Family Cookbook, Lesson 1

In my last post, I mentioned that there had been some big life changes over the last year.  One of them, as I said, was a divorce.  Now, our family has long been known to “keep” people, regardless of relationship status.  A prime example?  My parents.  They met in college and dated until the end of their senior year.  My father lived near their college but over the years spent more and more time with my mother and her family at their house, which is the one my family lives in now.  After they graduated and ended their relationship, my mother moved a few blocks away from her parents, and my father…. moved in next door.  There was a rooming house next to my grandparents’ house and he took a room there.  Which meant every time my mother came home to do laundry, visit, or have a meal, my dad was there too, playing basketball with her brothers, helping my grandfather with work for the store or sitting at the table, talking with my grandmother.

“Family!”  she finally exclaimed, “I broke up with him!”

“We know, ”  they said, “But we didn’t!”

Clearly, they got back together because, well, here I am telling this story.  It doesn’t end there, however.  When I was 8 my parents separated and eventually divorced.  My dad remained in the area and stayed close to my grandmother.  At one point, he brought his soon-to-be second wife to meet her.  Grandma loved everyone and was gracious and accepting.  My father stayed close to both my grandparents until their deaths.  When family gets together now, even if he isn’t present (and he often is), they ask about him and reminisce about good times.

It’s not just my father, it’s all the ex-wives, ex-partners, friends, long-lost-relatives, roommates and others who remain in the family.  Everyone is always welcomed back.  For funerals, weddings, and other family holidays and events, we always have a large number of people who have to explain their connection (“Oh, I used to be married to…” and “…I lived at the house when I was…”). I’ve said it before somewhere but at one point we had a very large dinner (30 + people) and we asked everyone who’d ever lived at our house to raise their hands, and almost everyone there had a hand raised.

So it would make sense that the same is true for my divorce.  My ex-husband plans to live with us for one more year and then to continue to visit and spend time with all of us.  He’s using that year to save money, organize himself and to pick up some new skills that he’ll need to live alone.  One such skill is cooking.  I’ve promised him that I would teach him how to make a few dishes so that he won’t be stuck eating boxed macaroni and cheese or scrambled eggs for each meal.

As a result, I plan to post a few recipes here that he will be able to use.  A bit of an on-line cookbook, with step by step instructions for some basic, healthy, but still kind of impressive dishes.  We are starting with chicken because if you have a protein, you just need a vegetable and maybe a starch and you’ve got a full meal.  Plus, once you have cooked chicken, it can be used in almost anything- tacos, pasta, salads, sandwiches…. you name it.  It seems like the best place to begin.

Now, I have shamelessly stolen my chicken method from the wonderful, instructive, website The Kitchn.  They explain how to make a simple, but juicy chicken breast here.  I have followed the steps and taken photos and am going to explain it below but I need to make it clear, this isn’t my method or recipe.   That being said, it’s my go-to way to cook chicken.

Ingredients

Boneless, skinless chicken breast (1 per person or you can cut one in half if it’s large)

Flour (you’re going to coat the chicken in flour so maybe a cup or so, more if you’re making more chicken, less if not)

Salt, pepper, seasonings

1-2 Tablespoons of butter

1-2 Tablespoons of olive or canola oil

*You will also need a saute or frying pan with a tight-fitting lid.

 

Directions

Start by placing your flour into a plate- better to use a large plate with a bit of a lip or even a flat baking sheet with a lip.

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Add your seasonings (pre-mixed is ok! but it will salty so adjust accordingly.  You can always add more salt but taking out salt is much harder.).

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Use a small whisk or a fork to stir it together.

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Whisk or stir until it looks evenly incorporated.

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Now, at this point, you can pound your chicken breasts so that they are all of uniform size. To do that, use a meat mallet or a heavy jar or can and pound evenly  all around.  That being said, I don’t always do that, because I’m lazy (as is well established) and this method still works.

Put a frying or saute pan large enough to hold your chicken pieces without crowding them on the stove and turn the heat to medium to preheat the pan.  Keep your eye on this!  You don’t want to burn the pan.  And if you’re nervous about this, because multitasking is tough, don’t do it.  The chicken can always sit for a minute while you heat the pan.

If your chicken is extra wet, pat it dry with a paper towel.  Again, lazy, so I don’t always do that step either.  Then place it in the flour on one side.

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Take it out and gently shake off any excess.

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Do the same to the other side.

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Again, shake off any excess. You should have a light coating of the seasoned flour all over. Set the chicken aside on a clean plate.

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Put a pat of butter and some oil (about a tablespoon  or two of each) into the preheated pan or, if you didn’t preheat, do it now, over medium high heat for about a minute or two, and then add the butter and oil.

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On my stove that looks like this:

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Once it has melted but not browned (like this:)

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Add your chicken, carefully because it may spatter and you don’t want to get burned.

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Now, here’s the hard part:  turn the heat to medium and leave the chicken alone for a full minute.  Don’t touch it at all.  At all. Trust.  This will work.

After a minute, flip the chicken over.

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Now comes the big leap of faith. Cover the pan.

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Turn the heat to low and don’t touch it.  Leave it alone.  Don’t peek, don’t mess with it, don’t flip it, don’t change the heat, don’t take the lid off, just LEAVE. IT. ALONE.  For ten minutes.  Then, turn the heat off (yes, off) BUT DON’T TOUCH THE PAN OR LID for another ten minutes.  Let the chicken sit, with the lid on for these ten minutes (it will be twenty minutes in total: ten with heat, ten without).  After that, open the lid and gaze lovingly at the beautiful end result that YOU created. I tend to put mine onto a cutting board- letting it sit for 2-5 minutes- and then I slice it so that I can use it for any number of things (salads, chicken salad, pasta dishes) or I just eat it plan with some veggies on the side.  Works every single time.

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Kitchen Basics: Hard-Boiled Eggs

Pretty quiet around here just now- it’s mid to late summer and I’m working hard to keep my mind in the moment– it is STILL summer, despite the feeling that it is almost over.  I’m trying to work out as often as I can, to hang with the kids (my oldest is in a day camp this week  and it’s breaking both our hearts!), and to be in the pool as much as possible.

All that said, I am also trying to see friends as often as I can.  The other night, for example, I heading to a friend’s house to drink wine, eat snacks and gossip.  I brought an easy and always appreciated snack, deviled eggs.  Some people like to get super fancy with their eggs and add mushrooms, bacon, chives, etc.  I keep mine super simple and traditional- nothing but the filling and a sprinkle of paprika.  Yum.

Deviled eggs were one of the first things I ever consciously saw made without a recipe (My grandmother almost always cooked without a recipe but I didn’t realize it at the time.).  It was summer, when my cousins and I were staying with my grandmother.  We were probably around 11 or so.  It was afternoon and we had spent the morning in the pool, watching stand up comedy on television and giggling.  Emily decided that she wanted deviled eggs.  Melanie agreed that this was a good idea.  I had never had a deviled egg but I almost never say no to food.

Off to the kitchen we went and I watched as Emily and Melanie made hard boiled eggs, peeled them, scooped out the yolk and mixed it into a bright yellow filling, no measurements, no recipe.  They used spoons to fill the eggs, added a sprinkle of paprika and then handed one to me.

I bit into it and my life was altered.  Slightly spicy and tart, creamy and cool- it was the perfect snack.  We made them many times over that summer and I’ve since bonded with The Hippo over them (It’s her southern heritage showing through).

The problem with deviled eggs is the hard boiling of eggs.  I can never, for the life of me, ever recall how long you’re supposed to boil the eggs.  Then there’s the peeling.  I am horrid at peeling hard boiled eggs.  I don’t have the patience, I get very frustrated and I usually end up ripping away most of the egg white.  When I peel them, the hard boiled eggs tend to look like someone was gnawing on them.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_18So, to the internet I went, in search of a way to make the eggs easier to peel and the amount of time needed to cook them.  If you do a search like this, you’ll see (as I did) that there are a number of ways to achieve the perfect hard boiled egg.

I tried the thumb tack method.  Basically, you prick the round end of the egg with a thumb tack or safety pin or something so that you break the air bubble that’s in there.  This makes the eggs easier to peel after they’re boiled.  And don’t leave the thumb tack in while you boil them.  This method worked for me!

Emily and Melanie’s Deviled Eggs

Ingredients

Eggs (Remember that one egg makes two deviled eggs and plan accordingly)- I usually use a whole dozen

yellow (not dijon, not brown, nothing fancy) mustard– about two to four tablespoons

mayonnaise– about two to four tablespoons

salt, pepper and paprika to taste

*Note about measurements:  I never measure.  I use a few spoonfuls or squirts and then taste.  I’m guess at the tablespoon measurement above based on how it looks.  You’ll have to taste as you go and start by adding less than you think you need– always easier to add more than to take away what’s already in there.

Directions 

Prick your eggs with a thumb tack.  Do this on the fatter, rounder end.  Place them in a saucepan and cover with enough cold water to cover the eggs by about an inch.  Put them on the stove to boil, over high heat.  Once the water is good and boiling (big bubbles, lots of steam), boil the eggs for one minute.  Then take them off the heat and cover the pot.  Let them stand for ten minutes (off the heat but covered).My HipstaPrint 973334217After ten minutes has passed, pour out all the water and shake the pan around, causing the eggs to smash against each other and crack.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_13Now fill your pan up with cold water and ice cubes.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_6Wait five minutes and then drain out the water and any leftover ice.  You are now ready to peel.  The method that worked well for me was to sort of roll the egg around on the counter, cracking the entire shell in kind of a spiderweb way.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_12Then peel the eggshell off.  Doing it near and under running water can help get all the little bits of shell off.  I found that with this thumb tack method, the shells slipped off more easily and in bigger pieces.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_5(Yes, one short of a dozen.  The husband always requires a hard boiled egg for him to eat plain.)  Next get a bowl ready and slice your eggs in half.  I find that if you do it lengthwise, there’s slightly more stability when you put them on a plate than if you do it the other way.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_4Scoop out the beautifully yellow yolk and dump into your bowl.  Set the egg white aside.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_11My HipstaPrint 973334217_17Once all the yolks are in the bowl, add the mustard and mayo.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_16Mix all together.  I use a fork but you could certainly use a whisk or a hand mixer.  It seems like the perfect use for The Hippo’s army fork.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_3Now taste it and add salt, pepper and maybe more mayo or mustard, depending.  Want it more spicy?  Up the mustard.  Want it more creamy?  Mayo it is.  Once it tastes as you want it to taste, get out a ziploc bag.  Scoop that filling into the bag.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_9Get as much of the air out as possible and sort of squish that filling into one corner.  Then ziploc it.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_2Snip off just the smallest bit of the corner.  Mazel tov, you’ve just made a piping bag.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_15Place all your egg whites on a plate or platter that you plan to serve from- as long as it will fit into the fridge, you should be set.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_10Use the piping bag to fill each egg white with the yellow-y goodness.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_8About halfway through, I always think there won’t be enough filling.  There always is.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_1Garnish with a bit of paprika.

My HipstaPrint 973334217_7Try not to eat them all since you are supposed to be sharing, right?

My HipstaPrint 973334217_14

Kitchen Basics: How To Roast A Chicken

It occurred to me yesterday as I was cooking dinner that I’ve never posted a roasted chicken recipe.  Since I roast a chicken for almost every big meal, this was surprising to me.  A good roast chicken is a must for any Jewish woman (along with chicken soup)- you must know how to do it, even if you don’t do it often.  I base my recipe on Ina Garten’s  (my grandmother’s was more simple- it was just chicken in a pan and roasted so I like Ina’s) and it works every time.  Since I don’t love turkey and there were only three of us eating yesterday, I roasted a chicken and even remembered to take photos to share with you….

Roasted Chicken

1 whole chicken

several carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped

1 head of fennel

several cloves of garlic, peeled

1 head of garlic, cut in half

1 lemon, cut in half

1 stick of butter, melted

salt, pepper

Optional:  small potatoes or larger potatoes peeled and chopped, brussel sprouts, other root veggies (parsnips, turnips, etc) peeled and chopped

Directions:

Preheat oven to 425.

Check out your chicken and make sure that you’ve taken out the gizzard, heart, etc. parts. Usually they’re in the cavity in a neat little bag. You can save them to make stock or broth if you like.  Rinse your chicken and pat dry.  Set it aside and make sure that you’ve washed your hands afterwards- never touch anything after you’ve handled raw chicken.  Get out your roasting pan.  I use this enormous one which was a wedding gift from a wonderful friend- it can hold a turkey easily and I adore it.

Get out your veggies.  I always use garlic, carrot, onion and fennel.  You can also use other root veggies as you like.  Mostly they serve as a bed for the chicken to rest on as it cooks and then soak up all the yummy chicken juices and butter and spices.  They end up carmalizing in the pan and are just delicious.  Anyway, rinse, peel and chop them so that they’re roughly the same size.  For those of you playing along at home, here’s fennel, one of my favorite strange looking veggies.

I use just the bulb part but I think that the top is so funny- sort of frilly and tickly.  Wash and then chop it into rough pieces.  It’s layered, like an onion so the pieces will look like the onion that you chop.  Fennel has a sort of black licorice taste so it’s strong but I like it.  Anyway, toss all your veggies with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper and throw them into the roasting pan.

Slice the head of garlic in half lengthwise and slice the lemon in half as well.  Stuff each into the empty cavity of the chicken- I alternate, lemon/garlic/lemon/garlic.  Place your chicken on top of the veggies. 

Melt the stick of butter (yes, I know, a stick!) in a pan over low heat.  Pour the butter over your chicken.  Salt and pepper the chicken well. Wash your hands.

Bake for about an hour and fifteen minutes, or until the internal temperature is between 150-160 degrees.  Take it out and let it rest for ten minutes before attempting to carve.  Ina says to tent it with foil but I don’t always do that. Sometimes, depending on how quickly the skin is browning, I’ll cover it with foil while it’s still cooking, just to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Carve and serve on a platter with some of the yummy veggies on the side. I recently watched a foodtv special on Thanksgiving in which Alton Brown carved a turkey live! and on tv!- and now I can carve a chicken.  Far easier than I thought.

Grown Up Brunch

When I was little, my family would get together with other families for dinner or brunch or some other meal.  I’d play with the children from that family and the parents would talk. Usually it would separate out by gender but I have distinct memories of looking up and seeing all the adults around the table, chatting, laughing and watching us play.

Today, we became my parents.  It was awesome.

We had friends over for brunch, two couples, one of whom has children.  The adults (though, since it’s us, I use the term loosely) sat at the table, chatting, laughing and eating while the two older kids played.  This is what it looked like when they were done playing:

It was great.  And we had so much food!  Bagels, cream cheese and lox (we’re good Jews), yummy cookies and pastries (thanks to one couple), homemade blueberry muffins (thanks to the other couple) and a mushroom and leek quiche that I threw together so that we’d have some more protein, you know, for balance.

It really was a lovely morning and it was nice to see G. and the other child play together.  He’s the son of a good friend from high school (with whom I’d lost touch but, thanks to facebook, we’ve re-connected) and it was neat to see our children getting along.  Also a bit surreal since most days I still feel like I’m in middle school- it’s hard to believe that high school was over 15 years ago and that many of us now have children of our own.

At any rate, here’s the quiche recipe.  I find quiche quite forgiving and it can take on a number of different flavors.  It’s a great leftovers dish since you can throw almost any veggie in there and have it end up tasty.  Eggs, cream, cheese….  what’s not to like?

Leek and Mushroom Quiche

Ingredients

1/2 recipe of dough (I use the Hippo’s recipe but I add about 1-2 teaspoons of sugar for a bit of sweet)

6-9 eggs, depending on the size of your pie pan

3/4-1 cup of milk, light or heavy cream- use what you have

1 cup sliced mushrooms

1/2 – 3/4 cup leeks (sliced and cleaned)

1/2-1 cup of grated parmesan cheese (other cheeses work well, too)

Directions:

Make your dough and let it firm up in the fridge.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Slice and clean your leek.  I make really thin slices and then separate the layers into a bowl, cover them with water and let them sit.  All the sand and dirt will sort of fall out and sink to the bottom. I actually love leeks- they’re milder than onions and sort of sweet.  I saved one leek to make potato leek soup later in the week.  I can’t wait!

Chop up your mushrooms while the leeks are soaking.

Heat a small saute pan on the stove over medium heat.  Add some olive oil and toss in the leeks (take them out of the water first).  Let them cook a bit until they’re soft and sort of translucent but not brown- maybe 5 minutes or so.

Add your mushrooms and let that cook until the mushrooms cook down (i.e. release their liquid and get smaller).  Meanwhile, crack your eggs into a large-ish bowl.

I think there's something really pretty about eggs. I know, I'm weird.

Whip them with a whisk until they’re all blended together well.

Add your cream (or whatever dairy you’re using) and some salt (and pepper if you wish).  Whip again to mix and set aside.  Then it’s time to roll out your dough.

Now, I am NOT a dough expert.  I can not crimp or flute to save my life so my crusts are always asymmetrical and sort of ragged looking.  I only started making my own pie crust in the last year or so when I realized that 1) the Hippo’s recipe was easy and did not involve lard (big debate in the pie crust world about how lard is what makes a really good, flakey, decadent pie crust which is probably true but, ick) and 2) I could make it in my food processor.  I love my food processor.  So take my rolling out advice with a grain or two of salt and find what works for you.

I roll my dough on a cutting board because I’m never sure my counters are clean enough and I am never prepared enough to clean it before I put the dough down.  Lightly flour your surface as well as your dough.

Start rolling from the center out, not from either end. I remember this from my bakery days but I’ll be damned if I can remember why- I think maybe it’s more even this way.

Flip it over and turn it 90 degrees.  Roll again, from the center.

Continue this until it is the thickness and roughly the shape that you want.  Again, mine are never symmetrical and never the correct shape.  Keep in mind that you want to work the dough as little as possible and that the more time it has to heat up the less flakey it will be- has to do with the butter melting and other food science-y stuff.  If you really want to know more, I’m sure Alton Brown can tell you. (I just watched the video link and he actually uses a ziplock bag and two pie pans which, if I had two pie pans, I might try)

I put my pretty red pie pan on top of it partly to measure and partly because it’s easier for me to get the dough into the pan.  You can be all fancy and roll the dough over your rolling-pin and then sort of drape it over the pan but I find that fancy makes holes in the dough (at least for me).

Flip it over so that the dough is on top of the pan.

Peel off your cutting board if necessary and then sort of drape the dough gently into the pan.  I press down gently to kind of tuck it into the sides and bottom.

At this point, you should make the edges look pretty.  I do not, but you should.  I just sort of leave it.

By now, your mushroom/leek mixture should be done (did you forget about it?  I hope not!).  Set it aside to let it cool for a few minutes while you grate your cheese.  I am (as well we all know if we’ve been reading along) lazy so I do mine in the mini-food processor.

Sprinkle about half of your cheese onto your crust.  It will sort of insulate it once you add the other things and make it less soggy as it bakes.

Your mushrooms and leeks should look a bit like this:

Add them on top of the cheese and sort of spread them around as evenly as you can.

Give your egg and dairy mixture another whip and then pour over.

Sprinkle the rest of the cheese on top and toss into your oven.  You may want to put a baking sheet underneath, in case some of it spills over.

Let it bake for about 45 minutes to an hour.  About halfway through, I always need to cover it loosely with a bit of aluminum foil as it will be brown but still jiggley.  You want it to be firm and not wiggley in the middle.  When you take it out of the oven, let it sit for a few minutes before cutting into it, otherwise it won’t set as well.

Around here we’ll eat quiche for any of the our three meals.  It’s good both hot, room temperature and cold.  And it’s generally pretty easy to throw together last minute, too.  I’ll sometimes do a bacon cheddar cheese quiche or a sausage and other kind of cheese.  Sometimes it’s just whatever veggies I have on hand- peppers, broccoli, asparagus you name it, it can probably go into a quiche.

Enjoy with your friends and family (even if you’re not having brunch).

What Every Jewish Mother Knows Is….

how to make chicken soup, of course!  It’s a law.

Of course, you have my grandmother, who knew how to make chicken soup from scratch, and then you have my mother, who knew how to open a can of Campbell’s. You know, both work when you’re sick.  One is a whole lot more effort than the other.  But if they’re both served by a Jewish mother, than the magical medicinal properties remain.  If you’re not a Jewish mother, well, you should probably still know how to make homemade chicken soup.  It may not be quite as magical but I bet it’ll do the trick the next time you or someone you love is sick.

The problem is, of course, like any good passed-down recipe, there is no hard and fast recipe with measurements.  So I’ll give you the ballpark and you’ll experiment.  Really, it’s hard to go wrong.  Soup is very forgiving.  Plus, I’ll even give you a bonus sandwich recipe since you’ll have a lot of chicken once you’ve made the soup.

Homemade Chicken Soup

1 whole chicken or 1 whole chicken cut into parts

Several carrots, peeled and chopped (I’d say 6 large)

1 whole onion, peeled and cut into quarters

2-4 cloves of garlic, peeled

Several stalks of celery, washed and chopped (Again, maybe 6 stalks?)

2 large tomatoes, cut into quarters

Pasta, if you’d like

About ten billion cups of water.  Okay, how about 14 cups?  I use the same stockpot when I make soup and I just eyeball it.

Directions:

Wash and pat dry your chicken.  If you’re using a whole chicken, make sure to remove the gizzards and neck package that’s usually stuffed inside the cavity.  You can use this in the broth if you like but don’t forget to unwrap it.  No plastic in the soup!   Place your chicken in a big soup or stockpot and cover with the water.  Add 3 of the celery stalks, 3 of the carrots, all of the onion, all of the garlic and one of the tomatoes.  Place over medium-high heat and bring to a boil.  Once it’s boiling, turn down the heat and let it cook for, well, forever.  At least an hour.  I generally cook it for a few hours, adding water when the level gets below the chicken.  You’ll know you’re done when the meat of the chicken is coming off the bones.

Set it all aside to let it cool.  In fact, I often put it in the fridge and leave it overnight.  The chicken fat (that’s schmaltz to you Jews) will sort of (gross) congeal and it will make it easier to remove it.

Using a large spoon, skim the congealed fat off the soup.  Or at least as much of it as you can.  If you’re really intrepid, you can save it and use it when you’re making matzo balls.  If you’re like me (and unlikely to make matzo balls in the near future), put it in a bowl and then toss it in the garbage.  It’s not really good for your garbage disposal or your sink drain.

Yucky fat skimmed. And some tomatoes that got throw in there as well.

 

Once you’ve skimmed all the fat, you can reheat if your broth has sort of jellied or, if your broth is just broth, you can skip the reheating.  Remove all the chicken and as many of the vegetables as you can and put them in a bowl to cool.

The chicken and vegetables I removed before I strained my soup.

Then strain the broth through a mesh sieve and into another pot or bowl.

What was left in my sieve.

If there’s any visible fat in your broth, skim it out now.  There will be some left but that’s ok.  You just don’t want a whole lot.  Ick.

Return the broth to the heat and add the other 3 carrots, celery, and the tomato.  Return it to the heat on medium and let it slowly come to a boil.  Meanwhile, go back to your bowl of chicken and veggies.  Pick out the chicken and start to shred the meat with your fingers.  Don’t use the skin or the cartilage or the bones, just find the meat and shred it into small, soup size pieces.  Add this to the soup.  Unless you want lots and lots of chicken in your soup, you will likely have some leftover.  That’s ok, use it for the bonus chicken salad recipe below.

Let this cook for another good while- at least an hour.  Add more water if it gets too low- more than halfway down the pot.  Season to taste with salt and pepper and maybe a little bit of thyme.  Remember not to over-salt because as it cooks, it will get more salty.  The soup will be done when the veggies are tender but not mushy.

If you want to add pasta to your soup, cook it separately.  Trust me on this one.  Cook it according to the package directions and add it to the soup bowls as you serve.

I used little tiny pasta "ears"

 

Bonus Curry Chicken Salad Recipe

Ingredients

Leftover chicken from the soup

mayonnaise

red onion (to taste, I only used about 1 teaspoon)

Curry power (to taste, I used between 1 and 2 teaspoons)

1-2 stalks of celery, chopped

salt, pepper

bread, for making the sandwich

Directions
Shred the chicken and put it into a large bowl.

Slice your red onion very thinly and add to the bowl.

I didn't even use all of this onion.

Add the celery and the curry powder. 

Add mayo to taste (I think I used maybe 3-5 tablespoons), it will depend on both your taste buds and how much chicken you have.  Sometimes I’ll add some sliced grapes and walnuts or cranberries.  But it’s tasty even without those additions.

Spread on toast and serve with the soup.  Yum.

Take Two

So, at one point (and maybe still now) meal-planning and cooking for two dishes at once was all the rage.  For those of you who watched Food Network when they still had cooking shows, you might remember Quick Fix Meals where the host, Robin Miller, made several meals at once by doing all the prep work at the same time.  Or the current one by a woman I once liked but now can not stand, Rachel Ray’s Week In A Day.  Don’t get me wrong, I think this is a brilliant idea.  I get asked all the time about how I manage to cook dinner every night (usually by friends that don’t cook) and the truth is, the week in a day concept is way too much planning for me.

But sometimes, I do re-use leftovers.  Does that count?  Here’s an example.  Remember the sauce I posted about last week (click here)?  A few nights ago I re-purposed the leftover sauce.  In a way, this recipe is going to show you how I generally cook- I know a few techniques and I throw them together along with whatever happens to be in my fridge at the time.

Chinese Chicken Using Grandma’s Leftover Sauce Which Was Good For London Broil Or Chicken

Ingredients

About a pound of boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1/4 cup cornstarch

1 cup sauce

2-3 Tablespoons of sesame oil

1/2-1 cup chicken broth

Leftover or fresh green beans

Rice (to serve)

Directions

Chop up your chicken into bite sized pieces.

Place the cornstarch in a large bowl, or at least one large enough to hold the chicken.

Add the chicken and toss to coat.

I place another bowl over and shake which can be messy so if you do it that way, make sure to do it over the sink.

Over medium high, heat about two tablespoons of sesame oil in a wok or large saute pan.

Take the chicken out and shake off the excess cornstarch before placing it into the heated oil. 

Let them brown up a bit- not cook all the way through, but get the outsides toasty.  Add the leftover sauce which should be rather thick since it’s been in the fridge. 

Stir and toss to coat the chicken.  At this point, I added a few splashes of chicken broth to help loosen up the sauce. 

Turn the heat down slightly and let that cook.  Stir once in a while so it doesn’t burn on the bottom.  Meanwhile, chop up your green beans.  I think you could use broccoli or another green veg in this as well- maybe not spinach but chinese broccoli might be nice.  Probably not peas.

Check on your chicken.  If the sauce is too thick, thin it out with some chicken broth or water- I used water for the second thinning since it was salty to start with and I was afraid more chicken broth might make it even more so. 

Continue cooking until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce is the desired consistency.  Throw the green beans in at the last minute to heat through (if they’re previously cooked as mine were- if they’re raw, make sure to put them in about three to four minutes before it’s done so that they have time to soften up a bit).

Serve over rice.  I had leftover brown rice so I used that.

Kitchen Basics: White Sauce (aka Bechamel)

I realized this afternoon, as I was whipping up a quick cheese sauce for pasta that I make “white sauce” all the time.  It’s the basis for so many of the things I make that I feel like it’s something I should pass on to others.  Plus, I first learned to make it in Israel so that covers the “say more about Israel” clamor I’ve been getting.  (You know, from all four of my fans…love you guys!!)

When I lived in Israel I lived on a kibbutz.  It was a small kibbutz, about 70 families.  There were about 15-20 volunteers and factory workers at any given time.  We worked all over the kibbutz- landscaping, cleaning the dinning room, cooking in the kitchen, running machines in the factory.  We worked six days a week- really, more like five and a half since Fridays we were able to knock off a bit early.  The volunteers all lived in the same row of flats and the factory workers were a few rows away.*

Since it was a small kibbutz there wasn’t much to do on our days off. Sometimes we’d travel into Tel Aviv or down to Jerusalem for the night.  Often we’d stay on the kibbutz and drink at the pub- which was actually a converted bomb shelter- or walk over to the “bush pub” which was a bar a bit further away.  Saturday mornings were the best- we’d all sleep late and then gather in one of our small flats to make breakfast on our hot plates.  We’d take fresh vegetables from the kibbutz kitchen (this was how most of the kibbutzniks did their shopping- just wandered through the walk-in with plastic bags in hand.  It’s really no wonder they had to revamp their practices a few years after I left!) and eat them with fresh bread and cheese outside on the grass in front of our flats.

The kibbutz (or at least a tiny piece of it)

 

Sometimes we’d make dinners.  That was always a bit harder and we’d have to get creative.  Sometimes we’d take the Friday chicken from the dinning room and supplement it with vegetables.  One night, and I remember it clearly, despite all the Shabbat wine I’d had, one of the Australian volunteers made what she called “white sauce” with pasta.  It was delicious and I watched intently and then demanded that she tell me how she made it.  She described it to me and I memorized it.  It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized what I was making was technically a Bechamel Sauce.

Bechamel is, according to epicurious.com, a basic French white sauce which is the base of many other sauces and was named after its inventor, Louis XIV’s steward Louis de Bechamel. I have found this to be true and have used it in numerous applications over the years.  So, to me it is an invaluable Kitchen Basic.  Plus, it  always reminds me of S., the sassy Australian volunteer (who, in a strange twist of fate, met her now husband (who is from South Africa) on the kibbutz and they currently live a few towns away from me! So she had to come from Australia to Israel to meet her South African husband and then to move to the U.S. Funny how life works, huh?)

Bechamel Sauce aka White Sauce

Ingredients

3 Tablespoons butter

3 Tablespoons flour

1 cup milk

nutmeg (a true Bechamel uses a bit of nutmeg, I don’t always use it)

Additional items:  cheese, dry mustard, onions, garlic, other flavorings

Directions:

In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  If using, add the onions and garlic, letting them soften but not crisp up or burn.

Sprinkle the flour around in the pan and use a whisk to combine it with the butter. 

Keep whisking until all the butter is absorbed and you have  kind of paste.
Let it cook over medium heat until it’s a nice golden color- about 1-2 minutes.  It will be sort of nutty smelling which is good.  (This mixture of flour and fat is technically a roux.  It can be used as a thickening agent for a number of dishes.)

Add a bit of the milk and whisk in order to make it smooth with no lumps. It will thicken up very quickly. Add the rest of the milk and whisk again.  Cook over medium heat for a few minutes but keep an eye on it and whisk it often since it will continue to thicken and you don’t want it to scorch on the bottom. 

Season it with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  A few sprinkles of all three- nothing too strong.  If you’re using it to make a cheese sauce, stir in the grated cheese a bit at a time (I have a visual in my mind of S. standing at her hot plate, patiently tearing pieces of cheese and dropping them into the sauce while she stirred it.).   In this case, I added cheddar cheese to make a cheese sauce.  Serve over pasta or meat or whatever you like.  The basic Bechamel sauce is what’s used as the topping to moussaka which is a dish I love but almost never make since it’s a time-consuming one.  Of course as I write this, I’m thinking it’s probably no more time-consuming than lasagna so maybe I’ll give it a shot one of these cold weekends.  Stay tuned!

*In scouring the web for links I came across a website made by a volunteer whose time on the kibbutz overlapped with mine. He’s made a bit of a website with photos and such so if you’re interested, click here.