Broccoli Cheddar Stew (Get strep. Hit rock bottom. Eat this.)

Sometimes you just hit rock bottom. For me this moment arrived two weeks ago after 18 hrs of a strep induced coma. I woke up with an intense craving for chicken soup. If you've ever had strep, then you know that any food- even something like mashed potatoes- inevitably feels like Pirates of Penzance being performed in your throat. So any craving has to be really worth the pain of a million daggers. At this point many bloggers would probably share with you their great-great-grandmother's, freshly slaughtered chicken, garden picked carrot, hand rolled pasta, soup recipe. Since the idea of this blog is to be realistic, I have to tell you that this is not my reality.

When I am sick, I revel in the misery of it; I park myself on the couch in sweatpants approximately seven times my size, drink copious amounts of tea, binge on bad tv, all whilst making sure to inform any and all passerby's about my funeral plans. (A real pleasure to be around.) So I will honestly share with you that although my fridge held two gallons of chicken stock, 3 pounds of carrots, and a box of pasta- I chose instead to call the Chinese place across the street for delivery chicken noodle soup. Somehow it made more sense to pull on pants, exit my apartment, go downstairs to the lobby of my building, interact with the delivery guy, and pay for soup... than just prepare it fresh- pantless and comfortable- in the privacy of my own kitchen. Ultimately, this isn't even so much a question of food as it is of pants. No healthy person would pick pants over no pants. Like, I said. Rock bottom. 

I haven't posted in the last month because most of it was comprised of the above scenario. Sinus infections, strep, colds.... this autumn, it's been non- stop. At one point it got so bad that even Ian, whose immune system was forged from steel, succumbed and came down with a cold straight from hell. Somewhere between the beginning of October and a few weeks ago we switched from a relatively healthy, budget conscious lifestyle to delivery, tv binging, and more delivery.The only recipes or budget friendly tips I really have to share from the last month are:

1. Spring for the brand name Theraflu, CVS brand doesn't measure up.

2. Swallowing antibiotics with orange juice is much easier than water.

Groundbreaking stuff, I know. 

At some point in mid- October, our misery was interrupted by the promise of Halloween just around the corner. We both adore the holiday and make an annual effort to come up with creative costumes. This year, Ian proposed we go as Wild Things. In my NyQuil stupor I of course assumed that he meant the 1998 erotica thriller starring Neve Campbell and Denise Richards. Forever being a downer, I immediately pointed out that these costumes would cause numerous issues since we would probably both want to go as Neve, and it's freezing outside, and wearing bikinis when we already have colds seems like a bad idea, and.... Ian stopped my barrage of anxiety by explaining that he wanted to go as Wild Things the book, not the movie. Oh. Ooops.

                               THIS.                                                                             NOT THIS. 

Wild things book.jpg
wild things movie.jpg

We got to work making the costumes since buying is not in either of our vocabularies. Ian made the heads out of cardboard boxes and spent several post work evenings covering them in paper mache- made from strips of newspaper, water, and a big bag of flour I picked up at Safeway.

We painted the heads with acrylic paint and let them dry while I sewed fake fur onto old sweatpants and thrifted sweaters. Jack went as our Prince Max, complete with a crown and white onesie I ordered from the "very fat babies" section on Amazon.

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We went out, took pictures, hid our congested selves underneath giant masks, and managed to stay out until 3am- a feat we had previously not performed for many months. (Thank you grad school and full time jobs: we are officially adults now.) The next morning I woke up hungover but feeling surprisingly better. When you've hit rock  bottom, eventually the time comes to make a choice between staying there or pulling yourself back up. I distinctly remember deciding to put on pants, march into my kitchen, and assert that I wasn't going to live like this anymore. Sometimes it takes something as little as sewing fake fur onto an old sweatshirt to change the status quo. That night, we didn't order out or just boil some pasta. Ian looked up the recipe for standard broccoli soup and decided to play it up and adapt it to make something a little more special. I chopped broccoli, Ian cooked the chicken, and in a little less than an hour we had a something of a broccoli cheddar stew. This recipe is a one pot, warm and comforting, serious kick in the pants. It's the perfect pick me up for a freezing late autumn day. Put it over rice or buckwheat for a super hearty lunch or do like we did and throw chunks of rosemary focaccia into it for a warm, reviving, and flavorful dinner. 

         Broccoli cheddar chicken stew

 

Ingredients

  • 4 cups broccoli florets
  • 2 lb chicken boneless/skinless breasts or thighs *
  • 1 large onion, chopped small
  • 2 medium potatoes, cubed
  • 2 parsnips, sliced
  • 4 cups sharp cheddar, grated
  • 1/4 cup flour**
  • 2 cups half & half
  • 4 cups milk
  • 2 tbsp. unsalted butter

* for a vegetarian alternative skip the chicken and/or substitute tofu

** for an even thicker consistency add a dash more flour or cornstarch

Click through for preparation:

Hanna Grene's Chicken Posole + The Comfort Soup Triad

Hanna Grene

Hanna Grene

There are times in life when every part of your daily routine, the things you count on for a sense of normalcy, go out the window. In the last four months I got married, left the country, came home and quit my job, moved from DC to San Diego, and started my own business. While these have all been wonderful and exciting adventures, I highly recommend spacing them out over a year, or two, or maybe three! 

Somewhere along the way I stopped cooking most nights. J and I have eaten more tacos and pizza than I’m proud to admit and while eating tacos and pizza are one of the primary joys in life, I’d prefer we enjoy them in some semblance of moderation. 

These are industrious days. J is starting a PhD program and I’m learning a new craft – self employment – while setting up our home and keeping us fed on a limited budget. When I’m feeling overwhelmed I think of Yeat’s immortal lines, 

“Things fall apart; the center cannot hold; 

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.”

 

Later, I laugh and settle on a more upbeat mantra to survive the chaos - “Mama Said There’d be Days Like This.” 

Chaos demands soup. Soup is the center. Soup is our path back to vegetables, home-cooked meals, and leftovers. 

 

Behold the comfort soup triad; lentil, tomato, and chicken. 

Chicken posole on the left, lentil on the right. Healthy, easy, affordable lunch and dinner for more than a week!

Chicken posole on the left, lentil on the right. Healthy, easy, affordable lunch and dinner for more than a week!

My favorite lentil soup is from Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite although I often use Molly Wizenberg’s adapted recipe on Orangette. If you cook one soup this fall, make it this one. It’s not your average lentil soup – it’s a lighter balance of earthy red lentils and bright lemon juice and cilantro. This soup makes great leftovers so I like to make it on a Sunday and pack bowls for Monday and Tuesday lunches. 

Tomato soup prep. 

Tomato soup prep. 

Ina Garten brings tomato basil soup to the next level by roasting the tomatoes and adding a healthy does of red pepper flakes. I buy ugly tomatoes from that farmer’s market at the end of tomato season (ask for seconds towards the end of the day) and make double batches of this recipe to freeze for easy dinners. I’d suggest using a stick blender in place of a food mill as it provides a chunkier texture, which I prefer, and is less messy. Also, you can cut the basil down to 2 or 3 cups if it’s too pricey or hard to come by. 

Our favorite brothy chicken soup is posole. A traditional posole can take more than eight hours to prepare and the broth is often left to simmer overnight. This is not a traditional posole. This is a 45 minutes from walking in the door to sitting down to eat kind of posole. This recipe scales up beautifully to feed a crowd and can be riffed on to make red posole (add 1 whole chipotle pepper in place of pickled jalapeno and a small can of diced tomatoes) or green posole (roast tomatillos and blend them before adding or simply add jarred tomatillo salsa). Garnish to your heart’s content and enjoy!

 

Chicken Posole

image credit: Hanna Grene

image credit: Hanna Grene

Ingredients: 

  • 1 tablespoon oil (I use olive oil, grapeseed would also work)
  • 2 skinless chicken breasts or 4 chicken breast tenders
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 jalapeño sliced lengthwise then cut into half moons, remove seeds if you prefer less heat
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 25 oz can hominy, drained
  • 1 small can of whole pickled jalapeños (we like the La Costena brand because it has carrots which we also add to the soup)
  • 6 cups of low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1-1.5 cups chopped cilantro
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • 4-6 radishes, sliced
  • Lime wedges
  • Sea salt
  • Oregano
  • Ground coriander
  • Oregano
  • Black pepper
  1. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in an enamel cast iron pot. Season both sides of the chicken with sea salt, ground coriander, and oregano. Sear both sides until golden brown and then remove the chicken and set aside. It is alright if the chicken is not completely cooked through
  2. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pot. Add the onion, garlic, jalapeno, and one teaspoon of sea salt. Cook for 4 minutes or until soft.
  3. Add 1 whole pickled jalapeno (and carrots if desired!) along with 1 teaspoon of the pickling liquid. Drain the hominy and add it to the mixture. Stir to mix ingredients.
  4. Add six cups of chicken broth, a teaspoon of ground coriander, a bay leaf, more sea salt, and ground black pepper. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. This is a good time to prepare your garnishes.
  5. Chop up the chicken and add it to the soup. Simmer uncovered for 10 more minutes. Serve with garnishes, tortilla chips, and hot sauce of your choosing.
this post all images: Hanna Grene

this post all images: Hanna Grene

Okroshka

                                       

                                       

I love soup. Broccoli cheddar, French onion, chicken noodle... you name it, I will eat it. (Caveat: as long as it's hot. ) Cold soups have never been appealing to me. I've tried them in a variety of flavors and settings and it's always been very... meh. If a year ago you were to tell me that the first recipe I'd choose to share on this site would be for cold soup, I'd probably drop whatever I was doing and go make a piping hot lentil soup, just out of spite.

Last summer, I spent two months living in Israel. The weather in July and August reaches unfathomable levels of humidity and heat- not unlike DC, but much worse. The entire day is spent dripping in sweat, and breathing fresh air feels more like drinking water than absorbing oxygen. I constantly found myself with a waning appetite, along with an exclusive craving for anything that would have an immediate cooling effect over my body. I was staying with close family friends and at the beginning of each week, Lara- my host mother- would prepare a large pot of Okroshka- a traditional chilled, kefir based, Russian soup. I was skeptical at first but when I eventually gave in, there was no turning back.  After a full day of traipsing around the markets and scorching streets of Tel-Aviv, nothing proved more refreshing and filling than a bowl of this tangy, silky-smooth, crunchy cold soup. In other words, on a hot and humid day this soup is a breath of fresh, crisp air.

The best thing about Okroshka (from the Russian word kroshit- crumble) is that it's budget friendly, easy to make, and consists mostly of ingredients that are probably already in your fridge.  It is also incredibly healthy due to the massive amount of probiotics in Kefir and the fact that most of the vegetables are fresh, meaning they are packed with nutrients for your body to absorb. Trust me on this one- it will change your summer. 

Okroshka

Ingredients: 

  • 3-4 cups plain Kefir
  • 6 green onions, finely chopped
  • 3 medium sized potatoes, 3/4 dice
  • 1 English cucumber or 2 Persian cucumbers, 3/4 dice
  • 1 cup radishes, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup dill, rough chop
  • salt/pepper to taste
  1. Boil potatoes until fork tender.
  2. While potatoes are boiling chop scallions, radishes, and cucumber.
  3. Chop potatoes in 3/4 inch cubes.
  4. Combine all vegetables into soup dish/pot.
  5. Pour kefir over vegetables, mix well, season with salt/pepper to taste, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours. When ready to serve garnish with dill and eat with a big slice of crusty bread. 


This is a variation on the traditional Russian recipe which contains kvass, a fermented rye drink, not readily available in the US. The original version also calls for chopped boiled eggs or sliced ham which I omit because I don't like them. A dollop of horseradish for spice or sour cream for extra smoothness goes a long way in this dish. But mostly you should feel free to play around with any vegetables in your fridge- root vegetables such as carrots, turnips, even beets are all delicious variations on the original.

I hope you give it a chance and enjoy!