Chunky Chicken Soup

Good Morning!

I apologize for being off the radar for a while. I have been traveling, battling the flu, and getting back into the swing of school. I have a very tough quarter ahead of me preparing for student teaching, but I am so incredibly excited! For those of you that don’t know, I am a full-time Graduate student working towards my M.Ed in Elementary Education. When I graduate, I will also have endorsements in English Language Arts, Social Studies, and (hopefully) Art. Since my school does not have a film program, I have to work with the state of Illinois to see if they will count my film and photography undergraduate classes towards and art endorsement. When I graduate, I hope to be a middle school English/Social Studies teacher. I love middle school aged kids, I can’t wait to work with them.

For my student teaching, I have been placed in a Kindergarten classroom, which I am really excited about. When I am observing in upper grade classrooms, I tend to see the following pattern a lot. The teacher teaches a lesson, students to an activity, students are told if they finish early they can read silently at their desks or work on an unfinished assignment. Now there is nothing necessarily wrong with this pattern, but this type of structure wouldn’t work in a kindergarten classroom because not all kindergarteners can read. Many kindergarteners can’t work independently either. Many still need a ton of guided instruction. Therefore, I will have to design lessons and activities that take the entire lesson time. It is both intimidating and exciting. I honestly feel like I am going to learn so much about classroom management and lesson planning in this classroom!

Wait. Isn’t this post called Chunky Chicken Soup? You’re right. It is!

It seems like everyone I know came down with or is coming down with the flu. The most popular home remedy for the flu is chicken soup. I love soup! It’s quick to make, easy, inexpensive, and comforting.

I have to be honest with you. The recipe below is my best guess as to how I made this. I rarely tend to measure when I am making soup. I will be better about that in 2013!

Chunky Chicken Soup
Serves 4

This can be made with or without gluten-free pasta. Oyster crackers are not gluten-free so do not serve with them if you are avoiding gluten.

This can be made with or without gluten-free pasta. Oyster crackers are not gluten-free so do not serve with them if you are avoiding gluten.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups gluten-free, brown rice pasta (I used Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded*
  • 3-4 stalks of celery, sliced
  • 3-4 carrots, sliced
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 scant tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 packet chicken bullion
  • Olive oil
  • 6-8 cups water (use and adjust according to how chunky you want your end product to be)

*You can cook and shred the chicken yourself or buy pre-cooked chicken and shred it yourself. You can also buy pre-cooked chicken and cube it. Either way, make sure your chicken is pre-cooked as this saves a ton of time.

Directions:

  1. In a large pot over medium heat, cook onions and carrots until onions are translucent.
  2. Add garlic and celery, stir, and cook for another 3-4 minutes.
  3. Add water (start with 6 cups and add more if you think you need it), bullion packet, and oregano and bring to a boil.
  4. Reduce heat and add chicken and pasta. Cook for about 6-8 minutes or until pasta is cooked through.

You can serve with bread or oyster crackers if you are not gluten-free or enjoy as is!

I hope everyone is having a happy 2013 so far! We will return to our regularly scheduled blogging next week. 🙂

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Easy Chunky Chicken Tortilla Soup

It’s soup season! I love soup for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, I love it because you can make a ton of it for practically nothing. Second, I love it because it is quick and easy to throw together, very filling, and low in fat and calories. My favorite soup on the planet is tortilla soup. I make it with shredded chicken because my husband acts like I am trying to kill him every time I serve him something without meat, but you can make this vegetarian easily by omitting the chicken and substituting vegetable broth. This soup is so chunky and packed with flavor that you will not miss the absence of meat if you opt to omit the chicken. Sometimes I make the vegetarian version and lie to my husband; telling him there is meat in it. He is usually on his second bowl before he even realizes it!

If you are using chicken, I find it is best in this soup when it is shredded. If I have planned ahead, I cook the chicken breasts in a slow cooker overnight. Then, I let them cool in the fridge all day and shred right before making the soup. When you cook the breasts in a slow cooker, they practically fall apart in your hands. It takes almost no effort to shred them. I have a little slow cooker that I got at Target for $12 that fits 2 chicken breasts perfectly. It is similar to this one. If you do not have a slow cooker, you can boil the chicken breasts for about 25 minutes (or until cooked through), let them cool, and shred them. You can also buy a pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the grocery store, shred the breasts, and eat the legs and wings another night.

Easy Chunky Chicken Tortilla Soup

Cucina Kristina: Chunky Chicken Tortilla Soup

Note: I didn’t have black beans the night
I shot this photo, but I usually use them

Ingredients:

  • 2 chicken breasts, shredded
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 15-ounce can hominy, not drained
  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained & rinsed
  • 1/2 package of frozen corn
  • 1 15-ounce can chopped tomatoes
  • 2 chicken or vegetable bullion cubes
  • 2 tablespoons oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Handful of cilantro, minced
  • Juice of fresh lime – at least 1 or to taste. I usually use 2 because I like lime
  • 1 tablespoon chili paste (optional)
  • 6-8 cups of water
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Toppings (optional): 

  • Sliced radish
  • Sour cream
  • Chopped lettuce
  • Shredded cheese
  • Avocado
  • Sliced green onion
  • Baked tortilla chips (recipe to follow)

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, cook onions and garlic in olive oil for 3-5 minutes.
  2. Add one 15-ounce can of hominy, liquid and all. Add black beans, corn, tomatoes, bullion cubes, chicken, oregano, and bay leaf. Add as much water as needed to get the desired soup thickness and consistency.
  3. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes to let flavors meld together.
  4. Just before serving, stir in cilantro and squeeze the juice of one lime into the soup.
  5. If using, add 1 tablespoon of chili paste and season with salt and pepper.
  6. Serve as is or garnish with any or all of the toppings above. Don’t forget to remove the bay leaf!

Baked Tortilla Chips:

I use El Milagro corn tortillas exclusively. You can use whatever brand you like, but I would suggest only using tortillas that contain stone ground corn, water and lime. That’s it. Three ingredients. Nothing else. Trust me!

  1. Cut tortillas into wedges. I usually get six wedges out of each tortilla.
  2. Line tortillas on a baking sheet.
  3. Bake in a 350˚ oven for 12-15 minutes.

I do not flavor the chips at all because I like them in their natural state. If you’d like to add salt or seasoning to them, do so before baking them. Simply spray them with olive oil and sprinkle desired seasonings.

I have an oil mister. If you do not have one of these, you can put a little bit of olive oil into a dish and lightly spread onto the chips with your finger. You might be able to use cooking spray; however, I have not tried this. If you use cooking spray a lot, I highly recommend getting an oil mister! I picked mine up at TJ Max for $5. It’s a great way to control the amount of oil you are putting into things without all of the additives that are present in cooking spray.

Cucina Kristina: Baked Corn Tortilla Chips

Corn tortilla chips about to hit the oven!

These chips are gluten-free and there are only 50 calories for every six chips. These are so easy and better for you than any store-bought brand. I can’t remember the last time I bought chips at the store.

Curried Acorn Squash and Red Lentil Soup with Spiced Acorn Squash Seeds

Are there any curry lovers out there? I am dying to share this recipe with someone because it is hearty, comforting, and oh so tasty. It’s the type of soup that warms you from the inside out. I threw it together on a whim last night and apparently nobody in my life likes curry!  More for me, right?

Before we get to the recipe, I want to share a couple of notes about this soup and some substitution ideas. First, I used an acorn squash because it is what I had on hand. If you are new to using squash and do not have good knife skills, substitute with a butternut squash. The butternut squash is infinitely easier to peel and has a similar taste. If squash is not your thing, substitute with sweet potatoes. If neither squash nor sweet potatoes are your thing, try my chicken tortilla soup.

Second, this soup has an intense curry flavor. If you like curry, but you do not love curry, cut back to 1 teaspoon and use vegetable broth and water as the base instead of just straight water. As the soup is cooking, taste and add more curry as desired. Remember that it is easier to add more of an ingredient than to try to balance it out after the fact.

Third, do not throw out the squash seeds! The seeds are edible just like pumpkin seeds. For some reason, people do not think about toasting the seeds of other squashes, but they make a wonderful soup garnish or can be used on salads or as an on-the-go snack. I flavored my seeds with salt and Chinese five spice, but you can use anything you like to season your seeds. Some spices that compliment curry are cinnamon, ginger, chili powder, cumin, or cloves.

Now, on to the soup! This is the type of soup that you will want to make on a chilly winter day. The mere smell of curry warms my body as it seeps throughout the house. I almost can’t wait for the first real snowfall so I can make it again. This soup would be a great starter to a Thanksgiving meal even though the flavors are not necessarily traditional. By the way, how is Thanksgiving THIS Thursday? Where does the time go?

Just before serving, I added a tablespoon of chili paste. I use Huey Fong, which is the same company that makes Sriracha (aka rooster sauce). I think the chili paste adds a nice layer of heat to this soup. For you spicy food haters, I would not describe the flavor chili paste adds to this soup as spicy at all. It is not going to burn your mouth and make your eyes water, it just adds a little kick and enhances the overall flavor of this soup. Give it a try! If you are nervous about adding chili paste to the entire pot of soup, you can always put it on the table and have guests add it to their individual bowls as desired.

Curried Acorn Squash and Red Lentil Soup

Cucina Kristina | Curried Acorn Squash and Red Lentil Soup with Spiced Acorn Squash Seeds

Warms you from the inside out!

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 acorn squash, peeled and cubed (see substitution ideas above)
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 cup red lentils
  • 1 tablespoon curry powder (see substitution ideas above)
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili paste (optional)
  • 1 1/2 quarts water

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, cook onions and garlic in melted coconut oil, stirring frequently for about 5 minutes.
  2. Add ginger and cook for another 3 minutes.
  3. Add carrots and squash and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Add the curry and cumin and cook for about a minute. This will toast the spices and open their flavor.
  5. Add water and lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and let simmer for 20-25 minutes or until lentils are cooked through and vegetables are tender.
  6. If using, add 1 tablespoon of chili paste just before serving.
  7. Serve warm and garnish with spiced acorn squash seeds.

Spiced Acorn Squash Seeds

Ingredients:

  • Coconut oil
  • Chinese five spice (see substitution ideas above)
  • Salt

Directions:

  1. Rinse and dry the seeds from 1 acorn squash.
  2. Melt coconut oil in a small bowl and toss the seeds to coat evenly. If you do not have coconut oil, you can use olive oil.
  3. Add 1 generous pinch of Chinese five spice and toss to evenly distribute.
  4. Spread seeds onto a baking sheet lined with foil and sprinkle with salt to taste.
  5. Roast in a 375˚ oven for about 12 minutes. All ovens vary so you will want to watch the seeds and check on them periodically. They are done when they look toasted and golden brown.

I’m Alive (Barely!) and Butternut Squash & Pear Soup

Phew! I just finished my first quarter of Grad school and I feel lucky to be alive. Ok, it wasn’t that bad, it was just more time-consuming than I ever could have imagined. The past three months have given me a whole new perspective of the phrase “trying to keep my head above water.” Needless to say, I have reverted back to the old college diet for the last few months. You may be familiar with it if you gained the “Freshman 15” when you were in college. It consists mainly of Pop Tarts, frozen pizzas, and take-out. It is disgusting, and I am looking forward to getting back on track during my holiday break.

Speaking of holidays, I have been charged with making a few sides for Thanksgiving that I will share with you in the next week or so. I’ll be making cranberry sauce, glazed carrots, burssels sprouts (don’t hate!), and stuffing. Some people think it is a sin to make stuffing from a box, but I think Stovetop rocks and I’ll share a few ideas for sprucing it up a bit.

In addition to all of the holiday classics, I love seasonal food this time of year. It is so comforting, warm, and hearty. My favorite fall/holiday food is squash. I love all types of squash–acorn squash, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, you name it. If it’s a squash, I want to roast it and eat it. I especially want to toast the seeds. We are all familiar with toasting pumpkin seeds at Halloween, right? Well, you can toast any squash seeds the same way you toast pumpkin seeds. Just toss them in a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast them on a baking sheet for 10-12 minutes at 325 degrees. Do this with the butternut squash seeds from the recipe below and garnish the soup or enjoy them as a snack.

I love making soup during the colder months for a few reasons. First, it’s easy. Second, it’s cheap. Soup is a great way to stretch your grocery budget, especially around the holidays when everyone is strapped for cash. I particularly love this soup because the squash makes for a ticker, bisque-like consistency, which definitely fills you up more than a broth based soup. And finally, because you can get a few meals out of very little ingredients.

Butternut Squash & Bartlett Pear Soup
Recipe from Vegetarian Times
Issue: November 1, 2009 
Serves 6

The toasted seeds are key to taking this soup from good to fantastic!

Ingredients

  • 3 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 medium leeks, white and tender green parts finely chopped
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (save the seeds for toasting!)
  • 3 Bartlett pears, peeled, cored, and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 5 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 1 14-oz. can light coconut milk
  • 1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme (you can substitute about 1/2 tsp. dried thyme, maybe a little less)

Directions

  • Heat oil in saucepan over medium-low heat. Add leeks, and cook 10 minutes, or until soft, stirring often.
  • Add squash and pears, and sauté 5 minutes.
  • Stir in vegetable broth, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 20 minutes, or until squash is fork-tender.
  • Remove from heat, and stir in coconut milk. Purée soup in batches in food processor or use immersion blender in saucepan; blend until smooth.
  • Return soup to saucepan, and stir in thyme. Reheat over medium-low heat 2 to 3 minutes, or until warmed through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve garnished with toasted butternut squash seeds, if desired.