Well it's definitely been a spell since I've checked in to write here.
The crisp autumn weather is definitely here to stay. It's nearly the time of year that I love best--namely.....Soup Season!
When I make soup, I use my huge stock pot. Why bother with small batches? Around here, we take our soup semi-seriously, and we depend on it to last through several meals. I use a screen strainer towards the end to make sure we get every morsel we can, and then I save the delicious stock to use with beef or pork roast, or as the base for other soups. And this time of year, it begins to stay cool enough that my stock pot can be taken out to the garage, set onto a crate to cool, and then left in my temporary "walk in refrigerator".
My favorite soup to make is chicken, whereby the entire chicken is submerged for an hour of boiling on my stove top, along with the seasonings that give it the characteristic flavor. The windows become misted with the steam, and I settle at the table with my cutting board and half the produce section, with the strains of Mozart keeping me company in the background. The peelings mound up, eventually making their way via ice cream bucket out to the compost bin. The big mixing bowls, usually in want of cake or muffin batter, begin to fill with their cheerfully colorful heaps of chopped potatoes, cabbage, carrots, celery and onion. The big pot on the stove rattles gently, as bits of savory steam escape and fill the whole house with the aroma of pure warmth.
Eventually, the chicken comes out of its bath to cool, while potatoes and cabbage boil, and onions, carrots and celery mingle together in olive oil in the big cast iron pan.
Then the time-honored process of removing the meat from the bones of the chicken--this never gets old for me. It takes about 20 minutes if I'm not interrupted, and it's an occasion to smile as my children seem to find their way into the kitchen again and again to snitch pieces of warm chicken from the bowl.
I really enjoy the therapeutic process of taking so many raw ingredients and allowing their individual flavors to meld together in something so comforting and nourishing as a bowl of homemade chicken soup. It is prayerful, in a way. Putting these things together is so reminiscent of the way God uses all of the ingredients and seasons of our lives to make our souls pleasing to Him.
My making soup has long been one of the ways I love to minister to my family, and anyone else who chances to place their feet under our table. The simple joy of cutting into a crusty loaf of bread to dip into the broth, the smiles of delight from my children as they feel the warmth of the soup fill their little bodies, the satisfied smile on my husband's face after he finishes a big bowl of hearty soup--that's absolutely one of the Basic Definitions of Home, for Pete's sake. I was blessed to have a bowl of homemade chicken soup served to me by My Darling while I labored with the Monkey. On such a long, cold night, it was like a benediction.
I love to fill canning jars with soup. I love to see the vegetables and meat settle into the bottom, letting the light shine through the clear amber broth. I love giving the jars of soup to friends and family, especially when there is the hint of a cold going around....few things work in a sick or tired body like homemade goodness. This past week, Reepicheep and I made a big double batch (thereby using both the stock pot and the canning pot). We took some to share at a meal after First Friday Mass, and then also sent six quarts to our dear friends who welcomed Baby Number Six on Wednesday, thanks be to God! (Pickle and Frog also made banana bread for them.)
I enjoy swapping soup recipes, so if you have a favorite, don't hold back! My recipe for chicken soup was taken from a magazine several years ago--by a friend, no less, who then came to my house and made the soup for me--what a gift!! I've altered it a bit, and generalized it a lot, so the fact that I've long since forgotten the magazine in question doesn't bother me too much. The recipe follows.........
Place one large chicken, minus neck and giblets (and well-rinsed), in a large stock pot. Fill with as much cold water as you want broth in your soup. Add six-ish teaspoons "Better Than Bullion" (or six bullion cubes, but the Better Than Bullion is tastier and healthier), a teaspoon of dried sweet basil, 1/2 teaspoon poultry seasoning and a bay leaf. Bring to a rolling boil, cover, and boil gently for one hour.
In the meanwhile, prepare the vegetables: five large potatoes (whatever type you fancy...I use whatever I have on hand), peeled and diced, and two cups finely chopped green cabbage (once I thought I'd give the soup more color and character, so I tried red cabbage...it tasted absolutely delicious, but turned the broth an unsightly shade of grey....trust me--use the green!)--the potatoes and cabbage can be put together in one large bowl and set aside.
Then prep four or five large carrots, peeled and chopped into lovely round slices (great job for a child who is confident with a peeler and paring knife!), two or three stalks of celery, including the leafy bits on the ends, chopped into smallish pieces, and one large yellow onion, diced. Keep the onions separate, as they go into the frying pan first. Put the carrots and celery together in a large bowl and set aside. Small hands love to blend the two in a mixing bowl, and what a delight it is to watch the colors mix together!
Remove the chicken from the pot, and place it in a large colander over a pot or bowl to collect the juices (add the juices back into the soup later, along with the chicken and veggies). Set the chicken aside to cool. This means away from the edge of the table where curious pets like to wait.......or is it just mine?
Add the potatoes and cabbage to the stock, along with one tablespoon each soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce (which I unfailingly call "Lea & Perrins" because I hate trying to pronounce the other!). Sprinkle with freshly ground pepper (about a teaspoon) and sea salt (again, to taste--about a teaspoon--and I always add a dash or two of blessed salt as well!). Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for an hour.
In a large, heavy frying pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil, then add the onions. Saute until translucent; then add the carrots and celery. Cook over medium-high heat, covered, until the carrots and celery are fork-tender (about 20 minutes), stirring occasionally. I use a wooden spoon because of the next step...
While the carrots and celery are cooking, pull the meat from the chicken bones and cut or tear into bite-size pieces. Your hands will get very chickeny, so it's best to either ignore the phone or have someone else answer it for a while. That's ok; use the time for reflective prayer. :) Don't forget to stir the vegetables from time to time. Your chickeny hands will not bother the wooden spoon.
Add carrots, onions, celery and chicken to the soup when everything is finished. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 10 minutes.
Enjoy the soup with crusty bread, slathered with lots of butter. The stock makes an excellent base for other soups, or for roasts. Sometimes I'm in the mood for an even heartier soup, so I'll use more carrots and potatoes. If I have something in mind that needs a good bit of stock, I'll use fewer veggies. I added noodles only once, because they have a tendency to get mushy with reheating. The soup (and stock) freezes very well, and reheats beautifully.
Let me know how you like this...and be sure to share your favorite soup recipe.