Cooking, Holidays

Chicken Soup Is Always A Good Idea

It’s the Sunday before Christmas, The cards have been mailed, all the gifts are wrapped, and everything for our holiday dinner for two has been purchased. That leaves making Dean a batch of peanut butter fudge, and a pot of homemade chicken soup with pasta.

It is a cold dreary day, a perfect time to make the soup. There is something cozy, nourishing, and delicious about this homemade soup. I have made this recipe countless times, and this version is a favorite. This soup is all about the yummy rich broth that will warm you inside.

1 Whole Chicken – 4 lbs’ish
1 large Yellow Onion
5 Carrots
5 Celery Stalks
1 Garlic Bulb (big one or 2 small)
4 Springs Fresh Thyme
5 ounces Ditalini or other small pasta
1 32 Ounce Chicken Bone Broth
8 Cups Cold Water
Kosher Salt
Black Pepper Mill or Peppercorns

You can skip this step, but it really does make the chicken even better. 4 or 5 hours before you make the soup (or even overnight) unwrap the chicken and pat it dry, set the chicken in a shallow dish. Remove the giblet package, open and place them in the dish too. Salt everything very well. If you use Morton Kosher Salt use at least 1 Tablespoon on the outside, and 1 Teaspoon inside the cavity. Morton is more salty than Diamond, so adjust to the brand you use. Loosely cover the chicken and giblets, put the dish in the fridge.

When you are ready to make the soup:

In a large heavy pot (I use a 4 quart pot with lid) place the chicken breast side up. Add the following :
Quarter the large yellow onion – do not remove skin.
Chop 2 of the carrots into large chunks – do not peel.
Chop 2 celery stocks into large chunks – if there are celery leaves put those in too
4 Sprigs fresh thyme – leave on the branches
1 Head of garlic – do not peel, just cut on the equator to half
1 32 Ounce chicken bone broth (will make the broth a deeper color)
8 Cups cold water
If you have a pepper mill do several turns all over the top of the chicken, liquid, and vege, or toss in 9 or 10 whole peppercorns

Bring to a boil, skim the top as needed to remove any bubbling foam. Cover with the lid and turn down to a simmer. Let it simmer for 60 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through.

While the chicken cooks peel 3 carrots and cut them into circular slices, and do the same with 3 stalks of celery and set aside for later.

When the chicken is done remove from the pot, and put on a board or plate. While the chicken cools enough to handle, strain the broth. Discard all the vegetables from the stock, they’ve done their job.

Put the broth back in the pot and taste for seasoning, add salt or pepper if needed. Bring the seasoned broth to a boil and add the ditalini. Stir well, and add the carrots and celery. While the pasta and vege cook remove the skin from the chicken and tear into pieces. When the pasta is cooked add the chicken. Turn the stove off and check for seasoning. I always add fresh thyme leaves to the finish the soup. Serve & enjoy!


Cuban Beef Stew (Carne Guisado)

Fall leaves are starting to cover the ground, and temperatures have cooled. Well, night time temperatures have cooled into the 30’s, but today the high will be 73. It’s hard to believe Christmas is 48 days away, but I know that’s true because yesterday Dean started hanging the outdoor Christmas lights and garland.

Soups and stews are a staple in our home during fall and winter. Not only do I stick with the dishes that are loved, but I also like to experiment with new recipes. For the first stew of the season I’m going to stick with the Dean’s favorite, Carne Guisado.

My husband, Dean, is half Cuban; his mother, Blanca, is from Morón, a city in the Ciego de Ávila Province. She has been in the United States for many decades, but the family’s roots and cuisine are a big part of their culture.

When we first married it was seriously upsetting trying to make dishes from Dean’s childhood. Blanca would write out the recipes and mail them to me, but they never turned out right. Years later, when recipes became available online, and I started reading cookbooks, I understood why I could never make Cuban food. It wasn’t that I couldn’t cook, it was that she changed the recipes. Yes, my mother-in-law would leave something out of the recipe, or give incorrect ingredients and amounts. I like to think this wasn’t done to hurt me, but rather she wanted to be the one woman in Dean’s life who could cook his favorite foods.

Needless to say I haven’t taken cooking tips from her in a very long time. Through online, cookbooks, and just experimenting on my own I have taught myself how to make delicious Cuban dishes.

Here’s the Recipe!

4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed
1 large white onion, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped
7 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds sirloin tip, cut into cubes
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 cup pinot noir
1 can tomato sauce, 15 ounces
3 tablespoons white vinegar
1/3 cup pimento stuffed Spanish green olives
1/4 cup golden raisins
2 bay leaves
1 cup water
4 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
4 parsnips, peeled and cut into chunks (can use potatoes if you want)
Kosher salt & fresh cracked black pepper

Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy large saute’ pan. Add onions, peppers, salt, pepper and cook until transparent. Do not let them brown. Add the minced garlic and saute’ for two more minutes.

While the vegetables cook spread the meat cubes out into a single layer and lightly salt and pepper, then dust with flour. Shake off any excess flour. Remove the vegetables from the pan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil into the pan. Place some of the seasoned meat cubes into the hot saute’ pan and brown on all sides. Remove from the pan and repeat this step until all the meat is browned. Tip: it is important to do the meat in batches or it will not brown and an entire layer of flavor will be lost.

Put the vegetables and meat back into the pan, add oregano, cumin and cook for two minutes. Add tomato sauce, wine, vinegar, olives, raisins and bay leaves. If there isn’t enough liquid to cover the meat, add just enough water or beef broth. Bring to a boil, cover, and turn down to low. Allow to simmer for 1 hour. After an hour stir the stew, put the cover back on and simmer 30 minutes. Check the stew and stir again. Make sure it isn’t getting too thick, if it is add a touch of water or beef broth. Cook another 30 minutes.

Add the carrots and parsnips, cover the pan, and cook until the vegetables are tender, 20 to 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper if needed.

Notes: If carrots and parsnips aren’t your thing then use peeled potatoes cut into large chunks. I use a variety of vegetables in this stew, but the one I did today is our favorite. We eat it with white rice, and leftovers are super yummy.


Leaving the Food Rut Behind

citrus is a great acid that adds freshness

During the holidays I spent some of my client-free time cooking the wonderful dishes that brought back childhood memories, but also the dishes we’ve come to love through the years that are now tradition at our table.

Then the holiday season ended, the new year began, and 2020 work goals kicked in, which means less time to cook. By the end of the first week of January I was busy, had little to no time for the kitchen, and we were quickly entering into the food rut we were in last fall. I knew there was no way we could choke down another piece of chicken with the same old stand-by sides. I needed help, and the sooner the better.

That’s when I came across a post by Tieghan Gerard of “Half-Baked Harvest“, she shared “The 25 Most Popular Recipes of 2018“. I clicked through and started looking at the variety of dishes, and how delicious they seemed and that’s when I decided they were the recipes that would rescue us from our food rut!

I printed several and chose to start with “One Skillet Lemon Butter Chicken and Orzo“. It was quick prep, easy to cook in one pot, and the final result was amazing. We loved how fresh it tasted with the herbs and lemon, plus the orzo was a nice change for us. Better yet there were yummy leftovers, which fits in with my cook once, eat twice belief. Leftovers make eating healthy at home a snap and takes the guess work out of what’s for dinner tomorrow night.

Thanks to Tieghan and her recipe I have found my kitchen inspiration. I look forward to sharing how the other recipes are, and to no boring dinners.