A Whole Chicken and Hard Choices: A Soliloquy on the value of social networks.

You’ve seen ’em sitting there, wrapped in that ubiquitous yellow and blue bag, in the meat section: A Whole Chicken. Is that a thing? I mean, I can buy the individual pieces parts and toss them in the skillet and be done with it, or whatever. You’re curious so you look at the price tag. Wait. Why is a pair of chicken breast cutlets twice the price of a whole chicken? I confused. Still, it’s intimidatingly large and you only ponder a whole bird for thanksgiving so….let’s move on…

As it turns out, cooking a whole chicken is something a one handed chimp can do. It’s not just a way to economize, if you don’t need to, but it’s a way to make something delicious in it’s simplicity and be a basis for making other really delicious food that is unparalleled in quality and flavor, because all the best flavor come from freshness. Allow me to free you from the overpriced precut meat, readers, unless you have a real need for fillets.

Boiling a whole chicken does take a fair amount of time, so first, let’s get that bad boy on the stove, and then I will tell you a story.

Get yourself a big pot. You know the one I am talking about. It comes with all basic cookware sets and most people just shove it in the back of the cupboard and store their lids in it. Yeah, go get that thing out. Next, take the whole chicken out of the bag and pull the neck out of the cavity. That’s the one nasty part. You’ll want to give the chicken a good rinsing off to clear out the collected juices. Rinse the cavity out, too. Put the chicken in the pot and then add enough water to completely cover the chicken.

Now, for the next bit, this is personal preference because you will be making stock as well. If you like the stock very plain or want to use it in a recipe that will be adding spices and such to a sauce, I recommend you just quarter a big, yellow onion and pop it in there along with a tablespoon of peppercorn. If you want a little more flavor you can add chopped celery, carrots, a sprig of Thyme. That’s a nice route if you want to use the stock for chicken soup. If you want to add garlic, just take a head, cut it in half, and place the half in the pot that is held together by the stem.

Ok, now you need to turn the flame on high and bring your water to a boil. Once you have it rolling, reduce the heat down low enough to maintain a gentle boil. Make sure you set the lid ajar so the steam can escape.

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Now for the story. When I was 18 I followed my boyfriend at the time to Minnesota. I have not had a very close relationship with my family, so the decision didn’t seem like a big deal. I do have wanderlust, so it felt like an adventure. The reality was something else entirely and it made me understand something I had to move 2000 miles away to appreciate: Social Network. We babble about this as a website or a way to ‘stay in touch.’ Friends, that is not what a social network is. A social network is having people close to you, who GIVE ENOUGH OF A SHIT ABOUT YOU to pick up the phone and drop what they are doing to come help you when you need them.

I locked my keys in my car one day, when I was working in Edan Prarie and it was over an hour away from Brooklyn Park, where I resided. I tried calling the boyfriend but he didn’t answer. I tried calling the ONE friend I had, Chris Marteness, but his mom didn’t know who I was and refused to help me get ahold of him at work and hung up on me. I tried to ask the one co-worker left in the office for help, but she thought I was a snooty Californian and found it funny that I was verily stranded. I managed to get the back window of the shell top open and climbed inside the back of the truck. It was raining out and I just sat there, shivering. I was hungry, and tired, and just, alone. Not alone in my head, like I often think I am, but truly realizing what that means.

After a spell, I crawled out of the truck bed and went back into the office. The last thing I could think of was, maybe the police? I finally got lucky. An officer came out and used a slim Jim to open my door. That’s not something a cop will do for you in Cali, that’s for sure. I was so grateful and relieved. When I got home I asked douche bag, uh, I mean the boyfriend, why he didn’t answer the phone when I called a million times? Turns out he just shut off the ringer because the noise was disturbing his slumber. No, hadn’t bothered to listen to my frantic messages on the answering machine either. Anyway, I was home now, so what’s the big deal? He was going back to sleep.

It’s a simple example, but I know that today I have about 20 people I could call on for help, any kind of help, and they would be there for me. My heart felt thanks to the warmth, and laughter, and shared misery of modern life to you all and it is my pleasure and honor to be there for you if you ever need me. As I watch my daughter grow and thrive in the sunlight of your affection, I can honestly say, I get it now. But also I am going to shop for a pocket slim Jim, just in case.

So, its been about 90 minutes. Let’s check on the chicken. Mmmm….that’s perfect. Falling off the bone.

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All you need to do now is remove the chicken from the pot and prep it. You can serve it whole on a plater and go at it cave man style, shred it for salads and soups, or slice it for sandwiches. The stock, depending on how you prepped it, can either be used as a base for chicken noodle soup, to boil veggies and noodles to serve with the chicken, or as a base for a sauce like Mole.

So there you have it. Chicken and a story. Not as good as dinner and a show, but not a kick in the nuts either.

~Nom On

Tomato Soup

Tomato soup and I go way back. My mother served it often with it’s very best friend, grilled cheese sam’iches, and it was the only decent meal we were served when I taught up in the mountains at Outdoor Science School. I’d always just eaten the canned stuff, until one day I decided to give it a shot and make it from scratch. I remember my girl was about 18 months old and hated everything I made her. But when I let her try a spoonful of this delicious, silky soup her face broke into a huge grin and she said “MMMmmmmmmMMM!” Be still my beating heart.

Tomato Soup

Tomato Soup

Ingredients (Yields 8 cups)

  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 large white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, smashed and peeled
  • 1 tbsp flour
  • 3 cups water and 1 and 1/2 large chicken bouillon cube OR 3 cups chicken broth
  • 28 oz can of whole plum tomatoes and juice
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper

Prep

in a 5 or 6 quart dutch oven, heat the oil and butter over medium heat until the butter melts.

Add the onion and garlic and cook until soft. Stir occasionally and ensure it doesn’t get brown. Reduce the flame to low when its done.

Add the flour and stir to coat the onion and garlic.

Add the remaining ingredients and return the flame to medium-high. Stir the mixture to ensure the flour isn’t sticking to the pan.

Once you bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the flame and simmer, covered, for 40 minutes. I like to check on it every 10 minutes and stir it a little.

Once the time’s up, let the soup cool down a little. Pull out the sprig and discard. Using an immersion blender, puree the soup until its silky and creamy. You will have small bits of onion no matter how much your puree it, but I think it makes for a nice texture.

Note: If you don’t own an immersion blender I strongly recommend you invest in one. It makes so many pain-in-the-ass tasks easier. But in the meantime, you can transfer the mixture into your blender and puree in batches. Return the soup to the pot for serving. 

You can garnish with a little freshly ground pepper, a dollop of sour cream, sprinkle of dill, finely diced chives, or a grating of parmesan cheese.

~Nom On

Poached Chicken

Although I do love making me some crazy stuff, I also like to share the basic techniques that help us launch yummy dishes or just get something healthy and simple on the table so we can get back to that Queer Eye for the Straight Guy marathon on Bravo. Enter the poached chicken. It goes in any recipe you want cooked chicken for or you can steam some veggies, season with a little lemon, salt, and pepper and check ‘behaving yourself’ off your list. It’s a must have technique.

Poached Shredded Chicken

Poached Chicken

Ingredients

  • 1 6-8 oz frozen chicken breast
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 2-8 cups water
  • 1 large chicken boullion cube
  • Aromatics such as fresh basil, rosemary, thyme, garlic, sage, or dill can be added if desired.

Note: Aromatics is your chance to fold in some complex and delicate flavor that can either enhance the meat if you are eating with sides or you can pair the aromatics with flavors and spices you’ll be using in the dish the chicken is intended for. 

Prep

  • In a medium-sized pot, place the chicken breast inside and begin adding water, 2 cups at a time until the breast is covered. Add the 1/2 cup of wine. Add in aromatics if using.
  • Turn on the flame to a medium high and cover with a well fitted lid.
  • Bring to a boil. Remove the lid and crumble the bouillon cube into the boiling water. Replace the lid and continue boiling for one minute.
  • Turn off the flame and leave the lid on. Allow the chicken to poach for 20 minutes.

Note: You can use pre-made chicken broth or homemade stock if you have those on hand. Just swap them for the water and bouillon. 

Poached Chicken

Remove from the water and place on a cutting board. To check for doneness, I like to pull off a few large chunks with a fork. It should come apart easily if its tender. If you see any pink parts, you can return them to the water and let sit with the lid on for a few more minutes.

You now have moist, flavorful poached chicken that can be a base for TONS of recipes or served with veggies and a starch for a weeknight meal. You never need to buy an over priced can of shredded chicken or pick up a rotisserie chicken again. It’s low fat and hands off so you can be making other parts of your dish or even be poaching chicken to take to work in the morning while you get ready. And as a bonus, the toddler loves it.

~Nom On

Egg and Beef Steak Tomato Salad

I don’t know about you, but I am TOTALLY fighting the middle-aged chub these days. I don’t seem to have the discipline to live on 1200 calories like I used to, not with a 2-year old harshing my buzz. How to keep from totally letting go? Well, I like to do a no-carb meal each day and a no-meat meal each day. This dish nails both, and as a bonus it’s light, refreshing, takes advantage of one of our best summer produce, and it’s delicious.

Egg and Beefsteak Tomato Salad

Egg and Beefsteak Tomato Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 large, ripe beefsteak tomato
  • 1 heaping tbsp of Mayo or Miracle Whip
  • 2 tbsp large snipped fresh green onion
  • 1 tbsp snipped fresh dill
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Ground cayenne pepper

Prep

  • In a medium pot, bring water to a rolling boil.
  • Gently spoon eggs into the water and boil for 6 minutes. Set a timer to be precise.
  • When eggs are done, immediately move to a bowl of cold water. Allow eggs to cool down for about 5 minutes.
  • Remove shell from each egg and place in a small mixing bowl. With a fork, mash eggs. Add mayo and mix. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and mix again.
  • Slice beefsteak tomatoes thickly.
  • Arrange your tomatoes so they cover your plate and dust with salt and pepper. Spoon egg salad over the tomatoes. Dust again with a little salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper.
  • Sprinkle green onion and dill over egg salad.

You can serve on its own or with a little side of mixed greens and dressing or some cucumbers like I did. Guilt-free breakfast or lunch!

~Nom On

Tomato Pasta Soup Base

As a tribute to the spousal unit, I wanted to post this recipe that he taught me. I love it because the base soup is really simple and the flavor is just this mildly salty, lightly tomato-y perfection that you can add ANYTHING to. Want a soup? Just use more water. Want a stew? Use less or toss some corn tortilla chunks in there. Kid’s learning to use a spoon? Use small pasta and make the base thick with a scoop of sour cream. Need to get your vitamins? Use wheat pasta and load it with spinach, zucchini, mushrooms, and shredded chicken. Want a party in your mouth? Add andouille sausage and kidney beans. Need a chili enema because you haven’t pooped in 9 days? Dump some salsa roja in there!

Pasta Soup Base

Tomato Pasta Soup

Ingredients (for the base):

  • 1 cup Pasta (elbow, rotini, small shells, penne)
  • 1 tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil* (Don’t be cheap alert)
  • 4-6 cups of water, depending on whether you want a soup or stew base. If you will be adding lots of veggies or beans or shredded meat, use 6 cups
  • 4oz Tomato Sauce
  • 1/2 to 1 large cube chicken bouillon
  • 1/2 large yellow onion (cut onion in half, don’t chop it up)
  • 1/2 head of garlic (use the half that keeps the cloves held together)
  • Salt to taste

Prep:

  • In a medium-sized pot, add the EVOO and the pasta. Stir to coat and turn on your flame. Don’t make the flame too high as the pasta will brown quickly. Give it a few stirs and keep a close eye. This is not the time to refill your wine glass or go on some philosophical rant. Save that for the simmering part.
  • Once you see the pasta is a lightly fried, add the water, tomato sauce, and aromatics, which are the onion and garlic. If you like herbs, you can experiment with other aromatics like dill or basil, but the garlic and onion are the minimum.
  • Once you get a simmer going, add your bouillon and a little salt.
  • Simmer for 20 minutes to get the pasta nice and soft, especially if this is for young children.
  • Once the base is done, remove the aromatics and discard. Add more salt, a little at a time, until you get it to your liking.

Chef’s Note: I always hated that term ‘to taste’ until I started cooking with spices a lot. Allow me to demystify it for you. ‘To taste’ means you add a little of your seasoning and you stir and give it a taste. Repeat the process until you like the flavor. Be patient here because you can add more, but you can’t remove seasoning. I also realized you can’t really be specific about seasoning because cooks modify ingredients and this changes how much additional seasoning you need to make your food taste, in your specific opinion, groovy.

Now that you have your base, you can store for up to a week. I recommend you prep it Sunday night and have a yummy go-to for lunches or a quick dinner. You can add more seasoning to a serving, a handful of steamed veggies, sour cream if you want a richer base, or even toss in tortilla chips and a little chicken or avocado to a serving. The point is versatility, getting the calories and nutrients you need, and low-cost. The more you keep stuff like this prepped in your fridge, the less you reach for grease-stained sacks handed through a window.

~Nom on