Steal This: My favorite roasted chicken recipe

I bow to the genius of Thomas Keller for this roasted chicken with root vegetables.

This week I’ll be featuring some of my favorite stolen recipes. These are recipes that live in my bookmarks and come into play when I want to deliver show-stopping food. We’ll start with a stunner that’s made in one pan.

This roast chicken recipe is straight-up stolen from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home, via the Amateur Gourmet. If you think you know what roasted chicken on a bed of vegetables is like, prepare to have your buds blown. The recipe relies on a few really detailed techniques, but delivers an intensely delicious chicken with crispy skin that makes every extra step well worth the effort.

It makes use of some oft-overlooked veggies, such as leek and rutabaga. But what I really give this recipe credit for is turning me on to turnips. Turnips are a damn revelation. You might even end up liking the veggies more than the chicken. I particularly enjoy the specificity of the vegetable sizes so that you feel confident you have a good balance.

I won’t make you wait any longer for the good stuff. Here’s the recipe:

One 4 to 4 1/2 lb chicken
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
6 thyme sprigs
2 large leeks
3 tennis-ball-sized rutabagas
2 tennis-ball-sized turnips
4 medium carrots, peeled, trimmed, and cut in half
1 small yellow onion, trimed, leaving root end intact, and cut into quarters
8 small (golf-ball-sized) red-skinned potatoes
1/3 cup canola oil
4 tablespoons (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and let stand at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until it comes to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 475 F.

Remove the neck and innards if they are still in the cavity of the chicken. Using a paring knife, cut out the wishbone from the chicken. (This will make it easier to carve the chicken.) Generously season the cavity of the chicken with salt and pepper, add 3 of the garlic cloves and 5 sprigs of thyme, and massage the inside of the bird to infuse it with the flavors. Truss the chicken.

Cut off the dark green leaves from the top of the leeks. Trim off and discard the darkened outer layers. Trim the root ends, cutting around them on a 45-degree angle. Slit the leeks lengthwise almost in half, starting 1/2 inch above the root ends. Rinse the leeks well under warm water.

Cut off both ends of the rutabagas. Stand the rutabagas on end and cut away the skin, working from top to bottom and removing any tough outer layers. Cut into 3/4-inch wedges. Repeat with the turnips, cutting the wedges to match the size of the rutabagas.

Combine all the vegetables and remaining garlic cloves and thyme sprig in a large bowl. Toss with 1/4 cup of the oil and season with salt and pepper. Spread the vegetables in a large cast-iron skillet or a roasting pan.

Rub the remaining oil over the chicken. Season generously with salt and pepper.

Make a nest in the center of the vegetables and nestle the chicken in it.

Cut the butter into 4 or 5 pieces and place over the chicken breast.

Put the chicken in the oven and roast for 25 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400 F and roast for an additional 45 minutes, or until the temperature registers 160 F in the meatiest portions of the bird–the thighs, and under the breast where the thigh meets the breast–and the juices run clear. If necessary, return the bird to the oven for more roasting; check it every 5 minutes.

Transfer the chicken to a carving board and let rest for 20 minutes.

Just before serving, set the pan of vegetables over medium heat and reheat the vegetables, turning them and glaazing them with the pan juices.

Cut the chicken into serving pieces, arrange over the vegetables and serve.

Why I love meal kits

Meal kits are quite possibly the greatest invention of the decade when it comes to deciding on dinner.

Let me backup from that bold statement. I’m not a subscriber. I have many friends and family members who use the services. I’ve been gifted a few meals from people who unexpectedly had to go out of town and just got a delivery. And I loved them!

Here’s why:

IDK, what do you want?

Meal kits are amazing from a few standpoints. One: they minimize that daily family question of “what should I make for dinner.” This question is usually met with an infuriating, “I don’t know” or “I don’t care,” response, which can cause dinner prepper’s heads to explode.

With meal delivery, the options are preselected and once delivered, there are a merciful few choices to make. Chicken or fish? Tacos or noodles? And from there, everything falls into place.

They Teach Meal Design and Planning

Recipe books don’t teach you meal design, that is, how to plan for a complete meal (e.g., protein, veggies, and starch). They don’t usually say, “this x goes great with y.” Even if they do, its an after-thought. They also don’t teach cooking efficiency or portioning, e.g., how to mirepoix for an entire meal and cook multiple items at once for a family of four, with enough leftovers for a lunch or two.

The other night I fiddled with a new recipe I’m developing for chicken. It was pretty good. But I was so focused on trying out this new marinade for the chicken, and planning how I was going to cook it, that I completely forgot about a need for other things on the plate.

Luckily I had some leftover rice. Paired with carrots, celery, green onions, and an egg, I was able to throw together some fried rice for a side dish. However, I really prefer a lot more vegetables on our plates, and the meal would have been far more cohesive if I’d roasted those carrots, onions, and celery under the chicken. Such decisions need to be made early in the process.

I’ve kept the recipe cards that come with the meal kits I’ve used. Sometimes I use them to build my shopping list.

Psychology: Peace of mind and empowerment

Most of us are amateurs. I consider myself fairly deft in the kitchen, but I still make tons of mistakes and fall into ruts. Meal kits take out the “oops” factor of cooking. They expand your repertoire while minimizing the risk of failure.

For those who aren’t as comfortable with cooking on a daily basis, they help you feel proud of your accomplishments (and they ARE accomplishments). Successes in life, no matter how small, give you dopamine rushes and make you want to return to those activities. Each time you go back, you get better.

Although some might downplay the process as “I’m just following the instructions,” the truth is that cooking is an act of physical memory-making. Your body remembers the actions you take when you are following those instructions.

In college, a professor had us write out our favorite passages from books and poems in a notebook. We were required to do at least 1000 words each week. His reasoning was that the act of writing out those words would give us the physical memory of developing great works, thereby elevating our own writing. I don’t know if it worked, but I always thought it was a beautiful process.

Meal kits are skill builders that might make you want to experiment, to branch out. It can turn cooking an artful process. Even if it doesn’t, you’ll still get some mighty good dinner on the table.

Stuffed Peppers, Four Ways

I think of stuffed peppers as the sloppy joes of the modern era. Few dinners offer up the comfort and ease of a stuffed pepper. But this new “sloppy joe” also offers up a wholesome addition of vegetables that helps moms and dads ensure their littles are at least getting some good foods.

There are endless ways to switch up stuffed peppers. The cooking methods for each a relatively similar, so I’ll go over the ingredients for each first recipe. Then I’ll discuss the cooking methods. As always, my advice is to use what you have on hand.

One note: In this recipe I call for cooked rice, but it isn’t necessary for all the dishes, especially for the Jambalaya. You just need to 1 cup of the uncooked rice, along with an appropriate amount of water or stock to the pot and let it simmer along with the other ingredients until the rice is cooked. For the ratatouille, however, start with cooked rice so your veggies don’t overcook.

Pepper Prep

These recipe works best with peppers that can stand up on their own and have a large cavity. Start by slicing off the tops of 6-8 large green, yellow, red, or orange bell peppers.

Clear seeds and ribs away from the inside of the cavity (I often just use my hands for this) and discard. Chop up any remaining edible parts from the tops and set them aside for the stuffing.

Many recipes call for coating the peppers with oil and pre-cooking them, but I find those steps unnecessary. Simply arrange them in a baking pan as close together as possible.

The Classic

1 tbl butter
1 pkg ground beef
1/2 onion, chopped small
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Cutoffs from the pepper, plus one additional small bell pepper chopped small
1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 can tomato sauce or crushed tomato
2 cups cooked rice
Salt and pepper
1 cup grated parmesan and/or shredded mozzarella
Fresh basil to garnish

The Jambalaya

2 andouille sausages, chopped into bite sized pieces
1 chicken breast, also chopped into bite sizes
3 tbl cajun seasoning
1/2 onion, chopped small
2 stalks celery, chopped small
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Cutoffs from the pepper, plus 1 additional bell pepper cut small
1 can tomato sauce or crushed tomato
Additional stock or water for consistency (up to 1 cup)
2 cups cooked rice
1 cup gruyere
Fresh parsley for garnish

The Ratatouille (Vegan)

1 tbl oil
1 dried bay leaf crushed
1 tsp dried thyme
1 cup mushrooms sliced
1 small eggplant, chopped small
1 zucchini sliced
1 carrot shredded
1/2 onion, chopped small
2 stalks celery, chopped small
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Cutoffs from the pepper, plus one additional small bell pepper chopped small
1 can tomato sauce or crushed tomato
2 cups cooked rice
Vegetable stock as needed
1 cup breadcrumbs mixed with oil
Fresh basil, parsley, or tarragon to garnish

The Southwestern Turkey

1 tbl butter
1 pkg ground turkey
3 tbls taco seasoning
1/2 onion, chopped small
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Cutoffs from the pepper
1 cup corn kernels
2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped (or keep the seeds if you want it spicier)
1 can tomato sauce
2 cups cooked rice
1 cup grated pepper jack cheese
Fresh cilantro to garnish

Cooking

Once the vegetables are all chopped, the process for cooking each of these is similar. Cook the proteins (or mushrooms) with the onions and garlic, as well as any dried herbs, spices, or seasoning mixes over medium high heat. Then add the rest of the vegetables, the tomato sauce, rice and any stock or water as needed. Let simmer on low for 20-30 minutes, until the stuffing is thick enough to spoon, but not dry (something like chili or other thick stew). Add salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon the filling into the peppers. Top them with bread crumbs or cheese and put them in a 350F oven for 30 minutes. Garnish with any fresh herbs and serve.

PREP!

Stuffed peppers make excellent meal preps! You can complete a recipe up until it is time to put them in the oven. Store them in the fridge for up to a week or in the freezer for a month. When you are ready to cook them, defrost them in the fridge for the day and then cook them oven for 60 minutes at 350F.

The ONLY right way to cook Bacon + sizzle video

You may have guessed from the title of this blog that I have strong feelings about bacon. Not all bacon is created equal. The way it is cooked, where you get it, even what type—all matter to the final product.

We don’t get bacon often…it is a treat. That might be why I take it so seriously. With that in mind, here are my not-humble-at-all, completely-unmovable, there-might-be-expletives opinion on how bacon should be purchased and prepared.

What and where you buy bacon matters

If you can, a farm or a farmer’s market is, hands down, the best place to purchase bacon. You know it is local, and you can be reasonably sure the animal was treated decently during its life. That matters to me, but it might not matter to you. I’m not here to judge.

If you don’t have access to a farmer, try to get the best bacon you can find. This is a challenge, I know, because the USDA doesn’t oversee standards of food marketing very closely. For example, the food industry must adhere to specific standards when they claim their product is organic. However, packaging that says “natural” is guaranteed to be excellent marketing, but not much else.

Price is not a great indicator of quality, either. Good bacon might be cheap bacon. Some people swear by the cheap cuts, while others buy into the Organic, apple-wood smoked, beet-juice cured thick cuts. It’s your choice. I will say that my hubby and I disagree on this. I like my bacon thin and crispy, which is best achieved when you start with thinly sliced pieces. Hubby likes the thicker cuts.

My best advice: if you can’t a get farmer’s stash, hit up the butcher. The butcher will likely have some pretty good bacon on hand and at least you’ll know its fresh.

Bacon Bit: Bacon Gets Saltier As it Cooks

Bacon is already salty. Cheap bacon, even more-so. Bacon makers inject high levels of salt and artificial smoke to get bacon to For this reason, I try to chose a low-sodium bacon.

Bacon Bit: The oven is no place for bacon

I’m not here to give you a way out. Bacon needs to be cooked slowly on a cook top. NOT IN THE DAMN OVEN.

Grill it, smoke your own pork belly, or on a stove and I will line up to help you devour it. But the oven is a terrible place to cook bacon.

I think the travesty of oven bacon came from the Food Network. Well-meaning celeb chefs or cheftestants were tasked to come up with SOMETHING that would wow their audience. So they laid a brick ton of bacon onto a rack and loaded it into the oven.

Good for them. Bad for humanity.

The very idea of an oven is cooking through lack of care. You set the temperature, set the timer, and walk away. But ovens do not give judicious heat. They tend to be really hot in some places, cold in others, and they can vary widely on temperature accuracy. This is fine for roasting and baking. The length of time is more forgiving and the desired outcome for those foods requires an oven.

When you try to roast bacon in an oven, you will get terribly burned pieces along with completely raw pieces. You’ll go to a trusted recipe site and end up with completely burned bacon. Or you’ll keep checking and checking and checking for up to 20 minutes longer than the recipe calls for.

That’s because cooking bacon in the oven is a Minotaur that needs a Theseus. It is a mythological life hack that needs its horns cut off.

Bacon requires care. It needs a little more management than an oven can offer. Cook bacon by the way it smells, by its crispness. It should be turned often to keep the heat evenly distributed. Bacon is meant to be fried and fretted over.

One more point about ovens and then I promise I’ll move on: cleaning up. When you cook bacon in the oven, sure you can get (nearly) an entire package on. But even if YOUR bacon comes out exactly how you want it, there is still clean up, which those Food Network nitwits never had to worry about.

Oven bacon requires a rack and a pan that will need to be scrubbed with steel wool to get burned bacon off. Perhaps you think, “I’ll line it with aluminum foil.” Wrong! It will leak. And have you decided how you are going to transfer bacon grease from flimsy foil (or a baking sheet) to a smaller vessel where it can cool before you discard it? Good luck.

If you cook bacon in the oven, fine. Just make sure its in a pan that you can scrap when you are done.

Whats that? Bacon is a pain to clean up on the stove too, you say? Yeah, it can be. But with a good large pan, and some good technique I can teach you how minimize splatter. And really, what’s a little clean up if you are able to achieve PERFECT BACON?

The last bit: How to make perfect bacon

My perfect bacon is a meat cracker. It is crisp, fully and evenly cooked, with no soft spots anywhere and no burn marks either.

  1. Get out a large sauté pan. A cast iron skillet will also work, but there will be more spatter. (Check out this Skillet vs Sauté pan article)
  2. Get your bacon out.
  3. Lay the bacon in the cold pan.
  4. Turn the burner on medium to medium low, adjusting as you cook.
  5. Leave the bacon in the pan for the first 4 -8 minutes.
  6. Drink your coffee
  7. After that, turn the bacon frequently, every 1-2 minutes until it is well cooked.
  8. After each batch, drain the pan of oil.

You don’t need to cool the pan after each batch, but that first batch will be the best rendered bacon. Luckly, you get to nibble on that batch while the rest is cooking.

So there it is. Medium to medium low heat gives your bacon time to render, as does starting in a cold pan. Draining the fat minimizes spatter and ensures your temperature is easier to control.

This is not bacon you can walk away from. But you can drink your coffee while you listen to the sizzle. Not a disappointing way to spend 30 minutes.

3 tips to meal prep dinner

Photo by Syd Wachs on Unsplash.

Since many schools are starting this month, everyone is looking for ways to make dinner a little faster and a little easier. Enter meal prep. I’ve looked through my recipes and found a few ways to make meal prep for dinner go smoothly.

I’m sure you’ve all seen those 30 minute meals where the meat is perfectly patted dry, the vegetables are already cut to the perfect size, and the ingredients have already been measured out, or brought to the perfect temperature. Reality is a little messier.

Most of the meals I cook don’t start with a plan. They start with me scrounging around the kitchen looking for what’s ready to go. But when we are busy or getting used to a new schedule, it really helps to have a plan.

Make a plan before you go shopping

This isn’t the fun advice you were hoping for. But planning out your dinners really does help. Ideally there are 7-9 meals you can make with relative reliability that will please most members of your family.

Before the start of your week (whatever day that might be) make a list of the meals you’d like to make. This week, mine looked like this:

Sunday: Carne asada tacos (because hubs can BBQ)
Monday: Frozen pizza and salad (Because Monday)
Tuesday: Leftover carne asada stir fry (Leftovers plus fresh veggies that cook fast)
Wednesday: Stuffed green peppers (The midweek pick me up)
Thursday: Mushroom tarragon chicken (OK, we can turn on the oven)
Friday: Frozen potstickers and carrot, mint salad with rice (I’m done, let’s party)
Saturday: Spaghetti with meat sauce (Easy, with lots of leftovers for emergency)

Chicken, ground beef, rice, and noodles, milk, butter, tomato sauce, and parmesan we buy in bulk so I don’t need to buy them. The only thing I need are fresh vegetables and a few outside items. If I had nothing else in the house, the shopping list would be as follows:

1 pkg pork chops
3 lbs carne asada
corn tortillas
1 loaf of bread
1 block cheddar cheese
2 zucchini
1 bunch green onions
4 green peppers
2 regular onions
1 head broccoli
1 avocado
2 tomatoes
1 head of cabbage
1 package of button mushrooms
1 bunch of carrots
1 lemon
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch mint
1 bunch tarragon

Make rice or noodles ahead of time.

Rice and pasta can be made and stored in the freezer. I will often make 6 cups of cooked rice. For my family, that is three evenings of meals once it is divided. Frozen rice will store for months as long as it is in freezer-safe containers.

I use a rice cooker so my rice is always perfect and I don’t have to watch it. Frozen rice is great for fried rice, stews, and casseroles.

For pasta, cook dried pasta until it is “almost” completely cooked. It should have a bit of bite left, perhaps even a little crunch in the center. The idea is that the pasta will continue to absorb and cook with the second process.

Simply take out the pre-measured rice or pasta as you gather all your ingredients. By the time you are done chopping vegetables, they should be easy to work with.

Choose quick cooking or raw vegetables that don’t require small cuts

There is a reason most meal prep kits opt for green beans, broccoli, and zucchini. These are very fast-cooking vegetables that will keep for at least a week in the refrigerator and are very quick to cut and cook.

For example, because these vegetables are just as good raw as it is cooked (maybe even better) you can cook it for less than 10 minutes and it will be very tasty.

To break up broccoli cut just under the head and break up large pieces with your hands. Then trim and cut the stems and stalk. If you still find you don’t have time to brea, for about twice the price, you can buy a precut bag of broccoli.

Green beans are similar. After washing, line up the green beans and one end and chop the ends off. Turn it around and do the same to the other side. You can also cut them width-wise down the middle to make the pieces smaller and easier to eat.

Zucchini cooks very fast. I like to cut it into half moons, usually around 1/4 inch thick.

Each vegetable can be seasoned simply with a little bit of salt, pepper, and garlic powder, even after it has been put in a hot pan. Put a little butter in a saute pan and add the vegetables once the butter melts. Alternatively, if you’ve made a steak, pork chop, chicken breast, or other meat, you can cook the veggies in the same pan. I love doing this because you get a deeper flavor with the pan juices.

Add the seasoning and mix with a wooden spoon and let the food rest on the bottom of the pan to get some char—no more than a few minutes.

Pizza Sauce Hack! Skip the marinara and use THIS instead!

Could this title be any more of a cliche click bait? I know, I know. But it really fits. I hate making marinara/pizza sauce and I hate buying it even more.

First, the kind you buy is WAY too sweet to use for anything else but pizza. And if you don’t already have a half opened marinara jar, there is seriously no way you need that much for your one pizza night.

But you still need something under all that cheese and toppings. Many times I make my own garlic, herb, and oil mix. But last night I looked in the fridge and it practically jumped at me singing “Put me in coach!”

Toum, you are perfect.

What is it? The garlic sauce from Zankou Chicken! Known as Toum, this Lebanese garlic sauce is the perfect consistency and flavor for pizza. To be fair, it is perfect for a lot of things and I’m currently obsessing about it.

As the creepy best friend from Love, Actually said so well: “Toum, you are perfect.”

It is garlicky without being too pungent, and it has a smooth mayonnaise consistency. We had some from our local Greek restaurant, but it only has three ingredients (lemon, garlic, and oil) and looks really easy to make.

So, I’ll try to make it soon.

I make homemade pizzas pretty regularly. We’ve even hosted make your own party nights, which are really a blast. I have a fairly specific method for pizza, developed through trial and error. I think my version works because it keeps the pizza from sticking to the cooking surface, and makes transferring the raw pizza slightly more error proof. I can’t wait to have Toum as a topping option at the next one!

Here’s how I do it:

  1. Make pizza dough. I’m not going to lie to you and say I use my own pizza dough recipe. I use Bobby Flay’s dough recipe, which I chose because it makes sense and is fairly easy to pull together, even the night before you want to make the pizzas. Just let it sit in the fridge covered over night and take it out about 1/2 hour before you are ready to turn on the oven. Otherwise, follow the instructions in the link.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. I often use grilling mats because they resist sticking. Shape the dough into a round ball and sprinkle the top with more flour. Then cover with a clean tea towel and let sit for 30 minutes.
  3. Gather your toppings. For this pizza I used Toum, mozzarella, parmesan, mushrooms, and jarred roasted red peppers.
  4. Turn the oven on to 425F (I use a pizza stone– if you do too, be sure the stone is in the oven to preheat as well.) A very hot oven and cooking surface is important to pizza— preheating is crucial.
  5. Uncover the dough and start to push and stretch it into a roundish, flat shape. Mine usually end up being rather square-like.
  6. If you have a pizza tray or board you can transfer the dough (with a grilling mat or parchment paper underneath the dough) to that before you start adding the toppings. If not, a clean cutting board works. This makes it easier to move the pizza to the oven later.
  7. Add your toppings, starting with Toum. Using the back of a spoon, spread the sauce around the dough, from edge to edge. Follow with a thin layer of cheese, any other toppings, and another thin layer of cheese.
  8. Transfer the pizza to the oven with the grilling mat or parchment paper to prevent sticking. Check out my masterful (snerk) pizza slide video:

9. Let the pizza cook for about 20 minutes, checking in after about 15 minutes. Try not to open the oven for the first 10 minutes.

Here are some glamor shots before and after:

10. Eat pizza.

Going Low Carb? Try These Stuffed Zucchini Boat Babies

I had gestational diabetes when I was pregnant with my daughter last year. So I got pretty good at developing meals that were delicious and could satisfy both my hungry husband and my increasingly picky son.

Incidentally, it was pretty irritating that for the 6 months we ate for my dietary plan, my husband lost the teeny tiny beer belly he had been developing. He got ripped. I stayed the same weight, which was actually the right thing for me (I mean, I was growing a wee human). But still. It is sooooo unfair.

In any case, I have since fallen off the low carb wagon, and have been feeling the need to get back on again. I felt pretty good and healthy, with lots of energy. I also know it is the diet I should be following at least 80% of the time.

For the record, I did NOT do Keto. I do not think keto is a healthy way to live. But I did focus on eating (A LOT) more salads and replacing high sugar/high carb snacks with nuts, veggies, and yogurt.

I also cut out bread– but added in quite a few mournful and angry fist shakes.

But I digress. Here is the recipe:
4 zucchini squashes halved and cored
1 lb ground beef or sweet Italian sausage
1/2 onion chopped small
2-3 garlic cloves chopped
1 package of button or porcini mushrooms chopped

1/2 can tomato sauce
1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
Fresh torn basil (for garnish)

To prep the zucchini, simply cut them lengthwise down the middle and use a spoon to scrape out the softer inner portion of the squash. Leave enough flesh on the squash to ensure the boats don’t collapse in the oven. Save the inner portions the stuffing mixture.

If you are paying attention, you’ll notice that I’m only using 3 zucchinis in this recipe, although I called for 4. I had 4 but they were from Trader Joe’s, which means that one went bad before I was able to cook it. I love TJ’s but you all know the produce has a time limit: Don’t buy any of it unless you are planning to use it within three days.

Turn the oven to 400F.

In a large skillet, over medium high heat brown the meat and add the veggies, giving everything a good seasoning with salt and pepper. Give the onions 5-10 minutes in the pan to soften and become translucent. Then stir in the tomato sauce and vinegar and let simmer on low for a few minutes. This should be rather thick, but if it is a little soupy, just let the sauce reduce.



In the meantime, rub a little olive oil on the zucchinis and lightly season them with salt. Place them open side up on a lined baking sheet.

Fill the boats with the mixture and top with parmesan cheese. Put them in the oven for 20 minutes. As soon as they come out of the oven, sprinkle the fresh basil over the top and serve.


Get well soon chicken soup

We’ve been ravaged by illness this week… some type of 24 hour bug that involves high fever and makes it hard to keep food down. When that happens, I make chicken soup.

Soup is the original one pan one process dish. It is really easy, although when you don’t feel good, it might seem like an insurmountable task. Trust me, the result is highly worth it. The science is with me on the benefits of chicken soup.

My recipe isn’t complex, but it does contain many powerhouse ingredients that can strengthen the immune system, including chicken, garlic, ginger, honey, cabbage, and spinach, plus a generous amount of fresh herbs.

First off, wipe off every door and toilet handle with a good cleanser. Wash your hands really well. Then get out your ingredients.

Boneless, skinless chicken thighs or breast
1/2 onion
5 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
3 carrots
1/4 head of green cabbage, sliced thin
1 1/2 cups of any other fresh, canned, or frozen veggies you happen have (celery, broccoli, spinach, peas, corn, water chestnuts, etc)
5-8 cups of water
1 tbs soy sauce
1 tbs honey
A handful of fresh or frozen herbs of your choice (parsley, basil, mint or cilantro tend to work best).
1 cup of small pasta or wild rice.
Salt and pepper
Paprika

Chop the onion fine and grate the ginger and garlic. In a large dutch oven or similar pot, put chicken and onions with some salt, pepper, and paprika, together and let them cook over high heat. You are looking for a caramel color (deep but not quite burned) on the meat. Be patient. This is where a lot of flavor comes from since we are not using chicken broth.

Add the garlic and ginger, soy sauce, honey and water. Start with 5 cups of water and add as much as you desire for your soup. Let the soup simmer for 20 minutes. Add any and all of pasta or rice and the veggies except delicate veggies (e.g., spinach, frozen peas) and continue to simmer for 10-15 minutes.

Turn off the heat and add any additional veggies and the herbs. Stir and season to taste.

Get Salty. Three Tips to Achieve Perfectly Seasoned Food

Who’s feeling salty today?

When cooking, you might find yourself adding far more salt that you think you should. Don’t worry. You will still not be adding as much sodium as what is found in prepackaged foods. But go slow when adding salt and season multiple times during cooking.

Tip 1. Know Your Salt

As Samin Nosrat notes in her phenomenal book, Salt Fat Acid Heat, Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking, the saltiness of salt can vary depending on the structure and the size of the crystals.

The key is to know your salt. If you use fine sea salt (very salty), go easy. If you use Diamond Crystal (the least salty salt) you can add quite a bit. Taste your salt and adjust your recipes accordingly.

Tip 2. Salt Strategically

Follow this basic plan of when to salt your food as you cook:

Salt 1- Initially season the meats and early veggies. I generally use a large crystal salt for this step. For example, I’ve found about 1 teaspoon of Morton’s kosher salt for 1 lb of meat or main protein source is about right. I might also use a salted spice blend, e.g., Trader Joe’s African smoke. If so, I will cut back on regular salt.

Salt 2- At some point in the middle of cooking you’ll add salt again. This is usually an alternative source of salt (aka, one with MSG). Soy sauce, a parmesan end, fish sauce, etc. This source will deepen the flavor and add additional notes.

Salt 3- The final tasting. Stir it all up and grab a spoon to taste it. Season your food, stir it and taste again. Here is where you might want to go with finer ground salt so it incorporates more quickly (See tip 3).

Salt 4 (optional)- The finishing salt. I tend to think of this as the “at the table salt” an individual person might apply. However, there are lots of finishing salts to apply after a dish is served if you are feeling fancy. These are rather crunchy because the texture is part of the experience.

Tip 3. Be Patient

Whenever you are seasoning be sure to stir the food and give the salt a few moments to distribute. Keep tasting after you season and add a little bit at a time. If you need to give your taste buds a break, drink some water and relax.

What to do if you over salt?

It has been a long time since I over salted. The method described above helps a lot. But it does happen. In fact, after I read Nosrat’s book, I started experimenting with my salt sources and ended up with some puckered dry-mouth meals (sorry, family).

Although I think it is better to leave something slightly under salted, if you do happen to go over board there are a few (limited) ways to rescue a dish:

  • Add potatoes. Yeah these babies can take a lot. They can soak up some salt and help redistribute the dish. This is an easy fix for soups or casseroles.
  • Add grated carrot. I use this to revive coleslaw, soups, and even tomato sauce that has gone too far into the dead sea.
  • Add sugar. Sugar balances salt like nothing else. Of course, it might not work for all applications. However, you would be surprised how sugar enhances savory dishes.

Happy salting you salty MFers!

The Notorious MSG

MSG (alias monosodium glutamate; alias glutamate; alias glutamic acid) got a bad rap, see. It is innocent, I tell ya, innocent! It had a lousy lawyer, see. It was with its momma in Toledo.

Here are some the ways I use MSG in my kitchen:

Some natural sources of monosodium include tomato, seaweed, and shitake mushrooms. Fermented food sources include Worcestershire sauce, fish sauce, oyster sauce, parmesan cheese, nutritional yeast, and soy sauce. Here’s a list of more foods with natural MSG.

The reason these foods and condiments exist is because humans find the flavor irresistible. It is the essential component of savory and as we all know, the Japanese say it best with “Umami,” which, come on, it even sounds like “yummy.”

I use something in this picture in nearly ever dinner I make, sometimes several of them combined.

Probably the most intense of my MSG sources, is the Maggie Seasoning. If you’ve ever had Chinese soy sauce, this kinda what it tastes like. The Maggie, however, is VERY concentrated. Three dashes for your entire family’s meal is enough to boost flavor without overpowering the dish. It is not an everyday addition for us, but once in a while if I’m making something and I just can’t get the flavor deep enough, this is a lifesaver.

In case you are worried, there was bad science linking MSG to illness and racism that perpetuated those negative associations. If you’d like to do further reading, here is an article that debunks the myths of MSG. Most scientists have largely concluded that MSG is safe, although an allergic reaction is, of course, possible.