Jim's Chicken Tortilla Soup

I've tried tortilla soup in many restaurants over the years, some are ok, some have left me wishing I'd ordered something else. This week I was inspired to make a batch myself. I began by looking at recipes online, some sounded good, some were downright goofy.

My habit is to avoid recipes that call for a can of this and a can of that, but rather than make this complicated, I resorted to 3 canned ingredients: tomatoes, black beans and hominy. If you have any of those on hand, made from scratch, certainly use them.

I found a recipe that sounded pretty good but as always happens when I try to follow someone else's recipe, I thought of ways I'd rather do it. So what follows is my recipe and you're welcome to share it. When I served it last night, Josh declared, "This is the best soup you've ever made!" I think I'm a pretty good soup maker so I was pleased at the compliment. I have to agree that it is the best tortilla soup I've ever eaten. Don't be put off by the ingredient list, it's worth the effort.

Chicken Tortilla Soup
6 tablespoons cooking oil
8 6-inch corn tortillas, folded in half and sliced into 1/4 inch ribbons
1 onion, chopped
5 garlic cloves, crushed
*1 tablespoon paprika
*2 teaspoons ground cumin
*1 teaspoon coriander
*1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 12 quarts chicken broth
3 cups canned crushed tomatoes (or whole tomatoes if that's all you have on hand)
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves plus 3 tablespoons chopped for topping
2 large, cooked chicken breasts, diced
1 11-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 11-ounce can golden hominy, drained
1 avocado diced
1/4 pound grated cheddar cheese
1 fresh lime

Heat the oil in a large cooking pot. Add the tortilla strips in batches, turning once, frying until crispy - about 2 minutes per batch. Repeat with rest of the strips, draining all and keeping warm.

Reduce heat, add onion and garlic.
While the onions are simmering, heat a small dry skillet (don't add oil) to hot and add the cumin and coriander, stirring, until they release their fragrance - about 1 to 2 minutes. Add paprika and cayenne and remove skillet from heat. Immediately scrape the spices into the onions and garlic and stir.

Add the tomatoes, broth, bay leaves and salt to the cooking pot and cook for 5 minutes. Add 1/3 of the cooked tortilla strips. Cook, uncovered for 30 minutes.
Remove bay leaves and let soup cool for about 10 minutes until you can safely blend in a blender.

In small batches, pour the soup mixture into a blender and puree until smooth. Return the puree back to the soup pot and bring to a slow simmer.
Add the diced chicken breasts and the 1/4 cup fresh cilantro.
Add an 11 ounce can of drained and rinsed black beans and one 11 ounce can of drained golden hominy.
Squeeze juice of 1/2 fresh lime. Let the soup return to a simmer and it’s ready to serve.

To serve, ladle soup into bowls, top with grated cheddar, chopped fresh cilantro, diced avocado and tortilla strips. Serve with a slice of lime on the side.


Oatmeal Apple Raisin Cake

I think I should go through my old recipe files more often. When I found the previous recipe from 1977 - the Apple Cake, I also found some even older recipes I'd saved. This one, for Oatmeal Cake is from a newspaper clipping about 1950 that my mother had saved. The recipe fairly matches one from my Grandma Long's recipes of the 1930s, so it was probably a widely shared recipe of the time. The original, in my memory, was moist and delicious. Well, I wasn't wrong, this is really good. I had it with an omelette for breakfast this morning.

I can't help but tinker and update recipes, especially old ones, so here is my version, updated, for Oatmeal Apple Raisin Cake.

Why, you may ask, is it only half a cake? Because we had eaten half before I remembered to take the photo!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

1 cup quick oats (or if you have regular oats, chop for 5 seconds in the food processor)
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup - 1 stick, butter
1 1/2 cups boiling water, into which you put:
 3/4 cup golden raisins and 1/2 cup diced dried apples
1/2 cup shortening
2 eggs

1- Slowly simmer raisins and dried apples for 10 minutes.

2- Cream together the 2 sugars and butter, then add the eggs and mix.
3- Mix together the flour, salt, cinnamon, baking soda and baking powder with the oats.
4- Pour in in the sugar-shortening mixture, then add the very hot water with the raisins and dried apples.
5- Add 1/2 cups nuts if desired.
Pour into a oiled 9 x 13 inch baking pan and bake for about 25 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool, then add icing if desired (I like it without the icing):
6 tablespoons butter at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup half and half
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup flaked, unsweetened coconut
1 cup chopped pecans or other favorite nuts

In medium bowl, combine butter, brown sugar, half and half and beat until smooth. Add coconut and nuts and spread on cooled cake.


Jim Long's Garden: Jim Long's Apple Cake

Jim Long's Garden: Jim Long's Apple Cake

Jim Long's Apple Cake

Back in the 1970s when I was in the landscape design business I used to travel from Missouri to Tennessee early each spring to buy plants from wholesale nurseries in and around McMinnville, TN. On my trips I always searched out good, local restaurants at meal time and that state used to have lots of little mom  and pop cafes, now, sadly gone and replaced with chain restaurants or fast food places.

The employees at one of the wholesale nurseries always ate lunch at the Gay-Lo Cafe downtown. It was run by Gay and her sister, Lois, thus the name. It was one of those blue plate special places I love to find, where you choose from whatever the special of the day was, something like meatloaf or fried chicken or ham, a choice of vegetable and mashed potatoes and gravy. It was good, Southern home cooking. The nursery guys swore the desserts were the best in the state.

After eating at the Gay-Lo for several seasons and always having the apple cake, the owners had come to recognize me. One day I asked Gay if she would sell or share her apple cake recipe and she said, "Sure hon, wait a minute, and I will."

She motioned me over to an empty table and said, "Here, write this down. The recipe has been in my family for generations. Probably everyone around here make it but customers tell me mine is the best."
I wrote the recipe on a napkin just as she dictated it, on March 21, 1977. Over the years I've made only a couple of minor changes, less cinnamon, a little less sugar. A few times I've made it using 3 or 4 rose geranium leaves laid on the bottom of the pan before the batter is poured over. Sometimes I make it and don't put on the icing, it's probably even better that way unless you really like sugar. I hope you enjoy the recipe!

4 cups apples, sliced and sliced again (I like a combination of Jonathan and Granny Smith)
2 cups sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 sticks butter, softened
2 eggs

Slice apples and set aside
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

1- Cream together butter and sugar.
Add eggs and mix well.

2- Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, mixing
3- Add the flour mixture into the sugar-butter-egg mix, stir together well but don’t over-mix.
4- Add the chopped apples and mix.
5- Pour into oiled and floured 11 x 15 inch cake pan. Bake about 40 minutes or until a knife inserted into cake comes out clean.

Icing - this is really sweet, the cake is good without it, but the original recipe calls for this

1 stick butter, cut in pieces
4 tablespoons milk or water
4 tablespoons brown sugar mixed with 4 tablespoons flour
dash of salt

Bring to a simmer and let cook for about 10 minutes, stirring often.
Add 3/4 cup any kind of favorite nuts.

Spread on still-warm cake.

Go to my website and you'll find more recipes listed in the descriptions of some of my books. Homemade Crackers has a sample recipe, so check that out, too. And you can search this blog for lots more of my recipes, as well.


Missouri State Fair 2017

I've been going to the Missouri State Fair since I was 3 years old. It's an annual event for me. I love the Fair, the people, the exhibits, sometimes the food. My favorite is the pineapple whip, which was sadly lacking this year.

The World's Greatest Carnival. At night with all the lights it's pretty amazing. Music everywhere, sometimes too much.
You have to be this tall to ride the rides! Try explaining that to a 3 year old boy!
I love this photo! There are rides for all ages. This kid will remember his father beside him on the Merry-Go-Round when he has kids of his own. I still remember my parents put me on the horse, then stood and watched from the side. This is better.
Great Tilt-a-Whirl, who wouldn't want to ride in a teddy bear's belly!
There's always plenty of fun, bizarre stuff to see. This guy obviously likes what he does.
The 146 lb prize watermelon from Deepwater, Missouri. And giant pumpkins and squashes and everything else in the Agriculture Building. I admit I skip over the corn displays, one ear looks pretty much like the next one, but I don't know anything at all about field corn.
I didn't ask but I'd guess this farm couple has been coming to the Fair longer than I have. Maybe I'll see the Fair that way some day, too.
Or atop the wagon pulled by the famous Budweiser Clydesdales. These huge horses used to be used for pulling enormous wagons and they almost went extinct, so I've been told, but the Budweiser folks are preserving the breed and show them all over the country especially at state fairs.
Farm equipment displays are always interesting. The newest tractors, combines, attachments and all that goes with them. This year one of the featured items was the robotic lawn mower. I didn't see it in action but did wonder if it will pick up all of my dog, Cricket's balls before it mows.
These budding farmers stopped for a rest on a John Deere Tractor wheel. From their gear it looks like they are attached to the John Deere brand.

Carol, who makes our Healthy Feet Soap and our excellent bug-repelling Bug Off bar, was there, too, with her soaps and products.
(You can find our soaps and other products on our website).
The 'velcro' teenagers, as I call them. At least one body part has to, at all times, be touching some body part of the girlfriend/boyfriend.
And that leads to... yet another young kid, being introduced to the Fair by his/her parents.
There are always corndogs (sausage on a stick, covered with batter and deep-fried, for readers in the UK and beyond). I skipped my annual corn dog this year, now I'm hungry for a corn dog with lots of mustard.
 Lemonade, corn dogs and red velvet funnel cakes. I'm not a fan of funnel cakes, and think adding a whole lot of red food coloring probably doesn't make them one bit better.

New this year are curly cones. Vanilla or chocolate. That curly J-shaped thing is a cone and when you order it, soft-serve ice cream is squeezed into the tube, filling it from top to bottom. I didn't have one of those, either. I'm pretty certain you can't eat both ends of the cone without one end or the other melting all over you.
Life is too short to drink cheap booze and argue with stupid people. An, youth. His attitude may change as he ages. Still, examining your standards at a young age isn't a bad thing.
The Fair is all about fun. It's a celebration of farming, of Missouri at its best, of what we raise and how we live. I look forward to a day at the Fair every year, to see and do and be, in a place I've visited for decades.
And a shady spot in the Highway Gardens is welcome, regardless of your age or place in life. This is 3 generations, the grandpa, father and son, all resting and getting ready for one more go at the Midway before heading home.
I had a short nap there, too, before heading back to explore more buildings, pig races, an ice cream cone and heading home.


Elephant Garlic Pie

Back in the 1980s, on a cold day in January I was preparing for the arrival of a newspaper reporter. She was coming to interview me to ask what was in the garden in that cold that month. When she had called a week earlier, she said she was looking for a garden story idea but assumed there was nothing still in the ground and maybe we could do a story on soil preparation. I explained that with our mild Ozarks winters, that yes, I did still have food growing in my garden. Carrots and leeks were still in the ground, lettuce, peas and spinach were growing in a cold frame. As is my custom when reporters come, I invited her for lunch, to taste a bit of the garden.

Elephant Pie

That day we dug carrots and picked lettuce and spinach for her photos. Those went into a salad, which I served with Elephant Pie. Elephant Garlic Pie, that is. I like elephant garlic as a vegetable, it has a mild, sweet flavor that works well in all sorts of dishes. Even steamed and buttered, it's delicious.

Elephant garlic, you may not know, was first introduced to the gardening world by our friends at Nichols Garden Nursery in 1941. (Someone later gave Luther Burbank credit, but the documentation is clear, the first elephant garlic, along with the name, started with Nichols Garden Nursery in Albany, Oregon.

Areas of the famous Willamette Valley, known for its mild climate and amazingly fertile soil, was settled partly by immigrants from Czechoslovakia and Northern Yugoslavia. Mr. Nichols discovered that some of these folks were growing a gigantic variety of garlic, mild in flavor and vastly different from any garlic he had ever seen. The immigrants had brought this unusual garlic with them from the Old Country. He purchased 12 pounds as seed stock in 1941 and began cultivating it. When he finally had enough to sell, he began advertising in newspapers and magazines. In 1953 he gave it the name, elephant garlic. Back then, he was the only one selling it and when you ordered elephant garlic from Nichols, in your order you received a little pamphlet with growing and storing instructions. He sold elephant garlic across the U.S., Canada and to many places overseas.
The original pamphlet that accompanied orders, in 1953
I just planted my elephant garlic this past week from some I ordered from Nichols. I prefer to plant it in September, but things were too busy this year. I've actually planted it as late as the first of December and it has done well, thanks to our fairly mild winters here. Next summer, probably about mid to late June, my elephant garlic will be ready to dig. You can still order some for planting from Nichols. I've seen it in the produce department of several grocery stores if you want to get some to cook, but to get a start to grow, of the original, authentic elephant garlic, order from Nichols. (Every other nursery or seed company that sells elephant garlic, can trace their original sources back to Nichols). Here's my Elephant Garlic Pie recipe. It's like a quiche and you can add a regular pie crust if you wish, but I usually make mine crust-less because it cuts down a bit on the carbohydrates and fat.

Elephant Garlic Pie
5-6 cloves elephant garlic, sliced
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
4 eggs
1 can evaporated milk
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1 cup chopped fresh spinach
1 cup diced, thinly-sliced ham (leave it out if you don't eat meat)
1 tablespoon cooking sherry
1/4 teaspoon any brand hot sauce
2 green onions, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Saute the sliced elephant garlic in olive oil or butter until tender, about 5 minutes.
  3. Beat the eggs and milk together; add the cooking sherry, hot sauce, green onions and salt and pepper. 
  4. In a oiled pie plate, layer the garlic, cheese, spinach and ham, then pour the egg mixture over. Dust with a bit of paprika if desired.
  5. Bake until a knife inserted comes out clean, about 35-40 minutes. Let set for 5 minutes before serving.
Nichols Garden Nursery also is the source of my favorite sour dough starter. Mr. Nichols got the start in the late 1940s from a friend who'd been a logger in Alaska. They sell it in powdered form and you mix it with your own bread flour and get it started. We make 2 loaves of sourdough bread a week here at the farm. Sourdough bread is considerably easier for diabetics to eat and Nichols' starter is the best tasting I've ever had. (I don't care for the San Francisco sourdough breads, they're too, well, sour, for me, but Nichols' Oregon Pioneer starter tastes lots better). Here are a couple of recent loaves of sourdough bread we've made.

Freshly-baked sourdough bread is simply delicious!


Dried Apple Zucchin Pie

Our zucchini plants are still producing great lots of squashes. The late August planting that I've started doing in recent years works way, way better than spring planting. The pest-bugs are almost non-existent and we can barely keep up with using what 5 plants produce. One year I made sweet pickles, using my mother's 7-day sweet pickle recipe, substituting zucchini instead of cucumbers and it worked very nicely. But this is my first time to use zucchini in apple pie.

Dried Apple-Zucchini Pie
Our friends, Betty and Dennis, were coming for dinner last week. The menu was simple - beef stew, homemade biscuits and pie. The reason the photo is half a pie, is because I forgot to take the photo until after we'd all had a piece. Everyone agreed my experimental recipe was worth keeping, so here it is for you to try. You could use fresh apples, but the dried apples were convenient. If you use fresh apples, be sure to add additional flour to the recipe.

Dried Apple-Zucchini Pie

4 cups of dried apples (we got ours from the Amish Store)
2 cups thinly-sliced zucchini
1 1/2 cups apple juice or water
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons butter
2 rolled-out pie crusts

Combine the apples and apple juice or water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, add the zucchini slices and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Add the lemon juice, sugar, cinnamon and flour to the apple-zucchini mixture and stir to dissolve sugar.

Line a pie plate with one rolled-out pie crust, then fill with the apple-zucchini mixture. Dot the top with butter. Moisten the edges of the pie crust, then place the second crust on top and crimp to seal the edges.

Brush the top of the pie crust with half and half or milk, then sprinkle the top with sugar. Cut slits for the steam to escape. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Let pie sit for about an hour before serving.