Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ultimate Tortilla Soup

Printable Recipe
Ultimate tortilla soup is rich and flavorful and works just as well without the chicken for a wonderful vegetarian alternative. This recipe has become my favorite of the many I've tried. I think it probably has a few more ingredients than others but takes no longer to prepare. And there are a few easy techniques I'll show you that enhance the flavor also. Here's the line up:
1 qt Chicken Broth (or Veg)
2-3 Tbs Butter
1 clove Garlic
1 Onion, chopped
1 Can Black Beans or Red Beans
1 can Diced Tomatoes
1 small can Chopped Green Chilis
2 cups Corn, frozen, fresh or canned
2-3 Tbs Sugar
2 Tbs Cumin
1 Tbs Oregano
2 Tbs Chicken Soup Base 
1-2 Cups Cooked Chicken
1-2 cups water

Start the pot with a quick saute of onions in butter over medium heat to sweeten them up. Within about 5 minutes they'll soften and you can add the pressed or chopped garlic.

Immediately follow the garlic with the sugar, cumin, and oregano and stir steadily for just a minute or two. This will intensify the flavor of the herbs and give the garlic a moment to sweeten. Don't let it go longer though because that garlic can move from sweet to bitter in a flash.

Now add all the rest of the ingredients: broth, beans, corn, tomatoes, and green chilis and 1 cup or so of water. Before you add the soup base, whisk it with a little hot water and  it will disperse more easily into the soup. As I've mentioned before in other soupy posts, a good soup base concentrate is loaded with flavor and will improve an already great soup; it's the secret of many restaurants for soup and sauce making. And let me define "good" soup base a little further. It will not look like artificially colored yellow lard. It should smell good and be creamy and have an appetizing list of ingredients, as if a good soup had been  reduced to a very thick condensed form. I like the brand, "Better than Bouillion" which can be found near the bouillion and soups in most any grocery. Higher end groceries and gourmet/specialty food shops have my all time favorite brand called Minors. It can be kept frozen and is well worth stockpiling if you ever see it.

OK, raise the heat until you get a nice study bubble and add the chicken; let it go about 30 minutes and your soup is ready to eat.You can use pulled chicken from leftovers or a rotisserie ready-cooked type or a really good brand of canned white meat chicken. Costco's Kirkland brand is so good I keep it on hand all the time, especially since this is a quick soup I make if we have unexpected company or get the whim for a quick hot lunch at home...

Which is what I did today. Tortilla soup with a sprinkle of Mex cheese blend and a dollop of sour cream (plus smoked paprika for fanciness). One cheesy quesedilla: slap some cheese of your choice between two tortillas and toast it up in a buttered skillet like a cheese sandwich - a few minutes on each side until browned and the cheese is melty. I made this one with a grainy corn tortilla and good old Longhorn Colby.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Vegetable Ham and Bean Soup

Printable Recipe
This recipe combines vegetables and cannellini beans for a hearty, more interesting soup than ordinary Ham and Bean. Leftover hambone from the spiralcut Honeybaked? Bring it on. Best way ever to flavor this soup and not let a perfectly good hambone go to waste, especially the sweet amazing flavor of holiday Honeybaked! I'm not doing a commercial. Really. Just a fan, that's all.

Let's start the pot with that famous trio onion, celery, carrot - about a cup of each.  These need to saute over medium heat in 2-3 Tbs butter  just 5-6 minutes to sweeten a little and start to soften. While that's going on, let's check out the hambone and get the other ingredients together.
First, hambone: I'm assuming most of the ham has been cut away, but if there's still some hanging on that won't really slice into manageable pieces, just leave it. As it simmers in the soup it will get so tender you can use a fork at the end to scrape and coax loose some pieces for the soup. When the vegetables have sauteed a bit, add 1 quart of chicken broth and a drained can of cannellini beans. You can use white beans if you like, but I prefer cannellinis for their firmer texture and slightly larger size.

Bring this to a simmer while you prepare some potato to add. I used small red fingerlings, about a cupful that I washed and left unpeeled then sliced into 1/4" rounds. Any potato is fine, just keep the pieces fairly small so they'll cook promptly with the other vegetables. We're going for a soup that is ready in about 30 mintues here which means No Big Potato Chunks.

This soup doesn't need much seasoning beyond the hambone. I gave mine 5 or 6 good hard shakes of black pepper and a pinch of dry mustard. Added one bayleaf, too. I ground some fenugreek seed, maybe a tbs or so, because I like the flavor that is milder than cumin, but somewhat similar, and a little sweet. It's used as one of flavoring agents in fake maple syrup, so maybe that's the element that makes it seem like a good fit for hammy soup. Try fenugreek seed and grind it yourself in a small coffee grinder (well washed!). The flavor is always better if you can grind fresh.

That's it. Don't worry if that hambone is not completely immersed in the soup. Let it simmer for half an hour, maybe flip the bone over halfway through, and give it a taste. If the vegetables are cooked and the flavor is good, serve this up with some cornbread and eat up!

1 can of Cannellinis (or White Beans)
1 Qt Chicken Broth
3 Tbs Butter
1 cup Onion, chopped
1 cup Carrots, chopped
1 cup Celery, chopped
1 large potato or 6-7 fingerlings, sliced/diced
1 bay leaf
1 Tbs Fenugreek
1/2 tsp dry mustard
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