{In case you're wondering, that means "Everyone to the table to eat!" in Italian}

Friday, January 28, 2011

Chicken Tortilla Soup & How to Cut an Avocado

I have my old standby Chicken Tortilla Soup recipe that I got from a roommate in college, but I saw a new recipe on Pioneer Woman's blog and liked some of her ideas. So I took both recipes and combined them. We absolutely loved the results- this has all the things I loved about my recipe (corn and a sprinkle of lime juice at the end), plus some new flavors- like the black beans and ro-tel instead of a tomato and fresh jalapeno- which was always a little too spicy for the kids. I also loved this method of cooking the chicken- it was so flavorful and juicy! It is my new go-to recipe for quesadilla chicken, and you can change the spices to adapt it to any recipe that calls for cooked chicken.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
(adapted from Pioneer Woman)

2 whole Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1-½ teaspoon Cumin
1 teaspoon Chili Powder
½ teaspoons Garlic Powder
½ teaspoons Salt
1 Tablespoon Olive Oil
1 cup Diced Onion
1/2 cup Diced Green or Red Bell Pepper
3 cloves Garlic, Minced
1 can Rotel Tomatoes And Green Chilies (I used mild)
32 ounces Low Sodium Chicken Stock
3 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
4 cups Hot Water
1 can Black Beans, drained
1 can Corn Kernels, drained
3 Tablespoons Cornmeal Or Masa
5 whole Corn Tortillas, Cut Into Uniform Strips Around 2 To 3 Inches
Diced Avocado
Grated Colby Jack or Cheddar Cheese
Lime Juice
Chopped fresh cilantro, optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Mix cumin, chili pepper, garlic powder, and salt. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil on chicken breasts, then sprinkle a small amount of spice mix on both sides. Set aside the rest of the spice mix.
Place chicken breasts on a baking sheet. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until chicken is done. Use two forks to shred chicken. Set aside.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a pot over medium high heat. Add onions, peppers, and minced garlic. Stir and begin cooking, then add the rest of the spice mix. Stir to combine, then add shredded chicken and stir.
Pour in Rotel, chicken stock, tomato paste, water, and black beans. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for 45 minutes, uncovered.
Mix cornmeal with a small amount of water. Pour into the soup, then simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Check seasonings, adding more if needed—be sure not to undersalt. Turn off heat and allow to sit for 15 to 20 minutes before serving. Five minutes before serving, gently stir in tortilla strips and corn kernels.
Ladle into bowls, then top with diced avocado, grated cheese, chopped cilantro and a sprinkle of lime juice!

Here is a super easy and not-so-messy way to cut an avocado:
1. First, cut all the way around the avocado, splitting it in half lengthwise. Make sure to cut all the way to the pit. Open the 2 halves by gently twisting them in opposite directions.

2. To remove the pit, carefully insert your knife into the pit. Twist it slightly and the pit will slide right out (make sure your avocado is ripe enough, or some avocado flesh will stick to the pit. You don't want to waste any of that yummy goodness!)

3. You can now scoop out the flesh, but wait! If you are slicing or dicing, it is much less messy to do it while the flesh is still in the skin. Just slice it right in there, being careful not to cut through the skin (or your fingers!). If you need it diced, just turn it and slice again the other way.

4. Now just scoop the flesh out of the skin using a medium-sized metal spoon. Now wasn't that easy?!

5. Now what to do with that avocado? Use it to top sandwiches, hamburgers or tortilla soup. Or mash it with a potato masher and make it into guacamole- awesome on enchiladas, quesadillas, or as a dip for chips. If you are making guacamole or another dip (how about Mexican Caviar or Shrimp Ceviche Dip?), make sure to save that pit. Store the dip with the pit in the middle and plastic wrap pressed down onto it to help keep the avocado from turning brown.
*Need to know how to pick a good avocado? Here are my tips: first, you need to decide when you need the avocado. If you are grocery shopping Monday and don't need it until the weekend, go ahead and choose a very firm avocado (it will be bright green in color). You can speed up the ripening process by placing it in a paper lunch bag with an apple- but this still takes a day or two. If you need the avocado right away, you'll have to buy one that is already ripe- it should give a little when you press the skin (sort of like a peach), but still be slightly firm (it will be dark green). I NEVER buy the ones that are already mushy and black!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Chicken Fajitas (and homemade seasonings)

Easy, quick and delicious, these are a perfect weeknight meal. Although you could certainly use a fajita seasoning packet, the homemade spice mix I used is easy as can be and uses spices found in any Mexican-food-lover's pantry. I have also included the recipe I use for homemade taco seasoning. They both make enough to season several batches of fajitas or tacos, so you can just make them up and store them for the next time!

Chicken Fajitas
1 lb. chicken breasts, cut into 1/2" strips (or use beef if you prefer)
4 tb. canola oil, divided
fajita seasoning (4 1/2 tb. homemade, or 1 packet)
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 green bell pepper, cut into strips
1 medium onion, cut into strips
10 corn or flour tortillas
1 c. grated cheese
In large saute pan, heat 2 tb. of the oil over medium-high heat. Saute peppers and onions until crisp-tender and nicely browned (even some smoky black parts are great on these babies!). Remove from pan and set aside. Heat remaining 2 tb. oil over medium-high heat. Toss chicken pieces in fajita seasoning, then saute in pan until chicken is cooked through (about 5-7 minutes). Add peppers and onions back to pan, toss and heat until warmed through. Serve in warm flour tortillas with grated cheese.

Fajita Seasoning
3 tb. cornstarch
2 tb. chili powder
1 tb. salt
1 tb. paprika
1 tb. sugar
2 1/2 tsp. chicken bouillon granules
1 1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. cumin
Mix all together, store in airtight container. Makes enough for 3 batches of fajitas (use 4 1/2 tb. mix for each pound of meat).

Taco Seasoning
2 tb. chili powder
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 tsp. paprika
3 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. black pepper
Mix all together, store in airtight container. Makes enough for 4 batches of tacos (use 4 tsp. mix for each pound of ground beef or chicken chunks). To prepare, cook 1 lb. meat until browned and cooked through. Add 4 tsp. taco mix and 1/2 c. water, mix, and simmer about 10 minutes, or until almost all liquid is cooked out. Serve in hard or soft tortillas w/ cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, and salsa.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Baked Brie with Apple Compote

I love Brie, so when I saw this recipe on Annie's Eats I knew I had to find a special occasion to make it for. I ended up making it for the baby shower my mom and Sarah gave me in El Paso. It was so delicious- everybody loved it! I ate the last piece warmed up for breakfast the next morning with a tall glass of milk (come on, apple cheese pastry for breakfast, that's healthy, right?).

Baked Brie en Croƻte with Apple Compote
1 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 golden delicious apples, peeled, cored and cut to ½-inch dice
¼ cup sugar
Pinch grated nutmeg
10-inch round puff pastry, rolled to ¼-inch thickness
1 round Brie cheese, 6-8 oz. and about 4½ inches wide, chilled
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. water
Water crackers, for serving
In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the diced apples and cook, stirring occasionally, until the apples have released most of their juices, about 5-7 minutes. Mix in the sugar and nutmeg, stir well to combine, and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 12-15 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 375˚ F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. Transfer the round of puff pastry to the prepared baking pan. Using a sharp knife, cut the disc of cheese in half horizontally to create two thinner discs. Place the bottom disc in the center of the puff pastry round. Spread about half of the apple compote over the surface of the cheese. Top with the remaining cheese disc. Layer with the remaining compote. Bring the puff pastry up around the edges of the brie-apple layers. Fold and pinch the edges so that only a small portion of the top surface is exposed. Brush the surface of the puff pastry lightly with the egg wash.
Bake until the puff pastry is golden all over and crisp, 40-45 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes, then transfer to a serving platter with a knife and crackers.