was one of the best we've ever made, but it was tasty and makes a good skeleton for a potato soup that you can easily personalize depending on what you have on hand. Here's our version from tonight.

All in the pot simple potato soup:

Heat 2 tsp. vegetable or olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Dice 1/2 of a large sweet onion and 3 celery stalks. (If you like, you could easily add a diced carrot or two here.) Add these to the Dutch oven. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes and then add 1 clove minced garlic. Cook for 2 to 3 more minutes or until the onions and celery are translucent and softened. 

Add 4 cups chicken stock to the pot. (Cook's notes: We actually used 6 cups of chicken stock made from chicken bouillion cubes. This resulted in a more watery soup than what we like and thought the liquid should be reduced to 4 cups. Also, using chicken bouillion yields a rather salty soup and you'd get much richer flavor from canned broth or, best of all, from homemade. We simply used bouillon for convenience and frugality.) Dice 4 medium sized potatoes into 1/2 inch cubes and add to the pot. We used red potatoes, but any variety would work. Add 1 bay leaf and a few cranks of fresh black pepper

Turn the pot up to high heat and bring everything to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes or until the potatoes are very tender. You should easily be able to mash up the potatoes. So, go ahead and do that with a fork or a potato masher or even a blender, depending on how smooth you like your soup. Add 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of shredded cheddar cheese. Stir on low heat until all the cheese has melted. (At this point you could also add some frozen peas or corn or both.) 

Serve and enjoy! Buen provecho!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I just started a blog!

I may not have much time to post to my blog for a few months, but I've been wanting to start it for a while now. I thought I should at least reserve my blog name since I thought of it in a burst of inspiration last night on the train.
I will be dedicating this blog to both cooking and sewing, since those are my two favorite creative outlets. I have been doing both since I was about 10 years old and in 4-H. That makes me sound so geeky and "country"! I guess I am both, even though it might not be totally obvious. Or maybe it's obvious and I'm just in denial.
I hope this blog will inspire others to use their creative talents for themselves and others!