Grandma’s Chicken Soup

One of my most vivid memories of my grandma’s kitchen as a kid was creeping around for treats. If we were making chocolate chip cookies, I stealthily ate little pieces of butter when no one was looking. I would lick the batter from my fingers until I felt sick, even though the raw egg made my hands and mouth itchy. When she made chicken soup, I would sneak into the kitchen and eat handfuls of the cooked egg noodles that were waiting to be tossed into the soup. They were starchy, bland, plain and absolutely the best. I didn’t crave candy and ice cream, but put noodles, bread or rice in front of my and I was in heaven. I’ve pretty much been a carb tooth since I could chew. (I was also known to throw tantrums in the car if I could not have olives as a snack, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Though a loaf of bread is still my favorite dessert, I have come to enjoy the fresh veggies and rich broth of chicken soup and can survive without the noodles. I think the ritual is the best part. Putting on a pot of soup and filling my apartment with the smell is cleansing and brings be back to center. This weekend’s snow storm was an added bonus, making for a perfect Saturday.

Grandma’s Chicken Soup
makes 6-8 servings

Ingredients:
1 whole chicken, with skin
1 sweet potato, peeled
2 onions
1 turnip, peeled
1 parsnip, peeled
4 carrots, peeled
2-3 celery stalks with tops
2-3 whole garlic cloves, peeled
small bunch of fresh dill
small bunch of fresh parsley
sea salt and pepper to taste

A note before we being: This soup is very user friendly. The list and number of veggies above is just a suggestion, and the more you add the richer your soup will be. Feel free to add anything you have in the house.

bunch-of-fresh-soup-veggies-in-a-kitchenTo start, make a bundle of herbs by tying together the dill and parsley with kitchen twine or sewing thread. Fill a cup with cold water and soak the bundle until adding it to the soup.

bundle-of-fresh-herbs-for-stockWash and peel all veggies and cut into large chunks. Add them to a large soup pot. Rinse chicken and add to the pot as well.
fresh-cut-veggies-and-chicken-for-soup
Add just enough cold water to cover all the ingredients. The less water, the richer your soup will be, but everything should be covered. Sprinkle in salt and pepper.

Bring to a slow boil. Reduce heat and skim off any brown foam off the top of the liquid.

Add herb bundle and return to a simmer. Cover and simmer on med-low for about 1.5 hours. Check in on it a few times, you may have to skim the top again. Also taste periodically, and add salt or pepper if necessary.

Once finished, separate out the chicken and veggies from the broth. Throw away the herb bundle. Then run liquid through a strainer to make it nice and clear.

clean-strained-chicken-soup-broth-in-containersTo serve, add chicken and veggies back into broth. Some nice additions are brown rice, barley, quinoa or my new favorite, wheat berries!

Any unused broth can be frozen and used in other recipes. I also figured out (by accident) that you can use some leftover broth in place of water to make another soup. Cooking it again with a fresh batch of veggies and chicken makes the color and flavor even richer.

Happy New Year!

Squeaky Clean Shepherd’s Pie

As I am posting this it is about 40 degrees, damp and misty outside. On a night when I am most likely staying in and watching a movie under blankets, it is equally important that the movie choice is perfect and I have some awesome comfort food in the oven. Here’s what is on the menu tonight:

Clean Venison Shepard’s Pie
Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 small head of cauliflower
3 large carrots, peeled diced
1 small or 1/2 large onion, diced
1.5 lbs ground meat (I used venison but any ground meat works well)
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 tbsp of fresh chopped herbs (I mixed Oregano, Parsley and Thyme)
1 tbsp parmesan or Romano cheese, finely grated
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of crushed red pepper

Preheat over to 375F. Cut cauliflower into 1-2″ chunks and lay out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika. Drizzle with olive oil and roast until tender and starting to brown, about 30 minutes. When it’s done, let it cool and then dice it into very small pieces. You can leave the oven on when you pull the cauliflower out.

chopped-roasted-califlower-for-shepards-pie-topping

While that is cooking, peel and dice your carrots into 1/2″ pieces. Boil them for about 10 minutes until they are soft, but do not have to be fully cooked, then drain.

Heat a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large fry or sauté pan. Add onion and sauté on medium low heat until translucent. Add ground meat and turn up the heat to medium. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. When meat is brown and mostly cooked through, add the cooked carrots and corn and cook for a few more minutes. Remove from heat.

ground-venison-with-carrots-and-corn-shephards-pie

Combine 2 tbsp olive oil with chopped herbs and parmesan. Add a pinch each of black and red pepper. In a large bowl, toss chopped cauliflower with the mixture until coated.

Line a baking dish with ground meat mixture, about 1″ deep. Cover completely with cauliflower.

layering-venison-shephards-pie

Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes. Let stand a few minutes before serving. Enjoy!

In Interrupt This Blog to Bring You the Hunting Season

Sometimes I feel like I lead a double life. Part of me, the part I’ve known for longer, is horrified by the idea of meat production. She likes bunny rabbits, cute cuddly things, animal adoption and wildlife rehabilitation. She became a vegetarian and enjoyed that it made her conscious about eating every single day. The other part of me, the newer part that I understand better, watches in fascination as a deer is butchered on her kitchen table. She takes pictures so she can write about it, and eats venison sliders hot off the stove in the same room with the butchered carcass. She recognizes that a squirrel with a broken leg left to the coyotes in the woods is not a total waste. She knows that nature can be as brutal as humanity. She is more sure of this lifestyle than any that has come before.

I admit it, the shock value of eating squirrel or trying a little bite of deer heart (because why not?) have long since gone for me. Things I never even knew were a part of life have become common place, and living with a hunter has been a huge part of that. This elicits mixed responses from the people in my life who know me best. They still can’t believe it. I still can’t believe it. I just know it’s right.

The thing is, at this point in my life I have a hard time even picking up a package of organic chicken at Whole Foods without wondering how many miles away that chicken was slaughtered, or why it’s wrapped in so much plastic. I have no reservations, however, about the fresh and “free range” meat in my freezer. Since I have made the decision that I am ultimately a meat-eater, I might as well know everything about it and understand exactly where it comes from. For a while I thought I couldn’t handle that, that I just didn’t want to know about or experience most of the lifecycle of these animals. That’s not the case any more. Knowing is the only way I can do it.

As a bonus, all of the wild game I cook is incredibly lean, lending itself well to the culinary experiments of a clean eating blogger. This brings me to the newest freezer challenge: 30lbs of ground venison and about 30+ more pounds of steaks and stew meat.

freezer-full-of-venison-and-other-wild-game

I think I squeezed in a few frosty beer glasses and an ice cube tray on the freezer door, but other than that there is not much else in there. Well, there also might be a pheasant and/or a snow goose. I’m really not sure.

What did we cook first, you ask? Read on my friends, read on.

Herb Roasted Chicken With Sweet Potatoes and Onions

When I was planting my new window garden, I had to trim a few of the herbs down so they would fit. This left me with a big bunch of fresh cut herbs just begging to be to chopped up and rubbed on something.

fresh-herbs-from-window-garden

I thought of a simple chicken dish my dad always makes, that I think he got from my Nona Rita. I gave him a quick call to double check what oven temperature should be, and funnily enough he was cooking the same dish. (I later found out that he put it in the oven too late and ended up ordering pizza that night so he could make an early movie he had tickets for.)

This dish normally calls for white potatoes, but I subbed in sweet potatoes because I already had some in the house. Very tasty both ways!

Herb Roasted Chicken With Sweet Potatoes and Onions
serves 2

Ingredients:
4 chicken tights, skin on
extra-virgin olive oil
2 small or 1 medium sweet potatoes
1 large onion
a handful of fresh herbs, chopped (any combination of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme)
sea salt and pepper to taste
1/2 tsp paprika

Preheat the over to 350F.

Cut the sweet potatoes, skin on, into 1-2″ chunks. Cut the onion into quarters or sixths.

Rinse each piece of chicken under cold water and pat dry. I use chicken with the skin on for extra flavor when cooking and so nothing dries out. If you don’t want to eat the skin you can always toss it later.

Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of your baking dish. Arrange the chicken with space in between to fit in the veggies. Then spread the sweet potatoes and onions around in between the chicken. If it doesn’t all fit in one pan, arrange in two smaller pans.

Drizzle the top with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and paprika. Then finish with chopped herbs.

roasted-chicken-with-onions-herbs-sweet-potatoes

Cover tightly and bake for 45 min to 1 hour. Uncover for the last 15 minutes so chicken can brown.

In my excitement to eat, I forgot to take a picture of the finished dish when it came out of the oven. Sorry!

How to Make a Window Herb Garden From Reclaimed Wood

I am finally ready to admit that life can get in the way of blogging. Sometimes I let it, but not today.

We have a little catching up to do. For my birthday earlier this month, my boyfriend built me a window herb garden out of a hundred year old piece of cedar and some mason jars. It is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. Once it was finished we both just sat and stared at it for a while. I try to face it at all times when I am in the living room. I’m just drawn to it in every way.

Needless to say, my cooking has benefited from this enchanting home improvement as well. Instead of battling the winter alone, I’m heading in with something fresh by my side, and I could not be happier.

Top to bottom: oregano, basil, flat-leaf parsley, thyme

From start to finish it only took us about half an hour to build, and the materials did not cost much over $50. I know because $50 is our birthday gift cap. The whole idea of the limit in the first place was to spur a little creativity. Total win.

Here are the instructions for the one we made. It’s pretty user friendly, so you can adjust based on whatever materials you have available.

Materials:
piece of hardwood for a base (piece shown is 3″ thick cedar)
4 widemouth mason jars
4 four inch diameter metal hose clamps
4 one inch sheet rock screws
screw gun
decorative planting stones or small rocks
herb seeds or small seedlings
extra potting soil
khaki colored spray paint, satin finish

Step 1
In a well-ventilated area, spray paint hose clamps and let them dry fully.

Step 2
Mount hose clamps to your base using screws and a screw gun (we did not pre-drill the holes.) Place clamps them where you want the center of each jar to sit. These ones are at an angle so our plants face towards the sun. Leave screws loose enough so that jars can be rotated to upright for watering.
hose-clamp-mounted-to-wooden-herb-garden

hose-clamps-mounted-to-window-herb-gardenStep 3
Line each jar with an inch or two of stone. This will keep the plant from getting waterlogged since there is no drainage hole in the bottom of your container. Then add a thin layer of potting soil.

Step 4
Remove seedlings from their containers and gently break apart the root balls a little bit with your fingers. Place each plant in a jar. The base of the plant should rest just below the mouth of the jar. Add more soil on top of the rocks if necessary. Once placed in the jar, fill in around the root ball of the plant with extra potting soil, using your fingers to push soil it into any gaps. Make sure the soil isn’t too compacted.

basil-in-mason-jar-window-herb-gardenStep 5
Slide jars into the hose clamps and then tighten clamps.

basil-mason-jar-window-herb-garden

Note: Wall mounting materials will vary based on the type of walls you have and how thick your base is. We screwed the base to the wall before mounted the jars, however this can be done in reverse as well.

Conclusion of the Freezer Challenge

This day has been marked on my calendar for weeks. Today is the day that I conclude the Freezer Challenge by reporting on my results. Yet, for the first time since starting this blog, I am not excited to write or post.

For most of the month I was doing good, I mean really good. At no point was my freezer wasn’t empty, but I’m pretty sure about 75% of its contents were replaced with fresh things. As a reminder, here is what I set out to use up:

a-diagram-of-my-freezer

freezer door diagram

When I was on a roll, here’s what was going down in my kitchen:

  1. Ezekiel Bread– defrosted for mid-morning snacks of PB & banana or fruit spread at work
  2. Homemade ravioli– brought back to life by sautéing with garlic and olive oil, made a few lunch portions
  3. Naan– quick and easy pizza base, topped with sliced tomatoes and whatever other veggies were in the house
  4. Turkey sausages– simmered in tomato sauce with veggies and served over spaghetti squash
  5. Pizza dough– topped with veggies and freezer tomato sauce, grilled on barbeque
  6. Black bean soup– lunch for work
  7. Chicken chili– lunch for work
  8. Cod fillets– I’m allergic to fish and didn’t eat these, but they disappeared none the less
  9. Edamame– steamed and enjoyed with a pinch of sea salt
  10. Blueberries– mixed with plain greek yogurt
  11. Venison steaks– used for Slow Cooker Pulled Venison

Everything else fell victim to Hurricane (Superstorm) Sandy when I lost power for four days. I do not mean to complain. Most people I know had harder time lost much more than I did. It is just that when the power came back on, and I had to toss almost everything in the fridge and freezer, it was so very sad. We tried to eat as possible before the storm and put a bunch of things into a cooler, but I ended up throwing out a full (and very heavy) garbage bag of food.

Overall, a few important things came out of this challenge. I trained myself to open the freezer and survey the stockpile before running to the store to buy more things. This saved time and money (very precious resources for me these days), and also forced me to get creative and create meals around ingredients by combining them in new ways. You will see a few more of these recipes here in the near future. For now, I need to go figure out what is for dinner tonight.

Squirrel Salad Sandwich

squirrel-salad-sandwich

Hear me out.

The backstory: A few weeks ago I attempted to make bread for the first time. It was a focaccia. Baby steps. Focaccia is both relatively simple to create and the epitome of a savory delight. But I was nervous and had mixed feelings about the results so I didn’t post about it. I consider this a poor move, and that sort of hesitancy stops here and now. What is this blog if not a shared adventure that sometimes involves weirdness or failure?

This brings me to the squirrel salad sandwich. For college graduation I bought my boyfriend (Chris) an L.L. Bean Cookbook, which describes squirrel meat as a wild game delicacy whose flavor cannot be matched. We kind of ignored this statement for a while, until last week when he brought home a field-dressed squirrel. This was in compliance with the house rules: If something is put in the fridge as a cleaned, prepared and unrecognizable ingredient, then I will most likely accept it and turn it into a meal.

However, I was totally turned off by this squirrel. For days it was (metaphorically) staring me right in the face, forcing me into some deep and uncharted self-inquiry. I never in a million years thought I was the kind of person who would taste, never mind cook, a squirrel. Am I that person? Is this too far? What does this mean? Would I post about it? Slowly I began to wonder, what will it taste like?

If I didn’t make a decision soon it was going to spoil, and that had to be worse fate of all. It’s just meat. I’ve tried rabbit. Among meat-eaters, rabbits are generally accepted as an offbeat thing to stew or braise, and how are they actually any different? I respect belief systems, but it’s hard for me to get behind an idea with which I do not agree.

So, we boiled the squirrel, pulled the meat and I took a bite. I’m not even sure what I wanted to feel, but it was just downright tasty.  Cross my heart it tasted like the dark meat of a chicken- moist, mild, and completely palatable. Chris made the rest into a chopped salad with mayo, mustard, celery and dried cranberries to share with a few curious friends, and that was the end.

I doubt that I am going to start eating squirrel on the regular, but I am glad I cooked it and glad I tried it. There are countless epicurean adventures to be had with food and I want to make sure I approach each one with consideration, lest I miss out for no reason. I’m not sure where we go from here, but trust I will let you know.

This leaves me wondering, how do you feel about the weridest thing you’ve ever tasted?

Clean Venison Enchiladas

If you are anything like me, some days just make you crave a hearty, comforting meal that won’t throw you off the healthy eating track. This was one of those days, and it coincided perfectly with not wanting to create an extra dinner element for anyone who might feel they need meat to be a whole person. I feel as though I tackled this challenge with grace and ended up with quite a tasty morsel to show for it. The starting point was pulled venison I had in the fridge, and then I remembered this simply and super tasty enchilada sauce that has come through for me on a few occasions. Things just kind of took off from there. If you are having one of those days, I hope this warms your belly and puts you in a good place.

Clean Venison Enchiladas

Ingredients:
Clean Enchilada Sauce
(original sauce recipe from The Naked Kitchen)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1tbsp whole wheat flour
3 tbsp chili powder
12 oz tomato paste
2 cups vegetable broth
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp cumin
3 cloves garlic, minced
sea salt to taste

for enchiladas:
6-8 corn or whole wheat tortillas
1.5 lbs pulled venison (though any meat will do)
12 oz vegetarian refried beans
optional toppings: cheddar cheese, avocado, plain greek yogurt

Preheat your over to 350 F.

To make the enchilada sauce, heat olive oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add flour and stir until smooth. Stir in chili power and cook for an additional minute.

Add the tomato paste, veggie broth, onion powder, cumin, and garlic. Cook over medium heat, stirring often, for about 4-5 minutes. Add salt to taste.

Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Next, line a baking dish with a thin layer of enchilada sauce. If you are using corn tortillas, place them between two damp towels and microwave for about one minute so they steam and soften.

Fill each tortilla with a 1-2 spoonfuls of beans and then venison. Make sure they are not too stuffed that they don’t close! Roll them up and place them seam down in your pan.

homemade-pulled-venison-enchiladas

Pour remaining sauce over the top of the enchiladas. (Depending on how many enchiladas you end up with and how deep your pan is, you may end up with extra sauce, which freezes well.)

Cook uncovered for 30 minutes. If you are adding cheese, sprinkle it on during the last 5-10 minutes.

baked-homemade-pulled-venison-enchiladas
Top with a spoon of plain greek yogurt and diced avocado to serve. Any leftover sauce or enchiladas can be frozen.

Note: This recipe is freezer challenge approved.

Slow Cooker Pulled Venison

I love game meats, but there are a few cuts that I prefer with a bit of dressing up. So when I happened across a clean pulled pork recipe in a magazine this week, is was an opportunity I could not flip past. Out came the last winter’s venison stew meat from the recesses of the freezer to defrost overnight. The next morning it took me about fifteen minutes to prep everything for the crock pot, and I was out the door to work.

Slow Cooker Pulled Venison
(adapted from Cuisine Tonight’s Quick and Easy Menus)

Ingredients:
1.5 lbs venison stew meat, cubed
4 lbs extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves chopped garlic
1 tbsp fresh rosemary
1 tbsp fresh oregano
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp fennel seed
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine

Chop garlic, rosemary, oregano, salt, fennel seed, and red pepper flakes and mix with olive oil. Place meat and spice mixture in a plastic bag and shake until the meat is coated. In a saute pan, sear meat on all sides on medium heat.

Place meat along the bottom of a 3-4 qt slow cooker, and then add broth and wine. Cook on high for 4 hours. When meat has cooled, shred into small pieces. Use to spice up that same old lunch sandwich, for a twist in stew or even as filling for enchiladas!

slow-cooker-pulled-venison-clean-eating
Note: This recipe is freezer challenge approved.

Eggplant Parmesan, Second Generation Style

Here’s something you should know about me: I live for splurge meals. My absolute all time favorite foods usually fall into this category. In my normal routine, I try to adapt some of these recipes into clean versions, but on splurge day anything goes. Fried stays fried, pasta stands in for itself, and I put cheese on my half too.

It took me approximately 2 seconds too decide what tomato week’s splurge recipe would be. Growing up, my dad (originally from Italy) would make his eggplant parmesan maybe once or twice a year. It’s not a quick undertaking, and I knew it was a big ask to see if he would make it with me so I could blog about it. The thing is, what I really mean by “second generation style” is that I want to learn how to make this dish exactly like his, because it is absolutely perfect. The effort is always worth it. Plus, it makes your house smell sooooo good.

Best of all, eggplant is in season right now and I can’t help but pay thanks to this versatile crop. What a fine nightshade you are, eggplant. Thanks for being you.

Traditional Eggplant Parmesan
makes enough to fill 2 13×9 baking dishes, about 16 servings

Ingredients:
3 medium size eggplants
3 quart jars cooked tomato sauce
2 lbs fresh mozzarella cheese
vegetable/ canola oil for frying
2 cups grated romano/ parmesan cheese

for batter:
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
a few cups of cold water

*Note: Since this takes a few hours, I usually make an extra batch to freeze or give away. Cut everything in half if you are only making one dish.

To make your batter, combine flour, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add eggs, lightly beaten. Once well mixed, start adding water about a half cup at a time. The batter should be the consistency of runny pancake mix. Keep adding water and mixing until the batter is thin enough that it will run off the end of a spoon easily. There should be no lumps.

eggplant-parmesan-batter
Next, trim off both ends of the eggplants and slice them about 1/4 inch thick. Do your best to keep the thickness consistant so the pieces cook evenly.

perfectly-sliced-eggplant-for-homemade-eggplant-parmesan

Meanwhile, in a deep saute pan, heat up 3/4 to an inch of cooking oil on medium heat. Test the oil temperature with a drop of water or batter. It will sizzle when hot. If you have a thermometer, oil temperature should reach between 400-450 F.

Once the oil is ready to go, dip each slice of eggplant in the batter and just cover both sides. Let any excess batter run off, and then carefully place in the hot pan.

deep-frying-eggplant-homemade-eggplant-parmesan

When the underside becomes golden brown (1-2 min), flip them over and fry for another minute or so. When cooked, drain each piece of excess oil as you remove them from the pan.

draining-excess-oil-from-fried-eggplant-for-eggplant-parmesanAs the slices come out of the fryer, lay them on a plate covered with a paper towel to soak up extra grease as they cool.

freshly-fried-eggplant-for-eggplant-parmesan

While the eggplant is frying, grate your mozzarella and parmesan. To make grating easier, place the cheese in the freezer for 15-20 minutes first. Now is also a good time to preheat your oven to 375 F.

grated-parmesan-cheese-for-eggplant-parmesan

If there is any batter left over when the eggplant is done, you can pour it into your hot oil to make a zeppoli, or fried dough ball (more like a pancake in this case.) Cook it the same way as the eggplant.

homemade-zeppoli-frying-in-oil

When it’s done, sprinkle a little powered sugar on top and enjoy! Besides being delicious, this snack might distract you from scarfing down tons of hot, crispy eggplant as it comes out of the pan. It also might not. I usually eat both, and chase them with large chunks of mozzarella. Extras are built into the recipe to allow for this unstoppable force.

powered-sugar-covered-fresh-homemade-zeppoli

Assemble everything in a baking dish in layers. Start with a little bit of sauce on the bottom of the pan, then eggplant, mozz, parm, and a drizzle of sauce.

Repeat until your tray is full. Only use a little bit of sauce in each layer so it doesn’t become too wet.

assembling-homemade-eggplant-parmesan-layers

End with the cheese layer on top.

complete-homemade-eggplant-parmesan

Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake for 45-60 minutes. Take the foil off for the last 10-15 minutes of cooking to let the top get crispy.

eggplant-parmesan-just-out-of-the-oven

Enjoy! Freeze whatever you can’t eat. This type of dish tastes better every time you heat it up.

detailed-image-of-homemade-eggplant-parmesan

I would also just like to thank my good friend Jennifer for shooting the amazing photos for this blog while helping me fry eggplant for hours. They have added so much to this project, and I hope this is just the first of many collaborations between us. I mean, they’re incredible. I’m not the only one drooling on my computer, right?