Solving a Mystery and Making Greek Lemon Chicken Soup

It’s not about winning or losing, but love and respect. Max Lucado

Our little friend Twiggy is visiting us this week.  We thought Lou would enjoy having some company since he lost his pal Keats a few weeks ago. And truth be told, we needed the company as well.  Twiggy’s a tiny dog – she weighs abut 15 pounds and stands about a foot high.  She’s a mixture of Italian Greyhound and Rat Terrier, and so sweet! She loves running around in our fenced-in yard.  And when I say “fenced-in” I mean a 6-foot fence that extends into the ground.  So after she’d been here a day or two, my next door neighbor came over to report that Twiggy had been leaving “presents” in her yard. Which completely puzzled me, because we have a fenced-in yard. And just to reiterate, when I say “fenced-in” I mean a 6-foot fence. We talked for a bit and she added that the neighbor who lives behind us, across the alley, had chased her out of his yard several times. Now Twiggy can jump pretty high – she easily jumps up 3 feet onto the table by the window – so I thought she may have been getting out by jumping up on something by the fence (like the summer lawn furniture which is now stacked for the winter).  But I couldn’t understand how she could get back in if she was escaping. And frankly I was pretty sure there was another small black and white dog running around, because our neighborhood is full of dogs.  And neither neighbor had been able to catch her, although it was weird that it seemed like the only time there were “presents” was when Twiglet visits us. 

Well, yesterday I left Twiggs in the house and Lou and I went outside.  I was trying to see if there was somewhere she could get out. Jim decided to let her out because she was raising such a ruckus. She came shooting out the back door and jumped the fence.  THE SIX FOOT FENCE. Sailed over it like a bird. I was so shocked I almost didn’t believe what I had seen – but luckily the other neighbor and Jim both saw it.  Apparently the little fart’s been just jumping in and out at will, and apparently she doesn’t like to use her own backyard as a potty. Honestly, I can’t remember being that surprised – at least not for a very long time!! Unfortunately, she’ll jump over at any provocation, so now I’ve got to put her on a lead when she’s outside. And it has to be set up just right so she can’t jump the fence – I sure don’t want her hanging there if she tries it (not to fear – she’s got a harness so we don’t hook up to her collar).  But I need to keep her safe. There are lots of fast cars in our neighborhood.

Okay, it’s finally COLD out. We’ve had an absolutely amazing fall here in Minnesota, but like they say, “don’t like the weather in Minnesota?  No problem, just wait 5 minutes”. Today I went out for lunch at about noon – it was practically balmy at almost 50 degrees and sunny!  No wind to speak of, just a beautiful day.  I needed to have the window in the car open.  Five hours later I left work, and it was so windy and cold that I couldn’t even stand outside for a few minutes to talk to a friend! We even had to put a coat on the Twiglet since she’s practically naked.

And to add insult to injury, it’s dark out very early now (since daylight savings time switched over). I know it’s terrible, but I’m counting down the days until 12/21 – the Winter Solstice, or the shortest day of the year. I love that day – the very next day the days start to get longer.  If you aren’t from Minnesota you may not understand the impact this has on being able to get through the coldest and snowiest part of the year. We’re being told this winter is going to be similar to last winter – when we broke records for snowfall amounts. After the Winter Solstice, as early as a month later, you can see a real difference in the light. My mom and step dad started wintering in Florida about 10 years ago.  At first I couldn’t understand why – but now, I completely see the point! I really think I’d love to live in Alaska in the summertime, when it’s light out for almost 24 hours. But Minnesota is a truly beautiful place to live, even in the dead of winter.

So tonight it’s going to be a chilling 23 degrees for the low temp. A perfect soup night! And one of my favorite soups is  Greek Lemon Chicken soup. You may recall that I made this for my Girl’s Games and Giving group in September.  It was a big hit, and I decided to make another batch.  This soup has a lovely lemon flavor.  I believe I found this recipe on All Recipes but I’m not sure. I do know that the original recipe called for double the amount of lemon juice, but I like the lemon flavor to be a bit more subtle.  Experiment – you may enjoy a more intense lemon flavor. I love to make BIG batches of soup when I do make it, because it’s great freezer food – I can take a frozen container for lunch and it acts like an ice pack in my lunch bag – but by the time lunch rolls around it’s thawed quite a bit, and I just have to nuke it for a minute or two.  This soup freezes nicely as long as you freeze it without any additions like rice or noodles.

Start with these simple ingredients.

Dice the onions and celery and grate the carrots.

You’ll need some white pepper (watch out, it’ll make you sneeze!)

Mix the veggies, pepper, chicken base, lemon juice and chicken stock together in a large heavy saucepan.  Cook until the veggies are tender – about 20 minutes or so.

While the veggies are cooking, you’ll need to gather eggs, flour, cooked chicken and butter. You can use rotisserie chicken if you like, or just cook some chicken breasts (I like to rub them with a little olive oil, add some salt and pepper, and bake for about 45 minutes at 350°).

Separate the yolks from the whites, and save the whites for something else (you can freeze them!)

Beat the egg yolks until they lighten to a lemon yellow.

Mix together the flour and butter, and gradually add it to the soup, whisking constantly. After it’s mixed in thoroughly, simmer the soup for another 10 minutes or so to thicken it. Take some of the hot soup and pour slowly into the egg mixture, whisking constantly – this will temper the eggs so they won’t scramble.  Pour the eggs back into the soup and heat through.

Dice the chicken and add to the soup – heat through.

This soup is wonderful “as-is”, but I like it even better with rice. I make the rice separately and I don’t add it to the soup – this is because I like to freeze it – and cooked rice seems mushy to me after it’s been frozen.

Add the soup to the rice, and you have some warm and filling yumminess!

Greek Lemon Chicken Soup

Ingredients:

  • 8 cups of chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup fresh or reconstituted lemon juice (fresh is always better!)
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 1/2 cup diced onions
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 3 tablespoons chicken base (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/4 butter
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 8 egg yolks
  • 3 cups diced cooked chicken
  • cooked white rice

Directions:

  1. Combine the onions, celery, carrots, lemon juice, white pepper and chicken stock in a large, heavy saucepan.
  2. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes.
  3. Mix the flour and butter together into a smooth paste.  Gradually whisk this mixture into the simmering soup.  Continue to simmer for about 10 more minutes.
  4. Beat the egg yolks until they turn a light lemon color, about 60 seconds. Very gradually add about 1 cup of the hot soup to the egg yolks, whisking vigorously and constantly.  This tempers the eggs so they don’t scramble from the heat. 
  5. Pour the egg/soup mixture back into the the saucepan and cook several more minutes until heated through, stirring constantly.
  6. Add the chicken and heat through.
  7. Serve alone or over cooked rice.
  8. This soup can be frozen.

 

It’s Fall! Let’s Make Vegetable Beef Soup!

Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in.  Aim at earth and you get neither. C.S. Lewis

Just last Thursday we saw temps in the high 90s with humidity to match. Last night it was so cold we had to turn the fan off, and I woke up with a dog sleeping under the covers at the end of the bed. Though I thoroughly dread the coming winter (it’s just the snow and bitter cold I dislike) there is something about fall that is so glorious and breathtaking – when the sky turns that deep bright blue, and the trees are dressed in dazzling fall colors.  Such a treat for the eyes!  And then there’s the cool nights – I adore piling the bed with warm blankets and flannel sheets, and sleeping with the window wide open to let in the cool air.  Actually, we turn the heat down to 55° at night in the winter – I’ve been known to sleep in sweats with a knit hat – some of the best sleep I’ve ever gotten is when I’m totally bundled up and the temperature in the house is super cold.

I’m a big fan of the author Bill Bryson.  In The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid (one of his many incredible books) he writes a story about visiting his grandparents during an Iowa winter.  Iowa winters closely mirror Minnesota winters, so I got a huge kick out of his story.  He writes that his grandparents all but turned the heat off at night, and that the coldest room in the winter was the sleeping porch:

The sleeping porch was a slightly rickety, loosely enclosed porch on the back of the house that was only notionally separate from the outside world. It contained an ancient sagging bed that my grandfather slept in in the summer when the house was uncomfortably warm. But sometimes in the winter when the house was full of guests it was pressed into service, too.

The only heat in the sleeping porch was that of any human being who happened to be out there. It couldn’t have been more than one or two degrees warmer than the world outside – and outside was perishing. So to sleep on the sleeping porch required preparation. First, you put on long underwear, pajamas, jeans, a sweatshirt, your grandfather’s old cardigan and bathrobe, two pairs of woolen socks on your feet and another on your hands, and a hat with earflaps tied beneath the chin. Then you climbed into bed and were immediately covered with a dozen bed blankets, three horse blankets, all the household overcoats, a canvas tarpaulin, and a piece of old carpet. I’m not sure that they didn’t lay an old wardrobe on top of that, just to hold everything down. It was like sleeping under a dead horse. For the first minute or so it was unimaginably cold, shockingly cold, but gradually your body heat seeped in and you became warm and happy in a way you would not have believed possible only a minute or two before. It was bliss.

He goes on to describe the folly of any movement, which let the cold back in; and to tell how he remembers sleeping on the porch in the cold and silence of winter as wonderfully serene and peaceful. I absolutely implore you to READ THIS BOOK. Or really, anything by Bill Bryson – if you’ve never read his books, you are in for such a treat.  He is at once erudite and charmingly humble and self-deprecating.  His books are a treasure and you can read them again and again.  I think the thing I love best about Bryson’s writing is that I am learning so much while I laugh myself silly.

Anyway, every year when the weather turns cold, I start to think about big vats of soup, and chili and spaghetti sauce and…need I go on?  I like to make great big batches of the stuff and freeze it.  That way, when we come home on a dark winter’s night, we can pull out a packet of something yummy and have a hot and filling meal in a twinkling.  It’s also a great lunch to bring to work.

So today I made vegetable beef soup.  I’ve been making this soup for about 30 years now, and I still love it.  I don’t really have a recipe for it, so I had to concentrate on keeping track of how much of everything I used.  But, the beauty of soup is that you can easily amend the recipe to fit your own taste buds.  So use this as a jumping off point, and add whatever sounds good to you.  I’ve also always made dumplings for this soup, and I know there are a ton of recipes for dumplings out there.  I’ll show you how I make them, but you don’t have to make them, or you can use your favorite recipe.  I learned this dumpling recipe from my mom, and they are heavy and filling, definitely not light and fluffy.  But we love ’em!

 

Probably it’s important to put some veggies in vegetable beef soup? Today I used all these. Sometimes I add parsnips, too. I forgot to put the tomatoes in the picture, but I’ll use those too.

I don’t add salt to my soup, at least not until I’m ready to eat a bowl of it. I think the salt loses it’s flavor if you add it early on, maybe gets too incorporated.  The result is salty soup that may not taste salty. I also try to use low sodium beef stock or beef broth, and had some of each for this batch. I add garlic, rosemary, thyme, basil and bay leaves.  I like to add barley – love the extra “something” it adds to the soup.

 

Yep, and we need beef for vegetable beef soup.  I also add flour (I know, sounds odd), and I’ll show you what I like to do with it a couple of photos from now.

Now, I think the beef stew sized chunks are too big for soup, but you may disagree. I cut each piece into about thirds.

Get out a big, heavy bottomed stockpot. This one is a 12 quart, and it will be full when I’m finished!

Heat up a couple tablespoons of olive oil in the pan over medium high heat.  You could use butter or vegetable oil if you prefer.  I used to use butter, but I really like the taste of olive oil.  It’s your choice.

Put some flour in a pan or on a plate.  I like to use my old metal pie tin.  I probably put about 1/2 cup of flour, and a liberal amount of pepper (about 1-1/2 teaspoons).

 Mix up the pepper and flour and start putting small handfuls of the cubed meat in the flour.

Roll the meat around in the flour mixture, and then rub it briskly between your palms.  This will leave a very light coating on the meat.  Put the meat in the stockpot to brown.

Dice the carrots, celery and onions, and add them to the pot once the meat starts to brown nicely.  Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently, until the veggies start to get tender and the onions are translucent.

  Chop up some yummy garden tomatoes if you have them, or use some canned diced tomatoes. Or both if you like.  If you use canned diced tomatoes, don’t drain them – add the juice, too.

 

Chop up a bunch of cabbage.  I used about 3/4 of a head.

Add the beef stock (about 10 cups), tomatoes, cabbage, rosemary, thyme, basil, bay leaves, and crushed garlic.  Add about 8 cups of water.  Now add about 1 cup of barley. Make sure to crush the rosemary, thyme and basil before adding to release the essential oils. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for about 2 hours.

 

 In the meantime, dice the potatoes.  I prefer red potatoes, because they kind of dissolve into the soup.  But you can use russets or whatever kind toots your horn.  I peeled them, but you wouldn’t have to.  This batch used about 6 medium sized potatoes. When the soup’s been simmering for about an hour and 40 minutes, drop in the potatoes and the peas.  I used two 12 ounce bags of peas, again, you can use more or less depending on your particular taste.

At this point, you can have a splendid bowl of filling and delicious soup, or…

You can also make some dumplings.  Start with some eggs.

Beat ’em up a little.

Add some flour and salt (about a teaspoon) and stir it in.

Keep adding flour a little at a time, and stirring it in.  You want to get the dough to the point where it is so stiff you can’t really stir it anymore.

Now add in some milk.  Just enough to get the dough back to a less sticky state.  Don’t ask me why.  This is how my mama does it and they always turn out to be delish!

It’ll look something like this.

Transfer some of the hot soup to a smaller pot.  I do this because the dumplings don’t freeze well – they get, well, mooshy. So I transfer enough for a couple of days worth of meals to a smaller pot, bring it to a boil and make the dumplings in there.  The rest of the soup gets frozen for later.

Drop the dumpling dough by heaping teaspoonfuls into the hot soup. They’ll sink right to the bottom. Cover it and let them simmer for 10 minutes or so.

It’s magic!!

Ah, that’s the ticket.  This is MY bowl of soup. Yum. That’s all I gots to say.

Vegetable Beef Soup (makes about 12 quarts):

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds high quality beef stew meat, cut into bite size pieces.
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground pepper (or to taste)
  • Olive oil, or oil of choice
  • 2 small bunches fresh carrots, washed and diced
  • 4 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 10 cups beef stock or beef broth
  • 8 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon each of dried rosemary, thyme and basil, crushed
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 medium tomatoes, diced (use all juice and seeds)
  • 2 15 ounce cans diced tomatoes (note: may use all canned or all fresh tomatoes)
  • 1 cup medium barley (not quick barley)
  • 3/4 head of cabbage, chopped
  • 6 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 2 – 12 ounce bags frozen peas
  • 4 eggs
  • Approximately 1 cup flour (use more or less as needed
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Directions:

Put about 2 tablespoons of oil in a 12 quart stockpot. Heat on medium high.

Put about 1/2 cup flour in a pie tin or a shallow plate.  Mix in about 1-1/2 teaspoon pepper.  Roll the meat in small handfuls in the flour mixture and rub it between your palms to get a very thin coating of flour on the meat.

Brown the meat in the stockpot until partially browned.  Add the carrots, celery, and onions and cook until the carrots and celery are tender crisp and the onions are translucent.

Add the beef stock/broth, water, spices, garlic, tomatoes, cabbage, and barley. Bring to a boil. Then turn down to a simmer, cover, and simmer for about 2 hours.  The meat will get very tender.

About 20 minutes before the soup is done, add the peas and the potatoes. You may have to turn up the heat again to get the soup simmering.

At this point you can eat the soup, or make dumplings.  If you decide to make dumplings, take a few meals worth of the soup out and put it in a 4 quart saucepan.  You will likely want to freeze most of the soup for later, and the dumplings don’t freeze well.  So I just make enough for the soup that will be eaten in the the next couple of days.

To make the dumplings, lightly beat 4 eggs  in a medium sized bowl.  Start by adding flour (start with about 3/4 cup) and about 1 teaspoon salt and mix well.  Keep adding flour until the mixture is so thick you can barely get the fork through it.  At this point start adding a little milk at a time until the mixture is stiff but you are able to mix it easily.

Drop it by heaping teaspoonfuls into boiling the boiling soup.  The dough will sink to the bottom at first.  After you have all the dough in the pan, cover it and turn it down to a simmer for about 10 minutes.  When you take the cover off, you’ll the dumplings will simply be bursting out at the top of the pan.  Serve one or two with  each bowl of soup.  If you want to jazz the dumplings up a little, add some thyme, rosemary or basil to the dough before cooking.

This soup freezes beautifully (sans the dumplings, of course!).

Cream of Cabbage Soup

An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips. Proverbs 24:26  NIV

During the crazy weather period we just had I suddenly had a hankering for soup!  I especially wanted either cream of cabbage or my version of minestrone, so, I decided to make both.  The very best thing (well, maybe not the very best, but close) about soup is that you can make a whole lot of it and freeze it! Plus, it’s easy to make and fun to eat!  It’s especially good with homemade popovers (yummy).  And of course, you can pretty much change anything you want and it will still taste scrumptious! 

Here’s part of what you need…

plus some veggies….

and of course, you can’t have cabbage soup without *cabbage*…

 

Finally, some flour (I need a smaller canister, this one doesn’t fit in my pictures very easily).

Dump all the veggies in a big dutch oven or stock pot,  along with some chicken stock, and your seasonings.  Now, I just want to make a note here that I was in massive hurry to get this done so I could eat it.  A better way to do this is to saute the carrots, onions, celery and ham in a little butter first – adds more flavor and kind caramelizes the ham. 

But you can do this quick method, too, with wonderful results. Bring it to a boil and then turn down heat to simmmer for a while, until the cabbage really cooks down, 25 to 30 minutes.  You will do this step without the other veggies if you decide to saute the other veggies.

While the veggies are simmering, start making the cream base.  Melt some butter and add some flour to it.  Let it get a little brown.

Add milk and cream and cook and stir over medium heat until it thickens.

That’s the ticket!

See how nicely the cabbage cooked down?  Now add in the ham and keep simmering it until it heats up. *If you chose to saute the ham and other veggies, you’d add the other veggies in now too*

Pour in the cream mixture (Mmmmmm), and simmer for another 20 minutes or so.

And isn’t it pretty! Okay, I have to admit, I didn’t eat it right away.  Instead, I made popovers to go with it. I’ll do that one next, okay?

Cream of Cabbage Soup:

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 head of cabbage, shredded
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 cup diced carrots
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 3 cups diced cooked ham
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 cups of cream (you could also use 1/2 and 1/2)
  •  

    Directions:

  1. Combine the chicken stock and vegetables in a large dutch oven or stockpot.
  2. Add spices and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook until the cabbage reduces by about half (25 to 30 minutes).
  3. While the vegetables are cooking, make the cream sauce. In a saucepan, combine the butter and flour.  Cook over medium heat until the flour browns a bit.
  4. Add the milk and cream, and cook and stir until thick, 5 to 10 minutes.
  5. Add the ham to the cooked cabbage mixture and continue to simmer until it’s warmed through.
  6. Add the cream sauce to the cabbage mixture, and simmer, covered, another 20 minutes or so.
  7. This gets better with age, so consider making it the day before.
  8.