Winter is still a handful of days away, technically, but I've quite settled into my darkened-day hibernation mode without the need of calendars to confirm how I feel. To whit:
- It's cold outside, it's cold inside: our famed kitchen extension - which might or might not be done in time for Christmas dinner - is also a few days short of the important moment when we can turn the heating on in it. Making everything in the house c-o-l-d as this large, open room sucks in all the other heating into it.
- Climbing into bed results in too-close communication with icy sheets. My alluring orange fleece vest, woolen socks, and extra-thick pajamas don't help stave off the cold. Last night I called for the season's first use of the hot water bottle, fondly known as 'The Warmth Pig' for the way the heated rubber gives off a sausagey smell (I was tired when the name came out, but it's sensibly stuck).
- It's too dark to ride my bicycle home at night, I'm nibbling all the time, and my extra winter coat (of fat) is piling on. Oh yes it is.
- My lovely new Mac laptop is truly dead. It would cost about as much to fix it as it would be to get a new one. I've spent 2 days this week feeling utterly crushed about it and having on some dark days/nights of the soul over the waste of money and my careless stupidity. At least, in this case, the cold, dark, shortened days are an appropriate mirror of my mood.
The leek and barley was a nice twist from a traditional leek and potato soup. I like using barley to thicken soups in place of cream or potatoes. After an hour or so of cooking, all the starch that the barley gives off helps create a soup that has the umami of something cooked with cup-fulls of cream, but which has been made in a healthier fashion.
I also quite luxuriously used a whole chicken to make the stock, which I then shredded the meat from and put back into the stock. With generous amounts of pepper, it all worked together to be a creamy, warming, filling and hearty dish which will definitely feature heavily on this winter's soup menu. I might be tempted to experiment in the future with some gentle curry spices to take the soup in a mulligatawny direction, but that's only if I can be tempted away from my new Winter 2007/2008 Comfort Food.
In the meantime, don't forget the Menu For Hope campaign going on at Chez Pim - there are many tempting prizes, including a paella starter kit from yours truly.
Chicken, Leek, and Barley Soup
- 1 medium sized chicken (1 1/2 kilos / 3 lbs)
- 2 liters of water
- 1 large onion, peeled and cut into quarters
- 2 bay leaves
- 200 g barley, rinsed
- 1/2 liter water
- 4 medium leeks, washed
- salt and pepper to taste
- Place the chicken in a large pot with the 2 liters of water and the onion, and bring to a boil. If the chicken doesn't look like it will be submerged under the water, you may need to quarter it.
- Gently boil this stock for about an hour.
- At the same time in another pot, bring the barley and 1/2 liter of water to a gentle boil. Also boil this for about an hour, checking in on it every 20 minutes or so to make sure the water hasn't boiled away.
- Chop the leeks into approximately 1 cm / 1.2 inch disks. Set aside until ready to use.
- After the hour, remove all the chicken and onion pieces from the stock pot. Set the chicken aside to cool down enough until you can handle it.
- Also after the hour and once the stock pot contains only liquid, add the barley and the leeks to the stock pot. Bring to a gentle boil and cook for around 30-40 minutes.
- Shred the chicken - remove the skin and throw it out, and pull the meat apart so that it's in bite-sized chunks.
- After 30 minutes, check the soup mixture for consistency. It should be nicely thick rather than watery. If it needs to thicken up, turn up the heat to boil away some of the water.
- Add salt to taste, and enough pepper to make the entire soup warmingly peppery.
- Add the chicken back into the soup when it is otherwise ready, and cook for a further 3 minutes to warm through.