Thursday, December 9, 2010

I've been waiting months for this...

Tortilla Soup!  

Picture of Why-the-Chicken-Crossed-the-Road Santa Fe-Tastic Tortilla Soup Recipe
(Picture courtesy of Food network, though mine looks pretty similar)

Yeah, that's what I've been waiting for.  It is one of my favorite fall meals, but since I'd been living with my parents for the past several months, I hadn't been able to make it.  My mom has a major aversion to spice, and this soup is only good when chipotle peppers are used liberally! So, tonight, I got to make it for the first time this fall/winter.

I used to strongly dislike soups, but I've developed a recent affinity for them, especially the hearty ones.  One of my favorite things about them is how very flexible they are.  Start with a base, and then adjust it however you want.  It is the perfect opportunity to get creative for someone like me, who is kind of a die-hard recipe follower most of the time.  This particular recipe is adapted from Rachel Ray's Why-the-Chicken-Crossed-the-Road Santa Fe-Tastic Tortilla Soup.

In addition to have an absurdly long name, it also has some extra steps that I don't think are necessary.  I've found a few shortcuts that I think get the same flavor but with way less work.  I also add beans, which I think bulks out the soup, or allows me to use less chicken if I'm feeling a bit cheap.  Plus, I make mine in the crock pot.  I initially did so out of necessity, but I've found that it is a very satisfying feeling to have dinner preparation completely finished by 1pm, or 2pm, or whenever I get around to it!  So here is my adaptation of her recipe:

Olive oil for sauteing
1/2 to 1 pound Chicken breast or tenders, cubed
1 medium onion
1-2 zucchini, chopped
1 bell pepper, or some frozen chopped bell peppers (red peppers were a $1.79 a piece today! I used frozen from Trader Joe's - worked great!)
1/2 a bag of frozen corn, or 1 can of corn, or however much you like - we like corn in our house!
3 cloves garlic
1-4 Chipotle peppers in Adobo, plus some of the Adobo sauce
2-3 14 ounce cans of fire-roasted tomatoes (or some combination of fire-roasted, diced and stewed.  I highly recommend the fire-roasted in some quantity - it adds a little extra smoke without the work of charring the corn and peppers)
1-2 cans of beans (I use one black and one kidney)
3-4 cups of Chicken Stock
1 tsp cumin
2 tsp chili powder

Yogurt or sour cream
Blue corn tortilla chips
Shredded Cheese
Hot sauce

Saute chicken pieces in olive oil until browned.  Remove, add a little more oil if needed, and then add the onion, zucchini and garlic, and bell pepper if using fresh.  Once veggies are slightly browned, but not too soft, add the chipotle peppers.  I like to chop mine a little first.  Put the veggies and chicken into a 6 quart or larger crock-pot.  Add the tomatoes, chicken stock, beans, cumin, and chili powder.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 3-4 hours.  Add the corn and frozen peppers (if using) during the last 1-2 hours of cooking.

Serve with some or all of the above garnishes, or none, if you want to be all purist.  But I highly recommend the tortilla chips - is it called tortilla soup, after all.  I serve it with a salad and homemade cornbread - very few things can top that!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We need some Christmas decorations around here, STAT

These are the highs this week here in Phoenix, AZ:

Wednesday: 77
Thursday: 75
Friday: 78
Saturday: 77
Sunday: 77
Monday: 80

Eighty!  In December!  I wore a t-shirt and capris today, all day, and was totally comfortable - even a little warm! OK, I realize that I probably have nothing on Bridget in the UAE...but still, these temperatures take a little getting used to.  I have to remind myself several times a day that we are well into the month of December and that, oh yeah, Christmas is right around the corner.

Due to moving/unpacking etc, we have yet to procure a Christmas tree or dig out any of Christmas decorations.  However, this is top on my list of to-dos for tomorrow.  I'm afraid that if I don't make this a priority, it will suddenly be December 26th and I will have missed Christmas all together!

Speaking of Christmas trees, how does everyone feel about fake trees?  I used to be vehemently opposed, but then after my first Christmas tree in NY cost $65, I decided that a reusable $30 fake tree was better on my wallet.  In Portland, Jason insisted that we go to a cut-your-own tree farm, since we were in the land of Christmas trees.  I'm definitely leaning toward a fake tree this year, since it will save in the long run.  However, the actual price of a real tree is pretty the same as that of an equivalent fake tree.  And, as Jason has pointed out, all the trees they sell here are from Oregon...we could own our own little piece of live Oregon for a mere $45...tempting.  But I think the ease of the fake tree may win out.  What do you all do?  Real or fake?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Finally, a Reality Competition Show Tailor-Made for ME!

That's right, folks, I'm talking about the Sing-Off!  All my musical nerdiness came to the fore this evening as I watched a capella group after a capella group perform.  The harmonies, the cheesy dance moves, the backup singing and the extreme use of dynamics - it brought back memories of my choral and a capella days back in college.

And, for once, I actually enjoyed the judges comments more often than not.  Ben Folds might be my new hero.  I saw him in concert once, but had no idea he was such a major musical nerd.  His feedback was specific and useful, which I appreciated.  Nicole whatever her name was a little reminiscent of Paul Abdul, and definitely grated at times, but she actually provided real feedback on occasion, which was refreshing.  Although, she did use the phrase "musical orgasm" to describe the reaction of the third judge, Shawn Stockman (from Boyz II Men - my favorite group in 7th grade).  I'm just not sure how I feel about that phrase...

A few highlights:
A group from Berkley School of Music in Boston who made it pretty clear that they thought they were hot stuff, and then they performed and really weren't.  And then, they were the first to get booted.  The one group from a music school?  That is just awesome!

Jerry Lawson and Talk of the Town - Jerry Lawson was a member of the Persuasions for 40 years.  I mean really, this group is kind of the original.  It was nice to see the purity of pop a capella.

Then was the Gospel group that performed at the end, Committed.  They had never really performed pop music, but they pretty much blew everyone else out of the water.  They performed a Maroon 5 song in a way that may have made it better than the original. They were the group that led to the supposed musical orgasm.

My one complaint about the show was the lack of all female groups.  There were several all male groups - in fact, I would say the majority of the groups were all men.  But women were sorely under-represented.  But I think I'll get over it.

So, with my newly acquired DVR, I will be recording and watching all five episodes of this show and reveling in my musical nerdiness.  Is anyone else joining me on this one?
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