You know, I thought it would get easier, with 25 days to go. I thought my typically long list of “to-try” recipes would hit the floor of my office, roll out toward the door, and curl up at the end, like Santa’s guide to good girls and boys. I’d simply plan out the remaining recipes, and go to it.
Instead, I have a dogeared index card, with precisely one recipe idea remaining on it today. It’s time to step up, and the juices are running clear again.
This would be a bad time to run out of juice.
It’s not that I’m not hungry for anything. Rachel’s brisket recipe, my mother’s Yorkshire pudding, a good, simple chicken noodle soup, and straightforward chocolate chip cookies are vying for the top space on my list of cravings. I want bowl after steaming bowl of pho, and macaroni and cheese. We’re going skiing this weekend, and I’m even excited to shovel highlighter-yellow Maruchan noodles in from a heatproof Styrofoam cup.
But none of what I want is mine.
This is a time of year for favorites. It’s a time when the dishes of our pasts crawl out of hibernation and dance across the table, hams and crown roasts and creamed spinach and coffee cakes, all trailing memories of previous years behind them. We forget that we’ve forgotten them for the past twelve months.
It’s a good thing, for most of us, remembering how we’ve shared Grandma’s cookie recipe over the years, how she used to decorate them, and who dropped the dough on the floor in 1987. Holiday food knits our memories together, and this time of year, when the sun’s too shy, the memories warm us.
But for someone trying to come up with an original recipe every day, especially (I imagine) someone who celebrates both Hanukkah and Christmas, the holidays are torture.
I want comfort food. I want warm, rich things that swaddle my heart up with each spoonful, protecting me from winter. (Mmm. I forgot Chicken Pot Pie.)
I want dependable, familiar flavors, things like my mother’s matzo ball soup, usually made from a mix but somehow still all hers. I want to leave the gooey mixing bowl out on my own counter like she does, like I usually do, and peer into the soup pot after opening Hanukkah gifts, to see the tops of the remaining matzo balls withering in the cold air, like naked children in a half-drawn bath.
But matzo ball soup’s been done (a few million times, actually). Sure, I’ve made it in a miso broth before, made it with lemon and herbs, but like so many of the season’s best foods, there’s often one way to cook certain things that seems right. Right depends on the cook, and the family, and the locale, of course, but sheesh, it’s turning out that I’m more set in my holiday ways than I expected. I’m a holiday recipe Grinch.
And to me, matzo ball soup is plain, from a box. And dammit, it is Hanukkah. But if I made it, I’d have to make it and write the day’s recipe, and these busy, busy days, doing both is simply not an option. Not every night, anyway.
Last night, I gave up on the matzo ball soup tradition. I wanted something with good slurpability, a soup with a flavorful, tonic broth but also something that requested a knife and fork.
I got it: It’s a soup that says “Chicken Noodle Soup” to the soul but something more exciting to the palate. But man, it’s like pulling teeth these days.
Chicken Madeira and Macaroni Soup (PDF)
Recipe 340 of 365
A slurpable cousin of Chicken Marsala, this mushroom-packed soup is a heartwarming one-pot meal whose long ingredient list belies it simplicity. Serve as is, or with a loaf of good, crusty bread and a simple green salad on the side. For a gluten-free version, reduce the Madeira and the stock to 1 1/2 cups, and substitute cooked brown rice for the pasta.
TIME: 45 minutes total
MAKES: 4 servings
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 small shallots, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper
10 ounces sliced white mushrooms
10 ounces sliced crimini mushrooms
6 ounces portabella mushrooms (1 large), cut into 1/2” chunks
3 thick slices bacon or pancetta (about 1/5 pound), cut into 1/4” cubes
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 1 3/4 pound), each cut in half
2 cups Madeira
2 cups chicken stock or broth
1 cup macaroni or other pasta (uncooked)
2 tablespoons heavy cream
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Heat a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Add the oil, then the shallot and onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. Add garlic and thyme, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring, for 2 more minutes. Add all the mushrooms, season again with salt and pepper, stir, cover, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove the lid, and simmer for 5 minutes over high heat.
While the mushrooms simmer, heat a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the bacon, and cook until crisp, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Wipe out about half the fat in the pan. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, increase heat to medium-high, and sear chicken until well browned on both sides, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer the chicken to the plate with the bacon, and set aside.
Add the Madeira, chicken stock, and mushroom mixture to the soup pot. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes. Add the chicken, bacon, and macaroni, and cover, and cook until the macaroni is tender, about 10 minutes. (If you feel the smaller chicken pieces are already cooked almost all the way through, save them and add them when the pasta is half done.) Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper. Stir in the cream and parsley, and serve immediately.