This is How We Do It

Check out my Tortilla Soup recipe featured today till next Tuesday on Hometown Pasadena!

chili in potMerry Christmas Eve!

OK.  So, at this point in the holiday season a sit-down turkey with all the standard side dishes is just really not what I’m in the mood for.  Between the homemade candy friends have delivered, the boxes of chocolates Mike’s students (he teaches middle school and has around 150) blessed us with and the general can’t-turn-around-without-someone-placing-a-delectable-delight-right-under-my-nose vibe that permeates my life… a little turn toward the lighter side of the table is in order.

One of the many aspects of living in the multicultural mecca of the universe (unofficial title) is that Christmas Eve dinner options abound.  So I’ve whipped up some simple black bean chili which we will ladle over our Mexican tamales (which I did not make–sorry) for dinner tonight.  Tamales are Mexico’s way of saying “Feliz Navidad” and this year it’s our way too.

For dessert…

oranges sweet Clementine oranges picked from my neighbor’s tree two days ago.

Please know that the following statement is not so much a “nah-nah-nah-boo-boo” type claim as much as a “I’m originally from Minnesota so I don’t take local things for granted…!”

It’s almost 80 degrees outside.  My windows and doors are open and I ain’t dreamin’ of no white Christmas…

Easy-Peasy Chili

Ingredients: 2 tbsp. olive oil, 1/2 med onion (diced), 1 clove crushed garlic, 2 med bell peppers (diced–approximately 1 1/2 cups), Two 15 oz. cans black beans (with liquid–don’t drain’em!), One 15 oz. can diced, stewed or crushed tomatoes, One 6 oz. can tomato paste, 1 1/2 tsp. chili powder, salt and pepper to taste.

Directions: Simmer onion (any kind will do,) garlic and olive oil for a few minutes.  Add bell pepper and cook until peppers start to soften.  Add everything else, stir and bring to a boil/simmer until peppers are fully cooked.  You.  Are.  Done.

Tamales… yeah so you may recall that I’m actually 1/2 Mexican.  It’s my dad’s side though.  My mom’s ancestors which hale from Lithuania and Germany never passed down any tamale making traditions.  Lucky for me Los Angeles has the second biggest populations of Mexicans (after Mexico City) in the world so it couldn’t be easier to find authentic, delicious tamales made by someone who’s mama showed’em how to do it right!  Gracias amigas!

 

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Tortilla Soup

tortilla soup As promised, welcome to my tortilla soup.

OK.  So, like most of ya’ll, we have some family traditions this time of year.  Besides the more-people-than-places-to-sit type celebration which is the only way I know how to give thanks in November, one of my favorite traditions is making tortilla soup with the turkey leftovers.

Now my dad is Mexican and nothing would please me more than to say that I will soon be revealing my Grandmother’s family recipe from the hills of Tabasco.  Unfortunately that is not the case.  Nope.  This is because like in most homes, it was my mother’s culture that influenced our meals.  I think my mom–Michigander of German descent–found her tortilla soup recipe in a magzine years ago.  I will say this: we have altered and, dare I say, perfected the recipe.  (Yes.  I dare.)

You can go to 20 Mexican restaurants and have tortilla soup served 20 different ways.  I actually don’t order it out any more because, well, I like my Michigander-German-descent-from-a-magazine-but-now-doctored-up-just-right concoction just fine.  Before reading on, don’t be intimidated by the seemingly long list of ingredients.  There’s nothing too exotic in here, which is yet another reason to love it.

Michelle’s Tortilla Soup

Soup Ingredients: 1-2 lbs chopped chicken, turkey or beef, 3 tbsp. olive oil, small can diced chilis, 2 medium chopped onions, 2 diced red bell peppers, 2 cans drained black beans, 28 oz. can chopped tomato w/juice or a few diced fresh tomatoes, 6 cups chicken/turkey/or beef broth/or a combination of meat broths, 1 can tomato sauce, 1-3 tbsp. cumin, 1-2 tbsp. chili powder, 2 tbsp. worchestershire, 3 cloves garlic, salt and pepper to taste. 

Toppings: diced green onion, diced fresh cilantro, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, corn tortillas cut into squares, tortilla chips

Directions: If the meat is raw, cook it in the oil with the onion, bell peppers and garlic.  If meat is cooked, put it aside while cooking onions, peppers and garlic.  Then add all other soup ingredients (including the meat), bring to a boil and then let simmer on low for about 45 minutes.  If possible, make this a day ahead of time, refrigerate and then reheat.  Chilling the soup and then warming it back up helps all the yumola flavors really get to know one another.  That said, it can be really hard to wait to eat this soup!

Regarding the toppings, Mike loves his tortillas to get heated up with the soup so they get sort of melded into his steamy bowl.  I actually just like a few crunchy tortilla chips on top with the cilantro and onion.  You do what works for you. K?

Tips: I made this batch of soup with a bone broth I made for 36 hours in the crock pot after Thanksgiving.  It. Is. So. Good. Oh; this recipe is pretty mild so my kids and mother can eat it.  You can also add diced jalapenos to the soup and/or include some spicy salsa on your list of toppings.  Final tip = don’t worry about quantities in this here recipe too much.  If your soup is too thin, add more toppings.  Done. 

 

 

After School Snacks

veggies after school

Yes, you read that title correctly:  It is the 16th of August and I’m writing about after school snacks.

Here in Pasadena, CA our school district has decided to start our school calendar so that it coincides with the absolute-most-unbearably-and-ridiculously hot time of the year, also called mid-August.

Apparently the justification for this has something to do with finishing the first trimester at winter break (which, OK, yes, makes sense) but people, if you’re so smart then tell me this: How are we supposed to go to the beach when school is in session?  Where are your priorities school board!?  Honestly!

But I digress.

I’m teaching three workshops to some super fun (haven’t met them all yet but I just know it’s true) mamas in the next couple of weeks.  I AM STOKED!  Love chatting/chillin’/coaching/supporting parents with their kitchen and table woes.

Here’s a freebie tip and you didn’t even have to pay me.  Isn’t this your lucky day?

A great time for veggies is right after school.  In our neck of the woods ’round this time of year it so dang hot that some cool, fresh snacks are soundin’ pretty tasty after a hard day of addition and capitalizing proper nouns.  Plus, if your kiddos are anything like mine, they are famished when that final bell rings and would eat a cardboard box if it was their only option.

Luckily, my kids do have an option, and it’s called “steamed broccoli, fresh carrots and tomatoes.”

That’s not what you’re hungry for child’o-mine?  Hmmm… get started on that mountain of veggies and then we’ll see what else I might have for you.

What’s that?  Your kids still won’t eat vegetables?  Your day just got luckier: I offer a workshop called “Come to the Table ” which is focused entirely on how to get the food you want into the people you love–without driving you crazy in the process.

If you want to watch your kids eat stuff like what’s in the photo above, let me know.  But that one ain’t a freebie.  😉

 

 

Watching Tomatoes Grow…

ripe tomatoes

A few weeks back I shared a photo of our tiny green tomatoes just beginning to make their appearance on the vine.  What a difference a few weeks of sunshine makes.  In case the former image of my tomato plants isn’t burned into your memory, here are our little beauties from last month:

tomatoes

What were once hard, pale little buds of life, are now sweet, bright bursting little treats that we walk by, pick off and pop in.  There is nothing–OK, seriously, nothing–quite like a perfectly ripe home-grown tomato, still warm from the sunshine in my smiling mouth.  Ahhh…

Despite my type-A efforts to kick off summer with a BANG, due to some factors beyond my control we’ve been keeping a steadily sultry (and admittedly unproductive) pace these past two weeks.  It took me a while to recognize that the universe was telling me to chill the heck out; a request to which I have now surrendered my will.  I guess this is what my family and I need right now, and I as I am hardly one to argue with the universe, we shall go with it.

As this school year came to an end, we–OK… I was more tired than I thought.  Rather than start on my grandiose first draft of the book I’m dying to write, rather than rearrange the wall of photos I’ve been meaning to tackle, rather than redoing some of the details of my recipe pages on this blog, I have, uh, taken two naps this week while my kids watched TV. 🙂 I have also walked every morning at 6:15 for the past 10 days straight with two girlfriends.

I have touched up my roots.

I have pet my dog.

I have savored a perfect nectarine.  Alone.  While the house is still quiet.

I have added a touch of vanilla to my cup of coffee in the morning while I take a moment to breathe.

I have watched my tomatoes grow.

 

My Friend, Bruschetta

bruschetta

OK, so I’m just gonna come out and say it: Bruschetta is the best salad in the world.  Yup.  WORLD.

Don’t get me wrong, I need variety in my diet and absolutely adore other salads (cole slaw, for example) but, honestly, if I had to eat one salad for the rest of my life, (a strange  scenario, but just go with it) I would–hands down–choose bruschetta.

I love the simplicity of this dish.  6 little ingredients that come together in the easiest way to create a sensory experience that appeals to the eyes, nose and mouth.  I can seriously smell the basil and garlic in that photo above.  And the ripeness of the tomatoes coupled with the malty vibrancy of the balsamic vinegar… oh my…

On a hot summer’s night when the thought of turning on the oven or standing over the grill makes me wilt, sometimes I make just this for dinner.  With fresh fruit for dessert and (who are we kidding?) a nice glass of wine… well, that’s kind of a complete meal, right?  At our house: yes.

Michelle’s Bruschetta (pronounced “Broo-skeh-tah”)

Ingredients (quantities are approximate–I eyeball it every time): 5-6 good sized ripe tomatoes, handful of fresh basil, 1 large clove garlic, 1 rounded tsp. salt, 3 tbsp. decent balsamic vinegar (I like Costco’s Kirkland brand, actually), 3 tbsp. olive oil.

Directions: dice tomatoes, chop basil (stems can go in too as long as they’re not too “stalky,”) press garlic and throw everything together in a bowl.  Mix and let sit for a few hours if possible.  That’s it, baby!

Serve on sliced pieces of french baguette.  If you’re feeling super fancy, you can broil the pieces of bread with a drizzle of olive oil for a couple of minutes each side so they get toasty and won’t get soggy with the bruschetta on top.  If you’re not fancy today (and it’s OK, I won’t judge you); slice the bread and there you go.

Tips: Tomatoes need to be ripe and pretty much any kind will do.  Basil can be droopy or even at that “just before it goes off” stage and still work just fine.  Even if you’re a garlic lover like me, use only one clove per 6 tomatoes as I suggest above.  The vinegar and tomato juice will amplify the garlic as it sits.

I make this salad a lot, take it to various summer potluck gatherings and it has never-ever-ever failed to impress.  Hope you enjoy it!

 

Kitty Purgason’s White Chicken Chili

Kitty Purgason's Chili

I met this chili, and Kitty Purgason, at the Pasadena Covenant Church meal contest last fall.  This church provides shelter and meals to homeless folks on cold, wet winter nights..  Roughly 12 members of the congregation volunteered to whip up their favorite home-cooked recipes, provide a “taste off,” and use a vote to choose the upcoming menu.

People, this is my kind of church experience–it’s got “Midwest” written all over it.

My Michigander transplant girlfriend, Lisa, is a Covenant Church member and she lets me tag along when I’m in the mood.  As a native Minnesotan raised in a Methodist home and church, from the first time I popped my eclectically-spiritual face onto the Covenant scene I felt right at home.   Throw in a pot-luck taste test with a recipe made by the you-can’t-get-more-Midwestern-than-this: Kitty Purgason… Girlfriend, that is a taste of Michelle’s heaven.

The Midwestern United States isn’t exactly known for its gourmet approach to food.  Common references to “casseroles” and questions regarding the usage of cream of mushroom soup have arisen.  And while, yes, casseroles (actually, the correct term is “hot-dish,”) and cream of mushroom soup are something with which we Mid-westerners are familiar, we offer much more to the culinary world.

The Midwestern philosophy to cooking is actually quite a hat-tip to the modern mama.  Savory.  Efficient.  Satisfying.  Wholesome.  These are words that, when used to describe dinner, are often met with smiles.  I said SMILES.  Who couldn’t use more of those at the table?

I love Kitty Purgason’s White Chicken Chili for three reasons.  First of all, it’s easy-tasty-healthy. Second, the ingredients can be kept on hand (most in the pantry) for easy whip-up’ed-ness. Also, you can totally fudge the quantities on pretty much everything (just throw in extra this if you are missing a can of that) and still present a delicious meal for your family.  Now you can smile too!

Finally, the name Kitty Purgason makes my heart smile.  Back in Rochester, Minnesota I had a classmate named Kitty who, in the third grade, helped me with fractions and taught me how to draw trees that didn’t resemble lollipops.  My childhood friend, Kitty, was friendly and generous, much like the Covenant-Church-Kitty I recently met.

Besides “Calva,” my elementary classroom rosters had a list of surnames including Torgrimson, Olson and Thompson.  So, when kind hand of someone named Kitty Purgason was extended to me over my chili sample that fall day, I just knew this recipe would join my life and table.

Now it can join yours too.

Kitty Purgason’s White Chicken Chili

Chili Ingredients: 1 chopped onion, 2 crushed garlic cloves, couple three cans chicken broth (0r approximate equivalent), leftover diced cooked chicken, 1 can drained white or pinto beans, 1 can corn (drain but save liquid in case you need it), 1 can chopped tomatoes with liquid, 1 (or 2) small can mild green chilis, optional: chopped fresh tomatillos if available.  See toppings ingredients below…

Definitely serve with: fresh lime, tortilla chip crumbles Optionally serve with (unless you’re at my house, then this is definite too!): sour cream, fresh chopped cilantro, diced green onion, hot sauce

Directions: Saute onion and garlic with a few splashes of olive oil.  Add everything else and bring to a simmer.  Um… you’re done and it likely took all of 12 minutes.

Notes: This is a very mild chili, which works great for my kids.  We all love the lime and chips on top and I put the rest of the accoutrements on the table and we sprinkle as desired.  Mike and I add hot sauce, but of course…  Doctoring your bowl of yum up with all the fixin’s is really half the fun.  Also, even though I live a stone’s throw from a Latino super market and could get tomatillos in a second, I have never gone to the trouble when making this recipe and and it still tastes stellar.

Final Note (still with me?): Feel free to use fresh corn, fresh tomatoes, etc… if you have them on hand, of course.  But isn’t it nice to know you don’t have to?