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.

It’s too hot to cook. Arroz con pollo in a pressure cooker.

After a pretty mild summer, temps hit the hundreds for us late last week. So cooking anything must be weighed against how much harder the AC will have to work. Time to pull out the pressure cooker.

I like the pressure cooker a lot. It is the best tool to achieve perfect steamed artichokes (I might have already said this). But it is not always ideal. First, it takes up precious counter space, or alternatively, precious cabinet space. It is also a pain to clean, particularly the lid, which is made from multiple parts that must be disassembled. My husband had to convince me to get one because I thought everything could be done in a slow cooker.

He will be astounded to hear me say, I was wrong (don’t tell him).

Despite some hassles, the pressure cooker makes food more itself, if you know what I mean. Plus, you can brown and sauté food in the same pan, with very accurate and steady temperatures. If you’ve read any of my other blogs, you’ll know I love dishes that only require a single pan, and I do my best to pay attention to temperatures.

Here is some truth: I was not prepared to make this dish. In fact, I really had no idea what I was going to make for dinner that night. So the chicken and the stock were still frozen. The pressure cooker doesn’t care. The pressure cooker laughs at your foolish frozen items. It will cook them anyway.

OK that’s enough of an intro… let’s cook:

1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 tbs butter
1 medium onion chopped
3 cloves of garlic chopped
2 cups rice
2 cups chicken stock
1 can tomato sauce
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp cumin
Salt and pepper
1 cup frozen peas
Cilantro to garnish

Defrost the chicken enough to get it out. Set the cooker to brown and add the chicken, generously seasoning with salt and pepper.

Brown the chicken and then remove. You don’t have to worry about ensuring it cooks all the way through, because you are going to add it back in with the rice.

Switch the cook instructions to sauté. Put a pat of butter in the cooker and sauté the onions and garlic. Add the rice and sauté until the rice starts to get a little translucent around the edges, maybe 5 minutes.

Add the stock, tomato sauce, paprika, and cumin, stirring gently. Here is my trick for ensuring I have the right level of liquid to rice. I stick my pinky (very clean) into the pot and touch just the top of the rice. The water level should come just up to the first joint line on my pinky.

Place the chicken on top and close the lid. Set the pressure cooker on high pressure for 10 minutes. When the timer is up, use the quick release valve.

When the pressure is gone, remove the lid and give the rice a stir. It might look like there is too much liquid on the top at first, but after a few minutes, that liquid redistribute and the result with be a really nice velvety sauce. Add the frozen peas while you stir (don’t worry, the mixture is surface-of-the-sun hot and will defrost those peas immediately). Garnish with cilantro as you dish it out.

A few changes I would make: I did not have saffron. I would have used either yellow rice or saffron to get that rich color expected from arroz con pollo. Also, other recipes call for a small amount of tomato paste rather than a full can of tomato sauce. That would also yield a more traditional color.

Still, this was a win in my book. It was perfect for a last minute dinner plan on a sweltering day.

Chicken kabob veggie bowls

A yogurt marinade makes for juicy delicious chicken, without the hassle of finding those kabob sticks you know you put somewhere…

NOTE: I had some gorgeous pictures of my kebab bowl, but they are lost to the tech gods due to an old phone that won’t update. Please enjoy images of these beautiful fruits and veggies from our local farmers market.

There’s a reason we usually do kabobs this on the grill. They spatter like crazy. But sometimes you can’t remember where those dang kabob sticks are. So you decide to improvise. I wanted mediterranean style kabobs and I went for the stove top. They still taste amazing because, although you miss the smoke flavor, this recipe is all about the marinade. Reserve 1/4 cup to drizzle over the bowl once it is assembled (warning, it has raw garlic, so vampires beware!)

Here is the recipe:

1 pkg boneless skinless chicken thighs (cut to bite sizes)
1 onion, cut large
1 pgk sliced mushrooms
1 zucchini sliced into half moons
Any other veggies you might have that are good in a stir fry. Broccoli, carrots, green beans, cabbage, etc.
Golden buttered rice, (cook 1 cup rice with 1 cup chicken stock, 1 cup water, 1 tbl butter, and 1 tsp turmeric)

Chicken Marinade:
1 cup plain greek yogurt
5 cloves of garlic crushed
2 tablespoons of lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tsp paprika (I like smoked)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp cinnamon
3/4 tsp kosher salt
3/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper

Let the chicken sit in the marinade for about 20 minutes. In the meantime, heat a large skillet on high with a tablespoon of oil or butter. When skillet is hot add onion and mushroom into skillet and season with salt and pepper. Let the vegetables cook on high, flipping mushrooms and onions occasionally, to golden brown (add any long-cooking veggies to this step, e.g., carrots) as well. Add other veggies and cook to desired doneness.

Remove vegetables from skillet and set aside.

Add another tablespoon to the skillet and gently lay chicken in one layer, in batches if necessary. Allow to brown over medium high heat, making sure chicken is cooked thoroughly (no longer pink). Serve with golden buttered rice and veggies in a bowl.

How to make better chicken stock

Photo by Bil Harding, via Flickr

Here is the deep dark secret to developing the “chickeniest” chicken stock you’ve ever tasted. Plus, my genius (stolen) ideas for straining and cooling. With my apologies to the vegetarians.

The goal for this recipe is to achieve a deeply flavored bone stock that is fundamentally “chicken.” It takes on a jello consistency when chilled. It can be used to make soup or to flavor other dishes for any type of cuisine (ok, except vegetarian). Also, I’m sorry for the intro photo.

There are a ton of chicken stock recipes out there. Most of them call for an addition of aromatic vegetables, and flavorful spices or herbs.

But I’m here to tell you to knock it off.

Here is the recipe:

A large stock pot (tall, not wide), pressure cooker large enough to fit everything, or a crock pot .
A fine mesh strainer
A large metal bowl sitting in an ice bath
A variety of freezer-safe containers. I find 32 oz, 16 oz, and ice cube trays (with lids) the most useful.

1-3 chicken or turkey carcasses (with some meat still on), leftover wings, neck, skin, or any other tendon-rich pieces. I keep carcasses in my freezer and when I have a couple of them, I make stock.
Water
Optional: 1 tablespoon of salt or less

Put the carcasses in your stock pot and put just enough water to hit the top of the bones. Do not overfill the pot. Bring the pot to a boil over high heat, then turn the heat down to simmer for 8 hours or overnight. If using an electric pressure cooker, follow the same directions, then check your manual for heat, time, and release instructions. With a crockpot, be sure everything fits (you will not be able to make as much at one time).

When the stock is ready, fit a fine mesh strainer over a large metal bowl sitting in an ice bath. A fine mesh strainer is usually good enough for my needs. However, sometimes, I prefer clearer stock. If you do also, run it through the fine mesh, then, in a secondary process, add a cheese cloth to the stainer and run it through again. (If you try to do the cheese cloth during the first run, it will get clogged really quickly.) The bowl sitting in the ice bath is a great method to start the cooling process quickly. The faster you can get it cooled and into the freezer, the less time there is for bacteria to set in.

Empty the strained stock into your smaller vessels often so you can get them into the refrigerator for a few hours. The fridge-first method is a good idea—it reduces steam condensation and deters freezer burn, and it allows you to gauge the success (does it look like jello) of your stock. Once the stock is cold you can move it to the freezer and keep it for 2-3 months. If you use ice trays, freeze them overnight then pop the cubes into a freezer safe bag for storage.

What is missing?

Do not add any onion, celery, carrot, garlic, ginger, chiles, parsley, cilantro, or any other fresh plants. Sure, adding these things are traditional and make you feel like you are “adding flavor” to make your stock.

But these other ingredients turns your stock into chicken/vegetable stock, and the result is usually not very good because vegetables release flavor much more quickly than bone and don’t improve with long cooking. Make a vegetable stock on its own in about 30 minutes and you’ll like the flavor better.

I’m not opposed to adding some spices, such as peppercorns, bay, and thyme. However, I have found they aren’t necessary, because you will likely use them in the secondary process. Others such as anise, cinnamon, can bring in either an Asian or Middle Eastern influence. Be cautious, however, because those distinctive flavors can clash with other cuisines. And again, you will likely add them to your final dish.

One note: It is better to under salt than over salt. I have two reasons: One, if you are using a leftover carcass, it is likely there is already salt on the bird, particularly if it was brined. Two, you are going to add salt to your final dish. This is a base ingredient and it does not need to be salty.

One more note: I do not talk about fat. There are ways to remove it. I’m not going to go into those methods, because I like the fat in my broth. Fat is flavor.

Make the Stock Even Better

There are additional ways to improve this stock. I’m approaching it from the idea of using what is leftover after a holiday or Sunday night dinner with family. If you really want to get exceptional stock, buy chicken feet from your butcher and use that alone or along with your carcass and pieces. Tendons, cartilage, and connective tissue are what make stock great. Chicken feet are nothing but tendons, cartilage, and connective tissue.

A pressure cooker is the best way to get a really “essential” stock flavor. The way pressure cookers force liquid into food at a high heat produces a caramelization that simply cannot be achieved with slow cook methods. The result is a deep and complex stock in a fraction of the time. It is great for cooking in the summer as well. My only problem with the pressure cooker is that mine has a 10-cup capacity, which includes the bones. It is a lot of work to make stock for such little output.

So there you have it. The best chicken stock recipe I’ve found is the one that emphasizes technique and contains no extra ingredients.

7 mistakes you are making in the kitchen, as told by Pineapple Chicken.

We all make mistakes. In novice cooking, there are plenty of pitfalls that can ruin a dish. But there are also ways to avoid these mistakes. Here we’ll look at some common mistakes and easy fixes that will help you produce beautiful and tasty food. We’ll use a pineapple chicken stir fry as our inspiration. But first, the recipe.

Ingredients

1 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into bite sized pieces.
1/2 large onion, diced small
1/2 fresh pineapple, cut into bite sized pieces
1 package (8 oz) snow peas, snap peas or green beans
1/2 cup cashews
1 cup stir fry sauce (recipe in link)
1 cup plus cornstarch with 1 teaspoon each salt/pepper (to taste)
2 tbls cornstarch(divided)
up to 2 cups water
Optional: Additional veggies, water chestnuts, baby corn

1-2 cups uncooked rice
1 tablespoon butter

Instructions

Once the chicken is cut as uniformly as possible, let it drain and pat dry. Coat the pieces in 1 cup of cornstarch, mixed with salt and pepper. Be sure every chicken piece is dry to the touch, adding more cornstarch if necessary, 1/4 cup at a time.
In a hot skillet, add the chicken in one layer. Cook on high until chicken is dark golden and crispy.
Meanwhile, follow instructions for rice, adding a tablespoon of butter to pot or rice cooker.
Remove chicken and add onions. Cook onions until translucent on medium heat (about 10 mintues). Turn heat back up to high and add pineapple. Cook pineapple until color brightens, and pieces are lightly caramelized.
Meanwhile make a slurry of 2 tbls of cornstarch and 1 cup of water. Turn heat to medium low and add soy sauce mixture to the pan, followed by the cornstarch slurry. Add snow peas and cashews. Mix to coat ingredients in sauce, cooking on low until liquid thickens. Add another cup of water as needed to thin out sauce.
Serve over rice.

Mistakes

You don’t taking advantage of “what looks good” when you go shopping.

To everything there is a season. For example, my original plan for this recipe was to do orange chicken. At the market however, I passed by a gorgeous, golden ripe pineapple that smelled like heaven. The best part about cooking is being driven by what looks good, what season you are in. One of the reasons I love the farmers market is that it provides a rich education on when to expect certain fruits and vegetables, as well as an opportunity to experiment. I’ve never made pineapple chicken before. But I know the basics of technique and felt comfortable enough to wing it.

You don’t mirepoix.

Prepping is key. Spend the first 20 minutes gathering everything you need: pre-measure all your ingredients, wash and chop fruits and veggies, then chop everything else you need in the size you need it. These are my brand new bowls so I wanted to use them, but usually I save clear plastic soup containers from the market and use those for my mirepoix.


One other note: Time is precious, so prep your ingredients in a particular order. Cut fruits and veggies first, then meats. That way, you don’t have use a different cutting board or spend extra time washing the same cutting board.

Place everything you need next to your stove top, as close as possible in the order you will be cooking. Stir fry in particular is a wait, wait, wait, hurry GO! kind of food.

You don’t flavor your rice.

Rice deserves flavor, just as any other starch. Just a tablespoon of butter will give you great flavor. I particularly like using it in the rice cooker, because you also get a little crispy rice at the bottom of the pan.

Who doesn’t like crispy rice?

You overcrowd the pan.

I’ve covered this before, but it is essential to choose a pan that allows food to breathe. Crowded chicken will steam instead of crisp. Sure the food is edible, but really, you are better than that.

You cook food at the wrong heat.

Some meats should sear. Some fruits and veggies should too. Others get better the longer they cook. But sauces can quickly burn, and other vegetables lose crunch and flavor (not to mention nutrients) when cooked at heats that are too high. Get to know your range and find out which foods like it “hot” and which ones like it “not.”

You don’t cook ingredients long enough or you move the food in the pan too much.

You’ve spent the time to get to know your cook top and the ingredients. But now you can’t stop fiddling. Take a look at this chicken piece. That is the result of about 10 minutes of cooking on high. It is just barely starting to get the right color. I cooked it another 10 minutes.

Likewise, let onions go for at least 10 minutes. They are just getting to the point of translucency. This is when I add the pineapple. But don’t go too fast at this point.

And don’t move it around too much. Just let it be. Take a look at side by side images of the pineapple. I turned these after about 5 minutes. They look beautiful and the onions continued to gain color.

You cook other ingredients too long.

Delicate herbs, thin veggies, nuts really need just a little heat to brighten their colors and get a little tender. Respect your ingredients and they will reward you with ultimate flavor.

One pan, one process. Mushroom and tarragon chicken.

This incredible one-pan meal is all about technique and endless possibilities.

This pan is overfilled. But doesn’t it look delicious? Photo by Sébastien Marchand on Unsplash

The ingredients

4-6 bone-in, skin-on thighs or skin-on chicken breast (the skin is important)
1 c sliced mushrooms
3 tbls chopped fresh tarragon
2 large spring onions, chopped small
2 garlic cloves, chopped or grated (or about 1 tbls)
1/4 c heavy whipping cream
1/4 c white wine (aka, whatever is left over from last night)
2 tbls lemon juice (or one lemon squeezed)

The equipment

Garlic grater, crusher or microplane
Oven-safe or cast iron skillet (essential)

Turn oven to 375 F.
Pat chicken dry and season with salt and pepper.
In a hot cast iron skillet place chicken skin side down. Be sure not to crowd the pan. Sear on high until skin is crispy and light brown. Turn the chicken over with tongs and (safely) move the skillet to the oven.
Cook 40-60 minutes until chicken is 160 F internal temp.
Meanwhile mix heavy cream, white wine, lemon, garlic, and green onion in a measuring cup. Add some salt and pepper.
When the chicken is done, move it back to the cooktop and remove chicken. Add mushrooms in a single layer and sauté over high heat until one side is golden brown. Turn mushrooms and golden them up.
Reduce heat to medium low and pour the cream mixture into the pan. Use tongs or wooden spoon to scrape up brown bits and incorporate them into the sauce. Cook, stirring often, until liquid is reduced by half (about 5-10 minutes). Turn the heat off and add half of the tarragon. Taste and adjust seasoning. Place chicken and any drippings back into the sauce, and garnish with the rest of the herbs.

The chicken, veggies and sauce can be served over rice, egg noodles, or with a salad.

The story

I love this meal. It is so fancy and yet you only use one pot. I make this when I want to remind myself that “I can f-ing cook!” True story: this was the first meal I made after our daughter was born. After several months of take out, meals from the freezer, and friends feeding us (thank you thank you thank you) my husband devoured it and said, “I missed your cooking.”

This is actually a really simple meal and its very easy to swap ingredients. I tend to use chicken thighs because they stay juicy, even if you overcook them…in fact they get better. Anything I can shove in the oven and walk away from is a bonus. That’s why skin is important. When you flip the chicken, make sure the skins are super crispy. It will continue to cook in the oven while bathing the meat (mmmm chicken fat bath). You want properly rendered skin that crunches when you eat it. (I love chicken skin-don’t judge me).

I generally use my 8-in. cast iron skillet because it fits four thighs nicely. Plus I love it. However, when I’m cooking for more people, I need a bigger vessel. Enter my 12-in. Calphalon Unison skillet. It is light-weight (comparatively), easy to clean by hand, and goes from stove to skillet in one easy swoop. I’m super sad to report that the line has been discontinued. Stock up if you see them at TJ Maxx.

Tarragon has a licorice flavor, but it’s not in your face. If for some reason you don’t like (or have) tarragon, many herbs make a nice swap. Cilantro is especially nice and you can confidently add a big handful if you are looking to use up a bunch. Parsley is a bit grassier, and should be used 1:1 in place of the tarragon. I haven’t tried mint or basil yet, but I can’t imagine why they wouldn’t work. Rosemary should be used sparingly since it is pretty strong and can easily take over a dish. If you try something different let me know.

Green onion is also a taste thing. You can use regular onions, but cook them with the mushrooms so they have a chance to sweeten up.

Another ingredient that can be substituted is the heavy cream, although your choices are limited. I’ve used whole milk with minimal difference in flavor. What I like about milk or cream in combination with lemon is that you get that sour cream/buttermilk flavor. Plain yogurt would do here too. I would still add the lemon, though, because I like the lemon flavor.

If you use a nut milk, almond (unsweetened and plain) will likely give you the cleanest result. I’ve never done coconut milk. I bet the flavor would be wildly different, but still delicious. I would definitely use cilantro for a coconut milk application. And I might throw in some curry paste, ginger, lime leaves… and now that’s a whole other post.

Don’t have mushrooms? Well, that one is a little tougher. But hey, I could see this as a broccoli or cauliflower meal. Asparagus? Sure. Want to add green beans? Go nuts. What you add or exchange will change the flavor profile, but your results will still be yummy. Cook any veggies over high heat to give them a bit of caramelization. They will pick up some of the chicken flavor from the fat in the pan (you’re welcome). Do remember that veggies are more delicate than mushrooms so remove them from the pan while the sauce is reducing to avoid creating soggy gray mush.

Of course, you can always omit wine. A splash of white wine vinegar can create a similar result. The point is, this is a process meal: Cook the meat in the pan, remove the meat, cook veggies with pan drippings, add a delicious liquid with some thickening properties and reduce. Add fresh herbs. Add the meat back in and serve.

Sit back and enjoy the accolades.