Thursday, October 25, 2012
When I am sick I want two things: endless sympathy from every person on earth and water foods. I define “water foods” as things like broth-based soups, sautéed spinach, green grapes, orange slices and as much Emergen-C as is declared safe to consume in a 24 hour period by the FDA. I used to get sick allll the time in college. It seemed as though from just before Halloween until the end of March I would be either hacking my lungs out until my abs were sore or weeping in the Student Health Services begging them to give me something stronger than Advil Cold and Sinus. Of course, these lengthy illnesses were supported and strengthened by the fact that I subsisted on mozzarella cheese, Parliament Lights and Colt 45 alone. There could be a connection, I’m not quite sure.
Now that I’m hip to a few things about diet and overall health I know a thing or two about a thing or two. Namely, that if you eat a ton of pepperoni and cheese and booze when you are sick you will probably be extending the life of that illness a bit. So these days when I inevitably get sick, like I did this week, I go into what I like to call Operation Shut It Down. As in I cease with all illicit and unhealthy activities that have even the slightest blush that they will extend the length of my illness. I won’t even eat sugar or crackers and certainly not any dairy (it feeds the mucus, people). I drink water like it’s my job, I take 3-4 Emergen-Cs throughout the day, I drop a half pound of spinach leaves into every single thing that I eat. I also mow down on raw garlic like a crew of sulky teenage vampires are waiting for me under my front porch and I eat soup like 6 times a day. So it seems apperpo that the only thing I had time to make this week is this simple, straightforward but hearty batch of Cheater Chicken Noodle Soup.
CHEATER CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP
2 tbs. olive oil
2 bone-in, cooked chicken breasts, or one full (2-3 lb.) chicken
2 (32 oz.) containers chicken stock (or equal parts homemade)
1 large onion, diced
2 large carrots, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1- 1 ½ c. dried egg noodles
3-4 whole peppercorns
1 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. dried oregano
Baby spinach (optional)
Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent and fragrant (about 4 minutes). Add diced carrot and salt and pepper the vegetables liberally. Let them sweat for another few minutes- while this happens, shred your chicken off the bones and set aside (reserve bones). Add to the pot the garlic, oregano, parsley, peppercorns and another hit of salt and pepper. Pour chicken stock in to cover and add the reserved chicken bones. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for about 20-30 minutes, until the carrots are tender and cooked through.
With tongs, fish the chicken bones out and discard. Bring the soup up to a boil and add the egg noodles, stir well and let boil until the noodles are cooked through (about 6-9 minutes, check the package instructions. Once the noodles are cooked, add the shredded chicken, taste and adjust salt and pepper as necessary. To serve: place a big handful of baby spinach leaves in a soup bowl. Ladle hot soup over and serve immediately; preferably with a side of daytime soaps or the Price is Right, just like when you were home sick in elementary school. This soup is "cheater" because of it's use of pre-cooked chicken* and store bought stock. If you want to Martha it up, by all means use fresh chicken and homemade stock and cook it in the soup. If I were doing this I would brown the chicken first then let it finish cooking while simmering in the stock, removing it near the end of cooking to shred the meat and discard the bones.
*for a simple easy way to roast a delicious chicken or make homemade chicken stock, peep this Porky post of yore (I can't believe how bad the photos are! Eeek, old posts are like unearthing junior high diaries- mortifying. Also I titled the post Porky Chickens?!? Cheese alert! Alright, no, I actually stand behind that, it's kind of awesome. Regardless of all of this, the technique is solid I promise).
Friday, October 19, 2012
Pumpkin bread owns a serious corner of my sense memory. You see I grew up in the woods. About 200 feet off the street and our property abutted a nature preserve with trails and bridges built by local boyscout troops. In the afternoon- and all day on weekends- we were expected to head outside and not show our runny noses around the house until we were screamed inside for dinner. My mother had a yell that could cut through two miles of thick wooded area- this still remains one of her strengths; though these days with her kids fully grown she mostly uses her booming voice for super loud “woo hoos!!!” at dinner parties when the Chardonnay is flowing freely.
Even in the winter we would trek out to the woods and “ice skate” (slide on our shoes because we could never find matching skates) on the “ponds” (flooded swamps) and we would build jumps for our sleds and fire ourselves off of them. We’d play until we got sweaty under our winter coats, or until one of us (me) got the wind knocked out of them and started crying. When I would sniffle my pathetic way back in the back door the kitchen, I’d often be greeted by wafts of dinner cooking on the stove and the tantalizing scent of freshly baked pumpkin bread. My mom always went on a tear of pumpkin bread baking every fall that would hold out through Christmas. She would give away loaves as Christmas gifts to neighbors. Even though most of our neighbors kind of hated us because every now and then my dad would burn a bunch of old crap and couch cushions in a rusted out oil tank in our side yard for kicks on a Sunday afternoon. Couch cushions FYI, can really crank up the flames.
But anyways, fire ordinance violations aside, fall at the old Pithie abode always meant the scent of burning leaves (and couches) in cold air, beef stew with ketchup for dinner and big fat slices of delicious homemade pumpkin bread. When I made this bread the other day I felt connected to my youth. And also impressed with my mom’s cleverness- pumpkin bread is hella easy to make. No wonder that was the loaf she chose to crank out in mass quantities. Who has time for painstaking artisan breads when you can make a sweet and tasty quick bread that almost everyone loves? This is the classic recipe amped up just a bit by a tasty brown sugar and nut crumble on top. It adds texture and flavor and will make you want to eat every slice from the bottom up, like I’ve been doing for the past few days.
CLASSIC PUMPKIN BREAD
with WALNUT PISTACHIO CRUMBLE
(adapted, just barely from this recipe)
1 ½ cups flour
½ tsp. of salt
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup pumpkin purée
½ cup olive oil
2 eggs, beaten
¼ cup water
½ tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. pumpkin pie spice
Heat oven to 350. In a medium-sized bowl, sift together the flour, salt, sugar and baking soda. In a large bowl mix together pumpkin, oil, eggs, water and spices. Mix together thoroughly to combine. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, stirring together to combine between. Stop mixing when it’s just mixed- you don’t have to whip it to death. This also comes together so easily, you can keep the hand mixer out of the situation all together and whip it up with a wooden spoon, just like mom used to do.
¼ cup walnuts
¼ shelled pistachios, or pepitas
2 tbs. butter
2 tbs. brown sugar
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. pumpkin pie spice
Place all topping ingredients into a small food processor and pulse until chopped coarsely and combined together. You still want the textural crunch of the nuts, but want the butter and brown sugar to combine. This topping is optional, but only if you’re a fool that doesn’t like delicious things to be more delicious by the addition of scrumptious toppings.
Pour mix into a buttered loaf pan. Top with Crumble Topping and bake for 50-60 minutes, until a knife poked into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool completely before cutting into and eating. I know, I know, it’s hard to do that. You want to get right in there and slice a piece out while it’s still warm- but trust me. Something about pumpkin bread flavor isn’t all that when it’s hot. The first slice I ate while the bread was still warm and I thought it was okay. The second slice I ate when it was completely cooled and the flavors were transcendent. The bread was sweet and pumpkin-y and the topping was crunchy and just a little buttery. How many slices do you think it’s acceptable to eat in one day? Right now I am at three.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Well, at some point while I was getting myself hitched up fall came. And you know what that means in these here parts. No not just reveling in pumpkin spice coffee or filling every corner of the house with decorative gourds (thanks for the laughs, Jill); but it means some orange food up in this piece. What can I say? It’s seasonally appropriate. And my orange food of choice is none other than butternut squash. I like to chop it up into curries, add it to any fall soup, use a thick puree as a sort of sauce. It works well and tastes good and today, I’ve folded it into a little bit of a salad. With wiiiild rice. Let’s get to it.
ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH and WILD RICE SALAD
½ butternut squash, peeled and cubed into ½ inch dice
1 package wild rice, prepared according to package directions, *omit the spice packet
1 bunch chives, minced
Crumbled feta or shaved Parmesan cheese
¼ c. toasted walnuts, chopped
Red wine vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
¼ tsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. honey
Salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400. Peel and slice butternut squash into a bite-sized dice. Toss squash on a cookie sheet with a small drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Set to roast in the oven for about 25-30 minutes, until cooked through; turning once or twice. While the squash roasts, make wild rice and prepare dressing. I used a box of wild rice from the store, but if you’re preparing yours from a large bag, make 1 cup of rice- this will yield about 2 cups once cooked.
I made a bit of a mistake here and used the “spice packet” from my boxed rice. I went against my better judgment and did it anyways and now I have learned, yet again, to trust my instincts when it comes to packaged food (aka: don’t trust ‘em!). The resulting rice was too salty- making the whole finished dish just a little “off.” Still edible for sure, but if I had to do it over, I would omit the seasoning and season the finished salad myself with salt and pepper to taste. Or maybe, I would add some crumbled cooked pancetta or bacon to add salt. Dang man, hindsight is always 20/20.
While the rice cooks, toast walnuts in a small skillet over low heat, until fragrant. Season with salt and coarsely chop. Mince chives and set aside. To make the dressing, combine red wine vinegar, Dijon, honey, salt and pepper in a large jar or blender. Heat a small skillet with about 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Mince garlic cloves and add to oil, let cook until fragrant (just about a minute or two) and then set the oil aside to cool a bit. Add garlic in oil to blender or jar. Blend together thoroughly. If you’re making this in a jar, I suggest using an immersion blender to emulsify. Taste dressing and adjust seasoning if necessary.
In a large bowl, combine 1 ½ cups cooked rice with butternut squash, top with crumbled feta or coarsely grated parmesan, whichever you prefer. I went with feta for this version, but I think parm. would be dynamite. Add chives and a generous drizzle of dressing. Toss together gently to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature. This salad would make a great side for grilled or roasted chicken, or fish, or even pork chops. I also simply spooned it onto spinach to bulk up my regular lunch salad and topped it with a poached egg. But next time, man, next time I’m skipping the Near East spice packet and adding some GD bacon, mark my words.
Thursday, October 4, 2012
Well, here I am again, on the other side of the coin. I’m not prepared to or particularly inclined to write a big post about the wedding itself, the details, the dress, the vows or the sheer, palpable joy of it all. This is, after all, a blog about food, not weddings. But it is also a blog about me and my life and I can’t just roll back up here makin’ soup and act like I didn’t just have the best day of my life, because: DUDES, I did.
I think that part of the reason I’m hesitant to write about it is because in no way could I cobble together sentences that even remotely did it justice. I don’t know how to describe how on your wedding day you feel calm and present and happy and more connected to your spouse than ever before, because maybe not everybody feels that way. But I’ll count us as lucky because that’s exactly how we felt.
So now that we’ve taken the plunge and the big day is done, now that by the power vested in my brother by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts we have become, on the books, an US, maybe I can also get back to being me and not just a bride-to-be. Which is sort of great, because I really missed having spare time and I certainly missed doing the things that make me, me. Like actually having time to think about groceries, make a proper dinner and spend a rainy afternoon in early October making a creamy and delicious soup: it’s good to be back.
CAULIFLOWER, POTATO, LEEK SOUP
with CRISPY FRIED LEEKS
1 head cauliflower, cored and roughly chopped
2 russet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 large leek, thinly sliced (white and light green part only)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 (32 oz.) containers chicken or vegetable stock
2-3 tbs. olive oil 2 tbs. butter, divided A few whole pink peppercorns* (about 7-10)
1 tsp. red wine vinegar
*If you don’t have pink peppercorns use just a few (4 or 5) whole black peppercorns
Heat olive oil and 1 tbs. butter in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Sauté leeks in oil and butter until fragrant for about 5 minutes; add garlic and cook, stirring frequently for another minute or two. Add potatoes and cauliflower to pot, season with salt and pepper and cover with chicken stock- you will not use BOTH containers, rather, more like one and a half. Save the rest in the fridge for future use.
Raise heat to high and bring soup to a boil, then reduce to a simmer until cauliflower and potatoes are tender (about 15-20 minutes). Remove from burner and puree with an immersion blender. Alternately, if you don’t have an immersion blender, let soup cool for a few minutes and puree in batches in a blender. Take caution: hot liquids expand so be careful! Return pureed soup to pot and turn heat on underneath to medium low. Taste and adjust seasonings: soup like this needs quite a bit of salt, at least for my taste buds, so really, don’t be shy. Add red wine vinegar and remaining pat of butter and stir in completely. Taste again and adjust seasonings if necessary.
FOR CRISPY FRIED LEEKS:
These are a completely optional garnish and not really necessary. But before you ignore them entirely you should know this: crispy fried leeks taste like tiny, baby Funyons, and that is not at all a bad thing. If making, reserve a few raw leeks and separate the slices into little circles, like teeny, tiny onion rings (aww).
Heat about ½ inch of oil and 2 pats of butter in a small pan over medium high heat until very hot. Add leeks and let fry until golden brown, scoop out of oil and place on a paper towel to drain, sprinkle with salt. Garnish a cup or bowl of soup with a sprinkle of these little guys for texture. Be careful making these because you’re essentially shallow frying them and working with a bunch of oil at high heat is always a little scary in a home kitchen (at least for me, but I am a known wimp).