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First Snow Simmer: Avgolemono Soup

16 Nov

Winter weather decided to make an appearance this week, and with it came icy roads, sleet, and other generally good reasons to hibernate. What better accompaniment to nasty weather than chicken soup? I had noooo wish to go to the store and face everyone panic-buying bread and milk, so I decided to go for something that was simple, comforting, and a good use of some of the random odds and ends hanging around my refrigerator and freezer. After poking my head in there, I was pleasantly reminded of almost two containers of leftover rice from Chinese food and some lemons I’d zested for a recipe but not juiced. This of course, screamed avgolemono soup.

Avgolemono (egg and lemon) is a delicious Greek chicken soup that sort of reminds me of stracciatella. For Italian/Sicilian stracciatella, you beat eggs and parmesan cheese together and then whisk them into chicken broth with pastina, spinach, and meatballs. The Greek version of egg drop soup is a little bit different. Instead of pastina there is rice, the meatballs are replaced with chicken, and rather than beating the eggs with cheese, they are beaten together with lemon juice. The biggest difference however, is that in stracciatella the beaten eggs are poured directly into the soup and form what look like little rags. In avgolemono, the eggs are first tempered with a few ladles of the broth to create a smooth, creamy texture when the egg is added to the overall pot of soup.

What’s truly awesome about this soup is how few ingredients you need to make it. At the end of the day, it’s just chicken, eggs, lemon, rice, and broth. Our method is what will make the magic. So let’s get to it!

Avgolemono Soup

1 ½ lbs. chicken breast, cut into tenders
1-2 cups cooked rice
4 eggs
Juice from 2 lemons
7 cups chicken broth or stock

First, cook your chicken. You can do this any number of ways, but since I like shredded chicken for this soup, I use my pressure cooker.

Season the chicken with salt, pepper, and oregano, and then put it in the pressure cooker with whatever odds and ends of vegetables you may have. I had some celery, carrots, parsley, onion pieces, and a few chicken wing tips. Add 2 cups of water, broth, or stock, and then seal the pot and cook at high pressure for 20 minutes. Release the pressure naturally or using a quick release function, remove and shred the chicken, and strain the liquid to use as part of the broth for your soup.

Bring the broth/stock to a boil in a large pot and then add the rice.

Beat the eggs and lemon juice together, and then whisk a ladle of broth into the egg mixture.

Whisk 3 more ladles in, and then add the mixture to the pot of soup, along with the shredded chicken.

Simmer 5-10 minutes and then season with salt and black pepper to taste.

How easy is that? The chicken, rice, and eggs make this a surprisingly hearty soup alongside some warm bread. It’s creamy and savory, with just a slight tang from the lemon juice. Perfect for a winter day (or a fall day acting like winter, in my case). So as we move toward the colder months, maybe make a batch of this and pop a few containers in the freezer to have whenever you’re feeling the chill. Happy soup-sipping!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Five a.m. Finds: Cioppino

8 Nov

I keep waking up at 5 in the morning. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea. But at least once a week, my eyes open and BAM, brain is on and there is no turning it off. I get up and I’m just restless, so I go to the only place that’s open, the grocery store. I’m pretty stiff most mornings, so walking the aisles at least gets me more mobile. I stop to look at all the things I never have time to look at when I go in with a list. Sometimes I get really good ideas.

For instance, one recent morning, I was walking by the frozen case next to the seafood counter and spotted a 12 oz. package of frozen, mixed shellfish. I instantly thought of cioppino, the seafood and shellfish stew I love but have never actually made. I guess I felt intimidated by it. Cod was on sale at the seafood counter, so I got a couple of fillets, and I hoped that a delicious menagerie of seafood and shellfish in a rich tomato broth was not far away. Still probably a little bleary-eyed, I got the rest of my ingredients and made it home before the sun was up.

It turns out, this is not only an incredibly delicious meal to make, it’s actually a pretty easy one too. It sort of made me wonder why I’d never done it before. It’s just making a broth and then simmering the seafood in it. Sweet and simple.

Cioppino

  • 1 onion, chopped
  • ½ fennel bulb, sliced OR 1 tsp. fennel seeds, toasted
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 clove garlic, smashed
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 14 oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 qt. seafood stock
  • 8 oz. cod, halibut, or other firm white fish cut into cubes
  • 12 oz. mixed shellfish – I used a package of frozen mussels, clams, and shrimp
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a bit of olive oil in a medium-sized saucepan over medium-low heat. Once it is fragrant, add the onions, garlic, fennel/fennel seed, basil, and cherry tomatoes and sweat until soft, 3-4 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook 1 minute more.

Add the wine and simmer until the liquid has mostly evaporated, 5-6 minutes.

Add the crushed tomatoes and seafood stock. Return the mixture to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 40 minutes.

Strain the broth, being sure to press the solids and extract all of the liquid.

Return the broth to the heat and bring it back to a simmer. Add the shellfish and cod and return the mixture to a simmer.

Cook just until the shellfish open and the fish flakes easily. This only took 3-4 minutes for the seafood I used.

Ladle into a bowl and serve with some crusty bread.

Like I said, I feel sort of crazy for putting this one off for so long. The broth is savory, rich, and has a beautiful scent of fennel. The cod is flaky, the shellfish are juicy, and both soak up the broth’s flavors perfectly. Everything makes sense together. And trust me, you need that bread to get every last bit of the broth, it’s that good.

Let my 5 am grocery store wandering be your reward! This one is well worth trying at home, especially when you put it up against what you’d pay at any restaurant. You’ll be patting yourself on the back in no time.

Ciao for now,

Neen

Flavorful Few: French Onion Soup

13 Oct

Some recipes are all about technique and time. Applying those two things to the simplest, humblest of ingredients can bring a true depth of flavor to the party without clearing out the pantry. Take French onion soup for example. Vegetables and herbs deeply caramelized, deglazed with a bit of wine, thickened with flour, simmered with broth, and topped with a broiled cheesy crouton. Caramelize, deglaze, thicken, simmer, and broil. It’s the steps that build the body of the soup, not a pantry full of ingredients.

Surprisingly hearty and heart-warming, there’s no reason not to stop and make this right now! Just be sure to take it slow and you’ll be enjoying a rich bowl of satisfying soup in about an hour and a half.

French Onion Soup

  • 3 lbs. Vidalia onions (about 4 large onions)
  • 4 oz. unsalted butter
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • ¾ cup dry white wine
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 8 cups unsalted beef stock or low-sodium beef broth
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • French bread and grated gruyere cheese for serving

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat and then add the onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme sprigs, and some salt and pepper.

Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are well-caramelized and very soft, about 45 minutes.

Add the white wine to the pan, scrape the bottom of the pot to release the fond (browned bits), bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated, 10-15 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs.

Sprinkle on the flour and give the mixture a stir. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook for about 7 minutes.

Add the beef stock/broth and bring the soup to a simmer. Cook for 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust salt and pepper as needed.

To serve, preheat a broiler. Ladle the soup into a heatproof bowl and top with a slice of French bread. Add a generous helping of gruyere cheese on top of the bread.

Broil until the cheese bubbles and the bread is toasted. Garnish with fresh thyme.

Basically crispy, gooey grilled cheese and savory soup all perfectly balanced together in one bowl. Yum! This recipe makes quite a lot and does freeze well. By taking your time during the initial making of the soup, you have something intensely deep, rich, and satisfying that you can reheat quickly when a craving strikes.

So take those simple ingredients and make them shine!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Sniffle Stopper: Vegetable Soup

24 Sep

Ever since I started taking immuno-suppressants for my RA, I’ve had a constant, nagging cold. Maybe that’s why I woke up at 4:45 am today with an immediate and insatiable craving for vegetable soup. Your body tends to speak to you, and I’ve learned it’s generally a good idea to listen. So yes, there I was at 5 am in Safeway, standing in the produce section without a list. While things usually go better when I plan, vegetable soup is one of those things that you don’t really need a plan for, you just need to know what vegetables you like and what looks good at the store. It’s also helpful to know a little bit about what stands up well to being cooked in broth without going to mush on you, and that’s why I think that simple though this recipe may be, it’s well worth sharing because of its balance of textures and flavors. Let’s put the soup on!

Vegetable Soup

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 leeks (white part only, save the tops for stock!), diced
  • 2 cups carrots, peeled and cut into circles
  • 2 cups red potatoes, diced
  • 2 cups green beans, cut into 1 in. pieces
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 2 qts. low sodium chicken broth
  • 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, pulled into pieces
  • 2 ears corn, kernels removed
  • ¼ cup flat (Italian) parsley, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. lemon juice
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oil in a stockpot over medium-low heat.

Add the leeks, garlic, and a heavy pinch of salt, and sweat until the leeks are soft, 6-7 minutes.

Add the carrots, potatoes, green beans, and celery, and cook 5 minutes more, stirring occasionally.

Add the chicken broth and turn the heat up to high. Once the soup comes to a simmer, add the tomatoes and corn. Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot, and cook for 25 minutes or until the vegetables are tender.

Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Simple, savory, and perfect for the crisp autumn days ahead. It’s got a nice mix of textures, an intoxicating aroma, and all the vitamins you could possibly want. Maybe this lip-smacking medicine will subdue my sniffles a little bit. Even if it doesn’t, it certainly satisfied my craving for a hearty soup. Hope it warms your heart too!

Ciao for now,

Neen

Kyoto Comfort: Miso Soup

18 Sep

The morning that Joe and I arrived in Kyoto last year was rainy and cool. Actually most of our trip was spent under umbrellas and wrapped in raincoats (save for a literally perfect, amazingly clear day at Mt. Fuji), but it didn’t slow us down much.

At the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto

That morning in Kyoto we were tired and hungry after the long trip from Tokyo, so after we dropped off our suitcase at the hotel, we wandered back through the train station in search of something warm to eat. We stumbled upon Suika KYK, a restaurant specializing in tonkatsu, which is deep-fried breaded pork cutlet. And yes, the tonkatsu was delicious, savory, and crispy.

But I was equally enchanted by the deep, umami flavor of the miso soup served alongside it. Later, back in Tokyo, we ducked out of a storm into a Japanese steakhouse and were again greeted with a warm atmosphere and steaming hot bowls of miso soup.

With the recent residual storms from Hurricane Florence keeping the skies grey and the ground wet, I found my mind wandering back to those steamy bowls of soup that warmed and comforted my body. So one cool, gloomy morning I decided to allow myself a brief moment to embrace a memory that soothed me, and recreate a few cups of deeply treasured moments.

Miso soup is simple to make from scratch. Built right, we’ll end up with a rich, deep broth and a soup that’s both deeply satisfying and pretty healthy, too.

Miso Soup

Dashi:

  • 6 cups water
  • 1 – 12 in. piece kombu
  • 1 oz. bonito flakes / katsuobushi (dried, fermented, and smoked skipjack tuna)

Soup:

  • 1 recipe dashi
  • 2 tbsp. white miso paste
  • 2 tbsp. brown miso paste
  • 6 oz. firm tofu, well-drained and cut into 1/2 in. cubes
  • 2 green onions, bias cut into small pieces, white and green parts divided
  • 2 ½ oz. dried mushrooms (I used oyster and porcini)
  • 3 small heads baby bok choy, stems chopped into ½ in. pieces, leaves sliced
  • 1 in. piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced

To make the dashi, combine the water and kombu and bring to a boil.

As soon as the water boils, remove the kombu. Add the bonito flakes and stir to mix.

Remove the pot from the heat and allow the bonito flakes to steep for 5 minutes. Strain the dashi through a cheesecloth-lined sieve.

In a large pot, heat a tbsp. of neutral oil over medium-low heat and add the white parts of the onions, ginger, and garlic to the pot. Cook until softened and fragrant, about 5 minutes.

Add the dashi and bring to a simmer.

Add the miso pastes and mushrooms and cook 10 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender.

Add the bok choy stems and simmer another 10 minutes.

Finally, add the tofu, bok choy leaves, and green onions, and simmer 5 minutes.

Serve, and let your heart and whole self feel warm.

While it’s a pretty light soup in a caloric sense, the tofu, mushrooms, and bok choy give it texture and heartiness that make it perfectly suitable for a meal. You could certainly add some noodles to it for something more substantial, though I think it makes a wonderful breakfast just as-is.

My life has been flipped upside-down in the last six months, but I am so grateful for the power of food and cooking to continue to not only bring me physical and mental comfort, but to bring joyful memories and thoughts to the forefront of my mind when I’m shaken. I sip this soup and I am back half-way across the world with my best friend. It is self-care in the truest and sweetest sense.

Ciao for now,

Neen

 

Eastern Shore Edition: Seafood Stock *and* Crab Bisque

20 Aug

Joe and I somehow got it into our heads last night that we could eat 2 lbs. of steamed snow crab legs. Several clusters in, we realized that our eyes were bigger than our stomachs. But there was no way I was going to let the remaining meat or the MOUNTAIN of shells go to waste. Seemed like the perfect opportunity to try my hand at making a creamy, delicious crab bisque and build it from the seafood stock on up. Let’s get to work, shall we?

Seafood Stock

Ingredients

  • Shells from 2 lbs snow crab legs
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 5-6 carrots, diced
  • 5-6 celery ribs, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3-4 sprigs thyme
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tbsp. black peppercorns

Method

Roast the crab shells in a 400 degree F oven for 10 minutes or until the edges begin to brown.

Place a stock pot over medium heat and add the olive oil. Once the oil starts to shimmer, add the onion, carrots, celery, and garlic and saute until the vegetables start to soften. Take a selfie maybe?

Add the shells, white wine, thyme, peppercorns, and tomato paste. Then add water until the shells are covered by about 1 inch.

Bring the stock to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cook for 1 and a half hours. Skim the grease and foam from the surface every so often during the cooking process.

There will be a decent amount of evaporation. The first picture is the beginning of the cooking process, and the second is the end.

Strain the stock through a fine mesh sieve, pressing the solids to extract as much as possible. Yields about 2 ½ quarts

The stock is now ready to use for our delicious…

Crab Bisque

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ qts. seafood stock
  • 2 oz. butter
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 3 carrots, diced
  • 3 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • ½ cup cooking sherry
  • ¼ cup tomato paste
  • 3-4 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ tsp. paprika
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 6 oz. crab meat (I used snow crab legs)
  • Juice from ½ lemon
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Fresh chives, chopped (for garnish)

Method

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat and then add the celery, carrot, and onion. Saute until the vegetables soften and give up their juices. Add the garlic and saute 2 minutes more.

Deglaze the pan with the sherry, and then add the tomato paste.

Add the seafood stock, paprika, thyme, and bay leaves.

Bring the soup to a gentle boil, and cook for 20 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cream.

Puree the bisque in batches, and then return to the stove, season with salt, pepper, and the lemon juice.

I prefer to add the crabmeat to the individual bowls when serving, but you can add it to the pot of bisque if you like. Garnish the soup wish fresh chives and enjoy!

So next time you “accidentally” order too much shellfish, toss your shrimp, crab, or lobster shells in a pot and get that stock going. In addition to being a wonderful base for soups and sauces, it is also delicious cooking liquid for rice and other grains.

I might just have to let my eyes get too big more often. 😉

Ciao for now,

Neen