Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Chicken Tortilla Soup

This is my friend Danette's "easiest and favorite" recipe. It's perfect for nights when you need dinner in a hurry, and it's a great way to use up some leftover chicken. If you don't have leftovers, buy one of those precooked rotisserie chickens to save yourself time.

Start to finish: 15 minutes
Yield: 2 servings

Chicken Tortilla Soup
1 can cream of chicken soup (fat free or lowfat)
1 can Campbell's Fiesta Nacho Cheese soup
1 can green enchilada sauce (10 oz, not the little one)
1 can chopped green chilies (4 oz)
1 soup can milk (less if you like your soup thicker)
1 chicken breast (boneless/skinless) cooked and shredded
  1. Combine everything in a saucepan and cook until hot, being careful not to burn because of the milk. For some reason, the longer the soup is cooked, it seems like the spicier it can get.
  2. Toss in anything extra you have lying around -- frozen corn, a can of diced tomatoes, black beans, etc. Top it off with tortilla chips "crackers."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Chana Masala (Curried Chickpeas and Spinach)

It's still freezing. We're trapped beneath a winter inversion that keeps our valley skies gray and damp, and I can't seem to find socks thick enough to keep my feet warm. Definitely time to spice things up with a little Indian food. I had some garbanzo beans and spinach that I needed to use up, and this savory Punjabi dish was just the ticket. I don't remember where I found this recipe, but it's awesome. Serve it over rice, or be really authentic and scoop it up with chapatis.

*Note: This is a nonfat, medium-spice version. For richer and spicier options, see notes at the end.

Start to finish: 20 minutes
Yield: 2 servings (doubles, triples, etc., easily)

Chana Masala
Cooking spray
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 can garbanzo beans, with liquid
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon curry powder**
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon garam masala***
1 large bunch spinach (about 2 cups)
Salt to taste
  1. In a medium saucepan or skillet, saute the onion and garlic in cooking spray until the onion is soft and beginning to brown.
  2. Add the beans in their liquid, lemon juice, and spices. Cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the beans are soft. (The sauce will cook down and thicken up.)
  3. Turn off the heat, add the spinach to the pan, and cover again. Let the spinach wilt (about 3 minutes).
  4. Add salt to taste. Be sure to taste it first, though -- the bean liquid makes it plenty salty enough for me.
  5. Serve over rice, on its own, with Indian bread, as a side dish... It's terrific no matter how you eat it!
*Variations: For a richer dish, use 3 tablespoons of olive oil instead of cooking spray. For a spicier dish, add cayenne pepper to taste.

**Curry powder is available in the spice section at pretty much every store, but the quality and flavor varies tremendously. I made my own by mixing 2 tablespoons of cumin, 2 tablespoons of coriander, 2 teaspoons of turmeric, 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon ground mustard, and 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger.

***Garam masala is a North Indian spice mixture and should be available in the spice section of most grocery stores. Like most ground spices, it loses some of its flavor and aroma within a few months, so buy it in the smallest quantities possible unless you cook a lot of Indian food.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Veganazi Soup

It's cold and clammy and cloudy here today -- perfect soup weather. I dug into my refrigerator and pantry to see what I had, and this is what I came up with. Although there was very little plan involved, and I was basically just using things up, it turned out really well. Fair warning: The measurements are gross approximations, because I just tossed things into the pot. This would probably go really well with Treehugger Bread. For a non-vegan version, throw in some sliced sausage.

Start to finish: 30 minutes
Servings: 6-8

Veganazi Soup
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1-2 cloves garlic
8 cups water
1 can tomato paste with basil, oregano, and garlic
1 can tomato sauce (no salt added)
2 bay leaves
2 stalks celery, sliced
2 carrots, halved lengthwise and sliced
1 bunch kale, leaves removed from ribs and torn into bite-sized pieces
1 can Great Northern, navy, or cannellini beans, with liquid
1 teaspoon basil
1 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. In a stock pot, saute the onion and garlic in cooking spray until softened.
  2. Add water, tomato paste, and tomato sauce.
  3. Add everything else.
  4. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the kale has softened. (It's a tough green and takes longer than most.)
  5. Remove the bay leaves, ladle up, and enjoy.
*Note: I also added about half a can of garbanzo beans and some meatless meatballs that I had on hand, just because I needed to use them. The beans were fine, but the "meatballs" didn't add much. This would be tasty with sliced sausage (pork, chicken, turkey, whatever).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Pasta e Fagioli

This recipe is from Shannon, one of my oldest friends and one of the best cooks around. She's also insanely busy, with one husband, three kids, one dog, and a million responsibilities. This is her version of a fantastic weeknight soup.

Start to finish: About 30 minutes
Yield: 6 servings

Pasta e Fagioli
1 lb. ground beef
3 stalks celery, sliced
1/2 large onion, fine dice
1 cup shredded carrots
8 cups chicken stock
1 jar spaghetti sauce
1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup macaroni
crushed red pepper flakes to taste, if desired
  1. Brown ground beef, celery and onion until meat is no longer pink. Drain.
  2. Bring chicken stock to simmer. Add meat mixture, spaghetti sauce, beans and macaroni. Simmer until mac is al dente.
  3. Add red pepper flakes if you want. Sprinkle with grated parmesan cheese.
  4. Serve with garlic toast. Yum!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Treehugger Bread

I'm not a baker. I don't understand the chemistry behind it (and true bakers can go on and on about that), and I don't usually have the time to indulge in it. Nonetheless, carbs are my downfall, and this bread is likely to become a staple at my house. I modified it from a bread machine recipe I found at and was delighted when it turned out absolutely perfect. Bread seems hard, but don't let the mysterious terminology and long preparation times scare you off -- even bread that doesn't turn out quite right will probably still taste terrific. Of course, if you have a bread machine, just toss everything into it and go.

Start to finish: About 2 hours
Yield: 2 pounds

Treehugger Bread
1 1/3 cups warm water (about 110 degrees)
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
3 tablespoons dry milk powder
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 egg
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 cups bread flour (use bread flour, not all purpose - there's some chemical reason)
3/4 cup multigrain hot cereal (I use Bob's Red Mill 8 Grain)
  1. Dissolve the honey in the warm water. I usually use water as hot as it will come out of the tap, because it will cool down to the desired temperature as it's dissolving the honey.
  2. Add the yeast to the honey/water mixture and let it proof. (That just means to go away for about 10 minutes and let it get all bubbly while you're gone. If it doesn't get bubbly and smell like bread, your yeast is bad, and you'll need to start over.)
  3. Stir the milk powder, oil, egg, and salt together. Add this to the proofed yeast.
  4. Add the whole wheat flour, 2 cups of the bread flour, and the multigrain cereal to the yeast mixture. Stir it together. I don't have a magic technique for this. Just stir it up. It will be quite sticky at this point. Add more bread flour, about 1/4 cup at a time, until the mixture isn't sticky anymore. I find it's easiest to judge this if I mix it with my hands. You'll probably need at least 1/2 cup more flour, and maybe a full cup, but it varies depending on humidity, what your yeast did, the phase of the moon...
  5. At this point you should have a nice ball of nonsticky dough that pulls together. Pour a little vegetable oil down the sides of the bowl you've been working in, and swirl it around so that it's evenly distributed. Turn your ball of dough over in the bowl once or twice to coat it with oil, then cover the bowl with a clean dishtowel and set it aside for a moment.
  6. Let the dough rise until it's doubled in size (about 30 minutes). I put the bowl with the dough in a cold oven, along with a kettle of boiling water. The temperature and humidity in the oven seem to help dough rise perfectly.
  7. When the dough has doubled, punch it down to its previous size again. Spray two 1-pound loaf pans with cooking spray. Divide the dough in half, shape each half into loaf shape, and put one in each pan.
  8. Let the dough rise a second time until doubled in size (about 30 minutes). I put the pans with the dough on them on top of the stove while I preheat the oven for baking (375 degrees).
  9. When the dough has reached the top of the loaf pans, put the pans in a 375 degree oven. Cook for 20 minutes. They should be nice and golden brown by this point. If they're not, give them another 5 minutes.
  10. Brush the tops of finished loaves with melted butter to keep the crusts soft. Remove the loaves from the pans, let them cool, and enjoy! (Or eat half a loaf almost immediately, like I did.)


The temperature here didn't quite hit freezing yesterday, which definitely called for soup. This is a traditional Greek soup (avgo = egg, lemono = lemon), but all of the ingredients can be purchased ready to dump in the pot. It has a light and delicate flavor - perfect for post-holiday penance. I might add just a dash of cumin next time.

The only tricky part is adding the egg. Just make sure you keep stirring, or you'll wind up with egg drop soup.

Start to finish: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 servings

4 cups chicken broth
1 can garbanzo beans (undrained)
1/3 cup white rice or orzo
1 cup shredded carrots
2 eggs
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 bag baby spinach
salt and pepper to taste
  1. Combine the broth, garbanzo beans with their liquid, and rice in a stock pot. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat.
  2. Stir in the carrots. Reduce the heat to a gentle boil. Cover and cook until the rice is tender but not mushy (about 10 minutes).
  3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs lightly. Add the lemon juice, and stir to combine. It will be opaque, smooth, and not very eggy looking at this point.
  4. This is the tricky part. Ladle 1/2 cup of the broth into the eggs. Stir immediately so the egg doesn't set. Pour the egg mixture into the soup pot, stirring continuously as you do.
  5. Remove the pot from the heat and add the spinach. Stir until it wilts, which should be right away.
  6. Serve immediately with some nice bread for dipping.
*Note: Like any soup with spinach, unless you like it slimy you might want to add spinach to individual bowls if it won't all be eaten at once.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Bacon, Lettuce, and Potato

My mom invented this years ago as a way to get dinner on the table in minutes. It sounds strange, but it was always one of our family's favorite weeknight dinners. I suppose you could make mashed potatoes for this, but it's much faster (and more in the spirit of the meal) to use leftovers, instant, or those frozen ones. I should warn you -- this isn't so much a recipe as a procedure.

Start to finish: 15 minutes
Servings: Varies

Bacon, Lettuce, and Potato
leftover mashed potatoes
bagged salad greens
crumbled bacon, or bacon bits
Italian salad dressing (I prefer Newman's Own for this)
  1. Heat up your mashed potatoes.
  2. In a separate bowl, toss salad greens and bacon with Italian dressing. You could also add tomatoes and green onions, but why bother chopping anything?
  3. Heap potatoes on a plate, and put the salad mix on top of them.
  4. Try to get some warm potatoes and cool salad with each forkful.
*Note: I justify eating at Wendy's on occasion by ordering a Caesar side salad and dumping it on top of a plain baked potato for basically this same effect.