My “I’m Sick” Soup

I like to think of this concoction as what would happen if a traditional bubbe met up with a Thai grandmother and they put their wise grey heads together to create the ultimate Thai-inspired Jewish penicillin.

It’s a riff off of Tom Kha Gai (Thai coconut chicken soup), and it will cure what ails ya. I’ve been whipping up this soup every time I feel that telltale tickle in the back of my throat, and while it’s not my only line of defense (other stalwarts include zinc lozenges, echinacea tincture, and neti pot irrigation), it’s a key player in my fight to avoid going down hard.

Science is with me on this one, kids. Garlic, ginger, chilies, and chicken broth all have antiviral, antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory properties. Medicine never tasted so good!

This isn’t an entirely traditional Thai soup, like you’d find in (the very excellent) Thai Food, by David Thompson. But it’s doable with easily obtained items, and you can keep most of the ingredients in your pantry and freezer for when they need to be deployed quickly.

I was practicing calligraphy, and it seemed right to use some quotes from the wonderful Leonard Nimoy, who passed on earlier today.

I was practicing calligraphy, and it seemed right to use some quotes from the wonderful Leonard Nimoy, who passed on earlier today.

Mamagotcha’s Healing Soup

2-4 chicken thighs
4-6 cups chicken broth (homemade is best, but use what you’ve got)
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 large carrot, chopped
1 large stalk celery, chopped
Head of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped (how to peel a whole head of garlic in 10 seconds)

2 heaping tablespoons Thai Kitchen curry paste (red or green)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 (or more) tablespoons finely grated ginger (it’s easier to grate with your Microplane if you keep your ginger in the freezer)
2 tablespoons (or more, to taste) fish sauce (you can use salt if you don’t have this, but the fish sauce is better… and it does NOT taste fishy!)
1 can coconut milk (NOT lowfat. Shake it up well first!)
2 large jalapeno or serrano chilies, finely chopped
(Optional: red or yellow bell pepper, bean sprouts, tomatoes, sliced mushrooms or straw mushrooms, those cute li’l canned baby corns, zucchini… whatever sounds good to you! Just chop it pretty fine so the residual heat can cook it if it needs it)

Juice of 1 lime (plus wedges for serving)
A big handful of chopped cilantro (I use about half a bunch)
Sriracha sauce

Heat the broth and add the thighs, onion, carrot, celery, and garlic. Let simmer just below a boil for 40 minutes. If you like, skim off any extra fat, foam, or gunk you don’t want.

Remove thighs and let cool on a cutting board. To the broth, add the curry paste (ladle out a scoop of broth and stir the paste in to dissolve, then add back to the pot), brown sugar, ginger, fish sauce, coconut milk, and chilies (along with any of the optional suggestions). Don’t let it return to a boil, but gently simmer while you remove and chop the meat off the chicken thighs (you can remove the skin, fry it up, and sprinkle with salt to make what we call “chicken bacon”).

Return the chopped meat to the pot and warm through. Stir in the lime juice and cilantro. Taste your soup… add more fish sauce if it needs a salty flavor, more lime juice if you can’t taste the sour.

Time to eat! Serve yourself a piping hot bowl of meat, broth, and veggies. Squeeze with a lime wedge, sprinkle with a little more chopped cilantro, and add a dollop of Sriracha if you want a little more kick. Eat it all up, and you’ll soon FEEL the good things racing all over your body like tiny germ-seeking missiles!

It’s better freshly made, but it will still be delicious (and effective) refrigerated over the next day or so.

Oh, and get well soon!

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Don’t be chicken about roasting a chicken

A few weeks ago, I was asked to help with a group meal by preparing a dish and bringing it to the kitchens on the day of the event, along with many other cooks, so that the day-of preparation would be less chaotic for the head cook.

The dish that we finally decided upon for me to bring was roast chicken, which one would think is the easiest thing to make ever, and one would be right. I roasted twelve birds in my little apartment kitchen, and they turned out great.

But years ago, for some reason, I was intimidated by the idea of roasting a whole bird. Only in the last decade have I really felt confident enough to put the recipe into regular rotation. This is a crying shame, because whole chickens are often much cheaper than the broken-down, boned-and-skinned versions, and you get a bonus carcass for making stock in the bargain. So, just in case there are a few others out there who also feel overwhelmed by whole birds, I thought I’d share my method with you so you could give it a try, too.

The chickens that were served at the group meal had been roasted the day before. While they were still perfectly edible the day after, they were a shadow of the golden, crisp-skinned, melt-in-your-mouth dishes they had been coming out of the oven.  I learned how to do this from French Laundry chef Thomas Keller, who probably learned it from any grandma who cooked a Sunday dinner for her family, who learned it from a long line of ancestors who used the same technique for their Medieval birds. No herbs or stuffing, no brining or buttering… it really is as simple as it looks, and the results are so satisfying. Please do give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Timeless Roast Chicken

Ingredients:

A 3-pound chicken (anywhere from 2-pounds on up is fine, though)

Kosher salt

Fresh ground pepper

Instructions:

Preheat your oven to 450°F.

Open the packaging around the chicken, and remove anything that is not part of the whole chicken. Your chicken might have a plastic absorbent sheet, a neck, giblets loose or in a bag. Keep the neck, heart, and gizzard for stock; fry up the liver as a treat for yourself or the cat, and discard the rest.

Rinse the bird with plenty of cool water. Dry it thoroughly with paper towels… you want it to be as dry as possible, inside and out (steam is what makes the skin and meat floppy; this is the secret to crisp skin). If you have time, you can let it air-dry for another half hour.

Set the chicken in a cast-iron frying pan. Toss about half a teaspoon of Kosher salt into the cavity, and sprinkle about a teaspoon over the rest of it. I like to tip it to one side and the other, to let the salt shower down on the thighs as well. Grind a nice dusting of pepper over it.

You can truss the bird if you like, as it helps everything roast evenly, but it’s not 100% necessary. I use about a yard of kitchen twine, with the halfway point at the neck. Bring the ends around the sides, making sure you tuck the wings in nicely, loop a few times around the tips of the drumsticks, and finish with a bow.  Don’t stress on this… if it totally unravels, it will still be completely delicious.

Pop the whole thing into your hot oven, and let it roast until it’s done, about 50-60 minutes. If you have a meat thermometer, you can check temperature of the thigh and breast (one of my favorite kitchen gadgets is a remote programmable oven-safe thermometer/timer, about $17-30 on Amazon); I aim for 160°F.

Pull it out of the oven and let rest for about 10-15 minutes (now would be a good time to bring the oven temp down to 425° and slide in a pan of broccoli or cauliflower, cut into spears and tossed with olive oil, Kosher salt, and pepper… it will be done in 10 minutes — right when your bird will be ready to carve — and will be sweet, nutty, and crisp-tender… one of our family’s favorite winter vegetable dishes).

Carefully transfer your bird to a cutting board (I put my board on a spread-out dishtowel, both to keep it from sliding on the counter and to catch any extra juices that may drip off). A well-roasted chicken will practically fall apart as you are cutting it… don’t forget to snag those little “oysters” on the back, and the “Pope’s Nose” on the tail — they are the cook’s treats!

Along with the roasted veggies and a spoonful of rice or mashed potatoes (drizzled with the hot juices left in the roasting pan), this will make a hearty meal for 2 or 3.

When I use a 5- or 6-pound bird, my family of three eats half for dinner, I use the other half for chicken salad, green enchiladas, or stir fry the next day, and then I put the carcass in a big pot of water with a few chunked-up carrots and celery stalks, a roughly chopped onion, a dozen peppercorns, a couple of bay leaves, and a sprig of thyme (don’t forget the neck and giblets!). I let it simmer on low overnight, turn it off to let cool for an hour, then strain it into quart Ziploc baggies to freeze for later. I also pour the remaining chicken fat from the original roasting pan into a glass jar for sautéing veggies or making schmaltz.

Happy feasting!

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After the partridge has vacated the premises… what to do with those pears!

We were gifted a beautiful box of a dozen pears over the holidays, and while we have been slowly working on them, the last four were getting too mushy to eat out-of-hand. So a quick bit of googling found me Galleygirl’s pear tart on Chowhound. Of course, I couldn’t leave well enough alone and had to change it up a bit, not to mention translating it to gluten-free. The resultant cake was truly more than a sum of its parts, and I wanted to record it here for posterity (and for when I next have a surfeit of fruit).

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GF Pear Cake

4 very ripe pears, peeled and sliced into eighths
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened but not melted
3/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 cup gluten free flour (I used 1/2 c. Pillsbury gf flour, and 1/2 c. King Arthur coconut flour)
1/4 tsp. xanthan gum
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Topping:
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. grated fresh ginger
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350*F. Grease a 9″ or 10″ springform pan with nonstick spray.

Cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the vanilla, eggs (one at a time), and buttermilk.

Using a wire sieve, sift in the flours, xanthan gum, baking powder, and salt into the butter mixture. Stir until combined but don’t overbeat.

Batter should be thick but not doughy. Scrape into prepared springform pan and spread evenly. Arrange pear slices but don’t stress on making it pretty… the cake will rise up between the fruit slices and wreck your meticulous work. In a small bowl, use your finger to mix the 2 T. sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg together, rubbing it between your fingers. Then sprinkle over the whole cake evenly.

Bake for approximately one hour; start checking at 50 minutes. You don’t want the cake to brown and dry out, but you do want to be able to stick in a toothpick and have it come out clean.

This was absolutely PERFECT with a tot of eggnog on the side!

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Eat More Kale

Hey, did you hear about that Vermont screenprinter who was getting harrassed by those Chik-Fil-A idiots? He finally won! Go Bo!

If you decide to take his advice, here’s a great recipe to help out. This is my absolutely favorite way to prepare fresh kale. I can’t believe I haven’t posted it here, so here you go!

My favorite way to eat kale!

My favorite way to eat kale!

Tuscan Kale Salad

A head of kale, rinsed and dried, thick ribs torn out, sliced into 1/2″ ribbons (I like the curly kale best)
3-4 T. your favorite, fruitiest extra-virgin olive oil
Juice from a lemon
1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
10 good grinds black pepper
1 tsp. honey
3-4 T. toasted pine nuts (just toss them into your toaster oven for a few minutes, or dry roast in a cast-iron pan. Be careful, these little stinkers go from pleasantly toasted to bitter, burnt black in a blink of an eye!)
3-4 T. dried cranberries
3-4 T. grated Parmesan cheese

Whisk the oil, lemon juice, pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and honey in a small bowl. Put kale in a larger bowl, pour dressing over. Now dig your hands in there and just squeeze and crush that kale for all you’re worth! Massaging it like this softens and sweetens it beautifully. It also concentrates your kale… you’ll go from a huge pile to a quarter of the volume. Sprinkle with cranberries and cheese, toss, and serve.

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Coco Loco Granola

I can’t believe I haven’t posted this recipe anywhere! I guess I’ve made it so many times, it’s just imprinted itself into my brain. But I know my oldest son loves this stuff, so I’m posting it here in hopes that he’ll try making it himself.

Now, you all know about the Big Granola Racket, right? That it’s really super easy to make your own granola, and that the homemade stuff is way better than the stale dusty stuff you get packaged in the stores? Not to mention way cheaper? Well, just in case you haven’t been enlightened yet, here you go…

Granola  is infinitely adaptable. You can substitute other oils (I’ve even heard of folks using a good, fruity olive oil), other sweeteners (honey, brown rice syrup, even corn syrup), and at the end, you can mix in whatever delicious dried fruit you have on hand (but don’t bake it with the fruit, or you’ll have tooth-cracking nuggets of danger lurking in your breakfast).

Coco Loco Granola
recipe by me!
makes about a half-gallon

1 cup coconut oil (warmed in the microwave until liquid)
1 cup maple syrup (the best you can afford; if you keep it in the fridge, warm it up with the oil)
1 T. water (helps emulsify the liquids)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. salt
1 32 oz. package of Bob’s Red Mill extra-thick rolled oats
2 cups whole almonds (you can chop them if you prefer almond bits but I like ’em whole)
1/4 cup cacao nibs (I love the ones from Spice House)

Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Whisk together all the liquids and salt, then stir in the oats, almonds, and nibs. Divide between two large cookie sheets (I use the ones with raised edges, the jelly roll style, with Silpats on them) and bake for about 45 minutes. If you don’t like your granola chunky, stir it every 15 minutes. If you like it clumpier, don’t stir and let it cool in the pan for a while before packing it.

You’ll quickly learn how you prefer your granola… some people prefer it browned and toasted, some like it lighter and chewier. It will harden a bit after it cools. Store in an airtight container or ziploc bags.

For a delicious winter morning treat, pour yourself a bowl of granola, add your favorite milk, and microwave for a minute. Stir and you’ll have the BEST oatmeal ever!

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Lemony Snicker(doodle)s

My dad loves lemons. My mom first caught his attention by baking a lemon meringue pie. When he was blue, I would make batches of lemon bars to cheer him up. But now I’m in Chicago, and he’s in California, and those classic tart treats don’t ship very well. So I searched for a cookie that could survive the trip, with a good wallop of lemon to tempt his appetite. These little gems did the trick! They are made like snickerdoodles, a basic dough rounded and rolled in sugar before baking.

Lemony Cookies
(adapted from a recipe from mybakingaddiction.com)

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (I’ve used gluten-free substitutions with good success)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of one large lemon
Juice of one large lemon
1/2 cup sugar (even better with a bit of the zest rubbed into it!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheets with Silpats or parchment paper.

Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg, vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon juice. Sift in and mix the dry ingredients.

Scoop into balls using a tablespoon or a #70 disher (one of my favorite gadget purchases EVAR!), roll in the sugar/zest mixture and arrange on cookie sheet about 2″ apart. Bake about 10 minutes; don’t overdo it, though. These cookies are better before they start to brown, a little chewier and less brittle.

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Curcurbita visits Thailand via Italy

I woke up today with a nasty head cold, but didn’t have the chicken thighs, jalapenos, or other ingredients for Tom Yum Gai, my go-to feel-better soup. But I’d seen a Thai Pumpkin Soup on Vanilla Sugar the other day, and decided to give it a go. It turned out AMAZING and I wanted to shout it from the rooftops. Since it’s like 30 degrees out, I’m tempering my enthusiasm down to a blog post instead.

Thai Squash Soup
(Serves 6-8, based on the Thai Pumpkin Soup from Vanilla Sugar)

1 butternut squash (about 8″-10″ long) or small Kobocha pumpkin
1/4 cup coconut oil
1 pound mild Italian sausage
2 T. (or more) Thai Kitchen red curry paste
4 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 can coconut milk
4 T. fish sauce
4 T. brown sugar
1/4 cup peanut butter
Juice from one lime

Cut squash in half, scoop out seeds, and set cut-side down in a baking pan filled with about 1″ of water. Roast for 60 minutes at 350 degrees, remove from water and let cool. (If you don’t have broth on hand, you could use this cooking water instead.)

Melt coconut oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, and brown the sausage (remove casing first). Break up sausage into bits while it browns, then remove (but leave the oil in the pot).

Add the curry paste to the hot oil in the pot and let sizzle for about a minute; you don’t want it to burn but you do want it good and hot! Then add the broth, coconut milk, squash flesh (not the skin), fish sauce, brown sugar, and peanut butter and let simmer together for about five minutes.

If you have an immersion blender, plug it in and whiz that mess up to a silky smooth texture. Then turn off the heat, return the sausage to the pot, squeeze in the lime, and give it one more stir.

Top with a bit of cream, a handful of roasted pepitas, a squirt of Sriracha sauce, or just eat it plain.

It felt SO GOOD to eat this! It will be added to our regular rotation for sure. Enjoy!

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