Wednesday, October 27, 2010

For the Love of Chicken Tortilla Soup

Yesterday, half way through my doubly cream-cheesed bagel, it happened. That ominous knowledge I keep hidden in the back of my mind that always threatens to expose itself in the middle of my gluttonous bites of anything delicious and unhealthy, reared its truth-telling head and broke through the barriers I’ve built of salt and fat and taste. Like an atom bomb, it exploded into my thoughts, demolishing my memories of anything wonderfully indulgent and replacing them with that noxious feeling of extreme guilt. It was in this moment, mid-bite, that I realized I’ve been a fatty lately and I need to whip myself into shape.

And of course, aside from upping the activity level, which will be easy since my exercising self has been dormant for quite some time, a huge part of getting healthy is eating right. It’s difficult to do so on a budget, with pasta and all those other edible starchy minxes coaxing me with their promises of satiation  and frugality. Which is why, when I find a healthy, inexpensive and honestly delicious meal, I always want to share the love.

So, I promise that this tortilla soup recipe is going to be easy on your wallet, full of flavor and really filling meal in itself!

You’ll need:

Olive Oil for sauteeing
1 onion, chopped
1 small shallot, chopped (optional)
3 garlic cloves, minced
½ red bell pepper, chopped
½ green chili, chopped
1 jalapeno, chopped
1 ripe avocado, sliced
¼ cup fresh cilantro, chopped very fine
1 can of black beans (16 oz)
1 small can of green chilies
6 chicken tenderloins or 2 chicken breasts, cubed
3 cups of chicken stock
2 cups of water
1 can of diced tomatoes (16 oz)
3 tablespoons of tomato paste
2 tablespoons of chili powder
1 teaspoon of oregano
1 teaspoon of cumin
1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of salt
Shredded cheddar or jack cheese (for topping)
Tortilla chips (for topping)

Boil the chicken for 5-7 minutes, then drain and shred.

In a large pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat and cook the onions, shallots, and garlic until they’re soft. Add water, broth, tomatoes, tomato paste, beans, chicken and spices. Bring to a boil, then turn to simmer for 7-10 minutes. Add the cilantro, green chilies (fresh and canned), red peppers, salt and jalapenos. Bring that back up to a boil for 10 minutes, then turn back down to a simmer for 15. All the while, keep giving the soup a good stir fairly often.

Prep your bowls with a few tortilla chips on the bottom and then ladle the soup into the bowls, top with cheese, avocado slices and a couple more tortilla chips. Then, enjoy the spicy, heartiness of this healthy soup! It’ll make about 6-8 bowls and is freezable.

As an option, you can always fry up your own tortillas (less healthy/more salty, fried goodness). Just take corn or flour tortillas from the store and cut them up into strips. Heat canola oil over medium-high heat and drop them in - watch them though, they'll cook quick. You'll want to get them a nice brown each side, turning with a metal slated spoon. Then, dry them over paper towels and salt 'em up! Just watch out... if you make these and leave them out on the counter while you're cooking, you may by accident eat half the batch...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Perfect Wedding

This weekend, two amazing friends of mine were married against a backdrop of shimmering Gulf waters that sat calmly below the kind of cloudy sky that threatens showers but never delivers, leaving us instead with breaks of intense afternoon rays and the most powerful sunset I’ve ever seen. The bride walked down an aisle of beach designated by trims of white rose petals, glowingly gorgeous arm-in-arm with her adoringly proud father. A beautiful ceremony and personal vows kicked off a night infused with romance, sentiment, fun and, most importantly, killer eats.

Now, I find I am “always a caterer, never a guest,” so, although I haven’t been to many weddings, I have eaten my fair share of wedding hors d'oeuvres, entrees and desserts. And, I am not just saying this because the bride is one of my closest friends… this food was A-plus, seriously spot-on. 

Let’s start with the cocktail hour.  The deep, cool sounds of steel drums set the tone as we enjoyed cocktails on the beach and a bit of Caribbean fare.  Conch fritters, crab cakes, coconut shrimp and skewered Jerk chicken held us over until dinner while we oo’ed and ahh’ed over the picturesque wedding and the beaming newlyweds (and snapped about a hundred group pictures, taking maximum advantage of the good lighting).

A few soft notes of the dinner bell slowly transitioned the group from the sand to the beach house for a plated dinner. Sitting on the second floor of the oceanfront hall guests started on a bit of a deconstructed Ceasar salad, a circle of romaine holding up a crouton and salad mixings while the view slowly turned from pink and orange to navy blue. After a champagne toast from the father of the bride, we indulged in a surf-n-turf of fresh mahi-mahi and filet complemented by a delicious little pierogi. We were, thank the lord, spared from the typical catered veggie mix of green beans and carrots shaved to a point with stalks kept on for show and instead treated to simple spears of asparagus and a bed of potatoes.

Before burning off every single calorie we consumed with some serious dancing, we finished off our meal with cake layered with a subtle frosting of either mocha or peanut butter.

All in all, it was an incredible wedding and I can speak for all the guests when I say we are genuinely lucky to have been a part of it and to feel an extension of even just a fraction of the love, support and adoration Laura and Brian have for one another. Once again, congrats to the bride and groom!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Screw Sandwiches.

Screw Sandwiches.

Oh no, that’s blasphemy! I take it back, please do not screw sandwiches. I love them, I really love them, I really really really love them... however, not unconditionally. Because, while a sandwich can hold between its loafy structures layers of celestial goodness, it can also fail to impress.
Take your utilitarian turkey sandwich for example. Even in its simplest form as the star of the brown bag lunch, it can go one of two ways. Its creation can be given time, effort and affection, beginning with a thick layering of thinly sliced turkey onto graciously mayoed bread sprinkled with a bit of salt and fresh-cracked pepper, topped with a sharp cheddar, crisp lettuce and a thick tomato slice then cut into diagonal halves and wrapped neatly in classic wax paper. Or the turkey sandwich can be treated as though its serves to merely fulfill our lunchtime calorie requirements and shove its bland, textureless self in front of our tastebuds, leaving them with an empty, hollow desire for more, by quickly slapping a couple slices of meat onto hastily dressed bread before shoving it into a clear sandwich baggy only to be squished and molded into a ball at the bottom of your lunch sack.

My love/hate relationship with sandwiches leads my search for the perfect bagged lunch alternative. I understand that most of us don't have the time every morning to masterfully craft a five-star sandwich. Hell,  I barely give myself enough time to throw on clothes and brush my teeth. There are the obvious anti-sandwich options – bring leftovers to reheat, pull together a salad, just go out for lunch, but I have found instead the ideal solution – the stuffed pepper!

Not only is it a healthier option, it’s versatile, quite filling, and easy to make. With a quick boiling out of hollowed peppers to soften their structure a bit, you can mix together any combination of rice, cheese, red sauce, and meat for filling. Think ground chourico, rice and cheese or just rice, cheese, and a chucky and spicy tomato sauce. Go wild – throw in some shrimp or chicken. Then, simply wrap your stuffed peppers in tinfoil and pop them in the microwave (sans tinfoil) for lunch. 

Now I know one cannot survive on stuffed peppers alone. I'm just throwing this out there as a solid option to spice lunch up a bit. Plus, it's much more satisfying than that hum-drum bland blah sandwich (and cheaper!).

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Special Edition: Molly's General Consulting

Hello and welcome to today's special edition post and the beginning of a reoccurring series brought to you by a budding general consultancy I like to call "Molly's General Consulting." Veering from the typical culinary adventures a bit, I am going to give you a sneak peek into some of the other chambers of my mind and allow you to experience the phenomena that are my strokes of genius.

A mishmash of random innovative thought, Molly's General Consulting is a brainpower dedicated to solving a wide array of problems that the leaders of the world just cannot seem to find a solution for. Today's idea provides a smooth transition from this blog's typical food talk into the kickoff of this special edition series. We are going to talk about ketchup. Specifically, ketchup packaging. The ingenuity lightning bold struck just yesterday while Mike and I were enjoying a little snack from Burger King.

Now we know America loves ketchup. Like, America loooooooooves ketchup to the point that its almost gross and its Hollywood starlets chug it straight from the squeeze bottle on late night talk shows for a hearty laugh...

And yet, we are restricted to tiny, messy packets that provide us with a few dribbles worth of it whenever we get a meal to-go. So, as Mike and I happily worked our way through our snacks (or, err, a Whopper Jr. meal and a double-bacon-burger-something-or-other meal), and Mike happily dipped his fries into his buffalo sauce in its tidy container deep enough to get the perfect coating on each fry and I scrambled to scrape up the ketchup Id squeezed onto my burger wrapper, a light bulb went off. I said to Mike, "Why dont they put ketchup in one of those to-go packages like your buffalo sauce and their sweet & sour and bbq and hot mustard and all the other condiments besides the most popular one, ketchup?" Mike just nodded in agreement and acknowledged that Mollys General Consulting has done it again.

Well, in writing this I have discovered I have been beaten to the point by the ketchup mongers themselves...

However, that does not take away from the fact that the big fast food joints have either not caught on or are ignoring the problem and that they should just ask me before placing their ketchup packet orders!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

This Little Figgy Came From Haymarket

The turn of the seasons brings us hues of oranges and reds, days that demand sweaters and scarves, and the return of hearty fall dishes. Autumn has always been my favorite season, I love the colors, the feel of the crisp midday air, and the smell of Sunday dinner roasting in the oven. It reminds me of being young... bagels after soccer games, weekend afternoons spent raking leaves, picking out my new outfits from the L.L. Bean catalog. While the fall is full of heartwarming memories for me, it's usually pretty low on fresh fruits and veggies and high on starches and meats.

I'm determined to make this fall full of all the nutritional goodness that is the second level of the food pyramid, so I've pledged to take advantage Haymarket, Boston's weekly outdoor market. I went this past Saturday and stocked up on pounds of goodies for just $18 - onions, peppers, apples, nectarines, tangerines, tomatoes, scallions, jalapeƱos, lettuce, avocados, figs, pita bread... even flowers!

The only problem with the food at Haymarket is that you have to use it up fast. When I checked on my figs today, a few of them were already bad... like really bad, yuck. But there were seven or so good ones left, so I decided I'd make myself a little figgy snack. But, every fig recipe I found online was either a huge baking ordeal or a savory dish. I checked out what I had in my cupboards and decided to just quarter the figs and drizzle a bit of balsamic glace over them. I let the glace soak into the flesh of the figs for a few minutes and oooo did it turn out to be a tasty treat! The glace wasn't overpowering and gave the skin a nice velvety moisture. Mmmmm!!

Monday, October 4, 2010

My Best Friend, the Meat Thermometer

When you’re a 25 year old struggling writer (well, self-declared and soon-to-be…), you have to make sacrifices. And, while I love my new apartment to death, I definitely sacrificed functional kitchen appliances for a killer view...

So, while I can see the entire Boston skyline from the South End to the Seaport, I can't set it and forget it in my little oven. I’ve mentioned this moderately malfunctioning oven before and, although I thought I had put an end to overcooking with my shiny new oven thermometer, apparently it has a mind of its own, and that mind loves overcooked meat. So, today’s post goes out my new trusty sidekick: the meat thermometer.

Dear Meat Thermometer:

I want to say “thank you.”

I try and try to trust my oven, going back to it after it’s failed me like a pathetic teenager clinging to her deadbeat boyfriend. Every time I do, I know you’re sitting in my utensil drawer, nestled between the tongs and the kitchen scissors, patiently waiting. You understand my desire to trust that the oven will go low and slow on that pot roast like I want it to. And, when it comes time to check on the meat, you don’t judge. You just tell it to me straight. Your little red needle points to 180 degrees, timidly suggesting that my meat is beyond well-done and that my oven has done me wrong again. And, after I cut into the meat to reveal the painful truth, crushing my dreams of discovering a perfectly pink center, I turn to you and vow never to go back to the oven again.

I do remember the good times... that perfectly cooked pork loin we made together, how juicy and delicious it was. I know how easy it is to rely on you, but you’ve just got to give me some time to break up with the oven. I’ll still use it of course, but it won’t be the faithful friend it has been to me in apartments past. I want more delicious meat dinners, so I promise, I’ll turn to you for next Sunday's dinner and every one after that. Your days of hiding in the dark of the utensil drawer are over, my friend. Welcome to the counter top.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Who needs butter when you have Crisco?

In my new world of blissful life-in-sin, I decided to be the ultimate girlfriend/roommate and bake Mike cookies last week.

Now, although they seem simple and they are everywhere, a good chocolate chip cookie is actually pretty difficult to make. The beginning of my foray into cookiedom began with countless batches of pancake-like blobs that wouldn't entice even the hungriest cookie monster. But, of course, I turned to my wonderfully wise mother for advice and she gave me they key to success: pudding.

While the great Kelley Mac claims chocolate chip cookies to be her culinary Achilles tendon, she did give me a great recipe that I am eternally grateful for. That's right, one little package of instant vanilla pudding will give you perfectly puffy treats.

This time around, I didn't have enough butter, but a quick swap for Crisco made for some delicious batter. I inadvertently made a triple batch of cookie dough, so I had a lot leftover which was perfect... I used them for chocolate chip cream cheese bars!

And, I'm not even tooting my own horn right now because, really, the cream cheese does all the work, but these are absolutely amazing. Soft, sweet, with a silky cream cheese filling... to die for!