Monday, October 29, 2007

Chicken Noodle Soup with Herbs

Quickly on the heels of making the chicken stock, soup had to be made. As I do with most of my soup-oriented needs, I pulled out my copy of the Eastside Cafe's Soup Yourself. I mentioned the Eastside earlier, but it was buried in an update to the running "Things I Want to Make" post.

The Eastside is one of my all time favorite restaurants, owned by a woman I went to high school with, Dorsey Barger. I had the good fortune to go there shortly after it opened, when I was travelling as the Texas sales rep for W.W. Norton (my Willy Loman year - yeah, it was that bad). I went there originally because, even though Dorsey and I didn't know each other that well in high school, it was a touchpoint of something familiar.

Well, it was a double win. I got to know Dorsey better, even in the few spare moments she could spare from running this new endevour, which was great. Neat, neat lady. But even if I had found she was a complete monster, I probably would have continued to eat there anyway, because it's just that good.

There was a certain ubiquitous flavor palate at local restaurants which I labelled simply, "Austin Food." Kind of a California health food/Tex-Mex mix. Lots of black beans, avacodos, tortillas, sprouts, corn, mild salsas, etc. Ultimately, it was bland and a bit heavy. If you're familiar with Austin, I would consider the Kerby Lane to be prototypical in that regard, but it was everywhere you went.

The Eastside's menu was still generally recognizable as Austin Food, but actually had flavor and balance. The Eastside took the ideas that were floating around Austin and executed them right and, from the reviews I've read, continue to do so today.

So, anyway, getting to eat there was an oasis in an unending desert of despair that year.

In deciding what to do with my stock, I realized I'd never gone with the obvious, traditional choice before, so I went with the Chicken Noodle Soup with Herbs. Boy, I'm glad I did. BTW - I emailed Dorsey and she gave me permission to share this (and a few future) recipes.


12 cups chicken stock
1 cup onions, diced
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, minced
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1 teaspoon fresh basil, minced
2 tablespoons lemon thyme, minced
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
2 tablespoons garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chives, minced
2 cups dry egg noodles
4 cups cooked chicken, diced
Salt and pepper

In a large soup pot, place stock, onions, oregano, carrots, celery, basil, lemon thyme, parsley, garlic, and chives. Simmer over medium heat for 1 hour. Add chicken and continue cooking for another 30 minutes. Add noodles and cook 10 minutes until tender. Salt and pepper to taste.

*If lemon thyme isn't available, use thyme instead.

Carter, Ruth, Elaine Martin & Dorsey Barger. Soup Yourself: 50 Simple yet Sublime Soup Recipes from the Eastside Cafe'. Austin: Eastside Cafe/Blame Books 1992. p 52. Reprinted with kind permission. Buy it here.

When I make a recipe for the first time, I generally try to avoid making changes, so I get a sense of the baseline outcome. The only changes I made to the recipe were:
  • Used shredded, rather than chopped, chicken. Because that's how it came off the roast chicken. Most of the bits were bit-sized, so it seemed overkill to chop them on top of it.
  • Used thyme instead of lemon thyme (a noted, valid substitution), since I couldn't find the lemon variety.
  • Added more like 3 to 4 cups of noodles instead of 2 because the noodles were pretty big and there was a LOT of empty air in the measuring cup. But more importantly, I really like the noodles and at that point in the recipe, all of the flavors are established. It'd be really hard to screw it up based on noodle volume so late in the game.

Result? Awesome. I kept the salt and pepper to a minimum, which was totally the right move. The flavor of the herbs really came through. This was miles away from any pre-made chicken noodle soups. I was able to get 10 cups of stock from the batch earlier and subbed in 2 cups of stock made from concentrate (not boullion). Next time, I think I'd be safe in adding another carrot, as I like them a lot, but otherwise, it stays as is.

This, also, was the clincher in my decision to expand my summer herb growing operation next year. For the last five years, I've grown sweet basil, rosemary and, occasionally, dill. Now that we have the space outside and I'm using them enough, I'm going to add tarragon, sage, oregeno and thyme. Maybe cilantro, but that's so cheap, it's almost free.

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