We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Final Goodbye to 2013 and Michelle's Big Batch Chicken Soup

by Michelle
"I get knocked, down but I get up again
You're never gonna keep me down."
                                                                        ~Tubthumping by Chumbawamba

At ten to midnight, Maddie pours Champagne and Sparkling Cider.
   I am fully embracing this New Year. At midnight on New Year's Eve I greeted 2014 with a flute of champagne in my hand and joy in my heart. The year of our Lord 2013 was particularly difficult for me both professionally and personally. The start-up tech company that I worked for and dearly loved failed, and everyone in the company was laid off in one afternoon during a company meeting on April 15th. With a struggling economy, I was fortunate to find the right career opportunity and to become gainfully employed once more at the end of July. A new career path has its own unique challenges and, in this case, a steep learning curve. Everything was clipping along well until my Mom's health was compromised suddenly by excruciating pain in her lower back and hip. The pain was so severe that Mom went from walking normally to being confined to a wheelchair within a short period of time. The last of three falls resulted in an ambulance ride to the emergency room and then a transfer to an assisted living facility. Scary stuff.
  When caring for a parent while working full time, life becomes very vivid, very quickly. What confounded me the most is learning that the medical field moves at a snail's pace with a total lack of urgency. Trying to expedite doctors referrals and medical procedures is practically an exercise in futility. While the healthcare system moves at its own slow pace, my mother, in the meantime, was in extreme pain. If that wasn't terrible enough, suddenly I was thrown into the world of trying to understand insurance and legal documents. Just exactly what does Medicare cover? Do I have a HIPPA release? Medical Power of Attorney? Legal Power of Attorney? Living Will?
   When my sister Linda tried urgently calling my mother's doctor to inform the office about my mother's hospitalization, the office personnel said they couldn't talk to her because there was no HIPPA release on file. Linda, exasperated, said that she wasn't trying to obtain information about my mother, she was simply trying to provide an update to the current situation. Mid-conversation the office's representative hung up on Linda. I was stunned. So was Linda. Time for a new doctor. But, the time to find a new doctor is not when you are in the middle of a medical emergency.
   After the years I have spent on the planet, this much I know to be true: you never know what you have with someone—whether it's with a person or a company—until you have your first fight. What plays out in the aftermath is what is at the core of the relationship. Some things are worth fighting for; some are not. Some people you'll jump in the fox hole with, some people you won't. The earlier you find out what's what and who's who, the better you will be. Now, and in the future. Sadly, my mom had her first fight with her doctor's office, and when we really needed their help, attention, and expedited assistance, they came up short.

   In mid-December, while juggling all my responsibilities, I caught bronchitis, from which, I still have a sporadic, lingering cough. When I recognized the signs of impending doom from the tickle in my throat, I jotted down a grocery list and off my husband went to market. I knew the best thing for me, in a time when I could not completely crash and hibernate, would be to consume homemade chicken soup made with whole chickens. And lots of it.
   What little Christmas shopping I did was all transacted on-line. Fortunately, everything came gift wrapped. Hallelujah. I even purchased food on-line. After reading about the benefits of a glorious ham dinner in Bon Appétit Magazine, I decided to buy the recommended ham from the D'Artagnan website and conveniently scheduled a delivery date. In fact, this year I felt particularly overwhelmed by consumerism and harassed by the onslaught of holiday marketing. I was repelled by the daily e-mails from the same retailers offering the deal du jour. I am—for better or worse—no longer an enthusiastic buyer. You will not find me peering in the windows of a big box store while chanting, "Open, open, open."
   I feel discouraged that retail employees are required to work on Thanksgiving, a national holiday, so that Black Friday can be rolled back a day to become Black Thursday. Thanksgiving is the one day a year that the citizens of the United States all celebrate together, in a similar manner, without consideration of religious beliefs or ethnicity. It's a day for all of us to be thankful and grateful for the bounty and the blessings in our lives. It should not be about jumping in the car after dinner to chase a 50% discount on an X-Box at the local big box store.
Valerie and Chet enjoying the bonfire.
   To add to all the mayhem, at the end of December, my husband's father passed away, which brought our larger family together to say a last goodbye to a man that lived a long life on his own terms. Family members rotated in and out of our house as my husband and his brothers kept a 24-hour watch at the hospice, knowing that their father's end of life was near.
   My husband and I kept referring to Holiday Season 2013 as "The Christmas That Wasn't". My sister Juliette commented on my Facebook page that I was having a Long December in a Counting Crows kind of way: "The smell of hospitals in winter, and the feeling that it's all a lot of oysters, but no pearls." Juliette's advice was for me to hang tough and as a consolation she would be loaning me her KitchenAid mixer until I could have mine repaired. Yes, even my trusty KitchenAid hit the skids.
   In spite of the varying circumstances, we managed, by the hair on our chinny-chin-chins, to buy and decorate a tree, a beautiful Nordmann, which is, according to the Christmas tree lot guy, the Noble Fir of Europe. Instead of unpacking all of the many boxes of Christmas decorations lingering in the garage, I opted to buy two big boxes of unbreakable ornaments from Costco. In buying and decorating a tree, we maintained some seasonal normalcy during a difficult time.

    This is the other bit of wisdom that I have gleaned over the years. No matter the tragedy or travesty, we all must eat to live. So despite everything that was unfolding, to keep on with the business of living, we kept everyone fed. With prepping assistance from my daughter and grilling skills provided by my husband, we produced a beautiful Filet Mignon Christmas Eve dinner served with Mark's Classic Potato Gratin, Sautéed and Caramelized Mushrooms and Grape Tomatoes Halves Glazed with Balsamic Syrup Vinaigrette.
   The next day, for Christmas dinner we baked up the "Big Ass" bone-in ham—all 19.2 pounds of it—as the pièce de résistance. Sadly, for my husband, he lay in bed with a 102 degree fever. Even he, who normally doesn't, succumbed to what my mother refers to as The Galloping Crud. We rounded out the menu with Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes, Hawaiian Skillet Vegetables (a dependable and easy side dish from Linda's catering days) and homemade sourdough rolls.
   The menus were chosen because I could produce all the dishes in my sleep, if necessary. My brother-in-law marveled that I made so many potatoes (suspecting that I had made too many), and that the leftovers would surely be destined for the trash. Over the course of a few days, every last cheesy carb-o-licious morsel was consumed with and without leftover ham. There is no such thing as too many potatoes, in my humble opinion.
   When New Year's Eve arrived I turned to another instant classic to feed our small group of friends and family: Sonoran Hot Dogs. Since I already have homemade Pinto Bean Chili con Carne in the freezer, the meal was practically as easy as defrosting and heating. The day before, my nieces, daughter and I made pillow soft Vanilla Bean Marshmallows. We jointly agreed to make Rocky Road Brownies for NYE dessert, with the Rocky derived from leftover Maple Sugared Candied Walnuts that I make every Christmas regardless of the state of my family's affairs.
   And, since I believe life is seemingly always better with margaritas, I stirred up a big batch to have with the jumbo sized all beef hot dogs that were draped in roasted Hatch chilies and wrapped generously with two strips of thick apple smoked bacon. 

My niece Bea gets into the spirit of piling on the toppings.

Sisters Isi and Bea garnish with flair.
Since I'm always behind the camera, Val asked to use my camera to turn it on me. Fair enough!
My brother-in-law Jeff makes the best Sonoran Hot Dog... ever!

   All I needed was a big bonfire to make my soul sing. As the world turns, we just so happened to have in the fire pit our Christmas tree from 2012. It seemed as though, every time we wanted to have a big fire last year, the wind would stir and the conditions became unsuitable for pesky but beautiful sparks. As Shakespeare wrote, all's well that ends well. As I watched the fire leap and soar, hungrily devouring the dry tree, I thought about the sorrows I wanted to let go, and I then I released them to the black sky, dismissing sad thoughts one by one. Then, I had dessert.

We added Maple Sugared Candied Walnuts and homemade Vanilla Bean Marshmallows
to our Ooiest Gooiest Chocolatiest Fudgiest Brownies recipe.
The brownies are ready to go into a preheated oven.
Cousins Isi and Maddie both just so happen to be reading the Divergent series.
When I jokingly call the first book Deviant my daughter disapprovingly slaps my shoulder.

   It may seem silly to some folks, but I truly believe that homemade chicken soup, rich with bone broth gelatin, helped to keep me going through a difficult December. That, and my Scots-Irish roots and sheer determination. I felt like Mel Gibson in Braveheart but without a trusty horse and warrior face painted blue. The Chubbawubba song from 1996 kept repeating in my head like a personal mantra, "I get knocked, down but I get up again." And, thank you to my sisters, for always listening and supporting me, no matter the circumstances, in sickness and in health, for better or for worse. I am also thrilled to report that Mom is walking again and returning home as of today. Here's looking forward to a brighter and better 2014. May there be prosperity and health for all. Salud, to you!

My husband Jay, my daughter Maddie, and me; a little worse for the wear, but still smiling.

Michelle's Big Batch Chicken Soup
   I typically portion and freeze individual servings, or give some to a friend in need, however between my husband, daughter and I, we managed to eat this entire big batch of soup within one week. I particularly enjoyed it for breakfast and lunch.
   I found my huge soup pot at Marshall's Home Store for a reasonable price. The ginormous pot has a permanent home on top of my refrigerator because it simply doesn't fit anywhere else. In a neighborly fashion, I also store my red enameled iron pans atop the fridge along with a smaller soup pot and a tall narrow asparagus steamer, which frees much needed cabinet space in my small kitchen. From his perch among the pots, the painted rooster keeps on eye on all kitchen activities. If someone happens to slam the refrigerator door, the rooster will teeter precariously on the precipice, and you will likely hear me say in an admonishing tone, "Don't break my cock."
   Making this soup is a two step process for me. I first stew the chickens with vegetables to flavor the broth. Then, while the chicken is cooling, I discard the stewing vegetables, and continue to boil the broth to reduce the volume and concentrate the flavors. The second step is preparing and sautéing fresh vegetables, then adding white wine, the deboned chicken meat and concentrated broth. In this way, the soup tastes fresh because the vegetables are not overcooked and mushy. Frozen vegetables, such as green peas and corn, are added towards the end of preparation to retain color. Previously cooked vegetables, such as oven roasted root vegetables are added at the end. If you choose not to add the white wine, then be sure to finish the soup by adding the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon to brighten the flavors.
   Occasionally, I will make half the amount of soup and with the remaining stewed chicken I will add chicken to Black Bean Burritos with Mole Verde. Any extra broth can be portioned into ice cube trays and frozen for future use. The small cubes melt easily, when needed, and can be used when good broth is required for a recipe, such as when making risotto.

Ingredients for the broth:
2 chickens, whole or cut-up, excess fat trimmed and discarded
about 8 quarts cold water, filtered; or enough to cover chickens in pot
2 yellow onions, peeled and diced
5 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
4 leeks, rinsed well, dark green leaves only, sliced; reserve the bulbs for the soup
5 large carrots, diced
5 large celery ribs, diced (add celery leaves to broth)
stems and fronds from 1 large or 2 small fennel, diced
about 15 whole black peppercorns
2 bay leaves
1 Tbsp sea salt
half a bunch fresh parsley

Ingredients for the soup:
2-3 Tbsps olive oil
4 reserved leeks, rinsed well, cut in half, then sliced into 1/8th-inch half moons
3 cloves garlic, minced
about 1-1/2 cups peeled and diced carrots
about 1-1/2 cups diced celery
about 1 to 1-1/2 cups diced fennel bulb (core removed and discarded)
1 to 2 diced red bell pepper
1-1/2 cups dry white wine
optional dry herbs: about 1 Tbsp Italian Seasoning mix
optional fresh herbs: rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram, dill and Italian parsley
1/2 bag frozen green peas
1/2 bag frozen corn kernels
1/2 cup low-sodium tamari (for gluten-free) or soy sauce, plus sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 to 2 freshly squeezed lemons, to finish the soup if wine was omitted

Optional Add-ins:
prepared white or brown rice
prepared noodles
prepared roasted root vegetables

Optional Garnishes:
shredded parmesan cheese
crushed tortilla chips

an extra-large soup pot, mine is 12.75-inches wide by 9.5-inches deep; ~41-inch circumference
a large soup pot, mine is 11.25-inches wide by 5-inches deep; ~37-inch circumference
one 6-quart or 8-quart Cambro, for straining the broth
a large mesh sieve or strainer

Stewed chicken cooling on a cookie sheet.

1. Place the chicken, cold water and salt in a large soup pot and bring to a boil over high heat. Skim and discard any foam that rises as it collects on the surface.
2. Add the rest of the stock ingredients, cover with the lid slightly ajar, and reduce heat to maintain a slow simmer for about 2 hours until the chicken is fork tender.
3. With tongs, carefully remove the chicken from the pot and let cool on a cookie sheet.

Strain and discard the stewing vegetables and reserve the broth.
When the chicken is cool enough to handle, separate the meat from the bones.
4. Strain the stock through a sieve into a large Cambro or a big pot. Discard the solids. At this point, you can let the stock cool and remove fat that rises to the top. You can also refrigerate the stock and continue the next day, if you like. Remove and discard the solid fat cap that forms.
5. If you decide to finish the soup the next day, debone the chicken while it is still warm, so the task is easy. Refrigerator chilled chicken is more difficult to work worth. Store the chicken separately and discard the bones, cartilage and fat.
6. When ready to continue, boil the broth until it is reduced by several cups to concentrate the flavors.

Cutting leeks in half and agitating while soaking in water helps loosen dirt in amongst the layers and crevices.
I use leeks because my daughter prefers them over white or yellow onions.

7. In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the prepared leeks and sauté for 5 minutes, then add the diced carrots, celery, fennel and red bell pepper. Season lightly with sea salt, a few grinds of black pepper and the dry Italian Seasoning mix, if using. Sauté vegetables for about 10 minutes, then add minced garlic and minced fresh herbs, if you like, such as minced rosemary, crumbled thyme, minced Italian parsley, oregano or marjoram and/or dill. Continue sautéing for another 5 minutes, then add white wine. Let the white wine reduce for a few minutes until the bubbles subside.
8. Add about two quarts of reserved broth. Add the deboned chicken. Add more broth to cover chicken, plus the additional frozen or roasted vegetables and starches, such as cooked rice or pasta, that you may add. (You may have broth leftover, in which case you can portion into ice cube trays and freeze for use in another recipe.)  Contribute to a deeper umami flavor by adding tamari or soy sauce. Taste the soup and add additional sea salt and pepper, if needed. If you did not add the white wine, then be sure to finish the soup by adding the juice of one or two freshly squeezed lemons to brighten the flavors. Bring soup to a simmer over medium high heat.


  1. Thank you for your chronicle and brave spirit!
    The chicken soup is exactly what I want after a week in flu twilight zone. Going to use leeks per your suggestion this time. Photographs are mouthwatering!

  2. Your resilience is so motivating! I thought my holidays were stressed - sheesh! Love this post and your attitude and wisdom through it all. Glad to hear your mom is doing well again. I've been making my own broth for years and totally agree with you on its "healing" qualities, not to mention superior taste. But I've never landed on a favorite Chicken Soup recipe so looking forward to trying yours since soup & bread on Christmas Eve is my traditional meal. Also agree with you that you just can't have too many potatoes. May 2014 bring all the sisters and their families health, happiness and success.

  3. Love this soup. Thanks so much for the recipe. It's a keeper :-)


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