Friday, July 29, 2011

Everything You Need to Know to make a Great Chicken Broth

I have a secret weapon which can do battle against a variety of ailments including sore throat, cough, flu, dehydration and boring soups.  Okay, you already know what it is because of the title here but one of most useful recipes that I have developed is for a wonderful chicken broth or stock that has healing qualities besides being incredibly tasty!

This chicken broth is much more than just good for a summer cold. It tastes fantastic! I don’t make a lot of soup in the summer but somehow, chicken broth based soups are good comfort food year round. They make a great showcase for summer vegetables, go along well with a nice summer salad and are a tasty break from grilled foods.

You probably know that chicken broth is good for what ails you. I grew up eating canned chicken soup when I did not feel well. While canned broth is better than nothing, homemade is so much better!  I try to make chicken broth based soup when friends and family are not feeling well.  Of course, this chicken broth is so good that you will want it even when you are perfectly healthy! It is a great base to great soups like Chicken noodle or Thai chicken coconut soup or tortilla soup…well, you get the idea. Versatile, yummy and good for you J  

Let me begin by saying this is more a chicken broth guide than a step by step recipe.  I am going to give you an easy version today with some optional add-ins for nutritional and healing value as well as flavor. You can easily change this but there are a few important rules that would be a good idea to follow.

Number one is that Chicken broth takes a long time to make. You can make something quicker but it is more like flavored water than real chicken stock. The way I do it creates a rich, flavorful, silky and full broth that will make your taste buds  sit up and take notice. The only way to get this kind of broth is to cook it a good long time over low heat.

Okay, now that we have that out of the way, a word on what you are cooking. You cannot make this good rich chicken broth with only boneless skinless chicken pieces. You are going to need either whole pieces of chicken  or you can try my “Use it up” short cut. Whenever I buy a roasted chicken from the market, I make it work double time by removing the meat that I want to use and throwing everything else in a pot with some water, or broth and a bit of wine. I sometimes add a few pieces of raw chicken.  To that I add various bits and pieces of vegetables, herbs, spices and let it simmer for several hours.  It will smell great as it simmers but it is not very pretty at this phase of its soup life. I really like to do this because it means the bones and skin and bits of meat that are too tough to use are not thrown out but used to make soup. So for no extra cost and very little effort I can not only use the meat that night but have a nice base of chicken broth that I can freeze or use the next day to make a tasty soup or sauce!!

A quick word on what kinds of fixin’s you can add to the chicken. First and foremost are the three things I always use to make chicken broth- onion, carrot and celery. These can be raw, roasted or sautéed till lightly caramelized but however it is prepared, I think these three are basic building blocks to good stock. Roasting the vegetables really adds a nice extra layer of flavor but it is not required.

I almost always use garlic cloves as it has a good flavor and great healing properties. Some other possible things to throw into the stockpot that are good for alleviating cold symptoms include a lemon, cut up, juiced and all of it thrown in and fresh ginger. These, along with garlic,ginger and rosemary are what make this a secret weapon against colds and sore throats.

You may add other vegetables too. It can add more depth but it is not necessary to add a huge variety. Choose wisely, as some may negatively impact the versatility of soup. Also be careful not to add anything that will taste too strong or just plain bad after long cooking times. I skip  cabbage or broccoli, spinach or anything with a strong flavor. These can be added in when you make the soup and cooked for a shorter time but don’t use in broth making process.   

 In addition, I almost always throw in some nice herbs, either dried and fresh. Thyme, marjoram, Italian or poultry blends are all good. Rosemary is especially good if it is for someone who is having an illness with respiratory issues. If I am making Thai soup I would add lemon grass and ginger.  I like to save my parsley stems and throw them into the pot too.

One other note, is it a broth or a stock? I have used these interchangeably. While some people have strong opinions on it, such as stocks are made with bones so it is thicker and richer than broth or something like this, others don’t think there is a difference.  Whatever you can it, this recipe creates something that is surprisingly rich and flavorful.

Chicken Broth by Denise

        1 roasted chicken and a pound of raw chicken pieces with skin and bones

 OR 2 ½   lb.+ chicken pieces, with skin and bones, thighs & wings  are good OR you may use just use a roasted chicken with more vegetables and herbs to fill in  -very adaptable!

Enough water to cover or a mix of water, canned low sodium broth and/or  a bit of white wine

2-4  carrots, peeled, cut up

2-5 stalks  celery, may use inner with leaves and tops, -- broken up

1 onion

2-3 garlic cloves, peeled, smashed

2 tsp. or more Herbs, dried :, thyme, marjoram, rosemary, Italian mix, or Herbs De Provence etc. May use fresh but use 1 or more TBSPN. Use any seasoning and spice you would like.

1 tsp. garlic powder, onion powder

Healing version of broth:
                Increase garlic to 3-5 cloves
               2-4 teaspoons or more  fresh ginger pieces (or bottled ginger paste)
               1 lemon, quartered and squeezed into pan, add peel and juice  or 2 TBSP juice
               Choose rosemary for herb, it is great for colds

         Other vegetables you may use: sweet potato,  potato, parsnips, leek, fennel or squash
           Salt and Pepper to Taste

Remove useable meat from roast chicken and place in the fridge to use later. Place everything else in stock pot (skin, bones and tough meat).

If using fresh chicken, place whole pieces in pot. I like to use a roasted chicken and a few pieces of raw chicken.

Add water and/or broth and wine to just cover chicken and vegetables. I usually just use water and maybe some wine but sometime add broth if I plan on a shorter cooking time. Add all other ingredients and bring to low boil. Reduce to simmer on low heat. It should only simmer, not boil vigorously. If foam rises during this time, you may skim it off for clearer, cleaner tasting broth.

Let it simmer on low, partially uncovered, for several hours  until chicken is off bone and everything is just falling apart. Three and a half to Four hours on low is usually a good amount of time though it can be up to five or six hours.

Taste the broth and add a bit of salt and pepper. You can always add more later so don't overdo now.

Note: If you are using raw chicken pieces and want to save some chicken meat, you should remove pieces after 30 minutes when they are just cooked through and take meat off bone. Refrigerate meat, return bones, skin to pot.

Cool slightly. Using slotted spoon, strain out all you can. Place large container in sink and pour soup through sieve into bowl. Let cool again for a bit, may add ice, and skim off top fat layer. May use a finer sieve to strain broth once more, pouring very slowly and stopping before adding the muck at the bottom.
You may add more salt and pepper at this point if it still seems to need it.

If not using immediately, place in small to medium containers with a few pieces of ice and refrigerate. Immediately cool thoroughly or freeze. (Big containers do not cool evenly or quickly. )

~ Bonus Recipe~

This broth is a good alone and great as a base for other soups. My favorite is chicken noodle.

Denise’s Chicken Noodle soup

5 -6  cups of  homemade chicken broth

3 sliced carrots, sliced 

1 sweet potato, diced 

1-2 cloves garlic, pressed

Choose seasoning:   Could be 1 tsp. of whole leaf dried herbs such as poultry or Italian mix or thyme, marjoram, or rosemary or some combination. Or  use  fresh herbs* and 1 tsp. ginger paste

2       cups+ of  cooked chicken

6 oz. dry  wide egg

Choose one or more other vegetables such as: 3 pieces of celery, 1 zucchini or 1 yellow squash, thinly sliced, peas, corn or green beans, etc. 

salt and pepper to taste

2 TBSP Lemon juice, optional

¼  cup Parsley, chopped, Optional

*Other fresh herbs such as 2 TBSP  rosemary or thyme, optional

In a large pot heat about 5-6  cups of chicken broth. Add carrots, sweet potato, garlic,
Continue to simmer until vegetables are starting to get a little tender- about 10-12 minutes. 

Next add desired herbs, spices, ginger paste  and any other vegetables you are using. Continue to simmer until all vegetables are nicely tender and cooked through. Add salt and pepper
While the vegetables are cooking, in a separate pot heat water, salt  to rolling boil and add 6 oz. or so dry noodles  according to package instructions. Drain water and add to soup pot.

Finish, if desired, with a  2-3 tsp. lemon juice and fresh chopped parsley.  Hint- if soup lacks flavor add a few tsp. Chicken soup base or bouillon or try some more salt. The beginning broth should be strong.

Hint: If you are planning on freezing portions, you may want to take out this portion before you add the noodles. Frozen noodles get overly soft and break up.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Spinach Soufflé

Summer is speeding by!  I have been super busy with traveling, visitors and summer fun. I am also beginning to pick herbs and vegetables from the garden as well as starting to get shares from our CSA (community support agriculture) program with a local organic farm.  We have enjoyed the plentitude of spinach along with garlic scapes, herbs and scallions. One of the recipes mentioned in our CSA newsletter is spinach soufflé. For me, soufflés bring to mind a 1950’s housewife in a dress and heels trying to serve some difficult to make dish to impress her guests. I am not sure if I am alone in this conceptualization but there it is. I did not try soufflés for the longest time because I thought they were demanding and fussy.  In truth they are pretty simple, versatile and delicious.
I made a spinach soufflé based on past experience along with an adjusted garlic infusion inspired by the CSA recipe.  
Spinach soufflé is a good “company” meal because it has the potential to be well received by most vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. I made it for a mixed group of diners the other night. They were all 20-somethings and included some hungry meat loving guys and a vegetarian. The soufflé was a great hit!! Everyone really loved the light, fluffy, velvety texture, crisp outer crust and savory richness.

One of the keys to good soufflé is careful handling of eggs. Follow the directions below such as bringing the eggs to room temp and carefully separating the whites--no yolk allowed! Start whites whipping on low and increase speed to high. Be gentle with the whipped whites and fold, don't stir. Also, remember food safety. Wash the eggs and your hands.  The eggs I get in my CSA are pretty safe since the chickens roam free-- not just free range but actually living out in the fields with school bus coops. Yet even these require a good washing.

         One of the fears of soufflé makers is that the soufflé will “fall”. As soufflés cool they do tend to lose some of their billowy goodness. Although they may not be quite as beautifully puffy, they are still as tasty and look pretty good. The best way to prevent puff loss is to serve them immediately when they are done.  For this dinner, I had to hold them in a warm oven for about 5 minutes due to a late arrival. They almost made it fully puffed but one collapsed a bit as it was being served yet it still was met with ohhh’s and ahhh’s.
Next time, I am going to try a dessert soufflé.

Spinach Soufflé
By Denise                                                                                          Around 5 servings

6 large eggs, room temperature (separated as 5 large egg yolks, 6 large egg whites)
1/2 cup cream or half & half
1 TBSP olive oil
Infusion-3-4 garlic cloves ,smashed a few bunches of fresh herbs lightly chopped (thyme, marjoram, chives, basil, rosemary—whatever you like)  or 1-2 tsp  dried herbs ( thyme, majoram are good choices)  ½ tsp cayenne pepper, ¼- ½ tsp nutmeg, generous pinch of red chili pepper flakes, salt, pepper to taste ( this should be very flavorful)
1 very  large bunch of spinach
4 TBSP  butter, unsalted, plus extra for pan
 4  ½  TBSP flour
1 ¼ cup milk
½ tsp cream of tartar and pinch of salt
½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
¾ - 1 cup sharp cheddar or swiss cheese, grated
1. In sauce pan or skillet, heat olive oil and add garlic and sauté for a minute. Add the rest of infusion spice. Stir in cream or ½ & ½ and heat on low till it reaches very low boil. Turn off heat and let this sit for 20 or 30 minutes. You may make ahead and refrigerate. 
2. Preheat the oven 375 degrees. Butter one 9-10 cup round or oval baking or soufflé dish or two smaller dishes (4-5 cup)  or 4-5 individual sized ( about 2 cups). I think the best are deep and round.  Sprinkle with Parmesan.
3.Clean a very large bunch spinach (or two smaller ones), do not dry it.  Remove stems. Pour a bit of olive oil in large skillet and heat on low. Add spinach and cook for a minute or two till well wilted.  Drain and place back on cutting board to chop up.
4. Separate whites and yolks of eggs. Best way is to wash eggs well and crack in half. Pour white out into bowl while transferring yolk to other half. Pour back and forth, carefully that NO yolk spills into the whites. Once white is all in bowl, put yolk in a separate bowl. If the yolk breaks into white, thoroughly remove with a spoon—no Yolk in whites at all. It is okay to get white in the yolk bowl though. Be sure to put the extra yolk (we use one less yolk than whites) in separate bowl for other use. Eggs should be room temperature.
5. Melt butter in skillet and stir in flour and cook 1-2 minutes. Whisk in milk and cook stirring constantly for 2 minutes or so till thickening. Add cheese and a bit of salt and pepper. Remove from heat and add spinach, cream infusion, egg yolks and set aside.
6. Place egg whites, cream of tartar and pinch of salt in large bowl of mixer and begin beating on low. After one minute, increase to medium speed and after another minute increase to high and continue beating until peaks are forming and whites are glossy and light. You want the peaks to be just firm but not dry or over whipped. Be gentle with this from here on. No hitting the side of the bowl or jarring. A key to good soufflé is light, fluffy yet firm egg whites.
7. Take out ¼ or so of the whites and mix them into the spinach/yolk mixture to lighten it. Very delicately fold the rest of the whites in and gently fold.
8. Put this into prepared pan(s) and smooth the top. If you want you can use the side of the spatula to make a circle in the top which makes the pouff nicer. 
8. Place gently in the middle of oven. Bake about 30-32 minutes for a large pan 28 for medium and 22 for smaller pans. Check only about 5 minutes before it should be done. Get everyone seated while soufflé is in the oven and then take it out to table immediately.
Serve with green salad, bread or muffins and fruit.
Lower calorie version_  you can make this with 6 whites and only 4 yolks and skip the cream infusion, just add some herbs to the flour butter mixture. Reduce cheese by half and add more spice, salt and pepper.
Dinner by Denise 2011. All rights reserved. Denise Birdsall