Saturday, January 31, 2009

Chicken Tortilla Soup

So this is the first post that truly tested the limits of the whole hatred-of-tomatoes theme. I love tortilla soup but I'm pretty picky about it. I'm not a fan of the very thin broth-y soups that taste very much like tomato soup with taco seasoning and some tortilla chips thrown on top for good measure. For me, those soups don't have any interest or character and taste way to much like raw tomatoes to be tasty. No, I prefer the creamier versions where you can tell the flour tortillas have lent their starchy goodness to the whole soup and it really tastes like a chicken taco on a flour tortilla with all the fixin's was just blended up and stuck in a bowl for you.

Since it has been unusually cool these last couple of weeks, I've been thinking a hot bowl of soup would hit the spot. I found this recipe on Cooking Light and decided to give it a go, but of course I tweaked it a bit. Since it was our main course I added some chicken to the soup. I also decreased the tomato sauce and added some skim milk to help add a creaminess. The end result: my official taste tester (Brad, the husband) approves. In fact, he loved it. I actually really liked it too but it bordered on almost too tomato-y for my taste. Next time I may add a little less tomato sauce and a little more milk. I like to play around with ratios until I get it just right, even still I really enjoyed it. But I couldn't eat the whole bowl. No worries, Brad finished off his and mine too. And he went back for seconds and thirds, that's right, he had it for dinner three nights in a row. He just couldn't stop talking about it! I always love having his seal of approval.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
(adapted from Cooking Light)

3/4 lb boneless, skinless chicken tenders
1 whole wheat flour tortilla diced into bite-size pieces
1/2 red onion, diced
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 15 oz can tomato sauce
1 cups water
1/2 cup skim milk
1 14 oz can fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1 cup favorite bottled salsa
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon fresh cilantro

Optional Toppings:
shredded sharp cheddar cheese, light sour cream, tortilla chips, etc

Season chicken with salt and pepper on both sides and sear in a soup pot over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes per side. Remove from pot and slice into bite size pieces and set aside. In the same pot, add onion and saute over low heat until soft and almost translucent. Add garlic and saute for another minute or two. Then add tomato sauce, water, milk, broth, salsa and spices. Be sure to stir well and scrap up all the browned chicken and onion bits from the bottom of the pan (read: flavor!) Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10-12 minutes.

This is where I did something I have a feeling most would find strange. I tend to like my soups either super thick or pretty creamy and not really anywhere in between. So I pulled out my handy-dandy new immersion blender and blended the soup while still in the pot on the stove to make the texture nice and smooth. Of course this step is optional.

Afterward, I added the diced chicken and tortilla pieces back into the soup and simmered on low for another 2-3 minutes just to combine the flavors. (Beware: only add the sliced tortillas to the soup if it's going to be eaten immediately. We learned the hard way that if they sit in the soup too long they got real soggy real quick and I wasn't a fan.) Serve with a dollop of light sour cream and a pinch of grated cheddar cheese. I also served this soup with a spinach salad and side of black beans.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins

I got the idea for this particular recipe from Annie's Eat's. She claims that she doesn't understand the obsession people have with the peanut butter and chocolate combo. I developed this particular obsession in college and today, I'm hooked. It's absolute heaven. Don't tell anyone but I've been known to spread peanut butter on a graham cracker and top it with chocolate chips as a sweet snack. ::drool:: Anyway, that being said, she has quite a bit of chocolate-peanut butter recipes on her blog. So this is where I went on Saturday evening when I was looking for a dessert recipe to make with my new Kitchenaid stand mixer.

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Muffins
(adapted from
Annie's Eat's)

1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup brown sugar plus more for topping
3 tbsp. butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 large egg
1/2 cup milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375°. Line a muffin pan with 6 paper liners. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt and brown sugar. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the melted butter, peanut butter, eggs and milk until smooth. Add in the flour mixture and stir until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips. Divide batter evenly between prepared muffin tins, filling each to the top. Optional: Sprinkle the top of each muffin with brown sugar. Bake for 17-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

This is a half-batch, so it made 6 muffins. The batter was a little bland so I added the vanilla and since I love a crunchy muffin-top, I also added the brown sugar on top which caramelized nicely in the oven.
I would have to say that these weren't my favorite muffins ever. Definitely tasty but they were a bit heavy for my taste and the peanut butter flavor wasn't all there. Now for those of you not all that into PB, that may be a good thing. But for me, I was really looking for the big BANG! of the chocolate PB combo and it just wasn't there. I may tweak the recipe and give them another go. Again, they were definitely tasty, just some room for improvement.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

An amazing dinner...

Layne and I made a pretty amazing "Christmas dinner" for ourselves and our husbands on New Year's Eve. It was the first chance we had to actually sit down together, just the four of us, to have a nice meal and exchange Christmas gifts. Then, following the meal, we threw a pretty rockin' New Year's Eve bash into the wee hours of the morning!

I'm sorry it has taken so long to get these pics posted, but you know how the holidays are--busy, busy, busy!!!

We wanted to incorporate some really nice steaks into our meal, but we've definitely done the "seared filet mignons with blue cheese" thing before. So, we instead decided to go with something a little more special--perfect for the big occasion. Here was the dinner menu:

- Individual beef wellingtons with petite filets and herbed cheese spread

- Cheesy potato gratin

- Sauteed Mushrooms with Garlic

- Honey butter-basted rolls

Layne and I mostly made up the recipe for the individual beef wellingtons, checking with a recipe from Emeril that helped with cooking times. We liked the idea of wrapping petite filets in puff pastry, but skipped the pate and added herbed cheese spread instead (parmesan peppercorn flavored).

For the potato gratin, we adapted our version from this recipe that honestly didn't call for much cheese. That just doesn't fly with us! So, we added a healthy handful of grated sharp swiss cheese and substituted feta for the goat cheese (since my local grocery store was out of the goat variety). The result was sharp and tangy, wonderfully seasoned potatoes with a nice crust of cheese on top for good measure.

The mushrooms and rolls were simple. Layne sliced down some small cremini mushrooms, then we sauteed them with a little butter, olive oil, and tons of minced fresh garlic. For the rolls, we mixed regular unsalted butter with local tupelo honey, in about equal parts. Then, we toasted Hawaiian brand sweet rolls in the oven, smeared with the honeybutter goodness. Yum!

Overall, I think the meal was a success, although it looks a bit monochromatic when all on the plate together. But, we loved it and so did the boys (not that they could complain... they got to play video games while we cooked).


Then, it was on to party time!!! The spread looked awesome but of course we were too busy having a good time to take pictures, so you'll just have to trust us. Our late-night menu for the evening consisted of some old stand-bys and a few new additions:

- Cheddar cheeseball (8 oz. cream cheese, 8 oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese, ½ tsp minced fresh garlic, 1 tsp. spicy mustard, 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper to taste) with crackers for spreading

- Spinach dip (recipe on the back of the Knorr vegetable soup mix packet) in a bread bowl with vegetable crudites for dipping. It's amazing how good this boxed recipe is!

- Roast beef and herbed cheese in mini puff pastry cups (we used Boar's Head roast beef, from the grocer's deli, and parmesan peppercorn flavored Aloutte spreadable cheese)

- Cheezy Beer Whiz (my own invention: jar of Cheez Whiz + half a bottle of good beer--I like Sam Adams... I know it may sound odd, but it's brilliant... try it!) with chips for dipping

- Saltine toffee candy (amazing recipe) made with almonds

- Peanut butter truffles rolled in chopped peanuts (adapted from the following recipe by adding about 1 TSBP peanut butter instead of flavored liquor--the other flavors failed, but this one would have been our favorite anyway!)

- Red sugar-rimmed white chocolate martinis, a Layne holiday drink staple. Made with 2 parts Godiva White Chocolate liqueur to one part vanilla vodka. If it's too strong, you can add a splash of milk or cream to tone down the bite.

- Champagne and strawberries (to ring in the New Year!)

All-in-all, it was a wonderful way to say goodbye to 2008 and start off 2009 with a bang! Cheers to lasting luck, fantastic friends, and memorable meals!