Food Column: More family meals in the new year

Haven't settled on your New Year's resolution yet?

Here's an idea: Pledge to eat a home-cooked, screen-time-free meal with your whole family at least once a week -- or perhaps one more time per week than you already do.

If you make this particular New Year's resolution, you'll have the added bonus of a lot of cheerleading and resources, provided you sign up for the 10,000 Tables pledge at

Two months ago, popular British chef Jamie Oliver visited Pittsburgh for the One Young World Summit, and while here, he helped to promote and kick off this local initiative.

We wrote about it then (look for it at, but more recently, we asked organizers for an update.

They're only 5 percent of their way to the goal of enrolling 10,000 families -- they've got 500 so far -- but they're getting enthusiastic feedback from those who have signed up, including a note from one family that has committed to Sunday dinner together every week.

In 2013, organizers are planning cooking demonstrations (dates and locations to be announced). They're also going to add an interactive component to the pledge page so families can track how many meals they've cooked, share recipes and post photos. Those who log on and use the page also will be entered into raffles for food-related prizes.

The pledge is being organized and run by Let's Move Pittsburgh, a collaborative project by local leaders to try to help Pittsburgh become one of the healthiest places in the nation for children to live. It's headed by Richard Piacentini, executive director of Phipps Conservatory.

One of the tools the organization is offering when families sign up for the pledge is "Table Talk," an e-newsletter with tips and recipes for healthy eating. Last month's inaugural issue included recipes for Mediterranean lentils and rice, cauliflower and celery root mash, and cranberry and pear sauce. (While my own kids would probably register many complaints about these dishes, they sound good to me!)

The newsletter also contains links to other websites, such as the government's MyPlate nutrition guide, and news about the changes coming to the 10,000 Tables site.

At this point in my column, I would usually list the food events coming up in the region over the next couple of weeks, but it seems there are few. People are apparently too busy with Christmas and New Year's to schedule anything else. But now -- while my kids are home on Christmas break -- seems like a great time to schedule a few extra meals together as a family, perhaps even with the kids' smaller hands chipping in during prep time.

Here's a relatively easy, healthful and tasty soup you could cook up for one of those screen-time-free dinners around the table with your family.

Tortilla soup

PG tested

The cookbook indicates that store-bought tortilla chips may be substituted for the fried tortilla strips if desired.

--Rebecca Sodergren

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for frying

  • 2 large onions, chopped

  • 8 garlic cloves, minced

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt, divided

  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin

  • 1/2 teaspoon red chile flakes

  • 12 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth

  • 28-ounce can diced tomatoes

  • Juice of 2 limes, divided

  • 8-ounce package small corn tortillas, cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips

  • 2 pounds boned, skinned chicken breasts, cut into 1/4-inch-thick strips

  • 1 cup chopped cilantro

  • Sliced avocado, sour cream, shredded Monterey jack cheese, additional chopped cilantro, and/or sliced green onions for topping

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring a few times, until translucent, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in two-thirds of garlic, 1 tablespoon salt, the cumin and red chile flakes and cook 2 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes (with their juice) and half the lime juice and increase heat to a gentle simmer; cook 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour about 1 inch of oil into a small frying pan over medium-high heat. When oil is hot but not smoking, add a third of the tortilla strips and cook until golden brown and crisp, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer strips to a paper towel-lined baking pan. Repeat with remaining tortilla strips in two batches. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Set aside.

Puree soup in batches in a blender until smooth. Return soup to pot and resume simmering. In a bowl, toss chicken with remaining lime juice, garlic, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Marinate at room temperature 10 minutes, then add to soup and simmer until chicken is just cooked through, about 5 minutes. Stir in cilantro.

Serve with bowls of tortilla strips and toppings for guests to add as they like. Serves 12.

-- "The Sunset Essential Western Cookbook" (Oxmoor, Oct. 2012, $24.95)

Rebecca Sodergren: Follow me on Twitter: @pgfoodevents.


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