Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lazy Mom's Chicken Soup

I almost didn't call it that--I was thinking of a more dubious title like "The Best Non-Homemade Homemade Chicken Soup" or even "Exhausted Moms Highly Nutritious but Easy Chicken Soup." I figured that it is OK for Mom's to just be lazy every once in a while. We certainly earn it! No, you don't have to be a Mom to make it, but you do have to be lazy.

This makes a pot of delicious, satisfying chicken and rice soup. You can have it put together within minutes with these ready made ingredients. I bought everything at Trader Joe's but you can use any brand you like.

In a big stock pan saute 2-3 cloves of garlic chopped in 1 TBL olive oil for about 1 minute. Throw in 1 container of Mirepoix (fancy name for diced onions, carrots and celery) and continue to saute until onions start to turn translucent. Pour in 1 1/2 containers chicken broth, 1 package Heat and Serve grilled chicken chopped into 1/2 inch bites, 1 bag pre-made brown rice. The Trader Joe's one is frozen, but Uncle Ben's has a nice one you can cook in microwave in 90 seconds. Stir in 2 tsp Thyme, 1 c loosely packed fresh parsley leaves and salt and pepper to taste. At this point, you can let it simmer for about 20-30 minutes and you are good to go.

Last weekend I had a little more time so I let the stock, garlic, veggies, and spices simmer for about 1 hour before I added the chicken and rice and then cooked for about 30 more minutes. The house smelled so amazing and the soup was eaten to the last drop as of yesterday.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Recipe for Steak Au Poivre

After my Cast Iron Blog, I've have a few people ask me for the Steak Au Poivre recipe. I just have a copy so I don't know where the recipe originated. I will list it as Fritz sent it to me and then give you tips on how I did it myself. For two 4-6 oz steaks you will need:
2 ribeye steaks
4 tsp green peppercorns in brine
2 tsp cracked black peppercorns
1 TBL unsalted butter
2 TBL Cognac
1/4 c beef stock
1/4 c heavy or whipping cream
First of all, please note that this is not the time to skimp on calories. This is a delicious treat and it worth every fat gram and calorie. Use real butter and real heavy cream! I promise you will not be disappointed.
I drained the green peppercorns and rough chopped them. I also cracked the black pepper by putting it in a Ziploc and letting the kids bang it and roll it with a rolling pin. I'm sure there are other more romantic ways of cracking the pepper, but my way got the job done. I used more pepper than listed because I LOVE pepper and I really like a crust of it on my steak. I didn't really meaure it. OK, now you put all the pepper on a plate, you trim your steak of excess fat and then you press, press, press your steak into the pepper on both sides.
In the mean time, heat up your favorite cast iron skillet on a medium heat. Melt butter and saute steaks until they are done to your liking. Pour the extra fat from the skillet and add the Cognac. Here comes the fun part...take your pan away from the heat source and carefully light the Cognac---preferably with a long match or candle lighter. It is pretty exciting, so make sure the kids watch, but from a distance. Once the flames are out, move your steaks to plates to rest.
Add the stock, cream and some more green peppercorns to the skillet. Cook over high heat for about 2-3 minutes until sauce thickens. Taste it and add salt and pepper if you need to just don't burn your tongue!
We ate ours with basic mashed potatoes and roasted asparagus with whole roasted garlic. YUMMY!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Cast Iron Cookware...Now We're Cooking!

I recently got a recipe from my brother-in-law, Fritz, for Steak au Poivre. This is one of my hubby's and mine most favorite dishes. We both typically order it any time we go to a steak restaurant (Capitol Grille is our favorite). At the bottom of the recipe, Fritz wrote "use a cast iron skillet if you have one." Well, I didn't.

I remember my great-grandmother, Big Granny, had a huge cast iron skillet. She would make (oh, dear, my mouth is already watering) bacon and eggs in the morning and then a nice thick, savory cream gravy to pour on top of her homemade buttermilk biscuit. Never was nor never has there been a better breakfast. I don't know where that skillet is now, but I sure wish I had it after recently learning the value of a deeply seasoned, well loved cooking vessel.

Cast-iron vessels have been used for hundreds of years. In about 513 B.C. in China and about 1100 A.D in England, industry could finally work iron by heating their furnaces to a high enough temperature and then pour it into a mold, usually made out of sand. Up until then, cooking pots were made out of brass. It gained popularity and value in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is said that George Washington's mother valued her pot so much, she included in her will.

Cast iron's ability to withstand and maintain very high temperatures makes it a popular choice for frying, searing, braising and soup making. Because cast iron skillets can develop an extremely "non-stick" surface, they are also a good choice for scrambled eggs and cornbread (not to mention bacon and buttermilk biscuits!) In addition to all this greatness, cast iron cooking also leaches small amounts of iron into the food and this is especially true when making homemade soups, stews or marinara sauce.

Well, I got my pot that night. I chose Emerilware Cast Iron Chicken Fryer with Splatter Screen (available on-line at mainly for its versatility. The deep sides made it perfect for cooking small amounts of soups or sauces, yet I could still seer meat or even fry some kitchen if the Southern Girl in me called for it. I raved, I ranted, I couldn't get enough of my pot!

So, for Christmas, Jonas surprised me with a Bobby Flay™ 10 1/2-in. Cast-Iron Grill Pan. (Buy one at Khol's or at He knows I have a not-so-secret crush on Bobby Flay and that I would love a new grill pan as my non-stick aluminum one was not up to par. Oh, so now we're cooking! Now I grill chicken and steak, veggies and even sandwiches. It is fabulous because it has a pouring spout on either corner, so if you have too much liquid in your pan from cooking, you can easily pour it off.

There are some things to remember when using cast-iron cookware. Before you first use it, you must "season" it properly even if the label says that it is "pre-seasoned." Simply scrub down your pan with hot, soapy water...enjoy this because this will be the last time you do it. Dry it well and rub it down with a light (and I mean LIGHT) coating of a non-flavored oil. I use Canola oil. Put the pan in the oven at 300 degrees (F) for about 30 minutes. Turn off oven and let it cool. Once it is cool, if there is a lot of excess oil on the pan remove it with a paper towel. Now your cast iron pot or pan is seasoned and ready for use! Cast iron is a natural non-stick surface. If your food sticks to it, it isn't seasoned right. Scrub it up and do it again!

To maintain your season, some people suggest you never wash it again and you clean it by simply scrapping off the gunk and wiping it down. I tend to think this is kind of gross, but I guess it depends on what you cook in it. I am afraid of rancid grease---there is nothing worse in a dish than rancid grease. Ewww! If there is a lot of residue from cooking, I wash the pan immediately with water and use a light scrub if I need to. Then I dry it completely and rub it down with a bit of oil. To insure it is completely dry, I might put it on the stove top on low for a few minutes.

Some Neva Evas (I AM on the East Coast) for cast iron cooking are: 1) Never wash it in the dishwasher, 2) Never put a hot pan in cold water or it could crack, 3) Never leave it to soak for more than 30 minutes or it could not only rust but your hard-earned seasoning could be washed away! 4) Never throw away old, rusted cookware. You can scrub it down and re-season it.

I hope you pick up a cast-iron pan for yourself and give it a try. Hey, the pans are so heavy it is a great way to work on your bi-ceps as well as cooking healthy! My great-grandmother swore by it, my ancestors lived by it and now, I am creating my own culinary heirloom to pass down to the next generation of cast-iron cooks.