Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Best Sopa Azteca Ever...aka Tortilla Soup

Tortilla soup is one of those things that I almost have to order when I see it on a restaurant menu. I have no idea why, but the concept of it always sounds good to me. Inevitably I am almost always let down and I really have no idea why I continue to order it. When I saw Ourcookquest send a tweet out with a link to Rick Bayless's recipe for Sopa Azteca...aka Tortilla Soup, I knew I had to make it.

For those of you unfamiliar with Rick Bayless, he is a James Beard award-winning chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, and television personality as the winner of Top Chef Masters as well as the host of "Mexico - One Plate at a Time". His restaurants in Chicago are some of my favorites in the country. Frontera Grill and Topolobampo have been around since the 1980's and still have a line out the door every day of the week. His latest creation, XOCO, might be my favorite one yet.

But I digress, back to the Sopa Azteca....Here's the link to Rick Bayless's official Sopa Azteca recipe. I didn't follow it exactly so continue on to how I made the best tortilla soup I've ever tasted. It just happened to also be one of the easiest soups I've ever made.

My rendition of Rick Bayless's Sopa Azteca

Ingredients    * means see cook's notes.at the end of the recipe

1 large dried New Mexico chile, stemmed and seeded *
1 dried chipotle chile, stemmed and seeded *
One 15-ounce can pureed tomatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, sliced 1/4-inch thick
5 garlic cloves, peeled & smashed
2 quarts smoked turkey stock, homemade
1 pound shredded turkey leftover from Thanksgiving * 

For garnishing
1 large ripe avocado, pitted, flesh scooped from the skin and cut into 1/4-inch cubes
Your cheese of choice, shredded (e.g. Mexican melting cheese like Chihuahua, quesadilla or asadero), to taste
Roughly broken tortilla chips, to taste
1/2 cup Mexican crema, sour cream or creme fraƮche for garnish (I skipped this)
1 large lime, cut into 6 wedges, for serving (I skipped this but wish I would have tried it)

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic once the oil is hot and cook until caramelized, about 7 minutes.

While the onions are cooking, lightly toast the chilis over the flame of your gas stove or in a pan on your electric stove. Don't be afraid to get it in the flame, that charring adds good flavor depth to the soup. Once the chilis are toasted, break them into small pieces and put them in a blender along with the tomatoes. Once the onions and garlic have caramelized, add them to the blender and process until everything is completely smooth*. 

Return this mixture to the pan over high heat and cook until it is the consistency of tomato paste. Add the turkey stock and simmer the mixture for 15 minutes.

While the soup is simmering, garnish each bowl with tortilla chips, avocado, and cheese.

Just before serving, add the turkey meat to the soup, taste and season with salt and pepper, if necessary.

Fill each bowl with soup and serve with sour cream, lime, and additional tortilla chips on the side.


Cooks Notes
* See the comments in Rick's recipe if you don't have dried chilies - chili powder can be substituted - or better yet, head to your local spice vendor and pick up some fresh dried chili's. My favorite spice vendor in Cleveland is Spice Hound
* You can use chicken stock instead of turkey, but good quality stock is very important. Don't waste your time or money on the stuff they sell at the grocery store - use water instead if you don't have homemade stock
* Chicken or any other meat can be substituted for turkey
* To ensure an amazing, velvety texture, I highly recommend using a Vita Mix blender. Using a lessor blender, you are likely to leave some larger chunks of the chili pepper that are not appealing to eat.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

This One's for Smoking!

I forgot to mention one other type of thermometer that is a must have in my arsenal - a wireless smoker thermometer.

Last year for Christmas I put something on my list that I didn't even think existed - a wireless thermometer with dual probes, one to display the temperature of meat and the other to display the temperature of the smoker. To take it a step further, I wanted it to have an alarm that alerted me not only when the smoker reached a certain temperature, but also if it dropped below a certain temperature. My awesome sister and brother in-law found the only one that exists that I am aware of, the Maverick RediChek Remote Wireless Smoker Thermometer, available for $40.77 on Amazon.

As you can see in the picture above, there are two probes. The shorter probe gets fixed in the metal bracket on the grill grate and provides you with the air temperature inside your smoker. The other probe gets inserted into the pork butt, beef brisket, turkey, or whatever cut of meat you are smoking. The device in the picture that displays 225 stays with the smoker and transmits both temperatures to the remote device that can receive the signal up to 100 feet away. The remote also allows you to set alarms for both the food and air temperature.

There are a couple of design flaws, in my opinion. The on/off switch on the Transmitter is located behind the battery door which means you have to take off the battery door to access it. It's quick and easy to do but still a poor design. You also have to turn on the remote before turning on the transmitter (or is it the other way around), otherwise it won't receive the signal. Setting the alarms is also annoying. The device only has one "adjust" button that scrolls up one degree at a time so if it's set to 180 degrees and you want to change it to 140 degrees you have to scroll past the max setting 370 degrees around to the minimum setting, and if you miss it or forget to push enter you have to go all the way around again. It's pretty annoying so if I can pay close attention to the remote I often will skip the alarms and monitor it manually. But it's really nice for those times when I'm doing a million other things getting ready for a party or even more often when I start the smoker and go back to bed.
Despite these design flaws it's a great addition to your arsenal if you are serious about smoking and BBQ but haven't invested in an expensive smoker that is easier to maintain the temperature. I use a Weber Kettle grill for my smoking and it's gotten much easier since I got the Maverick RediChek Remote Wireless Smoker Thermometer.

Monday, November 29, 2010

REVIEW: Taylor Digital Dual Temperature Thermocouple and Infrared Thermometer

I mentioned a couple months ago CSN Stores asked me to review a product from one of their 200+ stores. I was given $55 to spend on anything I wanted to try. I went back and forth many times before finally deciding I needed a new digital thermometer. Apparently I am pretty rough on thermometers. Over the past couple years, I've gone through the following thermometers:
3 Different $20-30 Probe Thermometers:
 One Digital "Instant Read" 

One cheapo meat thermometer

I really liked the probe style thermometers I've used. It's so convenient to be able to put the probe in a roast before you put it in the oven and have it monitor the temperature constantly and even have an alarm alert you when it reaches a certain temperature. On the flip side, I've had lots of problems with the  the wire connecting the probe to the device fraying. I'd say they've lasted me  about 6-9 months before it became frayed and stopped working. After going through my first two probes, I decided to try a cheap digital "instant read" like pictured above. It worked ok, but there was really nothing instant about it. It takes at least 10-15 seconds to get an accurate reading. That might not seem like a huge deal, but when I'm working on a 500 degree grill or trying to maintain a consistent temperature in my smoker, time is of the essence. So I finally decided to break down and buy a true instant read thermometer.

CSN didn't have a lot of high end digital thermometers for me to pick from so I decided to get the Taylor Digital Dual Temperature Thermocouple and Infrared Thermometer. Here are the stats provided by Taylor:

  • Digital infrared dual temperature thermometer
  • Infrared temperature range: -27° F to 428° F and -33° C to 220° C
  • Thermocouple temperature range: -67° F to 630° F and -55° C to 330° C
  • Min and max and hold features
  • Step down tip for a small puncture in foods
  • Batteries and nylon case included
  • Overall dimensions: 6.25" H x 2.13" W x 2.38" D
The device is pretty straightforward to use. If you want to us the infrared to test the surface temperature of a pan you simply hold down the infrared button and point it at the pan you want to rest. It's actually kind of fun to play with the infrared setting and I've started charting temperatures when I am sauteing, sweating, etc to test the results at different temperatures.

While the infrared is fun to play with, the probe is the real reason I bought the thermometer. I was sick of burning my hand waiting for the cheaper "instant" read thermometers to get up to 160 degrees when I was grilling chicken - usually at least 10 seconds. I was hoping this Taylor model would literally be instant but it still takes 2-3 seconds to come up to temperature. It's definitely a big improvement over this $10 Taylor model I also own, but so far I don't think it's worth the additional $90 in cost.

Do you have a thermometer you really love? Am I missing out on some great features of this model that I just haven't discovered yet?

Full disclosure: I was provided with $55 towards the purchase of any item from any of CSN Stores websites. The total cost of the thermometer was $99.99, I was responsible for the difference in price. The opinions written here are all my own.