Sort-of Ajiaco Soup

By Michael Elmore

Ajiaco is a traditional Columbian soup (specifically, Bogota) that is hearty and filled with some pretty delicious flavors, from a rich, velvet broth to starchy potatoes, and chicken that has melted away. Making it here in the United States, however, proves difficult due to two ingredients that are pretty difficult to come by: a potato variety specific to Latin America of very think skinned, and very small yellow potatoes, and guascas, or potato weed, an earthy herb.

One of my closest friends is Columbian, and while she traveled there this year pre-pandemic, she sent me photos of this dish, and the mouth-watering sight put it on the list of new things to try. I confess, I forgot about my list until recently while watching a food documentary that happened to talk about it. Being in self-isolation from my move, what better time to reach for new flavors than the present?

This recipe is not ajiaco. Unable to find the necessary potatoes and the guascas, I did my best to replicate the flavors described to me by my friend while she attempts to hunt down those ingredients for me so that I can make a proper ajiaco. However, whatever this dish may or may not be, it is certainly delicious. While the recipe looks long, it is a fairly straight forward dish, but be sure to read the recipe first before planning on making it! Buen provecho!

Ingredients:

  • 5 green onion stems (white part with roots only – reserve the remainder for other dishes)
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • ¼ of an onion, cut in half (reserve the remainder for other dishes)
  • ¼ of a bunch of cilantro
  • 3 chicken quarters
  • 3 cups chili stock (make this ahead of time – soak dried chilis of your choice in a big bowl of water, then blend the next day. You can skip this step if you like by replacing this with more stock).
  • 5 cups good quality chicken stock
  • ½ tsp salt
  • ½ tsp black pepper
  • 6 small Yukon gold potatoes, cut into ¼ inch slices
  • 3 russet potatoes, divided (peel and grate 1 of the potatoes; peel and slice into ¼ inch rings for the other 2 potatoes)
  • 2 ears of corn on the cob, cleaned and sliced into 6 equal pieces
  • 1 tbsp Mexican oregano

Directions:

  1. In a cheesecloth (I did not have a cheesecloth, and if you don’t, that’s alright – use coffee filters like I did), place the first three ingredients and enclose, then tie tightly with butcher’s twine so nothing falls out.
  2. In a large pot, add the chicken, the cheesecloth, all 8 cups of the stock, the salt, and the pepper. The stock should submerge the chicken completely – if not, add more stock or water. Bring to boil slowly over medium high heat, then reduce to simmer and cover. Slow cook on low, checking on it frequently, for approximately 3 hours.
  3. Check on the chicken, it should be cooked at this point, and very tender. Using tongues, pull the chicken out and set aside to cool. Once cool enough to handle, pull apart into pieces (tip: save the bones to make some stock later).
  4. Add the potatoes to the pot, including the grated potato. Cook, covered, another 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are extremely soft and starting to fall apart. Using a stick blender, blend the mixture for 30-60 seconds until thickened. In the alternative, if you do not have a stick blender, take half the potato mixture out and put into a blender, then return it to the pan, or add a roux.
  5. Add the corn and the Mexican oregano. Cover and cook another 20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.
  6. The soup is done. You can return the chicken to the pot or you can serve it in a more traditional style and plate the soup separately, then add the chicken and corn piece to each bowl. Serve immediately or serve later by reheating slowly!

Lasagna Odyssey 2020

By Michael Elmore

I love lasagna. By far, it is my favorite Italian dish with its rows of hearty pasta, pools of tomato and bechamel sauces, with bursts of meaty goodness. Growing up, it was the one dish I would demand not be altered in any way, shape or form because, to me, it was the perfect dish as imagined. It required no modernizing or changes.

This is all to say that sometimes we all must eat our words, and this time deliciously so. Lasagna is not exactly a diabetic friendly recipe, so we found a way to lighten up the dish and make it slightly more healthy at least. Extra perk? It would be easy to turn this into a vegan dish – just omit the first steps featuring the meat. There’s so many vegetables in this hearty dish that you won’t miss it if you do.

So while traditions are good, moving forward into the future of better awareness of our health, and with no further adieu, we give you or vegetable boosted lasagna! Buon appetito!

Ingredients:

  1. 6 lasagna noodles, cooked per box directions to al dente
  2. 1 pound of ground beef (choose leaner if you want to lighten this up even further)
  3. 1 onion, diced
  4. 2 carrots, peeled and diced
  5. 2 celery stalks, diced
  6. 5 cloves of garlic, minced
  7. Salt
  8. 1 cup diced bell peppers
  9. 2 pints mushrooms, cleaned and cut into slices (we used white button mushrooms)
  10. 28 oz favorite marinara sauce (use homemade if you can but it’s perfectly okay to use your favorite jarred sauce).
  11. 1/2 bunch of kale, stems removed (discard), and leaves chopped
  12. 1 tbsp Italian seasoning
  13. 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  14. 1 cup shredded Parmesan
  15. 1 cup shredded mozzarella

Directions:

  1. In a large pot, heat up approximately 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium high heat.
  2. Add the ground beef, and cook most of the way through, approximately 8 minutes depending on stove top and stirring frequently. With a slotted spoon, remove the beef to a bowl and set aside. Drain some of the liquid on top of the beef but leave enough in the pan to begin the vegetables.
  3. Add the onions, carrots, and celery with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring frequently, for 3-4 minutes until the onions begin to soften. Add the bell peppers. Cook down another 3-4 minutes. During this time, add the Italian seasoning and cayenne pepper.
  4. Add the mushrooms. Continuing to stir occasionally, cook them down until they are approximately half in size from when you started.
  5. Add the sauce along with the meat and juices. Incorporate everything thoroughly. Bring to boil then reduce to a simmer. We are going to stay here the rest of the way.
  6. After about 10 minutes, add the kale, once again incorporating it well and stirring frequently. This will cook down significantly. Cook another 10 minutes on simmer.
  7. Adjust seasonings then allow to cool before assembling the lasagna.

For Assembly:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Meanwhile, put some of the tomato liquid on the bottom of a 9 x 13 pan and spread along the bottom.
  2. Add 2 lasagna noodles. Spoon some of the filling onto the noodles, flattening it with a spatula. Sprinkle Parmesan and mozzarella.
  3. Add the next 2 noodles and repeat step 2.
  4. For the top layer, once again, spoon some of the liquid from the sauce mixture onto the noodles. Top with more Parmesan and mozzarella.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes, covered with foil that has been sprayed with non-stick cooking oil. At 40 minutes, remove foil, boost temperature to 400, and cook another 10 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes so that it will not fall apart when you cut the lasagna into slices. Serve and enjoy!

Hashing a Plot: Southwest Sweet Potato Hash

Looking for ideas for Sunday brunch? A hash can be a great way to use up some leftovers from the week and a great way to experiment in the kitchen!

By Michael Elmore

Few things remind me of my childhood more than a Sunday brunch. Growing up, it became a weekly tradition to have a large brunch after mass on Sunday morning. While my brunches all these years later do not always consist of hummus, falafel, and a glorious over abundance of cheeses, meats, and olives, it is a tradition I continue to try to maintain.

Being diabetic certainly led to some of my favorites having to be modified, however. Gone are the days of the buttermilk biscuit (though keep an eye out for a lighter version coming soon!) smothered in sausage gravy, but some things never changed. This hash is one of them. Have some leftover vegetables from the week? They may go well in a hash. We had some leftover sweet potatoes that we did not get around to finishing earlier this week, an onion and some potatoes on the cusp of their final days. Enter: the hash.

This hodgepodge dish delights the senses with its sweetness from the sweet potatoes being balanced with some heat from cayenne and chili powder reminiscent of flavors well known to Southwestern cuisine.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 cup diced bell peppers (feel free to use frozen if that’s what you’ve got!)
  • 1 Sweet potato, peeled and diced
  • 3 small russet potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups baby spinach
  • 3 tbsp cheddar, shredded
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika

Directions:

  1. Heat the oil in a non-stick pan. This recipe works well in a cast-iron pan as well but be prepared for more sticking (though crispier potatoes).
  2. Add the onions and peppers with a pinch of salt. Cook down until the onions are nearly translucent, approximately 4-5 minutes.
  3. Add potatoes. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are crisp tender, approximately 15-20 minutes depending on stove top. Add the chili powder and smoked paprika while the potatoes are cooking.
  4. Once the potatoes are cooked, add the eggs, stirring frequently until the eggs are cooked. Add the cayenne pepper, another pinch of salt, and the black pepper to this step.
  5. Add the spinach, stirring frequently until it cooks down and is wilted. This will not take long. Turn off heat and add the cheddar cheese, mixing it in well so that it melts. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Serve and enjoy. Optional: Serve some lime with it to brighten up the dish and have some acidity to play off the heat from the peppers and sweetness of the vegetables.