Tortilla Chicken Jumble!

Yay, funny names.

-    a little over ½ lb (350) grams of chicken fillets OR 2-3 chicken breasts
-    6-8 flour tortillas
-    1 packet of instant tomato soup OR ½ can of tomato soup
-    ½ cup (120mL) of your favorite salsa
-    shredded cheddar or Mexican cheese blend (amount as desired)

1.   Boil the chicken for 30 
2.   While the chicken cooks, slice the tortillas pizza-style into about 8 pieces each.  (speed tip: you can do them all at once)
3.   Heat up a pan and toss the tortilla slices in.  Heat them in the pan until they get a bit hard and crispy (see picture). 
4.   Strain the water from the chicken.  Use a large wooden spoon to break up the chicken.  If you mash and stir the chicken with the spoon, you will find that it shreds quite easily.
5.   Prepare the instant soup if necessary.  Add the soup and salsa to chicken, stirring with spoon between additions so as to shred it a bit more.  Add the tortillas and cheese and mix again.  Heat the whole mixture for just a few minutes until the cheese melts. 
6.   Ready to eat!
[Serves 2]

      o   “Crisping” the tortillas just helps to keep the mixture from becoming too soggy.  Thus, I only crisp about half of them.  You can do as many or as little as you like.
      o   This dish truly represents the messy & ugly but tasty principle of my cooking [hence the avocado “garnish” above].  But believe me, it’s much better than it looks.
      o   This is another meal that keeps quite well, so make more and have left-overs :)

Suggested Sides:
o   Cut-up an avocado with a dash of seasoned salt
o   Slice up some fresh kiwi or oranges
o   Pan-fry some corn and cherry tomato halves.

o   My mom would make this a meal-in-one by adding shredded lettuce with chopped onions and tomatoes on top. [To that end, chopped onions would be a great addition to the mixture itself]
o   I have not had access to corn tortillas for YEARS, but they would probably be even better!
o   If this dish is just too unbecoming to you and you have the patience, you can make Tex-Mex lasagna.  Make the entire mixture the same way, but do not crisp nor add the tortillas.  Instead, line a small casserole dish (a 2qt round dish would be great) with the tortilla slices and add about 1/3 of the mixture on top.  Make 2 more layers and sprinkle the top with some extra cheese.  Then, bake in the oven for a few minutes until the cheese melts. 
o   Tex-Mex lasagna and Italian tortillas in the same month.  
     I must suffer from cultural confusion.


Tomato Chicken and Veggies

This is not the fastest recipe, but it’s easy, tasty
and the chicken comes out nice and tender!

-  4 chicken breasts or about 1lb/.5kg chicken fillets or piece
      -  mixed veggies of your choice 
  [I used broccoli, carrots and sugar snap peas]
      -  clove of garlic or garlic powder
      -  2 packets instant tomato soup powder or 1 can tomato soup
      -  2 Tbs. soy sauce
      -  2 Tbs. white vinegar
      -  olive oil
      -  4 servings of white rice 
(as desired)

1.   Start the rice cooking.
2.   Cut and rinse the veggies, and set them aside in a strainer.
3.   Cut the chicken breasts into strips [skip this step if using fillets/pieces]
4.   Heat a wok or large frying pan (12”) over high heat.  Add a splash of olive oil to coat the pan and stir-fry the chicken until browned (chicken strips should turn white but not be thoroughly cooked yet).  Remove from the pan.
5.   Add another splash of olive oil and the garlic/garlic powder for about 30 seconds.  Stir-fry the vegetables until their color becomes vibrant and they just start to become tender [be careful as the pan is already very hot and will splatter].  Remove to the strainer.
6.   Prepare the instant soup and bring to a boil in the pan with the soy sauce and vinegar.  Add the chicken and boil until fully cooked [about 10 minutes].  Mix in the vegetables and cook for about a minute more. 
7.   Serve over the rice.
[Serves 4]

o   There will be a bit of excess sauce, which is best poured over the rice. 
o    This recipe keeps reasonably well.  Since this recipe serves 4 rather than my usual two, you can pack the rice and chicken/veggies separately and refrigerate for about three days for reuse.    
o   Methodology:
           -     Browning the chicken first helps lock in the moisture before boiling, which is what keeps it tender.  And removing it from the heat while you cook the veggies allows some of the fat and oil to collect and be poured out.
           -     You should always remove the excess water and let veggies dry in a strainer after rinsing for best stir-fry results.
           -     Heat the wok/pan before adding the oil.  This helps keep the meat/veggies from sticking and allows the seasonings to flavor the oil. 

o   Use your favorite stir-fry vegetables, but I would suggest adding white onions and Chinese mushrooms to these.
o   For a super-quick, super-easy version, use a bag of frozen veggies and a packet of pre-cooked chicken strips.  Frozen veggies taste relatively OK when they’re pan fried rather than boiled or cooked in the microwave.  Also, experts say that frozen veggies pack just as many nutrients since they are typically frozen fresh.  

Recipe adapted from Campbell's Kitchen: Tomato Chicken Stir-Fry here.


Italian Enchiladas

This was the result of one of my favorite experimental cooking scenarios—I got to the grocery store and they did not have what I wanted (in this case, cannelloni and a can of Alfredo sauce).  Having no idea how the tortilla substitution would work out, I took the first bite with my eyes closed.  Suffice it to say, this is one of the first meals in a very long time that earned me a big, sloppy kiss on the cheek.  Enjoy!
-       2 or 3 chicken breasts
-       creamy pasta sauce mix (Alfredo, Four Cheese or Carbonara)
-       1 packet instant tomato soup powder or ½ can of tomato soup
-       ~ 500 mL of milk
-       butter/margarine (if needed)
-       1 clove of garlic or garlic powder
-       flour tortillas
-       shredded parmesan, mozzarella or an Italian blend

1.   Make some shredded chicken.  You can do this one of [at least] three ways, depending on your preference or time frame.
            -       Boil the chicken on the stove for about half an hour.  Drain the water and the               chicken should pull apart using two forks.
            -       Boil the chicken on the stove for about an hour.  Stir it frequently and                           mash/jab at it with a wooden spoon to help it fall apart in the water.  Pour                   the contents through a strainer and put the chicken back in the pot.  You                     should be able to continue mashing it with a spoon for just about a minute                   more and it will all pull apart. 
            -       Put the chicken in a slow cooker for 2-3 hours on high or 4-5 hours on low.                     When it’s done, it will be falling apart on its own and some gentle spoon                       mashing or fork pulling will get the job done.  **If you use this method, I                       strongly recommend cooking the chicken in the sauce from step 2 while it’s in               the slow-cooker
2.   Prepare half of the pasta sauce mix according to the package directions—usually this involves adding about 250 mL of milk and some butter.  Before it boils, however, add the tomato soup mix.  
3.   Pour your newly created tomato cream sauce over the chicken and mix to coat.
4.   Back in the same pot, prepare the other half of the pasta sauce along with a hefty dose of garlic. 
5.   Divide the chicken across any number of tortilla shells depending on your preferred meat/tortilla ratio and roll ‘em up.  (If you’re unsure, just use 2 shells/person and split the meat in fourths)
6.   Pour the second batch of cream sauce directly over the top of the enchiladas and sprinkle with shredded cheese. 
7.   Pop in the microwave for 30 sec – 1 min until the cheese is melted.
8.   Ready to eat!
[Serves 2 very hungry people]

o   Pasta sauce mixes come in various sizes.  I used 1 packet of [Dutch] Knorr Carbonara Macaroni that was about 40 grams and called for 500 mL of milk.  In the US and Singapore, I always used McCormick packs, which were about 20 grams and called for 250 mL of milk.  Use whichever packets you prefer, but obviously, if you use the smaller packets, use two.
o   Splitting the sauce in half really isn’t necessary, I just wanted the inside and outside to be a bit different.  For a super simple recipe, prepare all the sauce at once, mix half with the meat and pour the other half on top of the shells. 
o   For an even simpler recipe, use a can of your favorite pre-made creamy pasta sauce and combine it with the [prepared] tomato soup.  I won’t judge you, I promise.

Suggested Sides:
o   Grill/pan-fry a mix of carrots and broccoli (with a dash of garlic and salt)
o   Mix up a spinach, tomato and red onion salad with a splash of balsamic vinaigrette
o   Serve up some big slices of Italian bread (like Focaccia) with a plate of olive oil and vinegar/black pepper
o   White wine ;-)

      o   If you’re daring, you can make your own tomato cream sauce by mixing tomato sauce/paste with some whipping cream and parmesan cheese.  The ratio is really up to you, but typically equal parts tomato and cream [or slightly less cream] is a good place to start.  You can throw in garlic, basil, etc as desired. 

o   I really recommend adding some spinach along with the chicken.  Just rinse, break the stems off and throw it in with the sauce while it’s cooking.
o   You can dress up the chicken filling even more by chopping up some white onion           or mushrooms, giving them a quick sauté and adding them to the meat.


September Special Feature: Tomato Soup

photo: pablo diaz

Grocery shopping in a new country has been a big adventure for me.  I remember my second day in Singapore, strolling through Cold Storage, eyes wide and glistening with excitement—there was everything from a Japanese snack aisle to an Old El Paso end cap.  I was so thrilled by the peaceful coexistence of Asian and American products all under one roof that I ran back to the apartment and [literally] wrote home about it.

Although, in time the honeymoon phase would end and I would discover that there was a complete lack of corn tortillas, that London Swiss rolls were nothing at all like Little Debbie, that cheese of any variety averaged about 7 SGD/100 grams and most importantly, that Dr Pepper was apparently a seasonal item.  I was devastated.

It was during this phase that I learned that all too crucial survival skill of adaptation.  When I finally put my love of American junk food aside, I realized that there was a whole world of new products and flavors to experiment with—ginger, coriander, oyster sauce (just to name a few)—and my experimental cooking really took off.

Two years and another continent later, I was still shocked on my first trip to a Dutch grocery store.  I was suddenly very aware of why there didn’t seem to be any jobs at Kraft Foods in Amsterdam: American products were practically nonexistent.  (And while Dr Pepper may be constantly stocked, it is not bottled in Plano.)  However, once I got over that initial shock and started taking random products home and translating the labels, I’ve found a few good grocery store gems here as well.

Which brings me to this month’s featured ingredient: tomato soup. 

This month’s recipes all make use of a fantastic instant soup that I found here in Amsterdam:  Cup a Soup, Tomaten Crème (you can do the translation, right?)

People may scoff, but it’s simple, it’s easy and it makes for some good eatin’.  Hands down, the best way to make a quick, tasty [and cheap!] meal is to use a can of soup for some easy flavoring.  Aside from the featured recipes this month, here are some great ways to use a cup of tomato soup to spice up your meals:

photo: chatirygirl

o   Boil meat on the stove or roast in a slow-cooker smothered in the soup
o   Pour it over beef burgers, steaks or meatloaf
o   Heat the soup with some garlic powder and black pepper in a pan and pan-fry a white fish (like cod or halibut) in it
o   Mix the soup with cooked pasta, ground beef and shredded mozzarella on the stove for some hearty pasta
o   Add rice, carrots, peas, celery and a dash of pepper   OR
o   Add tortellini and some chicken breast to make your soup a meal
o   Pour a little soup into scrambled eggs for easy tomatoes and eggs

Now, this particular Cup a Soup was a new find for me, so it's probably not available everywhere.  However, I noticed it was a Unilever brand, so I did some quick research and found that the same product is marketed as Lipton/Knorr elsewhere, so hopefully you can have some luck locating it.  Otherwise, I would suggest substituting a can of Campbell’s classic tomato or tomato bisque.  The best thing about the soup I have been using, though, is of course, the flavor, so you may want to sprinkle some of these seasonings that I nicked off the back of the box:
                                                                                 o   basil
                                                                                 o   onion powder
                                                                                 o   oregano
                                                                                 o   parsley
                                                                                 o   beetroot

~Happy Cooking!


30-Minute Tomato Soup Stew

-  2 packets instant tomato soup powder or 1 can   tomato soup
-  500 mL H20
-  dash of garlic powder, black pepper and white  pepper
-  2-4 standard-sized carrots
-  1 onion
-  2 bowls/servings cooked white rice (amount as desired, this is just what I used)

1.     Combine the soup, water and seasonings in a pot over high heat and bring to a boil
2.     Add the vegetables and lower the heat.  Let simmer until the carrots are tender and the onions turn clear (about 20-30 min)
3.     Add the rice and stir for about a minute.  If the rice is cold, let it heat up in the stew for about 5 minutes. 
4.     Ready to eat!
[Serves 2]

o   This is intended to be a rice dish rather than a soup, so the final ratio of liquid to rice should be favoring the rice.  If not, you can always add more rice.
o   This is also intended to be a side dish (carb + veg).  I originally made it to go with some leftover meat.
o   If you’re in a hurry, this is a good recipe for using leftover rice.  To save time during the week, I usually cook twice as much rice as needed for a meal and put half in the fridge for use later on in the week :)

Suggested additions:
o   Corn, celery, tomatoes, potatoes
o   Substitute about 200mL milk for water (might make it more creamy)

o   For a more “professional” dish, substitute tomato paste, two tomatoes (cut into wedges) and seasonings like oregano & basil or an Italian mix for the instant soup. 
o   How to make 2 meals in one:
          -    Brown about 300-400 grams stewing beef or pork chops in a pan.  Bring the soup and seasonings to a boil and add the meat.  Turn down the heat and simmer for about an hour. 
          -       I found that this left the soup very oily as fat cooked out of the meat.  For the sake of being healthy, I served the meat separately on Day1 and put the remaining soup in the refrigerator overnight.  This sort of meat goes well with mashed or boiled potatoes.
    -   On Day2, I skimmed the separated fat/oil off the top of the soup and reheated it on the stove, following the recipe above.   Thus, main course Day1, side dish Day2 :)