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The Unlikely Godmother of Spanish Cooking

https://www.tastecooking.com/unlikely-godmother-spanish-cooking/

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In 1979, Craig Claiborne wrote an article in the New York Times about the common Spanish tapa “angulas,” or baby eels tossed in olive oil and nestled with garlic and chile flakes. Claiborne misspelled the term as “anguilas.” Shortly afterward, he received a letter of polite correction from someone named Penelope Casas, a 36-year-old woman from Whitestone, Queens. The two went back and forth in the pages of the Times until Claiborne admitted he was wrong in the face of an extensively researched, articulate letter from Casas detailing the etymology of the word and its spelling.

Casas’s husband, Luis, was determined that she not leave this correspondence as her legacy with the newspaper of record. He encouraged her to invite Claiborne over for a proper Spanish dinner. Casas, reserved and modest, was hesitant about the idea, but she eventually obliged, and Claiborne accepted.

The multiple-course dinner that took place on a summer evening in the Casas family home in Queens consisted of a white gazpacho, a specialty of Extremadura; a Spanish tortilla; quail soaked in acidic escabeche; and, appropriately, angulas. Claiborne used the dinner as inspiration for the article titled “Homage to the Varied Cuisine of Spain,” in which he playfully described the etymology of the foods he ate and reviewed the surprising combinations of ingredients he was trying for the first time. He was so impressed by Casas after the meal that he introduced her to Knopf editor Judith Jones (a titan in cookbook publishing, famous for editing Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking), encouraging Casas to write a culinary history of Spain—something that had not yet been published in English at that point.

Under Jones’s editorial guidance, Casas published her first cookbook of many, The Foods and Wines of Spain, in 1982. In its introduction, Claiborne fondly recalls the initial dinner he shared with Casas as “one of the most memorable meals that I have experienced in nearly a quarter of a century with my newspaper.”

Claiborne fondly recalls the initial dinner he shared with Casas as “one of the most memorable meals that I have experienced in nearly a quarter of a century with my newspaper.”

Over the course of the next 30 years, Casas wrote eight cookbooks that span the entirety of Spanish cooking. A 1985 Publishers Weekly review credited her with continuing “to do for Spanish cooking what Marcella Hazan has done for Italian.” In Spain, she was awarded the National Gastronomy Prize, the Order of Civil Merit, and the title of dame of the Order of Isabel la Católica, among the highest decorations a non-Spaniard can receive. Colman Andrews, founder of Saveur magazine, called her “the American who knows all about Spanish food.”

In her many cookbooks and writings for publications such as Food & Wine, Vogue, and the New York Times, Casas revealed the intricacies of regional Spanish cuisine, which was historically neglected and misunderstood in America. Despite her work in introducing and popularizing Spanish food among American home cooks, her name has been fairly unknown after her death at age 70 in 2013.

Growing up in Queens as the daughter of Greek immigrants, Casas was an unlikely candidate for introducing the United States to Spanish cuisine. But in 1962, while studying abroad in Madrid, she fell in love with the food, and with Luis Casas, the 25-year-old son of her hosts, who was sent to pick her up from the airport when she arrived.

“I look and see this nice, beautiful girl with beautiful eyes with a nice, green summer dress next to a piece of luggage,” Luis tells me. He asked if she was Penelope. She replied, “Yes.” The two went for a drink, and soon after, they started a relationship that lasted 50 years.

Casas quickly adapted to the Spanish custom of eating lunch at 2 p.m. and dinner at 10 p.m., spending long hours conversing over never-ending courses of cold fish timbale doused in homemade mayonnaise and “poor man’s potatoes” simply adorned with green peppers, garlic, and onions.

When she and Luis weren’t combing through the stretches of tascas (tapas bars) in the streets of old Madrid, staying out until 2 a.m. despite school in the morning, Casas was in the kitchen with Pilar, the chef and nanny of the Casas household, and Clara, Luis’s mother. Casas helped as they prepared lunch, scribbling notes in one of her little notebooks. Luis and his family still have her nearly 350 notebooks filled with notes on Spanish history, art, and culture.

Eventually the summer ended, but Casas returned to Spain each summer that followed. In 1965, she graduated from Vassar, eight months pregnant with her daughter, Elisa, and moved to Madrid, where she and Luis lived for five years until permanently moving back to Whitestone, Queens. Even then, they regularly enjoyed their summers traveling through the Spanish countryside by car.

Luis and his family still have her nearly 350 notebooks filled with notes on Spanish history, art, and culture.

With one of her notebooks as her companion, Casas often asked for the recipe when a particular dish appealed to her. In The Foods and Wines of Spain, she recalled the time her family stopped at El Galán in the coastal southwestern town of El Puerto de Santa María. After eating calderata de codornices (potted quail), Casas asked the waitress for the recipe.

“Consumed by giggles, the waitresses, all daughters of the cook, took us to meet their mother in the kitchen,” Casas wrote in her book. “She in turn was astounded that visitors from New York were praising her cooking and requesting her recipe.”

Back in New York, Casas tested the recipes in her own kitchen. “Every single recipe in those books she would make one or two or three times until it was right,” her daughter, Elisa, tells me. She cooked elaborate meals, experimenting into the late hours of the night, keeping with the Spanish tradition of eating dinner at 9 p.m. or later.

In the early 1980s, the United States misunderstood Spanish cuisine, recognizing it only as a handful of dishes. As R. W. Apple Jr. admitted in his 1982 New York Times article entitled “Spanish Treasure,” he had “confidently dismissed Spanish cooking as an oily mediocrity, a compound of gazpacho and paella and excessively heavy red wine.”

Casas’s work in demonstrating the breadth of regional Spanish cuisine became imperative. When The Foods and Wines of Spain was published in 1982, it was immediately met with praise by Mimi Sheraton of the New York Times, who called it “one of the best works on Spanish food ever presented to the American public.” 

Gregory León, chef of Amilinda, a Spanish and Portuguese restaurant in Milwaukee, credits the book with inspiring his renditions of croquetas, salmorejo (a classic Andalusian soup served cold, based on puréed tomatoes and bread), and vinaigrettes. “It’s still one of my main references that I go to once a week,” León says.

By the mid-2000s, the United States was growing warmer to the complexities of Spanish cuisine, but Casas’s work remained unfinished. Even with seven cookbooks under her belt, she had one final project to complete. It would be “the broadest and deepest collection of Spanish recipes ever published,” says her editor, Linda Ingroia, of the book, 1,000 Spanish Recipes, published in 2014.

“Only someone like Penelope, as experienced in cooking the cuisine, and who could conduct hundreds of interviews with local cooks, chefs, and experts throughout Spain, could collect such an expansive recipe compendium as well as the background stories and cooking secrets that keep such a comprehensive book so personal and accessible,” Ingroia says.

In the seven years it took her to compile the extensive collection, Casas became sick with leukemia, but she remained entirely dedicated to finishing the manuscript for her most encompassing work on Spanish cuisine.

“She finished the last chapter of the book on a Tuesday and she was radiant, happy, and proud of herself for having completed the most extensive book project of her career,” Luis wrote in 1,000 Spanish Recipes. “She died five days later.”

Now, six years after her death, Casas’s books remain as relevant as ever. Whether she was writing about the oldest bakery in Madrid, Antigua Pastelería del Pozo, where one could spot the bakers from the street patting and rolling dough, or about Señor Suso of Bar Suso in Galicia’s Santiago de Compostela, a man who was always eager to show off his postcard collection to guests, every recipe tells the story of a side of Spain most of us have never seen.

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Perfect Chocolate Cheesecake with Oreo Crust

https://thestayathomechef.com/chocolate-cheesecake/

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This Chocolate Cheesecake recipe is smooth, rich, and full of chocolate flavor with an Oreo crust to take it over the top. It’s the perfect cheesecake for chocolate lovers!

Cheesecake. It says so much all on its own. Adding chocolate to the mix just takes that delectable dessert to the next level. This recipe uses an easy technique to make sure you get a rich, smooth cheesecake that is both decadent and delicious. Thanks to this amazing recipe, you don’t have to go out to get your dessert fix—you can make the perfect chocolate cheesecake from the comfort of your own home.

Oreo crust is the perfect touch to make this the best cheesecake ever! It’s up to you whether you want to share, but the finished product might just make you want to show off too.

Aluminum Foil Ice Bath Trick

This recipe uses a modified water bath trick to keep your oven nice and moist, but not risk any water leaking into your pan. Start by crumpling up 3 to 4 balls of aluminum foil into small balls. Place these onto a baking sheet and place your cheesecake on top, making any adjustments needed to the aluminum foil to keep your cheesecake level. Place an even layer of ice onto the baking sheet to surround the cheesecake. The ice melts while it is baking so there’s no risk of spilling as you transfer this into your oven. 

  • Why do I have to cool the cheesecake in the oven for so long?

    In order to create the perfect texture and smooth top, you will want to allow the full baking and cooling times in the oven, without opening the door. By cooling the cheesecake in the oven, without opening the door, the cheesecake continues to bake and then cools in a controlled environment. If you skip this step, you can “shock” the cheesecake and it could crack.

  • What kind of baking chocolate is best?

    This is not a chocolate bar or another kind of cocoa. Baking chocolate is sometimes called bitter chocolate and is a dark, unsweetened chocolate that is made specifically to be used as a raw ingredient in baking. Just be sure to use baking chocolate. Pro Tip: Add in the melted chocolate slowly. If you add it in too quickly, it will harden and can become clumpy instead of blending perfectly with the rest of the ingredients.

  • Why do I need to use a springform pan?

    A springform pan has a clasp on the side that allows it to expand outward and separate from the cheesecake in the ideal way—your cheesecake will retain its tall, flat form around the edge by using this kind of pan. It is possible to make the cheesecake in a deep dish pie pan, but you won’t be able to serve it in free form.

  • How do I keep my cheesecake from cracking?

    There are several tricks incorporated into this recipe to help prevent your cheesecake from cracking. Cracks do not impact the flavor in any way, but they do look funny. To keep your cheesecake from cracking:

    • Grease your springform pan really well. If your cheesecake sticks, it’ll pull the center and create a crack. 
    • Give your cheesecake a few taps on a countertop before baking to make sure the filling is settled into the pan with no bubbles.
    • Bake your cheesecake in a steam-filled oven to keep the moisture content high on the outside. Dry cheesecakes crack easier.
    • Do not open the oven door while baking! Allow the cheesecake to cool completely in the oven, without ever opening the oven door. Sudden exposure to major temperature differences may crack your cheesecake. 

If you are looking for great cheesecake recipes, we have your covered—check out this variety of delectable cheesecake treats:

Watch the video below where Rachel will walk you through every step of this recipe. Sometimes it helps to have a visual, and we’ve always got you covered with our cooking show. You can find the complete collection of recipes on YouTube, Facebook Watch, or our Facebook Page, or right here on our website with their corresponding recipes.

Chocolate Cheesecake on a white plate surrounded by oreos

Perfect Chocolate Cheesecake with Oreo Crust

This Chocolate Cheesecake recipe is smooth, rich, and full of chocolate flavor with an Oreo crust to take it over the top. It’s the perfect cheesecake for chocolate lovers!

Prep Time25 mins

Cook Time1 hr

Cooling Time6 hrs

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Servings: 12 slices

Ingredients

Oreo Crust

  • 24 oreos
  • 1/4 cup melted butter

Chocolate Cheesecake

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese softened
  • 4 ounces unsweetened baking chocolate melted
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease the sides and bottom of a 9-inch springform pan with butter or shortening.

  • Crush the Oreos in a food processor or blender until finely ground. Transfer to a mixing bowl. Stir in melted butter until the crumbs are all moistened and press into the bottom of the prepared springform pan.

  • In a large mixing bowl, stir together sugar, flour, unsweetened cocoa powder, and salt. Use a hand mixer (or stand mixer) to whip in the cream cheese until creamy and smooth.

  • Roughly chop the baking chocolate and place into a microwave safe bowl. Microwave in 15 second increments on high until melted, stirring in between.

  • Slowly add the melted chocolate to the cream cheese mixture while you mix until the chocolate is fully incorporated. Mix in eggs, sour cream, and vanilla extract. Beat on low until combined.

  • Pour mixture into the springform pan. Give the pan a few taps on the countertop to make sure any air bubbles have been removed and the filling is settled.

  • Crumple up 3 sheets of aluminum foil into flat discs and place on a baking sheet. Place the springform pan on top of these discs to elevate the cake so it doesn’t touch your baking sheet. Fill the baking sheet with a layer of ice, surrounding the springform pan, about 4 cups.

  • Bake in the center rack of the oven for 1 hour. Do not open the door. At the end of the hour, turn off the oven, keeping the door closed. Let the cheesecake slowly cool in the oven for 5 to 6 hours to prevent cracking. Remove and refrigerate until ready to serve.

  • Remove the springform pan ring before serving. Keep cold. Serve plain or topped with whipped cream or even drizzled with chocolate ganache or syrup.

Notes

Cheesecake should be refrigerated. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1slice | Calories: 674kcal | Carbohydrates: 63g | Protein: 11g | Fat: 46g | Saturated Fat: 25g | Cholesterol: 174mg | Sodium: 481mg | Potassium: 348mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 46g | Vitamin A: 1355IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 126mg | Iron: 5mg

Course: Dessert

Cuisine: American

Keyword: Chocolate Cheesecake

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Most Amazing Red Velvet Cupcakes

https://thestayathomechef.com/red-velvet-cupcakes/

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The Most Amazing Red Velvet Cupcakes are moist, fluffy, and topped off with velvety ermine frosting for the perfect Red Velvet Cupcake you’ve been dreaming of!

Red velvet cupcake with ermine frosting with a bite taken out of it

Here it is, the recipe you have been looking for—red velvet cupcakes you will come back to every time you crave these babies! So delicious, tangy and moist, red velvet cake is a thing of its own. Some people think its chocolate cake with red coloring, but those who love red velvet know it is so much more.

Red velvet cake has hints of chocolate but is better known for its tangy, acidic flavor. It was originally made with beets, which added sweetness, flavor and tanginess, along with its signature red color. If you want to try making it that old fashioned way, here is a recipe for a Naturally Red Velvet Cake .

  • Isn’t red velvet cake just chocolate cake with red food coloring?

    Good question, and no. That is a common misconception. Red velvet cake does have some chocolate flavor to it, but it is also known for its slightly acidic or tangy flavor, which results from the buttermilk, vinegar, and either cream cheese or ermine frosting. In this recipe, we include the instructions for an ermine frosting that we love as a great balance to the tangy flavor of red velvet, but you can also use cream cheese frosting.

  • What kind of food foloring should I use?

    This recipe was made and tested using red liquid food coloring. You can also use gel food coloring or a natural red food coloring made from beets. You can find a wide variety of natural food dyes on Amazon.

  • What is ermine frosting?

    Ermine gets its name from the cute, weasel-like animal that has a white, fluffy coat. Ermine frosting is made of heated milk, sugar and flour and then whipped with butter. It is light and delicious, but not as tangy as cream cheese frosting. It will hold its shape better if it is refrigerated before and after icing. You can also use cream cheese frosting if you prefer it and like a little more tang on your red velvet cupcakes.

  • Is there a substitute for buttermilk?

    Buttermilk is a key component in this cake recipe. If you don’t have access to buttermilk, please use a buttermilk substitute. There are lots of options and you are sure to find one that you can make work in our article on buttermilk substitutes.

 

Check out these other recipes for more delicious cake and cupcake recipes:

Watch the video below where Rachel will walk you through every step of this recipe. Sometimes it helps to have a visual, and we’ve always got you covered with our cooking show. You can find the complete collection of recipes on YouTube, Facebook Watch, or our Facebook Page, or right here on our website with their corresponding recipes.

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Ermine Icing on a wire cooling rack

Most Amazing Red Velvet Cupcakes

The Most Amazing Red Velvet Cupcakes are moist, fluffy, and topped off with velvety ermine frosting for the perfect Red Velvet Cupcake you’ve been dreaming of!

Prep Time15 mins

Cook Time22 mins

Frosting Cooling Time3 hrs

Total Time3 hrs 37 mins

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Servings: 24 cupcakes

Ingredients

Red Velvet Cupcakes

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup cornstarch
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder (up to 1/4 cup)
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 2/3 cup warm water
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons red food coloring (1 fluid ounce)

Ermine Icing

  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • pinch salt
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups unsalted butter , cubed and softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

Red Velvet Cupcakes

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners. Recipe makes 24 cupcakes.

  • In a large mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cornstarch, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

  • Add eggs, buttermilk, warm water, oil, vanilla, vinegar, and red food coloring. Use a hand mixer to beat on a medium speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Scrape the sides and bottom of the mixing bowl to make sure everything got mixed in.

  • Fill each cupcake liner 2/3 full.

  • Bake for 20-22 minutes until the cupcakes meet the toothpick test (stick a toothpick in and it comes out clean). Remove from tins and cool completely.

Ermine Icing

  • In a medium sauce pan, whisk together flour sugar, and salt over low heat. Cook for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in milk and bring to a boil. Cook until thickened into a pudding-like consistency, about 1 minute, and then remove from heat. Pour into a bowl and place plastic wrap directly on top of the mixture so no skin forms. Set aside.

  • In a large bowl, use a hand mixer to whip butter until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add in cooked milk mixture 1 to 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing well between each addition. Once all milk mixture has been added in, beat in vanilla and continue beating until the frosting is thick and creamy and everything is well mixed in.

  • Frost completely cooled cupcakes.

Notes

COLOR NOTE: If you want a brighter red color, use only 2 tablespoons of cocoa powder. If you want a better flavor, use up to 1/4 cup. You’ll simply have much deeper brown notes to your red cake. 

Nutrition

Serving: 1cupcake | Calories: 369kcal | Carbohydrates: 45g | Protein: 3g | Fat: 20g | Saturated Fat: 13g | Cholesterol: 70mg | Sodium: 221mg | Potassium: 92mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 35g | Vitamin A: 560IU | Calcium: 52mg | Iron: 1mg

Course: Dessert

Cuisine: American

Keyword: Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcakes with Ermine Icing on a wire cooling rack

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30 Minute Chicken Tortilla Soup

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This 30 Minute Chicken Tortilla Soup is delicious and easy to make. Tender chicken, black beans, and hearty Tex-Mex vegetables together in the perfect comfort food for busy chilly evenings.

Pot of chicken tortilla soup topped with cheese, avocado, tortilla strips, lime, and cilantro

Comfort food isn’t comfort food if you have to slave over a stove all day to make it. This soup is the best because it is so easy to make and comes together so quickly. It also happens to be ridiculously delicious.

We love having soup for dinner, so busy nights or chilly evenings are the perfect excuse for us to make this family favorite. It’s a great party food, or a handy and healthy family meal. Whatever your reason for wanting a great soup, you will love the warm flavors and hardiness of this comforting Tex-Mex treat!

  • Can this be made in a slow cooker?

    Yes. You can add all of the ingredients to the slow cooker except for the lime and cilantro. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or high for 3 to 4 hours. Shred the chicken and add lime juice and cilantro just before serving.

  • Can I make this soup in advance?

    Yes. This recipe freezes well. You will want to make the soup and not add the lime and cilantro. Allow the soup to cool completely and then store in an airtight container for up to three months. When ready to prepare this soup, thaw and heat either in a slow cooker or on the stove. Add the lime and cilantro just before serving.

  • How to make your own tortilla strips:

    Heat about a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a skillet on medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, add a corn or flour tortilla and fry for about 30 seconds and then flip it over, using tongs, and fry the other side until it is nice and crispy. Then, remove from the skillet and place on a cutting board. While it is still warm, you will cut it into strips using a regular knife or pizza cutter.

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Watch the video below where Rachel will walk you through every step of this recipe. Sometimes it helps to have a visual, and we’ve always got you covered with our cooking show. You can find the complete collection of recipes on YouTube, Facebook Watch, or our Facebook Page, or right here on our website with their corresponding recipes.

Bowl of chicken tortilla soup topped with cheese, avocado, tortilla strips, lime, and cilantro

30 Minute Chicken Tortilla Soup

This 30 Minute Chicken Tortilla Soup is delicious and easy to make. Tender chicken, black beans, and hearty Tex-Mex vegetables together in the perfect comfort food for busy chilly evenings.

Prep Time10 mins

Cook Time20 mins

Total Time30 mins

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Servings: 6 servings

Ingredients

Soup

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium white onion , diced
  • 1 medium red bell pepper , diced
  • 5 cloves garlic , minced
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 15 ounce can tomato sauce (passata)
  • 15 ounce can fire roasted diced tomatoes
  • 15 ounce can black beans
  • 7 ounce can diced green chiles
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn (or use canned)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup freshly chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup lime juice

For Serving

  • 3 cups tortilla strips or tortilla chips
  • 2 medium avocados , diced
  • 1 cup shredded Monterey jack cheese
  • 1/4 cup sour cream

Instructions

  • Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium high heat. Add in onion and bell pepper and saute 5 minutes. Add in garlic, chili powder, cumin, and paprika and toast for 60 seconds.

  • Pour in chicken broth, add in chicken breasts, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes.

  • Remove cooked chicken from soup, shred with a fork, and return to the pot.

  • Pour in tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, black beans, green chiles, and corn. Return soup to a simmer and let simmer 5 minutes.

  • Turn off the heat and stir in cilantro and lime juice. Season with salt, to taste. Serve hot, topped with tortilla strips, diced avocado, cheese, and sour cream.

Notes

Slow Cooker Instructions:

You can add all of the ingredients to the slow cooker except for the lime and cilantro. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or high for 3 to 4 hours. Shred the chicken and add lime juice and cilantro just before serving.

Nutrition

Calories: 516kcal | Carbohydrates: 45g | Protein: 26g | Fat: 28g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 58mg | Sodium: 1743mg | Potassium: 1369mg | Fiber: 13g | Sugar: 7g | Vitamin A: 1685IU | Vitamin C: 68.3mg | Calcium: 245mg | Iron: 4.5mg

Course: Dinner, Main Course, Main Dish, Soup

Cuisine: American, TexMex

Keyword: Chicken Tortilla Soup

Bowl of chicken tortilla soup topped with cheese, avocado, tortilla strips, lime, and cilantro

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