Mikey the Pig (“Oink!”)

It isn't soup yet...

It isn't soup yet...

The thing I always forget about the New Year is that so many people are relieved that the holidays are over. Those would be the folks who ask, “So, did you survive the holidays?” No judgment here. My mom spent the bulk of her working years in retail. Although she has long since retired, she still greets the holiday season with the attitude of a soldier gearing up for a rough patrol.

For others the end of the holiday season is a huge letdown. Understandable: all the goodies have been put away. Here in Manhattan, not long after Halloween we begin to get accustomed to a twinkly, idealized version of our city which disappears seemingly overnight after New Year’s Eve. The first Monday after New Year’s Eve can be a bit of a letdown in that respect. Last week we had a big snowstorm, and just a few days on, to roughly quote Stephen Sondheim, “…even the snow looks used.”

The third group rolls up its (collective) sleeves and gets down to work. “Happy Holidays. Let’s GO!” Healthy, well-balanced folk, that group.

Me? This year finds me in all three groups depending on the day / the hour / the minute. The little kid in me loves Christmastime. The food blogger in me knows that I can’t write about holiday food every week so is happy to move on.

I’ll miss the music though.

As is the habit every January I (and millions of others) vow (but not resolve) to lose weight: “Hack the Holiday Heft” is my program for 2011. My track record isn’t bad—some years I do better than other years—but I find the constant is to keep myself entertained with the cooking process. If I can keep playing in the kitchen I somehow feel less deprived. My game plan is to find meals that I can fuss over in the kitchen thereby distracting myself from the absence of cookies in my life. The tough part is chocolate; there simply is no substitute. Ah well, what is life without a little sacrifice, right?

Now, not to get all “Forrest Gump” on you, but I find that making chicken soup is a lot like planning the year ahead. (Stay with me on this…) The basic recipe is constant. It’s what you put into it that makes it yours and makes it special. Okay, I’ll grant you that this is not world-changing philosophy, but I’m standing by my statement, and I promise to not belabor it.

Making Chicken Soup is literally as easy as boiling water yet the end result is so soothing, and, depending on the “extras” you add, also a hearty, healthy meal ideal for hacking the holiday heft.

You wouldn’t think that something as basic and ages-old as Chicken Soup would be a subject for debate, but lately there seems to be a divergence of opinion about the chicken itself: after cooking the soup do you save the chicken or not? As debates go this is right up there with whether the toilet tissue should hang over or under—a debate I will not go near: soup isn’t the only thing chicken here.

Some folks insist that the chicken has been boiled away and should be discarded, some folks insist that it is still perfectly good. To resolve this weighty problem I consulted two experts: my Mother, a certified Grandmother, and the original New York Times Cookbook (circa 1960) which serves as my de facto ol’ Auntie when it comes to food.

Both assured me that I can happily retain the chicken meat. I want it shredded into chunks and returned to the soup, but my Mom insisted, “We always made Chicken Salad with it.” (When I explained that I wanted to use it in the soup, in true Jewish mother fashion she replied, “You don’t like Chicken Salad???” Emphasis: hers.)

Yes Mom, I love Chicken Salad, but I want Chicken Soup. And perfectly good protein goes where it belongs: back into the soup.

My aromatics – the other ingredients I add to the soup as it cooks– are fairly traditional except that I have a big bunch of Parsley and some left-over Rosemary which I’ll be using instead of celery. (Mom: “No celery???”) I’ll tie them into a bouquet with some butcher’s twine. A few parsnips, and carrots, a head of garlic (thank you Ina Garten), and a dusting of Bells Seasoning (left over from Thanksgiving) and I should have a richly flavored broth. (I’ll strain the finished soup through a mesh strainer, lest you think my finished product will look like some freaky, cloudy tea.)

As I am an impatient skimmer (skimming the fat from hot soup is like herding cats), I‘ll refrigerate the soup just after I strain it. The fat will congeal, float to the top, and be easily peeled away like pulling lily pads from a lake. Anyway, the soup tastes better after it has been allowed to sit for a while.

I’ll add salt just before I eat, and only to the portion of the soup I am heating. (Another debatable point. Some insist you must season as you go.) When dinner time rolls around I’ll break up a few sheets of No-Boil Lasagna noodles into the re-heating broth. These will approximate papardelle, and are lighter than the egg noodles my Grandmother would have added. I like to sprinkle in some diced red bell pepper, but that’s more for looks than anything else. A little fresh chopped parsley looks good too.

Crackers? Only if I’m in the mood to make my Cornmeal Saltines, and even then, just a few. My cookie mascot “Mikey the Pig” (on the blog’s masthead) isn’t the only one saying, “Oink” right now: I have holiday heft to hack!

“Happy Holidays. Let’s GO!”


Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com


Leave a Reply

Follow ButterFlourBlog on Twitter