Chicken Noodle Soup – A Cure for Cold Season

When the long Minnesota winter is starting to wear on us, there are certain classic recipes that we revisit every year.  A bowl of homemade soup provides a fortifying boost of energy and straightforward, clean flavors that help a body endure the waning months of cold and darkness.Chicken-less Chicken Noodle Soup on ourwaytoeat.com

A steaming bowl of chicken or chicken-less noodle soup is a warming cure for winter blahs if I know one.  It is so comforting if you have a cold.  I don’t follow an exact recipe to make Chicken and Chicken-less Noodle soup.  I chop a few peeled carrots, a few ribs of celery and onion, and saute them in a little oil until fragrant, but still crisp.  Then, I add about 5 cups of broth, (homemade when I have it).  I bring the soup to a point beyond a simmer and add two handfuls of frozen peas.  When the soup returns to almost-boiling I add a few handfuls of egg noodles, and about a quarter cup of chopped fresh parsley.  I like to use ample, wavy, dumpling egg noodles.  They need 6-10 minutes of cooking time to cook to tender, but not soggy.  Bowl of Chicken-less Noodle SoupIn order to make chicken-less soup for myself, and classic chicken noodle soup for Bjorn, I saute chicken breasts or thighs separately.  When the chicken is cooked through, I chop it and add a hearty serving of chopped chicken to his bowl.  You can make a whole pot of chicken-less soup if everyone prefers, or you can saute the chicken along with the veggies if everyone at your house eats chicken.  Before serving, I adjust the flavour with salt and pepper.  If you are a stickler for following a recipe, Martha Stewart’s Chicken Noodle Soup is similar to my general guidelines, except that she doesn’t add peas; she opts for dill instead of parsley and she uses quick-cooking vermicelli noodles instead of wide egg noodles.  This soup is flexible.  You could add other veggies.  For me, I like to stick to the classic Chicken Noodle soup ingredients, except that I leave out the meat.

Chicken Noodle Soup Heating Instructions

A little while ago, Bjorn’s brother was under the weather, so we decided to bring him a serving of our soup. I removed a portion of the soup and put it in a disposable container before the noodles were fully cooked so that he could bring the soup up to temp without the noodles getting soggy.Cold Season Care Package

To round out our care package, we added a bottle of fizzy mineral water for some electrolytes and a quarter-sleeve of saltines to go along with the soup.

Get Well Soon Care Package

I taped my handwritten instructions to a small bag with washi tape and we dropped the package off at Brett’s house, hoping to bring a little warmth and cheer to a dreary sick day.  Homemade soup tastes wonderful and fills the house with a comforting aroma.  This soup is made entirely of staples that are usually on hand in the pantry and freezer.  Chicken Noodle soup cooks quickly and provides comfort, flavor and textures you just can’t get from a can.  When you’ve had it with winter, remember to make this soup!

Chicken Noodle Soup

Another Taste of Ngon in Saint Paul

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Ngon Vietnamese Bistro – 799 University Avenue, Saint Paul, Minnesota Telephone:  (651) 222-3301

Last night we made a great discovery, Ngon, one of our favorite restaurants currently offers a great special on Monday nights:  Two Traditional Vietnamese Entrees, Pork or Vegetarian Vietnamese Spring rolls and a pitcher of beer for $30.  It has only been a few weeks since I wrote about the lovely, secluded patio, and a few months since I first wrote about Ngon’s selection of local-only beers, and traditional and inventive Vietnamese cuisine with locally sourced, sustainable meat and produce.  It seems a bit soon to write about it again, but the offerings at Ngon are unwaveringly well-prepared and delicious, so we keep going back.  We started with crispy vegetarian spring rolls which immediately cut our hunger.  Fortunately, after the indulgent, fried appetizer, our main dishes were lighter.  I ordered Bún, a rice vermicelli salad with organic greens, cucumbers, bean sprouts with saucy, fried tofu, garnished with pickly carrot, herbs and peanuts— my new summer go-to dish at Ngon.  Bjorn had a steamy, flavorful bowl of meatball Phở and piled on bean sprouts, slices of fresh jalapenos and basil leaves which are provided as garnish.  We managed to polish off a pitcher of Northwest Passage IPA by Flat Earth Brewing Co, a super-hoppy IPA made with Canadian malts and four American hops.  Flat Earth Brewing Company reports that “Northwest Passage goes well with Phở, Buffalo wings & bon fires.”  Bjorn completely agreed, and I will enthusiastically add that Northwest Passage also pairs well with spring rolls and Bún.   This meal was a great deal–had it not been for the Monday night special, we probably would have only ordered our entrees and a pint of beer, it was Monday, after all.  But, then again, why shouldn’t dinner out on a Monday night be tasty and a little extra nice?  We’re fortunate to have Ngon in our neighbourhood and to have discovered that they offer a deal that makes a special and relaxing meal possible on the unlikeliest of nights.

I’ll be back soon with a garden update!  

Creamy Minnesota Wild Rice Soup slow-cooked in the Crock-Pot

For the past month or two, I have been preparing a meal every Sunday that cooks all day in the Crock-Pot on Monday and welcomes us home for an easy, satisfying supper.  Earlier this week I made a delicious Wild Rice soup in our Crock-Pot.*  I bought Wild Rice that was raised on the Red Lake Reservation, a community about 40 miles from where my parents live in northern Minnesota.  When I buy Wild Rice, I seek out rice raised on a reservation from that region, White Earth, Red Lake and Leech Lake Bands all harvest and sell wild rice.  It is the very best wild rice, and I like knowing where it comes from, and supporting the local economy in these communities with the purchase. Before establishing a weekly Crock-Pot routine, we often arrived home on a Monday night tired, a little worn down from stress of the new work week and in no mood to cook.  Nights like that, we often end up going out to eat.  Sure, it is nice to be able to give ourselves a night off, but neither of us are thrilled about using part of our “dining” budget on a last-minute meal that we haven’t anticipated as a nice evening out.  As much as I have been resistant to planning meals ahead in the past, I am tentatively starting to use forethought to my advantage.  I am glad I didn’t know I would start doing this 6 years ago though.  I think I would have been scared by the prospect of becoming a crazed Crock-Pot enthusiast, or at least would have hoped that the meal was served with a touch of irony.  It turns out, at this point in my life, the routine is the opposite of scary, and there isn’t a hint of irony involved.  Making a small effort to have a meal ready when I come home is breathing new life into Mondays!  I leave for work in the morning feeling organized and like a real, functioning grown up.  When the evening ahead crosses my mind throughout the day I look forward to being welcomed home by the scent of simmering soup seeping from the cracks of my old house as I approach the door.  As I cross the threshold, I have little to do to enjoy a satisfying supper and a relaxing evening.

To make this week’s soup, I chopped and measured all of the ingredients into the liner of our Crock-Pot on Sunday night, covered it, and placed it in the fridge.

Minnesota Wild Rice Soup Ingredients:

  • 1 Medium Onion, Chopped
  • 2 Stalks of Celery, Diced
  • 1 large Handful of Julienned Carrots, or about 2 Medium Carrots, Chopped
  • 2 Yukon Gold Potatoes, Washed and Chopped
  • 5 to 8 Button or Cremini Mushrooms, Wiped Clean and Sliced
  • 2 Boneless, Skinless Chicken Breasts optional
  • 1 Cup of Minnesota-Grown Wild Rice
  • ½ Cup Brown Rice – not necessary, but it is cheaper, and adds additional texture to the soup.
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Tarragon Leaves
  • 1 Teaspoon Poultry Seasoning
  • 2 Bay Leaves – remove before serving.
  • 2 – 32 Ounce Carton of Vegetable, Chicken or Turkey Broth
  • A Splash of Skim Milk, Half and Half or Heavy Cream optional. 
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste.

You might notice that there is no oil or butter in my recipe.  Some soup recipes call for sautéing the onion before putting it in the crock.  I find that step to be unnecessary.  With the long, slow cooking process, everything cooks thoroughly and all of the flavors blend well.  As an added bonus, without sautéing any of the vegetables in butter or oil, calories are spared.  Monday morning, I added the carton of broth, gave it a stir, and set the crock to cook on low heat for 8 hours.  I am not sure if all slow cookers have this feature, but my crock switches to “Warm” when the programmed cooking time is done.  It works wonderfully to keep the soup warm, but not to continue to cook it longer than needed.  This recipe made a nice amount of soup for us for supper and leftovers for lunch.  We don’t need more than two meals of soup, but there would be plenty of room in the crock to double the recipe to feed a larger group, or to freeze extra soup for a later date.  If the entire crock of soup will be devoured the night it is first served, I might add just a touch more Tarragon and Poultry Seasoning, because seasoning was a bit faint on first night.  We thought that the seasoning in the soup came together nicely when we reheated it for our lunches at work.  This is great soup to make in advance and reheat.

If I was making this strictly for meat-eaters,** I would add a few boneless, skinless chicken breasts to the crock when I added the broth.  The chicken breasts can be chopped and mixed back into the soup right before serving

If there are vegetarians in your house who are not strict about meat juices in their food,*** you could even cook the chicken breasts in the soup, take them out and then add chopped chicken to the bowls of only those who want it.  If you want your soup to be strictly vegetarian, chicken can be cooked separately, and added to the bowls of those who want it, or not cooked at all, if no one is eating meat.  There is a continuum upon which every vegetarian places themselves that ranges from unoffended by some exposure of their food to meat at the one end, to completely avoiding meat coming into contact with their food or having meat juices in their food at the other end of the continuum.  You need to do what works for you and yours, and this recipe is easily adapted to accommodate varied diets.  The only remaining step is optional.  About ten minutes before serving you can stir in a splash of warmed milk, half and half or cream.  The soup would be fine without it, but I really like having a little milk or cream in my soup.

Tonight, we didn’t top our soup with anything, but some sliced almonds or sunflower seeds would be nice.  I also like a little shredded cheddar on my wild rice soup upon occasion.  Some people wouldn’t go near soup without a shot of spicy Rooster Sauce, or Sriracha for those who are less familiar with what has become the most popular condiment in the world.  The soup is very hearty and satisfying on its own, so you don’t need much to round out the meal.  A chunk of warm, crusty bread, with or without butter and cheese would be perfect.  Tonight I pulled out a few crackers from the pantry, which I served with some sliced white cheddar and Asiago cheese.

Growing up, my Mom always served egg salad along with soup or chili, so it is what I crave when we’re having soup for dinner, so of course, I made some.  The egg salad was mostly made before I realized that we had no mayonnaise.  I used Dijonnaise instead, and it turned out to be a surprisingly good substitution for regular mayo.  Dijonnaise has the creaminess of mayo, and with the kick of Dijon mustard flavor, I swear that you cannot tell that it is fat-free.

When life is busy and stressful, there are little things you can do for yourself and your family to provide warmth and calm.  Coming home to delicious soup for supper that has simmered slowly in the Crock-Pot all day feeds the body and soul.  We loved this creamy, comforting soup full of vegetables and wild rice.  I will make it again soon.

*I apologize if trademark dilution offends you.  My slow cooker just so happens to be a Crock-Pot.  Words like Crock-Pot, Kleenex and Kraft Dinner are far too deeply embedded in my vocabulary to use their proper generic terminology, especially since I actually use these brands.

**I can’t think of why I would make this soup solely for meat eaters.  It is so good!  I would want a bowl.  Maybe if I made a separate crock of the meat-free version for a party.

***In my reference to vegetarians who are not strict about being meat-free, I might be politely referring to households with picky children.

White Bean, Corn and Potato Chowder

It is a good indication that we are getting pretty low on groceries and fresh produce when I decide what is for dinner by googling the few ingredients we have left to find an idea.  Tonight, I poked around the kitchen and found a can of white beans, a potato, and a half a bag of frozen corn to work with.  Those three ingredients sounded like a good base for a soup.  I wasn’t feeling like a chunky Tuscan White Bean Stew, or a creamy Rosemary White Bean Soup even though they looked tasty. We didn’t have half the ingredients for this luscious looking Corn Chowder with Chilies by Pioneer Woman and we wanted something lighter.  As far as I can remember, I don’t think I’ve ever combined white beans, corn and potato in one pot, but it seemed like these 3 pale, starchy comforters had to go together.  I thought “there must be a recipe for this white bean, corn and potato chowder!”  I immediately found two, fairly similar recipes that sounded tasty, [here and here].  I took cues from both recipes, made a few adjustments of my own and ended up with a soup that was healthy and warming that we both enjoyed.  First, I assembled my ingredients.

I think it is a good sign about a recipe when the ingredient list is short.  For one thing, in a simple recipe each ingredient plays a vital role in the dish as a whole.  There is also a better chance that your pantry and fridge will contain what you need so you don’t have to run to the store.  Most importantly you won’t have to pull out your hair trying to follow a complicated recipe or spend your evening chopping and measuring a zillion ingredients.  My White Bean, Corn and Potato Chowder contained:

  • One cup of Frozen Corn.
  • 1 16 ounce can of Cannellini Beans.  – I happened to have a large can of beans so I used it, but you’d be fine with a 14 ounce can.  If you are up for preparing dry beans, which sadly, I am not, you should use about 1 cup of dry beans, soaked and cooked in water until tender.
  • 1 Yukon Gold Potato washed and chopped.
  • 1/2 of a yellow onion, diced.
  • 1 carrot, peeled and diced — I ended up using only one carrot, even though my photo contains two.
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped.  –I didn’t have any celery, but normally, I would include it.  Diced Onions, Carrots and Celery, or a mirepoix if you are cooking in French, makes a solid aromatic base for almost any soup or sauce.
  • 1 four cup carton of Reduced Sodium Chicken Broth or Vegetable Broth.
  • For Garnish:  1 thinly sliced green onion and coarsely chopped flat leaf Italian parsley  are both optional, but good.
  • About 1/2 a teaspoon each of crushed dried Rosemary, and dry Thyme.
  • A splash of skim milk, or half and half, or heavy cream, depending what fits into your diet.
  • A small amount of Olive Oil for sautéing the veggies.
  • Salt and Pepper to taste.

We have 2 people eating in our house most nights, so I try to cut soup recipes down to 4 portions, so that we each get to have a hearty bowl for supper and a smaller bowl for lunch the next day.  It took me two years to figure out that I need to cut down most recipes.  Having a few frozen portions is great for lunches at work or an easy supper, but a freezer can fill up fast in the winter when I feel like making a new pot of soup a few times per week.  If you have a bigger head count, or feel like stockpiling soup for lunches and lazy days, you can easily double or triple this recipe.

Once I had all of the veggies for the chowder chopped, I began by sautéing the onion and carrots.  I rinsed the cannellini beans, and mashed about half of them on a cutting board with a potato masher.  I did this for several reasons.  Since I wanted the chowder to be light and healthy I decided not to use half and half or cream in my chowder which are traditional chowder ingredients.  Mashed white beans added velvety texture to the soup liquid that it would otherwise lack without cream.  I used a potato masher because I don’t have an immersion blender* and lugging out the blender or food processor to puree half of the soup is far too much effort for me on a Tuesday night.  The potato masher works quite well to create a rustic creaminess and it cuts down on dish washing which is also a plus.  When the carrots and onions began to get soft in my enamel dutch oven, I added the rest of the ingredients except the milk and garnishes.  I let the soup simmer for a good half hour to 40 minutes.  This gave me time to set the table, check Facebook and chop up some grape tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and leaves of romaine lettuce for a small salad, along the lines of a caprese, minus basil.  I dressed the salad with balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salut herb mixture.  Once the chowder was hot and all the flavors combined, I removed the pot from the heat.  I mashed the entire mixture of veggies little a more with the potato masher right in the soup pot to allow the carrots, corn and potatoes to add body to the liquid in the chowder.  Right before serving the chowder I stirred in a splash of milk.  I served the chowder in a small bowl with the salad on the side of the plate.

On top of Bjorn’s salad I added a few this slices of Sopprasetta, a dried, cured Italian salami.

We loved this chowder.  It was warm and satisfying, but still light and healthy.  It will reheat well for our lunch, and we will able to eat the whole pot in two meals.  This meal made good use of the last few vegetables in the house.  Even if my fridge is fully stocked, I’d make it again.

* An immersion blender might be a good gift idea, hint, hint.  

Taco Soup for the Superbowl

If you are ready to take a break from Chili, Chicken Wings or Pizza as your Superbowl staple next year, you might want to try Taco Soup.   I made a crock this year and it was tasty, and so easy.  This is a meal that you can easily adapt for omnivores as well as the vegetarians in your crowd.  You can make this meal and have time to enjoy your day if you are capable of visiting the grocery store and using a can opener.  The ingredients pictured below include Two 14 ounce cans of Stewed Tomatoes, Two 14 ounce cans of Diced Tomatoes, One small can of chopped green chilies, One 14 ounce can of Pinto Beans (I used Chili Beans which are seasoned Pinto Beans), One 14 ounce can of Kidney Beans and One 14 ounce can of Golden Hominy, which you can find in the grocery store near the canned beans.

Not pictured:

  • One medium yellow onion, chopped and sautéed;
  • An envelope of low sodium Taco Seasoning or your favorite homemade mix of spicy seasonings, mixed according to preference, which should probably include, Cumin, Mexican Chili Powder, Paprika, Cayenne Pepper, Oregano, Salt and Pepper.
  • An envelope of Hidden Valley Buttermilk Ranch Dressing or onion powder, dry dill, and a shot of low-fat Buttermilk, added 10 minutes before serving;
  • 1 pound of ground beef, browned for the omnivore-version; and
  • If you wish, you can add Vegetarian taco crumbles, prepared according to package directions for the vegetarian version.  If you do opt for Vegetarian Taco crumbles, I like Taco Filling by Fantastic Foods.

I put everything into the crock except for the meat, and set the heat to high because game time was only a few hours away.  You can make this on the stove in your favorite soup pan or dutch oven just as successfully as the crock pot, but I love the “fix it and forget it” aspect of cooking in the crock pot.  After the beans, hominy, seasonings and onions had a good hour and a half to get warm and combined, I ladled a vegetarian portion into a separate sauce pan and put it in the fridge.  I recommend giving the ground beef version more time in the crock, and separating out the veggie version into a separate pan as needed.  The beef needs time to gather up the flavors in the pot, and is less likely to get dried out than the vegetarian version.  Next, I added the browned ground beef to the crock.  Then, all I had to do was keep the crock cooking until game time, which gave the flavors time to combine.  This is where certain celebrity chefs who regularly appear on the Food Network who will remain unnamed would say that constant heat and time will allow the flavors to “marry.”  I like the thought of distinct ingredients of a the soup spending time together, falling in love and then hanging out long enough to allow the distinct characteristics of each element to meld together and become a unified as a whole.  But the Food Network has overworked the marriage of flavors descriptor a tad, so I’m trying to leave it on the shelf for now so that perhaps someday, that term can be revived into common use.

When it was close to game time, I took the saucepan of vegetarian Taco Soup out of the fridge and reheated it on the stove over medium heat.  This is where the fun part of taco soup comes in:  the toppings.  I assembled a small array of some of our favorite taco toppings to serve along with the soup.  Today we had shredded lettuce, crumbled corn tostadas, sliced jalapenos, light sour cream, shredded cheese, sliced black olives and radishes.  Avocado, diced cucumber, chopped green onions or diced red onion and pepitos would also be great toppings for Taco Soup.  Scoop chips are great for scooping up the soup and toppings from your bowl, regular tortilla chips or crackers would also be great to serve with the soup.

I served the soup in wide, shallow bowls.  I wanted there to be enough surface space for us to add toppings.  We each topped our bowl of soup the way we wanted, and then headed to the couch for kickoff.

Taco soup was the main dish for us on Superbowl Sunday, but it would also work well at a potluck, served in smaller bowls or cups.  Also, you sure don’t have to have an important sporting event on TV to make this for supper.  As a dish for the Superbowl, it is essential that you can eat it while seated on the couch.  I will report that the shallow bowls were a good call because they did, in fact allow us to top the soup generously without making a mess, and the soup is thick enough to work just fine even with an ottoman as a dinner table.

This soup works because once you bring the crock pot and the right cans into the kitchen, it practically makes itself.  It is hearty, and the toppings add variety and make for a fun and casual meal.  Taco Soup also reheats wonderfully, so we both had a delicious bowl today for lunch.  If it sounds good to you, give it a whirl!

Roasted Golden Cauliflower Soup with Curry

Do not adjust your monitor! This cauliflower purchased at the St. Paul Farmer’s Market is an interesting orange-y gold!  I’ve been seeing more and more varieties of vegetables in unique colours lately.  Cauliflower that is orange, purple or bright green; purple potatoes; golden beets; and bright yellow carrots and tomatoes are becoming commonplace at the Farmer’s Market and grocery store.  I don’t remember seeing these varieties much, just a year ago.  I attribute this influx of vegetables in a new rainbow of colors to the masses becoming interested in growing and eating heirloom vegetable varieties and the local food movement gathering broader appeal.  With all of the chatter among thoughtful eaters, people are becoming less suspicious of oddly shaped and uniquely coloured foods.  We as eaters are learning that these characteristics often are accompanied by flavors that exceed those of red tomatoes of uniform colour and size; massive white turkey breasts, and eggs with white shells and pale yellow egg yolks in by immeasurable amounts.  With a special-looking specimen like this golden cauliflower, I wanted it to play a starring role in what we made for our supper.  At home, I have never done anything with cauliflower other that roast it, steam it or eat it raw.  Recently, I sampled a truly delicious creamy, cheesy cauliflower soup at Heartland Restaurant in Saint Paul, and so for a weeknight meal my goal was to make a soup that was warming and delicious, but a little lower in calories and fat than the creamy-cheesy bowl of love from Heartland that I could never duplicate anyway.  I followed some direction from Martha Stewart found in a recipe for Curried Roasted Cauliflower Soup on her website.*  The results were good, but as expected, it was no match for the Heartland Cauliflower soup which elevated all expectations for what a cauliflower soup could be from the first spoonful.  I am not a James Beard winning chef though, and I’m striving to be health conscious, so I’ll cut my soup some slack.  It was a tasty and healthy meal.

I started the soup by roasting the cauliflower.  Martha Stewart’s recipe called for the cauliflower to be drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt.  I used some cooking spray so that the cauliflower wouldn’t stick, but skipped the oil and salt.  The roasted cauliflower came out the oven with a similar colour and texture to macaroni and cheese.**  Next, I added the roasted cauliflower to a pan of sautéed onions.  Again, I used cooking spray instead of the butter suggested by Martha, but followed her lead on adding curry powder and low sodium vegetable broth, water and chopped fresh parsley.

I reserved a few of the best looking florets to top the soup, and gave the entire concoction a whirl in the blender to make it into a uniformly smooth consistency.

We enjoyed this soup with some grainy brown bread toasted with tomato slices, 21 Seasoning Salute** and a little melted mozzarella cheese.  The curry added some kick, and helped to emphasize the golden colour of the cauliflower.  It was a light but satisfying supper and there was enough for both of us to have a bowl re-warmed for lunch the next day.  I’m sure we’ll make this soup again.

*Say what you want about Martha.  She’s got her name on books, magazines, a website and a TV show that have been downright influential to my wedding planning, home keeping, cooking and entertaining and her website is by far the most comprehensive, well-organized resource on these subjects out there.

**Mmmm.  Macaroni and Cheese.

***21 Seasoning Salute is a salt free assortment of dried herbs and spices from Trader Joe’s that is indispensable in our kitchen.