Being a household of just two people, my husband and I don't often devote a lot of time to things like cooking. Some nights we content ourselves with a bowl of cereal for supper. Call us lazy (you wouldn't be the first), but we tend to cook as the spirit moves us.
It moves us more often when there's company in the house. During the last visit from our goddaughter, my husband more or less 'invented' breakfast steak sandwiches -- thinly sliced beef cooked with peppers and onions, mixed with scrambled eggs, served on a hot dog roll lined with cheese. They were amazing, but making them for everyone took well over an hour.
The mouth-watering memory of this deliciousness caused me to think about our very different cooking styles. When my husband cooks, he cooks. He's very much a from-scratch kind of guy; his homemade cornbread muffins are a good example. As noted in my Thanksgiving post, the meal for that day is left entirely in his hands precisely because he's so good at this kind of thing.
By contrast, I am what I like to call The Culinary Liar. I enjoy feeding people; it's one of my chief pleasures when we have company. But I attack the situation from a very different angle, and for a while I tried to keep that fact a secret. However, I have the sort of friends who want to hang out in the kitchen with me while I cook, so keeping the truth under wraps became pretty much impossible. Nobody really seems to mind, since the end result tastes good enough that leftovers simply do not happen, and I've gradually learned to embrace this bit of dishonesty. Since I generally aspire to be a scrupulously honest person otherwise, I think I can be forgiven.
My best recipes, if they can be called that, are those in which I tend to take rather disparate foods and combine them. The casserole I devised to use up Thanksgiving leftovers is proof of this. Far and away my most popular concoction is my 'homemade' chicken noodle soup, which is requested periodically by friends, and particularly by our goddaughter every time she visits. She knows exactly what's in it, she knows how much work I (don't) put into it, but she craves it all the same because, she says, "you can taste the love."
I'll list the optional variations you can make after the base description; suffice it to say that this recipe can be altered to accomodate vegetarians, people with food allergies, and picky eaters. Here's what you will need for chicken noodle soup done my way (alter amounts as needed based on how many people you're feeding):
- One package of egg noodles, ideally bowtie-shaped
- One to two cans of white meat chicken
- Four regular-sized cans of cream of chicken condensed soup, or one to two family-size cans; I like to mix it up by getting three cans of normal cream of chicken and one can of cream of chicken with herbs, but use what's available
- One can each of any or all of the following: corn, green beans, sliced carrots, peas, and any other soup-appropriate vegetable that appeals to your audience (potatoes are fine, but might be a bit too starchy in combination with the noodles -- your call though)
Bring home your supermarket bounty and fish out your preferred medium-sized soup pot. Put it on the stove on medium-high heat and prepare the cream of chicken soup(s) according to the directions on the can -- use milk, not water. You want your base nice and rich and creamy. Once all the soup has smoothed out and bears a strong resemblance to light gravy, start adding your vegetables and chunks of chicken. Be sure to drain them all well before adding them, so that the water in which they're packed doesn't thin out your soup, and if your household is anything like mine be sure to set aside a bit of chicken for the cat. Depending on how much soup you're actually making, two to three handfuls of the noodles are generally sufficient. Toss those in and keep stirring almost continuously, because milk-based soups burn ridiculously fast. (I learned this the hard way.)
Very simply, your soup is done when the noodles are tender, if not outright falling apart in the liquid. Add a few dashes of fresh-ground pepper and just a pinch or two of salt, then allow to cool sufficiently to be eaten.
Vegetarian: Do it all the exact same way, but omit the chicken and use a different cream soup for the base. Cream of potato, cream of celery, or cream of mushroom are all good choices.
Dairy allergy/vegan: Omit the chicken, the egg noodles, and any cream soup. Instead, use a box or two of vegetable stock for your base. White rice is good to use instead of the noodles, or go with the potatoes that I wasn't keen on your using in the original. (The egg noodles only need to be omitted if you're serving a vegan or someone with an egg allergy. When in doubt, go with the rice to be on the safe side, or else make two soups so they have options.)
Crock pot cooking: This one is useful if you're making the soup for an office party, a fundraiser, or any other situation where you need to have the soup hot and on hand and not needing to be monitored constantly. Once again, you will need to use stock instead of cream soup for the base, because as noted above, the milk will burn. (This is what I meant when I said I learned that the hard way.) For something like a fundraiser, I like to have two crock pots of soup going -- one with chicken noodle, one with vegetable rice. Just keep an extra box of each kind of stock on hand to add to the pots as you go, because apart from dishing out the soup, the broth will evaporate over time. They can be prepped in advance, left on low heat to simmer, and just need an occasional stir.
So, now that you know what kind of food I'd be likely to make for you if you ever came over, the question remains...who's doing the dishes?
(Now, if you want to read about real cooking, done by someone who does it right, please be sure to check out Veni, Vidi, Eaty! -- the food blog of my dear friend Daniela and her talented cook of a mom.)