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In the Advent Kitchen -- December 14

In the Advent Kitchen -- December 14, Quick Black Bean Soup Southwestern Casserole Zucchini Corn Muffins Mexican Wedding Cake

Quick Black Bean Soup

Southwestern Casserole


Corn Muffins

Mexican Wedding Cake

Let’s look southward for today’s menu and celebrate one of the many cultures that have brought incredible gifts to our country. The meal is great to share and easy to prepare ahead of time. The black bean soup is ready in about 20 minutes, and it’s loaded with flavor and healthy ingredients. The taste actually improves if you make it ahead and re-warm it later. Southwestern Casserole is easy and a great recipe to feed a crowd. It requires some assembly time and needs about an hour to bake and cool. Nonetheless, the casserole is great for entertaining because you can assemble and refrigerate it until you’re ready to bake it. Take the casserole out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature to break the chill while you fix the zucchini and mix up the corn muffins. Pop the casserole in the oven first (it needs to cook the longest), then the zucchini and corn muffins. For a special dessert, try Mexican Wedding Cake. It’s best made ahead and refrigerated, but is super easy—just mix and bake. The cream cheese frosting makes it seem decadent, but the cake has been “lightened” considerably. No one will complain!

Quick Black Bean Soup – Serves 4+

This soup is nutritious, full of fiber, and quite tasty, particularly topped with tomatoes and cilantro. You needn’t squash the beans with the potato masher, if you don’t want, but I find it’s an easy way to thicken the soup without having to resort to pouring part in a blender or using an immersion blender which carries with it a risk of serious injury (i.e., don’t use one, despite what the TV cooks say. Listen to the medical community, which advises people to avoid immersion blenders). The potato masher also is easier to wash and lets you control the texture of the mixture. I like my soup thick but still “beany.”

1 teaspoon of olive oil

1 onion, chopped

¼ cup of chopped red bell pepper

2 teaspoons of minced garlic

2 16-ounce cans of black beans, rinsed and drained

5 cups of reduced sodium chicken broth

1½ teaspoons of cumin

1 teaspoon of chili powder

1 4-ounce can of chopped green chilies

½ teaspoon of pepper (or to taste)

2 teaspoons of lime juice

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

3 tablespoons of chopped cilantro

¼ cup light sour cream (optional)

Jalapeno peppers, sliced (optional)

In a large soup pot, heat the olive oil and add the onion. Sauté the onion for about 5 minutes and then add the red bell pepper and continue sautéing for a few minutes. Add the garlic and cook the vegetables about a minute more. Add in the beans, the chicken broth, the cumin, chili powder, chilies, and pepper. Let the soup cook about 10 minutes to blend the flavors. Remove the soup from the heat and carefully mash the beans a bit with a potato masher to thicken the mixture, being careful not to splash the hot soup. Stir the soup well. Add the lime juice and 1 tablespoon of the cilantro. Ladle the soup into bowls and top each serving with some of the chopped tomatoes, the remaining cilantro, and, if you like, a dollop of sour cream and some jalapeno slices.

Southwestern Casserole – Serves 6+

This is a sort of Southwestern lasagna, with layers of sauce, tortillas, and cheese. It’s great served with corn muffins and zucchini, which can cook in the oven alongside the casserole. The leftovers make really good lunches. And yes, if you don’t have any chicken or turkey, you can substitute a pound of lean ground beef. Just be sure to brown the beef before using it in the casserole.

1 16-ounce can of black beans, drained and rinsed

1 small onion, chopped

2 tablespoons of dried cilantro leaves

1 7-ounce can of green chopped chilies (mild or hot, your choice)

2 teaspoons of chili powder

1 teaspoon of salt

1 teaspoon of oregano

1 teaspoon of ground cumin

2 cups of chopped cooked chicken (or turkey)

2 15-ounce cans of diced tomatoes, with juice

1 4-ounce can of tomato paste

9 5-inch whole-wheat tortillas

2 cups (8 ounces) of shredded, reduced fat Mexican cheese blend

½ cup of light sour cream

1 tomato, chopped

1-2 cups of shredded lettuce

l avocado, peeled and diced

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and coat a 9 x 13-inch pan with non-stick cooking spray. In a large bowl, mix the beans, onion, cilantro, chilies, chili powder, salt, oregano, cumin, chicken, one can of diced tomatoes, and the can of tomato paste. Spread 1/3 of the mixture in the prepared pan. Cover the mixture with 3 tortillas, cutting them to fit the pan. Sprinkle with 1/3 of the cheese. Spread another 1/3 of the chicken mixture on top of the cheese, and cover the mixture with 3 more tortillas. Sprinkle the tortillas with 1/3 of the cheese. Spread the remainder of the chicken mixture on top of the cheese. Cut the last few tortillas into strips and distribute them evenly across the top of the chicken mixture. Pour the remaining can of diced tomatoes evenly across the casserole, on top of the tortilla strips. Coat a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover the casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray and cover the casserole, sprayed side down. Bake the casserole for 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake the casserole for 10 minutes longer. Top the casserole with the remaining cheese and bake the casserole for another 5 minutes or until the cheese is melted. Let the casserole stand for 10-15 minutes to cool and firm up a little. Sprinkle the top of the casserole with lettuce and diced tomatoes. On top of the lettuce and tomatoes, dollop on the sour cream and sprinkle on the diced avocado.

Corn Muffins – Makes 12

Okay, these muffins are cheating. I use 2 “Jiffy” mixes with a bit of variation. Nonetheless the muffins are quite good, quick, and go nicely with a variety of dishes. Try them.

2 “Jiffy” corn muffin mixes (or similar, 7-ounce, small box/bag mixes)

2 eggs

2/3 cup of low fat milk

2 tablespoons of honey

2 tablespoons of minced dried chives or chopped green onions (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and coat 12 muffin cups with nonstick cooking spray or use cupcake liners spritzed with spray. In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and milk. Whisk in the honey until the mixture is a little frothy. Stir in the muffin mixes with a spoon and add the chives or green onions if you like. Divide the batter among the muffin cups. Bake the muffins for 15-20 minutes or until the muffins are golden and a toothpick inserted in a muffin comes out clean.

Mexican Wedding Cake – Serves 12+

This is a great cake for a celebration. The cake lacks eggs, oil, and butter. Nonetheless, it is full of juicy pineapple, crunchy walnuts, and sweet coconut. The cake has just a touch of nutmeg and orange zest, giving it a bit more interest. A rich, albeit lower fat, cream cheese mixture tops and fills the cake. To help the flavors blend, making the cake ahead and refrigerating it is the best option. A couple of hours will do, but I like to make the cake at least a day ahead and let it sit in the refrigerator so that it will be at it’s moist, creamy, pineapple-coconutty best. Plus, making the cake ahead reduces kitchen hassles.

2 cups of flour

1½ cups of sugar

1 teaspoon of baking soda

¼ teaspoon of salt

1 20-ounce can of crushed pineapple, undrained

1 cup of chopped or broken walnuts

1 cup of shredded coconut

¼ teaspoon of nutmeg

1 teaspoon of vanilla extract

1 teaspoon of grated orange zest


1 8-ounce package of low-fat cream cheese, softened

2 cups of confectioners’ sugar

2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

1 teaspoon of butter flavoring

2-3 tablespoons of low-fat milk

2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts, preferably toasted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and coat 2 9-inch cake pans with nonstick cooking spray, preferably the kind with the flour in it (if not, dust the sprayed pans with a teaspoon of flour and tap out the excess). Mix the flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, pineapple, 1 cup of walnuts, coconut, nutmeg, vanilla extract, and orange zest until combined. Don’t beat the mixture, just mix it until everything is incorporated. Divide the batter between the pans. Bake the cake layers for about 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cake comes out clean. Let the layers cool for 10 minutes before you try to remove them from their pans. Let the layers cool completely. For the filling/topping, beat the cream cheese until fluffy. Add the sugar gradually, creaming it with the cream cheese. Beat in the vanilla extract, butter flavoring, and enough milk to reach a spreading consistency. Spread the filling/topping between the cooled cake layers and on the top of the cake. Sprinkle the top of the cake with 2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts. Refrigerate the cake for at least a couple of hours before serving it (and refrigerate any leftovers).

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