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Tuesday, January 5, 2016

#COOKING WITH CLORIS--GUEST AUTHOR ANN MYERS AND CHICKEN TORTILLA SOUP

Ann Myers loves cooking, crafts, and cozy mysteries. Talk about an author who’s perfect for Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers! Ann lives with her husband and extra-large housecat in southern Colorado but feels most at home in Santa Fe. Learn more about her and her books (and find a few more recipes) at her website.

What an honor to be on recipe Tuesday! The first book in my Santa Fe Café Mystery series, Bread of the Dead, came out last fall and includes recipes for a Day of the Dead feast. A recipe inspired the book, or at least the title and the seasonal setting. Pan de muerto, or bread of the dead, is a buttery sweet bread flavored with anise seed and orange. The aroma alone will lure back the spirits, and the dough is often shaped like a skull and crossbones—fun! Plus the name seemed made for a culinary mystery.
  
My main character, Rita Lafitte, is forty-one, newly single, and living with her teenage daughter in a tiny rental casita. Like me, she’s a relative newcomer to the Southwest and New Mexican cuisine. Rita, however, is a culinary pro and learning from a master, her elderly friend and boss, Flori. At Tres Amigas Café they cook up delicacies from green chile stew to cheesy enchiladas. As amateur sleuths, they stir up killers. Rita investigates the death of her beloved landlord in Bread of the Dead. In Cinco de Mayhem (coming out March 29, 2016) the sleuths take on a bully chef, a dicey health inspector, and a killer with sights set on Rita.
 
One of the best parts about writing these culinary cozies has been the excuse to research, cook, and eat yummy New Mexican foods. For instance, I’ve learned a lot about bizcochitos, New Mexico’s official state cookie. Bizcochitos appear at important events such as weddings and quinceañeras and especially for Christmas. They’re tasty shortbread cookies flavored with anise, dusted in cinnamon sugar, and traditionally made with lard. Bizcochito experts swear by lard for the proper tender texture. I’ll admit I’ve made butter and shortening varieties, too, but that borders on confessing to cookie sacrilege.

Spelling is also a matter of taste. When legislators met to designate the cookie, debate ensued about the spelling: biscochito or bizcochito? Bizcochito made the bill, but both versions remain common and contentious. As a writer fearful of grammar offenses, I worry when I mention bizcochitos. However the cookies are too important—and too tasty—to leave out.

I initially planned to post a bizcochito recipe. But now, post-Christmas, even I have had too many sweets. This chicken tortilla soup is quick and light but full of flavor. It’s also flexible. For a vegetarian version, you could substitute butternut squash for the chicken. For even easier prep, use leftover chicken (or turkey) or rotisserie chicken. You can also adjust the chile heat—more or none at all—or add some New Mexican roasted green chiles if you have them.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
serves 4-6

Ingredients:
4 chicken thighs, bone-in or boneless, with skin and excess fat removed
6 small corn tortillas, divided for use in soup and as a garnish
3 T olive oil
½ large onion, diced
2–3 cloves garlic, minced
1 t dried oregano
1 t ground cumin
1 t ground coriander
1 T chile powder (start with mild or medium spiciness, add more heat to taste)
1 (14.5 oz.) can diced fire-roasted tomatoes
5 c. chicken broth or water
1 (14.5 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1–2 T fresh lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Garnishes (mix and match as you like)
Corn tortilla strips
Fresh lime wedges
Chopped cilantro leaves
Avocado, diced
Sour cream
Crumbled Cotija cheese or other Mexican or fresh cheese

Stack all the corn tortillas and cut into 1/4” strips. Then cut the strips into approximately 2” lengths. Divide in half. Reserve one half for use as a garnish. The other half will dissolve into the soup as seasoning.

Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed soup pan. Add diced onion and sauté until soft and translucent, 8-10 minutes. Next add garlic, cumin, chile powder, and half of the tortilla strips. Stir for 2-3 minutes.

Stir in broth and canned tomatoes. Bring to a boil.

Nestle in the chicken thighs, meaty side down. Wait for soup to boil again. Then lower to a simmer and cook uncovered until the chicken is very tender, about 40 minutes.

Turn heat to its lowest setting. Carefully remove the chicken pieces from the soup and place on plate or cutting board. Let cool slightly, until safe to handle, and then chop into bite-sized pieces. If using bone-in chicken, remove the bones first and discard.

Check the soup pot and skim off any excess oil if necessary.

Place chicken back in pot. Add drained beans. Adjust seasonings. More salt? Pepper? Hot pepper? Keep in mind that the garnishes will add flavor, too. Simmer to meld flavors, 5-10 minutes.

While the soup is in its final simmer, drizzle some olive oil on the remaining tortilla strips. Toss the strips to coat with oil. Heat a wide frying pan. Add the strips and fry, stirring, for a few minutes until they are golden and crispy.

Immediately before serving, stir 1-2 T of lime juice into the soup.

Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with tortilla strips, lime wedges (for diners to squeeze into their bowls if they want), cilantro, avocado, sour cream, and any other toppings.

Note: This is a great soup to make ahead or to freeze if you have any leftovers.

Bread of the Dead,
book 1 of the Santa Fe Café Mystery series

Life couldn’t be sweeter for Tres Amigas Café chef Rita Lafitte, decorating sugar skulls and taste-testing rich, buttery pan de muerto in anticipation of Santa Fe’s Day of the Dead bread-baking contest. That is, until her friendly landlord, Victor, is found dead next door.

Although the police deem Victor’s death a suicide, Rita knows something is amiss. To uncover the truth, she teams up with her octogenarian boss Flori, the town’s most celebrated snoop. The duo begin to sift through long-buried secrets and take full measure of duplicitous neighbors, but the clock is ticking and their list of suspects is growing ever longer. Just as the clues get hotter than a New Mexican chile, one of their main suspects winds up dead. Rita fears that the killer is dishing out seconds—and her order might just be up.

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4 comments:

Angela Adams said...

A blast of Winter weather has finally hit Philly, and this recipe is perfect for today! Thanks!!

M. Johnston said...

I'm looking forward to the book and the recipe. Sounds like a great job on both.

Ann Myers said...

Thanks for inviting me! Angela and M. Johnston, hope you like the recipe!

KarenM said...

I am so in the mood for Tortilla soup. Thank you for the recipe!