Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

I am not on my game. I somehow delayed posting again far longer than intended, as if Thanksgiving was 3 weeks long. Maybe it was, if you consider the brain space it occupied during those weeks. But here it is, December. The month of Christmas, the holiday season, whatever you’d like to call it. So I better catch up the pace.

Unfortunately, my brain is tired, and I haven’t even yet eaten. Sometimes dinner sounds like too much to do. As if the minutes laboring over the stove will exhaust me, I sit hungrily on the cough waiting for a bowl of mashed potatoes (that sounds really good) or pasta or cereal to appear before me, hot (or cold) and ready to go. Maybe even the spoon will elevate to my lips as in the Cheerios scene in the movie Matilda. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then please go watch Matilda promptly. I’ll hum the music- mmm hm mmm hm mm mm mmmm. No? The dancing? The flying, spiraling card deck? No? Bruce Bogtrotter? Someone feed me.

I made this soup a few weeks ago, in tribute to the dropping thermostat and the dog jackets now covering my closet floor. I’m already begrudging my winter coat, so a fair amount of time may have passed. In either case, I was really hell bent on replicating my favorite soup from Panera Bread, because it’s so creamy and delicious. I love creamy soup, but vegetably soup, and wild rice just makes it that much more interesting. I had tried making this soup once before, but failed in some capacity (I think I undercooked the rice), which left me forlorn. Maybe I couldn’t recreate the soup after all!? But winter encouraged me to try again. And this time: success!

This is a labor-intensive product, mostly in the manner of vegetable dicing and time spent waiting anxiously for rice to soften and stock to thicken. So, if you’re sitting on the couch at 7:30pm hungry, it’s not the time to make this. If, however, it’s blisteringly snowy, and an early Friday evening or even Sunday afternoon, go light your favorite fir-scented candle, turn on the Bing Crosby, and make this soup. I promise absolutely no disappointment. I actually promise joy. Holiday-laden, warm and comforting joy.

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Chicken and Wild Rice Soup

Serves 6-8

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. unsalted butter (I love Kerrygold)

4 carrots, diced

4 celery stalks, diced

1 yellow onion, diced

10 oz. mushrooms, sliced or diced

1 cup wild rice, uncooked

2 tsp. salt

2 tsp. fresh or dried thyme

1/2 tsp. oregano

1/2 tsp. rosemary

1/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes

1/4 tsp. freshly-cracked black pepper

8 cups free-range chicken stock

1/2 cup milk, anything but skim

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss the chicken thighs in a thin coat of olive oil and place in a baking dish, something that allows even space but not too much. Bake at 425 until cooked through, approximately 30 minutes. Once cooked, remove from the oven and cool. Once cooled slightly, shred with a fork.

Heat a large stock pot over medium heat and melt the butter. Add the diced carrots, celery, and onion to the melted butter. Sauté until the vegetables have started to soften, about 10 minutes. To the softened vegetables, add the sliced (or diced!) mushrooms, and sauté for an additional 5 minutes, until the mushrooms are just beginning to release their juices.

Next, add the cup of wild rice as well as the spices and seasonings. Stir well so that everything is mixed. Add the chicken stock to the pot and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the rice is soft and tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour depending on the variety of rice.

In a mason jar, shake together the milk and flour (or whisk in a small bowl) to create a slurry. While actively whisking, add the thickening slurry to the soup. Allow the soup to simmer, stirring occasionally, until it has thickened to your liking. This takes approximately 5-10 minutes in most cases. Once thickened, add the shredded chicken to the pot and stir. Remove from heat and serve!

 

 

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Now go put on your music, make yourself some soup, and bring some crackers for dipping. If you finish the meal with hot chocolate, I applaud you.

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Cream of Celery Soup

It’s 2014! And Chicago has welcomed us with a blustering blizzard that has trapped my car in a blanket of snow, myself inside my apartment, and my dogs under at least 2 blankets at a time. My typical city-wide view is now a dense gray fog of clouds and snow, and within seconds of stepping outdoors I’m blown backwards inside by the howling wind and sharp snowflakes. Who knew snowflakes can be sharp? They can somehow. And nothing is more ironic than receiving a parking ticket from the loving Chicago PD for parking on a street where they tow if there are more than two inches of snow… when you can’t move your car because there are more than two inches of snow. Chicago rant aside, I think it’s time for soup again. Soup with vegetables! Because we’re healthy now, right? Sure, “cream of” usually means heavy and indulgent, but, in this case, we’re speaking more to the creamy, sumptuous nature of the soup, as there is actually no cream in it at all. But a lot of celery! And in this quick, delicious, and nutritious vegetarian soup, the celery gets way better use than ants on a log.

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Cream of Celery Soup

Serves 4

2 tbsp. butter

1 yellow onion, diced

2 bunches celery, diced (celery leaves included!)

2 tsp. dried thyme

1 tsp. dried rosemary

3 tbsp. all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups vegetable stock

1 1/2 cups milk, anything but skim

Salt & pepper, to taste

Melt butter in a large sauce pot or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add diced onion and saute until translucent, approximately 5 minutes. Add diced celery to the pot and saute until softened and tender, about 10-15 minutes longer. (If you prefer your soup to be ultra creamy, consider blanching the celery first in boiling water for 5-10 minutes, until very soft, and then saute with the onions for an additional 5-10 minutes. I don’t mind some celery flecks in the final product, so I skipped this step). Once the vegetables are cooked to your liking, mix in herbs and seasoning and saute for a minute. Sprinkle flour over the vegetable mixture and mix thoroughly, allowing the flour to “melt” into the mixture. Continue to mix and cook for 2-3 minutes, then add the vegetable stock and milk, preferably whisked together beforehand.

Stir the soup regularly over medium heat, until the soup begins to thicken and lightly boil. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer slowly for 10-15 minutes, until the soup is your preferred consistency. (If you find the soup too thin, add another tablespoon or two of flour shaken into 1/3 cup milk. If too thick, just add more liquid- stock or milk or otherwise).

Once the soup is thickened, use an immersion blender to create a smooth consistency. Serve hot, with crackers of course. This soup may not feel substantial enough for dinner, but it is wonderful served with a grilled cheese sandwich. Or a salad, of course; it is the new year.

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Classic food-in-the-window-with-Chicago-skyline shot.