Chicken soup for the soulless… but never the tasteless.

I tend to find that when life gives you lemons, the best policy is to throw them away and make chicken soup.  Now, I don’t really have a chicken soup recipe that I use, so this is going to be less of a detailed “how to” and more of an experiential process.  That said, here’s a list of more or less what goes into the finished product:

One chicken (you can roast your own if you have all day, or just buy a rotisserie one.  They’re unimaginably delicious)

As many cans/boxes of chicken broth as will fit in your largest pot along with all the other ingredients.

Celery, onions, carrots.  Maybe also garlic.

Whatever else you like in your chicken soup.  I usually go for some yummy red potatoes.  Other people like rice, or noodles, but I tend to find anything like that will soak up my delicious delicious broth, and just generally get mushy and irritating.  But to each his own.

Assorted herbs.  Whatever you like with chicken.  I usually throw in some tarragon, maybe a touch of cayenne, some thyme, really whatever is handy and smells good.  And of course salt and pepper.

So, step one is to remove the chicken meat from the chicken bones.  If you’ve bought a rotisserie chicken or are particularly crafty at chicken roasting yourself, there will probably be delicious crispy chicken skin between you and the meat.  Your doctor would probably tell you to throw that out since its by far the fattiest part of the whole proceedings, but I say that would be a crime.  Eat it while you are stripping the meat.  Keep the meat for throwing in the soup later, for sandwiches, for whatever purpose best suits leftover chicken in your universe.  Also, reserve the fat at the bottom of the container.  If you roast your own chicken, there will be a fairly large quantity of chicken fat and juices on the bottom of the roasting pan.  If you got a rotisserie chicken, there will be less, but should still be some in the container it came in.  Hang on to that, I have devilish plans for it.

So, put the chicken carcass in a big pot with some roughly chopped celery, onions, and carrots and the chicken broth you bought.  If you feel the desire to throw some crushed garlic in there, go for it.  Also add whatever herbs you’re using.  Bring it all to a boil, and then simmer it for as long as you can stand not eating it.  I’d say an hour is the minimum, but I’ve never been able to wait more than two, so I don’t know what happens beyond that point.  Your house will start to fill with indecently mouthwatering aromas.  In fact, I usually succumb to temptation around 30 minutes or so and start tasting the blazing hot liquid.  It’s delicious, but causes me to burn my tongue repeatedly, which is ultimately not so conducive to future soup eating happiness.

After you’ve simmered as long as you plan to simmer, strain all the solids out of the liquid.  This can be a lengthy and somewhat difficult process, depending on what sorts of alternate containers you’re straining into, how big your strainer is, etc.  However, I have faith in you, so you can figure all that out in the privacy of your own kitchen.  Once you have separated the liquid from the solids, and the liquid is back in its original large pot, you’re on the home stretch.

Here’s where the diabolical plan for the chicken fat comes in.  Fry an onion in it.  No seriously, this is megadelicious.  So good I had to make up a word for it, see what I did there?  Slice up an onion, put it in a pan with the chicken fat, maybe some cayenne if you’re into that (I am), maybe a little salt and pepper.  Once the onion has sizzled away for awhile, throw the whole thing in the soup.  Well…  not the frying pan, but, you know, the contents thereof.  This may not change your life, but I’m fairly certain it changed mine.

Then, add whatever else you want in the soup!  I usually chop some carrots and celery and just let them cook in the broth.  However, since I’m all about conserving broth, when it comes time to add potatoes I boil them in water first, then drain and add them to the soup out of some, perhaps misguided, notion that they will soak up broth during cooking.  Finally, I find that its best if you want chicken in your chicken soup to just put some chicken pieces in the bowl and pour hot soup over them.  If you actually put cooked chicken in the soup it gets dried out, counter-intuitive though that may be.  I also sometimes put bok choy in the soup.  It’s really delicious and soaks up flavor from whatever its cooked in.  The only thing to watch out for is it sort of falls apart if you cook it more than about 5 minutes.

Then, EAT! I don’t feel the need to elaborate on this part really.  Maybe bread and butter or cheese should be involved.  Up to you.

Since, however hard you try (and I know, I’ve tried) you will not be able to eat it all in one sitting, it’s fortunate that the soup stores well.  I generally just stick the whole pot in the fridge with a lid on it.  It’s never been around in my house longer than a few days, and I’m sure it wouldn’t be in yours either, as you all have excellent taste, so hopefully we shall never know how long it takes to go bad.

Happy eating!

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This recipe will probably kill you

I pride myself on being able to, if not come up with, then at least recognize a freaking fabulous recipe when I see one.  We tried this one out and it caused my boyfriend to burst into spontaneous accents and make semi-sexual noises.  Also it includes one entire stick of butter.  Hot?  Totally hot.  It’s titled “Mussels in Pinot Noir Butter” and is from the Pike Place Public Market Seafood Cookbook by Braiden Rex-Johnson.  I recommend this book.  This is the first thing I’ve made out of it, but I start drooling like a baby basset hound every time I crack this tome open.  Major food porn of the highest order.  So!  To the mussels!

3/4 cup pinot noir

2 dozen large mussles (about 1 1/2 pounds) all cleaned up

2 tablespoons finely minced shallots

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into pieces (yeah, ya heard)

6 tiny cornichons (little baby pickles, in case you aren’t familiar…  and Safeway isn’t.  We ended up with something called “petite snack crunchers”) cut into quarters.

Bring 1/2 cup of the wine to a boil in the biggest pot you have.  Reduce heat, add mussels, cover, and steam until mussels open.  The book says 5-7 minutes.  Take out the open ones, and let the rest keep cooking for a minute or two.  If any don’t open after that, throw those away, as this means they were DOA and eating them exposes you to nasty shell-fishy disease. Keep the liquid you used to steam the mussels, it is essential to future gastronomic happiness.

While the mussels cool, put the portion of the wine that you didn’t steam the mussels in (it’ll be 1/4 cup) in a skillet with the shallots and the lemon juice.  You’ll notice that through a grave oversight on someone’s part, there isn’t any garlic included in this recipe.  We added garlic at this juncture.  Let this lovely liquid reduce for 5-7 minutes, or until the liquid is almost gone.  Then add the mussel steaming liquid that you saved for just this reason, and reduce again until you only have about 3 tablespoons left.  It should also thicken slightly.  According to the book, it starts to thicken pretty fast, so keep and eye on it so things don’t get out of hand.  I didn’t notice a thickening problem, but hey.

Remove the pan from heat, and start to add the butter one or two small chunks at a time.  whisk steadily until all the butter is blended in.  The heat of the reduction should be enough to make everything come together and melt smoothly, but if not, stick it on some very low heat til things start flowing again.  According to the recipe, it should take on the consistency of homemade mayonnaise.  I don’t actually know what that consistency is, never having made mayonnaise, but I suspect ours was slightly too runny.

Now, this next part is all about presentation.  Remove the mussels from their shells, and discard the upper shells.  Place a cornichon quarter in each lower shell, place a mussel on top of it, and add a dollop of sauce.  Serve to oohs of delight from all your seafood loving friends.

On this point, my advice is that if you’re having a fancy party, sure, by all means do it the way the book says.  However, if, like we were, you’re sitting on the couch pigging out, just do what we did, and use the mussel shells as little spoons to grab a bit of sauce with each mussel, taking occasional bites of cornichon in between.  There will be just as many oohs from your seafood loving selves.  Promise.

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How to have fun in San Francisco

1.  Be female, tall, with substantial cleavage.

2.  Put on makeup, not the subtle kind that you’d wear to a job interview, the tarty kind.  Put on jewelery, big, sparkly, long, generally flashy.  Then put on a dress that bares the aforementioned cleavage, and the tallest heels you have.  No one said this wasn’t going to hurt.

3.  Go to the Castro.  Pick a bar.  Go in.

4.  When the inevitable gay man inevitably asks your name, answer at just under the decibel level that would be audible over the music.

5.  Watch with great interest as his brows contort in confusion, until, deeply thoughtful, he responds “… Al?”.

6.  Answer in the negative.  Or the affirmative.  This is the fabulous part.  You now get to decide what gender you are for the remainder of the night.

7.  Contemplate the fleeting and malleable nature of identity.

8.  Reasonably, get drunk.

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Why hello there, internet

The other day as I was sitting on the couch, reading an amazingly crafted Mary Karr memoir and waiting for my boyfriend to get home from the all male bondage class my co-worker had wheedled him into attending, I started to reflect on the power of good writing to make me want to write.  I don’t know if its some sort of ‘monkey see, monkey feel inadequate but want to try anyway’ sort of a thing or what, but its a damn good thing that something motivates me.  If there’s one thing I’ve discovered in all these months since I set up this blog, its that these word things don’t hit the page of their own volition.  So, here I am!  Hello internet!  Hi blog!  Lets be friends, k?

The original idea for this blog was to be a place I could come and share recipes I either made up or stole, go on and on about shellfish, extol the many virtues of well made chicken soup, and generally wax lyrical about food.  But I think instead, it’s going to be about all the strange and wonderful things that make my life delicious, because really, why limit myself?  I’m going to do something weird and out of character for me, and try to stay positive.  But there will be a fair few rants, because getting the negative out of my system makes my life sweeter.  Also, I’m damn entertaining when I rant.

So, in parting, a thought:  Whatever gets you off your ass, whether its other people’s co-workers, pretty words, or, you know, male bondage… go for it.  Motivation is a squirrely beast, and we ought to snare her wherever, whenever and however we can.

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