Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Three-Way Chicken Part 2: Soup Time

Part 2 is here. If you missed it, HERE is part 1. Now that you have a stock made, it's pretty straightforward to get a soup out of it. Chicken noodle soup makes a lot, but it freezes very well and also works well as a gift. I know I like receiving soup. Most chicken noodle soups start and end the same way. Sauté vegetables, add chicken, add stock, bring to simmer, add noodles, and eat. Wow, is it really that easy? Yes, it is. This is one of those "fix it now, feed the family for two days" kind of meals. Its good for you, cost efficient, and can be modified to fit your current mood. I particularly enjoy swapping noodles for brown or wild rice as well as varying the vegetables I add. This is a great recipe to put your own spin on and develop into something you will enjoy all the time.

A word on the cut. A lot of books call for what is called "soup cut". I like to call it a large dice. Just think of the size of vegetables you want in your soup. More than likely you will want something not too large (like for stew) but not too fine (we are not making a sauce). So go in between, big enough that the pieces will have texture, but small enough to fit with broth on a spoon. Ok then, here we go.

Chicken Noodle Soup

Cooked chicken, shredded,
Chicken stock
3 carrots, large dice
2 celery stalks, large dice
1 large onion, large dice
3 cloves garlic, minced fine
1 16oz bag frozen mixed vegetables
3 T butter
1 16oz bag egg noodles
2 t fresh thyme, chopped (or 1 t dried)
Salt and pepper to taste

Remove the stock from the refrigerator (if you stored it there) and let it come to room temperature. Add butter to large pot over medium heat. Add carrot, celery, and onion, sauté for about 3 minutes until the onions just start to wilt. Add garlic, stir and cook for about 1 minute. Add the chicken to heat it through, and then add stock. You do not need to add all of the stock if you prefer a more chunky soup, just save the rest for a later application. Let the soup come to a boil and reduce heat to low so it just barely simmers. Cook for about 30 minutes or until veggies are tender.

Meanwhile, bring another large pot of water to a boil, salt it, and add your egg noodles. Boil them until still pretty al-dente (this helps prevent them from turning to mush later). Drain the noodles and rinse to stop the cooking. Add frozen veggies to the soup, return to a simmer, then add the noodles and thyme. Let cook for about 15 more minutes and then season with salt, pepper, and more thyme if you desire. The seasoning is open ended, as are the veggies you add (go with whatever is in season to change it up). This recipe makes a lot, but chicken noodle soup freezes quite well and keeps for about 3 months.

This is the first application for the chicken; next I will tackle chicken and dumplings!


Tuesday, June 17, 2008


So I lied, due to a request for my guacamole recipe, I will continue the chicken recipes early next week. I know you are all waiting with baited breath. Let us shift our focus to my favorite green food, the avocado. Not only is it creamy and delicious, but it packs a punch with nutrition. Yes, it is the only fruit with fat. But it is mostly monounsaturated fat, the kind your doctor tells you to eat. The avocado also has 60% more potassium than bananas, a lot of fiber, and over 25 vitamins and minerals. Not bad. Avocados go in a lot of dishes, but they are most famous for guacamole.

Now we are not talking your restaurant variety guacamole (though the stuff they make table side is pretty darn good). The every day kind is the packet you get off the shelf and add two avocados to it, mix, and call it a day. Yuck. Talk about not doing justice to the pitted wonder. No, guacamole is a simple, yet refined dip that requires just a little bit of patience. Start with your avocados. Now, these things ripen at room temperature. So it is a good idea to buy them a little under ripe (i.e. hard) and let them ripen at home. If you are in a hurry, put them in a paper bag and close it up (no plastic!!). If you are in a really big hurry, throw them in a paper bag with a banana. If you are in more of a hurry than that, sorry, can't help you. Avocados are ready to use when they have some give but are not totally mushy. You do not want hard, you want creamy. After ripe, they store in the fridge for up to two weeks. Which they fail to mention at any store or market.

On to our guac. To prep your avocado, simply take a knife and slice lengthwise along the center, splitting it in two. Take your knife (big one works better for this) and take a small whack at the pit so the knife sticks in it. Twist and the pit should pop out. Reach your fingers behind the pit (from the backside of the knife, not blade side) and squeeze on the pit; it should pop right off without you bloodying a perfectly good avocado.

Once you have made your guacamole, do not put the pit back in. This is a myth that does nothing. Press plastic wrap directly over your guacamole so there is no contact with air and then put a lid on your container. If you want some extra insurance, squeeze some lime juice over the top before putting the plastic wrap on. Guacamole does not keep for very long (thanks to the avocados browning in air), so try to make it as close to your meal as possible.


2 avocados, pitted
2 T lime juice (lemon works in a pinch)
2 green onions, diced
3-4 T salsa (recipe found here)
Salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste

Mash avocados with a fork, as chunky or as fine as you like. Add lime juice and incorporate into avocado. This will help prevent browning. Add green onions and salsa, season to taste. Serve with chips or over whatever food you can think of.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Top Chef

For all of you who read this blog, it should come as no surprise that I watch and love Top Chef. The only thing that might surprise me, though, is if you are not watching it. Easily my favorite cooking show on TV, my girlfriend introduced me to it two years ago and I have become quite enamored with it. It just wrapped up the fourth season, but I am pretty sure Bravo will run the entire season at least 73 times in the next month. If you are not watching it, well, shame on you. It, more than any other reality show on television, is focused on food and cooking. Yes, there is drama, and yes, the producers love to edit that in everywhere, but more so there is awesome, outrageous, gorgeous food. The really cool thing about this show is the dedication it has to promoting new chefs. Most of us just go to restaurants from recommendations of flashy advertising, but do you really know the chef behind the food? This show lets you see their flavors and choices under many different situations. I usually gravitate towards a contestant who has a flavor profile similar to my likes. I just think it’s a great thing for these chefs to get national exposure about their food. It has opened my eyes to some awesome restaurants and cooking techniques. Everyone on this show, no matter what place they finish, benefits from the exposure and the spotlight. It's great for their business.

This season (yes, I will spoil it) was won by a Chicago chef by the name of Stephanie Izard. I am excited about this for two reasons. First, she cooks in Chicago, which means that come spring and she opens her restaurant, I can be there in no time flat. Second, her flavor choices just resonate with me. While I appreciate molecular gastronomy, southern Asian, and California When she made duck spring rolls my tongue almost drown itself in my mouth. Notice I said nothing about her being the first woman to win. That is because this show, making it more awesome, does not care about that. It only cares about the food. And that's what it's really all about. flavors, Stephanie's homespun version of food is amazing, and that is just from looking at it (and listening to the judges rave about it).

So congrats to Stephanie, and for those of you not watching this show, I really recommend you remedy that.


Monday, June 9, 2008

Three-Way Chicken

This is the first of a series post I have planned, all tied together to yield three separate dishes. I stumbled upon this method while I was trying to make chicken soup; I figured there was great potential if I could design ONE starting method for three dishes. So in no specific order this method will lead to chicken noodle soup, chicken and dumplings, or chicken pot pie. The goal here is to make life easier for people in the kitchen. If you can adapt the singular method, you will also have the skills to make the other dishes. Cool, huh?

The first part is making a stock. I use chicken stock in a lot of my dishes, and while the boxed stuff is convenient and albeit somewhat tasty, homemade stock works as both the cooking vessel and a flavor enhancer. Plus it is pretty easy to set up and walk away from for a while. The first step in this is to assemble and prep your ingredients. For soup and chicken pot pie, I tend to shred my chicken, and for chicken and dumplings I can leave it in pieces or shred it depending on my mood. So prep your chicken accordingly, but I recommend at least quartering your chicken for an easier fit in the pot and easier removal later.

This recipe calls for chicken stock or chicken bullion, which is an oddity to most. But starting with a little bit of flavor base will add a lot to your stock, as I have found most good chicken stocks are made this way. I would probably skip this step if just making homemade chicken stock and not using the meat (if you simmer the stock long enough you really end up not wanting to use the meat). So this will offset the shorter cooking time. If you would rather start with another batch of your homemade stock, all the better. Also, I cannot stress the importance of a decent stock pot. I have one I got at TJ Max that was a steal, so it's not like you have to go drop 100 bucks. But make sure it has a heavy bottom so nothing burns, holds at least 6-8 quarts, and is pretty sturdy. Now that we are set with pots and chicken, we need to get this party started.

Three Way Chicken Step 1- Stock

1 chicken, livers and giblets removed, quartered or chopped into 8 pieces
1 onion, ends removed, quartered
1 carrot, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped in half
1 T olive oil
4 sprigs fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
4 stalks fresh parsley
Salt and pepper
4 cups chicken stock or 1 cube chicken bullion

Wash the chicken and vegetables. Tie the herbs up with string or put them in a tea ball (if using, the only one that is a must right now is the bay leaf). Heat the oil in the bottom of a stock pot over medium heat. Season chicken with salt and place skin down in pot, browning slightly on both sides, about 7 minutes. Add vegetables and stir, scraping up any bits that might have stuck. Add the herbs and stock or bullion. Add enough water to cover the chicken by about 2 inches (probably about 2 quarts, but it might be more). Bring to a boil and reduce heat so the stock is simmering. Cook for about an hour to an hour and a half, or until the chicken is starting to fall off the bone. If the water level decreases to below the chicken, add a bit more to bring the level back up. When finished, remove chicken and set aside to cool. Drain stock into a clean pot and skim off fat. Stock and chicken can be made ahead of time and keep for about 5 days (chicken is the limiting factor here) in the fridge.

That is step one, the same method for all dishes. If you want to add a bit more color and well rounded flavor, add about 2 T of tomato paste. Next time, soups on!


Monday, June 2, 2008

Stock Piling

Chicken stock might be the most drastic change to my cooking repertoire in forever. I grew up using water or milk to make gravies, sauces, and the like, never knowing what I was missing. All the big TV chefs use chicken stock, which I likened to them using gourmet cheeses while everyone else used Colby-jack. Wrong. Chicken stock can add a lot of flavor and layers to your sauce or other cooking liquid. I use it in a lot of my dishes, from pasta sauces to chili to risotto, just to name a few.

Chicken stock comes in four varieties. The first if the kind you make yourself. I will not go into detail here, but my next post (The Three Way Chicken) will detail how to make and store the good stuff. Since I lack the large freezer to store all of my made stock, I usually opt for the second kind, boxed or canned. This stock is pre-made and is pretty much the best way to go. The third way is a flavor base, and the fourth is bullion cubes. As a rule I keep bullion cubes on hand (flavor base is perishable and a waste for me), but I try not to use them too often because they lack a lot of flavor and contain a lot of salt. But more on that in a minute.

There are two general rules I use when buying and using stock. First, use the low sodium stock if possible. You know how you like your food, salt it accordingly and do not let someone else do it for you. A lot of these stocks have heaps and heaps of salt, which can alter my final dish and get me a little peeved. Second, I will not put anything into my dish I would not drink out of hand. This means if you taste the chicken stock (and yes, you should) straight and it's nasty, don't use it! I really like the Swanson low sodium stock or their organic low sodium. Both are tasty and not too overpowering.

When using chicken stock, I like to spice it up a bit for some more flavors. When I make risotto, I add some onion, garlic, and ends of whatever veggies I use for some flavor. When I go Mexican, I add some cumin seeds and a chile pepper. You really cannot hurt your dish by doing this (it makes it a lot easier to season later); just remember to strain your stock before you add it.

Am I leaving out other types of stock? Most certainly. Chicken stock goes well in most dishes, but some will call for beef or fish depending on what you are doing. I tend to not make my own beef stock because a) I do not use it that often and b) it takes a little bit more time than chicken stock. That is not to say they are not useful. Follow the same guidelines when purchasing (low sodium, don’t buy it if you would not use as a soup by itself) and it should work out gloriously. For fish, just use shells and bodies if you want to make your own. Shrimp stock is especially good because you generate the ingredient you need, shells, every time you use shrimp! Vegetarian? Veggie stock has gotten a lot better, though it does not hurt to add a few more ingredients to it to punch the flavor.

So the next time you reach for the sink to thin out your sauce, ask yourself what you might be missing by not stocking your meal.


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