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Easy Quick Chicken Tortilla Soup and How to Add Flavor to Quick Soups

Easy Chicken Tortilla Soup txt

When it comes to dinner, I’m an obsessive planner.  With a full time job and an hour commute and two kids, my dinnertime meals are regimented.  But lunch is more spur of the moment.  Not exactly an afterthought, but definitely more of a “What do I feel like eating today?” meal.  And sometimes what I feel like eating is soup.

And when I feel like eating soup, I don’t mean soup-three-hours-from-now-after-simmering-0n-the-stovetop, but soup within the next thirty minutes or so, like this Chicken Tortilla Soup.   It comes together quickly without sacrificing flavor. Without the long simmering, I’m looking for ways to add flavor fast.  Some of my favorite ways to add quick flavor to soups are:

  1. Use good broth.  You CAN make soup from water, but if you’re looking for a fast soup, a good broth is essential.  Making your own is great, but I also like the flavors of Trader Joe’s Organic Free-Range Chicken Broth (Not reduced sodium), and Kitchen Basics Chicken Stock (Reduced Sodium OK in this case).
  2. Use add-ins that add a lot of up front flavor.  A carrot will yield its secret over time, but if you’re looking for fast, you want to add ingredients that carry a lot of flavor from the start.  This Mexican-inspired soup uses salsa and chilies to add a big punch of flavor.
  3. Toppings!  Plain soup is just that – plain.  Toppings take the soup to a whole new level, like in this cauliflower soup recipe.   This Chicken Tortilla Soup gets tortillas, cheese, avocados, cilantro – the possibilities are endless.

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Speculoos-Dipped Strawberries

Biscoff Strawberries TXT

Valentine’s Day is around the corner.  Some of us dismiss it as a cheesy Hallmark holiday.  Some of us revel in the traditional chocolate and champagne.  Some are happy to celebrate their loved ones, some are unbearably lonely, and some are just plain angry.  Love does that to us.

I’m no expert, but as I get closer to middle age than youth, I can tell you this about love:  love is surprising.  Sometimes the beginning of love is surprising – it can come when you don’t expect it to.  And sometimes the end of love is (sadly) surprising.  But there are a lot of surprises in the middle, too.

The surprises can be good – a grand romantic gesture you never expected from your significant other – or great – the way your heart fills to bursting when a child enters your family, and then fills even more when another child comes along.  They can be bad – discovering that your spouse has been behaving in a way that you never would expect, that shocks and hurts you – or just sad – realizing your relationship isn’t where you thought it would be.

Don’t mean to go all Richard Curtis on you all – I can get a bit maudlin this time of year – but I hope you can celebrate Valentine’s Day with people you love – your spouse, your girlfriends, your children, your family, or your dog (because is there any purer love?  I don’t think so.)  And treat them to something a little surprising.

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Miso Pork Tenderloin with Apple Ginger Relish

Pork Tenderloin with Apple Ginger Relish

The holidays are over and we can all breathe a sigh of relief. I love the lights and the cookies and the carols and the cocktails and the feasting as much as (or more than) anyone else, but I admit to welcoming the calm space of January, when a little austerity doesn’t go amiss. In the new year, we are all looking for food that’s a little lighter and fresher.

Lighter and fresher doesn’t have to be less flavorful, however. In the last year I’ve made a dedicated effort to cook more with fruits and vegetables, and I’ve been thrilled with the flavor and variety they’ve brought to my diet. That’s why I’m pleased to be partnering with Opal Apples and Kitchen Play to bring you this fresh and flavorful recipe for the New Year.

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Sourdough Stuffing with Caramelized Onions and Chard

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Thanksgiving is one of those holidays that can be hidebound by tradition.  Even the most adventurous eater has certain holiday rules that make Thanksgiving dinner more than just a lot of food.  For some, jellied canned cranberry sauce is required.  For others, they have to have grandma’s sweet potato casserole.   My husband has to have pumpkin pie.  My parents once shared Thanksgiving dinner with otherwise reasonable people who insisted on green bean casserole with condensed cream of mushroom soup and canned fried onions (I actually love the stuff, but it’s not part of our family’s Thanksgiving tradition.  Which mostly involves making everything from scratch.)

I consider myself pretty open minded with regards to Thanksgiving.  Obviously – turkey.  And cranberry sauce in some form.  Some vegetables are nice. Some form of pie.  I don’t even need rolls.   There is one dish, however, without which Thanksgiving is just not worth celebrating – and that’s my dad’s old-fashioned fresh sage stuffing  (Coincidentally, today is my dad’s birthday. Happy birthday, dad. I miss you).  This is not that.
Chard Stuffing Ingredients
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Pasta with Butternut Squash, Spinach and Cashel Blue Cheese

Spinach Pasta>

I have resisted pasta for many years. Other people can’t get enough of it – I could take it or leave it. But life in our household has been pretty crazy lately, and I have been embracing pasta as a way to get dinner on the table relatively quickly instead of having to resort to eating crackers. (It’s happened.)

I think the problem is I’m not really a fan of traditional spaghetti sauce. My husband has taken to complaining that we never have a jar of spaghetti sauce in the house (he asked if we could make a bid for normalcy and just have a jar of Prego), while I’ve never felt the lack. Once I started to move away from the tomato sauces, pasta got a lot more interesting.
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This one was inspired by  a gorgeous wheel of Irish Cashel Blue cheese that the kind folks at Kerrygold USA sent me.   I’ve been a fan of their grass fed butter for years, but I won a year’s supply of butter and cheese at the Big Traveling Potluck and that has made be a convert to their amazing Irish cheeses.  They have several cheddar and cheddar type cheeses that are amazing, but my favorite is probably the Cashel Blue.  I shared the wheel with family members but immediately regretted it – I wanted more blue cheese for myself!  Even my mom, who has been a diehard French Roquefort snob for years said this is her new favorite blue.

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Split Chicken Breasts with Goat Cheese and Pepper Jelly

Chicken Breasts with Goat Cheese and Pepper Jelly

Not every recipe comes with a cute story, a long origin tale, a photo-worthy finish. Sometimes we are just trying to get dinner on the table. Sometimes we’re dealing with real life here — that life where we have to get dinner on the table EVERY NIGHT, where lamb is expensive and beef unhealthy and your kid won’t touch lentils with a ten foot pole so you’re making chicken again, where if you see another boneless skinless “cutlet” you might have to throw something. That life.

In that life you might have optimistically bought two jars of pepper jelly at Christmas time – it’s so nice on cream cheese For all those parties you ended up not going to, since one kid had the stomach flu and the other had an ear infection. In that life, you buy too much cheese and have odds and ends of it overflowing the cheese drawer in your refrigerator.

Or maybe that’s just me.
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Lemon Blueberry Icebox Cake

Lemon Blueberry Icebox Cake

 

My baby boy has just turned one, and I have no clue how that happened.  Just last week he was a tiny little warm bundle, whose floppy body fit – just exactly – into mine.  His head smelled like powder and was covered with just the whisper of soft peach fuzz.  He slept (and woke!) every two hours, and I was his sun.

I blinked and suddenly he’s walking around the house like a bear on his hind legs.  Often with something dangerous – a fork, a length of jump rope, a permanent marker – clutched tight in one grubby little paw.  He has the most delightful sly little smile, which is slower to come than it used to be, unless there is something TRULY exciting, which must also be shouted at and banged upon – like a drum, or a dog.  He likes to tell jokes, and he wants to know what everything in the world is called, pointed and gesturing, and always saying, “que?” “que?”  The peach fuzz is still strawberry blond, but has lengthened into curls – CURLS, which hurt my heart to look at, because WHAT is more darling than a little boy toddling around with blond curls?   When he wakes up in the morning, he goes hunting for his sister, who is the MOST fun person in his world.   He’s not a baby any more.

As if to squelch any doubt remaining in my mind about the end of his babyhood, the cruel calendar came round to May, and his babyhood year (why only one year?) was officially over.  Toddlerhood is officially here, with all the joys that entails (stairs!  And talking!)

So we made cake.  And because I’m busy chasing the little blond monster all over creation, I didn’t fool around with layers and creaming, and baking and frosting.  I made icebox cake.

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Five No-Fuss, No-Pasta Dinners For When You Don’t Really Want to Cook

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So if you listen to as many food-related podcasts as I do, you may have noticed that lately there has been a lot of talk about cooking (I blame Michael Pollan)- about how it’s healthier, and better for society, and connects you with your humanity, etc.  Which, hello? is great, and I’ve been saying for years! Yay cooking! We love it around these parts. I also, however, like to play the role of fairy godmother of the reality check. You know and I know that we would LOVE to make from-scratch, healthful dinners EVERY SINGLE NIGHT, but we also both know that sometimes that just isn’t happening. Before you call the delivery man, or open (yet another) box of pasta, I present you for five ideas for easy, quick, no-fuss dinners. They don’t require NO cooking, but they do require MINIMAL fuss and no thought whatsoever. I usually plan to have ingredients for at least one of these in the house at any given time, to account for traffic jams, late meetings, and general exhaustion.

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Broccoli Salad with Yogurt Dressing

Broccoli Salad

I have discovered that one of the keys to eating more vegetables is having more vegetables available. And by “available” I do not mean sitting, happily dirt-encrusted, at the Farmer’s Market. Or even in the depths of my crisper drawer. I mean washed, prepped and ready to eat.

Crudites are the obvious answer, but it gets boring eating crudites. I mean, carrot sticks, in addition to winning the lifetime achievement award for “the only vegetable kids will reliably eat” have the unfortunate connotations of “diet food.” And even ranch dressing doesn’t help, as I’ve found my tolerance for bottled salad dressing has waned as I’ve gotten older. (Was that an unbearably Paltrow-esque and precious thing to say? I’m clearly channeling my inner GOOP. It’s just, well, goopy). We could (and have) roasted large amounts of vegetables on the weekend for snacking on the rest of the week, but that takes quite a bit of foresight. Salads are clearly another great answer, but lettuce can be a wee bit delicate for the depths of my crisper drawer, and don’t even think about dressing it in advance.

Broccoli salad, now, there’s the ticket.  It has the advantages of sturdiness, and anything with broccoli imparts that aura of good health.  My kids will sometimes eat it (though the Nuni’s BFF complained that it was “spicy”.  Five year olds find currants to be “spicy.”  Be warned.)  I can make it one day and the leftovers are perfect for noshing the next day, and the next.
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Salmon On Curried Spinach

Salmon on Curried Spinach

I told my husband last night that I loved him but what I really need is a 1950’s wife.  Someone who will hand me a cocktail and my slippers when I walk in the door so I can relax, pat the kids on the head and send them off to bed while sipping my scotch.  Sadly, my reality is more along the lines of leave work, pick up the baby, drive drive drive drive drive, come in, immediately rush to find dinner for the Nuni and Bootsy, feed the kids, bedtime routines, fix grownup dinner (if we didn’t eat with the kids), eat grownup dinner, and then start in on the laundry before I even get to think about a cocktail.

Since weeknights are a little crazy (to put it mildly), I’m always on the lookout for meals that are a) healthy and b) quick to prepare.  And that doesn’t mean 30 minutes or an hour quick.  I mean on the table in 20 max, so I can get to my cocktail faster.  This salmon on curried spinach, which is an old recipe of my mom’s, just fits the bill.

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