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.

I burned the garlic bread.

It was an event repeated so often in my childhood that it became a family joke. My mom would burn the garlic bread, fairly consistently. It was a light joke, something we could tease mom about and she would good-naturedly take the ribbing.

“I’ll just scrape the black parts off and you won’t even notice,” she’d say. ” I don’t know what happened.” But as a women who tried really hard, who worked really hard, and who took pride in her accomplishments, I’m sure it galled her.

I know, because last night I did the same. And I’ve been racking my brain to figure out how it happened ever since.

Here is how I make garlic bread.

Baguette or french loaf cut lengthwise.
room temperature butter
1 roasted garlic bulb, mashed
salt
shaved parmesan

Roast the garlic. Tip: I tend to try to roast a 5-10 bulbs at a time. Roasted garlic keeps just fine in the freezer. Alternatively, you can submerge the bulb in good olive oil to keep it handy.

Mix the roasted garlic with the butter and spread it across the bread. Top with shaved parmesan and sprinkle with a little salt. Put your oven rack about 3 inches from your broiler on high for 1 minute (seriously, check it after 1 minute), and no more than 3 minutes.

This critical point of 1-3 minutes is where I went wrong. What I thought was no more than two minutes, was actually more like five. That’s because prior to putting the bread in the oven, I was feeding the baby. After that I was seasoning the pasta, getting plates and utensils out, figuring out if the dishwasher was clean or dirty, being asked for chocolate milk, running long division in my head, and trying to take over the world.

All those things are very distracting, even though they are part of the everyday. So set your timer to remind you to check the garlic bread. And if you burn it once in a while, don’t beat yourself up. Chances are you’ve got a lot going on.

End note: Recently, many people have been making fett-unta, a more traditional type of grilled bread, drenched in olive oil and rubbed in garlic. Here’s the one from Nancy Silverton. Maybe I should try that one next time.

Stop your ovens. It’s officially time for the summer cooking series.

We kick off the season with Jalapeno poppers!

Photo by Tim Evanson, via Flickr.

This week, the temperatures at our house reached the high 90s. That means there will be no more baking, roasting, or braising for the foreseeable future. The hottest times of the year leave us with four options for cooking: the stove top, the grill, the slow cooker, and the electric pressure cooker.

If we had a smoker, I’d add that too. We go to other peoples houses for smoked foods. I might head over to my bro’s house for a lesson in smoke to share.

But tonight, I’m making stuffed jalapenos. To avoid baking these in the oven, I’ll use the toaster oven,. You could also put these on the grill using a grill pan or sheet.

I love the aroma and flavor of jalapenos, even if I don’t always like the spice of them. I often use pickled jalapenos instead of fresh, because they are a bit more mild. Baking them also soothes the spicy beast, especially if you remove the pith and ribs.

Super Simple Stuffed Jalapenos for the Toaster Oven

3 jalapenos (green ones will be more mild than those with red or orange coloring.)
1/2 package of bacon
1/2 package of cream cheese
1/4 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese (or more if desired)

SAFETY FIRST: Really and truly– wear gloves and protect your eyes while you work with hot peppers. Jalapeno juice can spray while you remove the insides. And the spice offers lasting pain if it gets into an open hangnail, for example. Wash your hands and knife before using it again.

Slice the jalapenos lengthwise. Remove the seeds, pith, and ribs using a spoon. Arrange them on a lined baking sheet that fits in your toaster and set aside. Cook the bacon over medium low heat until crispy. Chop it into small bits and put it into a bowl with the cream cheese, sour cream and garlic powder. NOTE: I’ve tried this with more intense flavorings, but I feel as though the bacon, the cream cheese, and the jalapeno flavor can really shine when they are left alone.

Fill the peppers with your bacon/cream cheese ambrosia, and top with cheddar. Be generous with the filling and with the topping.

Pop those bad boys into the toaster for 15-20 minutes at 350F. You want the cheese on top to get a super melty and bubbly and you want tender peppers.

ANOTHER SAFETY TIP: Toaster ovens can be temperamental, so don’t walk away. Depending on your oven, you might need an additional 5 minutes, or you might need to pull them out if they start to get charred on top.

Picture Imperfect. What to do when dinner goes wrong.

I had a plan. A glimmer of a plan. OK I had ingredients.

Last night was supposed to be our fancy meal of the week. We’d hit the farmer’s market on Sunday and got all kinds of great things. Among those items were a couple Branzinos.

Branzinos, if you don’t know, are code for restaurant quality fish, that deserves to be treated with respect. It is rather expensive, and it has a really delicious, buttery flavor. It really should be cooked simply, with minimal accompaniments. We splurged.

And I, in my hubris, thought, “I know how to cook fish to perfection. I will be named Champion of Branzino and all bass will bow as I parade by.”

Here was the plan: Crispy-skin branzino, with lemon garlic compound butter, honey carrot salad with cilantro, and fresh sourdough garlic bread.

Only one of those items made it onto the plate exactly as described, and even that was a challenge.

We’ll start there. The compound butter. Its easy: lemon juice, fresh grated garlic, salt, butter. But my butter was cold, my lemon juice was frozen, and all of my garlic started sprouting. Sooooooooo. I melted the lemon juice and hoped the residual heat would soften the butter and grated some green garlic. Also I added some African Smoke seasoning blend.

Here is the progression:

Step 1 melt frozen lemon cube. Step 2 add butter, garlic and seasonings. Step 3 mash it up. Step 4 spill a bunch so move to larger bowl. Step 5 stir more frantically as you notice the lemon will not incorporate. Let existential dread set in. Step 6 finally pour off any leftover lemon juice and put whats left onto parchment. Step 7 roll it up and stick it in the fridge.

It was while I made the butter that I felt things start to slide. I somehow knew from that moment that this was not going to be the dinner I had planned.

Nonetheless, I pushed on to the salad. Except when I looked into the veggie drawer, I suddenly realized that the green beans I had been avoiding were nearing their last days. Not wanting to waste, I gathered them up. They were dressed lightly in oil and salt and put into the oven at 400F for 30 minutes. They came out a bit wrinkled and charred. Sigh. I tossed them in a few tablespoons of saucy minx.

Now it was time for the Branzino. These bad boys had been sitting on the counter staring at me like Bran Stark waiting for an old friend.

Branzino, old buddy.

I’d patted them down and seasoned them with salt and pepper when I realized, the bread I’d planned to serve had been consumed the day before.

Since my five-year old has issues with green beans, and although he likes fish, isn’t really eating meat these days, I knew I had to put something on the plate that would make him happy. (My 1 yr old is an eating machine and still in the stages of “I want to eat what you eat” —she will happily mow down some string beans and fancy fish.)

So I put off the fish again to make some quick biscuits. (My biscuits are nothing to brag about– I make em and we eat em.) You really don’t want to rush into fish anyway. It cooks so quickly that you are better off waiting until everything else is finished. Prep your pan, prep your fish, but then hold off.

Ok, moment of truth…and disaster.

As you can see from the second image, my first skin didn’t flip with the fish. Despite having a good amount of oil in the pan and ensuring it was hot enough, it stuck. So I turned down the heat for the rest of the filets. And although those didn’t stick, they also did not cook at a hot enough temp to get that skin crunchy skin.

In the last pic, you can see the beautiful crisp of skin I got from that first one. I promise you, as I ate it over the sink in my kitchen, it was phenomenal.

So here is the final plate, picture imperfect. Everything tasted good:

One of the things that always makes me laugh during cooking shows is when someone will completely trash their entire dish because it didn’t turn out perfectly.

Of course, I get that these competitive reality shows are highly manufactured dramas. But home chefs know that even when a dish goes wrong everybody still needs to eat. Branzino purchased at $15 a pop cannot simply be replaced.

Most days dinner is about flawed execution, and half-laid plans. Sometimes it turns out great. Sometimes it’s only edible. And sometimes you have to push the limits to redefine edible.

The meal was completely edible– tasty even. It had good basics and top-notch ingredients. It was really good. It just wasn’t perfect.

A saucy minx.

The best homemade stir fry sauce to keep in your fridge.

Looks like I need to make more…

Today I’m introducing you to my favorite sauce. It’s one I make myself and keep in my fridge at all times. I can also add to it easily and often do when I have the right ingredients on hand.

This is a basic sauce, but it makes my life easier to have it premixed and ready to go when I’m making stir fry.

The one issue I have is that I really don’t measure. I go by taste on this one. But I’ll try to give you approximations so that you can make this at home, and adjust to your liking.

Ingredients

The secret sauce! Not pictured: scallions (I didn’t have any), rice wine vinegar.
  1. Soy sauce (about 1 cup)
  2. Honey (about 1/4 cup)
  3. Finely grated ginger (1 tablespoon or to taste)
  4. 2-3 cloves of finely grated or crushed garlic (about 1 tablespoon)
  5. 1-2 stalks chopped scallions
  6. Thai fish sauce (a teaspoon or to taste)
  7. Rice or white wine vinegar (a teaspoon or to taste)
  8. Optional: Shichimi—a red chili pepper blend (1/8 teaspoon)

Variations

With a simple adjustment, this sauce base is a great replacement for teriyaki sauce (with far fewer preservatives). All you need to do is measure out 1/4 cup of the sauce, add 1 cup water, the juice from an orange or lemon, and 1/4 cup brown sugar into a pan over medium heat. Add a cornstarch slurry of 2 tablespoons cornstarch and 1/4 water and cook for about 5 minutes.

Another quick adjustment makes it a great dipping sauce for gyoza. Measure out a few tablespoons of the sauce, add an equal amount of rice wine vinegar and a few drops of sesame oil, as well as a few extra splashes of fish oil. The dipping sauce is light and tangy—perfect for the dumplings.

You can experiment with spices. I really like shichimi, but it would be great with chili oil—or even a packet of the chili flakes that come with pizza delivery if that’s what you have on hand.

A few tips

As I mentioned, I add to this sauce whenever its convenient. For example, when I buy a bunch of green onions at the market for a recipe, there are always leftover stalks. Sometimes I can use those during the week, but other times, I might not get to them. If they are looking a little limp (but are free of mold) I’ll trim any questionable parts, chop up the good parts and throw it in the jar. Because the main ingredients are soy sauce, honey, and vinegar, the onions are pickled. The ginger and garlic are likewise preserved.

Speaking of ginger, whenever I buy ginger root, I slice it up and keep it in my freezer. It stays pretty hearty and can be used in to make ginger tea, smoothies, lemonade, curd, or in this sauce whenever it is needed. The garlic can also be frozen (or stored in oil), but my husband grows garlic in our herb garden, so we have a pretty good supply on hand.

If you don’t have fish sauce, you can omit it… but its sooooooo good, I think you’ll want to add it. It adds a layer of umami flavor that makes the sauce irresistible. A small bottle will last for years.

Do you have a secret sauce? Let me know!