PARIS -- I don't know about y'all, but I'm still wondering how the last year disappeared so quickly ... 2011, where did you go?
I had lists of things I wanted to see, new restaurants I wanted to try, places I wanted to go, but I found myself instead spending most days in the kitchen testing recipes (and eating far too much of what I was making). But in the end, it was worth it -- the first "Cowgirl Chef" cookbook is finished and is off to the presses. Finally.
For me, the holidays this year mean a long-overdue vacation in Texas, and reconnecting with friends and family. There will be parties, there will (if I'm lucky) be too much champagne, and hopefully, there will be lots of intimate get-togethers that are low-key and easy to pull together, like this one.
New Year's Day always seems like the longest day of the year, a somber end to the previous weeks of holiday cocktail parties and late-night celebrations and the beginning of the next 12 months of ... well, we don't know yet.
At my house, it has always been a day for black-eyed peas and cornbread, which is where the inspiration for this party came from. Soup, because it's easy to prepare ahead of time, and Tex-Mex spiciness to offset whatever you had too much of the night before. It always works for me.
The butternut squash-chipotle soup strikes a great balance between sweet and spicy, and the crispy chorizo strips give a great crunchy contrast to the soup's creaminess. The roasted red bell pepper-tequila soup has tequila's unique smokiness and bite, and is intensely red peppery -- unlike most red bell pepper soups, this one's not diluted with tomatoes. (When red peppers go on sale, I make as much of this soup as I can, and I freeze whatever's left over.)
I love chile rellenos stuffed with chicken and cheese, and these two ingredients seemed like the start of a great soup (and far less labor-intensive than making chile rellenos), so I came up with this, a heartier, scoop-with-your-tortilla-chips soup.
The bite-size jalapeño cornbread muffins are cheesy, spicy and, as an added bonus, loaded with bacon. This makes them a great side for all these soups (and if you have any left over, a perfect middle-of-the-afternoon snack the next day).
I'm not sure yet what I'll be doing on New Year's Eve. But on the first day of 2012, I know that I will be making -- and eating -- lots of soup.
Roasted red bell pepper-tequila soup
2 pounds of red bell peppers
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 cups of vegetable or chicken stock
Sea salt and pepper
2 tablespoons of tequila (blanco)
1/3 cup cream
Fresh cilantro, chopped
1. Preheat your oven to broil. Roast the red peppers by putting them on a foil-lined cookie sheet, cutting a few slits in them (so they don't explode), and sliding them into your oven. Watch them carefully, and turn them over as they char, so all sides get evenly blackened. Put the cooked peppers in a bowl of ice water and let them cool for 10 minutes or so, and the skins should come right off. Be sure and remove the membranes and seeds, too.
2. Put a little olive oil in a saucepan, along with your minced garlic, and turn the heat to medium-low. Let this cook just until you can smell your garlic; now add the peppers and the vegetable or chicken stock, a pinch of salt and pepper, and give it a stir.
3. Using a hand blender, puree the pepper-stock mixture and let this come to a boil. Now turn the heat to low and let it cook for 15 minutes or so. Add the tequila and cream, and taste for seasonings. Serve immediately with chopped cilantro.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 228 calories, 11 grams fat, 26 grams carbohydrates, 5 grams protein, 19 milligrams cholesterol, 824 milligrams sodium, 5 grams dietary fiber, 43 percent of calories from fat.
Jalapeño cornbread mini muffins
1/3 cup butter
1 1/2 cups cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup canned corn, drained and rinsed
8 slices bacon, cooked till crispy and crumbled
1 1/2 cups grated cheddar cheese
6 chopped pickled jalapeños
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup of milk
1. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees, and divide the butter among the mini muffin molds.
2. Whisk together the cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt; set this aside.
3. In another bowl, mix up the corn, bacon, cheese and chopped jalapeño. Go ahead and slide muffin tins into the oven so the butter will melt.
4. Beat the eggs with the milk and pour over the dry ingredients; mix well. Fold in the corn, bacon, cheese and chopped jalapeño. Take muffin tins out of the oven, pour the melted butter into the batter and give it a quick stir. Spoon the batter into the muffin molds and bake for 30 minutes or until the edges brown. Serve right away.
Nutritional analysis per muffin: 85 calories, 5 grams fat, 7 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 26 milligrams cholesterol, 188 milligrams sodium, 1 gram dietary fiber, 54 percent of calories from fat.
-- Inspired by a recipe in Jane Butel's 1994 "Southwestern Kitchen" (HP Books)
Chicken chile-relleno soup
Vegetable or olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
2 poblano peppers, roasted, skins removed and chopped
1/2 of a sweet potato, cubed
1 cup of canned corn, drained and rinsed
1 14.5-ounce can of diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon of cumin
Sea salt and pepper
About 3 cups of shredded leftover chicken (I often use rotisserie chicken)
Grated Monterey Jack cheese
1. Put a little bit of oil, along with chopped onion and garlic, in your soup pot and turn the heat to medium-low. Let this cook just until the onions become translucent and you can smell the garlic. This'll take less than 5 minutes.
2. Add your stock, peppers, sweet potato, corn, diced tomatoes and spices. Increase the heat to medium, partially cover, and let cook until the potatoes are done, about 20 minutes.
3. Add the chicken toward the end -- you just want to warm it through since it's already cooked. Serve with grated Monterey Jack cheese and cilantro.
Nutritional analysis per serving, based on 4: 438 calories, 15 grams fat, 25 grams carbohydrates, 47 grams protein, 121 milligrams cholesterol, 573 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 32 percent of calories from fat.
Butternut squash-chipotle soup
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 chipotle chile (in adobo), finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds of butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup of chicken stock
About 8 pieces of thinly sliced chorizo (or any other spicy cured sausage)
1/4 cup cream
1. Drizzle a little olive oil into a stockpot and toss in the minced garlic and chopped chipotle. Turn the heat to medium-low, and cook for a minute or two, or just until you can smell the garlic. Watch this carefully -- you don't want the garlic to burn.
2. Add the butternut squash, chicken stock and a pinch of salt. Cover, and turn the heat down to low. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or just until the squash is soft.
3. While the squash is cooking, fry the chorizo: Cut each piece of chorizo into skinny strips (about 1/4 inch), toss them into a skillet, and turn the heat to medium-low. They'll crisp up in less than five minutes. Let them drain on a paper towel.
4. Carefully pour the squash mixture into a blender, add the cream and blend until smooth and creamy. Taste for seasonings and serve immediately with crispy chorizo strips.
Nutritional analysis per serving: 203 calories, 13 grams fat, 18 grams carbohydrates, 6 grams protein, 26 milligrams cholesterol, 746 milligrams sodium, 3 grams dietary fiber, 54 percent of calories from fat.