Tag Archive: carrot


One of the great things about being a sole chef is that, nine times out of ten, you don’t have to worry about cooking for anyone but yourself. That means you get to make what you like with ingredients you like in the amount that you like. You also get to cook things how you like them. No time to defrost the chicken? Boil it. All you have is a giant bag of frozen chicken tenderloins? Good enough if you like white meat. Want some extra curry? Go for it. Being a sole chef is like Burger King on steroids: you can have it your way, anyway you want. There are no cheeseburger limits. The kitchen is your oyster, the pan your pearl, and the fridge the gateway to possibilities.

But sometimes, admittedly, it gets a little lonely.

I’ve cooked for a lot of people since moving out. Friends, coworkers, classmates. I’ve even been known to throw down enough from-scratch alfredo or shredded taco meat for a small gathering on occasion, but more often than not, whatever is in the pot is for me and me alone. There is a fine line between selfish and solitary. Have I crossed it?

But sometimes, when soup is not enough to keep me going, I rely on people outside the four walls of my apartment. I have to. Even though I am self-reliant most of the time, the undeniable fact is that people need other people, sometimes in their highs, sometimes in their lows.  That’s why I’m glad my friends were with me in Chicago when I got the job. That’s why the minute my thesis defense is done, one of my friends is (hopefully) taking me to a bar to toast to the end of an era. But more than anything else, that’s why my friend panicked and called me when I told her I was about to break down in tears. She missed the eruption by mere minutes, but it was one of those days when all the chocolate in Hershey wasn’t going to fix a damn thing.

“It’s the thesis,” I explained. “And everything else. I’m just tired.”

It would have been mortifying to break down crying on the phone, but luckily, I had gotten that out of my system. I talked in circles for twenty minutes, mainly because it made me feel better, but partly because I was grateful. And as I walked around in my own words, I found enough solace to press onward. There are just some things that soup can’t fix. If fixing my thesis was as easy as chopping it up and throwing it in a pan with a bunch of fancy seasonings, then I would have done it ages ago. I guess a thesis is kind of like that. Word soup, made of blood, sweat, tears, and carpel tunnel.

I, of course, reciprocate this “dealing with the chatter of a very disgruntled and thesisbound graduate student” thing when the time calls for it. Some people simply need to vent about their lives to get through the day. Birds of a feather flock together, I suppose. I’ve taken phone calls for every flavor of trauma and stupidity. Parents, significant others, health issues, coworkers… you name it, and I’ve probably heard it at least once on the phone, and I don’t mind that sort of thing because, hell, I complain about what I perceive as everyday stupidity as well. It vexes me to no end that a bunch of college-educated people still haven’t learned how to use common sense. Every time someone misses a beat, I scratch my head and call people whatever expletive happens to spring to mind. When driving, I’m a little less judicious about bottling up my frustration. Things like my infamous road rage make me thankful that my friends understand I can be a jack-ass because I am ninety percent sure that not everyone would.

This soup actually started two weeks ago in a conversation. “I’m running out of ideas,” I confessed. “I can’t think of anything else to make. I’m saving my favorite for the very end because I’m not sure how well it’s going to work.”

“Make sweet potato, then.”

I confess that I have been leery of sweet potatoes ever since the first time I laid eyes on a canned yam. I don’t consider myself a picky eater, but when something looks so foreign and repulsive, like some sort of alien egg out of a sci-fi movie, even I’m a little put off by it. Irrational, yes, but so is much of what goes on around me.

Not too long ago, around the same time the soup discussion took place, my old coworker Morgan celebrated her twenty-fifth birthday. I hadn’t seen her in three months, so I decided to attend her party. On the menu was, of course, sweet potatoes, but mashed, not canned. Suddenly, I was faced with one orange mound of terror that remind me of all the other fears I had faced over the years. When I was eleven, I faced my fear of roller coasters with my best friend from childhood. A few months ago, I faced my fear of sushi with my friend Korrin and a martini in my hand. Raw fish is now something I’ve been indulging in once a week now. Sweet potatoes, of course, were no exception. Overcoming fears is a part of life, I guess, and if our friends aren’t there to do it, then how will we overcome?

Can gratitude be expressed in soup? To me, that seems like a culinary experiment worth trying just once.

Chicken and Sweet Potato Soup for the Sole
(Based roughly on this recipe)

The Penultimate Bowl

(Dedicated with gratitude to my favorite respiratory therapist… never mind that she’s the only one I know)

Ingredients

  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • 3 chicken tenders, frozen
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp freshly ground ginger
  • 1 tbsp garlic
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp garam marsala
  • A little over a pound of sweet potatoes
  • 1/4 cup baby carrots, chopped
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped

Directions

  1. Saute onions in olive oil for 5 minutes.
  2. Add garlic and ginger. Saute additional 2 minutes.
  3. Add curry and garam marsala. Saute for another minute.
  4. In the interludes between steps 1 and 4, chop carrots and sweet potatoes.
  5. Add 3 cups chicken stock, chicken tenders, carrots, and sweet potatoes. Simmer for 20-3o minutes, or until sweet potatoes are tender.
  6. Remove chicken tenders and shred. Let cool for about 10-20 minutes.
  7. Using a food processor that is hopefully better than mine, puree carrots and sweet potatoes.
  8. Return to pan. Add remaining cup of chicken stock and shredded chicken breast. Heat 10 minutes.
  9. Chop green onions and sprinkle over the bowl.

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Mother nature is a bitch, and I’m not just saying that because my ovaries feel like they’re going to pop out of my gut like an alien. I’m saying that because I finally found that heating pad, and I can’t decide whether my back or my stomach hurts more. I’m saying that because, despite nine hours of sleep and an iron pill, I still feel like I’ve been run over by an entire garage of semi-trucks.  I may also have been influenced by Michigan’s schizophrenic climate, which heard all of the people complaining about how hot it was and decided to throw in (hopefully) one more dose of winter before finally letting Spring take the stage.

I don’t have to look hard for the signs of a budding spring. I can already see them. The tiny appendages that will soon grow into leaves dot the end of each branch, and the cherry blossoms on our tiny trees have already bloomed. In places, they echo the snow that for some reason has left us alone this year. It is 7:30 and full daylight. The day looks inviting… until you open the door and say, “Sweet Jesus! It is only 30 degrees!” It’s enough to send me climbing back under the covers… but I don’t, because there is too much work to be done and too much to think about to waste time sleeping.

Friday alone blew my mind in terms of news. Expecting a phone call about my impending move to Japan, I answered my obscenely old cell at work only to hear a strange voice. “Amanda?”

“What?”

“Amanda?”

“…I’m sorry. Who is this?”

It turned out to be a friend of mine I haven’t heard from in two months.

“I’ve got some news for you.”

“Oh?”

“Yeah.” She paused. “Guess who’s going to be a Godmother?”

I’ve spent my whole life hating children… namely children that can’t behave, so I guess I’ve really spent my life hating parents that can’t take time out of their busy Farmville schedules to raise their kids. Determined not to have children of my own, I can’t help but look forward to the prospect of being able to sugar what (or is it who at this point?) I now call “the little bean” up and send him/her home to his/her parents. “That’s fine,” the expectant mother told me. “But no noise toys.”

“Exactly. Sugar wears off, but that noise maker will be there for months until daddy ‘accidentally’ steps on it.”

On the exact opposite end of the “awesome” spectrum, my friend lost her cat this past week. Although the cat was ailing, she was not given the opportunity to give her feline companion a fond farewell. Instead, her parents stupidly put the cat down without her input and then acted like it was a big secret. Now, as someone who lost a nineteen-year-old cat just after learning that I obtained a graduate assistantship, I can honestly say that that is grounds for never speaking to someone again. Ever. There are three things people should never come between in life: a woman and her food, a woman and her work, and a cat and its person. People are serious about their cats… and about their friends. Case and point: I am angry, and it isn’t even my cat.

When I was originally planning my next soup, I planned to make potato and leek. I am still working through the leeks, which only come in bundles of three, and I know there is a potato in my cabinet, but all of that changed on Monday, the day of cookery.  By then, I am totally burnt out on my thesis, which I have been notified is in severe need of some connective repairs. Mother nature is cracking her whip, and I’m downright miserable no thanks to the joys of being a woman. What I needed was a hug in a bowl, something comfortable and classic. Something that reminded me of overcoming trials.

The first time I had the pleasure of homemade chicken noodle soup, it was not because I was sick and my mother decided to cook it. I was staying with a friend (the same one who is pregnant) and came down with the sinus infection from hell. She went through the motions of boiling the chicken, of making the noodles from scratch, and even if it didn’t cure the problem, it made me feel like I was swaddled in soup. Best of all, through the dull, woody taste of illness, I could detect the flavor of chicken, and that is the most joyous moment a sick person can have. After a bowl, I comfortably got back to studying, sustained by the savory flavor and its warmth.

Cue big news number four. I got a phone call after cooking my soup, and four days after I expected it. The company offered me a position in Nara-shi (奈良市). Suddenly, Japan seemed very real, not just some far-off exotic place but somewhere that I will actually be going.

I think I might need another hug… and another bowl.

——–

Evidently, this has been a week of coincidences, and it’s only Tuesday. Monday, I managed to sneak into my thesis adviser’s office for some suggestions, and not a minute too soon since I’m leaving for a conference on Thursday. Today, life threw another curve ball at me, the sudden cancellation of class as a result of the instructor still experiencing another side-effect of spring: allergies. Although I am grateful for the extra time, I am also conscious of how much it sucks  to be sick and soupless, and isn’t it amusing that I just so happen to have cooked the soup to counter the cure this week?

Even in cooking for myself, it seems like I can’t escape being somehow connected.

Chicken Noodle Soup for the Sole
(Note: Also includes leeks, mainly by necessity. If you don’t have leeks, use onions)

The Tenth Bowl

Ingredients

  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • ½ cup milk
  • ¼ cup lemon juice
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp parsley
  • 1 tbsp sage
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 4 chicken tenders
  • 1 leek
  • ½ cup carrots
  • ½ cup celery
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup egg noodles

Directions

  1. Sauté carrots, celery, and leeks in olive oil for two minutes. Add salt and pepper. Sauté for an additional 5 minutes.
  2. Add remaining spices. Continue sautéing for about two minutes.
  3. Add chicken stock, milk, lemon juice, and chicken tenders. Simmer for about 30 minutes uncovered.
  4. Shred chicken. Return to pan. Add 1 cup water and egg noodles. Cook until noodles are finished, about 10 minutes.

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Sometimes, a soup receives a name, and sometimes, a soup names itself.

There comes a time in every sole chef’s life that they realize they have purchased a little too much at the grocery store. It is admittedly difficult for someone to buy food just for one person, particularly when his or her appetite fluctuates so greatly. One week, I will be chowing down on everything in sight. The very next, I will be averse to the mere thought of victuals. Since my departure date is pending and will be no more than five months away, I have to be extra careful about what I buy and in what quantity because I doubt I can transport a freezer full of food home even with my parents’ help. Even more pressing still is the absolute fact that my tastes vary greatly from my dad’s. My love affair with lentils and soup and chicken are all inexplicable to him; on most days, he would rather have beef or pork, both of which seldom occupy any space in my fridge or in my stomach, even when I decide not to cook. And don’t even get me started on curry. I could probably eat curry every day, but I refrain for the sake of variety. Good thing I have friends who appreciate it as much as I do, willing participants in my culinary experiments.

Unfortunately, the number of friends I have who appreciate vegetables is significantly lower, and I am thankful for those that do. It gives me a reason to use an extra onion in the stir fry or an extra few stalks of celery in the soup, because celery is horribly volatile and goes bad quickly despite its necessity.

Bottom line: I opened the fridge when I got back from my visit home to find the red bell pepper I had bought a couple weeks before and thought, “I need to use this.” The same went for the celery I had just purchased, volatile but absolutely necessary for my cooking endeavors, and the carrots, which I had just bought more of due to a cognitive slip at the grocery store and my failure to generate a list beforehand. I followed the trail to half a pint of half and half, an open box of chicken stock, and finally to the freezer, where there lurked all manners of frozen vegetables that were just begging to be used. The trouble was getting this mish-mash of ingredients to cooperate with one another in a dish. I was daunted by the impossibility of making these ingredients work with one another. How would I turn this discord of ingredients into something palatable enough to be exposed to the public eye and tongue?

The solution rested in an old British ballad and a quartet of spices.

Several days after my culinary adventure, I was having a conversation with my most loyal reader, who never fails to comment on my posts… never mind the fact that I may or may not have bribed her with soup. “What are you doing?”

“Eating leftover soup. This week, it turned out really well.”

“Really? What kind of soup is it this time?”

“Chicken and Rubbish soup,” I answered. “Though I’m a little hesitant about the name.”

“Why?”

“Well, I called it that because I basically used everything in my fridge that I would have thrown away otherwise. Still, the word ‘rubbish’ might throw people off. It has a bit of a negative connotation.”

“Well, I like it. I think it’s funny.” She would, too, since we have practically the same sense of humor. We are the ones who needed nine rounds of rock-paper-scissors to determine who got the first slice of pizza because of eight consecutive ties. “It’s a good selling point. It will make people wonder what’s in it.”

“In other words, it’s good advertising?”

“Exactly,” she answered.

When the idea for this soup first came to me, the nascent conception of this dish told me exactly what it would be called. It was not a matter of determining a more euphemistic term but of taking a risk on a word that could either revolt or charm and combining it with something canonical enough to convey the right meaning.

Scarborough Fair Chicken and Rubbish Soup for the Sole

The Eighth Bowl

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken fingers, frozen
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • ¼ cup carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • ½ red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1/8 cup flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 2 tsp parsley
  • 2 tsp sage
  • 2 tsp rosemary
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/8 cup frozen corn
  • 1/8 cup frozen green beans
  • 1/8 cup frozen peas

Directions

  1. In a three-quart sauce pan, sauté onions, carrots, celery, and spices in olive oil for about 5 minutes.
  2. Add butter and flour. Make a roux.
  3. Whisk in chicken stock, lemon juice, and half and half.
  4. Add frozen chicken fingers. Cook for about 30 minutes until chicken is done.
  5. Remove chicken and shred. Return to pan.
  6. Add bell pepper and frozen veggies. Cook for an additional 10 minutes.

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Today, I spent two and a half hours shopping for a pair of shoes.

Very soon, I will be going back to Chicago for a second interview that could send me packing my bags and engaging on my first ever international travel, not as a vacationer but as an employee. I took a lot of things away from the first interview in November, the one where I applied too early and was thus simply invited back to an interview without having to reapply. Be as direct as possible. Stand so you possess more authority. Japanese students will generally not question the teacher because they respect you too much to. Speak slowly. Don’t wear a black blazer because every other company in Japan does. Oh, and backless shoes are not part of the dress code.

Damn it.

Since this interview is in two weeks and Monday is the new Sunday, I went on a hunt. Five stores and one-hundred fifty minutes later, I satisfy myself with a pair of heels that have textured bottoms and that are just comfortable enough to get the job done without making me want to tear them off.

I am certain that I was “that” customer today.

For those of you who have never worked in customer service, there are customers who simply have an aura of discontent about them. They think everything is too expensive and that nothing is ever good enough. At Pizza Hut, “that” customer was the guy who, five minutes after placing a counter order on a busy Saturday night when we were understaffed, came back for his food, and when told it would be out in another four to five minutes, said, “Lady, I just want my food.”

“That’s fan-frelling-tastic, asshole. Sit the hell down and I’ll pull it out for you, but you’d better not bitch that it’s undercooked.”

As much as I’d like to say I said this to his face and then stormed back into the kitchen, I shamefully admit that it didn’t, but it would have made for a great story, wouldn’t it have? Instead, I said, in my sweetest voice possible, “I’m sorry, sir, but we’ve got some new people working the kitchen and we’re really busy tonight. It will just be another few minutes.” He shook his head in dismay and disappeared back into his black pick-up. The other customers waiting at the counter stared at me in amazement, and one or two jaws dropped a little. Here I am, a 20-year-old wearing a work shirt with holes down to practically my waist in the arm pits, a hat that looks like it had an unfortunate encounter with a steamroller, and not one ounce of make-up. By that point in my career, used to juggling “that” customer, who thinks everything in the universe should revolve around him, with the more patient and understanding patrons. I’m glad I could demonstrate the fact that despite my minimum-wage, thankless job, I was more than competent enough to put up with “that” customer while maintaining professionalism.

A middle-aged woman approached the counter to pay for her carry-out order. “I’m sorry he was so rude to you.”

“Ah, don’t worry about it,” I reply. “I deal with people like him a lot in this line of work.”

My journey for the perfect shoes began at Kohl’s. After seeing a rather obnoxious commercial and being cheated out of a pair of sketchers by some rain check error and a lack of communication, I swore I would never go back, but a shoe sale enticed me.

Fact: Shoe sales are terrible ideas. They only occur when the most frequently worn sizes are gone, and for some reason, everyone deems it necessary to bring their screaming kids, which mingle well with neither PMS nor hunger.

Fact: You will inevitably find a pair of shoes you like, only to learn that a) the only pair left is the display pair, which are ALWAYS size 6 to 7.5, b) there is one pair of boots on clearance that, if your foot were only one quarter of an inch thinner, those boots would come home with you, or c) learn that they only come in brown.

There was only one thing to do: pick up and move on to Shoe Sensation, the equivalent of the second circle of Hell. At least here, I found shoes that fit, but they were shoes I could never have… at $70 a pair on clearance. The gentleman who helped me had a lisp like lavender and enough patience to make me regret not buying anything.

Cue stop number 3: JcPenney. I have had good luck with them before, but I neglected to remember that the one in Mount Pleasant, for some unfathomable reason, does not carry wide shoe sizes. Apparently, natives of this town all have skinny feet. But seriously… shoes aren’t like cabbage. They don’t have an expiration date. At the very least, they could carry a couple of pairs in wide for foreigners like me.

On a whim, I stopped into K-Mart. They have nice sandals, so I figured it was worth a shot, but the only pair that fit me was this hideous navy pair that woudln’t really compliment anything I plan on wearing.

By some miracle, I found a sufficient pair at Payless. It is the second time they have saved my ass for an interview of this nature.

Buying shoes is such a damnable task. After spending the day as “that” customer, I sit down to a bowl of the chicken and dumpling soup I cooked yesterday, realizing as I devour the bowl that this soup will always succeed where shoes will fail: it will always be a comfort, and it will always help me stand through any challenge, whether that is a to-do list near completion or an interview that threatens to change my life forever.

Chicken and Dumpling Soup for the Sole

(Based roughly on this stew recipe.)

The Sixth Bowl

Ingredients (S0up)

  • 3 Chicken Tenders, Frozen
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ¼ teaspoon dried basil
  • ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ cup baby carrots, cut into round discs.
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, diced

Ingredients (Dumplings)

  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 ½ tablespoons butter
  • ¼ cup milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley

Directions

  1. In a 3-quart sauce pan, combine broth, bay leaves, basil, and thyme.
  2. Add frozen chicken tenders and cook for about 20 minutes.
  3. While chicken is cooking, combine flour, salt, pepper, parsley and baking powder in a mixing bowl. Cut butter through flour with a fork until small lumps form.
  4. Add milk and mix until dough is combined. Set aside.
  5. When chicken is finished cooking, remove from pan. Shred chicken. Add vegetables and chicken back to pan. Cook until veggies are approaching tender (about 15 minutes).
  6. Form ½ inch balls with your hands and a fork/spoon and drop dumplings into broth. Cook uncovered for about 5-10 additional minutes.
  7. Optional: If soup has not thickened to desired consistency, add 1 tablespoon corn starch to cold water. Stir in and cook for an additional two minutes.

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I went to Panera Bread for the first time as a freshman in high school with a friend of mine and her mother in the days before I understood that restaurants would customize your order. When I first saw the menu, I had no idea what to buy. I hated mayonnaise with a passion (and still do with few exceptions), and practically every sandwich on the menu utilized one form or another as a condiment. Worse still, practically everything had tomatoes, a food that, in its raw form, is only just now becoming tolerable to me at the age of 24. I gave the menu one of my blankest looks, much like the one I would give my calculus text book three years later. I had been ordering for myself at restaurants for probably six or seven years at that point and cutting my own meat for a year longer, but thus far, I never had to make such a life-altering decision in my brief and sheltered existence.

“The broccoli cheddar soup here is really good,” my friend insisted.

I confess I was dubious. “The problem is I don’t really eat a lot of raw cheese, so I’m not really sure if I’d like a soup with a cheese base.” I associated any sort of “cream” soup with the milk and roux mixture we served at home. Chunks of potatoes or broccoli floated around in milk broth, but I canned up my complaints about the flavor to avoid offending the chef, whether that was my mom or my dad. Uttering one word of disdain was like cranking a pan full of spaghetti sauce on high and simply walking away from it: if I spawned more heat and threw off the equilibrium, the white stove top of a calm evening would look less like an appliance and more like a massacre. Of course, I only mean words, but as the only child, I tried to keep parental perturbation down to a minimum.

I wasn’t seeing any other solutions to the problem, and the menu wasn’t responding to my glances. “Get it in a bread bowl,” she suggested. “At least try it.”

Fortunately, this was before Panera became less restaurant and more madhouse. There were only a handful of customers already dining, and we were the only ones in line. It was about 11:30. Nowadays, there aren’t even any tables left at 11:30, and the line of diners stretches helter-skelter towards the door. I placed my order and got a glass of water to accompany my lunch.

If I had to choose one word to describe my first encounter with that soup, it would have to be euphoric. I became more attached to it, ordering the dish every time we visited the restaurant (until I discovered the Sierra Turkey sandwich; then, I began alternating between the two).

A few years ago, this friend added a little too much heat to my stable existence, and I simply rammed her into the back of my subconscious, relegating her to the bottom shelf and cutting all ties. The problem was that as we grew older, I aged like a barrel of wine: I was cumbersome and still had a very limited perception of the world, but my flavor was developing, changing, growing, and (hopefully) improving. I began to see the world through glass that was not rose-colored. I labored at a Pizza Hut, tolerating my menial minimum-wage job, disdaining my slacking coworkers, and at times wanting to toss a full vat of sauce on the customers. People were not all nice, and life was not easy. Conversely, she aged more like a Twinkie. As another only child, she lives in a smaller container than I do, a plastic wrapper where she sees the world not quite as it is but how she wants to. She was preserved by an abundance, and maybe an overabundance, of affection. I saw ugly sides of her that I will never share with anyone else, and those sides reminded me that unlike her, I had to earn my gas and spending money. She got sizable handouts of money from her parents regularly, but for me, every dime was a drop of sweat, every quarter a rock of the knife on the board, every dollar a spot of hot oil singeing my flesh and leaving small, white, dalmatian-spot scars.  She still appears in my dreams sometimes, usually as an antagonist, and when I wake up on mornings like that, I find myself wondering if she ever changed.

Although my relationship with this particular friend came to an abrupt end and I no longer frequent Panera, my bond to broccoli-cheddar soup grew infinitely stronger when I found this recipe and began making my own. I actually prefer my own broccoli-cheddar soup to Panera’s because the broccoli is chunkier and never overcooked.

Mount Pleasant is rumored to be getting a Panera Bread in the next six months. I jokingly tell people that the reason they don’t have one already is because I can make their broccoli-cheddar soup better than they can. It seems odd to me that Panera is just now coming here when I’m getting so close to leaving, so maybe there is some truth in this.

But it’s probably just a coincidence.

Chicken and Broccoli Cheddar Soup for the Sole

Ingredients

  • ¼ onion, diced
  • 4 baby carrots, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 2 chicken tenderloins, frozen
  • 4 oz fresh broccoli, chopped
  • 2 tsp butter, separated into 1 tsp portions
  • 1 ½ tsp flour
  • 1 pint half and half
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • ½ tsp nutmeg

Directions

  1. In a three-quart sauce pan, melt 1 tsp butter. Add onions and cook until onions are caramelized.
  2. While onions are caramelizing, defrost chicken tenderloins in microwave for 3-4 minutes.
  3. Melt the remaining teaspoon of butter and mix with flour. Cook for 1-2 minutes until flour/butter mixture is pasty and golden.
  4. Add chicken stock to the pan and whisk until roux is fully dissolved. Add half and half. Lower heat to a simmer. Dice chicken and add to pan. Simmer for 5-10 minutes.
  5. Add carrots and celery. Simmer for an additional 15 minutes.
  6. Add broccoli. Simmer for another 15 minutes.
  7. Add sharp cheddar in ¼ or ⅓ cup batches. Whisk each batch until it is fully melted and combined with the cooking liquid.
  8. Add nutmeg and black pepper. Serve with crusty bread.

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Last week, I was at a local organic food store with my colleague and friend Elvira. In the one and a half years that I have lived in this town, I have resisted the urge to purchase some red lentils from them. Finding that resistance significantly weaker than in the past, I purchased two pounds of them for use in future culinary expeditions. After filling one of my canisters with them, I reflected on my first encounter with this strange little legume.

“What are you cooking, dad?” I asked, walking into the kitchen.

“Lentil soup.”

“What in the heck is a lentil?” I shamefully admit that at the age of twenty-one, I had not heard of a lentil.

“It’s a bean.”

“Oh.” If it was a bean, then it was acceptable. After all, I happen to have an affinity for beans. “What else is going to be in it?”

“Well, I’m using red lentils because they have a thinner skin, and I’m going to put some Andoullie sausage in there.” I could tell he was excited because the pitch of his voice had gone up a bit, his eye brows were raised, and his mustache tried without success to hide his smile.

“Sounds good. I can’t wait to try it.” And try it, I did. For years afterwards, I begged him to make another batch, but he never did. He made Italian lentil soup once, which was not quite as good because it contains panchetta and I am not a huge fan of bacon. During one trip home, I finally got the Middle Eastern version of the dish at a restaurant called Ya Halla. There are no words to describe this euphoric bowl of pureed lentils and chicken broth. It had distinct undertones of cumin and coriander. I think there may have been turmeric in it. Whatever the combination of ingredients, I knew there was no going back from that little slice of paradise, found at a table with no one else but my parents. As for my own lentil soup, it had a lot of growing to do. I decided I must pay a true homage to this particular dish, one that I only became familiar with in my early adulthood.

Lentil soup was not the first soup I cooked when I moved out. I tried my hand at it several times before getting the knack of it, adding chicken and kale for good measure, then finally discovering coriander and throwing it into the mix. Batches have gone to sick coworkers and fed a visiting friend from home, and even if it was a relatively recent culinary discovery, I still have an inexplicable affinity for lentils that no one in my family understands and I can’t even properly verbalize. There is just something quaint about these hearty packs of nutrients that appeals to me. I feel akin to them somehow. Maybe it’s the fact that I remember my dad when I eat them even if I happen to be knee-deep in my thesis while I’m swallowing a bowl of it. Maybe I am something like a lentil, a small bean with thin skin who would have no skill in writing if not for my friends holding me up, their thoughts steeling into my head at random times when I’m eating alone. Maybe the lentils represent time, each bean a savory moment that nourishes my mind, or maybe these lentils are my mind–maybe each lentil is a grain of knowledge in my head that, without other grains, is nothing more than a dry and hardened fact. These facts only become something when they are immersed in the stock of experience, combined with a flourish of root vegetables, and seasoned with the smoke and citrus of the everyday.

Or maybe it’s just the simple fact that they taste really good.

Chicken and Red Lentil Soup for the Sole

Ingredients

  • 3 baby carrots, diced
  • ½ stalk of celery (or a few smaller ones), diced
  • ½ medium onion, diced
  • 1 ¼ cup red lentils, rinsed
  • 2 chicken strips, frozen
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp cumin, separated into two 1 tsp servings
  • 1 ½ tsp coriander, separated into one 1 tsp serving and one ½ tsp serving
  • 1 tsp black pepper, ground
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cups chicken stock
  • ½ cup lemon juice
  • ¼ cup water

Directions

  1. Add olive oil to pan. Saute celery, onions, and carrots for about 1-2 minutes.
  2. Add 1 tsp cumin and ½ tsp coriander to vegetables. Saute for an additional 1-2 minutes.
  3. Add stock, water, lemon juice, remaining cumin and coriander, bay leaf, black pepper, and chicken strips. Simmer for 30 minutes or until lentils are thoroughly cooked.
  4. Remove chicken pieces and bay leaf. Puree about 1 ½ cups of the lentil mixture in a food processor or blender (you could also use an immersion blender for this). Add to the remaining soup, turn the burner on low, and combine.
  5. Discard bay leaf. Shred chicken strips with a fork and return to pot. Stir in and simmer an additional five minutes.
  6. Just before serving, add an additional dash of cumin and coriander (because they are excellent).

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