Archive for the ‘Soup’ Category

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!”


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White Nights

Oh yeah: I made soup too. (Recipes follow...)

Oh yeah: I made soup too. (Recipes follow...)

A few days ago I sat down on my big fat sofa to watch the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Winter Games and realized that I was – predictably – hungry. I’d had a busy day and hadn’t had the time to plan something special as a tribute to the Olympics, so I had a great big Olympic Omelet, which sounds like something you’d eat at a Diner in New Jersey. Mine was just an omelet.

Bobby Orr (This poster hung on our bedroom wall.)

Bobby Orr (This poster hung on our bedroom wall.)

Do you mind if pause here to relate an observation about the opening ceremonies? Don’t worry; I’ll swing it back to food post haste. At one point in the program a small group of distinguished Canadian athletes carried the Olympic flag across the stadium. Among them was Bobby Orr, the legendary hockey defenseman of the Boston Bruins. I think of him as a hometown hero, so it was an odd but happy feeling to see this kind of tribute paid to him by another country – namely, his own.

Those of us who grew up in Northern New England in that era are closer to Canadians than we realize. Could it be the cold weather? Boston winters are generally much icier than the wimpy New York winters. When I was growing up everyone’s car had a toolbox of well-worn items needed to deice the windshield: scrapers, brushes, and my favorite, a spray that melted the ice so you could then continue to scrape it away. Forget your morning workout: no one got out of their driveway without scrape aerobics. I am generally the nostalgic type, but I don’t miss that.

And hockey was very much a hometown game – perhaps not to the extent that it is for your average Canadian kid – but it seems like everyone, including yours truly, had a hockey stick in their hands at some point. We skated indoors and out, at places with wholesome names like Crystal Lake and Bulloughs’ Pond.

My brother was a hockey player – I mean, for real. He spent part of his high school years playing Junior Hockey in Canada, and went to college on a hockey scholarship. Even now at the age of __ he plays a few nights a week in an adult league, and he still has all of his teeth.

So now you understand that for me, seeing Bobby Orr, long since retired, carrying the Olympic flag was, well…heck he’s “Numbah Faw, Bobby Aw.”


I wanted to make something hearty, healthy, and warm to eat while I watched the skiing, skating, and curling. Since the goal was to sit and watch the Olympics, the hope was that I could make something that would last for several meals. I’m all about investing in time up front. Soup, anyone? Let’s face it, this isn’t brain surgery. Making soup, even from scratch, is almost as easy as opening a few cans and emptying them into a big pot.

Chili seemed like an obvious choice, but, with Super Bowl Weekend having just passed, I’m all “chilied out.” Compromise seemed to be the order of the day, and that came in the form of White Chicken Chili, but cooked “con carne” style, meaning with chunks of chicken instead of ground chicken.

Perhaps I was influenced by all the snow I was watching people glide over on my TV, but white seemed to become the “theme” of this meal, if indeed there was a theme at all. I chose traditional white chili condiments and white ingredients, except the one everyone may have expected: instead of white beans I used black eyed peas. But there was enough white stuff already. The translucent crunch of turnip instead of celery, and the starchy chew of hominy needed a little counterpoint to keep the chili from being too monochromatic.

The end result was indeed satisfying: warming, hearty, but minus the richness of regular chili. The heat and slight vinegary bite of tomatillos and green chilies gave the soup (stew?) a familiar “chilliness.” Texans and other purists may not like the result, although I am the first to admit that it is definitely Northern White-Boy Chili. Have I mentioned that I’m from New England?

It was with this defiant-slash-defeatist attitude that I decided to find a substitute for the expected tortilla chips that may have given some salty, crunchy consort to the chili. In my mind’s eye I pictured tortilla chips sneering at what I’d cooked, as if to say, “Sorry hombre, but that aint Chili!” Oyster crackers seemed to be a bit off the mark too, although their heavy, almost thudding crunch seemed tempting.


Again, compromise: Cornmeal “Saltines” are like the secret love child of corn tortillas and oyster crackers. They are a cinch to make and their salty, dusty crunch and cornmeal graininess are like an oar you can use to row through the richness of the cheese and sour cream you’ll want to dollop on top. Baked, not fried! They are what used to be referred to as “homely”, that is, simple and very plain, but I think therein lays their appeal. I’ll be reserving a few as a solo snack while I watch the moguls.

But just now I’m off to watch the Curling. Sweeping a broom on the ice to make big rocks go farther? That looks like something I could actually do!


Click here for my recipes for Chili Con Pollo and Cornmeal “Saltines”.


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As The Room Turns

Miso hungry

Miso hungry

Wow. That was fast. January – the “Monday Morning of the year” – ends this weekend. Can it be just a few short weeks ago that I was gorging myself on holiday cookies? Eating chocolate like a condemned man? Seems like a distant memory. Ah well, that’s okay because you may recall that I designated January as my month of virtuous eating. The idea was to deblobify while not letting myself feel as though I was on a diet.

This week I had planned to make a cleansing, healthy, but substantial soup. The type of thing that makes you feel like you’re treating your body like the temple that it is, while also feeling like you’re indulging in one of life’s great pleasures – which to me is what cooking well and eating well is all about.

Then I caught a doozy of a winter cold, and that changed the dynamic. Out went my plans for a carefully tended, delicate but hearty chicken soup. “La grippe” rendered me too lazy to chop the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic that serve as the aromatic base for really good chicken soup. No, all I wanted to do was sit on my big fat…uh…sofa.

So I changed tactics a bit. I suppose I could have opened a can of soup. I have no objections to that. But what kind of a blog would that make? “Dear Readers: Tonight I opened a can of soup. The End.” I think I can be a little more creative than that, even with a stuffy nose.

Here’s how this came to be: I may have mentioned in the past that I am a bit of a lightweight when it comes to alcoholic beverages. You can add Ny-Quill to that list: one dose and the room starts to spin. The other night as I was holding on to the bed to make sure I didn’t fall out, I thought of Shirataki noodles.

Non-sequitur? Yes indeed, and don’t you envy my ability to get completely ripped from one tiny dose of Ny-Quill? I have no idea why I thought of Shirataki noodles, but once the thought came to mind there it stayed until I drifted off.

Japanese Shirataki noodles are kind of amazing – in theory. They are not made of flour; instead they are made of powdered Konnyaku root (a yam), with certain brands throwing in some tofu for good measure. More important: they are gluten free, and extremely low in carbs, and calories.

Here’s the problem: I tried them a year or two ago and hated them. The easiest to find Shirataki noodles come packed in a bag of water and have a somewhat gelatinous texture. In other words, they have the mouth feel of overcooked noodles. That’s a major flaw for me; I’ve been known to fatally undercook pasta. I’m talking al Dente with a capital D. (Or should that be a capital A?) As I was riding the Ny-Quill roller coaster I decided that I should give Shirataki noodles another chance, but this time I’d make sure to keep them within a milieu where they can feel at home: miso soup.

Miso soup is a staple of Japanese cuisine, so much so that many Japanese even drink it for breakfast. Miso is a paste made of fermented soy and usually another grain like rice or barley. The paste is simply mixed with water or broth to make soup. Easy and fast, right? The best part is that anything else in the soup is your choice.

Cut to the next day, and me, stone cold sober, trawling the aisles at Whole Foods. In my shopping cart: miso paste, and Shirataki noodles. As I walked up and down the aisles I kept an eye out for things that would complement the mild saltiness of the soup while adding color (miso soup tends to be a bit muddy), and add a bit of texture. I also hoped for something vaguely medicinal to attack my cold. Garlic was a given. Supposedly it has antiseptic properties that would wash away my cold.

I thought scallions might be a nice addition too; they were usually floating in the bowls of miso soup I have been served in restaurants. But that day Whole Foods was pushing big fat Vidalia Salad Onions which looked like scallions that had gorged themselves at an all you can eat buffet. They looked too good to pass up. A few shiitake mushrooms found their way into the basket – one of the familiar faces I thought would keep the Shirataki noodles company.

Finally, I realized that I craved a bit of protein and bought a palmful of 41-50 shrimp from the fish counter.

Back home in my kitchen, making the soup was literally as easy as boiling water. I cut the garlic into not-too-thin slices. I figured I could steep its medicinal qualities into the soup by not chopping it too finely. I sliced the mushrooms, and added the Shirataki noodles early so they’d have enough time to heat up with the soup.

(Shirataki noodles usually need to be boiled very briefly before using, because straight from the package they may have a bit of a funky smell. I did as directed, but I probably could have skipped this step: mine didn’t smell bad coming out of the package.)

I added the shrimp last and let them cook in the soup. This takes a whopping two to three minutes. After pouring the soup into the bowl, I added thin rings of the Vidalia Salad Onion as a garnish. Their spiky / sweet crunch would be a nice counterpoint to all the other mellow ingredients.

My instinct about the Shirataki noodles was right on target. In a soup I didn’t find their softness objectionable; here they fit in beautifully and added a bit of guilt-free chew. The soup itself was light and refreshing with a reassuring sting of garlic that I chose to assume were its medicinal qualities announcing their report for duty.

No, the soup didn’t rid me of my cold. But it did get me back on the sofa quickly, well nourished, and with happily amused taste buds. What’s the old saw about colds? Three days coming, three days here, and three days going. If that schedule holds, my cold should exit with the month of January.

And will January leave me deblobified? I’m down ten pounds. Not bad, eh?


Saveur CoverThe kind folks at Saveur Magazine found my August 31st, 2009 posting about Ines Rosales Sweet Olive Oil Tortas and asked me to distill it for inclusion in their readers’ 2010 Top 100 list. You’ll find it in the Jan / Feb 2010 issue of the magazine, now on newsstands everywhere. Take a look and let me know what you think!


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