Warm Up From Winter: Quick and Easy Taco Soup

taco soupWe just got another snowfall yesterday.  We’ve had two in the last couple of weeks.  This one was only an inch or two, but the one before was a little more serious–we had about 4 inches before it started to rain and turned it all into slick, heavy slush.  That storm was predicted to be much larger, so the grocery stores were cleared out by the night before.  We were quite prepared, mostly with wood and water, since our well water will stop if the electricity is knocked out.  Luckily, everything stayed steady.  In general, I think it all looked much worse than it was, in reality.  That snowfall was the first we’d gotten this season.  Its been quite cold, but stayed dry until then.  Now, we are stuck in a strange cycle of warm days falling into freezing ones.  Everyone’s immune systems seem to have gone haywire, since one warm week was enough to have several plants send out pollen, and the constant swing from warm to cold has worsened the last few flus and colds running through our workplace.

snow daffodils

Even the daffodils are confused

After a stretch of warm days, the weather turned blusteringly cold overnight, much to my displeasure.  After running through the cold from one job to the next, I was craving hot, steamy, spicy soup to take off the chill of the day.  We were almost due for a trip to the grocery store, but, thankfully, my stock of canned goods got me through this recipe.  If you are looking for something quick and simple, stick to the cans or whatever you may have on hand for this recipe.  Equal amounts of fresh or frozen ingredients can definitely be used!  You can also adjust the heat level to your tastes by adjusting the amount of chili powder and hot sauce.  This is a solid medium heat level–I wanted a definite kick in this simmering soup.

taco soup toppings

I also have some very exciting news: we found out yesterday that we were approved for our rental application!  M and I will be moving in with our friend S, into a townhouse with a beautiful open kitchen.  I have amazing amounts of cabinet space, granite countertops, a proper pantry, a gas stove, and a breakfast bar!  We can move in April 1st, and I will definitely be posting some pictures soon afterwards.  It’ll be wonderful to live in a house with our own washer and dryer (instead of hauling the laundry out to my mother’s) and to have Punc live with us fulltime (again, instead of out at my mother’s).  This will also be my first time stocking my own kitchen!  I am supremely excited!  I have way too many plans for crafts and gardening–look out for some crafty posts on here soon!

taco soup plate

I will do my best to keep my excited gushing in check.  The next few weeks will be a little bit hectic as we try to pack and organize.  I know we won’t exactly realize what we need until we are actually in the house, so it’ll be a slow process.  I will keep you posted!  And, I have several recipes waiting in the wings, so I will try to stay on track with posting!  For now,  enjoy this soup before the days grow too warm…it is the perfect pick-me-up at the end of a brisk day!  I made some chili-spiced sweet potato wedges as a side dish (sprinkle sliced potatoes with oil oil and spices, bake at 400 degrees F for 25-35 minutes).  I highly suggest topping the soup with a bit of sour cream–it melt gloriously into the broth.  But feel free to alter this to your taste.  You know what you like best!

taco soup top

Taco Soup

Serves: 4-6 | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: 30 minutes

  • 4 c. (32-oz or 1 lg box) low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 large chicken breast
  • 1 med. red onion
  • 1 14-oz can of diced tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 1 16-oz can of kidney beans/black bean
  • 3/4 c. frozen corn (or 1 sm. can of corn)
  • 2 tsp garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp ancho chili powder
  • 1/3 packet taco seasoning (about 1 Tbsp–I used Trader Joe’s*)
  • Hot sauce to taste (I used 1 dash of Dave’s Insanity Sauce, I would have used more of a regular tasbasco or Frank’s)
  • 4 slices bacon
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 Tbsp fresh cilantro (or 1 tsp dried)
  • Sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, lime wedges, and fresh cilantro, optional

*Trader Joe’s Taco Seasoning contains no gluten-containing ingredients.  Please always check store-bought mixes for hidden gluten!

Add the chicken stock to a large stock pot.  Heat to a boil over medium heat.  Trim any fat from the chicken breast, then place in the boiling stock to poach.  Return to a boil, then turn down to a simmer.  Cook for about 10 minutes, or until chicken is completely cooked through.  Remove breast from stock, set aside to cool.  Optionally, skim any bits of fat from the stock.  While the chicken is poaching, chop the onion on a medium dice, and drain and thoroughly rinse the beans (if using canned).   In a small skillet, cook bacon.  Remove to side to cool.  Add onions to the skillet, cook for about 3 minutes in the bacon grease.  Spoon onions out with a slotted spoon.  When the broth is hot and you have removed the chicken, add the onions, beans, tomatoes and corn.  Raise the heat to return soup to boil.  Stir in garlic, taco seasoning, chili powder, cumin, hot sauce, and cilantro.  Shred the reserved chicken, and chop the cooked bacon into small pieces.  Add meat to post, stir, and return to boil.

Ladle the soup into bowls and top with a dollop of sour cream, shredded cheese, a lime wedge, and more cilantro.  We served our with margaritas!  Enjoy!


Quick and Easy Weeknight Chicken Fajitas (+ Pico de Gallo & Guacamole)

fajita center

When I first began to cook, when it became more than just mixing up a boxed cake mix when I was bored or overloading on cookie recipes near the holidays, I was mostly driven to surprise my mother with dinner.  A few trusty dishes developed, but they were nothing too extraordinary.  Sauteed chicken and onions tossed into jarred marinara sauce over spaghetti.  Thin slices of chicken cooked with peppers and onions and sprinkled with McCormick’s fajita seasoning.  I remember feeling especially revolutionary on the day I decided to add a squeeze of lime juice.  Simple as these dishes may be, they were still delicious, and remain as quick and easy standbys for when my creativity runs out (or when I can exercise prudence and restrain myself from running to the grocery store for more ingredients).

A few things have changed–corn tortillas instead of flour, my own spice mix instead of prepackaged–but much has stayed the same.  A minimum 2-to-1 ratio of onions to peppers (I think restaurants’ tendency toward extra peppers is what prompted me to make my own in the first place.  Onions are the best part!), served up with guac, sour cream, and pico de gallo.  This comfort food is easy and tasty to toss together fast.  If you are more prepared than I am, you can set the chicken to marinade in the morning, giving it a full day to soak up those flavors.  If you are really proactive, chop and toss the pico de gallo together, too.  The longer it sits, the better the flavors meld.  If you are more like me, don’t worry about it.  Just give the chicken and the pico at least 30 minutes to mingle!

m's fajita

We used thick corn tortillas that we found at our international market.  I piled mine up, but M preferred a more deconstructed method.  The tortillas made these fajitas a bit more of a knife-and-fork kind of meal, but they were still delicious!  Also, if you’ve noticed a drastic improvement in photo quality (if you haven’t, I’d be highly surprised) you can thank M.  He has been lending me his photography skills and his iPhone 5 camera!  I love the quality of these photos, compared to my grainy snaps.  The iPhone (camera-wise) definitely kicks my Droid Incredible’s butt.  Next on the list after paying for rent, a cruise, and my student loans…a new phone?  Haha, maybe this summer!

fajita table

Chicken Fajitas

Serves: 4 | Prep: 20 min (total) | Rest time: 30 min+  | Cook time: 15-20 minutes

  • 2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or 3-4 thighs)
  • Juice of 2 limes
  • Zest of 1 lime
  • 1/4 c. chicken broth (optional)
  • 3 Tbsp oil, divided
  • 2 tsp. garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp ancho chili powder*
  • 1 tsp cumin powder*
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder*
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper*
  • 1/2 tsp paprika*
  • Salt & pepper
  • 2 med. onion, sliced
  • 1 large bell pepper (any color) sliced

*Or use 1 1/2-2 Tbsp of a prepared/packaged fajita seasoning mix

Fixings:

  • 1 batch prepared guacamole (recipe below)
  • 1 batch prepared pico de gallo (recipe below)
  • Sour cream
  • Corn tortillas

Mix the lime juice, 2 tablespoons of oil, garlic, a pinch of lime zest, and dry spices to make a paste.  If you would like a more liquid marinade, add the 1/4 cup of chicken broth.  Spread paste over all surfaces of chicken, or dip chicken to cover in the marinating liquid.  Place chicken and marinade (paste or liquid) in a ziploc.  Press out the air and seal tightly.  Allow to marinade for at least 30 minutes, up to several hours.

Heat half of remaining tablespoon of oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Remove chicken from marinade, season with salt and pepper, and place in hot skillet.  Cook for 3-4 minutes until the pan-side is nicely browned.   Flip, cover, and cook for 3-4 minutes more until cooked through and evenly colored.  Remove chicken from skillet.  Add remaining oil and add sliced vegetables.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and a pinch of lime zest.  Cook until slightly softened, with onion beginning to turn translucent, about 5 minutes.  Slice the chicken thinly.  Turn heat up to high, add chicken back into skillet, and stir constantly for 1-2 minutes.  Remove from heat.

Serve with corn tortillas, sour cream, pico de gallo, and guacamole.

guac+pico

Pico de Gallo

Serves: 4-8 | Prep time: 10 min | Rest time: 30 min+

  • 2 plum tomatos, diced and seeded
  • 1 sm. onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeño, finely diced
  • 2 tsp. garlic, minced
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 Tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
  • Salt & pepper

Mix all ingredients in a bowl.  Allow to rest for at least 30 minutes, up to several hours.

guac_side_shot

Guacamole

Serves: 4-8 | Prep: 10 min

  • 2 avocados, diced
  • 1 sm. onion, finely chopped
  • 1 plum tomato, diced
  • 1/2 jalapeño, minced
  • 1 tsp garlic, minced
  • Juice and zest of one lime
  • Salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste (usually a generous pinch of each)

Juice lime over avocado immediately after dicing avocado.  Add remaining ingredients and mash and mix to preferred consistency.

 


Skillet Shrimp Scampi

shrimp scampi prime

I feel like its been ages since I’ve posted.  I’m not sure what it is about the last ten days that seem to be double…maybe because I have so many dishes to share!  I’vr been on a bit of a creative kick lately, trying all sorts of new dishes for dinner.  A few are old familiar favorites that I haven’t gotten around to sharing on here yet, while others are some new, “scary” recipes. In fact, I have a quick and simple fajita recipe and a risotto recipe in the line-up, but last night I made this shrimp scampi and it was just too good to wait.  We’ve had a bag of raw shrimp in the freezer for a couple of weeks and I’ve been waffling about how I was going to use them.  Mostly due to the pictures I’ve seen on Pinterest, I had narrowed it down to a sweet-and-tangy skewered option or a more classic butter-based sauce.  Since skewers = grill in my mind and it has been absurdly cold the past few weeks: the grill was out.  Plus, I have some lemons to use up.  I thought that I would combine the inspiration from a few different recipes:  again and again things like white wine, butter, lemon, and garlic were added to shrimp, though (purely happenstance) never all of them together.  I figured if they all were paired with shrimp one way or another, they would all be good together.

scampi sauce

And they were.  Because white wine+butter+lemon+garlic+shrimp=shrimp scampi in it’s most basic sense.  Yes, I made a classic recipe without quite knowing it.  Laugh away.  I did!  I thought I was riffing on scampi–some new dish that was close but just different enough.  Instead, I recreated the basic idea perfectly.  I’m sure I’ve come across recipes for shrimp scampi before, and that was part of the reason those ingredient rang as “right” in my brain.  I may have even tasted it, but, truth be told, my preference for shrimp (beyond cold and covered in cocktail sauce) only started to grow shortly before I stopped eating gluten.  I’m not sure if I have ever had scampi tossed with pasta.  I hardly thought of that option when I was prepping for dinner.  I was bright lemon, zesty garlic, and glorious butter in a sauce that would coat the shrimp, pooling at the bottom of the bowl to be sopped up with french bread.  And that is exactly what I did.

scampi bowl

I think the sauce would have been delicious on my own Gluten-Free French Bread, but I didn’t have the time after work to commit to the hour-long bake time.  I wanted shrimp and I wanted it fast.  I grabbed Against the Grain baguettes, my favorite store-bought gluten-free baked good.  I knew that the decadent baguettes, made from tapioca starch, cheese, and eggs would be a perfect pairing with the butter sauce.  The insides of these baguettes remind me of popovers–soft, springy, and rich.  They were perfect!  I made a quick salad from a lettuce mix (spinach, radicchio, chard, and romaine) with a hefty portion of kale, topped with red onion, tomato, cucumber, carrots, and red pepper and mixed together a quick pepper-parmesan dressing to top the hearty greens.  I’ll post the salad dressing soon, it was delicious and quick and very easy to halve or double depending on how many you are serving.

shrimp scampi table

But onto the main event!  I thawed the shrimp completely while I prepped the salad and the dressing.  Then I tossed the baguette in the oven to warm up as I turned on the stove to medium-high under a large saucepan.  I added about a teaspoon of olive oil, just enough to coat the pan and let that heat before I added the shrimp in a single layer.  Be careful not to crowd the pan too much.  I had a very large pan and just managed to fit my shrimp in with a sliver of space between them.  Cook the shrimp for 2-3 minutes, until the downward side turns pink and the color begins to creep around the tail onto the raw side facing up.  Flip the shrimp and cook for another 2 minutes, until the shrimp are firm and completely pink.  A bit of color off the pan is fine, but keep the cooking time short, so they don’t get rubbery.

scampi plate

Remove the cooked shrimp from the pan and add the lemon slices.  The juice will begin to sizzle.  Let the lemons cook for about 30 seconds, until they are fragrant.  Add the white wine to the pan and scrape the bottom with your spatula to help deglaze and get all of the tasty bits off the pan and into your sauce.  Be gentle with the lemons as you scrape the pan.  Once the wine has settled (it should bubble pretty furiously when you first add it to the pan), add your butter, olive oil, and garlic, stirring gently until the butter melts.  Cook for one minute more, then add your shrimp back in.  Stir the shrimp to coat completely, sprinkle with salt and pepper, then remove the pan from the heat.  I pour all of the shrimp into one large bowl, or you can portion them onto plates.  Just make sure that each individual gets a healthy dollop of the remaining scampi sauce.  Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley and serve immediately, with lots of bread!

scampi close

Skillet Shrimp Scampi

Serves 4.  Prep time: 5 minutes / Cook time: 10 minutes

  • 1 1/2 lb jumbo uncooked shrimp, peeled & deveined
  • 1 lg lemon, sliced into 1/4 in slices
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced into a fine paste
  • 1/4 c. white wine
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt & pepper
  • chopped parsley

Coat a large skillet with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat.  Add shrimp and cook about 2-3 minutes, until the pan side turns pink.  Flip shrimp and cook for another two minutes, until firm and completely pink all the way through.  Remove shrimp from pan.  Add lemon slices and cook for about 1 minute, until fragrant.  Add white wine to deglaze, stirring and scraping the pan.  Add butter, garlic, and olive oil, mixing thoroughly.  Cook the sauce for one minute more, then add shrimp back into pan.  Toss to coat in sauce.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and parsley.  Serve immediately.


Quick ‘n Easy Recipe: Kale Chips

kalechip

I feel a little bit silly giving this ‘recipe’ a whole post.  It’s one of the easiest things I have made in a long while.  But, it is also a recipe I held off from making for a very long time, but it was intimidating.  Somehow, staring down at a fresh bunch of kale, I just couldn’t believe that it would be so easy to transform them into a crispy, flavorful snack.  Don’t let you logic fool you…I’m a believer now.  Kale chips are fast and easy.  And, in this dry, cold winter weather, my chips stayed crispy overnight and through the next day after being sealed in a Ziploc bag.  I can’t tell you exactly how long they’ll stay crispy, we ate them all the next day.

It’s amazing to watch such a “tough” green turn into a shatteringly crisp chip.  I felt like I had to be careful with the fragile baked leaves, but they held up considerably well.  And they are far more filling than they seem.  I’ll be making more chips again soon!

Flavor combinations are endless.  Just keep to as little liquid as possible (here is a time that dried spices triumph) and keep testing new tastes!

kalechips2

Kale Chips

  • 1 large bunch of kale
  • Cooking spray (I prefer real olive oil sprays)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Additional Seasonings (I used garlic powder and paprika, see below for more suggestions)

Wash you kale leaves well and dry completely.  Wet leaves will wilt, rather than crisp, in the oven.

Preheat your oven to 275 degrees F.  Remove the stems from the kale leaves and discard stems.  Tear the leaves into slightly-larger-than bite-sized pieces.  Spray a large baking sheet with cooking spray.  Spread the leaves on the baking sheet.  Mist the leaves with baking spray, then stir gently to make sure all pieces are evenly coated.  Spread the leaves into one layer on the baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper and additional seasonings.

Bake for 17-20 minutes, stirring halfway, until the leaves are crisp and the edges have begun to brown.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Store at room temperature in a sealed container.

Flavoring Suggestions:

  • Cheese & Onion: Powdered cheese (parmesan, or the Popcorn Flavoring shakers) + Onion powder
  • Chili-Lime: Squeeze one slice of lime over leaves after misting with cooking spray.  Mix well to evenly distribute juice and oil.  Sprinkle with chili powder and lime zest.
  • Salt & Vinegar: Drizzle a few drops of white vinegar after misting with cooking spray.  Mix well and sprinkle with extra salt.
  • Barbecue: Use your favorite grill seasoning/dry rub
  • Rosemary & Garlic: sprinkle with crushed rosemary and garlic powder
  • Curry: Use your favorite curry seasoning
  • Old Bay: Sprinkle with Old Bay seasoning and lemon zest.

Do you have any other flavor ideas? (I’ll be eating these chips until kale goes out of season…)