CHICKEN-CHIPOTLE TORTILLA SOUP

Yes, it’s tortilla soup time again. Of all soups, I think it’s my favorite. Though I have met a tortilla soup or two I didn’t like, it’s pretty rare that I don’t leave the table happy. This variation is another winner, and it’s only because some guys decided to detour to a steakhouse that I now have several lunches to look forward to. Yum!

Chicken-Chipotle Tortilla Soup

2 tbsp olive oil

2 cups diced white onion

1 tsp dried oregano

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp sea salt

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

2 cups chopped deli-roasted chicken

2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced

8 cups chicken broth

1-14 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained

1-14 oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

1-14 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed

juice of one lime

4 small corn tortillas, torn into small pieces

Optional toppings: crumbled tortilla chips, grated cheddar cheese, cilantro

1) To large soup pot, add olive oil and heat over medium high; add onion, oregano, cumin, salt, and pepper and cook 7-8 minutes, stirring often, until onions soften; stir in chicken, chipotle peppers, chicken broth, tomatoes, both beans, lime juice, and torn tortillas; lower heat to low and cook 30 minutes; serve with or without additional toppings

Servings: 4

BLACK BEAN-BACON DIP

I know dips are usually reserved for appetizers, but from time to time our family enjoys making a meal of chips and dip. Though our favorite remains Cream Cheese Black Bean Dip, this Black Bean-Bacon Dip is a contender. The only complaint was from Junior Too: “It could be spicier.” In which case, you can always substitute hot salsa.

Black Bean-Bacon Dip

6 slices bacon (I used turkey bacon; if you use regular fatty bacon, you probably won’t need the olive oil)

1 tbsp olive oil

1/2 medium-sized onion, chopped fine

1 jalapeno, seeded and chopped very fine

1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1-1/2 cup salsa (I used medium)

2-15 oz cans black beans, rinsed, drained, and coarsely mashed (leave some beans intact)

1/2 cup sour cream

1 cup grated Colby-Monterey Jack blend, divided (cheddar is good too)

2 tbsp taco seasoning

tortilla chips

1) In large, deep skillet over medium-high heat, cook bacon until just crisp; remove from heat and chop; set aside

2) Add olive oil to skillet and heat over medium-high; add onions and jalapeno and, stirring often, cook 5 minutes until veggies soften; reduce heat to medium and stir in cilantro (reserving 2 tbsp for topping), salsa, mashed black beans, sour cream, 3/4 cup cheese (reserving 1/4 cup for topping), bacon (reserving 2 tbsp for topping), and taco seasoning; cook, stirring often, 10 minutes until heated through; remove from heat

3) Pour bean dip into medium-sized serving dish, top with reserved cheese, bacon, and cilantro, and serve with tortilla chips

Servings: 10-12 (appetizer), 4-6 (entree)

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PECAN-CRAISIN-LEMON CHOCOLATE ‘N CHOCOLATE BARK

This is a variation on Pistachio-Craisin-Orange Chocolate ‘N Chocolate Bark . It’s delicious (though I do lean more toward the pistachio version), and just as easy to make. Add or subtract toppings to your heart’s desire and you’ll have a beautifully sweet treat to share.

Pecan-Craisin-Lemon Chocolate Bark

12 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

12 oz white chocolate chips

zest of one lemon (I used a Meyer lemon), divided

1/3 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup chopped dried cranberries (Craisins)

1) Line a large  (12×17″) cookie sheet with parchment paper

2) Pour semi-sweet chocolate chips in microwave-safe bowl; microwave, pausing and stirring every 30 seconds until chocolate melts; remove from microwave and stir in half the lemon zest (reserving half for topping); pour melted chocolate onto prepared baking sheet and smooth into a rectangle

3) Pour white chocolate chips in microwave-safe bowl; microwave, pausing and stirring every 30 seconds until chocolate melts; remove from microwave and drop by spoonfuls on semi-sweet chocolate; using a knife or wooden spoon, swirl chocolates together until your swirl is just right

4) Sprinkle pecans, Craisins, and remaining zest over top and lightly press into chocolate; if you have the space, cool in fridge 30-40 minutes until chocolate is hard; if you don’t have the fridge space, cool on counter to room temperature; break into pieces of whatever size you think you can limit yourself to and serve (we like it cold, but it’s wonderfully tasty at room temperature)

CHICKEN AND PINEAPPLE KABOBS

These Chicken and Pineapple Kabobs are easy and perfect for those who want to get a jump on barbecue season. Senior and Junior too were over-the-moon happy with cleaning every last chunk from their plates. Oh, I was too.

Chicken and Pineapple Kabobs

1 cup ketchup

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup brown sugar

3 tbsp honey

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

3 large, boneless and skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1″ thick chunks

1/2 fresh pineapple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1″ thick wedges

12 skewers (I used bamboo)

spray olive oil

1) Preheat grill

2) To small saucepan, add ketchup, soy sauce, brown sugar, honey, and mustard; stirring often, bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat to low and cook 5 minutes; remove from heat and set aside (reserve 3/4 cup of sauce for serving at the table)

3) Alternating chicken and pineapple chunks, thread on skewers; lightly spray chicken-pineapple skewers with olive oil spray; place skewers on grill and grill about 5 minutes, turn, brush grilled back sides with sauce, and grill additional 5 minutes; turn and brush newly grilled side with sauce and grill another minute or so until chicken is cooked through; serve with reserved sauce and, possibly, a nice wild rice; yum!

Servings: 4

BEER CHEDDAR SOUP (WITH A KICK OF COUNTRY HAM)

Beer Cheddar Soup was on the menu but not of the “country ham” variety. However, since I bought too much of this Southern delight for my  Country Ham and Tomato Quiche, I decided to cut back on the bacon in this recipe and add the extra kick of country ham. Yum! A couple things to note: one of my guys thought this was “too hot,” so this recipe calls for fewer jalapenos than what I used; since country ham is quite salty, you probably won’t need to add salt. Eat on!

Beer Cheddar Soup (with a kick of country ham)

8 slices turkey bacon, cut into 1/2″ pieces

4 oz country ham, cut into 1/2″ pieces (I buy the biscuit-sized pieces)

1 onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1-2 jalapeno peppers, diced

1/2 tsp dried thyme

3 tbsp unsalted butter

1/3 cup flour

2 bottles of beer (I used O’Doul’s non-alcoholic)

3 cups chicken broth

1/2 cup half-and-half

1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp Dijon mustard

2-1/2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

Optional toppings: cheddar cheese, sour cream, diced jalapenos (for those who like it “too hot”)

1) In large skillet over medium-high heat, cook bacon and country ham 4-5 minutes until pieces begin to crisp

2) Lower heat to medium; add onion, celery, jalapenos, and thyme; cook 8-10 minutes

3) Add butter and melt; gradually sprinkle flour over top and, stirring continuously, cook 2 minutes

4) Stir in beer and chicken broth and cook 10 minutes

5) Stir in half-and-half, Worcestershire sauce, Dijon mustard, and cheese; cook 8 minutes, stirring often

6) Serve it up (I’m hooked on my cast iron soup bowls with their cute pail handles)

Servings: 4 dinner-sized portions/8 side portions

NOTE: This is a “repeat” recipe featured on my original “Kitchen Novelist” blog 05/01/12

TILAPIA AMANDINE (for un-aFISHianados)

This Tilapia Amandine was delish! And that’s high praise coming from un-aFISHianado me. Unfortunately, this was not my plate. Believing I would be ho-hum about this dish, I gifted half my portion to Senior and Junior Too, the fish lovers in our family. And once it was off my plate, it was gone. Senior said it’s the best fish he’s ever had–even better than lobster. I don’t know about that, but I certainly felt well and truly patted on the back. And my taste buds were quite happy too 🙂

Tilapia Almondine

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp sea salt

1/4 tsp ground black pepper

2 eggs, beaten

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp butter

4-6 tilapia fillets (depending on size), patted dry

1 tbsp dried chopped shallots

3/4 cup white cooking wine

juice of one lemon

1/2 cup minced parsley

2/3 cup sliced almonds

1) Preheat oven to 200 degrees; place 4 oven-safe plates in oven to warm

2) Combine flour, salt, and pepper in shallow bowl; pour beaten eggs into a second shallow bowl

3) To large skillet over medium heat, add olive oil and butter; stir to combine

4) Dip both sides of tilapia fillets in flour, followed by egg; place in skillet and cook 2-3 minutes each side until cooked through and golden brown (if you have to make in 2 batches, keep the first batch warm in the oven); divide fillets between 4 warmed plates

5) Immediately add shallots to same skillet and cook 2 minutes to soften; add cooking wine, lemon, and parsley and cook 2 minutes; remove from heat

6) Sprinkle almonds over fillets and pour wine-lemon sauce over all; serve immediately with wedges of lemon (mostly for looks since the sauce is sufficiently lemon-y); eat it up!

Servings: 4

CHORIZO HUEVOS RANCHEROS

This was certainly a tasty end to our day. Though there seem endless ways to serve up huevos rancheros, the moist chorizo-refried beans really set this recipe apart from others. Don’t let the number of steps put you off. It really is easy to get it on the table. Enjoy!

Chorizo Huevos Rancheros

2 links (5-6 oz) chorizo sausage, casings removed

3/4 cup onion, diced

1-16 oz can refried beans (I used fat-free)

1 cup chicken broth

2 tbsp olive oil, divided

4 corn tortillas

1 cup store-bought salsa

4 eggs

1/4 cup grated pepper jack cheese

2 radishes, sliced thin

2 tbsp chopped cilantro

4 lime wedges

1) Preheat oven to 175 degrees (for warming)

2) Heat large skillet to medium-high, add chorizo sausage and break up with spatula; stir in onion and cook 5 minutes; stir in refried beans and chicken broth and cook 7-8 minutes until bean mixture thickens; remove from heat, transfer beans to an oven-safe bowl, and place in oven to keep warm

3) Wipe out skillet, return to stove top, and heat to medium-high; brush front and back sides of tortillas with 1 tbsp olive oil (reserving 1 tbsp) and cook in skillet 1-2 minutes each side until lightly crisp (you’ll probably have to cook in two batches); remove from heat and place one tortilla in center of each of four oven-safe plates

4) Divide salsa between tortillas, spreading close to the edges; top with chorizo-bean mixture, spreading close to the edges; place plates in oven to keep tortillas warm while cooking eggs

5) To large skillet, add reserved 1 tbsp olive oil and heat to medium; crack eggs into skillet and cook until they reach desired doneness (since we like the whites cooked through and the yolks lightly set, I add 1 tbsp water to pan and cover with a lid during the last minute of cooking); remove from heat

6) Remove plates from oven and place one egg atop each tortilla; sprinkle with pepper jack cheese, radish slices, and cilantro; serve with lime wedges

Servings: 4

BROWN SUGAR SHRIMP AND SWEET POTATO SPINACH SALAD

Unbelievably good–even if sweet potatoes aren’t your thing. In fact, it wasn’t until Junior Too was halfway through his salad that I clued him in to the identity of the orange cubes. He made a face, and though I expected the rest of his sweet potatoes to end up on the side of his plate, he nearly cleaned them out–no “nearly” about it for Senior and me. Loved, loved, loved this!

Brown Sugar Shrimp and Sweet Potato Spinach Salad

2 tbsp butter

1 tbsp olive oil

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes

1/4 cup brown sugar

12 oz (about 24) large shrimp, peeled, deveined, and tailless

6 cups baby spinach

1 cucumber, peeled, halved, and sliced thin

1/3 cup Craisins

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 cup french-fried onions (I used Fresh Gourmet brand found in the salad dressing aisle)

Dressing of your choice (recommend Asian Sesame or Champagne Vinaigrette)

1) To large skillet, add butter and oil and heat over medium-high heat; add sweet potato cubes and cook, stirring often, 6-7 minutes until softened but still slightly firm; stir in brown sugar and cook 2-3 minutes; remove from heat and transfer to a plate to cool

2) To same skillet (don’t wipe clean–you don’t want to waste that tasty brown sugar-butter), add shrimp and, stirring occasionally, cook 2-3 minutes until pink and just cooked through; remove from heat and transfer to a plate to cool

3) After sweet potatoes have cooled about 10 minutes, assemble salad, dividing ingredients between 4 plates in this order: spinach, sweet potatoes, shrimp, cucumber, Craisins, cilantro, and french-fried onions; serve with dressing

Servings: 4

CHICKEN PAN PIE WITH LATTICE PHYLLO PASTRY

I started off making a traditional chicken pot pie for our get together with friends but then decided Phyllo Pastry would be tastier than the usual pastry. Next, I discovered I was missing an ingredient–or two. However, the substitution of tomatoes and cannellini beans seemed doable–if quite different–and so this dish was the result. Gone to the last spoonful, so…well received, I’d say 🙂

Chicken Pan Pie with Criss-Cross Phyllo Pastry

2 tbsp olive oil

1 red onion, diced

1 cup matchstick carrots

2 celery stalks, diced

4 cups deli-roasted chicken, diced

1-14 oz can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed

1-15 oz can petite diced tomatoes in their juices

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1-1/2 cups red cooking wine

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

8 oz frozen Phyllo Pastry sheets (1 set of a two-pack), thawed

olive oil spray

1) Preheat oven to 375 degrees

2) To large, oven-safe skillet (I used cast iron) add olive oil; heat over medium-high and add onion, carrots, and celery; stirring often, cook 7-8 minutes until onions soften; lower heat to medium and stir in chicken, cannellini beans, tomatoes, thyme, cooking wine, and black pepper; cook, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes

3) Meanwhile, generously spray olive oil over each phyllo pastry sheet and layer one atop the other; cut into 3/4″ strips

4) Remove skillet from stove top and lay half the strips vertically across chicken mixture, leaving 3/4″ gaps; lay remaining strips horizontally, leaving gaps, to form lattice pattern (Note: you probably won’t use all the strips)

5) Place skillet in oven and bake 30-40 minutes until phyllo pastry is golden brown; serve it up!

Serves: 6