Rosemary Cream and Roasted Garlic Chicken Chowder, Salami Crisps, Buttery Cheddar Croutons

Winter has officially descended upon New England, which means it’s time for soups and stews and chowders, oh my!  There is nothing like filling your soul and stomach with something warm and oozy when it’s windy and wet and cold outside… especially when you know this is merely the early stages of a looooong season of even worse weather before better weather returns to the region.  I had the vague idea that a chowder was necessary for tonight’s repast, and after Tastespotting for a while, I landed on this post of inspiration.  With a few alterations and Lolitaesque additions, I whipped up a silky creamy chicken chowder richly redolent of rosemary and roasted garlic, puffed with potatoes and studded with white beans, served with hot-buttered cheddar croutons and crispy rounds of spicy baked salami.   How does one define an order of magnitude above and beyond super-satisfaction?  If you figure it out — let me know: I’ll rename this post in your honor…

Rosemary Cream & Roasted Garlic Chicken Chowder, Salami Crisps, Buttery Cheddar Croutons

1 (6-8oz) boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 small baking or russet potato
1 medium white onion
5-6 cloves of garlic
1 bay leaf
4″ sprig of fresh rosemary
1 can white beans (these are Great Northern, but Cannellini would work well, too)
EVOO
1 qt chicken broth
2 oz cream cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 tbs cornstarch
4 slices salami or pepperoni
4 thick slices of fresh baguette
2 tbs melted butter
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
garlic powder, sea salt, cracked black pepper, EVOO, snipped chives

I start by searing my chicken breast in hot EVOO, salt, and pepper – flipping often to keep from charring, and to cook through thoroughly.  This takes about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, I roast my garlic.  Lacking any fancy terracotta equipment, I go the easy route: I separate some cloves – retaining their papery skins – from a healthy head of garlic, I toss them with EVOO, salt, and pepper and layer them in a ceramic ramekin.  They go into a 400º oven for about 2o minutes, until they’re…

… roasted through to squishy soft.  But alas, I get ahead of myself!

After the chicken has seared mostly through, it’s time to add the aromatics.  I’ve chopped my onion, peeled and diced my potatoes, and harvested some rosemary from the bush still thriving on my roof deck.  Oh, and I fish a bay leaf out of the pantry.

I remove the chicken to a holding platter, and throw into the warm oily pan almost everything I just listed above – holding the potatoes back for a step.

After the onions, bay leaf, and rosemary sprigs have heated through, I reintroduce the chicken to the pan — but only after I’ve chopped it into nice bite-sized bits.  It’s OK if there’s a little pink in the fattest nibbles; I’m going to simmer this soup for some time, so everything will cook through to the optimal point of  “falling apart”.

Now it’s time for the potatoes — and the chicken broth.  Into the pan they go, everything is brought to a boil, before reducing the heat to low to induce a constant simmer for 30 minutes, or until the potatoes soften and the is liquid thoroughly laced with the scent of rosemary and the woodiness of bay leaf.

Since I have such a crap-ass kitchen, I often have to jerry-rig my meager equipment to make happen what I need to happen.  To wit: no microwave means creativity is required to melt butter.  No worries!  Using my metal tongs as a bridge and my smallest metal nesting bowl for my vessel, I suspend my butter over my simmering soup, creating a makeshift double-boiler.  A few minutes later, I’ve got the juice I need to lube up my croutons – but for now I set it aside.

Meanwhile, now that my roasted garlic cloves have cooled, I remove the leathery skins and mash their softened and caramelized insides into a nutty pulp.  This I add to the pan.

The rosemary and bay leaf have done their jobs, so I fish ‘em out and give them the 21 gun salute before composting them.  I cut 2oz of cream cheese off an 8oz block, and pull out my heavy cream.

Along with my beans, I add my two creams – returning the heat to a medium boil so the cheese solids will melt and emulsify with the scented, potatoey broth.

After this has simmered for about 10 minutes, I ladle about 1/2 cup of soup from the pan into a bowl containing a small proportion of corn starch.  Using a fork, I whip this into a thick sludge before scraping the whole mess back into the pan.  This – along with crushing some of my potato pieces, as pictured above – will thicken my soup into the chowder I’m hankering.

While this simmers and thickens for the last 10 minutes or so, I prepare my garnishes.  A few errant slices of Spanish salami, and 4 planks of baguette drenched in my melted butter and scattered with sharp cheddar cheese, all layered on a parchment papered cookie sheet, all chucked into a 350º oven.

Although today was sunny and bright, the breeze was still chilling and clumps of snow still clung to low-hanging tree branches and gutter corners.  But there is something supremely comforting about swallowing steaming spoonfuls of warming white chowder when frigid white frost tints the edges of my living room windows — the kind of comforting this bowl of satisfaction ideally encapsulates.  A thick, rich, deep and creamy  soup base; an amazing aura of rosemary and roasted garlic aroma; fork-tender seared chicken chunks and toothsome legumes; cheese-encrusted buttered toast and peppered discs of crispy cured meat — a medley of flavors, a melody of deliciousness; a symphony of self-gratification.  This isn’t the most sophisticated meal I’ve ever made, nor the fanciest – but the thrill and savor each spoonful engendered was of a level usually only the finest restaurants can boast.   Clayton and I tucked into this meal as if it were our last; if it was, it was worth it.

Chicken, White Bean, and Tomatillo Stew

I love white chicken chili.  I’ve made it before on this blog, as a matter of fact — perhaps I should review that recipe to see if I’m just recreating it here.  Nah – what’s wrong with eating something twice?  And since I rarely use a recipe, per se, I venture to guess this one’s somewhat different than my past attempts, but it was still delicious.  It’s as warm and hearty as your traditional red beef and bean chili, but it seems lighter and less heartburn inducing than its more sanguine cousin.  There’s just something about the tart flavor of tomatillos simmered with the satisfying starch of cannellini beans that gets my motor running.

Chicken, White Bean, and Tomatillo Stew

4-6 fresh tomatillos (or 1 can of whole tomatillos)
3-4 cloves garlic
1 cup diced red onion
1 cup diced celery
EVOO, sea salt, cracked black pepper
3 cubanelle peppers (if you like it hotter, go for habanero or jalapeno!)
1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 qt chicken stock
1 can small white cannellini beans
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup shredded white cheese (this is American – but queso fresco would work nicely, too)
1 cup minced cilantro leaf
1 avocado, diced

Except for all the simmering, this is a fairly quick and easy dish to make, so I start by roasting my peppers.  I’ve whined before about my body’s inability to deal with spicy foods in comfortable ways, but I hate not having *any* of the pleasure peppers bring, so I’ve started picking less hot babies and roasting them to add to my dishes.  These cubanelle peppers were perfect – they’d bring me the full-flavored punch of pepper without any of the heat, and they are easy enough to roast.  I douse them in EVOO, sea salt, and pepper before laying them on a foil-lined baking sheet and tossing them in a 400° oven for 8 minutes.

They get turned once, then put back in the oven to finish roasting for another 8 or so minutes, or…

… until their skins are almost completely blackened – like so!  I reserve the flavorful oil on the pan, and …

… move the peppers to a paper bag, so that they can sweat off their tough papery skins.

Using the flat of my blade, I scrape off the skin, then I roughly chops the peppers, removing most of the spicy seeds.  I set this aside to add to the stew later.

I’ve washed and patted dry my chicken thighs before adding them to my deep wok to sear in the roasting-pepper EVOO I saved from before.

I brown them fully on both sides.

Once the chicken has a nice tan, I add my tomatillos – from which I’ve removed their paper and washed off their sticky stuff (you know they’re gooseberries, right?) – my onion and my garlic.  I let everything sautee for a moment…

… before adding my celery…

… stock and beans…

… and my roasted peppers.  It doesn’t really matter what order you add everything in.  I was sort of Swedish Cheffing this, but I got everything in there eventually.

Finally, I turn the heat down to low, cover my wok, and let the whole mess simmer for 30-45 minutes.

After the long stewage, I check my meat.  With barely a dirty glance, my thighs just fall right apart. (Provocative, no?)  The tomatillos have disintegrated, the peppers have melted into the stock, and the gravy is thick and rich. Perfect!

The last thing to do is slice my avocados…

… shred my cheese, and mince my fresh leaves of cilantro.

I forgot to grab some sour cream, which with I usually garnish this dish, so instead I infused some heavy cream right into the stew to cool down any heat and add the right amount of lactic acid to round out the flavors.  Served with some tortilla chips for dipping and sopping, this bowl of braised chicken thighs in whitegreen gravy garnished with peppery cilantro, cool silky avocado, and melting shredded cheese was just the right thing for my cold, rainy Sunday night dinner.  Bon appetit!

Simple Sick Day Kitchen Sink Pork Chop Soup

I’ve recently come to terms with something: I am going to be one of those old ladies that is always complaining about her aches and pains.  Yup.  I know this because I’m already doing it.  And I’m about to set it down in writing.  Here goes: an acute muscle spasm of unknown origin on my right shoulder kept me awake in surprising pain all night Monday. Compensating for that has lead to a flare up of excruciating bursitis that’s frankly immobilized my left shoulder today.  I’m doped up on muscle relaxer and sluggish from hours just sitting, trying not to move.  But yet, dear readers, I had to eat – and nothing delivery would do.  So, I get up, rummage one-handedly through the fridge and my pantry shelves, and I throw together some soup – some warm, bright, savory, light, fresh, healing and wholesome soup.  With a sudden surge of energy, I find myself taking pictures before I even realize I’m doing it.  And now, here I type – with my right hand only, my left can’t reach or hold itself to the keyboard without shooting a searing pain from my shoulder to the tip of my middle finger – because, well, I’m obsessive that way.  If I’m going to be a wimp whose arms just decide to stop working one day, I’m at least going to be a well fed wimp.

Simple Sick Day Kitchen Sink Pork Chop Soup

1 medium onion
1 medium carrot
1 stalk celery
6-8 tbs diced tomatoes
8 cups chicken stock
sea salt, cracked black pepper, oregano
1 smoked pork chop
1 can cannellini beans
4 cups loose fresh spinach leaves
1 cup small pasta
parmigiano reggiano cheese

I call this a kitchen sink soup because I just threw all sorts of scraps and ends and stuff I found in the freezer and fridge – everything I could find, really – to make this.  I had an old bag of celery, from which I was able to harvest a still snappy center stalk, a stray carrot, and a found-in-the-back-of-the-drawer onion — all of these I washed, peeled, and chopped roughly.  Nights like these are why it’s always good to have basic mirepox ingredients like these on hand.

These I very ungracefully chuck into my wok, which is sizzling with a few glugs of EVOO on the surface.  After adding a dash of salt, a generous tablespoon or so of black pepper,  and about two tablespoons of dried oregano, I let everything sweat and soften for a few minutes.

I wasn’t feeding a crowd, and I didn’t want a tomato sauce, so I only add about half the contents of a can of diced tomatoes in juice.  I toss everything well, and let it all simmer for a few moments.

Just enough time to chop up my chop.  This perfectly smoked, perfectly trimmed pork chop is from Blood Farms, and it’s been in my freezer for a few weeks now.  It doesn’t take too long to defrost, and then I…

… cut all the meat off the bone, and then into bite-sized pieces.

Everything gets chucked into the pan – meat and bone (why loose all that beautiful smoked seasoning?).  A quick stir later…

… and I add my chicken stock.  I bring this to a boil, lower to a gentle simmer, and let cook for about 30 minutes.

Oh, right — my beans!  I didn’t think the soup would be hearty enough without beans, so I crack a can of cannellini, which I drain and rinse before I add them to the pot.

While this is simmering, I boil off about a cup of ditalini pasta in salted water.  I don’t cook it in the soup because I don’t want to add all that cloudy starch to my broth.

I made a spinach salad at a party the other day, and I had one bunch left over, just about to start its conversion process into compost.  I salvaged the crispest leaves and threw them in the soup during the last 2 minutes of its simmer.

They melt beautifully into the soup.

The final ingredient: this lump of leftover parmigiano reggiano cheese – the perfect nutty salty substance to top off all the vegetable and porky goodness swimming in my bowl.

A luscious, steaming broth, made slightly smoky by the bites of chop ladled throughout, enriched by the white beans and tender pasta, and freshened by the carrots and spinach and spice.  It might have been easier to crack a can of Campbell’s soup (if I had one), but then I would have to deal with preservatives and salt and stuff I couldn’t control.  Although my left arm is still no better than a vestigial appendage, and my right lung feels like it can’t take a full breath (this getting old shit has got to stop!), my tummy and soul feel totally satisfied – almost giddy, even.  If chicken soup is for the soul, here’s hoping pork soup is for the shoulder…