The Teacup Chronicles

Tag: Food

Medicinal Chicken Soup

This weekend I finally succumbed to the latest cold going around, which has been plaguing me all week with that icky pre-sick feeling one gets deep in their throat. I thought I had conquered it after several days of regimental echinacea doses and religious avoidance of sugar. But after walking around all day Friday in the freezing wind with no hat,  plus an indulgent lunch at my favorite Montpelier restaurant (Kismet) followed by an even more indulgent desert, I startled sniffling and sneezing.  By the next morning, I was done for.

I wandered around the house most of the morning in my pajamas with a tissue box in near proximity at all times, trying to muster up enough energy and wit to be semi-functioning and get some work done. I finally gave up on that idea, and decided to brave the world and go to the farmer’s market in search of a chicken. Mission: Make Chicken Soup. I bundled up in a ridiculous amount of layers and headed out.

I procured the said bird, fighting through cues of tourists with cameras and Whole Foods bags, and even managed to get some carrots and parsnips. It was COLD, and windy, so I felt like quite the adventurer, suffering great hardships to seek out the secret ingredients for my life-saving medicine.

Now, the greatest thing about this soup is that it is extremely low maintenance. You don’t really have to chop anything if you don’t feel like it:  just put everything in the pot, put the lid on, and let it simmer happily away while you cozy up on the couch to watch re-runs of Seinfeld and sip tea. And, as well as nourishing vegetables and spices, you can throw all manner of medicinal roots, fungi and herbs to simmer in the delicious broth and infuse it with their medicine. This is the one pot stop – a nourishing meal and a medicinal decoction all in one with barely any effort.

Here’s what you might add to your pot:

  • 1 organic, free-range chicken
  • Onion family members: garlic, leeks, onions, shallots
  • Carrot family members: celery, fennel, parsnips, carrots
  • Root vegetables of choice: potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, rutabagas, etc
  • Squash
  • Greens: spinach, cabbage, kale, collards, etc. (add at the very end of the cooking time)
  • Medicinal mushrooms: shiitake, oyster mushrooms, maitake, etc
  • Immune tonifying herbs: astragalus, codonopsis, american ginseng, burdock root
  • Herbs and Spices: parsley, cilantro, thyme, rosemary, oregano, ginger, cayenne, etc

Simply heat a little olive oil in a big stock pot, add your vegetables and sauté for a few minutes, then place the chicken in the pan with enough water to cover well (about 14 cups), and let the pot simmer away. Typically the soup will take about an hour to an hour and a half, depending on the size of your chicken. When the chicken is cooked, remove it from the pan and let cool. Use a fork to shred the meat off of the bone and add it back to the soup.Once everything is seasoned to your liking,  ladle a good selection of veggies and chicken into a large bowl (or mug with a handle), and a good serving of broth.

There is really nothing like a good homemade chicken soup for when you feel under the weather, it’ll have you feeling right as rain in no time at all. After two days on chicken soup, I’m feeling nearly back to myself. Of course, you don’t have to be sick to make this soup: you can eat it when you’re well and it’ll turn you into a super-human…

A humble dinner for a rainy autumn day

Menu:

Mesclun greens with apple, pinenuts and walnut oil

Creamy cauliflower soup with gorgonzola and pear relish

Individual blackberry  ginger upside-down cakes with cream

I am a collector of menus. I have notebooks full of them, clipped out of magazines or scrawled out messily  on scraps of paper at the kitchen table, piles of cookbooks surrounding me. When I read back over them, they seem to describe periods of my life in ways that I don’t think anything else quite could. Soba noodle salad with fried tempeh, wasabi dressing and hibiscus tea is Boulder in the spring. Jasmine tea and French toast with bananas and almonds is Seattle in the winter when it rains.  These menus catch that distinctive aroma which is so fully of just one place and one time – immediately recalling that intangible feeling of a closed chapter in your life.

There is almost something akin to story telling in making menus – the creation of something with a clear beginning and an end, a distinctive style and feel, a theme pulling everything together. Indeed, food in itself is really like a story. A story of who we are and what we like, where we live, where we came from, how we live.  I try to imagine what it might be like to see all the meals I have eaten strung out in a line before me. What stories would I find there? What themes?

I think it has almost become  therapeutic to me, creating these menus, some odd way of creating a sense of completion and resolve in a world that doesn’t often provide those things in neat, delicious little packages. Each menu takes infinite possibility and direction and creates from that something that is concise and simple and profound. Each menu is like a little organized snapshot of the infinite divine.

My newest obsession is the creation of menus attached to very specific happenings – a picnic for an afternoon in fall, a meal for eating around the fire, a dinner for the coldest day in winter, a soup for the first thunderstorm. I think of them as little poems documenting the flavors and seasons of our lives.  As though the first drizzly day in March when the snow starts to melt really does taste like split pea soup and soda bread. And July tastes of corn and tomatoes.

The other night, the rain was falling hard on the roof top making it’s soothing rhythm of pitter pats, and the house was just a little chilly. And so I created the menu for the first rainy autumn day. It tastes like the warmth of the oven, the crispness of the air, the drumming of the rain, the sweet and sour realizations of fall. Of all of these recipes are based off of those found in A year in my kitchen by Skye Gyngell, an absolutely beautiful and inspiring book that I highly recommend.

Individual blackberry and ginger upside down cakes

Make your desert first, so that you can whip of the rest of the meal with the cakes are baking. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F, and butter 4 small ramekins. Cream together 1/2 cup softened butter with 1/2 cup sugar. Add 2 organic free range eggs, one at a time, beating well with each addition. Sift in1 cup flour, 1 1/2 tsp baking powder, and 1/2 tsp salt. When everything is well combined, fold in 1/4 cup well chopped candied ginger, 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger root, and the zest of 1 lemon.

In the bottom of each ramekin, place enough blackberries to cover the bottoms (anywhere from 3-10, depending on the size of the blackberries and the ramekins).

Drizzle a little molasses over the blackberries, and then spoon the cake mixture on top, filling to about a 1/4 inch or more from the top. Cover each ramekin loosely with foil, place on a baking tray, and bake for 35-45 minutes, until a knife stuck in the center comes out clean.

Run a knife around each pudding, and turn them out onto a warm plate. Drizzle a little organic cream over each one, and eat with a spoon.

Creamy cauliflower soup with gorgonzola and pear relish

While the cakes are baking, filling the house with delicious aromas,  make the soup. Remove the outer leaves from a medium sized head of cauliflower, and then break it into small florets. Melt a few good tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan, and add 2 small or 1 medium yellow onion, chopped roughly. When the onions begin to sweat a little, add the cauliflower, 4 thyme sprigs, 2 bay leaves and some salt and pepper. Pour a quart of chicken or vegetable stock over everything, then bring to a simmer. Cover, and let simmer for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile,  make the pear relish. Chop 2 pears and 1 apple (I used a gravenstien) into small dice. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a saucepan, and add the fruit, cooking for about 5 minutes or until it begins to soften. To the fruit, add 2 tbsp dried cranberries, 1 tbsp dried currants or raisins, 75 ml apple cider vinegar, 2 tbsp sugar, 3 thyme sprigs, a cinnamon stick and a little salt and pepper. Cook for 8-10 minutes, until the relish has a shiny, jewel like texture. Remove the cinnamon and thyme and the relish is complete.

Back to the soup, crumble in about 250g of gorgonzola (or any blue cheese of your choice), and stir until it has melted into the soup. Add 1 cup of creme fraiche, and stir to combine. Remove the bay leaves and thyme stalks, then tip the soup into a blender, or use an immersion blender, and blitz the soup into a smooth, velvety consistency.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Mesclun greens with apple, pinenuts, and walnut oil

To make the salad, place a generous few handfuls of mesclun greens into a bowl. Add 2-3 medium sized shallots, thinly sliced, and 1 sweet-tart apple, thinly sliced. Toast a good handful of pinenuts in a pan until they become fragrant and browned, and add to the bowl. Mix everything together a bit with your hands.

For the dressing, combine 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar with a tablespoon or two of maple syrup. Drizzle the walnut oil slowly into the vinegar, mixing constantly with a whisk or fork. Add a pinch of dried ginger powder and a little salt if needed.

Place the salad on the table with the dressing in a little jar with a spoon, so each person can add their own preferred amount of dressing.

Bon appetite!

Gingery Peach Chutney

Ahhh, peach season is here. The peach is one of my most beloved fruits, capturing all the indescribable feelings of late summer in it’s juicy sweet deliciousness. I can easily see how this decadent fruit climbed to the status of celestial in China, it’s native country. There, the peach was considered the fruit of longevity and  immortality. In Toaist myth, the peach tree was the tree of life, twisting upward from earth to sky, supporting the universe in its branches. Legend has it that this tree produced fruit once every three thousand years, and any who we’re able to gain access to the fruit by climbing the highest mountain in Tibet would immediately ascend to heaven when they took a bite of the sweet flesh. I know I have certainly felt like I was ascending into heaven when eating a perfectly ripe peach!

Most beautiful of all, peaches are more than just delicious. One large peach contains just 70 calories, an abundance of beta carotene (the vitamin A pre-cursor), vitamin C, and niacin.  In Chinese medicine they are said to have a cooling effect on the body, lubricate the intestines and promote elimination. They soothe gastric inflammation, and their leaves can be used for easing symptoms of gastric reflux and nausea.

In my house, the peaches almost never make it past the eating out of hand stage – they are just so good, its difficult to imagine how they could be improved at all with cooking. But this year, I am forcing myself to save a few for the cooking pot, and am finding it well worth the effort. Yesterday, I made a delicious vanilla peach compote by simmering peach halves in a tiny bit of water with dash of maple syrup and a sliced open vanilla pod. I spooned it over my oatmeal with a handful of blueberries, and can honestly say I have never enjoyed a bowl of porridge as much!  Sliced up in a salad with toasted almonds and a raspberry vinaigrette was also a fantastic peach application.  Another new favorite is whizzing a peach in the blender with 3/4 cup milk, a teaspoon of raw honey, and a dash of orange water. Served over ice, this is just the thing for a hot summer night!

But perhaps my most favorite new found use for peaches is to make a spicy, gingery chutney to serve with Indian samosas (vegetable stuffed pastry) or to spoon over a spicy curry with a little flat bread.  The recipe was based off a mango chutney recipe – and peaches just seemed like the perfect local and seasonal substitute for the very un-local mango. Turns out they aren’t just a great substitute, they might be even better than mangoes. Try it and see for yourself.

Gingery Peach Chutney

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe peaches, chopped
  • 2-3 tablespoons freshly grated ginger (depending on spice preference)
  • 1 medium sized shallot, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 tbl sugar (maple sugar, organic unrefined cane sugar, etc)
  • 1 tbl freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/8 tsp cloves
  • 1/8 – 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes (depending on spice preference)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt

Blanch the peaches in boiling water for 15-20 seconds, then plunge into cold water. Once they are cool, slip the skins off (they should come off quite easily). Chop the peaches into 1/4 inch cubes, and place in a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients, tasting and adjusting for your preferred level of spice and sweetness, adding more sugar, ginger or red pepper flakes as needed. Let the chutney sit for 30 minutes to an hour to let the flavors fully meld together.