Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Homemade Chicken Stock

So now you have a chicken carcass... lucky you! Seriously. You have the stuff of kitchen gold. The stuff cooks dream of. You can make homemade chicken stock. 

You've seen my snarky "preferably homemade" quip when I put it in recipes, but I do this for a reason. Homemade chicken stock has remarkable depth of flavor that is tough to find in store bought stock. Not to mention, when you make it yourself you can exert much more control over the sodium. You wouldn't believe how much the canned stuff has!

A little effort after a roasted chicken gives you a big yield and can stretch to punch up recipes for weeks to come.

So confession... I keep a crazy lady bag of chicken bones and another of veggie scraps in my freezer. Very Grey Gardens hoarder. I actually have a weird hatred of throwing away/wasting food, so my bags o' crazy in the freezer are perfect to assuage. Onion skins... keep 'em. Carrot peels...keep 'em. Celery leaves... keep 'em. Mushroom stems... okay you get it. 

Dump all that crazy freezer goodie in you biggest pot and add some extra carrots, celery and seasoning. Cover with water and let it simmer for at least two hours.

Your house will start smelling really good and the broth will be golden. Turn off the heat and remove the big chunks using a slotted spoon. You can discard the bones and veggies at this point they've done their job.

You'll need to allow the stock to cool before removing to containers. If it's cold outside, cover and put out there to cool. It will go much quicker and you'll drive your neighbor's cat crazy.

Place a fine mesh strainer over the container and give one last strain to catch all the tiny bits.

I keep take-out containers to freeze stock in. It's an issue in my marriage, because it drives my husband batty. But they're perfect for this. They hold about 4 cups each, which is typically about how much I use at at time. You could certainly freeze in smaller containers, if that's convenient for you. You may also drive your husband less crazy.

Homemade Chicken Stock
1 chicken carcass OR bones from 4 chicken breasts
3 cups onion scraps OR 3 onions peeled and quartered
5 carrots, cut into big chunks
5 stalks celery and leaves
1 cup mushroom stems
3 tablespoons Herbes de Provence
4 bay leaves
2 tablespoons salt
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
12 cups water

Place the carcass, vegetables and spice in a large pot and cover with water. Add more water if necessary to cover all ingredients. Bring to a boil and allow to simmer for 2 hours.

Remove from heat and then use a slotted spoon to remove large chunks. Allow stock to cool and then strain into plastic containers. Freeze for up three months.

*This ingredient list is a suggestion. You can add more or less, based on what you have in the fridge. 

Monday, March 25, 2013

Perfectly Roasted Chicken

There are few meals more satisfying and comforting than a perfectly roasted chicken. This is truly something every cook should know how to do. And it's not about fancy ingredients, it's about good technique.

Isn't she gorgeous? There's a reason countless schmancy restaurants serve it. Juicy meat, crisped skin and vegetables cooked to perfection in the drippings.

The variations are endless, but when I'm making roasted chicken, I'm craving traditional comfort. Red potatoes, onion and carrot make the perfect roasting rack and lemon, rosemary and garlic give classic flavor.

Technique Tip #1 -- Rinse out your chicken inside and out and then take the time to pat it dry, both inside and out. If the skin is wet, not only will the spices not stick, but skin won't crisp. The extra moisture would, in effect, just steamed the chicken. No no.

Technique Tip #2 -- Pack the inside full of flavor. Sometimes people only season the skin of chicken, but seasoning and stuffing inside will infuse flavor throughout the meat. The bright floral notes of rosemary are perfectly complemented by hot garlic. With lemon and onion pulling it all together.

Technique Tip #3 -- Tie the legs and tuck the wings. One of the tricky things about a whole chicken, is that the dark and white meats cook at different rates. If you tie up the legs, it holds the bird together and ensures the entire thing cooks more evenly.

Technique Tip #4 -- Grease and season the outside. Give that chicken a full body massage with good olive oil and then load up with salt, pepper and Herbes de Provence. Once the bird is oiled and seasoned, pull the wing tips around front and tuck under the chicken. This will help ensure even cooking and prevent the tips from burning.

Some extra effort in the technique department pays off when you see this beauty come out of the oven.

Your nose will tell you when it's ready and yes, your apartment will smell heavenly. But since this is chicken, it's important to confirm that it's cooked through. Make a small cut between the breast and leg and check the juices. If they run clear, it's all done; but if they're still pink, back in to the oven. 

While this small cut is important, you should NOT cut in to the chicken straight out of the oven. Allow the chicken to rest for at least 20 minutes before slicing. This allows the juices to redistribute within the meat. 

Oh and fancy that, all those veggies are done too. Hello complete meal.

Perfect Roast Chicken
1 4-5lb roasting chicken (I prefer organic)
1 lemon, quartered
2 yellow onions, quartered
1 head garlic
1 bunch rosemary
3-4 carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks
1 lb red potatoes
Olive oil
Herbes de Provence
Kitchen twine

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Rinse chicken inside and out with cold water. Use paper towels to thoroughly dry the inside and outside of chicken.

Liberally sprinkle salt and pepper on the inside of the chicken. Slice off the top of a head of garlic and stuff the head of garlic inside the chicken, follow with 1/2 an onion, lemon quarters and rosemary. Use kitchen twine to firmly tie the legs together.

In a large roasting pan, spread remaning onions, carrots and potatoes in an even layer on the bottom. Transfer the chicken to the pan, resting on top of the vegetables. Rub down liberally with a few tablespoons of olive oil and then sprinkle with salt, pepper and a few tablespoons of Herbes de Provence. Tuck the wing tips under the chicken.

Roast chicken for 1 1/2 hours. If skin begins to get too brown, loosely cover with aluminum foil. Test chicken doneness by making a small cut between the chicken breast and leg; juices will run clear when chicken is cooked through. Allow chicken to rest for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Serve chicken with vegetables and pan juices.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Salted Caramel Popcorn Sundae

What is it about a dinner party that makes you think you need a fancy dessert? In reality, I'm usually so full after a big meal that I just want a little bite of sweet. Even better if that little bite is frozen and in cream form. Boom... ice cream sundae.

Even better? Ice cream sundae with unexpected depth of flavor and texture. This time I paired good vanilla ice cream with my Salted Caramel Sauce and Rosemary Olive Oil Popcorn. This combo is salty/sweet in all the right ways and the popcorn's herbaceous crunch adds an element of surprise.

There are so many incredible ice creams on the market these days -- even in regular grocery stores -- that with some well-thought toppings, you have a bangarang entertaining-ready dessert. When it comes to store-bought ice cream, I love the vanilla bean from Trader Joe's or Graeter's. Its a Cincinnati classic which happened to employ one of my dearest friends in high school and they've got great Midwest distribution these days. I figure, if they managed to wrangle that wild child they must be geniuses. Frozen treat geniuses.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rosemary Olive Oil Popcorn

Step away from the microwave popcorn. It's gross and makes the roof of your mouth feel weird. Also, "turn your fingers orange" is not an actual flavor. Okay... end rant.

Real popcorn is where it's at. Cooking on the stovetop takes 5 minutes, which is the same amount of time you spend waiting for your inconsistent microwave to potentially burn/uncook half the kernels. Cooking it yourself also opens up a world of flavor options. Various grated cheeses, spices galore and in this case, delicious Rosemary Olive Oil.

Start in a heavy-bottomed pot and heat oil over medium heat. Throw in 3-4 kernels from the beginning and cover. When you hear those tiny pops, you know the oil is hot enough. 

When the oil is hot, I actually remove it from the heat when I add the remaning kernels and wait about 20-30 seconds. This ensures you don't burn your kernels from the outset.

Return to heat and cover. Now shake it, shake shake shake it (like a polaroid). Well, as much like a polaroid as you can while keeping on the burner. If anything make a crapload of noise.

The excitement builds. Your smelly-good snack is almost here. Smells like good movies.

Serve with a sprinkling of salt and side of dental floss. Once you've had the real stuff, you'll never go back to the microwave.

Rosemary Olive Oil Popcorn
1/4 cup rosemary olive oil
1/2 cup white corn kernels
Sprinkling of kosher salt, to taste

Heat olive oil in a heavy bottom pot over medium heat. Add 3-4 kernels and cover. Once kernels pop, remove from heat and add remaining corn. After 20-30 seconds, return pot to heat and cover; shaking frequently. Cook until there are several seconds between each pop. Sprinkle with salt and serve hot.

*A bit of recipe inspiration from Giada de Lauretiis

Monday, March 18, 2013

Simple Secret: Herb-Infused Olive Oil

If you're looking for an easy way to jazz up salads or maybe even something to invigorate a grilled chicken breast, flavored olive oil is a crazy easy solution. Nothing that takes too much work, but gives you just enough of that somethin' somethin'.

This is oil you'll want to be using, not the weird decorative stuff in large, oddly-shaped bottles. Does anyone ever use that stuff?

But there is no need to buy olive oil from a fancy store in the mall and once you figure out how easy it is, you'll be outraged at what they were charging you.

Hello gorgeous rosemary olive oil. You look so charming in that cute little jar. I shall put you on everything.

This is all there is... the herbs and the oil. Put them over heat for a few minutes and allow to cool. Seriously, that's all you have to do.

The herbs in there will get pretty crispy, so strain into the jar. Add a fresh sprig for appearance later.

Herb-Infused Olive Oil
1 1/2 cups good-quality extra virgin olive oil
5-6 sprigs of your favorite herbs

Combine herbs and oil and heat on low for 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow oil to cool completely before straining. Store in tightly-sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to one month. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Spinach Avocado Grilled Cheese

You know what's better than tomato soup? Tomato soup and grilled cheese. It's a classic for a reason people. But why do we always seem to insist on using individually wrapped slices of cheese product? Back away. There is an entire world out there of grilled cheese goodness and just think of the possibilities when you add the wondrous avocado!

From the moment I saw this idea floating around on Pinterest I beat up on myself for making grilled cheese for the past 28 years without avocado. The luxuriant texture of an avocado is born to pair with melty cheese. But depth of cheese was needed here... silky provolone and feta with bite. But one more component made the cheese say "you complete me" -- a toothsome bite of fresh spinach. Ugh... I die.

Spinach Avocado Grilled Cheese
8 slices good quality sandwich bread
1 avocado, sliced
4 slices provolone cheese
1 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 cups baby spinach

Spread a thin layer of butter on one side of each slice of bread. With butter side down, layer provolone, avocado, spinach and feta onto bread. Top with another slice; butter sides out. 

Grill sandwich over low heat until both sides are slightly browned and cheese is melted. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

At Home: Coffee Table Tray

My coffee table was just missing something and it was driving me crazy. When you live in a small space, you spend a lot of time with each piece of your furniture and that means each piece needs to be just right. I thought I might need to replace my hand-me-down coffee table, but I liked the oil-rubbed bronze finish and the glass top. Another small space thing, the transparent top ensures it doesn't take too much visual space and it shows off the beautiful Turkish kilim I got in Istanbul.

Then it came to me, I just needed a better way to organize the coffee table. A versatile white tray was just the ticket. Light, yet structured and keeps my TimeOuts, flowers and remotes under control. Fresh flowers and a fossil I found in the Sahara provide a natural element against the stark white.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Roasted Tomato Soup

I've said it before, but if I had to choose a last meal, it would undoubtedly be the freshest Caprese salad. This is a particularly torturous favorite meal, because it is really only good two months per year. At it's heart of food ecstasy hearts, it's all about the tomato. Sweet and dribbling juicy. I'm ready for dinner. But wait, it's March there is not a decent tomato for one thousand miles. Whoa is me... my life is hard.

This tomato soup actually brings out the best of winter tomatoes and tastes fresh and nearly summer-y. Winter tomatoes just don't have the concentrated flavor or sweetness of summer beauties, but roasting them intensifies their impish flavor just enough to fool you in soup.

Start by finding the reddest tomatoes you can find in your produce section. While I opt for beefsteak or heirloom in the high holy summer, Romas often have decent texture year round.

Here's where things deviate from the typical canned soup... I've added roasted fennel. Just a bit adds incredible depth of flavor and freshness. Tossed with onions and a bit of garlic for roasting on the side of the pan.

After a bit of time in the oven, look how gorgeous. You can almost see the intense notes of those tomatoes.

Simmer ingredients together for a bit with red wine, chicken stock, a bit more onion and loads of basil.  That roasted garlic will squeeze right out, soft and supple.

A quick whiz with an immersion blender or in the food processor and you have a fresh bite of tomato. Sweet and juicy enough to tide you over to July.

Roasted Tomato Soup
3lbs Roma tomatoes, slice in half lengthwise
1 bulb fennel, cored and sliced
3 small onions, two sliced and one diced
1 head garlic
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 cup red wine
1 28-oz can tomatoes
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 large bunch basil, sliced

Heat oven to 450 degrees. On a large, lined cookie sheet toss tomatoes in one tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper. On a separate cookie sheet, toss fennel and sliced onion with one tablespoon olive oil. Using a sharp knife, slice off the top of the garlic and wrap in aluminum foil. Roast vegetables and garlic in oven for 35-45 minutes.

In a large dutch oven, warm remaining olive oil over medium-high heat and saute diced onion. Add red wine and allow alcohol to cook off for 1-2 minutes before adding canned tomatoes, chicken stock and basil. Add roasted tomatoes, fennel and onion to soup and simmer for 40 minutes.

When soup has finished simmering, blend until smooth. Serve warm garnished with basil.

Monday, March 11, 2013

I Heard Rain Today

I heard rain today. Not the silent fall of snow or the mean beat of sleet, but pure sweet sounding rain. You could hear it melting away the gray ice and penetrating to seeds below. It won't be long yet, and there may be howls of wind to come, but today I heard rain. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Asparagus and Spring Pea Risotto

Snow, snow go away. I want to eat fresh produce today. This is the time of year, the final stretch of Chicago winter. I just want to see something alive on the trees and go out in a light jacket and ballet flats. Alas, it snowed 8 inches here today. Sigh...

If I can't actually enjoy spring yet, I'll have to fake it in the kitchen. From the minute I saw the beautiful asparagus in the produce section, my mind started racing to spring dresses and flowering trees. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. I dug up Ina's Risotto recipe and make just a tweak or two to make it my own. The bright, clean flavors and colorful appeal only make me more excited for what's to come (extended hours of photography daylight anyone?).

Look at all of these amazing green things. I love soups and stews, but by the end of winter all I seem to crave are fresh, just barely cooked vegetables. Doesn't this just look like spring?

Risotto has a reputation for being a lot of work. It's truly not that difficult, but it just requires a good mise en place (don't forget to rinse your leeks well) and constant attention. Not hard, just focused.

As you can see (kinda), I have my chicken stock simmering on the back burner. You'll slowly add this to the rice mixture, letting each ladle absorb and stirring to avoid burning the rice.

Look how those little grains plump up with wine and chicken stock flavor. I add the asparagus, chives and peas at the very end, ensuring they keep their bite and refreshing green color.

The ricotta adds just the extra bit of cream needed complement the starchy rice.

We'll be buried in the snow for a few more weeks, but a girl can dream.

Asparagus and Spring Pea Risotto
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 leeks, chopped and thoroughly rinsed
1 bulb fennel, cored and chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 lb thin asparagus, sliced in 1-2 inch pieces
10oz frozen peas, thawed
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Juice of one lemon
1/3 cup lowfat ricotta cheese
3 tablespoons chives, minced

In a saucepan, bring chicken stock to a simmer. In a medium sized pot, boil water and add asparagus, cooking for about 3-4 minutes. Remove asparagus to a bowl of ice water and set aside.

In a separate heavy-bottom pot, melt butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add leeks and fennel to olive oil and butter, cooking until tender; about 5-6 minutes.  Add rice and stir until coated with oil and slightly toasted. Add white wine and reduce to a simmer, cooking just until fragrant. Begin adding chicken stock one ladle at a time, stirring rice until it absorbs stock. As stock is absorbed, add more one ladle at a time, stirring constantly; this should take about 30 minutes. When the rice is cooked to al dente, add asparagus, peas, lemon zest and juice, S&P and 2 tablespoons minced chives.

Just before serving stir in ricotta cheese until melted. Serve risotto warm and top with remaining minced chives.