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Cinco de Mayo, or Avocados Are on Sale Day

Here’s how to have a festive feast for a crowd of twenty, at about $2 per person.  The extremely generous sales at the grocery store this week were fantastic.   On the menu I have black beans, brown rice with lime and cilantro, shredded chicken quesadilla tacos, spicy corn dip, chips and guacamole.


No-soak Spiced Black Beans


Chop a couple onions, saute in olive oil till tender.  Rinse two pounds of black beans, add to pot along with 12 cups of water.  Add in 2-3 T. cumin, several shakes of crushed red pepper flakes, and bay leaves.  I purchase bay leaves from an Indian grocery, which is a very affordable option.  I don’t recommend using the tiny leaves from the expensive grocery store bottles here in this recipe–it just costs too much for the flavor you would get out of it, but tossing in several affordable leaves is worth it.  Bring to a simmer.  Cook on low to medium low for 3.5 to 4 hours.  Alternatively, bake in oven at around 300 degrees.  Add more water if needed.  Add salt to taste.

Of course this can be done in a slow cooker or instant pot; however, I find that the stove top or oven method makes a thicker black bean gravy.  Also, if you use the slow cooker you’ll have to saute your onions in a separate pan unless you are keen on that sulphurous raw onion taste (I’m not).  Here’s the thing about stove-top or oven cooking:  you get to smell the delicious beans cooking for the whole afternoon.  Not so at all with the instant pot and less so with a crock pot on slow.

Do you need to soak your black beans?  No.  I’ve made black beans with this method more times than I can count now.  They turn out great every time.  Do you need chicken broth?  No.  Do you need expensive bay leaves?  No.  Gosh, these beans turn out great if all you have is onion and salt.  Really.  And you could probably get away with just salt.


Shredded Chicken Quesadilla Tacos

Place chicken breasts in an oven-safe pot with a lid.  Pour over a jar of salsa or a couple cans of tomatoes with jalapenos.  Bake at 300 until the chicken is shreddable, probably about 2 hours, maybe more.  Shred chicken and keep warm.  When guests arrive, make quesadillas with corn tortillas and a small amount of cheddar cheese.  To serve, place a few tablespoons shredded chicken in the quesadilla, top with lime and cilantro, guac and sour cream and spicy salsa.  The advantage of making quesadillas over just setting out warmed corn tortillas is that the quesadilla wraps and rolls so nicely.  It doesn’t fall apart  like a plain corn tortilla would.

Brown Rice with Lime and Cilantro

Typically I make brown rice with just water, rice and salt, but tonight I added other flavors.  I sauteed the rice in a bit of olive oil, then added some homemade chicken broth I had saved back.  I added a fair bit of salt.  Bring to a boil and simmer with the lid on for 20 minutes.  At 20 minutes, let the rice stand with the heat off and the lid on for another 20 minutes.  After the rice was cooked, I stirred in chopped cilantro and squeezed over some lime.  I did ask my guests how folks felt about cilantro; for some it tastes like soap and I didn’t want to ruin the rice for them.  Lucky for me, everybody was a cilantro tolerator.  For a crowd of twenty, I made 3 cups dry brown rice in 6 cups of broth and had to add some water as the process went on because I used the unlucky pot instead of my usual one.  Brown rice can be tricky, but is usually salvageable if disaster looms.

Spicy Corn Dip


Go big or go home.  This is the double batch.  It’s pointless to make a single.

While two cans of fiesta corn and two cans of rotel drain thoroughly in a strainer, chop up two packages of green onions, a half a green pepper, and shred 16 oz. of cheddar cheese.  Combine the veggies and cheese in a large bowl.  Now begin to add equal spoonfuls of sour cream and mayo, a little at a time.  The concept is that you are only trying to make the dip hold together nicely with the sour cream and mayo–you don’t want a soup.  Season with garlic powder and cayenne pepper.  Let it sit and then add more cayenne if needed.  You’ll have to open a bag of chips to sample it as you go along.  Sure hate to serve guests poorly flavored corn dip…….


Finely mince 2 jalapenos, 1/4 c. onion, 1 clove garlic, cherry tomatoes.  Chop avocado.  Smash together with a fork, leaving some nice avocado chunks.  Squeeze over some lime.  Add salt to taste.










“Simple” Chicken and Rice Soup

Recently a dear friend guffawed as I explained—at length—how to make my simple, healing, savory, comforting chicken and rice soup, the one the children request for birthdays and Christmas, the one I make a couple times of month for ordinary meals.

It has not gotten to the point yet that I am personally taking chickens to meet their telos on a backyard stump and making pillows with the feathers to sell at craft fairs, but I think my friend’s laughter indicates that it is so nearly to that peak that I should find it unreasonable to ask folks to hassle with this “simple” luxury soup.

For your reading pleasure, then, rather than your cooking pleasure, I submit to you my “Simple” Chicken and Rice Soup.  If you would like to eat it, just come on over or ask for a jar.  If you would like to make it, I can write out a prescription for lifestyle changes that would allow you to be home long enough to get the job done.  The prescription for how you might feel about the amount of pot washing involved, the forty minutes spent chopping with a giant knife, or fear over whether your chickens were roasted to the proper temperature is between you and your therapist.


This recipe fills a 13 qt. stock pot.  It’s enough to feed my family of 8 a hearty supper, send out several quart jars of soup to friends, and have lunch leftovers the next day.  I could make a smaller batch, but I don’t play Uncle Scrooge and Silas Marner with soup.

1) Roast 2 big chickens in cast iron skillets or roasting pans at 425 degrees for approximately an hour and 15 minutes.  If your chicken is a wee bit undercooked, there is no need to panic.  The meat will be cooked again when it is added to the soup.  Err on the side of chicken that isn’t dried out by overcooking.  Alternatively, purchase tasty flavor-infused hot roasted chickens from your local grocery store. The flavor from these store chickens is really quite better than what you can make at home.  They, the commercial chicken roasters from on high, add yeast extract, guar gums, “natural flavorings,” maltodextrin, corn flour and some other things I would hesitate before pronouncing.  I do not condemn store roasted chickens.  They are tasty.  They are convenient.  They are reasonably priced.   There is therefore now no condemnation for using store roasted chickens.  Please pass by on the far side of the road for boxed broth, however.

2) After letting the chickens cool down enough that you won’t sear the flesh off your fingers, debone the chickens, set the chopped meat aside in the fridge, and put all the bones, skin, and roasting pan deglazing juices and cracklings, including the fabulous flavorful fat, in a dutch oven sized pot.  Cover with water, toss in some bay leaves if you have them, perhaps some dying celery and a couple of carrots.  Maybe an onion.  Bring pot to a simmer.  Now you’re making broth.

3) The broth will take how much ever time you have to make it.  Broth is like wedding planning.  You can barely pull off a wedding in 2 weeks or barely pull off a wedding in 24 months .  Your decision.

4) Cook 3 cups dry rice however you like to cook rice.    I cook my rice separately from the soup because I want the vegetables to be a certain consistency and my rice to be a certain consistency and it’s just too hard to make both of those things time out well in one big pot.  I make my brown rice with the following method:

– Measure 3 cups brown rice and 6 cups water into an appropriate sized pot.

– Bring to a boil.  Cover with a good fitting lid.

– Turn the heat down to simmer and simmer for 20 minutes.

– At 20 minutes check the pot.  You should see rice at the top, the surface dimpled in little craters with gurgling water below the top rice.  If not, stir and cook for a bit longer.

– If it does look right, stir the rice so that the top layer won’t turn out crunchy, replace the lid, and turn off the heat.  Let stand for 20 minutes.  The rice will keep standing for you as long as you like it to stand.

***At this point, you’ve begun counting pots.  2 roasting pans, 1 broth pot, 1 rice pot.  I’m going to add one more pot.  The actual soup pot.  But not just yet because there is about 35 minutes of vegetable chopping next up.***

5) Sharpen your knife.

6) Peel 4 pounds of carrots and slice into rounds.  Chop up a head of celery including the celery leaves which I think make the soup look lovely.  Chop 2 large sweet yellow onions into small pieces. Just a note about carrots:  those pre-peeled mini carrots are not soup friendly.  “Baby Carrots” are merely carrots that were too ugly and tough to sell whole so they were whittled down into a baby carrot shape by a baby-carrot-shape-whittling machine.  They are challenging to chop and they don’t cook up nicely.  Avoid.

7) Chop 16 oz. of mushrooms into bite sized pieces. This is a great job for kids. Mushrooms shrink when cooking so if your 8 year old cuts “bite-sized pieces” the size of a jumbo jaw breaker, it’s really going to be O.K.

8) Harvest a large handful of sage from your garden.  You did plant an herb garden and keep it alive over the winter, right?  Finely chop.

9) Pull out 2 pounds of frozen peas from your freezer and let them thaw on the counter.

10) Get out your big soup pot.

11) Heat up olive oil in the pot, stir in the carrots, celery, onion, mushrooms and sage.  Cover with a lid, stir frequently.  Some people call this sautéing, some people call it sweating.  Whatever you call it, the goal is to cook the veggies over medium high to high heat until they become tender.  The advantage of doing it in this way, rather than boiling them in broth, is that the quick heat brings out a natural sweetness in the veggies.  I also think that it is faster than cooking the veggies in broth that takes forever to come to boil.

12) I cook the veggies till the carrots are tender but still a bit toothy, as in pasta al-dente.

13) Strain your broth.  I’m very sorry, but this is indeed messy and requires another big container, plus a mesh or sieve strainer.

14) Add broth to the veggie pot.  How much?  Well, add what you have conservatively and add more as needed.

15) Stir in the cooked rice, chopped chicken meat, and salt and generous pepper to taste.  I must use at least a teaspoon or two of pepper.  Check your broth level.  Do you need more broth?  Add more.  Have you run out?  THEN ADD WATER.  The broth you buy from the store is just super thin chicken broth with lots of salt.

16)  Bring to a simmer.  Add the thawed green peas towards the end just before serving so you can keep them in their state of brilliant bright green.  Adjust taste by adding more salt, pepper and sage as desired.

Whole roast chicken, taters, gravy, chicken stock. And Next Day Chicken soup.

I left home not knowing how to roast a whole chicken.  Nor how to make mashed potatoes.  Or gravy.

Let’s chalk that idiocy up to me not asking.   But I did humble myself in my 20s and 30s, finally consulting the Fanny Farmer cookbook my mom wisely gave me, “Cooks Illustrated,” the publication of the 1,000 step recipes of American’s Test Kitchen, numerous unreliable internet recipes for roasting poultry at high heat for the express purpose of testing out the home smoke alarm, Kathleen Flinn of “Kitchen Counter Cooking School,” and Mark Bittman of “How to Cook Everything“.

At some point along the way, from someone, I learned this most important piece of wisdom. This is given to you in paraphrase, as I did not commit the sentence  to memory:

After you roast about 30 or 40 chickens, you’ll be able to tell when the bird is done by looking at it and poking it a bit. 

And that’s it.  Just start roasting chickens and keep doing it until you get it the way you like it.  Honest to Pete, I don’t think there is any other way to learn to roast a chicken proficiently.  No Walmart temp tester is going to save you from Salmonella without giving you dried out cardboard chicken.  No recipe, no oven, no timer can give you the exact time and heat you need to roast that chicken.

I am currently enjoying Mark Bittman’s suggestions for roasting a chicken, in high heat, in a pre-heated iron skillet.

  I present to you now, the general process for making roast chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, chicken stock and on the following day, chicken soup.  In pictures.


So, here it is:  Send child out to snip herbs.  Herbs currently available at our house are sage, rosemary and thyme.  Dress the bird and lovingly place in hot oven.  Take bird out when you think it is done.  Put it back in if it isn’t.  Meanwhile, peel potatoes and boil.  Take out chicken for the second time and transfer to plate.  Cover and let rest.  Observe that the temperature in the kitchen is now 85.  Ask son to make gravy for the first time.  Receive dire warning information from son that his carpool ride has vaporized and he now needs an emergency trip across town in less than 20 minutes.  Give him too much flour (we should have stuck with 1/4 c.), make a roux of the lovely chicken drippings, pour in hot milk.  Stir.  Drain taters.  Mash with milk and sour cream, season with salt and pepper.   Serve the potatoes in a bowl and put the pot in the sink to soak.  Why?  Because that’s what Grandma Helen did.  Take another phone call explaining to the other parent the new carpooling emergency.  Interrupt that call to receive call that carpool ride is back on track.  Serve dinner to hungry children.  Listen to children offer thanks.  Beg them to save some for Dad who will be home late.  Send lad out the door to catch his ride.  Send the troops in to wash the dishes.  Send some troops back out again because that is too many kids in the kitchen.  Tell the five year old I am going to make chicken stock and I will have to have the bones.  Look at him and see him nearly start to cry over losing his chicken bones.  Promise to him that I will save the bones for him.  Place chicken carcass in the cleaned tater pot, fill with water, simmer for 2 or 3 hours.  Don’t add carrots, celery and onion, I want to,  but I can’t spare the veggies for stock making this week.  Know that it will taste wonderful anyway.  Strain the broth through a tea towel and strainer.  Pour the golden broth into wide-mouth glass jars.  Save bones for the boy who wants to be an archeologist.  Sleep.  Next day make homemade noodles and use the fabulous chicken stock to make great chicken soup, even if there isn’t any actual chicken in the soup.

The End.  The End of That Chicken.

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