B&G Classics: Chicken Noodle Soup

Wahoooooooo!

That means I passed my test, in case it wasn’t clear. And I am so so glad. That was easily the most stressful thing I have done in a long time. I felt unprepared and I HATE feeling unprepared. It was hard. I woke up this morning and honestly felt like a year had passed since last Friday. But it is over! And studying did give me the opportunity to procrastinate and make lots of soup, so that is nice. Sorry about the three day hiatus, I was going to blog every day to get all the soup in, but Sunday got a little hairy as the test was getting closer, and Monday was for test taking and then bubbly-drinking and yesterday was for the rest of life. But today is soup day again! Specifically, Chicken Noodle. There are a million ways to make it, but the gist is chicken vegetables and noodles in chicken broth. (I mean, there probably aren’t a MILLION ways to make it, but you know what I mean.) This is a pretty basic, classic version. (This one is classic with a twist and I am DYING to try it. Related: have you guys ever checked out Sweet Paul? It is GORGEOUS.)

A cure for what ails you

A cure for what ails you

This version is perfect for post-chicken dinner leftovers. The key is homemade stock. While I suppose it is not technically necessary, I am saying it’s necessary. You are going to be so happy with yourself if you use homemade stock. It will be infinitely better. Truly. There are plenty of times where homemade stock isn’t that noticeable because of other things that are going into the soup, but this is not one of those times. (STOCK REMINDER: put six lbs of chicken backs in a large pot and cover with water. (Use wings or legs if you don’t collect chicken backs in your freezer/can’t get them from your butcher or grocery store. Pro-tip – ask for them at your butcher or grocery store. Whole Foods often has them packaged with the other chicken for .99 a pound. Way cheaper than you’ll pay for wings.) When the water boils, take the chicken out, dump the water (and the sludge that will come along with it) rinse out the pot, and add the chicken back in with two onions peeled and cut in half, three carrots peeled and cut in large pieces, three celery stalks peeled and cut in pieces, a head of garlic sliced in half width wise, two or three bay leaves, a handful of fresh parsley, some black peppercorns and a good dash of salt. Cover with a ton of water (I use a 12 quart pot and fill it close to the top.) Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat, simmer for two to four hours or as long as you are hanging around the house, strain the solids out, and voila! Chicken stock! Let it cool, skim the fat off the top and use what you need and freeze the rest!)

Other than the stock and the leftover chicken, I like onion, celery, a little bit of garlic, carrots, egg noodles and dill. And that’s it. Soften the vegetables without browning them. Add the stock, bring to a simmer and cook until the carrots are soft. Add the egg noodles and the chicken, cook until the noodles are done. Add the dill, voila! That’s it. It all happens in about half an hour, which is pretty funny, considering Chicken Soup is the quintessential comfort food. It seems like the quintessential comfort food that cures all ills and is essentially a word that has come to symbolize home itself should be an undertaking of some sort. But it’s not. Go forth. Make soup.

Classic Chicken Noodle Soup (Makes a lot)

2 tbl olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

3 carrots, peeled a chopped in half moons

3 stalks celery, peeled and sliced in half moons

1 large clove garlic, minced

8 cups chicken stock

2 cups cooked, shredded chicken

4-6 oz egg noodles

1 handful dill, chopped (optional, but I recommend it!)

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add all the vegetables and saute until they are soft, without letting them brown. Add the chicken stock, bring the soup to a gentle boil, then reduce heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes until the vegetables are soft. Add the chicken and the noodles, and cook for another five or six minutes until the noodles are cooked through. Add the dill, taste for salt and pepper and add as needed, and serve! (IF you are planning on freezing or bringing this to someone’s house, or saving it for later, and you are worried about the noodles getting too mushy, leave them out at this point. Or take some of the soup out for freezing or transporting and just add the appropriate amount of noodles to what you are going to eat now, and add the rest to the defrosted/transported/saved part, so they don’t get mushy!)

Gingery Carrot Soup

You guys, January was going to be soup month, and it IS actually soup month. I’ve made a bunch, and it’s been soupier than I even anticipated, due to some client requests. Of course, it hasn’t be post-ier than normal (though this will be the third one this month, so maybe it has) which means there are SO MANY SOUPS to discuss. So I have to post every day between now and next Thursday, because I have so much soup to talk about and I couldn’t POSSIBLY let soup trickle into February, because if these arbitrary monthly themes that I decide at totally random times for absolutely no rhyme or reason and based on no one’s whims but my own don’t mean anything, WHAT DOES? (Related: February’s theme? Indian Food! I’ve been craving it.)

carrot ginger

carrot ginger

This particular soup is a bit of a palate cleanser. It’s light and healthy and can easily be made vegetarian or vegan with equally delicious results. (For real! I’ve done it!) It has a ton of flavor, but is not heavy at all. It would be great as part of a multi-course meal, it would work in all kinds of weather, and is kind of perfect if you are using January to detox from the holidays. I made it for the first time in November when I was cooking a dinner that had quite a few dietary restrictions (kosher, vegan, soy and gluten allergies) and had to come up with a soup that would please vegans and meat eaters alike. I made a quick vegetable stock, because a) store bought vegetable stocks can taste real weird, and b) because store bought stocks can have all sorts of surprise soy and gluten in them, and both the vegetable stock (quick trick! Add a potato!) and the soup itself came out pretty damn delicious, if I do say so myself. Toot Toot! When I made it at home for myself, I used chicken stock, because that’s how I roll. It was also delicious.

Basically, this soup should not taste as good as it does, because there are basically four ingredients and one of them is carrots. But it does! I mean, it tastes like carrots, it’s not like it tastes like steak, but it is delicious. And the ginger gives it a serious kick. It would be really nice if you were sick. The ginger will clear out your sinuses AND settle your stomach! It’s magic! (I’m pretty sure ginger can cure the common cold too. I had a DOOZY coming on one day a while back, and I made this and the next day it was GONE. Not even kidding. It was amazing.) So what I’m saying is, if you get sick soon, make this soup and keep me posted on what happens. If I have unwittingly discovered the cure for the common cold and/or stomach upset, Imma need to know. I’ve always wanted to be rich and famous. I HAVE BIG PLANS.

Alright, back to the studying. Hasta mañana.

Carrot – Ginger Soup (serves 6-8)

4 tbl butter or olive oil

2 medium onions, diced

1 ½ lbs carrots, peeled and sliced in half moons

2 tbl minced ginger

8 cups chicken or vegetable stock

Salt and pepper

In a large soup pot or dutch oven, melt butter, or heat olive oil over medium heat and add onions. Sauté just until soft and add carrots. Cook onions and carrots until the carrots are just beginning to get tender. Don’t let the vegetables brown. Add the ginger, a pinch of salt and pepper, and then add the chicken or vegetable stock. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and let it simmer until the carrots are cooked all the way through and quite soft, 20 – 30 minutes. Let the mixture cool for about 10 minutes, before pureeing in batches in a blender until very smooth. (An immersion blender is not going to give you the smoothness you want here. Go full bore with the blender for this one.) Reheat if necessary, add salt and pepper to taste, and serve. Feel healthy and virtuous!

Clam Chowder

New England style

New England style

Happy New Year friends!

It’s 2014, which is weird. It sounds like it’s out of science fiction. 2014. This might be the year The Others come. Hopefully they’ll be nice. And single.

I’ve got big hopes for 2014. Unfortunately most of them require vast amounts of wealth and free time, of which I have neither, so small hopes will have to do.

I hope GLOW raises ALL THE MONEY this year, and that IGNITE the NITE is a rousing success again, and that I am still sane when that time rolls around. I hope to pass the Series 79 and 63. I hope to have time to read all the books I bought last year that I haven’t gotten to yet. I hope to learn how to make duck confit. I hope to run a half marathon (which involves the hope that I can figure out how to work regular work outs into my schedule.) I hope to go on vacation in April for my birthday. I hope to finish (start) all the improvements I have planned for my apartment. I hope to eat more ramen (the real stuff) and less ramen (the packaged stuff). I hope to spend more time with my bf Shania because we keep talking about it but can never get our acts together. I hope to get to the beach more. I hope to actually write Christmas cards this year. I hope to learn to love gin. I hope to see my littlest sister more. I hope to see my entire family more. I hope to meet more single dudes. I hope to cross some of the reportedly amazing new restaurants in the area off my “to-try” list. I hope to be more patient. I hope to remember to listen well and to be a good friend because I have amazing people in my life that deserve that from me. I hope to do more yoga. I hope to eat more vegetables. I hope to get to NYC for no other reason than just to visit. I hope to have more impromptu dinner parties. I hope to spend more time here.

And this month, I hope you like soup, because there will be a fair amount of it. January seems like a good month for soup. I made chowder this weekend and it was really good. I can’t recall if I’ve ever made clam chowder before, which is kind of crazy since I like clam chowder and I live in the clam chowder center of the universe. But I have now! It’s very rich. There’s plenty of cream in it, but the richness comes mostly from the clam broth. It’s not as thick as many of the pure white stewy style chowders that you get in mass quantities up here. The broth is much thinner. A spoon is not standing upright in a bowl of this. But it is richer, nonetheless. The clams are all added at the end, as to remain really tender and delicate, rather than chewy and overcooked, and it could be easily modified to include more celery, corn or other shellfish.

I am off to my first of three GLOW meetings this week. SO MANY MEETINGS! But I missed you all! And here’s hoping you will be seeing more of me around here. I have three more weeks of studying to do, so you’ll get AT LEAST three more weeks of regular posting. And maybe I’ll have more to say. Writer’s block is a fearsome beast.

Things:

I am studying for the Series 79 right now. It is miserable. You know what I like more than studying? EVERYTHING. You are getting your first post in several months. This is hardly a coincidence.

I bought myself a really fun new toy. I have wanted a good camera forever and I finally treated myself. I love it like I have never loved before. I don’t even know how to use it yet, and my pictures are a million times better.

There are some fun new food and drink places popping up around here these days. I am particularly enamored with Tavern Road. The food is so good and it is a place that I want to be when it’s cold out, or when I have had a bad day, or on New Year’s Eve. My other favorites at the moment, some new and some not so new, are JM Curley’s, Trillium Brewing, Toro (always), Neptune Oyster (of course) and Row 34. Boston is a really fun place to eat and drink these days. And I haven’t even ventured over to Cambridge recently. There are approximately eleventy new places I need to try asap.

What I am listening to: Beyonce. Obviously.

What I am reading: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. And the Knopman Series 79 study guide. And the IRS guidelines for a 501 (c) (3). The Goldfinch I can definitely recommend.

Clam Chowder (serves 6)

2 dozen littlenecks, scrubbed clean

1 dozen quahogs or two dozen cherrystones, scrubbed clean

2 tbl unsalted butter

1/2 lb thick cut or slab bacon or pancetta, cut in half inch pieces

2 stalks celery, diced

2 small onions, diced (about a cup)

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 bay leaves

pinch of dried red pepper flakes (optional)

2 tbls all-purpose flour

2 large yukon gold potatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs) scrubbed and diced in 1/2 inch pieces

2 cups heavy cream

1 cup whole milk

pepper to taste

parsley to serve

Put the quahogs (cherrystones) in a large pot with quart of water over high heat and steam the clams, watching them and removing  each clam as they open. Put them aside to cool. Strain the water through a sieve lined with cheese cloth and set it aside, you should have about a quart. Wash the pot thoroughly to get ride of the grit. Remove the meat from the reserved clams and chop the meat into large pieces (about an inch) and set aside.

Heat the butter and bacon or pancetta in the pot over medium heat, until the bacon is brown and crispy and the fat has rendered. Add the celery, onion, garlic, bay leaves and red pepper flakes, if using, and saute until the vegetables are soft, about five minutes.

the early stages...

the early stages…

Add the flour and stir for two minutes or so, until all the vegetables and bacon are well coated. Add the potatoes and continue to stir for several more minutes. Add the reserved steaming water, raise the heat to medium high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for about ten minutes. The potatoes will be starting to soften, but won’t yet be cooked through. Add the heavy cream and the milk, and bring the mixture to a simmer. Add the littlenecks and cook the chowder until the clams open. Add the reserved clam meat and heat just a couple minutes more until all the littlenecks are open and the chopped clams are cooke through. There is a good chance the chowder will look “broken” at this point. (You will likely see small bubbles of oil on the top of the soup.) If this bothers you, and it did me, there’s an easy fix! Strain the chowder through a strainer over a large bowl. Put the solids back in the pot, and then run the liquids through the blender in batches and then pour back into the pot over the solids. Reheat the soup until piping hot and taste for pepper (and salt, though you will likely not need it. The clams and the bacon are plenty salty!) Serve with a good sprinkle of parsley over the top of each bowl.

Enjoy!!

Feels Like Home: My Mom’s Gazpacho

Summer in a bowl

Summer in a bowl

I have a post about fish tacos in the works but it is detailed and there are lots of accoutrements and it was taking me awhile, so I am going with this instead. I wanted to get a post out before I go away for the weekend AND I wanted to make sure I got this out while there are still delicious tomatoes to be had at the farmers’ market. If there is ever a time for using good tomatoes, this is it.

This is also the first installment in what will hopefully be another new feature on this here blog, which I will call Feels Like Home. I may have mentioned that we ate well growing up. Not fancy, necessarily – there were four of us kids, and two of us were not super adventurous, so I’m not talking about wild, fussy, earth shattering stuff, but very delicious, nonetheless. My plan is to share some of that with you all, if for no other reason than because that means that I get to make and eat them all again myself. They are all things that make me think of home…

This first one, ironically, is not really ever something I was particularly interested in eating when I was younger. I have realized, despite my insistence that I eat everything, that I actually have a fair number of weird food hangups. Every time I turn around on here I feel like I am telling you about something I don’t really love, or didn’t used to like, but whatever, I’m evolving. Gazpacho is a cold soup. Weird, and usually no thank you, especially since people looooooove to serve it in a shot glass, and in case you missed it, I DO NOT DRINK FOODS. I drink drinks, and I eat foods. I need a spoon with my soup. It is a food. BUT, as it turns out, my mom makes a really good, really crowd pleasing gazpacho. And she serves it in a bowl with a spoon. And with croutons. I think the croutons are what actually won me over.

This is so very easy. Essentially, most everything goes in the food processor, and that is the end of that. The only extra step is to blanch the tomatoes first to remove the skins, which takes less than a minute, and to make the croutons, which while technically are “optional” they are not at all optional and you definitely need to make them. Get some bread, it doesn’t even have to be good bread, any bread will do. Slice it about an inch thick, then cut it into cubes. Brown them in olive oil on top of the stove, or toss them with the oil and stick them in the oven until they get brown. Sprinkle them with salt – croutons! Make a bunch and keep them in tupperware for salads or soup or snacks. It will be the best thing you’ve ever done.

In addition to the croutons, I added avocado as a garnish and I do not regret it. I also added some Sun Gold cherry tomatoes because I had them. I hope Mom approves. The avocado in particular was top notch.

Basically, this is super easy. Make it while the tomatoes are still good. Hurry.

Mom’s Gazpacho (serves at least 6)

2 large tomatoes (about two pounds) (I actually used three medium Brandywines to get two pounds worth.)

One cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped

One green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and roughly chopped

One roasted red pepper (from a jar is fine!) roughly chopped

One medium onion, roughly chopped

1 1/2 cups tomato juice

1 1/2 tsp hot sauce (or more to taste)

1/3 cup olive oil

1/3 cup red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper to taste (be generous with both!)

Croutons for garnish (and avocado, if you have it.)

Cut an X into the base of each tomato, and blanch in boiling water for about 15 seconds. The skins will peel off very easily. Remove the skins and the cores of each tomato.

In a food processor (you will likely need to do it in a couple batches, unless you have a giant, industrial sized food processor) combine all ingredients through the hot sauce, and process until almost smooth. (This is a matter of preference. I like it to be almost a purée, but if you like it a little chunkier, that’s fine! Run it through the processor for less time.)

Combine the vegetable mixture in a large bowl and add the olive oil, vinegar and the salt and pepper. Taste for additional salt, pepper or hot sauce to your liking. Chill well and serve very cold with croutons to garnish. Enjoy!!

All the thoughts…

1. I just finished reading Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker and it was amazing. It was remarkably funny considering it is a book about a mentally ill, suicidal woman that goes home with the intention of ruining her identical twin sister’s wedding. It was witty, exhausting and really really lovely. I got it from Emily Books, an independent bookstore that sells e-books. They pick one book a month, often unknown books by women, that they feel very strongly about. It’s kind of great. And this book is so good. Read it.

2. Have I mentioned how I feel about Candy Crush yet? Basically it’s good that you have a limit five lives before they have to refuel, because without that break I could probably play Candy Crush for ever and ever nonstop, amen.

3. FOOTBALL. It’s back, and I am watching, and Wes Welker is a Bronco. That’s weird. He just dropped a fair catch kick return though. Oops. Good thing he’s not on my team.

4. This is wonderful.

Be good to one another.

Stocking up for the New Year…Chicken, Beef and Vegetable Stock

Essentials for the new year...

Essentials for the new year…

Hola nerds!

How I have missed you! It has been a busy fall and winter, blah blah blah, excuses, blah, blah, travel, blah, unitentional hiatus…

Now that I have cleared that up, what’s new with you? I hope all has been well!

My brother recently said that I needed to post something asap, because he was really tired of looking at wings. I did not know that my brother was actually visiting the blog, but since he is, I certainly don’t want to cause fatigue and lose him as a reader, so here I am with a new post. This may not actually be what he had in mind, but beggars can’t be choosers.

This one is really more about technique, as there are myriad ways to make stock and pretty much all of them have already been documented on the interwebs, so instead of considering this a recipe, consider it a friendly reminder/suggestion. Make stock, put it in the freezer, use it until you run out, make stock again. Repeat ad infinitum. The work involved is minimal and the payoff is HUGE. The flavor is better than what you get in the store, your house will smell good while you make it, and people will be impressed. Actually, those three reasons pretty much make up the sum total of my rationale for cooking at all…

I value my “stock”pile (ahahahaha) so much that it is the only frozen item that made the move to my new place with me. I make the stock and let it cool and then measure two cup quantities in to quart-sized ziploc bags. Then each stock bag goes into a second ziploc bag to prevent freezer burn. Label with the type of stock, the quantity and the date, and there you go. This is not the most environmentally friendly storage method, but it is the best storage method, and if you label the INSIDE bag, you can use the outside bag again. (Label the bag before you add the stock. This is probably obvious to most, but in case it’s not, take it from me…) (Also, I know you are looking at the photo and saying “but Meghan, those don’t look like ziploc bags…” and you would be correct, but ziploc bags don’t photograph particularly well, so I dirtied some extra dishes for you. You are welcome…) Freezer bags are the best storage because they can be laid flat and stacked on top of each other in the freezer to maximize space. Two cups is a good amount because if you are making soup or risotto, two bags will typically do the trick, and if you need less than that, you will likely be able to use the rest of what you defrosted without it getting lost in the back of your refrigerator for many moons and going to waste…though maybe that kind of thing never happens to you, in which case, carry on.

the beginnings of beef stock

the beginnings of beef stock

Stock is pretty much the same regardless of type – the main ingredients, the aromatics and water get simmered together for enough time that the water becomes rich flavorful stock rather than boring, flavorless water. Which aromatics and vegetables you choose can depend on the stock you are making, but for the most part, if you have the holy trinity of cooking: onions, carrots and celery, and perhaps some garlic and herbs, you have what it takes. For chicken stock I like to make sure I add thyme, bay leaves, lots of peppercorns and, sometimes, ginger, to brighten it up. For lobster stock I like to add fennel and some tomato paste because they are so suited to lobster, and for vegetable stock I like to add mushrooms, because they deepen the flavor and add the umami-ness that is important when you aren’t including meat. The rules are the same: bring everything to a gentle boil, then reduce the temperature and let the goodness simmer for a couple hours until it’s stock. In the case of beef stock, you want to avoid boiling at all – you just want to bring it to and keep it at a simmer instead – but otherwise, the process is the same.

Make stock my darlings, if you’ve never done it before, it will revolutionize your cooking.

In other news…my 10 things:

I don’t like asking for things, but this one’s for Shania – I am so lucky to call her my homie: http://www.fundraiseforbcrf.org/faf/search/searchTeamPart.asp?ievent=1021963&team=5354081

BostonGLOW: an amazing organization that I am proud to be a part of…small now, but I’m certain it won’t be small for long…

My album of the moment is really not an album at all, just a playlist of ridiculous Top 40 amazingness.

What I am reading: I just finished Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. Amazing and heartbreaking.

I want Tina and Amy to be my best friends. http://tv.yahoo.com/blogs/2013-golden-globes/tina-fey-amy-poehler-dazzle-hilarious-golden-globes-014640389.html

Pitch Perfect might be my new favorite movie. Best. Ever.

I guess I have to root for the 49ers in the Super Bowl? Not how I hoped that would go.

Resolutions are tricky, so I am setting goals instead. Because those will totally be easier. Financial, Work, Personal, Fitness, B&G, they’re all covered…we’ll see how it goes. Happy New Year!

It’s the beginning of free week at the casa! If you are new around here, free week is when I decide not to buy any groceries, and just fashion dinners out of what I have in the house. I did cheat and buy eggs today, but I figured that didn’t count, because you can practically buy eggs with pocket change. The menu for free week includes: Penne with fennel, tomatoes and olives inspired by this, cowboy beans from here, spaghetti carbonara (I think I might have figured out how to make this work every time! I will share) meatloaf, soy sesame noodles and sweet pea ravioli with pecorino romano. As you can see, it was high time for a free week. It will not be much of a sacrifice.

I guess that was only nine things…until next time, my lovelies…

Here’s to 2013. I have high hopes.

Be good to one another.

And to the recipes we go…

Beef Stock

Vegetable Stock

Basic Chicken Stock (makes about 3 quarts)

4-5 lbs chicken wings

2 medium onions, quartered

2 large carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

2 celery stalks, peeled and roughly chopped

6 cloves garlic, unpeeled

Handful of fresh parsley

2 dried bay leaves

1 tsp peppercorns

Add all ingredients to a large pot with 4 quarts of water. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for two or two and a half hours. Strain the stock through cheese cloth, and store for future use.

Feel free to add leeks if you have them, ginger if you would like to add a little zip and bright flavor or thyme if you want a more herby flavor.

Winter Cure-All – Pasta e Fagioli…

Memorandum

To: 2011

From: Your humble servant, Meghan Claire Hargraves the First

Re: Ummm, seriously?

2011, can we talk? Just for a minute? I mean, I don’t want to trouble you or anything, I know you’re new at this, and you haven’t had much time to figure stuff out yet, but I just gotta tell you, YOU. ARE. THE. WORST. Honestly, I’m kind of flabbergasted. I had such high hopes for you, such big plans, but in this first couple of weeks you have totally blown it.

Don’t worry though, I am giving you a second chance. You officially get a re-do. Starting tomorrow morning, if you can get it together, I am happy to forget these first awful moments ever happened. So hop to it! I expect results in the morning. Your first improvement could be the weather, because this is gross.

Best of luck,

MCH numero Uno

Speaking of the weather, there are a few other things I would like to have a few words with:

1. Faneuil Hall: Listen Faneuil, I know you are historic and crap, but the puddles! Ohhh, the untraversable puddles.

2. Timberland Hiking Boots: It seems you are neither waterproof, nor provide good traction in bad weather. So seriously, what is the point? I promise, I’m not in this for your looks.

3. City of Boston: Sidewalks actually have the word WALK right in it. I feel, therefore, that I should be able to do just that without risking grievous bodily harm. Please advise.

On days like these sometimes the only answer is soup.

comfort in a bowl

Before I tell you where this came from, I want to tell you how delicious and hearty and quick and easy and just as perfect leftover it is. Because it is definitely all of those things. I used to make this A LOT. At least once a month I think, and it would make a good dinner or two and then lots of excellent lunches. It freezes perfectly. The only noticeable difference between the freshly made version and the leftover version is that the pasta continues to soak up the liquid, so what is a soup at the beginning is really more of a stew upon reheating. And if your reaction to that is OH! That’s what Rachel Ray would call a stoup! I say to you, first GAH! because that is a wretched word that makes me gag a little and also she drives me totally crazy and the mere sight of her leaves me quaking with rage, and second, I KNOW, because guess where I found this recipe (hanging my head in shame.) Indeed, this is a Ray Ray special. In my defense, when 30 minute meals was a brand new infant show I think I was in college. And it was actually a great idea. Start to finish in 30 minutes, who couldn’t use ideas like that? The problem I have with it now is not only that increased exposure to Ms. Ray has left me fighting off murderous urges at the mention of her name, but also and perhaps more problematic, there are just not enough different things that can be done start to finish in 30 minutes to have enough material for eleventy seasons of that show, or however many there are. Frying ground beef and dumping it on a bed of lettuce is not only NOT A MEAL (in that vein, please go on to the food network website and search for her recipe for bacon in the microwave, because, I kid you not, it’s on there) but also, is GROSS. And even though you are using a slightly different cut of meat and a slightly different variation on a pan sauce, it is still pan fried beef with a pan sauce,  not a totally different meal. Also, she is crazy annoying.

Where was I? This soup. It’s good, and so I have to give Rach a little credit for that. The ingredients are all ones you may even already have on hand, or are so easy to find. And while I couldn’t do this in exactly 30 minutes or less (VERY easily distracted) it was pretty close. There is a lot of flavor, but nothing weird to scare picky eaters or children, and while I use bacon and chicken stock, you could do it without the bacon and use a good veggie stock and it would probably be a pretty good vegetarian option.

It all starts in a familiar fashion…

onions, carrots, celery, garlic, olive oil

But actually, that’s misleading, because it should start with bacon and olive oil. I forgot. Luckily for me, I remembered before the soup was finished and I cooked the bacon in a separate pan and when it was starting to get brown and crispy I dumped that and the rendered fat into the pan. I have not noticed a difference in enjoyment thus far.

Next in goes herbs. I usually use rosemary and thyme, but if you can believe it, the grocery store did not have thyme, so I bought a poultry mix because that was sure to have thyme in it. Who cooks poultry without thyme, right?? Well, apparently, every farm in the area of this particular herb vendor was out of thyme because there was none in the poultry packet either. Dumb. So I threw some parsley in there because I had it, but I don’t usually use it because we all know how I feel about parsley.

avec les fines herbes...

Let the herbs wilt for a minute or so then add crushed tomatoes. Stir for a couple of minutes to let the flavors combine and then in goes the beans. Two cans of cannellini beans (I don’t drain them first) then a quart of chicken stock and two cups of water. That’s pretty much it, we’re almost done.

looks almost good enough already, no?

The last step is to bring this mixture to a boil, then add a couple handfuls of small pasta, I like ditalini-not least because it’s fun to say, but elbows would be fine, or orecchiette or orzo or whatevs. I tend to think I haven’t added enough pasta because it sort of disappears in there, but I warn you, the pasta seems to multiply like rabbits. You need less than you think. If you are heavy handed with the pasta this will quickly become small pasta with bean and vegetable sauce. Not necessarily a bad thing, but not exactly the intention. I served this with a cheesy crouton. If you have to ask why you probably don’t know me very well or shouldn’t bother getting to know me, because that is a ridiculous question.

You can't get me down that easy, 2011...

So there you go, make yourself feel better. Make this.

Before I get to the recipe, I have some closing thoughts…(surprise!) And in honor of Peter King and Monday Morning Quarterback, here are ten things I think I think…

1. I wrote the memo to 2011 on Tuesday night. It is now Thursday. I dare say, I may have gotten my point across! I mean yesterday morning? I found THIS. Things are looking up! If that was not written just for me I don’t know what was. I am already saving for my miniature animal farm. There will be goats and pigs and cows and I will live among them and practically die of cuteness. One of the pigs will be named Goliath.

2. My current favorite song is “Dog Days Are Over” by Florence + the Machine. Try to be in a bad mood when you are listening to this song. It’s impossible.

3. I’ve been trying out something new for 2011. I am trying to train myself to sleep seven hours a night instead of eight, because otherwise there aren’t enough hours in the day. This mostly just results in me turning off my alarm in the morning and sleeping for another half hour, so it’s going well.

4. They say that not washing your hair everyday is good for your head suit and, incidentally, frees up some time in the morning. I am also trying this in 2011. It may or may not be related to number 3. (Editor’s note: It is totally related.)

5. I started taking classes at at dance studio near me. AWESOME. I’ve taken Zumba, which is sort of a combination of Latin and Indian dance. Lots of booty shaking and stuff. Add a hint of ballroom dancing (unintentional) random toe pointing and an inclination to move my arms in ballerina style and you’ve pretty much got an entire class made of my Saturday night party moves. It’s awesome. I’ve also taken hip hop. This is more of a struggle. My ability to memorize step sequences has diminished significantly in the last 16 years. Also, I can’t move my arms in any coordinated manner while also moving my legs in a coordinated manner. I suspected this all along.

6. Oh Patriots, I was counting on a few more glorious games. And the JETS? Really? That is like the bullies winning in an afterschool special. That is not supposed to happen.

7. I am sometimes taken aback by the awesomeness of my friends. I am very lucky.

8. My second class has started. I still love being in school, but this one, I suspect, is going to be a smidge more difficult. My hand hurt from frantic note taking after last Monday. Those muscles have apparently atrophied.

9. This has been a particularly snowy winter already, right? Also, what happened to having to wait until you woke up in the morning to find out the big surprise that you didn’t have school (which happened pretty much never. We ALWAYS had school.) The kids up here knew they didn’t have school today at 4pm yesterday.

10. 10 things is a lot of things to think…but once again, my mantra for 2011: Be good to each other.

Pasta e Fagioli (serves 4-6)

adapted from Rachel Ray

2 tbls olive oil

4 slices of bacon cut into 3/4 inch pieces

2 (4 to 6-inch) sprigs rosemary, stems intact

1 (4 to 6-inch) sprig thyme, stems intact

2 dried bay leaves

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 small carrots, finely chopped

1 rib celery, finely chopped

4 large cloves garlic, chopped

Coarse salt and pepper

2 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans

1 cup canned crushed tomatoes

2 cups water

4 cups chicken stock

2 handfuls ditalini pasta (or other small dried pasta)

Heat a deep pot over medium high heat and add oil and bacon. Brown the bacon pieces lightly, and add herb stems, bay leaf, chopped vegetables, and garlic. Season vegetables with salt and pepper. Add tomatoes, beans water, and stock to pot and raise heat to high. Bring soup to a rapid boil and add pasta. Reduce heat to medium and cook soup, stirring occasionally, 6 to 8 minutes or until pasta is cooked. Remove herb stems and bay leaf from soup. Let soup rest and begin to cool for a few minutes. Ladle soup into bowls serve. Freezes beautifully.

Cooking outside the box – Chicken and White Bean Chili and Skillet Corn Bread…

look at me getting artsy...

I am trying all sorts of new things these days…despite all my years of eating, and my several years of serious cooking, I have never made chili. I suspect it was because I have never been all that interested in chili. (The secrets come out on this blog my friends, I have always said there was not much in this world I wouldn’t eat, except for, until recently, curries of any kind, but what I didn’t often share was that there were many things that I would never order and would often avoid, things I didn’t gravitate towards, if you will…chili was on that list. All this is changing.)

I roasted a chicken the other night. It was Joel Robuchon’s method, it was good, and I intend to discuss it, but the pictures are god-awful, so I avoid. At any rate, I had one of the thighs for dinner, and the wings as snacks, so I had most of the chicken left. I already have some chicken pot pies in the freezer, and I am not eating pasta until Sunday (oh happy day) so chicken tetrazzini was out, so I decided on white bean and chicken chili. Of all the chilis in all the world, that is the one I am on occasion tempted to order, so I figured that would be a good place to start my chili cooking experiences. I perused the interwebs, and saw that there were many variations, but the basics were shredded chicken, white beans, cumin, and spice of some kind. With that knowledge, I decided to just go for it. My first attempt was not too shabby.

It started with some toasted chiles.

toasty

I have a lot of these little red dried chiles, and I think they came from an economy sized package that my dad picked up at the Asian supermarket. I toasted a handful, let them cool and then ground them up in my spice grinder. And then I did the same for cumin seeds. Then comes the real stuff.

onions, garlic, jalapeno...

I sautéed onions and garlic and a whole jalapeno in olive oil. I then added two teaspoons of the ground chiles, and one teaspoon of red pepper flakes that I crushed a little bit with the mortar and pestle.

bring the heat.

I stirred in a 1/4 cup flour and let it cook for a minute. I wanted to make sure the final product was more stew like than soup like. I liked the results. Next the beans. I boiled and soaked dried navy beans, drained them and added them in along with 6 cups of chicken stock.

getting there

Then I added the chicken. I am guessing it was three to four cups. I didn’t measure, and I am sorry about that. It filled the small bowl that is part of my measuring bowl set. It is larger than a cereal bowl. Like I said earlier, it was two chicken breasts, one whole leg, one drumstick, plus all the little bits you can pull off the bones of a carved chicken. If you wanted to do this without starting from a roasted chicken, I would bake two whole chicken legs and two breasts and go from there. That would probably be about right. You could also do four breasts and use all white meat. That would get you where you wanted to be too, I suspect. Any way, I shredded it with my hands and threw it in.

chicken-y

Then I brought it to a boil, let it cook for an hour or so, added 1 3/4 tsp of the ground cumin (I read in a couple of places that ground cumin doesn’t really hold up when cooked for a long time, so I played it safe and added it in with only about an hour left. I have no idea if that made one iota of difference, but it tasted good at the end) and let it cook some more. Molly was coming for dinner, so after it simmered for about two hours total, I turned the heat off and let it sit and thicken for a bit. I reheated it when she got here and it was a delight. This definitely had some heat. It was back of the mouth heat, but it wasn’t too spicy at all. I suspect if you really liked spicy you could add more, but it might unfavorably screw with the balance of flavors. I liked it this way. I served it with minced onion, sour cream, cotija cheese and avocado when we had it for dinner, and then next day, when I reheated it for lunch and a photo session, I was out of avocado, so I topped it with cotija, sour cream and pickled red onions, and it was tasty. These things almost always improve the second day.

I love those bowls, they remind me of my trip to Granada...

Cotija cheese is great. Really salty and crumbly and perfect for this, though cheddar or jack would be good too. If you have a large Latin population in your area look for cotija in the dairy section of your grocery store. It is delightful.

Chicken and White Bean Chili (serves at least 6)

1 lb dried white navy beans (cannellini would work too)

3 tbl olive oil

2 medium onions diced (about a 1/3 cup reserved for serving)

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 good-sized jalapeno (including seeds), minced

2 tsp ground chiles (I have no idea how this compares to chili powder, so tread lightly if you are subbing.)

1 tsp red pepper flakes, crushed with a mortar and pestle or the back of a spoon

1/4 cup flour

6 cups chicken stock

3-4 cups shredded chicken

1 3/4 tsp ground cumin

salt and pepper to taste

For garnish:

minced onion

avocado

grated cheese (I like cotija)

sour cream

pickled red onions

Cover beans with water and bring to a boil. Boil for two minutes, turn off heat and cover. Let soak for two hours, then drain and set aside. Heat olive oil over medium heat in large heavy pot or dutch oven. Add onion and soften for 2-3 minutes. Add garlic and jalapeno and cook another 2-3 minutes until pepper softens. Add ground chiles and red pepper flakes and stir to combine. Add flour and stir to let flour cook for 30 seconds to a minute. Add drained beans and chicken stock. Raise heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, add chicken, and let simmer for an hour or so, stirring occasionally, scraping the bottom to prevent burning. Add the ground cumin, salt and pepper to taste. Continue to simmer for another hour or so. Serve right away, or better yet, turn off the heat and let the chili cool and thicken. Reheat and serve with garnishes.

delicious

I served the chili with skillet cornbread.

Cornbread with scallions

I got the recipe from Gourmet.com and modified it to include scallions because I wanted to. It is very easy. You stir together the dry ingredients, then whisk together buttermilk, eggs and the scallions, preheat a 10″ cast iron skillet in a hot oven, melt the butter in the skillet and then whisk it into the wet ingredients, combine them all, pour in the skillet and bake.

batter (that word doesn't look right...)

It was delicious, as cornbread is wont to be. Here is the recipe.

Skillet Corn Bread with Scallions (serves 8 ish)

Adapted from Gourmet.com

1 1/2 cups yellow cornmeal (preferably stone-ground)

1 tbl sugar

3/4 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

2 large eggs

1 3/4 cups cups well-shaken buttermilk (do not use powdered)

1 bunch scallions trimmed and sliced thin (white and green parts)

1/2 stick unsalted butter

Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in middle. Heat skillet in oven 10 minutes.Meanwhile stir together dry ingredients in small bowl. Whisk together eggs buttermilk and scallions in a medium bowl. Remove hot skillet from oven (handle will be very hot) and add butter, swirling skillet to coat bottom and side (butter may brown). Whisk hot butter into buttermilk mixture and return skillet to oven. Stir cornmeal mixture into buttermilk mixture just until evenly moistened but still lumpy. Scrape batter into hot skillet and bake until golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

Also, while I’m here, a quick note on pickled vegetables. I like to have pickled vegetables around because if you do something substantial like cauliflower (which I heartily recommend) they make a good snack, and things like radishes (my favorite) or onions are great garnishes. I had some radishes and I thought I would take some pictures of them

like this

and this

and then I thought I would pickle them. Since I was making the liquid anyway, I went looking for other things to pickle and was able to dig out some carrots and red onion, so I used those.

the colors are so Easter-y

The pickling liquid for this was three cups of water, 3/4 cup of rice vinegar, 1 1/2 cups sugar and a 1/4 cup plus a 1/2 tbl kosher salt. Dissolve the salt and the sugar, boil it, and pour it over your vegetables of choice. Double it if you have a lot to pickle. These keep forever.

And while I am still here, I thought I would share a predicament. I don’t have a microwave. Actually, I do have a microwave, but it is sitting, unplugged, on top of my refrigerator because I don’t have a good place to put it. I very rarely miss it. Except for today, because I have left over shrimp and grits in the fridge and I can’t think of a good way to reheat them that does not involve the microwave. Is it worth moving it? Only time will tell.

Comfort classic – Tomato Soup…

yum.

So I have some hangups (I know, you are shocked…)

I would like to think I am a pretty low stress, go with the flow kind of girl. And I know, at times, I am. Like the other night, when I was diligently frosting the very top tier of my very favorite cousin’s wedding cake after midnight on Christmas day, and somehow, I still don’t know how, the entire top tier ended up on the floor of my parents’ kitchen. It was like someone sucked the air out of the room. It was the emptiest silence I have ever heard. I looked down, and saw that luckily, the three beautiful layers with their blackberry buttercream filling had landed right side up still on their cardboard base, and that only the bottom layer had been smushed under the weight of the top two. I didn’t blink, I just picked up those top two tiers, straightened them out and put them gently on a new cardboard home, and went on my merry way. AND I DIDN’T EVEN CRY! If that is not low stress and go with the flow, then I am not sure such traits exist.

There are certain things, however, by which I just can’t abide. One of those things, my lovelies, is drinking things that are meant to be eaten. My dad has these adorable european style wine glasses that he uses for tastings at the store. He gave me a couple and they are just perfect for a glass of wine when you just want a little bit, or when you are cooking and don’t want to risk knocking over one of your stemmed glasses. They are very lovely for using them as intended, however, one time when I was home recently, he handed me a little glass of what appeared to be disturbingly thick and grey looking wine. It was my first course, a small amuse of white bean soup. Served without a spoon. I can tolerate a lot of things, but, umm, no. Soup is a FOOD, it is not a beverage. It is nourishing and sating, not refreshing and thirst quenching. It is to be eaten, not drunk* (edited-thanks Gram! I am not sure when I was supposed to have learned that, but if it was in 9th grade, I am sol, my teacher was, quite ironically, a drunk who barely made it to class. No wonder I had never read much Henry James before this weekend.) At any rate,  I am mocked for this by my dad to this day, but I needed a spoon. The soup was delicious, as are all things my dad cooks, but I am not sure I could have choked it down if I was forced to drink it. The thought gives me chills. No one has to point out that this is the dumbest hang up in the world. I am aware, but it is a hang up nonetheless. There are more inconvenient ones, undoubtedly, so I am ok with it. I just avoid those little passed gazpachos that always seem to show up in shot glasses at weddings and cocktail parties. Shudder.

That was pretty rambly wasn’t it? Welcome to my blog. These tales of woe actually have absolutely nothing to do with the most amazing tomato soup I have made recently, save to assure you that every time I have eaten it, is has been with a spoon, like any decent person would.

I love love love grilled cheese and tomato soup. It is one of the most comforting meals I can imagine. I am not sure how that came about, since I don’t recall eating it when I was little, but somewhere along the way I tried the combo, and it has become one of my most sought for meals when I am having a crapfest of a day. My standard for grilled cheese has always been white bread with Land O Lakes white American cheese. These I do remember from my youth. I have always loved grilled cheese, it is just the tomato soup part that came later. I may have picked it up in college, when the grilled cheese had been updated to mozzarella cheese. A mozzarella grilled cheese dipped in tomato soup is heaven. You should try it. Even though at that point, the soup was likely the canned variety. I suspect I made it homemade once or twice, but if I had to bet, most of the time it was the condensed kind in the red and white can. I would add some milk and be off to the races. And most of the time, it was just an outlet for dipping grilled cheese. When I ran out of sandwich, I lost interest in the soup, and would ditch the rest of it. All of that has changed. I have found a tomato soup that is so glorious that I ate a whole bowl of it by itself, with no sandwich in sight. It happened today at lunch as a matter of fact. And after I was finished, I continued to scrape the bottom of the bowl with my spoon to get any remaining drops of flavor. Had I been at home instead of in my cube, I might have licked the bowl.

I have also thoroughly enjoyed it on several occasions with grilled cheeses with mild cheddar on ciabatta, and grilled cheeses with monterey jack and sharp cheddar on homemade sandwich bread, as you will see from the photos, but certainly the most exciting part is how delicious it is without those things, and how much I like it anyway.

This soup is a modification of a soup originally from Cooks Illustrated, but I found it on Smitten Kitchen. I am not totally comfortable with Cooks Illustrated and ATK. Sometimes their stuff just seems so overwrought. I don’t quite know what to make of it, except that it pretty much always ends up worth it, so they clearly know something I don’t. This recipe has some steps that I just didn’t do (and neither did Deb from Smitten Kitchen – and so I didn’t even include them in my version of the recipe) and I can pretty much guarantee, my soup was no worse for the wear. But overall it really is delicious, and the recipe did suggest the very novel idea of roasting canned tomatoes to intensify flavor. Which makes sense, because tomatoes are at their best in the summer, but cream of tomato soup is most definitely a cold weather food.

It starts with butter, shallots and tomato paste and the old standby, ras el-hanout…I need to get more of that and stat.

butter. shallot. tomato paste. also, ras el-hanout.

Actually, back it up, it starts this way…

tomatoes.

Drain the tomatoes, and seed them over the strainer. Then they go onto a cookie sheet with some brown sugar for roasting. Once the liquid has evaporated and the tomatoes are starting to brown they come out of the oven to cool. Then the butter, shallots, tomato paste and ras el-hanout in a saucepan. Once the shallots are soft, you add flour, chicken stock, the reserved juice from the tomatoes, and the roasted tomatoes. The soup gets boiled until the flavors combine, and then the whole mixture gets pureed with an immersion blender (this is where I strayed from ATK) and then cream and brandy are added.  Voila. Totally delicious.

brandy and cream. oh my.

Aside from the roasting of the tomatoes, the soup only takes about a half hour and is just so good. As I mentioned, most of the time my soup is accompanied by a tasty grilled cheese. The first go round, it was mild cheddar on ciabatta bread, which was really good, the second time, I had been oh so old-timey and I had made my own loaf of white sandwich bread, so I used that. Both times, there was mustard. I love mustard on my grilled cheese. That is a little trick I picked up from an ex-boyfriend, and I must say, I have to thank him for that. The other thing I picked up from him was an unflagging devotion to the Red Sox and Patriots, which sometimes feels more like a communicable disease, but the mustard was a great thing. Delicious.

First attempt.

Second attempt.

So before I leave you to find something else to read – this is getting totally out of control, yesterday, I read A Homemade Life in its entirety, and then this morning I went back through and post-it noted all the recipes I want to try. I am going to be busy – I want to share my latest adventure here with you. We here at Bread & Ginger (and by we I mean me) are embarking on a free week(s). Free week is a little something I picked up while I was getting my act together and living with my aunt and uncle. My aunt has a tendency, like me, to stock up on a bunch of things at the grocery store, and then instead of planning and using it all up, ends up supplementing all the time, until there is a surplus of food in the house. And then she would institute a free week, in which she (and by extension, me) couldn’t buy anything for a week, and we just had to use what was in the house. It is both mortifying and satisfying that I am quite certain I can go two full work weeks from now and still have enough food to feed a small army. So I am having a free week. I am going to have to be creative, but I had my first very successful attempt at it tonight with a dinner of chickpeas with red onion and parmesan. What a revelation! When I bought six cans of chickpeas at Costco a couple of weeks ago I didn’t even know I liked them! If you wonder why I bought them at that point, I will agree that is a very good question, and a good illustration of why, when I told Molly I had gone to the grocery store, her first reaction was “no! You know you are not supposed to go there unsupervised!” But they were  good! So good in fact, that they will get their own blog post soon enough. And in case free week sounds dreadful and boring, I am going to supplement it with tales of cakes and flat breads that I made for brunch this weekend, so stay tuned. I will leave you now, as dishes and bed are calling my name.

Cream of Tomato Soup (serves 6)

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, which in turn adapted it from The America’s Test Kitchen Cookbook.

2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice, drained, 3 cups juice reserved

1 1/2 tbls dark brown sugar

4 tbls unsalted butter

2 large shallots, minced (about 1/2 cup) (so here’s the thing, in the original recipe they call for four large shallots. That is A LOT of shallot, way more than 1/2 cup. I adjusted)

1 tbl tomato paste

1 tbl ras el-hanout

2 tbls all-purpose flour

1 3/4 cups chicken stock, homemade or canned low-sodium

1/2 cup heavy cream

2 tbls brandy or dry sherry

Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 450°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil. With fingers, carefully open whole tomatoes over strainer set in bowl and remove seeds, and reserve strained juices. Spread seeded tomatoes in single layer on foil and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake until all liquid has evaporated and the edges of the tomatoes begin to brown, about 30 minutes. Let tomatoes cool slightly, then peel them off foil; transfer to small bowl and set aside.

Heat butter over medium heat in large saucepan or dutch oven, add shallots, tomato paste and ras el-hanout. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Whisk in flour and stir constantly until combined, about 30 seconds. Whisk in chicken stock; stir in reserved tomato juice and roasted tomatoes. Cover, increase heat to medium, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until flavors combine, about 10 minutes.

Puree soup until fairly smooth with an immersion blender. Add cream and simmer for a minute to allow flavors to combine. Turn off heat and add brandy and serve. Soup freezes and reheats well (I even did it in the microwave with no ill effects.)

In which I…

Look what I got!

my new toy...

my new toy...

It’s a wok! Better yet even, it’s my Gram’s wok. I recommend procuring some of your Gram’s stuff if she is finished with it and willing to give it to you. If you have a Gram. If not, get one of those too, they are fantastic. Grammie wasn’t using her wok anymore, and so now I have it. And I love it. I especially love it because it belonged to Grammie. There is something exceptionally cool about using cookware that predates the time that I learned to love to cook. I also have some of her old Fine Cooking magazines from back before I was grown up enough to have my own subscription, and I discovered the other day that she wrote notes in the margins when she tried the recipes. It is the greatest thing ever. I love that I have them, and I love that I know that the lemon curd recipe in one particular Fine Cooking did not set up, and that I should use Martha Stewart’s recipe. So I shall.

So in honor of my new (sort of) wok, I made fried rice last week. And it was pretty tasty. I had all sorts of vegetables lying around, and I had picked up some pork chops.

The mis en place...

The mis en place...

And I had made rice the night before, so I was ready to go. Fried rice is nice because anything goes. I had corn this time, which I don’t usually put in fried rice, but I will again, because it was great. Sometimes I just do fried rice with pork and mushrooms, sometimes I do it without any meat, and sometimes I have an abundance of things to put in it, like I did this night. As long as you have garlic, ginger, rice, scallions and soy sauce, you are good to go as far as fried rice is concerned. And it happens that I pretty much always have all of these things. Especially since I went to the Chinese supermarket and stocked up on ginger. I don’t think I will have to buy it again for a year. Here’s a good tip: keep the ginger in the freezer. It is way easier to grate, and it doesn’t get stringy, and it lasts forever, and it takes just a minute or two to defrost it if you need to cut a large chunk off. It’s perfect. Try it. Go on. I’ll wait.

Stir frying is hard to photograph, because it moves so quickly, so I will just describe it to you. I marinated the strips of pork with soy sauce, ginger, garlic and scallions for a short time. I heated up the wok and cooked that almost to finished first. It came out and in went the beaten eggs for a quick cook. I took those out and added them to the bowl with the pork. More oil in the wok, the rest of the aromatics, then the veggies, then the rice, pork, eggs and soy sauce. Done. Quick and easy and tasty left over.

finished

finished

Then the weekend came and was sort of a mess. You know how sometimes, you are doing really well, and eating pretty healthily, limiting cocktail calorie consumption, running, you know, generally taking care of yourself, and then occasionally you fall off the wagon and order a sandwich with french fries for lunch instead of a salad? And you feel kind of bad, but then you go back to your healthy ways and all is well. And then you know how sometimes you are doing really well and being healthy and then the train totally derails and jumps the track and you find yourself eating nothing but crap and having lots of delicious snacks and cocktails for like three days? That is sort of what happened this past weekend. I had pizza, twice. There was a dinner party that involved gimlets, gruner veltliner, and dancing until two am. There was about a loaf worth of bread and toast and butter. And there wasn’t so much running. It wasn’t pretty. The only redeeming thing I did all weekend was make squash soup on Sunday night, so I will dwell on that, as too much reminiscing about the other stuff may make the caboose jump the track again.

I had gotten some fantastic squash from the farmer’s market last week. I roasted it Sunday morning, and let it cool. I had errands to do and friends to see on Sunday, and then I came home Sunday night and made soup. I knew I wouldn’t eat it Sunday night because I wasn’t hungry (Sunday was a pizza day) and that I was volunteering Monday night and would need something quick when I got home. (Monday night volunteering was at Community Servings, which is a fantastic organization that makes meals for critically ill patients and their families, which I love being a part of, except that my task was cubing pounds and pounds of boiled turkey breast. I think I will request to work with vegetables next time.) Here is the beginning…

roasted

roasted

I roasted butternut and delicata squash with just olive oil, salt and pepper, until they were soft enough to pierce with a knife. I like the combo of butternut and delicata. Delicata is pretty and yellow and sweet, so it is nice with the earthier flavor of butternut. I sauteed onions, garlic and sage until the onions were soft, and then I used the last four cups of my frozen chicken stock. I could have put ginger in here too, it would have been tasty, but I didn’t think of it at the time. The sage was nice though. Sage and winter squash is a pretty classic combo. I took the peel off the roasted squash, cut it into pieces and dumped it in the stock.

the early stages

the early stages

I let that cook until the squash was totally soft, and then I used the immersion blender to puree it. (Immersion blenders are great, you should totally get one.) It was really still more like a puree than a soup, so I added some non-homemade stock (gasp!) that I had, and some cream, until it was the consistency I was going for.

soup

soup

I let it cool and stuck it in the fridge for Monday.

On my way home Monday evening I grabbed some shiitake mushrooms to go with the soup. I really wanted a duck breast too, but the store was out of them. I am kind of obsessed with duck breast at the moment. I have never cooked it myself and I would like to remedy that immediately.

The shiitake were sauteed, the soup was heated, and I treated some creme fraiche to a date with some chinese five spice powder. They got a long beautifully and produced a nice little garnish, and dinner was served.

Not bad for a Monday night...

Not bad for a Monday night...

The other adventures in gastronomy between the fried rice and today include a revisit of the Cod en papillote that Meredith made for me, some take out pad thai with peanut sauce that was mighty tasty, an udon noodle stir fry with red onion, japanese eggplant and cashews, and a turkey club and spicy fries. Never fear though, I found the most gorgeous little eggplants and some lovely asian pears at the farmer’s market this week, so there is lots to come.

And I leave you with this lovely blueberry and peach crisp courtesy of Meredith.

mmmmm...

mmmmm...

It was scrupmty. I need to get my hands on another one of those post haste.

PS: Strange WordPress spell check tally of the day: grate as a verb, sauteed and wok

Of grease fires and comfort food – Chicken Wonton Soup…

As the story goes, I read quite early. I imagine my proud parents thought that this was a harbinger of good things to come, and an indication of my promising potential. As it turns out, I think it was mainly an indication that their oldest child peaked at four. (They’ve managed to hide their disappointment.) Case in point – yesterday, after work, I was attempting the simple tasks of blanching tomatoes and constructing wontons for my soup, and I managed to burn myself, pour boiling water on myself, and start a grease fire. It was really more of a flare up I guess, since no fire engines were called, and my initial shocked reaction of dropping the pot top that I was holding back on to the pan put it out, but still, it could have been ugly. That’ll teach me to cook oil over high heat in a pan that is too small to do such things. So there. You know what? I might make bad decisions regarding cooking with oil, but I can still read the hell out of anything.

The grease fire incident came about because I needed a way to taste test my wonton filling before I created all my soup wontons, and since the filling had raw chicken in it, I needed to cook it to taste it. I decided to make one wonton and cook it like a pot sticker, taste it, and modify the filling accordingly. Oil in the pan, wonton in the oil, brown it up, add water, cover the pan, remove the cover to check on the doneness of your little wonton, watch the oil conflagrate, yelp in fear and dismay, immediately drop the top back on the pan in abject horror (the right thing to do, as it turns out, but certainly not what I was thinking at the time, I’m pretty sure) turn the flame off, thank goodness that your extra sensitive smoke alarm is actually not on the wall where it belongs at the moment, remove wonton from the pan, marvel at the fact that it is not totally incinerated, try to taste for flavors amongst the tangy essence of charred grease, and then season wonton filling appropriately and giggle at your own idiocy. Voila! And all this time I was worried about deep frying, while what I should have been worried about is the perils of cooking with two tablespoons of canola oil. Next time, I think I’ll use the big girl pan, instead of my little bitty 8″ skillet and a high flame. It was an exciting new experience indeed, but not one I need to repeat.

The wonton filling was pretty good, although there is a bit of a bitter taste in there, maybe from the cabbage? that I wasn’t in love with. This was originally masked by the char, methinks. But other than that it was pretty tasty. I made up 16 wontons and have about 800 wontons worth of filling left to freeze for another time.

enough to last a lifetime

enough to last a lifetime

I have absolutely no concept of volume when I am creating. I can’t bother to think of such trivial things!

I used some of the frozen stock from last week,

necessities.

necessities.

added some soy sauce (too much as it turns out I think, and I never thought too much soy sauce was possible) cut up some bok choy,

ready for duty.

ready for duty.

some carrots and scallions and there you have it. Wonton soup, with a little extra goodness from the bok choy and carrots. It was quite tasty, and a lovely, healthy (calories and fat wise, not so much sodium wise) if a little salty soup for dinner. I didn’t measure the soy sauce that I added to the broth, but it was a lot. It was unnecessarily salty, though not unpleasantly so. And since I am a salt-hound, I can only imagine what others would say. I think I would start with one tablespoon of soy sauce for 6 cups of broth, and then add more from there. I got carried away and I am guessing I added about three. Two would have been perfectly sufficient, and that is what my recipe will say…but overall, this was a good, and good old Meredith said she couldn’t think of any way to make it better, so there you go. I knew I would like having her around…

the finished salty product

the finished product

The other task at hand yesterday was blanching approximately 9 pounds of tomatoes that I obtained in my CSA share. I am going to make sauce to freeze and maybe do some canning if I am so emboldened this weekend. I’ve never done that before, I imagine it would be quite the blog post.

I put an X in the bottom of each tomato, to help remove the skin post blanching, and then I got artsy and proceeded to take more pictures than necessary of them.

one

one

two

two

three

three

And that is just a representative sample! I do think tomatoes are particularly gorgeous and fun to take pictures of… and after just a few short minutes and one burn to the arm, they looked like this…

I'll call this one "skinless"

I'll call this one "skinless"

Into the fridge they went for sauce making this weekend, which will be a hoot. Also on tap, fried rice, more roasted beets and some sage pasta experimentation…and a 14 hour marathon of House! Woot! I love long weekends!

Chicken Wonton Soup with Baby Bok Choy (serves 4)

6 cups chicken stock

2 tbls soy sauce

1 tsp grated ginger

16 chicken wontons (or any kind of wontons you would like)

2 heads(?) baby bok choy, trimmed on the top and bottom and halved, then sliced into 1/2 inch pieces

1 large carrot peeled and sliced into rounds

2 scallions, green parts-sliced

Heat chicken stock to a simmer, add soy sauce, ginger, bok choy, carrots and scallions and cook for 5 minutes. Add wontons and cook for another 5 minutes until wontons are cooked through. The skin will become wrinkly and transparent and the wontons will float at the top. Spoon into soup bowls and serve.

Chicken Wontons (makes a kajillion)

One package of wonton skins

1/4 cup water chestnuts, roughly chopped

6 shiitake mushrooms (if dried, reconstitute in boiling water) roughly chopped

2 scallions, white and light green parts, roughly chopped

2 tsp minced ginger

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 cup shredded napa cabbage

1 skinless chicken breast

2 tbls soy sauce

Put the water chestnuts, mushrooms, scallions, ginger, garlic and cabbage in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until mixed and fairly uniform size. Add the chicken and soy sauce, and pulse until chicken is minced. Keep wonton skins covered with a damp paper towel as you are filling them. Lay a wonton skin on a plate and place about 1 tsp of filling in the center. Have a small bowl of water near by. Dip a finger in the water and run it along the edges of the wonton, and then fold one side over the filling to meet the other side. If your wonton skins are square, they should be folded corner to corner to form a triangle. If they are round, you can fold them any which way you would like. Try not to let the filling squeeze out of the edges, as it will interfere with the seal, but press around the filling towards the outer edges gently to get rid of any air bubbles. If you would like, wet one of the corners on the long side of the wonton, and fold it over the meet the opposite corner. Your dumplings will look like this.

wantons for soup

wontons for soup

I prefer wontons folded this way for soup, but if I am cooking them like a pot sticker (that is to say, in the manner to cause a grease fire) I like to leave out the second fold and leave them as triangles. Honestly? Potstickers do not typically cause grease fires. I make them a lot, and never once have I had that experience. Just use a pan that is big enough (a saute pan with slightly higher sides would also be a good bet) heat some oil over medium high, put the dumplings in the pan to brown, add a couple tablespoons of water per batch, cover and turn the heat down as they steam. Once they are cooked through, serve them with soy sauce mixed with a dash of sesame oil and some scallions for dipping and enjoy.

I am guessing the wonton filling will actually be enough for 40 or 50 dumplings, but that is only a guess. I am also guessing that the wontons would freeze pretty well for keeping.

PS: For the entirety of this post, as I was typing, I spelled wonton “wanton.” Not sure if I was feeling particularly wanton, or if this is just another example of the downward trajectory I have been on since the age of four.