04 December 2011

mistletoe medicine

'Tis the season for good tidings, snuggling by the fire, and making out under the mistletoe.  And though all this closeness is swell and lovely, love and kindness isn't all that's being spread... yup, I'm talking about holiday germs.  And just like the Grinch, these little buggers will come in and steal all your holiday joy leaving you sad and sick.   Though an icky winter cold may seem like the end of your holiday merriment, fear not!  There is a cure, a little Cindy Lou Who happiness in the form of an overloaded pot of warm chicken-y goodness.  Yup, chicken soup, aka sick soup, cures it all - it banishes away the bah humbugs, scares off the scrooges, grimaces at the grinches, and mocks the misers.  It's a good idea to have a few pots of stock stored up in your freezer from Halloween through Valentine's Day as those seem to be the most affectionate months of the year.  The noodles, rice, matzo balls, orzo, dumplings or any other starchy goodness you want can always be added in at the end.  What's really important is creating a flavorful broth that warms you from the inside out, melting away all of your maladies and icky feelings.

My mom may argue that she makes the best chicken soup, but since I make mine exactly the way she taught me and then jazz it up a bit, I think mine's better.  Like many of my recipes, this one is primarily to taste so I can't give you an exact recipe.  But I can give you a list of necessary ingredients and a few tips to making a stock that's sure to make you feel like that Campbell's Soup commercial where the snowman turns into a little kid - warm and fuzzy and full of goodness.  Come on, don't act like you don't remember being kind of freaked out by it.  In case you need a refresher, here it is for your creepy Christmas enjoyment -->     And here are those chicken soup tips I promised you - 

* start with a big pot.  fill it to the brim with a whole chicken and all the gibblet-y parts if they're in there.  then shove a bunch of veggies around the chicken - i like to use carrots, onions (any color will do,) celery hearts, parsnips, turnip, leeks, and dried mushrooms.  you can add some other veggies if you want, but these are the truly necessary ones.  whatever room is left in your pot should be filled with water.  set that sucker on some heat and let it go.
* fresh herbs are so so so important to the flavor of your soup!  beyond salt, pepper and parsley, i like to simmer my broth with fresh thyme, sage, rosemary and dill.  once the stock is complete i just put some extra fresh parsley in it; the other herbs are just for the base flavor while the stock is cooking, but you can put any herb you want in there.
* let it simmer down.  i believe that a good stock needs at least 2-3 hours of simmering and bubbling to get every last drop of flavor out of all those ingredients.  if you're in a pinch and you need to get those bowls out on the table pronto, use a bouillon cube but make sure NOT to add any extra salt.  that would be gross.
* all those flavoring veggies that you won't be using in the end result soup because they're gross and mushy - eat them!  don't just throw them out.  they are tasty and delicious and make a great snack since the smell of chicken awesomeness will probably make you go mad with cravings.

chock full of holiday health

* when you're done simmering and you've devoured all the tasty veggies, remove the chicken to a bowl and strain the broth into another pot or bowl (you'll put it back in your stock pot after the draining) through a lined colander.  this removes a good amount of fatty grossness and herby stems and bones and skin without holding on to any of the flavor.  don't pick at any of those tidbits.  they're icky.
* when tearing apart you're chicken and picking the best bits to put back in your soup, start with the dark meat.  it's for sure the most flavorful and the tenderest so it will be really wonderful in your soup.  but don't neglect the white meat either.  it's nice to life a spoon out of the bowl and have a few different chunks of chicken - dark and white, hearty and tender, juicy and lean.
* keep it simple.  you're sure to have a ton of flavor in your broth so you don't necessarily want to add too much to the pot you'll end up serving.  no matter what starch you choose to use (my favorites are matzo balls or extra broad egg noodles,) stick to only a few veggies.  i like chopped carrots and celery, diced onions, and sliced mushrooms.  the onions can go in whenever but i like to keep the carrots and celery a little crisp.  the mushrooms barely need to cook so toss them in last.  oh yeah, toss some fresh parsley in there, too.
* if you aren't eating your soup right away, store the starchy goodness in a separate container.  if you keep it in the broth, it overcooks and soaks up a lot of the stock leaving you with more of a stew than a soup.  and don't ever freeze the stock with the noodles or whatever in it - they just get super soggy and unappetizing.
* strain off some of the fat, but not all of the fat.  you need a little bit of fat to add to the flavor.  trust me, a little fat can be good for you and your taste buds.  plus, it doesn't hurt to put on a few extra pounds this time of year - it keeps you warm.
* if your chicken was really big and you don't use all the meat in your soup, make a chicken salad.  shred it up, salt and pepper it, mayo and mustard.  now you have lunch and dinner.

In case you needed any other reasons to whip up a big ole pot of soup, how about this interesting fact - Judy Garland, singer of one of the greatest Christmas songs ever and all around awesome lady, ate nothing but chicken broth for a long time.  Granted, it was because jerky movie execs and producers thought she was a bit of a chunker and wanted her to stay skinny so they didn't let her eat anything else, but she ate chicken soup and sang Christmas songs.  And we love her.  Sure it's kind of a sad story, but the holidays are supposed to be melancholy sometimes because it makes the happy moments even better.  Anyways, think about Judy while making your soup and singing carols.  It'll be wonderful and merry.

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