chicken soup with rice

This is one that I make whenever Hill or I are feeling under the weather or generally in need of some clean simple food.  (served here with some spinach salad and some bok choy with black bean sauce)

Our local super market has packages of murray’s free range chicken soup bones.  It’s just all the stuff that’s left when they butcher up the whole chickens to turn them into boneless/skinless breasts and etc..  49 cents a pound or something, and perfect for making stock.  You can also do it with a quartered up whole chicken, but you’ll end up with quite a lot more meat than you need (no problem!  Save it to make some flautas or something!)

  • Chicken
  • Carrots
  • Celery
  • Onions
  • Ginger
  • Garlic
  • Thai Chile
  • Scallions
  • Jasmine Rice

Put a little oil in the bottom of a nice big dutch oven and heat over medium high heat.  Toss in your bits of chicken and lightly pan roast them for a few minutes.  Add a couple of onions cut into sixths, two or three large carrots peeled and cut into inch long pieces, 3 or 4 big stalks of celery also cut into inches.  Add a few whole garlic cloves and a couple of big chunks of peeled ginger, and one or two thai chiles cut in half lengthwise.  Keep everything moving until it starts to release a nice smell.  Add water to cover.  If you have water heating in a kettle in the meantime, it’ll save you a lot of time bringing everything up to a boil.  Once the whole mess is boiling, reduce the heat to a low low simmer..   practically just a steep!  It may take a while to get the heat just right, but it’s my feeling that the stock ends up much better if you never boil it HARD.  Just hot enough that the surface ripples a little.  Skim the scum off the top (once usually does it!  but you may have to skim again later).

Leave it!  Let it sit for an hour and a half or so. Use this method to make chicken stock anytime you need it.  If you leave out the ginger and thai chile, you’ll have a very neutral and versatile stock.

In the mean time, make a pot of jasmine, or other long grain white rice (not basmati!  that’ll just taste weird).

Peel and thinly slice an onion.

Peel and thinly slice some garlic cloves (nice thin discs).

Peel and julienne some ginger.

Coarsely chop scallions.

When the stock is done, strain it into a big bowl using a colander (don’t make the mistake of straining it through the colander and straight down the drain!!!   This is easier to do than you think!  Usually you keep what goes in the colander instead of what goes through it, and force of habit is strong!!!).  When the chicken bones have cooled enough, pick off the meat and reserve.  Toss everything else!  The good stuff is all in the stock

You’re ready to assemble!

Back in the Dutch oven, heat a little oil (vegetable oil, and a little splash of toasted sesame).  Toss in garlic and ginger followed quickly by the sliced onion.  Sweat these for just a few moments and then add the chicken.  Add the stock and soy sauce to taste, bring it all up to heat, and then just let it sit for 15 minutes or so.

Prepare bowls with rice and chopped scallion.  Ladle soup over the top and eat!

gnocchi

Last night we had gnocchi for dinner.  I make them frequently, but last night’s were particularly good and I decided that I should probably put up some directions!

I should start by saying that my approach to gnocchi isn’t really the classic one, but what I’ve landed on is pretty devine.  I always pan fry them on the way to the plate.  The truth is that standard gnocchi are a sort of gummy affair that I don’t really care for (this goes triply for the store bought variety that are made to put up with rough handling and REALLY suffer for it).  Pan fried, however, they become an absolute delicacy, and a tremendous way to eat up potatoes!  I also don’t roll mine off the back of a fork to give them the shape they’re named for (gnocchi=knuckles).

The technique seems daunting and a little messy, and I think most people assume it’s too much work.  Not at all.  After a few times, you’ll find that you can do it quickly and efficiently while you’re doing the prep work for whatever else you’re making.

Like this!

You’ll need:

Russet potatoes

All purpose flour

Egg

Cover the potatoes (whole) with water in a big pot, and bring the water to a boil.  Lower the temperature a little and let them boil until fork tender, about 45 minutes.

Remove from the water and using a potato ricer, or a sieve and the back of a spoon, rice the potatoes onto a clean dry work surface.  Cover the riced potato with a thin layer of flour.  (“EzRA!!!   how much!!”  “don’t panic.. we will discuss”)

Once the potato has cooled just a little, fold the flour and potato together and make a mound with a well in the center.  Crack the egg into the well, and whisk it with a fork, slowly incorporating dry ingredients until the fork stops being useful.  Switch to your hands, and GENTLY knead the mixture until all the ingredients are evenly mixed.  IMPORTANT!  You are not making bread here.  You are kneading simply to mix the ingredients, not to develop the gluten content!!  That’s it!  Done.

Now.  Let’s discuss amounts.  The job of the flour in gnocchi is to hold the little buggers together.  Too little flour, and they’ll fall apart when you boil them and you’ll be left with VERY thin potato soup.  Too much flour, however, and they’ll be gummy and gross, and tast like..  well.. flour.  I am going to refuse in this case to give you amounts, because it’s much better just to develop an intuitive sense for it, and it’s way sexier to cook without a bunch of measuring cups and scales on your counter.  Further more, potatoes come in all sorts of sizes, and it’s my guess that the moisture content from one to another will vary etc..  so to say x amount of flour per potato wouldn’t really get to the heart of it.

So here’s how you should do it.  Have a big pot of boiling water water ready and waiting for you.  Follow the instructions above using as little flour as you think you’ll be able to get away with.  Once you’ve got your big ball of gnocchi dough, pinch off a piece, shape it into a little pillow, and toss it into the boiling water.  If it disappears in the boiling water, you used too little flour.  If it’s good, it’ll stay whole and rise to the top when it’s done.  Pull it out and taste it.  Easy!  If you had too little flour, knead in a little more and try again.  Using this method, you can avoid loosing an entire batch!  Test first!

Once you’ve established that your dough is good, prepare a BIG ice bath (as discussed here).  Divide your ball of dough into 4 manageable pieces.  Working in batches on a lightly floured surface, roll a ball out into a long snake, about a half inch in diameter and then cut/pinch off individual gnocchi using the edge of a wooden spatula.  Immediately toss the batch into boiling water.  When the gnocchi rise to the top, pull them out with a sieve and deposit them in the ice bath.  Repeat until all the gnocchi are done.  When you’re quite sure that they’ve all cooled, strain them in a colander, and toss with a splash of oil.

The wonderful thing about this ice bath technique for making gnocchi is that you have them now in a suspended state.  They’re ready to go the moment you want to fire them, but won’t suffer by sitting around.  You can, in fact, put them in the fridge and use them tomorrow!  If you decide that you want to eat them the classic way, simply boiled, all you need to do is return them to boiling water moments before you want to serve them.  This makes the timing a very relaxed business.

We eat them in a number of different ways.  Often with a nice braised lamb ragu and fresh mint!  My favorite way lately, however is just pan fried in butter and tossed with a little bit of sage.  Perfect.

Over medium/high heat, cover the bottom of a nonstick, or well seasoned cast iron pan with a 50/50 mix of olive oil and good butter.  When the butter begins to froth, slide in your gnocchi.  DON’T CROWD THE PAN.  Work in batches, or multiple pans if you need to.  Let them just sit, shaking the pan now and then to make sure they’re not sticking.  When you’re pretty sure that you’ve got a satisfying brown on the first side, wrist flip the pan a few times to re-arrange and keep browning.  Repeat until you’re satisfied.  Right at the end, toss in some julienned sage and serve.  You won’t be disappointed!  A little Parmesan on top doesn’t hurt anything at all, but you may find you don’t even need it.

Advanced version:   Here’s a nice little twist that you can do.  It’s what I did last night.  While the potatoes are boiling, pour a quarter cup or so of olive oil in a small skillet.  Put some garlic and fresh herbs in the oil..  sage, thyme, rosemary.  Put a little heat under the oil, but only for a moment..  then just let it steep.  When you’re making the gnocchi, add some of this oil (discard the herbs) to the well with the egg.  Use the rest of it when you fry them up! Your gnocchi will end up with a beautiful subtle herb-y aftertaste.

UPDATE!

On the subject of egg: Mario Batali uses a little when he makes gnocchi.  So while it is certainly not traditional, I can live with myself!!

Salt!  Yes.  In short.  Though I don’t actually put any in the dough.  I liberally salt the boiling water, and I use salted butter when I pan fry them.

It’s been hot hot in NYC

This July only missed being the hottest on record here in NYC by a few tenths of a degree.  So far August hasn’t shown much change.  It makes the “what do you want for dinner?” question a little harder to answer!

Last night it was a cold pasta with seafood.

You’ll need

Baby octopus

Squid (tentacles only if you can convince the person at the seafood counter.  Hill had no trouble).

Bay scallops

Shallots

Lemon

Basil

Parsley

and some other really obvious stuff.

Start by making a cold seafood salad.

Sear the scallops in olive oil with some yellow mustard seed. Please don’t over cook.  With little bay scallops this will only take a minute.  Boil the octopus in well salted water (and a splash of vinegar).  They’ll need 8-10 minutes.  When you have just a couple of minutes to go, add the squid tentacles and finish them off together.  Drain and rinse with cold water until they’re cool.  Cut all of this up into bite sized bits (feeding whatever you think is unsightly to your appreciative dog).

Combine the seafood in a bowl with olive oil, mashed garlic, thinly sliced shallot, sherry vinegar, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and let it sit and marinate for half an hour or so.  If you start the pasta water AFTER you’ve done all this, the timing will work out pretty well!

When the pasta is done, either ice bath it or rinse it with cold water until cool.  Toss with the seafood salad, adding torn up basil, parsley, and some coarsely chopped grape or cherry tomato.  You’ll probably have to add a little olive oil.. maybe another squeeze of lemon.  Salt.  Pepper.  You know.  We had it with a green salad.

Enjoy.

In other news:  It’s summer streets time again in NYC.  For three Saturdays in August, the DOT shuts down car traffic on Lafayette and Park Avenue so that people can run walk and ride bikes unmolested by honking horns.  It’s gotten a little bigger and better each year.  This year there are dumpster pools along the route, which is pretty wild.  You can find info including the hours and the route here.  The DOT has been kind enough to ask me to show bikes again.  I’ll be at Spring and Lafayette from around 7am until the street sweepers come by and the cars come back at 1pm.  Please come out and visit!  You may even see Spidey!

orange fish

Salt and pepper..   don’t fuck it up.  Best recipe ever!  It’s a little like the instruction to photographers (attributed to various people) “f8 and be there.”  In both cases, the second half of the instruction is the important part.

This, to me, is one of the ultimate salt and pepper recipes.

Hill often requests orange fish.  We buy whatever looks good.  Most often arctic char (pictured above), but also steelhead trout, king salmon, or even rainbow trout.  The method works the same for all of them. It’s tremendously simple, and may not sound like anything special, but try it and it will become your default way for cooking orange fish.

Liberally salt and pepper the skin side.  Also generously sprinkle with mustard seed.

Preheat the oven to..  HOT.

Get an oven safe heavy bottomed pan nice and hot, just cover the bottom with oil, and slide the fish in skin side down.  Shake the pan a little to make sure it doesn’t stick.  When the meat at the sides of the fillet starts to get cloudy, transfer the whole operation into the oven.  DON’T FLIP THE FISH!  and here’s the don’t fuck it up part: DON’T OVERCOOK* Pull the fish out a little before it’s done and transfer it to a cutting board to rest for a moment.  Divide and serve.

You can serve it with either side up.  The skin becomes a delicious crispy chip that pulls away from the meat very easily.  We often eat it covered in pan roasted brussel sprout leaves.  Also great with a dill buerre blanc.  Pretty soon ramps will start showing up at farmers markets..  This fish with sauteed ramps on top is too many beautiful!

Please try it!

* “don’t overcook!?  but how will I know??”  I’m not sure that I can give a very satisfying answer here.  I generally just push on it gently with a finger, and when it gives just the right amount of resistance (or lack of it) I know it’s done.  You’ll figure it out.  The first couple of times, you can stick a knife in and see what the color is like in the fattest part of the fillet.  Orange fish goes opaque when fully cooked.  You want the very center to NOT be fully cooked..  still a little darker orange and translucent.  Whether you want it to or not, it will continue to cook on its way to the plate, so you need to pull it a little early.  Overcooking the stuff is definitely the easiest way to fuck it up.  And if you bought a decent piece of fish, undercooked isn’t so bad at all!

Saint Patrick’s *cough*

On Saint Patrick’s day, I like to make corned beef and cabbage and potatoes.  I’m not sure whether or not it’s actually even traditional, but it seems fitting, and it’s the one time of the year that I do it.  Hillary was not pleased.  She’s generally pretty trusting and likes what I put in front of her, but she did NOT want corned beef.  I made it anyway.

I did, however, make it in a very different way than usual.  Rather than boiling everything in the same big pot until it hoisted some sort of white flag in submission as is the norm, I braised the brisket, and the cabbage (separately), and roasted the potatoes.

I will do an instructional on braising meat soon.  I promise.  It’s a wonderful way to cook, and anyone can do it.  It makes you a real hero.

But the real break from tradition (I think..  though my grasp on the tradition is a little fuzzy obviously) was to serve it all with a fresh horseradish mayo.  It was outstanding.

Google yourself a good recipe for mayonnaise.. yes.  make your own.

For the horseradish part: peel and chop into fairly small pieces as much horseradish as you think you’ll need.  Put it in a food processor with a splash of water for lubrication. Once it’s well chopped up, add a little bit of white vinegar and mix.  Let this sit for a while.  Add to the mayo with a little salt and pepper.  I’ll let you figure out how much to add.  (be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid. Right?)

Put this on meat, roasted potatoes.   sandwiches.  whatever.

Caul fat!

Hill’s b-day was last week.  We had some folks over, and I made a sort of greek inspired meal, including these lamb sausages.  Caul fat, also called fat netting, is super cool stuff!  When you cook it, the fat renders down completely (much of it getting absorbed into the meat) and creates a very delicate casing.

Getting it, however, can be a little tricky.  I called about 8 butchers around the city and found little joy.  I made a call to a nearby whole foods.  It’s not a supermarket that I usually go to, but I figured that if they had the stuff, I’d brave it.  I was patched through to their butcher.  “Do you have caul fat?”  “What?” “Caul fat..  fat netting.  Do you carry it?”  “we don’t sell any kind of fat.”  I didn’t bother to try to explain it.

Finally it occurred to me to try a place in Astoria.  Astoria, for those of you outside of NYC, is a Greek neighborhood in queens and is a glorious place for food shopping.  After a quick web search, I was on the phone with a very nice man at Mediterranean Foods on 31st st.  “Do you have caul fat” “yup..  How much do you need?”  It sort of caught me off guard.  He said “yup” as though I had asked for hamburger meat..  Or chicken leg quarters.  “I’m not sure,” I said, “I’ve never used it!”

The stuff behaves a little like plastic wrap.  It clings to itself pretty well and cuts easily with kitchen shears, so wrapping things up in it is a snap.  I’ll play around with this a bit and then post a few ideas.  In the mean time, go find some and play!

More soon!