Don’t be that guy

I cook with stock all the time.  I use it for sauces, and gravies; I cook rice and pasta in it.  And almost every single time, it’s from a box, or the grocery store.  I’ve only ever made stock from scratch, once, which I recounted a month or so ago.


There is currently running a commercial for pre-made cartons of stock.  It’s actually a brand that I consider quality, which I’ve used numerous times.  I do though take issue with the message of this ad. In various vignettes, people are insisting they cook because they make “they make the best chicken noodle soup”.  Then they proceed to show them adding some chicken meat, a few veg, and some bagged egg noodles to a bubbling pot of said company’s chicken stock.


These poor, deluded folk are not chicken soup makers.  At best they are “stuff-put-er-inners”.  To produce homemade chicken noodle soup you must start with a chicken, and maybe even make your own noodles.

Anything less is practically opening a can.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I have enjoyed many cans of varieties of chicken noodle (stars, noodle-o’s, curly, spaghetti-shaped) soups.  But I never tried to pass it off as scratch-made.

Now, if you want to make a chicken soup that begins with stock (canned or made in your own kitchen) which you can still claim as your own, I’ve got a recipe for you.

This is a rich, creamy, lemony chowder.  It’s a little bit of a riff on Panera Bread’s creamy chicken and wild rice soup.  It also freezes and reheats well.

Lemon chicken and wild rice chowder

chick chow

8 tablespoons butter divided

1/2 cup flour

3 carrots, peeled and cut into same size pieces

4 stalks celery, leaves and all, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

3/4 cup dried mushrooms, reconstituted and chopped

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dry thyme

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Zest of 2 lemons, divided

Juice of 2 lemons

1 cup rice and/or grain mix with wild rice (I like Bob’s Red Mill Brown and Wild Rice)

1 1/2cups frozen shoe peg corn

1 cup white wine

5 cups chicken stock

1 1/2 cups skim milk

1 cup heavy cream

4-5 cups cooked chicken, white and dark, cut or ripped into bite-sized pieces.

Make roux:

Melt 6 tablespoons butter in small skillet.  Whisk in flour and cook over low until light blond in color.


In a large heavy pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter.  Place in pot: Carrots, celery, onion, mushrooms, thyme, bay leaves, half the lemon zest, salt and pepper.  Cook until there is some color on veg, and carrots are starting to soften. 

Stir in rice and/or grain mix and let cook until they start to brown around the edges.

Deglaze the pot with wine.  Cook, stirring often until it’s all cooked in.

Pour in stock and skim milk.  Bring to slow simmer.  Add corn.

When the rice/grain is fully cooked (time varies according to type), bring to a boil and whisk in roux until it’s cream soup thickness. 

Turn down to low.  Pour in lemon juice.  When the juice is thoroughly mixed in, stir in cream and gently add chicken.

Check for seasoning, and keep warm until service.  Garnish each bowl with a sprinkling of lemon zest.

Makes 8-10 servings.


This soup is delicious and quite impressive.  A soup that you can be proud to call your own.  So you don’t need to pretend you did something you really didn’t.

Don’t be that guy.

that guy

Thanks for your time.

Memories and stone soup

Originally published in the Herald Sun 5/12/2012

Stone soup with onion straw garnish.

Stone soup with onion straw garnish.

When I asked you to help me out by sending food stories to share, I mentioned a particular letter that was the catalyst for the request.
Right after the egg essay ran, Jo Darby sent me a note.
It was funny, sweet, and extremely well written. I wanted to share it with all of you.
So, in what I hope is the first of reader storytelling, here is Jo’s tale about her mom; a terrific cook, and my kind of woman.

“An Egg Story
We were poor when I was little but that didn’t ever stop my mom from trying to be creative with what little she had to feed us with. She died almost 30 years ago but her children still long for her rice pilaf. She filled our bellies with mostly rice mixed with a few token slivers of vegetables showing, but somehow managed to imbue that rice with a flavor that was subtle on taste and somehow fully fragrant to our hungry noses.
Her Spanish garlic soup was little more than a pot of water, garlic and olive oil. But so wonderfully tasty that we salivated like good little Pavlovian children when we walked in the door home from school and smelled what dinner would be.
One Easter she had the bounty of eggs given to her by a local farmer and she wanted to do something extra special with them. We wouldn’t have baskets or chocolates but By Golly she was going to do her best to delight us with an unusual treat. One of her friends had given her a book of French country cooking and she perused the pages slowly, deciding at last to poach them in wine (which was very cheap and plentiful from the bodega).
From our various spots in the house we inhaled the wonderful scent of garlic being gently heated in olive oil, we sniffed approvingly at the smell of toasted bread, the fragrance of simmering wine. Finally she called to us to sit down at the table so as to be ready for the eggs immediately they were done. Five children waited eagerly to see what she had wrought with the humble egg. Beaming, she brought our plates, setting before each one of us a plate of her latest creation.
There was dead silence as she took her place at the table. Perplexed she wondered aloud why her little wolves were not gobbling down the wonderful treat? We could not. We looked at each other, at our plates, at her. She must have known her error as soon as she made it in the kitchen but, food is food and would not be wasted. She must have been hiding her angst behind cheerful encouragement. Eat, she said.
With horror, we picked up our forks. Squeezed our eyes shut and tentatively raised the tiniest morsel to our mouths. Some of us managed to swallow, others cried, one of us gagged. Many years later, we would roar with laughter at the recollection of her French recipe of eggs poached in wine. Someone at the bodega made a mistake. Red wine was sent instead of white. When she poured the wine, imagine her surprise when the liquid going into the pan was deep burgundy. Her disappointment must have been profound. Just say Purple Eggs at one of our family get-togethers and see what happens. We still laugh until we cry. One of us still can’t eat eggs.”
Jo Darby

Debbie here again:
When I was a kid, I loved the story of Stone Soup. And elevating simple food is an obsession. Thusly, I was intrigued by the idea of the garlic soup.
After some thought and research, I came up with this version.
This is definitely a peasant soup, but there’s something in it we can all give to our food that money can not buy. Time and attention. And that is the component that can turn the other four (I cheated with six) ingredients into a golden, silky, bowl of poetry.
I made the garlic confit one day, and the pot of soup the next. You can portion out the actual creation of the soup. But time is really the key. If you don’t want to put in the hours, don’t bother. There is no way that the resulting product can be the same.
This soup takes a whole day to make correctly, but Jo is right. This stuff is what angels have for lunch, after they get done singing.
I can only imagine what her mother’s tasted like.
Thank you, Jo.
And for everyone else, thanks for your time.

Spanish Garlic Soup 2012 Edition

Garlic confit (recipe below)
1/4 -1/3 cup garlic oil (from the confit process)
1 loaf country bread, something rustic and crusty, cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes, crust and all
1 cup white wine
2 quarts chicken stock
3-4 cups water
1 bay leaf
3/4 cup heavy cream
salt & pepper

For the garlic confit:
35 (yes, 35) cloves garlic, peeled
4-5 cups oil (I used combo of olive and canola)
salt and pepper
In a very heavy large pot, put in garlic and cover with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, and set on very low, just above warm. Cook slowly in oil until cloves are a light caramel color, approximately four hours. Cool, and remove garlic from your new garlic oil. You will have more than you need for this recipe, so put the excess oil into a container and refrigerate; it can be used for a gillion things.
In the same pot, toast the bread cubes in the garlic oil, a couple handsful of bread with a couple of tablespoons of oil at a time. This brown crusty goodness on the bread translates into tons of flavor.
When all the bread is toasted, put it all back into the pan, along with the garlic confit. Toss together a bit, and then deglaze with the wine.
When the wine is cooked off, pour in all the stock, stir, cover, and cook very low for about twenty minutes.
Uncover, stir, and add more water, because the bread will absorb it like crazy. Keep cooking slowly, and adding water until it is thick, but not too thick, like a cream soup.

Season with salt and pepper. Add and taste until the amount is correct, and an extra dimension of flavor is revealed, that will literally make you sigh. This soup is simple, so please don’t neglect this.

Cook for two or three more hours, and then either use a hand blender or a regular blender for it until it’s completely smooth. Stir in cream, check for final seasoning, and keep warm (but don’t let boil) until service.
Yield: one humongus pot of seriously yummy soup

Cream Of Insert Name Of Ingredient Here Soup

Originally published in the Herald Sun 9/13/2012

When I was pregnant, and The Kid was just about done cooking, one of my oldest friends, Kiki, came to help the beached whale that was me, and to make sure Petey had food to eat, and clean boxers to wear.
While she was visiting we ate, a lot. One of our favorite things was to get a fresh baguette and a big hunk of brie, and eat until the bread was gone, or we passed out, whichever came first.
One evening, for a change of pace, and some actual nutrition, Kiki decided to make us cream of mushroom soup, with a big salad.
At this point, the only cream of mushroom soup I had any familiarity with was the gray slimy glop in the can. And then, only as an ingredient in a casserole.
But Kiki had been to culinary school, knew what she was doing, and promised me the soup would be yummy.
In about thirty minutes, I waddled out to the kitchen to taste.
It was rich, creamy, and redolent of caramelized mushrooms, chardonnay, and thyme. I was a convert.
The best part of all was that my friend assured me that the soup was a breeze to make.
A few years later, I picked up a copy of The Silver Palate Cookbook at the Durham library book sale.
Leafing through it, I saw a recipe for asparagus sauce. It wasn’t a sauce for the vegetable, but a sauce made with asparagus, to serve on chicken, or fish.
Since it was in season, and there were tons of gorgeous ‘goose’ (Kid-speak for the spears) available, I decided to give it a whirl.
It was basically asparagus, sautéed with some onion, then pureed with water.
It was pretty darn awful.
So, there I am, standing in the kitchen, staring down at a big pot of beautiful, yet inedible sauce.
Then I remembered Kiki’s soup. So, I put in some chicken stock, and added some heavy cream.
I don’t know exactly what happened to it, but that pot of yucky sauce turned into a pot of silky, delicious cream of asparagus soup.
That was the day I figured out cream soups.
It’s less a recipe and more of a technique. You can use any vegetable you’d like. If you buy what’s in season, you’ll get the freshest, cheapest veggies.
For the directions, I’ll use broccoli.

Cream Soup
Serves 6
2 heads fresh broccoli cut into florets
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 Tbl butter
½ cup white wine
2 ½ cups low sodium chicken stock
1 ½ cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbl snipped chives or chopped parsley
Blonde roux (equal parts butter and flour cooked on low until lightly browned)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
Holding back two cups florets, sauté broccoli and onion in butter, until onions turn translucent. Add wine, and let reduce until almost dry (called “au sec”; pronounced “oh seck”).
In a food processor or blender, purée cooked veg, adding a little of the stock to keep it loose enough to blend. Pour this back into your soup pot.
Add the rest of the stock and the cream.
To thicken the soup (you may not want to, but I like mine so thick a spoon almost stands up in it):
If you are using roux, allow the soup to come to a boil, and stir in roux until it is the thickness you like,
For the cheese, you want the soup below a simmer, not boiling, or it will separate and get grainy. Slowly whisk the cheddar in, a bit at a time, letting it melt completely before adding more to the pot.
Check for seasoning, and add the raw florets. When the raw broc has cooked in the soup for ten minutes or so, it’s ready.
Spoon into mugs and garnish top with chives or parsley.

The neat thing about this soup is that you can get really creative.
Using carrots? Garnish with chopped crispy bacon, and add a little cinnamon and freshly grated nutmeg (Don’t use the pre-ground canned nutmeg. It lost all the volatile oils, and flavor long before it reached the grocery shelf.)
Trying to make a mushroom soup as good as Kiki’s? Add fresh thyme, and maybe a bit of rosemary. And next time you make a recipe calling for cream of mushroom soup, you can use your own, homemade ambrosia, instead of that can.
Really, any veggy that catches your eye in the market will work, even a leafy veg, like spinach or cabbage. Just remember, if you choose hard vegetables like potatoes, or a fall squash, chop them a bit smaller, and par boil or toss them in a little olive oil and salt and pepper and roast them at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes so they won’t have to cook from a raw state in the soup (which will take forever).
On a cool, rainy day, there’s nothing better than a grilled cheese sandwich and a mug of warm soup.
Actually, there is.
A grilled cheese sandwich and a mug of warm, homemade soup.
Thanks for your time.