Tortilla Soup

Here’s part-two of our fiesta.

This is another recipe I adapted from a childhood fave. I believe it came from my best friend’s mother, Trish, the awesome cook who grew fresh veggies in her garden and made salsa and this wonderfully soothing soup with a kick. I always thought it was weird, the idea of tortillas in soup, until I realized you could toss in a handful of bottom-of-the-bag tortilla chips and call it good.

Or, for a healthier version, you could cut corn tortillas into strips and toast them for about 10 minutes at 400 degrees.

The original recipe also called for roasted chicken pieces and chicken broth. If you want to make it meaty, just bake some boneless chicken breasts with a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and cut them into 1-inch pieces. You can toss them into the soup at the same time as the beans and corn, or even leave out the beans altogether.

That’s the great thing about this soup – it is awesomely versatile. If you like it mild, skip the jalapeno. If you want it to burn your face off, throw in that jalapeno seeds and all.

But here’s how I like it. This recipe is super healthy and vegan. I ruin that by adding a few shreds of cheddar cheese. But, like I said, up to you.

Tortilla Soup

1 large onion, chopped
2 T. olive oil
1 green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 T. spice blend of cumin, chili powder and salt (a taco mix would do)
1 32-oz container no-chicken broth
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
1 14 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup corn

Add-ons: Tortilla chips, cheddar cheese, sour cream, avocado slices

Heat a soup pot to medium, add the oil and saute the onions and garlic. Toss in the bell peppers and jalapeno and cook a few minutes until the onions are translucent and the peppers are soft.

Mix in the spice blend. Then add the no-chicken broth, tomatoes, beans and corn. Simmer for 15 minutes. Then turn off the heat and serve.

There’s no way it could be that easy, right? Well, it is that easy, and that’s why you should make it, and then crunch up the chips in your hands and lick off the salt. Or don’t – it’s your soup.

Holy Guacamole

Because Mike and I felt like having a little fiesta in this 30-below weather, and because avocados were so surprisingly ripe at Hy-Vee today, I give you the only recipe for guacamole you’ll ever need.

But first! I give you my most frequently used spice blend, which you’ll need for this recipe, and it goes like this:

3 T. ground cumin
3 T. ground chili powder
1 T. Celtic sea salt

Why so little salt? That particular kind goes a looong way because it’s in a very natural form, and that’s a good thing, right? I buy my spices from Penzeys, or at Mexican or Indian grocery stores where they usually have a wide array of affordable bulk spices.

Guacamole

3 ripe avocados
2 cloves garlic, minced
About 1/8 of an onion, diced
As much fresh jalapeno as you can handle, diced (I use maybe 1/4 of one, seeded)
The juice of half a lemon
2 T. of your spice blend
10 grape tomatoes, halved, or half a seeded tomato, diced

As you can see, this is a very imprecise recipe, so if you have more avocado, add a little more of each ingredient. The important thing is to use fresh ingredients. If you get a little too much garlic, so what?

Scoop out your avocados and dice them up. Squeeze in the lemon juice so your avocados don’t turn brown.

Add the garlic and mash it all together with a fork.

Add the onions and jalapenos, then the tomatoes.

Mix in the spice blend. Taste it. If it needs a little more seasoning, adjust it here.

And for God sakes don’t feel guilty about eating guacamole. Avocados are full of good fats. This recipe is vegan, raw even. If you’re not going to eat it with other veggies just go easy on the chips. Lots of guacamole on a little chip. Cerveza. Tortilla soup (recipe coming). Perfect dinner for a ridiculously cold night.

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

Hello, lover.

I was looking for a new Christmas cookie to make, and I remembered I saved this recipe I had come across checking Web sites for my freelance work. I think I saw the name Todd English, and after going to his restaurant, Figs, in Boston, thought instantly of one of the best dinners I’ve ever had. Just simple and good food, and so I hoped his recipe for Chocolate Sandwich Cookies would be simple and good cookies.

They are. Yum.

I did have one issue with the recipe — the dough was way too loose, even after I put it in the fridge for much longer than the 30 minutes it called for. I would just recommend using less water at the end, lest you end up with overly chocolatey fingers.

I also skipped the homemade frosting (I really hate getting out the mixer and washing all those components if I don’t have to) so bought a can of Pillsbury cream cheese frosting and called it good. To cut out the circles, I actually used a little biscuit cutter. If you wanted to do a less messy cookie day with little kids than the elaborate sugar cookies we used to make, this might be a good substitute.

Wild rice stuffed acorn squash

This would be a great recipe for a Thanksgiving table. It has all the flavors of a turkey stuffing, but it’s vegan — with protein coming from wild rice and ground pecans. The consistency is like mashed potatoes.

I can’t say I was a big squash fan (other than grilled zucchini and yellow squash in the summer) before this recipe. The only time I’ve really cooked with it was when I spent 3 hours making Ina Garten’s from-scratch pot pies. It had pieces of butternut squash inside, but I don’t think they got cooked enough to melt in your mouth. They were just sort of stringy and odd. But in this recipe the squash is basically obliterated by heat and caramelized with a sweet crust – yum.

Wild rice stuffed acorn squash

Adapted from Epicurean

2 small acorn squash
1/2 cup wild rice
1 1/2 cups water
3 tablespoons fresh sage (or 1 dried)
1 teaspoon thyme
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
1/2 onion finely chopped
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon black pepper
pinch of ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup pecans plus pecan pieces for topping

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Oil a baking sheet (I suggest one with a Silpat on top). Cut each squash in half as shown. Scoop out the guts and place cut-side down on the baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes or until the flesh is soft. Reduce heat to 375.

In a saucepan, cook the wild rice in the water, simmering until it is tender and starting to split. You may have to add a little more water or drain some off. Depends on your rice.

Finely chop the sage. In a saute pan, heat the olive oil and saute the carrot, onion and sage over medium heat until softened. Stir in the thyme, marjoram, pepper, nutmeg and salt and remove pan from heat.

When the squash halves are cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh with a big spoon, leaving a bit behind so the skins stay in tact. (I tore two of them, but they still held well enough together). In a large bowl, mash the flesh with a potato masher. Use a food processor to grind the pecans finely. Add the ground pecans, sauteed vegetables and wild rice to the squash bowl and mix thoroughly. Stuff the mixture into the shells and sprinkle with pecan pieces. Place in a casserole dish big enough for them all to fit snugly. Bake for 30 minutes.

Feel good about a really healthy dinner.

The vegetarian shit list

So Mike and I finally got our butts to a meeting of a group of local vegetarians for dinner on Friday. We had a great time, including great Indian food. But I think the best part is finally being surrounded by people who get you — the people who have also been the weird ones at every table. Of course, even within that group there are a lot of differences in diet and differences in opinion of just how serious a thing this is. But overall it was a very welcoming thing, and a nice change of pace to be the majority in the room.

After 3 1/2 years sans meat (wow!) there are a few things that are always the same and always irritating about being veg (or pescetarian in our case). And I will preface this by saying that I love love love and appreciate the efforts by my friends and family to accomodate my diet. It wasn’t their decision to cut the bacon out of their baked beans but they do it anyway, and for that they are supa-awesome.

But that also leads me to point one, which is that nothing makes me want to shrivel up and disappear than someone making a big fuss out of having a vegetarian at the table. “Oh yeah, I forgot, you’re a vegetarian!” Really, it’s fine. Even if I have to slap together a cheese sandwich I’ll be fine. I’ve done it before. In fact, I have no problem making something for myself if need be. I think sometimes people forget that many things in our diet are already vegetarian (ever had spaghetti with marinara sauce? A PBJ? Eggplant parm?) So it shouldn’t be any kind of crisis if you’re having a vegetarian over unless you were planning to roast a pig in the backyard and eat it with your hands. And then, okay, I’ll bring something for myself.

Point two is that the number one substitute for meat always seems to be mushrooms. I get it — they are meaty-ish tasting and also brown. But I have a real aversion to mushrooms because of the texture, so it really sucks that they’re everywhere among vegetarian options (which are already few on local menus). So I suppose it’s my fault for being extra picky, but seriously. There are plenty of other foods besides mushrooms people could cook with. Come on.

It also seems like chefs are on auto pilot when it comes to putting that token vegetarian dish on the menu. Let me guess – pasta with vegetables. Woo hoo! I think because I’ve chosen to make my diet more varied and I love to cook and try new recipes that I’ve discovered just how many zillion things you can make vegetarian. And if I had to choose out of all of them what I wanted for dinner, pasta with vegetables would be like number 126. Or, okay, now I’m on a roll — what’s up with the vegetarian sandwich or wrap that’s basically raw vegetables and a squirt of bland sauce? Did you even taste it? Because if you did you’d realize no one wants to eat that for lunch. Even a wacko vegetarian!

It was soooo nice when we were on vacation (or last weekend in Eureka Springs) when we would get to a restaurant and 2/3 of the menu was vegetarian friendly, including things like vegetarian biscuits and gravy, vegan hollandaise, tofu scrambles. I mean, I could just go back to the kitchen and kiss somebody for being both creative and considerate. I know every restaurant serves its community and this community just isn’t that vegetarian, but sometimes I miss that ease of ordering.

So what would make me happy? Just a diversity of options. There are so many in the world (and let’s face it, this is a world community of well traveled people now) so there’s no reason for chefs and home cooks not to take a chance on some different recipes. Let’s get some hummus and falafel, polenta cassrole, eggplant curry, peanut stew, sesame noodles, black bean chili, bean and kale soup… up in here. Would that be so bad?

If you want to take a chance on a new recipe, I really recommend the Moosewood cookbooks. And of course there are plenty of good recipes right here.

Huevos Rancheros

This has become a staple of our breakfast, well maybe lunch, repertoire.


Huevos Rancheros

from the Corey/Hall kitchen

Saute maybe a quarter of a chopped onion in a little oil. Dump in a can of beans, add some taco seasoning (I make my own with cumin, chili powder and sea salt). Simmer over medium for just a few minutes.

In another shallow pan, cover the bottom with oil and heat to medium. Crack in two eggs and let them fry, flipping once, until they’re as done as you like them. It only takes a few minutes to get them over hard.

Pile up on a wheat tortilla and top with salsa or fresh tomato sauce. Yum!

Hello, fall: time to make apple crisp

I wanted to make an apple pie because I’ve never made one before. But pies are a tad involved, so I took a shortcut and made an apple crisp instead.

My rhubarb crisp recipe was so successful I just used it as a guide, substituting apples for the rhubarb and strawberries. You could do this with just about any fruit. But it is deeeelish with apples this time of year.

Apple Crisp
adapted from Simply in Season (click here for the exact recipe)

Preheat oven to 350. Peel, core and chop 6 apples.

Heat them with sugar and vanilla until they start to boil.

Then mix up a little cornstarch and water, add that to the fruit, and continue cooking until the mixture is thick and bubbling.

In a big bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, pecans, salt, cinnamon and butter. I used a pastry cutter to get perfect chunks. When the mixture forms clumps in your hands but still separates, you’re good to go.

Spread 2/3 of the crust in the bottom of a greased 9X13 casserole dish. Add the fruit.

Sprinkle the rest of the crust on top. Bake for 40 minutes.

Eat with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Loving: open-face breakfast burrito

I’ve had this for breakfast the last two Sundays. It’s perfect fuel for all the errand-running you inevitably do.

Just saute some chopped onions in a little butter. Then add two eggs and scramble (I always add salt, pepper and a little milk to the eggs before I whisk them up). Put the eggs on a wheat tortilla, then top with a little shredded pepperjack and chunky salsa.

The cookie to end all cookies

After letting the dough sit overnight I finally got to bake my super famous hoity toity New York Times chocolate chip cookies.

I made just a couple of adjustments. To avoid another trip to the store I used all-purpose flour and skipped the sea salt topping. I found the cookies to be even saltier than most so I’m not sure why it needs more. I also used Nestle dark chocolate chips from the grocery store, which were fancier than usual, but nothing boutique-y.

The dough was a thing of beauty. After I whipped it in the mixer for several minutes it was light and fluffy (and of course I had to have a taste, too).

I had a heck of a time finding an appropriately sized cookie scoop. Martha, of course, came through with her version at Kmart. But it failed pretty much instantly and really only helped me shape the dough into balls. I had to dig most of them out of the scoop with my fingers. I guess some items require you to spend more to get a better product.

Anyway, the cookies turned out beautifully. Because of their size, I think, I didn’t worry so much about taking them out at the exact minute they were supposed to be done. When I felt like it had been close to 20 minutes, I checked on them, and they were usually ready to come out. I highly recommend a glass of cold milk with these bad boys, as they are extra large and fairly dense.

Mike said they were about as perfect as a chocolate chip cookie can get. I agree in terms of appearance. But I have to admit it would be tough to break my allegiance with the Nestle Tollhouse recipe I grew up with. It’s like that damn green bean casserole — it’s just something I can’t explain.

Almost-all local ratatouille

Ratatouille is one of those dishes that is so incredibly simple it doesn’t seem possible for it to be good, but it’s that simplicity that makes it even better than most dishes. And what I think makes it even better is using ingredients that have been pulled from the ground just hours before.

We bought quite a bit at the farmers market this week: green beans, red potatoes, blueberries, peppers, eggplant, carrots… So it just seemed like together with the tomatoes from our garden we had the makings of a fresh all-vegetable dish. In fact, the only vegetable ingredient that was not local was the garlic. I mixed red and orange tomatoes from our garden and got to use two of my favorite kitchen items: the cutting board with a drain and the soft peeler. Nice!

I used this recipe for “Simple Ratatouille” that I cut out of a newspaper. It says it’s adapted from Julia Child’s “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” I’ve used it before, and I think it’s just about perfect.

You need:

1/2 pound zucchini, sliced into 1/8-inch slices
1/2 pound eggplant, sliced into 3/8-inch slices
3 T. olive oil
1/2 pound thinly sliced yellow onions
1 sliced green bell pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and juiced
3 T. fresh parsley or basil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. First of all, salt your eggplant slices, let them sit for an hour and then rinse them off. It really helps with the bitterness.
2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and lay out the eggplant and zucchini slices (you may need 2 but I squished ’em all on one). Brush lightly with olive oil and bake until slightly brown on each side.
3. In a skillet, cook onions and peppers in 2 T. olive oil for about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic and season to taste.

Slice tomato pulp into 3/8-inch strips. Place tomato slices over onions and peppers.

4. Cover the skillet and cook over low for 5 minutes. Uncover, baste with the tomato juices, raise the heat and boil for several minutes, until most of the juice has evaporated.
5. Put 1/3 of tomato mixture in bottom of a small casserole dish. Sprinkle with 1 T. herbs. Arrange half of the eggplant and zucchini on top, more tomatoes and herbs, then the rest of the zucchini/eggplant and finally the rest of the tomatoes. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes.

We ate it with a brown rice mixture and thought it was delicious and incredibly healthy. And local, of course.