Tortilla Soup with Black Beans

This summer one of my friends pounced over for what was promised to be a relaxing, early dinner. I wanted to make something that could simmer on the stove while we chatted and laid about the apartment – allowing us to eat when the mood struck. Being summer, I did want anything too heavy, so I immediately thought of tortilla soup. I have eaten a wide variety of “tortilla soups” in my life, so I thought instead of following a recipe I would incorporate my some favorite ingredients and see where we ended up (crossing my fingers all the while that it turned out delicious!).

What we ended up with was a light, easy, flavorful tortilla soup! The recipe is below, but I will add the caveat that it can easily be amended to accomodate different taste buds.

Kate’s Tortilla Soup with Black Beans

For the Soup:
4 cups chicken stock (NOTE: I use bullion cubes, which requires two cups of boiling water for every cube, but any chicken stock is fine)
2 chicken breasts, roasted and shredded
1 jar, 15.5 ounces Tostitos chunky medium salsa
1 large onion, diced
2-3 large tomatoes, diced
1-2 cups spinach
1 package flour tortillas, I use about 5 to 7 tortillas (I have found Piñata Flour Tortillas are the best brand)
1 15.5 ounce can chopped black olives (optional)
1 15.5 ounce can corn (optional)

For the Black Beans:
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
2 cups chicken stock
1 15.5 ounce can black beans
1 jalapeno, diced

For the Soup:
1. Pour chicken stock into large pot and add the two shredded chicken breasts (pre-cooked – this is a great use for leftovers).

2. Pour in 1 jar of Tostitos chunky medium salsa.

3. Dice onion and 2-3 large tomatoes, add to pot. (NOTE: Add any optional items listed above at this stage.)

4. Bring to a boil and then just before serving add spinach, simmering until wilted in the soup.

For the Black Beans:
1. In a skillet, over medium high heat, melt 2 teaspoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon butter.

2. Add black beans, sliced jalapeno, and two cups chicken stock.

3. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer until all the liquid is gone.

To Serve:
1. Ladle soup into individual bowls and top with black beans (optional). Garnish with a toasted soft flour tortilla cut into four segments and lay on the side of the bowl or prop up in the soup.

2. Serve with any combination of toppings to include: chopped cilantro or parsley, sour cream, salsa, shredded cheese, hot sauce, tortilla chips, and/or guacamole. Don’t forget the margaritas!! Enjoy!


Quick and Healthy “Fried Rice”

So Friday night – after a solid month of many houseguests, travels, and fun – I had the opportunity to finally have a quiet night in my apartment. I immediately left work at the stroke of 430pm and pounced around doing errands, collecting dinner items (I still don’t know what I am making at this point), and grabbing some cheese. Cheese is always my failsafe for a Friday night – if I don’t have plans I will generally just try a new bottle of wine and have a fantastic cheese and charcuterie board (never a bad idea). But this particular Friday, I was kind of slow to get around the kitchen – still unsure what I would make. I had bought some prepackaged veggies (my laziness taking over here) because I thought perhaps I could sautee them and have them on the side, but it was still not appealing to me. Then it came to me … Fried Rice!

I have always deemed fried rice as a very unhealthy take out type of food, but thought for a Friday night it could be a quick and fun challenge for me. “How to I make this light and healthy,” I thought while chopping up peppers, red onion, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, and cooking white rice. Then it all sort of came together quite easily. See the recipe below – I hope you enjoy this very easy, quick, delicious dinner as much as I did!

Quick and Healthy “Fried Rice”

One package of white rice (NOTE: I used Comet Rice, but got that in the Outer Banks. If you cannot get this rice, simply use a box of white rice)

1 Package or 3 cups of finely chopped veggies (can be some variation of peppers, red onion, mushrooms, carrots, broccoli, or any other veggies you deem delicious)

2 eggs and 2 additional egg whites (You could use 4 eggs, but I found the combination of 2 whole eggs plus 2 egg whites to be lighter)

2 tablespoons vegetable oil + any additional needed in the wok

1. Chop all vegetables finely (almost to the point of dicing). Vegetables

2. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a wok and simultaneously start cooking box rice.

3. When hot, add the vegetables to the wok – Cook on medium for about 10 minutes, until soft.

4. Next add 2 whole eggs and 2 additional egg whites to wok – Cook until eggs become scrambled.

5. Add cooked rice (about two cups cooked rice) to wok.

6. Turn wok to medium and stir until all ingredients are added evenly (add salt and pepper as necessary).

7. Serve with soy sauce and if needed a little hot sauce (I generally use the green Tabasco sauce).

8. Enjoy!

Weekly Wine and Beer Review I

Recently I have been trying some new wines and discovering some great gems, so I thought I would share them with my readers and also use my blog as forum to remember the great, the mediocre, and the not so good. Each week I will try to review a couple wines and a beer or two. Full disclosure, I have spent a lot of time learning about wines, but I am by no means a beer connoisseur. I don’t mind a good pint every now and then, so hopefully my recommendations will be helpful. Happy Drinking!
frizzante photo 1
Summertime is one of my favorite times of year – I love it when the weather is warm with a light cool breeze and it is possible to sit on my balcony, watch the sunset, and enjoy a crisp glass of wine. There are two wines that I have been obsessed with recently and have really enjoyed sipping them with friends or just while I read during the sunset.

Top Wine Picks:

frizzante photo 2The first one I consider my dark horse and a surprise to my drinking repertoire- a rosé grown near the Austrian-Hungarian border by Lake Neusiedl: Meinklang: Prosa ein prickelndes Gedicht in Rosa, Frizzante Pinot Noir Rosé: 2012. I long ignored rosés, but about a year ago I had a fantastic rosé made from pinot noir and fell in love. I find it to be so refreshing and a perfect complement to a hot summer day. This sparkling rosé is fantastic –not sweet, but with subtle fruit undertones and a well-balanced acidity. Frizzante is half bubbles, which means this Austrian pinot noir zings with the perfect amount of bubbles, allowing drinkers to really experience the red berry taste. I had this one night on its own and a second time with avocado with a light French vinaigrette. (Purchased at Whole Foods: $15.99)

The second wine pick for this week is: Mont Gravet: Côtes de Gascogne: 2012. I picked up this wine a month or two ago and just revisited it again this week. This wine has fabulous fresh pear and peach aromas. It has a strong, rich taste with light fruit undertones, making this wine more of a presence then just a compliment to a dish. From the Gascony region in the South of France, this wine is best served crisp and cold and with seafood – I opted for fresh crab atop cucumber slices. (Purchased at Whole Foods: $8.99)

Top Beer Pick:

As I mentioned above, I am not a beer connoisseur, but I just could not stay away from: Maine Beer Company: Zoe. In all seriousness I picked this beer solely because of the label – It is clean, attractive, and from Maine (which I have always loved). maine beer 1 That said, I was very pleasantly surprised by this Freeport, Maine treat – it is dark, hoppy, chocolatey, strong, and velvety. Plus it has a great story – as most things do in Maine. From the back of the bottle – On a rainy fall day in 2009, my five-year old daughter Zoe and I were wandering the streets in Bar Harbor and stumbled across the Whale Museum. Zoe loved it. It put a smile on her face. Hopefully our ale will do the same for you. Cheers! As a final note, I really enjoyed this beer paired with Salt and Vinegar Pop Chips –random, I realize but the salty/dark beer combination was absolutely perfect. (Purchased at Whole Foods: $7.49)

Hopefully you will find as much enjoyment in each of these three picks as I have this summer. I am looking forward to my research for the next weekly wine post!

Vintage Virginia Wine Festival

Recently, my friend and I had the brilliant idea of purchasing tickets to the Virginia Wine Festival. We had been about 10 years ago and had a wonderful, civilized day tasting delicious wines and treats that were presented to us at each winery booth. So off we trotted to what can only be described as the ugly step-sister of our former experience.

vintagevaThe 32nd Annual Vintage Virginia Wine and Food Festival was held at the Bull Run Special Events Center in Centreville, VA (a bonus from the previous festival as Bull Run is only about 15 minutes from my apartment). After traveling down an endless driveway and parking in a massive field surrounded by the cries of what sounded like a billion cicadas, we proceeded to walk the half mile in the blazing sun and 100F heat to what I will affectionately call “The Gates of Hell.”

We procured our tickets and wristband and pounced in, eager to try new wines and explore uncharted Virginia wineries. First up, Barboursville Vineyards (one of the few that we actually knew) – We got in what looked like a line and waited, and waited, and waited … and people watched – which turned out to be more epic than I could ever have imagined. We determined that the theme of the day was as little clothes as possible and at least two sizes smaller than what should be worn. Needless to say we were the most clothed in our sundresses and sandals.

After over 6 or 7 minutes of waiting at Barboursville we threw in the towel and looked to our next endeavor, which happened to be Barren Ridge. Another few minutes of waiting and we received a pour the size of a penny – great for fully tasting the wine! This charade went on for the 3 or so hours until we were not able to stand the heat, the people, the terrible wines, and more importantly until our $4.00 waters ran out.

For $30.00 a piece, I would say that this event and subsequent Vintage Virginia events are a miss. But before I write the whole day off completely, we did find a few wines and a winery worth mentioning. See below for a list of the latest and greatest in my wine rack and also a list of the vineyards I recommend as a miss on your travels through Virginia Wine Country!

Recommend Stopping By:
*Trump Winery: All wines tasted (Blanc de Blanc 2008, Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Rosé 2011, Simply Red 2008, New World Red 2008)

*Veritas Wines: Recommend Two (Sauvignon Blanc 2012, Viognier 2012)

*Shenandoah Vineyards: Recommend Two (Chardonnay 2012, Cabernet Sauvignon 2010)

*Rockbridge Vineyard: Recommend Three (Chardonnay Reserve, Tuscarora White, Meritage)

Can Afford to Take a Detour Around:
*Belle Mount Vineyards

*Democracy Vineyards

*Mattaponi Winery

*Prince Michel

*Unicorn Winery

*Villa Appalaccia

Skinnygirl ® White Cranberry Cosmo

My next endeavor on the Skinnygirl bottled cocktail list was the White Cranberry Cosmo. I was completely apprehensive about this one because Cosmos can be quite sweet and I am not a fruity or sugary cocktail kind of person, despite being constantly mistaken for one. I will explain – Out at the bar with my boyfriend he will get the drink that is named something like the pink sparkle razzle jumping butterfly and I, a simple martini and invariably the pink nonsense gets set in front of me, trimmed with fruit and umbrellas and he gets the martini. My aversion to sweet drinks is only made stronger by these actions. That said, as promised I continued to embark on my Skinnygirl bottled cocktail voyage.

I have to say I will go back on what I said in my Skinnygirl Margarita post … the White Cranberry Cosmo is the smoothest Skinnygirl product going down (so far). Totally OK to drink without too much doctoring or really any at all and actually I started my taste test just simply pouring the chilled cocktail into a martini glass and was totally fine enjoying it as a relatively legit Cosmo! Needless to say, I am impressed – not too sweet and definitely tasty. The cocktail being good solo, however, did not stop me from trying out some new recipes.

Here are my three favorite recipes that came out of my taste test:

Pomegranate Cosmo
1. Fill a chilled martini glass with cold Skinnygirl White Cranberry Cosmo

2. Next add 1-2 tablespoons of Pom Pomegranate Juice*

3. Stir slowly and garnish with a thinly sliced lime wedge or a few seasonal berries (NOTE: I usually use blueberries or pomegranate seeds, and during the winter months: cranberries)

*I have not tried it yet, but Pom makes several flavors of juice – It might be fun to try the Blueberry Pomegranate Juice and garnish the drink with blueberries

The Fizzy Cosmo
1. Fill a chilled martini glass with two and a half shots of Skinnygirl White Cranberry Cosmo

2. Next add two and a half shots of Champagne or Prosecco (NOTE: I used Cupcake Prosecco and it complemented the Cosmo mix quite nicely)

3. Serve and Enjoy!

The Midday Cosmo Teaser
For a lighter version of the Fizzy Cosmo
1. Fill a highball glass with ice and two and a half shots of Skinnygirl White Cranberry Cosmo

2. Next add two and a half shots of soda water

3. Stir slowly and garnish with a lime wedge after squeezing the juice into the glass

The Non-Skinnygirl Recipes
Since I am already posting about the cocktail, I will share a couple of my homemade cosmo recipes.

Pomegranate Lime Cosmo
1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add two shots of vodka

2. Next add a shot of Pom Pomegranate Juice and half a shot of fresh lime juice

3. Shake and pour into a chilled martini glass*

*NOTE: You can also put this mixture into a highball glass and serve as a cocktail over ice

Kate’s “Traditional” Cosmo
1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add three shots of vodka

2. Next add a shot of Cranberry juice

3. Shake and pour into a chilled martini glass

4. Garnish with a lime wedge in the summer and spring and frozen cranberries or pomegranate seeds in the winter and fall

5. Enjoy!

Hope all of you enjoy my post and varied Cosmo recipes! Cheers! Next be on the lookout for my National Gallery of Art Jose Andres Pop Up Restaurant Post and my Skinnygirl Piña Colada post – Definitely curios about this one given my aversion to sweet drinks!

Skinnygirl® Margaritas

Recently I have been fascinated by the hype surrounding pre-mixed, ready to serve bottled cocktails and in particular, the craze for Skinnygirl products. Full disclosure, I was one of the people who rushed out to buy the Skinnygirl Margarita when it hit the shelves and I definitely religiously watched Bethenney Frankle’s TV shows. That said, however, I have come to question the necessity of these products, largely because I have found they require copious amounts of doctoring and are rather expensive – ranging from $20 to $35 for 750 ml bottles.

I have decided it would be fun to embark on a quest to try all of the Skinnygirl products and will periodically do a post on each one – noting how I improved the drink and giving readers some additional recipes to try (either homemade or one’s that I go to regularly). Today, I start with the Skinnygirl Margarita. Out of all the Skinnygirl products I have tired, I feel that this one requires the least amount of doctoring.*

*It is important to note here that the first time I tried it I did not realize the alcohol was already in it, so I promptly prepared the margarita using a shot and a half of tequila. Needless to say, one drink that time around was more than enough for me.

Here are my two go-to recipes, using the bottled Skinnygirl Margarita:

Original Margarita
1. Fill a tall glass with ice and add the juice of one lime (two if you particularly like the lime flavor). (Note: If you are using bottled lime juice, I put in 2-3 tablespoons)

2. Next fill the glass with the Skinnygirl Margarita

3. Finally add two pinches of salt and stir, combining all ingredients

Spicy Margarita
1. Fill a tall glass with ice and add the juice of one lime (two if you particularly like the lime flavor). (Note: If you are using bottled lime juice, I put in about 3 tablespoons)

2. Next fill the glass with the Skinnygirl Margarita

3. Add two pinches of salt and stir, combining all ingredients

4. Finally, add 3-4 thin slices of fresh jalapeño

The Non-Skinnygirl Recipes
Since I am already posting about margaritas, I thought I would share my homemade margarita and one of the coolest, most unique margarita recipes I have ever tried.

Kate’s Homemade Margarita
1. Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add the juice of three limes (an extra half a lime if you particularly like the lime flavor). (Note: If you are using bottled lime juice, I put in about two ounces)

2. Add one ounce of Tres Agaves Agave Nectar (this is my go to brand)

3. Add two ounces of Tequila and two pinches of salt – Shake to combine all ingredients

4. Put contents of shaker into a tall cocktail glass and garnish with a lime wedge or some thinly sliced jalapenos

Nadia G’s Spicy Vodka Margarita
(This recipe was cut out from the 28 May 2012 issue of People Magazine)
1. Combine 1 ½ ounces of vodka, 1/3 cup fresh squeezed lime juice, and two tablespoons maple syrup and some crushed ice in a cocktail shaker.

2. Shake well and pour into a salt-rimmed highball glass.

3. Drop two thin slices of fresh jalapeño pepper and serve.

I will say with regards to Nadia G’s margarita, you must add the jalapeño, as it combines well with the vodka and maple syrup to produce a delicious margarita – Who would have thought vodka with the right ingredients, could taste like an actual margarita.

Hope all of you enjoy my post and varied margarita recipes! Cheers and I look forward to hearing if you try any of the above recipes or have a great margarita recipe of your own.

Back to Blogging

Good News — I am back to blogging. Sorry to my readers for the lengthy hiatus, during which I felt slightly uninspired, became insanely busy at work, and decided to repurpose my blog slightly. Well, not fully repurpose, just add an additional element per the suggestion of a friend. He mused that while he enjoyed reading my blog, part of what drew him in was his hope that I would share some of the stories that went along with the conceptualization of the recipes or trying a new restaurant or cocktail and added that he was disappointed when none of those stories were included. Generally, crazy/hilarious things happen to me on a daily basis, whether it is self-inflicted, interacting with weird people, or just general craziness, there is usually some added element that is bizarre. So, per his suggestion, I will be sure to include those stories as I navigate restaurants, cocktails and recipes — I hope all of you enjoy this added element to the blog, which will be in my next post on Jose Andres’ pop up restaurant at Washington DC’s National Gallery of Art. Happy Reading, Eating, and Drinking …