Right now my dad is visiting me all the way from Florida, and while he’s here he requested that I make at least one dinner. So last night I made a meal of bone-in pork chops with a plum wine and cream sauce, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob, and a salad of herb-greens with a honey-ginger-balsamic vinegar dressing. It turned out really well, and although I’m rarely completely satisfied with the way a meal tastes after I’ve cooked it, this one came close to being exactly what I’d hoped for!
Today I stayed home because I haven’t been feeling well at all, lately. I was sick last week end and since then my digestive system has been on revolt. At the same time, a friend of mine has been suffering from a sore throat, so it seemed like a very good time to make some comfort food and have an easy evening at home.
When I think of comfort food, the dishes that come to mind are the ones my mother used to make. One of my favorite recipes of hers is extremely simple but never disappoints. It’s a basic Chicken Noodle Soup recipe, and it was just as good tonight as it was when I was a child and my mother made a giant pot of it.
The recipe is a bit of the unwritten variety, but here are the basics:
1 whole fryer chicken
3 large carrots, sliced in thick slices or cut into chunks
3 stalks of celery, sliced in thick slices or cut into chunks
1 package wide egg noodles
1 container chicken stock
First, boil the chicken in a Dutch oven or other very large pot until it is cooked through and tender enough that the legs easily separate from the body. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside to cool. Skim as much fat and scum from the top of the remaining liquid as you can, and leave the pot on the stovetop. If you want, you could do this ahead of time and either freeze the broth or chill it until you want to actually make the soup.
Once the chicken has cooled enough to touch, use fingers to pull as much meat from the bones as you can, pull it into small pieces and thin strips, and drop into liquid remaining in pot. Set heat to just above medium. Chop carrots and celery, and add to pot. Keep at a steady simmer until vegetables are cooked through. Bring to a boil again and add egg noodles; cook for 8-10 minutes at least, or until noodles are tender.
I usually add the salt and pepper at the end, as I like the other flavors to incorporate together before trying to figure out how much is needed. You could also add in herbs like thyme and rosemary while initially cooking the chicken, as well as adding onion or mushrooms to the soup. It’s a matter of taste, really.
Tonight I served this soup (with mushrooms added) along with some fresh cherries, a loaf of French Peasant bread from Breadsmith bakery and a huge chunk of unbelievably yummy Plugra butter. My roommate says it’s the only butter she’s ever actually wanted to eat all on its own, and I totally agree.
Our friend Joseph came over to eat with us tonight – he’s Korean, and his palate tends toward needing a lot of spice in a meal to feel satisfied, which of course is the reverse of what chicken noodle soup is. So he added about a tablespoon of red pepper flakes and a lot of salt and black pepper to his bowl while eating. I can’t imagine doing that, but every person’s palate is different, and that’s what makes the experience of eating together so interesting! He also brought a small container of kimchi to eat along with the soup – it sounds bizarre but actually my mom’s chicken soup isn’t that different from some Korean chicken soups, so it went together surprisingly well. The concept of “throw a chicken and some vegetables in a pot together” certainly didn’t originate with my mother – it’s something that can be found in recipe traditions literally all over the world.
Pictures of tonight’s dinner:
So, for the last year or so I have been experimenting with Asian cooking. Having grown up in a household where a stir-fry was about as Asian as the cooking got, and since I hated Asian food when I was a kid, I’ve had little first-hand interaction with the entire Asian world of food. Now that I’m older, though, the flavor profiles of Japanese and Korean food in particular have grabbed my attention, and I’ve been doing my best to re-create some of my favorite dishes.
My most recent attempt was to make a Korean beef rib main course called Kalbi Jjim (갈비찜). I was extremely excited to make it, and I spent most of the day Saturday to cook it (it’s cooked using a braising technique so it takes hours). Unfortunately for me, the butchers misunderstood my request as to how to cut the ribs, and so rather than cutting them in thirds they cut them for LA Kalbi, which means the meat was about 1/4 inch thick with tiny bones spaced throughout. I did realize before beginning to cook that this would be a problem, and normally I have a pretty good 6th sense about what to do in a food-crisis like that, but for whatever reason my brain deserted me this time. Rather than simply deciding to cook LA Kalbi (which would have made perfect sense and not been too difficult) I went ahead and cooked the meat Kalbi Jjim style. HUGE mistake – the meat taste fine but completely fell off the bones, and ended up resembling nothing so much as a dish of dog food. Ugh.
Thankfully the side dishes I prepared to go with the meat weren’t all terrible (although even those weren’t what I had hoped they would be), and the sweet Korean pancakes called hodduk (호떡) we made together after dinner were extremely tasty and nearly made up for it all. Also, my guests were ridiculously polite and managed to refrain from criticizing what I knew full well was a disastrous meal. Sometimes having Korean friends whose culture requires endless levels of kindness and flattery comes in handy, even if you do know it’s a lie!
Next time I think I’ll stick to cooking what I know. I need a successful dinner party after this one!
Addendum – I was just talking to a Korean friend of mine and she reassured me that I am not, after all, an idiot. She herself has apparently done the same thing at times. Still, though, I’m determined to make it the correct way next time and see what it’s supposed to be like when it’s done right!
13 Eat honey, my son, for it is good;
honey from the comb is sweet to your taste.
14 Know also that wisdom is sweet to your soul;
if you find it, there is a future hope for you,
and your hope will not be cut off.
In LaBelle, Florida there is a shop owned by the Harold P. Curtis Honey Company. It’s not a large shop, but the honey they sell is nothing short of miraculous. Although they sell a few different varieties of honey, the orange blossom honey really can’t be beat – it has a delicate floral quality to it that, for me at least, conjures up a particularly Floridian aura. When I was a child my family drove through LaBelle frequently on the way to visit family members, and I always looked forward to our stop at the “honey place” to get a honey stick I could suck on for the rest of the trip. And since I moved to Springfield, Missouri, the best gift anyone has given to me was a half-gallon of that same orange blossom honey I have been eating since I was a child. For months, every time I bit into a piece of toast drizzled with that honey, it was like taking a tiny trip back to my home.
The flavor of honey may seem simple, but in reality it’s very complex. Like a fine wine, honey has deep and subtle notes of flavor that have a powerful effect upon our senses as we taste it. In Proverbs, the poet compares the character of wisdom to the nature of honey – both are sweet to the person who has the chance to experience them. I believe the author also wanted us to notice that wisdom contains the complexity of honey. As we begin to seek wisdom from God, not only does it bring joy and sweetness of life to us, but it also brings the underlying assurance of hope for the future.
The flavor of orange blossom honey from the little shop in LaBelle will always bring me pleasant thoughts of the past. As we experience the wisdom that comes from God and make decisions based on that wisdom, we will be forever reassured that our future is in His hands and that it will be sweet.
9 The fear of the LORD is pure,
The ordinances of the LORD are sure
and altogether righteous.
10 They are more precious than gold,
than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey,
than honey from the comb.
11 By them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.