Monthly Archives: September 2013

Chicken Stew in a Clay Pot

It’s been a while since I’ve broken out the clay pot. Now that it’s “fall” here in Laguna –  affectionately known as fire season in CA – our home finds itself in the shade for most of the day. If I drive up the hill, or go downtown where there’s less vegetation, the temperatures will be much warmer than we have here at home. It’s at this time of year (unless we’re suffering through hot Santa Ana winds) that I can begin to move away from the grill and back into the house (we don’t have AC, but thankfully the climate is relatively mild here in Laguna).

Clay pot cooking can be traced back to Roman times and MANY cultures still rely heavily upon this method. Moroccan cooking with a tajine is the cuisine that most people are  familiar with. There are many merits to cooking in a clay pot: more moisture retention in meats, no need to add any fats, they’re inexpensive, you can cook anything in them, and they become seasoned over time by soaking up bygone tasty flavors. Which, now that I think about it, begs the question: why do I cook in anything else? I never asked myself this question until just now while typing this post. I think I’ll begin a clay-pot cooking challenge for myself and see if there actually IS something that doesn’t turn out as well with this method.

Before you get out your ingredients and begin chopping, etc., you need to soak the entire pot for 30 minutes, lid and all, in water. Be sure the entire pot is submerged. The water that the pot absorbs is responsible for creating a moist and steamy environment for your precious vittles.

One soaking wet Romertopf!

One soaking wet Romertopf!

Here is a list of ingredients for the stew:

  • 1/2 red bell pepper
  • 1/2 red onion
  • 1 inch of ginger root
  • 1 tbsp. curry
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt
  • 1/4 tsp. of fresh ground pepper
  • 4 cloves of garlic smashed with the side of a knife (remove the germ)
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 2 lime leaves
  • 3 whole carrots
  • 6 chicken thighs (clean off extra fat/skin)
  • 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley
  • 1 can light coconut milk

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Maharajah curry from our local tea and spice purveyor the Spice Merchant.

Maharajah curry from our local tea and spice purveyor the Spice Merchant.

Skin the ginger with a spoon. Julienne the pepper and ginger and then dice. Dice the red onion, too.

Skin the ginger with a spoon. Julienne the pepper and ginger and then dice. Dice the red onion, too.

So pretty!

So pretty!

Saute ginger, red onion, and red pepper until soft. Add curry and cayenne powder and heat until fragrant.

Saute ginger, red onion, and red pepper until soft. Add curry and cayenne powder and heat until fragrant.

Add coconut milk and parsley.

Add coconut milk, parsley, lime leaves, salt and pepper.

Add tbsp. tomato paste and garlic.

Add tbsp. tomato paste and garlic.

Integrate all of the ingredients.

Integrate all of the ingredients.

Pour the coconut mixture into the clay pot.

Pour the coconut mixture into the clay pot.

Lay chicken on top of sauce.

Lay chicken on top of sauce.

Add carrots on top of the chicken and put on the lid.

Add carrots on top of the chicken and put the lid on.

Place the pot into the oven and put it on 450. I was taught to not preheat the oven. The clay pot should slowly come up to temperature to avoid cracking. Also, when using a pot you should increase the temperature by 100 degrees and reduce the cooking time by 1/2 - 1 hour.

Place the pot into the oven and put it on 450. I was taught you should not preheat the oven. The clay pot should slowly come up to temperature in order to avoid cracking. Also, when using a pot you should increase the temperature by 100 degrees and reduce the cooking time by 1/2 – 1 hour.

After about 45 minutes I lifted the lid and broke apart the chicken and carrots with a spoon. It was amazingly tender and came apart easily. Turn off the oven and let it sit in their for another 15-20 minutes (varies depending upon your oven). Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed.

After about 45 minutes I lifted the lid and broke apart the chicken and carrots with a spoon. It was amazingly tender and came apart easily. Turn off the oven and let it sit in their for another 15-20 minutes (varies depending upon your oven). Taste and add more salt and pepper as needed. I served our stew over basmati rice and served with a side of naan.

We were fortunate to travel through India for two weeks as a family a couple of summers ago. After eating some form of curry for virtually every meal of the day, followed by suffering through a relentless and intense stomach virus (all except for Roger whose stomach must be made of iron) we had all had ENOUGH (on a positive note, I was able to shake that 5 pounds I had been carrying around for a few months, however briefly). Happily, our stomachs have moved on and we’re all back to enjoying the smell and taste of Indian spices once again.

Eat well!

April

P.S. You can only wash your clay pot with salt and water. Do not add soap or it will absorb those flavors.

Veggie Soup With or Without the Turkey Meatballs

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It has commenced. Football season is upon us and our beloved Patriots played yesterday. The only things missing were the boys (who are now away at school), crisp fall weather, and Aaron Hernandez. Good riddance to the latter.

Fall is my absolute favorite season. I become quite homesick for Massachusetts at this time of year. Collecting firewood in your favorite comfy sweatshirt with the smell of fallen dried leaves in the air, lighting that first fire of the season in the fireplace, and then firing up the TV for some great football = bliss. Oh, and the other thing that makes me homesick is the fact that 1PM games back East start at 10AM here on the Left Coast. Ugh. It just feels so wrong and I don’t think I will ever get used to it. However, on a positive note, there’s something to be said for enjoying a Bloody Mary while watching the game. Thanks to M for the idea!

I decided that a toasty-warm and healthy soup would be the perfect lunch for after the game. I looked in the fridge and cabinets and here’s what I found:

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  • 1 yellow squash
  • 1 zucchini
  • 4 carrots
  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 2 celery stalks
  • 1 parmesan rind
  • 1/4 ground coriander
  • 1/2 cup cilantro
  • 1-28 oz can of diced tomatoes
  • 1-32 oz. box of low sodium chicken broth
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/2 med. sized yellow onion
  • 1 Tsp. black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 Tsp. dried thyme
  • Kitchen twine
  • Small square of cheesecloth
  • Kosher salt
  • Extra peppercorns (ground in a peppermill so they’re nice and fresh) for seasoning.

Serves 7-8. Great for leftovers! Flavors develop as it sits overnight.

Set your oven to 400.

The first bit of prep is to make your bouquet garni. A traditional bouquet garni is usually a bundle of fresh herbs tied together with kitchen twine, but like most things, you can decide what you’d like to put in your bouquet and make it your own. In culinary school we were taught to wrap black peppercorns, fresh thyme sprigs, and garlic inside a large piece of leek. Since I had no leeks, or fresh thyme, I decided to improvise and make my own modifications.

Cut your garlic in half and you will see a greenish germ inside.

Cut your garlic in half and you will see a greenish stalk of germ inside.

Remove this germ. It leaves a bitter flavor behind if you don't.

Remove this germ. It leaves a bitter flavor behind if you don’t.

De-germed!

De-germed!

Ready for the bouquet.

Ready for the bouquet.

Place the peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme, and garlic in the middle of the cheesecloth square. Cut a piece of twine.

Place the peppercorns, bay leaf, thyme, and garlic in the middle of the cheesecloth square. Cut a piece of twine long enough to tie around the bundle while leaving a strand long enough to tie to the outside pot handle.

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Bunch up the corners of the square and twist. Tie it tightly with the twine and leave enough behind to tie to the handle of your soup pot.

Bunch up the corners of the square and twist. Tie it tightly with the twine and leave enough behind to tie to the handle of your soup pot.

Cut the the cauliflower head in half and make a V in the bottom to remove the stalk and leaves.

Cut the the cauliflower head in half and make a V in the bottom to remove the stalk and leaves.

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Break the cauliflower into little florets.

Break the cauliflower into little florets. Stream some EVOO over the cauliflower until 3/4 of the florets are covered.

Sprinkle 1 large pinch of kosher salt and 1/4 tsp. ground coriander over the florets.

Sprinkle 1 large pinch of kosher salt and 1/4 tsp. ground coriander over the florets.

Twist your peppermill 7 times over the florets and then mix with one hand until everything is spread evenly on the florets.

Twist your peppermill 7 times over the florets and then mix with one hand until everything is spread evenly on the florets. Roast in the oven until they’re golden brown.

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Half the zucchini and squash and then scrape the seeds out of them.

Half the zucchini and squash and then scrape the seeds out of them.

Cut your zucchini, squash and celery into strips.

Cut your zucchini, squash and celery into strips.

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Now dice the zucchini, squash, and celery.

Now dice the zucchini, squash, and celery.

Dice your onion next.

Dice your onion next.

Peel your carrots and cut into rounds. I'm a traditionalist when it comes to carrots in soup. I like to look at their roundness floating large in the pot.

Peel your carrots and cut into rounds. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to carrots in soup. I like to look at their roundness floating large in the pot.

Wash and chop your cilantro, stems and all! I hate to waste the stems. They have just as much flavor as the leaves and If you're going to chop it up until it's unrecognizable as cilantro, throw in the stems. I feel this strongly about all my herbs. Waste not want not.

Wash and chop your cilantro, stems and all! I hate to waste the stems. They have just as much flavor as the leaves and If you’re going to chop it up until it’s unrecognizable as cilantro, why not throw in the stems, too. I feel this strongly about all my herbs. Waste not want not!

Add some EVOO to the bottom of your soup pot.

Add some EVOO to the bottom of your soup pot.

Put the heat on med-high and saute the onions, squash, and celery until translucent.

Put the heat on med-high and saute the onions, squash, and celery until translucent.

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Throw in the carrots and the parmesan rind. Always keep your rinds. They add an amazing depth to soup, stews, and sauces. Throwing away a good parmesan should be a crime.

Throw in the carrots and the parmesan rind. Always keep your rinds. They add an amazing depth to soup, stews, and sauces. Throwing away a good parmesan should be a crime.

Tie your bouquet to the handle of your pot.

Tie your bouquet to the handle of your pot.

Add the roasted cauliflower.

Add your tomatoes and the chicken stock.

Add your tomatoes and the chicken stock.

Add two cans of water on top of the broth and toms.

Add two full cans of water on top of the broth and toms.

Skim off any foam you find a the top of the pot.

Skim off any foam you find on top of the soup.

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Cover and let simmer for 2 hours. Small bubbles. Do not let it boil.

Cover and let simmer for 2 hours. Small bubbles. Do not let it boil.

While the soup is simmering lift the lid every once in a while, and with your spoon, press the bouquet against the side of the pan. This will release the delicious flavors into the soup.

This soup is definitely stand alone but since we have a runner in the family who’s been averaging 60-70 miles a week, I wanted to add some protein to the soup, too. I decided to make very simple turkey meatballs. An added bonus is that they’re gluten free.

  • 2 tbsp. grated parmesan
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 egg
  • Zest from 1/2 a lemon (for brightness)
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 lb. ground turkey
  • About 8 medium sized basil leaves chopped
Save the pan with parchment paper (or aluminum foil, whichever works best for you) from the roasted cauliflower.

Save the pan with parchment paper (or aluminum foil, whichever works best for you) from the roasted cauliflower.

Mince (much smaller pieces than for the soup) onion.

Mince (much smaller pieces than for the soup) your onion.

Saute the onions in a non-stick skilled. Let them cool in a bowl and set the skillet aside.

Saute the onions in a non-stick skillet. Let them cool in a bowl and set the skillet aside.

Once the onion is cooled, add the basil, cheese, egg, 5 rotations of  your peppermill, and 1 tsp. kosher salt.

Once the onion is cooled, add the lemon zest, basil, cheese, egg, 5 rotations of your peppermill, and 1 tsp. kosher salt.

Add the ground turkey.

Add the ground turkey. Mix well with your hand.

Once all the ingredients are integrated, take a piece of the turkey and saute it in the onion skillet. Cook it through and then check it  for seasoning. Some like more salt and some like less.

Once all the ingredients are integrated, take a piece of the turkey and saute it in the onion skillet. Cook it through and then check it for seasoning. Some like more salt and some like less.

Form loose balls with your hands and plop them on the pan your used for your cauliflower.

Form loose balls with your hands and plop them onto the pan you used for your cauliflower. Roast until cooked through and golden brown.

You can either add them directly to your pot of soup, or you can add them to a bowl and pour your soup over them. Either way tastes great.

You can either add the meatballs directly to your pot of soup, or you can add them to a bowl and pour your soup over them. Either way tastes great. Be sure and check your seasoning. You will want to add more kosher salt. The amount depends upon your tastebuds. This soup is souper healthy!

IMG_2394We decided to skip lunch and have the soup for dinner. I just took the lid off and let it sit on the stove top until we ate at around 4:30. In Europe people leave soups and stews (and more!!) on the stove top like this all of the time, and it’s perfectly fine. Just heat it to a slow simmer again and your good to go. They also drink raw milk and snack on raw-milk cheeses on a regular basis. Good old-fashioned probiotics. We can be such fraidy cats in the US when it comes to food.

Oh, and don’t forget to serve your soup with a generous sprinkling of grated parm. Yummy!

Eat well.

April