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

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


  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

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


  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.

Update: Chicken and Vegetable Stocks

In the midst of writing the earlier Ramen Soup post, I did a quick site search on stock making.  If it’s here, it isn’t very searchable.  My apologies.  Today, I’m posting information on making both a handy chicken stock and an easy vegetable stock.  (We’ll leave beef, fish and other stocks for another round.)

Onion, stock backbone

A few notes on stock making …

Lighter flavored (vegetable or fish) stock takes less time to prepare than poultry or meat stocks.

As a rule, the more flavorful the stock the more complex the final dish.   Roasted vegetables enhance overall stock quality.

Consider the final outcome. If you have a particular meal in mind, add or delete vegetables, herbs, and other flavorings to further enhance—such as ginger for Asian, cumin or oregano for Mexican, or smoked paprika for Spanish.

soon to be stock
soon to be stock

I stockpile bones in the freezer in a zip lock bag, and brew up a pot when I have a good supply.

Stocks with larger bones take longer cooking time.

For efficiency, begin with bones previously roasted or cooked; grilling carries big flavor.

Use caution when adding salt; too much can ruin a well executed soup, sauce, or entree. It can always be added later.

Vegetable Stock

10 cups cold water
1 large onion, cut up – peels are ok
2 cloves garlic, smash and cut up – peels are ok
Other vegetables on hand cut into large chop:  2 carrots, 2 ribs celery with leaves, handful fresh or a few dried mushrooms
Couple sprigs of thyme, or 1 tsp dried
Handful of parsley, if available
1 bay leaf
10 whole peppercorns
Salt to taste


  1. Place water in large pot over high heat.
  2. Wash and chop all vegetables; add items as they area chopped.
  3. Bring to a boil, partially cover, reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes.  Salt to taste.
  4. Strain and use, or let cool, chill, or freeze.  Makes about 2 quarts stock.

Chicken Stock

Save carcasses from baked, roasted or grilled chicken and turkey.  Store any salvaged bones in a zip-lock bag or smaller containers in freezer for future use.

10 cups cold water
1 medium onion cut up – peels are ok
2 carrots cut up – peels are ok
2 cloves garlic, smash and cup up – peels are ok
1 celery rib including leaves, cut up
2 – 3 lbs chicken or turkey parts (cooked or uncooked) backs, necks, bones, wings, carcasses etc.
Handful of parsley, if available
Couple of sprigs thyme, or 1 tsp dried
1 bay leaf
10 whole peppercorns
Salt to taste


  1. Wash all vegetables, cut into large pieces and place in soup pot.  Break or cup up chicken carcass or parts into manageable pieces and add to pot.  Add cold water and bring to a boil.
  2. When it reaches a boil, skim off any foam and impurities that may have come to the surface.  Add the herbs and peppercorns.  Reduce heat, lightly cover, and simmer 1 hour or longer.  Add water as needed to cover.
  3. Strain through a fine sieve, salt to taste, and use as needed; or allow stock to cool.  Chill and remove any fat from the surface.

Covered stock will last up to 1 week in the refrigerator or freeze up to 1 month.  Makes about 2 quarts.

Reminiscing Ramen

I have a new favorite soup.  This brings back crazy memories of Top Ramen dinner days—when that was about all there was left in the cupboard, because payday hadn’t arrived yet.  If we were really lucky maybe we would add a few sliced mushroom, frozen peas, green onion, or an egg. It was a meal; easy, hot and filling—salt and all.Ramen table

With images of PureWow’s inventive Ramen Soup dancing in my head, earlier in the day I had made a chicken stock from the carcass of a roasted chicken.  I headed out to my local grocery store in search of dried ramen noodles and drifted from the international section where they had bags of all sort of noodles, to the soup section, where I was confounded by the daunting range of instant ramen noodle soups.  I guess I haven’t been paying attention because now there are choices like curried noodle and kim chee ramen.

Completely befuddled, I decide to keep it simple and stay with what I knew: the original Chicken Top Ramen.  I could use the noodles from 2 packages of Maruchan Roast Chicken Ramen at .17 each; a far cry from $1.88 for a large package of noodles.  Crazy.

And the instructions haven’t changed much either: boil the water, add the noodles and let it stand for 3 minutes, then stir in the seasoning packet.  It doesn’t get any easier than that.  I am a great reader of nutrition labels, and on this day I opt to just let it go.  Forget about it, ignorance is bliss.  I have lofty plans ahead.

Although a simple vegetable stock was certainly a possibility, I was well ahead of the game with my homemade chicken stock chilling, well-skimmed of excess fat.

Ready for dinner, I heat up the soup pot and quickly sauté green onion, garlic, coriander, curry, fresh minced ginger and garlic in sesame oil.  A bit of Sriracha is squirted in to taste, then the lovely chicken stock.  For extra flavor I throw in ½ cup of soaked dry shiitake mushrooms, plus their strained liquid.  Within 15 minutes, this melange transforms my simple stock into something complex and intriguing.  Actually, these flavors are so powerful, I’m not sure I’d even mess with my precious homemade stock in the future.  Perhaps a quick vegetable broth would do the same trick, after all—still light years away from ramen’s requisite seasoning packet.

The noodles are added to the simmering stock and burble away for 5 minutes or so.  What fun – they visibly puff into a curly mass.  While this is happening, I assemble the toppings. I sauté red pepper strips in coconut oil and poach the eggs to perfection.  I pull out a bag of spinach and arugula salad and pick off any errant stems, and quickly chop some green onion and cilantro.  A bit of leftover roasted chicken is sliced into strips.

ramen finalFinally!  Noodles are piled into bowls along with big ladles full of the shockingly good soup broth.  The toppings are available and added to taste.  Ah, sweet memories!  Not exactly instant, but better than ever!

Easy Ramenramen closeup
Adapted from PureWow ‘s Easy Ramen 

1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 large bunch scallions, thinly sliced
1 large garlic clove, minced
½-inch piece ginger, minced
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon curry powder
2 teaspoons Sriracha, or more to taste
6 cups chicken or vegetable broth
½ cup dried Shiitake mushrooms rehydrated plus drained liquid (soaked in 1 cup boiling water for 10 minutes)
12 ounces dried ramen noodles (I used noodles from 2 pkgs Top Ramen Noodles)
1 tablespoon vegetable or coconut oil
1 pint cremini mushrooms, sliced (about 2 cups, if not using dried Shiitake)
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
5 cups raw spinach and arugula, stemmed
4 eggs, poached (see How to Poach an Egg)
½ cup chopped cilantro


  1. In a large soup pot, heat the sesame oil over medium heat. Add half the scallions, the garlic and ginger, and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
  2. Add the coriander, curry powder and Sriracha, and cook until fragrant, 1 minute more. Add the chicken stock or vegetable broth and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Simmer covered, for 15 minutes, or until the broth develops good flavor.
  3. Remove the cover from the pot, add the noodles and cook until tender, 5 to 6 minutes. If the noodles begin to absorb too much of the broth, add water to keep the noodles fully submerged.
  4. In a large sauté pan, heat the vegetable or coconut oil over medium heat. Add the fresh mushrooms and bell peppers, and sauté until very tender, 6 to 7 minutes.
  5. To serve, ladle the soup into four bowls and garnish each portion with 2 tablespoons mushrooms, 2 tablespoons peppers, ¼ cup spinach, 3 tablespoons scallions and 1 poached egg. Serves 4.