Do you remember your dreams? Last night, I woke up from a doozy of a dream. Initially, I believed that Neil and I were in Las Vegas, but in the strange ways of dreams it did not look like Las Vegas at all. The casinos were spread out with highways and wide 6-lane streets winding their way between. The large hotels and entertainment complexes were framed with elevators connected to trams that built a transportation web for pedestrians high above the traffic below. In the beginning, we were at an event amongst countless friends, acquaintances, and strangers (all from Fallon mind you). It was nighttime and we were enjoying the standard Fallon fundraising event activities: cocktails, dinner, music, silent auction, live auction when things got a little dark.
The next thing I knew, it was daytime, and I had no idea where I was or how I got there. Worse, I was alone. Looking around, I realized that I was several properties away and across several busy thoroughfares from where I needed to be. I could see my destination, but I couldn’t figure out how to go about getting there. And I was worried that when I finally managed to get back to him, Neil was going to be upset that I had seemingly abruptly disappeared, leaving him to negotiate all of the interactions that events require all alone. Fortunately, when I awoke in real life, he assured me that he would certainly be very worried but wouldn’t be mad at me at all. When I went back to sleep and back to my dream space, I re-focused on the challenge of negotiating my situation without carrying the burden of Neil’s dissatisfaction. If only I had a map.
Now that I am awake and planted in front of my computer, coffee in hand, I am wondering what difficult situation I am trying to navigate without a map. My subconscious speaks very loudly in my dreams and the language it uses is metaphor, so I know something is bothering me deep down, but I am not quite sure what it is.
In real life, we have tools we can use to help navigate complicated things. Trying to get from point A to point B in a new city or in Lattin’s corn maze, use a map. Putting together a piece of furniture, follow the directions. Whether a 2000-piece puzzle, the new LEGO Titanic monster build, or the annual Nevada Day Scavenger Hunt, hard things are typically made easier with a chart, map, clues, and instructions. In the kitchen, the map that we follow, complete with clues, is a recipe. Your recipes might come from your ancestors on 3x5” cards in a dusty, flour-covered storage box that has been handed down to you from your mother and her mother before her. Or your recipes might come from cookbooks written by a celebrity chef, a baker, or a chemist. You might find your recipes on the internet, complete with a narrative story that you have to scroll through to get to the good stuff. Regardless of where they come from, a recipe will help you make something amazing that may seem impossible. That is, of course, so long as the recipe actually works.
Before I gift you my recipe of the week, which definitely works, I want to offer some guidance about where to find good recipes. A good recipe, in my opinion, is a set of directions that, if followed, yield the results that are promised. There will always be some nuances to sort through. Cooking and baking times may vary, your pasta dough might need a little more water, you might want to use a little more salt. But ultimately, a recipe is good if it works and bad if the results achieved when the directions are followed are vastly different from the promised outcome. There are a lot of bad recipes out there. In order to avoid bumping into a bad recipe in a shadowy corner of the internet, here are some general guidelines:
Recipes in cookbooks are generally good. A cookbook has gone through a vetting process where each recipe is tested by multiple individuals before the book goes to print.
Grandma’s recipes are good. This is not to say that what grandma’s recipes help you cook will actually taste good, they made some weird things in the first half of the last century I’m looking at you Tuna & Jello Pie and Ham & Banana Hollandaise. But you can reasonably expect that if previous generations have saved a set of instructions, those directions have been followed many times resulting in the desired outcome.
When it comes to the internet, determining if a recipe is good or bad becomes more complicated. Generally, I stay away from recipes published by bloggers unless they are attributing their recipe to a source that I am familiar with. There is just too much potential for a bad recipe when it was created by Karen in South Dakota who writes about her attempts to provide a tasty dish that her three mischievous rug rats and her discerning husband all enjoy. Instead, I find myself returning to commercial websites that publish recipes written and tested by teams of people. Examples include the NY Times Cooking, Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, America’s Test Kitchen and Milk Street. My favorite is Serious Eats.
Find a source that you trust and keep an eye out for recipes that call for more than a dash of ground cloves as this is a sure sign that the creator is a monster.
Chicken Tortilla Soup
1 pkg of chicken thighs, with skin and bones
2 onions, one peeled and split in half, the other finely diced
2 ears of corn, shucked, kernels removed, and the cobs milked*
6 garlic cloves, peeled and whole, plus 4 garlic cloves minced
4 whole dried chiles (ancho or pasilla), seeds and stems removed, torn into pieces
2 qts chicken stock
1 ½ lb tomatoes (about 6), cut in half
2 T vegetable oil
2 poblano peppers, seed and stems removed, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
2 T cumin
1 T dried oregano
2 c cooked black beans, drained (you can use a 15 oz can)
1 c fresh cilantro leaves
2 T corn flour (you can find this at Mendoza’s)
In a large pot, combine chicken, onion halves, corn cobs, and scraped corn “milk,” 6 whole garlic cloves, dried chiles, and stock. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and let cook for 30-45 minutes. You might need to add water to keep all of the ingredients submerged.
Discard cooked onion, corn cobs, and garlic cloves. Transfer cooked chicken to a plate, cool and shred.
While the stock is simmering, arrange the oven racks so one is in the top setting. Turn the broiler to high. Put halved tomatoes cut-side up on an aluminum foil-lined sheet pan. Broil until the tomatoes are charred on top and totally soft. About 20 minutes.
Combine tomatoes with stock and rehydrated chiles, blend until completely smooth.
Heat oil in a saucepan or stockpot. Add diced onions, poblano, and corn kernels. Season with salt and pepper. Cook stirring regularly until veggies are soft but not brown. Add minced garlic and continue to cook until you can smell the garlic. About 1 minute. Add cumin, oregano, beans, half of the chopped cilantro. Stir to combine. Pour tomato-chile mix through a strainer into your pot.
Whisk in cornflour and bring your soup to a simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cook until the veggies are completely soft, and soup has thickened a bit. About 10 minutes. Add shredded chicken and continue cooking until the chicken is heated through.
Serve topped with diced avocado, remaining cilantro, green onions, and tortilla chip pieces with a lime wedge on the side.
* To milk a corn cob: once kernels have been removed, run the back of your knife up and down the cob to scrape out the corn bits that remain.