Impromptu Chicken Soup for Two

Chicken soup: simple, fulfilling, and nutritious.

Today, I looked in my fridge, and chicken thighs and chicken broth were both there. Sounds like a good day for soup.

I started off by chopping up a potato and an onion. In a small saucepan over low heat, I sautéed a handful of baby carrots, eight or 10 cloves of garlic, and the potato and onion. The whole mix sizzled and emitted an aroma that I could only call “Mom’s Kitchen.”

While the veggies were cooking, I cut the meat off of one chicken thigh. It was an exceptionally chubby chicken, and I took my time removing the fat before I chopped it into about 1 inch chunks.

I tossed the chicken into the pan, stirred it, and let it sauté for a few minutes more. Then I added spices, salt-and-pepper, and 1 quart of chicken stock. I had homemade chicken stock, but store-bought chicken stock (low-sodium by preference) would work too.

Once the soup began to simmer, I turned the heat down very low, and left it simmer uncovered for an hour. I stirred two or three times.

Soup improves the longer you simmer it. What had been a bland and watery broth when I started turned into a deeply flavored, savory chicken soup, with sweet notes of roasted garlic paring well against the dark meat chicken.

I found that the garlic still had more crunch and “raw” garlic flavor that I’d hoped. When I make this dish again, I will start sautéing the garlic three or four minutes before all the rest of the veggies.


Impromptu chicken soup for two

  • one small onion
  • one small potato
  • 1/2 cup baby carrots OR regular carrots coarsely chopped
  • 8-10 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • one chicken thigh, deboned and fat removed, chopped into one inch (ish) chunks
  • 1 quart chicken stock (low sodium)
  • 1 tsp basil
  • salt to taste (around 1/4 tsp)
  • pepper to taste (around 1/4 tsp)
  1.    Chop the onion and pepper (and carrots). If the garlic is in large cloves (such as elephant garlic), cut them up too.
  2.    Heat the olive oil over medium-low heat
  3.    Sauté the garlic for about four minutes. It should be fragrant but not yet softening at the end of this step.
  4.    Add  the veggies and cook for for about ten minutes, until the onions are becoming translucent and the potatoes are beginning to lose their sharp edges.
  5.    Turn the heat up the medium and add the chicken. Cook for four more minutes, until at least one surface of the chicken chunks is starting to brown.
  6.    Add the salt, pepper, basil and broth, and turn the heat up to high. Once the broth begins to boil, turn the heat down to very low and let the soup simmer for an hour or more.

Wedge Salad

Wedge salad is simple- four ingredients. Where most green salads have onions and radishes fighting for dominance, wedge salad is clean and pure, relying on the freshness of the lettuce to carry the day. If you don’t have really good lettuce, you’ll want a different recipe.

If you do have access to good, fresh iceberg lettuce and cherry tomatoes, you’re half way to a salad that is striking and delicious. It is a great accompaniment to almost any meat or fish; it pairs particularly well with lighter dishes, though I wouldn’t complain to see it served before a lasagne either.

Either Ranch dressing or bleu cheese dressing can work well with this salad- I’d suggest using Ranch unless your audience is used to the strong, pungent, wonderful flavor of bleu cheese. It’s also worth considering the rest of the meal- if you’re serving this with salmon, Ranch is much less likely to overwhelm the mild flavor.


  • 1 head of FRESH iceberg lettuce, refrigerated
  • 1 lb bacon, preferably thick-sliced
  • 8 oz cherry tomatoes
  • Ranch dressing (or bleu cheese dressing), one bottle
  1.    Peel and discard the outer few layers of lettuce.
  2.    Pick up the lettuce, point the stem down, and strike it sharply on a study countertop. What you want to do is just barely cave in the stem, so that you can pull it out.
  3.    Slice the head of lettuce into six even wedges. Place one wedge on each plate, pointed side up.
  4.    Cook the bacon to crispy. If you have  NuWave oven,  I’ve found that 12 minutes works well. Drain the bacon well. If you’re using a frying pan to cook the bacon, save the bacon fat.
  5.    In a large frying pan, heat up the bacon fat to almost smoking and dump in half of the tomatoes (be careful- adding cold tomatoes to hot oil WILL cause spitting). Once the tomatoes have blistered, about two minutes, use a slotted spoon to remove them to a paper towel and cook the second batch.
  6.    Crumble the bacon and distribute it evenly over the lettuce wedges.
  7.    Add enough dressing to cover about 50% of the wedge. Drizzling it in lines makes this even more attractive.
  8.    Add the tomatoes- they’ll want to roll off of the wedges but if you can get one or two to nestle in the lettuce it enhances the appearance.
  9.    Serve immediately as a first course of a larger meal, or as a light meal on its own.

 

Eating on the Cheap: Rice and Beans (but not boring)

Rice and beans is a dish that has fed many a poor family. It is cheap, filling, and (if done right) can be quite tasty.

Unfortunately, all too any modern cooks seem to think that the two ingredients in the title are all that should be there, and wind up with bland stodge.

A local supermarket had a few decent sales one week, including bacon and mustard greens. I thought that adding them to rice and beans would make a decent dish.

I started with the beans, since they take the longest. You can use canned beans, but I like working from dried beans; it is cheaper and they have a more distinct texture when cooked than canned. I took two cups of dried pinto beans, sorted them (you can find grit and even pebbles!), and left them in a Dutch oven on the stove, covered, with about two quarts of cool tap water.

(eight hours later)

I emptied the beans into a collander, left them to drain, and rinsed the Dutch oven. Then I put six cups of low-sodium chicken broth into the Dutch oven, heated it to a boil, and added the beans. Once the water was boiling again I turned the heat to low, covered it, and ignored it for an hour and fifteen minutes.

Then, the rice. I heated two tablespoons of bacon fat in the Dutch oven, over medium heat. Once the oil was hot (not quite smoking) I added two cups of long-grain white rice, stirring to coat with the oil, then left it alone for three minutes, stirred well, and left the rice for an additional three minutes. At the end of this step, the rice had some pale/translucent grains and a few of them were slightly browned.

I added diced onions and bell peppers. If I were making a jambalaya, I would have added celery, but this was shaping up to be vaguely Italian, so I stuck with those two, and added garlic after a few minutes.

Now, I opened up the pot of beans and added the rice and veggies, stirred to combine, then re-covered it and left it simmering for an additional thirty minutes.

I have a NuWave oven, so the bacon is simple. I laid out about  half a pound of bacon on the taller rack, set the oven to 12 minutes and carried on. If you’re not blessed with a NuWave, you’ll want to crisp up eight ounces of bacon over medium-low heat.

Mustard greens are dark green, leafy, like spinach but more so. They pair well with the garlic and bacon in this dish. Unfortunately the stems are very tough, so the next 15 minutes was spent stripping the leaves so that the stems could be discarded. I also ripped the leaves to roughly two inch squares.

When the beans and rice are done, turn off the heat, stir in the mustard greens, and re-cover. Crumble the bacon (or chop it) and stir it in as well. The leaves will wilt and turn bright green.

This version of rice and beans is good straight out of the pot, but also works well in the fridge for a few days.

 

Easy Beef Stroganoff

Beef Stroganoff is a fairly simple dish, but it is distinctive and satisfying. I’ve seen many recipes that miss the point by either overcomplicating things (fifteen ingredients is egregiously complex for this dish- we’re not making Boeuf Bourguinon here) or oversimplifying them (Campbell’s Cream of Something soup).

Thin slices of beef and mushrooms in a creamy gravy, all over egg noodles. Not rocket science, but the recipe (unlike most) doesn’t really take well to modifications. I have never seen a successful vegetarian variant, for instance, and adding ingredients quickly turns this into a misbegotten beef stew.


  • 1 lb beef sirloin
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 2 TB butter
  • 6 oz sliced mushrooms
    • White mushrooms and baby bellas both work fine.
    • Portobellos can work if you like mushrooms and have the budget.
  • 6  scallions
  • 1 can of beef gravy (10 3/4 ounce)
  • 2 TB balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  1. Slice the beef into bite-sized pieces, cutting across the grain, then sprinkle with pepper. Start the egg noodles
  2. Cut the green onions (or scallions) into fine pieces. Keep the green parts in one dish and the white parts in another.
  3. Add one tablespoon of butter to a dutch oven or large frying pan and set over medium-high heat. When the butter has melted and stopped foaming, sautèe the mushrooms and white parts of the onions for eight minutes. The mushrooms should be softened and the onions somewhat translucent when this step is done.
  4. Remove the cooked veggies to a bowl, wipe the pan clean and return to heat.
  5. Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter, then sautèe the beef until browned- should be about two to three minutes.
  6. Add the balsamic vinegar and gravy, and heat until it is simmering evenly, then remove from heat.
  7. Stir in sour cream, then sprinkle with the reserved green parts of the scallions. Serve immediately over the egg noodles.

 

Paleo brownies. With BACON.

My twin brother is on the Paleo diet. Since neither of us is terribly rich, he has started his own rabbit farm, to provide him with the healthy organic meat that the Paleo diet emphasizes.

One thing that the diet absolutely nixes is refined sugar. These brownies are sweetened with maple syrup. Maple. If it has corn syrup, it is not Paleo friendly, and it really doesn’t taste the same.

These brownies will not taste like the blandly cloying sugar bombs that show up at elementary school bake sales. They are strong, with an espresso bitterness and a startling (but excellent) cargo of bacon. If you are one of the folks who take your coffee light and sweet, they may be a wee bit too bitter for your liking, but give it a try.


  • 4 ounces dark chocolate, chips or chopped finely
  • 3 medium eggs (organic if possible)
  • 1/4 cup of coconut oil
  • 1/4 cup bacon fat or butter
  • 1/2 cup of real maple syrup
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons fine coffee grinds (dry form, not instant coffee granules)
  • 2 tablespoons very strong coffee (liquid form)
  • 6 slices of baked bacon chopped (drained and patted dry)

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375F
  • In a mixing bowl, combine the melted dark chocolate, oil, syrup, and eggs.
  • Slowly sift the cocoa powder over the wet ingredients, whisking it evenly.
  • Add the coffee and the coffee grinds, and stir until well combined
  • Line a 9×9 inch square pan with parchment paper, and fill the pan with the brownie batter. Top the batter with the chopped bacon pieces (drained and patted dry), and bake for 30 minutes
  • Check for doneness by inserting a toothpick in the batter (clean toothpick means brownies are done – crumbs sticking to the toothpick means keep cooking)

Arroz con Pollo

Here’s a simple one-pot meal. Easy to cook, tasty, lacking only a green veggie to get the nod of approval from your most nutritionally-conscious aunt.

I had meant to get a picture but forgot, mea culpa. I’m always more interested in cooking and tasting than I am in the photography. I’ll try to remember for next time.

Arroz con pollo isn’t one dish. There are varieties from all over South America, the Caribbean and Central America. The one I’m making here is fairly generic, not very spicy, and was tailored to match what was in my pantry. Adding some bell peppers would improve matters.

I made this for four hungry people. Three showed up and there were plenty of leftovers, so let’s just say this serves six.


Arroz con Pollo

  • 4 lbs chicken quarters, thighs, and/or drumsticks
  • 1/2 cup pixie dust or other BBQ spice rub
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2.5 cups brown rice (not quick cooking)
  • one medium onion, chopped
  • 1 tb minced garlic
  • 1 cup chunky salsa
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 5 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  1.    Remove any visible fat from the chicken, then dust it with the spice rub.
  2.    In a dutch oven (four quarts or bigger, with a lid available) add the oil. Heat over medium-high heat until the oil is shimmering hot, and brown the chicken in small batches, about three minutes on each side. Remove the browned chicken to paper towels to drain.
  3.    Once the chicken is all browned, add the uncooked rice to the pan and spread it out evenly. Leave it to brown and crackle for three minutes, then stir it well and let it cook for another three.
  4.    Add the garlic and onion, stir it in, and let cook for about another two minutes. Stir and cook another two minutes.  The onions should be just getting translucent at the end of this step.
  5.    Add the salsa, oregano, salt and pepper. Stir well and let cook for five minutes.
  6.   Add the broth, stirring constantly as you do. Turn the heat up to high.
  7.    Place the browned chicken skin-side up on the top of the rice and broth (it will sink in partway). Cover the pot and wait for it to boil.
  8.    Once the mixture starts boiling, turn the heat down to low and let it simmer, covered, for around fifty minutes. Then use a spoon to fish out some rice and try it for doneness. Once the rice is done, serve the arroz con pollo.

So, what do you think? Let me know!

Adventures in the Oriental Market II: Bigger and Better

While visiting my parents in Concord California, I visited the 99 Ranch Market, a HUGE Oriental market.

99 Ranch is around four times the size of my home favorite (in El Paso), and every aisle has more shoppers than I’ve ever seen in the entire Texas store.

As is my wont when shopping Oriental, I came in with a vague idea of what I wanted, and let whim lead me.

The noodle aisle is organized roughly by geography. I wondered through Thailand and Cambodia before I found my Banh Phö noodles again.

The sauce aisle here makes my home market look pretty dinky. I wandered past the familiar teriyaki and hoisin sauces until I found  tonkatsu. Ive never seen Tonkatsu before. Its ingredient list has a lot of fruits so it’ll probably be sweet. Just to be safe, I grabbed a bottle of orange sauce as well.

Dried black fungus jumped into my cart as I passed by.

I went to produce, thinking to grab more enokis, but a bin of big Freudian daikons caught my eye first, so I grabbed one and checked out.

I already have several bell peppers, asparagus and chicken. I think I’ll save the asparagus for another day and make a chicken stir fry tonight.

I tasted the tonkatsu and found that it is not right for me- nice flavour but missing a deeper note. My friend Google tells me that Tonkatsu is panko-breaded fried pork chops; this flavor would work with pork but without it it is not a complete sauce. Good thing I grabbed the orange sauce.

Prep is straightforward- slice the peppers in strips, the chicken in even chunks, and the daikon in thin coins. I decided to serve the daikon raw. It tastes not unlike a common radish but with a bit more of a crunch. The noodles and mushroom got fifteen minutes of soaking in hot tap water.

I heated coconut oil (around two tablespoons) in a wok until quite hot, and seared the chicken in two batches. The peppers took only a few minutes after that to start to blacken- this is not burning, but adds a smoky flavour that I enjoy.

Once the peppers were done, I drained and added the shrooms and noodles, and covered the wok. The moisture on the noodles is almost enough to steam them, but not quite; when I heard them start to sizzle, I added the orange sauce, which turned the sounds from ‘blackening noodles’ back to ‘steaming sauce.’

Ten minutes and a few stirs later, dinner is done. The orange sauce is sweet, but the flavor works well with the chicken.

The best bagels I’ve had west of New York

bagelsThis morning, we stopped in to Sunrise Bagels Cafe, in Concord California.

The shop is bright and clean, with tall counters displaying quite a pleasant selection of bagels. They make a plethora of coffee as well, but today was a simple order of bagels and lox.

Lox is smoked salmon. Bagels aren’t the only place you’ll find it (I’ve had some very nice sushi rolls with lox, avocado and cream cheese) but bagels are certainly the traditional accompaniment.

Bagels, everybody knows. But if you think that supermarket bagels are the real thing, you’re missing out on a real treat.

I’ve never had a good bagel that wasn’t sold within twenty feet of the baker, and not more than a few hours out of the oven. Some foods last well, but bagels need to be fresh.  The Sunrise bagels were toothsome, gleaming and inviting in their cases.

Their sourdough bagel was a pleasant surprise. I hadn’t had one before; sourdough is not common outside of the San Francisco Bay area. I wish that it were! The bagel had a firm texture, slightly drier than a typical bagel, and a delightful tang that works quite well with lox. I bought the last sourdough bagel they had left and I wish they’d had more.

If you find yourself in Concord some time, stop in and check them out. They’ll have a better selection earlier in the day. The prices are higher than the big chain stores but the quality is well worth it.

Pretty Good Ribs in the Oven

You can use any spice rub, but the pixie dust really shines here. You can also use a bottle of commercial barbeque sauce, if you prefer, but this recipe’s long slow cook time is an excellent time to make your own sauce.

St Louis style ribs, aka spare ribs, are thicker, meatier and fattier than baby back ribs. You can cook baby back ribs if you prefer but they won’t be as tender, moist and irresistable.

Making ribs
Me, in a somewhat dressy shirt, cooking with pork and red spices. Don’t do this at home, kids.
  • One rack of pork ribs
  • 1 cup of Pixie Dust
  • 2 cups of barbeque sauce

Preheat oven to 300. If you’re making a batch of more than one rack of ribs, test fit the pans in the cold oven first to see how many you can make at once. This picture shows me making five racks of ribs. It took four ovens.

Rub the ribs with about a cup of spice rub on each rack. The spice rub should cover the meat (and bones) fairly evenly. Try to get some in any nooks and crannies but don’t stress about it.

Closeup of the rubbed ribs
Closeup of the rubbed ribs

Put the ribs in one pan per rack of ribs- the pan should be large enough to let the ribs lay flat. I used 12×18 deep pans like I’d use to make a party lasagne. Cover the pan with foil. An air-tight seal is not necessary but the foil should hold in most of the moisture that the ribs will sweat out while baking. Another possibility is to completely wrap the ribs in heavy duty aluminum foil.

Bake the ribs for 3 hours, then uncover the pan or  unwrap the ribs. The rib meat should be less pale and pulling away from the cut bone ends.

Bake for 30 more minutes uncovered, then serve with sauce.

I’ll  put together  a few sauce recipes soon, but the one that I made with these ribs was:

  • 2 TB oil
  • 1 onion, finely diced
  • 1 TB garlic powder
  • 1 cup ketchup
  • 1 can coca cola
  • 3/4 cup apple cider vinegar

Sautee the onion over medium heat until it is browned.

Add all the other ingredients, stir well to combine, then allow to come to a boil.

Turn the heat down to medium-low. The sauce should be simmering quickly. This mis has a lot of moisture to boil off before it will be a good consistency.

Cook, stirring occasionally, for one hour. When you push the mixture across the pan with a spatula and it takes a few seconds to flow back, it is the right consistency. Turn the heat to as low as your stove will go and leave it warming until the ribs are ready.

 

A feast for the senses

The class gathered after lunch and went to the Ellen Noël Art Museum, where Steve and Ann gave a fun class on glazing pottery.

We were each given a huge bowl, big enough for a teenager’s breakfast, and invited to glaze them while we listened to Steve talking about artists and pottery, music and war.

I used my blindfold.

In the darkness, the warm organic curve of the bowl sat, solid, its bisque waiting for the colors that I could only feel.

The glazes, Steve says, change colors in ways that are hard to predict. Pale yellow glaze turns to brilliant green after the fire. Mixing green and blue may give you fuscia.

With my blindfold, it was simply an exploration that was tentative, creative and unselfconscious. I look forward to seeing what I have created.bowl exterior

Update I have the bowl!
bowl interior

The Ellen Noël Art Museum also houses the Sensory Museum.

The Sensory Museum is full of fragrant herbs and fascinating textures. The museum’s walls and the trees mute the city’s sounds. It is quietly profound, sharing its peace freely. I let my fellow students bustle ahead as I enjoyed the peace, the wa of the garden.

One of the displays is a strange granite obelisk, carved into a sort of a vertical marimba.  Running my cane tip along the petals of stone elicits a chiming musical scale, like glass soda bottles from an almost forgotten summer in my childhood.

Benches made of gnarled roots invite. Listening to others discovering can be peaceful, too.

A sinuous pillar of stone beckons. Each thin layer of stone is rough and sharp, in contrast to the dancing shape of the column.

Windchimes and birds debate, languidly. The traffic is respectfully distant.

The Exploratorium in San Francisco is also a touching museum, but it is a place for restless investigation, for insatiable curiosity. The Sensory Museum is a place to catch your breath. To recenter. To relearn that the wonders of the world are not all meant to be seen.