Chicken Tortilla Soup

By Katherine

Elissa has already blogged about the joys of slow-cookery, and specifically Slow Cooker Revolution from America's Test Kitchen, but I'm here to pile on.  There's something so great about arriving home from work to a great-smelling house and a dinner that's already ready.  One of my favorite recipes in the book is for tortilla soup, which I made earlier this week to stave off some of the gray fogginess we start getting in San Diego this time of year.  Here's how it goes....

Ready to get cooking

Ready to get cooking

Chicken Tortilla Soup (adapted for my taste and laziness from Slow Cooker Revolution)  

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 plum tomatoes, chopped

1 onion, minced

2 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded, and minced

6 cloves of garlic, minced

3 chipotle chiles in adobo, with sauce, minced

1 tablespoon tomato paste

8 cups low-sodium chicken broth

Stems from one bunch of cilantro, tied together with twine (about 25 stems) 

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

salt and pepper to taste

Garnishes: crushed tortilla chips, crumbled Cotija cheese, avocado, minced cilantro, lime wedges

Saute tomatoes, onion, and jalapenos in oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  When onion is softened, add garlic, chipotles, and tomato paste and cook briefly (1 minute will do) until everything is a melded together and smelling good. Stir in 1 cup of broth and scrape up all the tasty brown bits on the bottom of the pan, then transfer the mixture to the slow cooker. 

Add the remaining broth and cilantro stems to the slow cooker, then add the chicken thighs (gently so as not to splash the broth all over the kitchen). Set the slow cooker to low and leave it alone for the next 4-6 hours.  I set mine for five hours, but then it sat around for another 2 hours on "keep warm" until I got home from work, and it suffered no ill effects. 

Use tongs to remove the chicken from the soup and shred it using two forks. Fish out the cilantro stems and toss them, then return the chicken to the soup.  Taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper, if desired.   Serve by placing crushed tortilla chips in bowls, then ladling soup over the top, and topping with cheese, avocado, cilantro, and lime. 

The garnishes

The garnishes

The finished soup

The finished soup

A few tips. . . this makes a pretty spicy soup.  If you're not a fan of the heat, reduce the amount of chipotle chiles.  While we're on the subject of chipotles in adobo, I never use a whole can at once, and I hate to waste what's leftover.  What I do is portion the remaining chipotles (with their sauce) into ziploc sandwich bags - usually about 2 chiles in each bag - then put them in the freezer.  The chipotles are pretty fragrant, so I usually put the sandwich bags into a large freezer bag to try to keep the whole freezer from smelling like chipotles. You can pull out an individual bag whenever you need a chipotle, and they defrost pretty quickly - about 30 minutes on the counter, or you can speed it up by putting them in lukewarm water.  

Since this recipe calls for sauteing the vegetables before putting them in the slow cooker, it can be a scramble to pull it all together on a weekday morning if you're trying to get out the door to work/school/whatever.  I recommend prepping everything the night before, including doing the saute, then you can put the cooked vegetables in the fridge overnight and just pop them in the slow cooker in the morning. Finally, I used some soy and flax tortilla chips for this batch, because that bag was open and I like to operate under the illusion that there's such a thing as a healthy chip, but their texture in the soup was a little strange.  I would use regular tortilla chips if you have them instead - which is what I've used for the leftover soup, with great results. 

Adventures in Slow Cooking

by Elissa

We have now gone 5 weeks without a true kitchen.  The end is in sight and I will hopefully be showing you all our shiny new kitchen soon. In the meantime, it hasn't always been pretty. We've eaten more than our share of frozen convenience foods, and the other night I served a dinner that consisted of toasted pita, hummus, cheese, and assorted raw vegetables.

Our makeshift kitchen

Our makeshift kitchen

But around the time that we embarked on the remodel, I decided to invest in a Crock Pot in the hopes that it would give us more meal options--it's that shiny number on the far right.  I also picked up a copy of Slow Cooker Revolution.  The folks at America's Test Kitchen have never steered me wrong, and Katherine gave it a good review.

The book features a bunch of "easy prep" recipes that don't require cooking anything on the stove.  Instead they recommend microwaving the aromatics for a bit to bring out additional flavor before tossing them in the Crock Pot.  My inaugural attempt was this recipe for Japanese Ramen with pork. 

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And it was a big success.  Although I'm sure it's not authentic, the recipe resulted in an excellent soup. I especially liked the shiitake mushrooms, which were delicious without being sauteed in advance. The kids loved this too; Elenor gleefully shouted "Noodles!" while devouring her soup.  I substituted pork spareribs for the country-style ribs called for with no adverse effects.

My next slow cooker effort was even better: I made Portuguese-style potato and kale soup. Both of my kids can't handle much spice (I'm hoping they'll grow into a greater appreciation of spicy foods) so I modified the recipe to tone down the spice. But I think my version turned out great--very smoky and flavorful, and the kids even ingested some kale!

Keeping it classy with Dixie paper bowls

Keeping it classy with Dixie paper bowls

Potato and Kale Soup (adapted from Slow Cooker Revolution )

1 onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoons chili powder

1 teaspoon smoked paprika (sweet) 

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

8 ounces kielbasa, sliced into half-moons

4 medium red potatoes, cut into 1/2 inch chunks (about 1 pound)

4 cups low-sodium chicken broth

2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste

1 bunch kale, stems removed and leaves chopped (I used red Russian kale, but I think any variety would work)

Paremesan cheese

Mix together the onion, garlic, olive oil, and spices in a microwave-safe bowl.  Microwave for 6 minutes, stirring every 2 minutes.  Add onion mixture to slow cooker along with kielbasa, potatoes, broth, water, and salt. Cook on low for 8 hours.  Add kale and cook on high for an additional 20 minutes.  Serve with grated parmesan and buttered toast.