Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tortilla Soup and Popovers

What happened to spring?  It seemed to be here a couple weeks ago, but then I woke up to snow on the ground on Sunday….WTF?  Thankfully it looks like it may be reappearing this coming weekend.  The cold weather did allow me to get in one more batch of soup for the year. 

I’ve wanted to make popovers for a while now.  I got a King Arthur Flour gift card for Christmas and bought a popover pan – Step 1 complete!  It only took a couple months to get to Step 2, finding a recipe and actually making them – not bad for me.  I don’t know if you’ve ever been to BLT Steak, but they serve delicious popovers that have cheese melted on them.  So good.  I knew I wanted to do that for my first attempt and when I decided on Asiago cheese, it was also decided that the soup should have a Mexican theme, hence Tortilla Soup!

As I’ve never made Tortilla Soup before I decided to turn to old trusty, America’s Test Kitchen, and they did not disappoint.  This is actually a pretty easy dish to put together.  You puree what is essentially salsa and that becomes the soup base.  At the same time you boil some chicken in what will become your soup broth.  You separate, deconstruct, shred and recombine the ingredients and voilá – soup! 

The popovers are just as easy with only 4 ingredients (5 with my cheese addition), but way more impressive.  I felt like a little kid watching for Santa (I’m not the only one who has done that right??) as I peeked into the oven every few minutes and called to people to “Look look, they’re getting so big!”.  Ahhh, good times.  And wow, they were as good as I'd hoped.  Looks delish, huh?  For the popover recipe, check out this link:   ­

Now the details on the soup….


2 bone-in, skin-on split chicken breasts (about 1 ½ lbs)
8 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 large white onion, peeled and quartered
4 medium cloves garlic, peeled
2 sprigs fresh epazote or 8-10 sprigs fresh cilantro + 1 sprig fresh oregano (I used 2tsp dried cilantro and a ½ tsp dried oregano)
2 medium tomatoes, cored and quartered (I used 3)
½ medium jalapeño chile
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce + up to 1 Tbsp adobo sauce
1 Tbsp vegetable oil


Lime wedges
Avocado, diced into chunks
Cotija cheese, crumbled or Monterey Jack cheese, shredded
Fresh cilantro leaves
Crema Mexicana or sour cream (I used non-fat plain Greek yogurt)


Put chicken, ½ of the onion, 2 cloves garlic, herbs and broth in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about 20 minutes.  Transfer cooked chicken to a large plate to cool.  Strain broth to remove all solids.  Discard solids and set broth aside.

Puree tomatoes, remaining onion and garlic, the jalapeño and chipotle with adobo in a food processor until smooth, about 30 seconds.

Heat oil in dutch oven over high heat until shimmering.  Add puree and about ¼ tsp salt and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Stir strained broth into tomato mixture, bring to a boil then reduce heat to low and let simmer for about 15 minutes to allow flavors to blend.  Taste and add seasonings as appropriate (salt, additional adobo, etc.)

When the chicken has cooled, remove skin and bones and shred (use two forks to pull it apart).  Add the shredded chicken to the soup and simmer until heated through.  Serve in bowls over tortilla strips and topped with the garnishes of your choice.

*This recipe calls for making your own tortilla strips, which I did, however I think my corn tortillas were too thick as they remained a bit chewy even after baking them longer than recommended.  I would say, take a shortcut and buy some good quality corn tortilla chips instead of making your own.  But if you want to….. cut 8 corn tortillas into strips, toss with 1 Tbsp vegetable oil and bake at 425 degrees for about 14 minutes, tossing once during baking. 
Sunday, March 27, 2011

A quest for ski pants turns into great food in Frederick?!?

                                                                                                                          Volt Restaurant

Yesterday started out as a trek out to the Hagerstown outlets in the hopes of finding ski pants for my upcoming vacation.  Due to a couple people maybe possibly being hung-over, we decided to stop in Frederick for lunch first.  Thinking we would just find a place with decent food that could re-energize us, we headed down Market Street of downtown Frederick.  Shocked with how cute the town now is, and how far it’s come in the past several years, we quickly changed gears and decided we needed a really good meal.  Where else would we find that in Frederick than at Top Chef runner-up Bryan Voltaggio’s Volt (  We were worried they weren’t open for lunch or that they would be booked, but were pleased to learn that they not only were open, but they had a reasonably priced prix fixe menu and we could eat at the bar.  Score!

We started with cocktails and a cheese plate, because umm, isn’t that what everyone does on a Saturday afternoon?  The cheese plate was excellent and beautifully presented with drizzles of oil and sprinklings of micro-greens.  It came with 5 cheeses, all of which were great – Monocacy Ash (soft goat), Midnight Moon (amazing hard goat cheese that only runs, ohh, about $25/lb at your local Harris Teeter), an aged Wisconsin Cheddar, Taleggio and last but not least, a deliciously creamy Ewe’s Blue.  Perfect start.

My first of three courses was a cavatelli pasta with ham, broccoli rabe and parmesan….oh my god… good.  I could have eaten a huge bowl of just that and been ridiculously happy.  The fresh rolls were also amazing – mine was olive rosemary.  A couple others had buttermilk chive biscuits that also looked great.

Course two was grilled rockfish with forbidden black rice and mixed sautéed carrots.  The fish was perfectly cooked, though admittedly a little bland (could be due to the fact that I didn’t eat the crispy skin which was just too “fishy” for me).  The rice was creamy and delicious.  A friend had the pork tenderloin and I was lucky enough to get a few bites…..I think I’d choose that one next time – yum.

Finally course three, and ahem – cocktail three also, was a honeycrisp apple tarte tatin with mascarpone gelato.  Back to another oh my god….it was absolutely perfect.  The apple was soft and warm and cinnamony, and if you know me, you know I LOVE cinnamon.  There were even some delicious little blobs of caramel and cinnamon sauce on the plate to swirl everything around in.  Wow.

A French press of coffee afterwards was the perfect end to an unexpectedly awesome meal. 

A couple other things about Volt – the bartender Benjamin was great, super personable and definitely entertaining.  There is a TV above the bar showing a live feed from the kitchen where Bryan himself was cooking and plating each and every entrée.  For an obsessive foodie like me, that was very cool.  He keeps an insanely clean and organized kitchen and watching him work was mesmerizing.  Volt – I’ll be back for sure.

Oh and by the way – did we make it to Hagerstown?  Heck no, but I did find ski pants at a shop down the street – way to go Frederick!  

Monday, March 7, 2011

Time to spice things up....Indian style!

I love Indian food, but it’s always been sort of an intimidating cuisine for me in the kitchen.  There are so many flavors going on, and generally so many steps in the preparation of a meal that it’s certainly not something you can easily whip up during the work week unless you plan to eat at 9pm.  Well, yesterday was the perfect day for it – a lazy Sunday with rain beating down all day.  What better to do than invite over a cooking buddy and go to town….

My friend and I are both super anal in the kitchen – we like things sliced, chopped, stirred, poured, etc. all in a certain way (and not necessarily the same way!).  You’d think this would make it difficult to cook together, but for some reason it always works out well.  Especially in the case of yesterday where we each had our own dish to prepare.  She made a vegetable curry with chickpeas and potatoes while I focused on Chicken Tikka Masala, something I have been talking about making for at least a year now.

Was it as good as I had hoped?  Hell yes, it was delicious!!  America’s Test Kitchen does it again, with my little tweaks of course since I can’t seem to ever follow a recipe exactly….

Here are the basics-

Toss the pieces of chicken in the spice rub and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.  In the meantime mix up the yogurt mixture.  After the chicken has marinated, dip each piece in the yogurt mixture (make sure it has a good amount coating it) and place on a foil-covered broiler pan.  ATK says to broil the chicken about 6 inches from the heat for 10-18 minutes (internal temp should be 160-165º).  My old-school oven does not let me regulate distance to the heat source so I thought it would be safer to bake the chicken, then just finish it off in the broiler.  I baked it at about 425º for 20-25 minutes then broiled it for about 3 minutes, just enough time for the yogurt coating to form a crust.  Remove from oven and set aside until the sauce is ready.    

While the chicken is baking, heat oil in a large dutch oven and sauté onions for the sauce (I used about an extra ½ cup of chopped onion).  After about 8 minutes or so when they have become translucent, add in the garam masala and other flavorings (garlic, ginger, serrano pepper, tomato paste).  Cook everything for a few minutes, then pour in the can of chopped tomatoes, sugar and salt.  Let this come to a boil then reduce to simmer for about 15 minutes.  At this point I did a taste test to see if the serranos made it spicy enough – of course they didn’t so I added a dash of cayenne, a dash of salt as well as about a ½ tsp of cumin.  The extra seasonings may depend on the garam masala used.  This version seemed a bit cinnamon-heavy so the extra cumin was needed to add more of that warm earthy/smoky flavor.  When the flavor is to your liking, add the cream and stir to combine.  Since dutch ovens stay hot for quite some time, I recommend turning off the heat and just letting the sauce sit for about 15 minutes or so to allow the flavors to meld.

**SIDENOTE – even though your friends may laugh at you, as mine did, I recommend wearing latex gloves to chop up the serrano chili – the last thing you want is to accidentally rub your eyes before washing your hands.  Also a great trick for avoiding 3 days of garlicky smelling fingers!**

While waiting on the sauce, cut the chicken into chunks about ½” – 1” in size, making sure to sneak a few bites as that yogurty crust is awesome!  After letting the sauce sit, turn the heat back on low and stir in the cilantro and chunks of chicken just until everything is hot.  Serve over steamed basmati rice and try your best not to eat the entire pot yourself.

If you still have some energy left, mango lassis are a great accompaniment to this meal and they’re super simple to make.  Just puree fresh mango, plain yogurt, mango nectar, some agave syrup or honey (if necessary for sweetness) and a bit of ice until smooth.  Yum!  This is what I call a great Sunday dinner.

Recipe from America's Test Kitchen

1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cayenne pepper
2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts (cut in half)
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp minced or grated fresh ginger (I used ginger powder)
2 medium cloves garlic, minced or through a press

3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tbsp tomato paste
2 medium cloves garlic, minced or through a press
2 tsp minced or grated fresh ginger (again, used powder)
1 serrano chile, minced
1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
2 tsp sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (I used 1/2 tsp dried)
Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Chicken & Broccoli with Pasta

Everyone has a go-to weeknight dinner right?  I mean something other than fried eggs on toast…though that is also one of my faves!  Well, this chicken & broccoli dish is really easy and quite delicious.  It’s hard to go wrong with chicken and pasta in general, but when I discovered this flavor combination, it quickly became a repeat dinner.

First, cut a boneless skinless chicken breast into ½” cubes. (One breast should be enough to serve 2 people)  Sauté with some olive oil and McCormick Montreal Chicken Seasoning.  Add in a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes or some Turkish biber (a dried red pepper) to give the chicken a little kick!

At the same time, boil the pasta of your choosing (I like whole wheat penne or whole wheat orzo), and either sauté or steam some broccoli.  When everything is cooked and the pasta is drained, combine everything in one pot.  Add more olive oil and either milk or cream.  You need just enough milk or cream to make everything come together – probably a couple turns of the pan as you pour (maybe ¼ - ⅓ cup).  Add a generous amount of freshly grated parmesan cheese, stir to combine and heat through just until cheese melts and becomes creamy.  Salt and pepper as needed.

Not the prettiest dish out there, but super tasty – enjoy!