Chicken and Rice Soup with Lemon

Chicken and Rice Soup with Lemon

Also known as avgolemono, this soup has been a longtime favorite of mine.  I’ve made several version of this Greek soup and this recipe stands up with the best of them.

It's delicious, though it doesn't make for a thrilling photo...

It’s delicious, though it doesn’t make for a thrilling photo…

No matter what recipe I’ve used, this soup is remarkably simple, only 5 ingredients plus salt and pepper (I refuse to count a garnish as a legit ingredient, so the dill from this recipe is not included in my calculation).  And it always tastes delicious.  It is both super comforting and incredibly light at the same time.  The lemon is refreshing and makes you think of the springtime.  I particularly enjoy this soup in the deepest, darkest part of the winter (the short hours of sunlight in January, ugh).

This recipe includes chicken breast which helps fill out the soup.  I personally enjoy it even without the additional meat, but the Bear needs something heartier so this recipe actually works better for us than the other versions I’ve made in the past.

I know I often tell you try give a recipe a try.  But seriously, give this recipe a try.  Try it during the next snowstorm, when you don’t feel like the spring will ever come and you are overwhelmed by the grey and gloom.  It will make your heart happy.  Seriously.

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“Ain’t nothin like the real thing, baby”

Slow-cooker chicken mole

Rice pilaf with peas and almonds

None of the effort, some of the taste

None of the effort, some of the taste

I was conflicted as to whether I even wanted to like this mole recipe.  Here’s the thing: my big culinary triumph is/was making mole from scratch one time in 2011.  I used this recipe.  The 2 hour cooking time on that recipe is a prank.  It took me and, eventually, D, 6 plus hours of intense, hands-on cooking.  Here’s a picture of all of the ingredients that went into the mole:

I think I still have that Mexican chocolate...excuse me for a minute

I think I still have that Mexican chocolate…excuse me for a minute

Well, not the dish soap.  Anyway, I had planned to take pictures at every major step.  Then I spilled hot chicken broth all over my brand new phone and convinced myself to focus on cooking.  The end result?

My friend Katie contributed homemade tortillas and was paid in mole.  It was a good trade.

My friend Katie contributed homemade tortillas and was paid in mole. It was a good trade.

Man, was that good.  It was such a hassle to fry and blend and cook and wait and fry and worry and wait some more, but oh my was it good.

Which is why I was so conflicted about this recipe.  On one hand, if it’s just as good, then I’ve found a way to short-circuit 6 hours of madness using the slow cooker.  On the other hand, if it’s just as good, then my great culinary triumph was roughly on par with making a pot roast.

Thus, I am equally disappointed and relieved to tell you, dear readers, that this is in no way as good as real mole.  What it was missing was the depth of flavor.  This recipe is like a cheap bottle of wine: the flavor is pretty much there, but it’s not as deep, not as complicated.  Which is not to say that this isn’t good.  It is.  This is a fine recipe for what I’m forced to call imitation mole.  And it’s exceedingly easy.

The pilaf?  Um, it’s rice with peas and almonds.  It tastes like….rice with peas and almonds.  I think we can leave it at that.

Nice midwestern girl goes rogue

Bratwurst with collards and rice

beer brats, Everyday Food style

beer brats, Everyday Food style

First, let me say that the cheapskate recipes are some of my favorites.  This is a dinner under $10 feature, and I appreciate that.

That aside, there was one thing about this recipe that tripped me up, the smoked bratwurst.  The recipe calls for either smoked bratwurst or kielbasa.  Now, I didn’t fully pay attention to that.  If I had, I would have recognized that normal bratwurst like the kind you have in the summer isn’t really anything like kielbasa.  I don’t believe I’ve ever had or seen smoked bratwurst.  So when I went to make the shopping list, I just put down “bratwurst.”  Then I went to make the recipe, and I noticed that it has you slicing the sausage to cook it.  Well, if you’re doing that with normal bratwurst, that’s just straight up weird.  The casing doesn’t really let you slice it into disks.  And, even if you could, it wouldn’t really cook that way.  Bratwurst wants to be treated as a link.  I tried to split the difference by plopping it out of the casing in about 2 tablespoon chunks to brown almost like a meatball.  Cooking those blobs with the onion was getting to be a dry mess, and I could see that it was going to burn before the sausage was actually cooked all the way through.  Then I remembered something very important…beer.  I realized that this recipe was written for smoked bratwurst and whatever that was, I didn’t have it.  I had to dance with the one I brought, so to speak.  So I dumped in a third of a can of Half Acre’s Pony.  That’s a big can, so let’s say it’s a 1/2 of a normal can of beer.

My not-so-little pony

My not-so-little pony

That was just the ticket.  The brats stopped burning and starting cooking like they’re supposed to.  I felt like a Midwestern genius.  I felt like it was the dish I was born on flat land by a big lake to save.  I got to drink the rest of the delicious beer.  The collards got some nice beer flavor.  Win and win.  To up the beer and brats flavor, I added some Dijon mustard in when I added the vinegar.  D and I devoured this dish.  It definitely pays to go rogue.

brats and collards, ready for the big time

brats and collards, ready for the big time

I was wrong about you, Zap

Chorizo and shrimp pilaf

From the microwave.  No kidding!

From the microwave. No kidding!

(adapted recipe after the jump…blah, blah, blah.)

Ok, if I’m not mistaken, every issue of Everyday Food had a “Zap It” recipe.  It’s a microwave cooking recipe.  I do believe that D and I only made one or two.  Huge mistake.  These recipes are so easy, so quick, and so clever.  I think I always figured that nothing good could come from the microwave or maybe I thought that it would be watery or weirdly rubbery.  I’ve had very, very limited success cooking eggs in the microwave without them exploding all over.  Perhaps I was picturing myself cleaning up exploded chorizo bits.  That is a nightmare scenario.  You’ve got to give me that.  Whatever I was thinking, I was wrong.

So let’s get into this tasty treat.  Rice and other stuff cooked in the microwave.  Very straightforward.  It’s so tasty.  I love shrimp and this was just right.

I do have to talk about the chorizo for just a bit.  The recipe calls for hard chorizo.  I shop at a grocery store with way more Mexican food than the average grocery store.  The meat is labeled in English and Spanish.  There’s a whole wall of dried peppers I’ve never seen before.  They didn’t have hard chorizo.  So you know I wasn’t going to try another place, if this one didn’t have it.  Maybe hard chorizo is more of a Spanish thing.  What they did have was something like five different kinds of the normal, soft chorizo.  The house-made chorizo at this place is nothing to play with.  I love spicy food and that stuff is too much for me.  I thought this recipe would do well with a nice, mild spice.  Plus, I had some fantasy that I would let the baby eat it (D and I wolfed it down).  So I went with a brand that said it was without spice at all.  They were lying.  It was less spicy.  As for cooking it, the recipe says to slice it on a diagonal.  Well, you don’t really do that with the soft stuff.  I just plopped it out of the casing in even sized dollops and was careful not to break it up too much when I stirred it in.  It wound up breaking up during the cooking process and spreading all through the pilaf.  That’s why my pilaf is orange and the one in the magazine is white.  Aside from aesthetics, it doesn’t matter.  The microwaved chorizo was a touch gritty, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t ignore for the sake of an otherwise delicious recipe.

One side story:  When I asked the guys at the meat counter for hard chorizo, they said they didn’t have it and pointed out the other stuff.  I actually asked them these idiotic words, “What’s the difference?”  The one guy just kinda chuckled and said, “I dunno.  The hard stuff is like…hard.”  Point taken.

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Martha Stewart is trying to sell me a giant skillet

Shrimp Jambalaya

Looking so pretty and well-behaved...

Looking so pretty and well-behaved…

How big is the biggest skillet in your kitchen?  My biggest is a 12 inch non-stick skillet.  I also have what the Cuisinart website tells me is a 3 quart covered saute pan.  That thing is fairly tall, but it’s still not all that wide.  I was under the impression that my 12 inch skillet was a large skillet.  After all, at some point a bigger skillet would be too big for the burner on a standard range, right?  Martha Stewart seems to think otherwise.

This recipe said to use a large skillet.  I was already starting to worry when I added the sausage.  That filled the bottom, but the sausage pieces did shrink a little when they cooked.  Then I added the onions, celery, and garlic.  That filled the skillet about 3/4 full.  At that point, I was already lying to myself.  The veggies cooked down a little.  I cut back the tomatoes from the 8 plum tomatoes the recipe called for (eight?!?! really?!) to 5.  By the time I added what amounted to a heaping soup bowl full of diced tomatoes, three cups of water, and a cup of rice, I was willfully ignoring the laws of physics.  I covered the skillet, as instructed, and felt the lid press down on the mound of food.  What, precisely, did I think was going to happen?  What did happen is that the meal cooked away for 15 minutes making ominous noises and occasionally boiling over onto the stovetop.  When 15 minutes was up, I lifted the lid to see this:

It is the beating of his hideous heart!!!!

It is the beating of his hideous heart!!!!

I should have shot a video of this.  The red area in the center was pulsing up and down, not unlike a giant heart.  Happy belated Halloween!  The recipe said to cook until the rice was cooked and all of the water was absorbed.  Well, the rice was cooked and the water remained.  I tried cranking up the heat to boil off some of the water, but it wasn’t going to happen.  This was, essentially, a stew bubbling all the way to the top of the skillet.  So I did what any intelligent human being would do, I added a pound of shrimp and covered it again.  The shrimp didn’t really cook under those conditions.  I uncovered the skillet and let the boiling off/shrimp cooking process work itself out.  Once the shrimp weren’t grey anymore, I called it quits.  The stew jambalaya (or, stewbalaya, if you will) was done.  It was a sloppy mess, but it was cooked.

I served it with a slotted spoon, and you know what?  It was delicious.  The andouille sausage spiced the whole stewbalaya beautifully.  It was hot and spicy, and we both loved it.

This brings me to my dilemma.  I’d love to make it again, but how?  I think I’d have to make a half recipe or cook it in my two largest pans.  Or, I could do as Martha seems to suggest, and buy an enormous skillet.  I found a 20 inch skillet on Amazon, but the description says it’s for camping.  Surely I’m not expected to start a campfire, Martha.  I think the biggest one I can find for indoor use is this 15 inch skillet.  Honestly, I’m not sure it would be big enough for this recipe.

This experience definitely makes me nervous about all of the other skillet recipes in this issue.  She drops back to punt to B….

Rice and Noodles: Dinners this week took an Asian adventure

Shrimp Fried Rice (no recipe online, see below)

Chicken, Edamame, and Noodle Stir Fry

September 2007, pg. 18 & 111

Chicken, Edamame, and Noodle Stir Fry

Chicken, Edamame, and Noodle Stir Fry

The hardest part of this dish was finding the ingredients.  I just spent the last five years living in the land of Wegman’s.  For those of you who know Wegman’s, you will already understand why this is an issue for me.  For those of you who don’t, educate yourself.  Needless to say, I started to take Wegman’s a little for granted and just assumed most things could be found at my local grocery store.  So when I moved here and had to deal with (gasp!) normal grocery stores, I have found myself a little lost.  What do you mean they don’t always carry lamb chops?!  Where is my Republic of Tea?!?!?!?! (This issue has resulted in approximately 3 weeks of checking every supermarket and specialty store which could fathomably carry Republic of Tea Earl Greyer.  I’m fairly traumatized.) What is this pathetic olive bar selection?? And where are my 300+ specialty cheeses?!?!  Anyway, I assumed I would be able to run up to the Shaw’s and just grab a package of udon noodles and some pre-shucked edamame.  Wrong! I had to check 3 different stores before I managed to luck out at basically a local version of whole foods.  I couldn’t even find udon noodles at the local Asian Market which strangely had mostly Indian stuff…

Anyway, after all that, it turned out ok.  I just say ok because while it was decent, it was lacking anything that thrilling.  The Bear I live with says it would have benefitted from some duck sauce (hey, what wouldn’t benefit from some duck sauce?!) but he settled for some sriracha sauce (yeah, pretty different from duck sauce I know).  If I decide to make this again, I might try to add in a little more rice wine vinegar and maybe a little sesame oil.

The real star of my Asian romp was the Shrimp Fried Rice (recipe below)!

Ugh, I wish I had some I could eat right now!

Ugh, I wish I had some I could eat right now!

First of all, I had managed to find some incredible deal on some really incredible shrimp (I guess Shaw’s isn’t all bad…) and was super psyched to use them.  I was a little nervous that the Shrimp Fried Rice wouldn’t do them justice but I took the risk and it was sooo worth it!!!!

This recipe uses a fair amount of lime juice and I am certain that is what made all the difference.  It was so sharp and vibrant and the shrimp was so sweet and plump! My only complaint is that it could maybe use a little more crunch.  Next time I will add some thinly shredded Napa cabbage.  And there will definitely be a next time!

Ok here’s the recipe:

Shrimp Fried Rice*

Prep Time: 15 minutes (depending on how fast you are with a knife) Total Time: 30 minutes

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups rice (I used brown rice and was very satisfied with the results)

2 teaspoons vegetable oil (I used coconut oil and again, very satisfied)

2 eggs beaten

1 lb peeled-deveined shrimp coarsely chopped

2 carrots thinly sliced

2 scallions sliced

1 garlic clove minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger (so good!)

1/4 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup lime juice

So have your rice already cooked and ready to go.  I made mine the day before.  Put half the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and add your beaten egg.  Don’t scramble it further.  Let it cook until it’s set like an egg pancake then slide it out and slice it up.  Set that aside.  Then add the rest of your oil to the skillet, still on medium heat, and toss in the shrimp, carrots, scallions, garlic and ginger.  Keep tossing it around as it cooks.  It only takes 3 – 5 minutes.  When the shrimp are pink and have firmed up they are done.  Don’t overcook them!  Tough shrimp are the worst! (Well maybe not the worst, they are still shrimp after all…).

When your shrimp look cooked add in the rice, eggs, soy sauce and lime juice.  Keep mixing it up until it all seems heated through and bam!  You have a really awesome dinner ahead of you!  You can add some scallion greens to make it look pretty. Enjoy!

*adapted from Everyday Food Issue 45 (September 2007) p. 18.