I Have Awful News [chicken noodle soup]

Dear readers, we’ve been together for a long time, and I hate that today is the day I have to break your hearts.

But I figured out another kitchen secret a while ago and I’ve felt like it’s all been a lie between us since I haven’t yet shared it.

chicken noodle soup

Eating less crap makes you feel really good.

Like, really.

Ugh.

I hate that it’s true.

In a bizarre twist of events I made it through 31 days of January having worked less than half of them.  And when I don’t work, I am a different person.  My hair is blow-dried, my nails are painted, my house is clean, my runs happen in daylight hours, and thus, are longer, my meals are planned, and my refrigerator runneth over with nothing but the healthiest of ingredients.  Oh, and, I’m also pleasant and fun to be around.

I guess what I’m saying is that yes, it takes time to cook and eat healthy.  A ton of time compared to throwing something from the Trader Joe’s freezer section.

And the worst part is it’s totally worth it.

Wooden Nickels shared this soup with me on a recent trip to the beach, and I recreated it in our kitchen the other night.  It took no time from start to finish, and it is darn healthy.  This is one of those no real recipe things, so knock yourselves out, and adjust as necessary.  My current goal is to eat at least one fruit and vegetable with each meal, so I was heavy on the veggies.  My husband shredded and added some leftover roast chicken to make the meal more substantial.

To make a big pot of chicken noodle soup:

Put a glug of olive oil in a heavy bottomed pot, or Dutch oven.  Saute a chopped onion for a while, until it starts to brown.  Add salt and pepper.  Peel and chop a couple of carrots, and let those hang out with the onion for a little while.  Add 6 C chicken or vegetable stock (make it yourself to experience the difference between a regular weeknight dinner and an amazing homemade meal), or some combination of whatever stock you have leftover in the refrigerator and water.  Bring to a boil, and add 1 1/2 C small pasta, such as Farfalline or Stellette.  Cook 4 minutes.  Add a slew of freezer vegetables.  I added about 1 C green beans, 1 C corn, and 1 C peas.  Stir in shredded, cooked chicken at this point if you’re so inclined.  Keep boiling another 4 minutes.  Remove soup from heat and stir in 1/2 C pesto (again, homemade is a big flavor boost here).  Ladle soup out into bowls, and top with heaping amounts of Parmesan cheese.

On Missed Opportunities

When the New Year had just begun, Tracy posted a list of her top 20 recipes from 2013.  As I scrolled through the list, I ended up kicking myself over just about every photo that appeared on my screen.  Why hadn’t I made that yet?  I’m looking at you, turkey, broccoli, cheddar panini!

spinach tortellini soup

But I started super simple, and ended up with a meal that is sure to become a weeknight staple in these, the colder months.  Spinach tortellini soup.  It’s a keeper because a week after making it, I could walk to my kitchen and recreate the entire dish without looking up the recipe again.  My recommendation is to double the recipe below so you can keep a full serving in the freezer.  You never know when soup weather is going to strike, and you wouldn’t want to be caught unprepared.

To make spinach tortellini soup for 4, you will need:

  • 1 T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1 tsp. dried basil
  • salt and pepper
  • 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 32 oz. chicken stock
  • 10 oz. package tortellini
  • 6 oz. fresh baby spinach
  • Parmesan, for serving

Heat olive oil in large stockpot.  Add onion and saute 3-4 minutes, till translucent.  Add garlic, and stir 30 seconds, till fragrant.  Add red pepper flakes, oregano, basil, and salt and pepper to taste. Add can of diced tomatoes and chicken stock.  Bring mixture to boil and let it roll about 10 minutes.  Add tortellini and cook about 6 minutes, or according to package directions.  Remove soup from heat, and stir in spinach till slightly wilted.  Ladle into bowls and top with Parmesan cheese.

On Sundays

On Sundays, I make pancakes.

On Sundays, we go to the farmers market.

On Sundays, we go to church.

On Sundays, we watch football.

On Sundays, I eat brunch.

On Sundays, I bake.

On Sundays, I take a little more time with dinner than I usually do.

beef stew

On Sundays, I make soup.

To make a giant pot of beef stew, you will need:

  • Vegetable oil
  • 4 pounds stew meat
  • 2 T butter
  • 5 carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • salt
  • pepper
  • leaves from 5 sprigs thyme
  • 1/2 C red wine
  • 2 baking potatoes, chopped
  • 8 C beef stock (or if you forgot you already had some leftover in the fridge, 4 C plus a lot of water)
  • 1 C frozen peas

Heat oil in large, heavy bottomed skillet.  Add meat in small batches, browning evenly on all sides.  Remove meat and set aside.

Melt butter in skillet and add carrots, celery, onions, thyme, salt, and pepper, and cook 8-10 minutes, until tender.  Add wine, and scrape everything around until you get all those brown, flavorful bits off the bottom of the pan.  Let wine reduce by about half.

Add stock, potatoes, and meat, and bring pot to a boil.  Reduce heat to simmer, and let stew cook 2 hours, stirring every now and again if you feel like it.

When stew is finished, add frozen peas.  The residual heat from the stew will cook the peas.

Chicken Soup with Rice

In January

it’s so nice

while slipping

on the sliding ice

to sip hot chicken soup

with rice.

Sipping once

sipping twice

sipping chicken soup

with rice.

chicken soup with rice.I borrowed that poem from my old pal Maurice Sendak because I don’t know any truer words.

This week is supposed to get nasty cold.  And the flu has reached epidemic status!  I’m not really one to react about either of those factors.  But give me an excuse to make soup and I’m there.

close up chicken soup with riceThis soup is so light and gentle.

It’s low-maintenance.

It’s one of those recipes that would make you oh-so-tempted to jazz it up.  A squeeze of lemon? Some turmeric?  Celery, even?

But no.

It’s best the way it is.

Simple.

It’s a beautiful thing.

To make chicken soup with rice for 4, you will need:

  • olive oil
  • half an onion, minced
  • 2 carrots, finely diced
  • bay leaf
  • a few sprigs fresh thyme, or a few shakes of dried
  • 2 quarts chicken broth (Homemade is diviiiiiiine, but don’t let that stop you.  Store bought will always do.)
  • 1 C uncooked, long grain rice
  • 2 C shredded, cooked chicken

Heat the olive oil in the bottom of a large, heavy-bottomed skillet.  Add onion and carrot, and saute till soft, 5-7 minutes.

Add bay leaf, thyme, and chicken broth, and bring to a boil.

Reduce to a simmer and add rice and chicken.  Let soup bubble, stirring occasionally, till rice is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes.

 

 

Sugar and Spice

Dear Readers, Hey Girl Hey had a baby.

I cried.  I sat on the couch, reading her text messages, and I cried.

Cari Faye taught me that you know a friend is a keeper when you didn’t know you could feel so much happiness for another person.

That’s how I feel about Hey Girl Hey and her new little one.

hey girl hey, jr.With any luck, CV(D), AGOMYR, my ex, and I get to go visit this new little one over the weekend.  CV(D) and I spent the latter part of work day brainstorming meals we could deliver.

I mean, cupcakes are my obvious go-to but I’m thinking this woman is going to need some sustenance over the next few weeks/months/years.  Sanding sugar just won’t do.  Thus, I’m racking my brain for freezer-friendly meals.  Here’s what I’ve got so far:

mac and cheeseObviously, macaroni and cheese is at the top of the list.  It’s Wooden Nickels’ classic recipe, and my comfort food of choice, no matter the occasion.

lasagna Lasagna is always a classic, but with Hey Girl, Hey’s Italian background, I’d be too afraid I’m stepping on Grandma Hey Girl Hey’s toes.

chicken enchiladasI can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t want The Pioneer Woman’s enchiladas around on a winter evening.

chicken chiliUnless someone really had a hankering for soup.  In which case, I’d give them the Barefoot Contessa’s chicken chili.  It’s pretty darn healthy, too.

Dear readers, if someone was filling your freezer, what would you want them to bring?

When Salad is What’s For Dinner

Then you have no excuse not to make your own croutons.

Especially when there’s that extra loaf of farmers market bread that the bread guy gave you because he had it and it was so good he wanted you to have it too.

In fact, whether salad is what’s for dinner or not, you can whip up your own croutons in less than 10 minutes whenever there’s day old bread lying around.  Store them in an airtight container, and they can sit for up to a week.  Sprinkle them on soups, salads, and the like.  Or just keep snitching them out of the bowl on the counter where they live.

Homemade croutons are not like the kind from the grocery store, coated in garlic and onion powder.  I love those.  But garlic isn’t supposed to be powdered.  Thus, these are better.  Because they are infused with the flavor of real garlic.  And when you sprinkle sea salt over them.  Well.  Then they’re just about perfect.

To make a batch of croutons, you will need:

  • olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
  • sea salt (kosher would work as well)
  • day old bread, cut into 1/2 to 1-inch cubes

First, a note.  Some people believe in cutting the crusts off their bread before setting about to make croutons.  I am not one of those people.  If there is a step in the kitchen that can be eliminated without disastrous results, I’m likely to eliminate it.  The choice, dear readers, is yours.

Set a large skillet on a burner.  Drizzle in enough olive oil to coat the bottom in a thin layer.  Heat olive oil and garlic cloves over medium to low heat, till olive oil starts to bubble around the cloves.  Let simmer this way about 5 minutes.  You’re infusing the oil with the flavor of the garlic.  You can give things a stir if you feel the need to be more involved in the infusing process.  Remove the garlic and discard.  Add bread to skillet.  At this point, you want to crank up the heat if it was on low.  Medium should work well here.  Stir the bread around the skillet, turning the cubes so they brown on all sides.  When things look nice and golden, and most of the oil has been absorbed, remove croutons and transfer to an airtight container.  The amount of salt you want to use depends on how many croutons you’re making.  I had about 1 1/2 – 2 C croutons, and I sprinkled a generous teaspoon of sea salt over them.  I sealed them in tight with a lid, and gave things a shake to coat.  If you’re new to recipes that tell you to salt to taste, here’s the part where you take out a crouton or two or three and try them.  Not enough salt?  Add another half teaspoon.  Keep them sealed in that container till you’re ready for dinner.

As I Write This

I don’t know whether I have power.  I don’t know whether Frankenstorm wiped us all out.

Future Jennie?  Can you hear me?  Are you safe?

Future Dear Readers?  Do you have power?  Are you in need of a soup recipe?

I hope you answered yes to both questions.  I hope I answered yes to both questions.

Because if you can get chicken and barley soup on the table tonight, you win.  I’m a total sucker for barley in soup, and this is the best I’ve had.  That should come as no surprise, as it hails from Dinner, a Love Story, which if you’re not reading, and you haven’t bought the book, then Dear Readers, I just don’t know where we stand anymore.  Jenny and Andy write about dinner, and their family’s life, in a way that makes you feel like you could create something special for your own nearest and dearest, too.

And that always starts with dinner.

To make chicken and barley soup to ride out the storm, you will need:

  • olive oil
  • 1 lb, bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces (white meat, dark meat, or both)
  • salt
  • pepper
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 C carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 C celery, chopped
  • 1/2 C red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 sprigs thyme
  • 4 C chicken stock (veggie if that’s how you roll)
  • 1/2 C uncooked barley

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Pat chicken dry with paper towel, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper.  Cook on baking sheet 30 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Heat a few tablespoons olive oil in skillet.  Add onions, carrots, celery, and bell pepper.  Saute till veggies are soft, 10-12 minutes.  Add stock, bay leaf, and thyme, and bring to boil.  Reduce heat to simmer, add barley and let things hang out for 25 minutes.

While you’re hanging around, peel the skin off the chicken, and use two forks to shred the meat.

Add chicken to soup, and let the flavors come together for another few minutes.  Serve with a huge slice of crusty bread.

Because Mondays Are Hard

I don’t remember which Joy the Baker Podcast pointed this out to me, but folks, Mondays are hard.  Joy’s cure is The Bachelor.  Tonight, mine was soup.

Monday was a coldy, rainy day.  And a terrible hair day.  And an I-didn’t-get-enough-sleep-last-night day.  And an eat my feelings day.

But Monday evening was oh-so-much better.  I got home, and got slicing and dicing.  And in a bit of time, I had this fresh, springy, and steamy bowl of soup in front of me.  With tiny stelline pasta, fresh peas, barely cooked vegetables and a cute little garnish.  Where winter stews are chunky and hearty, this one is dainty and cute.  It’s warm and comforting, but with a squeeze of lemon on top, it’s plenty bright too.  Let it turn your day around.

To make a big bowl, you will need:

  • 1 1/2 oz. sliced prosciutto, torn in pieces
  • 2 T butter
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 12 basil leaves
  • 2 qt. chicken stock, low sodium
  • 1/2 C stelline, or other small pasta
  • 1 C fresh peas (or frozen if you have them)
  • 1/2 C finely diced carrot
  • 1/2 C finely diced celery
  • Kosher salt
  • Black pepper
  • Lemon slices
  • Grated Parmesan cheese

In a food processor, blend prosciutto, butter, oil, onion, garlic, and basil until pieces are miniscule, stopping to scrape down sides as necessary.  Pat yourself on the back because you just made a battuto.  Transfer to bottom of large saucepan and cook over medium heat until onions are soft, and everything is just a little mushy, about 8 minutes.  Add chicken broth and bring to boil. Add pasta and cook for 5 minutes.  Add carrots, celery and peas, and cook for 5 minutes more.  Taste for salt and pepper and add as you see fit.  Serve immediately.  Top each bowl with a squeeze of lemon juice and grated Parmesan.

Finding Recipes

When deciding what to make for dinner, one has a wealth of places to go looking.  Cookbooks are a great start.  I can’t wait to get my hands on this one, the winner of Food 52′s Piglet cookbook showdown, and this one, which I’ve been anticipating for quite some time.  Don’t even get me started on this one.  It may be the very first cookbook I cook from beginning to end.  If you peruse your cookbook collection to no avail, you can turn to magazines, like Cook’s Illustrated or Fine Cooking.  And if that fails, there are 8 billion food blogs out there to satisfy your every need.

But just in case you’ve exhausted all those options, and you’re still sans dinner ideas, there’s one other source that’s never let me down.

The Williams Sonoma catalog.

It’s the one catalog that I always look through.  The one that can’t go to the recycling bin until I’ve had my way with it, which usually means I’ve torn out half the pages.

I don’t know who they have in their kitchens, but those people are good.

I’ve noticed broccoli cheese soup on a lot of blogs lately, but I was wary of making it.  I didn’t want to eat anything that would feel too heavy, or taste too much like something you would order at Applebee’s.

And then, I noticed a recipe for broccoli-cheddar soup in the latest WS catalog. They were using it to hawk this Cuisinart Soup Maker and Blender, but you don’t need one to make soup.  You can use a regular blender or hand blender.

I knew if there was a broccoli cheese soup worthy of our weeknight rotation, this would be it.

And it really and truly was.  It’s packed with cheddar flavor, but doesn’t feel too heavy.  There’s a little hint of heat in each spoonful, so the flavor isn’t one-dimensional.  Plus you can serve it with just about anything.  Chicken, noodles, a crusty loaf of bread, beer, or a glass of chardonnay.

To make soup for 4, you will need:

  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 lb. broccoli, cut into 1 inch florets
  • 3 C chicken stock (I ended up using a bit more, and of course, you can use vegetable stock if you’re so inclined)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 C spinach leaves
  • 1 T light beer (I had white wine open, so used that instead)
  • 4 oz. extra sharp white cheddar cheese, grated
  • 2 pinches cayenne
  • finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for garnish

In a heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven, warm oil over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic, and a few pinches of salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until aromatic and tender, 8-10 minutes.

Increase heat to high, add broccoli, stock (I added enough stock to cover the broccoli completely, probably about 3 1/2 C), a few pinches of salt and black pepper; bring to a simmer.  Cover and cook broccoli over medium heat, about 10 minutes, or until broccoli is tender.  Remove from heat.  Transfer soup mixture and spinach to blender and blend till smooth.  When you’re blending hot liquids, you want to fill your blender halfway at the most, so you may have to do this a couple of times.

Transfer the soup back to the pan, and add cheddar and cayenne, stirring till cheese is melted.  Serve with grated Parmesan on top.

Sometimes, You Just Know

I swore I would never be the girl who couldn’t live without her smartphone, but late Tuesday evening, while strolling the aisles of Whole Foods, she was me.  I knew that meatball week meant Ina’s Italian Wedding Soup was on the menu, but I didn’t have the list of ingredients for the recipe with me.  iPhone to the rescue.  I pulled up the recipe, threw everything in my cart, and saved myself from yet another weeknight trip to the grocery store.

Which means I never opened the cookbook with the recipe until the night I made the soup.  I jot notes in the margins of all my cookbooks, and the first time I made this dish (February 3, 2009), I wrote the following, “Would be perfect if you’re sick.”

What do you know?  The night I made this, I was sick with a rotten cold that left me chugging orange juice as if my life depended on it.  Sometimes, you just know that the dish you make is going to turn out exactly the way you needed it to.

With all that green, it’s not too bad for you either.

I’ve made this soup several times, and like almost all of Ina’s dishes, there are plenty of substitutes you can make here.  I’m not the biggest fan of sausage, unless it’s top notch.  If you don’t have something great at your disposal, only use ground chicken.  No Romano cheese?  Up the Parmesan.  And any grain you can name will work just fine in this soup.  Small pasta, rice, bown rice, Israeli couscous, you name it.  Sick of adding spinach to everything you make?  Shake this up with some kale instead.  Personalize this however you see fit.

To make Ina’s Italian Wedding Soup for 8, you will need:

  • 3/4 pound ground chicken
  • 1/2 pound chicken sausage, casings removed
  • 2/3 C bread crumbs (I use Italian seasoned)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 T chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 C grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1/4 C grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 T milk
  • 1 extra large egg, lightly beaten
  • Kosher salt
  • pepper
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 carrots, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, chopped
  • 10 C chicken stock
  • 1/2 C dry white wine
  • 1 C small pasta (but rice would work too)
  • 12 oz. baby spinach leaves

To make the meatballs, preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a baking sheet with parchment.  Mix first 9 ingredients, plus 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper in a bowl with your hands.  Form small (1 inch) meatballs and place them on baking sheet.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, until cooked through and lightly browned.  Set aside.

Meanwhile, heat oil in bottom of large stock pot.  Saute onion, carrots, and celery and saute until softened, 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add wine to deglaze the pan, and chicken stock.  Bring to boil.  Add pasta and cook 5-6 minutes (if you use rice, you’ll need to cook it longer).  Add meatballs to soup and cook 1 minute.  Add spinach and cook one more minute till wilted.  Serve hot in large bowls.