Editor’s note: Kayleigh is on family leave following the birth of her daughter Laila Reè Baig on Dec. 6. We are reprinting some of our favorite “In the Kitchen” columns while she is on leave. This one was originally published on Jan. 11, 2014. If this year’s cold and flu season has you in its grip, this soup is good for what ails you.
Ever get asked the unwanted question, what’s for dinner? I’m telling you now there is no reason to dread the answer to this sometimes uninspiring question. For many of us long hours of work or lack of funds have got us avoiding the kitchen but fear not, all you must do is just dig down a little deeper. Here is some advice on how to find that inner culinary inspiration.
The kitchen shouldn’t be a place that causes anxiety or dismay. Start by grabbing yourself a drink. Making dinner should be a time of relaxation and exploration. Next begin by pulling things that you like from the fridge, pantry or freezer. Lay it all out on the kitchen counter. Go on, I wasn’t kidding. Now take a step back and another sip.
Do you see something you would consider to be your main attraction? Start with that as the star of your show. It could be anything from ground beef to eggs to broccoli. Here is the part where most of you start to cringe or quite possibly lose it. Take another sip. I’m hoping that’s not just a glass of grape juice, when I said grab a drink I meant a DRINK.
Ok, so this is where you will start to search for your inspiration. When I’m not feeling too confident about what to create for a main dish, I will turn to my smart phone or computer for a little peace of mind. Using your favorite search engine, search your star ingredient. Some of my favorite places to find a little inspiration are finecooking.com, food.com and foodnetwork.com.
Is anything catching your eye? Missing some key ingredients from the recipe you’ve just fallen in love with? Leave any fear you have behind, this is where you should start to feel inspired. If you’re missing something from your new found recipe, substitute. Make your own recipe. Wing it. No matter what she told you, Grandma didn’t always follow a recipe. Go with your gut and follow your taste buds.
Some of you may need a little more inspiration then what’s in that glass, if need be then I’d like to introduce you to Chef Keith Floyd. A British celebrity chef who hosted his own cooking shows for BBC. I know. You’re thinking, “What is this guy going to do for me?” But really, he’s funny, knowledgeable and also inspirational— maybe a little crazy too but isn’t that the standard for all great chefs? Something I would only know a little bit about.
Floyd would be in unusual circumstances and have only limited time or ingredients but he would pull it off in a half hour segment. Floyd would cook a full meal in any kitchen he could find, sometimes even a makeshift one out on the countryside, entertain you with good commentary and portray some good cooking skills. Just watch his episode titled Pork Stew in Centurian Sauce – Keith Floyd BBC.
Now that you’ve humored yourself with a little inspiration, it is time to start cooking. Refill your glass. Always taste when you can. Don’t forget to season every layer of your dish. Use your senses. Get creative. Fear and trepidation should no longer exist at this point. Now go forth with your chin up and wooden spoon in hand. Eat well my friends!
Here is a simple recipe that won’t keep you in the kitchen too long and will taste like it has been cooking all day. This recipe is great for substitutes and working around things you have in the kitchen. Don’t be afraid to make changes, use what you have and have fun! Also this recipe is great for serving big crowds or having leftovers for lunch.
Chicken and dumpling soup
2-3 lb. boneless chicken (white or dark or both)
1 c. medium diced carrot
1 c. medium diced celery
2 c. medium diced white or yelow onion
4 cloves of garlic peeled & diced small
2 tbs. butter
1 tbs. flour
1 c. dry white wine
3-4 qt. chicken stock
½ qt. cream
1 bunch of herbs (thyme, parsley, sage, rosemary)
1 bag of frozen broccoli
1 bag of frozen peas
1 package of pre made uncooked buttermilk bicuits (pack of 10 biscuits)
• Start by placing your boneless chicken in a medium sized pot and cover the chicken with about 1 and ½ quarts of stock. Add your bundle of herbs and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Turn heat down to medium and allow to simmer for about 15 minutes or until your chicken is cooked through. After your chicken is cooked, strain the stock and set both the chicken and the stock aside for later.
• In a large soup pot, melt your butter. Add your diced onion and season with a little salt and pepper. Cook until your onion starts to soften. Add your diced carrots, celery and garlic. Cook on medium low heat for about 5 minutes or until all of the vegetables start to soften. Still on medium low heat, take your tablespoon of flour and sprinkle over the vegetables. Continue to stir until the flour is no longer white. Keep stirring. Add your white wine. Let wine cook for about a minute. If you don’t have any white wine just skip this step. Now add the stock you saved from your cooked chicken. Add some salt and pepper to season. Stir and bring to a low simmer.
• While the base of your soup simmers chop up your chicken. It doesn’t have to be fancy, aim for around the same size as you cut your veggies. Don’t be worried if herbs from your bundle are on your chicken just be sure to remove any stems or thick branches that might have escaped. After you’ve chopped up all your chicken add to your simmering soup.
• Add your peas, broccoli and any other veggies you desire. Add your ½ quart of cream. Add any remaining stock. For a chunkier soup add less stock. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer until any remaining vegetables are cooked through.
• While your soup simmers open up your uncooked buttermilk biscuits. I like to use the store brand buttermilk biscuits and since my family thinks the dumplings are the best part I use 2 packages. Take each raw biscuit and cut into quarters. Roll each piece into a ball and drop into your simmering soup. Continue to simmer for about 3 minutes until dumplings are cooked through. Be sure to taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Enjoy!
A few extra tips:
• If you don’t have 3-4 quarts of stock you can replace some with water. Just be sure to use whatever stock you have to boil the chicken in. This helps give it that cooked all day flavor.
• If you don’t have fresh herbs than use dried herbs that you already have just be sure to rub them between your palms before adding to awaken them!
• If you decide you want to add more vegetables to this recipe that aren’t frozen, add them when you add your carrots and celery. For example fresh broccoli instead of frozen.
• You can use oil instead of butter to cook your vegetables!
• Be sure to season every layer, if you are afraid of over seasoning then lose the fear, season lightly and you can always add more at the end.
Kayleigh Van Vliet Baig was born and raised in Riverhead, where she lives with her husband Tahir and their two dogs.
Kayleigh is in her third season as Sous Chef at a private kitchen in Southampton. Not only is she second in command but her main focus is on creating, preparing and executing cold dishes such as salads, hors d’œuvres, appetizers, canapés, pâtés and terrines. Kayleigh has been in the culinary industry for the last 15 years, working her way up in kitchens on the East End. She also is a personal chef.
Look for In the Kitchen with Kayleigh every Saturday on RiverheadLOCAL.com.
Got questions? Recipes? Ideas?