Chicken Tortilla Soup

Chicken Tortilla SoupLately, I’ve been making these super organized, really thought out grocery lists to try and maximize our meals. For me, this means two main things: 1) Focusing on fresh ingredients that really get me excited about cooking and 2) Making sure I develop meals around our schedules so that it’s not as appealing to just order take-out several nights a week. As a result, I’ve been gathering easy ingredients to always have on-hand for quick, satisfying meals – hey there, easy breakfast-for-dinner nights! – and making sure I have a veggie & noodle salad of some kind, or an easy soup, in the fridge and ready to go when hunger pangs come calling.

This chicken tortilla soup is one of my absolute favorite soups, first and foremost, because it is just so tasty. Every time I make it, I exclaim that we should eat it once a week and that is so not an exaggeration – it’s really that good. Plus, it fits my new maximization mantra of having fresh ingredients and flavors, while being a fairly adaptable meal for different schedules and levels of attention. While the recipe first came into my life as an option for the slow cooker, I found myself this week with all the makings, but without having had the forethought to put it together in the morning. Fail face.

Chicken Tortilla SoupSure, I could have waited for the next day, but this soup is so good that it possesses my brain every time I get ready to make it so that there’s this constant thought loop of “Is it chicken tortilla soup time yet?” After a bit of adaptation and messing about, it was chicken tortilla soup time and only within about 75 minutes for prep & cooking combined! Which means that this delicious, satisfying, feel-so-good soup is now even easier and faster to get from fridge, to pot, to bowl, to face. And that’s something I fully support.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
Yields 4-6 servings; adapted from here.

Ingredients:
Vegetable oil
3-4 bone-in, skin-on split chicken breasts
Salt & pepper
1 medium onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 15oz can of petite diced tomatoes with juice
1 10oz can enchilada sauce
1 4oz can chopped green chile peppers
1 14.5oz of chicken stock
2 cups of corn (fresh, frozen, or canned will do)
1/2 cup of red onion, diced
1/2 cup cilantro, finely chopped
3 large flour tortillas cut into 1/4-inch strips (crushed tortilla chips are also acceptable)
1 lime cut into wedges

Directions:
In a heavy-bottom pot, drizzle in enough vegetable oil to cover the surface and apply medium-high heat. Generously season both sides of the chicken breasts with salt and pepper. When the oil begins to ripple, add the chicken breasts to the pot skin-side down. Allow to cook for 5 minutes or until they have developed a brown crust. Flip chicken breasts and cook on other side for another 5 minutes. Remove chicken breasts from the pan and set aside. Reduce heat to medium and add onion and garlic, sauteeing for 4-5 minutes until the onions begin to turn translucent. Season with salt and pepper and add bay leaf, cumin, and chili powder. Stir to combine and allow spices to toast for 3 minutes with the onions and garlic. Turn heat back up to medium high and slowly stir in the chicken stock, releasing any brown bits from the bottom of the pot with your spoon as you pour. Add the tomatoes, green chile peppers, and enchilada sauce and stir together. Add chicken breasts to pot and any juices that have collected while it was resting. Cover pot allowing only a tiny vent for steam and bring to a low boil. Adjust temperature accordingly and allow to simmer like this for 30 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and cook until the chicken is no longer pink in the center, approximately 15 minutes more. Remove soup lid and add corn. When chicken is done, remove from pot and rest until it is cool enough to handle. Allow the soup to continue cooking, uncovered, on medium heat so that it reduces some.

In the meantime, you can prep the red onion, cilantro, limes, and tortilla strips for the garnish. In a small-to-medium deep pot, pour in about 1-inch of vegetable oil and apply medium-high heat. In the meantime, slice your flour tortillas in half and then slice them across into a series of 1/4-inch, thin strips. Test the oil by putting the end of one of the tortillas into the oil and see if it sizzles. If so, drop one in and test it. You want it to achieve golden brownness in about 15 seconds. If it doesn’t get there, discard strip and let oil heat up a bit more. If it gets dark much faster, lower the temperature of the oil accordingly. When ready, add a small handful of the strips at a time and, watching them carefully, gently move them around the hot oil with tongs as they turn golden and crisp up. As you remove the strips from the oil, drain them on paper towels and salt them lightly while they’re still hot and fresh. Finish the remaining strips and set aside.

Pull the chicken off the bones and discard them along with the skin. Shred the chicken meat and add back to soup. Allow to warm and re-incorporate for about 5-7 minutes. Turn soup off and cover until ready to serve. When ready to eat, ladle soup into bowls and top with diced red onion, cilantro, a squeeze of lime juice, and fresh tortilla strips.

Macho Nachos, or You Can Call it a Comeback

Macho NachosWell, it’s true. Femme Fraîche went on an 8 month hiatus, but I’m back and so excited to be! Readers, the past few months have been a total trip and if you heard about all of it, you’d understand why I was gone for so long. I’ll spare you the more involved details, but leave you with these two major culprits: 1) My gorgeous and expensive camera broke and the $250 price tag to fix it didn’t fall under “immediate need” and 2) We had a bit of remodeling work done on the homestead that completely overtook the summer and early fall. It wasn’t a pretty time here. The kitchen was torn out and unusable for weeks. Bear and I spent more time at Sonic and in Ikea than at home where we were often confined to living in one room while the others were under various forms of demolition. At one point, the only accessible water we had for drinking had to come out of the spout for the tub. Bleak.

The good news is that all of this is behind us, though I did totally have a nightmare about our contractor just two nights ago, so the trauma is REAL. That being said, I’m presently writing you from an updated home where the kitchen has a whole 3ft. of new counter space (up from barely 1ft. Yea, city living!), a tiny dishwasher, and cabinetry like it, quite literally, never had before. Just the perfect space to stage a comeback with these Macho Nachos that get their close-up courtesy of Santa and the new camera he brought me for Christmas. These are perfect for a winter movie night or for the upcoming Super Bowl and satisfy so many different cravings. Let’s get to gettin’, shall we?

Macho Nachos, a river of cheese!Is your first question after viewing this photo “what makes these nachos so macho?” or is it “can I please dive into that and hollow out a home?” The answer to the latter is “Yes, of course you can, weirdo,” and in terms of how these nachos get their moxy, well, let’s just consider their composition. That cheese sauce? It’s a BEER CHEESE SAUCE. You know, like the kind you’d dip soft pretzels into? Yes! It’s smooth and creamy and spiked with just the right amount of ale to make it have that slightly bitter taste that offsets all of the cheese. Studded amidst that boozy golden river of cheese are big, crispy pieces of bacon and slices of a spice-rubbed, grilled sirloin steak. I did say “macho,” friends!

Macho Nachos, Salsa VegBut it’s not just salty, delicious meats and cheeses that make these nachos so macho, you know… It’s big flavors! So on top of all this unctuous goodness is a homemade, charred tomato and pepper salsa that cuts through all of that indulgence with some really bright, fresh taste courtesy of an entire fistful of cilantro, green onions, and jalapeños. This salsa on its own is worth a spot on your Pinterest recipe board for when you want something impressive, but that takes only the effort of pressing the pulse button on your food processor a few times.
MachoNachos, SalsaIn fact, many of the elements on this plate of macho nachos can be made individually to just as many rave reviews as the completed dish. And, let’s just be honest, that nacho beer cheese sauce is going to be good on pretty much anything you put in, or near, your mouth.

Macho Nachos
Macho
Nachos

Makes one large platter, about 8-10 servings

Charred Tomato, Garlic, & Pepper Salsa

Ingredients:
3-4 plum tomatoes, quartered with seeds & guts removed and set aside
1 poblano pepper, de-veined, seeded and cut into large chunks
1/2 large red onion, cut into large chunks
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 jalapeño, de-veined, seeded and cut into large chunks
Olive oil
Salt
1-14.5oz can of diced tomatoes (fire roasted variety is best)
1 cup of cilantro
Juice of half a lime
3 green onions, chopped roughly
1 teaspoon of ground cumin
Hot sauce

Directions:
Preheat oven to 450° F. De-pulp/seed/vein tomatoes, peppers, and onion and add to large bowl. Add peeled and chopped garlic cloves. Drizzle with 2-3Tablespoons of olive oil, toss, and sprinkle with salt before tossing again. Arrange vegetables on a large baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 25-35 minutes or until edges are very dark brown and lightly charred. Remove from oven and then add to food processor with reserved tomato pulp, canned tomatoes, cilantro, green onions, cumin, lime juice, and a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce. Pulse until desired texture is achieved. Store in an airtight container for 7-10 days.

Beer Cheese Nacho Sauce

Ingredients:
4Tablespoons of butter
4Tablespoons of flour
1/2lb. of sliced yellow, deli-style American Cheese (I am partial to Land o’Lakes)
8oz. shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1-12oz. bottle of beer (I used Fat Tire’s Amber Ale)
Salt
Hot Sauce

Directions:
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. When it is liquified, whisk in the flour, forming a roux. Cook the roux, stirring occasionally, for 2-3 minutes. Slowly add 1 cup of the beer while whisking the mixture and allow to thicken slightly. Add both cheeses and half of the remaining beer. Allow to melt completely and season with salt and hot sauce to taste. Remaining 2oz. (and remainder of 6-pack) of beer go to the chef!

Spice-Rubbed Sirloin Steak

Ingredients:
1 sirloin steak (rib-eye & T-bone would also work here)
Olive oil
Canola oil
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 Tablespoon of chili powder
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/2 teaspoon of sugar
3/4 teaspoon of cumin
1/2 teaspoon of oregano
1/2 teaspoon of onion powder
1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika

Directions:
Rinse meat, pat dry, and allow to come to room temperature. Meanwhile, combine spices into a rub. Drizzle meet with olive oil on both sides and then rub spice mixture into meat on both sides and all edges. Heat a grill or grill pan on high with 1 Tablespoon of canola oil and allow to get very hot; oil will ripple to indicate it’s ready. Add steak and cook for 5 minutes, allowing char lines to form. Flip steak and reduce heat to medium high and finish cooking for another 5-7 minutes depending on your desired doneness. When finished, removed meat from pan and allow to rest before slicing or cubing for nachos.

Macho Nachos Assembly
You will need, the above elements, tortilla chips, sour cream, and additional chopped green onions, cilantro, jalapeños, & red onion.

1. Prepare a mountain of your favorite tortilla chips.
2. Pour melted beer cheese sauce over the chips. Be generous.
3. Add ribbons of steak and bacon. Be further generous.
4. Add salsa over the chips to your liking.
5. Crown the pile with a hearty scoop of sour cream, if desired.
6. Sprinkle sliced green onions, cilantro, and diced jalapeños and/or red onion for flourish that your tongue and eyes can appreciate.
7. Serve immediately.
8. Devour!

Taqueria La Hacienda

You know how people of a certain region often think they’re the only ones who know what real [insert food of choice] tastes like, how it should be prepared, how it should be served? I totally hate those kinds of people. While, certainly, there is truth to specific ingredients, generations of people and ethnicities, and the water, all being located more in one region of the country than another, and this does factor into availability and, sometimes, quality, a lot of it is posturing. Plus, to say that there’s “no good Vietnamese food here,” for example, brings into question the notion of authenticity and who really decides what “good” or “real” Vietnamese food is anyway? One thing I know for sure: it’s not me.

So, when people lament there being no “good” Mexican food in Minneapolis or question how, in a place so cold and so geographically far from Mexico, could you have possibly had some of the tastiest tacos you’ve had in your life, you just shrug. ‘Cause hipster foodies and close-minded fools aren’t going to get it. And, really, let’s not be heroes and convince anyone otherwise because, well, it means more tacos for those of us who believe in the hidden gems and the strip mall finds. It means we’ll always have the best date spot to woo our sweethearts, best friends, and other VIPs in our lives. Win, win!

I had heard whisperings here and there about Taqueria La Hacienda, but had never made it to any of their three Twin Cities locations until two weeks ago. Bear and I had to go out to the suburbs to run some errands when I was reminded of their Burnsville location and knew it was our to-be lunch spot for the day. We’re big fans of Mexican food, but seem to rarely have it and I knew going into this that if Taqueria La Hacienda was good, I was going to have a problem on my hands. Can I tell you how we ate our four tacos each, considered getting more, left, and then proceeded to discuss throughout the rest of the day if we should go back and get take out for dinner? Would that be embarrassing? Did we care? Should we go to the location on Lake Street closer to home where we hadn’t already eaten that day? Ultimately, self-control won out, but that doesn’t mean we haven’t talked about the carnitas and the al pastor (bbq pork) tacos at least twice a day since. It doesn’t mean I haven’t actually dreamt about the horchata.

It took us a while to decide what we wanted to have, but sampling the different tacos seemed the best way to jump in, so we ordered two of each – carnitas, al pastor, barbacoa, and carne asada. I made Bear try them one-by-one with me, even waiting to take first bites at the same time, and give each other the play-by-plays. Everything was tasty and fresh, but the clear winners were the carnitas and the al pastor. They were both super flavorful, tender, salty, everything you’d want. The simple serving on corn tortillas with the tiniest, most perfectly diced white onions and fresh cilantro were all either meat needed, save for maybe a drizzle of their spicy salsa.

I liked the barbacoa quite a bit too, but I once over-cloved barbacoa when I was making it at home and Bear’s sense of taste has never forgiven me for it. The carne asada was char-broiled and especially great with the salsa, but didn’t stand up to the carnitas and al pastor. I can’t wait to go back and try the chorizo taco and, maybe even the lengua. The tacos were a mere $1.85 a piece, but since the al pastor tacos were the special of the month, they were only a $1! I mean, just typing all of this makes me wonder why we’re not there right now. Oh, Beeeeaaaarrrr….