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

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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

Chicken Mole, Demystified

Until a year ago mole was this dish I’d heard mentioned a few times, always with a certain amount of reverence from my Mexican friends and family. Considering my Latin Cuisine savvy didn’t get much further than some form of meat, beans, and salsa intersecting with tortillas, fried into some clever shape to get goods in my mouth, I wasn’t sure what the big deal was. When my daughter turned one my husband informs me with awe that the little princesa will have mole made from scratch for her party. I am a spicy food addict so when I tried it, I remember mostly being confused. I wasn’t sure what I was tasting exactly, it wasn’t sweet, it wasn’t savory, it wasn’t spicy. It was just … mole. Weird.

I forgot all about it until a few weeks ago when my salsa lady at the farmers market asks if I want to sample her mole. There’s that word again. Sure, I say, and imagine my surprise when she hands me a jar of … what I can only describe as goop. She proceeds to explain how to use it to make a sauce and off I go, more than a little freaked out. And now, after much research and experimentation I bring to you the simple, cheater-cheater-pumpkin-eater way to make both dark and green mole.

Green Chicken Mole

Green Chicken Mole

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 8 oz – 12 oz shredded, poached chicken breast
  • 2 – 3 heaping tbsp of green mole paste, depending on how thick you want the sauce
  • 1 pd tomatillos, husks removed
  • 2 cups chicken-tomatillo broth (you’ll have this after the first two steps)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Prep

  • Start by poaching your 8 oz of chicken breast for 20 minutes. This can be one huge one or two smaller ones. I am assuming you are using frozen chicken, but you can start with fresh as well. Here is the full process.
  • Remove the breasts from the broth and set aside. Add your husked tomatillos into the broth and boil for 20 minutes, until soft. Shred your chicken with a fork while the tomatillos are boiling.
  • Remove the tomatillos and add to a blender. Take about 2 cups of the broth which is now infused with chicken and tomatillos and add to blender. Add two heaping tablespoons of the green mole paste to the blender as well. Blend ingredients until you have a smooth sauce.
  • In a medium-sized pot, add the shredded chicken and the mole sauce. Simmer on low for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Everything is technically cooked but you want to boil the sauce down to a thick gravy and that is a slow process.
  • While the sauce is thickening and simmering, slice a red onion into thin rings. Cut the rings in half once. Put them in a bowl and squeeze one whole lemon and stir to coat. They can sit and marinate while you are heating tortillas.

When everything is ready, serve the mole with a side of Spanish rice, tortillas, the red onions, maybe cilantro, and marinated jalapeño pepper chips.

Dark Chicken Mole 

Ingredients (Serves 4)

  • 8 oz – 12 oz shredded, poached chicken breast
  • 2 – 3 heaping tbsp of dark mole paste, depending on how thick you want the sauce
  • 1/2 cup almond butter (recommended) or organic, low sugar peanut butter
  • 2  cups chicken broth reserved from poaching chicken
  • 1 tsp cayenne pepper
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 disks Mexican chocolate (optional)

Prep

  • Start by poaching your 8 oz of chicken breast for 20 minutes. This can be one huge one or two smaller ones. I am assuming you are using frozen chicken, but you can start with fresh as well. Here is the full process.
  • Remove the breasts from the broth and shred your chicken with a fork. Set aside.
  • Take about 2 cups of the broth from poaching the chicken and add to blender. Add the dark mole paste, almond butter, cayenne pepper, 1/4 tsp salt, and 1/8 tsp pepper to the blender as well. Break up the chocolate and add into the blender, if using. Blend ingredients until you have a smooth sauce.
  • In a medium-sized pot, add the shredded chicken and the mole sauce. Simmer on low for about 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Everything is technically cooked but you want to boil the sauce down to a thick gravy and that is a slow process.
  • While the sauce is thickening and simmering, slice a red onion into thin rings. Cut the rings in half once. Put them in a bowl and squeeze one whole lemon and stir to coat. They can sit and marinate while you are heating tortillas.

Just like with green mole, when everything is ready, serve the mole with a side of Spanish rice, tortillas, the red onions, maybe cilantro, and marinated jalapeño pepper chips. The left over mole chicken is excellent in tacos and burritos.

If you want to get a little creative, you can actually use the green or dark mole sauce to make enchiladas. Just make your casserole as usual but your mole sauce is substituted for ranchera sauce. For dark mole, I would use a smokier cheese like gouda and for the green mole I would use pepper jack.

So there you have it folks, mole demystified. The process of making the mole paste from scratch is insane and, from what I am told, is something that even the most accomplished Mexican home cooks don’t bother with more than a few times in their life. Know I know why it was a great honor that my mother-in-law made mole from scratch for her reina pequena.

~Nom On

BBQ Chicken Street Tacos

Ok, so I have posted a previous recipe for the mighty street taco with instructions on how to pack it up for work and save yourself from the daily sandwich miasma. Now that you have mastered that, why not go fusion by making your tacos with shredded chicken smothered in sweet heat BBQ sauce? I’m pretty sure I just made your tummy rumble.

BBQ Chicken Street Tacos

BBQ Chicken Street Tacos

Ingredients

Prep

  • In a small sauce pan, mix the shredded chicken and BBQ sauce together until the chicken is fully coated.
  • Heat the mixture over a very low flame, stirring often.
  • In the meantime, heat up a non stick or cast iron skillet and add the olive oil.
  • Heat up the tortillas until they are warm, soft, and have just a hint of crisp to the surface.

If you are taking this to work for lunch, transfer your tortillas to a plastic bag and seal. Transfer the warmed mixture to tupperware and put the chopped onion in cilantro into a small separate container as well. Whether you warm the mixture up again or not is your choice. If you want to reheat your tortillas just toss the bag in the microwave and heat for about 10 – 30 seconds. Don’t over do it or they will be rubbery.

When you are ready to eat, just assemble the tacos by layering two tortillas, spooning about 2 tbsp of the mixture and sprinkle onion and cilantro down the center.

~Nom on with yo fussy, fusion tacos!

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

Mushroom-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

I have shared a recipe for pork tenderloin before, but I really like this cut so I decided to up my game a little and stuff it with caramelized mushrooms and onions. After all that butterflying and spreading eagle and stuffing and tying with string, it started to feel a little 50-shades-of-grey…for the pork I mean. Get your mind out of the gutter! Anyway, the end result was super tasty, and of course, made great left overs.

Mushroom Stuffed Tenderloin

Mushroom-Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pound package of pork tenderloin
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil or Grapeseed Oil (*Don’t be cheap alert)
  • 1 cup mushrooms, chopped
  • 1 large, yellow onion, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dry oregano
  • 1/2 tsp dry rosemary
  • Salt and pepper

Prep

For the filling…

  • Heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a medium pan. Add the chopped onion and sauté until translucent.
  • Add the mushrooms and sauté for about 3 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and stir in seasonings. Set aside.

Now,

  • Pre-heat the oven to 400 Degrees.
  • Trim any silver skin and excess fat from roast, wash it off thoroughly, and pat dry with a paper towel.
  • Rub the roast all over with the oil and place in a roasting pan.
  • Sprinkle the roast with salt and then freshly ground black pepper.
    Make sure you roll the roast around so it gets coated everywhere with the seasoning.
  • Butterfly the tenderloin by cutting it straight down the center to about 3/4 of the roast’s depth. Spread open and spoon the mushroom sauté into the middle.
  • Using butcher string, close the roast up and wrap the string around in about 1 inch intervals. Tie it off. This part is messy; don’t over think it. Just close the roast up and secure as best you can.
  • Roast in the oven for about 30 minutes. Now is a good time to make stuffing or whatever sides you’ll be serving is this is a fancy, Sunday dinner.
  • After the timer goes off, grab your digital thermometer and check the temp in the thickest part of the roast. If it’s between 158 and 160 degrees, pull the roast out and cover it with foil. Let it rest for at least 10 minutes before slicing.

If you want gravy….

  • Grab a baster and suck out the drippings. Add a 1/4 cup of the drippings into a small sauce pot and turn the flame on low. Stir 1/4 cup of flour into a measuring cup filled with 2 cups of COLD water and mix well.
  • Now comes the tricky part. While stirring the drippings constantly, slowly add the flour/water mixture to the drippings. Keep stirring! Keep stirring and stirring until you start to see the gravy get thick and smooth. If it’s thin, don’t stress. The cold air will thicken it when you are done cooking.
  • Taste it. If it’s bland, add in more drippings a 1/4 cup at a time until you reach gravy nirvana. You can add in salt and pepper to season. You can add in a splash of white wine or sherry if its handy, or a dash of cayenne if you want a little zippy-do-dah thing happenin’.

It was funny because the high heat scalded my drippings as the roast cooked so I was freaking out about my gravy. I wanted to serve it sliced over french bread, open-faced sandwich style with stuffing on the side. I spent so much time making the roast that I ran out of energy and patience to make stuffing and now I would have no gravy?? I ended up doing some weird gravy hack using cream of chicken soup, just to have something to soak the bread. It turns out, we didn’t need gravy at all. The mushroom mixture was so delicious and savory and the roast turned out so perfectly tender, it didn’t need a date to this disco. Live and learn.

~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