Comfort Enhanced

There's no greater comfort food to me than Tortilla Soup. Growing up in Texas and having a life-long love affair with Southwestern cooking definitely makes these flavors speak to my soul. When the weather gets a little cold, there's hardly a substitute for the belly-filling, warming deliciousness of a hearty bowl with all the necessary accoutrement. This recipe takes Mom's version and deepens the flavors to a whole new level. Enjoy!

Tortilla Soup
(Recipe serves 8-10)

1 Whole Chicken
2 Large Onions, medium dice
3 Carrots
, medium dice
6 Stalks Celery, medium dice
2 Cloves Garlic, smashed
3 Ears Corn, kernels removed, save cobs
1 T. Tomato Paste
2 tsp. Cumin Seed
5 Black Peppercorns
3 Bay Leaves
5 Springs Thyme
5 Chipotle Peppers
4 Dried Guajillo Chiles, cover in warm water and let sit for about an hour, remove stems/seeds
2 14.5 oz. Cans Diced Tomatoes, drain liquid, reserve
8 oz. Green Chiles

As Needed - Salt
As Needed - Ancho Chile Powder
As Needed - Cayenne Pepper

16 Corn Tortillas

Diced Avocado
Lime Wedges
Chopped Cilantro
Shredded Cheese (whatever you like)

Cut 12 of the tortillas into thin strips. Place on a sprayed sheet tray.
Bake tortilla strips and 4 whole tortillas at 350 F until crispy.
Set aside to cool.

Heat a dutch oven/large stock pot. Add oil.
Season chicken with salt.
Sear all sides of the chicken and remove.
Add onions, celery and carrots and sweat.
Add garlic.
Add tomato paste and stir until veggies are coated.
Add bay, thyme, cumin seeds and peppercorns.
Remove from heat.

In a separate pot, cover chicken with water, and bring to a boil.
Remove from heat.
Remove chicken and pour off water.

Add chicken to pot with veggies.
Add reserved corn cobs.

Cover with water and return to heat.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.
Cook for about 2 hours, uncovered.
Skim off fat/foam when necessary.

Remove chicken and set aside to cool. Remove skin and shred. Set aside.
Discard corn cobs.
Strain remainder through cheesecloth into another pot.
Remove thyme, bay leaves and discard.

Puree Chipotles, toasted tortillas (4), Guajillo chiles, onions/carrots/celery/garlic from stock with reserved tomato liquid (and a little of the stock if necessary).
Push through a strainer with a ladle.

Whisk puree into the stock, and bring to a simmer.

Add corn, tomatoes and green chiles and shredded chicken.
Adjust seasoning with salt, Ancho chile powder and Cayenne pepper.

Garnish with tortilla strips, diced avocado, shredded cheese, chopped cilantro and lime wedges.

This soup does freeze well, so if you don't plan on using it all, throw it into a bag/container and freeze for up to two months.


A Lotta Foccacia

There's nothing quite like fresh baked bread. The smell that fills the house, that first delectable bite- It's certainly something special. Today I decided to indulge my bread-a-holic nature and make one of my favorites. Foccacia. This Italian crowd-pleaser is not only easy, but rewarding, versatile and of course, delicious.

Parmigiano-Herb Foccacia
(Recipe makes 2 loaves)

12 oz. Warm Water (110 to 115 degrees F)
1 package active dried yeast
3/4 tsp. Sugar
1 oz. Olive Oil

18 oz. Bread Flour
1 1/4 tsp. Salt
4 T. Finely Chopped Herbs (Thyme, Rosemary and Oregano are my favorites, reserve about 1 T. for topping)
1/4 cup Parmigiano, finely grated
AN Sea Salt
AN Flour for working dough

Combine warm water, olive oil, sugar and yeast.
Stir to dissolve.
Let sit for about 5-10 minutes until yeast activates, creating bubbles/foam.

Combine flour, herbs, salt in mixer bowl/food processor with dough blade.
Add yeast mixture to flour mixture and mix/knead until dough is tacky, and gluten develops. (8-10 minutes)
Divide dough in half. (I usually wrap and freeze the second half and save it for homemade pizza. This recipe makes the best pizza dough, hands down.)
Ball dough up and place in oil/sprayed bowl.

Cover with plastic or a damp towel and let sit in a warm, humid place until the dough doubles in size. (I like to use a warm oven, door cracked, with a pan of water on the bottom shelf as a speed-proofer for the dough.)

When the dough is doubled in size, and a finger pressed into the dough leaves a divot that does not spring back, remove dough from bowl and punch down.

Roll dough out, rotating 1/4 turns each time until reasonably flat and most air bubbles have popped. Place on an oiled sheet tray, and let sit about 10 more minutes for a secondary rise.

Brush with olive oil, top with sea salt, reserved herbs and the shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Bake at 375 F for about 20 minutes, rotating halfway.
Remove from oven and let cool on a rack.

Foccacia is great eaten by itself, or it can be used for sandwiches, or my favorite, as a pizza dough.

Local Motion

In my quest to find anything and everything culinary and local, I made a very interesting discovery. Texas Olive Oil. And not just any olives, my personal favorite Arbequina olives of Spanish fame. Produced north of Laredo in Carrizo Springs, this cold pressed extra virgin oil is not only Texan, but decidedly delicious. Comparing a Spanish Arbequina oil and the Texas version, the difference is really quite negligible. Both have a nice smooth flavor with a peppery finish. It's good to be Texan, very good.


The Proof is in This Pudding

Bread Pudding that is. Our first chilly day here in Austin and a surplus of bread scraps inspired one of my favorite deserts, with a twist. We're talking Peanut Butter/Chocolate Bread Pudding. Just typing it makes me salivate, so off we go!

Peanut Butter/Chocolate Bread Pudding
(Recipe Serves 6-8)

For the Custard:

6 oz. Whole Milk
6 oz. Heavy Cream
4 oz. Sugar
1/4 tsp. Vanilla Extract
4 oz. Creamy Peanut Butter

4 egg yolks
4 oz. Sugar

Combine milk, cream, vanilla extract and sugar in a saucepot and bring just to a boil.
Remove from heat.
Add hot milk/cream mixture and peanut butter to blender and blend until smooth.
Beat egg yolks and sugar until creamy, lighter in color, and doubled in volume.
Temper the egg mixture with a little of the milk/cream mixture.
Add the tempered egg mixture to the milk/cream mixture.
Strain, and cool.

For the Pudding:

10 oz. Bread, cubed (I used scraps from Baguettes and Ciabatta)
3 oz. Butter, melted
4 oz. Semi-sweet Chocolate Chips

Toss bread with melted butter in a large bowl to coat.
Let cool.
Add 1/2 of the custard to the bread, and toss.
Refrigerate and let the bread absorb the custard.
Add the remaining half of the custard, toss.
Refrigerate and let the bread absorb the remainder.
Toss with chocolate chips.
Butter(oil) a loaf pan, and cover the bottom with parchment paper.
Add bread/custard mixture to the pan, and refrigerate until ready to cook.

Bake at 375 F for 45 minutes to 1 hour until custard is set. You might consider using a water bath to provide even cooking, generally a good idea with custards.

Serve warm with caramel/chocolate sauce or whipped cream.


A Chef for All Seasons

Our recent change(ish) in the weather and the impending arrival of my favorite time of year really gets my culinary juices flowing. Braises, stews, and soups, oh my! Most of my favorite foods to prepare and more importantly to eat are considered cold-weather foods, and the arrival of Fall here in Austin has inspired my first braise of the year.

Lamb and Beef Ragout with Rosemary Papardelle
(Recipe yields 6-8 servings)

For the Braise:

8 oz. Bacon, cut into lardons (matchsticks)
1/2 lb. Beef stew meat (I used local Bastrop beef, mmm, grass-fed)
1/2 lb. Lamb shoulder/leg
(Loncito's from nearby Dinero, TX has wonderful organic lamb products)

1/2 Onion, sliced
1/2 Leek, washed and
2 Jalapenos, cut in half and julienned
1/2 can (14 oz.) San Marzano tomatoes, medium dice (reserve liquid)
6 Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced
1/2 Roasted red bell pepper,
1/2 head Napa Cabbage, julienned
6-8 Thyme sprigs, picked (reserve some for garnish)

1 cup red wine
1 cup stock (or water)

AN flour, salt, pepper

Bouquet Garni: (fancy French term for ingredients tied in cheesecloth so they can be removed easily
after cooking.)

5 black peppercorns
2-3 Bay leaves
2-3 Star Anise
2-3 cloves
1 tsp. Cumin seeds
any bones you might have encountered in the beef/lamb

Tie in cheesecloth and set aside.

In a Dutch Oven (the only tool for a good braise in my opinion) or a large saucepot, crisp bacon over medium-low heat and remove to dry. Set aside for garnish.
Increase heat to high.
Toss beef and lamb in enough flour to coat lightly, season with salt and pepper. Brown both side of the meat in the bacon fat, and remove.
Deglaze the pan with 1 T. of red wine, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon.
Add onions, leeks and jalapenos. Sweat until veggies are soft.
Deglaze again with another 1 T. of red wine, scraping the bottom.
Add tomatoes (with reserved juice), bell peppers, olives, cabbage, thyme, browned meat(s), wine, stock and Bouquet back to the pan. There should be just enough liquid to cover.
Bring back to a simmer, then cover and place in a 350 F oven for about 4 hours, until meat falls apart.
Remove Bouquet and serve.

For the Rosemary Papardelle:
(Recipe yields about 4-5 servings)

2 oz. (by weight) AP Flour
2 oz. (by weight) Semolina Flour
2 Eggs
2 tsp. Olive Oil
2 tsp. Salt
1/4 cup to 3/4 cup Water
2-3 sprigs Rosemary, picked and chopped finely

AN 50/50 mix of AP and Semolina flours (called 'bench flour' for kneading/rolling/etc.)

Pasta Machine or Pasta Attachment for Stand Mixer (yes, it's really the only way to make pasta at home.)

Combine AP and Semolina flour, rosemary and salt in a large bowl (or on your counter-top), make a well in the center.
Add eggs, oil and a little water to the well.
Beating the eggs with a fork, gradually incorporate flour until a loose dough forms. You may or may not have to add water as you go, depending on the eggs.
When the dough pulls together into a shaggy mass, remove from the bowl and begin to knead on a floured surface.
Knead until the dough is smooth, a little tacky, and elastic. (It could take awhile if you don't have Popeye forearms, be patient).
Set dough aside, covered loosely with plastic, and let rest for about 30 minutes.
Divide dough into fourths. (I like to wrap what I'm not going to use in plastic, place into a plastic bag, and freeze for up to two months.)
Shape dough into a rough rectangle, and put through the largest opening on your pasta machine.
Remove the dough, fold (in thirds, like folding a letter for an envelope) back onto itself. Rotate and put back through largest opening of machine. Repeat this step 2-3 times.
Let dough rest 5 minutes.
Run dough through progressively smaller settings on the machine, resting every couple of settings or so for 5 minutes, until you get to the second smallest.
Cut dough into long rectangles, trimming loose edges, and refrigerate on a floured sheet tray until ready to cut/cook.

Roll rectangles up, and then cut into 1/2" pieces.

Toss noodles in a little flour to prevent sticking.

Cook noodles in ample boiling, salted (like the sea!) water until al dente. Fresh pasta cooks very fast, so be aware. It should only take a couple of minutes at most.


Remove pasta from water, and toss with the Ragout and sauteed mushrooms
(I used King Trumpets).
Plate and serve with fresh thyme, bacon, grated Parmesan, and a couple of thick pieces of toasted bread (I like Ciabatta) to soak up all the goodness.