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Tasty Side to Life Tours Website

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Chicken Tortilla Soup- A Little Mexican Pot of Bliss

This soup is very easy and quick to make, relatively healthy, full of spice and very filling. You really have to try it! If my 29 year old brother, who proudly can only really cook one dish (Rachel Ray's 30 min. Turkey burgers) can make it then so can you! And... you should because it's tasty and I promise you'll make it again!

Chicken Tortilla soup is most likely a dish that you skip right over on the menu when ordering at a Mexican restaurant in the Mission in SF or at your favorite little hidden gem in your home town. I mean if you're going out for Mexican I'm sure you are prepared, and even excited, to ingest lots of cheese, corn, guacomole and grilled meats. I know.... I know.... it's hard to pass up cheesy enchiladas, mole chicken tacos or sizzling fajitas... So, you might ask who in their right mind would choose soup in such an establishment? Well, I do. I probably get a taco too but I def have the tortilla soup if they have it. This might honestly be because i LOVE soup or could be because this soup is just so flavorful, but either way I love it and created my own recipe inspired by my old roommate mom's recipe. I also was inspired by a restaurant called The Little Chihuahua in San Francisco which adds grilled corn, queso fresco and chile de arbol to the soup. Please go there and try it..

The Little Chihuahua

  • 292 Divisadero St (at Page)
  • San Francisco, Ca
  • 94117
  • Andrew Johnstone, Owner/Chef
  • ph 415.255.8225
  • fax 415.255.8353

Here is the recipe. Bon Appetite!!

The only complicated part of this is finding the hot peppers. Jalapeno peppers and Pasilla Peppers are almost always at Safeway or your local grocery. Pasillas are huge and green and pretty mild. Chile de Arbol you don't have to use but they add a nice little hint of spice to the soup. They are dried and you can buy them at any little Mexican market. If you can't find Pasilla peppers or arbols then just use a little more jalapeno. Be careful about seasoning with this soup. It's easy to either get it too spicy or have the end product have zero flavor. Make sure that you let the cumin, garlic and peppers cook for a few quick mins to generate a burst of flavor. Don't be shy with the cumin or garlic either! I just made this during a trip up to Tahoe with the family and everyone loved it. After a bike ride from Sunnyside bike rentals-- to Chambers where we had a few punches--then back to Sunnyside for drinks -- then home- we were definitely ready for some soup!

Chicken Tortilla Soup- serves 4 bowls with lots of leftovers

A couple tbls of extra-virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion diced small
1 tomato diced for garnish
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 jalapeno, seeds removed and minced
1/4 Pasilla Pepper diced (big green pepper that's not too spicy)
3 dried chile de arbols (little red dried chilis)
1.5 Tbls Cumin
2 teaspoons oregano
1 Red Bell Pepper diced
2 Ear's of corn
6 cups chicken stock + cup of water if necessary
1 Block Queso Fresco
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 corn tortillas, cut into 1/8-inch-thick strips
1.5 chicken breasts (boneless, skinless)
2 avocados, halved, pitted, peeled, and diced
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
1 lime, cut in wedges, for serving

Place a stockpot over medium heat and coat with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the chopped onions, red bell pepper, garlic, jalapenos, pasilla peppers and big tbls of cumin and oregano; cook, stirring for 15 minutes until the vegetables are cooked down and tender and the spices are fragrant. Add the chicken breast, brown it for a min on each side and then pour in the stock, season with salt and pepper, throw in the dried red chile de arbols and bring to a boil, then turn down to low, cover and simmer for 30-40 minutes.

Meanwhile, turn the oven on to broil and put the 2 ears of corn in the oven. Broil until corn is almost burning on all sides, flipping it a few times. Let them cool and then cut off the cob and into the soup. OPTIONAL---I don't always do the strips but its a nice little crunch...Heat 1-inch of canola oil or olive oil in a skillet over medium-high flame. When the oil looks hot, add the tortilla strips in batches and fry until they are crisp on all sides. Remove to a paper towel-lined platter and sprinkle with salt and cumin while they are still hot. Or instead of frying in a pan you can oven bake. Set the oven to 400, drizzle olive oil over the top of the strips and bake for 5 minutes.

After soup has cooked 30- 40 min quickly test a piece of the chicken to make sure it's done. Then pull the chicken pieces out and shred with fork on a cutting board. Add chicken back into the soup. Ladle the hot soup into 4 soup bowls and top with the diced avocado, tomatoes, queso fresco and fried tortilla strips. Garnish with cilantro.

I made a quick little shrimp, red onion, cabbage, jalapeno, cinnamon, cumin, oregano soft taco with a side of canned pinto beans with heirloom tomatoes, cilantro and avocado as a little side dish.

PS my mom was just trying to help me with the title and threw in how about "Senor and Senoritas chug chug chug down the tortilla soup train on your way to Sayulita.. chug chug..." Wow... wow... I think she is officially ready to have grandkids. Garrett, get moving!

Richard Avedon- A photographic genius

If you're in the artsy, culturally diverse, cosmopolitan city of San Francisco anytime between now and Thanksgiving, you really must stop by the MOMA and let your senses indulge in the creative genius of one of the ten greatest photographers in the world, Richard Avedon.

Ever feel like you're having one of the those weeks where you are just kinda off? You go about your day to day routine yet absolutely nothing is doing it for you? Not Chocolate, nor natural fro-yo, or pilates are knocking you out of your mood? You just can't seem to be satisfied no matter what you do? I, unfortunately, have defini
tely been having one of those slumps for the past 2 weeks. My poor little 2.5 year old English Springer Spaniel who is the sweetest, cutest, smartest little guy is dying of Acute Leukemia and there is nothing that we can do. I'm 90% sure most dog owners say that their dog is the best dog in the world but I'm 100% sure this guy really is. If you have met him, please vouch for me! I'm even willing to take a survey. People stop us on the street to tell us how sweet and beautiful he is and he was just recently certified as a therapy dog because he naturally has the ability to help people. Anyways, after spending $100s on acupuncture and herbal remedies he is still kicking and I feel lucky for every last day I get with him. The doctors gave him a few weeks so we will see... I also HATE cancer and have never hated anything more.

Anyways, sorry for the rant. I am finally partly out of my depression cloud and enjoying every second of ball playing with my little furry friend and I have this exhibit, which I stumbled on today, to thank for it. If you're feeling uninspired
or feel like you haven't had any art in your life recently please scurry on down to MOMA in SF. If you are smart and also maybe feeling the effects of the recession go the first Tues of any month b/c its free or any Thrs night for a little inexpensive date night.

Richard Avedon died of Cancer a few years ago and he, just like my little Hudson, got infected by a horrible disease. His passion for photography reminds me of my craze for food. Check out this quote:

"If a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it's as though I've neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up." Richard Avedon.

I feel similarly to him in regards to food. If I'm not experimenting amazing food or creating artistry through culinary creations then I feel like I haven't woken up, my passion for the day simply isn't the same without a little touch of cuisine.

MOMA-Richard Avedon-July 11 - November 29, 2009

"Whether photographing politicians, artists, writers, fashion models, or movie stars, Richard Avedon revolutionized the genre of portraiture. He rejected conventional stiff-and-staid poses and instead captured both motion and emotion in the faces of his subjects, often encapsulating their intrigue in a single charged moment. "- SF Moma.

I really have never seen so much movement in fashion photography.

The way that the femme with the umbrella floats over the curb in the picture "Homage to Munkacsi" from the 1950's is absolutely amazing. I'm not quite sure how he captured this moment or how he came up with the idea of having models roller skate while being shot, but I love his insight and wish I had his talent. Also, his portraits, set against plain white backgrounds display how multifaceted of a photographer he is. Mr. Avedon found characters who perfectly displayed American life. From drifters to farm boys to artists and models he captured breathtaking features in the human face. The drifter covered in freckles most likely from years and years of homelessness and sun exposure is one of the most captivating, dramatic and vivid portraits I have ever seen. So is Avedon's young snake skinner and beekeeper. You really must experience first hand the ability of Richard Avedon to capture the "intrigue and charged moment" of his subjects.

"SFMOMA is proud to be the only U.S. venue for this retrospective that spans the artist's remarkable career. Featuring more than 200 photographs along with a selection of vintage magazines, the exhibition presents work spanning Avedon's entire career, from his earliest street scenes to his breakthrough 1950s Paris fashion pictures and the iconic celebrity portraits that brought him world renown. This in-depth retrospective reveals Avedon's singular ability to blur the lines between photojournalism, fashion photography, and fine art."- SFMOMA.

Go check it out if you can!!! Another part of the exhibit is 2 other fabulous artists, Georgia O'Keefe and Ansel Adams which you of course should see as well. I know you might feel like you have seen both of these artists work everywhere but the the exhibit really proved me wrong.
- http://www.sfmoma.org/exhibitions/384

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Catering for 70 with your mom- a good idea?

So, my 29 year old brother is getting married in Dec in Sayulita Mexico. To celebrate the occasion we threw a huge, blowout engagement party for him at my grandmother's house in Piedmont, about 20 mins from San Francisco. Despite numerous hiccups, eye surgery that got scheduled 3 days before and plenty of yenta like behavior from a Jewish family that is quirky enough that we should probably have a reality show, the party turned out to be a success! I still am not 100% sure how I feel about catering for 70... I find myself asking the question "Does catering for 5 times the regular amount that anyone normally cooks for take the fun out of the hobby and turn it into an irrational stressful 8th grade math debacle?" Hmmmmm... You tell me..

Regardless, of the impending question I learned some great lessons from my première adventure in catering!The first lesson that I learned was that it's probably not the best idea to throw the party at an 86 year olds house when on a regular basis any type of change sets her off. I mean if your grandma was the type who obsesses/freaks out over the sugar container being in a different position than the day before, or throws a fit when her help leaves for a once a year vacation for 5 days, would you have 70 people to her house even with her blessing? We decided to do it because at heart Barbara Jean LOVES young people (and has actually talked of wanting a youth hostel at her house) and we were inviting about 50 youngins' over. Also, my brother was dying to have it there and her house was perfect. The second lesson that I learned was that catering calculations aren't exactly as easy as I thought. Taking a recipe for 6, deciphering how many "mini" portions that same recipe makes, then dividing that into 70 portions wasn't an easy endeavor. The repercussions of my shoty calculations meant that we had an exorbitant amount of leftover food (but hey that's better than not enough... right?). The last lesson I learned was if you cook for 70 people with you mother you should slip a Valium into her calcium pill box everyday for 3 weeks before the event. I can't tell you how long before the event that we talked about it, but I can tell you that she stressed over every last detail and had 342 questions for me everyday which almost threw me over the edge. At a certain point I actually contemplated buying ear plugs! Her daily questions went something like..."Sydney, what am I going to wear to the wedding, how is the soup going to work in the shot glass, will they be able to drink it without a spoon, which band should we choose, your making too much, I need a dress, We need to choose flowers, wait which band are we choosing, I need this and that.... and that and this". She really almost drove me insane but I really couldn't have done all of the chopping, sauteing and squeezing of 11 cups of lime juice for the ceviche without her help. If your mom communicates by making a to do list out loud 10 times a day and is prone to being a little too spunky, jittery and inquisitive then maybe you shouldn't cook with her. Despite our bickering and countless laughing sessions where my mom almost peed her pants, we got it all done and maybe in the end some of her questions were needed :)

We ended up making a Latin inspired menu:

Spanish peanuts with Chile de Arbol, cumin, lime and Chili pepper

Spicy Gazpacho soup with Turkish olive oil, avocado and homemade goat cheese and basil croutons served in tall shot glasses

Corn and Pasilla Chili soup served with grilled zucchini flowers from the garden, garlic and a touch of creme (also served in tall shot glasses)

Scallop, Salmon, and Halibut Ceviche with coconut milk and homemade plantain chips served in Asian soup spoons
Papaya and Avocado salad with hazelnuts and papaya seed dressing

Black beans with tomatoes, shallots and jalapenos

Mexican Chocolate Pot de Creme's served in little petite egg cups

Dulche De Leche Cake-We bought this from Delessio Bakery in San Francisco. This cake has the most amazing meringue frosting and is incredibly rich from soaking in 4 different types of milk. You have to try this if you're around San Francisco!http://www.delessiomarket.com/
Mexican Taco Truck from 46 and International in Oakland, ca to do 6 types of taco truck tacos to add a little trendy flare to the event!
Here is a description and the recipe for a few of the things we made. You should know that I am kind of obsessed with a local Napa valley chef, Cindy Pawlcyn and most of my cooking comes from adaptations of her recipes which you can find in, Big Small Plates by Cindy Pawlcyn. If you have had my cooking I guarantee you have involuntarily tried something from this cookbook and let me tell you she knows what she is doing and seems like a really great person as well. http://www.amazon.com/Big-Small-Plates-Cindy-Pawlcyn/dp/1580085237

Salmon, Halibut and Scallop Ceviche with Coconut- Serves 6

I love the flavors of seafood and coconut combined. I also like that this dish fits perfectly with the environment of a day time pool party. Even though guests weren't in their bathing suits it's nice to eat something light and fresh during the afternoon heat. I also love raw seafood because its makes me feel like I am being healthy when I'm eating it. This recipe takes some planning, a little bit of lime squeezing and research to find the best place to buy great quality, yet not too expensive fish but it's a great recipe. We got the fish from Pier 42 from a friend who owns a restaurant by Pier 39. I'm pretty sure you can also go down to the docks there and get fish right off the boats!

4 oz Scallops, 8-12 oz salmon, 8-12 oz halibut

1 cup fresh squeezed lime juice (don't use the store bought bright green stuff)

1 tsp sea salt & 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper

1/2 teaspoon finely chopped and seeded Serrano chili

1 red onion

1 14 oz can unsweet. coconut milk

1 or 2 avocados

cilantro and Oil olive for garnish

Slice the scallops into 1/3 inch pieces. Cut the salmon and halibut into 3 or 4 lengthwise strips about 1 inch wide then cut into 1/4 inch pieces to match the scallops. Add the fish to the scallops and put into a non reactive bowl. Pour 3/4 cup of the lime juice into the bowl and mix gently but well, making sure all the seafood gets coated with some juice. Cover and put in the refrigerator to marinate 2 hours. Put the seafood in a colander to drain, and clean out the bowl while it's draining. Return the seafood to the clean bowl, along with the salt,pepper, chile, onion, coconut milk, and remaining 1/4 cup lime juice. Mix gently but well and cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hr but not more than 6 hrs. When you're ready to serve either crack open a few coconuts and serve in the ceviche in on the slices or serve it in Asian soup spoons like I did.

Spanish peanuts with Chile de Arbol, cumin, lime and Chili pepper I think it is essential to have something to munch on as soon as your guests arrive. I'm usually scrambling in the kitchen and a little behind and these nuts are a great amuse bouche with a sharp burst of flavor and will only fill your guests bellies a little. This recipe calls for Spanish peanuts which are small and round with red skins. I couldn't find them but wish I did because I think details like this are important and I really wanted that red color. I substituted by using a regular unroasted peeled peanut, briefly roasted them in the oven and then added red chili pepper to get the desired color. If you can I would make these right before people come over because they are great hot. Since I was catering and I had 90 other things to do I made them the day before and they still turned out great.

Makes a big bowl

2 whole heads garlic (not cloves, but heads!)

1/4 cup peanut oil

2 pounds shelled raw Spanish peanuts, with skins

2 to 4 fiery hot dried chilies, slightly crushed

pinch of cumin

pinch of chili pepper (might not need if you use Spanish peanuts)

1 tbls kosher salt

Grated zest and juice of 1 lime

Separate the heads of garlic into cloves. Trim off the root ends but don't peel the cloves, leave the skin on. Put the oil in a pan large enough to hold everything, and heat it until it is almost rippling. Add the peanuts, garlic, spices and chilies, and cook stirring and shaking continuously for 10 to 12 minutes until the peanuts have darkened in color. Add the salt and lime zest and juice to the pan and it give it another good shake. Pour it out into a serving bowl and Voilà!

Mexican Chocolate Pot de Creme

 I love the cafe La Bolange in San Francisco, ca. I appreciate that this place really makes you feel like you're in France. Everything from the food to the cutlery to the napkins alludes to French culture. They have the most amazing pot de creme that they serve in a cute little glass jar with parchment and a rubber band. If you've never tried pot de creme and you like chocolate you really should try it. It's a perfect chocolate dessert that is incredibly rich but not too overpowering in my book and not bitter. I've made this a bunch of times but adapted the recipe for the Latin themed party and added Mexican Chocolate. I don't know if your a hot chocolate person but there is nothing like Mexican hot chocolate brewing in a terra cotta pot that you use to wash down Huevos Rancheros at a brunch buffet in Zihuatanejo. I used the same type of chocolate for my pot de creme. Don't be scared about not cooking the eggs. It's ok. Be careful.. you might have leftovers and you might not be able to resist yourself from eating a little too much :)

12 Extra Large Egg yolks ( I know.. I know. a lot)

3/4 cup sugar

3 cups heavy cream ( I guess you could use 2 percent milk.. but I wouldn't :)

1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped

1/4 tsp salt

1 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

1 oz bittersweet chocolate finely chopped

2 oz Abuelita Mexican Chocolate (you can buy at an Latin American Market)

In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar. If your hands are clean crack the egg in your hand over a bowl you're using for scraps and let the whites drip through your fingers, saving the yolk. In a small saucepan, combine the heavy cream, vanilla bean (don't use vanilla extract here... find a bean!) and its scrapings, and salt and bring almost to a boil over medium heat. Just before the cream comes to a boil (the cream will start to rise up in the pan), remove from the heat and whisk 1 cup of the hot cream into the egg yolk mixture, then pour the tempered egg yolk mixture back into the pan with the remaining cream, whisking constantly. Be careful here. If you don't mix this fast enough or let it get too, too hot you could end up with eggs... Discard the vanilla bean. Whisk the semisweet, bittersweet and Mexican chocolates into the hot custard mixture until completely melted and smooth. Transfer custard to medium bowl and refrigerate, whisking occasionally, until cooled to lukewarm and very thick. Pour the lukewarm, thickened custard into 8, 6 oz ramekins. Cover and refrigerate until the custard is completely set, appr 3 hrs. Serve in little egg cups or little ramekins. Serve with 2 raspberries or whipped cream.
If you want any of the other recipes let me know!

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