Saturday, February 26, 2011

Ain't Nothin' Like Homemade Chicken Soup

This has been a pretty challenging week for me. I just started a new job, my classes are ramping up, and to top it all of, I'm getting sick. It was during my new-hire orientation on Tuesday that I started to get that familiar tickle in my throat. The following day I had sinus headaches and a sore throat. I've been battling it with loads of tea, juice, and all the Vitamin C I can handle. So far it hasn't gone "full cold," so I'm determined to get rid of this thing before I go back to work next week!

My awesome husband offered to make me some chicken soup - it's one of my favorite things, so how could I refuse? Over the years we've worked hard at perfecting our soup. Back in the day, we'd just throw a whole chicken in a pot of water with vegetables and spices, and let it boil for a few hours; but in recent years, the process has gotten more sophisticated. If you have a day where you're just at home doing "house things," this is the best dinner to make! And it makes your house smell amazing!

  • Chicken*
  • 2 Onions, quartered
  • 4-5 Garlic Cloves, whole
  • Fresh Herbs**
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Water
  • Chicken Hearts and Gizzards (if not using a whole chicken)
  • 3-4 Carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 3-4 Celery Stalks, roughly chopped
  • 1 Bunch of Parsley, roughly chopped
  • 8 oz. Tomato Sauce***
  • 1/2 lb Small Pasta****
  • Grated Pecorino Romano*****

Rinse off your chicken, and place it in a baking dish. We found a super good price on a big pack of drumsticks, so that's what we used. Arrange the quarters of one onion, all of the garlic cloves, and the herbs around the chicken. If you're doing a whole chicken, put the onion, garlic, and herbs inside the cavity. Spray or drizzle everything with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put the baking dish in a 450° oven and roast for an hour.

After the hour, remove your baking dish from the oven. Place all of the goodness from the dish into a large stock pot. If you have one of those stock pots that has a strainer you can put inside, use that! Throw in your chicken hearts/gizzards, second onion, carrots, celery, parsley, tomato sauce, and some more salt and pepper. Cover it with water until everything is swimming. You don't need to fill it to the tippy-top of the pot, but make sure everything is covered. Turn that bad-boy on, and get it to a boil. Once it boils, give it a stir, cover it, and turn it to a low simmer.

After an hour or so, taste your soup - does it need more salt? Pepper? You can always add more spice to your bowl of soup, but it's really not as good as getting it spot-on when you're cooking it.

It might be good after an hour or two, but you really want to let it go for a long time. I find that when you give it 4-5 hours of simmering it really pays off. When I do turkey soup after Thanksgiving, I'll let it go for a super long-ass time.

Once your soup is done, remove the strainer that is full of the soup makings. We usually put it in a bowl because some people enjoy picking at the pieces of chicken and veg and adding it to their bowl of soup. Now that you have a pretty strained soup, you can add some cooked pasta if you like and start serving, or you can strain it again through something finer. I like to have a really clean broth with just pasta and some cheese on top. Some folks like it chunky and don't mind a broth with some herbs and bits in it. It's all up to you and how you dig your soup.

SPECIAL NOTE: As you let your soup cool down, you'll notice oil surface at the top. I do urge you to do your best and spoon off as much oil as you can. If you eat a bunch of oil, you can end up with the trots like nobody's business. Sometimes I make the soup a day or so ahead of time, so when I take the soup out of the fridge the oil has solidified and is really easy to remove.


*Get your chicken in any form you like. We often buy whole chickens when they are on sale, but they can be expensive. You can also buy a bunch of drumsticks, thighs, breasts, etc. I recommend something with bones, but again, whatever is on sale.

**Any fresh herbs that you enjoy will be good with this. I tend to use Rosemary, but I'll use the "Poultry Herbs" package if it's available and also on the cheap.

***This is optional - my dad always put a can of tomato sauce in his soups, so it tastes like home to me. I recommend it, but it's not necessary.

****Pasta is optional, but I enjoy my soup as a broth with just pasta in it. Again, it's what taste like home to me. Not to be a total advertisement here, but Barilla has recently come out with all sorts of "mini" pastas that are perfect for soups. My favorite are the tiny stars!

*****In my family, we top pretty much ever dish with cheese. Yep, even our soups.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Ninkasi ReNEWAle 2011: Mason’s Irish-Style Red Ale

by Alan

My brother-in-law's girlfriend was kind enough to give me Ninkasi's SLEIGH'R Dark Double Ale as a Christmas gift, and I've been keeping my eye out for other Ninkasi beer since then. We recently had a Bev'Mo open in our area, and I was excited to see that they keep a couple different Ninkasi beers in stock. During my last visit I picked up a seasonal brew, the Ninkasi ReNEWAle 2011 version. It has been nice and cold, and we even had some snow on our southern California mountains, so this seemed perfect.

Ninkasi's description:
"A New Year a New Beer! Each year ReNEWAle will be something new and special to enjoy while winter runs its course. For 2011 we brewed a delicious Irish-style red ale that’s smooth and refined with a hint of toasted malt and a clean finish. A great beer for a new year, cheers!"

My tasting notes:

  • Appearance - Clear Copper red with a light tan frothy head 
  • Smell - very light aroma, the hops aren’t at the forefront like other Ninkasi beers I’ve had. Slightly earthy 
  • Taste - Lots of bite, fairly bitter but light bodied beer with a dry finish 
  • Mouth feel - thick chewy beer, a perfect smooth warming beer for the winter 
  • Drinkability - Easy enough to drink, not a very high alcohol 5.2%, A couple pints in a pub or a nice 22oz by the fire on a cold night is perfect.

Overall, it was a good beer, and I'll be looking for more Ninkasi beers in the future!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Beer Beginnings, Issue 2 - IPA

by Alan

I have been drinking more than my fair share of IPAs in the recent months, and I thought I'd try out brewing one on my own. This was my first outside of any Mr. Beer type brews, but I am still using the fun little keg fermenter for housing the brew. I did make one addition, getting a better spigot and a bottling wand so I could bottom fill my bottles. The new spigot locks, which really cut down on thumb fatigue for the bottling process.

So here we go...


  • 1 lb. Milled Crystal 60L grain
  • 1 Lb. 11 oz Gold Malt Extract
  • 1 Lb. 5  oz Amber Malt Extract
Hop Schedule
21 g Chinook      60 Min
 7 g Simcoe         30 Min
 4 g Cascade       30 Min
 7 g Simcoe         15 Min
 7 g Cascade       15 Min
 5 g Chinook         0 Min
 5 g Simcoe          0 Min
 5 g Cascade        0 Min
 7 g Simcoe          Dry Hop 7 days before bottling
 7 g Cascade        Dry Hop 7 days before bottling

  • 1 Packet Safale US-05 Ale yeast
Having no clue what I was doing with steeping grains, I read as much as I could on beer blogs, forums, and in my Joy of home brewing book I got for Christmas from my Mother-in Law. The more I read the more options I seemed to run across for the proper way to steep grains. The best I could figure, I needed to keep the grain below about 170 degrees and keep that consistent for about 20 minutes. I put my crystal grains in a grain sack, and heated up about a liter and a half of water with the sack of grains in it. The water quickly turned a nice red color. After about twenty minutes I removed the grains and removed the pot from heat.

Meanwhile in another pot I boiled up about 1 liter of water for the Hop tea. I tossed in the 21g of Chinook hops and the whole thing quickly started to foam up. Luckily I didn’t boil anything over, but it got pretty close. I got that down to a rolling boil and popped open a beer. With the grains and hop tea going, I felt it was well deserved. What better beer for a IPA brewing day, Russian River Pliny the Elder. Easily one of my favorite brews. Right, back to work. I kept adding the hops to the boil at the schedule I had written out. While that was going I added the Amber Malt extract to the water with the steeped grain when I had about 20 minutes left of the hop tea boil. With about 10 minutes left on the hop tea, I added the Amber Extract to the extract boil. At the end of the hop boil, I removed it from heat and strained the hop tea into the extract boil to remove all the spent hops. I also added the 5g Chinook, 5g Simcoe, and 5g Cascade (this time in a hop sack so I didn’t gunk up my beer too much). Everything was way too hot so I put the lid on my wort in the pot and plunked the put into my sink that I had filled with cold water and ice to try and chill it down.

While that was cooling I filled the Mr. Beer keg to about 4 Liters with cold water, then poured in my slightly cooled wort (with hop sack). I poured more cold water to bring it up to its 8.5 liters and checked the temp. I was right around 75 degrees at the point and ready to pitch the yeast. I sprinkled in my Safale US-05 yeast, let it sit for about 5 minutes then stirred the hell out of it to aerate. Closed up the keg, put it in warm place, then I turned around the see the aftermath of the mess I had created. I was doing dishes and cleaning up the kitchen for about an hour after.

7 days later, 7 days before bottling. I cracked open the keg to just drop in another hop sack of 7g Simcoe and 7g Cascade for some aroma. It already smelled like a bucket of grapefruits.

At the time of writing this, it has already been bottled, and I am about a week away from giving it a try. Who knows what it will actually be like, but I can’t wait to try it anyway. So far, aside from all the dishes, this is getting to be a fun hobby.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Special Day: Clam Dip

Word on the street is that it's Super Bowl Sunday. My family has never been much into sports, but I recall Super Bowl Sunday as a time for bunches of snack food and hilarious commercials. Both of which I still look forward to. In addition, I'm super excited for the 7th annual Puppy Bowl. If you haven't heard of it and you love dogs, you must check it out.

Back to bunches of snack food. In my family, a holiday is not complete without Auntie Vera's clam dip. It's at every Thanksgiving, Christmas, birthday, you name it! I know it sounds weird - "clam dip." I remember the first Christmas I had with my husband in which he first encountered the famous bowl of clumpy, creamy goodness. He respectfully declined, and the rest of us were all too happy to have more for ourselves. The following year, he gave it a try, and now he's hooked. Drat!

Auntie Vera's Clam Dip

  • 1 tub of whipped cream cheese*
  • Miracle Whip**
  • 1 or 2 cans of chopped clams***
  • Reserved clam juice from the cans
  • Worcestershire Sauce
  • Paprika
  • Ridged potato chips****

Start by combining the cream cheese with 2 scoops of Miracle Whip in a large bowl with a spatula. You need to mix it well so the two ingredients combine into a smooth consistency. Then pour in a couple splashes of the clam juice, and mix till combined. Then add a couple splashes of Worcestershire, and mix well. Now you need to taste it - the rest is completely up to you. It's usually at this point where I add significantly more clam juice and another scoop of Miracle Whip. Mix it well and taste it again. Again, I'm probably going to add another splash or two of clam juice. Once you have the taste that you want, fold in the clams.

Put your dip in a pretty bowl and sprinkle with Paprika. I don't use a fancy type of Paprika, as it's just for a bit of color.

Enjoy! If you try this, please let me know what you think!

* My genius Auntie Vicki let me in on a secret in which she uses the "whipped" version of cream cheese. You can use a block of cream cheese, but it needs to be at room temperature and you'll need a hand-mixer. That's just too much darn work if you ask me.

** I loves me some Miracle Whip. For you haters out there, I really wouldn't recommend mayo for this recipe since you need the sweet tang (heh, tang...) of the Miracle Whip as opposed to whatever mayo tastes like.

*** Completely depends on how much you love clams. Some people don't like the chewiness of clams and opt for the minced versions

**** Now you must have chips with ridges to hold up to this badass dip. If you go cheap, you're going to end up with broken chips and people stickin' their fingers in your lovely dip. It will be like the Christmas of 1997 all over again!