Home Sick Thai Inspired Chicken Soup

I hate being sick.  Detest it.  To make matters worse, I’m horrible at being sick. I have this sort of irrational perspective that if I just decide I am not sick then I am better.  Presto!  This year I avoided the bug and thought I was home free and actually celebrated with a quiet smile on my way home from work last Friday.  Mistake. Sunday morning – signature scratchy throat.  Bummer.  Down for the count.

But the upside of being sick is that I have an excuse to cook soups.  I made this one up today. Like a lot of my recipes it uses ingredients from Trader Joes.  If you don’t have one near you you can fake it.  But write to them and beg.  You’ll love them.

Today I wanted kind of a Thai Style medium spicy chicken soup.  I don’t eat noodles so I used white beans instead.  It turned out great.

Ingredients

  • 4 Ounces Bacon, chopped to 1/2 inch long strips
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 celery stalks, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 Jalapeno Peppers, Seeded, ribs removed and diced small (If you like heat leave the seeds and ribs)
  • 3 ‘baby’ bell peppers, diced
  • 4 Garlic Cloves, smashed
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts diced and simply sauteed.  (a little love oil and salt and pepper)
  • 2 Quarts Organic Free Range Chicken Broth (or whatever kind you like).
  • 2 cans white beans, drained
  • 1 package broccoli slaw
  • 2 TBS Curry Powder (Yellow)
  • 1 TBS Red Chili/Garlic Paste
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried ginger
  • 1 Lime (Juice Only)
  • Roasted and skinned peanuts.  (For Garnish)
  • 1/2 Cup Coconut Milk

In a medium stock pot render the bacon until crispy.  Remove the bacon and eat it while no one is looking (seriously – you’re not going to use it for anything).  Saute’ the onion, celery and carrot in the bacon fat until they just start to brown.  Add the jalapeno and garlic and saute’ for another minute or two (but don’t let the garlic burn).  Add the cooked chicken and stir into the vegetables.  Add the curry powder, chili paste and ginger and stir into the mixture for about 30 seconds.  (the fragrance is amazing).  Add the chicken stock and the drained, canned beans. Add about 1 cup of the the broccoli slaw and the diced bell peppers.

Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer and let the soup cook for at least an hour.  (the longer it cooks the more the flavors will combine).  Just before serving add the lime juice and the coconut milk. (In mine, to replace the sweetness of the coconut milk I use peas).

Garnish with a small handful of peanuts for extra yumminess.

Gloat while you eat.

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Fall… Braises, Butternut Squash, Slow Food

I love fall.  Not that we have much “fall” in southern California.  There is a tree across the street from my house that changes color though, so it’s sort of like a fall, but actually more hollywood style.  It gets “cold” at night though.  Most nights this time of year the temperature gets down to about 40 or so at our home and there are a lot of nights starting in November that are in the 30s.  People don’t associate 30s with LA.  I like it kind of chilly.  The dogs’ evening walk is more fun.  It’s also the universal signal that it is time for fall food, which is my favorite time of the year.

To me, fall food is slow food.  It is a time for braises and roasts.  Squashes, most notably butternut and pumpkin, find their way on to restaurant menus.  It’s almost as though the cooler weather outside gives us permission to spend a little more time in the kitchen.  Things can take longer.  It’s okay.

Short Ribs are one of my very favorite fall dishes.  I love the gravy and the fall off the bone silkiness of these lovely bones when they are well prepared.  I have a great recipe.  It takes a little time but it’s worth it.  Invite some friends over, open a very nice bottle of full bodied red wine (we had a terrific Cabernet last night), if it’s really cold where you live light a fire.  It’s fall.

Rather than serving these over one of the more ubiquitous sides, like mashed potatoes for instance (which would be amazing but don’t work for my diet), I served these over a light balsamic, white bean, caramelized onion and garlic puree (it has the benefit of actually being good for you).

Braised Short Ribs

  •  5 – 6 lbs Beef Short Ribs.  (I just buy these at the grocery store)
  • 2 – 3 celery stalks
  • 2 – 3 Carrots
  • 1 large spanish (brown) onion
  • 1 8oz jar sun dried tomatoes in olive oil, rinsed in hot water. (discard the oil)
  • 2 TBs Crushed Garlic or 4 – 5 Garlic Cloves
  • 6oz Tomato Paste
  • 3 – 4 cups full bodied red wine (if necessary for any reason, substitute with 3 cups beef broth, 1/4 cup red wine vinegar, 3 TBS Worcestershire)
  • 1 rounded tsp dried Thyme
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Olive or Grapeseed Oil

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.

Liberally season the short rips with salt and pepper.  Heat a large oven proof pot or dutch oven (I use a Le Creuset for this and it is perfect) to hot over medium high heat.  Add a splash of the oil and brown the short ribs on each side.  Let this take a little time so they develop a rich brown color.  Remove the short ribs from the pot and discard the accumulated fat.

While the short ribs are braising either fine dice (if you like your gravy textured) or puree (if you like your gravy smooth) the celery, carrot, onion, garlic and sun dried tomatoes. When you have removed the short ribs from the dutch oven (and poured off the fat) add some more oil to the oven and immediately add the diced or pureed vegetables, using their liquid to scrape the brown bits (fond) off of the bottom of the pan.  Reduce the heat if the vegetables start to burn, but leave them in the pot, stirring often so they are well browned.

When the vegetables are well browned add the cooking liquid (wine or mixture) and bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and let liquid reduce by about 1/3.  Add the short ribs back into the pot, arranging them so they form a layer on the bottom of the pan (on edge is fine), if necessary, add a little water or beef broth so the liquid is just below the tops of the meat.  (If the meat is submerged at first don’t worry about this as the liquid will cook off in the oven).  Place the ribs/pot on the center rack of your oven for between 3 and 4 hours, checking frequently to make sure the liquid doesn’t evaporate too much.  Remove the top from the pot about 45 minutes before serving to brown the tops of things …

White Bean, Caramelized Onion and Garlic Puree with Aged Balsamic Vinegar

While the ribs are braising away in the oven make this simple side.  Serve the ribs on top of it with a healthy portion of the sauce.  People will think you are a genius.

  • 2 15oz (normal sized) Cans Any Kind of White Beans
  • 1 Large brown onion, diced
  • 2 tablespoons crushed garlic (or 4 cloves – smashed)
  • 1 Cup Chicken Broth
  • 2 Tbs Good Aged Balsamic Vinegar (not the crappy stuff you get in a regular store)

In a medium saucepan saute’ the onions over medium heat until well browned (adding a pinch of salt will help them brown faster).  Add the garlic and continue to saute’ for another minute or until the garlic starts to brown.  Add the beans and the broth and bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until liquid has almost completely evaporated, about 30 minutes, stirring often.  Puree mixture in a blender or food processor.  Pour into a baking dish or back into the pan and keep warm over very low heat or in a low oven.  Add balsamic just before serving.

Put a few tablespoons of the puree under the short ribs.  Enjoy …

BS Breasts… a technique for Flavorful Chicken Breasts

I hate boneless skinless chicken breasts.  I like chicken with skin.  I like the fat, crackle, salt, FLAVOR, that comes from the skin.  My favorite chicken to cook, outside of a whole roasted chicken, is the “Split Breasts” available from most markets.  In a future post I’ll share my technique for barbecuing these so they’re perfect.  This post isn’t about that.  It’s about my least favorite kind of chicken; boneless, skinless chicken breasts.

Here’s the thing.  All of the good reasons to eat this food are all of the good reasons why it’s bad.  (From here on out in this post I’m going to call these BS Breasts, simply because I like the sound of that).  Let’s dissect a boneless, skinless chicken breast.  Ready?  They are made up of very lean chicken meat.  That’s it.  Extremely little fat, no connective tissue, no bones, no nothing.  Therefore, they have very little flavor and no natural tenderizers.  When most people cook them they turn out like semi soft hockey pucks.  Yuck!

It’s easy to make them better and the really good news is that all you need is a mallet, an ounce of aggression and a gallon sized ziplock bag.

Technically speaking there are really two problems with BS Breasts.  They have very little flavor-carrying surface area and they are so protein rich (and thick) that they get tough and dry easily.  How do you solve that problem?  It sounds like crazy talk, but pound them out flat.  This increases the flavor-carrying surface area geometrically and it also thins out the protein, making it much less likely that it will be tough.

Here’s a method for preparing these that we call “Dad’s ‘I’m Tired Tonight’ Chicken.”  It’s pretty close to foolproof.  (Which IS actually to say that if you mess it up, you’re a fool…. which is fine so long as you don’t tell anyone.)

Recipe.

  • BS Breasts.  (If you’re the plan ahead type you can buy these frozen for a fraction of the cost of the ones in the deli counter).
  • Seasoning.  Really anything you want, salt and pepper, chicken seasoning, cajon seasoning, fajita seasoning, whatever.
  • Olive Oil
  • Not essential but sometimes nice, lemon juice, flavor infused vinegar (those pretty bottles people give you that you don’t know what to do with)

Method

Heat a grill or large skillet to very hot…

Working one at a time, put the chicken breasts in a gallon sized ziplock bag.  Squeeze out all of the air and zip the bag shut, leaving about 1″ open at one end.  DO NOT SEAL THE BAG!  IT WILL POP OPEN IN A BAD PLACE AND SPRAY RAW CHICKEN ALL OVER YOUR KITCHEN OR YOU.  Use a rubber mallet from a hardware store, your fist, or one of those fancy kitchen mallets with a smooth side, to pound the chicken into a uniform 1/4″ thickness.  It will be surprisingly big.

Do this with all of your BS Breasts.

Drizzle liberally with whatever Olive Oil you have and then season.  (Heavily for the grill, not quite as heavily for indoor preparation.)

With either your grill or your skillet (Big flat frying pan for the uninitiated) fire cracker hot (I like my grill in the 500 degree range for this) lay the flattened breasts down and let them cook for about 1 minute.  If your grill flares from the olive oil, all the better.  Turn them over and let them cook for another two minutes.  No longer.

Drizzle with a little more of the olive oil and your reserved lemon juice or vinegar mix, slice into nice sized serving pieces and serve.  You will never just cook the whole damn BS Breast again.  Ever.  For anything.  I promise.

BTW – leftovers are perfect for salads, pastas, sandwiches, pretty much anything you might want to make chicken for…

Grilled Salmon with Herb, Mustard Sauce

Salmon topped with mustard, herb sauce, 4HB beans and sauteed asparagus makes a nice Sunday night dinner.

Grilled Salmon is a staple around my house.  I’ve gotten pretty good at cooking it over the years and it turns out with just the right combination of crunchy exterior and silky texture.  I got a new cookbook from our friends, Al and Debbie Frank, The Summertime Anytime Cookbook, based on the menus at  Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, California and authored by their executive chef, Dana Slatkin and I wanted to try out some of the recipes.  This is the first one.  Pretty good.

I’m not afraid of using cookbooks.  In fact, I use them all the time.  You’ll notice the page is dog-eared.  There are many pages in this cookbook that I’ve marked for recipes I want to try.  When I get a new cookbook I sit with it and a cup of coffee on a Saturday morning and go through it and mark everything that looks good.  Then I leave it out for a couple of days to remind me that there are dishes to try and when the time is right, yippee, I get to try something new. (I don’t ordinarily say yippee…)

Grilling Salmon is pretty straight forward, though I do use one big trick.  The first step is to dust the fish liberally with seasoning.  I use a mix from Penzey’s called Trinidad.  It is a lemon and garlic mix that has great flavor for seafood.  Since this is going to go on the grill, the Salmon needs to be coated pretty heavily with the seasoning, otherwise it will all burn off.  This recipe called for a sauce made with whole grain mustard, a dry white wine, a shallot, dill and thyme. I didn’t have a Shallot.  I used about 1/4 onion and 1 teaspoon garlic as a substitute since shallots basically taste like garlicky onions.  For this one, since the recipe is in a newly on the market cookbook I’m going to say, if it sounds good, buy the cookbook.  You should.  There are a number of recipes in this cookbook that look really good to me so it’d be worth it.

Now down to grilling the Salmon. Like I said, there is one big trick that I use when I’m cooking Salmon.  Ok.  Well, two or three actually.  The first is pretty simple…  Heat the grill to really hot. You’ll note that my grill temp is over 600 degrees!  I know, I know… That’s gonna burn the fish like crazy.  Only, it’s not.  You’ll see.

The next step is going to sound crazy.  I don’t know when I first tried it.  It would have sounded crazy to me too.  Spray the top of the fish liberally with PAM cooking spray. I know what you’re thinking.  Jim’s gone off the deep end. PAM?  Yes. Here’s why.  It has very little flavor and it is actually formulated to be slippery.  When you put the fish down on the grill, skin side up, you’re going to be glad you did this because you’re not going to want that fish to stick.

Lay the fish flesh side down on the grill for two to three minutes.  Using a large, sharp spatula lift and turn over the fish.  It will be nicely caramelized on the top.  Then close the grill and let the fish cook for four to five more minutes for medium rare.  (6 or 7 if it is thicker). Then, using the sharp end of your spatula, cut the fish off of the skin, leaving the skin on the grill.  (with as much oil as is in Salmon it will quickly catch fire and pretty much burn up (making disposal easier).  Serve on a warm plate with the sauce on the side.

For a much simpler sauce, melt four tablespoons of butter and combine with the juice of one lemon and 1/2 teaspoon of dried basil.  (this can be done in the microwave).  Pour over fish and serve…

You'll want to serve the fish right off the grill. So getting all of your sauce ingredients ready ahead of time will speed the finishing process.

Starting the salmon skin side up will make great grill marks on the top...

Use a sharp spatula to shave the fish from the skin, leaving the skin to burn up on the grill.

4HB Beans. With flavor too …

One of the big challenges of the Four Hour Body diet is the beans.  This is a great, easy, recipe that makes these flavorful and compatible with a lot of different kinds of dishes.

One can each of black and white beans makes this look a lot better. (and looks count!)

Ingredients

  • One medium brown onion, diced small
  • One tablespoon minced garlic (or two cloves, minced)
  • One can each, black and white beans, low sodium if available (I use S&W)
  • 1/3 cup roasted red peppers (about 1/2 jar) diced small plus liquid from 1/2 bottle.
  • Two tablespoons mild (cheap) balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Add the liquid out of the red pepper bottle for a little more flavor.

Preparation

There are two keys to this recipe.  Let the onions saute long enough to begin to brown.  You want that flavor in the dish when it’s ready.  The other is the liquid in the jar of roasted red peppers.  It has a ton of flavor.

Saute onions on medium heat until well carmelized – about ten minutes.  Add a healthy pinch of salt to help them along. (you need to use lower heat so the onions have a chance to give up their liquids before they begin to brown, otherwise they’ll just burn).  Add the garlic and saute until fragrant.  Add a few grinds of black pepper.  Add the roasted peppers and saute to evaporate some of the liquid in the peppers.  (Do not pour the liquid from the jar yet).

Add the two cans of beans. I use the liquid in the cans.  Some people prefer to rinse them.  If that’s you, knock yourself out.  If you do this add about 3/4 can of water and stir to combine.  Add the liquid reserved from the peppers and the balsamic. Bring to a slow boil stirring frequently (it will stick to the bottom of the pot).  Reduce heat to low and let simmer to cook off some of the liquid.  Once the consistency is right for you put the lid on the pot and reduce heat to simmer.  The longer these cook, the more tender and less “beany” the dish will taste.

Dunbars is a great, ubiquitously available brand.

Surprisingly Great Turkey Burgers

The trick with Turkey Burgers (turkey anything really) is what’s in them besides turkey that’s going to give them flavor and moisture.  I created this recipe for 4 hour body but it works great for any weeknight meal.

Ingredients

  • 2 1lb packages ground turkey.
  • 1 Large Brown Onion, Diced
  • 1 package frozen chopped spinach
  • 1/2 jar roasted red bell peppers plus juice from jar (diced)
  • 1 can white beans plus liquid
  • 2 TBs chopped garlic (or 3 cloves)
  • 2 TBs Chili Powder
  • 1 TBs Italian Herb Blend
  • Steak or chicken seasoning

Sauce

  • 1/2 Cup Mayonnaise
  • 1/4 Cup Dijon Mustard
  • 4 TBs White Balsamic Vinegar (Trader Joes)
  • 1 Tsp Onion Powder (if you have some on hand)

Olive Oil (not Extra Virgin)
Fresh Spinach, Oil and Vinegar
Salt and Pepper

Preparation:

Sauce:

Combine ingredients in a small bowl. Chill.  Drizzle over turkey to serve

Turkey Burgers:

Preheat Oven to hot:  425 degrees.

In a large saute pan over medium heat, saute onions in 1-2 TBs olive oil until starting to brown.  Add a pinch of salt to help leach moisture from onions.  When onions start to brown add garlic and stir until fragrant (about 30 seconds). Add roasted peppers, (reserving juice) and spinach.  Saute to reduce any accumulated liquids.  When the pan is relatively dry again add white beans, chili powder and herbs.  Stir to combine, reduce heat to medium low and bring to a slow boil. Cook until beans are tender.

Dump turkey into a large bowl.  Add 3 TBs seasoning and mix.  Pour contents of the saute pan into turkey and mix well.  The contents will be loose (can be almost as loose as pancake batter).

Rinse the saute pan, return it to a medium high burner.  Working in batches, add contents of the bowl (in whatever size you want) to the saute pan.  You may need two spatulas to flip.  Brown each side.  Set browned patties on a baking sheet and place in preheated 450 oven for 15-20 minutes to firm up.

Serve Turkey Burgers over cold fresh baby spinach with olive oil (extra virgin) and balsamic vinegar (on spinach).  Drizzle with the sauce.

Unused Turkey Burgers can be chilled and reheated for up to a week.

Chicken Chili: A 4HB Recipe

Several months ago I read a book called The Four Hour Body, by Tim Ferris.  Similar to Atkins, the 4HB diet cuts all carbs out of our diet for 6 days a week.  The secret to 4HB is that on the 7th day, within reason, you can eat anything you want.  If you’re curious read the book.  There are a number of recipes in this blog that I developed to make 4HB style eating easier.  This is one of my staples.  Please note that none of these recipes are approved by 4HB or Ferris.  They are just recipes that I have created that match the ingredients most commonly used in the diet.  (and to make eating this way more interesting).

Ingredients:

  • Thin sliced chicken breasts.
  • Package ground chicken.  (not turkey as it will change the flavor of the chili).
  • One large onion, diced.
  • One green bell pepper, diced.
  • One large Pasilla pepper, diced. (can be substituted with an additional green bell pepper)
  • One large Anaheim Chile, diced. (can be substituted with a small can of MILD diced fire roasted green chili peppers – such as Ortega)
  • Four Tomatillos (if available), diced
  • Two TBs minced garlic
  • One TBs Ground Cumin
  • One TBs dried oregano
  • One TBs Chili Powder
  • One can diced tomatoes
  • One can white beans (cannellini or regular white beans)
  • 3/4 Cup Chicken Stock (see photo here.  If you can find this brand, buy it).
  • One bunch fresh cilantro
  • Avocados (for Garnish)
  • Tabasco Green Pepper Sauce (for Garnish)

 

Cut the entire package of thin sliced chicken breasts into 1” cubes.  Brown in a large skillet over high heat in a few TBs of Olive Oil with some salt and pepper. When the chicken is well browned pour it out and immediately toss the onions and peppers into the pan.  Reduce the heat to medium and stir well to sweat and incorporate the burned bits from the chicken.  If necessary deglaze the pan with a little of the chicken stock.  When the onions and peppers and are tender toss in the garlic and stir until fragrant and add the ground chicken along with a little more of the olive oil.  As the chicken starts to cook mash it into the vegetables with the back of your spoon (or potato masher) to break it apart.  Add more olive oil if necessary.  Then add the cumin and oregano along with another healthy pinch of salt and pepper.  When the spices are fragrant (a few seconds really) and well incorporated add the tomatoes, beans and the rest of the chicken stock.  Stir frequently until the mix boils and then reduce heat to simmer, cover and let the chili come together.  If there is too much liquid in the chili leave the lid off for a few minutes.  (not too long as the beans will absorb some of the liquid).  Just before serving mince the cilantro and stir into the chili leaving a little for garnish.

Beginnings. Simple Roasted Chicken

Cooking should be fun.  The kitchen is no longer the realm of the apron wrapped 50s era housewife, throwing together a casserole for dinner.  Today’s cooking is about fresh ingredients, unmasked flavors, natural, organic, good fats vs bad fats.  I love to cook. A think it is fitting to start the blog with a recipe.  So here is a go-to classic.  Nothing fancy.  A roast chicken to make on any old weeknight that will inspire you to cook again.  (and also to start ordering chicken in restaurants).

I’ve heard that most chefs, when asked, would tell their executioner that they would like a roast chicken for their last meal. I’ve cooked chicken enough times this way to believe this.  It is at once healthy and soulful, easy and impressive.  Prepare some simple sides.  Enjoy.

Simple Roasted Chicken

  • 1 Medium sized whole chicken
  • Salt and pepper or your favorite poultry seasoning
  • 1 medium sized brown onion, quartered.  (that means cut in four wedges)
  • Minced Garlic (the kind in the jar is fine for this recipe)
  • Olive Oil.

Preheat your oven to 475 and prepare a large baking dish (Pyrex) with nonstick cooking spray.  (If you don’t do this then it it your fault that the dish will be a bitch to clean!)

Remove the chicken from its package and make sure to remove all of the giblets. (they’ll be stuck in the body cavity).  Don’t let this gross you out.  You’re a guy.  Suck it up.  Throw away the package and the giblets and then wash out the chicken with cold water.  Do not use soap on the chicken.  (Sorry ladies, we’re guys, I need to be pedantic here).  Using paper towels (this is one of few things I use these for in my kitchen) pat the outside of the chicken dry and soak up as much of the water inside as possible.

Coat the outside of the chicken with a few tablespoons of the olive oil. Just pour on a healthy ribbon and rub it around with your hands.  Do this on the top and the bottom.  Season liberally with salt and pepper or your favorite poultry seasoning. (I like McCormick’s Montreal Chicken Seasoning).  Put two quarters of the onion and a spoonful of the minced garlic inside the chicken cavity.

Put the chicken in the baking dish with the legs up (this will mean the breast is up).  Put the other two quarters of the onion on the baking dish close to or under the chicken.  Cook the chicken in the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes.  Just put it in and shut the door and leave it.  Don’t baste it, turn it or anything.  When you remove it from the oven be sure to put the dish down on a surface that can handle serious heat.  Remove the chicken to a cutting board and let it sit for at least 8 minutes before carving.  I carve the chicken (there are numerous online carving guides) and put the pieces back in the baking dish with the juices.  Serve it just like that.  You’ll never look at one of those grocery store chickens the same way again.