Cooking, Food and Drink, Recipes

Food and Drink In the “I Want To Be Alone” Age

So, folks: What are you doing to eat your way through the CoronApocalypse? Here at All’s Right With the World, in the very armpit of Southwestern PA, we’re going big for soup, and have worked our way through beef vegetable, mushroom barley, and (most recently) chicken noodle. We’re too far from town for meal deliveries. I’m trying not to go into town myself if I can avoid it, and, anyway, most of the little places we do like to eat are closed because they’re small businesses and it’s become too complicated and expensive for them to stay open just for take-out.

Pennsylvania seems to be well on its way to the same draconian lifestyle restrictions as California (the list of what’s allowed and what isn’t can be found here**), and it’s a good thing I’ve got the world’s finest yarn stash and (at least) several hundred sets of knitting needles, otherwise, I’d be going stir-crazy by now.

Here are the recipes for our recent Soupapalooza: Beef VegetableMushroom BarleyChicken Noodle.

On the Beef Vegetable: I used beef “Better than Bouillon” added to water in place of the called-for beef stock. Otherwise, I made it as the recipe instructs. It was delicious.

On the Mushroom Barley: My mushroom barley soup has no vegetables in it other than onions and mushrooms. So skip the carrots, celery, and peas, and add about three cups of sliced mushrooms with the onions when it calls for you to add the veg. (I generally use cremini mushrooms.) Substitute beef “Better than Bouillon” mixture for the beef broth. (There are 7-1/2 cups of liquid in the recipe. I used 2 tablespoons of BthanB.) Use real pearl barley. (Not the “quick” stuff, which I always think gives the effect of flakes of oatmeal floating around in your soup. I add a little more than it calls for, maybe about 1/2 cup barley total.) I know I’m telling you to change or ignore most of the recipe. Roll with it. “Worse things happen at sea,” as my sister is fond of saying. It’ll be fine. Very good, in fact.

On the Chicken Noodle: Yes, I used chicken “Better than Bouillon” for the chicken broth. (If you’re sensing a pattern here, that’s ok. They don’t pay me for the promotional shout-outs; their stuff is good, and it’s easy. There are several product lines, including a low(er)-sodium. They’re all fine, although I like the “roasted” best.) I had boneless chicken breasts, about 2 lbs. It’s ok to substitute half as much dried herbs for the parsley and the dill (better if you have the fresh, but I did not). Also, my noodles, although egg and flat, were not as wide as those shown in the recipe, and they were rather too long, so before I put them in the soup I crushed them, to make them shorter. It’s ok, people. You’re in charge. You can do it! You’re the boss. Noodles are not. That’s pretty much how I feel about all recipes. I’m in charge. Pettifogging specifications about particular ingredients are not. If all else fails, just wing it. (Do keep in mind, however, that there are elements of science and chemistry that work together in cooking to make food edible, and, at times, even delicious. Years ago, we had a dear neighbor, Alice, who either didn’t “get” this, or who thought the rules didn’t apply to her, and she’d freelance with every recipe at will. I’ll never forget a Grange (Patrons of Husbandry) meeting, at which we were discussing what to have for our Washington’s Birthday Dinner. I volunteered a cherry pie for dessert. Alice’s husband, Walter (a German engineer) raised a dyspeptic eyebrow, and remarked: “You know what Alice makes for Lincoln’s Birthday?” “No,” we said. “What does she make?” “Log pie,” he answered. Poor guy.)

For all the recipes: I’ve found over the years that the meat in soups is a lot more tender if I don’t boil it to death. Barely a simmer, and don’t overdo it. I never add additional salt, because there’s enough in the bouillon. I add freshly-ground black pepper if I think it needs it.

What to eat with a delicious bowl of soup? Do you have flour? Yeast? Salt? That’s all you knead.

Today, I am going to bake cookies. Probably chocolate chip. Perhaps with nuts. Because I have some. Not because I am.

What are you doing to muddle through? Please share, and keep me from losing my ever-loving marbles here. (Full disclosure: I’ve just watched about 24 hours straight of the Animal Planet’s 94-Hour Marathon “Puppies and Kittens” Coronavirus Quarantine Programming. It’s super-cute. But mind-numbing.)

Bless. And stay safe and well, please.

** Still trying to decipher the esteemed Governor Wolf’s multi-page list telling me who in Pennsylvania is permitted to do what, and where I’m permitted to go. The last line appears to state that “Private Households” are not a “life-sustaining business” and should be shut down. Not sure how else to read it. And they say that Trump is jumbly and incoherent. Crimenutely.

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