Chicken Soup is Good for the Soul

CHICKEN SOUP (p.43)

My Husband and Son are sick with the flu so I decided it would be a perfect opportunity to make good old chicken soup. I don’t feel so much like a newbie here because I’ve made chicken soup before but I was sure Martha’s version is different and I was excited to try it out (plus it’s the next recipe in the soup section so I really had no choice). My Grandmother, Olivera Farkash, taught me how to make her soup years ago in Israel, but I was never quite able to make it as good as hers was. I always had to add powdered chicken stock / boullion and still there was something missing, I now realize that I must have forgotten a step or two – like seasoning and simmering maybe. This is how it went:

To begin with, I needed to use a whole chicken and cut it up into 8 pieces (p. 110). It may seem like a simple thing but to me it was very intimidating and kind of freaky. I get a bit squeamish from touching dead uncooked things so I wasn’t sure how this would go but I was up for the challenge. It was SO easy! I searched YouTube for a video on cutting a chicken, just to make sure I had a visual reference but ended up using the instructions in the book since they were so detailed and clear (good job Martha). First I cut the leg and thigh from the body and then separated them into 2 pieces. Then I cut the wings and finally had to slice the breasts off. I wasn’t quite sure if I was cutting along the ribcage or not but I just followed my instinct and at the end they came out looking like chicken breasts so I was happy. Did I mention that things were falling out of the cavity as I was cutting? Yuck! There was a neck, liver and a heart – YES a heart! It was tiny and looked like a human heart … eww … I couldn’t touch it with my hand, I felt like a murderer (ok, not that bad but you get the idea). So, that was interesting but I sucked it up and moved forward. In the end, I was so pleased that I was able to cut a whole chicken all by myself. I know it’s really not that big of a deal but it was to me, made me feel like a regular Martha Stewart. I put the remaining chicken parts (heart included) in the freezer to use at a later time for making stock.

Once that was done I was ready to make the soup. I placed the chicken, vegetables (carrot, celery, parsnip, onion) and herbs into a stock pot and covered them with water. I had to frequently skim the top to get rid of the impurities from the chicken (foam-like substance) and it seemed like I was doing that for a long time. It just kept coming back and I couldn’t get control of it. Some internet research has taught me that the impurities are basically a coagulated protein that rises to the top of the soup and causes broths to be murky or cloudy if not removed. There is some disagreement about whether the impurities make the broth bitter or not, so I say – when in doubt, leave it out. When the chicken was cooked through (approximately 10-15 minutes) I took it out and took the meat off the bones. The bones went back into the pot while the chicken was put in the fridge for the time being. The stock then had to be simmered for another hour. After that, I strained it through a sieve and added it along with fresh vegetables to a clean pot. Once the vegetables were tender I added the chicken meat and warmed it up one more time. Voila! The chicken soup was ready.

The soup came out delicious and was very hearty. The flavors of the broth were so complex for something so simple. I love the parsnip flavor (almost like a mix between a carrot and celery) and the chicken was tender but not overdone. My Husband loved it too and said that while he always enjoyed my soup this is a superior version of it (thank you Martha). I know I will make this again many times. The simmering and skimming is a bit time consuming but it’s not too bad and the end result is worth the effort, plus I think next time will be easier because I’ve already done it once and know the basic method. The only flaw in the recipe (and I’m noticing a pattern here) is that the portion was very small. Martha says it should serve 6-8 people but honestly, I can’t imagine it serving more than 4 people at the most and that’s if they each got one tiny little bowl. After I strained the broth I had to add 2 cups of water to the pot just to get to the 6 cups that was supposed to be there – I only had 3.5 cups. I didn’t want to add too much water though, because I didn’t want to water down the flavor of the broth. So next time, I will double the recipe but add the same amount of chicken as in this recipe. I think that would work best, since there was plenty of chicken meat and vegetables but not enough liquid.

Mommy Tip: A great soup for children, it’s simple enough for their young palettes yet so tasty and nutritious. You can make large batches and freeze in gallon bags (or plastic containers) for later use. Also, to add variety you can substitute peas and beans at the end.

Up Next: Chocolate Chip Cookies, with my 3 year-old daughter’s help.

 

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The Chicken

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My cut up chicken, I’m very proud!

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THE HEART

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It was as delicious as it looks

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Egg Whites are NOT Egg Yolks!!

Happy New Year!!!

I hope everyone had a safe and fun evening. Let’s hope for a fantastic 2011, filled with health, happiness, love and good food for all of us.

I started my new year (and this project) off with a bang and made a ‘fancy’ meal for my parents and husband. We received 4 Filet Mignon Steaks as a Christmas gift and I decided that it would be the perfect opportunity to really dig in to the cookbook. For an appetizer I made broccoli soup (with homemade chicken stock), the main course was grilled steaks with compound butter and grilled veggies. Lastly, I made creme brulee for dessert. Overall the dinner was great and I received positive feedback, but there were definite flaws and it could have been better. It wasn’t Martha standard, but considering I’m a total newbie – not too shabby. I learned that mise-en-place (organizing and preparing your ingredients prior to starting a recipe) is very important and should always be used. Also, I learned that reading a recipe at least once before starting it is invaluable. Each recipe had its own challenges and lessons as well:

 

BASIC CHICKEN STOCK (p.41) – Lesson 1.1

You may ask yourself why make a stock when you can buy one at the market for a few bucks? Why spend ALL that time and effort? Well, let me tell you that when this stock was done I loved it so much that I put it in a little cup with some salt and downed it like it was a shot of heaven. It was the most delicious broth I have ever tasted – so yes, there is a difference. A huge difference. Making a homemade stock is worth every minute of your time, but I’m sure in a pinch you can use store-bought stock as well.

The recipe calls for 5 lbs of assorted chicken parts (backs, necks, wings) but I didn’t know where to get any and didn’t have time to save my own so I used leg quarters which seemed the most bony.  I think technically my creation was a stock/broth hybrid, since I also used a lot of meat but hey I had to do what I could under the circumstances. The recipe was easy to follow and made about 10.5 cups. I used 4 cups of it for the broccoli soup and stored the rest in the fridge in an airtight container.

 

Mommy Tip: If you’re cooking a chicken and have enough left over bones/carcass you can throw them in a pot and make stock to have handy or you can save up your chicken parts in the freezer until you have enough to use. You can store the prepared stock in the fridge for 3 days or freeze it for up to 3 months in an airtight container or freezer bag.

 
Basic Chicken Stock

Leg quarters used instead of necks, backs, wings.

Basic Chicken StockMirepoix: French name for a combination of onions, carrots, and celery used as a flavor base for many dishes.
Basic Chicken Stock
The finished product – Basic Chicken Stock.

 

BROCCOLI CREAM SOUP (p.62) – Lesson 1.7

I used the chicken stock I just made in this recipe. It was very easy to execute but I had a problem knowing how much broccoli to use. Martha said to use one head of broccoli (1 3/4 pounds) so that’s what I bought – a head of broccoli. I think I should have weighed it at the store because the soup came out very light in color (wasn’t the vivid green they showed in the book) and I’m guessing it was because I didn’t have enough of the green stuff.  Flavor wise, it was good, but a bit bland and may have needed more salt and pepper. So I guess my lesson from this is to always follow the weight or measurements called in a recipe – don’t try to guess by size (especially if it’s your first run through it).

Broccoli Cream Soup
Broccoli Cream Soup.

 

COMPOUND BUTTER (p.166)

Basically, butter mixed with herbs and aromatics. I used 2 sticks of room-temperature butter and mixed it in a bowl with parsley, thyme and salt. You can use all kinds of combinations but I used those because they were in the main recipe. Once I mixed them I shaped them into a little cylinder by using parchment paper and the end of a cutting board. Put in the fridge for an hour and you’re done. I served the butter on top of the steaks and it was a hit.

Compound Butter
Compound Butter.

 

GRILLED STEAK (p. 164)

The recipe was for a porterhouse steak but had filet mignon as an optional substitute. The steaks were 8 oz each and based on the book I should have grilled them about 7-8 minutes on each side for a medium – rare steak. I did exactly that and they came out a little too rare. A little too bloody. I guess I should have either used a meat thermometer or used the finger test that my old friend Sheldon taught me (he is a former chef). You might be wondering what the finger test is and it’s kind of hard to explain but I will do my best. Basically, you touch your pointer finger to your thumb (same hand) and feel the fleshy part just below your thumb. The tenderness or firmness of that part is equivalent to what a rare steak would feel like when poked. Do the same with your middle finger and you have a Medium-rare steak, the ring finger is the same as medium cooked and the pinky is well done. Like I said, I did not use the finger test nor did I use a thermometer and I wish I had but I was stressed and trying to get the meal ready in time so I forgot. I guess next time I have to try and enter a more zen state of mind and not let things get me worked up so much that I forget the essentials.

The steaks were very tasty (even though i forgot to salt them), I think the compound butter really added to the flavor but also, the steaks were of good quality so you kind of can’t go wrong there, I think. I served the steaks with grilled zucchini, Yellow squash and raddichio. The radicchio came out a bit wilted and kind of fell apart. It wasn’t bad, and had that distinct bitter taste but I didn’t love it with this dish. I also made a croustini which I seasoned with vegetable oil and some parsley – it was delicious and a great addition to the meal.

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8 oz Steaks. Yum!

Grilled Vegetables
Radicchio, Zucchini, and Yellow Squash brushed with a vegetable oil and parsley mix.

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It all came together very nicely!!!

 

CREME BRULEE (p.472)

My favorite all-time dessert!!! Let me start by saying that it came out AMAZING! Everyone loved it and it was so easy to make. There are a few things that are worth mentioning though. I was shocked to find out that 1 vanilla bean costs $10.99 and that I had to use the whole thing for this recipe. I wonder if using vanilla extract would produce a similar effect or is that a no-no? Either way, it was fun to slice open the bean and scrape out the little seeds … smelled fantastic. The rest of the process was pretty easy, heat up the cream and vanilla and slowly add them to the eggs and sugar. Pour them into the little dishes (ramekins) and put them on a large roasting pan (I used a baking pan) filled up with water half way up the ramekins. This step almost messed me all up because Martha says to get the pan in the oven and then pour the water in after, but I put the water in before which made it really hard to carry to the oven without spilling the water into the creme brulee mix. I baked it for about 35 minutes, until it was set but still wobbly in the center. Chill for 2 hours and then brulee (to burn, in french) a layer of sugar on top right before serving.

I had some extras so my brothers and nephew joined us for dessert. The mixture of the crunchy warm sugar and the cool custard inside is delectable and heavenly. I could have eaten 10o of these and everyone else loved them too. Ok… here comes the embarassing part – ready?

The next day I’m sitting in my family room watching The Food Channel when it hits me — I USED EGG WHITES, NOT EGG YOLKS!!! How the hell did that happen?? The recipe says 7 egg yolks and my brain translated that into egg whites, wow! The weird thing is that the Creme Brulee was amazing, just like the real deal. How could that be? I guess I just discovered the lighter version, HAHA. I’m still laughing at that one today, what was I thinking? Anyways, I NEED to do a taste comparison now. Make the recipe with egg whites and with egg yolks and do a taste test. It’s just that my ‘diet’ version was so damn good that I can’t imagine there being such a big difference.

Creme Brulee
Just out of the oven.

Creme Brulee
Use a torch to burn a thin layer of sugar on the top.

Creme Brulee
Delicious Creme Brulee  (light version?)

To summarize the whole day, I loved starting this project in such a grand way by making all those dishes. I love that I slightly failed and I loved my successes. My perfectionism tends to hold me back sometimes so I was happy to see that my little failures didn’t bring me down. They actually made me more eager to learn and to improve. I am very excited to continue cooking through the book and even more excited to write about it. I hope you all think it’s worth reading about, would love to have you along for the ride.