As a native Californian, I am dreading the approach of my second winter here in Chicago. Of course, it has been “warm” and I’m still wearing my Fall coats (pretty much all I own coming from SF). At this time last year, it was already snowing and I was trudging around in my Uggs (shut up, they’re useful here) and my North Face parka.
With the temperature dropping and the right combination of leftovers in the fridge, I set about making chicken soup. There was 1/2 a roast chicken (and other random chicken bits that I squirreled in the freezer for times like this…a valuable habit I learned from my mom) in the freezer from a few months ago when we had people over for dinner but flew somewhere the very next day. There was garlic, carrots, and celery left over from the spicy peanut noodles that were threatening to turn. There was chicken broth, bouillion, and 1/3 bag of egg noodles left in the pantry. All I had to do was walk out to the corner market to pick up some potatoes…and while I was there, found some chayote squash that I knew would be tasty in the soup.
I’ve never cooked chayote squash myself but grew up eating it. My parents grew a lot of fruits and vegetables in our suburban backyard, so we always ate very fresh and very seasonally. My parents always made stir-fries and soups with the spiky chayote squash and I was craving a taste of home. The chayote at the market didn’t have any spikes so it would be even easier to try. A quick phone call to my Dad confirmed all I had to do was peel, chop, and soak it to get rid of some of the sticky resin.
Chicken Soup Ingredients:
- 1 small chicken
- 2 medium potatoes (diced)
- 1 carrot (chopped) (I had shredded carrots on hand and just used a handful of that)
- 4 stalks celery
- 1 medium chopped onion
- 1 slice ginger
- 1 chayote squash
- 2 cloves garlic (smashed)
- 2 chicken bouillion
- 1/3 lb. egg noodles (or any other pasta or rice)
- salt & pepper to taste
This chicken soup is super easy and doesn’t have a recipe (like many of my mom’s recipes).Everything is done to taste. Soup is very flexible and forgiving so have fun experimenting! You can use more stock/bouillion if you don’t have chicken on hand.
I boiled some water (and the leftover chicken broth I found in the fridge) and threw the frozen chicken, onions, garlic, and ginger and let it boil for a while. Skim the gunk off the top as the broth simmers. Take the chicken off the bone and set aside so the meat doesn’t get all mushy. Throw the rest of the vegetables in and simmer everything until it starts to look like chicken soup. Keep skimming the broth to get rid of all the gunk. Take out and discard the bones and ginger. Add chicken bouillion if your broth is too bland for your taste. Throw in the egg noodles when everything else is cooked to your satisfaction and when the noodles are done, you have chicken soup! If you find you have an imbalance of broth to vegetables, you can always add more broth or vegetables to get the right balance.
I like to put the soup in the fridge overnight so I can skim off all the fat in the morning…and soups tend to taste better if they’ve had time to sit anyway.
I find myself cooking a lot more these days for many reasons. Chopping and stirring is a relaxing distraction from the stresses of life. I miss the foods I took for granted in California. I have more time but less money as a student. I have a gorgeous kitchen that inspires me. I enjoy feeding people. The boy likes it. Cooking is something my mom loved–she did it for a living. When I moved out of the house, my mom always sent me recipes she thought I would like. When we were cleaning the house after she passed away, we found clipped recipes and cookbooks in every nook and cranny. I took a few of her handwritten notebooks and intend to cook some of those recipes at some point.
My contributions for Thanksgiving this year were corn pudding and creamed spinach. Instead of a turkey, there was roast chicken. Had there been a turkey, I would have made my bro’s roommate’s Jes’ grandma’s (get that?) cranberry salsa.
Last weekend, Jes made the most amazing pre-Thanksgiving dinner with the most succulent turkey I’ve ever tasted (even the white meat was moist!), lovely portabello gravy, sourdough stuffing, cranberry salsa, and so much more. My brother’s lucky to live with such a fine cook (she’s the pastry chef at the Four Seasons). I’ll share the cranberry salsa recipe with you some other time…when I make it. As a teaser, it includes cherry jell-o…amazing!
When I saw the creamed spinach recipe on Smitten Kitchen I knew I had to try it. As a native Californian, I tend to enjoy my vegetables fresh and fairly unadulterated. However, I knew that wouldn’t go over well for a midwestern Thanksgiving feast. Besides, its Thanksgiving–gluttony at its best!
I stayed pretty true to the recipe but omitted the garlic since Joel’s grandma doesn’t like it (which I think is nuts, but I’m not going to argue). I also mis-read the recipe when I was doubling it so didn’t buy enough cream. However, I threw in some low-fat milk to make up for it and couldn’t tell the difference–the recipe was still rich and creamy. I would definitely make this again, but maybe add a little bit more spinach next time since I like my vegetables…well…more vegetable-y. I sprinkled some shaved parmesan on top and it was a hit!
I also made corn pudding. My cousin has been making this for family dinners for years, but this was my first attempt:
There’s a little crater in the middle from tin foil hitting the pudding…I had to cook it a little earlier and set it aside since we needed room in the oven for the roast and the chickens. Here’s the recipe:
1 (15 1/4 – ounce) can whole kernel corn, drained
1 (13 3/4 – ounce) can cream-style corn
1 (8 ounce) package corn muffin mix … use Jiffy
1 cup sour cream
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsweetened butter
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese … optional
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F
- Combine: both cans of corn, corn muffin, sour cream, and melted butter.
- Pour mixture into greased pan
- Bake for 45 minutes
- Sprinkle cheddar cheese on pudding then put in oven till it melts
- I’ve had the corn pudding with pancetta and its even more delicious (can’t fail with pork!). Might try adding it to the creamed spinach too.
- Hopefully my food photography improves with this blog.
- Capped the evening off with a lovely bottle of 2006 Vintage Syrah from Joseph Phelps. The things I used to take for granted…California wine is such a treat these days.
- Thanksgiving was difficult this year as it was our first without mom. Christmas will be even more difficult.
We want to share with you the food we make at home, what we eat at restaurants, and the booze we are drinking. As we get older, our minds fail.
Last night I made spicy peanut noodles, based on this recipe from Food & Wine. I have made this once before and it is super quick and easy–definitely something you can do when you get home from a long day of work…or you can even make it the day before.
I added shredded carrots and pieces of roasted chicken and it was sooooo good. Can’t wait to eat the leftovers tonight! I would also recommend using only half of the crushed red pepper that was called for. I found it a little spicy, which I like, but may be a bit overwhelming for other people. I always like being able to add spice to taste rather than being tied to it.
Unless there is reason to open a good bottle of wine, I usually drink cheaper Argentinian/Chilean wines out here in Chicago. California wines are marked up quite a bit here and as a student, I can’t really afford that. On a weekday, the South American Malbecs are more than sufficient. However, yesterday was an emotional day so I soothed myself with a delicious 2004 Robert Sinskey that I brought with me when I moved from San Francisco to Chicago. Smooth, rich, and deeply flavorful…I do miss having the financial resources to drink good wines all the time. Rather, I miss my corporate AmEx.
I’ll let Joel tell you about his latest obsession with Oatmeal Stouts.