Jen and Company

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With This Tortilla Soup, It’s All About the Fixins

November 12, 2012 · Leave a Comment

So I’m sort of new to this group, but luckily they still added me to the invite when Jen put together a gathering for the ladies, and me. The theme, as Jen is wont to do, was soup. Being the lone male, and knowing these ladies are in favor of gourmet food, I knew I couldn’t go the easy route by bringing Campbell’s tomato.

I’ve been a big fan of fajita soup since my spring break trip to Mazatlan my sophomore year of college. Don’t ask me how, but my buddies and I met this widower who was basically retired in Mazatlan. We’d spend happy hour sharing buckets of Corona’s before we did what sophomore’s in college do in Mazatlan. At the end of the week she wanted to show us a different side of Mazatlan so she took us to her favorite restaurant, and they made some awesome tortilla soup. But I had never tried making it on my own.

I chose this recipe from I was going vegetarian since Meghan was going to be there and I thought this soup suited it well. I actually just doubled it and planned to make one batch veggie, and one with chicken. Instead, Meghan stood us up and decided to look at leaves, and we all ate chicken tortilla soup.

Here are the ingredients:

  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 3/4 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 3/4 teaspoon chili powder
  • 4 cups canned vegetable broth
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Spray large nonstick saucepan with vegetable oil spray. Add onion and garlic; cover and cook over medium-low heat until almost tender, stirring often, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, cumin and chili powder. Add broth and 2 tablespoons cilantro; bring to boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer until flavors blend, about 15 minutes. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill. Bring to simmer before continuing.)

I did this part first because I needed to do it a couple days ahead. That worked really well and here’s what it looked like:

Tortilla Soup Base

After cutting onions, garlic and cilantro, my hands had a very unique smell

  • 4 6-inch-diameter corn tortillas, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips (don’t use these unless you fry them as all the reviews said all they do is get soggy and gross)
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
  • 2/3 cup canned black beans, rinsed, drained
  • 2/3 cup chopped zucchini
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons minced seeded jalapeño chili
Add tortillas (I didn’t use these), tomatoes, beans, zucchini and jalapeño to soup. Cover; simmer until zucchini is tender, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
This last part I did at Jen’s house after reheating the broth. I also added chicken as I mentioned above. For that, I took two chicken breasts, threw them in the crockpot (slow cooker) with about a cup of salsa and some water and let them sit over night. In the morning they were perfect for shredding and I kept the salsa in to add some additional flavor.
The skinny:
The soup was OK, but it needed help. Even though I left the seeds in the peppers for additional spice, and added salsa chicken, it was still a bit bland. Luckily, I had brought cheese, sour cream and fresh avocado, in addition to fresh jalapeño slices. That made it better. Without all that, I wouldn’t make it again. With it, I was a pretty big fan. For the leftovers I also added tortilla strips (which I left in the bag at Jen’s house, oops). Here’s what it looked like as leftovers with all the goodness sitting on top:
Tortilla soup ready for eating

Categories: cooking · recipes · Scott said · Uncategorized

gourmet dinner club: back to school

September 20, 2012 · 3 Comments

This month’s Gourmet Dinner Club was all about going Back to School. I challenged the crew to bring a dish that represented Back to School meant to them. Whether it was putting a gourmet spin on their favorite hot lunch or their regular after-school snack, the options were vast.

Some even chose to dress in the same style outfit as they did on their first day of kindergarten…..


Yep, Mike came in costume. He also brought some great treats. First up was his version of Ants on a Log. To spiff it up, he used chocolate almond butter and brandy soaked cherries. Umm…okay. Yum!

Next up was a classic PB&J….with a twist. Kari took puff pastry and filled it with a peanut sauce and mango chutney and topped it with creme fraiche. Move over Skippy! It was amazing and would have been the hit of many lunch boxes.

In addition to the Ants on a Log, Mike tried his hand a bread making. He’s been experimenting with sourdough starters and bigas. Using a biga, he made a cinnamon raisin brioche using this recipe as a guide. Although it called for considerably less butter than a traditional brioche, it was fantastic and I was lucky enough to keep the leftovers which made an excellent french toast.


My main course was inspired by 2 different memories. The first being my high school days. When I was running between activities (are you surprised that I was a major joiner?), my mom would always have a pan of  “dad’s favorite hot dish” in the fridge that i could heat up at any time. This was not only my dad’s favorite, buy one of mine as well. It consists of ground hamburger, spaghetti noodles, 3 different “cream of” soups and some vegetables.  My other inspiration was my later years of college when my roommates and I ate copious amounts of hamburger helper. That kind of makes me gag now when I think about it.

I updated the classic hamburger/noodle dish. Using a fresh pasta as my base, I made mushroom bechamel as my sauce and topped it with a mix of sauteed vegetables and ground lamb. It turned out pretty darn tasty and a great contemporary version of “dad’s favorite”.

We were fortunate to have 2 guests with us – both named Ann/Anne. We already knew Anne, but non of us knew Ann. Man, were we glad she came! Turns out they are both pros at Apple Crisp. Each distinctly different: one with ginger and pear and the other a more classic version with plenty of butter. Both with vanilla ice cream (2 different brands). We were all excited about the dueling crisps and both were delicious.  They were different enough that comparing the two was quite pointless. Instead, we just ate them up and poured another glass of wine.

This was a really fun theme that provided a lot of story telling from the group on their own back to school stories. It was a great way to get to know each other just a little bit better.

What would you have made for a Back to School themed dinner party?

Categories: cooking · dinner clubs · Jen said · recipes · Uncategorized

Charleston in pictures…

September 14, 2012 · Leave a Comment

This year our first summer vacation happened in May in Charleston. I used to live there and have many friends who still do. I’ve contemplated moving back several times and am then reminded that they still fly the confederate flag. Okay that was a joke, kinda, but I don’t think I’m cut out for southern living. I would weigh seven million pounds because I love sweet tea and fried okra and would not know how to say no.

So instead we vacation there. Typically once every other year. This year we got to celebrate the wedding of some college friends. They are amazing people. Their wedding was also amazing.


Turns out we got to pretend we were having our college reunion. Winning.

Stevie Wonder getting us warmed up for the party…

Aviva has mad photog. skilz

I love being a tourist

Angel Oak is almost 400 years old!

We fished in the ocean…

I’m the only one who caught anything:)

yeah-thats a sand dollar

We took a quick little side trip to Savannah where we found a bike shop made just for me!

and a bike made just for Tommy

told you they were serious about that dang flag!

Where is your favorite spot to vacation?

Categories: "it's all about the friendships" · Meghan said · travel · Uncategorized

Getaway with the Girls – Napa Valley Part 2

September 13, 2012 · 3 Comments

Alright so here is my first foodie review of our fabulous trip to Napa/Sonoma.
We had breakfast at the Boon Fly Cafe.

Let me start by saying how much I love breakfast.  I mean, a good runny egg makes me swoon.
I love breakfast on vacation even more, I mean who doesn’t right?
So here are the highlights of our fan.frickin.tastic. breakfast at Boon Fly.

First – let’s talk about the donuts.  They were ah.mazing.  Fresh and warm.  They bring them to your table in a silver pail…they are a must.

Jenny and I decided to kick off the morning right with a Bacon Bloody Mary!  Squeal!
They were spicy, tomatoey and bacony – perfection.

I ordered the Boon Fly Benedict.  I have mad love for anything benedict and this did not disappoint.  The jalapeno hollandaise was killer.

Christina had the Chilaquiles.  Do you know of such things? Their description, “tortilla chips, tomato and chipotle salsa, onion, cilantro, crema, queso fresco, avocado, and two over-easy eggs.”  Christina is a total chip and dip freak so she loved this.  She also let me steal a bite and I immediately wished that is what I had ordered.  To quote her, “this is the best breakfast I have ever had, in my life.”  Viva Chilaquiles!

Everyone else had pretty simple stuff, omlette’s, pancakes,etc. and we were all very happy.  We felt like it was a great start before our day of wine tasting =)
The whole joint was very cute, very rustic/farmy with big community tables.  The service was great and the food even better!

What is your favorite thing to order at breakfast?

Categories: "it's all about the friendships" · dining out · Liza said · restaurant reviews · travel · Uncategorized
Tagged: ,

csa friday #9

September 7, 2012 · 1 Comment

I wasn’t able to pick up this week’s share. I was super bummed but Happy Hour called. Brette took care of the pick-up but saved the unloading for me so I could experience the excitement as well. 🙂

Another great haul and just when my fridge was looking a little bare. It’s definitely full now!

The Veggie Share:

  • Italian Garlic
  • Red onions – they are little and so cute!
  • Potatoes
  • Lemongrass – this was unexpected. I think some Thai food is in order!
  • Broccoli
  • Tomatoes – I now have tomatoes coming out of my ears! I’m going to need to do some preserving.
  • Arugula – Brette’s favorite
  • Celery – I’m definitely making this soup again. It is sooo tasty!
  • Sweet Corn – The last of the season?
  • Edamame
  • Cucumber
  • Mini-sweet peppers – these could not be any more adorable.

Fruit Share:

  • Seedless Grapes
  • Yellow Nectarines
  • Valencia Oranges
  • Dapple Dandy Plout – we are pluot converts as every share has had different varieties. They have all been excellent.
  • Starkrimson Pear – Beautiful red pears.
  • Ginger Gold Apples
  • McIntosh Apples – great baking apples!

It’s pretty much a given I’m going to have to bake something with the apples. The big debate will be if I go with a classic crisp or mix it up. What would you do?

Categories: csa · Jen said · Uncategorized