Monday, December 19, 2011

Tortilla Soup

Tortilla soup is a perfect holiday dish; filling yet light, hearty and satisfying, and full of a robust heat to kill any germs weary travelers may have picked up along their way.  Most tortilla soups consist of a thin tomato broth with an underlying punch of jalapeño, punctuated by goodies floating within (usually chicken, some veggies, and crispy tortilla strips that are added at the last minute).  I wanted to create a version of tortilla soup that would be smoother, lighter, and healthier than the traditional version, and I am so happy with how this recipe turned out!  I daresay it gets 5 husband stars, as it was one of those dishes that gained me compliment after compliment as he took down one bowl and then a second.  Love that.
Here's how my tortilla soup is a bit different than your traditional bowl:
1) Rather than leaving the soup broth-y, I added more veggies, and then pureed the whole pot with my immersion blender.  I love how this gives a dairy-free soup a smooth creaminess, and I think it was part of why this soup was so satisfying.
2) I really upped the garlic and jalapeño in this recipe.  Why?  I am tired of being sick all winter.  I believe in the immunity boosting properties of these ingredients, and intend to burn us all within an inch of our lives with the both of them this winter.  In my defense, the soup wasn't particularly garlicky in the end, just incredibly flavorful, so I say go for it and down a big bowl of this before your next flight.
3) I wanted to forgo the crisy tortilla strips because a) who needs the added fat, and b) bubbling, splattering fryer oil and toddlers don't mix.  I added strips of corn tortilla without frying them, and we still got an amazing corn flavor, just with a chew instead of a crunch.  Had I served the soup within 20 minutes of adding the tortillas, the strips would have added a slurp-y, noodle quality to the soup, but as our evening played out, the soup simmered for an additional hour before we sat down to eat.  As a result, the tortillas totally disintegrated into the soup, but I have to say, I loved the effect this had on the dish.  We ended up with an almost bisque-like concoction, even though it contained no dairy, and the delicate chew of the corn in the puree was delicious.  Try it this way and let me know what you think!

The best thing about soups like this is serving them with plenty of fixings.  I set out shredded sharp cheddar, cilantro, green onions, salsa verde, sour cream and diced avocado.  You could also offer a variety of hot sauces, guacamole, or anything else your imagination offers.  A big pot of this soup would be the perfect thing to greet your guests with upon their arrival at your door.

And nothing says holiday like margaritas, I always say...
SMJ's Tortilla Soup
serves 6-8 
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 red bell peppers, chopped
7 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large or 2 small jalapeños, finely chopped
1 8 oz. can diced green chiles
1 15 oz. can diced tomatoes
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon each of cumin, cayenne, paprika and oregano
Kosher salt and pepper
5 corn tortillas, sliced into thin strips
Optional: 4 chicken thighs or two chicken breasts, 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper

1) Let's start with the optional... I think this would be a phenomenal vegetarian soup, but I made mine with chicken, and it was stellar.  I started by pre-heating the oven to 350F, and rubbing 4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs with olive oil, and sprinkling them with salt and pepper.  I roasted them for 20 minutes until they were cooked through, allowed them to cool, shredded them by hand and set them aside.  Alternatively, you could shred half of a rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, or roast off and then shred chicken breasts instead of thighs... the cooking time would just be slightly longer.  But seriously, I think this soup would be just as good without any meat at all. Okay, moving on...
2)  Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the onions and red peppers and saute, stirring frequently, until the onions become translucent and start to caramelize, about 10 minutes.
3) Lower the heat slightly and add the garlic and jalapeño and continue to saute for another 5 minutes until the jalapeño softens. 
4)  Add the canned chiles and tomatoes and the broth. Puree to your desired consistency with an immersion blender, or in batches in a blender or food processor.  I left mine just slightly chunky.  Adjust the seasonings to taste.
5) Add the shredded chicken and the tortilla strips, and allow to simmer for about 15-20 more minutes until the tortillas soften. Serve with a variety of fixings... the more the better!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Gift of Light

I wanted to share some gorgeous lighting-related gifts that have recently caught my fancy.  I love the tongue-in-cheek quality of gifting one of these for for Hanukkah, the Festival of Light, but I think they'd be lovely Christmas treats as well!
photo via Mia Linnman
I'm borderline obsessed with this Etch Candleholder by Tom Dixon.  I lower our lights and burn candles almost every night as a peaceful way to end the day.  The intricate patterns in this beautiful candleholder create a play of light on the walls that would be breathtaking and thrilling to the little guy as well.  I also love that it would last forever, negating the need to buy and replace table candles... you'd only need little tea lights.
Brooklyn artisan Alyssa Ettinger sells these beautiful porcelain-dipped mason jars in her Etsy shop.  There is so much to love about them, I hardly know where to begin.  So many ladies I know love to re-purpose mason jars for decorating, and this is a really elegant take on that.  I also love that these particular jars are Canadian, as I have a special affinity for our neighbors to the north.  The gentle glow this gives off is so lovely, and the uniqueness of this find makes it a great conversation piece for the home.  She also makes little hanging votive versions which are equally adorable.
Finally, if you are feeling crafty and either have a cool bottle collection and might not mind parting with one or two, or you have a nearby antique/flea market situation with abundance of blue, green or otherwise beautiful glass bottles, this is an awesome DIY project idea to create your own bottle lamps.  I think this would be best attempted with a friend/dude who owns a drill, and may need to involve some alcohol and swearing, but isn't that what holiday prep is all about?

Other cool light-related gift ideas: bistro string lights for someone's porch or garden, gorgeous scented candles, origami lights, a cool lamp.  And one of my all time fave holiday cards...
via Anne Taintor

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Kale Chips

This is a sugar-laden time of year.  Beyond all of the phenomenal cookies and rich hot chocolate that starts to cross our path as the holidays approach, there is the incidental chocolate that sneaks its way into St. Nicholas stockings, advent calendars, your officemate's desk and your life in general.  I've found that moderation is key and that indulgence is fine if you can make up for it elsewhere in the day.  That's where these kale chips come in. 

Kale chips have been all the rage in the world of food blogs and high end gourmet shops for some time, but you are like me and late to the party in trying them, I can't think of a better time than now, when your lunch or dinner deserves a nutritional powerhouse to make up for all that chocolate inhaling you did earlier in the day.  I also must insist that you make them at home, since the cost differential is astounding.  A bunch of kale costs a whopping $1.50 tops, whereas our local specialty shop sells a bag of kale chips for $8.  Come on now.  Kale chips are easy to make, and taste like awesome little healthy potato chip doppelgangers.  I even think kids might go for these, mine just only happens to eat five things, and kale is not yet one of them.  Yet. 

I had a plate of kale chips for lunch yesterday and they were filling, satisfyingly salty and crunchy, and totally made up for the fact that I had red wine and pizza for dinner while maniacally stamping holiday cards.  They would also be perfect as a between-meals snack at your family holiday gathering when awkwardly timed festive meals call for a light snack at some point in the early afternoon or evening.  It just depends on how receptive your family is to kale.   Perhaps wearing one of these fetching t-shirts might help make the sell?
Kale Chips
makes a generous plate full
1 bunch kale
Cooking spray
2 teaspoons olive oil
Kosher salt to taste

1) Preheat oven to about 375
2) Clean and dry your kale.  A salad spinner is the best way to ensure that the kale is really, thoroughly dry.  It is important to make sure it is dry, or you'll just have steamed kale! Tear the leaves off the stems into bite size pieces.
3) Spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray. Spread out torn kale pieces on cookie sheets.
4) Drizzle with about olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Other fun add-ons could include a handful of parmesan cheese (as pictured above), nutritional yeast, or garlic powder (or truffle salt if you're feeling fancy!)
5) Bake for about 15 minutes, until edges are brown and kale is crispy.
  Eat more kale!

Monday, December 12, 2011

New Little Favorite Things

Lately I've come across a few little things that make life sweeter.  Not a one of them costs more than $5.  Check 'em out:
Graph paper post-its, awesome photo via High Straightenence
If you are list maker like me, I think you'll love these graph paper post-its.  I saw them on Tracy's High Straightenence blog and knew I had to pick some up.  They have totally revolutionized and streamlined my list making. They're the perfect size for daily/weekly/monthly to do lists, and the graphing squares make really satisfying little check-off boxes. I love the post-it quality for sticking one on the top of my planner, which is always by my computer at the ready for the jotting of tasks and ideas.  What Type-A personality?
I've always been a dairy milk gal, with a penchant for soy lattes and the occasional foray into hemp milk.  However, almond milk kept creeping its way into conversations (one of my glowiest, loveliest friends recently mentioned it is the only milk she drinks + it is a key ingredient in my new favorite breakfast smoothie).  I picked up a carton of Pacific Organic Vanilla Low Fat Almond Milk at Trader Joe's, and now I'm totally hooked.  I love the mellow, slightly nutty flavor, and the incredible nutritional profile, complete with D vitamins, riboflavin and potassium.  Delish.
The Goodwin Project follows pro surfers Daize and Aamion Goodwin and their two young children as they make a year-long trek around the globe.  The end result of the travels will be a documentary film, but in the meantime, the family and their crew are blogging as they go, complete with breathtaking photos from all over the world.  So far they've explored Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Nepal and Thailand, with a dozen-odd equally amazing stops left to go.  Envy aside, I'm loving these travel tales and images, and the underlying message about opening up the world to your children and stepping outside your comfort zone as a parent to keep things creative and stimulating for the whole family; it is altogether inspiring. I can't wait to see the film.
Winter's dryness sneaked up on me this year, due to the mild temperatures we've been experiencing.  By Thanksgiving, though, my cuticles were cracked and bleeding from the dry air, which is both incredibly painful and rather hideous.  Something had to be done, so I picked up a tin of Badger Cuticle Care in the Whole Body section of Whole Foods, and have been applying it to my hands, massaging it into my cuticles every night before bed.  My cuticles have healed completely, and my hands feel soft and smooth.  The balm is infused with essential oils of Geranium, Mandarin, Lemongrass and Ginger, so it smells delicious and feels indulgent to slather on. This is the best cuticle remedy I've found, and priced at $5 for a tin that should last a couple months, it's a total bargain.
I wish I was a black coffee drinker.  I'm not.  Mama needs a little milk and sugar in her morning joe.  I'm always looking for ways to make coffee more interesting, so I grabbed some So Delicious Coconut Milk Creamer at the store this week.  Two things I love about this product: 1) the sweetness of the French Vanilla creamer negates the need for sugar in my coffee; just a splash of the creamer and I'm good to go. I do realize that the product contains cane syrup, so I'm still getting that sugar hit, but I believe I'm getting far less than if I added regular sugar to my mug, and 2) unlike many other creamer products, this contains no oils or mono or di-glycerides or HFCS, just coconut milk, cane syrup and natural flavor.  And unlike half-and-half it is fat-free, plus you get all the health benefits of coconut milk, including immunity boosting properties, which are much-needed this time of year.  Win.
I love these tiny, simple treats.
What is your favorite simple pleasure these days?

Friday, December 9, 2011

December Dreamtime

Insomnia is the worst.  I've written about it before... when I stress, my sleep is the first thing to go.  This is so unfortunate, as sleep is truly the key to health, sanity, and all good things.  And let's be frank, the holiday season, as joyful a time as it is, can also be a time of great stress.  On my mind when I lie awake in the dark these days: travel logistics with a two-year-old, holiday budgets, long to do lists, potentially forgotten items on said to do lists, dog-related travel logistics/angst, holiday weight gain, age/aging related angst (seriously, don't even ask), house related concerns, headache-inducing neck pain... the list goes on and on.

The good news is that I've been battling the evil insomnia long enough that I now know how to successfully fight back.  I refuse to be ruled by these sleepless nights, and so now if I even have one tossy-turny night, I know I have to haul out the big guns to make sure I can catch up on sleep the next.  As such, I have been on a relentless hunt to find natural remedies to help my situation.  I've come across some great ones lately, so in case any of you have a case of the December Dreamless-ness, I thought I would share the love.  Here are my new favorite ways to ensure quality shut eye, this month and beyond:
1) Melatonin.  Melatonin is the hormone our bodies produce to regulate our circadian rhythms.  When these rhythms are thrown off for whatever reason, our sleep cycles suffer. Taking a 3mg melatonin tablet before bed can help naturally lull you off to dreamland by mimicking/enforcing the hormonal process that allows us to fall asleep.  Melatonin tablets are sold at health food stores and Whole Foods, but you should consult with your doctor if you are on other meds, pregnant or nursing.  And, obviously, I am not a doctor so please take my advice with a grain of salt!  I'm just sharing that my physician recommended melatonin to me and, for me, it has been helpful.

2) Lavender essential oil.  I mix several drops with my Alba Cocoa Butter lotion and rub this into my neck, shoulders and arms before bed.  Not only is the moisturizing effect wonderful in this dry weather, the aroma is naturally relaxing and just helps me take that needed deep breath to let everything go before trying to fall asleep.

3) Hot yoga.  I recently scored an insanely great package deal for a month of unlimited yoga at the Baron Baptiste Power Yoga Institute in Boston.  I have been trying to make the most of it, so I've been going to yoga twice or more per week, having a regular yoga practice for the first time in years.  Oh my, I can't even tell you what a difference this has made to my well-being.  And, I have to say, I had forgotten how much I really love hot yoga.  If you can get past the initial oppressiveness of the heat and the mild grossness of all those sweaty people packed together in one room, you will get a cleansing, soul refreshing sweat like no other from hot power yoga.  I'm loving the teachers at this studio and how much more limber my body is feeling.  And as far as sleep goes, the yoga buzz from these classes gives way in the evening to the most wonderfully natural rinsed-out exhaustion... the kind that only really comes from intense exercise... and allows my body to truly grasp on to the rest that it needs.

4) Tazo Rest Tea.  I randomly picked up a box of this delicious tea on sale, and now I am totally hooked.  Rest is an herbal infusion of rose petals, valerian root and citrus, all meant to promote relaxation and restful sleep.  I love ending the day with a steaming cup of this beautifully floral tea, and I swear it helps bring on the drowsies.

5) Put it all down on the page and leave it there.  My mom got me the lovely journal in the photo above, and I've been trying to use it to do full and complete brain dumps at the end of my day.  Whether it is a worry, concern, goal or to do list, I try to just write it all out and then leave it there on the page.  Out of my brain, into the book!  Once these thoughts spinning through my head are committed to paper, I can let them go for the night.  Sounds simple, but it really does help keep sleepless anxiety at bay.
Happy Friday and here's to a restful weekend for us all.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Faux-lognese Sauce

Apologies, veggie friends.  The "faux" in this recipe refers not to the use of seitan or textured vegetable protein to create a meat-like effect in a meat sauce, but to the fact that when I told the husband I was planning on making Gwyneth's Turkey Bolognese for dinner this week, he responded, "That sounds delicious, but it's not Bolognese".

Classic Bolognese sauce includes "the trinity" (carrots, onions, and celery) and this recipe includes only two of the three.  Classic Bolognese uses three different kinds of meat (usually pork, veal and beef), and Gwyn's uses just two (turkey and sausage).  Finally, classic Bolognese gets finished off with with a generous splash of heavy cream, and since my dinner audience this night included two of the lactose intolerant persuasion, I went ahead and left that out.  And while Gwyneth's recipe uses ground turkey and chicken sausages cut in pieces, I used ground chicken (way cheaper and just as flavorful) and I removed the casings from two mild Italian chicken sausages and sauteed the meat with the ground chicken.

I also did a half-dozen other things differently than someone's grandma in Bologna and that didn't resemble Gwyneth's recipe either, so in the end, I had my very own Faux-lognese creation, and it was a delicious one at that.  The lack of cream and beef turned this into something far lighter than your usual meat sauce, and the spice blend as well as the fennel in the sausage gave it a really delicate, herbaceous zing that we loved.  I tossed it with rigatoni, as that is the husband's favorite pasta, but any tubular shape would work well to capture the rich sauce.  With garlic bread on the side and a robust glass of red, this was Friday dinner perfection.  Sometimes the classics need to be turned upside down!

SMJ's "Faux-lognese" Sauce 
inspired by Gwyneth's Turkey Bolognese from "My Father's Daughter"

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 yellow onions, finely chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and diced
7 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, roughly chopped
1 lb. ground chicken (preferably dark meat)
2 mild Italian chicken sausages, casings removed
2 28 oz. cans tomatoes (1 whole peeled with juices, 1 crushed)
1/2 teaspoon each paprika, dried oregano and basil + more to taste
2 bay leaves
1 heaping tablespoon of tomato paste
1 solid glug of red wine (I used a Shiraz Cab blend we had on hand, probably about 1/4 cup)
Salt & Pepper to taste

1) Heat oil in the bottom of a large soup pot or Dutch oven on medium heat.  Add onions and saute gently until translucent, about 10 minutes.
2) Add the carrots, garlic and thyme, and continue to saute, stirring often, for another 10 minutes.
3) Add the chicken and crumble the sausages into the pot.  Cook until both brown through evenly, continuing to stir often, about another 5 minutes or so.
4) Add the other spices, the tomatoes, tomato paste and wine.  Reduce heat to low, and allow to simmer, covered, for about 4 hours, stirring intermittently.
5) To serve, remove the bay leaves and toss with one pound of cooked pasta.  I like an extremely saucy pasta, so this recipe could probably be stretched much farther, or used on one pound of pasta after reserving some to freeze... it all depends on personal preference.  Garnish with parmesan cheese.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Stylish Stocking

Sometimes the best holiday gifts are the little odds and ends that come together randomly.  A little unexpected gift from a thoughtful friend or co-worker can make your day: one year in Vermont one of my "work wives" gave each of us ladies at the office a beautiful mug stuffed with a small assortment of different Tazo tea bags and a spot of chocolate and it was awesome.  I also love my husband's family's tradition of sharing a stocking filled with small presents to mark St. Nicholas day on December 6, which is part of their Eastern European family heritage.  St. Nicholas gifts run the gamut from the practical (we never run out of post-its thanks to that St. Nick) to the perfect (art supplies for the little man!  hooray!) but they are just the kind of little treat that sweeten your day and make life a little more fun.  The grand holiday gesture has a special kind of sparkle to it, of course, but the stocking stuffers have a little twinkle all their own.  And in my Jewish tradition, they are also just the thing to sprinkle across the eight nights of Hanukkah. 

An unexpected place to find perfect little treats like this is one of my favorites, Anthropologie.  Sure, Anthro also specializes in spectacularly overpriced t-shirts and bazillion dollar housewares, but among those larger treasures, they have some really lovely things for $20 or less, perfect for adding to an office gift swap, your sister's stocking, or just surprising that faithful girlfriend who has stood by your side through thick and thin for yet another year.  Here are some of my faves:
After bringing produce home, I like to store non-fridge items in colorful pottery on our counters.  I love the tongue-in-cheek element of these Farmer's Market Baskets.  They'd be perfect for storing beautiful cherry tomatoes, or fresh picked blueberries in the summer. ($14/each, and they come in 5 colors!)
I'm guilty of mug possessiveness, for sure.  Both in mine and my mom's kitchen, there are certain mugs I always gravitate towards for my morning coffee or afternoon tea.  These Homegrown Monogram Mugs are a beautiful twist on the classic monogram, and the perfect size and shape for coffee, in my opinion.  Branded proudly with your initial, there is no mistaking which mug is yours.  Perfect for the office for that reason too! ($8/each)
We always start with little bites when we entertain (or, let's be real, when it's just the two of us), so cocktail napkins are a must. I love the lime green color and the painted flowers on these Tahitian Vine napkins. Guaranteed they'll be used faithfully and  forever. ($16 for a set of four) 
Anthropologie latte bowls are a classic favorite far and wide, but these Mini Latte Bowls are the new kids on the block, and so adorable.  They're the perfect size for ice cream, snacks or dipping sauces, and I love the popping colors! ($20 for a set of 8)
You can't go wrong with a Spoon Rest.  Take it from the girl who spent twenty minutes scrubbing Bolognese sauce from her counters the other night. ($20, yet also pricessless).
Happy St. Nicholas Day!
What's your favorite little thing to give?

Friday, December 2, 2011

Hippie Chick

lots of great little bohemian treats have been catching my eye this week...
love this dress via Simple Lovely. similar vintage ones can be found in this etsy shop!  fun!
this cozy maxi skirt looks like a major upgrade to sweatpants for casualwear, while upping the boho factor and negating the shlump.  with warm tights or leggings and boots, you could sport this all winter, and it's on sale at jcrew right now! score!
i could write a description of this scent for you, but why not leave it to the olfactory experts?  fresh calls its cannabis rose fragrance ultra-sensual, with top notes that burst with the captivating aroma of Bulgarian roses infused with pomegranate flower and Italian bergamot. they say that an alluring blend of cannabis accord, sheer jasmine, and rich dark chocolate make the heart of this sultry scent truly intoxicating, while base notes of white musk, patchouli, and oolong tea leave a lasting sensual finish. truly, the scent of one ravishing hippie chick. sign me up.
i am quite enamored of these Level 99 Wide-Leg Trousers from Anthropologie.  hippie-tastic.
i'm smitten with this "Ladies of the Canyon" themed birthday party via Simple Lovely.  i need to have a daughter so i can copy this party, or consult a therapist regarding the potential scarring effects of imposing a "Ladies of the Canyon" theme party on your young son.  Or perhaps i just need to throw this party for myself?  Only time will tell.  only one thing I know for sure, i love joni mitchell.
dream living room via Serena and Lily. i really adore their Moroccan Poufs, perhaps because i am a percher and squatter and these allow for just that in such an elegant way.  could do without that elk/deer thing on the coffee table, but am otherwise sold.
there is nothing practical about this emersonmade silver dollars dress, but i love it all the same.
may your weekend bring you all the treats your heart desires.