Cold Winter Nights, Hot Soup (aka Real Soup is Better)

chilcken wild rice soup I’m afraid that I may have spoiled my kids for life. No, not from being overindulgent. In fact, they are usually pretty grateful, compliant children. However, I am afraid that they will never be able to enjoy a bowl of soup from a can. Mushy noodles? Tasteless broth? Tinny aluminum flavor? Blech. I don’t blame them for turning up their noses.

Unlike my kids, I grew up eating soups that came in familiar cans with red-and-white labels. You open a can, dump it in a pot with some water, and heat until warm. Really, the blandness of those soups never bothered me until I grew up and figured out how to cook homemade soups. And now I will never turn back, nor will I force my children to slurp down the canned imitation.

Nothing beats homemade soup. The rich, fragrant broths, the smooth, creamy bisques, the mouth-watering aroma filling the house as the soup simmers on the stove – if you have not experienced it, then perhaps it is time to try. It really isn’t difficult. Most soups begin with a good stock. If you must, or if you are in a hurry, then using a canned stock is not the end of the world (unless you are making chicken soup). But it is very easy to make your own stock. Every time I cook a whole chicken for dinner, I immediately turn the leftover carcass into a delicious stock, which I freeze until I am ready to make soup. There are hundreds of basic chicken stock recipes available on the web – just experiment until you find one that suits your taste.

Not sure where to start? Chicken noodle soup with veggies is usually a safe bet. My children especially love when I make yummy, chewy, homemade egg noodles using this recipe. Here are our other favorites:

  1. Potato Leek Soup (My kids think it tastes just like mashed potatoes with gravy)
  2. Chicken and Wild Rice Soup (Okay, my kids aren’t so into it, but it is one of my favorites)
  3. Butternut Squash Soup (Great fall soup, perfect with a crusty loaf of bread. Tip: Very fast soup if you have already pre-cooked the squash)
  4. Chicken Corn Chowder (My own personal recipe and my kids’ favorite soup – sorry for the lack of photos!)
  5. Udon Soup (I really need to post this recipe to Allrecipes soon. It is a very quick and simple Japanese soup. Makes a delicious, simple lunch):

 

Udon Soup Super-Simple Udon Soup Recipe:

 

*Before you begin, you should know that this recipe is more of a guideline, since udon soup can be modified to accommodate a variety of vegetables, meats, shrimp, or tofu. Also, I don’t really measure anything, so it is tricky to determine exact amounts and times. The best thing to do is taste and add until it is right for you. Oh, and yes, udon soup can be made using dashi, but I prefer to use memmi, which is more readily available to most people, and can be found in most major supermarkets beside the soy sauce.

 

 

2 quarts of water

1/3 to 1/2  cup Memmi (a Japanese soup base)

2-3 Tbsp. tempura sauce

1 pkg. dried udon noodles (Usually come banded together in bunches – I use 1 bunch)

2 cups assorted chopped veggies (I often use mushrooms, spinach, green onions, and bok choy)

1 cup cooked shrimp (or cooked chicken, or hard-boiled egg, or chopped firm tofu)

 

Boil water. Add Memmi base and tempura sauce to taste. Add noodles along and cook 1-2 minutes (do not overcook, or noodles will be mushy!). Add veggies and shrimp (or other protein). Remove from heat and serve. See? Super-simple.

Don’t be intimidated by making soup. It is really quite easy to do, once you get the hang of it. Naturally, you and your family will enjoy some recipes more than others. For example, one Thanksgiving, I made oyster chowder, which, according to my darling children, tasted exactly like pond water, or perhaps sewage. Nice, huh? Well, when in doubt, bake a loaf or two of homemade bread to accompany the soup. That way, if it doesn’t go over well, no one will starve.

campbells chicken soup 1960

No…don’t do it, kid. You’ll regret that bite. Ew! Spit it out! Yuck! Here, try some real soup…

 

 

 

 

 

Chaos in Aisle One (Our Hunt for the Last Hostess Twinkie)

 So the kids and I were driving home from school today when we overheard a radio DJ mention how sad it was that the Hostess company was going out of business.

“What?” I shrieked at the radio. “No more Ho Ho’s? No more Twinkies?”

From the backseat, my 8yo asked, “Mom, what’s a Twinkie?”

“WHAT?” I shriek again. And well, okay, it shouldn’t have shocked me that my youngest child has never even tasted a Twinkie, since I am kind of a crunchy granola health nut who never buys such crud for my kids to eat. But the thing is, my childhood was very, very different. Back in the day, I ate many Twinkies, Ding-Dongs, crème-filled cupcakes, and my personal favorite, coconut-crusted SnoBalls. My diet was a childhood wonderland of sugary, spongy deliciousness. In fact, during my unfortunate teenage years, when I was lucky to have an apple to eat for lunch, I considered it a lucky day if I could mooch enough change from my friends to buy a 60-cent package of Hostess Ho Hos. Zero nutritional value, but hey, it was better than starvation.

After the radio announcement, I was overwhelmed with nostalgia. Although I had not eaten a single Hostess product in the past two decades, I had a sudden urge to hunt down what may well be the world’s last package of Hostess Twinkies and split them with my deprived children.

We raced over to the nearest Raley’s Supermarket, where I grabbed the arm of the nearest store clerk. “Please,” I sobbed, “Twinkies…must have Twinkies!” The store clerk gave us a sympathetic look and pointed toward aisle one, which had all the chaos and panic of food shortage, with a crush of customers frantically clearing the shelves of every remaining Hostess product.

Okay, fine, none of that actually happened. But we did find a practically empty shelf, with no Hostess products remaining except for a bunch of Zingers. Yuck, Zingers. The next three supermarkets yielded similar results, although we did manage to score a box of Ho Hos and  some crème-filled cupcakes.

“Have you ever seen the movie, Zombieland?” the checkout bagger asked us. “It’s about these people who go on a mission to hunt down the last existing Twinkie in America.”

My mouth dropped open. Wow, a prophetic B-movie! Of course, now I must see that film, although it is probably super-lame. But here I was, dragging my kids from store to store across three towns, desperately trying to find one remaining Twinkie. Alas, we did not. I am sure that the last of the scrumptious golden Hostess icons are probably, as I write, up for auction on EBay for twenty times the original cost. How depressing.

Once we were home, the kids and a couple of neighborhood friends ripped open the boxes, made a farewell toast to the Hostess company, and stuffed ourselves with crème-filled, cakey, frosting covered goodies. To be fair, they tasted about as good as a B-movie full of zombies. But my kids danced around in the autumn leaves, munching Ho Hos, transported to a childhood wonderland of sugary, spongy deliciousness. Thank you, Hostess, for one last wonderful memory.

The Best Spanish (?) Rice Ever

Okay, so it is totally conceited to refer to my own recipe as The Best Ever. And it is ridiculous to call this Spanish Rice, as I am 98% certain that people in Spain do not prepare rice dishes like this. Really, it is Americanish Rice. But that sounds dumb. So do other cheesy Spanglish/Mexamerican recipe name ideas, like Fiesta Rice, or Tex-Mex Rice (I am SO not Texan!). Whatever. Let’s just call it arroz. Now let’s cook, because I’m hungry.

The Recipe

2 Tbsp. olive oil

1 cup long grain rice, uncooked

1/2 cup chopped onions

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 jalapeño chili, chopped

1 Tbsp. chili powder

1 tsp. cumin

2 cups chicken stock

1 can or 2 cups chopped tomatoes

1 8oz. can tomato sauce

1/2 cup fresh cilantro

salt to taste (plenty–at least 1 Tbsp.)

My Not-Quite-Spanish rice, after I cooked it for lunch today

Before cooking, create a Pandora music station based on Johannes Linstead, Jesse Cook, Armik, or Ottmar Liebert & Luna Negra. Trust me…this will make the cooking more fun and the food more flavorful. Next, follow these directions:

In olive oil, brown onions with rice, jalapeño, garlic, cumin, and chili powder. Add chicken stock, tomatoes, tomato sauce, and salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for approximately 30 minutes, or until rice is cooked. Remove from heat and stir in fresh cilantro. Enjoy as a side dish, or add a can of black beans or cooked, chopped chicken to serve as a main dish. Or roll in a tortilla with refried beans and cheese. Just enjoy.

 

 

The Salad Dressing I Want to Marry

Brace yourselves, world. I am going to inteoduce you to the absolute Best. Salad. Dressing. Ever! No really. I love this salad dressing so much, I want to marry it. Ready?

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Tada! Aunt Annie’s Woodstock is the tastiest salad dressing I have ever had. It has a really unique combination of tomatoes, tahini, cider vinegar, and soy sauce. You can drizzle it on your salads, top your baked potato, or eat it by itself from a spoon. (Okay, not really, but someone writing this blog may or may not have done so once or twice).

Here is my favorite way to enjoy Woodstock dressing:

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The only downside to this salad dressing masterpiece is the cost. Each little bottle is seriously pricey. I came across a homemade recipe at this blog site: Fake Aunt Annie’s Woodstock Dressing. And one day, when I am not feeling too lazy, and after I figure out what the heck EVOO is, then I might actually try it out to see if it tastes anything like the original. And if it does, then maybe I will make a huge batch and marry it.