Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Product Plug

As a purist (hey, I make my own butter), I love making stock. However, I work full time and then freelance almost full time, making time a scarce commodity. So, I have discovered a company that has done the work for me--Better than Boullion.
I discovered this product on QVC. At the time, you received three jars of the paste and a cookbook. I don't believe it's available on QVC anymore, but most grocery stores seem to carry it--at least in upstate New York.
Many flavors are available, including chili, beef, pork, ham, vegetable, clam, and my favorite, chicken. The paste easily dissolves in water, and the flavors are to die for. They really do taste and smell as though you've been cooking all day. Most are either low or no fat, and the sodium count is extremely low--no more eating a salt shaker with a little bit of flavor added. One word of caution however. Start with an amount LESS than what is recommended on the label. The flavors are so intense that the suggested amounts can be a bit too strong. If you're making something like soup, that's easily remedied by adding more water, but it's still best to start out on the cautious side. After all, it's easier to add more than to remove excess.
As I mentioned, my favorite is the chicken base. One of my favorite weekend meals is chicken soup--with or without the noodles. With the intense flavor of the base, you really don't even need the chicken, and more often than not, that's how I prepare the following.

1 tablespoon butter
1 rib celery, chopped
1/4 cup chopped onion
4 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons Better than Boullion chicken base
1 carrot, sliced thinly
1 cup frozen spinach
1 cup egg noodles (optional)
1 scallion, chopped finely (optional)

In the butter, saute the celery and onion only until translucent (do not let them get any color). Add the water, chicken base, and carrot. Bring to a boil and simmer uncovered until the vegetables are just about tender. Add the spinach and noodles if desired, and continue to simmer until the vegetables and noodles are done. Before serving, add the chopped scallion for a bit of a crunch.

Keep in mind that this recipe can be adjusted very easily to accommodate a large crowd. No one will go away disappointed. To quote Rachael Ray--this one is "yum-oh."

Saturday, March 11, 2006

The Gadget Queen

If there were a self-help group for kitchen gadget addicts, I would have to join. If I see or hear about some new, can't live without kitchen appliance, I have to have it. It's the law. Or at least it seems to be in my house.
The restaurant-style deep fryer--got it. It's somewhere in the cabinet.
The latest smoothie maker, better than a blender--got it. It's somewhere in the cabinet, or perhaps in the closet.
The top of the line ice cream maker--got it. It's somewhere. . . . OK, it's not completely my fault that I don't use this. The canister never got completely frozen in my freezer.
The immersible blender--got it. At first, this seems like a wonderful idea. Perhaps it's me, but I could never get it to work without splashing stuff all over the stove and walls.
The Magic Bullet--got it. This one I use! It did take some getting used to, but at least I use it.

This doesn't include the assorted things I have in the cabinet above the stove. To be honest, I'm not sure what's there anymore, but there's enough stuff crammed in that cabinet that my spices fall out. I do recall small chopper/blender combinations that never worked in my real life the way they did in television presentations. Oh, and there are the Kitchen Aid mixer and Cuisinart food processor on my counter. They get used, occasionally. But they do look good on my counter.
What do I blame for this addiction? Chef catalog, QVC, and me. OK, it's probably me.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

The Slurp Factor

Food is a wonderful thing. It feeds our bodies, and it feeds our souls. How many of us associate life events with the smell--if not taste--of food? Then there are the sounds . . .
Let me preface this by saying that my childhood preceded the invention of Lipton's Cup a Soup. I think ramen noodles have been around since the beginning of time; I haven't. But, I have been around longer than Cup a Soup.
My mom was a big fan of Campbell's soup. It was easy to prepare, and all you needed to add was a supply of crackers to have an entire meal. (Mom was never a master cook.) It was inexpensive; we never had a lot of money, and their tomato soup could often be found for twenty-five cents a can. Plus, to quote a TV commercial from my childhood, my mother married my father for better or worse--and got him for lunch, too.
Sometimes my mom decided to treat us to a "higher class" of soup--boxed soup! Now remember, Cup of Soup wasn't available. This was one of the original boxed soups. You bought a box containing an envelope containing dried soup mix, which you added to boiling water. My personal favorite was the chicken noodle soup.
Ahh, I can still remember it. As it simmered on the stove, the light chicken smell filled the kitchen. Unlike our more usual Campbell Chicken Noodle soup, this version didn't leave a yellow ring-around-the pan (and later the bowl). It had a much lighter taste, and it was fun chasing the small pieces of parsley around the bowl with our spoons. The noodles were very short and very, very thin. And sadly, the noodles were the most disappointing part of this special lunch treat.
Chicken noodle soup is one of the world's best inventions. It can help cure all ills, or at least make them a bit more tolerable; it didn't earn the name "Jewish penicillin" easily. As an adult, I count chicken noodle soup as one of my specialties. Still, it's not the same as Campbell's.
Why? I use all-fresh ingredients, the best stock, and add that extra touch of love. And, my soup has chicken in it; the Campbell version of my childhood might have had three or four pieces of something called chicken in the entire can. What could I be doing wrong?
Nothing. Most of the time I prefer my version. Then there are those other times when nothing but Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup will do. Even other canned soups don't have the same effect. What is it about Campbell's?
Well, there is the yellow ring, but the real difference is the noodles--the slurp factor. What greater joy was there as a child than to lift a soup spoon to my mouth--filled with broth and noodles--and slurp the noodles into my mouth? The sound of the slurp; the sensation of the noodles against my teeth and to my tongue, which caressed the noodles before releasing them down my throat. It was even better when the loss of childhood teeth left a direct path to the gums and a louder slurp. Of course it also meant a bigger laugh from my brother and father; Mom failed to see the humor.
As an adult, I'm not supposed to play with my food. I now know that the yellow residue probably means Campbell's Chicken Noodle soup isn't the most healthful food I can eat. But then, sometimes you just don't care. You just have to slurp.