Sunday, 25 December 2011

Cooking at Home for Christmas

When it comes to the holidays, there are one of three things you can now expect from me (if you don't already): I'll be eating, I'll be cooking or I'll be doing both; this Christmas season was no different in the way of doing both. In addition to the rest of the food being prepared for my family's Christmas Day dinner, I made some homemade chicken stock to be added to pancit and as the base for my chicken noodle soup; my green bean and red skin potato salad with bacon; and red- and green-coloured Christmas butter cookies half-coated in chocolate and nonpareils.

I first began with the component that would take the longest time to prepare-- the chicken stock. Sparing you the breaking down process in photos (because you could see them via this post... only this particular chicken wasn't as cleaned out as the first one), do quarter a whole chicken, making sure to trim any excess fat. If you're only aiming for the stock and don't actually need chicken as I did, gather any leftover chicken bones you may happen to have laying around. Or if you're not in the mood to break down any chickens, prep about 8-10 chicken thighs. After you've accomplished this, get a large pot of water to begin boiling with a pinch of salt; as this is going, quarter 2 onions, divide into four 3 carrots, and divide into three 6 celery stalks.

For those of you who are much more proficient than I at making a mirepoix , you're probably thinking my ratios are all off (and they probably are). But at least a short word on this: I offer the following sites which discuss varying ratios, the most common difference of which is the distinction between ratios by weight and ratios by volume. All told, the quantities I present here definitely worked and tasted amazing. Whatever your ratios, add this to the (now) boiling water along with your chicken quarters. Cover the pot and cook the chicken on medium heat for one hour.

After your hour, take out the chicken and quickly take the meat off the bones. As much as possible, don't shred the chicken at this point. Rather, get this between two plates to keep in the heat and retain moisture as it rests. Return any bones back into the water so the collagen of the bones (the source of the flavour) can continue to develop the stock; add a tablespoon of ground black pepper and 1.5 tsp salt. Give everything a stir and cover the pot, offsetting the lid, reduce the heat and allow everything to simmer for as long as possible (mine went for about three hours). After 15-20 minutes, shred the chicken and cover it when finished to slow it down from drying out.

While the stock is developing, bring out the bacon! (You know there had to be bacon--"every chef's guilty pleasure," according to Chris C. of Top Chef: Texas--somewhere on this menu.) In a medium-large pot, crisp half a pound of bacon and allow any excess grease to soak into some crinkled paper towel.

In the pot you crisped the bacon, remove all the rendered bacon fat barring 1 tbsp. Heat this on low heat and sautée 2 tsp dried minced onion and 2 cloves minced garlic. To this, add 8-10 diced red skin potatoes and about 2 large handfuls green beans cut into thirds (be sure to wash the vegetables and bring some of the water to the pot to add to the moisture). Lightly toss this in the heated bacon fat and cooked covered on med-lo heat for about half an hour, giving this a quick stir every 10 min to brown the potatoes. In contrast to my last green bean and potato salad, add the crisped bacon to the pot. Cover the pot and reduce the heat slightly; continue cooking everything together until the flavour from the bacon has been imparted to the dish and everything looks cooked (as opposed to the more raw look of the first half hour of cooking).

Following the three or so hours of stock cooking, it's time to strain the stock. Carefully run the stock through a mesh strainer and into a fat separator, holding back as best you can the vegetables. If you don't have one (as was the case when I made my first stock), allow the stock to cool and spoon out the fat that rises to the top. By this point, the aromatics of the mirepoix have done their duty; unless you like mushy vegetables, go ahead (I implore you) and discard them. With the pot now clear, carefully pour the stock back into the pot making sure to stop before the fat can exit the spout (the fat will continue to remain afloat as you pour). [The average stock yield is about 10 cups; 2 of these went into the pancit.]

Heat at medium heat your pot of chicken stock. Dice two carrots and two celery stalk and add these to the pot, along with the shredded chicken. Add to this your noodles (if dry, they should be cooked by the time you're ready to serve); I happened to use the leftover buttered noodles from Frankenmuth. Finally, depending on your preference for heat, add a minced jalapeño pepper or two. Allow all of the flavours to meld together. Get this all cooking for about 30-45 min or until the vegetables are tender. (If you need to speed up the process, go ahead and work with frozen veg and already prepped noodles.) To try and "stretch" the soup a bit, I added a box of chicken stock; don't do this, as the flavours are already there and this should comfortably serve at least a dozen people (especially alongside additional dishes).

Alrighty... with two dishes now just heating away (do make sure to check on the green bean and potato salad to make sure it's not overcooking and is instead just keeping warm), let's get to work on the cookies (my recipe of which was based on these three recipes: 1, 2 and 3). First thing's first, preheat your oven to 350 °F. To a bowl in which 1 stick room-temp and softened unsalted butter and 1/2 c sugar have been creamed (use a whisk and/or fork to combine the ingredients together), add and incorporate 1 egg, 1 tbsp orange juice and a splash of vanilla. Do not worry if everything doesn't want to completely behave and meld together.

About 1/4 c at a time, incorporate and fold in 1.25 c (total) all-purpose flour. Eventually the liquid will work with the dry ingredients and you should form a rather creamy batter. When the batter starts to resemble that of bread dough as it forms, add in a pinch each of salt and baking powder. When fully combined (the batter should look rather wet but still hold its shape), divide the batter in two. Colour each bowl of batter, using 6 drops to the bowl (of course, in my case I did this with red and green). In rounded 1/2 heaping tbsps, spoon out the batter and slightly flatten each round on an ungreased baking sheet. You should easily get 2 dozen cookies. Get this into the oven for about 15-20 min or until the edges are golden brown.

As the cookies are baking, melt some chocolate in the microwave (about 15 sec intervals, stirring as you go until smooth; we had quite a bit left over from my sister's birthday) and get out your nonpareils (or whatever else you want to use to decorate). When the cookies are ready, transfer them onto a cooling rack to well, um, cool. Once cool to the touch, dip the half of each cookie in the melted chocolate, allow as much of the chocolate to drip as possible, and then sprinkle onto the chocolate the nonpareils.

If at all possible, leave these on the cooling rack to resolidify.

While the cookies are hanging out, you're more than ready to get a start on your meal (if you haven't already)!

Mmm, and with all this said and done, I leave you to... eat. Or if you'd like, click here to peruse the photo album (while you eat, of course). Happy holidays and happy eating!

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