It felt good to have the sun on my face and work up a sweat that didn't freeze on my extremities. I have Wednesdays off from work, a day right in the middle of the week when I can work on my dissertation, work on side projects, bake bread, clean, grocery shop, or do whatever I need to get done that didn't quite make the cut during the weekend. The other wonderful thing about Wednesdays is I can sleep in a bit and go for my run in the afternoon sun, should it decide to make an appearance.
And, make an appearance it did this week - with highs near 60 - in the first week of February! It's strange for this Minnesota gal, but you will hear no complaints from me.
Despite the sun, it is still winter and the groundhog (or hedgehog at the Portland zoo) did see his shadow on Monday. And the weather forecast is calling for rain again, but not until tomorrow or Monday. Ben and I plan on taking full advantage of the good weather today - heading off to the Chinese Gardens and wherever else the day takes us.
Unfortunately, the nice weather doesn't mean that fresh fruits and vegetables will be available any earlier or that the farmer's market will be open any sooner. There are still 21 days until on-the-water rowing begins and almost 2 months until the farmer's market opens on March 21st.
I've been making a lot of soup this winter in all kinds of ways - chopping vegetables, throwing in various meats, or beans, or cheese. I've tossed in thyme, rosemary, garlic, lavender, oregano, nutmeg, and all sorts of other seasonings into my soups. I've tried a number of various combinations, some of which neither Ben nor I could tolerate (okay, it was only the one with turnips and a combination of seasonings that just didn't fly), but most have been delicious. Some I made using a pre-made soup, such as Pacific Foods Ginger Carrot Cashew soup, adding rice, beans, and toasted pecans to make it more hearty. Others I've made with plain, boxed chicken or vegetable broth.
The best soups, by far, have been the ones made with home-made chicken stock. This winter, I have gotten into the habit of putting a whole chicken in the crockpot on Sunday or Monday morning, setting it to cook on low all day long. By the time dinner time rolls around, we have the most tender, juicy chicken to eat with whatever veggies or sides we want and we have plenty of leftovers to throw in chicken enchiladas or empanadas or soups. We also have a few cups of better-than-ever chicken stock. All of that for about $1.50 a pound? And the one-pot clean-up? It couldn't be any easier.
The other day I saw a commercial for Swanson broth and their tag line is something to the effect of "the secret to perfect soups is swanson broth" or something like that. I laughed.
Here's what you do: Buy a whole chicken (be sure it will fit in your crockpot). When you go to put it in your crockpot, unwrap it and reach into the cavity to remove the neck and gizzards (I throw those out, but you can also use the neck to make additional broth if you aren't as squeamish as me). Place the chicken in the pot, cover, and turn temperature to low. Cook on low for about 8 hours (or until you get home from work). By the time I get home, the chicken is falling off the bones and I need to use a big serving spoon to scoop it out! Once I have the chicken and bones removed onto a plate, I sort through the chicken to separate the meat from the bones. I can then store the left-over chicken in the fridge and it is ready to throw into whatever dish I feel like making that week. I then pour the juices that remain in the crockpot into a glass bowl with a lid and stash it in the fridge.
When I go to make soup, I saute the veggies and seasonings until almost done. I take out the stock and spoon off the fat that has settled on top (I usually keep about a tablespoon of it for added richness) and discard it. I spoon the remaining stock right into the cooking veggies and stir until everything has melted. I then add about a cup of water. I add in some chicken and let everything simmer until the veggies are soft. It really is the most flavorful soup you will ever eat.
Chicken Vegetable Soup:
I threw in a bit of freshly grated nutmeg, to see how it would taste and it adds a bit of sweetness to the soup and keeps your tastebuds guessing. It is definitely worth using home-made stock, but store-bought will work just fine as well.
about 3 cups chicken stock (either home-made or boxed)
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 medium onion, diced
3 to 4 stalks celery, diced
1 1/2 cups chicken (or about 2 chicken breasts), cooked
1/2 teaspoon ground thyme
1/2 teaspoon salt (omit if using boxed stock)
1 teaspoon rosemary
1 teaspoon oregano
2-3 large garlic cloves, minced
freshly ground black pepper
a few swipes of freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
Saute your veggies in the olive oil in a large dutch oven or stock pot until mostly cooked. Stir in your seasonings and garlic and cook for a few minutes more. Add your stock and chicken and simmer over med-low heat until veggies are soft.
Serve with an additional drizzle of olive oil.