Monday, January 30, 2012

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Chicken, Kale and Maitake Mushroom Soup

I hate being sick. I mean, really hate it. I turn into this whiny 7-year old girl that I don't recognize who wants nothing more than to lay in bed for at least twelve hours a day with her mom at her beck and ball and an endless supply of lemon honey tea.   The other thing I crave when I'm sick is chicken soup.

I don't know what it is about chicken soup.  I have childhood memories of my mom making me soothing Chinese chicken broth and tons of her lemon honey tea whenever I got a cold. I also vividly remember my beloved book on tape "Pierre: A Cautionary Tale" by Maurice Sendak that I would play over and over again whenever I was laid up in bed. The bratty Pierre with his careless response to his mother "I don't care" just struck a chord with me.  :)

Over the years, I have come up with numerous versions of chicken soup.  It always varies with whatever I have in the fridge at the time or pick up at the farmer's market. But one ingredient remains the same: leftover rotisserie chicken with bones for the broth.  I can squeeze out so much flavor from the rotisserie chicken and bones that it just doesn't make sense for me to use anything else. I make a huge potful of chicken soup when I have the time and usually freeze a batch to have on hand for when I need a bowl.

Last week, I was really happy to come home from my quick weekend in San Francisco and find that I had a container full just waiting for me in my freezer to sooth my sore throat and stuffy nose. I like to add a twist of fresh lemon juice right before serving to brighten up the flavors of the broth.  Kale can be easily replaced with fresh or frozen spinach.  If you do not have maitake (hen-of-the-woods) mushrooms on hand, just replace it with whatever mushroom you have on hand. I used these because they had looked so gorgeous at the farmer's market.  Plus, anything that means "dancing mushrooms" can be nothing but good!
It looks like the cold I thought was gone yesterday is back again in full force today. So I think I'm going to open up that YouTube video of Pierre (click on link above) and heat up another bowl of this soup while I slowly nurse myself back to health.  Tis the season to be sick unfortunately, so button up and keep warm with a bowlful of this heartening, earthy chicken soup!

Serves 6


1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 Vidalia onions, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, whole
1/2 tbsp herbes de provence
1 branch fresh rosemary or 1 tsp dried rosemary
1 bay leaf
1/2 bunch kale, roughly chopped
1/4  lb maitake mushrooms, cleaned with a brush and chopped roughly
1 leftover rotisserie chicken, bones and all
4 cups hot water
1 lemon, quartered (optional)

1.  In a large stock pot, warm up oil over medium heat. Add onions and cook until slightly golden and translucent. Then, add next four ingredients and mix together for 1 minute.

2.  Add kale and mushrooms and stir fry for an additional 2-3 minutes. Then, add chicken and water.  Bring to a boil and then cover, reduce to low heat and simmer for at least 30 minutes.  I like to cook the soup for at least an hour to really get all the flavors in there.

3.  Remove rosemary, bay leaf and chicken bones from soup.

4.  Take off all meat from chicken and roughly chop. Add back into soup. Serve in big bowl and squeeze one slice of lemon right before serving.

Monday, January 23, 2012

My ONE Year Anniversary, Chinese New Year and Thai-Style Chicken Lettuce Cups

"Xianan kuàilè!" or "Gōng xǐ fā cá!" In plain English, happy lunar new year!! I am taking it as a very auspicious sign that the year of the Dragon this year falls on my ONE year blog-iversary. Woohoo!! I made it over the hump...whew!!

I have so much to be thankful for and reflect on for 2012. But most of all, thank you to all of you out there for your support this past year! Sometimes you wonder if anyone is actually reading what you write. So I am always pleasantly happy to hear back from readers and friends about a post they read. So continue reading please as I have many yummy recipes cooking away for you this year! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Last year's Chinese New Year feast consisted of some more traditional dishes. So this year, I was determined to bring you something a bit different and unexpected. While doing some research for new ideas, I came upon chicken lettuce cups. Always a favorite when we're at Cheesecake Factory or at any restaurant that serves it!

It was a surprise to me to find out that it is actually a traditional dish from northern China as the word "lettuce" in Cantonese actually sounds like "rising fortune." Of course, that traditional version like all other Chinese-American food has very different flavors than what we are used to here in the US. Unfortunately for you readers, you won't get that recipe here because I like to bastardize recipes as much as the next person and twist it around to suit my palate! BUT, I will say that you will not be disappointed with my version. Pinky swear. The sweet and sour aspects of this dish with a touch of heat is quintessentially Thai. Roasted peanuts and the pickled apple and carrot slaw add a nice texture and crunch to the lettuce cups.

Vegetarians, take heart! The chicken can easily be replaced with extra firm tofu. All the components of this dish can also be made the night before and then assembled right before your guests arrive for an easy weeknight dinner party.

Serves 4

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breast, chopped into small pieces

1 Thai red chile, sliced thinly

2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp ginger, minced
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce
1 1/2 tbsp fish sauce
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 1/2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tsp Shaoxing wine
8 lettuce leaves
Cilantro (optional)
Roasted peanuts (optional)
1 Lime, quartered (optional)
Pickled apple and carrot slaw (recipe follows)
Peanut sauce (recipe follows)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. In a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat and add chicken. Season with pinch salt and pepper. Add chiles to skillet. Cook until chicken is no longer pink on outside, approximately 5 minutes.

2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together next 8 ingredients. Add to chicken and cook down until sauce is slightly thickened, approximately 5 minutes. remove from heat and keep warm.
3. Prepare lettuce cups. Dollop about 2 tbsp chicken mixture per cup. Top with peanuts, slaw and sauce to taste. Serve with lime wedges on side.

Pickled Apple and Carrot Slaw
Makes 2 cups

1/2 apple, cut into thin matchsticks
1 whole carrot, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp sugar

Mix all ingredients together in a medium bowl. Let sit in refrigerator for up no less for one hour for it to pickle. Serve cold.

Peanut Sauce
Makes 1 cup

1/3 cup peanut butter, smooth
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp sugar
1/4 cup hot water

Mix all ingredients together in a small bowl until smooth. Serve at room temperature.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Swiss Chard Baked Ziti

After the new year, all you seem to hear everyone talk about is the self-enforced diet they are going on as part of their resolution. New year, clean & healthy start which usually means cutting out those dreaded carbs.  Like many others, I've tried dropping those carbs in the past usually around this time of the year. But, honestly I am weak when it comes to carbs. I adore rice, bread, noodles, and pasta!

What I have tried to do instead is to substitute regular pasta for whole wheat pasta or farro for white grains if possible. I also found that substituting hearty vegetables to be a good way of reducing portion sizes but still keeping you full.

Baked ziti is something that I was introduced to by one of my oldest childhood friends. I have memories of sleepovers and snowstorms at her house where her mother would have it baked and ready for us to eat. It was an anomaly at our household since my parents hated pasta and cheese. So whenever I went to her house and found out it was on the menu for dinner that night, I did a mental skip and "yippee!" The gooey cheese and creamy marinara sauce was just the perfect home-cooked meal for me next to spaghetti and meatballs.

So over this long weekend, when chatting with a friend of mine who mentioned she was making some for lunch, the lightbulb flashed. Baked ziti! I literally hadn't had it in years and it was so simple to execute. Perfect for this bone-chilling weather!

If you don't have Swiss chard on hand, feel free to substitute it with spinach, kale or really any vegetable of your choice.

Full disclosure that this dish is not entirely "healthy". However, it is a way to enjoy your pasta in a more guilt-free manner.

Serves 4-6

2 cups ziti or penne
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large onion
2 cloves garlic
1 tsp fennel seed
1/4 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups Swiss chard, quartered
2 cups marinara sauce
1/4 cup basil leaves, sliced
1 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grana padano cheese
1 medium size mozzarella ball
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. In a medium pot over medium high heat, bring salted water to a boil. Then, add pasta and cook until al dente approximately 5-10 minutes. Drain and do not rinse pasta so the starch allows the sauce to stick.

2. In another medium pot, add oil over medium high heat. Add next 5 ingredients and cook for a few minutes until onions are slightly brown, but garlic not burnt.

3. Add marinara, mix together and bring to boil before lowering to low heat. Simmer for 5-10 minutes to allow the sauce to come together.

4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.

5. Add pasta to sauce and mix together. Then add basil, grana padano, 1/2 cup Parmesan and salt+pepper to taste. Mix again.

6. Pour all into buttered casserole dish. Top with rest of Parmesan and slices of mozzarella. Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes or until cheese is bubbling and slightly brown.

7. Remove from oven. Let cool for a few minutes so it is easier to cut. Cut into individual squares and use a pie server to move to plate. Top with a basil sprig and additional grated Parmesan.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Mulled Blood Orange-Apple Cider

It's finally started getting cold here in NYC. And this morning, there were some light flurries in the air. Yes, we've had days here and there where it's been 20 degrees Fahrenheit or colder. And we might complain about it constantly. But really, we've been lucky so far during this relatively mild winter.

To warm myself up, I love the smells of a mulled cider in my kitchen! The cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, star anise.'s pure heaven.

I stumbled upon some rare blood oranges at Fairway and decided to grab a bunch. It was originally for a salad I was going to make. But I decided to sacrifice one of them to use in my updated cider.

For those of you who aren't familiar with a blood orange, you'll understand quickly enough how it got its name. On the outside, it looks like a plain orange. But once you cut it in half, the intense blood red color hits you. As you squeeze the juices, be prepared to have what looks like blood trickling through your fingers. It's a bit gory.

Having originated in the early 18th century in China and the Southern Mediterranean, blood oranges have a tart, bittersweet taste to it that reminds me of a mix between a grapefruit and orange. It is delicious! I also found out that they provide 28% of the recommended daily intake of dietary fiber.

Think of me while you happily drink this tonight! But be careful not to imbibe too much as it knocks a hidden punch. :)
Serves 2

1 1/2 cup apple cider
1 1/2 cup red wine (preferably Pinot noir or Merlot)
2 blood oranges, halved and juiced
1 tsp whole cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 freshly grated nutmeg
1 whole star anise
2-3 whole cloves

1.  In a medium size pot, add cider, wine and orange juice.  Bring to a boil over medium high heat.

2. Once it comes to a boil, add the rest of ingredients.  Continue to boil for a few minutes before reducing heat to low.  Simmer for 15 minutes so that the cider and spices come together nicely.

3.  In a mug or tall highball glass, serve the hot cider. Remember to drink responsibly!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Harissa Spiced Spinach-Tomato Baked Eggs

Happy 2012 readers!! Only a week in before posting my first blog of the new year. Not too shabby I must say.  :)   The last few weeks has been the usual round of holiday madness between shopping for last minute gifts, baking my annual holiday cookies, making home-made limoncello, holiday sight seeing with friends and family, cooking a Christmas Eve feast, and a trip to New Orleans (more to come on this trip!) to unwind with my closest friends.

This weekend was the first weekend I've had to relax and unwind. Next to cleaning up my apartment and running errands, I also made it a point to cook for the first time since Christmas. Eating out is lovely and all, but there really is nothing better than a home-cooked meal. And MUCH healthier!

For Sunday brunch, I decided to indulge with this harissa spiced spinach-tomato baked eggs with a side of crispy smoked bacon and lightly buttered whole wheat toast. Not the healthiest meal to start off the new year. But since making breakfast at home is a rarity, I find it a nice change from my usual yogurt or bagel.

My favorite part of eating baked eggs is using the toast as a spoon and cutting through the center of the bright orange-yellow yolk to release the luscious, richness inside.  The harissa adds a lemony heat to the dish that I found really pleasing and unique.  You are welcome to leave it out if you do not have it on hand, but I would definitely recommend trying it out if you do. This also makes a great dinner served with a side of salad. Bon appetit everyone!

Serves 1

1 garlic, minced
1/3 cup frozen spinach, defrosted
4 grape tomatoes, halved
3 tbsp heavy cream
1/8 tbsp unsalted butter
1/8 tsp dried thyme
1/8 tsp harissa paste (optional)
2 large eggs
Manchego cheese, grated and to taste
Freshly ground black pepper and fleur de sel

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit.

2.  In an individual cast-iron oval casserole dish, line bottom evenly with spinach and top with garlic, tomatoes, cream, butter, thyme and harissa.  Bake in oven for 5 minutes or until the mixture is bubbling.

3.  Remove from oven and add eggs. Grate cheese over to your preference. Replace back in oven to bake for an additional 5 minutes.

4.  Take out from oven and top with freshly ground black pepper and fleur de sel or any other flaky salt.  If it looks slightly undercooked, note that the eggs will continue cooking in the pot.  You want the yolk to still be runny, but egg whites should be pulling away slightly from edges. Serve immediately.