Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A fine kettle of fish.

One of the finest things to serve with that loaf of crusty, rustic sourdough bread you now know how to make is bouillabaisse. Hot, fresh, rich, and redolent with the aromas of land and the sea, this is another dish that is simple to make, and yet is sure to impress your family and friends. Basically, there are two steps to this Mediterranean fish stew: making the base, and cooking the fish in it. And while fish stews are made in fishing communities all over the world, bouillabaisse a la Marseillaise is recognized the world over as a classic of French cuisine.

To begin with, the fish. You'll want to use the freshest fish you can find. Halibut, cod, sea bass, sea bream, whiting, pollock, snapper, monkfish, weakfish, sea trout, squid, and eel are all excellent choices. You can also include mussels, clams, and oysters, as well as crabs, shrimp, and lobster, if you'd like. Buy the fish from your local fish monger, someone you trust, and someone with whom you have, or can develop, a good relationship. Your fish monger is your friend.

Don't live near the ocean? No worries. You can still get the same fish that seaside communities get. Whole Foods and other large supermarkets have seafood departments that sell high-quality, flash-frozen fish that comes direct from fish markets on the east and west coasts. Is there an Asian market nearby? Chances are they'll have a decent selection of previously frozen fish to choose from. Heck, last I heard, the wild salmon and halibut that I like so much come from the west coast, and those shrimp that I had last night came from the gulf. I'm sure that they're of the same quality that you can get where you live. It may take some time to find a source, but trust me, there's one near you.

Select fish that doesn't smell like fish or ammonia. It should have a clean, briny smell. The flesh should be resilient, not mushy, and the eyes (on whole fish, obviously), should be clear, not cloudy. So how do you judge these things? Ask to smell the fish. Ask if you can have one of their disposable plastic gloves to poke it. If they say no, walk away, and find another source. If buying whole fish (sea bream, snapper, etc.), ask your monger to fillet it, but tell him (or her) that you want to take the head and bones home with you. It's from these that you'll be making the base for your stew.

The fish:
Use various kinds of fish, some firm (halibut, monkfish, eel, etc.), some flaky (cod, haddock, pollock, etc.), in addition to squid, and shellfish. The choice is entirely up to you. Figure about 3/4 pound of uncooked fish per person (i.e., to serve 8, you'll need between 4 and 6 pounds of fish), a total of about 1 pound of squid, a total of about 1 pound of shrimp, and about a dozen each of clams and mussels. Cut your fish into chunks about 2 inches wide. If using squid, clean (if you don't know how, ask). Cut the body into rings about 1 inch wide. Keep the tentacles. If using shrimp, peel. Keep the peels, as they can be used to make stock. (Whenever I make shrimp, I keep all of the peels. I put them in a zipper-close bag, and keep them in the freezer. When I need fish stock, a handful or two placed into some water with a bay leaf, some onion, and some garlic and brought to a boil for 10 minutes makes a fantastic base.) If using clams and mussels, rinse them well under cold water. Trim the beards off the mussels. Place them both into a deep bowl of cold water, and put in the fridge. Place all of the other fish onto a large plate, cover with plastic, and place in the fridge.

The base:
To a large stock pot, add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add 1 cup of sliced onions 1 cup of cleaned and sliced leeks (white part only), 4 cloves of mashed garlic, and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. You don't want them to brown. Next, add 2 or 3 cups of chopped fresh tomatoes, or 1 or 2 cups of undrained Pomi chopped tomatoes. Cook for five minutes more. Add 2-1/2 quarts cold water, 4 sprigs of Italian flat-leaf parsley (unchopped), 3 sprigs of fresh thyme (or 1 teaspoon dried), 2 bay leaves, about a dozen cracked black peppercorns, 1/4 teaspoon of fennel seed, a 2 inch piece of orange peel (wash the orange first), two large pinches of saffron, the fish heads and bones, and the shrimp peels. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, and allow to cook for 30 minutes. NOTE: As this cooks, a lot of foam will appear on the top of the stock. You'll need to skim this off frequently. After 30 minutes, strain the stock through a double layer of cheesecloth in a colander. Taste for seasoning, and adjust as needed. You're now ready to make your bouillabaisse.

Bring the base to a boil, and add the fish (not the shellfish). Reduce heat to simmer, and cook without stirring for about 5 minutes. Add the shellfish, and cook until the bivalves open. Remove from heat and stir. Don't worry if some of the flaky fish breaks apart, it's supposed to.

Traditionally, this is served by removing the fish from the pot, and placing it on a platter, while the stock is put into a tureen, but I prefer to transfer it all to a tureen, sprinkle it with chopped parsley, and let my guests ladle portions into their soup plates. It makes for a more "family style" meal.

Serve with home-baked bread, a good rosé, Riesling, or Beaujolais, and you've got a meal fit for a French fisherman.

And don't bother telling anyone how easy this was to make. You'll be given credit for having spent all day in the kitchen, and chances are, no one will believe you anyway. I think it took me longer to write this entry than it did to prepare the last batch of bouillabaisse a la Marseilles that I made. Bon appetit, mes amis!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Bread alone.

Thomas wrote: "How about a bread-baking entry? As in, if a random blog reader, named, say, "Tom," wanted to start baking, what would he or she (okay, the "or she" is unlikely) need? What are the merits of different flours? Baking stone or no baking stone? The list goes on and on.

Please advise!"

That's a mighty tall order, Thomas, and it will definitely take more than one entry to address, but I'll give you a basic course, and a recipe for making your own sourdough bread.

Bread is nothing more than flour, water, salt, and yeast. The first leavened breads were probably produced in Egypt (along with beer) about 5,000 years ago using these very ingredients. In fact, the people who worked to build the Pyramids were paid two loaves of bread and three jugs of beer per day. About 20 years ago, archaeologists found a bakery that dates from the reign of Pharoah Menkaure, under whom the Third Giza Pyramid was built. Some estimate that as many as 30,000 loaves were produced there per day. That's a lot of bread.

But on to your question(s). To begin with, bread dough is the product of fermentation. I could go into a long-winded pseudo-scientific explanation of how it works, but there are literally dozens of books out there that you can read that will do a much better job than I can (the two that I find is indispensable are Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes, by Jeffrey Hamelman, and Beard On Bread, by James Beard). Because of the fermentation process, the longer the mixture is allowed to rise, the more complex the structure and flavor of the finished loaf will be. It is, in fact, recommended that the dough be allowed to rise, be deflated, be allowed to rest, preformed, and then let rise for a second time. After shaping, the unbaked loaves should be allowed to proof (rise for a third and final time) before baking. This allows for the most structure, the best crumb, and the greatest flavor.

But there, I've gotten ahead of myself. One of my favorite kinds of bread to bake and to eat is sourdough. With its distinctive tang, sourdough makes for remarkably good bread. But where does one get the "starter" for sourdough? Well, there are many sources. It can be purchased from various sources. King Arthur Flour will sell you some that's been going for over 250 years. You can go to a commercial baker and ask for some. You can ask a friend who bakes for some. Of course, the easiest and least expensive source is to make some yourself.

Start with a clean plastic or glass wide-mouthed container (a mayo jar is perfect). Combine 1 cup of warm water and 1 cup of unbleached flour in a bowl. You can add some honey, if you'd like, but no more than a teaspoonful. Pour this mixture into your container, cover with cheesecloth that's held in place with a rubber band and put in a warm (70 to 80 degree) place. After 24 hours, remove and discard half of the mixture you've got. Add 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water, and mix well with a wooden spoon (you don't want to use any metal, as it can react with the starter). Repeat this process every 24 hours. After three or four days (it could be more, it could be less, depending on the quantities and types of yeast in your environment), your mixture should start to bubble, froth, and/or expand. It should also start to smell sour, or even a little beery. When this happens, your starter is ready. You can use it as is, or you can store it, covered, in your fridge (if using a mayo jar, punch a hole in the lid to allow some breathing room). If you store it, you'll need to feed it once a week by removing half of the mixture, and adding 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. Mix, replace the lid, and return to the fridge. NOTE: If storing, your starter may exude a clear to dark brown liquid known as "hootch." This is nothing to worry about, it's merely a byproduct of the fermentation process containing small amounts of alcohol. If you notice this happening, either pour it off or mix it back into the starter. Pouring it off will decrease the sour taste of the starter, whereas mixing it in will increase the sour taste. You can use other types of flour in your starter, such as whole wheat and rye. These can be used alone, or they can be mixed in with the white flour. Each one will yield a different result.

When you're ready to bake bread, you first need to make a sponge. Take your starter out of the fridge. Pour it into a large bowl, add 1 cup of warm water and 1 cup of flour. Mix well, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let sit in a warm place for several hours to allow it to proof. Check the sponge every so often. When it's bubbly and has a white froth on top, it's done. Of course, you can let it sit to develop flavor. The longer it's left alone, the more sour the finished product will be.

To bake bread, you'll need 2 cups of the sponge, approximately 3 cups of unbleached flour, 2 tablespoons of olive oil (you can substitute melted butter), 4 teaspoons of sugar and 2 teaspoons of kosher salt. You should have some leftover sponge, which is a good thing, since you're going to use it for your next starter. Simply place the leftover sponge into your container (having cleaned and dried the container, first), add 1/2 cup of flour and 1/2 cup of water. Place back in the fridge and feed it weekly. Your starter is made, and you've begun your own baker's legacy (my baking teacher had some 100% rye sourdough starter that was first made by Great Uncle Rolf in Germany at the end of the 19th century).

Next, to the sponge, add the sugar, salt, and oil. Mix well, and begin to add flour 1/2 cup at a time. Keep adding flour until you've got a good, flexible dough that's neither too stiff nor too loose. Notice that above I said "approximately 3 cups of flour. That's because flour varies in the amount of moisture it has in it, depending upon what type of flour you're using, what variety of wheat it came from, where it was milled, how old it is, how humid or dry the day is. The point is, the amount of flour you use will differ from day to day. When kneading dough, trust your hands to know when it's the right consistency. After kneading for about 10 minutes, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel, place it in a warm spot, and let it rise until it's doubled in bulk. This will take from one to several hours. When doubled, place the dough onto a floured board, knead it for about a minute, and form into either one large or two smaller loaves (any shape will work here, but I prefer the classic round loaf; I think it cooks more evenly than a long, thin loaf). Sprinkle a baking sheet with coarse cornmeal, place the shaped dough on it, slit the top, cover with a towel, and let rise again until doubled in bulk.

Place a pan on the bottom of the oven and a baking stone on the lowest rack, and preheat your oven to 375 degrees. When the bread is ready to be baked, quickly pour a cup of ice water (with cubes) into the pan, put the baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven, and close the oven door. Reduce heat to 350 degrees, and do not open it again for any reason for the next 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, check the bread. It should be nicely browned, crusty, and may even be fully baked (depending on your oven). To test for doneness, rap the bottom of the bread with your knuckles or a wooden spoon. If it sounds hollow, it's done. If it's not done, put it back into the oven and let bake, testing every 10 minutes. When the loaf is finished, remove it from the oven, place it on a rack, and allow to cool for at least an hour. Your bread is now ready to serve.

Sound like a lot of work? Well, it's not, really. Most of the time is spent waiting for the bread to proof, rise, and bake. Are there shortcuts to this process? Well, sort of. You could use rapid-rise, commercial yeast. You could try the "no-knead" method. There's even one author who claims that you can "bake artisan bread in five minutes a day!" (I've tried it. It sucks.) But the only way to get a good, artisan-quality loaf of bread is by being patient. And I think that a truly good loaf of bread is well worth the wait.

I've got a ton more to say about bread and baking, but I'll just leave it at this for now. Do some baking, and let me know how it goes. Good luck, Thomas!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Stock answer.

Science Guy asked me: "So what's the trick to making chicken (or beef) stock? Is it just a subset of the chicken soup recipe? Also please mention recommended storage methods (freezing, canning, etc.)"

Basically, you follow the first steps in making chicken soup. After straining, you're done. Refrigerate in a tightly sealed container for up to a week, or put into airtight containers and freeze up to a year. I've heard lots of TV "chefs" recommend putting it into ice-cube trays so you can "pop one out whenever you need" stock, but I don't recommend that, as they'll absorb odors from other foods in the freezer, and even the fridge. Canning works, but it must be done right. You need ball jars, canning tongs, time and patience. Here's a good article to help you figure out if canning's for you.

Canning will definitely let you keep your stock, but unless you're making gallons of soup (or 800 pounds of pesto), I don't think it's worth the trouble. Of course, if you're making pickles or sauerkraut (coming soon to a blog near you!), it's definitely worth the effort to can them.

I was going to publish this beef stock article in two days (happy birthday, Dad), but what the hell. Strike while the iron's hot, I say.

To make beef stock, start with 5 to 10 pounds of soup bones. Go to a butcher and ask for them. You can get shin bones (also called shank), knuckles (which are actually the knees), neck bones, or even oxtails (though these are loaded with collagen and make a very gelatinous stock). The important part is that there should be some meat and connective tissue on the bones, and they should be loaded with marrow. Roast the bones in a 325-degree oven for between half an hour to an hour. You want them to toast, not burn. If you smell meat cooking, that's good. If you smell meat burning, that's bad; remove the roasting pan from the oven and turn the heat down to 300, returning the pan after 10 minutes. Cut an entire head of garlic in half across the axis, not along it (see pic above), cut 4 onions (with skins on) in half along the axis, chop 4 carrots, and either 3 celery stalks, or one small celery root (celeriac); a rough chop is good here. I recommend roasting the vegetables as well as the bones, letting them caramelize to a fairly deep brown. (Alternatively, you can cook them in your stock pot in olive oil until they're brown, but that adds fat to the stock, and takes much more effort to ensure that the veggies don't burn.)

When the bones and veggies are roasted, place them into a stock pot, and cover with water. About 1-1/2 gallons should be right. You can substitute a bottle of white wine for some of the water, if you'd like. Add 3 bay leaves, 12 whole black peppercorns, 4 juniper berries, parsley, and, if you've used organic carrots with the tops intact, the carrot greens (yeah, they're edible, and they're delicious), and a lemon that you've scrubbed and cut in half. Again, no salt. Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce heat to a simmer. Let it simmer, covered, for 6 to 8 hours, putting the lid ajar for the last hour. Strain through a colander, and discard the vegetables. Put the stock in the fridge to chill for 4 hours. This will allow the fat to come to the surface.

Meanwhile, eat those bones! Gnaw the meat, sinew, and tendons off of them! Get a long, thin spoon (or a butter knife), and dig the marrow out of them. Spread that on bread that's been toasted and rubbed with a cut clove of garlic, and sprinkle with a dusting of chopped parsley, and a pinch of sea salt. Oh, man, my mouth is watering!

OK, now that snack time is over, remove the stock from the fridge and gently skim the fat from the surface with a ladle. You've now got to reheat the stock to a simmer, and strain it twice through a double layer of cheesecloth. Chill again, and skim again. Reheat to a simmer, and strain one final time through a double layer of cheesecloth (instead of cheesecloth, you could use a clean kitchen towel...here's a link for a great source of flour sack towels). You're now ready to store the stock. Can, freeze, or refrigerate, and use in place of canned or boxed stock. Of course, you can continue to simmer the stock for hours and hours, reducing it to whatever consistency you desire. I once made a lamb stock that I reduced until there was about a quart of thick, gelatinous goodness left (from 2 gallons of liquid). I used a spoonful of that reduction to thicken and smooth out sauces. I kept it in the fridge, in a sealed ball jar, and it lasted for about 2 years. The same can be done with beef stock.

Making stock, while time consuming, isn't particularly difficult. I think that the resulting product is worth every minute of effort.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cannellini bean soup.

Another of my favorite soups is bean soup. In particular, I like cannellini bean soup. Creamy, filling, and loaded with protein, cannellini are a versatile and nourishing food. Making cannellini soup isn't a difficult or time consuming task, either. It can be made within a couple of hours using dried beans, or within minutes, if using canned beans and ready made stock.

To begin with, start with two cups of dried organic cannellini (great northern or navy beans can be substituted). Spread them out on a baking sheet and pick through them looking for stones and other foreign matter (you'd be surprised at some of the things I've found in dried beans). Place the beans in a colander and rinse under cold running water. Place a large pot of water on high heat. When it's hot (but not yet simmering), add the beans. Cover and bring to a hard boil. Let them boil for about 2 minutes, and then remove from the heat. Let them sit, covered, for about an hour. This allows the beans to rehydrate, cutting cooking time, and eliminating the need to soak them overnight. When the beans are almost done resting, peel and chop a medium onion (about 1-1/2 cups); trim the fronds and woody upper stems from a large bulb of fennel, slice in half along its axis, and thinly slice (about 2 cups), saving the fronds for garnish; clean 2 medium or 1 large carrot (about 1-1/2 cups). Note: If you're using organic carrots, it's only necessary to scrub them clean. If using conventional, it's recommended that you scrub and scrape them. Finally, peel and fairly thickly slice 3 to 6 cloves of garlic. Heat some olive oil in a large pot. Add the vegetables and cook, stirring, until they've started to brown. Add one (or two) naturally smoked ham hocks to the pot. Alternatively, you can use a pig's foot (if so, bring a pot of water to the boil, and add the pig's foot; boil it for 5 minutes, and rinse it before adding it to the soup pot), pork belly, pork chops, fat back, 1/3 of a turkey leg, or a turkey wing (again, any of these meats can be smoked or fresh). Avoid using conventional bacon, as it's made with way too much salt and artificial smoke flavor. Of course, you could make this a vegetarian dish by omitting the meat. Substitute smoked seitan or tofu, but add them at the very end of the cooking process, so that they just warm through, and don't break down completely.

Once the vegetables have started to color, add the beans and enough cold water to cover by about an inch. You can also use chicken or vegetable stock, if you're not using any kind of meat. I usually also add about 2 cups of white wine which adds some acidity. Add 2 bay leaves. Don't add salt. If you're using any kind of smoked meat, it's got salt in it. Besides, as the water evaporates, the salt doesn't; it gets absorbed into the beans. There are those who say that this toughens the beans, but I disagree. I think it merely makes for a salty soup. Cover the pot, bring the water to a boil, and then reduce the heat to a bare simmer. Allow to cook, with the cover slightly ajar, stirring gently to prevent the beans from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Add more liquid as necessary. You want a thick soup, but remember, it is soup, not a stew. After about half an hour, add some fresh thyme sprigs (2 or 3, to taste). When the beans have begun to break open and become creamy, taste. If they're tender, they're done. You don't want them to be mushy, though, they should still be a bit al dente in the center, without being hard. Yeah, yeah, it's a fine line, but you'll know it when you taste it. By this time, the meat should be cooked through. Remove it from the pot, and debone it. Return the meat to the soup, add 1/4 teaspoon (or to taste) of freshly ground black pepper and stir to mix. Ladle soup into large bowls. Garnish with the fennel fronds and serve with crusty bread and lemon wedges. This soup keeps well, and will taste even better the next day.

If you're in a rush, you can streamline the process by using canned beans. Use high-quality canned cannellini beans (I recommend Eden Organic). Hopefully, you'll have some of your own homemade chicken stock on hand, but if you don't, a good low-sodium, free-range, organic chicken stock (Pacific makes a good one) can be used. I also recommend using spinach or kale in this soup, rather than fennel. They take less time to cook than the fennel does, and they add a nice bite that the beans won't have. Drain two cans of beans in a colander, and rinse well under cold water. You want to get rid of as much of the canning liquid as possible. Let drain. Chop onions, celery, carrots, and garlic. Heat oil in a large pot. Add about a 1/2 cup of minimally processed, naturally smoked slab bacon that you've cut into 1/2" cubes (in general, slab bacon is cured with fewer bad things like nitrates, nitrites, artificial smoke flavor, and high-fructose corn syrup). When it begins to render add onion, celery, carrots, and garlic. When they begin to color, add between 1 and 1-1/2 quart of stock, some fresh thyme, freshly ground blackk pepper, and spinach or kale. Bring to a simmer, and allow to heat through, stirring very, VERY gently (you don't want the beans to totally break down). Ladle into bowls, and serve with crusty bread and lemon wedges. Voila! A healthy, hearty, satisfying soup in about 20 minutes.

Whether you take the long way, or the shortcut, there's no reason not to serve this delicious soup. It'll warm you while you wait for the snow to melt, and spring to finally arrive.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Chicken soup.

There’s no food in this world that’s quite as comforting as soup. Whether well or ill, soup makes us feel better. It’s warming. It reminds us of Mom. It makes us feel cared for. Chicken soup, in particular, seems to have magical qualities to it beyond those of other, lesser soups. In the 12th century, Egyptian-Jewish doctor and philosopher Maimonides recommended chicken soup for almost everything, but especially for respiratory ailments, and, since the mid 1990s, scientists have shown that, while chicken soup won’t cure a cold, it will indeed alleviate some of the symptoms of one.

Good homemade chicken soup isn’t particularly difficult to make. It can be made from the bones of cooked chickens (or any fowl), from uncooked chicken, or from a combination of the two. Here’s my method for making chicken soup.

To begin with, you’ve got to save carcasses from at least four chickens. If you’re like me, that can take as few as two weeks (although I have been known to ask family and friends for carcasses, but they’re really very close family and friends). Keep the carcasses in the freezer, wrapped in a double layer of plastic wrap, or in a zipper freezer bag with as much air squeezed out of it as possible. The best bones to use come from roast chickens, as roasting lends a deeper flavor to the bones, but really, bones from any type of cooked chicken will do. In addition to the bones, I add uncooked chicken in the form of backs, which can be bought at the butcher or supermarket for about 89¢ per pound. They’re full of collagen, which adds a richness and silkiness to the soup. They’re also full of fat, but we’ll deal with that later. If you can’t find backs, legs work, as do thighs. Just make sure you’re not using the skinless boneless ones, as they’re more expensive, and you won’t get as much flavor out of them. You’ll also need carrots, celery, onions, and garlic. I don’t put in other root vegetables, as I find they detract from the chicken flavor. If you need a list of ingredients or quantities, just ask; I’ll be happy to provide one for you.

Cut the carcasses into quarters, just so they’ll fit more easily into the pot. Cut the carrots and celery into slices anywhere from ¼" to 1" long. Don’t worry about being too precise here; we’re after flavor, not looks. Without peeling, rinse the onions, and cut them into eighths. The onion skin adds a deeper color to the broth. Cut the garlic cloves in half. Again, do not peel them. When all the vegetables are cut, heat a large stock pot over medium-high heat. Add olive oil and vegetables and cook, stirring, until they wilt and just barely begin to color. We don’t want any kind of serious caramelization here, but a touch isn’t a bad thing. Add the chicken bones and enough water to cover completely (between 1-½ and two gallons). Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat so that it’s just simmering. To the pot, add three or four bay leaves, four or five sprigs of fresh thyme (or ¾ teaspoon dried), twelve black peppercorns, and three or four juniper berries. When the liquid is simmering, cover with the lid ajar, and allow to simmer for at least 12 hours and for up to 24. Be sure the heat is adjusted so that the liquid is just simmering, and there’s no danger of it boiling over. The longer it simmers, the richer the flavor will be. Add water or white wine, if necessary, but do not add more than an additional two cups of liquid. You do want the liquid to reduce, which will cause the flavor to intensify.

After simmering, strain the soup, removing all of the solids. I find that twice through a colander and then twice again through cheesecloth works best. Put the stock in the refrigerator or, if it’s below 40 degrees, outside Be sure it’s tightly covered. Allow to chill completely, at least four hours. Remove from the fridge (or bring inside) and carefully remove the lid. You’ll notice that the top of the stock is covered in a layer of congealed fat. Using a ladle or a large spoon, gently remove that layer, being careful not to incorporate the fat back into the stock. Refrigerate for another hour, and skim the top again, if necessary. You're not only removing the fat, but also other impurities that will adhere to it.

At this point, you’ve got a rich chicken stock that should be completely clear and anywhere from a rich golden to a deepish brown color. This stock can be jarred and refrigerated for up to two weeks, or frozen for up to a year. It can be used for anything you'd use stock for, but the best part is that now you’re ready to start making some fine chicken soup.

You’ll need more carrots, celery, onion, and uncooked chicken (now’s the time for the boneless and skinless thighs). Bring the stock to a simmer. Meanwhile, cut the carrots and celery into ¼" slices. Peel the onion, slice in half along its axis, and slice into thin semicircles or chop into
¼" dice. Cut the chicken thighs into ½" cubes. When the stock is simmering, add the veggies and the chicken. When the carrots are tender, and the chicken is cooked through, the soup is ready to eat.

Notice that I haven’t added any salt to the stock or the soup. The reason is that as the liquid in the stock evaporates, the salt does not, it merely concentrates, making for one salty stock. If you’d like to add salt, add it with the new veggies and chicken, but I really recommend adding it to individual servings. Adding freshly squeezed lemon juice also adds a nice zip and brightness to the soup, lightening the flavor a little.

If you’re a chicken noodle fan, you can either add some noodles to the soup about 10 minutes before the chicken is done cooking, or cook the noodles separately, and add them cooked to the finished soup. Adding uncooked noodles to the soup will thicken it, whereas adding cooked noodles to the finished soup will not (reason: the starch from the noodles acts as a thickening agent). Like fresh mushrooms in your soup? Add them about 10 minutes after the veggies and chicken have been added. Like tomato? Add some with the veggies and chicken. Add corn that’s been freshly cut from the cob at the very end of the process, allowing it to just heat through (frozen corn can be substituted). Add cilantro and lime juice for a Mexican twist. If you like it spicy, add jalapeno with the vegetables at the beginning of the stock process, then roast a jalapeno, chop it and add it to the soup with the carrots. Lemon and egg make avgolemono, a Greek classic. The variations are only limited by your taste and your imagination.

While it may seem like this is a labor-intensive dish, it really isn’t, as most of the time spent is simmering and chilling. The actual time to prep, chop, mix, strain, and skim should take just about an hour, tops.

Good soup is something we should not deny ourselves or our families. I recommend you try this technique soon to feed yourself body and, dare I say it...

Jeez, even I'm not that cheesy...