Saturday, September 20, 2014

Chicken Soup 101: From Bird to Broth

Before it is soup
Chicken soup is more than a recipe and eating it is more than an act of physical sustenance.  It’s almost religious for it is representative of a lifestyle enriched by food symbolism and at-home, meal-based traditions and celebrations.  From Shabbat dinner to the High Holiday table to Passover and beyond a bowl of rich, fragrant golden broth has become a defining part of the Jewish lifestyle whether it is served with homemade noodles, rice and lemon juice, matzo balls, kreplach, liver dumplings, Italian chicken meatballs or Iranian gondi, dumplings of chickpea flour and chicken.

(For a vegetarian substitute, see My Not Chicken Soup recipe.)

Some History:

In Biblical times soup was made in earthenware pots from vegetables and lentils and flavored with onion and garlic.  It was called marak in Hebrew –a name that survives today in the Yemenite marak which is a beef or chicken soup and in marag, the traditional soup for Jews of Calcutta.

Chicken broth has only been made for the past several thousand years. At first it was served for its restorative, medicinal affects (which Maimonides and later science has since supported.)  Chicken soup was part of the Mizrahi (Middle and Near Eastern) and Sephardic culinary experience at least since the early medieval period, long before it entered Ashkenazi cookery, but it was among the Eastern Europeans and their American descendants that it found its greatest appreciation as a traditional Friday night dinner starter.

Chickens were domesticated in India 45,000 years ago and spread widely as the Romans, Persians and Greeks were fans of cockfighting.   Romans were also fond of eating the fowl and in ancient Rome they became a feature in Jewish cooking.  With the fall of the Empire the taste for the bird declined.  Not until the 12th century did they become widely eaten again, mostly because of meat shortages.

For central European Jews, the goose was the bird of choice.  Raising geese was an important source of income for Jews there, but in Eastern Europe Jews favored the easier and cheaper to raise chicken.  In the Sephardic world and elsewhere it was not as much of a staple since it was a more expensive form of protein.

Chicken Soup Tips and Tricks:

Every cook has their own recipe and technique for making chicken soup.  Many of mine are reflected in the recipe that accompanies this post. I prefer to use a whole chicken instead of just pounds of parts.  I use lots of root vegetables to give the soup a deep flavor and add ginger to compliment the richness of the broth.  Sometimes I will add a few tablespoons of lemon juice to the finished soup before serving.  Mostly, I am always conscious that I am making soup, which needs to stand on its own, not stock, which will be enriched by other ingredients. I also don’t let the soup come to a full boil at any stage.  That’s how I was taught and I do think it results in a chicken soup with superior taste and color.

Others have their own tips.  Some add chicken bouillon cubes to enrich the broth.  Karen Bloom’s grandmother disclosed on her deathbed that her secret was adding a can of chicken stock to her broth. (If you try either of these tips, add salt after tasting because of the sodium in the canned stock and bouillon.)  I know at least one cook who adds beef bones to her pot for extra flavor.

Judy Bloomfield swears by adding celery root (celeriac) to the soup pot. Carol Robinson’s grandmother advised parsley root was the secret ingredient. (Parsley root looks like a parsnip but the flavor is different.)  Roz Aronson adds some fresh lemon juice or ginger and like many of us garnishes her soup with fresh dill.

My Chicken Soup Recipe
Makes about 12 cups

My recipe will make enough to for about eight or more servings depending on add ins, serving size and appetites. I’ve broken the recipe down into steps so I can explain what I do and why I do it, but the recipe is really pretty straightforward.   I’ve given exact measurements, but feel free to vary.  I like the peppery sharpness the turnip gives the soup.  Leave it out if it is not to your taste.

My aim is to make a deeply flavored, golden chicken soup with a full taste and a satisfying texture and mouth feel.

If you don’t need soup for eight, freeze some of the plain soup broth for future use and defrost as needed.  It stays well for months and works as soup or as a rich chicken stock.

Part One:  Making the Soup

Start the day before if possible.

1-5 lb. whole chicken
12 cups water
3 medium carrots (8 oz.)
1 large parsnip (6 oz.)
1 medium-large onion (unpeeled) (8 oz.)
1 large turnip (6 oz.)
3 large stalks of celery with leaves (7 oz.)
4 large cloves of garlic, peeled
1” slice of fresh ginger root, unpeeled and cut in half
1 large leek (10 oz.)
Small handful of fresh parsley stems with leaves (1 oz.)
1 large or 2 small bay leaves
1/4 tsp. whole black peppercorns
1/2 tsp. salt plus more to taste as needed
1/8 tsp. saffron threads (about a pinch)
Ground black pepper to taste as needed

Remove internal organs and any excess fat from inside of chicken and discard. (Save the neck if available and add to the pot with chicken.)  Be sure all little bits of deep red tissue are removed from inside the chicken (they can turn a broth bitter).  Rinse chicken inside and out.  Place chicken in a large, deep soup pot.  Add water.  Leave uncovered and put on medium heat and begin to bring to a simmer.  Meanwhile prepare the vegetables.  Do not peel the carrots, parsnip, onion and turnip.  Scrub well and trim root and stem ends, then cut into 1” chunks and add to soup pot.  Wash and trim celery, leaving leaves on, and cut into 1” chunks and add to pot along with the whole garlic cloves and ginger root.  Trim roots and deep green ends off leek.  Cut in half lengthwise and rinse well to remove any sand or soil.  Cut halves into 1” pieces and add to pot with parsley, bay leaves, peppercorns and salt.  Bring back to a simmer.  Crumble saffron into water.  (Saffron helps give the soup a golden color.) Cover and keep at a simmer lowering heat if necessary, but don’t let it come to a rapid boil.

Simmer for about three hours, stirring occasionally and skimming off and discarding any foam that might form a scum at the top of the pot.  Cook until the chicken is falling off the bone, the vegetables are very soft and the broth tastes rich and full of flavor.  Add additional salt and ground black pepper to taste as needed.  Let cool until safe to handle.  Strain or sieve the soup into a large container. (I ladle soup through a strainer, press on the solids to get out any liquid and put solids in a separate bowl.)  Taste the chicken meat.  If it still has good texture and flavor keep to serve with the soup.  If it is tasteless, dry, stringy or cottony, discard.  Discard soup pot vegetables.

Cover and store soup in refrigerator overnight.

Part Two:  Serving the Soup

Here are some serving suggestions, but your soup is your canvas.

1 recipe chicken soup
Salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
4 cups chopped vegetables (see below), cooked until just tender, optional
16 cooked matzo balls or 2-3 cups cooked rice or cooked thin, small noodles, optional
2-3 cups cooked shredded chicken (see below), optional
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh dill OR parsley leaves (or a mixture)

Remove soup from refrigerator.  Skim off fat as desired.  (I find that leaving some fat makes a better soup.  This recipe generally does not produce a lot of fat so I usually don’t skim it off, but do so if it is your preference.)  Place in soup pot, put on medium heat and bring to a simmer (do not let it come to a rapid boil). Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.  If using, add cooked vegetables, matzo balls, rice or noodles and shredded chicken.  Keep at simmer until add ins are heated through.  Serve in bowls topped with dill.

Chopped Vegetables:  Scrub, peel and chop into 1/4" pieces 1 medium parsnip, 3 medium carrots, and 1 large turnip. Trim root end and dark green part of 1 large leek.  Cut in half and rinse out any sand. Chop into 1/4” pieces. Trim 2 large celery stalks and chop into 1/4" pieces.  Combine in pot with salt and pepper to taste and cook in about 2 cups water or chicken broth until just tender.

Cooked, Shredded Chicken:  If the soup pot chicken is not usable, poach 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs with salt and pepper to taste in chicken broth or water until cooked through.  Cool and shred. If using soup pot chicken, discard skin and bones and shred.

Chicken Soup Trouble Shooting:

If soup is too salty, cut a large, scrubbed, unpeeled potato in half and simmer in the strained broth until soft and discard.  It should absorb the excess salt.  Repeat if necessary.

If soup is not “chickeny” enough, poach about 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs in strained, simmering soup until cooked through.  Remove thighs and save to serve with soup or for another use. Taste and adjust seasonings. Strain soup again before proceeding.  If the broth is only slightly watery tasting, try simmering strained stock with cover off until it soup is reduced somewhat and taste is intensified.

If soup needs “something” and you don’t want to add more salt or pepper, try stirring in a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. Taste and add more as needed.

If the soup is not “golden” enough, try adding 1/4 tsp. of turmeric to the simmering, strained soup.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Confession

It's been too long since I've posted.  I have lots to say, lots to share, a back up of posts written in my head but not typed out, recipes tried, photos that need to be cropped and more, but somehow the link between intent and actually doing something has been broken.

This is made worse by the longer it's been since I've posted.  I keep thinking I have to come back with something super, super special.  Which makes by blogger's block even worse.

I promise you I have been creating and thinking and recording and I will soon get back to sharing. (Maybe even later today).  But first off I needed to confess.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Currying Favor -- Meal for One with an Assist

Tonight's meal is based on Trader Joe's Curry Simmer Sauce, a favorite pantry short cut, as well as it's arugula and cubed butternut squash.  The protein is Gardein "beefless" ground beef. Eaten over whole wheat pasta.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Low-Hanging Fruit --- Backyard Plums, Over-The-Fence Loquats and a Plum Clafoutis Recipe

Our neighbor's loquats
I cook, I don't garden.  I know with some bloggers you get a kind of two for one.  Not here, you don't.  To be honest, this column is about our accidental fruit.

We don't really do anything for the plums, they just grow and drop. The plums are about the size and color of a cherry tomato and they are sweet-tart. They are too small to do too much with so we occasionally snack on them, but usually they feed the birds. What I really love about them is the early Spring blooms, pale pink and white and just lovely.

The loquat branches drop over our side fence. The loquats taste like an apricot crossed with a lychee with a firmer texture and a slightly astringent skin. There is not a lot of flesh on each fruit.  Inside are two large seeds.  We don't get too many of these, since after all the tree is on the other side of the fence.

Unlike the plums, they are freestones so they are easier to eat or use in recipes.  The fruit bruises easily and you rarely see it commercially available.  I've had a great loquat vinegar (by Lulu, I think), other than that I don't know of any processed foods using them.

I have a soft spot for loquats because my sons attended a preschool with a loquat tree in the yard and they would come home splattered with loquat juice thrilled by the experience of picking and eating them.

Backyard plums swaying in breeze
If you are not fussy about pitting them, the plums would work well in a clafoutis,  just warn folks to watch for pits. Try this recipe, which is egg and dairy free, and which first appeared in the j weekly.  If you have small,  hard to pit plums like the ones at left, leave them whole and warn eaters to be aware.

The clafoutis (pronounced without the final s) recipe is very adaptable and can be made with any other fruit.  I frequently use cherries (easiest if you skip the pitting) or berries.

It's a nice brunch dish or dessert on it's own or try serving it with ice cream and or whipped cream (vegan or not).

Plum Clafoutis
Serves 6

2 Tbs. oil, plus extra for greasing pan
1 lb. fresh Italian prune plums or other small, sweet plums (about 20)
1 cup flour
3 Tbs. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup unflavored, unsweetened almond milk
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 8” x 12” baking pan. Halve and pit the prunes and place evenly, cut side up, on bottom of prepared baking pan.

Stir together flour, sugar, salt and cinnamon in small bowl. In large bowl mix eggs, almond milk, almond extract and vanilla extract until well combined. Slowly add the flour mixture to the egg one, whisking well until very smooth. Pour over plums. Bake for 50-60 minutes until firm and golden.  Let cool slightly before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Wok Me Up -- Meal for One

Another in my continuing series of meals for one, this dinner was based on a House product, a packaged combo for tofu and sauce that you add veggies to called Wok Me Up Spicy Orange. 

Pretty simple and not complicated to do yourself, but still it made my meal for one easier to just get started. (Sometimes just getting started can be hard for me when I'm only feeding myself.) I was pretty ashamed that I needed my tofu cut into little pieces for me, however it still took a crisis of will to get me to chop some veggies to throw into the stir fry.  (The directions specify 6 oz., I tossed in about double that.)

I served it over Trader Joe's frozen brown rice nuked for 3 minutes, I used about half the mix for my serving only to find that the package claims it contains 3.5 servings. I snorted out loud. Even with the extra veggies and rice it would barely feed two.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The One That Didn't Get Away --- A Tuna Salad Story with Recipe (andHot Lime Pickle)

Often I get an idea for a recipe that seems perfect until I actually get to the kitchen, make it and have my first bite.  This tuna salad, filled with the flavor of Indian hot lime pickle, was almost one of those near misses but I tinkered with proportions and condiments and was able to reel in a tasty winner.

Two Indian ingredients are used in the recipe. In the tuna salad itself you'll need achar -- pickled, spiced lime rinds.  Different companies make it in different degrees of hotness and chunkiness. Since it will be chopped it doesn't matter if you get the relish style (somewhat smaller pieces of lime rind) or regular hot lime pickle.  The pickle adds a little heat, spices, acid and astringency to the the salad.  Serving the mango chutney mayo with the tuna salad smoothes and adds a bit of sweetness to the combo.  Serve as small tea sandwiches as in the recipe below or use fresh or moistened lavash (or large flour tortillas) and roll and slice for party appetizers.

I first envisioned this recipe for my friend Mona's grand baby's "welcome party" when I made the lavash version.  I adapted to this easier tea sandwich version when her Indian auntie came to tea recently.  I've also made it with mashed tofu instead of tuna and with vegan mayonnaise for a vegan version. I haven't tried it yet but I think it would be delicious with smashed chickpeas instead of the tuna. 

A word about the ingredients. I used Patak's hot lime relish, which is fairly widely available on line and in specialty, Indian and Middle Eastern grocery stores. This is the first time I've used tuna in several years and I used Sea Fare Pacific wild caught albacore packed in salt-free natural juices. The chutney was from Trader Joe's, but any Major Grey's style or sweet mango chutney will work fine. I also used 1 oz.-sized King's Hawaiian sweet rolls. (Note I'm writing this on my ipad and will update to include the links later)

Hot Lime Pickle Tuna Salad with Mango Chutney Mayo
Makes 8 tea sandwiches or about 4 regular sandwiches

1-6 oz. container of tuna, drained well and flaked
1-2 Tbs. hot lime pickle or relish, finely chopped
3 Tbs. mayonnaise 
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. salt (optional)
1 1/2 Tbs. mayonnaise 
1 1/2 chutney, finely chopped
8 small sweet Hawaiian or Portuguese style rolls
16 very thin slices of cucumber
8 very thin slices of tomato, drained on paper towel

Mix together tuna, 1 Tbs. lime pickle and pepper.  Stir well.  Taste.  Gradually add in second tablespoon of pickle by teaspoonfuls and mixing and tasting as you go until you get the right level of heat, spice and astringency for you. I like it with the full 2 Tbs. You can probably go a bit hotter than normal for yourself since the bread and mayo will be sweet. Taste again and decide if you want to add salt.. Both the pickle and tuna probably have enough salt you won,t need to add more.)

Mix mayo with chutney.  Spread inside top and bottom of each roll with mayo mixture. Arrange 2 cucumber slices on bottom of roll, top with 1/8th of tuna salad and then with tomato slice. Close roll.  Repeat with remaining rolls and adjust if using larger rolls. (I also like this mounded on top of a tomato half with dollops of mango chutney mayo on top.)

Monday, June 09, 2014

My Day at Sunset

A week ago Sunday I had a blast visiting Sunset Magazine’s Menlo Park campus and participating in the Time-Life publication’s celebration weekend.

Angela Brassinga
Elaine Johnson
A highlight for me was the opportunity to meet test kitchen head Angela Brassinga. The space she and her team of “home cook” recipe testers works out of looks like a home kitchen on steroids with multiple electric and gas cook tops and ovens and one very big refrigerator. (Plus Sunset also uses a commercial walk in fridge.) The pantry was huge. Everything is labeled and organized so testers can find what they need quickly. The testers shop for ingredients at local stores and make every recipe multiple times. I've always found Sunset’s recipes work well and it is this attention to detail that makes the difference.

It was also special meeting Food Editor Margo True and Associate Food Editor Elaine Johnson. I look forward to checking out Sunset’s latest cookbook, The Great Outdoors Cookbook. (Get a peek of two of the recipes here.)   Other highlights included touring the food, wine, travel and merchandise exhibits. (I especially liked the cute turquoise trailer and got very excited about the Alaska marine ferry information.)

There was an array of food vendors offering everything from paella to corn dogs, but I ate and drank so many free samples that I wasn't hungry. Among my favorite noshes were lamb pastrami (Wente brothers), grilled cheese with chutney (San Luis Sourdough Bread), and Torani syrups.  Below is one of my favorite attendees. Check out the Sunset website for living in the West travel tips, recipes, gardening advice and more.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Mushrooms and Polenta - Dinner for One

Here's a meal in a bowl I enjoyed today (which also fits in well with this week's Oakland Veg Week Pledge).

I made the polenta in the microwave (easy and fast) and sauteed some roughly chopped oyster mushrooms in olive oil with onion, garlic, Provencal herbs, salt, pepper and a bit of tomato sauce.  I topped with a bit of Parmesan cheese, but vegan cheese or maybe some fontina would work well, too.  It would have been nice with some kale or argula in the dish as well, but I felt like keeping things simple.

For the technique on cooking polenta in the microwave, click here.  

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Green Tea Diaries - Oh What's in My Cup

My favorite green tea in my favorite tea thermos, both from China
I like to start morning off with a cup of green tea.

For years that tea was blended by Gypsy Zen Tea, a California company known for its creative blending of teas and other natural ingredients that has done me wrong twice. First I had to stave off its discontinuance of my beloved Cocaberry blend by mail order and Grocery Outlet shopping and then I had to go through that all over again when Gypsy Zen ended production of pomegranate green tea replacement I compromised on.

Now I'm just playing the green tea field, brewing up individual samples of tea bags I've collected at Fancy Food shows and elsewhere as well as going through my own substantial stash of loose and bagged teas. (FYI - for more serious tea drinking I prefer full leaf brewed teas without added flavors - but my morning tea is different.)

Below is a list of the teas I've sampled with any notes. I'm sure eventually I'll fall in love with another tea and eventually that tea will become unavailable but at least this way I'll have a lot of tasting notes to call on to find a replacement. Watch for Facebook and Twitter status updates for additions to this list.

Most of these teas are bagged, I'll note when they are not.  These teas tend to taste best and not need additional sugar when brewed with just under boiling temperature water and steeped for only a few minutes.

Many bagged green teas in this country look like sweepings from the processing room floor - tiny bits of chaff and dried leaves.  I've indicated when a bag seems to be filled with full leaves.

My favorite morning green tea of all time is the loose leaf jasmine blend I brought back from China.  I keep it in an airtight container and just need a pinch to make a lovely cup. 

  • Stash Moroccan mint (a stand by - I think the mint helps the taste)
  • Te sweetest jasmine pearls (the best so far -- nice fabric tea bag and nice leaves)
  • Stash fusion green and white tea
  • Harney tropical green
  • Te Shangri La (nice leaves, nice bag but didn't care for added flavor)
  • Republic of Tea Pineapple Ginger (doesn't seem to go bitter, nice pineapple taste)
  • Harney's Bangkok Green Tea (silk "sachet" with slighter larger tea leaves but still bits and pieces. Very strong coconut and ginger flavor, seems more like a Thai sauce than a tea.)
  • Lahaha Jasmine Green Tea (sachet type tea bag with full leaves.  Very perfumy, but nice, no bitterness at all.  Organic, all natural.)
  • Lahaha Lemon Green Tea (same sachet, decent tea leaves, dried lemon peel pieces). Not so good. No lemon flavor.  More bitter than the jasmine.  Would not have again.
  • Tea Tibet "Kindness" Green Tea.  Just green tea -- but the best cup of plain green tea I've ever had from a tea bag.  Quality tea leaves (maybe a bit broken rather than whole).  This is a non profit company that supports Tibetan educational projects and orphanages created by Kombucha Wonder Drink.  The tea itself is from northern India.
  • Ahmed Green Tea with Mint - first one that needed sugar -- tasty with it, not so without
  • Numi Gunpowder Green - a superior taste, would definitely get again
  • Republic of Tea Honey Ginseng Green Tea -- not bad, but I kept thinking I was drinking a melted cough drop.  If I had throat issues or a cough I'd drink this up.

More to come!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Dinner for One -- A Confession, a Plan, and a Meal

I have a confession to make. As much as I love food I find I like to cook for an audience. Friends, family, and readers of my cooking columns (kind of a virtual audience) all count.  So when I am alone for extended periods of time (and not on deadline for creating recipes) I actually find it hard to make a real meal for myself.  Oh, I'll defrost leftovers, pour a bowl of cereal, heat a frozen ethnic meal, but it's nothing I look forward to (and usually it's not the best option in terms of calories, salt and or fat).

My lack of decent meals mirrors my issues of establishing some healthy routines while my husband (my best audience) is traveling for months with one of our sons. Today I had a kind of epiphany, I could plan and share some meals for one on Blog Appetit and begin to bring some expectations and planning into my life leading to more routine and better-for-me food.

So tonight's meal for one was pasta with steamed green beans tossed with prepared pesto (I like refrigerated bolani brand with lots of garlic and no cheese). I also have some strawberries for dessert later tonight.  If I need something more I'll add a dollop of yogurt. It feels good to be gaining some control over my evening meals. Next up getting to exercise class.  Watch for posts with suggestions and recipes for dinners for one.