Day 2 of Cooking Adventures

The gathering mentioned in my previous 2 posts was quite a success (A Day of Cooking Adventures, Part 1 & Part 2). In addition to the olives, roasted peppers, and shrimp, I also made oven-roasted garlic and a soup with vegetables, garlic, beer, and cheese.

The roasted garlic was very straightforward – each head gets a tablespoon of olive oil and a sprinkling of water, then they are covered with foil to roast in the oven for an hour and 15 minutes. Uncover and roast for an additional 15 minutes or “until golden.” Of course, GT8 did not realize they were supposed to be covered with foil until they’d been roasting a while, and after the 1 hr 15 min they came out, beautiful and golden. They were a huge hit, particularly spread on Italian bread. I would be enjoying the leftovers, except that my stomach demanded a respite from consuming vast quantities of garlic.

The soup was a more complicated recipe that I followed as well as I could while socializing with guests. It called for items to be added in stages, with about 10 minutes of cooking time in between. I was referring to the cookbook between steps because I had not yet internalized the recipe. So, the whole thing probably cooked a lot longer than it was supposed to. This relaxed approach to the timing worked well, though. I was also able to reverse the order of adding the cheese and the ingredients due to come after it, so a friend who does not eat cheese could enjoy some of the soup. The end result was less creamy and cheesy than I had expected, but had a very nice flavor. Those who tried it liked it, so I was pleased.

The biggest success of the evening was certainly the shrimp. They disappeared rather early in the night. The recipe created way too much of their dipping sauce, even though it was also fairly popular. That portion of the recipe can be quartered (at least!) and still produce plenty of sauce for the shrimp. I’ll probably double the shrimp portion of the recipe if I make it again for a gathering of this size. And, I’ll leave out the thumb nail.

The olives were tasty but the vinegar taste is extremely strong, to the point of overpowering the other flavors. I think I’m the only one who really ate them. If I follow their recipe again, I will use 1 part vinegar to 3 parts olive oil, instead of the 1:1 ratio recommended by the recipe. The peppers were slightly more popular. I was exceedingly pleased with their flavor, especially when spread on the Italian bread with a clove or two of roasted garlic. They also make fantastic leftovers.

The Aftermath:

The 2011 holidays hit my waistline very hard. Between the tasty food I cooked and treats that others brought, I spent the entire day eating. Add to that the consequences of several other gatherings throughout the month of December, and it is no surprise that I gained 9 pounds!

The Quest for the Ultimate Comfort Food

I haven’t been feeling well for the past week or so – most likely a cold or something – and the way I know it’s something serious and not seasonal allergies is because my eating habits have changed. I’m drinking hot tea like water, I’m drinking more juice and water than usual, I’m often only eating at all because I know I need to, and I’m craving chicken broth. Usually, chicken broth might add a nice flavor to a dish, but my general attitude is “take it or leave it.” Instead, it’s been a staple of my diet for the past few days.

So begins the quest for the ultimate comfort food. I’ve experimented with pastina, by which I mean a mix of different tiny pastas that come in a variety of shapes. I like to cook half a cup of it in 2 cups of chicken broth, which I’ll season according to my current mood. The pastina soaks up all the broth and tastes amazing. It’s one of the few foods I’ll continue eating until it’s gone, regardless of how little it takes for me to actually stop feeling hungry.

But when I’m sick I want chicken soup. It’s about the only time I really want chicken soup. The chicken itself is good because my rational brain knows I need protein, but mostly I want the broth. In liquid form, thanks.

So, today I decided to try working things out a bit differently. I prepared the pastina in salted water instead, cooking it until it was about al dente, then turned off the heat and let it sit so it could soak up the remaining water. Then I heated 2 cups of chicken broth (College Inn Light & Fat Free) over a very low flame. I added some fresh herbs my aunt grows in her backyard and was kind enough to share with me: oregano, lemon-thyme, and lavender. I also added some salt, ground ginger, and of course garlic powder. (better suited to seasoning a broth, I think)

I put 2 oz chicken breast in the broth, and once that had turned white, I added cut green beans and the pastina (complete with the cooking water it hadn’t yet absorbed). Some time cooking over a slightly higher flame, a sprinkling of (dried) Italian seasoning, and several stirs later, I had a rather promising soup.

chicken soup with pastina and green beans

The flavors are subtle but pleasant, and there’s a bit of a kick to it that sneaks up on one. (most likely from the ginger) The soup clears out the sinuses and satisfies hunger quite nicely. I think, if a vegetable is needed at all, it should be in smaller pieces and cooked so it’s no longer crunchy. Measures should be taken to keep the chicken from drying out. But overall, I’d say this soup is a pretty good contender.

What’s your ultimate comfort food?

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