Jan 062013
 

Chicken tortilla soup

Names are funny things.

Take this soup, for instance: tortilla soup. I think that ostensibly, this type of soup is usually served with strips of fried corn tortillas or (in a pinch) bits of tortilla chips… or something. I’m not really sure. To me, this is tortilla soup, though nary a flat-bread has ever graced it, as far as I know.

And really, that’s fine with me. I’m normally kind of stickler for those sorts of things: I like to know what things are called and how to use names and terms properly, because they mean something. In this case, though? Whatevs. See, this is my grandmother’s recipe, and far be it from me to go changing the title. She was a wise old bird, so I figure that she knew what she was talking about.

And really, once you throw on a goodly hand-full of cilantro, squeeze on plenty of lime, stir in half a bit of an avocado, and take a bite of this, who cares what it’s called? You may find that after all, the only truly appropriate name is get-in-my-face soup, and isn’t that the only name that matters?

Chicken tortilla soup

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Dec 232012
 

Turkey pot-pie, fresh out of the oven!

The day after Thanksgiving is such a culinary conundrum. You, having just spent three days prepping and cooking food for your Thursday table, are exhausted come Friday. The last thing you want to do is slave over a stove some more. You’re covered for lunch, since you can nosh on turkey sandwiches or, perhaps, a salad composed of your favorite leftovers (which I did again this year), but what do you do when it comes time for dinner? You could indulge your inner child and just have pumpkin pie (topped with your very own bourbon whipped cream, natch), but if you’re sick of sweet stuff, may I suggest a more savory pie?

Rolling out crust for pot pie

Now, you may be rolling your eyes at me since I just acknowledged that the last thing you want to do is slave over a stove, but stick with me because I promise it’s worth it. This dish is in the classic tradition of re-inventing your leftovers into something completely different, and if you’ve already taken certain steps during your Thanksgiving prep, you’ll have shockingly little to do. For example: make two pie crusts instead of just the one that’s required for your pumpkin confection and save it in your fridge and you have a ready-made crust for your pot-pie. Use leftover turkey instead of poaching something anew. Make a couple of extra cups of stock during your Thanksgiving prep, or borrow a couple cups from the turkey stock that’s simmering away on the stove (because you are going to make soup, right?). Cheat and reach for a couple of freezer-veggies, saving you some prep. Yes, there’s a roux. Don’t let that scare you off though, as it’s the easiest roux ever. Banish from your mind the memory of stirring that roux for étouffée for a half-hour straight.

Crust cut-out

So this recipe is an example of a post-Thanksgiving success. In fact, it was so successful, that we’ve decided that it’s a new tradition for us. After all, it’s a home-made gravy chock full of deliciousness nestled under a home-made blanket of pastry goodness, and it’s a way to use your turkey without having to resort to sandwiches. What’s not to love?

And for good measure, here’s the cell-phone-photo I took of the original pot pies (as the other photos were taken from pies made later from left-over components). My Mom cut a “p”-shaped vent-hole for my Dad’s initial and was quite put out that I did boring traditional slits instead of using letters for the rest of them!

Turkey pot-pies!!!

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Nov 072009
 

By now, you’ve probably picked up on the fact that I’m very much a make-your-own-ingredients sort of cook. It’s not hard to notice that one of my very favorite homemade ingredients to have on hand is chicken stock – it’s extremely versatile and oh-so-flavorful. A lot of cooks, though, haven’t been properly introduced to the joys and benefits of real chicken stock and so they continue to take a shortcut or two, buying insipid broth in aseptic packaging, not fully realizing what they’re missing. So, in this entry, I’m going to try to rectify that.

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Aug 282009
 

Ain’t life grand when you have the luxury of throwing a pizza in the oven on a Friday night? And isn’t it even better when that pizza is homemade? We definitely hold by that line in our house.

Kneading the dough
Nikon D50

I’ve always eschewed the line “Even when it’s bad, it’s still pizza” (quit rolling your eyes, I know that comes as no surprise whatsoever if you’ve even spent two minutes reading this blog) and I take great joy in making every component for my pizza that I can. Really, it’s the only way you know you’re going to get a good one.

A fresh harvest of basil from the garden
Nikon D50

I love to use pesto as a base for pizza, especially in the summer. Few things give me more pleasure than shearing my basil plants (Fred has recovered from his confined-to-a-pot days and is loving all the room he has to stretch his roots, for those of you who had met him when he wasn’t looking so hot), bringing the green stuff inside, and pulling the leaves off the stems. It fills the kitchen with a wonderful aroma!

Whole unpeeled garlic cloves toast on the stove
Nikon D50

The only problem with fresh pesto is that it’s really easy to overdo it on the garlic, especially if you’re like me and habitually triple – at a minimum – the amount of the tasty stuff called for in a recipe. Luckily, I ran across a technique with which you toast the unpeeled garlic cloves on the stove to mellow out that bite it’s known for. It works like a charm and I no longer have to work about whether or not I’m going to OD on garlic. You just have to make sure to toast up enough so that you have extra to put on top of the pizza!

It's done!!!
Nikon D50

The only thing left to do is to load it up with other high-quality ingredients. Once you’ve done all of this, you’ll have created a pizza night to remember!

It's done!!!
Nikon D50

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Mar 152009
 

I’ve really been grappling with what to call this particular recipe. In fact, my indecision has been so crippling that it’s prevented me from posting this dish for close to two months. For all intents and purposes this is a chicken salad, but the last thing I want you to think of when you hear the title is mayo-and-egg-laden typical chicken salad because this bears about as much resemblance to the American picnic classic as, well, a nice Cabernet to Boone’s Farm.

So for lack of inspiration (I guess I used all my inspiration on actually developing the recipe) I have dubbed it Not Yer Mama’s Chicken Salad. Like I said, you won’t find mayo or relish or eggs here. Rather, you’ll find a tangy, refreshing, and light mustard and kalamata olive dressing over marinated chicken, complemented by texture provided by napa cabbage and radicchio. Stuff it in a warm pita, serve it atop a bed of lettuce and wild rice, put it aside pita chips as a dip, or, possibly best of all, serve it in between two slices of homemade olive-rosemary bread. Whatever you choose, prepare to take your taste buds on a adventure!

Spilling out of the pita, begging to be eaten
Nikon D50

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May 192008
 

If you’ve yet to foray into the world of Indian cuisine, chicken tikka masala is a good guide for first-timers. There are many aspects of it that are familiar and comfortable to a Western palate (like chicken and rice) but with a decidedly Eastern bent. And by Eastern bent, I mean wonderfully aromatic and fragrant rice, and a richly spiced, yet not spicy, warm sauce for the chicken. It’s a small wonder that this is the most popular Indian dish in the world, even if it’s not, well, strictly authentic Indian.

A handwritten recipe
Nikon D50

Another fantastic thing about chicken tikka masala is that it requires no special equipment. It would be nice to have a tandoor, but a broiler make an acceptable stand-in. Now if only I could find a good tandoor substitute when making naan… But that’s another story of a less successful foray. For now, stick with the chicken tikka masala and really start using some spices in your cooking!

Chicken tikka masala served atop fragrant basmati rice
Nikon D50

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Feb 242008
 

I’ve been waiting to post this recipe for quite some time.

You see, you might call this dish Highly Significant.

It’s so significant that I often find myself asking if Cory and I would have gotten married if it were not for this recipe.

It’s one of the first things we ever cooked together, and from the point that we starting smooshing up those tomatoes with our hands, it was painfully apparent that we were meant to be.

Delicious chicken cacciatore
Nikon D50

We still cook up a batch of chicken cacciatore every time we’re together. I thought it was criminal that he didn’t have a copy of the recipe or The Joy of Cooking, so when he moved into his current apartment I bought him a copy the newly released 75th anniversary edition as a housewarming gift. Before I bought it for him I made sure that the recipe hadn’t gotten the axe and was included in that version, but when we brought it home and we inspected it more closely we found that it calls for diced canned tomatoes, not whole tomatoes that you crush with your hands. On that alone, I’ve basically panned the whole edition. It’s not worth buying! Find the 1997 edition! That older recipe helped Cory and I find love, and I who am I to deny anyone else that opportunity by recommending an inferior tome?

Delicious chicken cacciatore
Nikon D50

I’m going to admit upfront: my version of the classic Italian chicken is so not traditional. Every recipe I’ve ever seen and everyone else who’s ever served it to me – including places in Italy – call for chicken parts, not chicken breasts, but when I was first learning to cook I had no clue what the heck a chicken part was. Even if I had been savvy enough, I simply didn’t have the equipment to cut up a chicken and then cook it. So maybe it’s for the best that I’ve bastardized it. I still think it’s delicious, and it has the health benefits of being all-white meat.

Not everything about this recipe is 100% positive though. There is something about chicken cacciatore that makes living alone an especially bitter pill to swallow. This dish is so obviously meant to be cooked with people and then shared with people. That alone explains two of my behaviors: I always call Cory when I’m starting to crush up those tomatoes with my hands and tell him that I wish he was there with me, and whenever I’m cooking for a group people for the first time, this is the recipe I pull out. It’s just too good to not share with others. It’s not just the end result that’s important, it’s the whole process – from the first time you throw the onions and herbs in the pan and the fragrance makes everyone exclaim with delight to the times when the pan is in a long simmer and you can just sit around and enjoy the company of your companions to the first bite of that warm, earthy, wine-herbs-and-tomato chickeny goodness. Nothing says “I care” like chicken cacciatore.

Delicious chicken cacciatore
Nikon D50

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Jan 262008
 

Growing up, I never quite understood why chicken noodle soup was supposed to be such great comfort food. Then again, all I had had back then were Campbell’s or otherwise canned versions, and frankly, I think it would be more comforting to be beaten up with a can of soup than it would be to eat that not-very-chickeny-really-freakin’-salty-and-gross stuff.

But then I remembered my Mom’s famous turkey soup. It wasn’t so different from a chicken noodle soup, yet it was infinitely tastier. Maybe there was hope for this much-maligned recipe after all…

The humble noodle
Nikon D50

I first tried my hand at a, well, decidedly modern take on the stuff that I found in the Mayo Clinic cookbook. It had a chicken stock and soy milk base with edamame in the soup, and well…. it was weird. I didn’t like it. But then…. last winter I was just getting into making my own stock and had had wild success with using it as the base for soups – even with recipes I had panned when I had made them with commercial chicken broth (forgive me, for I knew not what I had done). So I got to thinking that maybe it was time to give chicken noodle soup another shot, and this time I was determined to give it a fair shot.

Chicken noodle soup secret weapons: the herb satchet
Nikon D50

Disillusioned by my first disaster with the stuff, I swore off recipes and struck off on my own. Amazingly, I hit pay-dirt on my first try. I had stumbled upon the First Law of Soups (anything made with a homemade stock is guaranteed to not be bland, boring, or disgusting) and the Second Law of Soups (always cook your noodles or grains in the stock).

Unfortunately, stock tends to burn a hole in my freezer. I just can’t keep the stuff on hand, I use it as soon as I make it. If I do happen to have some in there, I’m usually saving it for something specific. But tonight I found myself with quarts and quarts of it in my freezer, even above and beyond what I will need for my upcoming minestrone soup. I also just so happened to have the salvaged chicken from my last pot of stock handy, and I realized that once again, this soup’s time had come. I mean, it’s been a tough week. I could use some comfort food. Thankfully, I’ve finally found a way for this time-honored classic to actually be comforting.

Comfort meets homemade food
Nikon D50

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May 222007
 
The turkey trifecta, ready to be minced

I used to think that I did a fair amount of cooking for myself. Sure, I ate pre-boxed cereals like Grape-Nuts and used mass-produced bread and turkey breast for my sandwiches, but surely that doesn’t count, right? You can’t make those things for yourself!!!

Then one day I woke up and realized, “Wait a minute, it is not natural for turkey breast to come in this shape. Plus this stuff doesn’t have nutrition labels I can read, so god only knows what they put in it!” Luckily, I had this epiphany around Thanksgiving and I had just gotten myself a brand new roasting pan. After eating leftover homemade turkey sandwiches for a couple of days, I decided something in my daily lunch routine had to change. “What the hell,” I thought. I had just started baking my own bread, so I figured I might as well go whole hog.

So I looked in some cookbooks and magazines for some inspiration. Some suggested brining before roasting, but one of the big reasons I decided to start doing this myself was to get away from all that sodium. Some suggested marinades, but I wanted a (relatively) quick fix. Others suggested lemon, but that tires pretty quickly for me.

Then I remembered our Thankgiving Turkey Trifecta: Sage. Rosemary. Thyme. And no, I am not going to Scarborough Fair!

Wings in the proper position, on its back, ready to go in the oven

Eureeka! It’s genius. So I minced up these fresh herbs and some garlic (because garlic makes everything better). I drizzled just a tad of olive oil over the mix to make it more paste-like and easy to handle. Instead of stuffing the cavity (as is the fate of the turkey), I borrowed an idea from Cook’s Illustrated and used my fingers to loosen the skin from the breast and thighs (they actually suggest using a chopstick to do this because “fingers are more likely to tear the skin” but I disagree — your fingers can bend. I’ve never torn the skin with my hand) and rubbed the meat with the herbs generously. Then I prepped the limbs for the oven, turned it breast-down (this helps the white and dark meat reach safe eating temperatures at the same time), and popped it in the oven. Twenty minutes later I flipped it on its back and let it continue to cook until the instant-read thermometer said it was done.

I will swear up and down that this is the best sandwich meat ever. After cooking your own lunch-meat, I promise you will never be able to go back to the salty, processed, unnaturally shaped abomination in your grocer’s deli counter again. I also promise that after you use the leftovers to make your own stock, you’ll never buy that salty, watered-down abomination in a can off the shelf again either.

Roasted to golden perfection

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