Posts Tagged ‘Southwest’

Shortcut Chicken Tortilla Soup

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

With Fall around the corner, I am dreaming of cooler temperatures and craving comfort food. For me one thing that epitomizes comfort food is soup. I adore soup, all kinds. This tortilla soup is one of my favorites though, with the warmth of its spiciness and its cozy smoothness.

Tortilla soup comes in many forms – some are more broth based, some are tomato based. Some are spicy, while others are mild. The tortilla soup I prefer and make at home is a kicked-up, spicy version cream of tomato soup. In fact, I use cream of tomato soup in this “shortcut” recipe, perfect for a weekday meal.

I’ve certainly made tortilla soup the “long” way with canned organic whole fire-roasted tomatoes (or if super motivated, I roast two pounds of Roma tomatoes, cut lengthwise and tossed in olive oil, for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees), half & half and a blender. It is fantastic and I’ll probably write a post about it later in the season, but this recipe is the one I prepare most often and it is really good!

Soup

2 Jalapenos (seeded and finely diced)
3 Garlic cloves (finely chopped)
1 Medium yellow onion (diced)
5 cups organic creamy tomato soup (I prefer Pacific brand)
1 cup organic low sodium chicken broth (again I prefer Pacific brand)
3 cups shredded chicken (I prefer thighs in this case since they have much more flavor, but for a lower fat option use chicken breast)
2 tsp cumin (1 for soup, 1 for chicken)
2 tsp kosher salt (1 for soup, 1 for chicken)
1 tsp black pepper
2 tbsp EVO Oil (1 for soup, 1 for chicken)
1 tbsp butter
Juice from one lime (half for soup, half for chicken)
Salt and Pepper

Garnish

1 Tomato (diced)
1 Avocado (sliced)
¼ cup cilantro leaves
Shredded Sharp Cheddar Cheese or Monterey Jack
Sour Cream
Corn chip of your choice

To prepare chicken, shred previously baked or grilled skinless bone-in chicken thighs (or on the bone breasts). As an aside, I strongly suggest cooking the chicken on the bone since bones add incredible flavor.

Place shredded chicken in a large glass bowl. Whisk together 1 tbsp olive oil, juice from ½ of a lime, 1 tsp cumin and tsp salt in a separate bowl. Pour over chicken and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate for a minimum 1 hour or marinate overnight in an airtight container.

Note: You can also use a store bought roasted chicken to season this way. Or to make it really easy some grocery stores offer pre-prepared seasoned shredded chicken. I am not ashamed to admit I have used this a time or two.

To prepare soup, heat olive oil and butter over medium high heat in medium to large soup pot, add garlic, onion and jalapeno. Sauté until onions are translucent, being careful not to burn the garlic. Add cumin, salt and pepper – stir until vegetables are coated. Add chicken broth, stir to deglaze. Mix in shredded chicken and let cook for about 5 minutes or until chicken is warmed through. Add cream of tomato soup (check for taste – season with salt and pepper, if necessary), reduce heat and let simmer for 20 minutes, stir two or three times during this time. Finally salt and pepper to taste and add lime juice. Stir once and serve. Allow guests to garnish as they desire.

For a vegetarian option, substitute prepared black beans for the shredded chicken and low sodium vegetable broth for the chicken broth.

Mangia bene!!!

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El Mirador

Saturday, June 19th, 2010

A couple of weeks ago I found myself having lunch with a dear friend, who with good fortune works in Southtown, a thriving and eclectic cultural and economic center of San Antonio. For those unfamiliar with this brilliant part of San Antonio, Southtown is the heart of the arts scene in San Antonio – home to Blue Star Art Complex and First Fridays. And while Southtown is modern and hip and young, this area also incorporates the King William District, steeped in tradition, with its grand historic homes, majestic century old oak trees and the iconic Pioneer Flour Company.

It is also home to some of the best restaurants in San Antonio, serving some seriously good eats, and as widely diverse as the area itself – there are places “in the scene” to be seen, small cafes and funky bars with a friendly neighborhood vibe, and long established restaurants that feel as homey and welcoming as your grandmother’s kitchen. El Mirador on South St. Mary’s Street falls wonderfully into the last category. In 1967, Julian and Maria Trevino opened El Mirador during HemisFair and it has been serving home-style, straight from the soul, Mexican food to its customers “as if they were guests in the Trevino home” ever since. http://elmiradorsatx.com/

I have been to El Mirador on many occasions, but quite some time had passed since my last visit. Not much had changed. This was a good thing. Instantly familiar and warm, El Mirador gave me a feeling of immediate comfort. Like the friend who I met for lunch, El Mirador and I picked up right where we left off, without skipping a beat.

Lunch started off as always with chips and salsa. The fresh tomato salsa was excellent with simple ingredients and bright flavor. The chips were crisp, not oily, and perfectly salted. I ordered the flautas, which were, on this occasion, good but not great. Even understanding that they were made in a very traditional style, they were still on the skimpy side. They were also a bit dry. So I was especially thankful for the dollops of sour cream and guacamole sitting happily atop. The flautas were not in the least greasy, however, the rice was a tad so. I cannot comment on the beans normally accompanying this plate, since I always eliminate them. My friend had the beef soft tacos, which looked and smelled fabulous, and must have been tasty because she ate every last bite.

While my meal was not exceptional, it was good. El Mirador consistently serves high-quality traditional Mexican food. Their caldos (soups) are outstanding and the only reason I passed on this day was because it was so hot outside. And while one of their fantastic margaritas would have solved this, I still had to go back to work and actually get some things accomplished.

I continue to, and will always, have a great fondness for El Mirador. As I drove away, I thought how it had been too long since I’d seen these two old friends, how I had missed them, and how I was not going to let so much time pass until our next visit.

El Mirador on Urbanspoon

Cafe Cenizo (Marathon, TX)

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

In the middle of nowhere, in the blank interior of the triangle formed by Big Bend National Park, Alpine and Fort Stockton, Texas lies the small ranching and oil town of Marathon. In that town sits the magical Gage Hotel. Originally constructed by Alfred Gage in 1927, the hotel also served as the ranch headquarters for the 500,000 acre ranch owned by Gage, a transplant from Vermont. The hotel then sat unoccupied for many years, the commerce of Marathon no longer able to support it. That is until an oilman and Son of Texas, J.P. Bryan, bought it and took on the decades long restoration process to restore the hotel to its old glory. With that mission accomplished and, new hacienda-style rooms, Los Portales, added, the Gage Hotel is now a destination not to be missed. The Gage’s beauty and mystique is matched equally by its restaurant, Café Cenizo. The painstaking attention to detail and the authenticity to culture and lifestyle found throughout the property are also most certainly found at Café Cenizo and in the food it serves. http://www.gagehotel.com/

We began our evening at the White Buffalo Bar (the White Buffalo also a transplant – this time Wyoming), the intimate and authentic Texas bar adjoining Café Cenizo. And while it serves up a wide array of specialty tequilas and margaritas, I decided on a fine Pinot Noir, the Mr. ordered a Cab, and we sat back with our son enjoying the warm atmosphere and toasty fire before our meal. Once seated, we again were treated to a decidedly relaxed, comfortable atmosphere where the only outward indications of fine dining came with the quiet, candlelit setting and the white table linens. No pretention here.

The same holds true for the food. But don’t equate lack of pretention with ordinary or uninspired. Rather, the food is sophisticated and imaginative, while honoring the ingredients and flavors of the southwest. Appetizers include Grilled Quail with black currant veloute sauce, persimmon bread salad in apple vinaigrette, Pan Seared Sweetbreads, Scallop Cocktail with a red pepper sorbet, Duck Risotto, Braised Shortribs with a green chile polenta, Ginger Sweet Potato Soup, Chipotle Dusted Jumbo Shrimp with white bean puree, avocado mousse and tortilla crisps. Entrees include Mole Rubbed Tenderloin with mashed potatoes in a poblano cream sauce and chayote squash, Crispy Skinned Adobo Rubbed Chicken with a cilantro rice and refried white beans, Duck Enchiladas, Pan Seared Scallops with a roasted sweet corn chowder, Grilled Lamb Chops with herbed couscous, tomato and pearl onion confit, in an orange-coriander demi-glace, Wagyu Ribeye with oregano roasted potatoes, ranchero sauce and sautéed kale, Chicken Fried Steak, Pepper Crusted Venison with potatoes au gratin and a truffled mushroom demi-glace.

As you can imagine it took some time to order. No matter, we just continued to sip our wine leisurely. The server checking in occasionally, not rushing or pushing, answering questions about the menu, at which he was obviously uncomfortable or untrained. We are still unsure of whether the venison my Mr. ordered was local axis, as another server indicated to the patrons sitting beside us, or shipped in from eastern New Zealand as our server told us. My Mr. ordered it anyway and it was excellent (more on that a little later). Decisions made, we started with the Chipotle Dusted Jumbo Shrimp with white bean puree, avocado mousse and tortilla crisps. Visually, the dish was beautiful, the taste…incredible. Not usually a big bean fan, it is amazing what a lot of butter can do to change one’s mind. The bean puree was creamy and silky, with none of the usual chalkiness. The richness of the beans played wonderfully against the heat of the chipotle on the perfectly cooked shrimp and in the chipotle sauce drizzled on top. Not tangential, the rich avocado mousse rounded out the flavor by adding a touch of sweetness. The tortilla crisps while mostly decorative brought some crunch to the dish, which I always appreciate. Needless to say, the plate had not a spot left on it – we used the remaining bread served earlier to literally wipe the plate clean.

For my entrée, I ordered Grilled Lamb Chops with herbed couscous, tomato and pearl onion confit, in an orange-coriander demi-glace. The dish, an obvious nod to traditional Middle Eastern cuisine, was delicious. While one of the chops was slightly undercooked and fatty, the other was cooked to a succulent medium rare. Both chops had a good sear on the outside and great overall flavor. The herbed couscous was a delightful and appropriate side. I particularly enjoyed the tomatoes and onion confit, sweet and fun as some of the tomatoes had not burst in the cooking process, so I got to “pop” them in my mouth. Bringing the dish together was the orange-coriander demi-glace. Not in the least overpowering, the sauce scented and accented the dish nicely. As with our appetizer, this entrée was a complete experience for your palate; there was no lingering feeling that something, somehow was missing.

In keeping with Texas, the portions are substantial at Café Cenizo. Not wanting to be wasteful, I ate the last of my lamb by dipping it into the extraordinary, wildly addictive, truffled mushroom demi-glace served with my Mr.’s entrée. As said before, his Pepper Crusted Venison with potatoes au gratin and a truffled mushroom demi-glace was excellent. The venison grilled to a spot on medium rare. The potatoes au gratin were very well done – the potatoes fork tender, the sharp cheese sharp matching well with the strength of the pepper and venison, and the top fabulously golden. But the star of the show was the definitely the sauce. Once I finished the lamb, I was still looking around for things to dip into it.

Finally, not wanting to skip dessert, but having no more room and barely able to move, we ordered a Chocolate Blueberry Peanut Butter Tort to go (which the kitchen did with absolutely no problem, even including cloth napkins and silver) and we rolled back to our room. After some time to settle, we dug into the dessert, which was only average. The chocolate glistened, but the other elements were disappointing. I am glad the dessert experience was separate, in both time and place, from our main meal since the dinner was so wonderful.

This is not the first time we have eaten at Café Cenizo and it will not be our last. The Gage Hotel holds a special place in our hearts; and we are not alone – we met a couple who have been going there every year since 1983. The Gage is also incredibly popular – it was completely booked. We would come to the Gage regardless since it is a wonderful place and makes a perfect one night layover before heading into Big Bend National Park for a few days. The fact that one can get amazing food here as well is just a cherry on top.

Cafe Cenizo on Urbanspoon