Friday, February 10, 2012

Chicken Tortilla Soup

My friend Jenni makes an excellent tortilla soup. For the last 2 years, she has brought it to our Christmas Baking Extravaganza for lunch, and Jack and I just love it.

A few weeks ago we ate at a Mexican restaurant and, being a rather blustery day, I ordered the tortilla soup. It was good, but not great, and the next day I made a pot of Jenni’s soup. No comparison. Now, the way it was in the restaurant may have been the traditional Mexican type (thin broth and a few shreds of chicken ladled over fried tortilla strips), but it was not what we like. It was not Tortilla Soup, Jenni-style!

She gave me permission to post her recipe and here it is. The tortillas sautéed at the beginning and cooked with the soup makes it thick and hearty, there is a perfect balance of cumin and chili powder in the broth, and don’t skimp on the garnishes! I used thawed frozen roasted corn kernels (from Trader Joe’s). This is definitely a main-dish soup, thick and hearty and very flavorful. Serve with cornbread, if desired.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Chicken Tortilla Soup

Recipe By: Jenni

Servings : 6

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

-------- ------------ --------------------------------

18 ounces cooked chicken breast halves -- shredded

3 tablespoons olive oil -- (light or extra light)

8 corn tortillas chopped

6 medium garlic cloves -- minced

1 medium onion -- chopped

28 ounces canned diced tomato -- undrained

6 cups low-sodium chicken broth

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper -- if desired

3 bay leaves

9 ounces cooked black beans -- (about 1- 14 ounce can, drained and rinsed)

1 cup corn kernels -- thawed, if frozen

3 tablespoons light sour cream

2 tablespoons skim milk

Cook chicken breasts and shred, if not already done.

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add tortillas, garlic, and onion. Sauté for 2-3 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add cilantro, cumin, chili powder, chipotle (if desired), and bay leaves. Turn down the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add black beans and corn. Cook for an additional 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix sour cream and milk in a small bowl.

Ladle into bowls. Drizzle with the sour cream mixture, sprinkle with cilantro, and add other toppings as desired (diced avocado, shredded Monterey Jack or crumbled queso fresco, baked tortilla chips, etc.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 425 Calories (kcal); 16g Total Fat; (30% calories from fat); 38g Protein; 44g Carbohydrate; 54mg Cholesterol; 537mg Sodium

Food Exchanges: 2 Grain(Starch); 4 Lean Meat; 1/2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1 1/2 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

NOTES : This is a thick, hearty tortilla soup which, although great on its own, just shines with the addition of toppings ( a drizzle of sour cream thickened with milk, which imitates the Mexican "crema" is included in the recipe, but more toppings, including avocado, cheese, baked tortilla chips, are great).

Monday, January 23, 2012

Crockpot Chicken Rendang

For the last 28 years we have lived here at the farm I have stoically dealt with no heat in my kitchen. Well, except for in the months of June through September when, due to the kitchen’s western exposure, there was plenty of radiant heat in the late afternoons…

But this kitchen, built sometime in the early 1960’s as an addition, is on a concrete slab and has no source of heat other than what wafts through the 28” door opening into the dining room and the pilot lights on my stove. It is a massive range, a commercial one with 6 burners, two ovens, a raised griddle and broiler underneath, and there are 11 pilots going at all times (except during the months of June through September when I only turn on the gas and light the pilots to make a meal). The bit of warmth from these pilot lights are, I am sure, what keeps my water lines under the sink from freezing during these single-digit nights.

This will soon end.

We are planning to have another addition constructed on the main level, this one a laundry room extension and a new, large bathroom. While a wall is being taken out, the commercial stove will be (somehow) carried out of the kitchen through this large opening. I like the stove, it has served me well for 20-some years, but I now want a smaller range and more cabinets and counter space.

Also, the new stove will feature a convection oven, which will make the annual Christmas baking extravaganza much less frustrating. A commercial stove such as mine is great for cooking and roasting, but not so much for baking cookies and pastries.

I am so excited, and am having great fun looking at stove options (and shower units, whirlpools, lighting, etc.). And another very exciting part of this renovation is that we will finally be able to add heat to the kitchen. Imagine! I will soon be able to make breakfast in the winter without my hands being freezing cold!

Of course, that’s if the contractor returns. He was supposed to call last Monday about an imminent start date. I’m not too worried, though, since he has disappeared before then reappeared eventually. At least he does return, unlike others we have hired in the past. ;)

There will probably be a few days where I will be without a stove and I am prepared to make do with the microwave, toaster oven, and crockpot.

I’ve never used my slow cooker much. In fact, I had originally purchased it to anneal glass beads when I went through a glass-bead-making phase. But I started to actually use it occasionally last year and found that it is very handy to have. And I like being able to put ingredients in it, go and get involved in a project, then return to the kitchen hours later to find dinner already made.

The following is a recipe which I developed last week, after talking at length with a friend about a new Thai restaurant and realizing that our conversation had started a craving for something with a flavorful sauce of coconut milk, lime, lemongrass, and spice.

“Randang” is a Malaysian dish which is meat or fish slow-cooked in coconut milk and spices. I used chicken breasts (no big surprise, there) and added vegetables as well. Honestly, for a first effort, I was surprised at how well it turned out and that’s why I am posting the recipe. There was a lot of sauce, so next time I may use only about 2/3 of the can of coconut milk. Or maybe not since I now have a delicious sauce to use for stir-fried shrimp later this week.

* Exported from MasterCook *

Crockpot Chicken Rendang

Recipe By: Vicci

Servings : 6

Amount Measure Ingredient -- Preparation Method

-------- ------------ --------------------------------

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breast

1 can light coconut milk

2 tablespoons Madras curry powder

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon minced lemongrass

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper -- (use less if you don't want a moderate amount of heat)

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

5 whole garlic cloves

1 small onion -- coarsely chopped, about 1/2 cup

2 tablespoons cashews

16 ounces bell pepper -- green, colored, or a mix; chopped in 1" pieces; about 1-1/2 large

8 ounces carrots -- peeled and cut diagonally 1/2" thick; about 2 large

2 1/2 ounces frozen green beans -- thawed; about 1 cup

1/2 teaspoon coconut extract

3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

1 1/2 cups basmati rice -- uncooked

Cut the chicken breast into large pieces (about 1 per serving). In a small amount of oil, brown the chicken on two sides in a large skillet.

While the chicken is browning, in the crockpot, mix the coconut milk through the ground black pepper.

While the food processor is running, drop in the garlic cloves and process until chopped. Add the onion through cashews and process until all are finely chopped. While the machine is running, add 1/4 cup water in a slow stream to make a paste. Scrape this mixture out into the crockpot and mix. Add the bell pepper and carrots to the coconut milk mixture, then place the browned chicken breast peins on top. Cover, turn to high, and cook for 3 hours. Add the thawed green beans, cover, turn the crockpot to low, and cook for an additional 30 minutes.

Add the thawed green beans, cover, and turn the crockpot to low. Cook for an additional 30 minutes.

Prepare rice during this final 30 minutes.

Stir in the coconut extract.

In shallow bowls, serve chicken pieces and vegetables with generous amounts of sauce over steamed rice; sprinkle with cilantro. Squeeze wedges of fresh lime over, if desired.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Per serving: 435 Calories (kcal); 8g Total Fat (3g Saturated); (16% calories from fat); 42g Protein; 50g Carbohydrate; 88mg Cholesterol; 162mg Sodium

Food Exchanges: 2 Grain(Starch); 5 Lean Meat; 2 Vegetable; 0 Fruit; 1 Fat; 0 Other Carbohydrates

RECIPE NOTE: I prefer to use regular coconut milk and dilute with water to cut the fat content (“light coconut milk is just that—regular coconut milk cut with an equal amount of water, then sold at a higher price than the regular). But I had a can of “light”, purchased by mistake, and used it.

In either case, whether using the light or the diluted regular, I always add coconut extract to give some extra flavor. This is best added toward the end of the cooking time, so don’t forget it!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Tilapia with Oranges, Tomatoes, and Toasted Garlic

We awoke this morning to snow, and underneath that, ice.

Pleased that we didn’t need to drive anywhere today, my first duty was to clear the ice from our birdfeeders.

Poor little guys, half of the perches were iced over, as was the tray which held the seed, and small icicles hung from the top. It looked very cold.

I spent a couple of hours today cleaning our hall closet, which is a very nice job for a cold winter day (especially when a nice, warm radiator is nearby). I hope to make a trip to the recycling center sometime in the next week or two, and the stacks of old magazines were falling over into each other. It’s amazing how many magazines I bundled up.

I grew up reading magazines. One of my earliest reading memories was reading Good Housekeeping in bed, while staying at my Gram’s house. My Mom has probably kept a subscription to that magazine for over 50 years (they should award super-long-time subscribers like her!). As I grew older, I bought my own—Tiger Beat, then later, Seventeen and Glamour then onto Cosmopolitan as I slid into my mid-20’s. Then Jack and I were married and I realized that I needed to evaluate my subscription choices since I was living on a farm and no longer working in the city so I started reading cooking and home-decorating magazines. After the internet came into my life, I’ve been able to pare down to a few hard-copy magazines such as Eating Well, Health, Real Simple, and Better Homes & Gardens.

Mom still subscribes to more than I do, and she passes me her issues when she is finished with them. One which I seem to get some decent recipes from is Woman’s Day.

After a wonderful, yet rich, lunch at a Mexican restaurant the other day I decided that we needed to have something very light for dinner. I opened my binder of “to try” recipes and found one taken from the November 2011 issue of Woman’s Day.

Tilapia with Oranges, Tomatoes, and Toasted Garlic was a great choice. It is incredibly quick to make and very tasty. Somehow, I didn’t think that oranges, tomatoes, and garlic would be this good. I served it with roasted butternut squash cubes, but I think that garlic-sautéed spinach would be even better for the next time.

Jack is not wild about couscous, so I subbed steamed jasmine rice. It will be on our regular rotation for these winter months.

Tilapia with Oranges, Tomatoes, and Toasted Garlic


  • 1/2 cup(s) whole-wheat couscous
  • 1 large orange
  • 3 teaspoon(s) olive oil
  • 4 small tilapia fillets (about 1½ lb)
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 2 clove(s) garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1.5 piece(s) fresh ginger, very thinly sliced
  • 1 pint(s) cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced


  1. Cook the couscous according to package directions. Cut away the peel and white pith of the orange. Working over a bowl, cut the orange into segments, adding them to the bowl along with any juices.
  2. Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Season the tilapia with 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper and cook until opaque throughout, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.
  3. Wipe out the skillet and heat the remaining 2 tsp oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown, about 1 minute. Add the tomatoes and cook, tossing occasionally, until beginning to break down, about 3 minutes. Add the oranges and any juices and gently toss to heat through. Serve with the tilapia and couscous and sprinkle with the scallions.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Gnocchi with Butternut Squash, Spinach, and Walnuts

I was organizing Christmas decorations in the basement yesterday afternoon and uncovered a butternut squash. Apparently, while unpacking cookie tins last month, I tossed an empty plastic bag over the squash (which was sitting innocently on a shelf in the cool basement). This, I decided, was a “sign”. Butternut squash for dinner.

Since butternut squash goes so well with sage, I picked some leaves from my (outdoor) still-alive-but-looking-straggly sage plant this afternoon. Then I noticed a small amount of baby spinach leaves in a bag in the refrigerator, and a package of potato gnocchi that I had bought yesterday that was still on the kitchen table.

Jack wandered into the kitchen asked what I was planning for dinner. I told him gnocchi, butternut squash, spinach… and he then suggested that I add toasted walnuts. Brilliant.

I’ve made similar recipes before, but this time I actually wrote down what I did. This was so good! Little pillows of potato-ey gnocchi, cubes of sweet butternut squash, spinach and parmesan, and the crunchy toasted walnuts were an excellent final touch. And it came together very quickly.

Gnocchi with Butternut Squash, Spinach, and Walnuts

16 ounces potato gnocchi

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

12 ounces (about 2 ½ cups) peeled and seeded butternut squash (cut into ½” pieces)

1 ½ ounces (about ¼ cup) diced onion (1/2” pieces)

1 large clove garlic, smashed and minced

3 ounces baby spinach leaves (if large, run a knife through them a couple of times)

1 ½ tablespoons fresh, minced sage

salt and pepper to taste

1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan

2 tablespoons chopped toasted walnuts

Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for the gnocchi.

Toast walnuts, if necessary.

Melt butter and olive oil in a large skillet. Add squash and cook, stirring frequently, until pieces are just softened (about 5 minutes).

Add gnocchi to boiling water.

Add the onion and garlic to the squash and cook for an additional 2 minutes.

Add spinach and cook for another minute. Scoop 1/3 cup of water from the cooking gnocchi and stir into the vegetables. Drain the gnocchi and add to the pan along with the sage leaves and crushed red pepper flakes, stirring gently.

Season with salt and pepper. Divide between 2 plates, sprinkle with Parmesan and walnuts.

An additional comment: This recipe, if you are to go by the gnocchi package, should have made 4 servings. Right. It probably made close to 3—Jack ate two! And, afterward, he said that he could have had another two servings. :) So much for portion control. We love our carbs!

Gnocchi is our downfall. I once saw the photo of a recipe that showed a serving as being 8 measly gnocchi. We laughed. I suppose that if you follow the “recommended servings”, if you are making the above recipe for 4, perhaps you should double all of the other ingredients.

And, after roasting the other half of this butternut squash in the oven to accompany our lunch today, I think that instead of sautéing the squash I would prefer to roast it for in this recipe.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Turkey Pumpkin Chili

This morning we woke to snow. I looked out of the window and saw a scene worthy of any of those glass snowball decorations (after being shaken furiously). So far there hasn’t been a lot of accumulation, maybe a couple of inches, but it finally looks Christmas-ey out. Over a week later. Oh well, too many icy, cold, snowy Decembers have been complained about, so why not also complain about a warm, rainy December as well? If I lived in a more temperate climate I probably would not get to complain about the weather at all (and where, anyway, is that Vicci-perfect climate?).

The flotsam and jetsam of Christmas are littered about the house. Due to work on the house and barn, I finally got around to decorating too little, too late; and then with becoming sick over Christmas and the week-plus thereafter, very little straightening-up was accomplished. I’ve been sitting around, eating the leftover seasonal goodies, and feeling like a blob. Jack is finally feeling better (a more miserable patient there could never be), and my breathing is improving, but I have learned that the process cannot be rushed or there will be an inevitable backward slide. I will try to put up with taking it easy for the next few days. I cannot promise that my husband, however, will do the same.

To help us both in our recoveries, and also to try and offset the delicious cookies and candies which neither of us can seem to ignore, I am preparing healthy meals. I had a single pumpkin from my garden this year (which, actually, was a surprise because I forgot to plant pumpkin), and it has been sitting on the kitchen counter for weeks. I used half for dinner last night.

I really don’t know what I did before Trader Joe came into my life. Well, I do. I never had the option to buy the variety of items which are available at that store. If I wanted a curry, I made a curry from (almost) scratch. Having TJ’s bottled curry sauces on hand, in both the Indian and the Thai varieties, is a great convenience.

Although I do feel better these days, I’m rather tired and breathless by the day’s end and looking for something relatively quick to make for dinner. Yesterday I was craving a nice, warming, coconut-scented Thai curry. I pulled a bottle of Trader Joe’s Thai Yellow Curry sauce from the pantry, sautéed chicken and onions, added the sauce, added chunks of fresh pumpkin, and simmered until the pumpkin softened. Just before serving I stirred in chopped fresh spinach. Served over jasmine rice, with a sprinkling of cashews on top, it was thoroughly enjoyable and almost too easy. :)

Tonight, I am going to use the other half of that pumpkin for Turkey Pumpkin Chili, which I wrote about last January.


(after-dinner note: great chili recipe! To save time, I sauteed the ground turkey, then added the onions through garlic, and then the canned tomatoes, etc. Very delicious and warming.)

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Hoppin' John!

Happy New Year!

My Mom makes pork and sauerkraut for New Year’s Day, and I never could learn to like either the taste or the smell of that fermented cabbage! So for the past 25+ years, I have made our own NYD food tradition of black-eyed peas and greens in various forms. I can never remember exactly what recipe I have used from year to year, but today’s lunch from Vegetarian Times has already been printed out, noted, and saved in both my binder and computer file. Jack’s comment after the first bite: “Now this is excellent!” :)

Hoppin' John With Collard Greens

Ingredient List

Serves 4

  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, divided
  • 2 Tbs. agave nectar (I used honey)
  • 3 tsp. olive oil, divided
  • 1 tsp. chili powder, divided
  • 1 tsp. salt, divided
  • 1 large bunch collard greens, chopped (I used 10 ounces)
  • 4 slices meatless low-fat bacon strips, chopped (I used 6 ounces of smoked turkey sausage)
  • 1 small onion, chopped (3/4 cup)
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped (3/4 cup)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (2 tsp.)
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked long-grain white rice (I used ¾ cup uncooked and then, of course, cooked it)
  • 1 15.5-oz. can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed (I used 10 ounces frozen, thawed)


1. Whisk together 2 Tbs. vinegar, agave nectar, 1 tsp. olive oil, 1/2 tsp. chili powder, and 1/2 tsp. salt; set aside.

2. Cook collard greens in pot of boiling salted water 15 minutes. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup liquid.

3. Meanwhile, heat remaining 2 tsp. oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add bacon, onion, celery, garlic, and remaining 1/2 tsp. chili powder. Cook 8 minutes, or until translucent. Add collard greens, vinegar-agave nectar mixture, 1/4 cup reserved cooking liquid, 2 Tbs. vinegar, and remaining 1/2 tsp. salt. Cover, and cook 10 minutes, or until greens are tender. Transfer to serving platter.

4. Add rice and beans to skillet. Stir in remaining 1/4 cup cooking liquid, and cook 3 minutes, or until heated through. Serve rice and beans over greens.

Note: I stirred the peas, rice, and sausage into the collard greens and served all in one big bowl.

Nutritional Information

Per Serving: Calories: 291, Protein: 12g, Total fat: 6g, Saturated fat: 0.5g, Carbs: 51g, Cholesterol: mg, Sodium: 723mg, Fiber: 8g, Sugars: 12g

Because I didn’t feel like making the accompanying cornbread, this recipe made 2 servings. :)

I have to wonder, why do I only think of making this on New Year’s Day? It is very good, healthy, easy to make… I’m keeping the printed version in my current recipe binder and hope to put it into regular rotation over this winter.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Skillet Chicken with Cranberries and Apples

December 30th---and what a month it has been! Does any time go as fast as during those thirty-one days of December?

I am sitting at the computer, looking outside on a lovely, late-December day. The sun has already begun to dip behind trees covering the hills to the west even though it’s barely 4pm, and the thermometer read 54 degrees when I walked by the window last. We’re in southwestern Pennsylvania, so this cannot last. But it is a nice gift.

That’s what my Mom called it this morning. She phoned and told me that she took “this gift of a day” and went for a nice, long walk. Having broken her ankle last summer, and become increasingly frustrated with limping and pain throughout the fall, this past month she finally got back into her walking routine. When the weather is decent, about two miles a day (as far as I can figure out) and I applaud her. Although I cringe at the thought of her out on country lanes, walking on the edge of the road, and I only wish that she would get her act together and locate some of the flashing devices I have bought her in the past few years to wear so that she can be safe. Are you listening, Mummy????

I am being forced to sit and be quiet and wait out the last days of a fairly nasty asthma attack that began on Christmas Eve day. I have spent several hours combing through my cooking and baking notes (dating from September!) and realize how hopelessly behind I am. There just isn’t enough time in the day for everything.

I have a photo, and nailed the recipe, for a wonderful linguine with white clam sauce. I’ve seen the scribbled recipe floating around the kitchen for a couple of months now and, of course, since I have the time to post I cannot seem to locate it. Perhaps next time.

Next up, a photo from several weeks ago and I know where that recipe is. Online. Safe in the Eating Well website.

Skillet Chicken with Cranberries and Apples was, as I recall, my attempt at trying to cook a quick dinner but to also make something new and different. It fit the bill perfectly.

Skillet Chicken with Cranberries & Apples

From EatingWell: September/October 2011

Celebrate the flavors of fall with chicken cooked in a fast apple-cranberry sauce. If you prefer a less tart flavor, try dried cranberries instead of fresh. Serve with quick-cooking wild rice and roasted Brussels sprouts.

4 servings, about 1 1/4 cups each | Active Time: 20 minutes | Total Time: 20 minutes


  • 1 pound chicken tenders, trimmed and cut in half on the diagonal
  • 3/4 teaspoon dried thyme, divided
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil, divided
  • 2 crisp red apples, such as Braeburn, Fuji or Gala, thinly sliced
  • 1 large red onion, quartered and sliced
  • 3/4 cup apple cider or apple juice, divided
  • 1 cup cranberries, fresh or frozen (thawed)
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour


  1. Sprinkle both sides of chicken tenders with 1/4 teaspoon each thyme, salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and add the chicken. Cook, stirring, until lightly browned on all sides, 3 to 4 minutes total. Transfer to a clean plate.
  2. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon oil to the pan. Add apples, onion, 2 tablespoons cider (or juice) and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon each thyme and salt. Stir to combine. Cook, stirring often, until the apples and onion are softened, 3 to 4 minutes. Add cranberries and sprinkle flour over everything in the pan; cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Return the chicken to the pan and pour in the remaining cider (or juice). Cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until the sauce has thickened and the chicken is cooked through, about 3 minutes more.


Per serving : 287 Calories; 10 g Fat; 1 g Sat; 5 g Mono; 63 mg Cholesterol; 26 g Carbohydrates; 24 g Protein; 4 g Fiber; 496 mg Sodium; 415 mg Potassium

2 Carbohydrate Serving

Exchanges: 1 1/2 fruit, 1 vegetable, 3 lean meat, 1 1/2 fat

I cut boneless skinless chicken breasts in pieces instead of using chicken tenders, but otherwise prepared the original recipe as written. It took so little time to make that I had to hold it in the pan for several minutes while the pilaf finished cooking. The chicken was tender, the tart cranberries a very nice contrast to the sweet apple, and there were a lot of pan juices which soaked into the multigrain pilaf wonderfully. I also served mashed sweet potatoes, and the dinner was a hit. Very warming, and flavorful, and healthy. In fact, this will probably be our dinner this evening.