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“Simple” Chicken and Rice Soup

Recently a dear friend guffawed as I explained—at length—how to make my simple, healing, savory, comforting chicken and rice soup, the one the children request for birthdays and Christmas, the one I make a couple times of month for ordinary meals.

It has not gotten to the point yet that I am personally taking chickens to meet their telos on a backyard stump and making pillows with the feathers to sell at craft fairs, but I think my friend’s laughter indicates that it is so nearly to that peak that I should find it unreasonable to ask folks to hassle with this “simple” luxury soup.

For your reading pleasure, then, rather than your cooking pleasure, I submit to you my “Simple” Chicken and Rice Soup.  If you would like to eat it, just come on over or ask for a jar.  If you would like to make it, I can write out a prescription for lifestyle changes that would allow you to be home long enough to get the job done.  The prescription for how you might feel about the amount of pot washing involved, the forty minutes spent chopping with a giant knife, or fear over whether your chickens were roasted to the proper temperature is between you and your therapist.


This recipe fills a 13 qt. stock pot.  It’s enough to feed my family of 8 a hearty supper, send out several quart jars of soup to friends, and have lunch leftovers the next day.  I could make a smaller batch, but I don’t play Uncle Scrooge and Silas Marner with soup.

1) Roast 2 big chickens in cast iron skillets or roasting pans at 425 degrees for approximately an hour and 15 minutes.  If your chicken is a wee bit undercooked, there is no need to panic.  The meat will be cooked again when it is added to the soup.  Err on the side of chicken that isn’t dried out by overcooking.  Alternatively, purchase tasty flavor-infused hot roasted chickens from your local grocery store. The flavor from these store chickens is really quite better than what you can make at home.  They, the commercial chicken roasters from on high, add yeast extract, guar gums, “natural flavorings,” maltodextrin, corn flour and some other things I would hesitate before pronouncing.  I do not condemn store roasted chickens.  They are tasty.  They are convenient.  They are reasonably priced.   There is therefore now no condemnation for using store roasted chickens.  Please pass by on the far side of the road for boxed broth, however.

2) After letting the chickens cool down enough that you won’t sear the flesh off your fingers, debone the chickens, set the chopped meat aside in the fridge, and put all the bones, skin, and roasting pan deglazing juices and cracklings, including the fabulous flavorful fat, in a dutch oven sized pot.  Cover with water, toss in some bay leaves if you have them, perhaps some dying celery and a couple of carrots.  Maybe an onion.  Bring pot to a simmer.  Now you’re making broth.

3) The broth will take how much ever time you have to make it.  Broth is like wedding planning.  You can barely pull off a wedding in 2 weeks or barely pull off a wedding in 24 months .  Your decision.

4) Cook 3 cups dry rice however you like to cook rice.    I cook my rice separately from the soup because I want the vegetables to be a certain consistency and my rice to be a certain consistency and it’s just too hard to make both of those things time out well in one big pot.  I make my brown rice with the following method:

– Measure 3 cups brown rice and 6 cups water into an appropriate sized pot.

– Bring to a boil.  Cover with a good fitting lid.

– Turn the heat down to simmer and simmer for 20 minutes.

– At 20 minutes check the pot.  You should see rice at the top, the surface dimpled in little craters with gurgling water below the top rice.  If not, stir and cook for a bit longer.

– If it does look right, stir the rice so that the top layer won’t turn out crunchy, replace the lid, and turn off the heat.  Let stand for 20 minutes.  The rice will keep standing for you as long as you like it to stand.

***At this point, you’ve begun counting pots.  2 roasting pans, 1 broth pot, 1 rice pot.  I’m going to add one more pot.  The actual soup pot.  But not just yet because there is about 35 minutes of vegetable chopping next up.***

5) Sharpen your knife.

6) Peel 4 pounds of carrots and slice into rounds.  Chop up a head of celery including the celery leaves which I think make the soup look lovely.  Chop 2 large sweet yellow onions into small pieces. Just a note about carrots:  those pre-peeled mini carrots are not soup friendly.  “Baby Carrots” are merely carrots that were too ugly and tough to sell whole so they were whittled down into a baby carrot shape by a baby-carrot-shape-whittling machine.  They are challenging to chop and they don’t cook up nicely.  Avoid.

7) Chop 16 oz. of mushrooms into bite sized pieces. This is a great job for kids. Mushrooms shrink when cooking so if your 8 year old cuts “bite-sized pieces” the size of a jumbo jaw breaker, it’s really going to be O.K.

8) Harvest a large handful of sage from your garden.  You did plant an herb garden and keep it alive over the winter, right?  Finely chop.

9) Pull out 2 pounds of frozen peas from your freezer and let them thaw on the counter.

10) Get out your big soup pot.

11) Heat up olive oil in the pot, stir in the carrots, celery, onion, mushrooms and sage.  Cover with a lid, stir frequently.  Some people call this sautéing, some people call it sweating.  Whatever you call it, the goal is to cook the veggies over medium high to high heat until they become tender.  The advantage of doing it in this way, rather than boiling them in broth, is that the quick heat brings out a natural sweetness in the veggies.  I also think that it is faster than cooking the veggies in broth that takes forever to come to boil.

12) I cook the veggies till the carrots are tender but still a bit toothy, as in pasta al-dente.

13) Strain your broth.  I’m very sorry, but this is indeed messy and requires another big container, plus a mesh or sieve strainer.

14) Add broth to the veggie pot.  How much?  Well, add what you have conservatively and add more as needed.

15) Stir in the cooked rice, chopped chicken meat, and salt and generous pepper to taste.  I must use at least a teaspoon or two of pepper.  Check your broth level.  Do you need more broth?  Add more.  Have you run out?  THEN ADD WATER.  The broth you buy from the store is just super thin chicken broth with lots of salt.

16)  Bring to a simmer.  Add the thawed green peas towards the end just before serving so you can keep them in their state of brilliant bright green.  Adjust taste by adding more salt, pepper and sage as desired.


Chicken Soup. Campbell’s Birthday Chicken Soup.

My kids ask for my homemade chicken soup for their birthdays.  Yep.

The ingredients list is fairly standard:  a chicken, water, onion, carrots, celery, peas, bay leaf, rice or noodles, salt and pepper.  But not one bit of Broth-In-A-Box.  The only tricky part is not cooking cluck-cluck too long.  Here’s the deal about chicken:  if you cook it a too long or too hot, the meat dries out to a gummy, rubbery texture, EVEN if it is in a big pot of water.  Boiling a chicken is even worse.

The best way to cook a chicken in water  is to use a heating method that ensures your chicken will never boil.  And, you have to actually check on the chicken.  This last time I did get sidetracked and it was a wee bit overdone.  The kids didn’t notice, however, and kept telling me how great it tasted.  I bet it will be the same for you.

You could choose to cook your chicken three ways:  on the stove in a big pot, kept very carefully at a slow, slow, slow heat–not bubbling.  You could use a very big crock pot on low for several hours (4 to 6) .  FInally, you could get a big oven proof pot and slow cook it in the oven.  I prefer using the stove top or crock pot–it’s just easier to check on it.  For years, I’ve done a stove top method with my big 12 qt. stock pot.  This time I decided to try out the crock pot since I had such good results with another recipe.  I still end up getting out a bigger pot for the stove  to mix everything up at the end, though.

I cook the chicken in water with a large amount of vegetables to add flavor.  The celery, onion, and bay leaf will get tossed out when the chicken is done, but I save the carrots.  I also leave the peel on my yellow onions when I add them to the pot.  It gives the broth a gentle yellow color.  One time I thought “More is Better!” so I added a bunch of peels and the water turned brown!!  Just a little goes a long way.


1 whole chicken–about 4 lb.

as much celery as you can stuff into the chicken–several stalks, cut in half

1 or 2 onions, quartered, leave the skin on

at least 1 lb. of carrots, but 2 lb. is much better.  Peel the carrots, cut off the tops, BUT LEAVE THEM WHOLE–it’s easier to get them out of the pot and then you can cut them with a butter knife before you mix the final pot

a few bay leaves


noodles or rice

frozen green peas

If you are using a crock pot, stuff your chicken with celery stalks and onions.  Place it in the pot, tuck  the whole carrots (or break them in half) all around, onions as well, toss in the bay leaf.  Fill up with water.  Set your crock pot on a low temperature and let it gently heat for several hours. Check on the chicken–you can use a meat thermometer to tell you when it is done.  Obviously, the juices will run clear.  If you try to lift it out and it falls apart, honey, it’s done.    After you’ve cooked about 20 chickens, you will figure this out by looking at the bird.  If you can find your instant read thermometer–it may have been borrowed for a science experiment–you can use this handy dandy chart from the USDA.

USDA Recommended Safe Minimum Internal Temperatures

  • Steaks & Roasts – 145 °F
  • Fish – 145 °F
  • Pork – 160 °F
  • Ground Beef – 160 °F
  • Egg Dishes – 160 °F
  • Chicken Breasts – 165 °F
  • Whole Poultry – 165 °F

OK–so you have determined that your chicken is done.  Remove it from the pot and let it rest on a plate until it is cool enough to debone. Meanwhile, strain out the celery, onion, bay, and carrots.  Set the carrots aside.  You can ask one of your kids to cut the carrots because they will be tender enough that a butter knife will do the trick.  My kids love doing this part of the job.  Deboning a chicken isn’t hard–just pull off the meat.  Cut it into smaller pieces if you desire.  Let it sit on the plate, though, and as it cools a bit, the gelatin and juices will congeal.  All of that is GOOD STUFF.  Don’t throw out the flavor!

Meanwhile, pour your beautiful broth into a big dutch oven or other very large pot.  Sometimes I like to strain the broth by pouring it through a big colander lined with a thin cotten towel.  This will remove the little brown sediments from the chicken bones–but honestly, they won’t hurt anything and it does make a mess to strain it.  Don’t fret–just enjoy your broth.  You can cook your noodles in this broth if you like.  I think a 12 to 16 oz package would do the trick.  I like to cook up 1 to 2 cups of brown rice for our soups.  When the noodles (or rice) are close to done, add in a 12 oz. bag of frozen petite green peas and your carrots.  When the peas and pasta or noodles are about done, stir in the chicken.  You may need to add more water, of course. Finish heating your soup and generously flavor with salt and pepper.

This will make quite a bit of soup.  Save one lovely jar and take it to a friend.

last cold day–chili

It’s cold outside.  We’re having a bona fide Sunday afternoon rest time.  It’s the first day in days we haven’t painted, nailed, or spent the morning blazing a trail through Home Depot.  Ed put the last log on for a fire and I’m making chili.

Of course, we eat chili with beans.

Here is the recipe:

1 chopped onion

a couple cloves garlic, minced

1 green pepper, chopped

chili powder, salt and pepper, and cumin if you have it

1 lb. hamburger

4 cans of beans in varying shades of red happiness, just rinse off the corn syrup

1 28 oz. can  tomatoes (I use the crushed tomatoes at our house because of the tomato-phobes)

Get out your medium big pot–just the dutch oven, not the 12 quart one the kids use as a dolly diving pool.  Brown up your hamburger, onions, garlic and green pepper.  Add in chili powder, salt and pepper to taste.  When the hamburger is browned and the onions are tender, pour in the tomatoes and beans.  Add water if needed.  Simmer until the kids start begging for supper.  Serve with cheddar cheese!

Here is how you save money on this recipe:  Don’t buy those “Chili Seasoning” PACKETS. Look at the ingredients lists on those things!  It’s just chili powder (which is in itself a conglomeration of spices, salt and garlic) plus more salt and garlic and usually SUGAR and MSG.  It’s a MARKETING PLOY!  Be strong, friend,  just get chili powder and add cumin.

Potato Soup

We’ve been outside playing in a winter wonderland for a good part of the cold day–it has snowed, iced, sleeted and generally shut down our hilly city in the South.  This kind of a day calls for SOUP.  And potato soup has one added benefit–it’s warm milk, people!  This meal is engineered for the toddlers who need to eat up their warm (milk) soup and drowsily settle into an early bedtime.

WARNING:  if your only concept of potato soup is a thick pasty canned version, or an expensive heavy cream restaurant version, the first taste of this soup might be a little scary for you.  This is a basic, simple potato soup that a person can make at home with pantry staples.  Cream adds a lot of expense, and cholesterol.  Don’t be afraid–just try it with an open mind.

First, chop up your RED potatoes into bite sized pieces.  I leave the peels on for nutrition, color, and texture.  Cook your potatoes in a big pot of heavily salted water.  How many potatoes?  Well, how many will you eat?  Our family loves this soup, so sometimes I will chop up the whole bag so we can have leftovers.

While my potatoes are coming to a boil, I make a little “noodle” called kuchen.  I believe this recipe came down from the Frugal Gourmet or from my mom, or both.  Anyway, the kids LOVE these kuchen noodles.  Basically, I crack one or two eggs in a bowl, beat the egg and then add salt and pepper.  I also love to add chives (or wild green onions) if I have them.   At our old house, we would have wild onions growing all winter and spring.  (Gosh, I miss them now!–although the yard always smelled like onions after Ed would mow.)  I love the bright green color.  Then I add flour and stir until it thickens up.  I keep adding flour until it forms a solid little mass.  As soon as the potatoes are boiling, I drop small shaggy pieces of this noodle mixture into the pot.  I bring it back up to a boil and then add 1 12 oz. package of frozen “veggie soup veggies.”  Basically, this is a premixed pack of veggies that one can use for soup base.  I get the one from kroger for “gumbo” because I like the okra and red pepper in it.  I buy it on sale when I can for $1.   I just cook the potatoes, kuchen, and frozen veggies until the potatoes are done to perfection–not mushy, but tender.  At this point, drain off the water and then add milk just to cover the top of the potatoes and veggies.  Gently simmer and add salt, pepper and perhaps onion powder until the flavor suits you.  Of course, you can add a slurry of flour and water to thicken your soup.  Just be careful to babysit the soup.  Burnt milk–yuck to smell, yuck to eat, and terrifically yucky to try to clean the pot.

A word about crackers:  most saltines are made with hydrogenated vegetable oil.  We try to avoid this.  Don’t believe the zero grams trans fat label.  IT’s A LIE!  If the ingredient list says it has hydrogenated vegetable oil, then you are eating trans fats.  Pepperidge Farms’ Goldfish crackers are trans-fat free but also pricey.  They do taste great, if one can afford it.

The cost for this meal–less than $7

potatoes $3.50

2 eggs $.25

1 c. flour $.15

1 pkg. frozen veggies $1

1/2 gallon milk $1.50

Of course, you can certainly add bacon or ham to this soup.

Happy supper, happy leftovers, and happy early bedtime for the sleepy babies!

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