07-11-26_soup.jpgI feel it’s safe to assume that chicken soup is one of those few foods that includes a preset collection of expectations for each individual American. This recipe (printed below), from the March 1996 issue of Cook’s Illustrated, was apparently inspired by the late Southern American chef Edna Lewis, who happens to have a great posthumous entry in the January 2008 issue of Gourmet, called “What is Southern.” As is typical with each recipe that is printed in Cook’s Illustrated, this was very satisfying to cook. All of the elements were fine-tuned and ultra-tested.

Hearty Chicken Noodle Soup
Makes about 3 quarts, serving 6 to 8

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 whole chicken (about 4 lb.) breast removed, split and reserved; remainder cut in 2-inch pieces
2 medium onions, cut in medium dice
2 quarts boiling water
2 bay leaves
1 large carrot, peeled, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 celery stalk, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1/2 tsp. dried thyme
2 cups (3 oz.) wide egg noodles
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
ground black pepper

1. Heat oil in large soup kettle. When oil shimmers and starts to smoke, add chicken breast halves; sauté until brown on both sides, about 5 minutes. Remove and set aside. Add half the chopped onions to kettle; sauté until colored and softened slightly, 2-3 minutes. Transfer to medium bowl; set aside. Add half the chicken pieces; sauté until no longer pink, 4-5 minutes. Transfer to bowl with onions. Sauté remaining chicken pieces. Return onions and chicken pieces, excluding breasts, to kettle. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer until chicken releases its juices, about 20 minutes. Increase heat to high; add boiling water along with both breast halves, 2 tsp salt, and bay leaves. Return to simmer, then cover and barely swimmer until chicken breasts are cooked and broth is rich and flavorful, about 20 minutes.

2. Remove chicken breasts from kettle; set aside. When cool enough to handle, remove skin from breasts, then remove meat form bones and shred into bite-size pieces; discard skin and bones. Strain broth; discard bones. Skim fat from broth, reserving 2 Tbsp. (Broth and meat can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

3. Return soup kettle to medium-high heat. Add reserved chicken fat. Add remaining onions, along with carrot and celery; sauté until softened, about 5 minutes. Add thyme, along with broth and chicken; simmer until vegetables are tender and flavors meld, 10-15 minutes. Add noodles and cook until just tender, about 5 min. Adjust seasoning, stir in parsley, and serve.

• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •

I used an Eberley organic chicken for this project. In order to dismantle a whole chicken, you must have a sharp knife. Do not take this advice lightly. Sharpen those knives. I sauteed my chicken breasts for 8 minutes, rather than 5 minutes. When it was time to “skim fat from broth,” I found this to be a tricky task. I couldn’t skim it quite right, and I ended up with a cloudy broth. It was OK for me and my diners, though. I added 3 tsp. of salt and 1 tsp. of black pepper to my soup.

Chicken-soup critics will always argue the details about a soup broth’s richness. My soup was not incredibly intense in the chicken-flavor department. Many home cooks will have their chicken-soup techniques in place to enhance their flavors. We can be sure Edna Lewis had her methods. Do share your own pointers, if you dare. If you’re new to the chicken-soup-cooking arena, as I am, you’ll enjoy this recipe exercise. From here, we shall finesse our flavors.

07-11-26_peppers31.jpgI also managed to cook “Mediterranean Stuffed Peppers,” from the September 2005 issue of Vegetarian Times. I was enticed by the ingredient list: pomegranate juice, figs, wild rice, feta cheese. Crazy. But you know, it’s not that innocent of a recipe. Three ounces of wild rice (1 1/2 cups) takes 52 minutes to cook. This needs to be done before you tackle the other steps. Once the peppers are finally stuffed, they’ll need to bake for 40 minutes. This is not a quick-fix recipe.

The end result was a nice combination of flavors. When you take a bite of pepper with its stuffing, you’ll enjoy the sweet saltiness (figs/feta). And those figs just “melted” into the mix. I think you can dare to present these peppers at a fancy dinner party. Your guests should understand the care and work involved with these. And they’re pretty to look at.

RECIPES: try to make a chicken soup your own; what do you want in a stuffed pepper?
you’ll need 2 hours to make a decent soup; peppers and their stuffing take nearly as long
you’ve got to find your own soup voice; sweet bell peppers complement the unique bite of wild rice, laced with a sweet saltiness

Let’s leave the chicken carcass behind and cook a vegetarian meal, next time. I’ll make “Spaghetti Squash Casserole,” from DrWeil.com. Return to my site on Monday, January 21, to see how it turns out.