Friday, April 29, 2011

ChopChop Winner and Morning Song

Dear Ones,

I know I don't need to tell you how that flood of ChopChop subscriptions made me feel. You've got my back is all I can say. Thank you--for your faith and your gladness and your investment and also your delicious feistiness. "Some of your readers already wrote to me," my new editor told me, and I had to laugh. "I know," I said. "They're like that." I love that. I'm going to start writing some Cooking with Ben columns over there soon, and I'll post links here. I'll still be doing Monday food here too. But blah-blah, you're thinking, did I win or what? And if you're craftsister, well then, yes, yes you did. (I did random number generator, which is always fun.) But, dear craftsister, what is it that you would like to win? Email me your address and your wish, and I will get right to it. Thank you all so much for subscribing. ChopChop was seriously impressed by the ferocity of subscription orders.

Now, Morning Song.

This is my friend Susan's book, and it's a poetry anthology for new parents, and it came out just this week. It is such a heartbreaking, breathtaking collection--you will just die, even if "new" does not best describe your relationship to parenting. (God, what was it, a million years ago that Ben was born?) It's got Billy Collins and Emily Dickinson, Sharon Olds and Kevin Young, William Blake and Patti Smith, among scores of other old favorites and new-to-me wonders. I loved it--as I mentioned exceedingly effusively in my blurb, which runs {modest shrug} among blurbs by Richard Wilbur, Tracy Kidder, and Mary Oliver. Seriously. I kind of think that consistutes my ten minutes of fame, even if it's just the teensliest bit vicarious. Susan's daughter is one of my best friends from college, and I have quite robustly insinuated myself into their family in the way of wannabe children everywhere, so when I saw Susan last night, and gushed not about her incredibe new book but instead about my own fame-by-blurb-association joy, her eyes crinkled up with maternal love, in just the way you'd want the eyes of an editor of poetry for new parents to crinkle up.

Mother's Day. Baby Showers. I'm telling you. We've got our new perfect gift. There are so many poems in the book that kill me, and maybe it's because Birdy is 8, but this one is especially killing me right now.

To a Daughter Leaving Home
by Linda Pastan

When I taught you
at eight to ride
a bicycle, loping along
beside you
as you wobbled away
on two round wheels,
my own mouth rounding
in surprise when you pulled
ahead down the curved
path of the park,
I kept waiting
for the thud
of your crash as I
sprinted to catch up,
while you grew
smaller, more breakable
with distance,
pumping, pumping
for your life, screaming
with laughter,
the hair flapping
behind you like a
handkerchief waving

Enjoy your weekend, darlings.


Monday, April 25, 2011

Ocular Proof

Wow. I wasn't kidding about our history with that cake. I flipped through an old photo album, and found these. The backwards Act-Up baseball cap makes me think 1994--I'm not sure why I'm being presented with half a cake, but something tells me we'd already eaten the other half. And then the other one's got to be 1999, since I'm pregnant with Ben. Hello, ancient Brazilian Chocolate Cake relics!

Brazilian Chocolate Cake

The Brazilian Chocolate Cake from the Greens cookbook: we've been making it for so long that the page is like some sort of archaeological artifact from our history--each stain and bloop of batter and penciled-in note evidence of some or other birthday or celebration from the past twenty years. We've been making it for so long that we don't remember when we started slicing the cake open and spooning jam inside, or when we started using what is technically the filling as a kind of spooned-on glaze or when we stopped wondering why it was named that. We've made it a brazillion times. And so we were surprised when we made it just now and someone made a lewd joke about Brazilian, in the waxing sense. "Then why is it called that?" he asked, and I really had no idea.

But I do know that this is our go-to adult-birthday cake (God, there I go again, like I'm incapable of anything but amorphously crass innuendo) and it is, to my mind, perfect: tender and chocolaty, moist and a gorgeous deep red-brown when you cut into it, but not obscenely rich. There's a little back note of coffee here (use decaf if you're worried about your kids), a little sweetness and tang from the jam, a luxurious coat of buttery glaze, although I, of course, also like the cake in its very plain and unadulterated form, with just a sifting of powdered sugar over the top, but that's just me, I know. Michael makes this cake as often as I do, if not more often, and it's not hard, but you really have to follow the directions, and you really have to not over-bake it. That said, though, one of the things I love is that the ingredients list is so modest: it's not pounds and pounds of chocolate and butter or anything, and yet the resulting cake is so lovely and complex. If you're Brazilian, then you can explain to me how that's a classic Brazilian thing. I hope you will, because I'm all ears.

Brazilian Chocolate Cake
Makes 1 cake, serving 8-12
Active time: 45 minutes; total time 1 ½ hours

Adapted from Greens. The jam is ours, as is the glazing of the top.

3 ounces semisweet chocolate (this is about ½ cup of chips)
1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons hot strong coffee
½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature (I actually use unsalted for this, since I'm already buying it for the glaze and want to use it up)
1 ½ cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups cake flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
½ cup very flavorful raspberry or cherry jam (or some other kind you like)
Chocolate glaze (below)
Whipped cream and berries or jam for serving

Heat the oven to 350 and grease and flour a bundt pan or a tube pan (I spray mine with that horrible icky Pam baking spray that I am secretly devoted to.) Make sure your pan is one piece, since the batter is thin and will flow through the seams of a two-piece pan.

In the top of a double boiler over low heat, melt the chocolate with 2 tablespoons of the coffee, stirring constantly until it is melted and smooth. Remove it from the heat and set it aside.

Sift the flour, then measure two cups. Even though I don't usually sift anything, I do in this case. But then you're supposed to resift it with the soda and salt, but I just whisk those in. Set the flour mixture aside.

Cream the butter, then add the sugar gradually and beat until the mixture is very light. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat well, then stir in the melted chocolate and vanilla. (I do this with my stand mixer on "stir.") Stir in the flour, alternating it with the rest of the coffee (this looks like flour, coffee, flour, coffee, flour). The batter will slop around and be kind of messy; don't overmix it, but try to mix it just the right amount (said Goldilocks the baker).

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake it until it is just pulling away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick comes out clean or almost clean, around 45 minutes. It's the kind of cake that often has a damp, sticky top--even when it's done--so don't stick the toothpick into that part or you'll end up thinking it's not done when really it is. Cool the cake 5 minutes in the pan, then finish cooling it completely on a rack.

Cut the cake in half using a sharp, serrated knife, then spoon the jam onto the bottom layer. Drizzle about half or a third of the glaze over the jam, then sandwich the top layer over it and drizzle the rest of the glaze over the cake decoratively, letting it run down the side in ways that are more attractive than gross. Serve with whipped cream and, if you like, a few fresh raspberries or a spoonful of jam.

Chocolate Glaze

3 ounces semisweet chocolate (about ½ cup chips, in case you already forgot)
3 tablespoons water or strong coffee (I use water for the glaze)
1 teaspoon vanilla
6 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

In a small, heavy saucepan over low heat, melt the chocolate together with the water or coffee, stirring until smooth. Remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla, then stir in the butter, one piece at a time, until it is all smooth and incorporated. The glaze will be thin at first, but will thicken as it cools. This part is a little tricky, honestly. When Michael makes it, he cools the glaze by stirring the pot over a bowl of ice, and it thickens too much and he ends up spackling it onto the cake, which is really not good treatment of the bundt. I just kind of stir it while it cools, doing some other stuff nearby for a while and waiting patiently for the moment when it seems about as thick as cake batter, and therefore perfect for attractive drizzling. It will set up somewhat afterwards, but softly. (What light from yonder window breaks?)

These are most of the ingredients, except for the coffee and vanilla.

But here's the coffee! It looks like a product placement situation for Allegro, but that's just what I happened to have.

And here's a little more information about the chocolate. It's not that much, right? But it's perfect.
The making of the batter.

The batter poured into a bundt pan that was Michael's mother's and is more or less a family heirloom.
Birdy licking a spatula, in 2007. Seriously. That's when I first photographed this cake. But the rest of the pictures are from now.
The baked cake--see how it looks a little sticky still on top? That's just fine.
Cake sold "as is." Seriously--I can't resist showing you the part where I don't seem to have mixed the batter very well.
The cake is halved and ready for fun.
This is raspberry jam from a recipe I was just developing for FamilyFun! Handy. But you can *buy* some. I know. I'm flexible.
Then a bit of the glaze goes over it. Doesn't that look so good?
Reunited with its top, and glazed. What I meant to show you, but forgot, is that I put strips of waxed paper under the cake so that I could then pull them out after I glazed it, thereby sparing my fancy platter cookie-tin lid from being covered in messy glaze drippings. A giant butter-cookie tin is the way I transport cakes: the cake on the lid, the tin over it like a dome. It's not very snazzy, but it works.
Getting lit. Also, the cake with its candles. Ha ha.
The beautiful birthday girl, aka (for long-time readers) "Ava's mom." I gave her a hanky that I'd cornily embroidered with the words "bless you." Useful, no? No?
Because she loves me, she said, not, "This cake again?" but "Oh, I always love this cake!"

Mr. Dimples likes this cake too.

Friday, April 22, 2011


I know you're secretly ogling my new Ikea smaaalaablorf duvet set, but you need to focus. We're looking at the magazine, which Ben is reading, because he is suddenly all about learning to cook. More on this fact soon.

Hey, you guys, I have some exciting news! I'm going to be doing some work for an awesome nonprofit, ChopChop--and get a load of their mission: 
ChopChop’s mission is to educate kids to cook and be nutritionally literate, empower them to actively participate as health partners with their families, and help establish and support better eating habits for a lifetime of good nutrition.
Um, hello, perfect fit! Basically, it's a kids' cooking and recipe magazine, and its mission is to fight childhood obesity, but really it's great for any families who want to eat healthfully, have a way to talk to each other about food and nutrition, and--and of course I love this part--teach their kids to cook. Another thing I love--their Food Philosophy:
We believe in the simple values of cooking together as family and sharing healthy meals.
[me too!]
We don't do calorie counts or post nutrition content, but everything in this publication is reviewed and approved by our medical and nutrition advisors.
[me too! except for the advisors and approval, etc., which is always implied here on the blog, if not factually obtained]
We don’t demonize any individual foods.
[me either! except head cheese. and eggplant, sometimes, but only if it's kind of undercooked.]
We believe that consuming healthy, wholesome meals is a vital step toward a resolution of America’s obesity epidemic.
[so do I!]
I especially love the cooking and eating together, and also the not demonizing of any individual foods. Yay! Because salt, sugar, butter--you know I still want you.
I'm going to be doing some writing and blogging online for them (I'll post links here), and in the meantime, would you consider subscribing? For one thing, you're going to love it: the recipes are great and nicely geared towards cooking children (oh geez, but you know what I mean), the kids are totally real and beautiful, and there are puzzles and games that make it a great magazine to leave around the car when you're not cooking from it. Plus, if you subscribe, and then come back here and tell me about it, you'll automatically be entered to win. . . what? That's another thing you can tell me! A cookbook? A batch of homemade granola? A framed photo of Ben's pink Hello Kitty suitcase? Subscribe, tell me your heart's desire here, and we'll see what we can figure out. I know you're thinking Enough with the contests or What the hell kind of a contest is that? but this is what we're doing, so you're going to indulge me, right?
I might have to post again soon, because there's still so much I want to tell you. Like about what we've all been reading around here. Let's do another book-title sway, Get yours ready, okay?
Happy Passover. Happy Easter.
p.s. Please feel free to comment here, even if you haven't subscribed--I just won't enter you in the special Mystery Sweepstakes that will take place next Friday.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Savory Lemon Jam

Does it not look like magic? Because it is. Completely.
This recipe is magic. It just is. You basically toss raw lemons into a food processor with sugar, oil, and salt, and you end up with this bright and creamy sauce--the very essence of lemons--that's as good an accompaniment to asparagus or fish or cheese that I can think of. I actually want to make one of those fancy little savory goat-cheese cheesecakes (don't worry, I never will) and spread this over the top of it for serving with crackers. Gosh. Now I'm making myself crazy.

Wait until you try it, really. You're going to think: The whole lemon? Really? Where's the part where I remove the pitch and those membraney things? But you never do. I don't really understand why it's not bitter, but it's not: just perfectly sweet-and-sour, and so good just the way it is--as a sauce or dip--or else you can stir a little into a dish that needs brightening. I used leftovers in a chickpea salad this week, and it was totally fantastic. I have also mixed it fifty-fifty with mayo or sour cream to make a more dairyish dip, and that's good too.

I'm so happy to be posting this, because it's been on my list of things to tell you for over a year, but other recipes kept barging ahead, demanding to be written about. But here it is, now, which is all that really matters.

On an unrelated note: Did you want to know how old Ben is? I'll tell you. Ben's so old that we had to go out and buy him a protractor. Seriously. My baby! A protractor! I got a little weepy about that, which is not the most ridiculous thing I've ever wept about, but nor is it the least. I think I once cried because Birdy could just take a bite of an apple instead of needing me to sliver it into tiny unchokeable shards. My baby! Ah, life.

Savory Lemon Jam
Makes about 1 cup
Total time: 10 minutes

This is a recipe that I adapted from a book I checked out of the library, The Improvisational Cook, by Sally Schneider, and that she adapted from somebody else, I don't remember who…m. She makes it with oregano, which is not an herb I'm all that crazy about, so I make it with marjoram, which is an herb I would marry. (Why I won't marry Catherine Newman: the marjoram story.) I think it would be good with other herbs instead: lemon thyme is a kind of redundantly obvious choice, and I bet it would be great, or else basil or tarragon… or no herbs at all, which makes for a jam that tastes so fresh and lemony you'd put it on toast. Not that you wouldn't put this jam on toast too, but you might put this slightly savory, herb-flecked jam on toast that already had goat cheese on it, and then you'd die and go to heaven.

2 large lemons, preferably organic, scrubbed and dried
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much table salt)
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon marjoram leaves, chopped--or another herb, or skip the herb

Cut the ends off the lemons--just about til you hit the flesh--and discard. Now cut each lemon lengthwise into 8 wedges, then remove the seeds and cut each wedge in half again crosswise. And then into 100 pieces widthwise, before dicing them sideways into millionths. (Do everything up until the last sentence.)
In a food processor, whir together the lemons, sugar, and salt, until chunkily pureed, then, with the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil to create a kind of thick, creamy, lumpy sauce. Add the herbs and pulse on and off until the sauce is flecked with green. Serve or chill.

Two lemons and some stuff you had anyway. Right? You don't even need the marjoram.

Isn't that so pretty?
Abracadabra kadoozy-kadam, wickety-wackety. . .
My boyfriend. Chopped marjoram.
It makes a fantastic dip, and it's especially great on asparagus. But the reason I was making it was to serve with salmon, and I'd fully intended to photograph that exquisite pairing--and it was exquisite--only then a bunch of people came over, and I drank, like, 45 beers, and it was all I could do to remember to serve everyone a meal, let alone photograph it. 

Luckily, I'd already photographed Mr. Ben dipping some lightly steamed asparagus.
Is it just me, or can you see why this was an outtake?

Friday, April 15, 2011

We Are All Winners. . .

But LibrarianMama (aka Amy in Portland) is the winner of Dixit.

And because I can't resist picking one more, Deborah is the winner of Gobblet.

Send me your address, please, and I'll get those games on their way to you.

Thank you all so much for playing, and I wish I could hand-deliver a game to everyone. (Pilgrimage idea? Get Rio Grande games to team up with an RV company and sponsor my around-the-country game-angel service? Hmmmm. . . would I have to learn to drive on the highway?)

Have a wonderful weekend.


Monday, April 11, 2011

Cheese Crackers

mmmmm. . .
Did you know that Blogger has a function that allows you to see the Google search terms that have landed people on your blog? Oh, it is so delightful. Most of mine appear to be regular--"Ben and Birdy," "world's best pancakes" {shrugs modestly}, stuff like that. But then there are some that crack me up: "why I won't marry Catherine Newman," for example, which I know refers to my piece in Bitch in the House, but which always looks like something Michael might have typed to tease me. Or "Catherine Newman dwarves" (?), "Do tiger barbs have babies?" (I don't know), "Catherine Newman diaper cake" (yum!),"Catherine Newman love affliction" (I get that one), and my new all-time favorite: "menstrual dumplings." I really hope you found what you were looking for, seeker of the menstrual dumpling, but I'm not sure you found it here. Unless it was my recipe for blood-clot spaetzle?

Anyways, one search term I saw today was "Catherine Newman salt," and that makes perfect and excellent sense. Salt! I have a lot to say about salt, many strong feelings about salt, tons of advice about salt. It is in almost all of my recipes, at the heart of all of the deepest cravings of my stomach's soul, the one seasoning I would choose if I could only choose one seasoning. And when I finally launch myself into full-blown fatness, it will be from the plank of salty snacks. I love them--all those salty, styrofoamy veggie "stix" you put out for the kids, the Pirate's Booty and Pringles and Cheetos and Goldfish Crackers. Oh, yum, yum, yum. And so, as always, my goal is to make a typically lame snack a little more nutrient dense so as to have a better excuse for the gorging and the gobbling. Enter the Nutritionally Enriched Cheese Cracker: like Cheez-Its on a spa vacation. Make no mistake: they are rich and salty, cheesy and addictively, insanely, wonderful. But, thanks to the walnuts, the whole-wheat flour, and the loads of cheddar, they are also full of protein, calcium, phyto-nutrients, omegas, minerals, and fiber. Which is good, because I make them, I send the kids to school with some, and then I eat the rest.

Cheese Crackers
Makes tons
Active time: 1 scant hour; total time: 2 hours

This recipe is a cross between Smitten's version of the Lee Bros. Cheese Straws, the Cheddar Cheese Crackers in the Tartine book (which I've renewed from the library, like, 100 times), and these blue-cheese crackers that I make every Christmas. I'm ambivalent about the onion powder, which makes them taste more like packaged junk food, which is both a good and bad thing in my book. Skip it if that sounds unappealing. Likewise, skip the cayenne, if you like, although that little spicy kick will keep the competition down if your kids balk at it. (Oh, and I can't myself imagine cutting out a million little fish shapes, but if you can imagine it, then you should.)

¼ cup white flour
½ cup whole-wheat flour
¼ teaspoon each cayenne and onion powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
8 ounces sharp cheddar, grated
½ stick (4 tablespoons) butter
2/3 cup walnuts, chopped fine

In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, spices, and salt, and set it aside.

Now here's the order of things, for me: I chop the nuts in the food processor, then dump them out and put in the grating attachment and grate the cheese. Then I put the blade back in with the grated cheese (I just wedge it in, though it would doubtless be easier to dump the cheese out first) and add the dry ingredients and the butter (not the nuts yet). Okay, back to the imperative: process the cheese, butter, and flour mixture until it starts to look clumpy, and not just like a dry whirlwind spinning around. Now add the nuts and process until a ball of dough forms. You'll know this has happened by the sound of something that's been sleeping suddenly waking up and trying to bang its way out of its cage.

Remover the dough and do one of two things: flatten it into a disk, wrap it in plastic wrap, and chill it for an hour (shown here) or shape it into a log (around 1 inch in diameter), wrap it in plastic wrap, and freeze it until hard, around 2 hours.

Heat the oven to 400, and line a pair of baking sheets with parchment paper.

For the disk: On a well-floured surface, keeping the dough floured as you go, roll the dough out thin (1/8-1/4 of an inch), then use a knife, pizza wheel, or pastry roller to cut the dough into small squares or rectangles. Transfer them to the baking sheet, leaving a bit of space between them.

For the log (log!): Use a sharp knife to slice the dough thin, and transfer the rounds, as you cut them, to the baking sheet, leaving a bit of personal space between them.

Bake for 7 or 8 or 9 or 10 minutes, until they are deeply golden on the edges and pale golden in the center--but check them at 5 to get a sense of how quickly they're progressing. You want them done, but not overly browned, unless you like that brown-cheese taste, which some people do. Transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely, then store them airtight.

This is not so complicated, right?
dry ingredients
Let me out! Dough ball WILL escape!
The dough, she is chilled. . .
she is rolled into a crazy shape of a strange color
she is cut
She is poked with a stick. This is called "docking," which means either "poking so it doesn't rise too much" or "trying to make it look more like a Cheez-It," depending on whom you ask. I forgot to mention it in the recipe I think.
ready to bake
eated up
Have I mentioned how Michael hates cheese crackers? No wonder he won't marry me!
 Yowza. Sorry for the photographic micromanaging.

Thank you for entering the game give-away, which is still open! I'll pick and post a winner at 9 am EST on Friday.


Friday, April 08, 2011

Game Give-Away Redux

Okay! You have patiently waited out the firing and the self-sorrying and the regrouping and the Frankensteiny mooning around, and now it's time for the long-promised game give-away. I will mention here that a new favorite of ours is Dixit, which we got Birdy for her birthday for the sole reason that some of you mentioned it here back in December (thank you)! It's a fantastic game: like a cross between the dictionary game (or Balderdash, if you're high-tech like that) and Apples to Apples and something totally different--with super-weird, pleasantly creepy art and buckets of creativity. It's also insanely easy to learn. We played it with my parents and Ben and Birdy--and the fact that everybody loved it, and scored similarly (except for one person who won because this is kind of what she, ahem, does professionally) proved to me its tremendous value.
Anyways. I mention this particular game only because I'm thinking of it. What you should do is simply leave a comment here with the game you'd hope to win--any game, as long as it's on Amazon--and I will pick a winner and have the game sent on its way. Easy peasy.

Happy weekend!


Monday, April 04, 2011

Tortilla Soup with Chipotle Cream

You know those weeks where you feel like Frankenstein? Like everyone else is human and whole, and you're all pieced together from used parts and strangeness, your seams showing, while you clomp around and knock stuff over and grunt out your apologies? Only, somehow, you're more like a teenaged Frankenstein doing bad stand-up comedy, staggering through the world with your padded bra and acne, feeling like everyone is backing slowly away from you, even as you're trying to make them laugh, only they can't understand your jokes on account of your guttural personality and the fact that your neck bolts are kind of distracting?


Me either.

Well, maybe just a little. I don't know. "Off my game" is one phrase that leaps to mind. "PMS" is another. I laugh too loud and blurt out weird stuff, and am simultaneously awkward and needy. If you were here, you'd be inclined to wrap your arms around me and say, "Oh, sweetheart," but then you'd end up getting something on your shirt--yogurt or snot or a hairball--and I'd laugh more snot out of my nose and apologize and… and you'd stay by me. I hadn't intended that as a metaphor for what's happening on this blog, but even as I'm writing, it occurs to me how vital it is, this circling of the wagons that you guys have pulled off around me. To keep the wolves out. Thank you. I'm sorry about your shirt.

The kids, too, are doing it--without even knowing consciously that it needs to be done. Ben's sense of humor is like a hot air balloon, and I'm in its basket, uplifted and admiring the view and a little deafened. We were at a show last night… Here we go again. Even as I'm starting to tell you this story, I'm realizing how awkward and impossible it will be to communicate. Grrrrr vvvvv nnnnhhhhhhhhhhh… ha ha ha. But I will try anyway. We were at this show and Ben and I were waiting for the bathroom, and the pretty woman who burst out of the stall, with her nice sweater and silver jewelry and sleek hair, had in her hand a bowl of stew. "Just enjoying a little dinner in the bathroom?" I said, because I'm so funny, and she laughed and coughed, her eyes streaming, and said, "No, I was kind of choking, but now I'm fine." Later, after the lights dimmed, who should come up stage to introduce the musician? "Oh my god!" Ben whispered. "It's the stew choker!" And at 10-minute intervals for the rest of the night he whispered stew choker and I died every time. I understand that this might not seem conventionally like a way to take care of another person, and yet, also, it is.

Is stew choking a good segue to tortilla soup? I hope so. Because here it is: warming and rustic, ruddy and full of bright flavors and dark flavors and crunch and creaminess. As with many other simple soups, this one is all about the garnishes: lime wedges and the chipotle sour cream, avocado and, of course, the tortilla strips. Feel free to substitute a big handful of tortilla chips in each bowl--it will be a little less exciting to look at, but equally delicious. And honestly? If I, personally, were going to omit one ingredient, it would be the chicken. Crazy, maybe, but true. Enjoy and stay warm.

Tortilla Soup with Chipotle Cream
Serves 4-6
Take an hour, more or less, to make

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoon chile powder* (I used half ancho, half new Mexican)
1 cup canned tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
6 cups chicken broth (or 4 cups broth plus 2 cups water)
½ teaspoon kosher salt (or half as much tables salt) plus more to taste
1 tablespoon cornmeal stirred into ½ cup cold water
Olive oil spray
6 corn tortillas
Lime juice and sugar to taste
2 large skinless, boneless chicken breasts (or 3 small)
1 14-ounce can black beans, drained

Chipotle sour cream (1/2 cup full-fat sour cream whisked with 1 teaspoon chipotle puree**)
Diced Avocado
Lime wedges

Heat the oven to 400.

In a large soup hot, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat, and sauté the onion and garlic until they are getting nice and soft and translucent, around 5 to 10 minutes. Add the chile powder and sauté just until fragrant--a few seconds--that add the tomatoes, tomato paste, broth, and salt, and bring the soup to a boil over medium-high heat. Stir in the cornmeal slurry (this will add lovely body to the soup), turn the heat down, and simmer, covered, for half an hour, stirring occasionally.

ruddy onions
 Meanwhile, spritz the corn tortillas with olive-oil spray (I spray one side and figure that when I stack them they get pretty evenly coated), then stack them, cut them into strips, and spread them on an oiled baking sheet. Bake them until they're golden and crisp, moving them around as you need to so that they brown evenly. This will take around 10 minutes, more or less.
Exhibit A

Exhibit B

Exhibit C. Is this annoying--the photos in the middle? (asked Frankenstein)
 Now back to the soup: taste the broth and add salt, lime juice, and sugar to taste until you've got a good, fully, vibrant flavor that you like. Pop in the chicken breasts and keep the soup at a super-low simmer, covered, until the meat is cooked through. Remove the chicken to a cutting board and shred it with your fingers or a couple of forks.

 In a blender, carefully and in batches, or with a stick blender, whir the soup to unify it, then add the chicken back in with the beans and simmer it for another 5 minutes. Taste it, adjust the seasonings, and serve with the garnishes.
This is yummy on other stuff too. Whisk a little mayo, salt, and garlic into it for the world's best sandwich spread.
Little white bowls of garnishes make me excessively happy.
Plus they give everyone an excuse to get all nice and involved.

You know I like a moody photo of a partially eaten meal. Sigh.
* A note about chile powder: I know you know this probably, but if you buy "chili powder," like, McCormick's, say, it will likely be a blend with other seasonings in it, such as cumin, oregano, and garlic--which is fine for this soup, honestly. But I recommend also having on hand some true chile powder--which is just the ground chiles--for times when you want to better control the seasoning of your dish. But, confusingly, this might sometimes be spelled "chili" also. If you read the label, you'll find out. Or if you buy it in bulk from a store like Whole Foods, you'll be able to get the pure chiles.

** A note about the chipotle: I buy a small tin of chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (if there's a Mexican section of your supermarket, you'll be able to find it there), puree it in the blender, and store it in a clean glass jar in the fridge, where it keeps almost forever as long as you don't stick a dirty spoon (or finger) in it. I find this incredibly handy to have around for those times you want to stir a bit of smoky heat into something.