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On hiatus

Hello darlings!

I apologize for my long absence. My creative leanings got pulled in another direction: I wrote a novel. Now I’m editing and rewriting this novel. I’m afraid this little blog has taken the backseat for now. I may return later. I still like the idea. Thanks for your patience.

Cookbook #2, and Mexican Chicken Soup

We have moved on to our second cookbook, “Barefoot Contessa at Home.” This is a relatively new acquisition for me, and was the happy result of receiving a bookstore gift card. Hooray for gifts!

100_3316

Hello, Ina!

I like her show. I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan, but I think she makes nice food and has a very sensible attitude. I say “rar!” at how flashy and ridiculous a lot of Food Network programming is these days, and I find her to be an exception.

Anyway, today we’re exploring Tortilla Soup, or as Ina Garten would have it, Mexican Chicken Soup. I have always heard this soup called Tortilla Soup and never Mexican Chicken Soup, even though that is, of course, what it is. Hmm. It is a favorite of mine, and I do like to order it out, and I knew I would be pleased to have a good version of it in my repetoire.

The ingredients, up front:

4 split (2 whole) chicken breasts, bone in, skin on
good olive oil
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chopped yellow onion (2 onions)
1 cup chopped celery (2 stalks)
2 cups chopped carrots (4 carrots)
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
2 1/2 quarts chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 28-oz can whole tomatoes in puree, crushed
2-4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander seed
1/4 to 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro (optional)
6 (6-inch) fresh white corn tortillas

To serve:
sliced avocado
sour cream
grated Cheddar cheese
tortilla chips

Okay! Let’s kick it off with some big raw chicken breasts.

Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the chicken breasts skin side up on a sheet pan. Rub with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and roast for 35-40 minutes, until done.

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Mmm? Not yet.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, discard the skin and bones and shred the meat. Cover and set aside.

I was surprised at how tasty this chicken was–of course I tried it!–after what I had thought would be a short roasting time. I guess this shows I’ve been overcooking my chicken. Well, I’ve learned my lesson.

100_3332

A heap of tasty meat. Can't you SEE that it's not even a little dried out?

Meanwhile, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the onions, celery, and carrots and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions start to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds.

100_3326

A lot of veggies.

To be honest, I was surprised by the quantity of carrots called for in this recipe. I have never seen any visible presence of carrot in my prior tortilla soup encounters. Still, I went along with it.

Add the chicken stock, tomatoes with their puree, jalapenos, cumin, coriander, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and the cilantro, if using.

100_3330

Whoa, Nellie. I hope you've got a big pot.

I did not make my own stock. I bought low-sodium stock. And I didn’t quite realize that 2 and 1/2 quarts would be making this much soup.

At this point, the recipe gets a little weird:

Cut the tortillas in half, then cut them crosswise into 1/2-inch strips and add them to the soup. Bring the soup to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 25 minutes.

100_3331

I doubt your structural integrity, tortillas.

This freaked me out. Won’t they break down, boiling for that long, unfried?

And 25 minutes later, my doubt was justified. They did indeed dissolve into bits. Odd. Is this standard for tortilla soup? I have always had it with intact pieces of tortilla.

Add the shredded chicken and season to taste. Serve the soup topped with sliced avocado, a dollop of sour cream, grated Cheddar cheese, and broken tortilla chips.

I couldn’t leave it there. I needed to have fried tortilla strips.

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Mmm, soon you will be mine.

And then, after they were finished frying, all was right with the soup. Observe:

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Tortilla Soup, aka Mexican Chicken Soup

And how was it, you may ask? Really good. The carrots were unusual, but not in a bad way. It’s a very satisfying soup; I really felt like it was revitalizing me. It’s a perfect soup for taking care yourself when sick, or just good comfort food. It’s lucky that I liked it, because I have an awful lot of it frozen. Josh and Nat refused to taste it, and opted to eat masses of shredded cheese for dinner instead. Oh well.

 

Peanut Butter Cookies

It’s fitting that Peanut Butter Cookies will be my last Joy of Cooking post, because they were the first recipe I ever made from it. My sister Lynn and I used to make them a long time ago using a warped cookie sheet and real teaspoons (as in, the kind you’d use to stir your tea) to measure ingredients. They always turned out great, even when they got a little burned around the edges. My dad likes the burned ones the best, because they remind him of his grandmother, who also burned her cookies. Aww.

So, leading this recipe into the next generation, I present to you my SuperChunkers!
100_3291The SuperChunkers!

Chunky peanut butter is much better than smooth in this recipe. It’s more substantial. And you must use commercial peanut butter. We like Skippy. Skippy SuperChunk! in this case. I made them once using natural peanut butter, and they were disappointing.

Okay, so here’s what Joy says:
For those who dote on peanut butter cookies, try these rich and crumbly ones. Use the greater amount of flour if your peanut butter is heavy in oil.
Preheat oven to 375°.
Beat until soft:
1/2 cup butter or shortening
Add gradually and blend until creamy:
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar

This is always the best part of cookie recipes. Mmm, butter and sugar.

Beat in:
1 egg
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

I have an awesome tip to share with anyone who has ever suffered though trying to meaure peanut butter for a recipe: oil the measuring cup first. The peanut butter slides right out, and you get an accurate measurement. Observe.

Oil in the measuring cup. Spread it all around in there.

Oil in the measuring cup. Spread it all around in there.

Josh doing some excellent measuring. Go, SuperChunker!

Josh doing some excellent measuring. Go, SuperChunker!

(Almost) all clean! Amazing, no?

(Almost) all clean! Amazing, no?

 

Sift before measuring:
1 to 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

I never sift in this recipe. It works out fine.  BUT do add more than one cup. I added about 1 and 1/3, and that worked out pretty well. The dough should not be too sticky.
Natty approves of the dough.

Natty approves of the dough.

Roll the dough into small balls. Place them on a greased cookie sheet. Press flat with a fork, as illustrated on 705. Bake about 10 to 12 minutes.
My fork technique, a bit different from Joy's.

My fork technique, a bit different from Joy's.

I always thought that I was following the Joy technique until this time around when I looked more closely at the illustration on page 705, and found that I was doing something quite different. Huh. I make two fork impressions perpendicular to each other. It bakes up nicely with more surface area for browning and crunchiness.
All baked up.

All baked up.

These cookies are seriously so good. Buttery, “rich and crumbly” as described above, and very easy to eat a lot of. Especially with milk. My god, definitely try them with milk. Unreal. And they freeze really well. They also taste quite good on the burned side, as some in my family will attest.
Make me, I'm tasty!

Make me, I'm tasty!

 

The full deal below.

Peanut Butter Cookies

For those who dote on peanut butter cookies, try these rich and crumbly ones. Use the greater amount of flour if your peanut butter is heavy in oil.
Preheat oven to 375°.
Beat until soft:
1/2 cup butter or shortening
Add gradually and blend until creamy:
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Beat in:
1 egg
1 cup peanut butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Sift before measuring:
1 to 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Roll the dough into small balls. Place them on a greased cookie sheet. Press flat with a fork, as illustrated on 705. Bake about 10 to 12 minutes.

Spiced Chocolate Prune Cake

While perusing Joy with my mom, I came across this recipe and said, “Hmm, spiced chocolate prune cake!” To which she replied, “Ew.” “No, it sounds good,” I said, sure that I would be right. “Ew” was Eliav’s response too, and the kids were excited that I was making a cake until they found out that I would be adding prunes, on purpose. Nonetheless, I perservered.

I saw at the outset that it would be a fussy recipe. But I felt challenged–most of the cakes I usually make are easy one- or two-bowlers. And I bought a lovely new sifter lately, so I could put it to good use at last.

From Joy:

A moist, fruity loaf cake which makes a delightful dessert when served with whipped cream or pudding sauce.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Have all ingredients about 70°. Cook and cool:
1 cup lightly sweetened drained pureed prunes

“Drained pureed prunes” are not exactly a household staple, but I cooked and sweeted some dried prunes the day before. Go me with the advance planning!

Joy warns: Canned pureed prunes will not do, because they are too liquid. Duly noted. Thanks! Also, ew.

The star ingredient

The star ingredient

The star ingredient, pureed

The star ingredient, pureed

 
Sift before measuring:1 1/2 cake flour
Resift with: 1 1/2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
(1 teaspoon cinnamon)
(1/2 teaspoon cloves)
This kills me–the spices in the spice cake are purely optional. Again, it seems very older-style recipe to me, speaking to a time when only families of Mexican descent ate Mexican food, or knew what it was, and spaghetti and meatballs were tremendously exotic. The amount of cloves called for did give me pause–cloves are powerful, and that would be a lot of cloves–but I did it anyway.
Some of the suspects in the line-up

Some of the suspects in the line-up

Sifting! See those cloves? (Ominous foreshadowing.)

Sifting! See those cloves? (Ominous foreshadowing.)

 
 Cream until soft:
1/3 cup butter
Sounds simple, right? But this is one of the hidden fussinesses of this recipe–it’s VERY tricky to get one-third cup of butter from a stick. Using the markers on the stick package, that’s 5 and 1/3 of a tablespoon. And it would help if THIS didn’t happen when I tried to soften my butter. TWICE. Observe:
A melted horror!

A melted horror!

But, after ruining my second stick of butter only slightly less than the first stick, I thought I would be clever and try to re-firm the center melty part in the fridge.
Butter in exile! Oh, the shame.
Butter in exile! Oh, the shame.
It didn’t work. I grew impatient and just scooped my best estimate of 5 and 1/3 tablespoons from the squishy sticks. I should state that I’m working with a new microwave, and I clearly have not figured out how to use the power settings yet. Moving on!
 
Add gradually and cream until light: 
3/4 cup sifted sugar
Again with the sifting. I did not sift the sugar, I admit it.  
 
The butter and sugar were creaming along happily in my mixer–always the most delicious part of any cake batter enterprise–when I set about softening the chocolate for this step:
Melt and add when cool:
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate
 
Did you know that chocolate can actually CATCH FIRE in a microwave? After a trifing period in the zapper, I turned around to find the whole thing filled with dense, swirling smoke. And the smell–it was not good. There are worse burning smells than the smell of burned chocolate, but it is still not an appealing scent, trust me. I have no photographic evidence of this occasion because I was too busy opening all of our windows, turning on the ceiling fan, and disposing of the offending and still smoking chocolate.
 
This recipe was not going well. But I had to keep going, similar to watching the end of a movie that you know is terrible and yet you do not get off the couch.
 
After babysitting the second round of chocolate very closely, heating it in tiny single-digit second bursts, I had this:
Reasonably okay melted chocolate

Reasonably okay melted chocolate

Is this recipe over yet, you may ask? Not at all! See above, re: Fussiest Cake Recipe in a Long Time.
Beat well and add to the butter mixture:
2 eggs
Okay, done.
Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 3 parts, alternating with:
1/2 cup milk
 
The batter is looking light and fluffy and really quite appealing. The smell of cloves–which I usually like!–is still a little too unnervingly strong.
Fluffy batter. Pretty, right?

Fluffy batter. Pretty, right?

Stir the batter until smooth after each addition. Add the prunes and:
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
 
And that’s the last ingredient! Shocking.
 
Batter in the pan, pruney

Batter in the pan, pruney

Bake in a greased pan about 25 minutes.
The final product:
The end. Ta da!

The end. Ta da!

It really was fluffy and light, shockingly so. I don’t think I’ve ever had a baked good involving dried fruit that was not dense in some way. The chocolate flavor was absent. The cinnamon was barely noticable. It tasted like a clove sponge cake–but with a more crumbly crumb–flecked with chewy prune bits. Sound kind of yucky? Well, it was kind of yucky, in a way. I ate about 5 pieces before becoming sick of it and threw it out. Yes, I THREW. IT. OUT. I do not throw out cake. I eat it all up or freeze it for later. This is telling. Do not make this cake. Mom, you were right. But not because of the prunes.
What did I learn, though? The greatest offender here was really the cloves. It has the potential to be a pleasant if dull cake. With only cinnamon, more chocolate, no prunes and no cloves, it could be quite nice. It would be good with a white icing of some kind. But it’s awfully fussy for a dull cake.  
 
 In case you have any need of a clove-y, mysterious-chewy-bit cake, here is the recipe:

 

Spiced Chocolate Prune Cake

A moist, fruity loaf cake which makes a delightful dessert when served with whipped cream or pudding sauce.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Have all ingredients about 70°.

Cook and cool:
1 cup lightly sweetened drained pureed prunes

Canned pureed prunes will not do, because they are too liquid.

 

Sift before measuring:1 1/2 cake flour
Resift with: 1 1/2 teaspoons double-acting baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
(1 teaspoon cinnamon)
(1/2 teaspoon cloves)

 

 
Cream until soft:
1/3 cup butter
 
 Add gradually and cream until light: 
3/4 cup sifted sugar
 
Melt and add when cool:
1 oz. unsweetened chocolate
 
Beat well and add to the butter mixture:
2 eggs
Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in 3 parts, alternating with:
1/2 cup milk
Stir the batter until smooth after each addition. Add the prunes and:
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Bake in a greased pan about 25 minutes.

 

Cookbook #1: Joy of Cooking

I’ve counted. I had 115 cookbooks, but then I picked up another this weekend. Thank you, library sale!

With so many cookbooks, it was difficult to know where to begin. I settled on Joy of Cooking for many reasons. It was probably the first cookbook I ever used. Growing up, the blue Joy in my mom’s collection was where she’d press the flowers we gave her, and we always knew that it had been her mother’s. I have three copies of Joy now: the one Eliav gave me as gift, and two from my beloved Aunt Mary’s collection, both old-style and the controversial newly updated version. I’ll be cooking from the new version later, but I started with the classic.

Ah, Joy!

Ah, Joy!

First recipe: Quick Creamed Chicken Breasts

This recipe seems like the epitome of old Joy: old-fashioned, practical, and not worried overmuch about being fashionable. And I had all of the ingredients on hand, so score!

Preheat oven to 350°. Okay.

Place in a shallow baking dish 6 whole chicken breasts. I had two breasts and a package of chicken tenders. Good enough.

Combine and pour over the chicken:

1 cup canned cream of mushroom soup

1 cup cultured (do they sell any other kind?) sour cream

(1/2 cup chopped mushrooms)

(Joy loves to put ingredients in parentheses.)

1/4 cup chopped parsley (Okay, I didn’t have this ingredient.)

Blerg!

Blerg!

I said “meh!” to Joy’s scant 1/2 cup of optional mushrooms and chopped up all that I had, maybe 1 1/2 cups. Also, the mushrooms in the fridge only had a few more good days left to them.

  

Mushrooms, happy to find a home in the sauce rather than in the trash. Mushrooms, happy to find a home in the sauce rather than in the trash.

Sprinkle with paprika and bake, uncovered, for about 1 hour.

Double blerg!

Double blerg!

This is not a visually appealing recipe. But observe the paprika! Another quintessential Joy bit for me–it seems that older recipes loved to sprinkle paprika on stuff for extra fanciness, no matter what the taste result may be. I am dubious.
 
Josh, meanwhile, has observed these proceedings and requested Kraft mac & cheese. At this point, I’m not sure I blame him.
In much less than one hour later (maybe 40+ minutes?), I remove the chicken from the oven. And it’s looking pretty good. I have a serious weakness for creamy sauces, especially creamy sauces on rice, and you guessed it, baby, I’ve got some rice ready too.
Not too bad.

Not too bad.

I make myself a pretty plate with a vegetable element.
Looking pretty tasty, actually!

Looking pretty tasty, actually!

And Josh proudly displays his own dinner of excellece.
Josh, Nat, mac & cheese

Josh, Nat, mac & cheese

I’m pleased to report that it was a tasty and and successful recipe that I’ll probably make again. Eliav liked it too, which surprised me. The kids refused to try it. Maybe next time.
Quick Creamed Chicken BreastsThis recipe seems like the epitome of old Joy: old-fashioned, practical, and not worried overmuch about being fashionable. And I had all of the ingredients on hand, so score!

The recipe, free of adornment:

Preheat oven to 350°.
Place in a shallow baking dish 6 whole chicken breasts.
Combine and pour over the chicken:
     1 cup canned cream of mushroom soup
     1 cup cultured sour cream
      (1/2 cup chopped mushrooms)
     1/4 cup chopped parsley
Sprinkle with paprika and bake, uncovered, for about 1 hour.

 

It’s almost time for Book #1!

I have a lot of cookbooks. I haven’t counted them yet, but I will. And I am going to cook at least three recipes from each one, focusing on a cookbook at a time. Follow along with me, on this splendid culinary journey!