Liquid Gold aka Homemade Chicken Broth

Perhaps even more important than getting your flu shot, replenishing the freezer supply of homemade chicken broth before flu season begins is essential. When you’re sniffly, achy, and exhausted you’re not going to want to make anything, much less a soup that takes several hours to cook. As there’s nothing more soothing and restorative than a hot bowl or mug of homemade chicken broth, I always keep a few containers on hand in the freezer. It’s also great for cooking, though I never seem to get that far with it. Really, with a broth this good, you just drink it as is – no need for meat, vegetables, noodles, matzah balls, or even a spoon!

Ingredients

  • 1 chicken, cut into parts
  • water
  • 4-5 carrots, peeled or unpeeled, whole
  • 3-4 parsnips, peeled, whole (or parsley root, if you can find it)
  • 1 large celery root, peeled, cut in four
  • 3 stalks of celery, cut in half
  • small bunch of flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 small or 1 large onion, peeled, whole
  • salt
  • cayenne pepper, ground
  • white pepper, ground

Getting a good quality bird is really important when it comes to making soup. Mom and grandma always said that the bigger and older the bird the richer and tastier the broth. Though I don’t usually select my chicken based on age or size, I do like to get mine from a local organic chicken farm. I like to know that she roamed around in the sun, pecking at insects in the grass. The factory farm alternative is not so picturesque and, frankly, I think it affects the quality of the meat.

Cut your fresh chicken into parts (legs, wings, breasts, breast bone, back). Place the pieces into a large soup pot and cover with cool water. I usually go a couple inches above the level of the chicken but leave enough room to be able to add veggies to the pot later.

Bring the water and chicken to a boil. Use a skimmer to remove the foam that rises to the top after it starts to boil. When foam stops rising, add the vegetables. I mentioned above which ones I leave whole or cut. I usually tie the parley together gently with one of the thicker pieces of parsley. It requires a little finesse to tie it without breaking it but it makes it a lot easier to remove from the soup later. I add the parsley last so that it floats on top. After you add all of the vegetables, season with salt, cayenne pepper, and white pepper.

At this point, lower the temperature on the stove to a simmer and cover part-way with a lid. Simmer the soup on low heat for around 2 hours after adding the vegetables.

When the soup is done, remove all of the vegetables and meat. Throw away the onions, parsley, and celery. If you don’t mind mushy, you can eat the carrots, parsnip, and celery root. The vegetables were really just there to give the broth an amazing flavor. The meat, however, should be really tender and delicious after boiling for so long. In fact, the cartilage even start to break down and get soft. It’s not the most flavorful meat preparation but it can be dressed up with a sauce or combined with more dominant side dishes. I actually like it the way it is out of the pot. Again, the star of the show is the broth. So, ladle some liquid gold into your favorite mug or bowl right after making it and freeze the rest for a rainy day.

Black-Eyed Pea and Lamb Stew

The leaves are changing color and it’s starting to feel more like fall outside. So, I feel more like cooking warm and soothing meals like this black-eyed pea and lamb stew. Luckily, here in the Bay Area, it’s still fresh bean season and so there’s no need to soak dried beans overnight!

shelling black eyed peas

The first two steps (the beans and the meat) can be prepared the day before and kept in the fridge separately until you’re ready to cook the stew.

Ingredients (these are approximations, feel free to change to your taste and local ingredients)

  • 2lbs of fresh black-eyed peas
  • 1.5lb lamb roast
  • olive oil
  • sea salt
  • white pepper (ground)
  • turmeric (ground)
  • cayenne pepper (ground)
  • 10 cloves of garlic (5 for the meat and 5 for the stew)
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 small sweet peppers (I used yellow corno di toro peppers)
  • 6-8 carrots
  • 2-3 stalks of celery
  • 3-4 heirloom tomatoes
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • bunch of parsley, chopped
  • 2-3 bay leaves

done shelling

These black-eyed peas were definitely more time and labor-intensive to shell than the cannellini or cranberry beans. They made a delicious stew but feel free to substitute a different type of bean that’s available in your area and/or use dried beans (just remember to soak dried beans overnight).

start to boil

After rinsing the shelled beans, cover with water and bring them to a boil.

change water

If you see this kind of slimy film and big bubbles form while boiling, drain the beans into a colander and rinse them again.

bring to boil again

Rinse the pot, return the beans, cover with fresh water, and bring it up to a boil again.

beans done

Cook the beans for around 35-45 minutes, or until they are soft enough to smoosh with the back of the spoon. Remove them from the stove and let them cool before refrigerating to use the next day or to use to make the stew in the same day.

lamb roast

The meat can also be roasted a day ahead. Stab the roast several times with a small sharp knife and insert a piece of garlic (either a small clove or a thick sliver) into each hole. Drizzle olive oil all over the roast and season liberally with salt, cayenne, and white pepper. Bake at 400°F for about an hour. After the roast cools, you can either refrigerate it or use it immediately to make the stew.

cut lamb

I refrigerated both the beans and meat overnight. Before making the stew, I sliced the meat and then chopped it to make small uniform bites to be added later to the stew.

drippings

I also saved the drippings from the bottom of the pan that solidified in the fridge overnight. These add some extra flavor and richness to the stew.

veggies

Time to prep and chop all of the fresh veggies.

cooking veggies

Saute the chopped vegetables in a generous pour of olive oil. I like to add them one by one to the cooking pot as I prep the next vegetable. Since some vegetables take longer to cook than others, chop in the order you’d like them to cook in, for example: onions, celery, carrots, peppers, and tomatoes. Season this mixture with lemon juice, sea salt, cayenne pepper, white pepper, and a generous amount of turmeric. Remember to add more salt than you’d normally use because you did not season the beans when you cooked them earlier.

now add meat and beans

After the vegetables start to cook, add the bay leaves and most of the chopped parsley (reserving a few sprigs for presentation).

add meat and beans

Once the vegetables have cooked down and the carrots are softening, add the black-eyed peas (and their cooking liquid), cut pieces of lamb, and reserved pan drippings.

and boil some more

Boil for another 20-30 minutes.

remove bay leaves

When it’s ready, remember to remove the bay leaves. They give great flavor but are tough and not edible.

it's ready

Serve a couple ladles of stew with a few sprigs of fresh parsley on top and, if you wish, some fresh country bread on the side. This stew, like most stews, is even better the second (and third) day because the flavors combine and penetrate all the ingredients while in the fridge overnight. So, you can prepare this stew in advance and/or enjoy leftovers for a couple days. Either way, if your family is anything like mine, they’ll be asking for seconds.

bowl of stew

Romanian Eggplant Salad

I guess you could say that I come from a long line of eggplant-loving women. My mother and grandmother both made delicious eggplant salad. They served it a little bit differently. You can decide for yourself if you prefer the tomatoes and onions mixed in, like Grandma used to make (I do!). Traditionally, I think they are generally served separately, the way my mother plated it at home. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Ingredients, yields 4+ servings

  • 2 large eggplants
  • 3/4 cup of olive oil (I don’t measure, just pour until it looks and tastes right but I’d estimate at least half a cup in the mixture plus a little to coat the eggplants at the beginning and for the tomato/onion salad)
  • a few large pinches of salt (again, until it tastes right)
  • a sprinkle of cayenne pepper
  • 2 pints of juicy cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small onion

Start with some fresh eggplant. You want to look for eggplant that still has a vivid green stem and shiny black skin. The fresher you can get it, the sweeter and less bitter it will taste. We got some lovely Black Beauty variety eggplant from a local farm, through Good Eggs.

eggplants

After washing them, prick all over with a fork and coat with olive oil. Place them on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, for easier cleanup.

eggplant ready to bake

Roast at 400°F for about 45 minutes or until a knife slides easily into the soft flesh of the eggplant everywhere, including just under the stem area (usually the toughest part and slowest to cook through).

baked eggplant

After removing the eggplant from the oven, cut it open carefully and locate the seed pods. I like to use a fork and knife because the eggplant liquid irritates my skin. This part requires a little patience. You’ll want to take out just the flesh and discard all of the seed sections and skin. It’s okay if a few seeds wander in but you’ll want to get rid of most of them.

open eggplant

In order to drain away the bitter liquid from the cooked eggplant before preparing the salad, find a way to set up a slanted surface in your kitchen. I find that a baking pan, cutting board, and glass create just the right angle to let the juices slowly drip out of the eggplant and onto the absorbent paper towel at the bottom of the cutting board.

on board side

Lay the pieces of eggplant, from which you removed the seeds, in a thin layer across the slanted cutting board and let them drain for an hour or so.

on board front

Once you’re ready to get back to the drained eggplant, lightly blot the pieces with a paper towel to remove any moisture still left, and place them on a cutting board. Then chop and chop and chop some more. You’ll want to go in different directions. It’s fairly easy to do because the texture is so soft. The consistency comes out much better this way than with a food processor or blender. Plus, at the end, you’ll just have to wash the cutting board and knife.

ready to chopchop

 

and chop more

chopped

 

Once the eggplant starts getting a smooth texture add chopped garlic, oil, salt, and cayenne pepper. Chop and mix until thoroughly combined on the cutting board.

garlic

oil

 

After your eggplant salad is done, you can store it in a bowl until ready to use. It’s best eaten at room temperature. So, if you’re planning on refrigerating it, take it out a little while before serving.

eggplant salad, separate

My mother tended to serve it the traditional way, with fresh bread and  a salad of tomatoes, onions, olive oil, and salt. Its high oil content makes it a decadent vegetable dish. At my grandparents house I’d notice grandma relishing her mixing process. She’d lightly smash the tomatoes to get them to release extra juice into the eggplant salad. I remember grandma taking such pleasure in eating this salad and I think I enjoy it even more because of that memory.

eggplant salad, combined

Shiitake Mushroom, Chive, and Feta Frittata

Another favorite egg breakfast at our house is the veggie frittata. I don’t particularly like baked frittatas (though I do like making egg bakes – more on that another day). A pan and a spatula are really enough, especially if you’re not going for perfect appearance. I’m considering buying a frittata pan (or trying the plate method) to make flipping a little cleaner and easier. Until then, an 8″ or 10″ ceramic nonstick pan (we avoid teflon) works well enough and yields an equally delicious frittata.

Ingredients – serves 2

  • 4 eggs
  • 1-2 tbs crème fraîche (Bellwether Farms makes a great one)
  • enough shiitake mushroom caps to cover the bottom of your pan
  • handful of roughly chopped chives
  • 2 tbs crumbled sheep’s milk feta (our favorite is from Marin Cheese Company)
  • drizzle of olive oil to coat the pan
  • small pinch of sea salt (since the feta is also salty)
  • light sprinkle of cayenne pepper
  • generous sprinkle of turmeric
  • buttered toast of your choice (we like Acme’s Pain au Levain)
  • a few slices of heirloom tomato (optional)
  • a few sprigs of cilantro or parsley (optional)

frittata ingredients

After adding olive oil to your ceramic nonstick pan, place the mushroom caps all in the same direction in the pan (I like to start with their tops down). This helps you know which ones you’ve flipped later on. Cook on medium heat until they begin to soften. Flip all of the mushrooms and cook for a moment longer before adding the egg mixture.

Meanwhile, combine the eggs, crème fraîche, chives, salt, cayenne pepper, and turmeric in a bowl. Beat with a fork or whisk until thoroughly combined and frothy. When the mushroom caps look just about ready, pour this mixture on top and quickly move back the mushroom caps to a relatively even distribution in the pan. At this point, scatter the crumbled feta evenly over the top of the frittata.

raw shiitake

flipped shiitakeadd egg mixtureadd feta

 

Now, the hardest part: wait and don’t touch! Let the frittata set and cook evenly on the bottom. When you see it puff up a little and the edges start to brown ever so slightly, you know it’s time to flip. If, like me, you haven’t yet perfected your egg flip, take the pan over the sink. A little piece of wasted egg is a lot better than having to clean up a mess on the stove. I lift up the entire frittata with a spatula, letting the little bit of extra liquid from the top drip off the sides back into the pan, and then quickly flip the solid part. Don’t worry about cracks or broken pieces, these will mostly close up as the other side cooks.

time to flipflipped

 

After the frittata is cooked and ready, use your spatula to divide it in half. Plate half on each plate with some hot buttered toast, a few slices of heirloom tomatoes, and some sprigs of cilantro (or parsley, if you are cilantro-averse). You can change up the vegetables for many delicious combinations. Shiitake mushrooms and feta cheese are two of our favorite ingredients but you can add other things to them. We like adding spinach, onions, or even squash blossoms when they’re in season. Enjoy!

shiitake mushroom, chive, feta frittata

Adventures in Pie Making: Triple Berry Pie (Huckleberry, Blackberry, Raspberry)

The plan was to make a huckleberry pie. Plans change. I ordered wild huckleberries from Good Eggs and realized only later that the $10 of berries that I purchased was only an 8oz container. Luckily, I had also ordered blackberries and raspberries. So, triple berry pie it became. I was soon to discover that this was only the first bump in the road. This site/blog isn’t about perfection and so I’ll share what I did, how it could have been better, and what I learned along the way.

This is my first foray into the pie-making world. I grew up in a Romanian-American household that often smelled sweetly of delicious desserts but never of American-style pie. So, I was a little intimidated by the prospect of making my own pie crust. I did a little research online and more-or-less followed Smitten Kitchen’s well-written pie crust instructions, both how to prepare and how to roll and crimp. I didn’t want to cut any corners with this first pie and so even latticed the top of the pie.

lattice close

Pie Dough

  • 2.5 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8oz cold butter cut into cubes
  • 1 cup cold water (chill briefly in the freezer or add some ice cubes)

butter flour

dough bowl

dough divideddough fridge

 

Filling

  • 1 cup huckleberries (these were very juicy and might have made the pie too juicy)
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar (add more if not eating the pie with ice cream)
  • sprinkle of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of corn starch (perhaps add more if your berries are as juicy as mine were this time)
  • zest of one lemon
  • a squeeze of lemon juice (probably about a teaspoon or two)

Huckleberries, Blackberries, Raspberries

Finishing touches

  • 1 tablespoon milk (to brush on top of the pie before baking)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (to sprinkle on the pie after brushing with milk)

lattice top

The raw pie looked lovely and was ready to bake. I had preheated the oven (we just moved and so this oven was new to me) to 375°F. However, I noticed that it didn’t appear to be cooking very quickly. I actually let it go the full hour before realizing that “preheat” on this oven meant just that. The oven turned off after reaching 375°F. Great. I also noticed some pooling of fruit juices on top and that some had even made its way through the crust (advantage/disadvantage of a glass baking dish). This modern, but less than intuitive, oven told me that it was actually around 200°F. I cranked it back up to the right temperature, this time on “bake,” for another 35 minutes.

triple berry pie

So, our pie came out very juicy. The crust on top was crunchy and buttery. The crust on the bottom did indeed soak through a bit, though it was fully cooked. I also learned that cutting the sugar used in other recipes made a pie that, as my husband said, was “addictive” when combined with ice cream. However, if you want to eat the pie without ice cream, add some extra sugar to the filling before assembling the pie for more a more traditional level of sweetness.

pie with ice cream

So, this is clearly not a perfect pie but it was a fun first try at something new and it still turned out pretty delicious. Have any pie-making tips you’d like to share with a newbie?

 

 

Strawberry Spearmint Coconut Cooler

Strawberry Spearmint Coconut Cooler

 

We just moved into our new home and our housewarming gift to ourselves was a Vitamix 750. We’ve seen this machine in action at our friends’ home in Tucson and loved the delicious smoothies that they created for us. I’m also looking forward to making hummus, soups, and other blended creations with the Vitamix 750.

I’d like to say that I was inspired by the hot summer weather to make this Strawberry Spearmint Coconut Cooler but, in reality, it had more to do with the limited produce in our refrigerator. In the future, there are a few things I’d do differently but, for a first try with the Vitamix, I think it turned out pretty well.

Ingredients

  • 9.5oz bottle of chilled Taste Nirvana Coconut Water with Pulp (if you’re feeling ambitious, you can also crack open a fresh coconut – Taste Nirvana is almost as good but with a lot less work)
  • a dozen fresh strawberries, plus one for garnish
  • a few sprigs of fresh spearmint, plus one for garnish
  • 1-2 teaspoons of maple syrup or agave (optional)
  • shot of rum or tequila (optional, not included here)

Pour the coconut water with pulp into the blending pitcher. Add the rest of the ingredients listed above. Blend to your desired consistency. In retrospect, I would have blended it longer to make it smoother but it depends on personal preference. If you like some texture (from the coconut pulp and strawberries) and want to see the green flecks of mint, blend for less time. If you’d prefer a more consistent texture throughout, blend for longer. Yields about 16oz of cooler, enough for 1-2 people. Multiply as needed.

For us today, this was a breakfast beverage and did not include any alcohol. However, I could imagine serving it at a mocktail at a BBQ or as a cocktail to evening guests. If you’re feeling festive, just add a shot of rum or tequila!

Thanks to Laura and Mihai for introducing us to the Vitamix and encouraging us to get one too. I’m looking forward to using it again soon!

Fresh Cannellini Bean Salad

Shelling Cannellini Beans

In summer, making beans doesn’t have to require planning the day before and cooking for long periods of time. And, no, I’m not talking about popping open a can. These fresh cannellini beans were easy to prepare and the uses are endless. I decided to use half to make a bean salad and saved the other half for another use (or, since it was so delicious, maybe more of the same) later this week.

I’m a big fan of beans but rarely cook them because they require soaking the night before and then a fairly long cook time on the stove. So, I was very excited to discover that Good Eggs is currently selling fresh cannellini beans from Dirty Girl Produce in Santa Cruz. I quickly signed up for two pounds (comes out to about 2 cups shelled) in this week’s delivery and now wish I had purchased more!

One of my favorite parts of preparing fresh beans (and peas too) is the shelling process. It’s simple and relaxing. In some ways, it reminds me of knitting or other repetitive tasks that can become almost meditative. Sometimes, I shell them while watching TV or chatting on the phone. Other times, it’s a welcome break from screen time and an opportunity for some quiet reflection.

Boil Cannellini Beans

After giving the beans a quick rinse in the colander, set them on the stove, with some water, over medium to medium-high heat to just bring them up to a boil. Once boiling, lower the temperature and simmer them for about 20-30 minutes. Cooking time will vary based on the freshness of the bean (if it’s older, it’ll be drier and take longer) and also on personal preference.

Cooked Cannellini Beans

I tend to like my beans soft and squishy. So, I cook them until I see some of them start to break apart. After straining in a colander, they’re ready to use!

Other Bean Salad Ingredients

While the beans cook, you’ll have more than enough time to prepare the other bean salad ingredients:

  • half of a small red onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, pressed or chopped
  • a small handful of cilantro (basil or parsley work great too), chopped
  • 15-20 “sweet 100” or other small cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped
  • a generous pour of olive oil
  • a few splashes of red wine vinegar
  • a liberal sprinkle of salt
  • cayenne pepper, to taste

and, of course,

  • 1 cup of cooked cannellini beans

I like to stir the beans in with the rest of the ingredients while they’re still hot. I’ve noticed that this helps the flavors combine faster and also helps to mellow the raw garlic and onion flavors. These quantities yield enough for two people enjoying this as a main course or for four, as a side dish. Serve at room temperature with some toasted or grilled ciabatta bread.

Cannellini Bean Salad