February is hard. It has been consistently difficult for the last few years, but the month still manages to sideswipe my January-fogged brain and trample me into the ground. After we settle from the holiday cheer that lights up the winter through the New Year, we are only left with cold, gray January and February stretching out endlessly before us. In recent years, just to make this worse, our area gotten all of our snowstorms in February and March, prolonging this dark, plodding winter. This year was no exception. In February, I brood and mope and slowly descend into that dark stasis that is only relieved by the warmth breath of spring sunshine. I lose all ability to handle stress and instead, I find myself stuck swinging from panic to apathy, endlessly. February is a hard time for me. This year, I made it even harder. I was hunkered down, as usual, prepared to doze away the month in mild depression, but, instead, I added more projects. In addition to starting our Saturday rehearsals, I also spent February applying to grad school and moving into a new apartment (roommate-free!) with M. Both are things that I truly want to do, but I will readily admit that both events were poorly timed. Shortly afterward, I was finally forced to assess my mindset and its affect on my behavior, and, after a lot of ugly crying and a spoonful of resentment, I made myself come up with a plan to help me. My plan to de-stress was all about self-care. (That label makes me cringe at the cheesiness, even if the intent is so important). Making time for me, treating myself well, engaging in activities that would make me happy and make me better. To my surprise, when I finally settled on a list of activities, they were things like watching tv shows without multi-tasking and napping intentionally, without a guilt-trip. Reading books. Journaling. Taking care of my hair. Planning a garden. Big things and little things to get back in touch with myself. And, most crucially, a plan to continue all of these activities regularly.
Fortunately, this quest for self-care coincided with the ground slowly beginning to thaw. Our first sunny day was about a week into my new routine, and it has stayed either not-cold or sunny since then. (There have been some warmish rainy days or cold, sunny ones, but spring is definitely on the way!) I’d like to think that my first forays into de-stressing have been exceptionally successful, but I think most of the credit has to go to the promise of Spring sunshine and warmth. While Daylight Savings Time is still kicking my butt when I try to get out of bed each morning, the fact that it is just starting to grow dusky at 7:00pm is a huge relief. I am so, so ready for Spring. As part of my more conscious self-care, I am trying to return to more nutrient dense foods. We re starting to figure out those little things that really “work” to help us feel great. For M, its vegetables, tea tree oil, and being outside. For me, its probiotics, healthy fats, and sunshine. I know that I feel better with rich broths and healthy fats in my regular diet, so I am stocking up on bones, avocados, coconut milk, and fish. (Some of my favorite vegetables–asparagus and artichokes–are, delightfully, back in season, too!) We endured a trail of poor food choices and a lot of eating out during the moving process. First we had to unpack, then we had to wait for pantry cabinets to arrive to store all of our dry foods (I’m still picking spices out of a moving box each night), then our oven was smoking horribly for a week where I wasn’t able to start dinner until 9:30pm and I was too afraid of setting off the fire alarm for our poor upstairs neighbors to allow the oven cleaner to burn off properly. By the time that I was able to cook dinner–really cook dinner: chopping vegetables and simmering sauces and turning on the oven–I was blissful. I had missed the routine of dinner prep. Living the roommate-free life means I get to try new recipes as well. I tried to be cautious with strong- or odd-smelling recipes, or those that took too prolonged of a cooking time, when we lived with other people. I hadn’t really realized the weight of sharing a kitchen until it was lifted. We have lived in our new apartment for exactly one month and I have already made two batches of stock from bones in my crockpot. 24 hours for chicken and four days of siphoning and replacing the liquid for beef bones. I didn’t have to worry that the crockpot would be in the way, or that the smell of broth would get overwhelming. Now, I can make whatever odd experiments I want. I am sorely tempted to try brewing kombucha, but so far I am hesitant to forfeit anymore of my limited counter-space. But a batch of vinegar-boiled potatoes and fried fish are coming back on our dinner menus soon!
The bone broths were quite successful and very exciting. My beef broth gelled! I ended up with about four quarts of broth after four days, so soup was definitely in order. French Onion soup is one of my standbys. One that I’ve now learned to make three different ways, given the time I have available to prepare dinner. The addition of the rich bone broth made this soup even more delicious, adding a lovely silky quality to the broth. As mentioned, I have three ways that I like to use to prepare this soup. The first is the traditional recipe, where you caramelize the onions slowly, for nearly an hour, before constructing the soup. The second is a quick-cook stovetop method, browning the onions over medium-high heat for about 15 minutes. You get lovely color, though not quite as deep of a caramelization. The third way is a crockpot method, started the night before you want to serve the soup. This involves caramelizing the onions overnight in the crockpot and then adding all the other ingredients in the morning before allowing the flavors to meld in the slow cooker all day. All three methods use the same ingredients and result in very similar soups. Choose the method that best suits your prep time and enjoy!
P.S. Did you notice that I had to trade a gas stove (love!) for a glass top? Boo! Even so, I think it was a worthy compromise for our new place!
French Onion Soup
- 1 Tbsp butter
- 3-4 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
- 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
- 2 Tbsp sherry*
- 4 cups beef broth (preferably bone broth/stock)
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 tsp. thyme
- 2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1/2 c. red wine**
- Salt and pepper
- Shredded gruyere cheese
*If you wish to avoid alcohol, substitute an equal amount of beef broth
**If you wish to avoid alcohol, substitute an additional 1 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar + enough beef broth to make 1/2 c. of liquid
Traditional Method (Onion prep):
Melt the butter in the pan, coating the surface evenly, and then add the sliced onions. Stir to coat the onions and allow to sweat over medium heat. Over a few minutes, the onions will soften and turn translucent and finally begin to brown. When the onions begin to turn color, turn the heat down to low and stir occasionally. Over the course of an hour, the onions will condense caramelize to a deep brown. Proceed with the recipe.
Quick Cooking Method (Onion prep):
Melt the butter in the pan, coating the surface evenly, and then add the sliced onions. Stir to coat the onions and allow to sweat over medium-high heat. Stir constantly. Over a few minutes, the onions will soften and turn translucent and finally begin to brown. Continue stirring over high-heat as the onions continue to brown to a deep amber. Proceed with the recipe.
Traditional/Quick Cooking Methods (Soup prep):
Once the onions have caramelized, add the minced garlic. Stir for 1-2 minutes until the garlic is fragrant. Add the sherry and stir well to deglaze the pan. Use your spatula to scrape the browned bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the beef stock, bay leaf, thyme, balsamic vinegar, and wine. Stir thoroughly and turn the heat to medium. Bring to a simmer and allow to simmer for 10-15 minutes to combine the flavors. Remove bay leaf before serving. Salt and pepper to taste
While the beef is simmering, prep your bread. Butter your bread and then decide on your method. You can either broil the cheese on the bread separately to add to the soup, or wait until the soup is cooked, then ladle into oven-safe bowls, top with the bread and cheese and broil directly. Broiling should only take 2-5 minutes, just enough time that the cheese melts and begins to bubble and turn brown.
Slow Cooker Method:
Coat the inside of a slow cooker crock with oil, then add the slice onions. Turn the slow cooker on its lowest setting (8 or 10 hours) and allow the onions to cook over night. In the morning, add the butter, minced garlic, and sherry to the slow cooker and stir well, until the butter is melted. Add in the broth, bay leaf, thyme, balsamic vinegar, and red wine. Reset the slow cooker to high for 4 hours or low for 8-10 hours and allow soup to cook. Remove the bay leaf and add salt and pepper to taste before serving. Broil the bread and cheese at meal time.
Well, we finally got a bit of snow this past week: a couple of inches evenly spaced to have just enough time to melt in between snowfalls. Thankfully, things didn’t get too icy. Considering the season has been positively balmy, it was a welcome bit of change. I had the day off during the first snowfall and was struck by a cooking binge. The end of the day found me with roasted banana bread and chicken pot pie topped with gluten-free puff pastry, with the dinner rounded out by new potatoes, green beans, and kale chips. Yes, at the end of the day, I had plenty of dishes…but that doesn’t guarantee that they all came out well. My “banana bread” was a ruin. The taste was similar to what you might expect, but only if you could ignore the texture, which was remarkably akin to play dough.
I had decided to try a new flour mixture, lured by the promise of sorghum flour and millet flour, two of my favorite whole grain flours. But while I was measuring in he various ingredients, tiny alarm bells began to ring. Over half the mixture is starches? Millet is the same weight as rice flour and sorghum nearly there…they can’t need that much balance. Isn’t it supposed to be 60/40 grains-to-starches, max? An entire quarter of the mix is potato flour…? And there was the trouble. Too much starches, specifically potato starch. Of lately, I’ve been using more of it, because I love the elasticity it adds, but too much of the starch, at the least, means baked goods that rise beautifully in the oven, only to sink and shrink as they cool. At the worst, it means playdough banana bread.
Undaunted by the failed banana bread, I figured I would try my hand at Nicole’s Gluten-Free Puff Pastry. This rolling and turning business couldn’t be that hard…right? Truth be told, I’m not sure if I did it right, but there was a lot of rolling and folding and chilling and pressing that left me with a (fairly) manageable dough with the butter well-incorporated. And since I had puff pastry, I might as well make some Chicken Pot Pie for the pastry dough to top. It’s only logical.
Lucky for me (and M) my first attempt at Chicken Pot Pie turned out much better than my banana bread. Truth be told, the puff pastry didn’t puff much, but it did make an extra-buttery, beautifully crunchy top shell. My recipe for Chicken Pot Pie is inspired by Ina Garten’s–her’s was the first I stumbled upon that seemed classic. But Ina’s recipe is huge (even though it claims to feed four), so I immediately cut it down. And I didn’t have all of the ingredients. It all worked out in my favor, though. Instead of 1 1/2 sticks of butter and 1/4 cup of heavy cream, my gravy gets by on a bit of oil, a splash of milk, and only two tablespoons of butter. Let’s just put the pie crusts out of our heads, for the moment. But quite seriously, if you need a dairy free recipe as well, and already have a reliable dairy-free pie crust up your sleeve, this recipe is a cinch to adapt! Chock full of vegetables and warmed gently by spices, it was the perfect dinner for the day of our first snow.
Gluten-Free Chicken Pot Pie
- 1 prepared batch of uncooked pie dough or puff pastry, chilled
- 3-4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (or 2 BL, SL chicken breasts)
- 2 1/2 c. low-sodium chicken stock
- 1 chicken bouillon cube (I used a packet of Trader Joe’s Better Than Bouillon)–make sure the brand is GF
- 4 Tbsp olive oil or canola oil
- 2 Tbsp butter, divided
- 2 small (or 1 large) onion, chopped
- 1/2 cup gluten free flour mix (I used 2 parts white rice flour to 1 part cornstarch–just trade off spoonfuls, it doesn’t need to be exact)
- 2 Tbsp milk or cream
- 1 c. chopped carrots, par-cooked (confession: I tossed mine in the microwave for 2-3 minutes)
- 1/2 c. celery, finely chopped
- 1/2 (heaping) c. frozen peas (about 5 oz or half a bag)
- 1 c. frozen pearl onions
- 1 Tbsp rosemary
- 1 tsp. poultry seasoning
- 1 tsp. minced garlic
- 1 tsp. paprika
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 egg, beaten with 1 Tbsp of water for an eggwash
If pan-frying the chicken, heat 1 Tbsp of oil in a large saucepan. Add chicken and cook over medium heat for about 20-30 minutes or until browned and cooked through. If roasting chicken, preheat oven to 350 degree F, lightly rub chicken with olive oil and roast for 35-45 minutes until cooked through. Sprinkle cooked meat with salt and pepper and set aside to cool. Turn the oven up to 375 degrees F. Place your crust dough on the counter to come to room temperature.
While the chicken is cooking, chop all vegetables and measure out the flour mix. Pour the chicken stock into a small pot and heat until simmering. Add the olive oil and chopped onion to the saucepan where you cooked the chicken (or scrape a bit of the brown tasty bits from the roasting pan into a new saucepan). Cook over medium-low heat until the onion turns translucent, about 10 minutes. Melt in 1 Tbsp of butter and then turn the heat to low. Add the flour and stir constantly for about 2 minutes, scraping up all of the sauce from the bottom of the pan until the roux turns golden brown. Add the chicken stock and continue to stir until thoroughly combined. Simmer over low heat for 1-2 minutes, until thickened. Add milk, rosemary, poultry seasoning, garlic, paprika, salt, and pepper and stir until well incorporated. Add in carrots, celery, peas, and pearl onions. Cube the cooled chicken and add to the vegetables. Mix well.
Pour the mixture into a large casserole dish or into 4-6 individual, oven-proof dishes. Smooth the top and sprinkle over a pinch each of salt and pepper. Roll out the dough to about 1/4-1/3 inch thick, larger than the top of your dish(es). Mix the egg and water together into an egg wash and rub some of the wash all along the edge of the dish. This will help the crust stick. Place the dough over your casserole, pressing it gently to the sides of the dish to seal it. Brush the entire top with egg wash and cut a slit or three to allow the steam to escape. Place the casserole dish onto a jelly roll pan (a baking sheet with a low rim) to save your oven from any drips. Place into the preheated oven and cook for 1 hour, until pie crust is golden and crisp and the gravy is bubbling.