Sunday, September 23, 2007

Look what happened!

So, after you make your fabulous chicken stock, you might want to do this: make chicken noodle soup. Boring, you might think. But no. This is important. It's a very simple recipe, once you have homemade stock. (Don't make this if you're going to regress and settle for canned.) It's very economical too. Very healthful as well, if you get good chicken. It's more filling than you'd expect. It's one of those foods that tastes better than it seems possible for it to taste. It's food that reminds us that, if we go through all the steps, life is easy and good.

I used the recipe from Barefoot Contessa Family Style. Her soup recipes are always right.

Chicken Noodle Soup

(serves 4 to 6)

  • 1 whole (2 halves) chicken breast, with skin and bones
  • olive oil
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 quarts homemade chicken stock
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 2 cups wide egg noodles, uncooked
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Place the chicken breast on a sheet pan and rub the skin with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until cooked through. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones, discard the skin, and shred or dice the meat.
  3. Bring the chicken stock to a simmer in a medium-large pot and add the celery, carrots, and noodles. Simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes, until the noodles are cooked. Add the cooked chicken and the parsley and heat through.
  4. Add salt and pepper until it's tasty, and serve.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Stock Matters.

This little guy can make a big difference in your life.

I cooked at home for years before I made my own stock. It just didn't seem like something worth my time. I could buy chicken broth by the carton...what's the difference? I imagined aproned grandmothers puttering between their steaming stoves and pots of petunias all day--not my scene. But then I finally broke down and made a chicken stock, just to experience it, just to try it out. And I can honestly say it improved my food so much that I'm ashamed of myself when I resort to using canned broth for lack of homemade stock in the freezer. Shame on us all for not making more stock!

It's not just that homemade stock's flavor beats canned; you can manipulate the flavor of your own homemade stock the way you can't possibly manipulate a pre-made product. For instance, if you're going to be using the stock in a Vietnamese dish, you might want to add a little cilantro, if you catch my drift. If you love garlic, you might want to toss in a few cloves (or heads). And you can control the quality of your food better. You'll know, because you paid for it, the quality of the chicken you use. If you're down with Tyson, that's your business; I go for something a little more organic. I don't put "scraps" in my stock, as some recipes or cooks will suggest. Basically, I don't put anything in it that I wouldn't eat...and I don't eat onion skins. Another major difference between homemade and canned is the gelatin factor. "Broth" doesn't have the natural gelatin that a stock, made from water-simmered bones, has. You know you have no gelatin in your broth when you refrigerate it and it doesn't "set" into some sort of savory jello-like consistency. And gelatin is what adds the natural body (read: yumminess) to a stock, which in turn adds natural body to your soup, stew, sauce, or whatever you're using it in.

Stock recipes abound; just about every cookbook I've ever seen has a recipe in it for light chicken stock. (FYI, I'm talking light chicken stock here; we're not roasting the bones for a dark chicken stock today. Stay tuned for that one.) I'm including my own procedure, but it's just a starting point. Fiddle around until you find your ideal combination.

Light Chicken Stock

1 chicken (3 to 4 pounds), giblets removed, rinsed

2 carrots, scraped and halved

2 stalks celery, cut crosswise into thirds (including leaves)

1 onion, peeled and halved

10 sprigs parsley

3 sprigs thyme

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns

Put all of the ingredients in a medium to large stockpot and cover the chicken with cold water (about 3 quarts of water should do it). Over medium heat, bring the water to a low simmer; this will take about 40 minutes. During the first 20 minutes or so of simmering, skim off the foam that rises to the top. Simmer uncovered very slowly (i.e., barely-bubbling) for about 3 to 4 hours, or until the liquid is the flavor you like. Discard the big solids, like the chicken and bones, onions, etc. Line a sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth (you can buy this at Target in the gadget aisle) and pour the stock through it into a large bowl or another pot. Discard everything you catch in the cheesecloth. Refrigerate the stock for 5 to 6 hours (or overnight), to give the fat a chance to rise and solidify on the top. Once the fat is solidified, you can take the stock out of the fridge and scoop the fat off with a spoon, discarding it. Then, pack the stock into smaller, recipe-sized containers (usually 2 or 3 cups) and freeze up to 6 months, or refrigerate up to 4 days.

I usually get 2 1/2 quarts of stock from this recipe.

Note: you'll want to let the stock come to room temperature before you measure it for use in recipes. It really does set up.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

woah woah woah pozole!

Yesterday was, yes, too hot to cook soup for hours. But it didn't matter once we got the new issue of Gourmet. You'll see several of the recipes from their articles on Latin food in the next week or two at Soup Loop. Last night belonged to Pozole Rojo...and guess what? This morning we were still in love.

The truth is, when you set out to make pozole (a Mexican chile-sauced pork and hominy stew), you're in for several hours of cooking. Not working straight for four hours, but being near the kitchen for sure. I'd never made pozole before, so didn't really know how working with the dried chiles would go, or how spicy the finished dish would be, and there are some things I will change the next time I make it. First, I won't completely seed the dried chiles. My finished soup had less heat than I was wanting (my guests and I dressed up our bowls with some minced fresh jalapeno, and problem solved). Second, I will follow the instructions to tie the herbs's really important to be able to remove the herbs from the broth easily. Finally, I will buy a bigger pot and make a double batch.

Pozole Rojo
(from Gourmet Sept. 2007)

1 bunch mint (1 oz.)
1 bunch cilantro (1 oz.)
4 lb country-style pork ribs (not lean)
10 cups water
26 garlic cloves (about 1 1/2 heads), peeled, divided
1 (1/2-lb.) white onion, quartered, plus 1/2 cup chopped white onion
1 teaspoon dried oregano
5 whole black peppercorns
2 oz. dried guajillo or New mexico chiles (6 to 9), wiped clean
1 1/2 oz. dried ancho chiles (2 to 4), wiped clean
1 whole clove
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 (15-oz.) cans hominy, rinsed and drained (I used one can of white and two of yellow)

Accompaniments for serving: diced avocado; crema; queso fresco; thinly sliced iceberg or romaine lettuce; chopped white onion; sliced radishes; fried tortilla strips or chips; lime wedges; dried oregano; dried hot red-pepper flakes
  1. Tie together mint and cilantro with kitchen string.
  2. Bring pork and water to a boil in a large pot, skimming froth, then reduce heat to a simmer. Add tied herbs, 20 cloves garlic, quartered onion, oregano, peppercorns, and 2 teaspoons of salt and gently simmer, uncovered, until pork is very tender, about 2 hours. Strain broth through a large sieve into a large heatproof bowl. Return broth to pot. Discard mint and cilantro. Transfer cooked onion and garlic to a blender with 1 1/2 cups broth and puree until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). Add puree to broth. Discard bones and coarsely shred pork into broth.
  3. Meanwhile, slit chiles lengthwise, then stem and seed. Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium heat until hot, then toast chiles in batches, opened flat, turning and pressing with tongs, until more pliable and slightly changed in color, about 30 seconds per batch. Transfer to a bowl and pour 2 2/3 cups boiling water over chiles. Soak, covered, until softened, about 30 minutes.
  4. Puree chiles with 1/12 cups soaking liquid, chopped onion, remaining 6 garlic cloves, whole clove, and 3/4 teaspoon salt in cleaned blender until a smooth paste forms, about 2 minutes. (I just rinsed out my blender.)
  5. Heat oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat until it shimmers, then add chile paste (it will spatter) and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 5 minutes.
  6. Add chile paste and hominy to pork and simmer 5 minutes. Season with salt.

Serves 8-10

I consulted with one of my dinner guests who had eaten pozole before, and we agreed that the most crucial toppings are radish and lime. Last night we also used lettuce, avocado, and jalapeno. And this morning, as you can see, was all about the huevos.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Chicken Provencal, Ya'll.

This is one of the best things I've ever cooked or eaten...I took Daniel Boulud's recipe and adapted it slightly. It's one of those dishes that gives you more leftovers than you think it will, that tastes better than you think it will, that impresses your friends more than you think it will, and teaches you a lot about cooking in the process. In the photo you can see big chunks of potatoes, chicken pieces still on the bone (just barely), nicoise olives, red bell pepper...vive la provencal.

Note: using canned tomatoes saves you some time and another dirty pot. When tomatoes aren't the feature of a dish, I see no problem using canned, even in summer.

Chicken Provencal
(adapted from Daniel Boulud's Cooking in New York City)

one 3- to 4-pound chicken, cut into 8 serving pieces
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
8 spring onions, white part with 1/2-inch of green tops
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2-inch thick strips
8 small Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut lengthwise in quarters
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups unsalted chicken broth
1 tablespoon tomato paste
4 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cut into 2-inch chunks (I use canned whole tomatoes)
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 bay leaf
1 sprig thyme
3 ounces haricots verts (or green beans), tipped and cut into 2-inch pieces
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/3 cup black olives, pitted (nicoise or kalamata are good for this dish)

  1. Warm 1/4 cup of olive oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven or casserole over medium-high heat. Season the chicken all over with salt & pepper and dust with the flour. When the oil is hot, slip the chicken pieces in and sear on all sides until well-browned about 10 minutes (I do this in two batches to avoid crowding and steaming the chicken). With all the browned chicken in the pot, add the onions, red pepper, and potatoes and stir until all the vegetables are coated with oil. Add the wine & stir the browned bits on the bottom of the pot to deglaze. Let the wine cook down until reduced by about half, and then add the stock, tomato paste, tomatoes, garlic, bay leaf and thyme and season with salt and pepper. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium and simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.
  2. While the chicken cooks: Bring a medium-sized pot of salted water to a boil. Prepare a medium-sized bowl with ice-water (this is to plunge the green beans in to preserve color and texture). When the pot of water comes to a boil, drop in the green beans and boil for 3 minutes (or 4 minutes if beans are large). Immediately drain and drop the beans in the ice water; they can stay there until you need them.
  3. Also while the chicken cooks: Warm the remaining 1/4 cup olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and zucchini and cook until golden brown, about 8 minutes. Transfer the vegetables to paper towel-lined plates to drain. (This saute intensifies the sweetness of the vegetables and helps them keep their shape longer in the dish.)
  4. After the chicken has simmered for 30 minutes, add the green beans, eggplant and zucchini to the pot and cook together for 10 minutes. Stir in the olives and season with salt and pepper (taste the broth for seasoning). Discard the bay leaf and thyme spring as you find them. Serve in pasta or soup plates, with bread for dipping.

Serves 5 or 6 people who like good food.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Top 5 Summer Soups

A friend recently suggested the subject for this Arkansas, in August, the heat produced by braising and stewing just isn't an option (at least not in my barely-air-conditioned apartment). The nice thing about summer soups is that several of them require no cooking at all. Of course, you want to get the most organic, natural produce you can to prepare these, since there won't be any "cooking off" of chemicals. Another reason to have your own garden, or visit the Farmer's Market.

1. Gazpacho

This soup wins, hands-down. Gazpacho is such a customizable soup, I think there's a version everyone will love. It can be chunky or smooth, spicy or mild, tomato-heavy or tomato-free. Traditionally it must contain bread, olive oil, and something acidic. That's it! These days it's synonymous with cold tomato soup. Part of its appeal is its ability to use up vegetables that seem to overrun some gardens this time of year (tomatoes, cucumbers, red bell peppers). But there are many other versions--check here for a ton of recipes and variations.

2. Cucumber Soup

A beautiful, simple, cooling soup that requires no cooking. Very healthy, too, when made with yogurt. This is a great accompaniment to spicy Asian flavors--a nice palate soother. Most recipes call for a basic puree of cucumbers, yogurt, and an herb (mint, parsley, basil, etc.) and add their own individual touches for variety. Fruit, avocado, buttermilk, jalapeno, wasabi...there are all kinds of options.

3. Summer Borscht

Read as: chilled borscht. Borscht, a traditional Russian peasant soup, has two versions. The cold-weather version usually includes stewed beef and cabbage in addition to beets. The warm-weather version is meatless, and spotlights sweet summer beets. It can be chunky or pureed; I love the pureed versions with sour cream...I rarely get a chance to eat bright pink food!

4. Yellow Pepper Soup

This one might not be as well-known, but I love its ability to use an item you can't get as easily in any other season. You can always buy roasted red peppers in a jar...but how often do you get sweet, inexpensive, beautiful yellow peppers? The finished soup is a vivid sunshine yellow with a bright green garnish, and can be served either hot or cold.

Yellow Pepper Soup with Cilantro Puree
(from The All-New Complete Cooking Light Cookbook)

1 teaspoon butter
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 cup chopped fennel bulb
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1/3 cup dry white wine
3 1/4 cups chopped yellow bell pepper
3 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups chopped peeled Granny Smith apple
1 cup cubed peeled red potato
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/3 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves
3 tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth
1 tablespoon mirin (sweet rice wine) (you could also use sake here)
1 teaspoon canola oil
dash of salt

2 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream
  1. To prepare soup, melt butter in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add onion and fennel, and saute 3 minutes. Add curry, ginger, and garlic; saute 1 minute. Stir in white wine; cook 1 minute. Add bell pepper, broth, apple, potato, and salt; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer 20 minutes. Cool.
  2. Place half of soup in a blender; process until smooth. Pour into a bowl. Repeat with remaining soup. Chill at least 2 hours. Stir in lemon juice.
  3. To prepare puree, place peas, cilantro, 3 tablespoons broth, mirin, and canola oil in a blender; process until smooth.
  4. Ladle soup into bowls. Add 3 dollops of puree on top of each serving. Using the tip of a knife, drag and swirl each dollop of puree into a "V" or other shape. Dollop creme fraiche in center of each serving.

Yield: 6 (3/4 cup) servings

5. Fruit Soup

That's a vague title, but I think we must include the fruits of summer. Plums, peaches, melons, cherries, strawberries, blueberries...I could go on. Mostly these are for dessert, but they can work as appetizers, cheese course components, or even drinks. Here's another recipe from Cooking Light that's easy and different. They recommend serving it with an herb cheese (such as Boursin) and crackers.

Strawberry-Champagne Soup

5 cups quartered strawberries

1/4 cup sugar

1/8 teaspoon salt

cracked black pepper (optional) (I would definitely include it)

  1. Place strawberries in a medium bowl. Sprinkle with sugar and salt; toss well. Place strawberry mixture in a blender or food processor, and process until smooth. Cover mixture and chill 2 hours.
  2. Stir in champagne. Sprinkle servings with a little black pepper if desired. Serve immediately.

Yield: 4 (1 cup) servings

Saturday, August 18, 2007

It's August. It's raining. It's time for chowder.

So here's what had to happen today: corn chowder. It makes great use of some of my favorite summer ingredients (sweet corn, red bell pepper, sweet onions, smooth potatoes, and basil) and it's pretty economical. Instead of using bacon for traditional smokiness, I used smoked cheddar for smokiness. It was surprisingly different. The slight sweetness of the basil works well with the cheese, I think.

Corn Chowder with Basil and Smoked Cheddar
(adapted from "Jalapeno Corn Chowder" by Paulette Mitchell)

2 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 red bell pepper, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
1 carrot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 russet or all-purpose potatoes, peeled & diced
corn kernels cut from 3 ears of corn (about 2 cups)
3 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 tablespoon minced fresh basil (1 teaspoon dried)
1 cup milk
1/4 cup grated smoked cheddar cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a large saucepan. Add the onion, bell pepper, celery, carrot, and garlic, and saute until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the broth, potatoes, and corn; bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and simmer 10 minutes or until potatoes are tender. Stir in the basil. Turn off the heat. If you have an immersion blender, add the milk, and partially blend the soup, leaving some texture according to your preference. If you have a standing blender, transfer 2 cups of soup to the blender, add the milk, and puree. Return the puree to the soup pot afterwards. Still off-heat, stir in the grated cheddar cheese. Return the soup to a servable temperature over a very low flame. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper (I add about 1 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt and 1/2 teaspoon of black pepper).

This'll serve 4 regular people or 2-3 super-hungry people. Easy to multiply the recipe, though.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

one of my favorite books

I love this book by Paulette Mitchell. It's all soup (well, plus a few accompaniments at the back) and all vegetarian. I'm not a vegetarian, and occasionally I sneak some bacon or a hambone into one of her soups. But all the ones I've tried are great. She does great things with garnishes. "Pear and Gouda Soup with Toasted Walnut-Cranberry Salsa" is a recipe whose title always makes me happy. The recipe appears below. I think the salsa would also be great on vanilla ice cream. Better yet, add a little onion and a minced jalapeno and try it over roasted pork. I bet a sandwich made with the salsa and pork would be un-terrible.

Pear and Gouda Soup with Toasted Walnut-Cranberry Salsa

2 ripe pears, cored, peeled, and coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 unpeeled red-skinned pear, cored and julienned
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons minced toasted walnuts
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped dried cranberries
dash of freshly grated nutmeg

to complete the recipe:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
4 ounces baby Gouda cheese, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup pure apple juice or sweet white wine such as Sauternes
salt and ground white pepper to taste
freshly grated nutmeg for garnish

  1. To make the soup, combine the pears, stock, ginger, and nutmeg in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat; cover and simmer until the pears are very tender, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.
  2. To make the salsa, stir together all the salsa ingredients in a small bowl; set aside.
  3. To complete the recipe: in a separate small saucepan, melt the butter over low heat. Add the flour and stir until smooth, about 1 minute. (Do not let it brown.) Remove from the heat. Gradually whisk in the milk. Place the pan back on medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to simmer. Reduce the heat to low and stir contantly until thickened, about 4 minutes. Add the cheese and stir until melted, about 1 minute. Remove from the heat.
  4. Puree the pear mixture in a blender until smooth. Add to the cheese sauce and stir constantly over low heat until heated through. Gradually stir in the apple juice and continue to heat, but do not let the soup come to a boil. Season to taste.
  5. Top each serving with a sprinkling of nutmeg and a mound of salsa.

Paulette recommends making this soup and salsa just before serving; in other words, leftovers aren't the best way to enjoy this.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

first day on the blog

Welcome to The Soup Loop, my brand new beautiful blog. The title refers to my obsession with making soup, eating soup, and reading soup cookbooks. But that's not all that interests me. Check back often for the rest of the story.