Monday, January 14, 2013

Taco Bowl of Soup

About a month or so ago I had planned to make tacos for dinner. (Why, yes, we do eat a lot of taco-related meals. But, hey, son buenos!)  I had everything ready to go. Well, mostly. We were out of flour tortillas. Shocking! We eat them regularly for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I buy them in industrial-sized packages. How could that happen?! It was late afternoon when I discovered it, I had a kiddo recuperating from the flu at home, Hubby was still at the office, and I had no chance to get out to the market. So, I winged it and tweaked the tacos into soup. My fellows really, really liked it. It made a big huge batch, so we ate some for dinner and then lunch the next day, and I froze the other half. A couple of days later, they asked for more, so we had dinner and lunch again.

Fast forward a week or so, they asked for the taco soup concoction again. This is kind of a big deal to me. They asked for it unsolicited! So, I made it on purpose this time, tweaking the ingredients a bit. They liked it a lot, but voted that the first batch was better. (Yes, I poll during and/or after meals. And I don't turn away any tips left on the table.) We ate some and froze the rest, and a few days later had it again.

Fast forward another couple of weeks. I was making a menu for the week and asked the guys if they had requests. Bubbe asked if we had corn chips. I said yes, and he responded, "then I want taco soup please!" Hubby agreed heartily. So, I tweaked it again. This time, I hit all the right notes in the soup. Survey says: the fellows LOVED it. And once again, I cooked one time and made four meals (and a snack for myself). Excelente!

So, I will share this recipe with you, and now you too can eat your tacos with a spoon. And if you check the labels on pre-packaged items to be sure, it's gluten-free also.

Most Requested Taco Soup (printer version)

3 Soft Corn Tortillas, torn into small pieces
2 Cups Water
1 lb Ground Beef
1 Medium Onion, chopped
Taco Seasoning Blend (see below) or 1 pkg Commercial Taco Season (I prefer to make my own)
1-15 oz can Hominy, drained and rinsed
1-15 oz can Black Beans, drained and rinsed
1-11 oz can Mexicorn, drained, plain Corn works too
1-14.5 oz can Fire-Roasted Diced Tomatoes (or spice it up with 10 oz Rotel with green chiles)
3 Cups Beef Stock (or 3 C water plus 1 T Better Than Bouillon Beef Base or 2-3 Beef Bouillon cubes)

Taco Seasoning:
2 teaspoons Chili Powder
1 1/2 teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 teaspoon Black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Kosher Salt
1/4 teaspoon Garlic Powder
1/4 teaspoon Onion Powder
1/4 teaspoon Ancho Chili Powder

Corn Tortilla Chips
Shredded Cheddar Cheese
Sour Cream
Sliced Green Onions

In small saucepan, bring tortillas and water to boil, then reduce heat to heavy simmer, covered, for 1-2 hours. When tortillas have completely softened and are disintegrating, strain through fine mesh sieve, reserving liquid. Press tortilla pulp through sieve and return to liquid. (Or use stick blender to puree.) Set aside.

In dutch oven or soup pot, crumble ground beef and brown along with onions until meat is cooked through and onions have softened. Drain fat. Add taco seasoning to meat mixture and cook for another 30-60 seconds, until fragrant.  Add hominy, beans, corn, tomatoes, beef broth and tortilla liquid. Add a little more broth or water if a thinner consistency is desired. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer for at least 15 minutes.

Serve hot with topping options on the side. Y: approx. 4 qt of soup

Makes a large batch of soup, so you can feed a crowd or freeze half for later. To freeze, allow soup to cool. Ladle soup into desired freezer container, label and freeze. To reheat, allow soup to thaw in fridge for several hours or overnight, then reheat in pot over medium-low heat until heated through. In a pinch, I have popped the frozen soup into a large pot over low heat to thaw, then increased the heat once thawed.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Sense of Order

Kitchen Shelves
So, we're in our new place and have received our household goods from storage And our new pieces have been delivered. The move-in coincided with the Chicago teachers' strike, so I had an extra set of "helping hands" for the job. It's been two weeks and I've spent much of my waking time unpacking, sorting, arranging, and rearranging all the stuff. And the time that I haven't been doing those things, I've thought about doing those things.

Downsizing has been a journey, for sure. We thought we had divested ourselves of all the things necessary to move into an apartment only slightly larger than half the size of our former home. Turns out, we should've divested a little more. You'd think that it'd be a little painful to have to let go of personal things. But the deal is, when you have such a limited amount of space, the importance of each object becomes crystal clear. That second slow cooker? No, ma'am. We only use one at a time. Those extra "gimme" coffee cups? No, sir. They don't make the cut. The 3 flowers pots from the fundraiser auction at Bubbe's beloved preschool? Absolutely, they make the cut. I even cleared out some cookbooks. It's hard to be a collector living in a small space. At one point I decided all I want for Christmas is Santa to take a few things from here instead of leaving new things.

One of our purchases was the Metro kitchen shelving pictured above. Timing was good and we caught it on sale at The Container Store. We found other shelving at lower prices in other stores, but decided on this set-up because it was customizable, high quality, and attractive. I had a preconceived notion that it would only be needed to house appliances and some cookbooks. Boy, was I wrong, and thank goodness Hubby talked me into buying the largest option possible. I've used all of it.

Amid the bazillion boxes piled everywhere, I worked on the kitchen first. We gotta eat, and we were weary of eating out so much. It was expensive, time consuming, and fattening. (I know - it's a first-world problem.) But once I got the kitchen into some semblance of order, the rest of the house seemed more manageable. It's nice to walk into the kitchen and see the shelves neatly arranged and know that I can open the cabinets and the fridge and make a meal or a snack, that there's one place in good functioning order. I'm not finished yet, but I'm settling in for the journey and looking forward to the decorating details.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Furniture Hunt

Prior to moving we sold a lot of furniture. We were downsizing from a suburban house to a  city condo and knew much of it wouldn't fit into our new space. Most were pieces that Hubby had from long before we married. We decided we would take only the furniture that we loved and would be functional in the smaller space, and then we could buy new pieces to fit new needs.

To me the prospect of redecorating means: resale-vintage-repurpose-renovate-repaint-antique-unique. To Hubby it means: let's-just-pick-something-that-works-and-go-on-about-our-business-as-quickly-as-possible. Two. Different. Approaches. Reminds me of the "Friends" episode where Rachel (Jennifer Anniston) and Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) move in together and Rachel tries to pass off the Pottery Barn coffee table as a cool flea market find because Phoebe doesn't like furniture from furniture stores. It's funnier on TV than in our marriage. haha

A few weekends ago we went to the monthly Chicago Antique Market on Randolph. I thought it lots of fun. Hubby, eh, not so much, but he was a good sport and let me browse for a while. Unfortunately part of the market was outdoors and we had rain that day, thus there weren't many outside vendors still open. But the indoor vendors had lots of great stuff! We met a few folks and got cards for their storefronts. I'm looking forward to checking out the shops.

Since then, we've shopped retail and picked the dining table, four chairs, media cabinet, bookcase, and kitchen shelving. All within budget, some pieces on sale for Labor Day. And in the process we found a hall tree that we didn't know we needed, but was a good deal and will be very convenient in the entryway. I'm looking forward to getting into our apartment this week and getting our old stuff from storage. Most of our new furniture will be delivered too. I'm so ready to unpack, settle into a routine, and feel like we're living here instead of visiting. And I'm looking forward to the before/after project ahead.

What's your approach to decorating? Do you enjoy the hunt for just the right pieces?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

A Visit to The Shedd Aquarium

Sun Perch
We recently checked out the Shedd Aquarium. Wow. What an amazing institution to have available to us! We spent several hours exploring it, peering into tanks, learning about geography and oceanography, appreciating the beauty, grace, humor, and interconnectedness of nature.

Sea Star
We stopped at the hands-on area where, after washing our hands, we were allowed to touch sea stars (starfish). The water was 55*F so it was chilly to the touch. There were 5 different kinds of sea stars, and they each had their own "feel", but overall they were kind of fleshy with scratchy bits on top. We washed up after too, of course.

Japanese Sea Nettles

Moon Jellies

Egg Yolk Jelly
Then there was the Jellyfish exhibit that I think has been extended into 2013. There were many different kinds, and each had it's own unique look and interesting features.(Side note, the lighting in the picture above makes the Egg Yolk Jelly look gold and blue, but it was really more white, yellow, and translucent. See the Shedd's site for a more accurate picture and pictures of all the types of jellies on exhibit.)

While I didn't get pictures, we also saw otters, penguins, sea lions, monkeys, eels, crab, lobsters, dolphins, oh my! The beluga whale gave birth to a new calf at the end of August, so mother and baby are being kept in privacy until the baby is old enough for visitors .

We spent several hours at the aquarium and still didn't see it all. But, we'll be back. We cannot wait to explore some more!

What interesting places do like to explore over and over?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Tuesday Tacos

While we've been living in temporary corporate housing, I have not been very good about cooking and feeding us at home. The cookware and kitchen utensils provided are very basic and a ready excuse not to cook. Not to mention there are tons of great restaurants to choose from within a 5 block radius of us which makes it easier not to plan a meal. We've enjoyed all the places we've tried, and a couple of them have become quick favorites. However, with school back in session, the specter of my limited clothing options becoming even more limited by an expanding waistline, and a real craving for some normalcy, I had to get back to preparing meals at home on a regular basis.

Last night I made taco salad. Nothing gourmet, but it was tasty, satisfying and healthy. We all three cleaned our plates and nibbled on some of the extras left in the kitchen while cleaning up. (Seriously, the 6 year old ate yellow peppers for dessert!) One difficulty of cooking in this supplied kitchen is the lack of spices. I didn't realize how often I rely on my spice cabinet while cooking until it wasn't available. I have my own blend taco seasoning I mix when making tacos, but last night I used a package. It was a little saltier than I make it, but it was tasty nonetheless.

We are scheduled to move into our permanent place next week and then we'll have all of our own stuff back! I'm excited for many reasons and so are my two fellows. Now, I'll just need to come up new excuses not to cook every night. haha

This recipe is really more of a rough sketch. You can add or subtract whatever elements you like/don't like. I used what I had in the fridge and added a few things from the market. There are two special things I like to include for taco meals. One is I add chopped mushrooms, diced onion, and rinsed/drained canned pinto beans to the meat before adding the seasoning. It makes a 1/2 pound of hamburger go *much* farther, it increases the amount of veggie nutrient intake, and it's yummy. The second is I use French (or Catalina) dressing instead of salsa or ranch. There is a wonderful restaurant in my Texas hometown that is known for their unique red tacos. They serve them with a "wine sauce" dressing which I have yet to figure out the recipe for, but French dressing is a great substitute! So, without further ado, I give you:    

Taco Salad print 
1/2 lb ground beef
1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
6-8 oz white mushrooms, roughly chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 packet taco seasoning* (Be sure to check the label for gluten-free or or mix your own as below)

Salad (as pictured):
Lettuce, chopped (I used an Italian mix last night because I had it on hand, but iceberg is excellent in this)
Carrots, sliced
Yellow bell pepper, chopped (I kept a few slices for garnish too)
Tomatoes, chopped
Red onion, sliced
Cilantro, chopped
French dressing (Be sure to check the label for gluten)
Cheddar cheese, shredded
Tortilla chips

Other options/suggestions:
Black olives
Green onion
Pepper Jack cheese

Add meat, onion, and mushrooms to a hot skillet over med to med-hi heat. Chop meat as it cooks breaking into small pieces. When meat is cooked through, mix in beans. Prepare taco seasoning per package directions. Add to meat mixture, bring to boil, then simmer  until meat mixture is rich and thick.

Layer salad ingredients onto plate starting with lettuce except for cheese and chips. Drizzle with a little French dressing. Add scoop of meat mixture, sprinkle with cheese and crumble a couple of chips on top. Add handful of chips on the side. Serve with salsa or pico de gallo.

* The following is similar to my usual mix of taco spices used in place of a spice package:
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
I mix this with about 1/2 - 3/4 cup of water and add to the meat mixture, bring to boil, then simmer  until meat mixture is rich and thick.

Alton Brown also has a recipe for a spicy taco seasoning here.

Now, my fellows are off to work and school today and I think there's a little taco salad leftover in the kitchen. Guess what I'm having for lunch?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hum and Light

Our temporary quarters are in the heart of downtown and on a very high floor. I have fallen in love with the view both day and night. Even though we are so many floors above the city, when I open the sound-dampening double-paned windows during the day we hear the sounds and the underlying hum of the city. There's an occasional siren of an ambulance or firetruck going by or a car horn, but after the first couple of days, they started to blend right in with the hum that provides an audible energy. It's rather addictive that energy.

Since there's no building close enough to block our view or for others to be able to see in, and because we enjoy the view and the city lights provide enough light that we don't need interior nightlights, we sleep with the blinds open on one side of our apartment. It's so lovely to lie in bed looking at the city lights outside. It also provides for a waking dose of melatonin when the sun comes up in the early morning and there are no blinds to darken the room. Makes one get out of bed wondering what the day in the city will bring. What new place will we see or food will we taste or people will w meet? So many possibilities.

Maybe the new will wear off and we'll tire of the energetic city. Maybe the lights will dull and we will long for quieter days and nights. For now, we are enjoying our time in this new city.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


While exploring Chicago yesterday we stopped in McDonald's for a quick snack. I'm normally anti-McD's, but Bubbe was needing something familiar so we stopped for a cool drink and shared some fries. We sat outside, because you can do that here, and we were joined by a new friend, one with feathers. Something old, something new. Just trying to settle in.