Thursday, July 23, 2009

Caldo de Pollo (Chicken Stock)

It's 8pm on a Tuesday, I'm still in the office when my husband calls to remind me that we don't have milk or baby food for the next day. Oh well, I guess I'll have to go to Publix (!!!!!)

Recipe #2: Caldo de Pollo & Recipe #6: Sopa de Pastas

With my list in tow, I set out to prep for recipe 2 in my journey - plain ol' chicken stock or caldo de pollo. With last week's revelation that there were 49 recipes in the soup chapter alone, I thought it was time to hustle and see what I could do to hit a few recipes in one shot.

Nitza shows you how to make caldo de pollo and also lists a sopa de pastas a few recipes down, which pretty much gives you the green light to add pasta by 1 tablespoonful for each cup of broth you have. Oh, pasta, like as in chicken noodle soup. There we go - 2 soups: chicken broth and chicken noodle soup - brilliant!

But, wait. Pasta? Nitza, what pasta exactly? Cuban pasta? There isn’t such a thing as Cuban pasta. Do I get spaghetti and break it into the soup? Time for a lifeline...Oh, Mo-om!

The conversation sounded like this, right from the Publix parking lot:

¡Mami! Como se llama esa pasta que se le hecha a la sopa. No es spaghtetti y no se llaman "noodles". ¿A que sopa? A la sopa. ¿A la sopa de pollo? ¡Si, a la sopa de pollo! Fideos. ¿Fideos? Fideos. ¿Hay fideos en Publix? Si, niña, tienen que tenerlos.

I ran for the ethnic aisle first. But, the Publix on Monza doesn't have an ethnic aisle, it's all mixed into the store. Plan B: go to the pasta aisle. I could feel Nitza laughing at me as my eyes scanned spaghetti, vermicelli, angel hair...and then, there she was. My fideos with Diana's picture on it. You know her, Diana, that green lady with a flower in her hair. She's like the lady in the brooches.

I had found them - my fideos. The same package I had known as a staple in the house. The same package I just thought was part of the landscape of the kitchen. You see, sopa de pollo, was just something that people made for you. It was something that was always there and the fideos in it was something you just took for granted – you never even thought about where they came from.

I didn't mean to prepare the recipe that same night - it was 10:30 p.m. already. But, after the success in finding fideos and the fact that the carnicero (butcher) had removed all those gross things from the pre-cut fresh whole chicken I bought (Señor, ¿Ud me pudiera quitar esas cosas feas que vienen en esa bolsita adentro del pollo?), and the fact that it wasn't really that late by my standards...I got going.

Kids were asleep, husband was watching the TiVo'd Le Tour de France and I took out my olla de presión (note: my mom called after reading my first post last week to clarify that Hoya, as in Oscar de la Hoya, was not the proper way of spelling Olla de Presión). So, I propped up my cookbook, alongside my grandmother's edition that I obtained last week when bragging about my caldo de res. Turns out, my grandma let it slip that she has had the original Cocina al Minuto that she had hid in her suitcase when she fled Cuba in 1961. She had it safely tucked away all this time. ¿Lo quieres? ¿Que si lo quiero? ¡Abuela, voy para allá ahora mismo!

This was going to be easy: chicken all cut up by someone that wasn’t me, water, salt, tomatoes, green peppers, onion, garlic and perejil (parsley) from last week because I had followed Rachel Ray’s (sorry, Nitza) suggestion of wrapping the herbs as soon as I got home from the store in a paper towel and putting it into a Ziploc bag. Turn up the heat and let the pressure cooker rip for 25 minutes this time (after all, it’s just chicken, not beef like last week’s 30 minutes). And again, soup! Ok, joke’s over – you’ll get soup every time you follow this pattern.

So, for the caldo, I was planning on taking out the chicken just like I did with the beef last week. Except…that the chicken isn’t quite as sturdy as beef and the chicken has lots of bones and parts that fall apart in a pressure cooker and the chicken has a nice fatty skin that jumps right off the meat after 25 minutes in the pressure cooker, it seems. Decisions, decisions. And, of course, Nitza doesn’t help.

Her caldo de pollo recipe literally reads (translation): Follow this recipe just like the one prior (beef stock) but substitute chicken or hen for the beef and the soup bone.

Wow, yep, "just like the one before". Except I had an absolute mess of chicken, bones, parts (that I thought the nice carnicero had removed for me but I guess he only tossed that bag I was scared of), skin fat, veiny things…I could go on. Time to reassess.

A strainer! Ha! Solution was to get a large bowl and ladle out everything in that pressure cooker through the strainer to get the clear chicken broth. Genius! Took out my plastic containers for freezing, scooped out some broth and went to put the lids on the containers. My hands were so slimy and greasy! OMG – how much chicken fat was in this caldo exactly? Abuela never complained and I followed the recipe to the letter (again, Nitza, not so helpful!) and the taste test had proven that I had officially made caldo de pollo. So, I was done with one task.

Now, I found myself with a strainer full of veggies and chicken stuff. So began my process of taking out the bones, skin, veiny stuff and other parts I thought would have been gone so that I would be left with just chicken and vegetables. One hour people - one hour! By this time, it was already past midnight.

Once I had finished my separation process, I realized I hadn’t dumped the fideos in the chicken broth while still piping hot from the pressure cooker. Nitza says if you drop the pasta into the hot broth, within 7-8 minutes, they’ll be ready. Those noodles weren’t softening and my second recipe wasn’t looking promising. But, I left them in there, I chopped up my chicken, threw some back into the broth and let it simmer (very slowly since it was more lukewarm than anything else).

I took out my hand blender (a.k.a. motor boat) and blended everything that had been left behind in the strainer, some broth, and whatever chicken had disintegrated into the mix by itself in the cooking process and then…magic. My hand blender was making cream of chicken soup. I don’t know how it happened, maybe it was a mix of the chicken fat in the stock (as my suegra told me later that I should have skimmed the fat off the top of the broth but I guess in my excitement, I hadn’t noticed that there was fat to skim), along with a perfect puree of the vegetables that made it happen, but it was to die for. What an amazing soup – cream of chicken made without cream!

But wait…Nitza doesn’t have that recipe in her book! Did I actually make three recipes in one night?

Caldo de pollo – CHECK! Sopa de pastas – CHECK! Crema de Pollo (sin crema) – wow!

Making chicken noodle soup has taken on a whole new meaning. Now, I’m sure I won't have to go through this three ring circus each time I want to make sopa de pollo, but the care that someone takes to go through this process way out measures the end result. Our abuelas always knew what they were doing, and the love they put into their soups is what makes everything just right.

Hasta la proxima…when the book calls for Recipe 3: Caldo de Pescado (fish stock) made with cabezas de pescado (fish heads – eeeeeek!) or 2 pounds of fish. You can guess which way I’m leaning, but I think I’m going to have to find myself a fishmonger that will take the eyes, scales, teeth, etc. out of my fish heads!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Julie & Julia? For me, it's Christina & Nitza

I did it.


I started a project for me. Well, not for me, it's really for the benefit of others, but for me. Since starting to read Julie & Julia in time for the movie release, I realized that I wanted to take a stab at something similar.

I know how to cook. I love cooking and trying all those Food Network style recipes that require lots of chopping and prepping and little gadgets and containers, pots and pans. But to really cook, like my, that's a different story.

So, yesterday, I started my project. I'm going to tackle Nitza Villapol's Cocina al Minuto - yes, the Cuban Julia Child's guide to Cuban cooking, from cover to cover.

Recipe #1: Caldo de Res

The first thing I must say is that starting a recipe after the kids have been put down to sleep and checking the BlackBerry for the almost last time for the night is not a good thing. But, because I had gone to Publix on Sunday and tried to start then but couldn't, and then wanting to try on Monday but being dead after a long day and couldn't, I was determined to make this first recipe on Tuesday.

I took out the pressure cooker - yes, by myself. I had never used the pressure cooker before myself. My husband always helped me with the tricky gadgets. You know, there's a guy, that my grandmother knows, that lost an arm opening the hoya de presión before he should have - those things are scary! (Urban Legend - not proven)

I got the soup bone (Found that at Publix thanks to a neighbor that happened to be there and showed me where the bones were - yes, in the meat market wall with the rest of the meat), water, salt, tomatoes, green peppers, garlic and perejil (parsley) and I was set. Nitza said to let it cook for 2 hours, but since she didn't have a pressure cooker, I had to call my references for a conversion.

"15 minutos", said my abuela."30 minutos", said my suegra. Since my grandmother had been the one to instill the fear of the pressure cooker in me anyways, I went with my mother in law and she nailed it. Once the cooker stopped making the "chaca-chaca" noises in my kitchen, I transfered it over into my kitchen sink to run cold water over it so that the "chiki-chiki" safety thingy would drop so I could open it.

When I took off the lid, it happened. I had made soup, from scratch, like for real without anything fake or pre-made. Wow! By myself!

Then, I counted the rest of the recipes in the soup section and I totalled 49. Then I had to sit for a second and, maybe I'll post here all 49 times during my journey in the first section of this cookbook but maybe I won't. I can't make any promises, but I'm on a mission. That soup tasted so good, I was cooking like I should be. The stuff I want to have in my house so it smells like my house growing up; the stuff I want my kids to learn how to eat.
But, it's just Beef Broth? All this for Beef Broth?

Yes, all this for the base of getting started. Buen provecho!