Well, a really terrible photo. That's just incredibly disappointing, isn't it? Note to self: Find way to make new photo lights received for Christmas portable.
All the more so because, frankly, this was one delicious dinner. LSis was suffering bitterly from the latest bout of childborne illness. (I did not get it, because I have the immune system of a vegan triathlete, and/or am pickled by tequila.) She requested something comforting (Mexican), flavorful (Mexican), and spicy enough to clear her aching head (Mexican).
When cooking for the J family, there are certain considerations that must be weighed. (Note: This is namely LSis and the BiL; the equation shifts if I also want to feed the sometimes-adventurous but also sometimes-unpredictable 15-month-old, the sometimes-suspicious but almost-always-game 11- and 13-year-olds, or the vegetarian 19-year-old.)
1. There must, without exception, be meat. No one will be fooled by other proteins, such as beans, eggs, or cheese. If there is no dead animal, there is no dinner.
2. There must never, ever be mushrooms.
3. It helps if there is an element that is eye-wateringly, mouth-searingly spicy.
4. If there is soup, it is imperative that there is a carbohydrate—bread, crackers, tortillas—for dipping.
5. If possible, dinner should be hot. Salads are side dishes, not entrées.
6. The cook must make allowances for salt, ketchup, and ... other surprises. (I discovered this the hard way when I made Frank Stitt's Bottega Café macaroni and cheese, and BiL ate it between Triscuits.)
But having a framework is helpful, I find, particularly when one's approach to menu planning is to stare at foodgawker while her brain turns into a pinball machine. I've been experimenting a lot more with Asian flavors lately (fish sauce, sesame oil, my beloved sriracha), but—though a coworker has been kind enough to offer to bring me some miso tomorrow (squee!)—I find that when it comes to what-one-can-find-in-one's-regular-Winn-Dixie, Mexican foods never let me down.
BiL, he of the Triscuits, loves absolutely nothing more than a bowl of soup. It is without fail, and in any flavor, his favorite food. When it comes to the classic tortilla soup, he has a proclivity for the inclusion of arroz (rice, mixed in) and plenty of lechuga (lettuce, tossed in on top in intervals until the bowl is empty and the belly is full).
BiL, it turns out, has stumbled onto something genius. The cool lettuce plays well with the jalapeños and spices, and because the elements of the soup are smooth and silky, it adds a welcome crunch. The rice makes things hearty and satisfying, without any of the did-I-just-drink-my-dinner? conundrums that follow a liquid meal.
The fun part about the soup recipe (adapted from My Gourmet Connection) is the inclusion of toasted crushed tortilla chips, which give a thicker, richer consistency and also have the distinction of being among my favorite indulgences. (I recently discovered that these Hint of Lime Tostitos have no more salt than the regular variety, and while I have a hard time believing that, it fits quite neatly into my things-I'm-happy-to-blindly-trust paradigm.) I didn't have dried oregano so I opted for dried "Italian seasoning," and while things took a scary olfactory turn for "pizza" rather than "enchilada" in the beginning, it all mellowed out just fine in the end. I also omitted the lime zest because my Microplane was safely at home in the Woodside kitchen; it was delicious without, but I imagine it would add even brighter flavor. I sprinkled some black pepper in at the end, but I found this needed no additional salt. All a matter of preference, but even BiL didn't pull out the table shaker. The Winn-Dixie was completely out of cilantro, but it would be a nice topping if you're into that sort of thing and, you know, don't think it tastes like soap.
The rice (adapted from the genius that is Homesick Texan)is a revelation of sorts—so few ingredients, such rich flavor. I was sorry LSis and BiL didn't get to taste this on its own, because there's a simple intensity that made me do a small, nerdy kitchen dance. The original recipe calls for cilantro, which of course I didn't have but would be a nice addition if you're spooning it out with simple grilled chicken for a weeknight dinner. Also, Homesick Texan says you can adjust the amount of cumin to taste, but I really recommend going with the full tablespoon. It's just such a good friend to the tomato paste. I used basmati rice, because that's what was in the cupboard.
Oh and try this with chilled iceberg on top—I promise you it's worth it. (Thanks, BiL!)
Chicken Tortilla Soup with Mexican Rice
1 tablespoon olive oil
1½ cups chopped onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 jalapeño chiles, seeded and minced
1 cup finely crushed Tostitos Hint of Lime tortilla chips
4 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
1½ cups tomato sauce
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
½ teaspoon Frank's Red Hot or other hot sauce
¾ pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts/cutlets, cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup frozen whole-kernel corn
⅓ cup half & half
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Mexican Rice (recipe below)
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 small tomato, seeded and chopped
1. Heat olive oil in a stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and jalapeños, and sauté until softened. Add the crushed tortilla chips; toss and lightly toast until fragrant.
2. Add chicken broth, tomato sauce, spices, and hot sauce, and simmer about 5 minutes. Stir in chicken, and simmer 5 to 7 more minutes or until chicken is cooked through.
3. Add corn and half and half; reduce heat, and stir in cheese. Add lime juice and salt and pepper.
4. Spoon ½ cup Mexican Rice into serving bowls. Ladle into serving bowls. Ladle soup over rice, and top with a dollop of sour cream and a few pieces of fresh tomato. Serve with lime wedges. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
1 cup rice
2 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup tomato paste
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon lime juice
Salt, to taste
1. Place first 3 ingredients into a medium pot; bring to a boil on high, stir once, and cover. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.
2. Remove from heat and keep covered 5 to 10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, heat oil in a skillet over medium heat; add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes or until just about to brown.
4. Add garlic, and cook 1 minute. Stir in tomato paste and cumin, and cook 1 more minute. Mix into cooked rice.
6. Stir in lime juice and salt. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
It strikes me as suddenly very clear that I need to find out how to format fractions for this forum. I'm on it; I swear! ETA: Done!