Saturday, August 22, 2009

Country Style Chicken Soup - Or What I Do With A Leftover Rotisserie Chicken

When Nick and I buy a rotisserie chicken, we get at least five meals from it. The first night, we play primal caveman. We take a drumstick or thigh, and a few slices from the bird. That first night is always the best. On days two and three, we cut successive slices from the beast, usually eating it with my homemade bread, or potatoes, and always a salad. On day four, it's chicken soup time.

My chicken soup varies with my mood, but it always starts like this. Pick the remaining meat off the carcass and reserve. Meanwhile, sweat some onions (mandatory), and, possibly celery, green pepper, carrot (depending on mood). Then crush and toss in some garlic (or not). Take the bones of the carcass, from which most of the meat is stripped, and separate them, so that they will lie in the bottom of the kettle, and will be totally immersed in 2 or 3 inches of water. Add the bones, the water, and various herbs (I used whole fresh ones from the garden in summer, which I later remove, a la bouquet garni). The herbs I used today were rosemary, parsley, and thyme.

Simmer (don't boil) for about 1 hour. Remove the bones and the herbs. Discard the herbs. Scour the bones for any remaining meat, and return the meat to the pot.

Now, is when I can get creative. Today, we picked a zucchini from the garden. That, and my love of basil, made me think, "summery provencal style". So I added the squash and some chopped tomatoes and 2 cups of cooked garbanzo beans. (I cook beans in quantity and keep them in 2 cup portions in my freezer). I simmered about 15 minutes more, then I added some chopped basil, and finally, the reserved meat from the chicken, which I chopped up before adding to the pot.

We had this tonight, and have enough left over to have again on Monday (a worknight, when cooking time is nonexistent). I love when I can do two meals in one!

I served the soup salad and Ruhlman's "3-1-2" biscuits, which, for just Nick and me, was 1 cup flour, a few tablespoons butter, 1 t. baking powder, salt, and enough milk to make it stick together.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Clams, A Whole Army of Them!

One of my family's favorite things to do is go clamming on Barnegat Bay. I always bring some home. Nick, my husband, being a midwesterner, took many years of marriage to me, but eventually go so he's willing to eat clams. So, after work today, I made us some clam fritters.
I used this recipe, as I didn't want to delve through all my cookbooks to find a suitable one. This one was light on flour, and it turned out to be a good thing. The key is to pour the liquid into very hot oil. Yumilicious.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Peach Jam

When I was little, my mom would buy peaches by the 1/2 bushel, and can them. She used my Grammy Alice's old canning kettle, and quart-sized Ball canning jars. I remember playing with the circular canning lids while sitting on the floor, where the living room met the kitchen, watching my mom skin the peaches, prepare the simple syrup, cook it all, then ladle it into the hot clean jars, after which they'd go into the canning (sterilizing) kettle. When they were done, she'd lift them out with a stainless steel cage, into which each jar nestled.

I've channeled this heritage by making peach jam this evening. Sometimes, I crave the instantaneous results that such efforts yield. I have seven jars of peach goodness, after 1 hours work tonight.

This recipe is simple - 5 cups of peeled, chopped peaches, 1 box of granular pectin, 5 cups of sugar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Boil. Ladle into jars. Process jars in boiling water 10 minutes. And there you have it - holiday gifts ready for the packing. If they make it until then! I sneaked a few spoonfuls of this, and it is mmm, mmm, good!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Impromptu Salad Bar

This is about taking what you have, and making dinner from it!

On the upper left, there are tomatoes from my garden. Romas, cut up, along with Sweet 100 cherries, and yellow pear tomatoes. On the lower right, is a hot pepper. Cucumbers, sweet peppers, and red onions complete the palette.

Nick's coming home soon, bearing, it is hoped, a rotisserie chicken. That, field greens, the veggies above, and bread, make a balanced meal at our house! .

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Fish Stock!

A few weeks ago, Michael Pollan put an article in the New York Times Magazine. I like Michael Pollan's work, and find it informative and thought provoking. I recommend his book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, to you, if you've not already read it. In the New York Times article, Pollan states that many of us don't cook anymore, except to heat things up - things like pre-packaged food. Interestingly, he notes the concurrent proliferation of armchair cooking - that Americans love to watch TV shows about cooking - shows like "Iron Chef". But that these shows are entertainment. They don't seek to teach us how to cook, as Julia Child did, in her PBS show of the 60s/70s. (I remember watching that show with my mom - I reacted the same way many others did - I was inspired that I, too, can cook! I figured, all I need is a sense of adventure and some ingredients. The worst thing that would happen is what I create is inedible - hardly a tragedy. And, since I started cooking for myself and my college friends in the 1980s, I've not had too many total, irreperable failures in the kitchen. That inspiration came from Julia. And it also came from my dad - who showed me from the time I was four years old, I could do pretty much anything I wanted. Of course, my dad's idea of adventure was me cutting the grass, putting up insulation, and cleaning the cars. But he also spent the entire summer of 1968 teaching me to water ski. He taught me to sail. He taught me to change the tire and oil on my 1972 Ford Pinto - I had to learn those things before I was allowed to drive. What with all that hard work, he gave me a pretty strong work ethic from that...and confidence. He was the toughest boss I've ever had. And that includes U.S. Army bosses, restaurant bosses, lawyer bosses, and on and on. None are ever even half as tough as dad was. When I told him that once, he shrugged it off - I don't think he believed me! I'll tell you about my mom later - she was just as influential, in different ways, to me and my two sisters as we were growing up.

Speaking of my dad - he caught some flounder yesterday, and saved me the bones. I have recently become enamored of the book, Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman. In this book, Ruhlman instructs us how to think about cooking. Not to think 'recipe', but to think logic, and ratio. I've been doing that, more or less, for over 25 years - I've never been one for following recipes. I use recipes as a base from which to riff my own food. Ruhlman's book takes my ideas much farther. He says that pretty much all cooking is based on basic ratios. Take bread. It's 5 parts flour (by weight) to 3 parts water. Then add yeast, salt, and so on. If you use the 3:5 ratio for bread, you'll get decent bread. It might not be earth shatteringly delicious, but it will be good. That's the basic idea behind the book. There's more, but you'll have to look at the book for yourself, because I want to move on to what I cooked today.

Stock. From the flounder bones my dad gave me.

Here's basically what I did to make fish stock:
Chop coarsely some onion and celery. Put in kettle with a little oil. "Sweat" the vegetables (on medium heat, with lid on) for about 5 to 10 minutes. Do not brown them.
Meanwhile, soak the fish bones in very cold water. (See below for a photo of my bones. My FISH bones, silly. Not mine.) Change the water a few times. This gets the blood out.
Drain the fish bones (after offering a bit of sushi to the cat), and add them to the vegetables. "Sweat" the bones with the vegetables for about 5 minutes. Then add water and other herbs (I used parsley and thyme, and a bay leaf, with one leaf of sage). Bring to just under a simmer. Don't boil. Cook on low heat for 30 minutes. Cool, and strain. Salt to taste. (If you wanted you could leave the fish bits and vegetables in there, you could...especially if making a fish stew... But I discarded my bone scraps since most of the nutrition and flavor has been leached out by the water.). Pretty darn tasty stock! I'm going to freeze my stock in 2 cup portions, and use it to cook rice, as a base for soup, to enrich my clam chowder, and so on.