Soup and Sammich

Seeing as this is another food post, I guess I should make a separate category and call it The Prairie Food Companion. Where some lonely knucklehead cooks his wife’s recipes, thinking “how hard could it be” and damn he misses his girl. A thousand words of that, ought to put the kybosh on your insomnia issues.

I’m a soup and sammich kinda guy and have been that way for years. I think it all started with Mom making me PB and J’s for lunch and I guess the soup would have been Kool Aid. Work with me, people. I ate a lot of PB&J’s and drank a lot of Kool Aid. Then came the voice changes and thoughts of love… of pizza, not that icky girl stuff. I remember coming home from school, I think I was 14 or so. I had eaten lunch, and here it was 3 hours later, and I was ravenous. I was in the wrestling program and we had regular weigh ins. I was 158 pounds that fall and could eat you out of house and home and then wonder what’s for supper? So, I’d come home, turn on the tv, and Star Trek was boldly going somewhere in space, while I grabbed a pizza from the freezer and made myself an after school snack. Ate the whole thing and when Mom came home and made supper, I ate that whole thing, had seconds and about a half gallon of ice cream for dessert. I kept up that routine until I left home and discovered that cooking for yourself kinda sucked. Mom was glad she didn’t have to refinance the mortgage to feed me.

I turned back to my old love of soup and sammich, because you could hardly screw that up, but according to My Dad, whose favorite saying while I was growing up was “you could screw up a soup sandwich.” I think I proved him right more than a couple of times. Being on your own and wandering the wasteland of poor choices in life, where you ate whatever and suffered the consequences of eating whatever. Finally got my head screwed on straight and found my wife. She’d done time in California, so her cooking style was eclectic, but I didn’t care, somebody else was doing the cooking. She liked different foods, that I characterized at the time as sour, bland or ishy. By that, I mean she would eat plain yogurt, kiwi fruit and some other awful stuff I didn’t much care for. I was a flooring contractor back then, and all the fumes from new carpet and vinyl caused me to not have a real good sense of smell. And without smelling good, you end up not being able to taste subtle flavors. She was forced to make big tasting food for me while she nibbled on the sour, bland and ishy stuff she liked. We eventually ended up in New Mexico where chile peppers are on everything but your breakfast cereal. There was a restaurant that we went to quite often, they had an habanero pork loin that was fantastic and out of the 5 times I had it, the habaneros won twice. You had to bring your A game when eating there. It became a grudge match that I eventually triumphed over, but oh, it hurt so good.

Shortly after that we moved to Missouri, or as I like to call it, Misery. We discovered Alton Brown on the Food Network and it pretty much changed how we went about food. My wife went from some California-esk cooking to a somewhat svelte hottie chef. I took an interest in consultant cooking. Meaning I dreamed up something that I thought would taste good and helped her figure out how to make it. Consultants don’t have to do the dishes, it’s in the contract, fine print. She started upping her game and by the time we settled in Kansas, people came to know her as the “Food Lady.” My son’s friends loved to eat at our house, we’ve bribed people with her pies, and even catered several holiday feasts at her sister’s house.

And then… and then the somewhat svelte and totally hot Mrs Chef went back home to Minnesota. Oh, quit your blubbering, it was part of the plan. I have to keep telling myself that, over and over. All of which left me no longer consulting, but actually having to do the dishes. She left me recipes of things that I might make when I got tired of eating frozen pizza. Well, I’m still not tired of it, but I decided to try the chicken noodle soup. I mean, it’s soup, how hard could it be, right?

I had a package of frozen chicken breasts in the freezer and thought I would experiment with brines. We’ve used a wet brine on chicken and pork for years and with great success. Just recently, I found a dry brine that I tried on pork and really liked. I would wet brine two chicken breasts and dry brine one. The wet brine can be cold or boiled and then cooled. So, one was cold mixed with 1/4 cup of salt, pepper, cayenne, thyme and garlic powder. The next one got the same amounts and spices and boiled and then cooled. Many cooks recommend boiling to better integrate the salt. The last breast was dry brined with the same spices and amounts but for only 2 hours, uncovered and in the fridge. The first 2 were in the fridge overnight. The next day, I pulled the two breasts in wet brines out of their solutions and dried them off, not rinsing the breasts with water. When the dry brined breast was ready, I added some parmesan cheese and they all got grilled to 165 degrees. I plated them up and samples were consumed. I could not detect a difference in the wet brined chicken. They were highly seasoned with salt, because it had not been washed off, but dang good. The dry brined chicken, I ate. It was the winner, very moist and tasty. I would use less salt next time, but dry brining was the way to go.

Soup day. I got the wife’s recipe out and made chicken noodle soup. I used one of the remaining chicken breasts for the soup. Because the chicken was well salted, I found I didn’t need to use any more salt to season the soup. And once the soup was done, I took part of the other breast and made a sammich from my freshly done home made bread. If your mouth is not watering right now, something might be wrong with you, better see your Doctor. My only wish was that my dearly missing wife could taste this ambrosia I had created. In an ironic twist, I had been complaining to Mrs Hottie Chef that she was spicing up her soups so much that I couldn’t enjoy the rest of the flavors. The soup I had just created, had a jalapeño and a serrano pepper, along with a fist full of cayenne. I was sweating like I was in a sauna when I got done, and liked it. Guess the cook won’t be hearing anymore complaints about spices in her cooking. When I was buying the peppers at Wally World, invariably the checkout girls are never sure what that green thing is. This one was able to identify the jalapeño, but she was stumped on the other one. I told her it was a serrano pepper. She kinda frowned like she hadn’t heard that before.

“What’s it taste like” she asked?

I asked her if she had tasted a jalapeño? She had, but it was way too hot.

“Well” I said “the serrano is the thinner angrier cousin of the jalapeño.”

“Ooh!” she shuddered, “I couldn’t eat that.”

Because I am, at heart, a decent person and not prone to embarrassing people, I didn’t point out the irony of a hispanic girl telling me she couldn’t eat something from south of the border. Kids, you buy ‘em books and they just chew the covers. In this part of the world though, not the spicy covers.

Earlier, I had mentioned weighing 158 pound at 14 years old and eating everything but the shingles off the house. I am 58 and weighed myself this morning. 161 pounds. I can attribute that to eating less, not smoking, not doing drugs, drinking in moderation, eating real food, not junk food, avoiding sugar like it’s poison and missing Mrs Hottie Chef. If you are trying to drop some pounds, I recommend everything above, but you’ll have to find your own Hottie Chef to pine for.

Chicken Noodle Soup

1 chicken breast, cut up
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped carrots
1/2 cup chopped bell pepper
1 or 2 jalapeños, chopped
Real men also throw in a serrano pepper, chopped, with seeds
1 quart of stock or broth
1 quart of water
1 teaspoon worcestershire
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon cayenne & paprika
A squirt of anchovy paste, don’t avoid this part, you’ll be sorry
1 teaspoon parsley
4 oz noodles

Sauté chicken, onion, celery, carrots, peppers a few minutes, then add broth and seasonings and simmer a few more minutes. Add noodles and simmer at least 10 minutes until noodles are tender.