As the feasts of Thanksgiving wane and Christmas fast approaches I reflect on my recent trek to California and time spent with my children, grandchildren and friends. It was a whirlwind of activity and emotion as I viewed their lives and developments. My offspring are no longer children but full-blown adults raising kids of their own, a couple who are fast approaching adulthood themselves. The first-born grandchild is a senior in high school with plans of graduation and college in the very near future. When I arrived at his home to pick him up, he presented more as a man than a boy. I was present at his birth and enjoyed immensely the eight successive summers he spent with us in Wisconsin. Precious blocks of time playing endless board games, teaching him the essentials of cooking, swimming and bike riding and observing his interest slowly shifting from us to the girls down the road. He curiously became very motivated to walk the dog. I am happy to say, although evolved in interests and activities, his sweet heart remains intact and a special place for him will always be in mine. He will change dramatically as he embarks into adulthood but the memory of rocking him in my arms will remain vivid.
My granddaughter will soon be a teenager and the angst and uncertainty of finding ones place in that world has already begun. I always tell her she is a beautiful person inside and out and that is the real truth. She is tender-hearted with compassion for others and all living things. She is an amazing athlete active in skiing, soccer and other sports. Balance that with her interest in guitar and art and I would say she is well-rounded and quite an interesting person. The two things she wants more than anything right now is a phone and a dog. Although her mom never expressed that much interest in pets, I remember vividly her begging mercilessly for a phone in her bedroom (pre cell phone era). It is so interesting to see the similarities and struggles the two of them share. I am pleased to say they both share my joy of cooking.
The youngest is turning eight this month on New Years Eve and is quite a character. I remember saying the night he was born, there will always be a party on his birthday. His favorite foods are pizza and bean and cheese burritos which makes his taste in food not unlike those of his peers. I was fortunate to chaperone a field trip his class took to view to community production of, “The Miracle Worker.” I transported him and two other classmates to the theater and when I introduced myself to the two I hadn’t met, he spoke up and stated they could address me as “Queen Jeanne,” which they dutifully did the remainder of the afternoon. Hilarious! I was very impressed at how attentive they were during the play and seemed genuinely captivated by the struggles and accomplishments of Helen Keller. I have a feeling my grandson might be vying for the title of “class clown” as he is into pranks such as disappearing ink and fake bullet holes. With this in mind, I was so tickled to find a can of nuts that contained one of those springy snakes when opened. I got him good when I picked him up at school and he was looking for a snack. As you can imagine he could hardly wait to offer his sister the can of “snacks.”
In addition to all the fun there is always the requests to make certain family favorites. One I am asked to make every visit is Sopa Seca (SOH-pah SEH-kuh), literally translated as “dry soup,” it is not a soup at all. Usually made with rice, vermicelli or dry tortilla strips, it is combined with tomatoes, onion, garlic and cooked in broth. It is assumed that the name comes from the fact that, although the mixture begins “soupy,” it is cooked until the liquid is absorbed, thereby becoming a “dry soup.” I apologize for the lack of photos, but you must trust me when I say, if you like Mexican flavors, this will soon become a favorite of your family.
Here is how it goes:
SOPA SECA: MEXICAN NOODLE CASSEROLE Serves 6
Recipe by: Jeanne Raffetto Tentis
¼ c extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for pan
12 oz. fideos (bundled vermicelli), or angel hair pasta
1 medium onion, chopped
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 t ground coriander
1 t dried oregano, preferably Mexican
1/2 t medium hot chili powder
1 bay leaf
1 can whole tomatoes (14.5 oz) or 1 ½ cups (I like Muir Glen Fire Roasted)
1 chipotle in adobo sauce, minced
2 c chicken broth
1 t sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 c cooked chicken, shredded (I like to use thigh meat)
1 T adobo sauce from chipotles
1 t smoked paprika
1 c coarsely grated cheddar cheese (4 oz)
Mexican crema or sour cream, thinned with a bit of milk, optional
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- Brush a 13-inch baking dish with olive oil.
- Toss the shredded chicken in 1T chipotle sauce and 1t smoked paprika. Set aside.
- Heat ¼ c olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the fideos and toast, turning them with tongs, until golden on both sides, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. If there are small broken pieces, toast them after the coils and set aside.
- Add the onion to the skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, coriander, oregano, chili powder, and bay leaf, cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Crush the tomatoes over the skillet with your hands and add them along with their juices. Add the chipotle, increase heat to high and cook until thickened, about 2 minutes.
- Stir in broth, the toasted fideos, salt and pepper to taste. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat and simmer gently, uncovered, breaking up the fideos with a spoon, for about 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken.
- Remove from heat and remove the bay leaf. Transfer mixture to prepared pan and sprinkle top with the cheddar cheese. Cover with foil. Bake in preheated oven until the cheese melts and dish is heated through, about 20 minutes. If desired drizzle crema over the top before serving.
You can adjust the “heat” by reducing the chili powder, chipotle and adobo sauce. As is, this dish has spice but is not overpowering. I have adapted it over the years so that it has a kick but would appeal to most palates . The addition of crema adds a bit of cooling balance.
I promise to be back next week with food visuals and more stories. Meanwhile I urge you to bring the joy of the season to your table and keep spreading the love, one dish at a time. Until next time, I send love from my family to yours. There is no place like home.