Category Archives: Soups & Stews

Meatless Monday: Ensalada Caprese Stack with Toasted Garlic “Croutons” and Savory Butternut Squash Soup

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Meatless Monday seems to be growing in popularity and meat lover that I am, I’ve been avoiding it like the plague! But now that the holidays are over and I’m back to eating relatively healthful food day to day but…I still have pants in the closet that I can’t fit into anymore!

While I’m well aware that eating veggies only once a week isn’t going to make a significant impact it’s certainly a step in the right direction. It also starts off the week with a kick to my immune system and sets the stage for eating good wholesome food throughout the rest of the week.  So, meatless Monday it is!

Bacon bits just wouldn’t have been right so I went with the garlic “croutons”. These are not actually croutons but simply pan toasted chopped garlic. These yummy little tidbits pack a punch, are easy to make and great as a garnish for soups, salads, or even cooked vegetables.

I use a little dairy in both of these recipes. If you avoid dairy try making the tomato stack with firm tofu in place of the mozzarella cheese and unsweetened almond milk would be very good in the soup.

Note: The soup is best if made the day before and it also makes this an easy dinner to prepare on a Monday night!

Savory Butternut Squash Soup

1 – Large butternut squash
1 – Whole head of garlic
1 – Med yellow onion, halved then sliced thin
1 Tbsp – Fresh ginger, grated
6 Cups – Low sodium vegetable broth
1 Cup – Low fat kefir, plain (or non-fat buttermilk)
Olive Oil
Kosher salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Olive oil (or canola)
Parmesan cheese for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375. Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment paper and spritz with cooking spray. Quarter the squash leaving the seeds intact and place skin side down on the baking pan. Spritz the squash with a little of the cooking spray and season with salt and pepper.

Very carefully cut roughly ½ inch off the top (pointy end) of the garlic head. (The idea is to expose as many of the cloves as possible without removing too much of the meat.) Place the garlic on a piece of foil then drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil evenly over the top. Season with salt and pepper then bring the edges of the foil together over the top of the garlic head to seal.

Now place the baking sheet into the oven then place the neat little package of garlic on one of the corners of the baking sheet alongside the squash. Bake for 45 minutes, carefully remove the garlic and bake the squash 15 minutes more. Remove the squash from the oven and set aside to cool.

While the squash is cooling add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a 4 quart sauce pan and place over medium heat. Add the onion and ginger and cook 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally until the pan is sizzling and the onion has begun to become transparent. Lower the heat to low and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until the onion turn golden, about 10 minutes.

When the squash have cooled enough to work with remove the skin and the seeds. (If they are not too burned; save the seeds for garnish or to munch on later.) As you work, place the cooked squash pieces into the pan along with the onions continuing to stir once in a while. Carefully remove the garlic cloves from the head and gently squeeze the roasted meat out of the skin, adding this to the pan with the onions and squash.

When you have all of the squash and the garlic added to the pan, add 2 cups of the broth, raise the heat to medium high and cook stirring often until most of the broth has evaporated. Stir in 3 more cups of broth and reserve the remaining cup for later. Allow the soup to just come back to a boil then remove it from the heat.

With the pan off of the heat, use an immersion blender to carefully puree the soup while adding the kefir a little at a time. Blend until all of the ingredients are well pureed and the soup has become silky smooth. Check the flavor and add salt and pepper if needed then return the pan to the heat and cook stirring often until heated through. If the soup is too think stir in the reserved cup of broth to bring back the consistency. Serve garnished with toasted garlic “croutons” and just a few shavings of parmesan cheese.

Ensalada Caprese Stack with Toasted Garlic “Croutons”

1 – Med to med-large very fresh, very ripe tomato per person, rinsed well
4 – ¼ thick slices fresh mozzarella per tomato
1 branch – Fresh basil, per tomato
Aged balsamic vinegar (I used12 year old)
Extra virgin olive oil
Mixed baby greens salad
Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese for garnish

Slice enough off the bottom of each tomato to allow it to sit flat. Working one tomato at a time and slicing horizontally cut each into five equal slices including the top. Position the tomato slices in such a way that you can easily reassemble them into the original tomato shape.

Starting at the bottom, sprinkle the first slice with a little kosher salt & pepper. Now add a slice of mozzarella and a leaf or two of fresh basil, then drizzle this with a little of the balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Set the next tomato slice on top and repeat the process until the tomato is reassembled with salt and pepper, cheese, basil, and oil and vinegar between each slice.

Before putting the top back on the tomato carefully cut out the stem, then after placing the top back on the tomato, drizzle a little more oil and vinegar into the hole left behind. Pinch the top of f of a branch of basil and place the stem end into the same hole so that it appears to be leaves on the tomato.

To serve, spread a serving of mixed baby greens on the plate then carefully set the tomato in the center. Sprinkle the greens with a little of the oil and vinegar, then garnish with toasted garlic “croutons” and just a few shavings of parmesan cheese.

Toasted Garlic Croutons

 2 to 4 Tbsp – Garlic, roughly chopped (large mince)
2 Tbsp – Olive Oil
1 – Pinch of kosher salt

Warm a small non-stick pan over medium heat and add the olive oil. When the oil begins to shimmer lower the heat to low and stir in the garlic. Stirring very often to avoid burning, cook until all of the garlic has become evenly cooked and golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, remove the garlic to drain on a paper towel much as you would with bacon. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and shake the paper towel a little to distribute and to spread out the garlic so the pieces don’t stick together. Allow “croutons” a minute or two to dry before serving.



Oyako Donburi – A Little Warmth On A Rainy Night

Photo by kathyhuntphoto,com

Wikipedia defines Comfort Food as “food prepared traditionally, that may have a nostalgic or sentimental appeal, or simply provide an easy-to-eat, easy-to-digest meal rich in calories, nutrients or both”.

While I wouldn’t argue with any of the above I might add that, Comfort Food for me is often a dish that will comfort my soul following a rough time, can be a dish that reminds me of someone I care deeply about and most certainly, comfort food will warm the body on a cold day or the heart on a rainy one.

Getting back to the definition, Wikepedia goes on to say comfort foods can be “foods that have a nostalgic element either to an individual or specific culture” and this is where I get to my point. Oyako Donburi is a very well known comfort food in Japan and especially popular in Hawaii. It is a dish of chicken and eggs simmered in a warm broth and served in a bowl over rice.

In Japanese “Oyako” loosely translates to “parent and child” and “Donburi” is usually “bowl” or “rice bowl”. You may also see this dish called “Oyakodon” which is simply an abbreviation of the same. Vaguely similar in ingredients to the Vietnamese soup, Pho Ga, which has definitely become a comfort food for my wife and I, Oyako Donburi may well become our next new favorite.

Which brings me to today…it’s been raining steady here for two days straight and yesterday was a lazy, rainy Sunday.  It was the perfect day for making a big batch of homemade chicken stock and when the rain continued all day today, a comfort food meal seemed to be just what the doctor ordered. After a little research and some stovetop experimentation, Oyako Donburi was just the right prescription for a cozy night at home!

Notes: This recipe is not entirely authentic and is something of a fusion recipe as I use a Chinese method of “velveting” the chicken in step 1. Although you can skip this step and simply simmer the chicken pieces in the broth with the onions, I highly recommend taking the extra few minutes. The difference in flavor and texture is well worth the added effort.

Once the chicken is “velveted”, I prepare Step 3 one portion at a time for continuity…this step comes together fairly quickly. Feel free to experiment with ingredients; a Google search of Oyako Donburi recipes will give you many ideas from adding miso or cilantro to using bonito flakes (dried fish) for a variety of flavors.

Oyako Donburi

Begin by preparing enough brown rice for two 1 to 1-1/2 cup portions, then go to step 1 while the rice is cooking. The rice should be steaming hot when added to the bowls as it serves to finish cooking the eggs.

Step 1 – “Velvet” the chicken:

2 Tbsp – Dry sake
2 Tbsp – Warm water
2 Tbsp – Corn starch
1 – White of 1 large egg
1 – Good pinch of kosher salt
1 Large or 2 small – Chicken breast halves, split lengthwise then sliced crosswise into thin slices
1 Tsp – Sesame oil

Combine the first 5 ingredients and whisk only until well combined. Stir in the chicken pieces and marinate this mixture for at least ½ hour, refrigerated.

Fill a small wok (or a med sauce pan) at least half full with water and bring to a gentle boil. Add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil then carefully add ½ of the chicken, strained of excess marinade, and cook gently separating the chicken slices to prevent clumping.

When the chicken is solid white and cooked through (about 1-1/2 to two minutes) the chicken will begin to float. At that point, remove the chicken to a strainer to drain. Repeat until all of the chicken is cooked setting the strainer over a bowl to drain. Discard the water and if making ahead, refrigerate the chicken until ready to use. Note: I used a Chinese Spider Strainer for this cooking process and a traditional 8″ mesh strainer to drain the chicken.

Step 2 – Simmer and “bowl” the following 1 portion at a time

1/2 Cup – Fresh chicken broth
1 Portion – Chicken, prepared in step one
1 quarter – Large yellow onion, sliced in ¼” slices, divided
3 Med – Shitake mushroom caps, sliced in ¼” slices, divided
2 – Green Onions, sliced thin on a sharp angle (bias)
1/4 Cup – Fresh arugula (or spinach)
2 Tbsp – Dry sake
2 Tbsp – Tamari sauce
2 Tsp – Agave nectar
½ Tsp – Sesame Oil
2 eggs
Nori (Dried seaweed) for garnish

In a small wok or pan (I used a non-stick egg skillet) bring the broth to a gentle boil over medium high heat. Stir in the sake, tamari, agave nectar and sesame oil, then add the onion and mushroom slices. Simmer until the onions are just becoming translucent (about 5 minutes) then add the chicken from step 1 along with the arugula.

Simmer one minute more stirring to ensure even heating. (Note: If you are skipping step one, add the chicken one minute after the onions and mushrooms and simmer until cooked through, then add the arugula for one minute more.)

Crack the eggs into a bowl and beat just enough to break the yolks and slightly mix the eggs. Stir in half the sliced green onions then gently pour the eggs evenly over the top of the simmering broth. Cook 30 seconds, then using chop sticks, stir once just enough to distribute the eggs evenly, cover and cook 30 seconds more while you spoon the rice into a bowl for serving.

(If necessary microwave the rice for 30 seconds to make sure it’s hot then) Gently slide the cooked mixture out of the pan and into the bowl over 1 to ½ cups steaming hot rice.  Cover the bowl with a saucer and serve as the eggs finish cooking in the hot bowl. Garnish with the remainder of the sliced green onions and crumbled or sliced dried nori.



Speaking of Comfort Food – Pho Ga

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Even in the warmest months of the year I am still quite fond of soup. Because this is historically the season of lighter meals I will usually choose a broth based soup as opposed to the heavier chowders or other cream soups. Just lately too I have been feeling a little under the weather so I figured it was a perfect time for a pot of soup.

It was once chicken noodle soup that cured my blues, until I discovered miso soup, that is. With its salty essence of the sea combined with the health benefits of tofu and seaweed…miso soup just seemed so, well…healthy! Ah, but then I found Pho; a Vietnamese soup steeped with perfumey flavors of the orient in a warm and comforting bowl of goodness!

Pho is a light, broth based soup most commonly made with beef, featuring tender rice noodles, vegetables, and aromatic herbs and spices. Also very popular is Pho Ga, which is essentially the same soup, made with chicken. Upon reading Jaden’s Pho Ga post over at Steamy Kitchen this is the Pho I set out to make this past Sunday morning.

I decided I could come up with a reasonable facsimile of the broth using my good old standby chicken stock recipe along with a few additions I already happened to have in the pantry. I was very pleased with the results! Don’t let the length of the recipe scare you…it really comes together quite easily with the hardest part being the long slow simmering of the stock.

Starting right after my morning coffee I spent only 15 minutes getting the ingredients prepped and inside of 30 the stock was well under way. The garnishes on the other hand would require a trip to the market while the stock was simmering gently on the stove. As a bonus…the house smelled delicious by the time I got back from the store!

The garnishes by the way are the fun part of Pho! Usually served alongside so that you may add as much (or as little) as you like, the most common garnishes are: Hoisin sauce, Sriracha or other pepper sauces, sliced chili peppers, Thai basil, culantro, fresh lime, and bean sprouts. With so many to choose from, each bowl of Pho tastes just a little different depending on the individual diner.

Of special note: In this recipe I am using a technique for “Velveting” the chicken. I searched for what seemed like forever trying to find out just how Chinese and other Asian cuisines get their chicken so wonderfully tender and I have finally found it. Look for more about this technique in future posts!

Pho Ga

Notes: For the most authentic Pho flavor use a grill to brown the chicken parts instead of the oven. The spice quantities are approximate based on how strong you would like these flavorings to be.

Step 1 – Prepare a chicken stock as written in Singing the praises of Chicken Stock, omitting the Thyme and adding the following ingredients at the same time that you add the chicken pieces to the pot:

2 to 3 ounces – Fresh ginger root, about 2 inches, roughly chopped
2 to 3 pods – Star anise
3 to 4 – Whole cloves
1 Tbsp – Ground coriander
1 Tbsp – Whole celery seed
1 Tbsp – Dark agave nectar, or molasses

Step 2 – While the stock is cooking, “Velvet” the chicken…

Whisk together…

2 Tablespoons – Shaoxing wine
2 Tablespoons – Warm water
2 Tablespoons – Corn starch
1 – White of 1 large egg
1 – Pinch kosher salt

Then marinate 1 large chicken breast half, split lengthwise then sliced very thin, in this mixture for at least ½ hour, refrigerated.

Fill a wok (or a large wide frying pan) at least half full with water and bring to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of sesame oil and reduce the heat to a steady simmer. Carefully add ½ of the chicken, drained of excess marinade, and cook for one minute gently separating the chicken slices to prevent clumping.

When the chicken is solid white and cooked through (about 1 to 1-1/2 minutes) remove to a strainer to drain. Repeat until all of the chicken is cooked setting the strainer over a bowl to drain. Refrigerate the chicken until ready to use. Note: I used a Chinese Spider Strainer for this cooking process and a traditional 8″ mesh strainer to drain the chicken.

Step 3 – Slice a large white onion first in half, then in paper thin slices. Soak the onion slices in cold water for at least 30 minutes.

Step 4 – Cook the noodles and serve…

Prepare one package of Bahn Pho (or Rice Noodles) per the directions on the package. Add a serving each of the noodles, the onion slices, and the prepared chicken to each serving bowl, then ladle over the broth to cover. Serve with your choice of bean sprouts, Hoisin sauce, Sriracha or other pepper sauces, sliced chili peppers, Thai basil, culantro, and fresh lime slices on the side.



Fusion Recipe: Orange Beef with Rosemary Soy Sauce

Photo by Kathy

Much like our crock pot, the pressure cooker spends most of the time collecting dust on the bottom shelf of the bakers rack. And, also like the crock pot, every time I use our pressure cooker I end up saying “Man, I love this thing!” Invariably, I make a mental note vowing to use the pressure cooker more often. Considering how this dinner turned out…perhaps it’s time I kept one of those little promises to myself.

Some of my favorite and most beloved comfort foods are stews and braised dishes which are for the most part cooked long and slow. Not exactly weeknight fare if you will. But the pressure cooker brings it all within reach. This dish, prepared traditionally, could take as long as 4 hours to cook; on this night, thanks to the pressure cooker, dinner was on the table in just over an hour. Yep, that’s right; I made this on a Tuesday evening after work in a little more than an hour!

If you are unfamiliar with pressure cooking, there are some great articles on the web with two of my favorite sites being Miss Vickie’s and Fabulous Foods . As a bonus (much like braising) it is claimed that pressure cooking destroys far fewer nutrients than other cooking methods making it a healthy addition to your kitchen arsenal. If you do not own a pressure cooker, by all means start reading up on them…they are safe, convenient and I simply cannot recommend this cooking method enough!

Because pressure cooking happens so fast there is not always time for flavor to develop. To counter this trend I started this recipe cooking hot, almost like a stir fry, because I wanted to build up as much flavor as possible before putting on the lid. I call this recipe a fusion because I used red wine and rosemary which are not typical in an Asian style stew. As an afterthought, a few orange peels would also bump up the “citrusy” flavor and speaking of flavor, feel free to add a little more sriracha if you like things spicy.

I still had a bunch of fresh kale around so I served this stew simply spooned over quick braised kale with a little ginger, garlic, lower sodium soy sauce and a splash of water. Also I will include notes below for a traditional braise for those of you who will not be using a pressure cooker. P.S. If you go out and get one I promise to use my pressure cooker again before it has the time to gather that coat of dust!

Orange Beef with Rosemary Soy Sauce

1-1/2 Pounds – Beef chuck, trimmed and cut into roughly 1” cubes
1 – Medium Onion, halved lengthwise then sliced lengthwise
1 – Medium Daikon radish, peeled and cut into large cubes (the Daikon was about the size of a large cucumber)
½ Cup plus 1/8 Cup reserved – Fresh orange juice
½ Cup – Lower sodium soy sauce
¼ Cup – Dry red wine
3 Cloves – Garlic, minced
1-1/2 Tbsp – Fresh ginger, minced
1-1/2 Tbsp – Agave nectar
2 Sprigs – Fresh rosemary
1 Tbsp – Fish sauce
1 Tbsp – Corn Starch
½ Tbsp – Sriracha (Chinese red pepper sauce)
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Sesame oil
Olive oil
Sesame seeds and sliced green onions for garnish

In an uncovered pressure cooker over medium high heat, warm 1-1/2 Tbsp each of Sesame and Olive oil until shimmering. When the oil is quite hot, add the beef cubes and cook, stirring often, until any exuded liquid has evaporated and some browning has occurred. Add the onions and agave nectar to the beef and continue cooking and stirring about 1 minute before adding the garlic and ginger. Allow this to cook, while still stirring often, until the onions are transparent.

When the onions have become transparent stir in the red wine and as this comes to a boil, scrape up any browned bits that may have stuck to the cooking surface. Add all remaining liquid ingredients, the daikon radish cubes and the rosemary (leaving the reserved orange juice aside). Stir gently to mix the ingredients, and then lock on the lid to the pressure cooker.

Leave the heat on medium high until the pressure has reached optimal cooking pressure, then lower the heat to medium low. Cook 30 minutes while monitoring pressure, lowering or raising heat marginally as needed to maintain optimal pressure. After 30 minutes remove the pressure cooker from heat and allow it to cool naturally until the pressure falls to zero.

When the cooker is safe to open, carefully remove most of the stewed solids to a large serving bowl using a spider skimmer or a slotted spoon, leaving the sauce in the cooker. Return the cooker to heat and bring to a boil over medium high heat once more. In a small bowl, whisk the reserved orange juice and the corn starch together to form a slurry before stirring it immediately into the sauce. Continue stirring until the sauce returns to a boil and thickens slightly.

When the sauce has thickened, very gently fold the sauce back into the stew. Serve over brown rice, braised greens, or quinoa and garnish, if desired, with sliced green onions and sesame seeds.

Note: For a traditional braise follow the recipe to the point where the pressure cooker is closed (using a heavy bottomed Dutch oven rather than a pressure cooker). Cover the Dutch oven with a layer of aluminum foil, then a heavy lid and bake in a 325 degree oven for 1-1/2 hours. Check for doneness, re-cover and bake 30 minutes more if necessary. Then follow the recipe from the point at which the pressure cooker is opened.



Chicken Soup with Cannelloni and Kale

(or What to do with all that Chicken Stock – Part 2)

One of my favorite ways to spend a Sunday morning is sipping coffee, listening to The Sunday Blues with Dar , and cooking a big pot of soup. The work is indeed therapeutic for me and I feel the stress of the previous week slip away as I slice onions, chop celery and carrots, and build the foundation of a flavorful meal. Then as the kettle begins to heat up and the steam begins to rise, that pleasant and familiar aroma fills the house and warms me to my soul!

To be honest I had misgivings about posting this recipe as the photo is not particularly glamorous and this soup in particular is really quite simple. Then as I thought about it I realized that soup is one of my favorite things to cook, I make it quite often, and it has become an integral part of the culinary routine in my home. Soup is economical as it is often made with the trimmings and leftovers from previous meals, and who can deny the heartwarming qualities of a big bowl of soup and a hunk of fresh bread?

So there you have it. This too is a Recipe Randy Cooks. And so it will be included.

This soup is a recent favorite and one of the easier soup recipes that I make. The garlic is a recent addition and it not only boosts the flavors but also raises the antioxidant levels of the dish. I guess the jury is still out on the old “Jewish Penicillin” theory but if we can raise the nutritional benefits of a dish by adding a little flavor then I am all for it! It may be surprising to you that with a whole head of garlic in the recipe, the garlic flavor is really quite subtle.

Sometimes I make this soup with chunks (2 cups) of browned Italian turkey sausage; sometimes I make it with chicken. Both are quite good and satisfying. Although I did not do it in the soup pictured, another favorite way to add flavor to this soup is to add a tablespoon or so of pesto to the bowl before ladling in the hot soup. Also of note in the photo, the “garnish” is a few good grinds from a McCormick Italian Herb Seasoning Grinder .

I served this soup with a fresh green salad and a warm whole grain baguette.

Chicken Soup with Cannelloni and Kale

2 Cups – Boneless Chicken Breasts, cubed in approx. ½ inch cubes
2 cloves – Garlic, minced
2 to 3 Grinds – McCormick Italian Herb Seasoning
2 – 14.5 oz Cans, Cannelloni (White Kidney) Beans, rinsed and drained
4 Cups – Kale, rinsed, trimmed and chopped large
1 Whole Head – Garlic
8 Cups – Homemade Chicken Stock
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt & Fresh Ground Black Pepper

Preheat oven to 425°. Using a knife or kitchen shears trim the top of the garlic head just enough to expose the tops of the cloves inside. Remove as much of the papery “skin” from the outside of the head as you can, without the cloves falling apart. Place the garlic in the center of an approx 12” square of aluminum foil, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper. Bring the foil up around the garlic and seal loosely into a package. Bake for 30 minutes or until the garlic cloves are brown and soft through and through.

Meanwhile, place a large soup pot on the stove and bring 7 cups of chicken stock to a simmer over medium heat. Add the beans and the kale, stirring to blend. Reduce the heat enough to maintain a light simmer.

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat and season the oil with 2 to 3 grinds from the Italian Herb Seasoning Grinder. When the oil is shimmering add the chicken and 2 cloves of minced garlic and cook stirring frequently until the chicken is brown in places and cooked through, 6-8 minutes. Using a slotted spoon (or a Spider) remove the chicken and garlic from the skillet and add it to the soup.

When the garlic is done roasting, separate the cloves and squeeze the contents of each clove into a blender. Add 1 cup of chicken stock and blend until smooth. Add this mixture to the soup, stirring to incorporate. Simmer the soup another 30 minutes to allow all of the flavors to develop.



Mock Carbonnade a La Flamande

Dear friends of ours stayed at our house for a few days this past week and as dear friends will do, they left a few beers behind. As I surveyed the fridge situation on Sunday morning I was already thinking of beef, maybe a pot roast or a stew, and when I spotted the bottles of Shiner Bock my mind was made up…Carbonnade a La Flamande! At the market I found a sale on beef chuck mock tenderloins and decided this would be a fun challenge.

Carbonnade a La Flamande is a rich Belgian stew of beef, caramelized onions, and beer usually with a sweet and sour flavor not unlike a good sauerbraten. The irony was that I was using Shiner Bock instead of a deeply flavored Belgian ale as the base in a stew of “mock” tenderloin steaks. So while this is NOT a true Carbonnade a La Flamande, it does borrow some of the great character from one of my favorite Belgian dishes.

If you are not familiar with beef chuck mock tenderloins they are simply steaks cut from the chuck eye roast. They produce a mostly round steak that looks something like a tenderloin steak. Chuck is still chuck though and tender they are not, hence the “Mock” part of the name. This cut is flavorful but best suited to slow braising or long tenderizing marinades.

Other notes: Brown the steaks in a pan if you prefer, I kind of like the broiler for larger pieces of meat. A mostly whole star anise should do the trick but be sure to remove any pieces that break off during the cooking. I served these with whole wheat wide egg noodles and blanched then sautéed snap beans with garlic. Oh, and if you want to use a real Belgian ale I recommend Chimay Blue …just be sure to have another one on hand to enjoy with your steak!

Mock Carbonnade a La Flamande

5 to 7 – Beef Mock Tenderloin Steaks (About 2 Lbs)
3 – Medium Onions, Sliced
1 Tbsp – Tomato Paste
12 Oz – Medium Bodied Beer
1 Cup – Chicken Stock
1 Tbsp – Beef Soup Base (I used Demi-Glace Gold )
1 Star – Star Anise
1 Large Sprig – Fresh Thyme
1 Large Sprig – Fresh Rosemary
1 Tbsp – Red Wine Vinegar
Olive Oil
Kosher Salt & Freshly Ground Black Pepper

Warm a tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy stew pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Stir in tomato paste, star anise, onions, and a ¼ teaspoon of fresh ground pepper. As the onions begin to sizzle lower the temperature to medium low and continue cooking stirring often. Meanwhile, line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and coat with a thin film of oil (I used a spritz of Olive Oil Cooking Spray). Use a paper towel to pat the steaks dry and arrange them evenly on the cookie sheet. Brush or drizzle each steak with olive oil and season well on both sides with kosher salt and pepper. Continue cooking and stirring the onions 15 minutes or so until they begin to turn a deep golden color then stir in the thyme and rosemary…keep cooking and stirring the onions while you brown the steaks.

Set the oven (broiler) rack 3” below the element or flame. Place the steaks on the rack and turn the broiler on high. (Note: If your broiler is electric leave the door slightly ajar; if your broiler is gas fueled close the door.) Broil the steaks 4-6 minutes watching them closely until a nice brown crust has formed, carefully turn and broil 4 minutes more or until nicely browned.  Remove the steaks and set aside to rest while prepping your braise.

Reduce the oven heat to 300. Remove the star anise from the onions and discard. Stir beer, soup base, and chicken stock into the onions and raise the heat to medium high. Stir occasionally until the liquid just begins to boil, place the steaks into the pot, cover firmly and bake for 2 hours. After two hours remove from heat, leave covered, and set aside to rest.

Wait at least 20 minutes to remove the steaks to a serving platter; place the pot back on the burner over medium high heat. As the liquid comes to a boil reduce the heat to medium, stir in the vinegar and allow the gravy to cook until your desired thickness is reached.

Spoon the gravy over your steaks, serve and enjoy!

Singing the praises of Chicken Stock

Singing the praises of Chicken Stock

As I populate my blog with more and more recipes you will notice that chicken stock will show up in the ingredients over and over again. Indeed, I use chicken stock in a ton of different ways and find it to be an invaluable ingredient especially in healthful cooking. Aside from the obvious soups, risottos, and sauces I use chicken stock in place of water nearly every time I cook rice or couscous. Adding a little chicken stock to simmered beans adds body and richness, especially if you are going to make a puree. And, don’t forget those veggies either! A little stock boosts the flavor of blanched then sautéed vegetables nearly as well as a pat of butter and with much less fat.

Inasmuch as I tout the glories of chicken stock, I cannot emphasize enough how much better it tastes if you take the time to make your own! While I will at times use a canned chicken “broth”, there is simply nothing better than homemade. I say “broth” because I have yet to find a commercial stock that comes even close to the goodness of homemade. If I must used canned broth, I nearly always go with my favorite, Swanson’s Certified Organic Chicken Broth . For flavor, sodium level, and value, most others pale in comparison.

So what is the difference between stock and broth? To put it simply, stock utilizes more bones than meat in its preparation and nearly always involves browning of the ingredients before simmering.  Broth on the other hand uses more meat than bones and generally involves no browning of the ingredients before simmering. Stock is typically cooked longer than broth and usually contains less salt. While the two are entirely interchangeable, stock is essentially a richer more flavorful version of broth which is why it is preferred in sauce-making while broth is used more often in soups. Because I always seek to maximize flavor in my cooking, I nearly always use stock.

What is my secret to a good pot of chicken stock? Store-bought Rotisserie Chicken no less!

Out of habit, I freeze all of our chicken scraps stashed in a zip lock bag and when I have enough saved up, I make stock. While I have long browned my chicken parts before making stock, when I started buying Rotisserie Chickens from Costco for quick dinners on busy nights, I noticed an immediate improvement in the richness of my stock. Maybe it is the browning the rotisserie imparts on these chickens or maybe it is the marinade they use. Whatever the case the difference is remarkable enough that before I make a pot of stock I always wait until at least half of my stash of ingredients is from these chickens. To add additional flavor I also freeze any fresh herbs or vegetables (IE: onions, garlic cloves, apples, etc…) that were originally cooked with a home cooked chicken. Brown these right along with your chicken and you would be amazed how much flavor they can bring to the party!

When I make a batch of chicken stock, for convenience alone, I keep a quart or so in the fridge for up to a week. The rest I freeze in usable batches of 2 cup and ½ cup measures. For the former I pour two cups of cooled stock into a 1 quart Zip Lock Freezer bag, squeeze out the excess air, seal and stack them in the freezer. For an approximate ½ cup portion I pour the cooled stock evenly into a silicone muffin pan, cover loosely with stretch wrap, and freeze. The next day I pop the frozen portions out and store them neatly in another Zip Lock Freezer Bag. An ice tray does the same trick for even smaller portions but I don’t usually bother. I am a big stickler for fresh foods and perhaps it is because I go through it so fast but I really haven’t noticed a difference between fresh or frozen homemade stock.

Please remember, for the sake of food safety it is always best to refrigerate or freeze your stock as soon as it comes close to room temperature. To hasten cooling you can:

  • Pour the hot stock in to smaller and/or flatter containers to cool.
  • Set your stock pot into a sink or tub of ice water or even cold water, refreshing the water a time or two as it gets warm.
  • Freeze water a day or two ahead of time in a sanitized an empty ½ gallon milk container. Gently place the frozen container into your stock.
  • Fill a gallon sized Zip Lock Bag with ice cubes. Gently lower this into your “warm”stock.

Google “food safety” if you have any doubts and always use care in your handling of any food.

Homemade Chicken Stock

1 – One gallon Zip Lock Bag stuffed full of chicken necks, wing tips, and carcasses, thawed.
1 – Large yellow onion, sliced very thin
3 – Branches celery including leaves, chopped
2 – Large carrots, chopped
2 – Large garlic cloves, crushed
12 – Black peppercorns
1 – Tablespoon kosher salt
4 – Springs fresh thyme (or 1 Tbsp dried)
1 – Bay leaf
Olive Oil spray or mist
Fresh water to cover all by 1 inch.
Kosher salt & fresh ground black pepper to taste.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease a cookie sheet with an olive oil spray or mist. Cut or chop chicken into manageable sized pieces and spread evenly on cookie sheet. Mist lightly with olive oil spray or mist then season generously with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Place in upper third of oven and cook 20 minutes undisturbed. Carefully remove and cool for safe handling. (Note: If chicken pieces do not show substantial browning, bake 8 to 10 minutes more before continuing.)

Meanwhile, coat the bottom of a large stock pot with a spray of olive oil and cook the remaining ingredients over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, to release flavor.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, add all of it including any collected juices, to the stock pot. Carefully swirl a small amount of fresh water in the cookie sheet to dissolve any browned bits and add this to the stock pot. Pour in enough fresh water to cover all ingredients by about 1 inch. Increase heat to high and monitor closely until nearly boiling, skimming off any excess foam. When the liquid reaches a near mild boil reduce the heat to simmer and cook 3 to 4 hours checking from time to time to keep from reaching a full boil.

After 3 – 4 hours remove the stock pot from heat and allow to cool somewhat before straining. When the stock has cooled enough to handle, using a slotted spoon, remove the largest solids to a colander or sieve set in a bowl to capture any draining stock. When most of the solids have been removed, strain remaining stock through cheesecloth or a sanitized dish cloth to clarify. Skim any remaining fat as it accumulates at the surface and/or remove any fat accumulations after the stock had been refrigerated.