Monday, January 28, 2013

Southwestern Chicken Soup

Soup. It’s good. Especially when you’re done with all the festive and fun stuff of winter, but winter isn’t done with you just yet. Blustery days with brutal wind chill. Icy sidewalks and slushy roads. The soul needs something to warm it. Or at least the stomach does.

Many soups don’t really need recipes. By that I mean, you can start with a pot of broth, some aromatics, something chunky, perhaps, and just cook it until it becomes soup. You’d probably end up with something good. For those of us who are pretty well addicted to recipes, however, a list of ingredients somehow feels necessary. I would suggest using a soup “recipe” as a guideline, however, especially when it comes to using what’s in the cupboard or refrigerator or freezer rather than going out in the cold and wet and wind to get exactly what’s on the recipe list.

This is why you’ll see ingredients like “1 medium onion, finely chopped” rather than “precisely 1 cup of onion cut into ¼-inch pieces,” in my soup recipes. I cut up an onion and throw it in a pot. Same thing with other vegetables. I dump in cans of things and use up bags of frozen foods of indeterminate quantity. If I don’t have something that’s in the recipe, I’ll replace it or leave it out. If there’s a flavor I like, for example, the smoked paprika I feel like needs to be in just about everything these days, I’ll put it in.

This particular combination of chicken and southwestern flavors was quite delicious and warming on a cold day. The smoked paprika and fire-roasted tomatoes went a long way toward helping this soup reach its flavor potential. It’s just a bit spicy, a little smoky, meaty and substantial with plenty of chicken, corn and beans. I used an unsalted homemade chicken broth, so added a significant amount of salt beyond the 1 teaspoon listed in the recipe. I would suggest tasting your soup for salt after adding the lime juice. For me, such acidic ingredients cover some of the same flavor space as salt does, and I can make a less salty soup with a lot more flavor.

You don’t have to go this direction with your chicken soup, of course, but I can happily recommend that you do. The warm and zesty flavors are a welcome addition to the usual healing powers of chicken soup. Or, if nothing else, perhaps the flavors will invoke an image of warmer places. Whatever helps!


Southwestern Chicken Soup
Adapted from Eating Well magazine

You could leave out the chicken and use vegetable broth to make a vegetarian soup.

1 tablespoons canola or other neutral oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 medium bell pepper, any color, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
1 medium jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely minced
4 medium garlic cloves, finely minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 ½ teaspoon chili powder
1 ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
6 cups chicken broth
1 ½ cup pinto beans or black beans (about a 15-ounce can), rinsed and drained
1 (16-ounce) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
1 ½ cups frozen corn
2 cups cooked chicken, chopped or shredded
½ cup chopped cilantro leaves and tender stems
juice of 1 lime

1. In a large kettle or Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, bell pepper and 1 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onions and peppers are tender and beginning to brown, about 5-8 minutes.

2. Add the jalapeno and garlic and cook, stirring, about 30 seconds. Stir in the oregano, chili powder, and smoked paprika. Add the chicken broth, beans, tomatoes, corn and chicken. Bring to a boil.

3. Cover, reduce the heat and boil gently for 25-30 minutes or until the vegetables are very tender. Stir in the cilantro and lime juice. Taste for seasoning and adjust as desired, especially for salt and acid (lime juice).

Makes about 6 servings.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Grapefruit Scented Muffins

Let me spell this out unambiguously: I don’t like grapefruit. It’s too sour, too bitter, too…grapefruit-y. I do love its fragrance, however, the scent of a freshly cut grapefruit (that someone else is going to eat.) I also like grapefruit-flavored sweet things, like the citrus-flavored gumdrops from Trader Joe’s and Joia brand Grapefruit, Chamomile and Cardamom soda.

It seemed a shame to let my husband enjoy all the grapefruit in the refrigerator just because he’s the one who likes it. There had to be something I could make that I would like too. Inspired by the flavors in the soda I mentioned above, I made muffins scented with grapefruit zest and juice and gently flavored with warm spices. I had my concerns that this would work out well, but in the end I was thrilled. The muffins were delicious. Really delicious!

I say they were “scented” with grapefruit juice and zest because the grapefruit flavor of these muffins is not particularly pronounced and definitely not overwhelming. It is merely suggested, a floral fragrance enhanced nicely by the warm spices that accompany it. I used a ruby red grapefruit, which would be a bit sweeter and milder in flavor than other varieties. It’s juice, which I mixed with milk to make a mock buttermilk (like I did to make these waffles), was such a pretty color, I regretted that I don’t really enjoy the taste of that either, at least not straight.

The spice blend I used might seem a bit exotic, but I really liked it. For me, with the exception of star anise, these are spices I have left over after fall and Christmas baking. (I’m not sure why I always seem to have star anise.) I used whole spices that I ground with a coffee grinder designated for that purpose, and I highly recommend getting into that practice if at all possible. The spices are more fragrant and flavorful that way, and the whole spices last a lot longer in the cupboard. I don’t suppose you would need to use this particular quartet, and it would be silly to go out and buy spices just to cover the small requirement for this recipe. As I often say: use what you like and what you happen to have.

I never really got around to taking good photos of these muffins. Just take my word for it that they looked like good muffins, golden brown and muffin-shaped. Their fragrance and flavor along with their gently sweetened soft texture are really more important anyway. Besides, looks aren’t everything. A halved ruby red grapefruit is beautiful on a sunny winter morning, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s practically inedible. I’ll stick with the muffins.


Grapefruit Scented Muffins with Warm Spices
I highly recommend zesting the grapefruit before juicing it. It's much easier that way. I like to use a Microplane grater.

1 cup milk
½ cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornmeal
2 teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground star anise (from about 2 lobes of the “star”)
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
zest of 1 medium grapefruit (I used ruby red)
¼ cup canola oil
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. In a measuring cup, combine the milk and grapefruit juice. Set aside for a few minutes to create a “sour milk” while preparing the next steps.

2. In a medium size bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, salt, sugar, cloves, star anise, cardamom, and cinnamon. Whisk together or sift to blend well. Stir in the grapefruit zest being sure to distribute it evenly. (It tends to clump together.) Set aside.

3. In another medium-size bowl, beat together the oil and egg until smooth. Stir in the vanilla extract. Stir in the milk and juice mixture. Beat well to combine.

4. Pour the liquid mixture into the flour mixture and stir gently until the dry ingredients are just moistened. (It’s even fine to leave a few lumps.)

5. Spray the cups of a 12-cup muffin pan with cooking spray (or grease them however you like.) Evenly distribute the batter among the 12 cups. Bake at 400 F for 20 minutes or until a pick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached (no wet batter.)

6. Remove from the oven and cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 10 minutes. Remove from the pan and cool about 5 minutes more. Enjoy warm.

Makes 12 muffins.

Other recipes like this one: Pumpkin Cranberry Muffins, Orange Millet Waffles    

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Peanut Butter Cup Peanut Butter Cookies

Okay, so it’s no longer cookie season. So I’m supposed to be inspiring you with healthy, low-calorie dishes. I’m supposed to be tackling some grueling resolution or other and telling you about the high Whole Food Quotient, low-fat, unprocessed, locally-sourced, but still fabulously delicious way I’m doing it.

I do believe in a wholesome diet based on many of those things, but the fact is, I’ve been hungering for peanut butter desserts since last January. LAST JANUARY! But then it was January and I had to watch what I was eating because of the post-holiday bulge and I was going to make something peanut buttery for Valentine’s Day, but then I didn’t, so now, still hungry for sweet peanut butter confections, I made peanut butter cookies. Peanut butter cookies with peanut butter cups in them.


I got this recipe from my mom a long time ago. I’m not sure where she got it, but it was one that was “going around” her potluck circles (like some kind of virus?) years ago. And they’re special. Sure they’re loaded with chopped miniature peanut butter cups, which would make just about anything special, but the actual cookie part of these cookies is special too. They’re pleasantly crisp on the outside, moist and chewy on the inside. Intensely peanut buttery. Delicious
I think you could replace the peanut butter cups with chocolate or peanut butter chips or a combination of the two. You probably could leave all those add-ins out and still have a fabulously delicious peanut butter cookie. The ultimate peanut butter cookie? I’ll go out on a limb and say, “perhaps.”
It is January, however, the season of post-holiday deprivation and health-related resolutions. I didn’t eat all of those few dozen cookies. I’ve found a very hungry group of cookie testers who seemed happy to take them off my hands. 

I have no idea who took a bite out of this one. Not one clue.


Peanut Butter Cookies with Peanut Butter Cups
From my mom

You could use creamy peanut butter if you prefer or replace the peanut butter cups or omit them as desired.

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 cup crunchy peanut butter
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups chopped miniature peanut butter cups, such as Reese’s brand (about one 9-ounce package, unwrapped)

1. In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Sift or whisk together to combine well. Set aside.

2. In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer (or in a medium-size bowl if you are stirring by hand), combine the butter, peanut butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar. Beat together until creamy and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat them in until well-combined. Beat in the vanilla extract.

3. Slowly beat in the flour mixture until just combined. Stir in the peanut butter cups. Cover and chill the dough for at least 2 hours (overnight is even better). The dough can also be wrapped well and frozen at this point for later use.

4. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Very lightly spray cookie sheets with nonstick cooking spray. Drop the cookie dough by heaping tablespoons (I actually use a 2-inch scoop, and highly recommend that) onto the cookie sheet leaving an inch or two between each cookie.

5. Bake at 350 F for 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on the pan 2 minutes. Remove with a spatula to a wire rack to cool. Store in an air-tight container for a few days.

I forgot to make note of how many cookies there are in this batch, but I think it’s about 4 dozen.

Other recipes like this one: Chocolate Peanut Drop Cookies, Chai Spice Cashew Butter Cookies, Milk Chocolate Chip and M&M Cookies, Peanut Butter and Banana Breakfast Cookies

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Best-Laid Plans of 2013

Well, I certainly didn’t intend to disappear for quite so long. I certainly didn’t starve over the last few weeks, so I should have had something comestible to talk about. There should be some post-holiday health food I’m totally into, or some kind of food- or cooking-related resolution for the new year that I’m hoping to stick to. There ought to be recipe with citrus or celeriac or some other seasonal ingredient that I’m just crazy about. The most creative thing I’ve put together in a few weeks, however, is a stove-top macaroni and cheese with some spicy sausage and leftover caramelized onions thrown in. (It was quite delicious, by the way.)

I must admit that in reality my whole life (not to mention my kitchen) is horribly disorganized and slightly confused. Not in a negative or depressing way. Just in an exhaustingly messy way. I suppose my New Year’s resolution should be to achieve a particular level of organization. I’m sorry to say, unfortunately, that I don’t even know where to start!

Perhaps I should drop everything and try the orange pound cake recipe I have my eye on, or a grapefruit or cranberry cocktail. How about the quinoa and chickpea casserole with the squash topping or a southwestern chicken soup? I’ve got all these best-laid plans written down as a sketchy future menu along with a fish sandwich with pineapple slaw and a broccoli-orange-chipotle stir fry.

I’ve also got new cookbooks to dig into and plenty of neglected old ones to get know better. I’ve still got my good ol’ pile of magazine clippings, a slew of internet bookmarks, and some ideas of my own. Even if you aren’t as overwhelmed as I am at this point, you’re probably able to recognize that it’s not only organization but priorities that need better definition in my cooking life (and probably beyond!). And so I suppose I need a plan, a method of action, a scheme if you will. Alas, “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/Gang aft agley,/An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,/ For promis’d joy!” *

Robert Burns may have been correct, but so was my grandfather who often said, “You gotta eat something.” Much of this blog is really about just that, and until I figure out a good direction to face when improving my organization and my priorities and my cooking, I suppose it will continue to be so. We’ll just have to see what messes I come up with in the coming year!


* The whole poem “To a Mouse” is here.