Cooking for the Soul

Does cooking always seem like a chore? Have you ever thought of it as art? I had never thought of it that way until I read "The Artist's Way" by Julia Cameron. That's when I started making soup from scratch and baking muffins...just for the joy of it (the baking part has kind of dropped off since having kids)! Rodney started being interested in gourmet cooking a few years later. Now, I'm not saying that all my cooking now has been transformed to some other-worldy level. But there is nothing like the satisfaction and savoury smell of soup simmering on the stove.

Interested? I have a recipe to share with you that has been passed on from my Grandmother and mixed with my mother-in-law's recipe. It is "Chicken Noodle Soup in the Mennonite Tradition" This is what you'll need to have on hand: a "spice ball" (or tea ball), extra fine egg noodles, whole black peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, and either star of anise or aniseed (whole or just seeds). Likely, if you're up for this experience, you'll need to do a bit of shopping. The last thing on the list may be the most challenging to find.

The next thing you'll need to do is buy a whole chicken. I like the frozen "Halal" ones and I pull it out a day or so ahead of time to thaw. Wash it (sometimes I forget...probably not a big deal), put it in a roaster or on a big casserole dish, sprinkle some Mrs. Dash on it or salt and pepper (or nothing...I usually don't eat the skin anyway) and pop it in the oven at 350 for 1 1/2 hours or so. The chicken should start to fall apart and the juices run clear. If you have a thermometer, it's helpful to use. Pull it out of the oven, put the lid on the roaster or make a foil roof for the chicken and let it rest for 5-7 minutes. If you're me, you'll sort of hack it apart. Basically, cut the wings/legs off at the joint, and cut the breast pieces off. It's helpful to put a plate in the oven after you turn it off, so the meat doesn't cool off as quickly. You can put small potatoes poked with holes in at the same time as the chicken or make rice to go with it, add a vegetable and/or salad and you have an easy meal.

Put the bones in a ziploc bag and throw in fridge or freezer. Use the leftover meat for wraps, sandwiches, or salads. Then comes the soup!

Give yourself two hours or more before you want to eat your soup. Throw the bones in a large pot and fill with as much water as is safe. Put about 10 peppercorns and one star of anise in (or a 1/2 teaspoon of the loose aniseed) into the spice ball. Throw in a cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, then reduce to simmer (or 1 or 2) for at least an hour and a half. Scoop out the bones and meat with pasta claw or tongs or other such useful utensil into a container. Let cool before handling.

Prepare noodles as directed (use half package if you plan to freeze some of the soup...whole package if you want to serve the whole pot of soup immediately).

Then comes the most tedious part. If you just get into the zone, you'll find your mind is free to reflect on life and come up with new ideas. Alternatively, it could be a good time to use your iPod. Pick through the bones to retrieve the meat and cut into small pieces (use as much as you wish to deal with). It is time to add salt. Sea salt or Himalayan crystal salt is nice. Kosher salt might be good. I start with at least a teaspoon of salt and then add more to taste. If you over-salt, add water. Return the meat to the pot. If using only portion of broth, you may want to add the broth/meat to the noodle pot once it has been drained. The noodles don't freeze well, so you always want to freeze without and then cook a fresh batch when you reheat broth. You can also freeze a cup of broth without the meat, and use where chicken broth is called for.

Ladle into bowls and eat with a nice thick bread. Slice your own brown bread, use a dark, round pumpernickel, or even French bread with lots of butter!

Parts of the soup-making experience will seem like work, but there's nothing like the aroma of soup wafting through your home or greeting you after you've been outside in the cold. It's nice to make when you have a lazy Saturday/Sunday morning (or even while you're out). It's handy to pull out of the freezer when you're under the weather or when you want to cheer someone else up. And there will be this satisfaction that you have joined many women in the ancient art of soup-making. Enjoy!


Alicia said...

I often make my own homemade chicken broth and I agree, there's something good about the process, not to mention the final product!

Anonymous said...

Oh yes, there's nothing as good as Mennonite soup!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a good idea for this chilly weekend, and I think I have ONE lonely chicken left in the freezer from my last trip to the farm.