Easy Tortilla Soup

>> Saturday, April 24, 2010

This is my favorite meal to make for large amounts of people.  It is always a big hit and is so EASY!
  That said, I usually have on hand chicken or vegetable stock that I made and froze which is a main component for my soup.  You can use canned stock, but beware the sodium content, most commercially canned stocks are loaded with it.

 Here is the basic recipe:
2 tbl corn oil
1 small to medium onion, diced
1 tbl chili powder
1 tbl cumin
3 cans of beans (I use red kidney, black and pinto, all no-salt variety)
1 can corn
8 cups broth
1 cup salsa
salt to taste
avocados (1/2 an avo per person)
1 cup of diced, cooked chicken (optional)
tortilla chips
shredded cheese (1/4 cup per person)

Heat the oil in a large stock pot, then add the onions.  Cook until soft, about 5 minutes.  Add the chili powder and cumin, stir until the onions are well coated.  Add all the beans and the corn, liquid included (I hate to waste anything!).  Add the broth and the salsa.  Bring to a slow simmer.  Add salt at this point if you wish.  Simmer for about 15 minutes.  Add diced, cooked chicken at the end before serving if desired.  While soup is simmering, I usually fry up my own corn chips by slicing up corn tortillas into 1/2 inch by 1 inch strips.  I make them extra crispy to hold up in the soup.

Slice avocados in half, remove the pit and dice by running your knife through the flesh horizontally and vertically, then scoop out the squares with a spoon, into the bottom of the bowl.  Ladle soup on top, add a handful of chips, then your cheese on top of that.  Voila!  A meal in a bowl.

This is a hit even in the summer time.  A great way to use up leftover fresh made salsa, chicken and that broth you've been storing in the freezer.  Very cheap and feeds a lot of people!  This makes about 8 servings.

Hey, maybe you could even serve this on Cinco De Mayo!



My Green Kitchen

>> Thursday, April 22, 2010

Since today is Earth Day (40th anniversary at that!), I have been thinking about what I do that benefits the planet and what more could I be doing...

  1. Wash your produce in a bowl of water rather than under running water from the faucet
  2. Bamboo cooking utensils and cutting boards. I recently had to replace my wooden spoons, so instead I bought bamboo ones from The Pampered Chef - they rock!
  3. Recycle all food packaging products that can be recycled. I rinse out yogurt cups, steel cans, cardboard aseptic packages, etc and recycle them in my "blue bin" that goes out with my trash
  4. Re-use glass jars. Pickle jars, mayo jars, jam jars... I have been washing, then soaking the labels off and using them to store dried beans, homemade salad dressings, etc
  5. "Waste Not, Want Not" bread crusts, bread heels, imperfect cakes, cornbreads, etc. I throw these things into a ziploc freezer bag and when it's full turn them into bread crumbs, cubes for stuffing  mix. Cakes or muffins that didn't turn out quite right get turned into crumbs for cheesecake crusts. Veggie scraps get turned into broth.
  6. Hyperbake
  7. Use reusable shopping bags. (I must confess I have trouble remembering to keep mine in the car, grab them out of the car when I get to the store... )
  8. Be a locavore :-)
  9. Keep your fridge clean. Clean coils makes a happy fridge, one that uses less energy to be effecient!
  10. Keep  your freezer full. A full freeer uses less energy to maintain a constant temperature
  11. Plant a garden: fruits, veg or herbs. 1 pot makes a garden!
What do you do or have in the kitchen that benefits the earth? I am always looking for new tips and tricks to  incorporate into my life, so post yours below!



What's In Season: April

>> Tuesday, April 20, 2010

I recently stopped in a grocery store to buy some lettuce. Saw some organic romaine hearts at a great price. The label said it was from a California farm... awesome, right?

Nope. It also said in smaller print "Product of Mexico". So it was grown in Mexico, imported by a California farm for packaging and distribution. Ummmm, no thanks. I like my fruits and veggies to be as fresh as possible for taste and nutrition. Not mention the environmental and economic benefits to the local economy as well.

Here's a guide to what's in season locally here in Southern California for the month of April:

Dates (Medjool)
Green Beans
Green Onion
Green Peas
Navel Orange
Passion Fruit

Base your menus on the above listed fruits and veggies, check labels in the grocery stores to make sure each item you buy is locally grown.


(Don't live in Southern California? You can find out what's in season in your state here)


Monthly Menu Planning

>> Tuesday, April 6, 2010

I love planning our dinner meals out in advance. I know this is not a favorite chore of most people, but I'm weird. I read cookbooks like novels, have Food Network on the t.v. most of the time, browse the 'net looking for interesting new food to make... I am Food Geek, hear me roar.

A great thing I discovered a few months ago while flipping through my Woman's Day mag was a monthly dinner menu in the back of the issue. Hmmm.... monthly? Really? Up until that point I planned weekly for sure, maybe 2 weeks out. Went to their website (where they post a grocery list to accompany the menu, if you go strictly by it) and started loking at all the menus.

What I like about using this tool, is it helps me to come up with new and interesting meal ideas. I have "Dinner ADD" - can't have the same dinner more than twice in one month. Due to all of my food issues I have also realized that if I fall into a food rut, I start eating "bad" foods. No bueno. So I use this tool as a springboard - use the meal ideas of those I like the sound of, throw out the ones that I know will crash and burn in this house. I also have set "meal-by-type" nights each week, to aid in my meal planning and to make sure we get a variety of healthy meals every week. A typical week looks like this:

Sunday: "Cook Once, Eat Twice" planned leftovers meal. Usually involves some sort of roast or crockpot meat that I can then take the extra meat from and turn it into another meal later in the week, plus freeze extra for future meals

Monday: "Meatless Monday". I am fond of alliteration, so Mondays are vegan by default

Tuesday:  "Sunday Dinner, redux" This is where I use the leftovers from Sunday

Wednesday: Vegan meal

Thursday: beef or chicken, alternated by what type of meat has already been served

Friday: beef or chicken, alternated by what type of meat has already been served

Saturday: Pork-based meal

As I'm planning out the month's meals, I post them up on my Google Calendar. (Time management techniques from my old career life taught me that keeping 1 master calendar is most effective). This allows me to see what nights are going to be busier, so that I can plan a meal that will be fast enough to accomodate that evening's activities, and special occaisons for the month to plan around that meal and generally keep track of what went over well or what didn't. If something was a hit, I will carry that over somewhere in the next month. I also try not to have a pasta meal more than once per week, for my own sanity. Here's a peek at this week's meals to give you an idea of what I am talking about:

Sunday: Easter dinner - ham, potato salad, baked beans, broccoli salad, veggies and dips, desserts

Monday: Falafel w/ dipping sauce, cucumber/tomato/onion salad, pepper-lime quinoa

Tuesday: Tex-Mex chicken/rice/black bean dish, roast yellow & green squash w/ red bell pepper (not using the leftover ham from Sunday just yet, as Jeff is not a ham fan. Also, Tuesday nights Jeff works his side gig, so we need to eat by a certain time)

Wednesday: Minestrone Soup, italian bread, salad (already made and in the freezer, just thaw and reheat. Jeff has pool and I have church)

Thursday: Spaghetti and Meatballs, salad

Friday: Oven-Fried Chicken Strips, Steamed Cauliflower, 3-Bean Salad (Jeff works side gig again, so dinner must be done by a certain time)

Saturday: BBQ Sandwiches, Baked Beans, honey-peanut slaw inspired by Lucille's Smokehouse BBQ

A side benefit to planning a month of menus is that I can search out the very best deals for the items I need to make 'em. since I have a month of menus, I also have a month's shopping list and when I see non-perishables that are on my list, I can snag them at the best price. The more groceries I buy at a rock bottom price, the more room I have in my budget for great quality meats and produce. (And other fun stuff, too!) the best benefit of all to advance meal planning?

I never stare blankly into the fridge at 6 pm - "What in the world are we having for dinner?!!"



This post is part of the tip-o-rama of Works For Me Wednesday. To see more great tips, check out We Are THAT Family


Recipe Review: Whole Foods Market's Roasted Bell Peppers Stuffed with Quinoa

>> Friday, April 2, 2010

At my house, I like to do 2 dinner meals a week that are vegan. Not just vegetarian, or lacto-ovo, But vegan. (Meaning no animal products, what-so-ever, in case you didn't know). Which is a fairly recent development.

We had been doing lacto-ovo vegetarian meals once a week. And I felt pretty smug with myself about it. Until I took a free "How To Be a Nutritarian" class at my local Whole Foods Market (and by local I mean 24.1 miles from my house). The concept they are teaching is based on Dr. Joel Fuhrman's books Eat For Health.

There I discovered that for optimum health, humans should be consuming animal-sourced protein on very limited weekly basis. Instead of the thrice daily basis Americans currently practice. Uh-oh. Did I mention we are serious carnivores?

Fast-forward a few weeks later to now. When I planned my our dinner menus for this month and was searching for vegan menu options, I cam across this meal. Since Jeff loves stuffed bell peppers, I thought we could give it a try. My modifications are in red.

Roasted Bell Peppers Stuffed with Quinoa
Serves 6 Prep time: 10 minutes Cook Time: 1 hr. 15 min
There will be looks of envy from the meat-eating crowd when you serve this colorful and delicious entrée of bell peppers stuffed with mushrooms, carrots, spinach, quinoa and cashews. For a beautiful presentation, choose a combination of green, red, orange and yellow bell peppers.

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for oiling the pan
1 red onion, chopped
1/2 pound sliced mushrooms - omitted
1 cup chopped carrots
7 bell peppers (1 cored, seeded and chopped; tops removed and reserved from remaining 6 then cored and seeded)
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 pound baby spinach - frozen chopped spinach
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon - omitetd after reading recipe reviews
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed and cooked according to package directions 
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup roasted, salted cashews - used pecans, since that is what I had on hand
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally until transparent, 8 to 10 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until softened, 4 to 5 minutes more. Add carrots and chopped peppers, cook until just softened, then add parsley and spinach (in batches, if needed). Let spinach wilt then stir in cinnamon, cumin and cooked quinoa and toss gently to combine. Add salt, pepper and cashews and cook 1 to 2 minutes more. Set aside to let filling cool until just warm.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9- x 13-inch baking pan with oil then set aside.

Divide quinoa mixture evenly among remaining 6 bell peppers, gently packing it down and making sure to fully fill each pepper. Top each pepper with its reserved top then arrange them upright in prepared pan. Cover snugly with foil and bake, checking halfway through, until peppers are tender and juicy and filling is hot throughout, about 1 hour. Transfer to plates and serve.

Per serving (1 pepper/about 10oz/283g-wt.): 250 calories (90 from fat), 10g total fat, 1.5g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 280mg sodium, 36g total carbohydrate (7g dietary fiber, 6g sugar), 9g protein

The review:
To quicken the cooking process, I boiled the peppers a little while making the filling, then baked it in the oven for 1/2 the time called for in the recipe. I loved the texture juxtapositions with the crunch from the nuts mixed with the light texture of the quinoa. The flavor in the recipe as written I found to be a little lacking, so bump up the salt a little bit and add in or increase other spices. Cayenne pepper, cumin, ginger - all would work. Overall, I give it 3 stars as is, bump up the flavor and it gets 5.