Thursday, February 24, 2011

Tortilla Soup for Your Man's Soul

Is the way to a man’s heart really through his stomach?   Duh!  While not the only way (you can use your imagination for some alternate routes), I think it’s a safe bet to say that being able cook your guy a delicious home-cooked meal is a sure way to earn a few brownie points (and even more if you serve him brownies for dessert…see previous post!).  And to my domestically-disinclined female readers out there, DON’T FRET.  It doesn’t take much skill or ability to whip up a really great dinner for your man.  For my law ladies in particular: if you can get through the excruciatingly boring, ungrammatical, tedious rambling in our assigned judicial opinions, you can follow this recipe.  Trust me.  Unlike those so-called “justices,” I won’t make things excessively complicated for no reason whatsoever.  

And best of all, this not only tastes BOMB, it’s actually healthy.  Shocker, I know.  You’re probably asking yourself, “Why would she even risk using the 'H' word to describe a meal that she wants me to cook for him?”  But I totally get it. No guys like “healthy” food…or so they think.  But there are so many fantastic healthy recipes out there that no man would ever begin to imagine as being remotely nutritious.  Why? Because they are packed with flavor, spice, and fresh ingredients (just like this recipe).  Healthy food doesn’t have to be bland, boring, reminiscent of cardboard, or include wheat germ or spinach in the ingredient list.  Try making my tortilla soup and you’ll discover this first hand.  Just remember not to tell him it’s healthy before he digs into his first of many bowls.  No preconceived notions allowed!  And, to any guy for whom I’ve made this dish in the past...I sure fooled you, didn’t I?  ;)

Devon’s Chicken Tortilla Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 medium green bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, minced (de-seed and de-vein if you don’t like things spicy, or omit altogether)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 (14-ounce) can crushed tomatoes
1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chilies
4 cups chicken broth (more or less, depending on how thick you want your soup)
1 cup frozen yellow corn
2 uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into bite-sized pieces (again, shredded rotisserie chicken meat can be used here, too)
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained
Optional—for a thicker, chili-like consistency, I sometimes also add a can of refried beans. Feel free to substitute pinto beans, white kidney beans, really any kind of bean, for the black beans.
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 lime, juiced
Salt and pepper to taste

Suggested accompaniments
Crushed tortilla chips
Guacamole or sliced avocado
Shredded Cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese
Sour cream
Chopped cilantro

1. In a soup pot, heat oil over medium heat. Sauté onion, bell pepper, and jalapeno in oil for 2 minutes. Add garlic. Continue cooking until soft, stirring occasionally (approx. another 3 minutes).

2. Stir in chili powder, cumin, and oregano, cook for 1 minute. Add tomatoes, green chilies, and chicken broth. Bring to a boil and simmer 10 minutes.

3.  Add frozen corn, chicken, and black beans. Simmer for at least 10 minutes, or longer for better flavor.

4.  Right before serving, stir in chopped cilantro, fresh lime juice, and salt and pepper to taste.

5.  Serve soup with suggested accompaniments. Enjoy!

Notes: Please adjust spices and seasonings to your liking. Another nice way to both thicken and flavor the soup is to add crushed tortilla chips while the chicken cooks. Adding a dollop of sour cream to the entire pot before serving also lends a creamier texture.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Never-Fail-Always-Perfect Brownies (if only life were like these...)

What a weekend!  It was great to have four law school-free days, but they were definitely jam-packed.  My sister moved down to LA, my friend turned 23, I went to Costco (my fav!), dealt with unnecessary law school section drama, I had a job interview (and got the JOB!) … and, unsurprisingly, managed to do barely any school work.  Oh well.  It happens.  

I think I can finally say that, for the first time in six or so months, I feel like I’m walking on solid ground again.  The start of my law school experience brought with it a multitude of changes—leaving behind my stable life in Seattle and moving to an entirely new state, ending a rather long-term relationship (and subsequently starting a new one…which has also ended), adapting to an entirely new field of study and way of learning, and forming new friendships with so many great people.   Needless to say, it’s been an intense ride filled with extreme highs and devastating lows.   Before I left home last July, I never would have imagined that I’d go through so much in such a short period of time.

But the tumultuous journey that I’ve had since the start of this whole process has only served to make me a stronger person.  I’ve learned to trust myself more.  Life is not predictable and things aren’t always perfect.  I know life’s going to throw me a few (or maybe many) curveballs here and there.  I’m confident that I’ll be able to deal with them just fine…maybe even hit one out of the park :)  I’ve come to realize that the shitty times sure do make those future good days seem that much better.  

When life isn’t predictable, I bake.  I have my go-to recipes—my recipes that always turn out perfectly if I follow just a few easy steps.  These brownies are THE BEST and they’ve never failed me.  So next time you’re dealing with one of those inevitable curveballs, do something that you know you have control over.  For me, it’s stepping into the kitchen and whipping up a batch of Never-Fail-Always-Perfect Brownies. Enjoy.

Never-Fail-Always-Perfect Brownies
(Adapted from Brooke’s Bombshell Brownies @

1 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or any other flavor chip…mint chips are fantastic!)

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 9x13-inch glass baking dish.
2. In a large bowl, combine butter, sugar, and vanilla with a wire whisk until blended. 
3. Add eggs, one at a time, and mix well after each addition. 
4. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt. 
5. With a wooden spoon or spatula, add the flour mixture into the butter/sugar mixture until just combined (do not overmix).  Stir in chocolate chips, if desired. 
6. Pour batter into prepared baking dish.  Bake for 30-40 minutes, checking frequently for doneness.  Let them cool for as long as you can stand it…brownies are way easier to cut into squares when they aren’t fresh out of the oven.

Note: Overcooked brownies are just not good (worse than undercooked).  Take them out early if you aren’t sure—can’t go wrong with a gooey, fudgy brownie (but you definitely can with a dry, burnt brownie!).  I usually don’t wait until a toothpick comes out completely clean.  At that point, I’ve found that the brownies end up being too dry for my liking.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Sister's Arrival & Death-by-Oreo Cupcakes

Here's another delicious cupcake recipe that starts with a cake mix.  One of my favorite tips for enhancing a boxed cake mix is to replace the water called for on the box with buttermilk.  The result is a much richer, more dense, homemade-tasting cake.  I made these "Death-by-Oreo" cupcakes with my little sister during winter break.  There's an Oreo at the bottom of the cupcake liner, Oreo crumbs mixed into both the batter and the cream cheese frosting, and another Oreo on top for decoration.  You can't go wrong.  Little sis will be arriving in LA in SIX HOURS :) I cannot wait to see her and to bake with her once she's here. 

"Death-by-Oreo" Cupcakes
(Adapted from the recipe at

1 package Oreos, regular size
1 package  mini Oreos, for decoration
1 box Devil’s Food cake mix (prepare according to directions on box, substituting buttermilk for the amount of water called for)
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick butter, room temperature
3-3/4 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract


1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Mix boxed cake mix according to directions, substituting buttermilk for the water, but don't bake yet!

2. Line cupcake tins with paper liners. Place a regular size Oreo cookie in the bottom of each liner.

3. Take half of the remaining regular-sized Oreos and place them in a large Ziploc bag.  Here comes the fun part! Take either a frying pan, rolling pin, or your bare fists, and crush those Oreos until you've gotten out all of your aggression (take as long as you need...might be a while for us law students). Add half of the crushed Oreos to the prepared cupcake batter.  Fill the cupcake tins 2/3 full with the batter. Bake for about 15 minutes (or according to box directions). While cupcakes are baking make the frosting.

4. Cream together butter and cream cheese. Add vanilla, then add powdered sugar slowly until blended well. (*Shortcut: canned cream cheese frosting will work just fine. I tend to avoid using it because it has trans-fat and just isn't as good as the real deal.)

5. Stir the remaining crushed Oreos into the frosting.

6. After cupcakes are cool, frost them and decorate with a few mini Oreos on top.

And there you have it! Death-by-Oreo Cupcakes!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Welcome! & Lemon Bar Cupcakes...

Welcome to my blog :) I'm hoping to use this as a means to share my cooking & baking experiences with more people. I hope you all enjoy my recipes, photos, culinary stories, and rants/raves about law school.

Since returning home from Seattle six weeks ago, the weather in Los Angeles has been spectacular.  You can't go wrong with 80 degrees in January.  The sun decided to take a break, however, and this weekend has been a bit gray, rainy & relatively cold.  It's a nice reminder of home--the smell of the pavement when it first starts to rain, cuddling up on the couch to drink a warm cup of tea, the utter lack of motivation to go outside because you don't want to deal with umbrellas/raincoats/bad drivers/frizzy hair. For me, this weather is a bit refreshing & nostalgic. But, I do miss the sun.

So, here's a recipe to brighten the dull, cloudy Los Angeles sky: Lemon Bar Cupcakes. I made these for my law school friend's (Rob) birthday in October, along with Red Velvet and Chocolate-Raspberry Cupcakes (I'll save those recipes for a later post).  They were a huge hit. And, surprise!, they start with a cake mix and a jar of prepared lemon curd.  I'm all for taking shortcuts when it comes to cooking and baking, especially when the results are as good as homemade.  Enjoy!

Lemon Bar Cupcakes

Shortbread base:
3/4 cup unsalted butter
2 cups flour
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 box lemon cake mix
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 cup water
1/3 cup buttermilk
3 eggs

1 jar lemon curd (I bought mine at Trader Joe's)

Lemon cream cheese frosting:
4 ounces butter, softened
4 ounces cream cheese, softened
3-1/2  cups powdered sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon lemon rind, grated
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Instructions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Shortbread: Cut butter into 1/2-inch pieces. In food processor, process all shortbread ingredients until mixture forms small lumps. (If you don't own a food processor, you can also use your hands to mix everything together). Place a heaping spoon-full of shortbread into cupcake paper liners, then pat down firmly with your fingers.

Cupcakes: Mix cake according to box instructions, using the ingredients listed above (but not the lemon curd!). Spoon into cupcake liners, filling almost to the top. Place 1 tablespoon lemon curd on top of each. Bake according to the box instructions.

Frosting: Beat all frosting ingredients until smooth. (I added some yellow food coloring, too).

Frost cooled cupcakes with frosting & finish them with a dusting of powdered sugar, if desired.