Friday, January 30, 2009

Chicken Tortilla Soup - Restaurant Style

I developed this recipe over the last few years tweaking it here and there, but I think I have arrived - well at least I'll park here for a while;-)  Several years ago I had a bowl of chicken tortilla soup at a restaurant that was so good I was inspired to try to figure out how to make it.  The result is a favorite that I return to again and again.  My version is a bit healthier than a typical restaurant since I bake my tortilla strips.   Anyone following the South Beach Diet will recognize this would be a good phase two meal. Now, when it comes to the Southwest Seasoning Blend I have used anything from Pampered Chef's Southwest Seasoning to the Spicy Taco Seasoning from Gordon Food Service.  I have also made my own blend using pinches of chili powder, cumin, garlic, oregano and cilantro (in order from greatest amount to least) until I have about 1 Tablespoon.  Finally, when it comes to the shredded cheese I have used several different kinds (whatever I have that goes well with mexican food) and it still turns out terrific.  I have served this in hearty portions for dinner, and for an extra hungry crowd you can serve with quesadillas.

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Chicken Tortilla Soup - Restaurant Style

2 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
2 uncooked chicken breasts, cut into small bit sized pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 garlic cloves
2 (4 oz) cans of mild fire-roasted green chilies
1 (30 ounce) can refried beans
30 ounces of chicken broth
1 tablespoon of Southwest Seasoning
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (use reduced fat if you are following South Beach)
2 low-carb tortillas
2 teaspoons olive oil
4 tablespoons low-fat sour cream (optional)
1/2 cup sharp cheddar cheese, divided (optional)
Cilantro leaf

1) Heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat and cook diced chicken pieces for 5 minutes, stirring often so they don't get brown - remove chicken and set aside.

2) Heat 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in the same large soup pot over medium heat and add onion, cook for 1 minute stirring often.

3) Press 2 cloves of garlic into the pot over the onions and cook for another minute. Continue stirring so the onions and garlic do not brown.

4) Add the two cans of green chilies and cook for another minute.

5) Add the cooked chicken, refried beans and broth (I buy broth by the carton and measure the broth by filling the empty refried bean can). Blend this mixture well.

6) Add 1 Tablespoon of southwest seasoning and 1/2 cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese (or your favorite). Simmer soup on medium low heat until heated through.  At this point the soup can be eaten, but if you simmer on low heat for another 15 - 30 minutes it will give the seasoning a chance to blend well.

7) While the soup is simmering preheat oven to 350 degrees and cut the tortillas into very thin strips using a pizza cutter. When we are watching our carb intake I use 1/2 tortilla per person.

8) Place tortilla strips, 2 teaspoons of olive oil and 4 pinches of salt in a ziplock bag and shake well.

9) Spread into 1 layer on cookie sheet sprayed with oil. Make the strips in shapes rather than all of them be completely flat and bake for 5 - 7 minutes.  (I have also toasted these in a large frying pan if you prefer that method).

10) This recipe makes four hearty 2 1/2 cup portions - Ladle soup into bowls, garnish each bowl with tortilla strips, 1/8 cup of shredded cheese, a dollop of sour cream and a few cilantro leaves. (Serving Idea:  I have also served this soup with cheese quesadillas). 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ratatouille - The Dish That Keeps on Giving

I made this classic french vegetable stew for the first time after reading the book French Women Don't Get Fat.  By the way, after I read this book I had this inexplicable need to run out the store and buy leeks and a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Champagne which is now my favorite bottle of bubbly.  Hmmm - I wonder how much their champagne sales jumped after this book was published.  Anyway, this simple ratatuoille is a gift that keeps on giving.  I do make a very large batch because not only do I get several meals within the first few days, but I also freeze some to enjoy another time.  The first time around I eat it like a bowl of stew garnished with lots of fresh basil and a little shaved parmesan cheese. (I use a potato peeler on a fresh piece of parmesan). I have also served this next to sauteed chicken, over pappardelle noodles, used it as an omelette stuffing, frittata stuffing, or my favorite as a pizza sauce topped with mozzarella and goat cheese. Yum, I will definitely write a post this.  Now, I'm really looking forward to having this pizza - it's my favorite!  There is one thing I forgot to mention on Recipezaar and that is to not over stir or over cook this dish otherwise you end up with mush.  So I definitely cook it on the lowest possible flame, and only stir once half way through very gently.  Bon Appetit!

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2 lbs eggplant, diced (about 3 medium)
2 lbs zucchini, diced (about 6 medium)
2 (1 lb) cans diced tomatoes
1 bulb of garlic
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
freshly chopped parsley or basil, for garnish

1) Dice the eggplant in 1 inch pieces, sprinkle with salt and set aside in a colander lined with paper towel to let the eggplant sweat out its bitterness.
2) Dice zucchini in 1 inch pieces.
3) Using a garlic press, squeeze the cloves of an entire bulb of garlic into a small bowl.
4) Using fresh paper towel blot the eggplant dry.
5) Add two tablespoons of oil to a large stock pot.
6) Add half of the eggplant to the stock pot.
7) Add half of the zucchini to the stock pot.
8) Add one can of tomatoes to the stock pot.
9) Sprinkle half of the garlic over the tomatoes.
10) Sprinkle this layer with a large pinch of salt and pepper.
11)  Layer the other half of the ingredients in the same order topping the tomatoes with another large pinch of salt and pepper.
12) Simmer on low heat for two hours giving the stew a good stir after the first hour.
13) Serve with freshly chopped parsley or basil for garnish

Sunday, January 25, 2009

BBQ Steak Chopped Salad

Last month a couple of friends invited me to join them for lunch.  We went to Cenote Grill in Escondido California.  Wow, the food was delicious.   Ever since that lunch my husband and I have ordered carry out from this restaurant twice. I keep ordering the same thing.  I just love the BBQ Steak Chopped Salad.  This salad has fresh romaine lettuce, sweet corn, black beans, red and green cabbage, cilantro, salsa fresca, cheese, tortilla strips, tossed in a ranch dressing and topped with a spicy BBQ sauce.  My rule of thumb in going out to restaurants is that it has got to be better than I can make myself.  I hate to sound like some kind of food snob...but there it is...and here is the salad.  If I can come close to this salad someday, I will post my version.  Until then, I will be ordering from Cenote!

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Emeril's Paneed Pork Medallions

I made this recipe the other day simply because I had all the ingredients in the house.  I had four thinly sliced loin chops in the fridge, so I searched for a recipe that I could make without having to run to the store. Truth be known, it wasn't easy finding a recipe for which I had all the ingredients even though I have a pretty descent pantry.  There were several recipes that sounded good, but I was missing one or two important ingredients. My search brought me to Emeril's recipe for Paneed Pork.  This recipe also calls for Emeril's Creole Seasoning.  There are only two things I did differently.  1) I cut the recipe in half since I had four loin chops instead of eight. 2) Since the creole seasoning was in the flour, egg wash and bread crumbs I did not start by sprinkling the seasoning on the meat itself.  I am glad that I did not, because I think it would have been too over powering.  As it turned out, this dish was pretty spicy.  However, if you like your food super spicy then go for it.  I did not make the herbed spaetzle this time around, since I had left over "smashed cauliflower-potatoes" (more on that later). I would call this recipe a success, and I would definitely make it again.  Finally, at the risk of sounding ignorant, "Paneed" is really a word!  At first I thought it was a typo and somebody meant to type "Panned."  From what I can tell after a little internet research, it means breaded and pan fried with oil. Enjoy!

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Emeril Inspired Paneed Pork Medallions - Dinner for Two

4 3-ounce pork loin slices (1/2" thick)
3 teaspoons creole spice
Scant 1/2 cup flour
1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water
1/2 cup whole wheat panko bread crumbs
3 tablespoons oil

Creole Seasoning - (Bayou Blast)

2 1/2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon black pepper
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried thyme

1) mix together - yields 2/3 cup

For Medallions

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pound pork medallions to 1/2 inch thickness, if necessary. Season flour, egg wash and bread crumbs with 1 tablespoon creole spic each.  
2) Dredge pork in seasoned flour, dip in egg mixture, then coat thoroughly with crumbs, shaking off excess after each layer.
3) In an overproof saute pan heat oil, add pork  and cook until first side is golden.  Turn medallions and transfer pan to oven to finish cooking.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Southern Feast for 20

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Wow, I am not going to kid you this was a lot of work.  I am glad that I did it because it was meant as a Christmas gift, and a thank you to the work community in which my husband and I belong.  Also, I have been wanting to make the Knott's Berry Farm's fried chicken recipe for years (literally).  Since it is not the healthiest of meals, I never got around to it.  Lesson #1: This recipe is just not conducive for a large crowd when you are only using two cooking vessles and each batch of chicken takes 45 minutes.  I knew that going in, of course, but the reality hits 
a lot harder than notes on paper when you put in an 8 hour work day and then another 8 hours preparing a feast.  I know, I know...there are other recipes that I could have used to feed a crowd of 20 with a lot less prep time.  However, I had my heart set on this particular "Southern Feast."

Links to these recipes are provided:

Mrs. Knotts Fried Chicken

2 3-pound frying chickens, cut in eighths
2 cups unbleached flour
1 quart oil (or enough to cover chicken)

1) Cover chicken with salted water and soak for 45 minutes.  Drain chicken and pat dry.
2) Coat each piece of chicken with flour and shake off any excess flour.
3) Bring oil to a boil in a 8 1/2 quart saucepan and drop in chicken pieces. (Do not overcrowd chicken in the pot).  Cover and fry for 45 minutes.
4) Remove chicken with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.  Fifteen minutes before serving, heat 1/4 cup oil in a large skillet and re-fry chicken for 3 minutes.

7 lbs potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon white pepper (important to use white pepper only)
1/2 cup butter
1 (8 ounce) container sour cream
1/4 cup half-and-half (more or less to the consistency of your liking)
1/4 cup butter (to garnish)

1) Place peeled and quartered potatoes in a large crock pot and fill with water.
2) Cook on low over night for 8 hours.
3) In the morning drain potatoes (if desired save some potato water for gravy base) and mash with remaining ingredients.
4) Dot with extra butter.
5) Transport crock pot (if necessary) and cook on low for 3 hours, stir and serve immediately.

32 ounces frozen cut green beans
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon of trade east canadian steak seasoning (sold at Gordon Food Service)

1) Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.
2) Put frozen green beans in the pan and stir to coat the beans with oil.
3) Add 1 tablespoon of trade east canadian steak seasoning and continue to saute the beans until warm but still crisp

Homemade Biscuits (served with a choice of honey, butter, blueberry jam, or gravy)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup butter, chilled and cut in small cubes
3/4 cup buttermilk

1) Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar in a blow.
2) Cut in butter using pastry cutter or use 2 knives.
3) With fork stir in buttermilk to make a soft dough (I have used an equal amount of buttermilk powder with added water and it works wonderfully in this recipe.)
4) Turn out onto lightly floured workspace and knead no more than 10 times to form a ball (if you over do it the biscuits can be tough).
5) Roll into a 6" x 6" square.
6) Place on ungreased baking sheet.
7) Cut into 12 portions but do not separate.
8) Bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
9) Serve with butter, honey, jam, or gravy.

Quick Apple Crisp (served with Cool Whip)

I received lots of rave reviews from my co-workers.  I don't know if they were just being nice because some of them knew how long I took to prepare this meal or if it was true.  At the same time, I hesitate to say that because I don't mean to insinuate they would lie in any way.  My own personal review:  the chicken was slightly overdone; the mashed potatoes were great; some of the green beans became slightly overdone in the crock pot (I think I re-heated them too long and didn't stir often enough) but on the stovetop they are simply the best; the biscuits were great; and the apple crisp is a favorite with friends and family.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Note-to-Self #1

Make sure that the toaster oven is on the "bake" setting instead of the "broil" setting when you want to "bake" a pizza.  In my defense I did have a lot of things going on.  You see, I was preparing a "Southern Feast" for 20 people for the following day.  I had chicken soaking in salt water, chicken necks and giblets simmering, and I was in the middle of peeling 7 pounds of potatoes. (More on this extravaganza later).

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Note the extra well done top and the soggy white crust on the bottom.  You know what?  I ate three quarters of it anyway.  Hey, I paid 6 bucks for this California Pizza Kitchen - Barbecue Chicken Pizza.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

New Kitchen Gadgets

I was very blessed to receive some wonderful new kitchen gadgets for Christmas this year.  My brother gave me an omelette size, and one size larger (not sure if there is a specific name) Wolfgang Puck stainless steel frying pans.  He also gave me a square cast iron grill pan which has the raised grill marks.  Yes, I did ask for these things.  I have already gone through at least two sets of teflon pans since I first took an interest in cooking 'round about the mid 1990's, and I can't help wondering how much teflon I've ingested in the past 15 years....even more if you count my mom's pans that she used throughout my youth.  Sure makes you think twice!  So, I want to try to learn to cook more food on stainless cookware and bakeware.  We will see how that goes. My parents were very generous with a gift of money this year which I used to buy my first set of "professional" knives - a 5" and 7" set of coppertails from Furi along with the Furi knife sharpening system.  I love them.  Wow, what a difference.  They were on sale at Bloomingdales.

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I also took my 20% Bed Bath and Beyond coupon and bought a Cuisinart convection toaster oven.  I am so excited to use my new kitchen toys.  My husband gave me a gift certificate to take a couple of cooking classes at a place called Great News in Pacific Beach!  I think only a foodie can be exited about such gifts!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

A Culinary Journey Begins

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So, I was sitting at the Edgewater Grill in San Diego last Saturday morning enjoying a delicious vegetarian omelette with spinach, onions, mushrooms, tomato, and goat cheese reading Julie & Julia and thought to myself, "I should record my culinary diary."  As I was looking out over the harbor on this cool overcast day that was the moment I decided to record my food journey.

I do this so I can remember what I learn as it really happens - the "highs and lows," and  the successes along with the "crash and burns."  I have so many recipes that I want to try, and I have so many kitchen gadgets that I would like to learn to use better.   I really enjoy cooking. Someday, I might even like to take a cooking class, or two.  I also record my activity, thoughts, and reviews for others who might like to learn along with me.  (Hey it's just my 2 cents as an average foodie, so take it for what it's worth.)

By the way the omelette was truly delicious but the hash browns served with it were "deep fried potato chunks" like you might find on an average breakfast buffet.  Yuck.  Next time I will ask for fruit and toast for my side (because I didn't care for the super sweet banana muffin served with it either.)  The omelette was perfect and the fresh whole spinach leaves looked like they were perfectly preserved within the egg while all the other ingredients made up for a warm tasty stuffing.  Yum!


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