Friday, October 31, 2008

All This

Tonight, as per usual of late, I arrived home fairly late to my basement flat in Portland, Oregon, having made a stop on my way home from work at the market to retrieve some organic chicken breasts, some mushrooms, and some ready-to-cook biscuits. The biscuits were the hardest item to find, having required a second stop; Whole Foods had nothing resembling Pillsbury, while Zupan's had an item in their freezer section that seemed close enough. On Tuesday I had received a "bin" from Organics To You, which was filling in for a lot of the other ingredients in my planned dinner.

I had decided on chicken stew, and looked up my mother's recipe only to be reminded once again that I do not, in fact, own an electric "crock pot". Between that and the recipe requiring 8 hours (as crock pot recipes often do) led me to improvise (as I often do). The results look and smell tasty.

I ended up with far too much of everything to cook in the dutch oven I ended up using, so I also made some roasted taters, which you can see in the bowl with the stew. Which is stew and which is roasted potatoes? It's probably all stew in this bowl, now, but the roasted potatoes and the stew leftovers are carefully segregated in the fridge for future starchy applications.

One key ingredient was homemade chicken stock. If this is not a concept you are familiar with, here is the short version: save everything you cut off of your vegetables while cooking, put those in a bag in the freezer. Carrot tops, the woody bits of mushrooms, anything that you'd equate with chicken bones, except from vegetables. Also, save chicken bones. When the bag is full, boil all the goodness out of the ingredients, save the stock, throw away the bits. Enjoy flavor.
The recipe for the chicken stew is essentially as follows:

Prep: Roughly chop two cups of potatoes, two cups of carrots, a cup of onion (a large onion should suffice), a 1/4 cup of celery, and a cup of crimini mushrooms. Dice two large chicken breasts into bite sized pieces. Have 4 cups of chicken stock ready. If needed, season the stock (if the stock is particularly bland, add 1/4 teaspoon each of parsley, thyme, and oregano). Dice enough garlic to suit your tastes, a tablespoon would be plenty. Prep either 7 parcooked biscuits or an equivalent amount of biscuit dough (this can be done during the simmering phase as you'll have some time).

Saute: Heat a teaspoon of oil (olive oil or vegetable oil) in a large dutch oven until shimmery and then saute the carrots and onion for 1 minute. Add the chicken and saute the mixture until the chicken has lost most of its outer pink color (should be white or slightly browned).

Simmer: Add the remaining chopped ingredients and 4 cups of chicken broth or stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat (if your stove is like mine you'll still need it at least medium high) to simmer the broth for 10 minutes.

Add biscuits: Add the biscuits or biscuit dough directly to the top of your stew, place the lid on your pot, and simmer an additional 5 minutes. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. After the five minutes have elapsed, remove the lid and place the entire pot into the oven, near the top. Check your stew every five minutes until the biscuits have reached the desired consistency. I like mine well browned on the top and dumpling-like on the bottom.

Remove, let cool briefly, and enjoy.
The roasted potato "recipe" is pretty simple. Just chop potatoes and other tasty vegetables into a 9x13 or other roasting dish, drizzle with olive oil, toss with garlic and herbs, and roast at 475 for about half an hour, keeping an eye on them the whole time. You can also roast potatoes in the same dish with a chicken, or add chicken stock to the roasting pan for softer, more flavorful potatoes. I added 1/4 teaspoon (by which I mean several hearty shakes) each of parsley, thyme, oregano, red pepper flakes, and dill, as well as a pinch of salt. Delicious.

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