No Other Dish The Same: Chicken Tortilla Soup

I think I've had a major cooking breakthrough. I decided that instead of trying to force myself to follow recipes to the letter which, let's face it, normally doesn't work out, that instead, I will try to start understanding how to actually cook. Recipes feel a bit mindless to me, and usually when I don't follow them, I don't understand why they haven't worked. From now on, I'm going to pay more attention to simply how the ingredients cook, and why certain ingredients cook differently than others, etc, and use the recipes as my template.

Case in point: Chicken Tortilla Soup. YUM.

I was so excited to use my hand-me-down crock pot that my dear friend gave me, remembering that the last time I used a crock pot, I actually managed to burn chicken stew. Yes, that's right. I am the only person in the history of crock pot users who has ever managed to burn something. Hmmm....

I found this crock pot recipe, and it looked easy and awesome. The only problem was that by the time I got my act together to cook (purchased the ingredients, etc), I only had 3 hours until dinnertime. Normally, crock pot recipes take at least 7 hours. At first, I frantically consulted crock pot FAQ's which are unfortunately only geared towards ladies. Finally, I thought - it's soup. I know how to cook soup. I'm just going to use the ingredients I have, and use another stove top recipe to guide me. I found solace in the Cooks Illustrated version of course, but vowed to not let them box me in too much with their rules.

The most important part of all seemed to be making sure the chicken was cooked. In the crock pot it would have taken 8 hours. On the stove, it took 20 minutes. I'm sure the crock pot version meat would have just fallen off the boneless chicken (heehee), but I didn't have the time.

Oh, Cooks Illustrated told me to take the chicken out once it had cooked (agreed), and then to strain the broth so the chicken bits and onion bits and garlic bits would go away. Disagree! I didn't want purified soup! I left them in.

The true flavor of the chicken tortilla soup seemed to come from the following ingredients: a jalapeno chile, a chile pepper in adobe sauce, garlic, onions, and tomatoes. I blended those right up. Of course, in the crock pot they would have just melded together over time.

Then, I was supposed to simmer the sauce until it darkened.

I found this a bit difficult because the onion was so strong. Has that ever happened to you? All of a sudden I was full on crying because of this one onion!

The crockpot version contained a bell pepper, black beans and corn. Cooks Illustrated said no. I put them in.

So basically I combined the red sauce with my chicken broth full o' good stuff, and I simmered all of that for a while, with the veggies. Oh, the chicken! I had my sous-chef working on pulling the chicken apart.

I simmered all the ingredients together for a while to make sure the flavors really mixed....

And then...presto - done! I was pretty proud of my presentation.

After plenty of failed recipes, I was thrilled this one was a hit. The tortilla soup was amazing!!! I was so proud of myself for thinking through the different ingredients and how to make them work together. Beginnings of a better cooking future?? I think so! Now the trick is, can I make it again?