February 25, 2008
Chicken Soup with Rice

snowman.jpg
[Big brother's first snowman did not make it to its first anniversary...or even past its first hour. But the boys had fun building him!]

In February it will be my snowman’s anniversary
With cake for him and soup for me!
Happy once, happy twice, happy chicken soup with rice.

- Maurice Sendak, Chicken Soup with Rice

When the wind is whipping around and the rain is beating on the window, I often find myself muttering the verses of this classic children's book. There is something so comforting in the thought of hot chicken broth and stodgy soft rice combined with every vegetable the refrigerator and cupboards can offer. If you have a cold, you can curl up under a blanket with a bowl of steaming soup and enjoy your favorite book or a trashy television program. And if you don't have a cold, it will keep you from getting one. And you can still curl up in front of the TV or with a good book, but without the box of tissues nearby. (Actually, come to think of it, hot soup always makes my nose run regardless of whether I have a cold, so perhaps the box is essential to both scenarios.)

Either way, it's serious comfort in a bowl. It's not fancy: you can play around with the vegetables based on what you have to hand. But this combination worked particularly well and not only did the Critic and I enjoy it, but I even gave some to the baby. All I had to do was pick out the meat, shred it more finely and stir it back in the soup. He was able (and happy) to gum the soft vegetables and rice and truly delighted with the dinner. It was much more exciting than his usual fare pureed leeks and potatoes or buttered carrots.

Making once, making twice, making chicken soup with rice...

2 chicken breasts
1 1/2 l chicken broth
2 leeks, sliced in rings
2 large carrots, cubed
3 cloves garlic chopped finely
3 small potatoes, cubed
1 small tin of corn (about 2/3 cup)
1/2 cup rice
splash of sherry
1/2 tsp sweet paprika
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sage
1/4 tsp pepper
3-4 Tbs butter

Melt the butter in a large thick-bottomed pot. When it is frothing, add the butter. Let the butter cook for a few minutes, until it begins to smell lovely, and then add the leek. Cook until the leeks are soft and fragrant. Add the splash of sherry to the pan and use a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits of leek or garlic that may have stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the rest of the ingredients except the rice and chicken and bring to a boil. While it is heating, cut the chicken in small bite-sized pieces. Drop them into the boiling soup and bring back up to a boil. Allow to boil gently, not furiously, for a few minutes. Turn down to a simmer and add the rice. Cover and let cook for another 20 minutes. Serve in deep bowls with buttered warm bread if possible.

Note: If you are using store bought chicken stock, omit the salt and taste before serving to see if you need to add any.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 2:47 AM | Comments (1)
February 18, 2008
Winter Sun Sardines Starter

sardinestarter.jpg

When I sat down to write this post, I had to select a category for the recipe. As you'll see in the sidebar, we have a lot of recipe categories. But we don't actually have one specifically for starters. Appetizers, yes - but those are not really the same thing to me. I guess it has to do with the fact that, despite our name, we are not so much chefs at TMC, as cooks. You may wonder why we chose the name Too many chefs when Too many cooks would have been a) more accurate and b) a more common phrase. Well a Canadian band had beat us to the domain name, that's why. And so we are chefs. Who cook for families and friends, unprofessionally. And apparently we don't often do starters. But if you are looking for a bright Mediterranean starter in the middle of the winter, this is a good one to try. You'll need to find some decent tomatoes, which is difficult in February. But I find that if you get small ones (cherry or plum sized) and allow them to ripen in the February sun on your countertop for a few days, they start to have that taste of summer.

Winter Sun Sardines (serves for as a starter)

12 sardine filets
3 small tomatoes, chopped
1/3 a red onion, chopped finely
1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
1 small courgette/zucchini, cubed

1 cup medium grain couscous

2-3 Tbs olive oil
juice of 1/2 a lemon
fresh basil

Drizzle half the olive oil over the bottom of a small roasting tin. Rinse the filets and lay them neatly and snugly in the roasting tin. Top with the tomato, zucchini, onion and garlic. Bake in a hot oven (200F) for about 25 minutes, or until the fish and vegetables smell delicious and the garlic starts to waft about the room. In the meantime, bring two cups of water to a boil. Pour over the couscous and allow to absorb for ten minutes or so. When the sardines are done, fluff the couscous with a fork. Divid the couscous in four dishes, top each with one quarter of the sardine and vegetable mix. Top with a drizzle of olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkle of fresh or frozen chopped basil.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 10:15 AM | Comments (2)
February 13, 2008
It's a mystery to me...

mystery.jpgThere is a popular dessert in French restaurants and cafés called a mystère, a kind of an inverted Baked Alaska, with meringue on the inside and ice cream on the outside. It's not much of a mystery, though, as the photo always clearly shows what you are getting. (It's usually on offer at the kind of places that have photos of their desserts.) My dessert, however, is a true mystery. Firstly, the photo, as usual, conveys very little idea of what on earth it is. And secondly, the Critic and I spent a good 20 minutes trying to come up with an appropriate name for the dessert before he finally said, "I give up. Why don't you ask your readers to come up with a name?"

First I'll tell you what it isn't. It's not a tart (no crust). It's not a cake (too dense). It's not a tart (the Critic kept stubbornly coming back to that idea, so I thought I'd repeat it). It's not a fruit bar (too wet). It's not a flapjack (not enough structural integrity). It's a dense, chewy, crunchy, sweet and satisfying...thing. With mincemeat. It's a mystery to me. (But I'll be making it again, oh yes, because it was absolutely heavenly.)

Mystery Dessert (serves 6)

1 cup flour
1 cup oatmeal
2/3 cup sugar
2 Tbs honey
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup milk
500 g mincemeat
1/4 cup finely chopped hazelnuts

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Grease a 9" square pan, or, even better, six ramekins. In a large bowl, combine the flour, oatmeal, sugar, baking soda and salt and then stir in the oil, honey and milk. Spread half this batter in the pan(s). Spread the mincemeat over the batter and top with the remaining batter. Sprinkle the hazelnuts evenly over the top. Bake for 45 minutes or until browned on the top and no longer wobbly. Serve warm with a drizzle of thick cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

And the first person to come up with a satisfying name for the dessert (the Critic will judge) will receive a mystery prize from me. So give me your brilliant ideas!

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 11:13 AM | Comments (12)
February 8, 2008
The Big Bird (and how to stuff your duck)

It was a big bird. No, not that big bird. But nevertheless big. I had stopped by the Poultry Man's stall at the organic market because I thought it would be nice to have a roast chicken for dinner. And I found myself staring at the largest organic duck I had ever seen. (How did I know it was a duck? Well, it had...a duck beak attached to it's plucked duck head. Even I can figure that one out.) So I asked the Poultry Man how much for the duck. And I didn't even wince when he said fifty euros. I just said, "I'll take it!" And then I went home and sent a message to our friend Wendy:

Wendy, I bought a beautiful big organic duck at the market this weekend (total impulse purchase) and it's far too big for just the Critic and myself. Would you and Michel be interested in coming around for dinner one evening this week??

And she said yes and named her day. And so we had roast duck. I can't tell you what variety of duck it was because - in my excitement at such a big and expensive impulse buy - I forgot to ask Poultry Man. But I can tell you it weighed 4.4 kg (over 9 1/2 lbs). And I can also tell you that none of my cookbooks tell you what to do with a duck that weighs more than five pounds. Web research wasn't much more fruitful but I eventually found a site that had a chart and from it calculated that it would take four hours to roast my bird. An hour and a half after putting it in the oven (i.e. 2 hours before the guests were due to arrive) the bird was done. Oops. So now you know: a 9+ pound duck does not actually take that much longer to roast than a five pound duck, even if it is stuffed. I have a nifty electronic meat thermometer that does not lie, though apparently the web site I found did.

So the bird was a bit dry, but the skin was gorgeously crackling and the wine flowed and the guests lied valiantly about how delicious it was. Actually, they didn't have to lie about the stuffing because it was pretty darned good.

Roast Duck Stuffing (exactly enough for a 4.4 kg bird as it turned out)

360 g brown mushrooms
1 red onion
1 clove garlic
300 g cooked mixed rice (wild rice and long grain)
50g dried sweetened blueberries
1 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs butter
salt, pepper, nutmeg
50 ml sweet sherry (e.g. Harvey's Bristol Cream, which we always have left after the holidays)

Chop the onion roughly and saute it in the olive oil and butter. While it is cooking, clean and slice the mushrooms. Add them to the pan once the onions are soft and transluscent. Press the garlic and add to the pan. Cook until the mushrooms are limp and have given up their juice. Add the sherry and scrape the bottom of the pan to get up any bits of garlic or onion that may have stuck. Stir in the rice and dried blueberries. (You could add almost any dried fruit - cranberries would be lovely for example - but I thought the blueberries were particularly nice with the duck flavours.) Taste and add generous amounts of salt, pepper and nutmeg. Stuff, loosely, in cleaned duck cavity and truss the bird. Roast until done (don't trust the web: trust your meat thermometer) and serve with the sliced duck.

I dusted the bird with smoked paprika and fleur de sel and it was absolutely perfect on the crisp duck skin. And it didn't import any foreign flavours into the stock I made from the duck for my favourite soup.

And by the way, duck fat is ideal for roast potatoes and one large duck will yield over a cup. I'm dividing mine in knobs about the size of a large walnut and freezing them. I'll toss one in the pan each time I make roast potatoes for the next few months and the Critic will be ever so happy.

Posted by Meg in Sussex at 9:12 AM | Comments (4)
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