Chicken Soup (with no chickens in it)

When my vegetarian child is ill, his one concession & only request is homemade chicken stock, so long as it has “no chickens in it.”  This makes for tedious straining, but results in a clear mass of liquid gold.

Here’s how it goes:

Maybe you have a ziploc bag in the freezer, full of chicken bones & carcasses from previous roasts & dinners, because you have inherited your Lithuanian grandmother’s Depression-baby tendencies & save bones (see also: rubber bands, aluminum foil, sugar packets).  If so, take them out of the freezer, rinse, & toss them in a good, tall pot.  You should have at least 2-3 carcasses/4 pounds of bones & bits.

Or

You’ve already exhausted all but one freezer-carcass, but the supermarket has roast chickens on sale.  Buy two.  Let them cool, strip the meat & reserve in a tupperware for later.  All the bones & bits go in a tall pot, with the freezer carcass/bones.  Consider adding wing tips (good) or a few chicken feet (better — & these days, you can find them anywhere from Asian markets to Whole Foods); both are rich in collagen & will result in a velvety, rich broth.  Add cold, filtered water, enough to cover everything by an inch or two.

Put bones & water on stove.  Heat, bringing it just barely to a boil, then immediately reduce heat so it gives only the slightest indication of simmering.  You don’t want bubbles, just the smallest murmur disturbing the surface of the liquid.

As it cooks, scum will collect on the top of the stock.  Skim it off, every 10-15 minutes, for the first hour of cooking.

After the first hour, add to the pot:
4-5 onions, skin on, cut in half
1 bulb garlic, cloves separated & smashed
Tablespoon of whole cloves
Tablespoon of whole peppercorns
sprigs of fresh rosemary, thyme, & sage
kosher/sea salt, to taste

No, not carrots.  Stock with carrots take on a sweet, carrot taste, & we are not making carrot soup.  & not celery, either, which is a useless vegetable when not a vehicle for peanut butter or hummus.  & not parsley, which turns the stock a sickly green & gives off a metallic, bitter flavor.  & not bits & ends of whatever wilted, sad produce is in the crisper bin or cupboard.  We are making stock, not compost.

After adding the veg & herbs, allow stock to continue to just barely murmur (not burble), uncovered, for 4-6 hours, or even longer.  Once or twice per hour, skim off fat/scum that rises to the top.  Taste the stock as you do, & add salt in small increments.  Otherwise, do not muck about or stir it up, or your end stock will be cloudy.  Yes, it will reduce; concentrated stock is good for flavoring recipes, & you can add back water to dilute it later when you’re reheating it to eat as soup.

When broth is tasty & done, turn off heat.  Place a Pyrex bowl/measuring cup in a larger bowl of ice water.  Ladle broth, in small batches, through strainer lined with cheesecloth (or, if you have no cheesecloth, coffee filters; it takes forever, but the result is worth it), into the Pyrex sitting in the ice bath (this to chill it down quickly).  Strain again, if necessary, to clarify the stock.  Pour strained broth into storage containers & refrigerate overnight.  The cheesecloth/coffee filter will have removed much of the fat, but some may rise & solidify on top when chilled, making it easy to take out.

The stock should have taken on a wibbly-wobbly gelatinous consistency — this is good, & is from the collagen in the bones (esp if you’ve added wing tips &/or feet).  The Jell-o-ness will dissolve when reheated (taste; if too concentrated, add cold, filtered water to desired brothy-ness) & will give the stock a rich, full-bodied mouth-feel.

Store in refrigerator for 3-4 days, or freeze in portions.

When reheating, be gentle — do not boil your stock to death.

When reheating, be creative.  Add things:  shredded chicken from the aforementioned carcass, chopped vegetables, cooked rice, Pennsylvania Dutch egg noodles (cook, rinse, & keep in fridge; toss in a handful or two as you’re heating the stock — do not store the noodles in the stock, or they’ll absorb it & everything will go gummy), spinach leaves, bits of fresh dill.

Or just heat a ladle-full of stock to a bare simmer, serve in mug to sick child.

Calypso Soup

Green Aisle Grocery, our neighborhood’s teeny but awesome boutique grocer (local milk in glass bottles; local produce, cheese, butter, meats, honey; things for which the twins go ga-ga, like quail eggs) carries Zursun Idaho Heirloom dried beans, which are really the cat’s pajamas. I’ve been working my way through the selection, & today’s sunshiney but chilly weather (after days of raw & rainy grey) seemed the perfect time to try out their Calypso beans.

Zursun Idaho Heirloom dried Calypso beans

The boys like that the beans resemble Orcas, & proclaimed it “Vegetarian Orca Soup.”  Cooked, the Calypso beans have a creamy, potato-y flavor & smooth texture. After rinsing & sorting 2 cups(ish) of the dried beans overnight (covered by a few inches of water), drain the beans & get on with the base of the soup:

Saute 4 chopped onions in a big pot (this is where the cast iron dutch oven comes out) in several glugs of olive oil. Throw in 4-5 chopped celery stalks, a few chopped carrots, 3-4 chopped red bell peppers, a cup or so of frozen corn kernels (Trader Joe’s has great frozen roasted corn, which works perfectly here), as much crushed & chopped garlic as you like (in this case, a whole head, because garlic is your friend). Salt as you go, a bit at a time, to help the vegetables sweat off their juices. Throw in a bay leaf or two (just remember to remove before serving), a tablespoon or two of ground cumin, a dash of cayenne pepper, some crushed oregano. When everything is slightly soft & the onions are translucent, add a can or box of chopped tomatoes with their juices. Add the beans, & enough water to cover by an inch. Turn up the heat, bring it all to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for an hour or two, uncovered, until the beans have gone all velvety, adjusting spices to taste, just enough heat to leave a little throat-tickle.  Not as heavy as chili — brighter, lighter, but still brings the heat.  Serve with cornbread or tortilla chips.

it should really have the decency to snow

Miserable raw & rainy Sunday demands comfort dinner.  I’ve decided to work my way through Green Aisle Grocery’s selection of dried heirloom beans & lentils, so today picked up a bag of French Green lentils (& a quart of organic local chocolate milk for dessert, in part because chocolate milk, in part because the heavy glass bottle is pleasing).

Lentil-Mushroom Soup:

Rinse off an ounce of dried porcini mushrooms to remove grit, then put in a glass or ceramic bowl (a glass Pyrex measuring cup is ideal).  Cover with 2-3 cups boiling water, stir, cover, & let soak for 20-30 minutes.  While the mushrooms are steeping, heat some olive oil in a big soup pot or dutch oven, then saute 2-3 chopped onions, salting lightly.  When the onions are translucent, add a cup or two of chopped carrots; then 2 cups of sliced mushrooms (cremini or baby bella are nice; white are fine, too).  Salt, fresh ground black pepper, 2 dried bay leaves, a tablespoon of dried thyme leaves, crushed in your hands before you throw them in the pot.  Stir, stir, stir.  Scoop the dried mushrooms (now squishy & soft) out of their soaking liquid (save this), chop them up, & throw them in the pot.  Add 1 1/2 cups dried lentils (rinsed & sorted), stir, stir.  Add the soaking liquid from the dried porcini, pouring slowly so any grit or sediment doesn’t get into the pot.  Add a cup or two of red wine, enough water to cover everything by 2 inches, bring to a boil, then simmer for an hour, stirring occasionally.  Taste.  Adjust seasonings.  During the last 20-30 minutes, add a few chopped red potatoes, skin on, & simmer until they soften slightly & lose their sharp edges.  The broth created from the red wine & mushroom liquid is earthy & wintery goodness, & will want bread for soaking.

Potato Bread:

As with all breads, this is going to go a lot easier with a Kitchen-Aid stand mixer, which is one of the things I would rescue from the house in event of fire, which is unfortunate because it is very heavy.

Potato bread sounds like it’s going to be dense & heavy, but something amazing happens between the potato starch & the yeast, & it’s light & chewy & makes amazing toast.

Chop up 1 1/3 c. red potatoes, leaving the skins on, & boil until soft.  Let cool a bit in their cooking water until warm enough to reach in, scoop them out & into the mixer’s bowl, add a tablespoon of salt, & 4 c. bread flour, & 1 1/2 tablespoons of gluten (you can get this at most markets anymore).  Mix with the beater attachment to mash the potatoes into the flour, then (mixer running on low) add 1 packet (or 1 tablespoon) yeast, then 1 tablespoon Greek yogurt.  Slowly add 1 1/3 c. of the lukewarm cooking water from the potatoes (too cool will not activate the yeast beasties, but too hot will kill them).  Add another 1/2 cup of bread flour.  When this shaggy mess starts to look like dough, switch to the dough hook on lowest setting, adding flour as you need (you may need to ad another cup or two).  Let the dough hook do it’s thing for about 10 minutes, then tip the blob of dough onto a floured workspace & knead by hand for another two minutes.  While you’re doing this, soak the mixing bowl in hot soapy water.  When you’re finished kneading, wash out the mixing bowl, butter the dough ball (easiest way to do this is to take a lump of butter btwn your palms & rub together so your hands are lightly coated, then smear all over the dough), put it in the mixing bowl, cover with a towel, & let it rise for an hour or so some place warm, or overnight someplace not-so-warm.  When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, knead for a minute then form into whatever shape you like (another ball, or more of a log-loaf).  Sprinkle a baking sheet with cornmeal, put the dough on top & cover with a towel.  Preheat over to 450 (I let the second-rise take place on top of the stove, to give it a little heat oomph).  When the dough is puffed up & almost doubled in size, remove towel & pop it in the over for 20 minutes.  Lower heat to 375 & cook for another 15 minutes.  Check bread for done-ness by lifting it off the baking sheet (use a towel.  it’s hot) & knocking on the bottom; when it’s done, it will sound hollow.  Let cool a bit, slice, serve with soup, make into toast, eat for dessert with chocolate milk.

Immaculate Conception Soup

Home today with the twins because the tiny neighborhood parochial school they attend (because our public school is scary & we are too broke for fancy private school) was closed for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

It was cold but sunshiney, so after lunch at our favorite neighborhood cafe, we walked up East Passyunk Avenue & stopped in the new boutique foodery, Green Aisle Grocery.  One bag dried heirloom cannellini beans, one jar organic bay leaves, one lemon, & two bunches of local kale = my heathen family’s Feast Day dinner for about $14, with dried beans & bay leaf to spare.

Soaking dried beans overnight is ideal, but I rarely plan that far ahead– in which case, measure out 2c of beans, sort for broken bits & rocks, rinse, put in a big pot with enough water to cover by several inches, & bring to a boil.  Boil for 3-4 minutes, then cover, remove from heat, & let them sit for at least an hour.  The longer the better.

[You can use canned beans, of course, & no one will think less of you for it, but dried beans, besides being far cheaper, better maintain their integrity; that is, they are less likely to turn to mush.]

Chop up 2 or 3 onions & 5 or 6 cloves of garlic (you can never have too much of either, especially during cold/flu season).  Wash the kale & cut into ribbons.  If the spines are extra thick/tough, strip the leaves away from the tough portion.

Heat 1/4 c or so of olive oil in a large pot (I have an enormous cast iron dutch oven which is home to all soups) over medium-high heat.  Add the onions & salt them a bit.  Sweat the onions until they become translucent, then add the garlic, a couple of bay leaves, cracked black pepper, some red pepper flakes.  Before the garlic turns brown, add the kale, & stir & toss until the leaves are shiny & wilted.  Salt a little bit more.  It’s best to salt as you gone, rather all in one plop.

Drain beans (the soaking water only absorbs a trace of vitamins, but lots of the coating on the beans that can give stomach trouble, so discard), rinse, & add them to the pot.  Stir, stir, stir, then add 8 or so cups of water (I add hot water from the electric kettle), enough so everything is covered by about an inch.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, semi-covered.  Add the juice from a lemon.  This is where I also usually add the rind from a wedge of Asiago or somesuch hard cheese, which I save in the freezer for soup-making — it gives the soup a little body, a little backbone, which is nice if you don’t tend toward meat stocks.

Let it simmer for a few hours until the beans are soft & creamy.  Add water as it simmers, to keep everything covered by about an inch.  Adjust the seasoning as you go — more salt, more pepper flakes, a little olive oil, a squeeze of lemon.  Discard cheese rind & bay leaves.  Serve with brown bread.

It is not an all-white meal (as recommended for this feast day) but the white beans are full of grace, indeed.