Ringing in the new year with…more soup

The year is coming to an end, and while I would love to say we have fabulous plans to ring in 2014, it’s not even 7 p.m. and I’m in my bed, with my best little buddy next to me watching tv. I’ve got a cough I can’t kick and a monster headache, and am feeling glad we have nothing to do tonight other than enjoy each other. I love having my little guy right next to me, even if it means I have to listen to Disney Jr shows while I type.

So I didn’t quite achieve my goal of a new recipe a week, but I think I posted at least 1 new dish a month, and some months I managed more. And more importantly, I found some things that have been repeated. I spatchcocked chickens twice this month, and twice made chicken and barley soup out of the bones. Safe to say those are keepers. I also have made the chicken tikka masala a couple of times, as well as the pork tenderloin, and the panzanella continues to deliver. Oh, and that cornmeal crusted chicken – it just keeps showing up, and one of my best friends sent me a REAL meat tenderizer for Christmas so I can quit beating the crud out of chicken with a wimpy wooden spoon. I’m really happy with my year of testing recipes, and plan to keep up the blog in 2014, if only so I remember what we liked (and what we didn’t).

On the “what we liked” note, thanks to the aforementioned cough, I’ve been wanting soup again. Yesterday was my last vacation day for the holiday season (not including New Years Day, of course), so I had time to make a soup that is a little too involved for a weeknight. The recipe comes from the Pioneer Woman’s website. If you’re not familiar with the Pioneer Woman, you are missing out – she’s a former suburbanite who now lives out in the country, a chef of decadent recipes, and an author  of the “Charlie the Ranch Dog” children’s books (of which we have several, for obvious reasons). And she has a fabulous recipe for chicken tortilla soup.  I served it last night with cubed avocado, crumbled queso fresco, corn tortillas that I fried in a little olive oil and turned into crispy strips, sour cream, and cilantro. I know cilantro is one of those love it or hate it things – but I LOVE it, so mine was topped heavily. But that’s the nice thing about this soup – there are lots of topping options, so each person can make it his or her own. G enjoyed it a lot too, but maybe not as much as I did – I brought leftovers to work today for lunch, and am going to eat it again for dinner!  I think it’s just what the doctor ordered for this cold.

Wishing you a very happy 2014!!   

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Turning Bones into Soup

The recipe I used to spatchcock the chicken last night suggested saving the backbone for soup. My mom makes soup or stock out of chicken or turkey carcasses plenty, but I hadn’t ever tried it. But considering we’re COLD here and I’m working from home tomorrow (meaning I can eat out of the fridge instead of off the expensive streets of DC), I decided to give it a try. I like chicken noodle soup fine, but I really like barley, so I decided to try Chicken Barley Soup. I chose this over my mom’s recipe because my mom’s takes several hours – whereas with this one, you cook the barley separately while you cook the soup and drain the barley and stir it in at the end. So this recipe gets bonus points for being quicker (but not quick – you still have to cook the soup for an hour, and use regular barley, which I prefer to quick cooking barley anyway).

I saved the raw backbone and the roasted bones from last night’s chicken, and added some of the leftover chicken, since I like my soup meaty. Add to that a little additional stock/broth, carrots, onion, celery, and barley – and voila, hearty chicken soup. I loved it – it has a really nice chicken flavor, isn’t salty (I added a little salt and some pepper to my bowl), and I really prefer the chewiness of the barley to soft noodles. Canned chicken soup really can’t hold a candle to homemade. I think I’ll be saving chicken carcasses more often!

Winter Warmer

Today was a warm day in Alexandria. Yesterday was gray and gloomy pretty much all day, so today, it was nice to be able to get outside. Our yard looked very unloved, so we spent several hours raking and mowing, and now 1 part of the yard looks presentable (3 more to go – and no time until next weekend). I even took Charlie to the park for a bit to run and play, which he loved. I had planned on trying a new pasta recipe tonight, but after all that activity, I wanted something easier/less hands-on than the recipe I was ready to try.

Tomato soup and grilled cheese is probably better suited for colder weather, but I had picked up some San Marzano tomatoes when I was at the store earlier and a new cheese (taleggio) that the guy at the cheese counter said was fabulous grilled. So the decision was made.

I’m not always a huge fan of tomato soup. I love gazpacho, but I generally feel like tomato soup has too much acid and not enough depth of flavor. But this Classic Tomato Soup recipe delivered. The onion, garlic, chicken broth, and thyme (my sprigs were small, so I put in 2) gave it more flavor than I generally associate with tomato soup.  And the taleggio cheese on Trader Joes Tuscan Pan was great for dipping. Can’t wait to make this again when it’s actually cold out!

Gazpacho

I love gazpacho this time of year, which is a little odd since I’m not really a fan of hot tomato soup or tomato juice (unless it’s also got vodka, lots of horseradish, and celery or olives in it!). But something about the combination of cucumbers, tomatoes, celery salt, onions – mmmmm.  So a couple of weekends ago, I tried (and forgot to post about) this recipe from Barefoot Contessa.

I realized when preparing it that my red wine vinegar was really old. REALLY old. But I decided to give it a try anyway. Which was probably not the best idea, because the vinegar had gotten stronger over time, and it totally overpowered the other flavors in this soup.

I definitely plan to try this recipe again, because I liked the flavors a lot OTHER than the strong vinegar taste. Hopefully with fresher vinegar, it will be a hit!

Trying another new one today – Fauxtisserie Chicken from Our Best Bites.It took very little time to prepare – I slipped rosemary from our garden and some garlic slivers under the skin, and coated it liberally in Lowry’s Seasoned Salt. Now we just wait for 8 hours while it cooks in the slow cooker. It would be great to have a good rotisserie chicken option that I can make at home for chicken salads, quesadillas, etc – so i’m hoping it’ll turn out well!

A little more on the vegan recipes…

So the wheat berry salad was delicious!  It’s sweet, but not overly so, and the textures are great. I will be making it again very soon – I think it would be great to take to work for lunch.

The butternut squash soup was very good too. I think I would try it again with different spice combinations or more curry – I would have liked it to have a little kick or a bit of crunch or something.

Beef Barley Soup

Somehow, none of us managed to eat breakfast this morning (including Charlie, who never asked for it), so on our way to run errands, we stopped off at Los Tios, one of Charlie’s all-time favorite restaurants. He goes there with Pamela and nanny friends and their charges, so the wait staff know him. It’s funny when you show up to a restaurant with your kid and the staff welcome him like a friend.

Anyway, Mexican food makes for a heavy lunch, so I wanted something light for dinner – and that I could portion out for lunches during the week as well. After spending a cool, damp afternoon at the park, soup seemed like the obvious choice.

Thanks to my friend Susie, I discovered a great food blog called Skinny Taste. The author posted a recipe for Beef Barley Soup that I’ve wanted to try, so that was on the menu tonight.

Beef Barley Soup from Skinny Taste:

Pros:

  • This soup is reminiscent of beef stew – carrots, celery, onion, stew beef, bay leaves – which I love, but it is much lighter, since the beef is just browned in a small amount of oil rather than dredged in flour and the broth is just water. You could use beef broth instead, I’m sure, but I didn’t think the soup needed it.
  • Barley is an ingredient I don’t use very often, but I really like. I only had Quaker Quick Pearled Barley, though – next time, I’d try a different brand. The Quaker is a little thin, more like oats than what I think of as barley.

Cons: Neither of the boys in my house wanted to eat this. I was really making this one for me as well, so that I’d have some from-home lunches this week, but I’m still hoping to get Charlie to try it. (The husband isn’t much of a beef eater, especially stew meat, so I knew he would pass.)

Make again?  Yep, for sure. It’s quicker, easier, and lighter than beef stew.

Recipe variation? I didn’t have a white or yellow onion in the house like I’d thought, and I didn’t want to use red.  Luckily we had several shallots, so I used them instead – and I think the slightly milder flavor of the shallots was a plus in this soup. I’m planning to swap onion for shallot the next time around too.

So far, so good – for me, at least!  Hopefully the next recipe will be a family hit!