Monday, April 13, 2009

Home Made Chicken Noodle Soup

This is a home made chicken soup recipe I came up with in honour of dear friend, fellow browncoat, Jewish mum mom (oops -- American!) and current scholarly influence Candace Uhlmeyer.

Nothing quite soothes quite like a chicken soup and for once, I even made the stock myself. One can learn a lot about cooking just by walking through the grocery store in search of nothing in particular. I love not having to look at a list and wondering which isle I should head to next. Some of the most interesting things have come from just wondering what to do with a particular ingredient I've never had before. Hopefully, I'll find some use for that dragon fruit but in the meantime, I was elated to come across a hoard of freshly wrapped stock chicken bones.

Cheap too. That's the important part, especially in this day and age and the soup has lasted me over a week infusing me with protein and vegetable nutrients.

Oddly enough, one of my early influences in cooking was Bugs Bunny cartoons. For some reason, Bugs was always to be the main ingredient of a soup. Perhaps the act of chopping up ingredients and throwing ingredients in a big pot provided more comedic fodder, but the message was that soups are pretty easy to make.

A chicken soup needn't be complicated. In fact, the simpler the soup, the better and you'll be more inclined to make them more which is the same mistake people with crock pots make. I think it's important to use home made chicken stock (not broth -- which isn't as tasty), and healthier too as there is less sodium.

And it's low in fat and cholesterol and rabbit friendly of course...

So here's the recipe:

The Stock:

It's Gordon Ramsay's actually so I'll summarize it here as it's quite simple. It makes about six cups.


(my comments are in italics)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 onion, peeled and chopped (I used 2 shallots, tasted better)
2 celery sticks, chopped (I used three, It tastes better and makes the soup a bit crunchier)
1 leek, washed and sliced (make sure to get plenty of the green bits. That's where the flavour lives)
1 bay leaf
1 thyme spring
3 garlic cloves, peeled (I smashed them a bit. The flavour gets out better)
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp flour
2 lb raw chicken bones (I doubled this and some of the bones had some meat on them. Chicken backs are preferable to legs and wing bones)
sea salt and black pepper

1. Heat olive oil in stock pot and add vegetables, herbs, and garlic. Cook until golden over medium heat stirring occasionally.
2. Stir in paste and flour and cook another minute.
3. Add bones and pour in enough cold water to cover.
4. Season and bring to a boil.
5. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface.
6. Reduce heat and let simmer gently for one hour.
7. Let the stock stand for a few minutes, then pass through a fine strainer and let cool.
Refrigerate and use within five days or freeze for up to three months.

The Soup

6 cups of stock (above)
1 chicken breast
1 onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 leek, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 handful of egg noodles, fine (important to have the fine ones)
1/2 tsp thyme, dried
1/2 tsp basil, dried
1 garlic clove, chopped finely
1 small handful of fine egg noodles.


1. Heat stock in pot and bring to a boil.
2. Add chicken breast, carrot, leek, onion, celery, garlic and herbs and simmer for one hour. Add more water if necessary.
3. Remove chicken breast and chop into bite sized chunks. Return to pot.
4. Add noodles and simmer until they are soft.
5. Season with salt and pepper and serve.

Food Price Hikes

The BBC reports that food prices are going up which is not suprising. This is bad news on many levels, because most of the cheapest foods available, are high in sodium, fat and calories. It is for the most part, easier to keep prices down that way. It's not made any easier when the cheapest cut of meat is the hot dog.

Let's face it, we can't all make the most of rice and beans which are healthy for the price but hardly exciting.

They report the following price increases:

Rice - up 81%
Pork sausages - up 51%
Mince - up 22%
Milk - up 14%

Well so much for Rice being cheap, so that just leaves the beans. I firmly believe that culinary education is the key here and people all over the world, including Britain, have forgotten how to cook.

Gordon Ramsay has done a good job at educating the public in England and here in Canada we have some pretty smart home grown chefs on the Food Network, but it's not enough. A little patience, imagination and I think above all, planning menus and shopping lists but we're not used to doing that.

Thankfully the web is making it easier to save money more than ever. Sites like Frugal Shopper and other various articles onsaving money have made an impact on every day budget cuts in grocery bills.

Just remember, fresh is better than dried but anything is better and cheaper than what comes in a frozen box. Consider a lasagna, and add up the costs. A box of frozen lasagna that costs $2.39 will be far more expensive than a large lasagna you make yourself and cut up into lunch sized portions. Price reduced warehouses don't necessarily have cheaper ingredients. Some of these places hike up the prices on some ingredients (meats or vegetables) to compensate. It's always good to compare prices. Years of experience in retail has taught me the value of knowing what the competitor values as their core customer expectation and how to compete with that.

Do the math. Fresh is cheaper than frozen and store bought. It might take a little more effort and time but it's worth it. Those lunches at work add up and you'll lose weight with less added sugar, fats and carbohydrates.

Work up a timetable during weekends. Freeze what you can, prepare ahead, clip coupons, price check and you'll be on the road to a healthier bank account and waist line.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

It's ratio, not recipe

If there is a secret to cooking just about anything, Michael Ruhlman's new book Ratio: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking might have the answer the foodie has been looking for. He sums it up pretty well in this interview with the Globe and Mail.

A ratio is a fixed proportion of ingredients relative to another, and these proportions form the backbone of the culinary arts. A recipe is a specific set of measurements and instructions for combining those measured ingredients. These ratios are starting points.

There are recipes in the book however but Ruhlman is aware of the irony of that. The recipes are very simple and form a basis for more complex recipes. If you know the basic ratio of ingredients (fat, flour and sugar) in a cookie dough, Ruhlman argues that it empowers the cook to create any number cookie recipes.

He also talks about the usefulness of using mass measurements instead of volume. That might explain some of those heavy, dry cakes I've had to suffer through in the past.

It's critical. Ratios don't work with volume, which is why most recipes don't always double well. Flour, depending on the humidity in the air and how long it's been sitting in its sack, weighs anywhere between roughly four and six ounces [per cup]. That means that if a recipe for bread calls for four cups of flour, you could have either sixteen ounces, a pound, or a pound and a half; that's 50 per cent more, and you don't know which one it is. But if you weigh, it's always going to be the same, which is why professional chefs love to use weight.

I've been meaning to buy a scale for some time.