Vegetable Tortilla Soup

Well, it’s been a while since my last post…  I recently took a part time job working as a cook in a restaurant, so now I’m working two jobs, going to culinary school, and making sure there’s quality time with the family in there with all of that going on.  Can we say busy?  Whew!  But, it’s amazing how much more I’m learning about cooking just by being in the environment itself.

I’ve been making this recipe for several months now, and always happily gobble it down.  During the day, I eat very healthy.  All the sinful goodies are saved for the evenings and weekends, and it has proven to be a happy balance for me.  So, I’m always looking for a healthy alternative to different recipes.

This recipe is a vegetarian/vegan twist of Chicken Tortilla Soup.  I actually came across putting this together when I was working on a sauce for one of my final exams in culinary school while pureeing the first five ingredients.  I loved the taste of this so much, that I decided to turn this into a soup.  So, if you love tortilla soup, but want it more of a vegetable base, here you go!

vegetable tortilla soup

Usually when I make this, I’ll portion it into smaller containers and freeze it.  This way, when you’re ready to have some, there is plenty in the freezer waiting.  You can either thaw it out in the fridge in advance, or directly put it in the microwave.  I’d recommend thawing it out some first though, because the cooking process isn’t as long.  This has become a regular in my household, and is made every couple of weeks.  Who knew something so healthy could taste so delicious?!

Vegetable Tortilla Soup Recipe:

1 onion, chopped into medium size pieces

6 garlic cloves

1/4 cup olive oil

1 poblano pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces

1 corn tortilla, torn into 1 inch pieces

2 bags frozen corn, thawed

2 cans black beans, drained

4 cups vegetable broth

8 oz. tomato sauce

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon black pepper

Heat oil in stock pot at medium heat.  Add onions and garlic once oil is hot, sauté until tender.  Add poblano pepper and corn tortilla, cook for another five minutes.  Add two cups of the vegetable broth, simmer for about 10 minutes.  Remove to bowl to cool slightly, then puree in blender for about 1 minute, or until mixture is smooth.  To stock pot, add tomato sauce, remaining vegetable broth, and frozen corn.  Return to medium heat, add pureed mixture and stir well.  Continue cooking for about 10 minutes, add black beans, salt and pepper.  Continue cooking until corn is tender and soup is thoroughly heated through.  Can be stored in refrigerator or freezer.

Peanut Butter Fudge

As I’ve mentioned before, my family is a bunch of peanut butter nuts.  A lot of times, the in-laws in our family either chuckle or roll their eyes when yet another peanut butter dish comes into the house, and this would be a good example.

peanut butter fudge

The first time I made this was several years ago, before my baking experiments had exploded far beyond out of control.  It was around the holidays, and my aunt (who usually makes the peanut butter fudge), was out of town when the family was getting together.  Christmas without peanut butter fudge?  No way.  That can’t happen.  And to top it all off, I couldn’t find that recipe that she had given me…so I had to start searching.  This particular recipe is on allrecipes.com, and it is fantastic…and easy.  Double whammy there.  Honestly, I had forgotten all about this recipe until the holidays rolled around again and I had made the Cookies ‘n Cream Fudge.  So naturally, this had to be made as well.

Peanut Butter Fudge Recipe:

1/2 cup butter

2 cups brown sugar

1/2 cup milk

1 cup creamy peanut butter

1  teaspoon vanilla extract

3 cups confectioners’ sugar

Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat.  Stir in brown sugar and milk.  Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove from heat.  Stir in peanut butter and vanilla.  Pour over confectioners’ sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Beat until smooth; pour into an 8×8 inch dish.  Chill until firm and cut into squares.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Well, it’s a brand new year…AND it’s cold outside.  So, how about starting out the new year with a healthy, delicious, warm and satisfying classic comfort food?  Okay then, let’s do it!

chicken noodle soup

After making the chicken and corn chowder, I had to make more soups.  You can actually use the same procedures with this soup for that soup with the chicken and chicken broth.  Just as a head’s up…this is not a quick recipe.  But, it IS very nutritious and made with all fresh ingredients.  High in vitamins and minerals from using fresh veggies, but low in calories and still filling, all at the same time.  In culinary school in our soups class, one of the techniques we went over for thickening soups was pureeing vegetables and mixing that in with the broth.  Since there are some picky eaters in my family and some of them refuse to eat chunks of vegetables but will eat them pureed, this sounded like a great option to get some fresh veggies to those picky eaters.  Everyone has their own personal taste of how salty they like their soups, so you can play with how much salt you add…just don’t add too much at a time, because you can’t take away what you add!  After I made this, my husband took some to work with him to eat for lunch.  After lunch, I got a text message from him, telling me that the soup was awesome…and also suggesting that I make it again in a larger bulk so we can freeze it to have it on hand.  And you know what else?  My super picky brother that is one of my family members who refuses to eat any other vegetables besides peas, corn and lima beans ate the soup and loved it.  Success!

Ingredients:

whole chicken, giblets removed (4-5 pounds)

1 pound onions, cut up into 1 inch pieces

1/2 pound carrots, cut up into 1 inch pieces

1/2 pound celery, cut up into 1 inch pieces

1/2-1 whole package egg noodles (depends on how much noodles you want in your soup)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

9-10 cups chicken broth (if you’re not making your own with the chicken)

extra salt and pepper to taste for soup

Cook the Chicken:  Get a whole chicken that weighs about 5 pounds.  What we’re going to do is cook the chicken with the vegetables, so all of the flavors are absorbed together. Place the chicken in the baking dish or crockpot.  Combine olive oil, salt, and pepper, brush over chicken.  Add Mirepoix.  Mirepoix is the combination of 50% onions, 25% celery, and 25% carrots.  Since we’re using two pounds of mirepoix, that comes out to be 1 pound of onions, 1/2 pound celery, and 1/2 pound carrots. Mirepoix is used commonly in stocks and broths for flavor, so we’ll be using this as a way to flavor the chicken, as well as soaking up all the flavors of the pan drippings from the chicken during the cooking process.  After that, we’ll remove the chicken from the vegetables, and puree the vegetables and pan drippings in a food processor or blender.  The veggies will be tender enough from the cooking process to blend into a thick puree.

You can cook the chicken and veggies in your crock pot (on high for about 5 hours) or in the oven in a covered dish at 425 degrees for 1-1/2 hours.  If you don’t have a covered dish, just cover tightly with foil…you don’t want the moisture escaping during the cooking process.  VERY IMPORTANT:  CHECK THE TEMPERATURE OF YOUR CHICKEN!  It needs to be at least 165 degrees in the thickest part of the chicken (safety rule for all poultry, so the same goes if you make this recipe with turkey instead of chicken).  This will prevent anyone from eating undercooked poultry, which is a huge cause of food poisoning…and no one wants that!  After the chicken is done cooking, remove from dish or crock pot, and pick all of the meat (discarding fat, bones and carcass) bits that you want to be in your soup, shredding and breaking up into bite size pieces.  Once you have the meat picked out, set aside in a bowl.

Make the Broth:  In a large stock pot, fill a little over halfway with water, and bring to a boil.  Add the chicken fat and carcass, and simmer in water for an hour.  Remove carcass, then strain liquid into another large container using a fine mesh strainer.  You’ll be using 9-10 cups of chicken broth in this recipe for the soup, depending on how thick or thin you want it to be.  SHORTCUT:  Use reduced sodium canned chicken broth instead of making it yourself.

According to noodle package directions, boil noodles in chicken broth.  When noodles are done cooking, stir in pureed vegetable mixture.  Add chicken and cook on medium heat for about 10-15 minutes.  Serve warm, store leftover soup in fridge for up to five days, and in freezer for up to three months.  Since everyone has their own taste with salt, you can add as little or as much as you feel it needs.  Personally, I thought 2 teaspoons of salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper was the perfect amount…but my husband thought it was a little too much and my brother thought it needed more.  Perfect example of preferences.  😉

When reheating in microwave, cook in 1 minute intervals, stirring after each minute until heated through.  This ensures soup is heated evenly.  Depending on how much soup you’re reheating, this process takes 2-4 minutes total.  Hope you enjoy it as much as we have!

**Make it Gluten-Free!  Just use gluten-free noodles, corn, or potatoes!

Baked Quinoa Ratatouille

In our Vegetables, Grains, and Starches class in culinary school, Ratatouille was one of the dishes that we made.  When I told friends and family about what we made that night, I realized that very few of them had actually tried it, which surprised me…but they’d heard of the name before because of the movie.  And honestly, that was also the only reason I’d heard of that name as well.  After that class though, seeing how simple and incredibly healthy this dish was inspired me to make it at home.  My husband told me that he wanted to start eating healthier, so I decided to start looking into some quinoa recipes.  Quinoa is a high protein seed that is gluten free and is actually one of the highly recommended super foods to eat.  Before this dish, I had only tried one bite of it when my friend was putting together really healthy recipes, and she ate it a good bit.  It reminds me of rice…smaller in texture, but somewhat of a bland flavor that could easily be accented with natural spices, but fluffy like rice.

baked quinoa ratatouille

While at the health food store the other week nosing through the aisles, I came across quinoa and picked up a bag to make something at home…just wasn’t sure what yet.  After looking through a quinoa recipe book, I saw this recipe and thought,  Hey, I’ve made ratatouille at school, so I can easily make this at home!  Done.  I did change a few things around with this recipe to mimic the original ratatouille recipe that I made at school, and this was delicious.  My husband even asked if there was any meat in this dish since I was making it for lunch, but told him that quinoa is very high in protein.  He shrugged and agreed to give it a shot.  Two helpings later, he told me that he really liked how the flavors of the veggies all went together.  This could also be a really great Vegan dish, just remove the cheese or replace it with soy cheese.

Baked Quinoa Ratatouille Recipe:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 medium onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, minced

14 oz. can diced tomatoes with liquid

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 large eggplant, cubed

1 green bell pepper, chopped

1 red bell pepper, chopped

2 zucchini, cubed

2 cups cooked quinoa (1 cup dry, 2 cups cooked)

1/2 cup grated parmesan

1 cup grated mozzarella

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Cook quinoa according to package directions.  Heat olive oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat, add onion and garlic.  Saute for 5 minutes, or until softened.  Stir in the diced tomatoes, basil, oregano, thyme, salt, and pepper.  Continue to cook for 1-2 minutes, then remove from heat.  Place remaining chopped vegetables in bottom of 9×13 inch baking dish.  Spoon onion and tomato mixture on top of vegetables.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese, spread quinoa on top, then sprinkle mozzarella on top.  Cover with foil, and bake for 40-45 minutes.  Remove foil and continue baking for another 5 minutes.

**I actually made this with fresh tomatoes instead of canned.  To do this, cut an X in the bottom of two large tomatoes and place in boiling water for 20-30 seconds.  This loosens the skin from the tomatoes, making it easy to peel off.  Place the tomatoes in ice water to cool, then peel the skin off the tomatoes.  Slice horizontally, then scoop out as many of the seeds as you can get.  Chop them up, and there’s your tomato mixture to add to the garlic and onions cooking in the olive oil.  Can’t beat fresh veggies!

Buckeyes

For some reason, I forgot all about these little desserts…until recently when I saw them posted on Facebook.  The second I saw them, the memories flashed back in my head of being a kid and shoving as many of these things into my mouth that I could get.  Although my family worships peanut butter (literally…my brother has two dogs named Peanut and Butter), we didn’t make these, so it was a special treat when they showed up somewhere for dessert.  The process of making these is similar to making Oreo Truffles, but these are actually easier to make.  Partly because the dipping process is faster, since the tops are open.  Using a toothpick also makes the process ten times easier, but since I wasn’t a big fan of the little toothpick hole in the top, I just let the peanut butter center soften slightly, then smoothed over the top to get rid of the little toothpick hole.  These were magnificent.

buckeyes

I usually try to take some sort of dessert to culinary school every couple of weeks for my classmates to indulge in, so these definitely made the list.  A girl in my class has Celiac Disease, so she’s missed out on several desserts that have come in because of their gluten content, and I feel guilty every single time.  So, when I showed up with these in my hand, I waved to her, smiled and said, “These are gluten-free!”  Not really sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing that there are literally about 80 of these things in one batch.  They make a wonderful dessert finger food for gatherings…but watch out, because they’ll disappear quickly!

Buckeyes Recipe:

3/4 cup butter, softened

1 1/3 cups crunchy or smooth peanut butter

3 cups powdered sugar

1 package chocolate bark, melted

Beat butter and peanut butter in large bowl at medium speed with electric mixer until blended. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating until well-blended. Using a mini cookie scoop, scoop out mixture one by one onto parchment lined cookie sheet.  Place in refrigerator to harden, about 30 minutes.  Melt chocolate bark  in 30 second intervals in microwave, stirring in between each interval until completely melted.  Using a tooth pick or wooden skewer, dip each ball into chocolate–coating 3/4 of the ball. Place on wax or parchment paper, uncoated side up. Let stand until chocolate sets up. Store in airtight container at room temperature or in refrigerator.

Mushroom Risotto

I started culinary school last week, and our instructor was talking about a restaurant that he went to in Houston a while back.  When he was looking at the menu and was in the mood for risotto, he asked the waiter about a couple of different flavors.  When the waiter asked him what flavors he wanted, or what he was in the mood for, my instructor said, “Play with me.”  Well, in the culinary world, when you have some crazy creative chefs and very open-minded and appreciative customers, that’s like recess for them.  The waiter smiled sadistically and walked away…only to come back with a large plate of risotto for him.  Apparently, he had used some pan drippings from another meat they used for another dish, along with some other incredible ingredients and flavors.  Our instructor was so impressed, that he was joking about how he told this guy to make sure he reproduces so the world can have more people like him.  Ha!

mushroom risotto

Well, after hearing that story, I started looking for risotto recipes, and came across one. Mushrooms, butter, wine, garlic, and parmesan?!  YES!!!  Well, actually I threw in the garlic, because I personally love how garlic, mushrooms and onions all go together.  It’s a trio of incredible flavors that mix together so well.  I made some chicken parmesan as the main dish with this recipe, and it was a heavenly Italian meal.  But, the next time I make this for my mom and mother-in-law (they were both wanting to try this), I’ll make the parmesan chicken the same way, but with a garlic parmesan cream sauce on top, rather than the traditional tomato sauce.  Oh boy, now I’m already getting excited to make this again.  Geez.

Mushroom Risotto Recipe:

4 cups chicken broth, divided

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

1 pound white mushrooms, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1/2 small onion, diced

1 1/2 cups arborio rice

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 tablespoon finely chopped chives

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a saucepan, warm the broth over low heat.  Warm 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the mushrooms, and cook until soft. Add garlic and cook for another minute.  Remove mushrooms and their liquid, and set aside.  Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to skillet, and stir in the pnions. Cook 1 minute. Add rice, stirring to coat with oil, about 2 minutes. Add salt and pepper.  When the rice has taken on a pale, golden color, pour in wine, stirring constantly until the wine is fully absorbed. Add 1/2 cup broth to the rice, and stir until the broth is absorbed. Continue adding broth 1/2 cup at a time, stirring continuously, until the liquid is absorbed and the rice is al dente, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Remove from heat, and stir in mushrooms with their liquid, butter, chives, and parmesan.

Bananas Foster

A while back, I posted a status on Facebook, asking my friends for suggestions on what desserts to make.  Bananas Foster was one of the ones that popped up, and I remember thinking, What is that?  Well, that’s actually the exact same thing my husband asked me as well when I said something about making it.  When I explained what it was, he said, “Oh wow, that sounds freaking awesome.  I love bananas.”  So, I decided to surprise him with Chicken Pot Awesome for dinner and this for dessert.

bananas foster 2

Since neither one of us has had this dessert before, we were both looking forward to trying it out…and for a good reason.  This was absolutely delicious, and easy, too!  Very tasty way to get fruit in your diet.  😉

Bananas Foster Recipe:

1/2 stick butter

2/3 cup brown sugar

3 tablespoons rum

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 bananas, peeled and sliced lengthwise and crosswise

1/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

1 pint vanilla ice cream

In a large, deep skillet over medium heat, melt butter.  Stir in sugar, rum, vanilla and cinnamon.  When mixture begins to bubble, place bananas and walnuts in pan.  Cook until bananas are hot, 1 to 2 minutes.  Serve immediately with vanilla ice cream.