March 13, 2009

Efficiency? I’ve got it.

A couple of days ago, we were blessed by the first drops of rain in what feels like ages. Seeing as how Texas is currently facing the worst drought in fifty years, the rain, which has continued through the week, has been something to celebrate. Just try explaining the need for precipitation to my dog, who has been inventing her own inside games this week, like "let's see how many toys we can collect in the middle of the floor".

In any case, the welcomed rain coupled with unwelcome 40-degree temperatures called for a hot pot of soup. Inspired by our impulse buy from the bulk bins at Sun Harvest a couple weekends ago, I did a quick search for wild rice recipes. The very first one that came up sounded like a winner: Cream of Turkey & Wild Rice Soup.

Of course, I could not just make this the way it said to... So here is my variation.

Creamy Chicken and Mushroom Soup with Wild Rice

A good glug of EVOO (approx. 2 tbls), plus 1 tbls butter
16 oz mushrooms (that’s right, I QUADRUPLED what the linked recipe called for, inadvertently)
4 stalks celery, chopped
4 carrots, chopped (some reserved for your carrot-loving canine)
1 medium onion, chopped
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
healthy dash of salt and pepper, to taste
4 cups organic chicken broth (I had to use store-bought, but more about that in a minute)
As much cooked wild rice as you want (I dumped in about 2 cups)
About two cups rotisserie chicken (no skin or bones), cut into small pieces
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream

First and foremost, cook your rice. Wild rice takes about 45 minutes to cook, so be sure to start off with that while you prep the rest. Or, cook according to the package (if you're using quick-cook, you can add it in with the stock and move on from there). Once you’ve got your rice going, chop your veggies (prepare the mire poix, if you will). Heat oil and butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add mushrooms, celery, carrots, and onions, and cook, stirring, until softened and aromatic. While that’s cooking, you can chop your chicken up.

Once the veggies are smellin’ flavorful, add flour, salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for a couple minutes more. You’ll want to be sure that flour gets nice and brown, and as soon as that starts to happen, add the broth and bring to a boil, scraping up all those delectable browned bits. Add cooked rice (plus a little of the rice broth if your soup is too thick), cubed chicken, and sour cream, and cook until heated through.

Serve piping hot with some nice, crusty bread. This is healthy and delicious, and makes enough to feed six or so. We even invited my sister over for an impromptu dinner, and had leftovers for dinner the next night.


Click on image to enlarge.

While cooking this, I realized it was a really great lesson in efficiency. Only one hour of prep work had me ready for two dinners, two lunches, and about three soup-sized pots of stock.

I’ve made my own stock a couple of times now, with great success. So when I bought the rotisserie chicken, I had great plans for it. The blueprints went something like this: soup for dinner, scraps for stock, a little celery and chicken set aside to make my favorite lunch--chicken salad--and start a loaf of bread to have with lunch and leftovers the next night.

I’m trying to create less waste in my kitchen, and use up every bite of food rather than tossing things. Stock is a fantastic way to use up even the peels of the onion. While prepping my veggies for the soup, I chopped a couple of extra stalks of celery for my chicken salad and set aside. The rest of the celery scraps went into the bag for stock. After washing the carrots and onion, I peeled both and tossed the peels in the stock pile. I ended up not throwing any of my veggie or chicken scraps in the trash; all of it went into the soup, into my salad, or was reserved for the stock. Can I get a WOW??

Turning to the chicken, I peeled off the skin and pulled the very tender meat from the bones. Most of it went into the soup, but since I like white meat, I did save one breast for my chicken salad. Of course, Fin got a couple of bites in her food bowl too. The chicken carcass went back into its plastic dome (extra skin and all) for the stock.

I managed to prep for dinner, the stock, and my lunch without creating too much of a mess. All accomplished in a highly efficient time frame—dinner was ready and the kitchen was mostly clean within an hour! This just goes to show that with a little foresight, you can come up with a great meal plan with very little work. Even if you’re as scatter-brained as me.

It helps to stick to your plan, too. Aside from the recipe-tinkering, which I absolutely refuse to give up, I stuck to my original idea and that made follow through a lot easier. I have a tendency to say, “Well, why don’t I just make cookies too, that won’t make too much of a mess...” and that’s the kind of thing that brings on the stress-induced eye twitches. Keep things simple, and that will make even the complicated evenings feel like a breeze.

This also lessened the burden for the next day's meals; lunches for two days were done, and we had enough soup (and bread) leftover for a hot dinner the next night too.

High five!