Lunch and Dinner

I Need A Hug From My Chicken Tortilla Soup

This is a crazy time in my life. There’s so much going on that it’s a little too much to take in at times. I put in my notice at work last week. While I still have two months to go, I am starting to pack up everything I’ve acquired in my ten years in New York City to return to a faraway city I haven’t lived in since I was a teenager. I’m talking opposite-side-of-the-earth far. I’m ready to start a new chapter but I’m not ready to leave all the people I love, even if it ends up being temporary. It’s bittersweet.

I’m not doing the best job of processing all my different emotions, the change, and my never-ending to-do list. Or how to balance productivity with spending time with the ones I will miss the most. All I can do is try. Sometimes I just need a hug. May it be in the form of a physical cuddle, encouraging words, or a box of cookies warm bowl of soup.

I’ve actually only had chicken tortilla soup once but it was the most delicious, comforting thing I could have eaten on a cold winter’s night. I’ve been craving it ever since. And while I don’t make as good a version as La Esquina, this is exactly what I’ve needed the past few days.

chicken tortilla soup

Chicken Tortilla Soup
Makes about 6 servings

Adapted from Eat, Live, Run

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, diced (remove seeds if you don’t deal well with heat)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoon salt
6 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cup cooked black beans, drained and rinsed
1 14oz can of fire roasted diced tomatoes

For serving:
corn tortillas, cut into strips
a squeeze of lime juice
a few chunks of avocado
chopped cilantro


Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the chicken breasts and simmer for about 20 minutes, until cooked through. Drain and set aside to cool. Then chop into cube-sized pieces.

Heat the olive oil over medium high heat in a large pot. Once hot, add the diced onion and jalapeno and cook for five minutes, until soft. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Add the chili powder and cumin and mix until well combined.

Pour in the chicken stock and add the diced tomatoes, black beans, diced cooked chicken and salt. Bring to a boil for a couple of minutes. To serve, ladle out your desired portions and add tortilla strips into each serving. Lightly stir each so that the tortilla can start to soften in the hot soup. Top each serving with lime juice, avocado, and chopped cilantro.

Lunch and Dinner

Saying Goodbye to Summer with Fish Tacos

Oh, fish tacos. You taste like summer vacation. It’s way, way past the first official day of Fall, yet I’ve been clinging. Last week, I was still wearing sandals and not enough layers. I ignored the new fall produce at the market and scooped up a bagful of peaches and tomatoes. By the end of the week I accepted that summer is gone and pulled my tights and coats out from storage. Fall is here! But today, I eat fish tacos. Today I say goodbye to summer.

My favorite fish taco in New York City is at Réunion Surf Bar. It’s one of the few foods I fall in love with over and over again, every single time I have it. I’m too wimpy to ask them how they make it, but last time I was there, I poked around my taco to see what I could identify. These Surf Bar Fish Tacos are not a recreation, but rather my homage to Réunion.

Battered and fried fish is de rigueur for tacos, but you know me. I’m not a big fan of deep frying. Why ruin what would otherwise be a healthy dish? I lightened up the recipe with some crispy panko-crusted baked fish. I’ve also included a stupid easy guacamole recipe if you don’t want to use store-bought stuff but can’t be bothered to make real guac. You’ll appreciate the Last Minute Guacamole when you have an ingredient list this long!

Surf Bar Fish Tacos
Makes 6 tacos

1 12oz fillet of tilapia, or other whitefish
Olive oil or cooking spray
1 egg white
6 tablespoons panko
2 tablespoon flour
Salt and pepper
6 corn tortillas
Block of Monterey Jack cheese
6 tablespoons guacamole (see recipe below)
1 medium tomato, de-seeded and finely diced
1 jalapeño, de-seeded and finely diced
1 scallion, finely diced
Small handful of shredded red cabbage (optional)
1 small carrot, shredded
2 tablespoons of Thousand Island Dressing, or mayonnaise
Hot sauce
Fresh cilantro
2 limes, quartered

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cut the fish fillet into 6 2oz strips. Grease a baking sheet with the olive oil or cooking spray. Mix the panko and flour in a small bowl and season with salt and pepper. Dip each fish strip into the egg white, then the panko mixture to coat all surfaces. Place the crusted fish strips on the baking sheet and bake the fish on the top rack of the oven for about 5 minutes until cooked through, turning the baking sheet once for even cooking.

While the fish is cooking, start heating up the tortillas one by one in a dry pan over a low flame, until soft and warm. Wrap warm tortillas in a clean cloth.

Mix the diced tomato, jalapeño, scallion, and shredded cabbage together in a small bowl to make salsa mixture. In another small bowl, stir in a couple dashes of hot sauce into the thousand island dressing or mayo. Add the shredded carrot to hot thousand island or mayo, and mix it up.

Now you’re ready to assemble the tacos. First, cut a very, very thin strip of cheese, about an inch wide and about the length of the tortilla. Place it in the middle of a tortilla. Top the strip of cheese with a tablespoon of guacamole. Layer 2 tablespoons of salsa and cabbage mixture, then a strip of baked fish on top. Garnish with a tablespoon of dressed shredded carrot and cilantro leaves. Repeat with the rest of the tacos. Serve each with a wedge of lime.

Last Minute Guacamole
Makes about 1/2 cup

2 ripe avocados
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and pepper

Cut avocados in half and remove pits. Scoop the flesh out of 3 avocado halves and put in a blender. Pour lime juice in. Give it a few pulses until you have a smooth consistency. Cut the flesh of the last avocado half into small cubes and gently mix them into the guacamole. Done!

Party Food

Rusty Chef Cook-Off Round 3: Mexican-Inspired Eats

On Sunday March 11th, I, Chef Snake VK, competed with my buddy and former roommate, Katie (aka Chef KoHo) to see who could whip up the best Mexican-inspired three course meal. AND THEN WE FOUGHT TO THE DEATH.

OK we didn’t fight to the death. We couldn’t even look angry at each other in this photo. A little background: my boyfriend’s roomie, Chef Homeboyardee, challenged me to a cook-off late last year. We had a blast and the scores were close, but I ultimately won that round. He challenged me to a rematch. I won again. Chef KoHo, who was participating as a judge, challenged me to Round 3. We decided on a cuisine that neither of us knew much about but liked to eat: Mexican. The event went down at my place. We had seven guests/judges armed with bottles of wine and a huge appetite.

Chef Snake VK’s Entries (me)

Bacon-wrapped jalapeños stuffed with cheddar, cream cheese, and scallions. Clearly not authentic but hey, we said Mexican-inspired, right? Get the awesome recipe here.

Slow-cooked Chili El Pastor–a recipe I got from Food52. The first time I bought a whole pineapple…fun!

I found this recipe for Caballeros Ricos while Googling Mexican desserts. Described as a bread pudding souffle, I found it more to be a baked French toast kinda dish. But dang, that almonds and cinnamon syrup was delicious.

Chef KoHo’s Entries (the competition)

Chef KoHo’s approach was to cook a mexican-inspired dinner using ingredients many people can find in the bodega or supermarket. And to cook it quickly, in case somebody has work.

Elote w/ spicy lime mayo, crumbled white cheese and chili powder

Beer & chocolate braised pulled pork tacos w/radish & lettuce slaw.

Chili chocolate pudding with cinnamon whipped topping.

The wine was flowing…

…and the judges judged…

…but finally, I WON. Barely. (Chef KoHo reminded me to emphasize the word “barely”.) But hey, a victory is a victory! But clearly, the true winners were the guests who got to eat two three-course meals without lifting a finger :) All in all, a fantastic, delicious night.