Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

I am not on my game. I somehow delayed posting again far longer than intended, as if Thanksgiving was 3 weeks long. Maybe it was, if you consider the brain space it occupied during those weeks. But here it is, December. The month of Christmas, the holiday season, whatever you’d like to call it. So I better catch up the pace.

Unfortunately, my brain is tired, and I haven’t even yet eaten. Sometimes dinner sounds like too much to do. As if the minutes laboring over the stove will exhaust me, I sit hungrily on the cough waiting for a bowl of mashed potatoes (that sounds really good) or pasta or cereal to appear before me, hot (or cold) and ready to go. Maybe even the spoon will elevate to my lips as in the Cheerios scene in the movie Matilda. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then please go watch Matilda promptly. I’ll hum the music- mmm hm mmm hm mm mm mmmm. No? The dancing? The flying, spiraling card deck? No? Bruce Bogtrotter? Someone feed me.

I made this soup a few weeks ago, in tribute to the dropping thermostat and the dog jackets now covering my closet floor. I’m already begrudging my winter coat, so a fair amount of time may have passed. In either case, I was really hell bent on replicating my favorite soup from Panera Bread, because it’s so creamy and delicious. I love creamy soup, but vegetably soup, and wild rice just makes it that much more interesting. I had tried making this soup once before, but failed in some capacity (I think I undercooked the rice), which left me forlorn. Maybe I couldn’t recreate the soup after all!? But winter encouraged me to try again. And this time: success!

This is a labor-intensive product, mostly in the manner of vegetable dicing and time spent waiting anxiously for rice to soften and stock to thicken. So, if you’re sitting on the couch at 7:30pm hungry, it’s not the time to make this. If, however, it’s blisteringly snowy, and an early Friday evening or even Sunday afternoon, go light your favorite fir-scented candle, turn on the Bing Crosby, and make this soup. I promise absolutely no disappointment. I actually promise joy. Holiday-laden, warm and comforting joy.

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Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Serves 6-8

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. unsalted butter (I love Kerrygold)

4 carrots, diced

4 celery stalks, diced

1 yellow onion, diced

10 oz. mushrooms, sliced or diced

1 cup wild rice, uncooked

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. fresh or dried thyme

1/2 tsp. oregano

1/2 tsp. rosemary

1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes

1/4 tsp. freshly-cracked black pepper

8 cups free-range chicken stock

1/2 cup milk, anything but skim

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the chicken thighs in a thin coat of olive oil and place in a baking dish, something that allows even space but not too much. Bake at 425 until cooked through, approximately 30 minutes. Once cooked, remove from the oven and cool. Once cooled slightly, shred with a fork.

Heat a large stock pot over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the diced carrots, celery, and onion to the melted butter. Sauté until the vegetables have started to soften, about 10 minutes. To the softened vegetables, add the sliced (or diced!) mushrooms, and sauté for an additional 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are just beginning to release their juices.

Next, add the cup of wild rice as well as the spices and seasonings. Stir well so that everything is mixed. Add the chicken stock to the pot and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the rice is soft and tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on the variety of rice.

In a mason jar, shake together the milk and flour (or whisk in a small bowl) to create a slurry. While actively whisking, add the thickening slurry to the soup. Allow the soup to simmer, stirring occasionally, until it has thickened to your liking. This takes approximately 5-10 minutes in most cases. Once thickened, add the shredded chicken to the pot and stir. Remove from heat and serve!

 

 

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Now go put on your music, make yourself some soup, and bring some crackers for dipping. If you finish the meal with hot chocolate, I applaud you.

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Smashed Red Potatoes with Spiced Pumpkin Aioli

I haven’t blogged in awhile, and it’s definitely my fault. I keep thinking, “Oh, I’ll jot those recipes down on Saturday, when I have time.” And then it’s Sunday night, and I’m all ready to just crash in bed, when I remember that I didn’t spare a moment writing or photographing or even thinking about recipes and food. Well, that’s not true; I totally thought about food. But in any case, I guess I’ve been busy, and I haven’t been prioritizing. And I’m going to stop. Because in the meanwhile since my last post, Chicago has become an Icelandic tundra and nothing is nice outside anymore. So, back to the computer-world I go.

My dad yesterday informed me that it had been so long since I blogged that I could no longer share my pumpkin recipes. He knows well, I suppose, that I am all about pumpkin recipes. I mean, pumpkin has been an ingredient in my last few posts and cans of it still reside in my pantry. But, apparently, now that it’s cold, I’m supposed to blog about soup and rosemary and peppermint. But I say no Christmas, or even “holiday” (code for Christmas,) talk until Thanksgiving passes. Thanksgiving, which thoroughly accepts pumpkin and other squashes into its cornucopia, totally has not passed yet. And, in fact, I’m about as excited for Thanksgiving this year as I am Christmas, so holiday recipes be damned (for the time being. So sorry holiday recipes. I’m really looking forward to our time together. … Excuse me).

This dish is actually very Thanksgiving appropriate. And although I’d never dream of compromising the place of mashed potatoes at the table, a few smashed ones may sit along side nicely, especially if you’re into that renegade-untraditional-mix-up-the-Thanksgiving-table kind of meal. I’m not. At all. Tradition all the way. But regardless of circumstance, this is a really delicious, deceptively creative-appearing, super fast side dish. The potatoes are both creamy and crispy, the aioli both cooling and spicy, and the flavor just perfect. I inhaled this whole recipe as dinner myself, but it would probably be best served along with some protein or something. Or stuffing. With cranberry sauce. I am so excited for Thanksgiving.

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Smashed Red Potatoes with Spiced Pumpkin Aioli

Serves 3; easily doubled or multiplied

3 red potatoes, rinsed

~2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp. pumpkin puree

1 tbsp. olive oil mayonnaise (I use Hellman’s)

1 tsp. Sriracha

1/2 tsp. smoked paprika

Dash ( < 1/8 tsp) cayenne

Dash nutmeg

Dash thyme

Salt & pepper, to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

Fill a pot with cool water and drop in potatoes. Bring to a boil; then lower the temperature to maintain a slow boil. Boil the potatoes for 20 minutes, until cooked through and tender.

Place the potatoes on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Use a large measuring cup or bowl (something with a flat, firm bottom) to smash the red potato evenly. It may crumble a bit, but try to keep it together for the most part. Repeat with the remaining potatoes. Drizzle the potatoes with the olive oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Bake the potatoes in the oven for 20 minutes, until the edges are crisping. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.

Mix together the pumpkin and remaining below ingredients until a consistent sauce is achieved. Use a fork or spoon to drizzle the aioli over the potatoes. Serve to awed guests everywhere.

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Kale and Parmesan Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes

More sweet potatoes! When I’m at the grocery store, I always grab a couple of sweet potatoes. To use in soup, to cube up for a hash with eggs, to make sweet potato fries; there’s a never-ending number of ways to use them up. So, naturally, I had a few left in the cabinet this week, and I decided to try something new. My dad loves to make twice baked potatoes. Loaded with cheese, bacon, sour cream, and salt, they’re far from healthy, but they’re a delicious component to his occasional dinner spread, which he puts out once or twice a year. This option is a bit on the healthier side, swapping white potatoes for sweet potatoes, cutting the cheese and butter count, and nixing the bacon for crunchy kale (I think I also have a kale problem; I love it so much). But these twice baked sweet potatoes still have the delectably crunchy skin, and they serve as a unique change of pace for dinner. They’re also fairly quick to come together if you’ve already baked the sweet potatoes ahead of time; however, I rarely think that far ahead, so an easier way to prepare these is to get them fully baked and ready, slide them into the fridge, and twice bake them the next day or on the day of eating. This arrangement makes them great for potluck parties or really any sort of celebration where it’s nice to have things almost fully done ahead of time. Or it’s good for your lonely plate with a side of salad; we can’t all have dinner parties all the time. I’m looking forward to the leftovers today.

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Kale and Parmesan Twice Baked Sweet Potatoes

Serves 2-4

2 large sweet potatoes

3 cups kale, chopped into ribbons

2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, divided

2 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup milk or cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Poke a few holes in the side of the sweet potatoes (I used a fork and poked along the midline so the holes would “disappear” once the potatoes were cut in half). Place the sweet potatoes in the oven directly on the rack, with a sheet pan a rack below to catch any drippings. Bake the sweet potatoes for approximately 1 hour, or until completely fork tender.

Allow the sweet potatoes to cool slightly, then, using a sharp knife, slice the sweet potatoes length-wise into two halves. Scoop out the sweet potato filling into a large bowl, careful not to rip the skin too much. Place the skins in a baking dish and set aside. Mash the sweet potatoes with a fork or potato masher. Add the cream and butter and mix thoroughly until the sweet potatoes are smooth and creamy.  Add 1/4 cup of the parmesan cheese and mix.

In a sauté pan, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add kale ribbons and sauté until softened and bright green, maintaining their crunch slightly. To the bowl of sweet potatoes, add sautéed kale and mix together. Scoop the sweet potato and kale mixture into the cooled potato skins, forming a heaping mound in each. Top each sweet potato half with the remaining 1/4 cup of shredded parmesan cheese. At this point, the sweet potatoes can be refrigerated for a day or two until use.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the baking dish of sweet potatoes into the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until the edges of the skin are just crisping. After 30 minutes, turn off the oven and turn on the broiler. Broil the sweet potatoes for 2-5 minutes, until the parmesan cheese on top is melting and browned. Remove the pan from the oven, allow to cool slightly, and serve. These can be picked up and eaten by hand, or sliced easily with a fork. A side of salad rounds out the meal nicely- the one below just mixed greens dressed with a squeeze of lemon juice and roasted pecans. Or, serve these up at a party and watch them disappear!

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Pasta Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette and Sun-dried Tomatoes

It’s approaching the day. Monday. The day in which I finally discover what -20 degrees Fahrenheit feels like. With wind chill, I imagine the meteorologists will claim the air “feels like” it is even colder, which is unfathomable, because who can possibly discern between temperatures that cold? If any of your skin is exposed, it’s instantly numbed, so what “feeling” will I be doing exactly? Regardless, I should be binging on soup and hot chocolate and deeply warm dinners, but instead I’m still yearning for fresh, bright, vegetable-heavy dishes that almost let me believe Spring is in the reasonable future (It’s not. At all). It probably helps that I’m planning monthly vacations to decidedly warmer climates to ease the pain of continuing this horrible Chicago winter. I’ll almost definitely be diving back into comfort food by mid-week, once I regain feeling in my limbs and tongue, but for the weekend, with highs in the mid-twenties, I’ll turn the heat down a bit, put on a sweatshirt, and dig into some delightful pasta and vegetables.  Beyond fresh and remarkably flavorful, this pasta salad is also quite quick to come together, and it serves perfectly as either an entree or side. So add it to your favorite chicken dish, Brian, or just pile it into a bowl. Either way, please don’t skimp on the sun-dried tomatoes.

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Pasta Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette and Sun-dried Tomatoes

Serves 4 for a meal, 6 for a side

6 oz. pasta

3 cups spinach

1 large cucumber, sliced thinly

Several stalks of green onions, sliced

1/3 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped roughly

3 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tbsp. oil from sun-dried tomatoes

1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 tsp. honey

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. dried thyme

1/4 tsp. dried oregano

1/8 tsp. cayenne peper

1/8 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, with a heavy pinch of salt added. Add pasta and cook according to package directions. I used a mixture of gemelli and bowtie pasta, because I didn’t have quite enough of either (and now I’m out of pasta entirely). These pasta cooked for the same amount of time, which I’d advise if you’re mixing. Once cooked, set aside to cool slightly.

In a lidded jar or a bowl, add lemon juice, oil from the jar of sun-dried tomatoes, olive oil, honey, and spices. Shake the jar or whisk vigorously until the liquids form a smooth vinaigrette. (If the liquids are too cold, and the honey won’t dissolve, heat the mixture for about 10 seconds in the microwave to facilitate the emulsion process). Pour the lemon vinaigrette over the pasta and mix to combine.

While the dressed pasta is cooling, chop the cucumber into thin quarter-rounds (I slice the entire cucumber down the longitudinal axis so it’s halved, then slice each half longitudinally again to make long cucumber quarters. Line up the quarters and slice thinly, approximately 1/4 inch slices). Slice green onions thinly, and chop the sun-dried tomatoes. Toss the pasta with the sliced vegetables until evenly mixed. Refrigerate the pasta and vegetables until more significantly cooled, about 30 minutes to an hour.

Once the pasta is cooler, toss with feta cheese and spinach, mixing thoroughly. It is now complete! Refrigerate for an additional 4-6 hours, or overnight ideally, to serve cold. The flavors marry and become more deliciously intense with time, so I find this pasta to be better and better each day. I more or less ate it for every meal at home for 3 days straight. So forget about the temperatures, Brian; eat your vegetables and pretend it’s warm outside.

Cream of Celery Soup

It’s 2014! And Chicago has welcomed us with a blustering blizzard that has trapped my car in a blanket of snow, myself inside my apartment, and my dogs under at least 2 blankets at a time. My typical city-wide view is now a dense gray fog of clouds and snow, and within seconds of stepping outdoors I’m blown backwards inside by the howling wind and sharp snowflakes. Who knew snowflakes can be sharp? They can somehow. And nothing is more ironic than receiving a parking ticket from the loving Chicago PD for parking on a street where they tow if there are more than two inches of snow… when you can’t move your car because there are more than two inches of snow. Chicago rant aside, I think it’s time for soup again. Soup with vegetables! Because we’re healthy now, right? Sure, “cream of” usually means heavy and indulgent, but, in this case, we’re speaking more to the creamy, sumptuous nature of the soup, as there is actually no cream in it at all. But a lot of celery! And in this quick, delicious, and nutritious vegetarian soup, the celery gets way better use than ants on a log.

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Cream of Celery Soup

Serves 4

2 tbsp. butter

1 yellow onion, diced

2 bunches celery, diced (celery leaves included!)

2 tsp. dried thyme

1 tsp. dried rosemary

3 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups vegetable stock

1 1/2 cups milk, anything but skim

Salt & pepper, to taste

Melt butter in a large sauce pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add diced onion and saute until translucent, approximately 5 minutes. Add diced celery to the pot and saute until softened and tender, about 10-15 minutes longer. (If you prefer your soup to be ultra creamy, consider blanching the celery first in boiling water for 5-10 minutes, until very soft, and then saute with the onions for an additional 5-10 minutes. I don’t mind some celery flecks in the final product, so I skipped this step). Once the vegetables are cooked to your liking, mix in herbs and seasoning and saute for a minute. Sprinkle flour over the vegetable mixture and mix thoroughly, allowing the flour to “melt” into the mixture. Continue to mix and cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the vegetable stock and milk, preferably whisked together beforehand.

Stir the soup regularly over medium heat, until the soup begins to thicken and lightly boil. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer slowly for 10-15 minutes, until the soup is your preferred consistency. (If you find the soup too thin, add another tablespoon or two of flour shaken into 1/3 cup milk. If too thick, just add more liquid- stock or milk or otherwise).

Once the soup is thickened, use an immersion blender to create a smooth consistency. Serve hot, with crackers of course. This soup may not feel substantial enough for dinner, but it is wonderful served with a grilled cheese sandwich. Or a salad, of course; it is the new year.

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Classic food-in-the-window-with-Chicago-skyline shot.

Salted Vanilla Caramel Mocha

It’s the post Merry-Christmas-to-you-! let-down, and I have the method and means to warm everything back up. Your Christmas package this year included vanilla caramel and marshmallows, and, while homemade, they come together better than a Starbucks mocha in a red cup. I’ll include the recipes I used for the caramel and ‘mallows, because they turned out tremendously well, if I do say so myself. But, more importantly, you should ASAP marry those foodstuffs into a mug full of mocha goodness. This could be done with simple hot chocolate, but given the recent days upon days of indulgence, I find a coffee kick to be a good counter to the ensuing, near-constant food coma. Not that we should stop the indulgence, however; we’re nearing the new year when resolutions (and green eating!) can abound. Let’s finish this year strong (it is still winter, after all).

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(You’ll notice there are no marshmallows in this picture. That’s because I sent them all to you, Brian [and other family members, eh hem]).

Salted Vanilla Caramel Mocha

Serves 1 (in a large mug)

1 cup fresh brewed coffee

1/2 cup milk, anything but skim (cream if you’re living big!)

1 tbsp. cocoa powder

2 tsp. sugar or stevia

Smallest pinch of salt

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbsp. water

1 tbsp. homemade vanilla caramel

1-2 homemade vanilla ‘mallows (or more, or store-bought if you’ve eaten the homemade in an indulgent binge)

First, prepare fresh coffee to your liking. Using a Keurig, I brewed 1 cup in a separate mug and set aside. In a separate, heat-safe cup, heat/microwave milk until just before boiling and also set aside. In the mug in which you’ll drink this delicious concoction, mix together the cocoa, sugar (or stevia; I used two packets of Truvia), and the smallest pinch of salt. Add approximately 1 tbsp. water and vanilla extract until a thick paste is formed.* Drizzle the vanilla caramel around your mug, just below the rim, so it drips slowly around all sides and rests above the cocoa paste. Pour in hopefully-still-very-warm coffee and milk and stir. Top with a homemade vanilla ‘mallow and enjoy immensely.

*Alternatively, you could use about half of a hot cocoa packet, if you keep those stocked. I feel the homemade cocoa powder option to be just as satisfying and significantly cheaper.

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Homemade Vanilla Caramel

Based off of this recipe

Makes approximately 4-5 cups of caramel (a large batch for multiple recipients)

4 1/2 cups sugar

2 tbsp. sugar cane syrup*

1 cup water

1 quart (4 cups) heavy cream, organic preferably

2 tsp. vanilla extract

In a large (large and deep!) Dutch oven or sauce pan, mix together sugar, sugar cane syrup, and water until all is well distributed. Insert a cooking thermometer and turn the heat to LOW. Heat the sugar mixture until completely dissolved, which, given this large batch, may take quite some time, approximately 20-30 minutes. Trust the process, and don’t give in to turning up the heat. We’re here for quality, not speed.

Once the sugar has completely dissolved, gradually turn up the heat to medium-low. I still err on the low side here, because lower heat just means more time, whereas higher heat may mean unequal cooking and a higher incidence of crystallization. If the boiling syrup deposits some drying crystalized molecules along the side of your pan during cooking, use a wet pastry brush to paint the sides of the pot with water and rehydrate the sugar along the edge. Be careful during this entire cooking time to NOT stir or overly aggravate the pot.

The sugar mixture will gradually approach a deep amber color. The heat rises more quickly as the sugar approaches caramelization, so check the pot and thermometer regularly. Once the cooking thermometer reaches about 330-340 degrees (over 350 the product begins to go south, so I like to stop it a bit early), remove the caramelized sugar from the heat. Pour into the pot 1 quart of heavy cream and 2 tsp. vanilla extract. The cream will rise and bubble violently, but don’t worry, it will calm. Return the cream and caramel to LOW heat, and stir constantly until the caramel has dissolved into the cream and the mixture is smooth and dreamy looking. We’re practically in the waterfall of caramel in Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Pour the caramel into receptacles of choice (I obviously chose mason jars), and cool to room temperature, approximately 4 hours. Refrigerate to store.

*I used Lyle’s Golden Syrup, which is so, so delicious. Light corn syrup is an appropriate substitute, albeit less flavorful. Sugar cane syrup/light corn syrup supplement this recipe by providing stability to the sugar molecules formed during the caramelization process. Making caramel can be rather temperamental, quickly resulting in crystallization (read: failure) if the sugars are over worked, dried, budged, unevenly heat, otherwise upset that day, etc. By adding syrup, the sugar molecules are significantly less likely to crystallize during the process (although stirring, shaking, and moving the pot are still strongly discouraged), resulting in a smoother and more successful (and less frustrating) caramel product.

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Homemade Vanilla ‘Mallows

Makes 60-75 marshmallows

For the homemade marshmallows lovingly packed for you, I followed this recipe exactly. I’d report here, but that would be extensive and tiresome, and I truly found this recipe perfect unadjusted in any way. There are many, many recipes for marshmallows of varying flavors, dipped in varying sauces, atop varying hot beverages. Follow them as you’d like; just make sure you enjoy the result.

And just so there’s documentation, I sent along the roasted nuts below to complete your winter package. I’d repost the recipes, but to be honest I sort of winged it in the kitchen as I did not have many of the ingredients used in the recipes I was following. If I recreate at home and perfect these roasted and spiced nuts, I’ll be sure to post.

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Roasted Sweet and Spicy Mixed Nuts and Smokey Roasted Pecans