Category Archives: Basics

Summer Chicken Soup


Final Product

Summer Chicken Soup (Green)

Saturday was one of those days that was so hot and so humid that all I wanted to do was be inside, in a frigid air conditioned space, not thinking about the oppressive heat/humidity of the season. I don’t mind a few hot days in the summer, but it is not my default; I don’t walk out into the summer heat and say, “ahhh, this is perfect.” I like the chill. I like the shoulder seasons – spring and fall. More than anything, I like an excuse to eat soup.

My boo was feeling under the weather on Saturday – hadn’t eaten anything all day by the time I saw him, so when I asked what would make him feel better, I rejoiced when he said “I dunno…chicken noodle soup?” I immediately thought about onions, celery, carrots, some herbs, and big fat egg noodles. Then a trickle of sweat rolled down my back and I remembered – it’s freaking summer, not one of the other three seasons here in Chicago when it is appropriate to eat old fashioned chicken noodle soup.

My mind started racing – what is reasonable here? What can capture that good-hearted feeling without seeming out of place in the heat? I consulted my homecook resources – I texted some of my best friends. What would they do? It took them a little while to respond, and I was hungry, so I had already started the shopping list in my head and on my phone (using the the Clear app, which I cannot recommend enough), but the result was a list of summer chicken soup recipes that shall be the source of inspiration in the next couple of weeks:

  • Asian-inspired, taking cues from Vietnamese pho, using ginger, garlic, lemongrass
  • Tomato-based, with some spice
  • Vichyssoise (not technically “chicken” soup, but I was glad of the reminder to make it)

I ended up doing what seems easy – swapping out the traditional ingredients in the old-fashioned soup for what’s more in season right now – kind of updating an old fave. Leeks instead of onions. Fresh peas and zucchini instead of carrots and celery. Fresh basil instead of thyme.

The result was maybe a little heavier than I wanted, but I think I can attribute that to the stock. I started with store-bought chicken stock (my go to: Kitchen Basics, though I may rethink this) and added bone in, skin-on chicken (two breasts, two leg quarters) to cook through, fortify the stock, and be the protein for the final soup. I probably should have used skinless chicken, since the usually welcome richness of the fat felt like too much for this version. Regardless, the result was delicious.

If anyone is interested in a full recipe, please let me know, but for the time being, here are a few prep notes:

  • Per my friend Crissy’s suggestion years ago, I always cook pasta for soups separate to ensure that the noodles don’t get too mushy in leftovers. This technique also helps to cool down the finished soup as you are serving it so you can eat it almost immediately.
  • To ensure that the zucchini didn’t get too soft in the cooking process, I cut them in generously sized chunks; I think this adds a nice bit of texture to the final soup (see photo, above)
  • Clean leeks are happy leeks, and I can’t reiterate this enough. Once you eat a single pot of soup where you didn’t take time to clean them of sandy grit, you’ll see what I mean. I am here to tell you how to avoid this unfortunate circumstance without having to experience it in the first place.
    • First, trim off the tough, fibrous green tops – you can use these to flavor stocks, but they never really cook up nicely enough to eat in soup or otherwise
    • For this soup, I cut the leek lengthwise and then into quarter-to-half-inch halfmoon slicesDirty Leeks
    • Break up the slices into a colander sitting a bowl of cold tap water – be sure that this combination is large enough to allow the leek pieces to separate and get cleanClean Leeks
    • Let sit for a few minutes and then pull the strainer out of the bowl of water; you’ll probably notice a bit (or a lot) of grit and sand in the bowl of water and NOT in your soup. Hurrah!
Advertisements

Infuse Your Booze


Lemongrass, ginger, coriander

You may disagree, but I’m just gonna say that the flavored spirits coming to the market are moving from the acceptable to the dubious. I mean, when I start seeing gummyfish-flavored vodka, I think it is time to say, “whoa, there.” That said, there are a number of offerings that I really enjoy and I admit to buying them regularly (Absolut’s Wild Tea is definitely one of them). These products also inspire me to make my own infused spirits. Over the last couple of years, I’ve made some very successful potables (sour cherry vodka, jalapeno tequila, fig vodka for the Fig Cocktail) and some not-so-successful versions (peach-infused bourbon – not enough sweet, too boozy).

The best part about making infused spirits is that it is easy—and it doesn’t take very long to taste the results. In fact, when I make the jalapeno tequila, I only infuse the booze for about 15 minutes, which is just enough to give it a low-level, underlying kick. Similarly, cucumber vodka only takes about a day to develop a nice, fresh cucumber flavor.

My friends and I have a monthly brunch club and this month’s theme is Southeast Asian. Since we all bright something to the brunch, and since brunch usually means cocktails, I decided to come up with a new infused spirit to celebrate our gathering. Given that it’s summer, I thought some of the fresher and brighter flavors that come from that region would be appropriate; may I present lemongrass, ginger, coriander vodka:

Infused Vodka

My hope is that, after a few days, this will be delicious enough to drink just over ice mixed with club soda, but I am also cooking up a cocktail in my head; stay tuned for another post with the results of this experiment. In the meantime, celebrate the weekend! Get yourself a nice big jar, a big bottle of booze, and head out to the market for some inspiration! Bear in mind that the longer you infuse, the stronger the flavor will be, and that any spirit containing perishable food (fruit, citrus peel, etc) should be kept in the refrigerator when not in use.

PS – here’s a little tip from me about working with lemongrass; the sound’s not great, but you get the point.

Bring It. (your lunch, that is)


Greek Chicken Salad

During most of my commutes, I plug into my phone and listen to streaming music via Spotify, but on the rare occasions when I want to tap into my surroundings (or if I simply forget my headphones), I often end up eavesdropping on conversations. Sure, I know I am not really supposed to do this, but when people talk loudly and without much regard for the other commuters around them, I don’t feel bad about listening to what they have to say. Usually, it isn’t much, but sometimes, like during a recent morning commute, a dialogue will spark some kind of reaction from me.

In this particular case, the conversation was between two young professional men, probably in their late 20s. I started listening to them at first because their communication was so riddled with the word “like” that I had trouble deciding if they were actually saying anything to one another. Soon, though, they got onto the topic of lunch. Namely, they started discussing how pathetic it is when their colleagues make their own lunches and bring them to work. They described a  co-worker’s homemade sandwich as, “the saddest lunch in the world.” In their opinion, it is far better to go to a local café or fast food restaurant and buy something every day, in spite of the high cost of doing so. In fact, one of them averred that he, in fact, had earned the right to buy lunch every day and should never be bothered to do otherwise.

Needless to say, this conversation made me sad. I will admit that I’ve been remiss in bringing homemade lunches to work over the past few months; I could give you any number of excuses for this, but none of them are valid. Simply put, I think it’s time for us to reclaim the homemade lunch. This will not only save us money over time, but will inevitably end up being a much healthier alternative to the high-fat, high-sodium options in and around your office building (and mine).

Some ideas I’ve been knocking around:
–      Legume-based salads (lentils, beans, etc.)
–      Innovative sandwiches using high-fiber breads
–      Vegetable-heavy snacks and entrees
–      Anything that can be made in a big batch for several lunches
–      Dishes that take advantage of the growing season

This post is more to get the creative thoughts flowing than to provide any real instruction (at least for now). Post your ideas in the comments section and we’ll show everybody that a homemade lunch is not only cost-effective, but beautiful and nutritious!

Advertisements