salsa! (or was it a waltz?)

When life hands you lemons you make Limoncello (well at least I do). And when life hands you a bounty of tomatoes, hot peppers and onions you make… Salsa!

The calendar may read October but my garden is still churning out a summer’s share of the aforementioned vegetables. I’ve made countless batches of tomato sauce, sliced, diced and sautéed peppers and onions for every dish imaginable and made a super spicy simple salsa (say that three times fast), yet I still have plenty more vegetables left to use.

The traditional raw salsa I made was really fresh and delicious, but I wondered what would happen if I took the same ingredients and roasted them. I often slow roast tomatoes and serve them as appetizers along with herbed olives and cheese and I love how roasting broccoli turns the ordinary into extraordinary, so I was intrigued by the idea of a slow roasted salsa. As expected it was delicious with a depth of flavor the raw ingredients alone could never have achieved, although it struck me as more of a caponata and less like a salsa. Regardless of what you call it, I ended up with way more of this spicy little number than I thought we would eat with chips or enjoy in tacos. So, what did I do… Made soup of course!

We consume gallons of soup in our house. Once the weather cools off I often roast a chicken for dinner on Sundays, which means I always have a bit of leftover bird to do something with during the week. Soup is usually my solution and this spicy chicken and black bean soup was a particularly delicious creation.

It would appear that roasting is the never fail dance in 3/4 time method of cooking!

Spicy Chicken & Black Bean Soup
This soup is the perfect busy weeknight dinner.

spicysoup3

2 cups roasted tomato-chile salsa (see recipe below)
4 cups chicken broth (homemade or store-bought)
1 tbsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. chipotle chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
3-4 cups leftover chicken
1 1/2 cups frozen corn
1 tbsp. lime juice
diced avocado, for garnish
fresh cilantro leaves, for garnish
shredded cheddar cheese, for garnish
tortilla chips, for garnish

  1. In a large stockpot add the salsa, broth and the spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a medium simmer. Add the beans and let simmer for 15 minutes covered.
  2. Uncover and add the chicken and frozen corn and allow to cook until everything is heated through, about 8-10 min.
  3. Remove from the heat, stir in the lime juice (don’t skip the lime juice, it really adds a wonderful freshness to the soup), adjust the seasonings and serve garnished with avocado, fresh cilantro and shredded cheddar cheese with a few tortilla chips on the side.

Roasted Tomato-Chile Salsa
Roasting the vegetable and adding a little raw onion at the end makes this the perfect salsa.

2 1/2 lbs. Roma tomatoes
1 lg. onion, quartered
1 head of garlic
1/2 lb. fresh Poblano chilies
3 fresh Habanero chilies
2 tbsp. olive oil
a handful of cilantro
2 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. fresh lime juice
1 cup finely diced onion

  1. Turn the broiler on to high. Line a jelly roll pan with foil and set aside.
  2. Break the head of garlic into cloves (leaving the skins on) and place in a large bowl. Add to the bowl the tomatoes, the quartered onion and chilies and drizzle with olive oil.
  3. Toss to cover each vegetable in oil and place in a single layer on the prepared pan. Broil until the skins begin to blister and pop (the peppers will be ready before the tomatoes.)
  4. Remove the charred vegetables from the oven and allow to cool. Remove the stems from the Poblano peppers, tear in half and wipe out as many seeds as you can (don’t make yourself crazy trying to get them all.)
  5. Add all the vegetables, fresh cilantro, salt and lime juice to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times until everything is chopped but the salsa is still chunky. Stir in the diced onion and allow to chill before serving. Store in glass jars in the refrigerator.
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tweaked up chicken-corn chowder

If you’ve ever read this blog before then you know how difficult I find it to follow a recipe exactly as written. Even when I set out to play by the rules, I find myself making a little change here and there. No recipe is safe from my tweaking including as it turns out, one of my own.

Last January I posted a Chicken-Corn Chowder recipe that was crazy delicious, but also a little on the heavy side. I suppose my rational was that when the temps outside are frigidly cold you want a comforting, hearty meal that will not only fill your belly but also make you feel warm and toasty inside. However since it’s Summer (and heavy and toasty is the last way I’m hoping to feel), I happen to have both heavy cream lingering in my fridge from my Julia Child homage and a container of leftover smoked chicken looking for reinvention, I thought I’d revisit this recipe and see if I could tweak it up a bit.

It turns out that by simply swapping a little diary for chicken broth, using canned creamed corn (I know, the blasphemy!) and kicking up the spices a bit I had a tasty and way less filling meal on the table in no time flat. I do so love when things fall into place! The original recipe is still a good one, don’t get me wrong, but this one it’s just a little bit closer to perfect.

Spicy Smoked Chicken-Corn Chowder
I used leftover smoked chicken (we’ve been on a bit of a smoking jag around here) but leftover roasted or store-bought rotisserie would work just as well.

chowder-revisit2

3 tbsp. olive oil
3 cloves garlic, grated
2 cups chopped onion
1 1/4 cups celery (about 3 stalks), thinly sliced
1 can mild green chilies (or diced jalapeños)
3 cups low-fat milk
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2-1 tsp. chipotle chili pepper
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika
3 1/2 cups leftover smoked chicken, shredded
2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 15 oz. can small white beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz. can cream-style corn
shredded sharp cheddar cheese, for garnish (optional)

  1. Heat the oil in a large stockpot over a medium flame. Add the garlic, onion, celery and chilies and cook until tender, about 5 minutes.
  2. Stir in all the remaining ingredients, cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until corn and beans are tender and the chicken is heated through, about 8-10 minutes.
  3. Ladle into bowls, top with shredded cheddar and serve with a side of cornbread. (I think this chowder is even better after its sat overnight so I usually make it the day before I intend to serve it.)

*adapted from cooking light and kerrygold.com

delicious comfort

“Beautiful soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!”
~Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

It’s finally cold enough here in New Jersey to actually feel like winter. This sudden drop in temperature has restored my children’s hope for snow, made it feel like a proper football season for my husband and his beloved Giants and inspired me to haul out the “big pot” and cook up something hearty and comforting. Normally this pot if mine churns out great vats of red sauce, steaming pots of chicken soup and a killer turkey chili. But last weekend was so crazy cold that I wanted to make something really rich, soothing and wonderful. Something that would not only fill my family’s bellies but also warm them right down to their toes. After much browsing, googling and serious debate I finally decided on the meal to make: Chicken-Corn Chowder topped with aged cheddar cheese and served with a side of cornbread. Makes you feel toasty just thinking about it doesn’t it? I have to say it was pretty fantastic. So good in fact that a few nights later, when I gave the kids the choice between leftover chowder and pan-fried grouper (normally a Greco kid favorite) the chowder won, hands down!

Ordinarily I would jump to the recipes at this point, but I think I have a bit of housekeeping to do first. When I began this blog I told you that I’m not a food snob. And while I still consider this to be true I feel I should amend that declaration a tad. There is something that has zero room in my little food world. What you may ask? Well I’ll tell you… canned creamed corn. Yup, that slimy yellow mush we all remember from the 70’s. (I believe that must of been it’s heyday.) Anyway it’s still out there on the store shelves and it happens to be called for in both my chowder and cornbread recipes. I however refuse to support the canned cream corn industry and instead make my creamed corn from scratch. Stop rolling your eyes, it seriously takes all of 10 minutes to make and is so insanely delicious that I couldn’t get my family to stop eating it right out of the pan. If you insist on using the canned variety, so be it. But I promise you, the minimal effort required to make it yourself is well worth the yummy payoff.

Chicken-Corn Chowder with Aged Cheddar
This recipe can easily be halved, but my feeling is if you’re going to take the time to make soup you might as well make enough for leftovers.

2 tbsp. olive oil
2 onions, diced
2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. smoked paprika
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
2 cups homemade creamed corn (see recipe below)
1 1/4 cups heavy cream
3 3/4 cups low fat milk
2 cans of navy beans, rinsed and drained
4 cups shredded cooked chicken
2-3 cups shredded aged cheddar cheese, for topping

  1. Heat oil in a dutch oven over medium heat, add the onion and bell pepper and sauté until the onion is transparent and the peppers are fragrant, about 5-10 minutes.
  2. Add the creamed corn, smoked paprika, cumin, milk, heavy cream and beans. Bring to a boil. Then reduce heat, cover and simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add in chicken, season with additional salt and pepper to taste and allow to continue simmering until chicken is heated through.
  4. Ladle into bowls, top with aged cheddar and serve with a side of cornbread.

*adapted from Kerrygold.com

Homemade Creamed Corn
1 medium onion, diced
2 tbsp. butter
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1lb. bag of frozen corn, defrosted
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. yellow cornmeal
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cups low fat milk

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and sauté the onion and salt until the onion is translucent.
  2. Add the corn and the rosemary sprig and cook for 3 minutes or until the rosemary begins to go limp. Remove the rosemary, sprinkle the corn with the sugar and cornmeal and stir to combine well. Cook for 1 minute then add the heavy cream and milk. Cook for another 5 minutes, until the corn has softened and the mixture has thickened.
  3. Use an immersion blender to puree a bit of the corn mixture to give it more of a canned consistency. (A food processor or blender would also work.)
  4. Give the corn a final stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve or set aside for later use.

*adapted from Alton Brown

Cornbread
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup brown rice or AP flour
2 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup creamed corn (homemade or canned)
1/2 stick butter, melted
2 eggs, beaten

  1. Preheat oven to 400°F and grease an 8×8 square baking dish.
  2. In a large bowl stir together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. In another bowl whisk together the eggs, melted butter and creamed corn.
  3. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and stir until just blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out into an even layer.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes or until the crust is golden brown and a toothpick in the center comes out clean.