Sweet Potato Chicken Black Bean Quesadillas


The other day I made homemade chicken stock, and I was in search of an easy recipe for the super tender pulled chicken I had left over. I found this Rachael Ray recipe for sweet potato chicken black bean quesadillas and it was exactly what I needed. This was one of those 30-minute meals that was (gasp!) actually doable in 30 minutes. Indeed!

I love quesadillas — crunchy tortilla plus melty cheese dipped in guacamole and salsa — yum! This one has some great contrast with the mashed sweet potato (I mixed sauteed jalapeño pepper in for some heat) and black beans, and the melt-in-your-mouth-tender chicken was perfect.


TW’s Tips

  • I could only find white sweet potatoes — they work just as well as the orange ones.
  • If you like spice, finely chop one jalapeño and saute for a few minutes to soften. Mix with the mashed sweet potato and black beans.
  • For leftovers, I put the fillings in the fridge and make them on the stove fresh instead of trying to cook them all and reheat (which never seems to work out well).
  • I always have a tough time flipping a full tortilla, so i spread filling on one side of a single tortilla, throw in the pan for a minute then flip the uncovered side up to cover the filling (basically fold it in half). Then you can easily flip the half-moon over to get both sides (and it’s great if you’re just cooking for yourself since it makes less).
  • Serve with salsa, guac and sour cream.
  • Cut the quesadilla into slices using a pizza cutter. Easy!

Sweet Potato Chicken Black Bean Quesadillas


  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 1 15 ounce can black beans
  • 4 10-inch flour tortillas
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
  • 2 cups shredded jack cheese

In a pot of boiling water, cook the sweet potato until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain and return to pot. Add the beans and mash; spread onto 2 tortillas. Top each with chicken, cheese and a second tortilla; press to flatten. In a skillet, cook each quesadilla over medium-high heat until the cheese is melted, about 4 minutes; flip and cook for about 2 minutes more. Cut into wedges.


Dad’s Chicken Chimichangas

Chicken Chimi

As usual, I spent my Christmas in New Hampshire in the house I grew up in — with my parents, sister, brother-in-law, nephew, brother and sister-in-law — all of us packed into my parents’ house, with one shower. You can imagine the engineering project that is coordinating bathroom time! But it was a wonderful week full of family time and lots of eating, drinking and playing lots and lots of games. My family is big on games — including the somewhat obscure card game called whist, that you’ve probably never heard of but we play ad nauseum when we’re together. That and Outburst, Password, cribbage, Yahtzee, Trivial Pursuit…you name it.

Since my siblings and I all live elsewhere, my parents like to cook us all of our favorite meals when we converge back at Casa Whittemore. One of those is always my dad’s chicken chimichangas. He started cooking them with his guitar-playing friend Arthur back when I was growing up and they got together for jam sessions, and they’ve always been a stand-by. While traditional chimichangas are deep-fried, these are pan-fried, so you still get the crispy tortilla without so much fat. They’re spicy and full of cumin flavor, with melty cheese and crunch from the lettuce — I could eat them for every meal! I still don’t think mine are ever as good as my dad’s, but I make a valiant effort.

Chimi 2

TW’s Tips

  • Try adding in a can of black beans when the chicken is finishing up cooking, and heat through
  • I’m not a big fan of iceberg lettuce, but it’s perfect here since it’s so crunchy and crisp
  • Get two frying pans going to toast up the chimichangas if you have a bigger group partaking
  • If you have spice-sensitive people to feed, scale back the spices a bit and have a hot sauce like Chalula on hand for the spice-lovers
  • Warning — the spice measurements here are approximate. My dad never measures. I did about a tablespoon of cumin and chili powder, and 1/2 tablespoon cayenne, and it was still pretty mild (for me). Next time I’ll go more aggressive with my spice.

Dad’s Chicken Chimichangas


  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size chunks
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 green pepper, sliced
  • 1-2 jalapeno peppers, chopped (fresh or jarred)
  • Cumin
  • Chili powder
  • Curry powder
  • Ground cayenne pepper
  • Large flour tortillas
  • Shredded cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack or Mexican blend recommended)
  • Lettuce
  • Salsa, sour cream, guacamole, hot sauce


In a deep skillet over medium heat, add olive oil (about three times around the pan) and heat. Add about a teaspoon of each spice (cumin, chili powder, cayenne, curry) and toast for a minute or two. Add the sliced onion and peppers and a splash of juice from the jarred peppers if that’s what you’re using, or a splash of beer. Cook for a few minutes. Season the chicken with chili powder and salt and pepper. Add to the pan and saute to cook through. Add some more spices along the way, concentrating on the cumin and cayenne, to taste.

When the chicken is cooked through, turn the pan down to low and heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and a dash of cumin to the skillet. Warm a tortilla in the microwave for 15 seconds and pile the chicken filling in the middle. Add shredded cheese and wrap up like a burrito. Add the wrapped tortilla to the skillet with the loose edge of the tortilla side down so it doesn’t unwrap. Brown on all sides in the hot skillet (it will cook fairly quickly). Serve with shredded lettuce, salsa, sour cream and guacamole.

Fish Tacos with Jalapeno/Mango Chutney Black Beans

Don’t be scared of fish tacos.

I’d never had a fish taco until I moved to San Diego in 2004. In New Hampshire where I’m from, Mexican food didn’t involve seafood. In fact, Mexican food didn’t include much “Mexican” in general. So my first thought when I heard of fish tacos was, “Weird.”

San Diego is known for its fish tacos — it’s one of our culinary claims to fame — so it wasn’t long before I made the leap and tried one. From then on, I was a believer. For those unfamiliar with fish tacos, they can take many forms — the fish can be grilled, fried or roasted. Tortillas can be corn or flour, hard or soft. The fish is often mahi or wahoo, but can be swordfish or shark, or take a turn for shrimp, lobster, calamari and oyster. Traditional toppings are a cabbage slaw with a tangy white sauce, and lots of hot sauce. But there’s cheese, lettuce, avocado and beans…the combinations are endless. But the overall theme is “delicious.”

A few weeks ago I made this fish taco recipe from Rachael Ray for my friends Mark and Katie. They’re a fun twist on traditional fish tacos. The fish is super simple — just sprinkled with grill seasoning and lime zest and roasted. But kicker #1 is the awesome  decision to use both soft and hard taco shells. And kicker #2 is the awesome-r decision to “glue” the two different taco shells together with a black bean “mash” that includes minced jalapenos, mango chutney, red onion and garlic. You just spread the soft tortilla with a layer of the beans and wrap up the hard shell. Throw in the fish and a delicious cabbage slaw with onion and cilantro and dressed with honey, hot sauce and lime juice, and top with creme fraiche. Absolutely delicious! 

Each bite gives you a great crunch, spice and some sweetness from the beans, tender fish and more crunch from the cabbage, plus the bit of richness and tang from the creme fraiche. It’s a winner.

TW’s Tips

  • Double (or even triple) the bean/jalapeno/chutney filling — I didn’t have enough and had to make another batch for leftovers
  • Any white fish will work for this — I used tilapia but you could do snapper, halibut, mahi, haddock…
  • Mango chutney can be challenging to find. It’s usually either in the Indian food/ethnic section or with the jellies. But I couldn’t find it after hitting a couple of stores so I opted instead for apricot preserves. Whole Foods won’t fail you.
  • Roasting the fish is easy — just make sure you don’t overcook. Take it out and test it periodically.
If you come to San Diego you must have a legit fish taco. The best ones are at South Beach in OB.

My-oh-Mahi! That’s a Good Fish Taco


  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 1 small or medium red onion, 1/4 finely chopped, the remainder thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced or grated
  • 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/3 palmful
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup mango chutney
  • 2 limes
  • 2 tablespoons hot sauce
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • A handful of fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/2 medium head of red cabbage, shredded
  • 4 mahi mahi fillets, 6 ounces each
  • 1 tablespoon grill seasoning, such as McCormick’s Montreal Steak Seasoning
  • 8 corn tortilla taco shells (hard shell)
  • 8 flour tortillas
  • 1 cup creme fraiche


Heat a tablespoon of the oil in a skillet over medium heat and add the jalapeno, finely chopped red onion, and garlic. Cook 3 to 4 minutes, then add the beans and cumin and mash together. Season the beans with salt and pepper and fold in the chutney. Reduce the heat to low to keep warm, stirring now and then to keep them from burning. If the beans dry out before you are ready to use them add a splash of water.

Zest one of the limes and set aside. Combine the juice of both limes, the hot sauce, honey, 2 tablespoons of the canola oil, salt, and pepper with the sliced onions, cilantro and shredded cabbage. Toss to combine.

Heat an outdoor grill to medium or preheat the broiler. Season the fish with the remaining tablespoon of oil, 2 teaspoons of lime zest and the grill seasoning. Cook the fish on the grill with the lid closed or under the broiler for 8 minutes total, until cooked through, turning once.

Crisp the taco shells and blister the tortillas on the grill or in the oven. Glue the softened flour tortillas onto the crisp taco shells with a few spoonfuls of mashed black beans. Fill each tortilla-wrapped taco shell with half a piece of fish, flaked, and top with some cabbage slaw and creme fraiche. Serve 2 tortilla-wrapped tacos per person.

Grilled Chicken Tortilla Soup with Tequila Crema

I am highly (highly!) delinquent on this post — craziness with work plus a fun trip to the Grand Canyon interfered. I hate it when life gets in the way of my cooking! However, I redeem myself with this incredible recipe for chicken tortilla soup. This is a Guy Fieri and it’s super spicy but also really tangy, with some smoky flavor from the grilled chicken and an amazing, crunchy topper of homemade tortilla strips dusted with chili powder. Oh yes.

Starting with the chicken — it’s marinated in a yummy combo of lime juice, tequila, adobo sauce, garlic and spices — it packs a punch. Note that you have to take the skin off the chicken if you don’t buy skinless — it’s relatively easy to do, but I forgot until AFTER it was in the marinade, which made the process rather messy, and not my favorite. Raw chicken is not my idea of fun. This is also not the easiest chicken to make since once it’s cooked you have to take it off the bone, but ya know what? It adds flavor, so it is what it is. If you’re not into it, try boneless skinless thighs and just shred the chicken.

The soup itself is flavored with jalapeno pepper, onion, chili powder and cumin — simple but good. But it’s the toppings that really make this a winner…starting with sliced avocado, which will sell me on basically anything, and followed by tequila crema — sour cream spiked with tequila and lime zest, which gives a nice cooling effect. Add a squeeze of lime juice directly on the soup, and a sprinkling of cilantro…and finally, homemade fried tortilla strips. I admit up front, these are not the easiest to make, and your kitchen will smell like oil for a day or so. But there’s nothing like frying your own tortillas, and these make the perfect crunch on top. This is nothing like crumbled up tortilla chips — this is the real deal.

TW’s Tips

  • The sliced tortilla Guy Fieri called for as part of the soup base was a little weird. I didn’t like it. I thought maybe it was supposed to thicken it a little, but that didn’t really work out.
  • I’d skip trying to skin the jalapeno and just mince it after you char it — peeling the skin off never quite works, but the nice flavor from searing it is excellent.
  • Remember you’ve got to marinate the chicken for 6-8 hours.
  • Serve with corn bread…or corn bread studded with jalapeno.

Grilled Chicken Tortilla Soup with Tequila Crema



  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 ounces silver tequila
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 4 chicken thighs, bone-in, skin removed


  • 1 jalapeño, roasted and minced
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder, plus some for dust tortilla strips
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 cups chicken stock, make sure this is stock, not broth (recommended: Kitchen Essentials)
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can crushed fire roasted tomatoes (recommended: Muir Glen)
  • 1 lime, zested and juiced
  • 1 corn tortilla, cut into strips (I’d skip this)


  • 2 1/2 cups vegetable oil, for frying
  • 8 corn tortillas, cut into strips
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
  • Pinch chili powder
  • 3/4 cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoons tequila
  • 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1 Hass avocado, halved, pitted and flesh diced
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves roughly chopped
  • Lime wedges, for garnish


Put the vegetable oil, tequila, lime juice, chipotle pepper, cumin, chili powder, garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper in a small food processor or blender and blend until smooth. Put the marinade in a plastic bag along with the chicken. Seal the bag and refrigerate for 6 to 8 hours.

Preheat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Add the jalapeno and grill until the skin is well charred. Remove the jalapeno to a small bowl and cover with plastic wrap to sweat the skin. When cool enough to handle, remove the stem, skin, and seeds, then finely mince.

Heat a large, heavy bottom pot over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil. Once hot, add the onion and saute until starting to caramelize, about 5 to 7 minutes. Add the garlic, minced jalapeno, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper, to taste. Cook about 3 or 4 minutes, being careful not to burn the mixture. Deglaze the pan with some of the chicken stock, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan.

Add the remaining chicken stock, the crushed tomatoes and the lime juice. Add the tortilla strips and bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.

While soup base is simmering, heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high heat. Remove the chicken from the marinade and put on grill. Grill, turning until cooked through, about 14 to 18 minutes. Remove from the grill, to a large plate and when cool enough to handle, remove the skin and bones and shred. Keep warm.

For serving:

Heat the vegetable oil in a tall sided skillet to 350 degrees F. Add the tortilla strips and fry until they are golden brown. Remove to a paper towel lined plate and season with 1 teaspoon of salt and a pinch of chili powder.

Combine the sour cream, 2 tablespoons tequila, and the remaining lime zest in a small bowl and season with salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper.

To serve, put some of the shredded chicken in the bottom of each bowl and pour in the hot soup base. Top with diced avocado, fried tortilla strips, the tequila crema, and cilantro. Garnish with lime wedges and serve.

Zucchini, Poblano and Ricotta Quesadillas with Guacamole and Black Bean Salsa

This is one of my favorite quesadillas and favorite vegetarian meals ever. It’s definitely not your traditional quesadilla. Dig it: Zucchini, Poblano and Ricotta Quesadillas.

The recipe comes from my Food Network Kitchens Favorite Recipes cookbook. Check out the filling below: poblano peppers add smoky heat, zucchini dusted with coriander adds a Middle Eastern flair, and the cheese — ricotta mixed with jalapeno, scallions, lime zest and cilantro — kicks in some more zip, a nice creaminess, plus freshness from the lime, cilantro and scallions.

So, not only are these full of flavor, they’re also pretty healthy! Served with fresh guacamole (yum!) and a black bean salsa, and you can’t go wrong.

The killer guacamole (recipe below) is also from my Food Network cookbook — it’s super chunky, spicy and fresh with a hit of garlic. Absolutely delicious. I’d never had guacamole until I came to California, and these days it (or simply avocado) will sell me on a recipe in a second.

The black bean salsa is a Rachael Ray. It’s smoky, hearty and has a nice spice to it from jalapenos. Sun-dried tomatoes add an unexpected, sweet tang.

TW’s Tips

  • Peeling the skin off charred poblano peppers is easier said than done. Char them as much as you can and use a paper towel to brush off the skin (it’s easier than trying to peel it).
  • If you’re making this for company, it’s easy to make the filling ahead of time and just assemble and fry up the quesadillas that day. Just nuke the filling a little bit to warm it up.
  • For the guac, leave it chunky — just mash it up slightly. It’s awesome to get a real nice piece of avocado in a bite of your quesadilla.
  • For the black bean salsa, I cut back on the barbecue sauce (I used about 1/4 cup), but next time, I might just use a couple of tablespoons. It overpowered the flavor of the beans a bit.
You’ve got to try this one!

Zucchini, Poblano and Ricotta Quesadillas


1 teaspoon coriander seeds
3 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise about 1/3 inch thick
3 poblano chiles, stemmed, halved and seeded
Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup fresh ricotta (see tip below)
1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus extra for garnish
2 scallions, sliced
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (leave in seeds for extra heat)
1 teaspoon finely grated lime zest
4 12-inch flour tortillas
4 lime wedges

**Ricotta tip: you can find fresh ricotta at specialty cheese shops, or buy the ricotta in the tub at the grocery store and put it in a coffee filter-lined strainer over a bowl and refrigerate at least a couple of hours or overnight to drain off the excess moisture.

Prepare an outdoor grill with a medium-hot fire (grill pan works too).

Lightly brush zucchini and poblanos with olive oil with grill, turning as needed, until tender and lightly charred, about 4-6 minutes. Season the zucchini with coriander, salt and black pepper. Cut into bite size chunks and set aside to cool slightly. Peel skin from poblanos and thinly slice. (Peeling the skin is easier if it is charred. It will start to pull away from the pepper and you can peel it with your fingers. If you can’t get all of it off, don’t worry about it.)

Mix the ricotta, cilantro, scallions, jalapeno, lime zest, 1/2 teaspoon salt and black pepper to taste in a medium bowl. Lay out the tortillas and spread one-quarter of the cheese mixture over half of each tortilla, leaving about a 1/2-inch border around the edge. Divide the grilled vegetables among the tortillas and fold tortillas in half. Brush lightly with oil, sprinkle with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and grill on both sides until the cheese warms and the outside is golden brown, about 2 minutes.

Place each quesadilla on a plate, scatter with cilantro leaves and serve with lime wedges and salsa, guacamole and sour cream.



  • 3 ripe Hass avocados
  • 1/4 medium red onion, minced
  • 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 to 2 jalapeno or serrano chiles (with seeds for more heat, without seeds for less), stemmed and minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, diced
  • Juice of one lime (about 2 tablespoons)


Smash the garlic cloves, sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt, and, with the side of a large knife, mash and smear the mixture to a coarse paste. Put in a bowl with onion.

Cut the avocados in half, remove the pits, and score the flesh with a knife. Scoop the flesh out of their shells into the bowl with the onion.

Mix the tomatoes, cilantro, chiles, lime juice, and the remaining 1 teaspoon salt with the avocados with a rubber spatula or large fork until just combined, keeping the guacamole chunky. Serve immediately with tortilla chips.

Black Bean Salsa


  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1 can black beans, drained
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • 1/2 cup sundried tomatoes in oil, chopped
  • 1/2 cup smoky barbecue sauce (I use less)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Add a turn of EVOO to a skillet and add the onions, garlic and jalapeño pepper; sauté for 2-3 minutes, then add beans and corn to the pan. Stir in chopped tomatoes and barbecue sauce, then season salsa with salt and pepper. Transfer warm salsa to a serving dish.