Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Chicken Taco Soup

I'm still dreaming about dinner last night. I can't wait to have the leftovers for lunch today. I've kind of been in a rut lately when it comes to planning dinner. Trying to make meals that are healthy, and not the boring same-old same-old. And this recipe was a winner. Super easy and fast, delicious flavor, and low Weight Watchers Points Plus values. I might make something different for the rest of the family for dinner tonight, just so I can keep all the leftovers of this soup for myself!

This is sometimes called Chicken Tortilla soup too.

2 Tbl. olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. oregano
4 c. chicken broth
8 oz. chopped green chiles
4 c. shredded cooked chicken
2 medium onions, diced
4 tsp. chili powder
60 oz. crushed tomatoes (I used 4-15 oz. cans)
16 oz. bag frozen corn
2 cans black beans, 15 oz. each
tortilla chips to serve

Heat oil in soup kettle. Add onions and saute until clear; add garlic and saute for one minute more.

Add remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes. Serve with tortilla chips and a sprinkle of grated cheese on top.

Just the soup, without chips or cheese is 2 Weight Watchers PointsPlus per cup. And this recipe makes a huge pot -- 7 quarts, or 28-1 cup servings.

For fun, you could serve this in a tortilla bowl. You can make your own using a mold like these. (Hint: If you like the molds, it is helpful to have two or four so you can make more than one bowl at a time.) You could also cut up some tortillas into little 1/2" x 2" strips, fry them up, and use them to garnish on top of the cheese.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

My Grandpa's Famous Caramels

My Grandpa is a candy lover. Divinity, fudge--and yes, caramels--are his specialty. I have always loved these smooth, buttery caramels, but this was my first attempt at making them myself. And wow, what success I had! I ended up making five batches this past Christmas season, some to share with neighbors, and some for my kids who watched with longing eyes as we packed them up to give away to friends.

For my first attempt, these were easy--as long as I followed the recipe exactly. I know that candy making can sometimes be tricky, but I must have been lucky because all the batches I made turned out, if I do say so myself, absolutely perfect or to die for, take your pick.

First, you will need a candy thermometer. Then you will need to calibrate it. One word about calibrating your thermometer. I followed the directions on Our Best Bites and was disappointed to find that my brand new thermometer was off by 8 degrees. My water boiled at 204 degrees instead of 212! So, I wrote a big "+8" at the top of my thermometer before I realized the difference was due to elevation. Where I live in the Salt Lake City, Utah area, the altitude is 4320 feet, and if you use this calculator you will see at 4320 feet the boiling point of water is 204 degrees.

Image from
Since my Grandpa also lives in the Salt Lake area, this recipe is written to work perfectly at this altitude. So you will need to figure out the difference. For example, if you live in Boulder City, NV at an altitude of 2201 ft, according to the calculator the boiling point of water is 208 degrees, so you will need to add 4 degrees to the temperatures in this recipe. There can also be quite a range of altitudes even within one city, so you may want to check what the elevation is right where you live, because every 500 ft will make a difference of 1 degree on your candy thermometer.

You can also test your temperature while cooking by dropping a small amount of the candy into a cup of cold water. For this recipe, you want a firm ball stage, which means when you put a little bit into a cup of cold water it will form a soft ball that will hold it's shape. Since my husband especially loves things soft and chewy, I made a few batches of caramels at a soft ball stage, which means when dropped into a cup of cold water it will form a soft ball, but when you hold it or place it on a plate it will flatten and not hold it's shape. For me, the difference between my soft ball and firm ball were a couple of degrees. My best advice is to make a few batches relatively close together so you can find which temperature you like the best. 

Before you begin on the stove top, butter a glass 9x13 dish with butter.

2 c. sugar
1 c. white corn syrup
1/4 tsp. salt
2 c. (1 pint) whipping cream (not heavy)
1/2 c. (1 stick) butter
1 tsp. vanilla

Mix together sugar, corn syrup, salt, and 1/3 of the cream (you can eyeball it) in a heavy saucepan. Using a damp paper towel, wipe down the sides of the pan as best you can to remove any sugar on the inside of the pot that would make the caramels grainy.

Set your burner at medium heat (a 5 out of 10). Don't be tempted to turn up the heat to speed up the process. It will get you into trouble. Keep it at the same temperature the entire time.

Cover and bring to a boil at medium heat. Cook for five minutes to allow steam to melt sugar crystals down sides of pan. Remove lid and boil for 5 more minutes until quite thick.

Brought to a boil
Begin to add the cream gradually, slowly enough that it never stops boiling and allow the caramel to thicken after each addition. It takes about 5 minutes to add all the cream.
After all the cream has been added
 When all the cream has been added, use a candy thermometer to bring to a firm-ball stage or 234 degrees (mixture forms a firm ball when dripped into cold water and won't flatten when removed.) Keep stirring gently and continuously. As the temperature rises, the water boils away and the sugar concentration rises. 
Slice your butter into thin slices
Cut cube of butter into small slices and, after it has reached 234 degrees, add the butter to the mixture along with the vanilla. Stir quickly to melt butter and bring temperature back to 239.  (I accidentally cooked mine to a lower temperature - my chewier caramels to 234, and my slightly firmer caramels to 236).
After the butter has been added
Immediately pour without scraping the inside of the pot into a buttered 9x13 glass dish. Pour the majority of the caramel into the glass dish and just let as much drip out as you can. If you scrape the sides to get every last drop it will make your caramels turn hard.
Cool thoroughly and cut into 1 inch rectangles. Wrap in wax paper squares and store in an airtight container. I figure it took me 45 minutes to make one batch from start to finish.

 Did I mention these taste heavenly?