Tuesday, January 24, 2012

January is National Soup Month, part 2 - albóndigas soup with chicken-chorizo meatballs

Delectable little meatballs made with chicken and chorizo, plus fresh carrots and zucchini in a tomato broth richly flavored with garlic, cumin and oregano... toss in some rice and you've got a healthy and delicious soup that everyone will love!

Albóndigas are meatballs and can be made with whatever you like: beef or beef mixed with pork is commonly used, and usually the meatballs are added right to the soup and simmered until cooked through. I've changed things up a bit and used ground chicken in place of the beef, and the albóndigas are browned separately before adding to the soup. This method works nicely because I've also added chorizo to the chicken albóndigas for incredible flavor. We all know how much fat chorizo can exude; best to leave that in the skillet and not have it floating in greasy puddles on top of your beautiful soup (or in your arteries). After making the albóndigas, the rest of the soup comes together easily. While you're standing around making the albóndigas anyway, enjoying the therapeutic effect of leisurely preparing slow food, why not double up on the ingredients and make two batches, one to use for today's soup and another to freeze? Ground chicken is often sold in one pound packages and chorizo in eight ounce links, making it incredibly sensible to make twice the amount and save half for a later time. You'll be glad that you did!

Finally, albóndigas soup can be appealing to all family members by shredding some of the vegetables. This not only effectively "hides" some of the veggies but it also makes a thicker soup. If you like a thinner, more brothy soup, the carrots and zucchini can be sliced or cubed. But if you're looking to surreptitiously stuff nutrient-rich veggies into picky eaters, try shredding the carrots and zucchini then adding to the soup. The self-proclaimed veggie-haters will never realize the bounty they're consuming, and the soup will also be more substantial without being full of empty calories and fillers.

Try this; I think you'll like it.

Start out by preparing the albóndigas (meatballs). Combine the following ingredients thoroughly and brown in a large skillet, in batches, until browned:

1/2 pound ground chicken ~ 1/4 pound chorizo ~ 1/4 cup shredded zucchini ~ 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro ~ 1/4 teaspoon salt ~ 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin ~ 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano

Remember to keep an eye on the albóndigas as they're browning because chorizo can burn really, really quickly when you're not paying attention. And once they're done, try not to keep nibbling on them. They're really hard to resist. *wink*

For the rest of the soup, you'll need:

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

7 cups chicken or vegetable broth

2 cups canned crushed tomatoes

12 drops chipotle hot sauce and 3/4 teaspoon liquid smoke flavoring, OR 1 canned chipotle chili plus 1 teaspoon sauce

(I go with the hot sauce method; too many times I've used one or two of the chipotles and wasted the rest of the can, unfortunately.)

2 small carrots, shredded (or sliced thinly, if you prefer)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 medium zucchini, grated (or sliced thinly, if you prefer)

1/4 cup uncooked rice

In a large soup pot, saute the onions and garlic in the oil, with the cumin and oregano, until onion is transparent. Pour in the broth and crushed tomatoes, the hot sauce + liquid smoke (or chipotle chili), carrots and salt. Bring to a boil then turn down heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the browned albóndigas, zucchini, and rice and simmer for another 30 minutes or until rice is tender.

I like to serve this with a heap of fresh cilantro leaves because I just love the stuff - but I do know that not everyone is so enamored with the flavor. Julienned carrot and/or zucchini adds a colorful touch, and homemade fried corn tortilla strips add a welcome crunch.

If you prefer a more beefy flavor, albóndigas soup can be prepared using ground beef and beef broth. Try adding roasted corn to the soup, as well as poblano chili slivers, and change up the recipe with a handful of fideos or other quick-cooking noodles. The choice is yours!

Makes six servings.

Friday, January 20, 2012

chilaquiles with eggs and chorizo

Is saving money on groceries one of your resolutions for 2012? If it is, and if you like Tex-Mex food and making wise use of leftovers, then chilaquiles might just be the dish for you. This will definitely become a regular player in the Lonesome Road dinner (or lunch, brunch, or breakfast!) rotation.

Because of the dish's appearance, chilaquiles are also nicknamed "broken old sombreros." Basically, soft corn tortillas are torn up and quickly fried until somewhat chewy (not crispy like chips) and layered with anything from eggs to leftover chicken, chorizo or beans, vegetables, salsa, and cheese. Chilaquiles are versatile in that they can be a total gourmet experience, or they can be a quick and easy way to deliciously use up some leftover ingredients.

For the chilaquiles pictured above, I first browned and drained 1/2 pound of chorizo and set it aside. Next I tore eight soft corn tortillas into quarters and fried them in a bit of corn oil. While frying the tortillas, I created a quick sauce with a 15 ounce can of tomato sauce, 3 teaspoons chili powder, 2 small cloves of minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano and 1 teaspoon ground cumin. Unfortunately I didn't have fresh tomatoes or a can of diced tomatoes on hand; either would have made a fantastic fresh salsa for this dish. Salt to taste but be cautious when using chorizo, it is salty enough on its own.

When the tortillas were of the correct chewy consistency, I added five beaten eggs to the skillet with the fried tortillas and cooked over medium-low heat until they were cooked through. I then layered the tortillas and eggs into an 8 inch by 8 inch glass baking dish (while preheating the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit).

Top with crumbled cooked chorizo, sauce, and cheese of choice. I used a bit of Cheddar-Jack plus freshly grated Iberico cheese, just enough to cover the top of the layers - perfect!

Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit, uncovered, until sauce is bubbly, about 20 minutes.

I love these served with sliced avocado but anything fresh and seasonal would be wonderful: salsa, lime slices, onion, fresh chopped cilantro, pickled jalapeno slices, tomatoes... imagine the possibilities!

Makes four servings.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

January is National Soup Month

What better month than cold, snowy January for celebrating National Soup Month? Unless you're in the southern hemisphere, I suppose... but then you can experiment with all sorts of refreshing chilled summer soups!

Begin your soups with either the best prepared stock or broth that you can afford, or better yet, make it yourself. Typically, stock is made with vegetables plus bonier pieces of meat, and broth is made with vegetables and only meat, giving you two different results. The bones create a more "gelatinous" quality to the stock, making it preferable for most soups and stews, and broth is thinner and perfect for very clear soups and for cooking rice, etc.

There are no real hard and fast rules of stock-making but I do stick to some general guidelines. I love to add vegetables, vegetables and MORE vegetables. I use the traditional favorites like onions, carrots and celery but also toss in leeks and shallots for their almost-garlicky flavor, and parsnips for additional sweetness. Recently I came across a chicken stock recipe that suggested using fennel and I thought of how wonderful that would be in Italian wedding soup, minestrone, or other Italian-type dishes. Putting that in the file for "next time."

Other than parsley, I don't add herbs to chicken stock or broth. I prefer to keep the basic flavor simple so the stock can be versatile. I also do not season the stock with salt, leaving that for later when I'm actually using it in a soup or other dish (I'm specifically thinking of bean dishes where the salt can hinder the cooking of the beans).

I do add one secret spice to chicken stock to give it a most delicious flavor: whole cloves. Not too many - a little goes a very long way. For me, a dash of clove flavor has the same effect as adding a tiny bit of cinnamon to some savory dishes - luscious!

The Basic Recipe:

Naturally, start out with... chicken. I used about 2/3 of a four pound whole chicken that I had roasted a couple of days earlier. We had a bit of it for a dinner, then the rest of it went into the soup pot. This actually works very well, as the roasted chicken has already released some fat, and the roasting gives it a nice, rich flavor. Remove as much of the skin as you can, and place in a large soup pot with a Noah's Ark of ingredients: two carrots, two celery stalks, two parsnips. Cut a large yellow onion in quarters and add to the pot. If you really like garlic, use it, but I find it a bit overpowering in chicken stock and I prefer to add a leek and a shallot in place of the garlic. Add a handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley and four or five whole cloves. Pour in water to cover, bring to a boil, then turn down heat, cover and simmer for as long as you wish, the longer the better. Be sure to use a slotted spoon to skim off impurities every so often, and preferably prepare the stock a day before you actually need it so it can be refrigerated overnight and more excess fat can be easily removed. Allow to cool, discard vegetables and remove chicken meat from the bones to use for chicken soup or maybe even a casserole.

The stock will become fairly gelatinous because of the chicken bones, and that's perfectly normal, fine, and preferable - it's the best kind of stock, lots of nutrients and super-rich flavor! It will liquify when you reheat it, but you might need to add more water along with the rest of your soup ingredients. The stock in the photo above became a delicious chicken and rice soup with brown jasmine rice, thyme, shredded carrots, sliced mushrooms, and a bit of saffron, giving it a unique flavor and beautiful golden color.

Whether your chicken soup has noodles, rice, dumplings or matzoh balls, you know that it's going to be absolutely wonderful because you're starting with homemade chicken stock made with lots of love!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

sweet and savory bacon-cranberry rice - nice!

Boredom can be a bad thing, but it can also be the catalyst for something really wonderful. Like when you're tired of eating the same thing day in, day out (or what you perceive as the same thing). Tired of baked potatoes but in need of something quick and just different, I created this rice side dish one evening. It was just what I was looking for: simple, delicious and... different. The dried cranberries seem to lend their sweetness to the dish, and the small touch of curry powder accents that flavor, as well as giving the rice a nice golden color. And the bacon, well.... it's bacon! What's not to like?

This recipe uses Trader Joe's brown jasmine rice, one of my favorites because it doesn't seem as, well, brown as other brown rices. I'll let you in on a secret: I prefer white rice in all its processed splendor. Anyway, you can certainly use white rice for this dish as well; just reduce the cooking time since brown rice requires about 40 to 45 minutes.

This is all it takes to make my sweet and savory bacon-cranberry rice:

2 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled

2 green onions, white and part of green, sliced

small amount of olive oil

1/4 cup dried sweetened cranberries

1/4 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 cup brown jasmine rice

1 cup water

In a large saucepan, saute sliced green onion in a small amount of olive oil until tender and transparent. Add rice and quickly saute in the oil, then add the cooked crumbled bacon and dried cranberries. Pour in water, add curry powder, turn heat to high and bring to a boil. When boiling, turn heat to low, cover and cook on very low heat for 35 to 45 minutes or until rice is tender and liquid is absorbed. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes approximately 3 servings. This is wonderful with roasted chicken or turkey, or pork.

Monday, January 9, 2012

During the peculiar winter "heat wave" we've had here in the U.S. midwest, the Lonesome Road grill was lit, on New Year's Eve in fact. Not that the air temperature was still warm by the time the coals were ready, and so we froze in the early dusk and evening anyway. Still, it was a nice change of pace to have a smoky meal grilled outdoors in the dead of winter. Grilling seemed so "everyday" in the summer, even almost a little repetitive. But as the saying goes, absence makes the heart grow fonder, and this brined barbecued chicken was most welcome on our plates that night!

In the past, I've always been somewhat dissatisfied with the results of brining meats. Every recipe seemed much too salty. Even though the meat was always nice and juicy, it did not compensate for the overbearing saltiness. With this recipe, I adjusted both the amount of salt used in the brine and the amount of time that the chicken spent in the brine. For the first time, I was happy with the results! Juicy and not too salty, flavorful but not overpowering. Perfect! As the final touch, I added an interesting barbecue sauce at the end of grilling; both recipes are below:

The Brining Solution

1 tablespoon coarse sea salt

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1/2 cup hot water

1-1/2 cups cold water

1/2 lemon, thinly sliced

1/2 small onion, sliced

1 clove garlic, sliced

Directions: Dissolve the salt and sugar in the hot water and allow to cool slightly. Add the cold water and remaining ingredients in a large resealable plastic bag. Place chicken breasts in the bag of brine and reseal. Place the bag in a large casserole dish for good measure against leakage. Brine in the refrigerator for no more than 2 or 3 hours, then prepare for grilling or baking. Discard brine. This recipe makes enough brine for four large bone-in split chicken breasts.

For The Sauce, combine:

3 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons dry sherry

2 tablespoons tomato ketchup

2 tablespoons soy or tamari sauce

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon dry mustard (like Colman's)

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon garlic powder (or to taste)

Salt to taste

Use to baste on grilled meats during the final 15 to 20 minutes of cooking. Recipe makes about one cup of sauce.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

atomic carrots & super freak pumpkins - the Lonesome Road Kitchen Garden 2012!

Atomic carrots and super freak pumpkins. Sounds like some kind of mutant science fiction vegetables. In reality, heirloom Atomic Red carrots and warty Super Freak pumpkins are part of the 2012 Lonesome Road Studio kitchen garden!

Part of the New Year's Day break was spent poring over pages and pages of all the new gardening catalogs arriving daily in the mail, with their tempting photos of gigantic heads of cabbage, heaping piles of green beans, and bushels and bushels of perfectly ripe tomatoes. Eighty dollars later, we've made some progress in planning the garden. Joining the Atomic Red carrots will be Tendersweet carrots, and the Super Freak pumpkins will be neighbors with Giant Magic Hybrid pumpkins. Fresh garden salads are a favorite on the Lonesome Road, and there will be Romaine lettuce and a lettuce blend, plus two varieties of spinach, and radicchio.
The pepper family is represented by three favorites: Cubanelle (wonderful in summer bread salad), San Martin Anchos, and Del Sol Serranos. Let's hope they grow this year; 2011 was not the best year for peppers around here.
Mr. Lonesome enjoys snow peas, and I like long slender filet-style green beans and yellow wax beans, so there will be a little of all of these in the kitchen garden again this year. I am always intrigued by the beauty of deep purple beans but that fascination fades just like their purple color after cooking. Instead, finger-length Hansel eggplants will provide the purple in this year's garden.
Don't tell anyone... but I'm not a big fan of corn even though I live in the heartland. Mr. Lonesome does though, so we will have a little patch of sweet corn this year, replacing the patch of Japanese hull-less popcorn we grew last year (and are enjoying in abundance!).
Two old favorites are making a return in the garden this year, cucumbers and white kohlrabi. This year's newcomers are Borettana Cipollini onions and Stonehead cabbage. I did not forget how awesome last year's Walla Walla onion harvest was and later this spring I will be returning to the garden center where I bought last year's sets - why mess with a good thing?
The neighbors' Clydesdales assisted with this year's garden, if you know what I mean.
Did I forget anything? Oh yes, tomatoes and herbs. The tomatoes of choice are usually paste varieties like Roma or San Marzano. We haven't decided whether to start them from seed or purchase plants later in the spring. As for herbs, we've ordered a couple varieties of oregano and I'm sure we'll have more than enough volunteer dill and maybe cilantro. Past efforts to grow perennial rosemary and tarragon were not particularly successful, but gardening is much like being a Chicago sports fan, there's always next year!
Check back to see our garden's progress, and tell me a little about your garden!


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