The Science of Spiciness

I like spicy foods.  I get it from my dad.  This video is a fun explanation of why we chose to put ourselves through eating spicy foods.  I can remember more than one occasion where my dad brings himself to tears and runny noses and still pushes through whatever he happens to be eating.  If you are the same (or know someone who is), watch the video to learn why!

 

Valentine’s Day Chicken Soup

So it’s probably a little bit of a stretch to call this spicy chicken soup Valentine’s Day chicken.  But, in my defense, the soup is red, so that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.  Valentine’s Day is a weird day to me.  At first, I started to not like it because I hated the restaurant experience on the Day–the hiked up prices, the crowds, the usually-lower-quality food because it’s a prix fixed menu.  So I transitioned to doing things at home, which was more enjoyable but still came with a lot of stress.  But then I realized that I just don’t care much about it.  I particularly don’t care for the high expectations and pressure that come along with the holiday.  So when Mr. Little Fish and I first started dating, I told him that I didn’t want to celebrate, he said OK, somewhat skeptically, I repeated myself more emphatically, and then that was that.

Well, that was supposed to be that.  But then he bought me these flowers yesterday:

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If flowers didn’t just die a few days after you bought them, I would actually really enjoy getting flowers.  I’ve thought about getting potted flowers, but I have become aware of my lack of a green thumb.  We have one indoor rubber tree that has managed to survive, but other than that, I’ve killed every plant I’ve ever gotten.  So, when were in HEB last week, I wistfully remarked that I kinda wished flowers didn’t die so quickly because I would like to always have some in our house.  I usually think Mr. LF isn’t listening to my ramblings, but he always is, so he got me these flowers.  It was a lovely surprise to finish my work week with, despite the ubiquitous little heart in the middle of the bouquet.

Which unfortunately does not at all provide me with a segue to this soup, but, I’m gonna talk about it anyway.  A couple of weeks ago I wrote about a few recipes that were easy and fast to make to help ease the pain of making your own food during the week (see: here, here, and here), but that’s not the only way I make things easier for myself:  I also make soups.  HUGE batches of soup.  On Sunday afternoons when I have time to let the flavors simmer and meld together. Then, I have lunches for every day that week for me and dinners for every day for Little Fish.  Sometimes, because I need a little more variety than Little Fish does, I’ll end up making some quick dinners for myself during the week, but other times, I’ll have the soup for dinner too.

This particular soup is one of our favorites.  The recipe is originally from Allrecipes.com, which is a great site for crowd-sourcing your meals.  They have a star rating system and a TON of users, so it’s pretty much the Amazon of recipes.  I tweaked the recipe to make it a bit fresher:  using a whole chicken so we can get the tender dark meat and make our own stock, buying fresh pico de gallo at HEB instead of a jar of salsa, adding red pepper in for a less starchy veggie, and letting each person put as much sour cream as they want rather than mixing it into the entire soup.  Truly a great soup for these winter days (but probably not the ideal candidate for Valentine’s Day)!

Valentine’s Day Chicken Soup
Serves 12
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Ingredients:

1 whole chicken, 4-5 pounds
2 stalks celery
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
2 tbsp dried parsley
1 tbsp onion powder
2.5 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 16-oz jar of chunky salsa (of fresh salsa from your local store)
2 (14.5 oz) cans peeled and diced tomatoes
1 (14.5 oz) can whole, peeled tomatoes
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
3 tbsp chili powder
2 (16 oz) cans chili or black beans, undrained
1 bean-can full of frozen corn kernels
Sour cream, to taste

Directions:

1. In a large pot over medium heat, bring the chicken, celery, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried parsley, and onion powder to a boil.  Once it starts to boil, reduce the heat to low/medium-low, and let it simmer, covered, for about an hour, until the meat is tender enough to be pulled apart with a fork.
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2.  About 50 minutes in, prep the veggies if you haven’t already, and open the cans.  Remove the chicken from the water and onto a plate, and turn the heat off on the leftover stock (you will use this stock in the recipe, and have enough leftover to freeze for chicken broth).
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Get another clean plate and then start to pull the meat off the chicken, making sure to shred it into bite-sized pieces.  Set aside.
3.  In another large pot, cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until translucent.
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Stir in the salsa, diced tomatoes, whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, chili powder, frozen corn, beans, shredded chicken, and about 5 cups of broth, or however much liquid you desire/your pot can hold (ours was only able to have 4).  Simmer for 30 minutes.
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4.  While the soup is simmering, you can throw away the celery in the leftover stock, and pour it though a strainer to get the spices out.  Freeze the strained liquid and use whenever chicken broth/stock is called for in future recipes!

IMG_68965.  For those who are/can not eat dairy, you can eat the soup straight.  Otherwise, I highly recommend stirring in some sour cream into your bowl, as it makes it creamy and delicious!  Allow each person to get as big or small a dollop as they want, and top with avocado, cheese, and/or tortilla chips!

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5.0 from 1 reviews
Valentine's Day Chicken Soup
 
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NOTE: To make this recipe a better weeknight meal, I typically just buy a cooked rotisserie chicken from the store, and shred the chicken for the meat. If you go those route, omit the celery below, and ignore steps 1 and 2 in the directions. I like to start with step 3 (getting the veggies started), and then pull the chicken while it cooks, but it also works fine to pull the chicken entirely before starting the actual cooking.
Author:
Recipe type: Soup
Cuisine: Mexican
Serves: 12
Ingredients
  • 1 whole chicken, 4-5 pounds
  • 2 stalks celery
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tbsp dried parsley
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 2.5 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 16-oz jar of chunky salsa (of fresh salsa from your local store)
  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans peeled and diced tomatoes
  • 1 (14.5 oz) can whole, peeled tomatoes
  • 1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 2 (16 oz) cans chili or black beans, undrained
  • 1 bean-can full of frozen corn kernels
  • Sour cream, to taste
Directions
  1. In a large pot over medium heat, bring the chicken, celery, salt, pepper, garlic powder, dried parsley, and onion powder to a boil. Once it starts to boil, reduce the heat to low/medium-low, and let it simmer, covered, for about an hour, until the meat is tender enough to be pulled apart with a fork.
  2. About 50 minutes in, prep the veggies if you haven't already, and open the cans. Remove the chicken from the water and onto a plate, and turn the heat off on the leftover stock (you will use this stock in the recipe, and have enough leftover to freeze for chicken broth). Get another clean plate and then start to pull the meat off the chicken, making sure to shred it into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
  3. In another large pot, cook the onion and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until translucent. Stir in the salsa, diced tomatoes, whole tomatoes, tomato sauce, chili powder, frozen corn, beans, shredded chicken, and about 5 cups of broth, or however much liquid you desire/your pot can hold (ours was only able to have 4). Simmer for 30 minutes.
  4. While the soup is simmering, you can throw away the celery in the leftover stock, and pour it though a strainer to get the spices out. Freeze the strained liquid and use whenever chicken broth/stock is called for in future recipes!
  5. For those who are/can not eat dairy, you can eat the soup straight. Otherwise, I highly recommend stirring in some sour cream into your bowl, as it makes it creamy and delicious! Allow each person to get as big or small a dollop as they want, and top with avocado, cheese, and/or tortilla chips!

Spicy Tuna Steak

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True story: Mr. Little Fish is a cannibal. Not because he eats other humans (that I know of), but because he eats fish. A lot. I can’t be sure but I think his favorite protein in the whole world might be salmon. I’m not sure because I haven’t asked because he refuses to indulge my attempts to get him to commit to some superlative (Would you say Nutella is your favorite thing ever? No. Top 2? Ehh….), but I’m just gonna go ahead and presume that it is.

Unfortunately for him, I am awfully picky about my salmon. Whenever I ordered it in restaurants, I always found it dry and overly fishy. Salmon has a very distinct flavor to me, and I haven’t quite found a pattern to when I find it tolerable and when I don’t, although I suspect cooking it at home might have something to do with it (recipes to come!).

The only consistent way that I like salmon is in sushi. I like raw fish. I even made ceviche once (it was delicious). So, when I recently bought Alton Brown’s I’m Just Here for the Food (which is a great food-nerd book by the way!), and he featured a blackened tuna steak in his “Searing” section, I thought that we’d found an acceptable compromise.  And indeed we did, despite Mr. LF’s unending paranoia about eating raw foods.  It’s like he came from a Third World country or something (spoiler alert: he did).

The spice mix on the fish is perfect–spicy, salty, tangy, delicious.  I stuck to the original recipe for the spice mix, even though it only called for one tuna steak, and it has been plenty.  In fact, I decided that, rather than throwing it out, I have put the spice mix in a little ziplock baggie and stuck it in the fridge for future tuna-coating purposes.  This will make an already fabulously quick recipe even quicker!

Also, because I think there is something primal about seeing the grill marks on food, I invested in an inexpensive cast-iron grill pan awhile back that has been great for all kinds of steaks (but particularly for a delicious ribeye I made the other day!).  If you are only interested in buying one cast iron pan, I would suggest going with a regular skillet over this grill pan because it’s slightly less versatile.  But for the price, you could easily get them both!  I am sure, however, that you could probably sear this tuna on a regular non-stick pan, but make sure to put a good coating of oil so that it actually does not stick.

Blackened Tuna Steak
Adapted from I’m Just Here for the Food by Alton Brown
Serves 2

Deliciously pink on the insde

Deliciously pink on the insde

Ingredients:

2 tbsp paprika
2 tbsp salt
2 tsp onion powder
3 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp dried thyme
2 tsp dried ginger
2 tsp ground cumin
Coconut oil
2 tuna steaks, about 1-inch thick
1 half lemon

Directions:

1.  Mix the spices together in a small baggie.  Then, put your cast iron skillet on the burner over medium high heat.  This gives the cast iron some time to heat up before putting the food on it.
2.  Put the tuna steaks on your cutting board, and use a pastry brush, or your fingers, to rub the melted coconut oil on to the surface of the steaks.  Sprinkle enough of the spice mix on the fish to cover all sides of it.
3.    Drizzle a tiny bit of the coconut oil over the pan, and then place your tuna steaks in the pan.  It will sizzle and sear and might get kind of smoky, so turn your oven hood on.  Leave the tuna steaks completely alone for 3 minutes.
4.  If, at the end of the three minutes, the fish is sticking to the pan, let it sit for one more minute.  If not, flip it over to the other side and cook for another three minutes.
5.  Take the steaks out of the pan, and squeeze a little lemon juice over them.  Serve with roasted veggies or on top of salad!

What’s your favorite way to cook fish?

Spicy Tuna Steak
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Main
Cuisine: American
Serves: 2
Ingredients
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 2 tsp onion powder
  • 3 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 2 tsp dried ginger
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • Coconut oil
  • 2 tuna steaks, about 1-inch thick
  • 1 half lemon
Directions
  1. Mix the spices together in a small baggie. Then, put your cast iron skillet on the burner over medium high heat. This gives the cast iron some time to heat up before putting the food on it.
  2. Put the tuna steaks on your cutting board, and use a pastry brush, or your fingers, to rub the melted coconut oil on to the surface of the steaks. Sprinkle enough of the spice mix on the fish to cover all sides of it.
  3. Drizzle a tiny bit of the coconut oil over the pan, and then place your tuna steaks in the pan. It will sizzle and sear and might get kind of smoky, so turn your oven hood on. Leave the tuna steaks completely alone for 3 minutes.
  4. If, at the end of the three minutes, the fish is sticking to the pan, let it sit for one more minute. If not, flip it over to the other side and cook for another three minutes.
  5. Take the steaks out of the pan, and squeeze a little lemon juice over them. Serve with roasted veggies or on top of salad!

Snowpocalypse Mexi-hot Chocolate

Today it snowed, maybe….1/4 of an inch in Austin.  So, naturally, the whole city shut down.  While I think this is a bit silly, what I don’t think is silly is that my office was one of those things that shut down.  Yay for two days off in one week (Thanks MLK!)!

I decided to watch the movie Frozen, which I had made Mr. Little Fish download for me for some future time when he wasn’t at home.  He doesn’t like cartoons.  I do.  Now I have a get-out-of-jail-out-free card next time he wants to watch conspiracy theory documentaries about aliens or 9/11.  Compromise.   I love Disney movies.  And Frozen, true to form, was very cute.

It also, however, made me want hot chocolate.  Of the Mexican variety.  Because I’m Mexican.  Well, I’m not.  But I’m half Nicaraguan, which to everyone else means Mexican.  And I’m spicy.  Like this drink.  I’m not sure why I’m writing like this.  I could be going a little stir crazy.

Anywho, I’m gonna write this recipe a little differently because it’s basically two steps, so I took detailed photographic evidence of it.

Step 1.  Assemble the following ingredients:

2 cups unsweetened almond milk, preferably homemade
2 tbsp cocoa powder, dutch-processed or otherwise
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
A dash of nutmeg, cayenne, and chipotle powder

But it doesn't have to look like this.

Step 2.  Pour all the ingredients into a medium saucepan over medium heat.
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Step 3.  Whisk everything together so it dissolves.

Frothy yumminess.

Step 4.  When the milk starts simmering, or when you can’t stand the delicious smells any longer, pour into your favorite mug and enjoy!

My mug says, "Hello"! Can you see it?
My mug says, “Hello”! Can you see it?  

Snowpocalypse Mexi-hot Chocolate
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Recipe type: Beverages
Serves: 2
Ingredients
  • 2 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder, dutch-processed or otherwise
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • A dash of nutmeg, cayenne, and chipotle powder
Directions
  1. Combine everything in a saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Whisk together until the cocoa powder dissolves.
  3. When the mixture starts to come to a simmer, remove from heat, pour, and enjoy!