Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Soup and Hospitality

I love having friends over for dinner.  We don't do it often enough - with the craziness of kids in school, a husband taking grad classes, soccer for our daughter and Scouts for our son, church music and family activities on weekends, sometimes it seems like there aren't enough free days in the week to eat together as a family, let alone have other people over to join us.  Still, when we are able do it, we really enjoy it.

Often I serve soup when we have friends over.  I like to do that for a couple reasons.  First, I can make it the day before, so it has time to mellow and blend flavors in the fridge overnight before I serve it.  Have you ever noticed how soup always tastes better the next day?  Second, making it ahead of time means I have more time to spend with the friends we've invited, and I spend less time working on the meal while people are there.  I don't have a showplace kitchen, and I don't view cooking as a spectator sport.  Nobody is visiting to watch me cook.   Don't get me wrong, I love to cook, and once in a very great while I'll take in a cooking show and enjoy learning from watching others cook, but when we have friends over for a meal, the focus is on the relationships, not the food.  The food is a supporting actor, not the headliner.

I like to make homemade baking powder drop biscuits to serve with the soup, or sometimes I make bread.  I also like to buy bread once in a while (there are a couple really good local bakeries here).  Often I'll have a green salad or fruit salad to serve as well, which can both be made ahead of time.  Homemade dessert finishes off the meal - maybe apple crisp, or banana cake.  Sometimes we just make sundaes (always a hit when kids visit).  I can't think of anything better than simple, tasty food with the conversation of good friends, old and new.

I know I shared a recipe yesterday, but I can't leave this post without sharing one of my favorite soups:

Chicken and Brown Rice Soup

8-10 chicken thighs (bone in/skin on)
10 cups water
2 cans low-sodium chicken broth
2 medium onions, chopped
6 carrots, sliced into thin rounds
1 cup chopped celery (I use the leafy heart of the bunch, and the tender inner stalks)
1 cup brown rice  or brown/wild rice blend (uncooked) (I use RiceSelect Royal Blend, which is a mix of brown rice, wild rice, soft wheat and rye grains)
2 teaspoons summer savory (dried)
1 teaspoon marjoram (dried)
2 teaspoons parsley (dried)
1/2 teaspoon sweet mild curry powder  (this makes all the difference!)
salt and pepper to taste

Bring the water and the chicken to a slow boil, reduce heat and simmer for 1 hour.  Carefully remove the chicken from the stock, remove the skin and bones and discard them, and chop the meat into bite-sized pieces.  Return the meat to the pot.

Add the chopped veggies, chicken broth, rice blend and herbs.  Return to a slow boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer for at least 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  You can serve the soup now, and it's good, but it's even better if you let it cool, refrigerate it overnight, and reheat it the next day.  You can add an extra cup or two of water if you want your soup with more broth to go around - the rice will thicken it somewhat.