Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cooking with Carmen: Tortilla Soup

Being from Columbus, Ohio I grew up with Max and Erma's restaurants all over the place. When I was a kid they had telephones at the tables where you could call other diners, and play pranks, flirt, or just say hello for the fun of it. They don't have the phones any longer, but what they do still have, and what is one of there best held secrets, is their tortilla soup.
I have never wanted to make tortilla soup unless I some how had found a way to replicate theirs. I've searched the internet high and low for recipes that seem like they MIGHT be the one. All the copycats seemed wrong, I don't have to make them to know that they will not taste the same. Cream of chicken soup is not something Max or Erma would have added to their soup.
Sorry folks.
Can't do it.
No condensed soup for this girl.
While wasting time one Pinterest one day, a recipe came up that seemed promising. Not as a copycat Max and Erma's tortilla soup, just one that sounded like it would taste really good, and maybe make me realize that I can move beyond my childhood memory and try something new. All of the reviews were good, and I had all of the ingredients so I thought I would give it a try. The best thing was, was that I could do it in the crock pot. I have to say...
It was terrific.
It was more than terrific.
It trumped the Max and Erma's soup only in that it wasn't as thick and creamy and so therefore automatically better for you.The soup was full of flavor, spice, and was perfect for a chilly evening.

I made my own tortilla strips from corn tortillas to garnish the top (you can do this in the oven with a little Pam, as long as they are all coated, and not touching each other, they will crisp up nicely. Or you can fry them in oil on the stove)
Here is the recipe, with the slight changes that I made from the original.

Better than Max and Erma's Tortilla Soup

1 pound shredded, cooked chicken ( I used a rotisserie, but you could poach chicken if you like)
1 (15 oz) can of whole peeled tomatoes, mashed ( I just used a can of diced tomatoes)
1 (10 oz) can of enchilada sauce ( you can make your own, but I just used the trusty Old el Paso)
1 medium onion
1 (4 oz) can chopped green chile peppers
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups of water
1 (14.5) can chicken broth ( I used at least 2 cans full, if not three)
1 teasp. Cumin
1 teasp. chili powder
1 teasp. salt
1/4 teasp. black pepper ( I have a heavy hand with pepper you will)
1 bay leaf
1 (10 oz) package frozen corn (I only used half, a whole bag just seemed too much)
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro (didn't have any, so left it out, didn't miss it)

approx 7 corn tortillas, veg oil for frying or Pam for spraying for the oven.

We topped with tortillas and the Sargento Mexican blend cheese. NOT the taco seasoned cheese, the blend. It's wonderful and I use it for so many things, mac and cheese, quesadillas etc.

Try it, it wont disappoint. For those of you who love the Max and Erma's soup, you'll be pleased to find that you'll enjoy this even more.
At least as much!
Happy Souping.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Cooking with Carmen: Zesty Beef, and a request for Apple Crisp

Sunday was cool and cloudy and this pregnant lady wanted some fat curly egg noodles.
What could be better to warm us up than beef stew, beef stroganoff, or goulash.
I didn't want either of those things. The noodles canceled out any need for potatoes and carrots, I didn't want the sauce to be creamy, and I was fresh out of mushrooms.
Here is my zesty beef recipe with no cream, and no veg. Just a delicious gravy and melt in your mouth beef cubes! I call it Zesty, because most goulash and stroganoff recipes call for paprika, I love paprika so used it in addition to salt and pepper. I suppose you could eliminate it, but seriously it wouldn't be as good.

1 package of stew meat
1 small onion, or medium shallot
1 clove grated garlic
1/2 cup of beer
1 cup chicken broth or stock
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 to 1 teaspoon Paprika
1/4 cup AP flour
1 tablespoon Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Butter
 Bag of Egg Noodles

PreHeat oven to 350
Season meat with Salt and Pepper.
In a gallon zip lock bag pour AP flour, and Smoked Spanish Paprika.
Add seasoned meat to bag and shake to coat.
Add Olive oil, and butter to a dutch oven, or any oven safe pan. The butter keeps the olive oil from burning.
Brown meat in batches and set aside.
Add shallot or onion to pan and let soften, add garlic.
De-glaze pan with Beer, and stir/scrape to get brown bits off the bottom, and add meat and any juice accumulated back to pan. Add Chicken broth/stock stir.
Place lid on pot and transfer to the oven. Cook on 350 for about an hour, then lower the temp to 300 for another 20 to 30 min. Keep an eye on the sauce so that it doesn't reduce down too much.
This can also be done in the crock pot.
Boil noodles, and serve meet on top

When people say they don't have time to bake, I say they don't know what they're talking about. Baking, even baking from scratch, does not have to be a lengthy process. As long as you have the staples at hand. Flour, brown and white sugar, butter, eggs, baking powder/soda, and cinnamon.  With these few things you can make a multitude of yumminess.
Seriously give this a shot. You'll be glad you made it yourself instead of buying it from a box. Not that I have anything against box mixes. They are mostly good, I have a Trader Joe pumpkin pancake mix in my cupboard right at this moment. I digress.

Apple crisp is one of my fast and easy go to desserts to bake. It seriously takes minutes to prepare, and no time to bake, and is always good. My grandmother used to make it all the time, and she calls it Apple Brown Betty. It cancels out the need to make a pie crust, which I know freaks people out. Pastry is the one thing in baking that I feel is reasonable to feel freaked out about.

Preheat oven to 375
4 to 5 apples
2 teasp. cinimmon devided
1 1/4 cups oats (quick or whole oats)
1/4 cup AP flour
1/2 cup brown sugar (white works too. )
1 stick of butter
1/2 teasp. vanilla extract, or vanilla paste

 This can be made in a glass baking dish, in individual muffin tins, ramekins, or a cast iron skillet

Peel and slice apples.
Saute apples in a skillet with  two table spoons of butter, a teaspoon of cinimmon, vanilla, and a table spoon or two of brown sugar. Cook until apples are slightly soft, not mushy.
While apples are cooking combine oats, flour, sugar, and the rest of the cinnamon in a bowl. Melt what is left of the butter, and add to the dry mixture. Mix until incorporated.
Once the apples are softish, transfer to baking dish, and top with dry mixture. Bake for 30 to 40 min. until golden brown on the top. You'll be able to tell it's done by the smell.

*Occasionally I like to add to the topping, slivered or sliced almonds, or chopped walnuts or pecans.  When I have them.

I hope you enjoy these fast simple recipes, we sure did!!!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Cooking with Carmen: Bread

I'm back to blogging! Last year was busy, new job, now a new kitchen, a two year old. I find that at the moment I need some ME time to write a few things down.

People keep asking me for the recipes I use, well.  I peruse multiple blogs everyday while commuting on the train mostly (Pinterest is the devil,) some are good, some are not, but one thing that I enjoy are the recipe's and pictures. I find that while I'll post pictures and comments on Facebook about things that I make. I never really write about my modifications because I almost always modify things. Only recently have I started writing down for myself my changes instead of relying upon my memory. My copy of The Joy of Cooking has notes all over the place.

Michael and I had a big lunch yesterday at Shake Shack (delicious.) So we decided to give Ella some dinner, and have a salad later (after bedtime.) Maybe some cheese and crackers. Well. In all my pregnant cravery. I decided we must have crusty bread with our salad. What's better really. Nothing.
So I went to my bookmarks, and pulled up my Fast Crusty Bread Recipe that I found a year or so ago when I wanted fresh bread on a Sunday night at 8 o'clock. Not easy to find I tell you. The blog is called Butterpies (clever, what's better than butter and pie.)  Turns out the lady that posted it on her blog had gotten the recipe from another blog herself. Brilliant theft I say. So here is it. The only picture I will include is the final product. You don't need to see a picture of a bowl with bubbling yeast.

1.5 cups of warm water (aim for about 110, I use my meat thermometer, and here in NY you can get that temp from the tap)
1 tablespoon of maple syrup (or honey) I use honey, the MS is too flavory.
1 tablespoon plus 1.5 teaspoons of active yeast (use quick rise, use reg. it fine)
1.5 teaspoons salt (add this ONLY to the flour not the warm water and yeast, it will kill the yeast)
3 cups flour (sometimes it's 4 cups, sometimes 3 1/4 depends on the weather.) I use a combo of AP, white whole wheat, and sometimes add a 1/4 cup of flax meal.

1.Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

2.Combine Yeast, Honey, and Water, and whisk to make sure Honey is incorporated. Let it sit for about 10 min. till it's bubbly.

I do all of this in the kitchen aid with the dough hook. If you don't have one, a spoon will do.

3.Add the flour and salt to water yeast mix.
mix on med/slow for a few min. Once it starts to really come together (you may want to add more flour if it seems super sticky) scrape the sides of the bowl, and then mix a bit more. it should start to look sort of smooth and elasticky.

4.Take it out of the bowl, if it's still sticky knead it on the counter (with a little flour) until it's less sticky. Mold it into a log loaf, or round loaf. Cover with a clean cloth, and let it sit for 20 min.

In order for it to have as little as movement as possible before putting it in the oven I let the loaf rise on parchment, and on the pizza peal ( I use a stone to bake it on, if you don't have one, get one, it will change your life, and make amazing TV worthy biscuits, but use a baking sheet if you don't have one it will still be yummy)

After 20 min. take a very sharp knife and make a few slices along the top if it's a long loaf, or do a cross if it's a round one. Then put it in the oven.

Bake for 20 min.

Let it cool a bit, and chow down.
You will not be disappointed.
This is an easy recipe to do with children, let them help. It'll be even funner and yummyer.

This ends the first installment of Cooking with Carmen. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Evolution of New Years Eve

New Year's Eve has always been a holiday filled with loads of pressure around what to do, where to go, who to spend it with, or what to wear.
I believe that even if you are sitting at home watching TV with your parents you should be wearing something sparkly.
I've never been one to want to party like its 1999, but always have wanted it to feel special;.

These days New Years is special in a different way. Less about sparkles and booze and more about...
Pig tails and sparkling grape juice. 

Two years ago, Michael and I were sitting in our living room with two of our dear friends, playing games and sipping champagne, I was rolling around on a yoga ball and I was almost as big as the ball.
I was over due by three days, and thought...
This is it.
In the next twelve hours or so, it's gonna be go time.
This was New Years! The holiday of great expectations. We could have the first baby born of the new year!! We didn't.
Thank God!
Ella was born at 1:10am January 2nd. 
Two years later, I remember the pain, excitement, and anticipation, but what I think about more is the joy that the last two years has brought us.
The last few years have been such an exciting terrifying time as we navigate New York City with a child, and move in and out of jobs, and try and hold on to our apartment and sanity.
As I sit here on the eve of her second birthday, New Years Day 2013 I am remembering how thankful we are to have a happy, healthy child, jobs (I have a number of them as always) and that we have a roof over our heads. Life is full of challenges, this year has had many, but we are blessed to be able to muddle through the lows and rejoice in the highs.

This year we turned down a babysitter this NYE so that we could spend it with friends who also have a two year old (and a five year old.) We watched the London ball drop at 6pm, toasted with Sparkling grape juice, hugged and kissed and sang Auld Lang Syne.

2013 should prove to be interesting. Will we get a dishwasher? Cabinets?  Will I finally decide that one job is better than four?

One thing is certain, and two things sure. I will begin the year learning how to make croissants, Ella is going to make us pretend coffee in her new play kitchen, and Michael is going to hope beyond all hope that the new Brown's coach and General Manager will make it Cleveland's year.