Adventures in Home Cooking

After a run of heavy meals away from home last week, I re-familiarized myself with my kitchen by cooking one dish that’s been on my list of things to do for years and another old favorite that I haden’t made for at least as long. In between, I found time to make an iconic sandwich that I blogged about last spring.

First up was chicken soup. I ate a lot of it when I was growing up – mostly prepared by a couple great-aunts with whom I was close – and have toyed with the idea of making it from scratch for most of my adult life. My wife recently suggested that we start making and eating more soup, and that was apparently the inspiration I needed to finally give chicken soup a shot. 

My plan was to use chicken backs and bone-in thighs if the backs were in stock at our local supermarket. They weren’t and I wasn’t sure if thighs or legs alone would get the job done. So I went with plan B – that being a whole chicken, which was also recommended by many of the recipes I read online.

I grabbed carrots, celery, onions, Italian parsley and fresh dill while at the store. Along with salt and pepper, that would be all I’d need for the soup.

Just add salt, pepper and water for chicken soup – noodles optional.
This pot was a little bigger than ideal.
Ready to simmer. The two herb pouches held Italian parsley and dill.

I didn’t have an ideal pot. A couple that I would have liked to use may not have been deep enough for me to fully cover the chicken and other ingredients with water by enough of a margin. As an alternative, I used our biggest pot, which was more than deep enough, but also wider than I’d have preferred. My concern was that I’d wind up using more water than desirable, resulting in a broth than wasn’t strong enough. Fortunately, that turned out not to be a problem; although the soup probably took longer to finish than it would have in a smaller pot.

After coarsely cutting the peeled carrots and celery and halving the onions, I placed the chicken in the empty pot – breast side up – and covered it with cold water by several inches. It then went onto the stove over a medium flame. When the water started getting hot, I added the vegetables and two herb pouches – one filled with parsley and the other with dill –  in addition to salt and pepper.

I kept that at a simmer for nearly three hours, stirring every 20-30 minutes and periodically skimming off fat and the other nasty-looking stuff that rises to the top. After tasting and determining it was ready, I removed as much of the chicken and carrots as I could and ran the rest through a strainer. 

After close to three hours
This would all go back into the soup after the chicken was broken down further and the bones removed.
That’s a lot more broth than I anticipated.
These two quarts went into the freezer.

I was surprised by how much soup was there. Again, the size of the pot had to be responsible for that. I may look for something more appropriate before making another chicken soup. Or I could just use backs and thighs in one of our smaller pots next time.

I wound up freezing two quarts and there were several more that we have been eating the past few days with the addition of the meat, carrots and egg noodles. 

The first batch that we ate that night was a little thicker than I’d have preferred. The flavor was pretty good, but not great, especially considering how good it smelled while simmering. However, it’s improved with each day it’s been in the refrigerator, both texturally and in terms of flavor. 

A small batch the night I made the soup, after I had removed some of the broth for freezing and returned the chicken and carrots to the large pot.
This bowl was eaten the night after I made the soup. It tasted better and had a nicer texture than the previous evening’s bowl. It would be even better the third time around.

There were various tips for enhancing the soup in the recipes I checked out, but I decided to go with a very simple and basic method for my first time.

A friend who is an experienced maker of chicken stock and soup suggested that I use the remaining broth with more chicken and fresh vegetables to kick up the flavor several notches. I may grab the next package of backs I see in the supermarket – they are hit or miss – and use them with the two quarts I froze. 

The recipe that I hadn’t made for many years is one my mother and I used to prepare together. It’s both fun and extremely simple to make. It also tastes great. 

When we were making it during the 80s, we only used three ingredients: shrimp, butter and a jarred Italian dressing made with olive oil. That particular dressing was discontinued at some point, so I grabbed another one that looked like it would be a good substitute. I also decided to place some of the leftover Italian parsley I bought for the soup into an herb pouch and include that for a bit of extra aroma and flavor. In case you haven’t figured it out by now, I am not crazy about chopping herbs and use these pouches whenever possible. 

As I recall, we initially made this dish with the shells left on the shrimp, but at some point started taking them off beforehand. I don’t like dealing with removing the shells from cooked shrimp, especially when they’re in a sauce, and opted to de-shell them beforehand. But I didn’t want to lose all of the added flavor that the shells impart, so I put some of them – mostly tails – inside another herb pouch.

All of the ingredients for my shrimp dish. That’s slightly over a pound of shrimp.
The pouches contained parsley (left) and shrimp shells.

The dish is prepared by placing a pound of shrimp with close to half of the dressing and a half stick of butter – along with the parsley and shells if using – into several layers of tin foil, wrapping the foil up into a vented ball, and then cooking it in the oven or on a grill. It was a cold day, so I went with the oven and set it to between 350 and 375 degrees (f). Rather than placing the foil ball right onto the oven – or grill – rack as we used to, I put it inside a tin pan on the off chance that any drippage occurred. 

After 20-25 minutes, I checked to see if the shrimp were cooked, but most of them needed more time. So I stirred everything up and re-shaped the foil ball before sticking it back in the oven for another 15 minutes. At that point, it was ready.

I left a little vent at the top.

I defrosted and heated an Italian roll that was in our freezer and used it to mop up some of the sauce. The shrimp were perfectly done. This is a fantastic dish both to prepare and eat. 

In between cooking the chicken soup and shrimp I made a favorite sandwich that I hadn’t had for a while; probably since I posted on it in April of last year. I’m referring to the Elvis sandwich – a grilled peanut butter and banana. 

As is often the case, it was a matter of the idea hitting me while we had all of the ingredients on hand. I mashed half of a ripe banana with the back of a spoon and spread it and a nice layer of creamy peanut butter on Pepperidge Farm white whole grain bread, which has become a favorite of mine for PBJ and PBJ-related sandwiches. 

Then I grilled it with a little butter in a frying pan to achieve the King’s dream – and mine. 

Grilled peanut butter and banana: The Elvis Sandwich

With nacho chips on the side, that was a comforting and delicious lunch. 

I’ll be enjoying the chicken soup for a while longer, but I’m also ready to head back out to eat something I can write about. That will likely happen tomorrow with a report posted Wednesday.

Published by BZ Maestro

I live outside of Philadelphia and have been food-obsessed for as long as I can remember. After toying with the idea of starting a blog for a fairly long time, the extinction of a food-themed message board that I frequented for years prompted me to finally take action. Thank you for taking the time to check out what I've been up to - and eating. If you've enjoyed what you have read and seen, please consider clicking the "like" button and signing up as a follower.

2 thoughts on “Adventures in Home Cooking

  1. The shrimp looks great! And it certainly seems simple enough.

    Some recipes for French onion soup call for chicken stock/broth instead of beef. While I prefer beef, I’ll bet you could make a pretty good version with your broth.

    No comment on the sandwich. ;^)


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