What Comes First, the Chicken or the Soup?

If my mother would have ever plopped down a bowl of soup in front of my dad for dinner, well, she just wouldn’t have done it. Pork chops, yes; fried chicken, definitely. Cream of broccoli soup? Rethink it, Marg. Rethink it.

I, on the other hand, occasionally plunk down a bowl of soup in front of Bill for dinner, and he doesn’t complain. I’m sure he doesn’t think to himself Wow, in all of my hopes and dreams, I didn’t allow myself to imagine that we would have cream of broccoli soup tonight for dinner. But he doesn’t complain. He simply eats his mandatory one bowl, and then looks longingly at the freezer, hoping there is ice cream. There almost always is, by the way.

I, on the other hand, love soup. I love it for lunch or dinner. I especially love soup if it includes noodles or potatoes. Best yet, both. If my options for a starter at a restaurant are either soup or salad, and if the soup is homemade, I will almost always choose soup. My favorite lunch among all lunch choices is pho – Vietnamese noodle soup. Someday I’m going to get up my nerve and try preparing pho. Someday.

But back to Bill for a minute. There is a restaurant in our Denver neighborhood that is a Jewish deli. In fact, it’s cleverly called New York Deli News. Though their menu is chock full of good, homemade and hearty options such as beef brisket and stuffed cabbage (and a corned beef and tongue sandwich if you are so inclined), we rarely go there except on Fridays. On Fridays they serve a delicious and affordable prime rib, along with boiled potatoes and steamed mixed fresh vegetables. It really is very good. I want it right now.

Their starter options are — predictably — salad or soup, and their soups are homemade. On their busy Fridays, they offer mushroom beef barley and chicken noodle. I always get the beef barley and Bill gets the chicken noodle. And he always raves, nearly weeps with joy, over the chicken noodle soup. He has gone so far as to proclaim it the best he’s ever eaten, and I’m pretty sure he has said these words: IT’S TO DIE FOR.

Well. As a person who prides herself on her soup-making skills, and who is pretty darn sure has never heard IT’S TO DIE FOR as it relates to any of the meals I have prepared for him, I bristled the first time. Really, I said to him, settle down; it’s only chicken noodle soup. Lots of people make chicken noodle soup. I, for example, make chicken noodle soup.

And so I recently decided I would prove to him that I could make chicken noodle soup that is as good as that served at New York Deli News. I immediately chose to use a recipe I’ve had for a long time from Paula Deen.

Why did I choose Paula Deen? Two reasons, really. The first reason is that she is (to put it bluntly if quite inconsiderately) plump. Fat, really. Or at least, she used to be. I can’t say for sure anymore because she was sent packing after she admitted that she had once used the N word. Which brings me to my second reason. I relate to Paula Deen because there have been a number of occasions in which I’ve said something that I wish I could take back almost immediately. I’m pretty sure she wishes she had kept her past mistake to herself. And as for her being overweight being a reason to use her recipe, I go with the philosophy that you should never trust a skinny cook. I’m looking at you, Giada.

Anyway, I made my soup, and I thought it tasted delicious. Bill ate his mandatory bowl, sheepishly asking for some salt, and looked longingly at the freezer. But I’m pretty sure he will show a bit more restraint when praising the chicken noodle soup at New York Deli News.

Look for yourself…..

And here’s my recipe for chicken noodle soup. While I used Paula Deen’s recipe as my guide, I made quite a few changes. She adds cream, which is perhaps why she’s plump. I find cream unnecessary. Deceased Jewish grandmothers world-wide rolled over in their graves at the thought of cream in their chicken noodle soup…..

Chicken Noodle Soup

Ingredients
2-3 bay leaves
3 chicken bouillon cubes
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 2-3 lb. whole chicken, cut up
1-1/2 t. Italian seasoning
3-1/2 quarts water
2 c. carrots, chopped
2 c. celery, chopped
1 c. sliced mushrooms
3 T. chopped fresh parsley
2-3 c. uncooked egg noodles
2 T. dry marsala wine or sherry
Salt and pepper, to taste

Process
To make the chicken stock: Add bay leaves, bouillon, onion, garlic, chicken pieces, Italian seasoning, water, and salt and pepper to a large Dutch oven or soup pot. Cook for about an hour, until the chicken is tender. Remove chicken and bay leaves. You should have about 3 quarts of stock. Allow chicken to cool, and then remove the meat from the chicken, tossing away the bones and the skin, and set aside.

To make the soup: Bring the stock back to a boil. Add carrots and celery to the stock. When they are soft (15 to 20 minutes), add the noodles and cook according to package directions. When noodles are done, add the chicken back to the stock, along with the mushrooms and the parsley. Drizzle in the marsala or sherry. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, until the mushrooms are soft. Adjust seasoning if necessary.

This post linked to Grammy’s Grid.

Hard Cookies

Back in 2000 (which will forever be in my mind as Y2K – the year the world was going to end and computers were going to blow up), my sister Jen and her daughter Maggie traveled with Bill and me to Italy. Bill and I had been before, and we were so excited to show off that country we loved so much to Jen and Maggie. We spent two weeks and had a BLAST.

At the time, Maggie was in her early 20s and absolutely gorgeous. (She’s still absolutely gorgeous, but no longer in her early 20s.) Her appearance gave us an advantage in many regards, not the least of which was getting into restaurants that were completely full. We would send Maggie in to see if there was room, and shockingly, they always found us a spot, at least if the spot-finder was male. One waiter was so taken with her that he actually had us take a picture of himself with her. Oh, to be young and beautiful.

Anyway, many years later when Maggie got married (but not to the waiter), at least in part because of her fond memories of her trip to Italy, she elected to have somewhat of an Italian theme for her wedding. As such, she decided to give an Italian theme to the treats she left in the hotel rooms for the out-of-town guests. I don’t remember what all she gave save for one thing. She included cellophane-wrapped packages of three biscotti.

You know, biscotti. Those hard quarter-moon-shaped cookies that Italians dip into their espresso. Or into their wine if they are so inclined. I’ve tried it. It’s delicious.

She was going to purchase the biscotti. But I told her that was a waste of money. I could make biscotti. She agreed and so I did. They turned out quite nicely, thank you very much. I don’t remember what kinds I made, but I do remember that I made a heck of a lot of them. We put three in a package and decorated it with curly ribbon.

As an aside, Bill, Jen and I spent an entire day preparing the gift packages for the guests. In addition to biscotti, she also had little bags of M&Ms. I still can picture Bill preparing those bags.  A handful for the gift bags, a handful for Bill. And so it went.

I hadn’t given biscotti much of a thought since then until our recent visit to Chicago. Wilma had some of the best biscotti I had ever tasted. They had crunchy pistachios and tart cranberries. They were crunchy and delicious when we would dunk them in our morning coffee and eat them without dunking throughout the day until – oops – they were gone.

Where did you get them, I asked Wilma. The answer: Bill’s brother Bruce. Well, of course.

So I sent Bruce an email asking him where he got the biscotti so that we could replace them. The answer will be no surprise to those who know Bruce – he got them at what he calls a salvage store. Bruce is the King of Tuesday Mornings and my bargain shopping hero.

We ended up buying lemon biscotti at Costco. But I couldn’t get the pistachio/cranberry biscotti out of my mind.

So I made some when we got home. And they are even better than those we devoured at Wilma’s. In fact, they are absolutely scrumptious.

Biscotti get their hardness from being baked twice – once in a loaf, and once sliced. There is absolutely nothing difficult about making biscotti, but it takes a bit of time. Time that is so well worth spending….

You first bake the loaf of biscotti.....

You first bake the loaf of biscotti…..

You slice them and bake them individually.

You slice them and bake them individually.

 

Here is the recipe…. Bon appetito!

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti
Adapted from Giada DeLaurentis and Food Network

Ingredients
2 c. all-purpose flour
1-1/2 t. baking powder
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter, room temperature
1 t. grated lemon zest
1/4 t. salt
2 eggs
3/4 c. pistachios, coarsely chopped
2/3 c. dried cranberries, coarsely chopped

Process
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a heavy large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flour and baking powder together. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter, lemon zest, and salt in a large bowl to blend. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add the flour mixture and beat just until blended. Stir in the pistachios and cranberries.

Form the dough into a 13-in long, 3-in wide log on the prepared baking sheet. Bake until light golden, about 40 minutes. Cool for 30 minutes.

Place the log on the cutting board. Using a serrated knife, cut the log on a diagonal into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices. Arrange the biscotti, cut side down, on the baking sheet. Bake the biscotti until they are pale golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer the biscotti to a rack and cool completely.

Nana’s Notes: You can dip the cookies in a white chocolate or dark chocolate frosting, but I prefer mine plain. Keep in mind that the cookies don’t rise at all during the second baking, so you can set the biscotti right next to one another on the baking sheet.