Home(made) for the Holidays, Part 1

‘Tis the season for a surfeit of holiday parties and dinners to “catch up before we travel.” Everybody I know is in a spiraling frenzy of events and indulgence. Maybe we’re just getting it out of our systems before it’s time to live up to next year’s resolutions.

To balance out the bacchanalian wining and dining, I’ve been hitting the gym (gym says “ouch”) and cooking healthy grub for the rare meals at home. In this post, I’m sharing how to make homemade chicken broth and using it to make a hearty lentil soup. It’s soup-er easy! (Wait, don’t leave!)

Before I dive into the (very simple) instructions, let me say that Mama and Papa Channypants are very amused whenever I mention that I cook for myself. There’s one story that they tell to this day about the time I decided to fry an egg by myself. Apparently, I filled the frying pan with an inch of oil, turned the burner up high and then screamed when it made a sizzling sound when I cracked an egg into it. Then the pond of oil caught on fire. Like, great leaping flames of fire.

Savant that I was, I then dumped a cup of water into the pan to put the fire out, which made the flames go higher since the oil could float on top of the water. (Don’t worry, we still had a house at the end of this story.) At some point, I managed to turn the burner off before deciding to stop, drop, and roll on the kitchen floor. I don’t know why, it just seemed appropriate. Thank goodness there was no YouTube back then. So yeah, I get why my parents say it’s “cute” whenever I mention cooking. But geez, it’s been 20 years since that happened. I wish they’d give me another chance.

Ahem. Flash forward to present day when Shirley is an awesome home cook (hold your applause until the end, please).

It is insanely easy to make your own chicken broth, and once you have, the packaged stuff will never be good enough. You can make a lot and freeze it if you want something as easy to use as opening a can. Martha Stewart has a tip for freezing it in ice cube trays, so it’s easy to portion out when a recipe calls for a bit of broth. Oh, Martha!

Get a 1-1/2 lb chicken breast with the bone in (or a whole chicken if you want some serious flavor). Rinse the chicken (always rinse, sometimes there are bone fragments from the butcher cuts) and place in a large stockpot. Fill with water to about 3 inches from the top. Cover and bring to a boil on high heat. Turn heat down until the water is just simmering heartily. My mom put it beautifully: the water should look like a chrysanthemum.

She explained why. If you boil the water at too high of a heat, you’ll lose a lot of it to steam. If you turn the heat too low, you’re just giving the chicken a warm bath, not extracting any flavor out of it. So, simmer like a chrysanthemum for 90 minutes or more. Then you’ll have a beautiful chicken broth.

Notice I didn’t mention salt. That’s because I don’t add any until I’m ready to drink the broth or cook with it. It’s a personal preference, like choosing to cook with unsalted butter. It gives me a lot more control over the taste of the final dish.

Onward to lentil soup! You’ll need a few cloves of garlic, lentils, carrots, celery, and an onion. Peel & chop it all up. I like to sauté the garlic in a little bit of peanut oil (emphasis on little bit, do not repeat my Lake of Fire mistake), toss in the holy trinity of carrots, celery, and onion, and add salt and pepper. This step makes all the flavors bolder. If you don’t have the extra time, pan, or desire, you can just toss everything right into the stockpot full of broth. It’ll still be yummy.

Before tossing in the lentils, make sure you sort through for small stones that the processing machines don’t catch. I usually pour the bag out onto a cookie sheet and do a quick visual check. Then rinse in a colander and add it to the broth with the veggies.

After that, it’s just like making the broth: cover, bring to a boil, and then bring it down to a chrysanthemum simmer (I really hope this becomes a new saying, my mom is a poetic genius) for 20-25 mins. Towards the end, I taste test and add more salt and pepper as needed. That’s it! You have a giant pot of delicious, healthy soup to warm you up for the holidays.

Got a bowl full 'a love!

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