Sunday, October 28, 2012

Chicken & Chickpea Soup

Sorry to miss you last weekend, which was when this soup was actually simmering away.  It took a bit more time than I had planned on, which didn't leave time to blog about it after enjoying it.  We have been having a gorgeous fall, although we are already bereft of colorful leaves, only a few weeks after they began.  We had a couple of days of heavy rain, which knocked all but the hardiest leaves from their limbs, and I think the frost the past two nights has done the rest of them in.  Every so often upon a walk one will come upon a tree still holding nearly all its leaves, the lone standout in a copse of bare branches, but even those are nearly gone now.  All summer we felt as though we lived in a treehouse (albeit a very modern, well-equipped tree house) because our front windows look out into the branches of a beautiful maple.  We also had a nice tree line at the back of our backyard, shielding us from the yards of our neighbors to the west.  Now we draw the curtains as night falls, since we are otherwise on display given the lack of a protective leafy veil. 
We are enjoying almost all the other aspects of the seasonal change, though.  The crisp mornings, geese flying overhead, and autumnal flavors - most especially pumpkin.  So last week we made a soup containing pumpkin chunks.  Up to this point, neither of us had cooked/baked with a real pumpkin.  We were canned pumpkin lovers, and counted ourselves among those who enjoy carving a big jack-o-lantern in the fall, but never had we wrestled with a little eating pumpkin.  And wrestle we did!  We are proud to have very sharp knives.  In fact, when we were first married and using this knife set, I cut myself on them so often that I bought the nice, waterproof, antibacterial-salve-in-the-pad bandaids so that I could cover a cut and keep cooking.  We can slice through a butternut squash with barely a thought to its tough rind.  And yet, this pumpkin nearly bested us.  It took a good half hour and three different knives to chop off the top and halve the body.  Then we were unable to peel it (or unwilling, as the previous half hour had worn us down), so we crossed our fingers and stuck it in the oven for 30 minutes at 400.  This actually worked beautifully - the pumpkin separated from the skin and softened enough to make dicing it easy.  So, with that background, I will give you the recipe for the Chicken & Chickpea soup that the diced pumpkin was to join.

You have to make this soup in two parts.  Part one involves boiling chicken in spices and water to make a delicious broth.  The recipe calls for a whole 3 pound chicken, cut into pieces, or else just some pieces of chicken weighing about 3 pounds.  I did 3 pounds of thighs, since that was what I could find at the store.  Put it in a stockpot with 8 cups water, 1 onion cut in wedges, 2 smashed cloves of garlic, 1 cinnamon stick (or 1 tsp. ground), 1 tsp. whole cardamom pods (or 1/2 tsp. ground), 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg.  Simmer this together for about an hour, or until the chicken is tender.  Remove the chicken and pull out the spices if you used whole.  Strain the broth, pushing the onion and garlic against the sieve so their juices join the broth.  Chill the broth and skim off the fat.  (This part took quite a bit longer than I had expected.  May I suggest doing this step the day before you want to eat the soup?  That will give the broth plenty of time to chill.  Then you can skim the fat and start step 2 on the day you want to eat.)

For part two, first skim the fat off the broth if you haven't already, and put the broth in a pot to reheat.  Next you'll chop up your veggies.  You'll need one diced potato, 2 cups peeled and diced pumpkin, 3 cups peeled and quartered tomatoes.  (If you are worried about peeling your tomatoes, there's a trick: Bring a pan of water to a boil.  Drop the tomatoes in a few at a time, letting them boil for maybe 1 minute.  Have a bowl of ice water standing by, and when you remove the tomatoes from the boiling water, place them immediately in the ice water.  Once they've cooled for a minute or two, you should be able to easily slide the skin right off!)  Once you have your veggies chopped, put them in the broth and add 2 cups cooked chickpeas (I used canned) and 1 Tbsp. ground turmeric.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the veggies are tender (~20 minutes).  While the veggies are cooking, remove the chicken from the bones, cut it into small pieces, and stir it into the soup. 

Serve this with rice or couscous, and maybe a sprinkling of salt and/or hot sauce.  Delicious!  Thanks for stopping by, and be sure you come again.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Goat Cheese and Apple Tart

On a rainy fall evening, we are warmly ensconced in our little home.  We've talked to many family members this afternoon, and look forward to our Sunday evening routine of dinner, an episode of "The West Wing," making tomorrow's lunch, and then reading with a glass of wine until we're too sleepy to continue.  There is comfort in this homey routine.  I love things that are comforting, and they are usually comforting because they are so familiar.  That is why this week we are going to eat some meals that are simple and that I (Emily) have eaten at my mother's table for years.  However, if you want a recipe for tuna casserole or spaghetti, you probably already have one from your own mother, so I won't be posting those (at least not today - if you are dying for such a recipe, let me know and I can do that in the future). 
Now, as comforting as familiar foods are, it is so much fun to give them a twist by pairing them with something a little less ordinary.  Hence, Goat Cheese and Apple Tart.  I found this recipe online when I was looking for recipes reminiscent of "The Hunger Games," because I was going to be having a Hunger Games themed dinner with some friends.  But this delicious treat has been featured at my Bible Study since, and it was a hit.  It has that familiar goodness of apples, cinnamon, and honey, but combined with the earthy and unexpected tang of goat cheese.  Everyone I've served it to has enjoyed it immensely, and David asks me to make more every time I mention that I feel like baking, so I know it's a hit with the Helpful Husband.  So don't be afraid!  Try it!  (and also don't be afraid of making tart pastry - it was a lot simpler than I had imagined it to be!)

To start, you'll need to make the crust.  It is intended to be light and flaky, which means getting lots of butter in between layers of flour.  So mix together 2 cups flour and 1/2 tsp. salt (the original recipe calls for 1 cup each of cake flour and all-purpose, but I only had all-purpose, so I just did 2 cups of that and it was fine).  Cut up 1 cup cold butter into 1/2 inch cubes, and toss them in with the flour/salt.  Slowly add up to 3/4 cup ice water, adding only enough so that the dough sticks together.  I tested this by adding a little water, giving the flour mixture a stir, then pinching a bit of the mix to see if it stuck. Once it did, I moved on to flattening the dough into a rectangle.  Of course this requires a little bit of kneading, but not too much.  Too much will make it stiff in the long run.  Once the dough is flat, wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the freezer for about 10 minutes. 

10 minutes later...get out the dough and fold it in half two times (in half, then in half again).  Roll it back into a large rectangle, and put it back in the plastic wrap and back in the freezer for another 10 minutes.  Do this two more times (10 mins freezing, fold twice, roll out).  After the third re-rolling, lay the dough in a tart pan, or if you're like me and do not have a tart pan, a circular pan like a pie, cake, or springform pan.  Make sure you have the dough folded up at least half an inch around the edges, or later your filling won't stay in.  Now, depending on how thinly you rolled the crust, you might only have to use half of it this time around.  You can store the rest in the freezer, and save it for the next time you want to wow your dinner guests (or just yourself) with this tart.  Put the crust back in the freezer while you preheat the oven to 450.  Once it's ready, put the crust in for ~20 minutes. 

While the crust is pre-baking, make the filling.  You'll need to mix together 1/2 cup (4 oz.) goat cheese, 1/2 cup (4 oz.) cream cheese, 1/2 cup heavy cream, 1 egg, 1/4 cup sugar, 1/2 tsp. vanilla.  To make the mixing easier, start with the two cheeses in a microwave-safe bowl, and nuke them for 30 seconds or so - just until they're nice and soft.  Then add the other ingredients and mix well. 

Once that's done, peel, core, and thinly slice 3 apples, and toss the slices with 1 Tbsp. lemon juice.  By now the crust should be done with its 20 minutes of pre-baking.  Pour the cheese mixture into the crust, then lay the apples on top.  Drizzle with 4 Tbsp. honey and sprinkle with cinnamon, and put it back in the oven for another 20 minutes.  While this is baking, your mouth will water and you'll check the timer every 30 seconds to see if it's done yet.  It smells that good. 

When it's done baking, let it sit and cool for at least 5 minutes before you dig in.  And when you do, think of us.  We enjoy you at least as much as you're enjoying that tart. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Chicken Pot Pie

Welcome to Sunday night dinner!  We love this part of the week - everything is done and we are relaxing.  This weekend we've even made all the meals for the upcoming week already, because looking ahead we're not sure we'd have time during the week.  Tonight we're having a couple of belly-warming comfort foods.  We're starting with homemade chicken pot pie, which is so easy, especially if you have some leftover cooked chicken. 

First, chop up one onion, a few carrots, and a handful of potatoes - ours all came from the Farmer's market yesterday morning.  Toss them in a pot with 3 cups chicken broth and let it simmer until they're soft.  Add 1/2 cup each frozen peas and frozen corn, as well as 2 cups diced cooked chicken, a big pinch of sage, a bigger pinch of thyme, 1/2 t. salt, 1/2 t. pepper.  Let that simmer while you whisk together 1 cup of milk and 1/4 cup of flour in a bowl.  Mix it in to the veggies, and let it simmer until thickened.  Then take it off the heat.  Now, I find it a personal point of pride to use as few dishes as possible, and so I want to say that to this point in the process, I had used one cutting board, one knife, one bowl, one spoon, one measuring cup, and one stock pot.  Plus, I have a husband who likes to feel helpful, so I called on him and he washed them all up!  A Helpful Husband is a beneficial but not required ingredient.

Have you ever used phyllo dough before?  It's pretty good, but a little finicky.  You buy it frozen, so you have to put it in the fridge a day ahead of time to let it thaw (I forgot, so I had to set it close-but-not-too-close to the hot burner to speed the process).  Anyway, when you work with phyllo, you can't let it dry out, so it's best to keep it covered with plastic wrap while you work.  You'll also need some melted butter or a bowl of oil to brush on the pieces as you go.  In a pack of phyllo you'll probably have about 20 pieces of thin dough.  Take one, put it in a greased 9 inch pie pan, then brush some melted butter or oil over it.  Do that 9 more times until you have 10 pieces of dough layered with the butter or oil.  Now do something I didn't: put the pie pan on an edged cookie sheet in case of spills.  Of course, I spilled because I had too much filling and it overflowed.  Enter the Helpful Husband once again.  We got it cleaned up and then put the pie pan on the cookie sheet.  Preheat the oven to 350, then do the phyllo dough/butter or oil layering on top of the filling until you've used up the phyllo.  Brush a little more butter on top, and put it in the oven for about half an hour, until it's nice and brown.  Let it sit a few minutes before scooping out a hearty helping.

Now for dessert, we're going to have some Goat Cheese & Apple Tart, and I'll probably put that recipe up someday soon because it is oh-so-good.  But tonight, we're relaxing.  Tomorrow David will return to studying about infectious diseases, pharmacology, and pathology and I will go back to counseling a distraught family member about her uncle's swallowing decline, guiding a man with Aphasia into finding the right words to express himself, and determining whether or not a little old lady can drink regular liquids again.  But tonight we'll drink some wine, eat some yummy food, watch an episode of "The West Wing," and read our books.  Praise the Lord for the Sabbath!