Monday, January 16, 2012

Bake Potato Soup

I live in Utah at about 6,500 elevation. It is January. There is NO snow. It is starting to piss me off. Typically, at this time of the year I would be inviting all my friends and family over for a fabulous sledding party.  I would be stoking up the fire, cranking up the hot chocolate machine, and whipping up some warm and hearty soup for everyone to enjoy as they stare out the window, watching the big flakes pile up.  We would hear the children squealing in delight as the zoom down the hill just of the deck of our house.  Alas, there is no snow, the mountains had more snow that this on the 4th of July!  Although I can not control mother nature, I can still make some fantastic soup, and hold out hope for a huge storm.

This soup, of my own invention, truly tastes like a loaded baked potato.  Don't throw away those potato skins, because they will make perfect potato skins to accompany the soup.

Baked Potato Soup

4 large already baked, and cooled Russet Potatoes
1 small onion, fine diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
4 T butter
1/4 c flour
2 cups Chicken Stock (you only use homemade right?)
1 c sour cream
2 c shredded medium cheddar cheese
3 c milk
1 T fresh chives, diced
salt and pepper to taste

bacon, fried onions, and sour cream for garnish

After you have added and cooked the butter and flour.
Step 1:
Saute the onions in a little olive oil, add garlic.  Sauté till fragrant.

Step 2:
Add butter and flour and saute for a few minutes.  Season lightly with salt and fresh pepper.
After the chicken stock has thickened

Step 3:

Add the chicken stock.  Scoop the inside of one of the potatoes and mix well into the stock mix. Let this simmer and allow to thicken.

After the cheese and sour cream are added

Step 4:

Add the sour cream and the cheese.

Step 5:

Add the milk.  Whisk well, and allow thickened. Scoop the remaining potato guts into the mix and stir well with a wire whisk.  Continue to simmer till thickened.  Give it a taste to see if it needs more salt and pepper. It most likely will.  Lastly, add the fresh chives. Let your guest garnish their own soup with bacon, more sour cream, fried onions, chives, and anything else you think would be fabulous!

That is not all!  Quickly turn the skins into some great appetizers to go with the soup. Cut the skins into quarters.  Season them with salt and fresh pepper.  Top them with cheese and pop them in the oven for about 5 minutes to melt the cheese.

Instead of sour cream, top them with ranch dip.  Next add plenty of bacon and some chives.  They will be a huge hit.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Sunday Dinner Roast Beef

 Sunday dinner is a big deal for our family.  It is the biggest meal of the week, and Sunday dinner isn't just defined by the day the dinner falls on.  Sunday dinner doesn't have to be on Sunday, and it doesn't have to be at dinner (its almost always lunch!)  Sunday dinner is when lots of family comes over and we have Roast Beef, mashed potatoes, gravy, green vegetable, yellow vegetable, corn, fresh greens, fresh fruits and a dessert.  That's how my mom did it, and that is how I do it.  Every week.  My parents come, my grandma, and my sister and her family.  They don't even wait for an invite.  They just come.  Often times I have a brother or two call and invite themselves.   We get home from church and before I even kick off my heels, I get the water boiling for the potatoes, and divide out the work for the kids.  Of course, the Roast Beef has already been braising in the oven for hours, its the first thing you smell when you come in from the garage.  It is the signal that Sunday Dinner is near!
Table for two by the fire please! Alta and Lilli make their Sunday dinner special.

The most wonderful part of Roast Beef is that the leftovers ( if there ever is any) can be used for so many other great meals!  I always make two, not only to feed the potential last second guests but to have some leftover meat for a another meal later in the week!  The possibilities are endless.  Stay tuned for more ideas.

A good roast beef is first browned, then cooked low and slow so it is tender, moist and just falls apart.  Because you cook it slow, you can use a less expensive cut of beef.  Look for a chuck roast, or a top sirlion roast, top round roast, or any roast that is under 4.00$ a pound.  An expensive cut of beef, like rib eye roast, tenderloin roast, or prime rib should never be cooked low and slow,  that would be a waste! They should be cooked rare!

Every year I buy a half a cow and store it in my freezer.  I STRONGLY encourage this.  First, you will save money. Generally speaking, will get all the cuts of beef (steaks, roasts, etc) for the price of ground beef.  Second, you can get grass feed beef which is 10X HEALTHIER for you than corn fed cow.  Third, you are supporting local farmers, and eating grass fed cows is better for the environment.  Even though the farm I get my cow from isn't organic certified, these cows are pretty dang organic they are just eating the grass I am driving by every day on the way home. I even get to say to my kids, "look, there is dinner!"

Give yourself a minimum of 4 hours to cook a thawed out roast.  If it is frozen, give yourself 6.  I usually cook my thawed out roasts for 6 hours. Here is where many people say, "what about a crock pot?"  I say that crock pots are fine, but not my first choice.  Here is why, crock pots don't brown food. Even if you brown it before you put it in the crock pot, it won't continue to brown in the slow cooker.  One of my biggest rules is COLOR IS FLAVOR! 

How to Cook a Sunday Dinner Roast Beef:

Step 1:

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Place the roast fat side down in a heavy pot that has a lid. (I think a professional chef would say fat side up, but I like the meat to get brown, not the fat, plus the fat will melt and be in the braising liquid). Salt and pepper the heck out of it. Salt it like it is snowing, don't be shy.  Place in the hot oven to brown for about 45-60 minutes.

Step : 2

Once the meat is nice and brown and there are dark drippings at the bottom, remove from the oven.

Best beef base ever! Costco baby!
Step 3:

Now add to the pot;

A coarsely chopped onion
5-7 bay leaves
4-6 smashed garlic cloves
a big spoonful of beef base (pictured below)
Enough hot water to cover the meat half way.

Ready to go back in the oven

Step 6: 

Cover the pot with a lid and return to the oven.  Reduce the heat. For a 3 hr cook time, reduce to 325 degrees.  4 hour cook time--300 degrees.  5-6 hour cook time-- 275 degrees.  I have even cooked a roast for 12 + hours at 180 degrees.  The time can pretty forgiving. The more it cooks, the more tender it becomes.

Just out of the oven

Now you have all this lovely braising liquid to make gravy. You can watch my YouTube video to learn how to make easy gravy. Please like the video, these dislikes are cramping my style! How could you not like it? :)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Sweet and Sour Chicken

Picture taken by my vegetarian husband

My husband travels a lot for work.  Lucky for him, he has a fantastic wife who manages pretty well while he is away.  He likes to think of it as a fantastic team work, he's out on the frontline and I am holding down the fort.

When we met, he was a vegetarian, but it was quickly remedied by a diabolical plan. He began to eat beef only.  So when he went out of town, that is when I always cooked chicken. Pork and chicken week was code for, "Fairb's out of town".

Well recently, he decided he was a vegetarian again.  This time to lose weight.  Oh dear, this
won't do, this won't do at all.  Lucky for him, I always cook plenty of veg,  but I will always have beautiful, gracious, humble, giving animals on the menu.  So good news for me, I don't have to wait until he goes out of town to cook chicken, because I'm not coddling to a stinking vegetarian, that's for sure!  So recently, while he was in town,  I made one of my favorite dishes, sweet and sour chicken.

Sweet and Sour Chicken
First, dice up 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts and marinated it for a few hours in;

1 egg
splash of soy sauce
splash of cooking rice wine
splash of pineapple juice
splash of ketcup
3 smashed garlic cloves
small quartered onion

Meanwhile,  thin sliced carrots, cut 1 red pepper and 1 onion.   Also cut up a fresh pineapple into chunks.  You are welcome to eat a few chunks, just don't get a canker!
Time to make the sauce. 
1/2 cup pineapple juice
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar

Boil above ingredients together and thicken with a corn starch slurry (1 part corn starch 1 part water).  While it is boiling, slowly add the slurry and whisk, continue until it reaches the desired consistency. 

Now that the prep work is done, its time to get cooking.  Drain the chicken from its marinade and discard the onions and garlic.  Coat the chicken lightly with some flour.  

Get your wok or pan smoking hot, and add about 3 T vegetable or peanut oil in the pan. Add the chicken add stir fry till the chicken is cooked throughout.  Remove the chicken from the pan, and add more oil. Allow the pan to get smoking hot again.  Add the vegetables and pineapple and stir fry till tender crisp.  Add the chicken back in then add the warmed sauce.

Serve with rice.  This is a fantastic chicken dish.  Sorry Vegetarian Fairb.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Epic Saga of Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup: Part VI The Soup A Heartwarming Conclusion

The ultimate comfort food: Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup
It's a chilly fall evening, the cool wind is sweeping the dead leaves about the yard.  Your manly husband come home early from work and is building a fire in the fireplace.  You've got some leftover roasted chicken and plenty of homemade chicken stock in the freezer.  Now this can either turn into a trashy romance novel story, or the perfect story about making homemade chicken noodle soup.  I prefer the later, thank you very much! 
For the perfect homemade chicken noodle soup, it's a must to make your own noodles! Using my recipe, your dough should be happily resting on the counter before you begin to make the soup.

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

1 onion chopped
1-2 cups chopped carrots
1-2 cups chopped celery (including celery tops)

Sauté the above ingredients in about 1 T of that fabulous chicken fat you reserved when you made your homemade stock (otherwise use butter).  You only need to sauté briefly to release their aroma.  Add ;

1-2 cups chopped potatoes. Season everything lightly with salt and fresh pepper.

  Add two quarts homemade chicken stock to the pot and about 2 c water.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer until potatoes and carrots are tender.  Notice how I didn't have you add any spices? No sage, no thyme, no rosemary.  The stock stands on its own! That is what good homemade stock is!  
Return the soup to a brisk boil and drop in the homemade noodles (cut them so they aren't too long). 

Chop the leftover chicken into bite sizes and add to the soup. You can garnish the soup with parsley, if you want a little pretty factor.   

And the soup and the homemade rolls rode off together into the sunset. . . . . . .


Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Epic Saga of Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup: Part III-- Homemade Noodles

The Star of Chicken Noodle soup should be the noodles.  The only way to make that happen is to make your own noodles.  It also happens this recipe makes fantastic pasta for just about any sauce you can think of.   You can also make this recipe with Semolina flour, which most pasta is made from.  I use regular flour and get great results. Different between homemade pasta and regular-old pasta from a package you ask?  That stuff doesn't have eggs, it only has Durham wheat, go check you package, I'm not lying!  The eggs is what makes homemade pasta so much more superior. To make my pasta, I have the pasta roller attachment.  My husband bought it for me for Mother's Day once, and it was just about the most romantic thing he has ever done for me.  It still brings a tear to my eye!  The pasta roller is incredibly convenient, fun and wonderful. If we are BFF's you can even borrow mine.  However, you don't have a pasta roller, you can still use this recipe and hand roll and cut the pasta.

Making the Pasta dough
2 cups flour
pinch of salt
3 large eggs
2-4 T water (maybe)
Crack the eggs in middle of the flour, and with a dough hook, begin to combine.  Occasionally you will have to scrape the flour back into the center of the dough.  It will soon become apparent that the eggs won't be enough to make this into a dough.  Add 1 T of water and see if this does the trick, if it doesn't, continue to add water 1 T at a time till the dough forms a ball.  Knead it with the hook for about 2 minutes.  The dough should be tight and stiff and probably not entirely smooth.

Once you have a ball, put it in a plastic bag and let it rest on the counter for a minimum of 30 minutes.  If you let it rest longer it might be better.   Letting it rest changes the texture of the dough.  It makes it softer and more elastic.

Now if you have a pasta roller and cutter, now is the time to get it out. You work the dough in small batches (split the ball into about 6 balls).You have to run it through the first stage 5 or 6 times to work the dough. You fold it in half every time and run it through again. After that, you move the roller up and run it through without folding it until its the thinness you like.  I did my pasta a 4.

If you don't have a pasta roller,  you can roll it out by hand.  You still need to roll it out then fold it in half and roll it out again about 5 times.  On the last roll, roll it out as thin as you can and then cut it to desired thickness with a pizza cutter or a knife.

You do not need to let it dry.  Once it is cut, you can drop straight into the boiling soup or the boiling water.   If you let it dry for whatever reason, make sure it is drying on a well floured surface so it doesn't stick.  You will just have to let it boil longer.  Otherwise about 3 minutes is all it needs. The rumors are you can freeze the pasta if you don't want to cook it right away, but I can say these are just rumors as far as I am concerned, I have never tried it.

Find out next exactly what boiling pot of soup you should be dropping these fantastic noodles in!


Monday, November 14, 2011

The Epic Saga of Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup PART II: Chicken Stock

Homemade Chicken Stock, it separates the good soup from the soup people tell you is good, but they don't really mean it. Ever been to a great restaurant and had the best soup of your life and thought to yourself,  how the flip did they make this soup?  That restaurant makes their own stock, trust me.  So today is the day you tell Swanson's to kiss off, because today is the day you start making your own stock.   When people tell you that they like your soup, they are going to mean it!

Instead of throwing away all the skin and bones leftover from a Sunday Roasted Chicken, we are going to use them! Everything you can rangle up, everything left over when you strained your gravy.  Heck you can even take all the leftovers from all the kids plates who SWORE they cook eat all that.  Why not?  Throw everything into a big pot and cover it with water by about 2 or 3 inches.   If you didn't have much by way of vegetables and onions, add a few more to the pot  for good measure.  Give the water a good taste.  Can you taste the salt?  If you can, leave it, it just kind of tastes like greasy water, then add some salt till you can taste it.

Pot ready to get simmering!
Bring the pot to a boil and then turn it down to medium and cover.  Let boil for at least 1 hour.  Once it has boiled, strain the liquid from all the stuff.  Once you strained it, you want to run it through a fine sieve. The stock will have the chicken grease in it, and you don't want that in your stock, or your soup will have a oil slick on the top, and you don't want that.  So you need to seperate it. If you have one of these, you are money ---------------------->
If you don't, there are many other ways to separate the fat from the stock.  One way is to put it in a bowl, put it in the fridge and let the fat float to the top and solidify, then scoop it off.  Another way is to put into a used milk jug. After a few minutes the fat will float to the top.  Once it has separated, just put the jug over a bowl and poke a hole in the bottom of it.  Stop the flow into the bowl once it gets down to the fat.  

But heavens to betsy, do not throw away that fat! It is darn useful.  Not only can you use it to sauté onions for your soups, but you can use to make other things tasty! Roast carrots or squash in it.  Its like gold!
The chicken fat "gold"

 From two chicken leftover carcasses, I made 5 quarts of stock.  I put them in jars and put them straight in the freezer.  They will be there at my beckon call for vitually any use.   Of course the greatest of these uses is HOMEMADE CHICKEN NOODLE SOUP! Stay tuned . . . . .

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Epic Saga of Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup PART I: Roasted Chicken

This begins the four part series on how to make the ultimate homemade chicken noodle soup.  Most of you will probably quit reading, because you would never make something that would take you 4 recipes just to make it. Tell that to Julia Child (have you read "Mastering the Art of French Cooking"? Jeez Louise!) The reality is, chicken noodle soup is made from left over Sunday Roast Chicken.  You will be merely trying to be resourceful and recycling your leftovers. 

When I go to the grocery store and see those sad, pathetic boneless chicken breasts, I pity them.  I pity them because anything that has been good or flavorful about them has been robbed from them.  Chicken needs its skin and bones to have any decent flavor.  

Sunday isn't the only day you can enjoy a roasted chicken, but around our house, ROASTED and Sunday go hand in hand.  I have read many recipes about roasting chicken, but I have never read done like I do it.  Frankly, this is the way my mother taught me, and I didn't know there was another way until I started reading cookbooks for fun.  Mother always knows best.

First of all, if you are going to roast a chicken, you might as well roast two. Because then you will have plenty of leftovers for other recipes, and well, they come in a convenient two pack at the mother ship (aka Costco). 

Sunday Roasted Chicken

Step 1

Get out your roasting pan and line the bottom with any great aromic vegetables you have.  I use onion (a must) carrots, celery with the leaves, and a small handful of garlic cloves (a must).

Step 2

Discard the gibblets and the neck and such and rinse and dry the chickens.  Place them on top of the vegetables.

Step 3

Stuff the inside of the chickens with a small onion quartered and a few garlic cloves. 

Step 4

LIBERALLY (meaning salt and pepper the heck out of it)  salt and pepper the outside of the chicken.  Dot the top of the chicken with a few pads of butter.  Tie together the legs, if you care to (optional, I don't always do it)

This is what it should look like before it goes in the oven
Step 5

Put in a 450 degree oven for around 30-45 minutes to brown. Browning is where the flavor comes from!
The Chicken Base

Step 6

Add a heaping spoonful of chicken base to the bottom of the pan, then add enough water to barely cover the vegetables.

Step 7

Sprinkle the top with a few pinches of rubbed sage, and add about 6-7 bay leaves.

Before you cover it to go back into the oven
Step 8

Cover the chicken with tin foil, and reduce the oven to 300 degrees.   Return the chicken to the oven and roast for 2 1/2-3 1/2 (whatever works into your schedule.  I'm flexible!)

Out pops a perfectly delcious and tender roasted chicken to enjoy.  You most likely will make some fabulous gravy with the drippings (watch my tutorial here) But whatever you do, don't dispose of any drippings or caracas, we need to make some chicken stock!

Stay tuned for the next installment of "The Epic saga of Homemade chicken noodle soup! Daa! Daa! Daaaaaa! ( that was my cliffhanger music)