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Thursday, August 6, 2015

Chicken Soup for a Friend

Nothing warms the soul quite like a nice bowl of chicken soup. Remember the kind your grandmother made? Or your mom? Or your dad? Or your other nondenominational parent-figure? Of course you do!

Soups are an excellent way to practice your knife skills, as well as practice some other basic techniques that shouldn't ever go out of style. My dear friend's husband recently had a surgery to remove some kind of nastiness from his person, so I brought them a container of chicken soup, made with love. Here's how you can make it!

First off, make sure your "station" is clean and organized. The top picture is of my new kitchen! The bottom is my great-grandmother's best stew pot. When making stews and soups, it's best to use a heavy-bottomed pot, as this will hold heat the best, once finally hot. This is good news for soups and stews.

All good soups start with a stock. A traditional French-style stock is made by roasting bones/carcasses and boiling said bones with mirepoix(a 2:1:1 ratio of chopped onions, celery, and carrot), herbs and spices in a big pot. Bring to boil, reduce to simmer, then skim off the "scum" to make a very clear stock. I'd made my own stock with the carcass of a chicken I'd gotten the meat off of, a few stalks of lemon grass, and a bouquet of dried basil. In magickal folklore, basil is attributed to the element of Fire; it is also used in attraction of love, peace, and harmony...which is why it is excellent to make for a friend while healing. You can use any herb you like, of course, but I had a whole bunch of Thai basil from the Overland Park Farmers' Market leftover that I'd been itching to use.

What you see above is the stock once it'd been simmering for about 8 hours, then chilled overnight. The fat is from the chicken skin, and more easily skimmed off when cold. It has turned green from the basil, and the stock itself had an aroma of basil. If you don't have the time, of course, you certainly aren't obligated to use homemade stock. Store-bought stock is just fine, but try to go for the low-sodium variety, if at all possible.

In your chicken soup, you can add whatever you want. I wanted to keep it simple, though, and just use my chicken, and some vegetables. On hand, I had carrots, onion, and zucchini squash, so that's what I used. Again, soup is an excellent way to keep your knife skills sharp, if you'll pardon the pun.

See how my fingers are curled? That keeps me from cutting myself!

It's not a perfect square, but that's okay! So long as you've got right angles, you're in good shape.

Cut carrots into manageable pieces of length(I use the length of my index finger) and then square them off by cutting along the length to create flat sides. Mine weren't perfect, but they worked. In professional kitchens, you save those scrap pieces for stocks, but I just put mine in the compost bin for my garden, as I wasn't sure when I was going to make another stock. If you do garden, keep in mind that you shouldn't use any animal bones...not so much that it's bad of the dirt, but critters will find it and get into it...which can get really gross, really fast.

Veggie scraps, egg shells, and coffee grounds
make excellent compost!
A small dice is 1/4" cube, a medium dice is 1/2", and a large dice is 3/4". I wanted a medium dice, as that would hold up well for my soup's long simmering time. Also, my carrot is a root vegetable, which grows underground...much like a potato. This means that I want to start it off in cold water to cook.

 The general rule for vegetables is that if it starts underground, start it off in cold water and slowly bring it up...if above ground, like my zucchini squash, I can add it while it's simmering and it'll be just fine. Keep in mind that you should start hard-boiled eggs in cold water, as well, for the next time you do that; this ensures even cooking time, which is a good thing.

When dicing, I use the initial cut I make as my measuring tool. Looking from above, I can see where the edge of the cut piece lines up with my big piece, and make a cut there. The same goes for dicing...this way, you'll ensure that all of your pieces are cut the same, and will cook for the same amount of time.

See my nice carrot sticks? Just cutting across will result in a gorgeous medium dice, which I can put in my stock!

*blub blub blub*
The stock has been skimmed of the fat and I've taken out the lemon grass and basil. I've left the bones mostly in, because I like it. I like the extra unf the bones give the body of the stock, and it reminds me of my grandmother's turkey soup...she'd leave the whole carcass in, and it was always sort of a game to see who could get a vertebrae. If you go to a butcher, you can buy the carcass bones for pretty cheap, and if you have a big enough pot, you can even boil the bones of larger animals...and suck out the marrow. Yum.

Since I've decided on a medium dice for my carrot, I did a medium dice for my zucchini. I didn't keep it as uniform, though, mostly because I was in a hurry. Also, the density of a zucchini is less than that of a carrot, so it was okay that the dices were a touch uneven.

Once the stock was at a boil, I added the zucchini and the rest of my veggies(one medium onion, medium diced, and one head of garlic, minced) then reduced the soup to a simmer. If you get scum on the top, go ahead and skim it off. That's just fatty ickies from the bones that make the stock/soup broth cloudy. This isn't necessary, but a nice thing to do, and it's just one extra step that makes your stuff special.

Simply simmer your soup until the veggies are tender, and check for seasoning. Soups made with love are the best soups, and they're especially wonderful the next day, once all of your yummy vegetables have had the chance to soak up that yummy chicken flavor. Serve with crackers, some nice crusty bread, or with a glass of white wine...or in a tupperware container and take it to your friend.

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