Braised to the bone

                         Braised Chicken

 

I’m sorry, did I just put you to sleep. Well WAKE UP. Braised chicken is one of life’s delicacies. It’s simple and full of flavor. The best part of this dish is you make it ahead. Make a lot. You won’t be sorry.

Now I like to think that the onions are the stars of this dish. I sauté the onions in olive oil and a sprinkling of salt. If you have the time to caramelize the onions, please do. They add a deep flavor to the dish. To caramelize onions, you cook them on a medium low heat and stir….for a long time. You don’t want them to burn, but caramelize and become sweeter. I prefer to let them cook down to almost a relish. If you don’t want to spend the time caramelizing them, that’s okay. Just cook them until they are translucent.

To braise you must have a liquid. I use some water with a bouillon cube or a product called “Better than Bouillon”. You can use chicken broth too. I also add some white wine first to deglaze the onions. This means you scrape up the yummy brown bits from the pan, and let the wine evaporate. All the flavor is right there.

So let’s talk recipe. I don’t have one.  Oops. I just always wing it. It’s really just browning, sautéing and braising. Easy peasy. This is something that I have made forever. There are some components and methods that we need to discuss. First, the chicken. I like to use 4 leg quarters. You don’t have to, but please use chicken on a bone. Chicken cooked on the bone will stay moist. Make enough for two meals. This dish does take time, so make it worth it. You also need a pan with a lid. When you braise, you cover the pan to keep the liquids from evaporating. I use a large fry pan that isn’t too deep.

Tonight I used four leg quarters and two VERY large onions. I don’t think you can have enough onions in this dish. You cook them down over a period of time. Since they are the star, I cut them in half moons. First you cut the tip of the onion off. Then cut the onion from the root down to where the tip was. Peel the skin from each half and cut thin semi circles of onion, with the flat side down on the cutting board. Always do this before you even take out the pan. Put the onions in the bowl. It makes cooking so much easier when you are prepared.

Image 10

So, the first step is to heat your pan over a medium high heat. Pour some olive oil on the bottom of the pan and let it heat. Put the chicken skin side down in the pan. Let the chicken brown for about 5 minutes. If you try to lift the chicken and the skin sticks to the pan, let it keep cooking. At this point we are only browning the meat. In a while, we will cook the meat through. What ever sticks to the pan is full of flavor and will help made the sauce very tasty.  After about 10 minutes, flip chicken. If the skin is still sticking, don’t worry. The world will not end. I like to sprinkle Lawry’s seasoned salt at this point on the chicken. Let the chicken cook for about 5 more minutes. Remove chicken from pan. I like to set it on a cookie sheet while I sauté the onions.

Now, I drain off any fat from the pan. Don’t scrape the pan bottom. Just pour the fat into a Pyrex measuring cup, or even a coffee cup. My “friend” poured the very hot fat into a glass once. Nothing like shattered glass and boiling hot grease on your kitchen counter. Said no one. Ever. Set it aside to cool. You will throw this out later. I let it cool on the counter and then put it in the fridge. It hardens and gets tossed into the trash.  Someday I’ll tell you how I learned that sugar burns blue. Right honey?

Put the pan back on the burner and add more olive oil to the pan. Time to sauté the onions. We talked about this already. Don’t wander away from them. Keep a watchful eye on the onions. When they are brown enough for you, add the chicken back into the pan.  If you listen, you will hear angels singing. Really.

Image 11

I add broth/water half way up the chicken. You want to braise it, not drown it. I also add the bouillon now. Put the cover on the pan, lower the heat, and let it simmer for about an hour.

See why I said to make enough for more than one meal? This takes time, but it’s very worth it. The chicken is done when it is falling off the bone. I take the chicken and put it on a CLEAN cookie sheet to cool. I spoon out the onions, with a slotted spoon, into a bowl. Let the sauce cool in the pan.

Image 9

Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, I pull the meat off the bones and put it in a container, with the onions.  This is easier to reheat and serve when you shred the meat off the bone. There’s more portion control too. I certainly don’t want a hunk of meat that Fred Flintstone could eat. Yabba dabba do. Being frugal, I put those bones go right into the freezer for  future chicken stock. I pour the sauce into a separate container. The fat will rise as it cools. By dinnertime tomorrow, it will have risen to the top and you can throw out the fat by scraping it up with a spoon.

Image 14

 

That’s it. The next day when you’re ready for dinner put the meat, onions and sauce in a pan and heat on low. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with rice or noodles.  A simple vegetable like steamed broccoli pairs well with this dish. Ha! I said “pairs”.

I made this chicken tonight, while I was cleaning up after dinner, which I made Saturday. That’s how I roll. I like to cook ahead and serve another day. Flavors meld together and taste even better. That’s the beauty of braising. Try it. You’ll like it! Winner, winner; chicken dinner!

Breadsticks and Soup for you!

It’s snowing again today. It’s beautiful. Until it turns brown. So today, before the boy went to work, I made some breadsticks and tortellini sausage soup. It hit the spot. There is nothing like the smell of bread baking on a cold winter’s day. The breadstick and soup recipes are from OUR BEST BITES (www.ourbestbites.com). They are simple and delicious. If you are going to make both, start the bread dough first. It has to rise for 45 minutes. The soup is wonderful and I have made a few changes that add a little richness to it. Please make this soup. Now. Tomorrow. Soon. It’s wonderful. I love to bring it to work for my lunch. I zap it in the microwave and I am brought immediately to a happy place. Don’t look at me.

Breadsticks (and Pizza Dough)

If you’ve never worked with yeast, this is the perfect recipe to start. It’s simple and requires very little attention.

1 ½ cup of warm water (about 110 degrees)

1 Tbsp. sugar

1 Tbsp. instant yeast

½ tsp. salt

3 – 4 ½ cups of flour

In a large bowl, combine 1 ½ cups of flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. Pour in the water. If you’re not sure about the temperature of the water, pour cool water into the measuring cup and let it sit for 15 minutes. Cool is better than hot. Hot water will kill the yeast and the bread won’t rise. Cool water will just make the dough take longer to rise. No big deal. Stir the mixture. Gradually add more flour until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl and it barely sticks to your finger. Add 1 cup at a time. I usually use almost 4 cups. It depends on whether it’s a humid summer’s day or a dry winter’s day. So add and stir.

Spray a glass or metal bowl with cooking spray and place dough in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rise for 45 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Remove the dough from the bowl and place on a floured surface. I like to use parchment paper. I roll out the dough on it and bake the dough on it. Roll the dough in a rectangle and cut into 12 strips with a pizza cutter or knife.

Roll each piece of dough into a snake and then drape it over your forefinger and twist the dough. Place on baking sheet and repeat with remaining dough. Don’t worry if they touch. Pulling freshly baked dough apart is wonderful! Cover with towel and let rise for 30 minutes. They get all chubby on you!

When there’s about 15 minutes to go, preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Rub some butter on top of the breadsticks by grabbing a stick of butter with the wrapper on, and run up and down the breadsticks. Ohhhh bread and butter. Sprinkle breadsticks with garlic seasoning or powdery Parmesan cheese in a can (really) and garlic salt. Enjoy!

This dough is also perfect for pizza. Follow the directions until the forming of the breadsticks. Instead, I stretch the dough onto a cookie sheet that has olive oil spread on it and cornmeal. That’s how I make my pizza.

Tortellini Sausage Soup

I have made this soup many times. My family likes it. It makes a great meal on winter’s night and many leftovers. The recipe is not complicated, but it takes many, simple steps. As always, read the recipe thoroughly before making it. I strongly suggest that you prep all the veggies and have all the liquids and spices on hand. Being prepared makes cooking easier and more enjoyable. Trust me on this.

1 lb. Italian Turkey sausage – removed from casing

4 cloves of minced garlic

1 large onion, diced

½ cup of water

2 15-oz cans of chicken broth

½ cup of apple cider (I use apple juice)

16 oz. can of diced tomatoes (I prefer the petite diced tomatoes)

8 oz. tomato sauce

1 cup of diced carrots

1 tsp. dried basil

1 tsp. dried oregano

2 medium zucchini – grated

12 oz. package of frozen cheese tortellinis

2 Tbsp. tomato paste (optional)

1 Parmesan rind (optional)

Heat pan on a medium heat and add enough olive oil to lightly coat bottom of pan. Add onions and begin to sauté them until translucent. Add the sausage that has been removed from the casing. Break it into pieces. You can further chop the sausage, as it cooks, so don’t worry. Let the sausage cook and brown slightly. Add in garlic and cook for 30 seconds.

Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, juice, water, broth, carrots, oregano, and basil. Cover and simmer for ½ hour. I like to add tomato paste. The original recipe doesn’t call for it, but I like the flavor it adds. I try and freeze any Parmesan rinds I have. They are a great addition to a soup like this one. The rind gives it a little creaminess.

Add the parsley and zucchini and simmer for about 15 minutes. I like to use a box grater for my zucchini.  ImageYou can add a little more or less zucchini if you’d like. It melts into the soup when it’s cooking. Children do not even know it’s there (HINT) I even put in any chunks that I can’t grate. Whoever gets a zucchini chunk can clean up or be rewarded in any way you’d like (winky winky)
Add the frozen tortellini and cook for about 10 minutes. Serve this with bread or breadsticks and freshly grated Parmesan on top. I hope this feeds your soul too!

Image 6

Onions 101

Let’s talk about cutting onions. I cut a lot of onions. A lot. So I would like to take a minute and show you how I cut them. Dice them to be more precise.

First, I like to trim the tip of the onion off, and then cut from the root end to where the tip was.

Image 1

This make is it much easier to remove the skins.

Image 2

Once you remove the skins, you are ready to dice. I like to turn the onion onto the flat side, and make slices from almost the root to the end of the onion.

Image 3

Now I place my palm on the onion and press down, while I cut horizontally towards the root of the onion. I don’t cut all the way to the root, but as close as you can.

Image 4

Depending on the size of the onion, you can make one or two horizontal cuts. Please excuse my peasant hands. Hey, they work just fine. Sorta.

Now you are ready to dice the onion.

Image 5

It’s that simple. I suggest trying if first on a large onion. This is a great technique that saves you time when prepping for cooking.  I hope you try this method.

Winter Vegetable Soup

Image

Winter Vegetable Soup

My friend Lisa gave me this recipe last winter. I made it once and was discouraged since all I had was an old blender. It worked well, but it was late in the day and I was losing patience. The soup tasted wonderful, but it wasn’t the experience I had hoped for. I just recently bought an immersion blender. It made such a difference. Don’t get me wrong, the blender worked. I had just been too tired. It’s times like this that make me wonder what did we ever do before we had these contraptions. I guess with this soup, you would have withheld most of the liquids until the potatoes were cooked and mashed them. It could work! I am a novice with immersion blenders and I went a little too crazy with it. Next time I will follow her directions to the word and puree half the soup and then add the rest of the spinach. Ooops!

I hope you try this soup. On a cold and snowy night, a bowl of soup and a hunk of bread will fix what ails you!

4 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces (or more if you love bacon)

4 tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter

2 cups finely diced leeks (white part and 1 inch of green)

1 ½ cups finely diced onion

1 cup finely diced celery

1 ½ tsp. dried tarragon

½ tsp. dried thyme

salt and pepper to taste

5 cups of chicken stock or canned broth

2 ½ cup finely diced potatoes (about 4 potatoes)

1 lb. fresh baby spinach

½ cup heavy or whipping cream

This potato/leek soup is easy. But I have to stress that you need to do your prep work before you start. You should cut you leeks, onions and celery ahead of time. I peel and dice the potatoes while the other vegetables sauté.  Trust me. It makes cooking more enjoyable if you are prepared. As the French stay, “mise en place”….everything in place.

If you haven’t cooked with leeks, you should know they can be very sandy. I usually cut them, and then let them soak in cold water. The sand will drop to the bottom of the bowl. You just scoop out the cut leeks when you need them. You can drain them in a colander or on paper towels. Simple. Effective.

In a large pot (at least 4 ½ quarts), cook the bacon over a low heat until the fat is rendered and the bacon is crisping. Remove the bacon with a slotted spoon. Drain the bacon on a paper towel. I used it as a topping for the soup. It really makes the soup magnificent.

Add butter to the pot and sauté the leeks, onions and celery. You wanted them wilted, not brown. Cook them on a low heat and stir them. You can always take the pan off the heat for a minute if they are cooking too quickly. Add the tarragon, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir well. Keep in mind you will season it again with salt and pepper before serving.

Add the stock and potatoes. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, but not mushy. This will take about 15-20 minutes. I used only 4 cups of stock. I like my soups thicker. That’s my preference.

Add half the spinach. Simmer for about one minute.

Remove the soup from the heat. Put half of the soup in either a blender or food processor. If you are using an immersion blender, put the soup in a saucepan or deep bowl. Puree this. If you are using a blender, be careful. Let the soup cool for a few minutes. Blenders are temperamental about hot liquids. Pour the pureed soup into the original pot and heat on a low heat. Add the remaining spinach and the cream. Heat through, stirring well, but do not boil. Adjust the seasoning, top with the bacon bits, and serve.

For those of you worried about the cream, don’t! I mistakenly left it out last night and the world did not end. It would have added some color and smoothness, but the soup was still delicious!