You know those weeks where you feel like Frankenstein? Like everyone else is human and whole, and you're all pieced together from used parts and strangeness, your seams showing, while you clomp around and knock stuff over and grunt out your apologies? Only, somehow, you're more like a teenaged Frankenstein doing bad stand-up comedy, staggering through the world with your padded bra and acne, feeling like everyone is backing slowly away from you, even as you're trying to make them laugh, only they can't understand your jokes on account of your guttural personality and the fact that your neck bolts are kind of distracting?
Well, maybe just a little. I don't know. "Off my game" is one phrase that leaps to mind. "PMS" is another. I laugh too loud and blurt out weird stuff, and am simultaneously awkward and needy. If you were here, you'd be inclined to wrap your arms around me and say, "Oh, sweetheart," but then you'd end up getting something on your shirt--yogurt or snot or a hairball--and I'd laugh more snot out of my nose and apologize and… and you'd stay by me. I hadn't intended that as a metaphor for what's happening on this blog, but even as I'm writing, it occurs to me how vital it is, this circling of the wagons that you guys have pulled off around me. To keep the wolves out. Thank you. I'm sorry about your shirt.
The kids, too, are doing it--without even knowing consciously that it needs to be done. Ben's sense of humor is like a hot air balloon, and I'm in its basket, uplifted and admiring the view and a little deafened. We were at a show last night… Here we go again. Even as I'm starting to tell you this story, I'm realizing how awkward and impossible it will be to communicate. Grrrrr vvvvv nnnnhhhhhhhhhhh… ha ha ha. But I will try anyway. We were at this show and Ben and I were waiting for the bathroom, and the pretty woman who burst out of the stall, with her nice sweater and silver jewelry and sleek hair, had in her hand a bowl of stew. "Just enjoying a little dinner in the bathroom?" I said, because I'm so funny, and she laughed and coughed, her eyes streaming, and said, "No, I was kind of choking, but now I'm fine." Later, after the lights dimmed, who should come up stage to introduce the musician? "Oh my god!" Ben whispered. "It's the stew choker!" And at 10-minute intervals for the rest of the night he whispered stew choker and I died every time. I understand that this might not seem conventionally like a way to take care of another person, and yet, also, it is.
Is stew choking a good segue to tortilla soup? I hope so. Because here it is: warming and rustic, ruddy and full of bright flavors and dark flavors and crunch and creaminess. As with many other simple soups, this one is all about the garnishes: lime wedges and the chipotle sour cream, avocado and, of course, the tortilla strips. Feel free to substitute a big handful of tortilla chips in each bowl--it will be a little less exciting to look at, but equally delicious. And honestly? If I, personally, were going to omit one ingredient, it would be the chicken. Crazy, maybe, but true. Enjoy and stay warm.
Tortilla Soup with Chipotle Cream
Take an hour, more or less, to make
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoon chile powder* (I used half ancho
, half new Mexican)
1 cup canned tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
6 cups chicken broth (or 4 cups broth plus 2 cups water)
½ teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much tables salt) plus more to taste
1 tablespoon cornmeal stirred into ½ cup cold water
Olive oil spray
6 corn tortillas
Lime juice and sugar to taste
2 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts (or 3 small)
1 14-ounce can black beans, drained
Chipotle sour cream (1/2 cup full-fat sour cream whisked with 1 teaspoon chipotle puree**)
Heat the oven to 400.
In a large soup hot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat, and sauté the onion and garlic until they are getting nice and soft and translucent, around 5 to 10 minutes. Add the chile powder and sauté just until fragrant--a few seconds--that add the tomatoes, tomato paste, broth, and salt, and bring the soup to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the cornmeal slurry (this will add lovely body to the soup), turn the heat down, and simmer, covered, for half an hour, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, spritz the corn tortillas with olive-oil spray (I spray one side and figure that when I stack them they get pretty evenly coated), then stack them, cut them into strips, and spread them on an oiled baking sheet. Bake them until they're golden and crisp, moving them around as you need to so that they brown evenly. This will take around 10 minutes, more or less.
|Exhibit C. Is this annoying--the photos in the middle? (asked Frankenstein)|
Now back to the soup: taste the broth and add salt, lime juice, and sugar to taste until you've got a good, fully, vibrant flavor that you like. Pop in the chicken breasts and keep the soup at a super-low simmer, covered, until the meat is cooked through. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and shred it with your fingers or a couple of forks.
In a blender, carefully and in batches, or with a stick blender, whir the soup to unify it, then add the chicken back in with the beans and simmer it for another 5 minutes. Taste it, adjust the seasonings, and serve with the garnishes.
|This is yummy on other stuff too. Whisk a little mayo, salt, and garlic into it for the world's best sandwich spread. |
|Little white bowls of garnishes make me excessively happy.|
|Plus they give everyone an excuse to get all nice and involved.|
|You know I like a moody photo of a partially eaten meal. Sigh.|
* A note about chile powder: I know you know this probably, but if you buy "chili powder," like, McCormick's, say, it will likely be a blend with other seasonings in it, such as cumin, oregano, and garlic--which is fine for this soup, honestly. But I recommend also having on hand some true chile powder--which is just the ground chiles--for times when you want to better control the seasoning of your dish. But, confusingly, this might sometimes be spelled "chili" also. If you read the label, you'll find out. Or if you buy it in bulk from a store like Whole Foods, you'll be able to get the pure chiles.
** A note about the chipotle: I buy a small tin of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce
(if there's a Mexican section of your supermarket, you'll be able to find it there), puree it in the blender, and store it in a clean glass jar in the fridge, where it keeps almost forever as long as you don't stick a dirty spoon (or finger) in it. I find this incredibly handy to have around for those times you want to stir a bit of smoky heat into something.