Sunday, March 30, 2008

Lasagna Sandwich

In my continued pursuit to bring some excitement to grilled cheese, I have made the Lasagna Sandwich. Now, let me be clear about something right away: This doesn’t actually taste like lasagna. But it almost does, and it’s very good.

This sandwich is pretty much a grilled cheese with some Canadian bacon and a couple of sauces thrown in. I made mine with an Italian loaf and added some fresh basil, but I’ve made it before without those modifications and it was still very good.

I see where this recipe was going, but for me it mostly just suggests lasagna. You could pretty easily take the idea further, I think. Use prosciutto or thinly sliced sausage instead of Canadian bacon, or maybe even replace the sour cream with ricotta cheese.

Almost-Lasagna Sandwich
Adapted from Lasagna Sandwich
Makes 2 sandwiches

1/4 cup sour cream
1 finely chopped scallion
1 minced garlic clove
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup pizza sauce*
4 slices of bread
4 large fresh basil leaves
4 thin slices of Canadian bacon
2 thick slices of mozzarella, the size of your bread

Mix the first four ingredients in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide the sour cream mixture between two slices of bread. Divide the pizza sauce between the remaining two slices. For each sandwich, layer 2 basil leaves, 2 slices of Canadian bacon, and 1 slice of mozzarella between one sour-cream-coated and one pizza-sauce-coated slice of bread.

Grease a skillet with a bit of butter or some olive-oil spray, and cook sandwiches over medium heat for about 5 minutes per side, or until bread is toasty and cheese is melted.

*You can use store-bought pizza sauce or make your own by adding a small can of tomato sauce to some sautéed garlic and oregano. Or, if you have some, you could substitute marinara.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Noodle Love IV: Penne

Everyone is excited about spring, and I can’t join in. Not yet. I’m not ready for spring. I still have too many winter dishes to make. You see, every time I find a recipe I want to try (which is often), I add it to the queue. With my schedule being what it is, I’m not able to do the cooking as quickly as I’m able to do the finding, and I still have a list of soups, stews, and baked pastas I’m not ready to give up on.

It’s supposed to be 65 degrees here in Maryland today. Soon it’ll reach 70—warm enough to open the windows but not to turn on the air conditioner—and I will insist on turning on the oven to make chicken and biscuits, and our small apartment will become very hot, and I will get very cranky, and I already feel bad for Adam because I see where this is going. But I must make the recipes! I can’t wait another year. And meanwhile I’m collecting spring recipes, and pretty soon I’ll have too many of those, and so the cycle will continue.

This is why I can’t get excited about spring. But the good news is that this dish, Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables, can become a spring dish.

As it is, I’d say it’s mostly suited to late fall/early winter. Turning on the oven to roast vegetables doesn’t initially scream “Spring!” to me. But I think that it can if you just play with the ingredients a bit. You could swap out the zucchini and peppers for asparagus and artichokes and use diced tomatoes instead of tomato sauce. Or even use roasted cherry tomatoes. Personally, I can’t stop wondering how this would taste with my favorite roasted vegetable of all time—Brussels sprouts. Brussels sprouts and pasta sounds sort of strange, but I’ll never know for sure unless I try it. So I’m adding that to the queue, as well.

Also, I want to point out that this dish is easier than it might seem. Just cook the pasta while the vegetables are in the oven, and when they’re both done, toss them together in a big bowl (or your pasta pot) with the sauce and cheese. Bake and you’re done.

Baked Penne with Roasted Vegetables
Adapted from Giada’s Penne with Roasted Vegetables

1 yellow and 1 orange bell pepper, cored and cut into 1-inch wide strips
1 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 1-inch cubes

1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced into 1-inch strips
5 garlic cloves, lightly smashed

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 tablespoon dried Italian herb mix
1/2 pound penne pasta
2 cups marinara sauce
3/4 cup frozen peas, thawed

1/2 cup grated fontina cheese
1/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
1 tablespoon butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

On a baking sheet, toss the peppers, zucchini, garlic, and onions with olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and dried herbs. Roast until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. When they’re done, lower oven temperature to 400 degrees.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook for about 5 to 6 minutes, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water.

In a large bowl, toss the drained pasta with the roasted vegetables, marinara sauce, cheeses, peas, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Gently mix until all the pasta is coated with the sauce and the ingredients are combined. If your mixture seems a bit too thick, add some of the reserved pasta water until you reach the desired consistency. Remember that the pasta will continue to cook in the oven and absorb some of the sauce/liquid.

Pour the pasta into a greased baking dish. Top with extra Parmesan cheese and butter pieces. Bake until top is golden and cheese melts, about 20 minutes. Top with parsley.

I’m thinking I’ll submit this to Presto Pasta Nights, which I’ve never done before but sounds fun. Who can ever have enough pasta recipes? Not me.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Urban Legend Cookies

Today I made the famous Urban Legend Cookie. Have you heard of this one? If you want, you can read the details here, but basically the story behind this recipe is that a woman asked Neiman Marcus to share its cookie recipe and was told she could have it for “two fifty.” What she assumed was $2.50 turned out to be $250.00 and, to get even with Neiman Marcus for ripping her off, she spread the recipe around to everyone she knew. The recipe now circulates the Internet, serving as payback for the taken-advantage-of customer.

The story is, of course, false. This is its most recent reincarnation, but you may also have heard it told as the Mrs. Fields cookie recipe. Same tale, different name. Anyway, I don’t know where this recipe really came from, and I don’t much care. The cookies are delicious, and that’s good enough for me.

Urban Legend Cookies

2.5 cups rolled oats
1 cup butter
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
.5 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2.5 ounces chocolate bar, grated
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a food processor, finely grind oats. Set aside.

Cream together butter and sugars. Mix in eggs and vanilla.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder and fold into the creamed butter and sugar mixture. Stir in the oats, chocolate, and nuts. Dough will be stiff.

Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto greased or lined baking sheet. Arrange about 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges begin to turn golden brown.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Chewy Oatmeal Blondies

I get too many magazines. For a while, I was subscribing to Gourmet, Cook’s Illustrated, Simple and Delicious, Martha Stewart Living, and Everyday Food, not to mention a few other non-food-related ones. I couldn’t keep up with them. They would gather, in great tumbling piles, on my coffee table, until I finally had to toss some unread ones from 2006. Soon, I’ll need to toss the unread ones from 2007. I finally cut back, and, for a while, I was being very good about trashing the renewal notices that bombarded my mailbox. I let my Everyday Food subscription run out, because I can’t even keep up with the recipes I save online, let alone any additional ones, and I also let my subscription to Martha Stewart Living run out, telling myself that I wouldn’t renew it until we had a house and I could make more use of its brand of tips and advice.

Then, I didn’t realize who I was up against.

Martha Stewart is unrelenting, and she refuses to take no for an answer. She will win, period. I threw out dozens of renewal notices until, finally, after many many months of maintaining my resolve, Martha got me. When she told me that, if I only renewed my subscription to Living, I would get a year-long subscription to Everyday Food absolutely on the house, I gave up. I sent in my renewal, adding a memo on the check that this small payment was for both Living and Everyday Food. A few weeks later, I was surprised with a complementary Martha Stewart tote bag. Thanks, Martha.

I have to wonder, though, if Martha would have been so generous with her offer if she’d known that I would turn around and give away her recipes. I’m sorry, Martha, but when you come up with something as good as Chewy Oatmeal Blondies, I simply must share.

An added bonus with this recipe is that it begins with homemade baking mix, which is 3 cups spooned-and-leveled flour, 1.5 cups sugar, 1 tablespoon baking powder, and 1/2 tablespoon salt. This is great to have on hand when you feel like baking during the week. When you want to make dessert on a Wednesday night, your sifted dry ingredients are all ready to go. The April issue of Everyday Food contains four delicious recipes to use with the baking mix, including these Chewy Oatmeal Blondies.

Chewy Oatmeal Blondies
From Everyday Food

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg, room temperature
1 1/2 cups homemade baking mix
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease an 8-inch square baking pan, line with parchment paper (letting paper hang over edges on two opposite sides to form “handles”), and grease paper. Set aside.

Beat butter and sugar together. Add egg and beat to combine. Slowly beat in baking mix, half a cup at a time, until just combined. Mix in 3/4 cups oats, and spead batter in prepared pan.

Sprinkle batter with remaining oats, and press gently. Bake for 30 minutes, and let cool in pan for 30 minutes more.

Using parchment paper handles, transfer blondies to a wire rack to cool completely. Using a serrated knife, cut into 9 squares.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Andouille Sausage Pizza with Onion Confit and Oven-Dried Tomatoes

Yesterday was a day of firsts for me. It was the first time I made a Michael Chiarello recipe. I've always enjoyed his show, and I wish it was one of the more popular shows on FN. It seems that, with the exception of Bobby Flay, all the shows hosted by chefs are fading away, and, in turn, the more advanced recipes, at least in terms of technique, are being replaced by all things quick and simple. It's true that I'll more often make a Rachael Ray-type recipe than I will a Michael Chiarello-type recipe, but that's only because there are 2 days per week that I have hours to spend on a meal, and 5 that I don't. So while I, like most home cooks, may more often turn to a relatively simple recipe, I much more appreciate a complicated one, because it is in working through those that I find my cooking improves the most. Although I wouldn't exactly call Andouille Sausage Pizza with Onion Confit and Fontina Cheese complicated; it is, however, a bit time consuming. Most of that is down time, but you have to have a couple hours free to let things cook slowly in the oven.

The other first I experienced with this recipe was the making of a confit, which refers to a food item that has been immersed and slowly cooked in a flavoring liquid, traditionally for preservation. The confit here consisted of onions cooked in a mixture of oil, vinegar, wine, salt, and sugar. Though I've only done it once, I already feel like the making of an onion confit is a valuable method to become familiar with. The onions really absorb the flavor of whatever you cook them in, so much so that, by the end, they hardly taste like onions anymore. So if you're ever looking for a way to take a liquid and concentrate its flavor in a solid form, consider an onion confit.

Overall, this pizza was very good. I wish I had a pizza stone, so that my crust would have turned out more crispy, but that's another item on my wait-'til-we-have-a-house list. The crust was tender though (I used Emeril's recipe), and the toppings worked wonderfully together. The spicyness of the andouille and the sweetness of the confit balanced each other nicely, and the cheeses brought all the flavors together. The oven-dried tomatoes were a welcome alternative to the usual pizza sauce--they were sweet, delicious, and full of the flavors of the garlic-thyme oil in which they'd been cooked.

Andouille Pizza with Onion Confit and Oven-Dried Tomatoes
adapted from Andouille Sausage Pizza Pie, using Emeril's Basic Pizza Dough

Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 links fresh andouille
4 cloves garlic, divided
2 yellow onions, sliced
1/2 cup champagne or white wine vinegar
Pinch of sugar for confit, plus 1 teaspoon for dough
2 tablespoons white wine
2 roma tomatos
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup warm (110 degrees F) water
1 (1/4-ounce) envelope active dry yeast
3 cups bleached all-purpose flour
1 oz. fontina cheese, shredded
2 oz. mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 cup grated parmesan
2 tablespoons chopped parlsey

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

First, prepare the sausage. Remove the casings from two links of andouille, then tear the sausages into small pieces and drop into an oil-drizzled skillet over medium-high heat. Saute until cooked through. Reduce heat to medium, add two cloves of thinly sliced garlic, and cook 2 minutes more. With a slotted spoon, remove garlic and sausage from pan and set aside.

Next, prepare the onion confit. Add enough olive oil to andouille renderings to equal about 1/4 cup. Add onions, and cook for a few minutes, or until they begin to soften. Add 1/2 tablespoon salt, vinegar, pinch of sugar, and white wine. Cover skillet with a parchment-paper circle that's had a two-inch hole cut out of the center to allow steam to escape. Place skillet in the oven and allow to cook for 2 hours, or until pizza dough is ready. (You can plan to cook the vegetables for 3 hours if you have the time, but I'm impatient.)

Slice tomatoes into four slices each. Drizzle a baking pan or sheet with about 2 tablespoons olive oil, top with tomatoes, then drizzle an additional 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the tomatoes. Top with 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, a couple grinds of pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon of dried thyme. Place in oven to cook with onions (tomatoes and onions will be done at the same time).

About an hour before tomatoes and onions are finished, prepare pizza dough. In a large bowl, combine the water, yeast, 1 tablespoon oil, and 1 teaspoon of sugar, and stir to combine. Let sit until the mixture is foamy, about 5 minutes. Add 1 1/2 cups of the flour and 1 teaspoon of salt, mixing by hand until it is all incorporated and the mixture is smooth. Continue adding the flour, 1/4 cup at a time, working the dough after each addition, until all the flour is incorporated but the dough is still slightly sticky. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth but still slightly tacky, 3 to 5 minutes.

Oil a large mixing bowl with 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn to oil all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm, draft-free place until nearly doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Remove the dough from the bowl and briefly knead. Place on a lightly floured work surface and let rest for 10 minutes. Transfer to a lightly oiled baking sheet (or a baker's peel, if you have one) and shape into a large round.

Remove vegetables from oven, and adjust oven temperature to 450 degrees. Scatter shaped dough with fontina, then top with onions and the tomatoes and reserved sausage, being sure to include the garlic that was cooked with both. With a pastry brush, lightly brush the edges of the dough with the oil that the tomatoes cooked in, using just enough to lightly coat the outside of the dough. Finally, top with mozzarella and parmesan cheese and bake in preheated oven for about 12 minutes, or until cheese is melted and crust begins to turn golden brown. Top with parsley and serve.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Chili Suizas Bake

I haven’t written about a Rachael Ray recipe in a while, and I’m excited to finally be doing so now. I’ve really been impressed with some of her recipes lately. She still has some of the same problems for me that’s she’s always had (clearly, Rachael and I have drastically different definitions of what it means for a sauce to be “thick”), and I’m still not buying the whole thirty-minute thing (without a staff of people prewarming your pans and putting all your supplies in arm’s reach, thirty minutes is hard to do), but since adding less liquid is not a problem for me, and I don’t mind spending a bit longer than half an hour on dinner, I’ve really been happy with her dishes this season. I think Rachael’s are some of the most creative recipes on the Network, and I’ve frequently been surprised by some of the things she comes up with.

Take, for instance, her Chili Suizas Bake. This is a great and original idea. It’s pretty basic—chicken and poblano chili topped with tortillas and Swiss cheese (suiza means “Swiss”)—but the flavors are wonderful, and, despite the basic idea, this recipe uses some interesting techniques, such as roasting the peppers and making your own tomatillo salsa. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find tomatillos, so I used a bottled salsa verde by Goya (tomatillo-and-jalapeño-based). It was pretty spicy, I thought, so I only used half a cup, but, of course, that amount can easily be adjusted to suit individual tastes.

I did roast the poblanos though, something I’ve never done before. I was a bit afraid that it would be a pain removing the skins, but it really wasn’t hard at all. They cracked a bit during roasting, and all I had to do was look for the cracks and pull the skin away from the flesh. Actually, the original recipe doesn’t call for removing the skins, and I can’t remember whether Rachael did so on the show, but I removed mine and I think I did the right thing. I made Adam taste a strip of skin and he said it had a funny flavor. You can taste it and make your own call.

Besides using the bottled tomatillo salsa, I only made a couple of other changes. I used only one cup of chicken stock (two is definitely too much), and used sour cream instead of crème fraîche. I have nothing against crème fraîche—I just always have lots of sour cream on hand.

I served this dish with chips and avocado sour cream, which is, very simply, two avocados slightly mashed (I like mine chunky) with a juiced lime, salt and pepper, and about a quarter cup of sour cream. I made plenty of the avocado cream so that I could dollop some on top of the chili suizas. It was a fabulous, fabulous meal.

The original recipe is here, and my slightly modified version follows.

Chili Suizas Bake
Adapted from Chili Suizas Bake

3 poblano peppers
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds ground chicken
1 large onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 cup bottled salsa verde
1 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons honey
Salt and pepper
1 lime, juiced
1/2 cup sour cream
3 cups lightly crushed tortilla chips
1 cup shredded Swiss cheese
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 scallion, chopped, for garnish

Place the poblanos under a preheated broiler and char until blackened an all sides, 10 to 12 minutes, turning half-way through. Turn off broiler and set oven to 350 degrees. Place the peppers in a bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow the peppers to cool enough to handle.

While peppers char, heat extra-virgin olive oil in a high-sided skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions and jalapeno and sauté until onions begin to soften, then add garlic and cook a minute more. Add chicken and cook until no longer pink, stirring occasionally and breaking up meat with a wooden spoon. Stir in salsa, then add chicken stock and honey. Season with salt and pepper, and simmer chili 10 minutes.

When poblano peppers are cool enough to handle, remove skins and seeds and chop. Stir into chili. Turn off heat and stir in lime juice. Transfer to a lightly greased casserole dish, and top with dollops of sour cream. Cover with a layer of crushed chips and top with Swiss and Monterey Jack cheeses. Cook in preheated oven for about 20 minutes. Scatter scallions over the top, if desired.

I will definitely be making this again, probably as soon as I see some tomatillos. And preferably on a Friday, served with some icy cold margaritas.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Noodle Love III: Ziti

In my mind, there are only two types of prepared ziti: baked and unbaked. Baked, of course, is far superior, so I suppose I could actually say that, for me, there is baked ziti and baked ziti only. After that, it doesn’t much matter.

My all-time favorite ziti is from Sbarro. It’s baked in a tomato sauce that’s yuummied-up with ricotta and Romano cheeses, and I try to recreate it often at home. But pastas so often have red sauces that I make a conscious effort to prepare non-red-sauced pasta when possible, such as this Baked Ziti with Chicken, Veggies, and Herbs.

This pasta is packed with goodies: basil, thyme, parsley, broccoli, and artichoke hearts. It’s baked in a creamy sauce that has a touch of Parmesan cheese, and—here’s my favorite part—it’s topped with a crunchy breadcrumb crust. Behold:

I love that crust! It makes the dish for me. And you must use fresh breadcrumbs! I considered myself to have reached a new culinary plateau when I discovered the advantages of topping dishes with fresh rather than dried breadcrumbs. The taste is so much better, and you end up with a crunchy golden topping rather than, well, a layer of dried breadcrumbs. Panko might work well as a topping too, but since I always have a few slices of bread that I need to use up, I always use fresh. About three slices of white bread, crusts removed and run through the food processor, will get you what you need for this dish.

This dish makes 4-6 servings, depending on how ravenous the appetites.

Baked Ziti with Chicken, Veggies, and Herbs

Olive oil
Salt and pepper
1/2 pound ziti
1 chicken breast, split lengthwise, or 2 breast halves
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups heavy cream, half-and-half, or whole milk
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, divided
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 12-oz. package frozen broccoli, thawed
1 14-oz. can artichoke hearts in water, halved, or 1 box frozen, thawed
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons melted butter

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cook pasta until just al dente in boiling salted water, about 9 minutes. Drain and set aside.

Sprinkle both sides of chicken with salt and pepper. Drizzle a thin coating of olive oil in a large pan and sauté chicken until just cooked through, about 4-5 minutes per side, depending on their thickness. Remove from pan and set aside.

If needed, add extra olive oil to skillet so that you have about 3 tablespoons. Sauté onion until translucent. Add garlic and cook a minute more. Add flour and, stirring constantly, cook for one minute. Whisk in cream and stock and, over medium heat, stir frequently until sauce begins to bubble and thicken. Stir in 1/4 cup of Parmesan, thyme, basil, 1 teaspoon of salt, and 1/2 a teaspoon of pepper.

Slice chicken into pieces that approximate the size of the ziti. Add to pan, along with any drippings and the broccoli and artichoke hearts. Combine, then stir in reserved ziti. Pour into a greased casserole dish.

In a small bowl, combine bread crumbs, remaining 1/4 cup of Parmesan, parsley, and melted butter. Scatter evenly over pasta.

Bake in preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, or until edges are bubbling and topping is golden brown.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Chicken Noodle Soup: From Scratch and with a Twist

I will no longer be held hostage by my tiny apartment kitchen.

I may not have room to store a 12-quart pot, but if I want to make chicken stock, I will make chicken stock. If I have to use a small 3-quart pot, I will use a 3-quart pot. If I have to save random bones over a period of weeks because I don't have the means to roast a couple whole chickens at a time (no room for roasting pans, either), then I will save random bones for weeks.

And that’s what I did.

The hardest part about making chicken stock (for the first time ever!) with random bones is finding a recipe to work from. I worked with Ina's recipe. Like hers, many recipes call for using several chicken carcasses at once, and there's no clear guidance on how to adapt a recipe to work with four split-breast bones and seven thigh bones, which is what I had. I got the random-bone-chicken-stock idea from Nigella's book, How To Eat. In it, she says that she saves all her leftover bones until she has enough to make a pot of stock, and she even talks about how, when she's dining with friends, she'll ask to take home their leftover unwanted chicken bones. For some reason, this inspired me. I thought, If Nigella can make stock from bones she's gathered from friends' houses, then I can make chicken stock from a few bones tossed into my meager excuse for a stock pot.

I've read that certain parts of a chicken carcass, such as the back, are great for stock. I didn’t have those parts, so I knew my raw material was lacking a bit. I didn't let that stop me. I cut Ina's recipe down to a third of the original and used that as a guide, but it as a very rough guide. I let the bones I'd frozen thaw, and then I piled them into my pot with an onion, two carrots, one celery stalk, six garlic cloves, eight sprigs of thyme, seven sprigs each of dill and parsley, half a tablespoon of salt, and 1 teaspoon of peppercorns. I was able to fit about ten cups of water into the pot after that. I brought it to a boil then let it simmer away for four hours.

Ina's recipe instructs you to leave the pot uncovered, but I noticed that my liquid was rapidly being lost to the air. Since I was already making a fairly small batch of stock, I greedily determined to not lose another drop. I added about a cup of extra liquid back into the pot and clamped on the lid. This stifled the glorious homemade-stock aroma that had been wafting through my apartment, but I thought it was worth it.

When the four hours were up, it was time to strain the stock. Using a slotted spoon, I removed the bones and vegetables. Then I set a wire strainer over a large glass bowl, lined the strainer with a couple coffee filters (cheesecloth would be great, but I don't have that), and set to work. It was a slow process, as you might imagine. Per Ina's recipe, I let the stock chill in the fridge overnight so that I could skim the fat off in the morning. There wasn't much, but I was able to remove a small amount of fat the next day. When I was done, I had about 8 cups of stock. I don't know how I lost so much of my original liquid when I'd had the lid on the pot; all I know is that, in the end, I was able to fill four two-cup plastic containers. I stored them in the freezer, where'd they'd sit until I figured out how I wanted to use them.

They didn't sit long. I decided pretty much right away that I knew how they'd be used. It's already March, and we've had a couple 65-degree days here in Maryland. I can't prepare myself for Spring without first making my ultimate winter comfort food: chicken noodle soup with mashed potatoes. I'm dying to know: Has anyone else ever had this or even heard of it? Whenever I mention it to someone they look at me like I'm crazy. And Adam, who cannot eat a pea if it migrates beyond its designated place on his plate and touches his meat, refuses to try it. But he’s missing out, because it's delicious.

As the story goes, my mom used to make me chicken noodle soup with mashed potatoes when I was little, because I was very thin and didn't eat much, and this was a way she devised to sneak some potatoes into me, which I didn't used to like. I find it very difficult to imagine a time when I didn't used to like potatoes; furthermore, every time I tell this story I find myself longing for the alleged time when I didn't eat much and had problems gaining weight. But, so the story goes.

The method is, obviously, very simple: just dollop some mashed potatoes into a bowl of chicken noodle soup. You can stir the potatoes into the broth right away if you want, but I prefer to let them seep in on their own, slowly imbuing the broth with their rich potatoey goodness. To aid in this, I make the mashed potatoes a bit stiffer than I normally would, just so they don’t ooze apart the second they hit the broth. You can flavor the potatoes if you like (add a few garlic cloves to the cooking water or mash them with buttermilk), but I think it's best to just use a small amount of butter and a bit of milk or cream. You don't want any competing flavors to mask the taste of the stock you’ve made, which, by the way, will turn out delicious. There's much more nuance in the taste of homemade stock. You get hints of all the herbs and seasonings, and there's a depth and sophistication of flavor that just doesn't come in a box. It's fabulous. And, in case you're wondering, my four split-breast bones and seven thigh bones made a wonderful stock, even if it wasn't just like it would be if I'd used an entire carcass or two. The lesson I've learned here is that stock-making doesn't have to be an exact science: work with what you have, learn from what you've done, and enjoy your own homemade deliciousness.

For the soup, I used this recipe as a guide. It calls for precooked chicken, so, if you're making the stock and the soup close to the same time, it would probably work well to add a chicken breast to your pot and let it poach as your stock simmers. Then you can shred the meat and save it until you're ready to make the soup. But, just as with stock, the making of chicken noodle soup is a very forgiving process, and you can pretty much do what you like. Change the seasonings, add a bay leaf, use linguine instead of egg noodles. It all works, and it's all delicious. Just don't forget the mashed potatoes.