Monday, December 9, 2013

Baby, it's COLD outside!!!

This picture was taken some three years ago and while we don't have the white stuff on the ground and on the trees, it certainly feels like it!

I've never been a fan of cold weather.  Growing up in El Paso, Texas does that to a person!  While we might complain about the heat in the summer, we sure wish for it in winter.

To that end, I've hauled out the warm clothes, the extra blankets and afghans, we've loaded up the wood rack... and I've heated up the kitchen.  This time of year is when my urge to cook goes into overdrive.  Perhaps it's because my kitchen gets so warm in the summertime (no air-conditioning... if we ever admit to it being too warm in the house, we turn on the ceiling fans and open all the windows!) that I make my warm-weather meals with as little heat inside the house as possible (that means a lot of grilling, which makes Paul the cook!)

But in the cold weather months, not only does cooking and baking help keep the house warm, it also keeps us warm... and in more ways than one.  This is when the holiday baking begins, to prepare the gifts I give to family, friends and co-workers.  And it's when I go all-out on the meals I prepare for the family.  Somehow, despite the shorter days, I find the time and energy to make the big meals that are so much more appreciated in the colder days.

One dish I've recently acquired came from a good friend in San Antonio.  Those of us from El Paso fondly remember Jaxon's Restaurant and their signature chicken tortilla soup.  I can't swear that my friend, Sonja's, soup is the reason Jaxon's closed its doors, but the timing is suspicious!

Here's the recipe:

2 chicken breast halves, bone-in with skin
4 quarts water
1 whole white onion, quartered
2 Tablespoons chicken bouillon (Knorr, if you can find it)
1/4 tsp. garlic powder (more or less)
pinch of ground cumin (not too much)

Combine the above and bring to a boil.  Simmer until chicken is cooked through (do not cover; evaporation makes the broth more concentrated.)  Remove the chicken from the broth and let cool.  At this point, I usually refrigerate the broth, in the pot, overnight and remove the hardened fat from the top. 

Bring the broth to a simmer and remove the skin and bones from the chicken breasts.  Coarsely shred the chicken meat and add to the broth.  Add 1 green bell pepper, finely diced, along with 3 stalks celery, finely diced (chop the leaves and add them, too) and 3 green onions, thinly sliced.  Add one 15 oz. can of petite diced tomatoes with the juice (you can also chop fresh tomatoes, enough for two cups, and add along with their juice).  Simmer until vegetables are tender.  Add 1-2 teaspoons dried oregano to the soup along with 1 bunch of chopped cilantro (about 1/2 cup chopped.)

Ladle the soup into bowls and serve with the following toppings: diced avocado, sour cream, shredded cheese (cheddar or jack), and crisp fried tortilla strips (cut corn tortillas into thin strips, fry in oil and sprinkle with salt... make plenty, everyone likes to snack on them!)  You can also add diced jalapenos or green chile and have lime wedges to squeeze over the soup. This is a perfect cold weather soup and no matter how you top it, it's delicious!

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