Thursday, June 22, 2017

Sopa de Lima (Yucatán-Style Lime Soup)


Chicken soup is the ultimate comfort soup whether it's traditional chicken noodle, Vietnamese chicken pho, Southern-inspired chicken and dumplings, Jewish matzo ball soup, Spanish soupy rice with chicken, or this Mexican sopa de lima or Yucatán-style lime soup.

If you're looking to soothe a cold, or simply satisfy your need for comfort in a bowl, this sopa de lima is for you! Aromatic onions and garlic provide a flavorful base to this soup, while a finely chopped jalapeño gives it a bit of heat.

Oregano, chopped tomatoes, and lime juice round out the soup, giving it its trademark tartness, while chunks of chicken simmered in their own broth are the final touch.

While the soup is excellent as is, you'll definitely want to garnish it with crispy fried tortilla strips. You will probably end up with way more tortilla strips than you really need to garnish this soup, but they are delicious for snacking, so by all means make the full amount!

You may also garnish this sopa de lima with a chopped poblano chile, finely chopped cilantro, cubed avocado, Cotija cheese, and lime wedges, but you certainly don't need to use all of them if you'd prefer not to. I stuck with cilantro and avocado for mine.

The recipe states that it serves 6, however for this amount of soup I think you're more likely to serve 3 to 4 at the most. You can easily double this recipe if you'd like more leftovers or if you are planning to serve a crowd.

I love soup year round, so even though it's technically summer, you know there are rainy days ahead, and there's nothing quite like a bowl of comforting, steaming-hot soup on a rainy day to wash away the blues.

Sopa de Lima
Makes 8 to 10 tasting portions or 6 full servings (honestly, for us it felt more like 3 to 4 full servings)
(From Soup Swap)

Tortilla Strips:
Canola oil, for frying
6 corn tortillas, about 5 1/2 inches in diameter, cut into 1/2-inch thick strips
Sea salt

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 jalapeño chile, cored, seeded, and finely chopped, plus more as needed
1 cup (240 g) diced tomatoes, fresh or canned
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or about 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano)
4 cups (960 ml) roasted chicken stock or canned low-sodium broth
1 cup (110 g) cooked shredded chicken
1/4 cup (60 ml) lime juice, plus more as needed

1 poblano chile, seeded and chopped
1 ripe but not overly ripe or mushy avocado, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1/4 cup (10 g) finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 cup (80 g) cotija Mexican cheese or feta, grated or finely chopped
1 lime, cut into wedges

To make the tortilla strips: In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, add enough canola oil to reach a depth of 1/2 inch and heat until a small piece of tortilla or a speck of salt immediately sizzles on contact. Cook the tortillas, one at a time, for 1 to 2 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and slightly puffed. Using tongs, transfer the tortillas to paper towels to drain; sprinkle with salt.

To make the soup: In a large stockpot over low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and garlic and cook for 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, stir in the jalapeño, and cook for another 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and oregano and cook for 5 minutes more. Turn the heat to high, add the chicken stock, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to low, cover, and cook for 30 minutes. Add the chicken and cook for another 5 minutes.

Just before serving, add the lime juice to the soup. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, jalapeño, or lime juice if needed.

Ladle the soup into mugs or bowls, top each with two or three tortilla strips, and serve. Have all the garnishes arranged decoratively on a large serving plate and let guests add their own.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Hand-Cut Beef, Egg, and Green Onion Empanadas (Empanadas Tucumanas)


When flavorful fillings are wrapped in dough, my heart bursts with joy! This describes so many of my favorites foods, including but not limited to dumplings, ravioli, manti, borek, and of course empanadas.

Today we'll be taking a look at some traditional Argentinian empanadas from Tucuman province. A crispy bread dough encases tender hand-cut beef (called carne a cuchillo) sauteed with onions and spices, and combined with chopped hard-boiled eggs and scallions. Cooks in this region consider it sacrilegious to use ground beef.

You'll need to start your filling at least a day ahead of time. Flank steak is simmered with aromatics until fork tender, and then chopped by hand. The cooking liquid is used later when sauteing the filling, which begins with onions, paprika, cumin, chile flakes, and seasoning. This results in a super flavorful and juicy filling of melt-in-your-mouth beef. This mixture is refrigerated for at least 3 hours or overnight before adding the hard-boiled eggs and scallions.  

After adding the hard-boiled eggs and scallions

The dough is easy to make, especially if you have a tortilla press to stamp out the rounds. The dough is soft, very pliable, and stretchy, making it a dream to work with. Traditionally, Argentinians use melted lard, but I used Spectrum non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening, and it still turned out excellent.

My only issue with the original recipe is regarding the yield. The bread dough portion of the recipe is supposed to yield 28 empanada rounds, but realistically yielded 32 at approximately 55 g each. That's not a horrible miscalculation, however the beef mixture generously filled only 22 of my 32 empanada discs.

I filled the last 10 dough rounds with grated cheese, and was thoroughly pleased by this folly, but would perhaps plan to increase the amount of filling in the future, or decrease the amount of dough since the filling was really only enough for about two-thirds of the number of empanada discs I had made. I could have certainly filled each dough round with less filling, but honestly, it would have felt very sparse for the size of the dough.

All in all, these empanadas are absolutely glorious! The filling is so tasty with just a hint of spice. The dough is exquisite, and not only easy and fun to work with, but creates a wonderful texture after baking. I'm so in love with it, that I would happily create my own fillings in the future to go with this dough (like the quick shredded cheese solution for the excess dough rounds).

Hand-Cut Beef, Egg, and Green Onion Empanadas (Empanadas Tucumanas)
Makes 28 empanadas (I yielded enough dough for 32 empanadas of this size, and enough filling for 22 empanadas--I would adjust the amount of filling/dough in the future to compensate)
(From Empanadas: The Hand-Held Pies of Latin America)

Cooked Flank Steak:
1 to 1 1/4 pounds (455 to 570 g) flank steak
1/2 small white onion, halved
1 celery stalk (with leaves, preferred) (I didn't have celery so I used a carrot instead)
1 large or 2 small bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme (I used a huge pinch of dried thyme)
1 large garlic clove
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (I used about half that)
2 cups finely chopped white onions
2 tablespoons smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton)
2 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 cups beef broth (or cooking liquid from the flank)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and finely chopped
3/4 cup thinly sliced green onions (white and light green parts)

Bread Dough:
8 1/2 cups (1.1 kg) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
3/4 cup melted pork or beef lard, or vegetable shortening
2 1/2 cups hot water (140°F)
Parchment paper cut into 28 (5-by-5-inch) squares
Egg wash, made with 1 beaten egg and 2 teaspoons water (optional)

Place the flank steak in a large pot. Pour in enough water to cover the steak by about 1 1/2 inches. Add the onion, celery, bay leaf, thyme, garlic, salt, and pepper. Bring the pot to a boil; cover, lower the heat, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, or until the beef is easily shredded with a fork.

Remove the steak from the pot, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid; set the broth aside. When the beef is cool enough to handle, remove any fat or sinew and slice it crosswise into thirds. Chop it into a fine dice; chill, covered until ready to use. If refrigerated, the steak will last, covered for up to 2 days. To freeze it, cover shredded or chopped beef with the cooking liquid just until submerged. Free it in containers for up to 3 months.

Make the filling: Heat the oil in a large skillet with high sides over medium-high heat. Add the white onions and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the paprika, salt, cumin, red pepper flakes, and black pepper, stirring well to combine. Add the beef and broth, stirring to combine. Bring them to a boil; lower the heat to medium and continue cooking, uncovered, until all of the liquid has been absorbed, about 10 minutes (the beef mixture should be moist). Remove the filling from the heat and stir in the vinegar; cover and chill the filling completely, at least 3 hours (preferably overnight).

Make the bread dough: In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center. Add the lard and 2 cups of the water. Stir well with a spatula, until the dough starts coming together. Switch to your hands and add the remaining 1/2 cup water, kneading until the dough comes together (it will be soft and sticky). Turn the dough onto a well-floured surface and knead it for 1 to 2 minutes (adding more flour as needed), until the dough holds together in a ball and no longer sticks to your fingers. Return the dough to the bowl; cover it tightly with plastic wrap and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Divide the dough into 28 equal pieces (about 2 ounces/55 g each). Roll each piece into a ball, folding the bottom of the dough onto itself so that the ends are at the bottom and the tops are smooth (the way you'd shape rolls). Place them on a lightly floured baking sheet and cover them with a clean towel; let them rest for 10 minutes. On a well-floured surface, press each ball into a slightly flat disc. Line a tortilla press with a zip-top freezer bag that has been cut open on three sides so that it opens like a book. Place a disc in the middle of the tortilla press and flatten it into a 5-inch round, 1/8-inch thick (or roll it out with a rolling pin). Stack the discs with parchment paper in between to avoid sticking.

Assemble the empanadas: Stir the eggs and green onions into the filling. Place 2 heaping tablespoons of the filling in the center of each empanada. Fold the bottom of the dough to meet the top of the disc, encasing the filling and forming a half-moon, and press the edges together well. Make 1/2-inch edges by pressing the rims between your fingers to create a rope along the edges. The empanadas can sit uncovered at room temperature for 20 minutes before baking or can be refrigerated for up to 1 hour before baking.

Bake the empanadas and serve: Preheat the oven to 450°F. Line three baking sheets with parchment paper. Place the empanadas on the prepared pans and brush them with the egg wash, if using. Bake them for 28 to 30 minutes, until their bottoms are golden (rotate the pans in the oven halfway through baking, back to front and top to bottom, to ensure that all of the empanadas bake evenly). Transfer the empanadas to a cooling rack; let them cool for 3 to 5 minutes before serving.

Note: To freeze these empanadas, cool them to room temperature; set them in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze them until solid. When solid, transfer them to zip-top bags or freezer boxes and freeze them for up to 4 months. Reheat them in a 350°F oven until warmed through, 10 to 15 minutes.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The 36th Annual Great Chowder Cook-Off


I shared a sneak peek a few weeks ago for this years Great Chowder Cook-Off in Newport, RI. The festivities took place this past weekend, and what a beautiful day we had at Fort Adams State Park, overlooking Narragansett Bay and Newport Harbor!

This was the first time I participated in the Great Chowder Cook-Off at this location. Years ago, it took place at the Newport Yachting Center, and although Fort Adams is a bit more of a drive (in Saturday Newport traffic, no less), I found the location to be much better equipped for the event, with ample free parking, tons of space, and epic waterfront views.

In addition to the competitors, there were many other vendors including drink vendors, food trucks, and more.

This made the festival much more of an event than just a chowder tasting, and add to it some fantastic live musical entertainment, and one could easily spend hours in the sun enjoying this wonderful event.

Although in past years I recall many more competitors than we experienced this year, overall I feel that the cook-off has matured and grown into something bigger than just a chowder cook-off.

We managed to get pretty full off of our chowder samples, and although we were eyeing several of the food trucks and other food vendors, we simply washed down our chowder binge with some Ben and Jerry's ice cream, because it was hot and sunny and the best weather for ice cream!

We also visited the Hood truck where we chatted with chef Chris Coombs who was serving up some tres leches cake made with Hood heavy cream and two other leches :)

There was truly so much more to taste and see outside of all the chowders, but let's take a closer look at the chowder categories and competitors before we reveal this year's winners...

Great Chowder Cook-Off Directory and Map

We tasted the chowders kind of backwards, beginning with the Red Chowder category and then moving on to the Seafood Chowder and Clam Chowder samples, so I will share them in the order we tried them (because I'm a rebel like that!).

Now, I'd like to preface this by saying that I've often joked that red or "Manhattan"-style chowder isn't real chowder. I'm a native Rhode Islander, and when I hear the word chowder (let's be honest, it's pronounced CHOWDA), I envision a creamy white broth full of chunks of potato and clams. That to me is "chowda." With that said, I was very impressed by all three of the competitors in the red category.

First up we tried the Rockin' Red Chowder from Bristol Plymouth Regional Technical School. They contributed two different chowders for the cook-off, one in the red category, and one in the seafood category. I love how each chowder had a unique name, and the booths were decorated to go with the theme.

They also made some excellent chowder! Their red chowder was well-seasoned with a little heat. It was very comforting. We loved it!

Next up from The Mooring is a RI red Portuguese clam chowder with chourico, peppers, clams, and potatoes. It was excellent, and had a bit of smokiness from the chourico, and tons of fresh clams! They were our pick for our favorite red.

Finally we have a red chowder from Greenwich Bay Oyster Bar which was also very good, but just paled next to the other two chowders in this category.

The winners for the Red Category are as follows:
#3 Greenwich Bay Oyster Bar
#2 The Mooring
#1 Bristol Plymouth Regional Technical School

Onto the Seafood Chowder category! We begin with Red Stripe, who served up a sweet corn chowdah. As advertised, it was a bit on the sweet side, and we felt it could have used a bit more seasoning to balance it out.

The next chowder came from Portsmouth Publick House, and was our favorite seafood chowder of the day. You could see the chunks of lobster in the samples even before tasting.

It had great seafood flavor, and was super chunky, just the way I love my chowder. Although Portsmouth Publick House definitely got our vote in this category, other tasters didn't feel the same, and it failed to make the top three :(

Brix at Newport Vineyards was next in line. They featured the prettiest presentation for their New England cod chowder with buttery thyme croutons!

The tiny croutons were a lovely addition, and the cod they used was local, but the chowder itself was a little rich for our taste and could have used a bit more seasoning as well.

Next we're headed all the way to Ireland for some award-winning chowder from Nancy's Barn in Ballyliffin! Smoked fish gives a pleasant smokey flavor to the whole chowder, which is nicely seasoned. This chowder from across the pond was quite popular, as it was the top pick among tasters in this category.

The next competitor is from my hometown of Cranston, Rhode Island! Chapel Grille served up a seafood chowder with lobster and clams. Overall this was a good, chunky chowder. It featured dill, which is my least favorite herb of all time, but it was minimal and tolerable. I enjoyed the chowder otherwise :) Chapel Grille won third place in this category, and also won for Most Spirited Team and Best Decorated Booth!

One of our other favorites from this category hailed from Briston Plymouth Regional Technical School (remember them from the red category?). Their seafood chowder was a Portuguese seafood chowder called Liquid Gold.

Once again, their table featured awesome decorations to go with the theme, and their chowder was fantastic! Featuring some smoky Portuguese chourico and turmeric for color, we absolutely loved it! I'm not surprised they did so well in this category either, taking home second place. They actually won in this category last year, and placed second the year before.

The winners for the Seafood Category are as follows:
#3 Chapel Grille
#2 Bristol Plymouth Regional Technical School
#1 Nancy's Barn

Finally, onto the clam category! Our absolute favorite clam chowder once again didn't make the final cut in terms of total votes (wah wah), but we still loved it! It hailed from Greenwich Bay Oyster Bar. It was not too rich, perfectly executed and well-seasoned, with chunks of red bliss potatoes. 

Next up is Open Season Catering, the winner of this year's cook-off. There's really no nice way to say this, but we really didn't care for their chowder. It had no seasoning and tasted like clamy cream. I'm not entirely sure how it won, but everyone has different tastes. This was definitely not our pick. Sorry!

The Woods Tavern was the next booth, and offered a good but not memorable clam chowder. I would have preferred something a bit chunkier/less watery myself. They got enough votes to get second place though, so there were many fans in the crowd.

Crowther's Restaurant was the third place winner, and featured a chunky clam chowder with a bit of heat. It was also a little dilly, but otherwise good. This was probably our second favorite chowder from this category.

The Charlestown Rathskeller Tavern is next. Their chowder had a strong sweet onion flavor, and was on the watery side. It was our least favorite of the event.

Finally we have a clam chowder from Ocean Catch Seafood. The chowder tasted mainly of potato, and could have used a lot more clam flavor and seasoning. Overall, there were a few flops in this category.

The winners for the Clam Category are as follows:
#3 Crowthers Restaurant
#2 Woods Tavern
#1 Open Season

Overall we had a fantastic day at Fort Adams State Park tasting chowder and enjoying the sunshine. Although I don't agree with some of the winners, there are others that definitely were on our list of favorites. Any chowder lover would have enjoyed the opportunity to try so many different varieties from throughout Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and even Ireland!

If you missed this year's Cook-Off don't fret! There will be another one next year, and the year after, and the year after that, each with gallons of chowder to try. I'm already looking forward to next year myself. Until then I will need to cook up a pot of my favorite Maine lobster, leek, and corn chowder to hold me over...


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