Light of my Life

It’s always a party when I pull out my kitchen torch.

Today’s occasion:  French onion soup.  Earlier at the farmers’ market, pearly white sweet onions—still kissed with morning dew—looked almost too gorgeous to touch.

A sudden vision of the well-picked-over roast chicken carcass in the fridge at home was a wake-up nudge that a tasty chicken stock was  waiting in the wings.

A hearty beef stock really makes onion soup sing, but a chicken stock simmered in the remains of a flavorful roast is a beautiful thing, too.  In my slow cooker, stock is an effortless commodity.  For the onion soup stock, I’d add onion cuttings, a carrot for a touch of sweetness, and fresh herbs, then cover it all with boiling water and check back later in the day.

My go to Onion Soup follows, but I tend to change it up it depending on what I have on hand.  Sweet onions with a high sugar content are key; sauté them over moderately low heat until they begin to turn color and caramelize. If necessary, add a teaspoon of sugar while sautéing the onions to encourage the full caramelization process. Once the stock is added, the soup is ready within a half hour—or it can be set aside and reheated when ready.

BonJour Torch

 

To finish it all, I carved and toasted thick slices of a multi-grained artisan bread and sprinkled them with a combination of shaved Parmesan and Havarti cheese. No need to crank up the broiler on this warm summer day.

My trusty torch was on hand for the artful transformation of simple ingredients into a glorious soup crowned with essential rafts of toasted cheesy goodness.

 Onion Soup

Ingredients
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
6 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoon brandy
6 cups rich beef or chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
½ teaspoon each fresh savory and rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup white wine or dry sherry
Accompaniments:  6 croutons (1/2” thick slices toasted baguette)
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Directions

  1. In a soup pot, sauté onions with butter and olive oil over medium heat until aromatic. Reduce heat and stir occasionally, cook until onions are deep golden and caramelized, 30 minutes or longer.
  2. Deglaze pan by carefully pouring in brandy and stir well. Add stock, seasonings, wine, and simmer partially covered for 30 minutes.
  3. In individual bowls, place a crouton in center and sprinkle with cheese, pour a generous amount of onion soup over each. If using oven proof bowls, broil 3” from heat source, watching carefully until tops bubble and brown. Serve with more cheese.   Serves 4 – 6.

Anise Chicken: Ready for Summer Heatwaves

When summer arrives and the heat sets in, my eating habits change. I shift to lighter, easier meals—foods that perk up an often peckish appetite.

I’ve always been a big fan of the Chinese method of poaching chicken.  It results in a beautiful clear broth, utterly pristine flavors, and meat that is succulent and tender. Here’s an outstanding riff on that approach which requires very little actual cooking time—much relies on the broth’s residual heat to do the work. It’s an ideal technique for summertime heatwaves.

The idea comes from Wendy Kiang-Spray’s lovely cookbook The Chinese Kitchen Garden. A whole chicken (here I’ve used the equivalent, 2 Cornish game hens) is dry rubbed with salt, stuffed with whole star anise, and refrigerated for 1- 3 days. When ready to launch, it’s brought to room temperature before lowering into to a pot of simmering water and cooked uncovered for a mere 10 minutes. Then, it’s covered and allowed to steep in the hot broth’s residual heat for 45 minutes. The chicken is fast cooled in an ice water bath for 15 minutes and patted dry.

The resulting broth is bewitchingly addictive: the star anise flavor is present, but not overtly so.  It’s a lovely liquid for cooking rice, grains, vegetables, etc.  For a soup stock, I opted to keep it light and not overwhelm it with too many heavy flavors.

A few slices of ginger, some garlic, and a dash of soy sauce hit the right balance for a soba noodle soup with chicken and a few fresh vegetables.

The anise chicken has happily starred in a variety of applications. When pressed, I have whipped up a simple Asian dipping sauce, but Wendy also suggests a Ginger-Onion Garlic Oil, also included because it is such a nice touch.

Of my favorite uses, I remain a big fan of an easy Asian Chicken Salad served with plenty of sesame crepes (yum—coming soon!) along with spoonfuls of hoisin sauce for stuffing/rolling purposes. Welcome to summer 2017, rolling out with record 101° heat.

Anise Poached Chicken

Inspired by The Chinese Kitchen Garden by Wendy Kiang-Spray

Ingredients
3 pound whole chicken
2 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse salt
20 pieces whole star anise
Ginger-Onion/Garlic Oil (optional)
2” section ginger, peel and slice
3-4 garlic whistles or 3 “bunching onions” (a leek-like variety), cut in 2” lengths
¼ cup oil

Directions

  1. Rinse and pat dry chicken. Rub inside and out with 2 tablespoons coarse salt. Place the star anise in the cavity. Place in zip lock and refrigerate 1-3 days.
  2. Remove chicken and bring to room temperature (about 1 hour ahead).
  3. Fill pot with enough water to cover chicken and bring to a boil.  Lower anise-filled chicken into pot.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium low.  Simmer chicken uncovered 10 minutes. Skim residue off top of water. Turn off heat and cover with tight fitting lid.  Allow to steep undisturbed for another 45 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.  Meanwhile make Ginger and Onion Oil. Crush ginger and onions with mortar and pestle or pulse in food processor. Place the paste in heatproof bowl and add 1 tsp salt.  Heat the oil until hot. Carefully pour the hot oil over the ginger and onion mixture.
  4. When chicken is cooked through, remove from pot, reserving pot liquid for another purpose:  cooking rice or other grain, etc.  Lower chicken into an ice water bath to quickly stop the cooking process. In about 15 minutes when cooled, remove and pat dry.
  5. Chop into pieces and serve with a drizzle of ginger-onion oil. Nice over steamed white rice or other. Serves 4-6.

Potstickers Galore

Not long ago, I came across a small bamboo stacked steamer in an Asian market that looked to be the right fit for my 5-quart Instant Pot.  It’s quite charming sitting in my tiny kitchen, but more than that, eyeing it caused my mouth to water—as visions of  steamed dumplings danced in my head.

When I spotted Martin Yan’s potsticker recipe I knew I had the perfect excuse to pull everything together and start cooking.  Although I tailored this for my Instant Pot and steamer set-up, any steamer, wok or large  pan with a lid or foil to seal will do the trick.

The process is very much like making wontons. Martin incorporates Napa cabbage, ground pork or turkey, and dried black mushrooms in his filling. I’ve made a few adjustments, like adding an egg white for binder and extra moisture plus a bit of hoisin and mushroom soy sauce instead of oyster sauce. Instructions follow for Instant Pot as well as Martin Yan’s browning/steaming in a 12” sauté pan.

This makes plenty of potstickers!

I ended up making batches two days in a row—smartly pacing self to avoid eating all potstickers in sight.  So many did I have, there was an Asian salad event and more to freeze for a later soup.

Potstickers

Inspired by Martin Yan’s Potstickers.

Ingredients
40 round potsticker or wonton wrappers
2 tablespoons cooking oil
water
CB’s Spicy Dipping Sauce
2 tablespoons  sriracha sauce or chile paste
¼ cup soy sauce
1 tablespoon vinegar
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon sesame oil
Filling
4 dried Shiitake mushrooms
1 cup shredded Napa cabbage (approx.)
2 tablespoons green onion, chop
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 pound ground pork or ground turkey
1 clove garlic, mince
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 egg white
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce

Directions

  1. Make spicy dipping sauce: in a small bowl, combine ingredients and set aside.
  2. Soak mushrooms: In a bowl, soak mushrooms in warm water to cover until softened, about 15 minutes; drain. Discard stems and coarsely chop caps.
  3. Salt cabbage: In a bowl, combine Napa cabbage and salt, toss well and set aside until cabbage wilts, about for 5 minutes. Squeeze out and discard excess water.
  4. For filling: combine mushrooms and cabbage with remaining filling ingredients in a bowl; mix well.
  5. To shape potstickers: moisten the edges of the round wrapper and place a teaspoonful of filling in center. Pull up, flatten bottom, and pleat edges with some filling showing. Or, lightly fold in half, then press the outer edges inward to create a 4-pronged star on top. Keep remaining wrappers covered with a damp cloth to prevent them from drying. Repeat until filling is used or set aside half and make as needed.
  6. To steam in Instant Pot: line 2 steamer baskets with cabbage leaves or parchment paper.  Set in baskets without touching. In bottom of Instant Pot add about 2 cups water.  Place bamboo steamer on wire rack and cover with bamboo lid or seal top with foil. Cover tightly, close vents, steam for 6 minutes and use quick release.  Repeat as desired.  Yield: about 40 potstickers.

Variations:
To fully cook in skillet:  heat 10-12” skillet over medium high until hot.  Add 1 tablespoons oil to coat bottom of pan.  Add about 10 potstickers, flat side down and cook until bottom are golden brown, about 3 minutes.  Add 1/3 cup water, reduce heat to low, cover and cook until water is absorbed, 4-5 minutes. Remove and serve with spicy dipping sauce.
To reheat/brown the bottoms:  if desired, heat a skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoons oil to cover bottom of pan, add a layer of cooked potstickers and cook until bottoms are golden brown, about 3 minutes. Add a couple of spoonfuls of water in pan to create steam, cover and cook briefly until warmed through and water is absorbed, about 2 minutes. Serve with spicy dipping sauce.

Cabbage Rolls Made Easy

My thoughts automatically turn to my new Instant Pot these days.  Often it is to re-visit old favorites like stuffed cabbage rolls, and tinker with how to best incorporate them into my new cooking repertoire.

This stuffed cabbage recipe was shared many years ago by a good Polish friend, who received it from his mother.  Since he was not a cook, he was so appreciative when I would prepare his beloved Goblaki, it was always reason for a party.

Golabki

When the mood strikes, I still make stuffed cabbage rolls for their homey, sweet/sour qualities. They are even better reheated the next day.  There are a few steps, but none are complicated.  I actually find the repetition of filling and shaping the rolls very relaxing—I like to think of it as a form of meditation.

Here, the slow cooker steps in to deliver all the classic aromas and flavors and cooks in about the same oven time.  There is little mess. The blanching of the leaves is done in the same cooking pot. My current version cuts back on the ground beef and contains part turkey, which doesn’t seem to make a difference in overall taste.

Enjoy the rolls with Barley-Mushroom Risotto, a perfect companion.  Here’s to you, Joe!

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls, aka Golabki

Ingredients
1        large head cabbage
Filling
3/4     pound ground beef
3/4     pound ground turkey
1/3     cup raw converted rice
1/2     cup onion, dice
1/2     cup celery, dice
1         clove garlic, crush
1         teaspoon salt, to taste
1/2     teaspoon pepper, to taste
Sauce
1       28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/2    teaspoon dried dill, plus more for the pot
salt and red pepper flakes, to taste
1        tablespoons brown sugar, approximate
2        tablespoons cider vinegar
1/3    cup raisins (optional)

Directions

  1. To blanch the cabbage leaves:  gently separate the cabbage leaves and rinse well.  Layer leaves in pressure cooker. Set pressure element to Low, and steam the leaves for 1 minute with fast release.  Carefully remove and place in an ice water bath to stop the cooking.  Drain on toweling and set aside.
  2. Place a few unusable leaves in the bottom of the pot, add a bit of available sliced onion, add a light sprinkling of dill, salt and pepper.
  3. To make cabbage rolls:  combine filling items.  Place a heaping tablespoonful of stuffing at largest end of leaf, roll and fold sides in.  Repeat.
  4. For assembly:  combine sauce ingredients and spoon 1/3 of the sauce into bottom of pot.  Place a layer of rolls close together, seam side down, into the pot. Top with another 1/3 of sauce.  Add another layer of rolls and finish with remaining sauce.
  5. Set slow cooker to Medium setting for approximately 2-1/2 hours.  Note: begin on medium setting, cook for 1-1/2 hours. and check.  If not simmering at this point, increase to High for the additional hour.  Can also be cooked on Low setting for 6 hours or longer.  Yield: about 12 rolls.

Soup in a Flash

When it comes to preparing quick meals, planning ahead makes all the difference.  Instead of eating the last of the roast chicken, I like to tuck a portion into the freezer for a rainy day. One large chicken breast could be the makings of a taco dinner for two or a comforting soup, with the help of a little chicken stock.

Hominy is another item that has plenty of applications.  The same corn staple used for grits in the south,  it’s a versatile ingredient used in hearty Tex-Mex breakfasts and serves as a wonderful addition in Mexican soups and stews. Markets often prefer stocking the jumbo cans, which could mean a lifetime supply—unless you are into menudo.  So, when I spot the smaller 12-ounce cans I like to grab one or two for handy use later.

Chicken Lime Soup with Hominy

Chicken-Lime Soup with Hominy

If you happen to have those three ingredients on hand, pat yourself on the back. You have the basis for a tasty soup dinner that’s ready in less than 30 minutes. Zip it up with a heavy squeeze of lime to emulate the flavors of Mexico’s Yucatan; top it freely with a fresh cheese like cojita or a feta and garnish with cilantro or avocado.

Chicken-Lime Soup with Hominy

Inspired by Fine Cooking Make It Tonight

Ingredients
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 white onion, peel and chop
1-2 cloves garlic, peel mince
1 medium jalapeno pepper, seed and chop
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
4 cups chicken stock, or more
1 cup canned hominy, drain
1 large chicken breast roasted or poached; skin, debone, and cut into large chop.  Shred into slightly smaller portions
1/2 teaspoon salt and pepper or to taste
1 lime

Accompaniments:  Cotija or queso fresca 1/2″ cheese cubes, cilantro leaves, lime slices, avocado slices, tortilla chips

Directions

  1. Add oil to soup pot over medium heat; when hot add onion and sauté for 1 minute to soften.  Add the garlic and toss until aromatic; add the green pepper, oregano, and cook an additional minute.
  2. Add the chicken stock and the hominy and bring to a simmer.  Add the chicken meat to the soup, season lightly with salt and pepper, cover and simmer about 10 minutes.
  3. When ready to serve, season with about 1 tablespoon lime juice and add more to taste; it should be tangy.  Serve in bowls with cheese cubes, cilantro, more lime, and additional accompaniments. Serves 2-4.

Jerk Pork: it’s grill time!

It’s summertime and the living is stunningly easy here on the homestead.  Especially now that I have finally located another folding grill!  What was once called the Pyromid has resurfaced under the new name of EcoQue, and I couldn’t be happier.  This unique stainless steel grill not only folds neatly into its own 2” thick tote for easy storage, it produces temperatures close to 900 degrees on its 12” surface with only 9 charcoal briquettes.

I apologize, I did not intend the post to become a sales pitch for this adorable grill, but I guess I can’t help myself. I am utterly thrilled that it hasn’t completely disappeared!  With the new grill at hand, my first order of business was to grill off a little celebratory jerk pork.

Jerk Pork

Jerk Pork

This popular Bahamian marinade makes anything taste better.  It’s wonderful hot off the grill on chicken, fish, beef, or pork and it is even better the next day. Jerk meats remain so moist and flavorful they are ideal for picnics and travel. Today, I’m cooking a thick chunk of pork but 3 to 4 pounds of chicken or beef will work just as well.

Jerk Pork, Chicken, or Beef

Ingredients
3 – 4 lb.  pork, chicken or beef ribs
Jerk Marinade
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg and cinnamon
3 tablespoons fresh thyme
1/2 cup green onions, chop
1 clove garlic, minced
4 scotch bonnet chiles, or jalapeno peppers, seed
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt

Directions

  1. For marinade: place all ingredients in blender and puree for 2 minutes.
  2. Massage the meat well with the marinade and marinate several house or overnight.  Any extra marinade can be reserved for dipping if not used for brushing the meat on the grill.
  3. Preheat the grill to medium-low heat.  Drain and pat the meat dry.  Brush the grill with oil.  Grill, turning and brushing with marinade as needed until nicely browned all over and pork reaches an internal temperature of 160°, beef is between 145-160°, and chicken reaches 165°.

 

 

Super Bowl and… Buffalo Wings!

Chicken wings aren’t something I thing about eating very often, but I dearly love them.  They are one of those foods that I always link with good times, like the Super Bowl.

I love chewing on the tips and bones until there is absolutely nothing left. Sadly, it is becoming increasingly difficult to buy wings with the wing tips included… Such was the case when I set out to purchase wings for Super Bowl snacking and had to settle on just drummies. They are still good, but just not the same. Cooking wings can be a greasy mess, so I try and keep the process as simple as possible.  Here’s my Buffalo wings solution.Wings(640x480) I brine the wings overnight and precook them ahead. When ready to eat, it’s a simple matter of gathering everything together and finishing them on the grill or in a hot oven. The most important trick to their success is to saturate them well with wing sauce while they are as hot as possible. It soaks in and does not make them soggy.wing plate

I especially like homemade blue cheese dressing with the wings, but any will work. It is the perfect balance with their hot spiciness, as well as an excellent dip with crunchy celery and broccoli. With just a few vegetables thrown in, somehow we can believe we are eating healthy.

For an add-on, serve these with the smashed creamer potatoes mentioned in the previous blog entry.  Enjoy, because it wouldn’t be Super Bowl without wings.

Buffalo Chicken Wings

Ingredients
2 lbs. chicken wings, or more, cut at elbow; rinsed well
2 tsp. salt
1 clove garlic, crushed
water to cover
Wing Sauce
1 part butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 parts favorite hot sauce
soy sauce, to taste
vinegar, optional

Directions

  1. In a sealable container or zip lock bag, combine the salt and enough warm water to dissolve, add the garlic and water to cool.  Add the wings and water to cover.  Let stand overnight in brine.  The next day, drain and air dry.
  2. Preheat oven to 450° and line baking sheet with foil.  Precook the wings for 30-45 minutes until they begin to color. Set aside until ready to finish.
  3. For sauce, melt the butter, add the garlic and sauté 2 minutes, add the hot sauce and adjust flavors with a bit of soy sauce and vinegar.  Set aside until ready to finish.
  4. Finish the wings on the grill or in 450°oven for approximately 15-20 minutes, until well browned and crisp, turning as needed. While hot, toss the wings with sauce and serve.
    Traditionally served with celery stick and other fresh vegetables and blue cheese dressing.   Serves 6.