I am a very good cook, if I do say so myself. I don’t brag often, or at least, I’ve been told not to brag, so in my attempts not to be a condescending ass, I button my lips rather than assert things I think I’ve gotten good at over the years. Perhaps it’s out of fear that someone much more gifted will be sent to my side the very moment I start posturing, and suddenly, I’ll be next to James Beard who will smile authentically, and I’ll just look like a total dipshit. And anyway, my list of things on which I have any hope of bragging is rather short.
But, at risk of sounding stuck on myself, I’ll go ahead and say I’m a good cook, and I’ve picked up a sense of tastes that go together, how to build a complex and enjoyable flavor profile, good ideas on textures and color and pacing people through several courses. I don’t have perfect skills—looking at a pile of minced onions, there is too much variation among the pieces for me to pretend at a French Culinary Institute degree. But I know the difference between minced, chopped, julienned, or rustic cut. I can make a mother sauce in the French tradition of Bechamel or Veloute, though I have no master’s sauce to compare mine, so it’s possible my vinagrette tastes like horse ass. I do presume someone would have mentioned this by now, however.
All this said, I don’t always use a recipe when I’m making something. In fact, I rarely use instructions unless it’s a cuisine I don’t know. So when Susanne, sick on the couch with a croaky voice asked for some chicken noodle soup, I said sure and headed to the basement to get some organic stock. This was only because I thought I’d used all of my homemade chicken and duck stock for a beef noodle soup I’d made earlier in the week, also to help soothe her cold. And there is nothing that doesn’t feel a little more luxurious when duck stock is added to it. Nothing culinary, that is. I don’t advise adding duck stock to say, one’s Mark Twain first edition book collection.
(Note to college students everywhere: if you are hacking up your gallbladder all over passersby on your way to class, just turn around and go back to bed. Your professors don’t like it when you make them sick or give them laryngitis.)
I chopped up some chicken tenderloin and threw it in my pot with some heated olive oil, letting it brown and crisp up a little, then deglazed the pot with one box—the last box—of stock, making a mental note to get some more from Costco next week, because well, we buy our cooking supplies in bulk. This meant I’d made about 4.5 cups of soup.
A while later I added some egg noodles and once they’d plumped up, saw that the stock had cooked down a bit too low. I just couldn’t bring myself to add water. That would kill the gorgeous balance of flavors and seasonings I’d added, not that Susanne’s palate could taste them at the moment. It has been scientifically established that chicken soup boosts one’s immune system, so what would watering it down do? Weaken it, I supposed.
Not acceptable. I opened the fridge, remembering Susanne telling me that we still had one jar of homemade stock in there—cue the little oval of Susanne over my shoulder, saying “we still have one jar of homemade stock in there,”—and I stuck my head in, looking for something beige in color, liquid, and in a mason jar.
Alas, this is not as exclusionary as I would have hoped. I smiled, seeing my target, launching my hand upon it, grasping it with my opposable thumb, my marker of humans’ dominance over this realm for the last 50,000 years, and triumphantly emerged with my prize. It did not occur to me that I should check the contents, primarily because the back of our refrigerator is like Siberia, and things only dream of decomposing there. I think there’s a member of the czar family back there. It really limits the usable space in the rest of the fridge, which is kind of annoying.
I will say that I had a moment, half a second at best, where I wondered why the jar didn’t have any fat floating on top, but that thought didn’t slow me down, not one bit. I poured in the entire jar and stirred the pot—lest I be lazy and not really combine the new contents well, or something—and put the lid back on, letting it simmer a bit more before I served any to Susanne.
Several minutes later she passed through the kitchen on her way to the bathroom and noticed that jar of the peach syrup I’d made last summer when canning peaches was sitting, empty, on the counter. Even in her sickened haze, she knew what the jar was, and lifted the lid to the soup. A unique odor of savory chicken and syrupy, peachy goodness greeted her.
She put the lid back on the pot.
I was on the couch, giggling at some news story or other. Oh, the French Canadians! Or oh, that silly Glen Beck!
“Honey,” she asked me gently, “why did you make peach chicken noodle soup?”
“What,” I asked. The poor dear, she was losing her mind. I should do more for her to get her better.
“You put the jar of peach syrup in the soup. Why did you do that?” At this point, she began chuckling.
“Oh no, did I?” I thought it was chicken stock. . . .
She did her best and ate half a bowl, and honestly, I think it was only possible because she couldn’t taste a darn thing. For my part, I poured it down the toilet this morning. It’s not a flavor anyone needs to try. Just take my word for it.
Photo by Kevin H. from Flickr.