BBQ and Blue Chicken Salad

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When I visit my daughter and her sweet family, about 1 1/2 hours away, I often stay with her to help with the kiddos. Plus, after their bedtime, we drink some wine and catch up. If I’m in the mood to cook, I do so, but there is a fabulous food delivery service called Postmates that services a whole range of great restaurants in Oklahoma City.

One restaurant we often order lunch from is Red Rock Canyon Grill. I’d call it an American grill – nothing fancy, but definitely quality food that’s consistently a pleasure to eat.

Normally, as is my way, I rarely order the same thing, with this restaurant’s menu being one exception. They have a rotisserie chicken salad there that is so good, that it’s always what I order via Postmates. Rotisserie Chicken Chop Salad.

It doesn’t look terribly appealing in the to-go container but it is delicious. What’s unique to me are the combination of dressings: actual barbecue sauce as well as a chipotle-blue cheese.

What really surprised me when I went to the restaurant’s website to make sure I got the name of the salad correct, is that this restaurant is a chain! There are Red Rocks from Texas to Kansas! Well, if all chains were as good as this one, America would be a better place to dine!

For this salad, I used my favorite bottled barbecue sauce. If I’m not making my own, I’m buying this brand.

Following is not a recipe, but a list of ingredients for this delicious salad. Make one serving or a huge salad. You’ll love it!

Southwestern Rotisserie Chicken Salad with BBQ Sauce and Chipotle-Bleu Cheese Dressing

Rotisserie or roast chicken, chopped into bite-sized pieces
Romaine
Black beans, drained from can
Corn, fresh or drained from a can
Cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Cubes of avocado
Jicama, peeled, cubed
Hard-boiled eggs (optional)
Tortilla chips
BBQ sauce
Chipotle-bleu cheese dressing, recipe below

Chipotle-Bleu Cheese Dressing

4 ounces good blue cheese
4 ounces buttermilk
3 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 whole chipotle plus
1 teaspoon adobo sauce
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 garlic clove

Place all ingredients in a small blender jar and blend until smooth. Alternately, use only half of the cheese in the dressing, and save the remaining crumbled cheese for the salad.

Begin by preparing all of the ingredients. I roasted a chicken and chopped up mostly the white meat.

Then add lettuce to the salad bowl, then cover with the black beans and corn.

Then add the tomatoes, jicama, and avocado. I tossed my avocado pieces in lime juice before using.

Follow with the chicken, season with salt and pepper, then add any necessary remaining ingredients for a nice representation.

Drizzle the barbecue sauce and the chipotle blue cheese dressings over the salad and serve.

The restaurant’s salad has tortilla strips, but I found these, called horneadas, and thought they were fun! I don’t like feeling “forced” to eat things in a salad that I don’t love. Namely, tortilla strips.

Besides the wonderful flavors of this unique salad, the textures are lovely, especially because of jicama.

Public Service Announcement

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This photo has nothing to do with the post, I just like it.

It was about twenty years ago when I first became aware of cooking shows on tv. Of course I grew up with Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet, but food-related shows were few and far between.

The Food Network was the actual first food channel I think – jumping on the culinary bandwagon to satisfy our love of learning about cooking and various cuisines.

There were so many formats back then to the shows. There was Bobby Flay barbequeing on his NYC rooftop, everything from chicken to pigs, along with a special pitcher of margaritas made with grilled peaches. There were occasional shots of his beautiful model wife carrying in baskets of jalapeños or tomatoes. (We all know how that ended.)

There was Emeril LaGasse, with his talk-show style cooking show complete with a live audience and jazz band, like a daytime foodie version of Johnny Carson. And his Bam! that he yelled every time he threw something in a pan caught on throughout the country. It actually annoyed me, so I didn’t watch him.

There was Ina Garten, cooking from her Hampton home, with field trips to her personal florist in a nearby quaint town and to her seafood monger by the sea, so that she could put on pretty parties. She managed to do her whole show in a monotone voice, all while smiling, with sneak peaks at her poor husband, who obviously didn’t want to be filmed, forcing the fact that they really still get along after 50 years of marriage. We believe you, Ina!

There was Iron Chef, the original Japanese version with “Chairman” Kaga, who ordered two contestants to a cook-off focusing on one ingredient. The “battle” took place in a giant stadium, overseen by the chairman, who seriously looked like he was ready to go to war, with a saber strapped to his uniform. There was color commentary from a man on the ground bouncing between contestants. There were Japanese judges, usually including a geisha who only managed to giggle throughout the show and, mind you, this was all dubbed in English. Even the giggling.

Then there was Sandra Lee. Enough said.

I bring all of this up because for many of us, myself included, this was our first glimpse inside restaurant kitchens and inside the minds of chefs, revealing their creativity And culinary skills. As impressive as they all were, and are, it actually inhibited a lot of home cooks because they felt they couldn’t perform like tv chefs.

During that same period of time I did a lot of cooking demonstrations and gave talks about cooking, encouraging people to get into the kitchen. (After all, I always say, “we have to eat!”) I constantly attempted to convince people that what tv chefs or restaurant chefs do, is nothing like what we do as home cooks.

I think what’s most intimidating to people is the way a chef can dice an onion in one second flat while talking to the tv camera. Well if I have a guest in my home who comes at me with a timer, they’re getting kicked out of my house. It’s just not about speed or showing off.

I know we’ve all experienced great messes on our stove when we’ve tried to flip over a skillet of vegetables like they do on tv and half of the veggies don’t make it back into the pan. Does that make us bad cooks? Of course not!

Following is my public service announcement. It involves a knife. Any knife – sharp or dull. Anything that is done with a knife can potentially be dangerous. Like cutting or stabbing.

Years ago I decided to de-pit an avocado like they do on tv. Yes, I was much younger then. (I have since come to the conclusion that Bobby Flay uses a stunt double.)

I opened up the avocado lengthwise, held the half with the pit in my left hand, and just like on tv, slammed my sharp chef knife into the pit with my right hand. All it takes is a little twist of the knife and the pit can easily be removed.

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Well, except when the knife doesn’t make contact with the pit and instead slips off the avocado and lands across your hand. Fortunately I didn’t have to go to the emergency room but let me tell you – I never did this again.

And definitely don’t think you can stab the damn pit.

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As long as I’m discussing lessons learned, a mandoline is also a very dangerous kitchen tool. A couple of years ago I posted a photo of my finger dripping blood after going just a bit too far slicing a potato with my mandoline. You just always think there’s a little more there than there actually is!

My friend Richard recommended a kevlar glove, and it is a lifesaver. Perhaps literally. Even if I want to slice one little carrot, I put on my glove! I will alway be thankful for Richard’s recommendation, and to this day my fingertips are intact.

Happy safe cooking!

Green Goddess Chicken Salad

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I discovered this recipe at the Food and Wine website. It’s a recipe for a salad with green goddess dressing, by Melissa Rubel Jacobson.

Green goddess is a really wonderful dressing that uses lots of fresh herbs, which accounts for the green color. Sometimes an avocado is included as well. According to Food and Wine, the dressing was created at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco in the 1920’s, as a tribute to an actor starring in a play called The Green Goddess. Never heard of it, but it’s slightly before my time.

Today I’m following Ms. Jacobson’s recipe for green goddess dressing, but not so much her salad.

Create any kind of salad you want with your favorite ingredients, and drizzle on the beautiful green goddess dressing, which I made exactly as printed. It’s good!

Green Goddess Chicken Garden Salad
Moderately Adapted

Dressing:
2 oil-packed anchovies, drained
1 garlic clove
1/2 cup packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/4 cup packed basil leaves
1 tablespoon oregano leaves
Few sprigs of fresh thyme
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons snipped chives
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Salad:
2 grilled chicken breasts, sliced or chopped
1 head romaine or butter lettuce, chopped
1/2 small cabbage, chopped
Approximately 1/2 garbanzo beans, well drained
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
Peas or asparagus, optional
Hard-boiled eggs, optional

In a blender, purée mayonnaise with the herbs, lemon juice, and chives until smooth. Taste and season with salt and pepper.

This makes approximately 1 cup of dressing.

For the salad, there are so many options for preparing and serving. I chose to create a composed salad, just because they’re pretty.

Alternatively, you could combine chopped chicken, garbanzo beans, and tomatoes with some of the dressing, and serve on top of the lettuce and cabbage.

But that’s not as pretty, especially if you have company.

Just about any salad ingredient that goes well with an herby dressing will work perfectly.

Avocado Pie

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Yes, you read it right. Avocado pie. And for once, I’m not talking savory. I came across my old friend’s hand-written recipe recently and had to make it this summer. Avocado pie is unique and simply delightful.

Way back in the 70’s I lived in Santa Barbara, California, where I attended college. I had friends who co-habitated in a large house, and I visited them quite often, probably because I was living in a mother-in-law cottage and enjoyed the space, and the music.

These folks were all wonderfully talented bohemian artists, writers, and musicians – a nice change from the nerdy geology majors with whom I attended classes. (Nothing against nerds, as I was one of them.)

One friend stood out for three reasons. First, he looked just like Jesus Christ. Second, he was a classical pianist who was as talented as Van Cliburn. Third, he made this pie, and it’s from him that I got this recipe.


Above from the left: my sister, myself, and Jesus Christ, circa 1975?

So fast forward a million years and I have a cooking blog, and I’ll bet a small minority of you have ever had such a thing as an avocado pie. I only say that because, I’ve never come across one, and I follow hundreds of blogs. It’s a dessert – it has nothing to do with guacamole. And it’s so simple to make.

First you must make a graham cracker crust.

Graham Cracker Crust

5 ounces graham crackers
1/2 cup white sugar
1 stick or 4 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

Preheat the oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Choose an 8 or 9″ shallow pie plate.

Place the graham crackers in the jar of a food processor along with the sugar. Process until smooth.

Place the crumbs in a medium bowl and place the stick of butter on the crumbs. Microwave gently until the butter melts.

Stir everything until evenly combined. Scrape the mixture into the pie plate.

Using a large spoon, begin spreading and flattening the crumbs into a firm crust, working it up the sides of the pie plate. Bake the crust for approximately 12 minutes – it will be firm and golden in color.

If it has puffed a little, smooth it down with the large spoon.

Cool the pie crust and meanwhile prepare the filling.

As the recipe states, blend together the avocado, sweetened condensed milk and lime juice until smooth, then pour the result green glop into the pie crust.

The pie must chill at least four hours or overnight before serving.

I served mine with a little squiggle of diluted crème fraiche.

The pie is so sweet that it really needs the crème fraiche.

It’s also quite soft. If I was a confident baker I would figure out how to incorporate a little gelatin into the avocado pie filling.

As I mentioned, this pie is sweet. Normally sweetened condensed milk is not a favorite ingredient to use, but I wanted to make the recipe as I remember it. Some lime zest and a little less lime juice to maybe help the filling be thicker, but it’s not a lime pie. Just don’t try and cut large pieces!

Campechana

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I had a favorite menu item at our local country club’s restaurant that sadly disappeared when the chef moved on. It was campechana – a combination of shrimp and avocados in a zesty tomato sauce, served chilled with tortilla chips.

Never did I realize it was an actual “thing” until I googled it. Turns out, recipes for campechana are commonplace! By definition, it’s a seafood cocktail from Campeche, a coastal state in Mexico.

I immediately grabbed one of my Rick Bayless cookbooks, Mexico: One Plate at a Time, published in 2000, and if you look closely at the cover photo, there is the shrimp cocktail!!!

I have a soft spot for Rick Bayless for many reasons. He’s a passionate chef and student of Mexican cookery, who been married to his wife forever, with whom he’s collaborated on books. (As well as with their daughter!) So I respect that. He also does a lot of charitable work in Chicago and in Mexico and is a total nerd.

But mostly for this.

Fifteen years ago I took my daughter to Chicago for her 18th birthday. It was all about shopping, visiting the sites, and enjoying great meals. I had made reservations at Frontera, and Charlie Trotter’s for our two big nights out.

At Frontera, which was outstanding in every way, I saw that Rick Bayless himself was in the kitchen, and asked if we could say hello. And he was kind and took this memorable photo with Emma.

I decided to make the shrimp cocktail recipe that’s pictured on the book cover. It’s not called campechana but a ceviche, which seems odd because it doesn’t fit my definition of ceviche. But Mr. B. Knows his stuff, so I will not quibble.

Ceviche de Camaron
4 hefty servings

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 generous pound smallish shrimp, peeled, de-veined
1/2 medium white onion, chopped into 1/4 inch pieces
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus several sprigs for garnish
1/2 cup ketchup
1 to 2 tablespoons vinegary Mexican bottled hot sauce
About 2 tablespoons olive oil, preferably extra-virgin (optional, but recommended to smooth out sharpness)
1 cup diced peeled cucumber or jicama (or 1/2 cup of each)
1 small ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and cubed

Bring 1 quart salted water to a boil and add 2 tablespoons of the lime juice. Scoop in the shrimp, cover and let the water return to the boil. Immediately remove from the heat, set the lid askew and pour off all the liquid. Replace the cover and let the shrimp steam off the heat for 10 minutes.

Spread out the shrimp in a large glass or stainless steel bowl to cool completely. Toss the shrimp with the remaining 1/2 lime juice, cover and refrigerate for about an hour.

In a small strainer, rinse the onion under cold water, then shake off the excess liquid.

Add to the shrimp bowl along with the cilantro, ketchup, hot sauce, optional olive oil, cucumber and/or jícama and avocado.

Taste and season with salt, usually about 1/2 teaspoon. Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately. Spoon the ceviche into sundae glasses, martini glasses, or small bowls: garnish with sprigs of cilantro and slices of lime.

Serve with tostadas, tortilla chips or saltines to enjoy alongside.

The ceviche is best made the day it is served.

If you want a more Southwestern-inspired Campechana, I found one on Epicurious that I’m trying next. It has roasted green chiles and includes crab meat!

So what I’ve gathered, whether it’s called Campechana, or a seafood cocktail, or a ceviche-style shrimp cocktail, the basic ingredients are similar, being shrimp and avocado in (typically) a red sauce. And from there you can get as spicy and zingy and creative as you wish!

The campechana I remember had no cucumber or jicama, but they added a great texture.

The only other difference I can detect from my campechana that I loved and this and other similar shrimp cocktail recipe is the amount of red sauce and the viscosity of the red sauce. I have to say I prefer a bit more sauciness than what’s in this recipe.

My Favorite Salad

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I eat a lot of salads throughout the year, even in the winter. I love all salad ingredients – lettuces, avocados, beets, raw vegetables, grilled meat or fish, some nuts or seeds and cheese… I love to mix them up and also pair with dressings and vinaigrettes.

But then, there’s this one salad I’ve actually made multiple times for friends. (My husband doesn’t eat salads.) I don’t remember the source of the recipe, because mine was a magazine recipe cut and glued to an index card from decades ago.

It’s a composed salad, and these are the ingredients: Barley, purple cabbage, carrots, celery, dried cherries, and feta cheese. Intrigued? I was, and now I’m hooked.

It’s very pretty served layered in a trifle dish, or any deep clear bowl. Each component is treated separately for maximum flavor.

The recipe is really in two parts. One part, the vinaigrette. The other part, the salad itself.

My Favorite Salad

vinaigrette:
In a small blender, combine
1 cup of good olive oil
1/3 cup of apple cider vinegar
Juice of 2 large lemons
2 cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of Dijon-style mustard
Salt
Blend until smooth.

salad:
2 cups hulled barley
Grated carrots, about 5 cups
1 whole purple cabbage, thinly sliced, about 5 cups
1/2 head celery, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups dried tart cherries
12 ounces crumbled goat cheese

First prepare the vinaigrette. Set aside at room temperature.

Cook the barley in 4 cups of water or broth if you prefer. Let cool. Once it’s almost room temperature, mix the barley with about 3 tablespoons of the vinaigrette and set aside.

Place the grated carrots in a small bowl and add about 2 tablespoons of vinaigrette, stir well, and set aside.

Place the cabbage in a large bowl and toss with about 2 tablespoons of vinaigrette. Have the rest of the ingredients handy.

Place the sliced celery in a smaller bowl and add a tablespoon of vinaigrette. Toss well and set aside.

Layer half of the barley in the bottom of your salad serving bowl or dish. Cover with the celery.

Then add half of the cherries. And top with half of the goat cheese.

Then cover with 1/2 of the cabbage. Then all of the carrots.

Then the remaining barley.

Top off with the last of the dried cherries and goat cheese.

Let the salad sit for at least an hour. Or, make it the day before and refrigerate it overnight, letting all of the flavors meld together. But serve at room temperature.

I also serve this salad with extra vinaigrette for those who want that extra hit of vinegar.

And, if this salad is for those who require protein, it is fabulous with added grilled chicken or avocado.

Mix and match your favorite ingredients – lentils would work instead of barley, for example – and I’m not a huge celery fan, which is why I only allowed one layer of it. But do include the dried cherries and goat cheese!


Avocado on Grilled Bread

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In 2012, my husband and I were visiting my daughter in London and we went out for breakfast. This is what my daughter ordered.

I took a photo of it because that’s always what I’ve done, even before blogging. It was just so pretty: mashed avocado spread on grilled bread, topped with oven-roasted tomatoes and feta cheese. My introduction to avocado toast.

So although slow to embrace food trends, like zoodles and cauliflower rice, I decided to (FINALLY) make avocado toast. It’s not like I knew it wouldn’t be wonderful! Avocados are one of my favorite foods.

Too bad I’m not super artistic, or I could jump on another trend and create art from avocados…

Here’s how I made mine.

Avocado on Grilled Bread

4 tablespoons oil, I used walnut oil
1 garlic clove, minced
Few sprigs of thyme
6 slices good bread, like Ciabatta
2 ripe but not over-ripe avocados
Fresh tomato slices
Salt
Pepper
Goat cheese
Fresh thyme leaves, optional

Warm the olive oil in a butter warmer with the garlic and thyme. Do not let the garlic brown or burn.

Heat a large, flat skillet over medium-high heat. Lightly brush the slices of bread with the garlic oil, and grill the bread face-down until browned. Place them on a serving plate and set aside.

Peel and de-pit the avocados. Scoop out the flesh and place in a medium bowl. Mash with a fork. Season with salt and pepper.

Only prepare the avocado right before serving.

To prepare the “toasts,” spread some of the mashed avocado on the grilled breads and smooth the tops.

Add sliced tomatoes, followed by a generous amount of crumbled goat cheese.

Drizzle the remaining garlic and thyme oil over the avocado toasts and serve immediately.

These are not only for breakfast or a snack or lunch. I can see these served as an hors d’oeuvres with some champagne or rosé!

Alternatively, oven roast small tomatoes in a gratin pan.

Or, use sun-dried tomatoes. It’s all wonderful!

If more protein is desired, one can always add an egg, or some smoked salmon. But I like the simplicity of this preparation.

Do not use inferior bread for these toasts. Use a ciabatta, sourdough, or a hearty multigrain.

These avocado toasts were honestly outstanding. If you love avocado, tomatoes, and feta, then you’ll love these too. Of course, you’ve probably made them already because you’re not stubborn! But I have to say that the garlic and thyme-infused walnut oil was a fantastic addition.

Roasted Beets

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There have been times that, when commenting on recipe posts in which beets are roasted, that the beets aren’t really roasted. We’ve all done it – we place whole, trimmed beets in a foil package with a little olive oil and salt, steam-cook them till tenderness, remove the peels, and voila! But they’re not really roasted, are they?!!

So I set out to actually roast beets, as one would potatoes or broccoli. I know they will be good, like all roasted goodies. My husband claims that roasted broccoli is better than candy!
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So here’s what I did.

Really Roasted Beets

3 beets
Olive oil
Black pepper
Salt

Preheat oven to 375 degree roast setting, or 400 degrees.

Trim tops and bottoms of beets.

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Peel the beets completely.

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Chop the beets into 12ths. Or just make fairly uniform pieces of the beets, any shape you prefer. Place the beets in a baking dish, and drizzle some olive oil over them. Sprinkle them generously with pepper and salt.

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Place the baking dish in the oven. After about 15 minutes, use a spoon and toss them around to brown the pieces on different sides. Continue roasting for 10 or so minutes. They should be nicely browned, but also piece a chunk to test for tenderness.

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If they’re still firm, turn off the oven and let the baking dish sit in the oven for 15 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.

I used them in a salad so as to let the roasted beets really “shine.”

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For the vinaigrette, I used some beet juice strained from a can of beets, along with an equal part of leftover Riesling and reduced it. I then added red wine vinegar, olive oil, a little heavy cream, and a pinch of salt.

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If you want recipes for other “reduction” vinaigrettes, check out Beet Vinaigrette, or Beet Apple Vinaigrette.

The roasted beets are exactly what roasted beets should be. Tender beets with a lovely roasted exterior!

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Hawaiian Poke

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The only times in my life, until recently, that I have enjoyed poke were the three times my husband and I attended luaus in Hawaii.

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Luaus were something we resisted – not because of the traditional food and entertainment, but because there’s always a maniacal M.C. who narrates the luau festivities, and will pull people out of the crowd to participate. Like these poor guys who had to wear coconut bras and perform the hula.

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But after going to Hawaii many times, beginning with getting married there in 1982, we decided we needed to attend a luau for cultural reasons. Sort of like eating haggis in Scotland. You just have to do it.

I, of course, tried all of the authentic luau culinary offerings. I tasted poi and didn’t like it, but I ate everything else, and especially loved the poke, pronounced poe-kay – essentially a marinated chopped ahi salad.

Fast forward some years, and we took our daughters to Hawaii, and decided they needed the luau experience. The entertainment really is impressive, but even my daughters spent the whole time rolling their eyeballs because of the obnoxious M.C. Still a unique and I think necessary experience for all when you visit Hawaii. And the poke is really good.

Then, during their college years, we took our daughters and two girlfriends to Hawaii. We felt the friends needed the cultural luau experience as well, so for the third and last time, we subjected ourselves to a luau. We all drank overly sweet Mai Tais and I enjoyed a plate of poke as the bulk of my luau meal.

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Our recent vacation to Kauai was my husband’s destination choice for his 60th birthday. I mostly looked forward to the array of fresh fish and seafood that of course I can’t purchase where I live. We practically ate fish until it was swimming out of our ears!!!

Which brings me to poke. In the four years since our last visit to Kauai, something happened with poke. It became popular. Actually more of a trend. I’m not typically fond of trends, but, well, it’s poke. The modernized version is marinated chopped ahi, served over a bed of rice, over a layer of avocado, shown below.

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Here’s a photo of one I had that was topped with eel. It was incredible.

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After returning home, I searched for poke recipes online and found NONE. So I’m creating my own. I’m sure there’s supposed to be seaweed/furikake in it, but that’s not something I can get my hands on. Here’s what I did.

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Hawaiian Poke
Serves 2

1/4 cup dark soy sauce
2 tablespoons mirin
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon minced ginger
Snipped chives
2 – 4 ounce frozen tuna/ahi steaks*
Cooked white rice, approximately 2 cups
Ume plum vinegar, or rice wine vinegar
2 ripe medium avocados
Juice from 1/2 lime
Salt
Chives
Cayenne pepper flakes
Sushi ginger
Caviar

First prepare the marinade. Place the first 5 ingredients in a medium-sized bowl and stir well.

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Make sure the tuna is dry; I use paper towels for this purpose. Finely chop the tuna steaks. My cubes were about 1/3″ inch and I think they could have been even smaller to be more manageable.

Place the tuna in the marinade. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Bring the tuna close to room temperature before serving.

Add some vinegar to the cooked and cooled rice, about 2 teaspoons, and fluff; set aside.

Blend the avocado with the lime juice. Season with a little salta do set aside.

If you want a drizzle, first remove the tuna from the marinade and place the remaining marinade in a small pot. Reduce. I chose not to do this.

When you’re ready to plate and serve, begin by forming a layer of avocado on the plate inside a circular mold. Top with the rice, trying not to push it down too firmly.

Then top with the marinated tuna. Carefully remove the mold and add a little more tuna if necessary.

I could tell that I perhaps used too much of the marinade while placing the tuna on top of the rice. It’s not as pretty, but it definitely still tastes good!

Sprinkle with some snipped chives, add a slice or two of sushi ginger, top with caviar if you have some and a few cayenne pepper flakes for some optional heat. I now remember sesame seeds as well in poke that I ordered.

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None of these garnishes are necessary to me. What’s important is the avocado, rice, and tuna!!!

This was seriously a fabulous, re-created treat for me, even though it was 38 degrees outside. And I honestly can’t think of how I’d change this recipe!

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note: For the rice, I used an Italian risotto rice. I didn’t have sushi rice or even white rice in my pantry, and I wanted something that would stick together.

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* I don’t live near an ocean, so the only fish or seafood I can cook is previously frozen. It’s not ideal, but it’s my only option.

Tortilla Soup

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A few decades ago, when I first heard about tortilla soup, it was associated with Chef Dean Fearing. It was a signature dish served at The Mansion in Dallas, Texas, where he was head chef. In fact, in his cookbook, “The Texas Food Bible,” published in 2014, he claims that although the recipe was not originally his, it has always been so popular that it remains his “million-dollar baby!”

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Indeed it is. Chef Fearing has his own restaurant now in Dallas called Fearing’s, located in the Ritz-Carlton, where tortilla soup remains on the menu. We’ve been lucky enough to dine there for both dinner and brunch, and the experiences were perfection.

Southwestern-inspired tortilla soup is a slightly spicy, tomato enriched soup. Tortillas are fried for garnish, as well as used in the soup for texture and flavor. But it’s the goodies that make this soup fabulous to me: smoked chicken, avocado, cheddar cheese, and some fun garnishes.

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I’ve made many versions of this soup in my life, because many different versions are possible. It’s easy to add beans, roasted chile peppers and corn or hominy, for example, plus chipotle peppers or ancho chile paste for some depth. The possibilities are really endless.

Even though the purpose of this post was to present the actual Dean Fearing tortilla soup recipe, this soup will be another version yet again. I didn’t realize that the chicken is supposed to be smoked! I’d poached a whole chicken the day before in anticipation of making this soup!

I think my mistakes stemmed from a lengthy vacation away from my kitchen. Do you ever feel like you’ve forgotten how to cook after a couple weeks on holiday?!! I wasn’t in my cooking rhythm when I took on this soup!

Here is the original recipe, which Chef Fearing claims more represents the recipe’s Mexican roots, rather than his previous Southwestern version, with my five-cents worth in parentheses.

Tortilla Soup
adapted from The Texas Food Bible
serves 4

8 tablespoons olive oil
8 corn tortillas, cut into long strips and divided in half
8 garlic cloves, peeled
2 cups onion purée
6 cups chicken stock
4 cups fresh tomato purée
5 roasted ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh epazote or 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 large bay leaf
Salt
Fresh lemon juice
Cayenne pepper
1 cup small-dice smoked chicken breast
1 cup cubed avocado
1/2 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup finely diced cabbage
1/4 cup finely julienned red radish
1 tablespoon seeded and minced jalapeño chile

Heat about 5 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add one-half of the tortilla strips and fry, turning occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until very crisp. Carefully transfer to a double layer of paper towels to drain. Reserve.

(If you’re wondering why my tortillas aren’t yellow, it’s because they’re made from a whole-grain wheat and corn mixture, and worked just as well.)

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.

(I used the same pot to fry the tortilla strips and to make the soup.)

Add the garlic along with the remaining half of the tortilla strips and fry, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes, or until the tortillas are crisp.

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Add the onion purée and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

(I used chopped onions because the soup gets blended!)

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Stir in the chicken stock and tomato purée along with the roasted anchos, jalapeños, epazote (or cilantro), cumin, coriander and bay leaf. Season with salt to taste, raise the heat, and bring to a boil.

(As you can see, the recipe lists “roasted ancho chiles.” I’m assuming Chef Fearing meant fresh chile peppers if they’re roasted, because you don’t roast dried chile peppers. But the fresh version of ancho chiles, shown below right in this Bon Appetit photo, are actually poblanos, a fresh chile pepper, shown below left. So I’m not sure what he meant. Without any poblanos, I went ahead and used 4 ancho chile peppers, which are dried poblanos. I know it’s confusing, but I would think the father of Southwestern cuisine would know his chile peppers.)

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Lower the heat and cook at a gentle simmer for 40 minutes, skimming off any fat that rises to the surface.

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Remove from the heat, transfer to a blender, and process to a smooth purée. If too thick, add chicken stock, a bit at a time, to reach a smooth soup consistency.

When ready to serve, place the soup in a large saucepan over low heat. Remove and discard the bay leaf (??? I thought it was puréed?) Season with lemon juice and cayenne and, if necessary, additional salt.

Place an equal portion of smoked chicken, avocado, cheese, cabbage, radish, minced jalapeño and reserved tortilla crisps in the center of each of four warm shallow soup bowls. Ladle 8 ounces of soup over the garnish and serve immediately.

(I actually only placed the chicken, avocado and cheese in the bowls before adding the hot soup base, then garnished with the remaining ingredients.)

(I don’t think Chef Fearing means equal portions, I think he meant 4 equal portions of each of the ingredients, since the soup serves four people.)

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As I mentioned above, I’ll have to make the recipe again to see what it’s really supposed to taste like!

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But I’m a little disappointed in the recipe. It’s not really written for home cooks, and a few things are unclear. There isn’t even a photo of the prepared soup!

Verdict: My husband said that he likes my tortilla soup better, and I’d have to agree, even though I’ve never made it the same way twice. I felt this soup was somewhat bland, in spite of the ancho chile peppers, fresh jalapenos, and the cayenne pepper. I guess I also enjoy black beans and corn, plus a little chipotle for texture and flavor. But to be fair, I didn’t exactly follow the recipe!

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Maybe I need another vacation.