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We are heading into cooler months and I’m more than excited about it. I love summer, especially northern California summers but there’s just something about autumn. It smell better, feels better, and the clothes get cuter (IMHO). Instead of having a set uniform of tank and shorts (because I would melt into a puddle if there were any more clothing involved), I get to bust out my favorite jeans, scarves, and boots. YES!

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A big ‘ol pot a something good.

I also LOVE the food of colder months. I’ve said before that my favorite thing to cook is a roast chicken. It’s so comforting and makes your whole kitchen smell amazing while it roasts in the oven. I’ve posted about roasting chicken before and the post also included a few tips and tricks from none other than Thomas Keller, Ultimate Blackbelt Poultry Master. Also, here’s the food blog post that inspired me to try my hand at chicken roasting in the first place: userealbutter.com. You already love the blog just based on the name, right?

My next favorite thing to make after a roast chicken is chicken stock. This is a peek into my weird food neuroses. I love the process of trying to get everything I can out of one chicken and how many meals I can stretch it to. I feel so accomplished and frugal after I’ve completely maximized the utility of a chicken. I am a novice poultry master.

We use the chicken stock for sooo many recipes and I like to freeze some for future use as well. After our roast chicken dinner generally follows a combination of chicken soups and chicken and dumplings. It’s hubby’s favorite part of the roast chicken dinner – everything that follows, that is.

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Chicken and Dumplings

It was a recipe on simplyrecipes.com that inspired me to begin my stock making career. She offers 2 ways to make stock and a basic recipe. I do admit that if you aren’t use to working with raw meat, let alone a whole chicken then you may need to take this in baby steps. In fact, you can skip handling a whole raw bird all together. It’s super easy to get a rotisserie chicken from the supermarket and after you’ve eaten your fill, use the remaining to make stock.

The general recipe for stock consists of chicken bones, skin, fat, mirepoix – just a fancy way of saying carrots, celery, and onions; parsley, water, salt, and pepper. You put everything except the salt and pepper into a big stock pot, bring it to a boil and then lower the heat to a very low, soft simmer. Let the stuff simmer away uncovered for at least 4 hours and occasionally skim off the foam that comes to the top. After a fair amount of simmering, remove all the vegetables and bones. I also like to put the stock through a mesh strainer to get it really smooth. Season with salt and pepper to your taste.

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The delicious beginning

I made stock with my sister for the first time and she even exclaimed about how simple it was. She has a famous lemon rice recipe that uses a lot of chicken stock and when she used our homemade stock in the rice….. oh man, that was some damn good lemon rice. I’ll have to get that recipe from her….like, now.

Sister’s first chicken broth

If you’re a very accomplished chicken stock maker I would love some tips and advice. If you’ve never made stock, you totally should! It is a bit time consuming (make sure you have at least 4 hours to let your broth simmer to full brilliance) but so worth it. Everything tastes so much more amazing with your own homemade stock in it. There will be more recipes to come, including a chicken and dumpling recipe! Go now! Make broth!

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Chicken Tortilla Soup

 

I’ve seen Anthony Bourdain ask this on his various television shows while he’s sitting in mixed company. It may be a little morbid but I love asking this question and inciting a good conversation about food. If you were on death row and knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would your last meal consist of?

I’ve heard all sorts of responses. My mom said she would have a bowl of rice and her favorite steamed fish. My sister gave a long, rambling list of items that seemed to have the common theme of “covered in cheese”. My husband said a whole 3 tiered wedding cake. I’m totally lost on the reasoning for that one….

My list is also a bit long and rambling, mainly because that’s so hard to have to pick and choose between may favorite foods and dishes. Most of the dishes I’d want are Asian and many of them are noodle based. But there is one dish that always seems to make it on to my rambling list, so if I really had to choose only one thing. This would be it: Vietnamese vermicelli noodle salad.

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Known as bun cha in Vietnamese, there are several variations but the version I’ve seen the most is grilled pork bun cha. The pork is often marinated in a sweet and salty mixture and char-grilled, allowing the marinade to thicken into a sticky glaze and darken into crispy bits. The vermicelli rice noodles are usually served warm, lettuce and fresh herbs such as cilantro and mint share the bowl as well as pickled vegetables.

I’ve eaten this dish since I was almost too short for the booth at our local Vietnamese restaurant and I love it! But I’ve only recently begun to prepare it myself. I’ve still got a few other recipes to try and I’ll report back on those as well. The recipe I used for this post I found on a blog called pink-parsley.com. It’s a pretty simple recipe and the dressing recipe is a really tasty version of nouc nam, which is a Vietnamese condiment. Well, more like THE Vietnamese condiment.

There were a few things I did differently. I used pork loin chops instead of tenderloin because they’re cheaper. The first time I sliced up the chops first and then marinated them and pan fried them (unfortunately, I don’t have a grill). This left the meat a little tough so the next time I left the chops whole and sliced them after they were pan fried and rested.

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I would also like to make a batch of pickled carrot and daikon radish. It’s a bit more traditional that then marinated carrots and cucumbers in this recipe. But since I did have a cucumber and not a daikon radish in the fridge, it worked out great! I found several recipes for the pickled carrot and daikon by just googling and searching on foodgawker. The other thing I think I might change is using Sambal Oelek in the nouc nam instead of jalapenos. It adds heat but not flavor. For some reason, the jalapeno doesn’t quite taste right to me. I’ll probably make this recipe for pickled carrot and daikon.

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One thing I would absolutely recommend is not to skimp on the herbs! That is half the reason I love this dish! The basil, mint, and cilantro are a knock out flavor combo and they make this dish! These herbs make the salad so refreshing and complex. Don’t skimp on the herbs!

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And just because I know you are out there, a few things to keep in mind to peeps who are new to Vietnamese food. There are a few items that are new to you, maybe they sound a little scary like, fish sauce for example. Don’t be afraid! It’s so delicious! It’s the epitome of umami, that mysterious fifth flavor that’s salty, sweet and sour. It’s in a lot of your favorite Asian dishes like pad thai and bahn mi. I put it in my ground beef when I make hamburgers and it’s transforming! So have no fear! That’s my pep talk for the day – trying for positivity, right? But here’s my confession – when people won’t try something because they think it’s weird, all I can picture is a 3 year old throwing a tantrum over a new vegetable. There I said it. You now know what’s behind that grimace on my face when people turn their nose up at an amazingly delicious adventure. I’m realizing that I’m having dinner at the kids table and I want to leave. All of the foods in this dish have been around for a long time, a culture of proud people have created this dish and hundreds of thousands, possibly more, derive pleasure from eating it. So, it’s hard for me to hide my hurt feelings when others don’t want to enjoy my obsession with me. Obviously, I’ve been burned before…

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I hope you make this recipe or go to your nearest Vietnamese restaurant and order up some bun cha. It’s so perfect for summer and you may just start to develop an obsession of your own. Again, the recipe I made for this post can be found at www.pink-parsley.com.

 

 

Origin date: January 5, 2010

I have been psyching myself out for this entry. I have been trying to prepare myself for all of the stuff I want to include on this entry. It’s going to be recipe heavy and light on the photos. Fewer photos because I am such a bad photographer and heavy on the recipes because this is a whole MEAL we are talking about folks!

I’ve been entertaining a new companion currently and as a special event, such as New Years was quickly approaching, I felt that some meager flexing of my cooking skills was in order. Okay, so I am making this a bigger deal than it was. The meal is not even close to the most complicated stuff that I’ve made but the feature is one of my most favorite comfort food dishes. Roasted eggplant tossed with pasta, tomato sauce and fresh basil. *sigh*. And for the protein freak in me, I cooked up some spicy Italian chicken sausage to serve over the top.

I made this dish all summer long thanks to a scrappy little eggplant plant that flourished in my humble little garden. It was small, but boy did it sprout an amazing amount of vegetables! I also had a basil plant that, surprisingly, has survived in my cave of an apartment and was a welcome addition to the meal. So, without further delay, the final meal of 2009.

We also had a whole bulb of roasted garlic that served as butter for our tuscan bread. A really great salad with baby greens, spinach, dried cranberries, bell peppers, sunflower kernels and some homemade balsamic vinaigrette. The Best Broccoli of your life, and one of my favorite Italian red wines.

It was a really great meal and the company wasn’t that bad either….

So, I want to share the recipes of the evening and I hope they are as delicious, satisfying and comforting for you as they are to me. Definitely share this meal with others, as it will win you praise, garner you new friendships and secure connections. Well, it should at least get you a hug or two!

Roasted Eggplant Pasta

I used my favorite jarred pasta sauce because the sauce that I had made with my own tomatoes over the summer ended up with freezer burn. 😦

1 large eggplant, cut into large cubes

3 Tbsp good olive oil

1/2 lb. fettuccine or linguine pasta

Salt and Pepper

Your favorite jarred pasta sauce

1-2 Tbsp fresh basil leaves, torn

Olive oil for tossing pasta in

Preheat oven to 375 F

Toss eggplant with olive oil, salt and pepper, roast in oven until edges begin to crisp. About 30 mins.

10 minutes before eggplant is done, toss pasta into well-salted, boiling water to cook. Heat your pasta sauce in a saucepan just before serving.

Drain pasta, toss pasta with a little good olive oil. Add roasted eggplant, pasta sauce, toss and serve with freshly shaved parmesan cheese.

Just too easy and way too good!

Roasted Garlic Bulb

1 to 3 whole bulbs of garlic

Good Olive oil

Aluminum Foil

Preheat oven to 375 F

Cut off the top , maybe, 1/3 or 1/4 of the bulb so that you can see the individual cloves. Place bulb on a square of foil, cut side up. Drizzle with good olive oil. Wrap up bulb securely. Repeat with additional bulbs. Place on a cookie sheet or in an oven proof dish. Roast in oven for 45 mins. to an hour.

Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Carefully unwrap each bulb. Be careful because these little bundles are angry pockets of steam on the inside!

The garlic cloves will be soft and fragrant. You can just pop out a few cloves and toss them with your pasta or spread it over bread like butter.

It’s betta than butta, baby!

Homemade Balsamic Vinaigrette

1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

1 Tbsp dijon mustard

1 garlic clove, finely minced

1/2 cup good olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste.

Put all ingredients into a tightly seal-able container, shake, shake, shake. Taste and adjust flavor as desired. Store in refrigerator for up to a month.

The recipe for “The Best Broccoli of your Life” can be found here.

Hopefully this dinner will do all the things that I promised and more! Happy New Year!