Sunday, October 25, 2009

Simple Chicken Vegetable Soup with Beans

Sundays are often dedicated to figuring out my workday lunches and soup is my all time favorite portable, reheatable meal (carried in my beloved Glasslock dishes that fit perfectly into my old work-swag insulated lunchbox, but I'll spare readers the infomercial).

Today, instead of using a recipe, I decided just to throw some things together based on what we had in the house. I had made a big batch of chicken stock yesterday, so knew I could use that in my soup to add flavor. (I roasted the bones for the stock this time and was pleased at the depth it added to my very basic stock).

I had thought about adding some herbs or spices but couldn't decide which direction to go, so I cooked up the soup and decided to wait until later to spice it. Turns out, it was quite satisfying as it was.

I like to roast the chicken I'm going to use in my soup. Of course, in some ways it would be easier just to cook the raw chicken in the soup, but I like the guilty pleasure of eating the crispy skin and I like the flavor of roasted chicken better than poached.

We had some fresh cannellini beans from our CSA, so they didn't require any pre-soaking and cooked in about the same amount of time as the potatoes. If you don't have fresh shelling beans, I would recommend either using canned beans or using pre-cooked beans, as the soup itself doesn't need a long cooking time.

I like the body that pureeing soup brings, but I also wanted to enjoy the silky texture of the fresh beans, so I compromised. I removed about half of the vegetable and beans and pureed the remaining. Only then did I add the chicken pieces and the spinach.

INGREDIENTS
1 TBSP olive or vegetable oil
1 small onion, diced
2 large cloves garlic, put through a press or minced
2 normal or 3 very small ribs celery, diced
2 normal or 4-5 very small carrots, diced
4 small to medium-sized red potatoes, diced
2 c. fresh cannellini beans, shelled and rinsed OR 1 can cooked cannellini or other white beans OR 2 c. pre-cooked white beans
6-8 c. chicken stock or water (or a combination--I used about 5 cups stock and 1-2 cups water)
1 TBSP salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 medium chicken breast, roasted and cut into bite-sized pieces
3-4 leaves spinach, washed and finely chopped
More salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS
  1. Heat the oil in a 4 or 5 quart pot over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for a few minutes, until it starts to soften
  2. Add the garlic and continue cooking a few more minutes
  3. Add the celery and carrots and cook another minute or two
  4. Stir in the potatoes and the beans (if using fresh--wait until later if using canned or pre-cooked)
  5. Add the chicken stock/water and the salt and pepper
  6. Bring the soup to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer
  7. Cook the soup until the beans and potatoes are tender. If using canned or pre-cooked beans, add them now
  8. Remove half of the vegetables/beans from the pot and puree the rest of the soup (ideally with an immersion blender)
  9. Put the vegetables and beans back into the pot and add the chicken and spinach
  10. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. The soup as I made it is very gentle and comforting, but it could easily be made more assertive with red pepper flakes, thyme, coriander, smoked paprika or wherever your imagination takes you

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Squash Gingerbread Waffles


Many thanks to my friend Rebecca (who will always be 'Becky' to me, I'm afraid), for this recipe. She found it on a message board somewhere, but we have no original source for attribution. She made some alterations and then I made a (very) few of my own.

I have a working oven again (heavens be praised), and we'd been accumulating winter squashes from our CSA, so I roasted up a big batch and made a mixed puree of butternut, acorn and kabucha (or delicata). I'd been hankering to try this recipe and found time to do so this morning. Elspeth was my kitchen helper and between the two of us it didn't take much effort to whip up a batch. The recipe makes lots of waffles and they're more filling than Evan's Waffles, so you can freeze the leftovers and enjoy them on cold winter mornings.

We ate them plain, but I think they would also be tasty with pear-clove sauce.

I used homemade roasted, pureed squash, but of course you could also use canned pumpkin.

INGREDIENTS
3 c. whole wheat pastry flour or 2 1/4 c. ww pastry flour + 1/2 c. almond meal + 1/4 c. ground flaxseed
2 TBSP baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves
4 large eggs
1/3 c. maple syrup
1 c. squash or pumpkin puree
1 1/4 c. milk
1/2 c. molasses
1/2 c. vegetable or coconut oil

DIRECTIONS
  1. Preheat waffle iron
  2. In a large bowl combine the dry ingredients and set aside
  3. Beat eggs and maple syrup until fluffy, then beat in pumpkin, milk, molasses and oil
  4. Stir the wet mixture into dry ingredients in the large bowl until just moist. Do not over-stir
  5. Add a large spoonful of batter to the waffle iron and cook according to your waffle iron's specifications
  6. Top with your favorite waffle toppings

Sunday, October 11, 2009

French Lentil Soup

Now that I'm working outside the home again, and at a location where there are no restaurants, I have to dust off my lunch-making skills. I can't remember what made me think of this lentil soup recipe because I haven't made it in years, but I'm glad I was reminded. It comes from the first French cookbook I ever owned, Jacques Burdick's French Cooking En Famille. It was a gift from my new dorm friends my first year of university. There are a lot of good recipes in this book, though I don't find myself making them often.

This recipe is the first one I ever saw that used orange peel in a savory dish. Likewise, I had never heard of spiking an onion with cloves. Both transform a soup that could be ordinary into something unique (at least to my palate). I love seeing how subtle changes in ingredients can make such a remarkable difference to a dish. For example, so many soup recipes start with onion, garlic, celery, carrot, parsley, thyme and bay leaf. This one omits the celery and parsley (and of course adds the aforementioned clove-spiked onion and orange peel, as well as some rosemary). The resulting soups taste quite a bit different. It is convenient for me that it doesn't call for celery, as this is one of the vegetables we don't see as often at our farmers' market and that I don't have around all the time. (Though of course this week we did get celery in our basket!) Our parsley, on the other hand, is the biggest herb in our garden.

I mostly follow this recipe as written, though I do tend to omit the milk. I also use French Puy lentils rather than the brown ones he calls for. Since I more often have onions on hand than leeks, I took a large onion and halved it. I diced one half to replace the leek and spiked the other half with the cloves. Burdick says that you should slice all the vegetables thinly, but I diced them since that was easier for me. As the soup is going to be pureed anyway, I didn't think it mattered.

Burdick notes that it's easy to omit the bacon to make a vegetarian or even vegan version (called à l'ancienne). Use olive oil instead of butter for the vegan option.

I'd love to serve this with my crusty bread, but alas am still without an oven. We have high hopes that we'll have a working oven again in a couple of weeks.

INGREDIENTS
2 c. brown or French green (Puy) lentils, picked over and rinsed
Water to cover
2 TBSP butter (or olive oil)
2 slices thick-cut bacon or 3 strips regular-cut cut crosswise into lardons, optional
2 medium carrots, diced or thinly sliced
2 medium leeks, white parts only, diced or thinly sliced OR
1/2 large onion, diced
2 plump cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium OR 1/2 large onion, spiked with three whole cloves
1 bouquet garni, tied up with string, consisting of: 2 inch piece of dried orange peel (mine was fresh), 1 bay leaf, 1 sprig thyme, 1 sprig rosemary
2 quarts water
2 c. milk (preferably not nonfat), optional
Butter or olive oil to swirl in soup, optional

DIRECTIONS
  1. Place the rinsed and picked over lentils in a bowl and cover with cold water. Let soak for one hour. If you don't have time for this step, you can skip it, though my guru Deborah Madison does feel that it makes the lentils more flavorful
  2. Start prepping the other ingredients while the lentils soak
  3. Heat the butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over low-medium heat
  4. Add the diced onion/leek, garlic, carrots, and bacon and cook over gentle heat until they are translucent but not browned
  5. Drain the lentils and rinse them. Then add them to the pot along with the spiked onion, bouquet garni and 2 quarts of cold (fresh) water
  6. Turn up the heat to bring the soup to a boil, skimming off any scum for the first five minutes (in my laziness, I often do not skim, I admit it)
  7. Turn the heat down to low and simmer the soup, covered, for 1 hour 45 minutes
  8. Remove the bouquet garni and the spiked onion and puree the soup (I use my immersion blender but you can transfer carefully to a blender if you have to)
  9. Return to the pot and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper as needed
  10. Add the milk, if using, and bring the mixture just to a boil then immediately turn off the heat
  11. Taste one more time for seasoning and adjust as necessary
  12. Serve with a swirl of butter or olive oil as desired

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Beef Zap Zap Soup

This recipe has a very special place in my heart. Up on Queen Anne, there used to be an annex of the Orrapin Thai restaurant that served a dish called Beef Zap Zap soup. This stuff was heaven in a bowl, the perfect cure for any ailment. One of my most memorable experiences with this soup was the day after my 30th birthday party. I'd stayed up talking with Evan until 5am (and yet still wasn't sure if he fancied me) and had a progressive hangover--the kind that worsens as the day goes on. Jenn and I headed to the noodle house for some restorative zap zap. The next day, I got the email from Evan asking me out on our first date and we've been together ever since.

I was horrified when Orrapin decided to rethink their annex and removed zap zap from the menu. At that time, I had not yet had pho, so I didn't know that it would be a good approximation. I went online and discovered the recipe that would become the basis for a homemade zap zap. Of course, I now have no idea of my original source. I made some modifications based on the kinds of ingredients I find easy to obtain. It's not worth it to me to keep around recipes that require trips to far-flung reaches of the city for ingredients. In addition, I omitted the pepper flakes to allow each person to spice up the meal individually.

We had some beef soup bones in the freezer from the cow share we participated in earlier this year, so I made up my own stock to infuse with zap zap goodness. In previous years, I had started with storebought stock and it does work fine, just be careful about the salty ingredients you add--keep tasting for balance. Because I made my own stock, I had 4.5 quarts of it to work with. I infused the whole lot and will love having some pre-infused broth on hand in the freezer for cold winter nights.

I didn't use to make the soup with all that many vegetables, but we try to pack as many veggies as we can into every meal these days, so I suggested carrots and greens as possibilities. For little ones or anybody who has trouble slurping up rice noodles, I think that you could get away with stirring in some cooked brown rice as a substitute.

If you don't wish to use steak in the soup, you could also add cooked chicken or tofu.

INGREDIENTS FOR BROTH
4.5 qt beef stock (I used homemade unsalted)
2 stalks lemongrass, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
2 star anise
8 cloves garlic, smashed
4 kaffir lime leaves (I suspect mine were just regular lime, but they were at the store, so I bought them)
2-inch piece of ginger cut into 1/2 inch pieces (if you've got access to galangal, use that)
1 TBSP chopped cilantro (I used those nifty frozen cubes from Trader Joe's) or to taste
4 TBSP dark soy sauce
1 TBSP light soy sauce
2 TBSP fish sauce
1 tsp salt
2 TBSP dark brown sugar or to taste
(2 tsp red pepper flakes optional)

DIRECTIONS
  1. Place all ingredients in a large pot and simmer for 20-60 minutes
  2. Strain out the spices
  3. If not using immediately, quickly cool to a safe temperature before refrigerating or freezing
  4. If ready to eat, place some broth in a large bowl and add any of the following
BROTH ADDITIONS
Rice stick noodles softened in warm water or in some broth
Bean sprouts (blanched)
Very thinly cut steak either pre-blanched or cooked in very hot beef broth
Cooked chicken
Tofu
Grated carrots
Finely chopped or processed greens or cabbage (Bok choy would be particularly nice, I think)
Thai basil, chopped
Jalapeno peppers to taste (optional)