Sunday, January 30, 2011

Tortilla Soup

One of our favorite party recipes is Tortilla Soup. It's one of those dishes that has a very simple base, but can easily be dressed up and turned into a big participatory production of a meal, suitable for a potluck or summer dinner party. It's equally good if you just keep it simple and straightforward, for a warm treat for two on a chilly winter's night.

Spouse and I have our own variations on this same dish, but the basic production is the same. Photos are by spouse, of a version he whipped up last November.

Tortillas (corn or flour, though we tend to use flour)
Chicken (1 breast per person, or equivalent)
Olive oil
Onion (optional)
Chipotle and/or ancho chili seasoning
Chicken broth
Mexican blend cheese (pepperjack also works well)

1. Slice the tortillas into thin strips. Arrange them in a single layer on a baking sheet and put them in a warm oven (about 250F) until they're browned and crisp.
2. Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil at medium to medium high heat in a deep frying pan (I usually just do this in the pot I'm making the soup in). Olive oil has a low flash point, so don't heat it too hot too fast, or it'll burn and be totally disgusting.
3. Add two cloves (or more, if you like) of minced garlic to the pan and sweat for 5 minutes or so. Optionally, add a diced small white onion here too, and sweat it until translucent but not browned.
4. Cut the chicken into thin slices and add to the pan. Add your seasonings to taste: I prefer cumin and lots of chipotle, but spouse goes more for cumin plus adobo. A few shakes of a Mexican oregano are nice here too. Add enough seasonings to really coat the chicken - think one or two tablespoons here, with less cumin than anything else. If you like it hot and spicy, you can also add cayenne here.
5. Stir occasionally so the chicken browns lightly on all sides. Once the chicken is browned, add chicken broth. Turn the heat up to high, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer until the chicken is cooked (about 15 minutes or so, but do a fork test).
6. Dish into bowls and garnish with tortilla strips, sliced or diced avocado, and cheese.

That's the basics: chicken, tortilla strips, avocado, and cheese. Where you can dress this soup up is in the presentation: you don't really have to limit yourself to just those ingredients. In the picture above, for instance, you can see that spouse has added red beans to his soup. To serve party style, set up a bunch of bowls on the table or buffet with lots of other garnishes guests can add at will. Possibilities include:

Diced tomatoes
Sliced olives
Sour cream
Pico de gallo
Salsa verde
Black bean salsa
Diced red onion
Hot sauces
Wedges of lime

Goes down well with lemonade or a nice light beer. Ice cream makes a good dessert, or perhaps a lemon custard.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Grub and Guinnessy Goodness

A Black and Tan is a drink made by layering two beers of differing specific gravities. Officially, the beers involved are Guinness and Harp, but we're not always official at Chez Gwen. Done properly, the end result is a lovely bicolored concoction. Trouble is, ya gotta be careful where you ask for these things, as the name can also conjure brutal memories of the Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force. Yikes.
A much friendlier sort of Black & Tan.
There are plenty of variations on the Black and Whatever theme; all involve Guinness and some other beer or liquor. There's also an art to getting the pour right - which I didn't know, so totally shagged it up the first time I tried. Fortunately more libationally experienced heads prevailed, and we came up with a couple of successful pours.

Black Rain: Guinness & Rainier
As mentioned, a genuine Black & Tan should be Guinness and Harp, but we didn't have any Harp at the time. Rainier also holds a special place in our little geek hearts, since most of us are Pacific Northwest natives: we have fond memories of the classic ad campaigns Rainier did way back in the 70's, and the bright red neon "R" gracing the top of the brewery next to I-5 was something of a beacon on many a dark, rainy night. Straggling in, tired and hungry, from some endless road trip, seeing the "R" always meant you were almost home.

And it goes strangely well with Guinness. Something about beers made in wet, rainy, green places, that must be it...

Black Gold: Guinness & Goldschlager
Never thought Guinness and cinnamon would go together, didja? Neither did we, but oddly enough, it works, in a really sweet-bitter-spicy-dark-smoky kind of way. The gold flecks are quite pretty too.

See? Sparkly!!
And what sort of noshies go well with Guinnessy concoctions? Well, Lexi's amazing Angels on Horseback, for one:

These are one of those incredibly simple but incredibly good noshes. They're nothing more than oysters wrapped in bacon and sprinkled with brown sugar, then broiled. The oysters, of course, were harvested from the beach outside and shucked about an hour before this recipe was made. That night we also did oysters on the grill, cooked over medium hot coals in the shell until they pop open, and then eaten with a variety of condiments, including:
  • Melted butter (clarified or not - some prefer it, others don't care)
  • Soy sauce
  • Wasabi
  • Horseradish sauce
  • Cocktail sauce
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Rooster sauce (Sriracha)
  • Mayonnaise
  • Lemon wedges
And sometimes at these parties, Guinness is a breakfast food:

"Still life with Nutella, Rainier, Goldschlager, and doughnuts"
Spouse also makes a very hearty and delicious Guinness beef stew. Pix and recipes forthcoming.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster Recipe

For New Year's we had an absolutely smashing good time down at the family beach house. We spent four days doing nothing but cooking, eating, drinking, watching scifi flicks, and generally indulging in a luscious gastrogasm of all things delectable. To start the deluge of deliciousness, I thought I'd post my recipe for a geek classic: the Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster.

The Best Bang Since the Big One.
Fans of quirky britcoms, scifi, and general geekdom will recognize the PGGB from the late great Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy 5-book trilogy. Drunken geeks the world over have formulated redactions based on the recipe laid out on the first page of chapter two:
  • Take the juice from one bottle of the Ol' Janx Spirit.
  • Pour into it one measure of water from the seas of Santraginus V -- Oh, that Santraginean water... Oh, those Santraginean fish!
  • Allow three cubes of Arcturan Mega-gin to melt into the mixture (it must be properly iced or the benzine is lost). 
  • Allow four liters of Fallian marsh gas to bubble through it, in memory of all those happy hikers who have died of pleasure in the Marshes of Fallia.
  • Over the back of a silver spoon float a measure of Qualactin Hypermint extract, redolent of all the heady odors of the dark Qualactin Zones, subtle, sweet, and mystic.
  • Drop in the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger. Watch it dissolve, spreading the fires of the Algolian Suns deep into the heart of the drink.
  • Sprinkle Zamphour.
  • Add an olive.
  • Drink... but... very carefully...
Drunken geeks that we are, this is our redaction. With action poses shot by Lexi!

You will need:
2 parts Bushmill's Whiskey (that Ol' Janx Spirit)
1 part Bombay Sapphire gin (water from the seas of Santraginus V)
A bunch of ice (cubes of Arcturan Mega-Gin)
4-6 parts Squirt, Sprite, or other suitably bubbly, lemony fizzy thing (Fallian Marsh gas)
Rumple Minze (Qualactin Hypermint extract)
Sugar cubes and Triple Sec (the tooth of an Algolian Suntiger)
Yellow or orange sprinkly baking sugar (Zamphour)
Lemon slices (or an olive if you really do want to be canon)
A big pitcher
Several teaspoons

About a half an hour or so before mixing up your drinks, put the spoons in the freezer. (Seriously.) Then schmooze with your guests, noshing on finger foods and exotic appetizers while you slice the lemons thinly and set out drink glasses. I recommend making a big production of this one, as it's a dramatic drink with a great back story.

Mix the first four ingredients in a big pitcher (whiskey, gin, ice, and soda). Ratios are approximate - adjust as your tastes desire. This recipe is very much a work in progress and I've been trying to work out the best balance of whiskey to lemon flavor. It's getting better all the time...

Pour the mixture into lowball glasses, one for each guest. Guests who drink more than one are either very foolhardy or very brave (or both).

Fizzy, lemony, spirity magic!
Remember those spoons you stuck in the freezer a half an hour ago? Go get the spoons out now. Pour a tablespoon or so of Rumple Minze over the back of them into each glass.

Why? It just looks cool! Duh!
Pour out a small layer of Triple Sec into a dish or saucer. Dip sugar cubes in the Triple Sec and drop them, two at a time, into each drink.

Algolian Suntiger teeth
Sprinkle some of the cookie sugar into each drink. The sugar I'm talking about here is that sprinkly colored sugar you find in the baking aisle at the grocery store for topping off cupcakes and cookies. This doesn't really do much of anything to the flavor, but it can enhance the color a little and adds to the overall presentation.

Put a lemon slice in each drink. I know, I know, the book says "add an olive", which little fruit carries the historical weight of being the classic cocktail garnish for a stiff British martini - but frankly, the olive ruins it. The flavor is simply all wrong. So I break canon (yeah yeah yeah) and use lemon slices instead.

Breakin' canon, bitches!!
Drink... but... very carefully...

Having one too many of these really is like having your brains smashed out by a slice of lemon wrapped around a large gold brick.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Cocktail: Citron Snaps

Aquavit Lemon Dill Cocktail

Herbal and tart, this cocktail tastes like a sunny summer afternoon and is best when consumed on a lakeshore in July. Aquavit cocktail recipes are rare, so I developed the recipe for a neighborhood night at a local watering hole in my historically-Scandinavian 'hood. The flavors are caraway, dill and lemon; if you like lemon drop martinis, this is for you. Only fresh lemon juice will do, and the same with the dill. Of course, you could use both plastic lemon and dried dill for that mm-mm plasticy ass taste.

Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 sprigs of fresh dill
1 large jigger caraway Aquavit (like Linie)
2-3 Tbl Simple Syrup (ratio of 2 parts sugar to 1 part water)

Add all the ingredients to a martini shaker with some ice. Shake HARD. Shake it like you mean it. Shake the living hell out of it. Shake it till it calls you Daddy. The idea is to bruise and break the dill with the ice so that it infuses the drink with flavor.

Pour into a chilled glass and serve.

Linie ad campaign, anyone?