Food / Cooking

Summer *Chicken* Soup

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DSCF1704DOES ANYONE ELSE COOK soup in the summer?  I find soup the easiest thing to make, clean up, and freeze.  Chicken is still my favorite.

A four-pack of thighs is about five bucks.  That’s the base.  Just one thigh, and freeze the rest.  One thigh in a pot with a quart of water + one cup to cover what will boil off.  Peppercorns, thyme, and bay leaf.  Simmer about 40 minutes, check the chicken, maybe another 10 minutes.  Eat the chicken.

When the broth cools, strain into a quart container.  *Hey, I made the right amount again with no waste;  guess the rule is to add 25% more water of the amount of broth with which you wish to end?

After a day or two in the fridge, you can skim and discard the pancake of fat.  Sometimes I let it go a week, but longer than that, I will bring the broth to a boil again before using.

So you need the broth, an onion, and a handful of carrots and celery .  And some noodles.  And some chicken;  I’ve been using either the chicken thigh, if I didn’t eat it, or a can of Costco chicken.

Now the easiest part.  Chop the onion and throw it in the pot over some olive/canola oil. On medium.  Add the chopped carrot and celery.  When cooked, about 8~12 minutes, dump in the broth and bring it to a boil.  Add a handful of egg noodles. READ THE DIRECTIONS.  Reduce to medium simmer.  6 minute noodles?  Add the chicken at 4 minutes *use a timer* and test the noodles in another two.

After the chicken goes in, I add more thyme, salt, and pepper.  And I TASTE IT.  That is one of the tricks to cooking.  Tasting as you go.  Another is being aware of time.

Remove from heat when the noodles are ALMOST done.  By the time you tidy up the kitchen, wash whatever you dirtied, and get out a bowl, spoon, and glass of water, the soup will have come together.


Cheese Toast

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cheese toast jserg 5It is so easy to over eat.  Enter any diner, and you’ll find the average “snack” has as many calories as a full meal of a century ago.  We may be living longer, but are we healthier?  

Blame competition among eateries who cater to the sizable contingent of those who feel quantity makes up for quality.  A stomach-packing meal is the result.

Instead of heading to the diner in the middle of the night when dinner misses its mark, I economize as well as healthize.  A snack is wanted, and a snack I have.  Lately, I’ve been going for a cup of pear-apricot tea and some toast.  Trader Joe sells a nice Tuscan Pane, a bit like sourdough.  And butter, of course.  Then I sometimes wanted a nice sharp cheese on top, but I stopped buying sliced cheese.  So finally I rationalized using the grader for just a snack, with the associated cleaning involved.  NBD, if you wash up immediately.

The cheese makes the toast.  TJ’s “Collier’s Welsh Cheddar Cheese.  Plenty strong, graded on the finest side, it’s slender curls almost begin melting if the toast is hot enough.  And I double-toast my sourdough to a crispy brown with hints of black.  Really melds the cheese into the whole project.  Pulls the whole thing together.

I may someday visit Wales just for the cheese.

Trader Meal

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DSCF2558ONCE AGAIN WE ARE TOO tired to write this week’s installment of ALB.  Procrastination is the order of the afternoon.  With a little nibble, as it turns out.

Water into the Nuke-u-lator for a cup of Trader Joe’s Mint Tea.  Within  three minutes, my Tuscan Pane is toasted and cut.  A bowl has been filled with olives (two kinds), cheese,  and baby carrots.  So far, everything is from Trader.

A few imported pepperoncini for luck.  Jars back in the fridge.  I’m seated, images uploaded, and typing before the 3 minute timer goes off.  Ding!  Tea’s done!

Fantastic!  Trader Joe’s has again saved me from malnutrition!  Did not even need the Trader apples and pickles!  Will I be hungry after this “meal”? Maybe a little.  Well, not really.  80% full.  A glass of water makes it complete. DSCF2559

Morton Salt

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morton-full-size CONTINUITY IS A GOOD thing.  Visiting the supermarket, finding the same brands one sees as a kid, ties past with present.  Your parents trusted it, you trust it, your kids will (maybe?) trust it.  I always reach for the Morton.  When it rains, it pours refers to the anti-caking formula Morton uses.   Modern climate-controlled homes may have made the motto obsolete.  But I always reach for the blue cardboard cylinder when it’s time to fill the shaker or add that all-important ½ teaspoon to the muffin recipe.

47384-roasted-unsalted-sunflower-seedsIn a pinch, when I require salt immediately for ice removal on the front stoop, there is the store brand.  Which I’ve used in muffins with no ill-effects.  But the blue cardboard container of Morton is always my first choice for chili and muffins.  Salt is essential to open up flavors in both savory and sweet dishes.  But have Americans been led astray?  Taught that excessive salt itself it a good flavor?  You can spot these brainwashed Spawn of Advertisements.  They salt without first tasting their food.  And are usually overweight.

It’s easier than you think to reduce salt.  Just cut back.  Add other flavors instead.  Buy unsalted nuts on your next trip to Trader Joe, pour some in a jar, and add a pinch of salt.  After a few tries, you’ll notice a better-tasting snack.  And you’ll be on the road to better health.

chicken soup from scratch (almost)

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EVERYONE SHOULD KNOW HOW TO make chicken soup from scratch before leaving the nest.  But in a world of instant gratification and  pop-top Campbell’s Soup, has “cooking” become more about following directions on a box or can?  A meal “prepared” according to corporate chemists clad in Tyvek jumpsuits within bright sterile labs of stainless tables and humming machines?

making chicken brothIt’s not that hard.  Really.  Buy a store-cooked chicken.  Clean off the easy-to-strip chicken.  Throw the skin, bones, and anything else you leave on the carcass into a pot.  Add enough water to cover the bones.  I usually snap the backbone and rip any dangling parts off so it can spread out.  Put it on the stove, bring to boil, then reduce to simmer.  Simmer means just barely bubbling.  Keep an eye on it, that it does not start to boil, or else the bones begin to cook, and the taste will be *off*.  It’s already cooked once.

After 30 or 45 minutes, the broth will get a healthy color to it.  You may have skimmed some froth off the top a few times.  Time to remove from the heat;  set the pot on a cool burner (I use a butcher DSCF1699block;  the scorch marks add character).  Oh, the bones and what not?  Strain the broth into a second pot (I do it while hot).  Keep the broth.  Discard the rest.  After the pot is cool to the touch, cover and gently transfer to the back of the fridge.  

Remove the broth two days later; the fat will have nicely congealed at the top.  Skim and discard the fat.

Chop an onion along with a  handful of carrots and celery.  Throw a DSCF1696little oil in a pot, medium heat, and the veggies.  A bay leaf and some thyme are not a bad idea.  Stir, or more accurately, turn over the veggies, every 90 seconds or so.  You want these to cook slowly, so medium may be too hot.  In under ten minutes, they should be getting “there”.  This is where I add the broth I made, and maybe some water.  You can always add more water, so take it easy on the first pour!

Bring to a boil, and add a nice handful of egg noodles or maybe a second if you have small hands.  Reduce to simmer.  After five minutes, throw in chicken (shredded beforehand).  Two more minutes, and voila!  It’s done!  Remove from the heat or it will keep cooking!

I add a little cumin before the noodles go in; you go ahead and add your favorite seasoning if you want.  Just before the boil is a good time for that.  Salt and pepper to taste at the end.  This freezes really well!

Muffins Worth Stealing

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DSCF1681Being Mr Popular is difficult.  Because you’ll be asked to make this recipe again and again and again . . .

Well , ya take two thawed sticks of unsalted butter.  Place them in a two-cup Pyrex® measuring cup, nuke ≤ two minutes or until wet.  Set aside to cool.

Take a big bowl.  Throw it on the scale and zero it out.

Add 13.125 ounces of flour.  If no scale, 3 carefully measured cup.  Two cups sugar.  I usually use a cup and a half instead of two cups.  Two teaspoons baking powder, one tsp baking soda, and a half tsp salt.  Use a straight edge on your spoons for precise measurements.

DSCF1667Sift this stuff into your KitchenAid mixing bowl. Set it on the stand with a batter mixer and mix this dry stuff at lowest setting. Add the cooled liquid butter and let that mix. Again, lowest setting. Stop periodically to turn over the edges, bottom, and mixer attachment. Wash the big bowl and put it away.

In yer buttery Pyrex® add ¾ cup milk, two x-large eggs (or three little ones), two
teaspoons vanilla, and a couple mashed bananas. Too much vanilla is a problem. Take care.

Dump this in the mixing bowl. Mix on low just enough to combine. About ten seconds.

DSCF1671DSCF1669Preheat the oven with one rack in the middle. 350˚ Fahrenheit

Add a cup each chopped walnuts, granola, and shredded coconut (sweetened is fine). Quick mix. Add one or two chopped bananas. Short mix.

Always mix on low. You can’t really over-mix the dry and the butter as long as DSCF1672you stay on low. Take care to barely mix the 2nd wet, the milk/egg/vanilla. Because there is more mixing to come.

You’ll be left with a pretty stiff batter. A tablespoon heaped will fill a cupcake liner. I use the paper ones, Reynolds 2.5″ baking cups. The paper pastel ones are cheapest. Not quite filling the cups should give you 24 muffins.

DSCF1665Bake 12 at a time. Turn the tray after ten minutes. At 18 minutes total, take them out if the top looks browned and check them with a toothpick. Any stuff on the pick, put them back another 90 to 180 seconds.

The first batch will have more of the chunks in it and the second batch will have more wet in it. I’ve found that a wet batch takes almost 22 minutes to bake, while a really dry batch might take 16.5 or 17 minutes.

The tray comes out, rests on a cooling sheet, and you dump the muffins to cool, like, at least five minutes. Fifteen if better.

They freeze really well. If you like this, try my slaw <—dinky linky


TEA TIME !!!!!

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The blizzard is raging.  No one wants to cook.  What to eat?  Back to basics!

012415 tea time

Apple cheese bread tea.  Plus olives pickles peppers.

Casa Denogean • Superior, AZ

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Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 11.44.17 AMAFTER A SUPER LOVELY STROLL through Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park, Ace Muncher and Magnet Muncher were on the prowl for vittles.  Only three miles to the east lies the historic town of Superior.  A quick drive drive along Rt-60, we roll into Superior.  Halfway between here and there, the restaurant seems to cater to the mid-week worker lunch crowd.

oService was just fast enough to indicate a busy restaurant where everyone pitches in with the cooking and serving.  A simple menu, no foo-foo “creations”.  Instead, we got what we would have made at home, but it was a little better.  Sort of like my friend’s mom’s cooking.

Three people can come out of there filled and ready for action (or a nap!) for under twenty bucks, soft drinks and tip included!  A definite stop-over the next time I’m visiting the area!

Screen Shot 2015-01-08 at 11.47.00 AM

Bánh mì • Vietnamese Hoagie

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A NEW SHOP OPENED ACROSS the street.  Windows boarded up, a Grand Opening sign none-the-less said, “Come on in!”.  After several weeks of derelict appearance, with flashing sign still proclaiming “OPEN”, I finally relented to curiosity.

Half the shelves were empty.  The floor, cracked.  The prepared food selection?  Sold out today, sorry.  Nothing?  They can still make sandwiches.  Recognizing the Vietnamese Hoagie from Chinatown shops, I pointed to a #3.  Spicy, please.

800px-Bánh_mì_xíu_mại-meatball-sandwichEven thought this was a Sunday, the baguette had just-from-the-oven crusty flakes.  The green stuff, garden fresh.  Meat flavorful and satisfying.  Mine was pork, sliced.  Along with a heaping of fresh cucumber slices, cilantro, pickled carrots, spicy chili sauce, and stuff I couldn’t identify.  No use asking the owner.  Her English?  Practically non-existent.  But her shop nails it perfectly with an authentic Vietnamese sandwich.

Be adventurous.  Small shops like these are now all over America.  Pictures of the sandwiches, accompanied with the name of the meat and a number, adorn their walls.  Four bucks or maybe $4.50 in the bigger cities, will get you an excellent Bánh mì • Vietnamese Hoagie.

SPAM (canned meat product)

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Gentlemen-rankers out on a spree, Damned from here to Eternity, God ha’ mercy on such as we, Baa! Yah! Bah! –  Rudyard Kipling

124Hormel-spam-12oz-500x500The can of Spam sat awaiting release into the world of gastronomic excellence.  Waiting . . . and waiting . . . awaiting the pan . . . Two years passed before the urge to buy and the urge to fry.  But when finally opened, it was, as expected, factory fresh.  Ready to eat cold or hot.  I like mine grilled, served between white bread.

What was different?  The goo that used to slide out of the can with the Spam was absent.  Maybe it is a money thing?  Hormel realized that goo costs money?  Spam will fry up perfectly fine without the extra fat?  Unknown, Houston.  Do not care enough to call the manufacturer?  Maybe Hormel will comment on this blog entry . . .   And our interest is ???

JamesJones_FromHereToEternity1Reading the novel From Here To Eternity, I became impressed by Sergeant Maylon Stark’s order that all men be given a hot meal upon request at any hour.  This meal would be fried Spam and toasted cheese on bread with hot coffee.  A meal I’ve recreated a few times; it certainly does “hit the spot”.

Tell you what.  Get the book.  Buy a can of Spam (low salt, maybe?).  Read.  Eat.  Experience what James Jones was feeling when, after WW II, he penned one of his most famous works.