Thursday, October 22, 2009

A True Crisis

Since this site primarily focuses on food, it seems to me that sometimes I should acknowledge something very important. Not everyone has enough food to keep from going hungry, much less trying new recipes. The content that I place on this blog is truly a luxury for some.

It was recently reported that more than 1 billion people are starving (For more information, see The World Food Programme and this article from CCN).

Ways to help:

Donations of money and food always help, but giving your time and concern can go a long way, too.

Donate or volunteer for organizations that help those in need.

Go to Feeding America for information on food banks in your area.

Spread the word by telling others how the current economy has affected the less fortunate in ways we can't imagine.

Spend some time on Free Rice. Every correct answer gives someone 10 grains of rice.

Write to your local congressman or senator.

Currently, there are just under 7 billion people on earth. While nearly 1/6 of the population is going hungry, there are so many of us that could do something to help. We can all make a difference.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Small Consolation:Pumpkin Spice Cookies

With freezing temperatures, harsh winds and even snow in some parts of the country, I think the best days of fall may be gone already. It's a depressing thought, but I'm sure we'll get a few more crisp, sunny days before winter. Fortunately, I was able to take a trip to Washington, DC last weekend. Fall hasn't yet arrived there, and I just love the drive through the mountains at this time of year.

I'm pretty sure that this is the kind of thing that everyone loves about fall, don't you? That, and richly flavored, sweetly spicy things, like pumpkin cookies (or maybe pumpkin bread, or pumpkin beer). It's easy to take solace in beautiful scenery and delicious baked-goods. Around this time of year, I have trouble avoiding the "pumpkin gobs" that they make at the grocery store bakery, usually right after Labor Day and until Thanksgiving. However, they're never very good, being dry and overly sweet. So, I decided to make my own, and I'm really glad I did, since I got all of the flavor and freshness the store ones were missing. No surprise there!

Pumpkin-Spice Cookies
Makes about 36 cookies

I got this recipe from Very Best Baking, which is operated by Nestle. Not very creative of me, I'll admit, but they are the superior version of those "pumpkin gobs" I mentioned above. These might also be good with some butterscotch chips and no glaze, or a 1/4 teaspoon of ground cloves. Nestle recommends adding chocolate chips or nuts as variations.

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened (one stick)
1 cup pure pumpkin puree, lightly packed
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the glaze:
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
3 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease three or four baking sheets (cooking spray works just fine).

Combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl; set aside. Beat sugar and butter in a large bowl with a mixer until well blended. Beat in pumpkin, egg, and vanilla extract; mix until smooth. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Drop by rounded tablespoons onto the prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes or until edges are firm. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes, then move to wire cooling racks. Allow to cool completely.

For the glaze, combine all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir until smooth. Frost the tops of the cooled cookies with the glaze.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Day Four: Good Old Chicken Soup

You probably already guessed this part, didn't you? I mean, it was pretty obvious. And anyway, that's what you do with leftovers: make soup out of them. One thing that I noticed last night, when I was telling you about the potato pancakes, was that I gave a little misrepresentation. This four day meal isn't just made from a four pound chicken and eight potatoes. It's also made from an entire bag of onions, or just about. So I hope you liked onions, because I've been shoving them down your throat all week!

I'm pretty sure that there are more chicken soup recipes than there are currently chickens in the continental United States. This one is pretty much a combination of recipes I've come across over the years. I've been tinkering with it since I graduated from college, and had to start cooking for myself everyday. The original recipe wasn't anything exciting, and I've brought it to a truly palatable dish that, in my experience, tastes far better than anything from a can . I think the secret ingredient is the recipe for the stock I left you with two days ago, but if you have a good broth that you like, go with that. One thing that you can't change, though, is the presence of roasted chicken. Not poached chicken breast. It's too rubbery for this. If you don't want to roast your own chicken and all of that, buy a pre-made rotisserie chicken from your grocery store.

So, let's get started.

Lauren's Evolved Chicken Soup

Serves six

You can add any vegetables that you like to this soup. However, if you want to add celery or something that tends to get really mushy, try adding it with the chicken, and not with the vegetables I call for.


Two tablespoons canola oil

Approximately 1 1/2 cups carrots, finely chopped

Approximately 2 cups onions, finely chopped

One and 1/2 cups homemade chicken stock

Two large containers of good quality chicken broth, low fat and low sodium, to be added separately.

Leftover Parmesan cheese rind (optional)

Three dried bay leaves

Six ounces (about half a bag) egg noodles

Two cups of roasted chicken, a mixture of white and dark meat, picked through to remove unsavory bits.

Fresh minced chives, to taste

Salt and pepper, to taste

In large soup or stock pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and carrots, and stir gradually with a wooden spoon. Allow the vegetables to soften, about 5 minutes.

Add the homemade stock and stir. Add salt and pepper. Allow to heat about 2 minutes, then add one container of chicken broth. Add the rind and bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and add the egg noodles and cook according to package directions.

When the noodles are done cooking, fold in the chicken. Allow the soup to simmer about 15 minutes. Add the chives and any additional salt and pepper, if desired.

At this point, the soup is ready to serve, though it is recommended that you allow it to cool, then refrigerate and serve the next day. After refrigeration, the broth is likely to be reduced in amount, so add the second box of broth, or however much you think needs to be replaced. Heat the soup again on the stove. When sufficiently warmed, taste it. If it is too bland, add more salt and pepper. If it is too salty, add a little water. Repeat until the soup is seasoned to your taste. Remove the cheese rind and bay leaves before serving.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Day Three: Potato Pancakes

Now it's time to use the mashed potatoes from day one. This is one of my favorite recipes ever. My mom has been making these ever since I can remember (she also designed part of the front cover of the cook book it came from).It's probably one of the first things I ever attempted to make on my own. I doubt that first batch turned out well, but I think I've finally gotten the hang of them now. The trick, I find, is to make sure the skillet or griddle is hot, and be patient about flipping the cakes. The recipe is also easily doubled. I prefer to eat mine with sour cream, but you could also use applesauce. Last night, I served my potato pancakes with chicken sausages, but they are also delicious with some broiled salmon, or maybe some soup.

Potato Pancakes
Reprinted from Young Stirs: The Pittsburgh Kids Cookbook (out of print)

One and one half cups of leftover mashed potatoes
One egg, slightly beaten
One small onion, finely chopped
Half a teaspoon salt
One tablespoon flour
One teaspoon baking powder
Dash of pepper
One to 3 tablespoons butter

Mix potatoes, egg, onion, salt and pepper in a medium size bowl. Add the flour and baking powder and mix well.

Melt one tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet. Place heaping spoonfuls in a heated skillet and gently flatten on top. Brown on both sides, two or three minutes on both sides. Gently flatten the cakes when turned. Make sure not to crowd the skillet, and add more butter as necessary to keep the cakes from burning. When the pancakes are done, place on a paper towel lined plate and add another batch to the skillet.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Day Two: Enchiladas and Chicken Stock

Today's post includes two recipes, though you certainly don't have to prepare them both in the same day. Just be sure to hang onto the bones if you want to make stock.

The first recipe is for the enchiladas. Please note that the portions I include for all of the meals is for up to four people, but it is more likely to satisfy two people, with a lunch portion for the next day. Any leftovers will be used for the following means, of course.

Chicken and Bean Enchiladas
Loosely adapted from Liz Pearson at Everyday with Rachael Ray

Makes six enchiladas


Three tablespoons vegetable oil

One medium onion, finely chopped

One and one half to 3 tablespoons flour

Three quarters of a cup of water

One 14 or 16 once can of crushed tomatoes, drained and pureed in a food processor

One 16 ounce can of black beans or refried beans (if using black beans, drain and mash)

Two tablespoons tomato paste

One and 1/2 teaspoons chili powder

One and 1/4 teaspoons ground cumin

Three quarters of a teaspoon of salt

Cooking spray

Two cups shredded roast chicken

One cup shredded taco cheese (sharp cheddar, pepper jack, or even muenster cheese--about 1/2 pound)

Six flour tortillas

In a large saucepan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the onion and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons flour and cook for 2 additional minutes. As the flour begins to very lightly brown, immediately whisk in the water. Add the tomatoes, beans, chili powder, cumin and salt; mix well. Simmer for five minutes and set aside. If the sauce is too thin, add more flour; if too thick, add water in tablespoons. A little thickness is desirable.

Preheat the broiler. Spray a large glass baking dish with cooking spray. Working with one enchilada at a time, place some chicken in a tortilla shell, then top with a small spoonful of the of the enchilada sauce. Carefully (it's hot!) roll up the enchilada tightly, with the seam of the roll at the bottom of the pan. Continue this step with the remaining chicken. Top the enchiladas with most of the remaining sauce, then sprinkle with cheese. Broil the enchiladas until the cheese is golden, about 5 minutes. Check on the enchiladas half way through the broiling time. When the cheese is golden, turn off the broiler and allow the enchiladas to warm completely inside of the broiler, about 5 minutes.

Okay, phew. That's a lot of steps, but it's a pretty easy meal, I promise. This should help on a weeknight, especially if you plan to make the following recipe for stock. If you're used to eating chicken soup from a can, or full fat and sodium chicken broth, homemade chicken stock may come off as a little flavorless. However, it gives you, the cook, the opportunity to flavor the broth in a variety of ways, maybe with garlic, onions, tomato, or any other vegetables you like. I often like to add a splash of dry white wine and a lot of onions.

Chicken Stock
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

Makes about 1 quart, enough for one large pot of soup

Before beginning to make the stock, remove about 21/2 cups of the remaining chicken, or what is left on the chicken. Place in the refrigerator.

Chicken bones, rinsed with excess fat removed.

One tablespoon canola oil

Four to six onions, peeled and quartered

Fresh herbs, preferably a poultry mix

Two or 3 bay leaves

1 teaspoon salt

6 black peppercorns

Three quarters of a cup dry white wine

12 plus cups cold water

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Place the onions in a large roasting pan, and place the chicken bones on top. Drizzle with the oil and toss to combine. Place the pan in the oven and roast about 30-40 minutes. The bones should be golden brown in color.

Transfer the bones and onions to a large stock pot and add the cold water. The water should cover the bones. Add a splash of water to the roasting pan and scrape up the browned bits and add to the pan. Add the herbs to the water; if desired, place the herbs in a cheesecloth bundle tied with kitchen twine; however, the stock will be drained when finished cooking. Simmer gently over medium heat for 2 to three hours. Stir occasionally and continue adding water to cover the bones as necessary.

When the stock is done cooking, strain through a colander into a large bowl or container (the colander should fit inside the bowl). Allow the bones and onions to drain completely before discarding. Strain the stock once again through a large fine mesh strainer or cheesecloth into a container for storing. Allow the stock to cool, stirring occasionally. Cover the stock and place in the refrigerator. When completely chilled, remove fat from the top (this step can be completed the next day). Keep the stock in the refrigerator for up to a week, or 3 months in the freezer.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Four Days from One Meal: Day One

photo credit to Yvonne Wong, as shown on Style Me Pretty.

One of the best things about roast chicken, other than pure deliciousness, is the many ways that one small bird can be used to make dinner. Last night, I prepared a 3.8 pound chicken, roasted with butter, rosemary and onion. For sides, I made mashed potatoes and braised spinach (the mashed potatoes will come into play again later in the week). For the next four days, I am going to show you how to make four meals from one small chicken and eight baking potatoes, plus a few other things.

Unfortunately, I didn't even think to take a picture of my beautiful roasted chicken until after we had carved it up. So, just imagine a nicely roasted chicken with-extra browned skin, the surface lightly scattered with rosemary sprigs, cracked black pepper and pink Himalayan sea salt.

Buttery Roast Chicken

I followed a basic recipe from the New York Times Cookbook, and made some inventive changes of my own. Adding butter to the top of the chicken gives the skin a rich, brown color, while placing frozen butter under the skin allows the chicken to be basted with butter as it cooks.

One 3 to 4 lb chicken
Salt and freshly cracked black pepper
One small onion, peeled and cut into quarters
Four or 5 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons softened butter
4 tablespoons frozen butter, cut into small pieces

An hour before starting to cook the chicken, pluck any remaining feathers, remove giblets and rinse the inside and outside; pat dry with a paper towel. Trim excess fat and neck; set aside for chicken stock, if desired. Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper, set the chicken aside and bring to room temperature for about an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the onion and most of the rosemary inside the cavity of the chicken. Remove the rest of the rosemary from the stem, reserve. Using fingers, gently lift the skin from the top of the chicken. Slide the frozen butter inside and distribute evenly. Rub the softened butter over the skin of the chicken, and sprinkle with the reserved rosemary.

Bake the chicken for 18 to 20 minutes per pound, about 1 1/4 hours. Every 20 minutes to half an hour, baste the chicken with the pan juices. Towards the end of the cooking time, begin to check for doneness by moving the leg of chicken up and down. If it moves easily, the chicken is done.