Lemon-Chili Chicken Soup

Hello, friends.  I am sick.  Slobbery, sniveling, and sick.  As I sat half-delirious in my statistics class yesterday (not only because I was sick, but because, well, statistics), all I wanted to do was crawl into a nice warm hole with a fuzzy blanket and a piping hot bowl of soup.  I may or may not have daydreamed about hot, luscious steam pouring over my face, and an intensely flavored broth slipping down my throat, instead of paying attention to lecture... And indeed, this soup finally took shape in my mind and I was hell-bent on making it.  I perused the grocery store shelves for longer than is appropriate, then trudged back to John's apartment with my arms and backpack full of goodies for the days to come.  When I want comfort food, I want comfort food.  Lots of it.

One peanut-and-raspberry-jam sandwich to restore my strength, several tissues, and much stirring later, my panacea, elixir, nectar of the gods, nomnoms, what have you, emerged from a veil of mouth-watering steam.  While I was pleased with the result, I've tweaked the recipe for you below to reflect what in restrospect I would've done differently.  Whenever I get around to making this soup again I shall adjust it accordingly.  Perhaps all yee sick little ducklings out there can experiment too, and let me know how it turns out.

Lemon-Chili Chicken Soup

2 chicken breasts, bone-in and skin-on
~1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons canola oil (or other neutral-tasting oil)
1 lemon
6 scallions
1 small red chili
2 stalks lemon grass
~2 inch knob fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic
~10 cups water
2 tablespoons honey
~1 teaspoon Sriracha
2 tablespoons soy sauce
~1/2 Napa cabbage
~1 generous handful snow peas
4 oz vermicelli noodles

Warm the oil over medium-high to high heat until it begins to ripple.  Season the skin-side of the chicken with salt, then place carefully into the hot oil, skin-side down.  Season the other side of the chicken, then prepare the aromatics.  Quarter the lemon and scrape out the seeds.  Chop the roots off 4 of the scallions, then chop them in half width-wise.  Cut the ginger into 4 even pieces, and the lemon grass into 3.  Don't bother peeling either the ginger or the garlic.  Toss the lemon, scallions, ginger, lemon grass, garlic, and chili into the hot oil with the chicken.  Make sure the chili is in contact with the oil so that it chars.  Once the chicken has browned sufficiently, ~10 minutes, pour in the water.  This isn't an exact amount, so use your judgment, but you want to end up with ~8 cups of broth.

Bring the mixture up to a boil over high heat, then cover and reduce the heat to medium-low.  Add in the honey, Sriracha, and soy sauce, and simmer for ~20 minutes, until the chicken is thoroughly cooked.  Remove the chicken from the pot once it's cooked and let cool.  Once it's reached a temperature where you won't burn your hands, separate the skin and bones from the meat.  I pulled the breast off the bone, then picked out all the other meat from the cartilage and between the bones.  Reserve the meat and add the other items back into the pot.  I only ended up using one full breast, plus the scattered other bits of meat from both breasts, in the final product, so now I have a poached chicken breast in the fridge waiting to be used for something else yummy.

Once the chicken skin and bones are back in the pot, let the broth simmer for ~20 more minutes (it had simmered ~20 minutes before I added these things back in).  You'll want to taste the broth to make sure you've extracted enough flavor and that the seasonings are right.  Adjust the amount of honey, soy sauce, and Sriracha as needed.

Strain the broth through a fine-mesh seive to extract the solids.  Return the broth to the stove, and bring it back up to a boil.  Add the rice noodles, then let them cook ~3 minutes.  I used scissors to cut up the unweildy strands as they cooked and became pliable, but that's up to you.  Once the noodles have cooked, shut off the heat, then add in the chicken (having been pulled apart into bite-sized pieces), chopped cabbage, snow peas, and remaining 2 scallions (chopped finely).

Roasted Broccoli and Egg Skillet

These past couple weeks have been long ones, dear readers.  I've been trying to think of something witty to write for you all day, and I tried for the molè post as well.  I even tried to make granola bars on Friday, but I seem to be incapable even of baking, since I meddled too much with the ingredients and overworked the crust in my impatience.  Perhaps, now that I've let off some steam this weekend, and have gotten a chance to come up for air, I will be able to bake and write well again.  A sparkle of creativity this morning, however, yielded this post, which I wanted to share with you.  It's more of a suggestion or a source of inspiration than a recipe, but I think it's worth posting.

On Friday night, I made whole wheat peanut noodles with broccoli, bean sprouts, and snow peas.  I didn't share with you, since I'm still perfecting my peanut sauce, and I want it to be the best it can be before I tell you about it.  I used the broccoli florets, draining the cooked pasta over them in a colander to blanch them only slightly, and I was pleased with the barely soft exterior and brightened flavor.  I was left, however, with an abundance of broccoli stalks.  For some reason, the broccoli I find at the local grocery store, Hyde Park Produce, has much longer, thinner stalks than the broccoli I've found elsewhere.  But this is not at all a problem for me, since I like the stalks even better than florets.  This may be surprising to you, since it's a generally accepted practice simply to throw away these gems in favor of the more popular florets.  You will be pleased to know that broccoli stalks are just as edible, and perhaps even more delicious.  Just cut off the bottoms and make one pass over the top-most layer of skin with a vegetable peeler, and you have a rejuvinated vegetable with all the sweet, grassy flavors characteristic of broccoli, with a unique crunch and distinctive nutty undertones.

So for breakfast this morning, I made use of this superior vegetable, tossing little medallions of broccoli stalk with olive oil, salt, crushed red pepper, and dried thyme.  If I'd had fresh herbs on hand, I definitely would've used them.  Feel free to use whatever herbs are your favorites.  Having spread them out onto a cast iron skillet, I popped them in a piping hot oven to roast.  After roasting for a few minutes, I added in sliced almonds, and let them toast as well.  Then just make a little well for each egg, crack it into the pan, and sprinkle with shredded cheese.  I used a sweet and nutty, yet mild cheese, but I'm not sure what variety it was in particular, having already discarded the package - if you remember my post about cheese, yes, I'm still trying to get through it all.  Let the eggs cook and the cheese melt, and you've got a skillet full of yummy, dare-I-say-healthy breakfast.

Roasted Broccoli and Egg Skillet, for me myself and I
these measurements are approximate - feel free to experiment

5 long, thin broccoli stems
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1 sprinkle sea salt
1 pinch of dried thyme, crushed between your fingers
1 handful sliced almonds
2 eggs
1 handful nutty shredded cheese of choice

Preheat your oven to 450° F.  Clean the broccoli stalks by trimming off the very ends and peeling just the outer layer of skin with a vegetable peeler.  Slice into medallions, then toss with olive oil and seasonings.  Spread in an even layer over the cast iron skillet, then roast in the oven for ~3 minutes.  Sprinkle on the almonds, then roast for another ~3 minutes. 

Once the almonds have gained a lightly golden-brown color and you can smell the broccoli from the oven, remove the pan and stir the almonds into the broccoli.  Make as many wells as you have eggs, crack your eggs into the cleared space, and sprinkle over the cheese.  Return to the oven ~3 minutes until the egg whites have set and the cheese is melted.  Remove from the oven, and devour without burning your hand on the pan or your tongue on your piping hot breakfast.

Molè Oaxaqueño

Okay, I'm from New Hampshire, so I must ask you this: have you ever eaten molè?  I mean, real molè.  Because I'd never even seen it in person, until last week, when my Oaxacan-turned-Californian friend Pam and I finally found the opportunity to make it together.  Such ingredients aren't that readily available in New Hampshire; so imagine my delight at all the awesome products we found at the Latin American grocery store we visited in Pilsen.  You'll probably be seeing an extensive post about tamales on this site at some point, since I treated myself to a lot of corn husks and masa, in addition to Mexican oregano and coffee.  But, of course, molè is the focus for today's post, and so I should tell you that we purchased dried guajillo and ancho chilis, avocado leaves, plantains, and Mexican drinking chocolate at this magical store as well.  I almost bought a tortilla press, people.  I was this close.  But I restrained myself.  I regret it.

Molè is a sauce with a myriad of variations depending on where you are in Mexico.  As I said before, Pam is from Oaxaca, and this is her family's recipe.  I was really very honored to be able to make this with her, and very glad that she let me share it here.  Some food experiences are incredibly context dependent, especially culturally significant dishes like this one.  So it's really important that she herself showed me how to do this, and that we cooked and ate it together, simply with the intent of enjoying a meal that was very close to her heart and allowing me to share that with her.  Thank you, Pam.  You're a dear.  Everyone, say hello to Pam (I really liked this in black and white, so here it is):

Molè Oaxaqueño

4 chicken thighs
~6 quarts water
2 onions
6 cloves garlic
~1 tablespoon salt, ~1 teaspoon ground black pepper

First, make the broth.  I suppose you could use pre-made chicken broth, but this method yields both broth for the sauce and chicken with which to serve the sauce.  

In a large stock pot, add the chicken thighs, onions which have been quartered but not peeled, garlic with the peel, and a generous amount of salt and pepper.  Cover with enough water to fill up about half the stock pot.  Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for a couple hours until the broth is full of flavor and the chicken is cooked.  Reserve ~1 c of the broth for the sauce.

15 dried guajillo chilis
15 dried ancho chilis
4 tomatoes
~4 c water
1/4 c canola oil
1 small onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, diced
1 handful each (see note above) of pecans, peanuts, almonds, avocado leaves, raisins
~1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
~1 teaspoon salt
~1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 cinnamon stick
1/3 c sesame seeds
1 piece stale, toasted bread, torn into small pieces
1 small plantain, skin removed
1 c reserved chicken broth
1.5 ounces Mexican drinking chocolate

Place the tomatoes and water in a small sauce pot, then simmer until the tomato flesh is soft.  Meanwhile, prepare the chilis by removing the stems and shaking out the seeds.  Place the cleaned chilis in a bowl and cover with boiling water, then let them steep until you need them.

In a medium skillet, warm the canola oil over medium heat.  Saute the onions until soft, then add in the garlic until both have browned.  Remove with a slotted spoon, leaving the oil.  Immediately add the pecans, peanuts, almonds, an appropriate amount of salt and pepper, oregano, and the cinnamon stick.  Toast everything for a few minutes until golden brown and fragrant, then remove the nuts with a slotted spoon and add to the onion and garlic.  Toast the avocado leaves for about a minute with the cinnamon stick, then remove those as well.  Do the same thing with the raisins, remove them, then with the sesame seeds and bread.  

In a strong blender, combine all of the items you've just toasted, including the cinnamon stick, and chicken stock.  If you're having trouble pureeing everything, add a little more chicken stock.  Pour the toasted nut and chicken stock mixture into a pot, add in the plantain whole, and cook over medium heat.  You'll know it's ready when the plantain breaks down and combines with the rest of the sauce, and when the sauce has come together as a paste that lifts away from the pan with stirring.

In the same blender (no need to wash it or even rinse it out), add in the soaked chilis and softened tomatoes. Add enough of the chili liquid to puree this mixture thoroughly.  You shouldn't be able to detect any shards of chili.  To be safe, you can strain it through a fine-mesh seive.  Once the nut-plantain sauce has become a paste as instructed above, pour in the chili-tomato sauce.  Simmer this mixture for ~1 hour, stirring occasionally.  Add in the chocolate and cook another ~1.5 hours until the sauce has darkened.  Pam and I ate this molè with the poached chicken, mashed plantains, and roasted corn and zucchini.  For the mashed plantains, all you need is:

2 plantains, peeled and quartered
1.5 c water
1 tablespoon canola oil

Just simmer these ingredients together until the plantains are completely soft, then mash.

Assorted Bagels and Vegetable Cream Cheese

I eat bagels probably more often than I should.  I try to be responsible about it: whole wheat bagels with lowfat veggie cream cheese, sesame bagel sandwiches with that cream cheese and generic salad fixings (lettuce, tomato, red onion, cucumber, you know), or one of the aforementioned varieties of bagel with lowfat plain cream cheese.  I can devour a bagel sandwich for lunch with one hand and hold/drink my coffee with the other as I walk between classes, so it's very convenient, and keeps me satisfied for a couple hours.  But they're Einstein bagels, which aren't the best... I'm not trying to be a hater, notsayin'justsayin', it's just that they don't approach the ultimate tastiness potential of the ideal bagel (thanks John, for letting me steal your tastiness potential phrase - it's a thing now).  

Homemade bagels, however, do approach this tastiness potential.  You should know that making bagels is a two-day process... Which is both really nice and kind of annoying.  Daddy, I want a golden egg nowwww.  Yeah, immediate gratifacation and homemade bagels don't go together (if you didn't get that Willy Wonka reference... I'm sorry, you didn't have a childhood).  But if you say to yourself hmmm, wouldn't it be lovely to have bagels for brunch tomorrow, then good-golly-oh-boy you're in luck, since most of the work is done the day before.  You bring the initial dough together and let it rise, then form the bagels and let them rise again, overnight.  The next day, get up ~90 minutes before you want to actually get up, take them out of the fridge to come to room temperature, and go back to sleep.  Then, finally, gloriously, you boil and bake all the bagels your heart desires, with your favorite toppings.  My lovely friend Tor made these with me - her favorite are salt bagels, and mine sesame, so we were sure to include those.  We also made poppy seed bagels and cinnamon sugar ones, which smell amazing when you toast them.  A couple words of advice on toppings?  Sprinkle them on immediately after boiling and right before baking, so they'll stick to the surface.  Also, regarding cinnamon sugar, don't add that until after baking.  Simply melt a little butter, brush it on right when the bagels come out of the oven, and top with the cinnamon sugar.  It'll make a crunchy, cinnamony crust as it cools.

I found the recipe for these bagels on Luisa Weiss' wonderful blog The Wednesday Chef, which I read pretty religiously.  There are a few blogs I check regularly, and I'm a huge fan of Luisa, and especially a fan of her posts about her son, Hugo.  I will sigh and exclaim what a precious baby, oh my goodness look how absolutely cute (s)he is, that is the most beautiful baby I've ever seen at most babies.  It's not that I'm indiscriminate, it's that I genuinely think most babies and toddlers are profoundly adorable.  So yes, I relish Luisa's posts about Hugo and what he's been eating and all the cute things he's been doing.  

Anyway, I feel like a bit of a cheater, since this is Peter Reinhart's recipe which was published by the Los Angeles Times that I found on Luisa's site.  So this recipe has already circulated in the food blogosphere, but really, it's that good.  I followed the recipe to the letter, which is something I don't usually do.  I almost always adapt recipes in some way, but really, this recipe is the way to go.  I mean, if it's good enough for Luisa Weiss, it's good enough for me.  I won't post the recipe below, since either of the above links will bring you to the same recipe.  Below is my recipe for vegetable cream cheese, which is less of a recipe and more of a technique (and it's great with the sesame bagels).  Tomorrow, I'm making mole with my wonderful friend Pam, so get excited about that (I know I am).

Vegetable Cream Cheese

8 ounces Neufchatel cheese (or full fat cream cheese, whatever you like)
7.5 ounces frozen spinach (3/4 of a package)
1 rib celery (or several ribs from the very center, with the leafy greens - that's what I used, and I encourage you to cook with these, especially with the leaves)
1 small carrot, peeled
4 chives
1 small handful parsley
~1 teaspoon salt

Let the cheese come to room temperature so that it mixes easily with the veggies.  Defrost the frozen spinach, either at room temperature for a couple hours or in the microwave.  Take small handfuls and ring out as much water as possible, then add to the cheese.  Chop the celery, chives, and parsley finely, and add those in as well.  Grate the carrot with a box grater or microplane (with the box grater, use one of the smaller sizes - I used the one that's second smallest, on the skinnier side of the grater) and add in as well.  Mix, then add salt to taste, and slather onto your favorite bagel.

Sundried Tomato Focaccia

This recipe is a little luxurious, people.  Bread involves so few ingredients that it's important to use the best ones...

Okay, maybe not the best.  A $200 bottle of olive oil is a leetle excessive (read: very excessive, but maybe someday reasonably excessive, when I'm a famous linguist having discovered the language family to which Basque belongs).   I'm just trying emphasize the notion that ingredients should taste full and honest, like a ripe peach in season or a perfectly toasted almond.  A perfect summer peach will taste of nectar and sun and fragrant, blooming flowers - roasted almonds, of warmth and caramel, of dried leaves stirred by autumn wind.  And you can feel the flavors melding on your tongue, rising and settling into your consciousness as a thought, the thought that peaches and almonds should be this way, that somehow they were meant to be this way, not for any other reason but that they elevate you to this place of simultaneously conscious and carnal pleasure - that they taste wonderful in this complex, intellectual way.

I hope you, reader, understand this, because this is how I feel about food.  This is why I care about cooking for myself and others: I experience food this way and want to share it with those whom I care about.  Sure, I don't subscribe to this intellectual process of eating all the time, nor do I always care so deeply about the fullness and honesty of my food.  After all, I'm feasting on gummy bears as I write this, and I'm pretty sure there's very little that is pure about these.  They're Black Forest gummy bears though, so they're by far superior to all other brands of gummy bears I've eaten.  But you get my point.  Yes?

Back to the focaccia.  My digression is to say that if you're going to go through the trouble of making bread, and focaccia no less, you should splurge a little, a leetle, on some nice olive oil.  I mean, you're going to need a whole cup of it.


Yes, a whole cup of delicious, peppery, fruity olive oil.  I had a bottle of Gremolata olive oil, infused with the essential oils of lemon and garlic, from Saratoga Olive Oil Co. which was perfect for such an application as this, where the star of the show is the oil.  And just for kicks, since I happened to have some organic sundried tomatoes, I plopped a few of those on there before baking.  If my whole rant about peaches and almonds and olive oil is already too much for you, but you want to make this recipe anyway, feel free to leave off the accoutrements.  The original recipe from Anne Burrell did not include them, just a [heavy] sprinkle of coarse sea salt.  I ate mine warm and plain for breakfast this morning, without butter or [more] olive oil, and its texture was both crusty and cloudy, its flavor bursting with the lovely fruitiness of olive oil without being utterly saturated or distracting.  I think a healthy slab would be an awesome dunker for a big, piping hot bowl of soup.

Sundried Tomato Focaccia

1 3/4 c warm (90-100° F) water
1 package active dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
5 c unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
~2 tablespoons coarse sea salt
1 c extra virgin olive oil
~10 sundried tomatoes, chopped roughly

Bloom the yeast with the honey and water for ~15 minutes.  To this mixture add the flour, kosher salt, and 1/2 c olive oil.  Mix with a wooden spoon or your hands until the dough comes together, then knead on a clean, well-floured surface for ~8 minutes until soft and tacky, but not sticky.

Coat a clean, dry bowl with a little olive oil, and place the kneaded ball of dough in.  Turn the dough around in the bowl to cover it with olive oil also, cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel, and let rise in a warm place ~1 hour until doubled.

Pour remaining 1/2 c olive oil in a sheet pan and tilt to cover the entire surface.  Place your risen dough in the puddle of olive oil and spread it to fill out the entire pan.  As you spread and stretch the dough, turn it over a couple times to coat it with the oil, and dig your fingers into it to create holes in the dough.  This may seem weird, like your hurting the dough or something, but you need to do this to create the characteristically dimpled surface of the focaccia.  Once it's encompassing the entire pan, covered in oil, and properly dimpled, sprinkle the surface with pieces of sundried tomato.  Again, cover with plastic wrap or a clean towel, and let rise in a warm place ~1 hour.

Sprinkle the suface with as much coarse sea salt as you want.  Bake in a preheated 425° F oven for 25-30 minutes until golden brown and delicious.

Mmmm Cheese

I have so, so much cheese in my possession right now, I don't know what to do with myself.  Dakin Farm in Vermont is a specialty food store with divine bacon and, apparently, a wonderful selection of cheeses.  And they happen to be having a sale.  Gasp.  So my father has graced me with copious varieties of cheese in all their dairy wonder, in addition to some of that bacon and some maple syrup (since the world would be absolutely over if I were to run out).  My dinner last night consisted of cheese, bread, and grapes, and I was so udderly [harharhar] pleased about it.  Since I have something a little more labor intensive planned for the next post, I figured y'all wouldn't mind if I gave you a cheese lesson instead of a recipe today.  Is that alright?  Cool, I shall take your silence as consent.

My personal favorite was the Blythedale Farm Vermont Brie.  The texture was like buttah.  The flavor, too, was incredibly mild, but soft and sweet and barely tangy on the back of my tongue.  It was quite different than commercial bries I've had, which I find to be more assertive in taste and more solid in texture.  This brie began to slump and melt even at room temperature, which I didn't mind one bit, having been smeared across a thin, crusty baguette.  The warm puddle of brie had a buttery, silken mouth-feel against the crisp shards of bread, only interrupted by the soft, toothsome rind.  I really love brie and peaches together, grilled on ciabatta bread, so now I'm really wishing it were summer so I could make this come true.

When I smelled this next cheese, I thought it might be a Parmigiano Reggiano because of its strong nutty and salty qualities.  It's actually a cloth-bound cheddar from Cabot that was aged for ~10 months.  The texture is somewhere between the smoothness of a familiar block cheddar and the crumbliness of a Pecorino Romano.  The aging process highlights the savory aromas of almond and walnut, supported by sweet and sharp undertones. This would be great in a non-traditional pesto of walnuts and arugula, tossed with pasta.

This third cheese from Consider Bardwell Farm is a toma, which is an Italian cow's milk cheese.  It's made with raw (non-pasteurized) milk and is aged for ~6 months, which renders an interesting dichotemy between the subtle scent of grassy farmland and the ripened tang of age.  I liked this toma least of the three cheeses because of these grass flavors, as they rose from subtle undertones on the back of my tongue to a distracting aroma that was too reminiscent of a farm to be pleasant to me.  John didn't seem to have the same negative reaction as I did, so I wouldn't write off this cheese just yet.  I will say that, while I didn't appreciate the flavor profile of the cheese as much as I had hoped, the texture is great and it melts beautifully.

Next time, we'll have bagels, or perhaps focaccia, I haven't decided yet (!!!!).