Chicken Tortilla Soup, AKA Best Soup Ever

20130830-182326.jpgWe’ve been eating Chicken Tortilla Soup for years. It’s a Sandwell Family classic. My wife started making it for me years ago when we got married, and we’ve made it probably two or three times a month ever since.

The basics of this dish are pretty simple, but you can go in a lot of different directions. This is actually the recipe that we began with that became a lot of other soups and chilis and stews we now make. I’ve given you the equation before. Broth, Veg, Protein. For Chicken Tortilla Soup that means chicken broth, onions and peppers, and chicken.

Tonight, I used,

two cans of rotel
one heirloom tomato
one red bell pepper
one red onion
two jalapeno peppers
three pepperoncini peppers
three tablespoons of salsa
three tablespoons of chopped cilantro
one teaspoon of minced garlic
two tablespoons lemon juice
one tablespoon tarragon vinegar
one tablespoon pomegranate vinegar
one breast of a rotisserie chicken
one box of chicken broth
salt/pepper/cayenne

There are a lot of different tweaks you can put on this dish. Normally I’d like to put green bell pepper in it as well to add a little variation and color. I’d rather use lime juice than lemon juice, and I don’t always use the same vinegars, but I like to have a little acid in the soup to balance the other flavors. But it’s all just shades of difference on the original dish. Broth. Veg. Protein.

Back when we used to eat the Standard American Diet we would have dressed this dish with cheese and sour cream and croutons. And wasn’t that delicious. But now we dress it with a little chopped green onion or a sprig of fresh cilantro and it’s still delicious, only it won’t make our legs rot off. Which is kind of awesome if you think about it.

I made this in the crockpot. With a slow cooker bag, of course. You can make it on the stove top if you’re in a hurry. Prepping all that veg may seem like a bit of a hassle, but you get the hang of it pretty quick. I buy vinyl food service gloves at the grocery store in boxes of a hundred for like a nickle a glove. It makes all the prep super easy because my hands stay clean. Everything gets as fine a dice as you feel like putting on it and goes in the pot. Heat ’til hot than eat like crazy.

This whole pot of soup is only like 700 calories, so you can go as crazy as you want and still feel fine about your dinner. If you want to stretch it a little you can add some water to the broth, or just more broth. If you are feeling lazy or just don’t have the time you can use frozen veg instead of fresh. It won’t be quite as good, but it’s still pretty darn good. And it cooks up just fine in the pot. If you use raw chicken, brown it in a pan first. But if you use rotisserie chicken everything is ready to eat and all you have to do is heat it up.

These recipes aren’t hard to cook. They aren’t expensive. They don’t take a lot of time. They’re easy, and they taste great, and you feel like a superhero after eating them. This is food that fuels your body. It makes you strong. You can make this at night and throw it in the pot the next morning before work and come home to a house that smells fantastic. You can make it after work and heat it up on the stove in twenty minutes. You can make it tonight and have it for lunch tomorrow. You can do this. We do it all the time. Husbands, imagine how your wives will react to coming home to find that YOU have made dinner tonight. Wives, imagine how your husbands will feel when they can relax after a long day at work with a hot bowl of chicken soup. This is comfort food. This is medicine.

This is the best soup ever.

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Orange Chicken and Cauli Rice

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Orange chicken and cauli rice

Tonight I got off work early so I had a little more time to devote to dinner. Rob loves Chinese food and has really missed it since we switched to Paleo. So for tonight’s dinner I attempted an Asian inspired orange chicken. I wasn’t really sure what direction to take this dish so here is everything I grabbed: 20130829-193033.jpg

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First I started a sauce. I juiced two large oranges and two cuties -I would have added to this because I like a lot of sauce but that is all the citrus I found in my fridge. Use what you have 🙂 I added a few tablespoons of Saracha, a few tablespoons of gluten free soy sauce (if you don’t eat soy just skip it) a shake or two of ginger and a pinch of minced garlic. Put all that in a small sauce pan and let it thicken over a medium heat.

Then I tossed a lil cauliflower (that has been sitting in my fridge waiting for some sort of culinary inspiration to strike) into the food processor until it was a rice consistency, then I sautéed it with some olive oil over medium heat. 20130829-192854.jpg

While those two were cooking I browned some chicken in coconut oil, it cooked up fast so I set the chicken aside and added my veg to the same pan.20130829-192636.jpg

Cooked it only until the carrots softened and then turned off all 3 burners and assembled it.

My original plan was to sprinkle some cashews over top, but it had enough crunch so I skipped it. All in this took a little less then 45 minutes, if I had Rob home to help we probably could have done it in 20. Home cooked dinner doesn’t have to be an all night event. Food is what fuels your body, it’s worth the time.

Fish and Chips

20130828-215850.jpgA lot of people have been asking me about my fish recipe lately. Pescetarians have said to me, “I’m interested in Paleo, but I still don’t want to eat red meat. What can I do?” Well if you’ve been reading our blog, you know that we use a wide range of proteins, including beef, pork, and a variety of poultry. And fish!

Tonight we were both just tired. We’ve been working long hot days, and we’re broke, and we wanted something easy to cook. So we thought we’d throw some foil packets on the grill. We had a couple of lemon-pepper cod fillets we bought from the grocers, so we decided to cook those with some potatoes and onions.

I got out some heavy aluminum foil and brushed it with roll butter and sprinkled salt, pepper, and cayenne on it. Then I sliced a lemon and made two little stacks on the foil of lemon slice/fish fillets/lemon slice.

While I was preparing that, she put a rustic chop on a bag of variety garden potatoes and a red onion. I prepared another piece of foil the same way, butter/salt/pepper/cayenne, and we put the potatoes and onion on the foil with some minced garlic and a few small pieces of butter.

We wrapped up the foil and I started the grill. I let it heat up, then I put it on the lowest setting with the two foil packets on the top shelf and set a timer for ten minutes. When it went off, I flipped the two packets and let them cook for another seven minutes before pulling them off.

I let the foil packets sit for a few minutes to finish cooking and cool, and then we opened them up to reveal the goodies inside. Always be careful with this. There’s a lot of steam in those packets and you can burn yourself. We both like vinegar on our fish, although this fish is delicious and you can eat it just like it comes off the grill. I went with a pomegranate infused red wine vinegar, she went with mild salad vinegar. Next to that we both had big piles of potatoes and onions.

These meals were fantastic. Crazy delicious, really easy, and super filling. It probably took about forty five minutes between prep and cook time, but the prep was mostly just slice and chop, and the cooking was mostly just waiting for a timer to go off. We use a propane grill, but you could use a charcoal grill if you want, or even just cook this in your oven. It’s really just steaming, we just do it on the grill because it’s convenient for us.

We didn’t use to eat a lot of fish, but since we’ve started eating Paleo we’ve started diversifying our foods more and more and fish has become a regular part of our diet. So have a lot of new vegetables. And we’ve found we’re starting to really look forward to a lot of these foods. A lot of people think fish smell bad, but when we opened up the butcher paper tonight our first thought was “Yum!”

Give this recipe a try. There are lots of different fish you can cook like this, we just buy cod because we’re broke and it’s cheap. But it tastes great! And the potatoes are awesome! And it made plenty for us to save some for breakfast tomorrow.

We might not eat fried fish and french fries anymore, but we can still have fish and chips for dinner any time we want. You might not eat red meat, but you can still eat Paleo. Get creative. You’ll like the results. Leave a comment and let us know how this recipe works for you!

Coconut Chicken & Roasted Sweets

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Rob and I had a busy day lots of errands, a work project for me and karate for him. I was just really wanting fried chicken so I made a coconut fried chicken with green beans and roasted potatoes.

Here is what you need:
4 med sized sweet potato
Few table spoons of olive oil
Cayanne
Italian seasoning
S&P

Peel and dice the potatoes then I tossed them with some olive oil and seasoning and put them in a cake pan then I popped them in the oven at 450 for 30 min.

For the chicken,
1 lb Chicken
Coconut
Coconut oil
1 egg
Cayanne
Coarse salt
Pepper

Once that was cooking I tenderized the chicken. Beat the egg in a small bowl, dredge the chicken then rolled it in coconut. Pan fried it in coconut oil. 20130826-224922.jpg

The whole process took about 20 minutes. Because when I finished the chicken the sweet potatoes were done.

The green beans are from a can, just heated and seasoned.

All in maybe 45 minutes? A little longer then we usually spend on dinner but worth the wait.

Chili Night!

20130825-195528.jpgTonight we decided to make chili in the crockpot. We both like almost exactly the opposite kinds of chili. I like traditional flavored chilis with thin broths, she likes BBQ flavored chilis with thick broths. We both like them to have beef as the main protein and a tomato base. Tonight we decided to make a thick, traditional flavored chili.

Normally I would want to make this in the crockpot in the morning and then let it cook all day so the flavors could all blend in the pot. But we didn’t go grocery shopping until late this afternoon and we wanted chili for dinner so I did things a little differently this time.

I started by making the sauce in the crockpot. In a crockpot liner bag I mixed,

1 small can tomato paste
1 can rotel chili starter
1 can diced tomatoes with sweet onions
1 jar tabasco brand chili starter
1 tbsp butter
1 can pumpkin puree

My wife has written before about how we use pumpkin puree to thicken some of our curries and stews. It’s a great, nutrient dense way to thicken a dish without adding cream or fat. It absorbs the flavors of the dish and adds a bland orange color.

Then I mixed some of my own chili seasoning. I don’t like to use the stuff at the grocery store because they use a lot of grain products in the mix. Instead I just make my own out of spices I have in the pantry. Tonight I used

chili powder
crushed red pepper
cayenne powder
garlic powder
mustard powder
ginger powder
paprika
rosemary
salt
pepper
cumin

For me, traditional chili seasoning is all about the cumin and the chili powder. Everything else gives dimension to the flavors, but those are the two that form the base of what I like in a chili. I put this aside for a while and began working on the meat and veg.

For the meat we used one pound of 93/7 ground beef and three slices of precooked bacon which I put a fine dice on and set aside for later. Normally we get 90/10 grass fed beef but tonight we just didn’t want to hit one more store so we went ahead and just grabbed what they had on the shelf at the grocers. I put that in a skillet and put the heat on medium and while that was browning I got to work on the veg.

green bell pepper
red bell pepper
red onion
jalapeno
baby portobello mushrooms
minced garlic

I put a fine dice on all of that and put it in a bowl on the side. I like to use fresh veg when I make chilis and soups, but in a pinch I’m willing to settle for frozen. Tonight I had the luxury of taking my time and prepping my food so I went with fresh everything. In the past I used to put beans and corn in chili, but I don’t eat those foods anymore which is I why I went with the mushrooms. They give a similar mouth feel and a similar umami flavor profile to the dish. And they’re great for you.

About the time I finished prepping all that food the meat was done browning so I tossed the bowl of veg in with it and tossed it for a minute with the beef and the fat that had cooked out of it. After a few tosses I added the bacon and the chili seasoning I’d prepared earlier to the skillet and continued tossing it for another five minutes or so to cook down the veg. Then I added it all to the crockpot and stirred it in with the sauce.

I cooked it on high for about an hour before I couldn’t wait anymore and started dishing out bowls. It was fantastic, packed with flavor, and very filling. It had a nice thick consistency, with a little bit of fat from the butter and the beef and the bacon to give it just a little creaminess, and every bite was packed with fresh cooked veg.

I love making chili. We usually make it through the fall and winter and not so much during the spring and summer, so it’s been a few months since we’ve made one here at the house. But now that the seasons are changing we’ll be making several more in the near future. I’m sure we’ll make little tweaks and changes, but this is the general format we follow. Sauce. Veg. Meat. I mentioned that before when we made the Southern Style Chicken Soup. It may have seemed like a lot of work went into this dish, but it probably didn’t take more than twenty minutes to make the whole thing. If you’ve never worked in a kitchen before, there’s probably going to be a little bit of a trial and error period as you learn to break down vegetables. But it’s really not hard. And the results are definitely worth it. And like I said, if you’re in a pinch, just use a bag of frozen veg. It’ll cook up quick enough in the crockpot.

Figure we can get at least three or four meals out of this pot of chili. For 15-20 bucks give or take. Way less than we’d spend eating out, and way better food than we’d get at any restaurant. If you like your chili with BBQ flavor, add a little sauce. If you like it with hot sauce, go crazy. I think this is great with tabasco or sriracha or red hot. You really can’t go wrong.

Give it a try!

Salad for Breakfast

I had to go into work super early today and didn’t have time to make anything for breakfast. But I knew I had a long day ahead of me and I didn’t want to try to do it on an empty stomach. Which ended up being a good idea, because it turned out to be a busy day. So I went down to the food court to see if anybody was open. And the only place that was was a chicken sandwich place. But they sell salads, so I figured I’d try my luck.

I tried their Cobb Salad, which I ordered with grilled chicken instead of the breaded chicken it normally comes with; and without cheese or dressing. The grilled chicken was served cold, which may have been because it was nine am and they were just opening, or may have been because that’s how they serve it. I didn’t really care enough to ask. I didn’t realize until I opened it up that it also had corn on it, which I normally don’t eat and mostly picked out with my fork, although I wasn’t overly concerned and I definitely ate some of it. Other than that it was served with some crispy pepper strips which I skipped because they listed some grain products in the ingredients, and tomatoes and carrots and eggs and bacon which I did eat.

I had the whole thing dry. And before I took a bite I really wanted to cover it with dressing. But then I tried it and it was awesome and I devoured it as quickly as I could. I still experience some of the old cultural programming that makes me think veggies don’t taste good unless they taste like ranch dressing. But as soon as I take the first bite I remember how amazing meat and vegetables and eggs and fruit taste and I don’t need to cover it all with cream sauce and croutons.

That simple cold salad of mixed greens and tomatoes and carrots and corn and eggs and bacon and chicken gave me the energy to power through a pretty busy day for about six hours until I took a break to eat another Larabar. Fruit Tart. And that got me through till dinner, when my wife prepared me an amazing spaghetti squash and meatballs. There was a time, not too long ago, when I would have been starving on 5000 calories before five pm. Today I had less than 700 total through breakfast and lunch. The more I eat nutrient dense food, the smaller my portions become and the longer they sustain me. It really is an amazing thing. Nutrition is so much more complex than “calories in/calories out.”

The idea of a salad for breakfast seems really crazy. When I was younger I remember thinking mockingly of that as “rabbit food.” Even as I got older and started eating a lot more salads I rarely thought of them as “main course” material, even with meat. I wanted something more. Something extra. Even when they were covered in dressing. Now I can eat a fairly small dry salad and run at top shape for hours.

Paleo doesn’t mean every meal has to be a salad, or you have to survive on nothing but shakes or granola bars, or starve yourself to get by. Most days I’m eating grilled meats and roasted vegetables and potatoes and squash and succulent fruits. Every once in a while I’m on the go and in a hurry and have to make due. But I’m finding the more I make the right decisions, even in a pinch, the easier everything becomes.

ChickfilA-Cobb-Salad

Spaghetti and Meatballs!

It is finally Saurday! This has been a long week for the Sandwells and we have a busy weekend ahead of us. Rob and I have both had friends visiting from afar, a wedding to attend, his birthday to celebrate, and then just the normal work and life and stuff. I wanted comfort food. So tonight’s din was spaghetti and meatballs.

For the meatballs I used 1/2 lb of ground beef an 1/2 lb of spicy Italian sausage from our butcher. To that I added garlic, one egg, some s&p and a little tomato sauce. Mixed together in a bowl, roll into balls place in a cookie sheet baked at 375 for about 20 minutes, tonight the sausage released a little fat as it cooked so we popped them in a skillet for a hot second to brown them. Then they were perfect!
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To cook the spaghetti squash you chop a large squash into two halves (just grab your sweet husband to do this, or your large kitchen machete.)
Scrap out the seedy bits and place cut side up in the micro. I like to cover it with a damp paper towel to keep it from drying out, I cook it at 6 minute intervals until its fork tender and easily scrapes into noodle form.
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For the sauce I heated a tiny bit of olive oil in a large skillet, then I added a very finely diced red onion, a few spoonfuls of garlic some diced mushrooms and let that cook down.
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I found some pepperoni in the fridge and decided to toss in a bit of that, along with a can of fire roasted tomatoes and a large can of gluten free spaghetti sauce, and let it heat through.
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Then we added all the components together + one large glass of red wine. A perfect comfort meal, all super easy to make!

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Breaded Pork Chops and House Salad with Cheese

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Mrs. Sandwell and I went out to one of our favorite Italian restaurants recently. We specifically asked the waitress not to bring us bread and to leave cheese off of all our food. She gave us some static about it throughout the evening, repeatedly, but was generally a very good natured waitress. We enjoyed her service thoroughly and tipped her well.

We both ordered the same thing. A house salad, which was fantastic. And was delivered with Parmesan cheese all over it. And for the main course I was going to order a large antipasto salad, but the waitress sold me on the special which my wife also ordered. Pork Chops with Roasted Red Potatoes. “That sounds delicious!” I thought. And it was. It was also breaded pork chops, which I only found out when they arrived. They were also served with green beans, which was a delightful and unexpected surprise since the waitress didn’t mention them when describing the special to us earlier.

So even though I specifically asked that our table not receive any bread or any cheese, we got cheese on our salads and breaded pork chops, both without warning. We were also offered garlic bread and cheese on our dishes, despite having previously expressed our preference repeatedly. Our waitress even said, “Oh, I thought you meant the other cheese.”

We didn’t let any of this bring us down. We didn’t get bent at the waitress or make a scene. She really was a pleasant waitress. And we had a great date night. I’ve said before, “When someone else is doing the cooking try to be gracious about the results.” So we didn’t have the perfectly Paleo meal we had planned. That we had specifically chosen THAT restaurant to go to for. That didn’t ruin our evening or cause any drama. The breaded pork chops with red potatoes and green beans were fantastic. So was the house salad with cheese. It was a great meal, and one great meal with a few grams of food we don’t normally consume isn’t gonna be the reason my legs fall off.

It’s easy to get really caught up in what you’re focused on. And that’s good, because you really want to be conscious of what you’re ingesting and making intentional decisions about your nutrition. But sometimes life throws you a curve ball. I could have been a big jerk about the whole thing, and yelled at the waitress, and embarrassed my wife in public, and demanded I get my meal for free. I wouldn’t even have been that out of line. I couldn’t have been more clear about “no bread no cheese.” But instead we smiled and laughed and had a wonderful meal and went on our merry way.

The world at large doesn’t get it yet. The more experienced you are with Paleo, the more you encounter that. “No cheese” means “the other cheese.” “No bread” somehow doesn’t include bread crumbs. It’s all the time, everywhere. It’s people saying, “I don’t eat much bread; I only had a croissant and a muffin for breakfast and pasta for lunch and pizza for dinner and soda all day.”

You can rage at that, or you can chuckle at it. You can throw your food in the waitress’ face, or you can enjoy a delicious meal. Your choice won’t change the world. But it might change your evening.

We loved our dinner. And later we talked about how it’d probably make us feel a little sick, and how we’d probably experience a little bloating from it, and how tasty it was. And we’ll definitely go back to that restaurant. And next time I know to be more specific about my salad, and not to order the breaded pork chops. Instead I’ll get the grilled chicken or the antipasto salad, both of which are also excellent.

Learning how to live the Paleo lifestyle is more than just caloric math equations or lists of allowed or prohibited foods. It’s about education and objectivity and rational decision making. And at it’s most basic, it’s about having a more sustainable lifestyle. It’s about being healthy. And your mental and spiritual health is just as important (or more so) than the number on the scale or the size of your pants. It only makes so much sense to stand firm on a tablespoon of Parmesan cheese and ruin your evening and your marriage and bring long lasting drama and stress and negativity into your life by throwing a fit at a restaurant. Sometimes the healthy decision is just to enjoy your evening.

My Wife is Amazing

My Wife is Amazing

I had a long day at work today. It wasn’t hard, I have a really great job, but it was long. I went in early, it was busy from the start, and I stayed till close. And I know I … Continue reading

Grilled bananas in coconut rum sauce

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So Rob had a late night at work tonight, and I’ve been wanting something sweet. So I scrounged around and came up with this.

2 bananas
1 peach
Coconut oil
Cinnamon
Honey
One shot rum bottle
Coconut extract
Shredded coconut

Melt a few tablespoons of coconut oil in a skillet. Then crank the heat up high, add the fruit and stir occasionally until it browns lightly. Then sprinkle a tiny amount of cinnamon over top. Mix the rum shot with about a tablespoon of honey and a tsp of coconut extract. (I heat the honey in the micro first to make mixing easier) pour the honey mixture over the fruit and let the liquid cook out. Then bring the heat down to a simmer and sprinkle a tiny amount of shredded coconut on top.

Then eat it all immediately before anyone else comes home and wants you to share. 😀