Spicy Tips: The Perfect Chicken Noodle Soup

Spoiler Alert: Be prepared for the onslaught of chicken dishes!

When the fall season hits, I can’t think of anything better than busting out the Crock Pot and making dishes that assault your sense of smell when you return from work that day. Also, the house just feels warmer and more inviting that way. Trust me, there’s nothing better than after a long day of being on the phone with an insurance company to argue a client’s claim, to walk in and smell the love that your dish has been making while you were away. It’s a calming force.

So before I wax poetic on slow cooking, let’s get back to the topic. Namely, Chicken Noodle Soup. I know we all have a recipe that we follow. We all have our own tricks and tips that personalize how we create this cold-weather classic. And so I want to share a few of my own, as there are a few helpful suggestions to guarantee positive results.

 
1) Make sure to flavor your broth!

When you’re sick, Chicken Noodle is simply the best soup (in my opinion) that can bring you out of that non-hunger phase and nourish your soul. It has the protein from the chicken, the vitamins from the vegetables, the noodles to help fill you up, and most importantly: that nice salty broth to break through your temporarily altered taste buds. So while I love adding a healthy dose of poultry seasoning, don’t forget salt and pepper! There’s nothing worse than all those delicious elements in a bland broth. And taste as you go….I cannot stress that enough.

 

2) If you can, make your own stock.

You can always buy chicken broth if you’re in a pinch, but I love making my own stock. When Matt & I purchase a whole chicken, we first roast it and eat the breast for dinner that night. Then, strip the meat off the chicken down to the bones, as the meat will be perfect for soup when you process and chop it. And in the Crock Pot, put that carcass in with enough water to cover the top of the bones, then lid on low and slow for 8-9 hours (and sometimes longer).

Once the carcass starts to fall apart in the stock, that’s a good sign. When done, remove the bones and my final move is to place a paper towel in the strainer and ladle in broth through that into a container. The stock will retain some fat, but this helps keep bone fragments out of your broth. Use a wooden spoon to push around the liquid to get it to strain. You may replace the paper towels a few times as eventually the fat will pool enough to where nothing gets through, but that’s okay. This is a messy (but rewarding) process. You get a clearer broth this way.

 

3) Saute your veggies before you put them in and make sure they’re fresh!

I keep my veggies standard: celery, onion, carrot. You can add fun ingredients like leeks or fennel, but I love the classics when it comes to chicken soup. Now, you can always just throw the veggies in raw and allow the slow cooking to do its magic, but I love getting a little bit of color on those veggies. You won’t necessarily get a bite of onion as it melts into the broth, but you will taste a hint of it. The carrots will practically melt in your mouth, as will the celery. You want to let them cook the longest in your broth.

So for the best result, a little bit of oil in a pan, saute for less than 5 minutes, and add the veggies first to the broth.

 

4) For best results, make the noodles separately (and keep them that way).

This is more a rule because Matt does not like soggy noodles. And it’s a good one! The noodles are always the final ingredient to add to the soup, because once they’re done the soup is done. And then once in the fridge, the noodles keep expanding the longer they sit. And instead of soup, you get this noodle dish with soup elements and minimal broth. So instead, I tried a new trick: I cooked the noodles alone, strained them, then placed them first in the bowl and ladled the soup over the top.

When I had to clean up and put the rest in the fridge, I made a decision to keep the noodles in a separate container. You get more control over the amount of noodles you want in your bowl, and the broth remains intact when you heat it up.

 

5) Low and slow is the best way to go!

I have forgotten the most important tip of all: the slow cooker is the best way to make Chicken Soup. Flavors are best when they have a chance to meet and meld for a while. You don’t want to rush this step and if you have the time, take it. The depth of flavor you can achieve from that low and slow technique is second to none.

 

And as always….enjoy!

– Jenny V

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Where has this soup “bean” all this time? (A bad joke/love story)

If there is one thing that I am known for aside from making delicious dessert items in my home….it is soup.

I absolutely adore soup as a meal, thanks in large to my Pop-Pop. He was a soup fan, which makes me think that’s where I get a little bit of my love from. My pop-pop was truly a character, in every sense of the word! He always had this special whistle that let me know he was there, which resulted in me practically tackling him for a hug. What can I say? I was seven years old and it wasn’t like I could visit him all the time. (Even though he passed away while I was in college over 10 years ago, I still sometimes wish I could hear that whistle one more time.)

For a huge portion of my childhood, my Pop-Pop and Grandma Gloria resided in Ohio, which meant several road trips and plane rides to visit them at their apartment in Boardman. Out there, since it was mostly during the summer, there were Fourth of July parties, pool time with the children (and grandchildren) of my grandparent’s friends, walks around the golf course (that was on the other side of the trees in the communal yard), playing in the yard with their landlord’s maltese Benz, and my pop-pop teaching me how to swing a golf club….sometimes swearing up a storm if I hit him with the light plastic golf ball by accident. (He kinda had a colorful way with words.)

But also meant that when my grandparents came to New Jersey, their presence was a large family affair! He would take me to the diner to visit my Aunt Annie, come to my softball games/dance recitals/concerts, and on certain occasions, he would take me to the store to pick out a toy of my choosing. Some of those nights at my Aunt Annie’s house (where they would stay during their visit) with cake and coffee were my favorites, because my pop-pop was there and the family was all together. But that’s another story (or twenty) for another day. Anyway….back to soup!

Yes, my pop-pop loved soup and in turn, I came to love it as well. What’s not to love? Tasty ingredients like pasta, veggies, beans, sometimes meat….in a perfect vehicle of salty, flavorful broth. So I guess in part, my Pop-Pop was my inspiration for creating this meal (with no recipe, mind you): what I felt was the perfect White Bean Soup. And if you have never had Cannellini beans, you are missing out on a healthy (and delicious) protein to add to your meals.

The trick for a great soup really does rely on the broth, so make sure that you flavor your broth well. Aside from salt, pepper, and the various seasonings, I always prefer to start with a diced onion, some minced garlic, and a little cooking wine to really amp up the flavor profile.

Some of my favorite recipes are the ones that come from a place of love. Food isn’t just a necessity, it’s a gift to be shared. And feeling the inspiration to create new recipes from that love? Simply beautiful.

Enjoy.

~ Jenny V


White Bean Soup a la Love

1 can cannellini beans

1 bulb fennel, sliced thinly

1 medium onion, diced

4-6 cups chicken broth

4 cups water

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1 bottle Sherry cooking wine

1 medium tomato, diced

1 cup tubettini pasta (optional)

1 tablespoon salt (can add more if needed)

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon thyme

1 teaspoon black pepper

Directions:

1) In a saute pan on medium-high heat, drizzle in olive oil to coat the pan, then add the diced onion. When the onion starts to become a little more translucent, add in minced garlic and fennel, stir and saute for 5-7 minutes to allow time for flavors to meld and fennel to cook, then add 1/2 bottle of Sherry cooking wine and bring mixture up to a boil. Once the liquid starts to evaporate a little, remove from heat and spoon mixture into slow-cooker.

2) Into slow-cooker with mixture, add in chicken broth, water, remainder of Sherry, tomato, and seasonings. Give a good stir to incorporate all ingredients, then cook on low for 7 hours or on high for 3 hours, dropping to low for one more hour.

3) An hour and a half before finishing cook time, add in beans (rinse before adding). 15-20 minutes before finishing, add in tubettini. Serve with grated parmesan.

“Squash”ing Gluten (in a delicious way)

Matt and I always love being presented with cooking challenges, one of which being how we can make some of our favorite dishes gluten-free. (Between the both of us, there are at least half a dozen people–friends and family–that have severe allergies and/or aversions to eating gluten!) So, this is a post for our favorite celiacs.

In the past year, I have urged Matt to try more vegetables than I am sure he has ever tried in his life. It became a game of sorts, going to the supermarket, picking up a random item in the produce aisle, and finding a way to incorporate said item into a meal. Brussel sprouts, rutabaga, parsnip, red cabbage, acorn squash, etc….trying each new item has brought us fun meals with tasty results. And one of my favorites? Butternut squash!

Initially when we tried butternut squash, I had purchased a frozen bag of already pureed squash for dinner. It was quite delicious (and a cool alternative to mashed potatoes.) But a fresh squash? Now that’s a horse of a different color! First off, the peeling took forever….and may have caused some colorful expletives to fly out of my mouth. But once it was done, then came the cutting into cubes and removing all seeds. If you’re looking for a good workout for your arms, then this is it.

And from all of that hard labor came the best butternut squash soup that I have ever had! Now, for the gluten-free trick : while Matt and I used a roux (flour and butter) to thicken up the soup a little (because it was watery without that roux), we found that adding a potato yielded the same effect. Just add that potato in with your squash, cubed of course, and the starch creates a natural thickener. Also, make sure your stock is gluten-free! (This is where I would suggest checking out my homemade stock posts….because most cans of broth do come with gluten in them if you’re not careful. Labels are important. Trust me on this…it’s the difference between my brother-in-law’s wife being able to eat the soup we tried so hard to make gluten-free for her, but didn’t even think about the chicken broth having gluten in it.)

From time to time, we try to be as conscious as possible about other’s dietary needs…and still make a delicious meal!

So for all of you that are gluten-free (and those who just want to try a delicious soup)….

Enjoy!

~ Jenny V


Jenn’s Gluten-Free Butternut Squash Soup

1 2-3 lb. butternut squash, peeled & seeded

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 medium onion, diced

6 cups chicken stock

1 small potato, peeled and cubed

Nutmeg

Salt & Pepper

Directions:

1) Cut squash and potato into 1-inch cubes, set aside.

2) In large pot, melt butter. Add onion and cook until translucent, about 8 minutes.

3) Add squash, potato, and stock. Bring to a simmer and cook until squash is tender, about 15-20 minutes.

4) Remove squash and potato with slotted spoon, place in blender, and puree. Return blended mixture to pot.

5) Stir and season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Serve.

Taking Stock to a whole new level….

It’s been a while….and we have been cooking up new recipes non-stop!

But more importantly, Matt & I have been sticking to our main lot in life in the kitchen: whatever we make, we try to make homemade. (Except for dairy products, although I am determined to learn how to make fresh mozzarella as soon as I can locate a fairly easy recipe!)

So let’s talk stock….even though I have talked about it at least once or twice before.

Chicken is the easiest one, of course! You get a whole roaster chicken and once you’ve cooked it for one meal, strip it as bare to the bones as you can, Crock Pot it with some onion, fresh herbs & seasonings (thyme, bay leaf, poultry seasoning), and cover the carcass with water….then you lid it, put it on low, and let the gatherings of deliciousness come together! Trust me on this, you will never go back to plain old chicken broth once you have made your own.

You can also do seafood rather easily too, especially if you have shrimp shells and fish bones! (I’ve tried the shrimp shells….it’s definitely an easy way to go and doesn’t require much time to make. And in a seafood soup or stew? YUMMY!)

But my newest favorite concoction? BEEF.

Yes, beef stock (if you cook with bone-in meats) can be quite delicious! And don’t be afraid to add the fat in there as well….the more flavor you can infuse into that stock, the better. And that fat has LOTS of flavor.

Matt and I had prime rib bones to work with (thanks to leftovers from Easter) and so with some bones, red cooking wine, herbs, and a whole lotta love, we created the most delicious stock to date! (You can ask my husband, he will wholeheartedly agree that this was the best stock he’s ever tasted….the proof in how quickly the Beef Noodle Soup we created did not last a week.)

While I do not have a picture of the process, I will have to make do with locating a picture of the soup:

But if you’d like my process….here’s my take on beef stock a la Vintzileos!

And as always, ENJOY!

~ Jenny V


Beef Stock

Ingredients:

Bones (Prime Rib, Steak, Roast, etc. If you’ve had a beef dish and there are bones, don’t be afraid to use them!)

1 cup red cooking wine

4-5 sprigs fresh thyme

2-3 cloves garlic (optional)

1-2 bay leaves

8-10 cups water (possibly more, but it has to be enough to cover the bones completely)

1 medium onion, sliced 

Directions:

1) In a Crock Pot, place the sliced onion along the bottom of the pot.

2) Add the bones, wine, herbs, and garlic, finishing with the water.

3) Turn the Crock Pot on low, cover with lid, and cook at least 8 hours. (My trick is to put the stock on an hour or two before bed, that way when I wake up in the morning, I turn it off and let it start to cool while I get ready for work. Remember, the longer you let those flavors meld, the better your stock will turn out!)