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

Sweet Heat BBQ Sauce

Sauces are one of those things that seemed hard or mysterious to me. After all, if they weren’t hard, why is buying them pre-made such a prevalent practice, even among those who consider themselves good cooks? Why do we surrender the biggest flavor payload in our dish tos omething that makes a gloopy sound as it oozes out of plastic or glass jars? A few weeks ago when I hosted my late summer BBQ, I decided to make my own sauce and it was really pretty easy.

Sweet Heat BBQ Sauce

Sweet Heat BBQ Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 cup organic or reduced-sguar ketchup
  • 1/4 cup white or apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 molasses
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp dijon mustard
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp chili powder
  • 1/4 cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp pepper

Prep

  • Finely chop your onion and garlic.
  • In a medium saucepan, heat your EVOO. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring often, for about 3 minutes until soft.
  • Add the remaining ingredients and stir.
  • Bring the sauce to a gentle simmer and stir occasionally for about 10 minutes. Keep scrapping and folding the sauce off the sides of the pot and stirring. If the sauce seems a little thin you can simmer for another 2 minutes, but keep stirring and folding so it doesn’t get gooey.
  • Taste the sauce and add a little more salt and pepper, as needed.

The end result should be a crowd pleasing, sticky sauce with a nice balance between sweet, savory, and heat. I personally prefer ridiculously spicy sauces like Famous Dave’s Devil Spit or the Memphis/Kansas City varietals, which are hotter and more vinegary, but this sauce was lovely and hit the right notes for a crowd where you can’t go to far in one direction or another. You know a sauce is great when people lick their fingers instead of using a napkin and I saw a lot of that going on.

~Enjoy the bragging rights for making your own sauce and Nom On

The Case of the Disappearing Tequila-Habanero Spiced Pineapple Wontons

In case you are wondering why I have no picture for you, it’s because twice I made these, twice I served them to guests to give me feedback on my new recipe with the warning not to eat them all because I still needed a picture, and twice I turned around about 3 minutes later to see an empty plate where my wontons should be.

“Hey!,” I exclaim, “You were not supposed to eat them all before I took a picture!” The individual who swiped the last one chews more quietly, looking anywhere but at me. I sigh, “Never mind, I’ll make another batch later….” Except the spousal unit drank the last of the tequila and the rest of my pineapple went into a pineapple-blueberry wonton so it’s going to be awhile before I make these again. Given how delectable they are, I figured I had better share the recipe before your next party.

Missing

Tequila-Habanero Spiced Pineapple Wontons

Ingredients

  • 1 cup pineapple chunks
  • 1 habanero pepper, finely diced
  • 1 cup tequila (The best you can afford)
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 small, red onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp cilantro, diced
  • 1/2 pkg wonton wrappers
  • 1 egg, beaten

Prep

  • Finely dice the habanero pepper. Add your pineapple chunks to a small tupperware container and add the tequila and diced pepper. Cover and give the mixture a shake to make sure its distributed. Let the pineapple soak for a few hours. You can even leave these soaking for a few days if you want a stronger flavor.
  • Once your pineapple is ready, extract the chunks and finely dice them. Set aside.
  • Place your softened cream cheese in a medium bowl, and using a hand mixer, whip until soft and fluffy.
    If you are unfamiliar with whipping cream cheese, start the blades on slow and circle around a few times. The cheese will start to cling to the blades. Put the speed to high and beat against the side of the bowl in a circular motion and the cheese will come loose as it becomes soft and whipped.
  • Finely dice your onion and cilantro.
  • Add the diced pineapple, cilantro, and onion to the cream cheese. You should also add in the diced habanero from the marinade. Combine and stir with a rubber spatula until you have a well blended mixture.
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and lay out your wonton wrappers. Start with 12 wrappers.
  • Beat your egg in a small bowl and set aside.
  • Place approx 1 tbsp of the mixture into the dead center of the wrapper.
    Use any manner of deep breathing techniques and chanting of ‘a little dab will do ya’ to resist the urge to add larger and larger globs of filling to the wontons. It will look like you didn’t put enough, but I promise it’s correct. The filling expands in the heat and will burst your wonton open.
  • Dip your finger in the egg and trace around the edge of each wonton. Fold the sides into an X and pinch together to seal.
  • Spray a little non-stick on a cookie sheet and transfer the wontons. Make sure they are evenly spaced apart.
  • Bake the wontons for 10-12 minutes until lightly golden and crisp.
  • Serve immediately.

What do you recommend as a dipping sauce? 

I can’t figure this part out. The flavors are so fusion. Do you want spicy? Do you want sweet? Do you want an asian sauce or a salsa? I offered 2 options and what I noticed is that my taste testers had very different preferences when they tried each sauce and then just started popping them in their mouth, sans sauce, at an increasingly rapid pace. Here’s what I made for your experimenting pleasure.

If you want to offer something with sweet notes, maybe you can rock a ponzu? If you try that, let me know how it goes!

Warning: Make sure you hold back one or two wontons before you serve these or you may find yourself lost in a godzilla-like rage similar to what we all feel when someone eats the last spring roll without asking if anyone else wanted it.

~Nom On