Chicken Noodle Soup

I spent a very fun weekend in Texas and if I thought I could replicate the yummy bbq from Salt Lick, I’d do it post-haste.  Unfortunately I was too busy debating whether it would be appropriate to move to Austin just for ribs (people have moved for sillier reasons, right?) and didn’t pay enough attention to how the deliciousness was made, so you’ll have to trust me on this one or make a trip down there.

I was lucky enough to bring back some very style-y cowboy boots, but also seemed to have brought back a bit of a cold that wasn’t enough to knock me out completely, but just enough to annoy me and curse the coughing lady next to me on the plane.  Normally when I have a cold I crave tuna (don’t ask, because I really can’t explain it), but the stuffy nose and scratchy throat were crying out for chicken noodle soup.  Now, I’m a Campbell’s girl all the way when it comes to these things. 

When you’re sick, fancy soups can’t beat the comfort found in that red and white can.  Whenever I was home from school with a cold (or more likely strep throat which I got ALL THE TIME), my mom would tuck me under the covers on the sofa so I could watch tv, surround me with my favorite stuffed animals and heat up that condensed chicken noodle goodness.  Other soups she’d make from scratch, but for some reason every mom knows that few things can beat Campbell’s in a pinch.

Admittedly, making it for myself is not as comforting, but it did make me feel better.  As I sat on the sofa watching terrible television (where’s a good Lifetime movie when you need it??), I started thinking whether I could make my own version.  Why I feel the need to try to recreate foods that are perfectly fine already is a question I ask myself repeatedly, but what else would I write about if I didn’t? 

Also, I’m sure there are many grandmothers out there who have a tried and true chicken noodle soup recipe that would put my efforts to shame–one that involves boiling chickens and making stock and chopping vegetables–but when you’re sick and in need of food, that’s the kind of energy you just don’t have (if any of you would like to let me borrow your grandmother next time I have the sniffles, holla!). 

I basically roasted some chicken breasts, cooked up some pasta and threw it all into my Le Creuset to simmer with onions, carrots and broth.  As someone who really believes in the stirring and watching and checking, this couldn’t have been easier and–surprisingly–tastier.  No, I really didn’t think it would all come together (I rarely, if ever, cook anything without a recipe), but it did and in about 45 minutes (roasting the chicken took about 40 minutes, in which time you could put everything else together).

So while I can’t say I’ll forsake Campbell’s next time I’m sick, this is a hearty substitute when condensed versions just aren’t cutting it.  Let’s hope I make it through winter without any need for either (knock on wood)…

Chicken Noodle Soup

  • 2 large chicken breasts, roasted (or baked) and chopped into bite size pieces
  • 1 medium sized onion, diced
  • 2 cups frozen crinkle cut carrots
  • 3 14.5 ounce cans of chicken broth
  • 1 box bowtie pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

While chicken is roasting (about 15 minutes before it’s done), heat olive oil in stock pan and add onion, sautéing until tender.  Add chicken broth and carrots, bring to a boil and then reduce heat so it’s simmering. 

In separate pot, cook pasta according to package directions, but undercook by about 2 minutes (I originally thought of cooking the pasta in the chicken broth, but didn’t have enough broth to cover all of the pasta.  I think it might work. Try it and let me know!). 

Add chopped chicken to broth, then drain and add pasta (it will finish cooking in the broth).  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot (and preferably with a good movie).


Lamb Burgers

How many women–with a combined 5 degrees, 4 languages and  having lived on 3 different continents–does it take to turn on a grill?  As I learned last week, it takes 4 women and 2 incredibly amused men.  I’m pretty sure that we could have figured it out on our own, but as soon as we looked the least bit confused these lovely men rushed over to impress us with their cooking over open fire prowess.  So, technically, we never really had a chance to even try to do it ourselves.  We could have! Maybe… Possibly… Moving on.

Anyhoo.  Three friends and I have decided that we need time away from the masses every once in awhile to hang out with each other and catch up on life’s big and small events over copious amounts of food and wine.  It started with a delicious Greek dinner in March, followed by a traditional Spanish dinner in April and then we sort of fell off the bandwagon due to schedules and well, all of those big and small life events.  But last week, the sun was shining, we were all in the same place for once and it was the perfect chance to sit outside, drink Cava and talk while watching the sun go down. 

L (of New Orleans fame) pretends she can’t actually cook, but in the half hour she had between work and our arrival, she made it to Whole Foods where she sweet talked the butcher into grinding up some fresh lamb, put together the tastiest–and most creative–lamb patties, sliced up some challah and created a beautiful summer salad. Any woman who can do that in 30 minutes, plus have sparkling beverages chilling, should call herself a chef extraordinaire.

The surprise of the burgers was that she mixed curry and cumin in, so there was a bit of a kick to the otherwise subtle flavor of the meat.  We topped them with a bit of whole grain mustard and feta crumbles (which kind of cooled things down nicely) and truly–grill ignorance aside–they were perfect: moist, juicy and full of flavor.  Add them to your list of bbq must haves immediately.

So I am up next in the rotation of dinner.  Given our busy lives, it may be October before I get to host. Am taking suggestions… And! if you’re in the Chi, come out for this good food for a good cause event tomorrow (Thursday) night! I’ll be the one double fisting luscious drinks and delectable treats… Taste of the Nation: No Kid Hungry

Lamb Burgers

  • 1 lb ground lamb
  • 2 tablespoons (approx. to taste) curry powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • whole grain mustard
  • crumbled feta
  • challah buns

Combine the first 5 ingredients in a bowl and mix well.  Form into mini burger patties.  Place on hot grill and cook for 3-5 minutes each side.  Top with cheese and mustard and place on buns.  Thank the cute guys for lighting your fire.  Ahem.


Guest Post: Making the Most of Farmers Markets–A Weeklong Menu

I’m excited to announce a new phase in Pestle Mortar’s life–the Guest Post.  I’ve asked a few foodie friends to send me their take on what’s going on in their culinary lives, whether it be where they’ve dined lately, what’s cooking in their kitchen or what tasty trends they’re seeing in their city.  If you’re interested in doing your own guest post, drop me a line at or leave a note in the comment section. 

The first guest post comes from my best gal, Rachel, who is a high powered executive in NYC by day and loving wife and amazing mama by night.  Rachel tells us how she keeps her family well fed for a week by some creative shopping at the local farmers market followed by some stellar prep and planning (and even includes some variation for picky eaters–kids or otherwise).  Even I, Ms. Procrastination 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2010 (I had a really productive 2009!), could do this.  On the menu this week: Seared Spicy Scallops, Seared Flank Steak with Orzo Salad, Pork Chops with Fennel, Fettuccine with Asparagus and Bacon and Fish and Greens.  Don’t you wish you were at her house tonight?

The Family That Eats Together…

Growing up, all the important decisions in my family were made in the kitchen. That’s because we spent a lot of time there, seated at a table for two. After ballet class, swim practice, rehearsal, work, my mom and I sat down together for dinner every day. Those week-night dinners we assembled were never fancy – pastas, fried chicken, stir fries, fish cakes, tuna casserole. They were the working class meals of a single Mom in the 70’s and early 80s. But they were a time for us to slow down together. To talk about our days. To connect.

I think those dinners saved me from a life of bad choices. (I had to sit down, look my mother in the eye, and recount each day). They enriched me with a feeling of community and gave me routine. As an adult, they sustain me with memory. Now that I am a mom, delighting in my five-year old son’s food revelations and my 6-month old daughter’s brand new love of avocado, I insist upon a home cooked meal. Every night. Together. My commitment to putting homemade food on the table each night for my family of four, however, extends beyond my insistence upon dinner as family time. It is also driven by my obsession with cooking organic food that is grown locally. 

When I was pregnant with my son, I began buying food that was organic and local. It cost a bit more. It took more time — one trip to the farmers market and one to my local market. But five years and another child later, I have never looked back. Living on a single income here in New York City means that my husband and I are a family on a budget, but our weekly food bill is a constant, set amount that I carve out as a known quantity. It is simply too important—for my kids and for our world. 

The other challenge is that I work full time, commuting on the F Train home each night. I get home late, and set in sail a tight ship of family dinner, bath time, stories, and bed. It can be hectic around here, but every night I sit down, hear about my five-year old’s day, feed my daughter, and catch up with my husband over something we’ve put together quickly after gathering it up from local farmers the weekend before. 

So here is how we do it: 

1. Hunt and gather: Every Sunday, my son, daughter, and I walk to the farmers market to pick up meat, eggs, fish, and vegetables. What I find there sets our menu for the week. I am extremely lucky to live in Brooklyn, where the farmers markets are yearlong. There is something incredibly satisfying about watching my son talk to the upstate farmers who grow our greens, catch our fish, and raise our cows. 

2. Make a menu based on what you find there: This week, the meat guys had nice flank steak and the fishermen sold us lovely scallops and a healthy piece of white fish. I figure that’s three of our five meals. Stunning chard, a gorgeous bunch of red onions, ripe cherry tomatoes, and a perfect fennel bulb also caught my eye. The chard will do nicely with the fish, the tomatoes will be part of a salad for the steak, and that fennel will work with some pork chops I’ll pick up at the market. Throw in pasta and I’ve got the week covered. 

3. Forage for the rest of your week: After the farmers market, we jump in the car and go to Fairway, which is a New York market that is like dying and going to food heaven. Here we gather up pork to cook with the fennel, some pasta (with a good-looking bunch of asparagus), and other staples for the week. Fairway is right on the ocean, so we always grab a bagel at Fairway’s ocean-side bakery and take a stroll along the water, too. 

The recipes I’ve created for this week can each be put together in less than 15 minutes. They include seasonal ingredients you can find at your local farmers market right now (as well as a few from your supermarket). They don’t cost a fortune. They are healthy, local, and lend themselves to variations for your toddler or big kid. 

Like everything else in my shining, new life as a parent of two, food is novel and very fun. I aim to sustain that belief through every eating age. One farmers market and one week-night dinner at a time.

Monday:  Seared Spicy Scallops

Tuesday: Seared Flank Steak with Orzo Salad

Wednesday: Pork Chops with Fennel

Thursday: Fettuccine with Asparagus and Bacon

Friday: Fish and Greens

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Candied Ginger

After an unfortunate run in with some not so happy cold cuts, there has been little but broth, dry toast, crackers and ginger tea/ale cooked or eaten chez moi.  I have watched 11 episodes of Law & Order since Monday (which is fine with me, given that the theme song is my ring tone), but I’m just about done with all of the commercials for weight loss supplements, car insurance and shady law firms.  I did, however, discover that when starved of anything tasty, I will actually crave Red Lobster followed by a Taco Bell chaser (those commercials are shown ALL. DAY. LONG.).  Not sure what to do with that info, but there you have it.  I would also like to try this place called Cici’s or something that has a $4.99 pizza buffet; from the commercials, it appears they have a mac & cheese pizza… Can you tell I need to get out?

Anyhoo. It is well known in my family that when you’re sick, the ginger tea comes out.  Powdered ginger will do, but if you really want to feel better quickly, you have to get fresh ginger, cut it up, smash it down a bit to release some of the oils and then add boiling water.  After drinking about 18936574 cups of tea over the last few days, though,  I really couldn’t imagine drinking one more, but I still wanted the benefits of the ginger.  I’m not sure if you’ve ever chewed on raw ginger, but it’s akin to gnawing on bark rolled in chili pepper.  I wouldn’t recommend it. 

But what could I do with all of the ginger my mother had brought me without having to actually cook?  And then it occurred to me that I hadn’t had any sugar in days and I was starting to get twitchy (don’t even talk to me about the lack of coffee and chocolate).  So candied ginger seemed like a good way to go.  There didn’t seem to be a recipe out there that had less than 7 billion steps, but I settled on Alton Brown’s because it was the most straight forward.

And I have to report that all the happiness of the ginger tea, but with the added goodness of the syrup, is found in the candied ginger.  It’s still spicy, but the syrup softens the sharpness a bit.  I did one batch with an extra sprinkle of sugar, and I actually–shockingly–like it better without, which only means that over the last few days I’ve lost my mind and possibly some of my taste buds. 

I am feeling so much better that I actually turned off the tv for a bit in the middle of a Law & Order episode that I’d already seen 3 times.  Next step is getting out of the pajamas.  Was that an overshare?









Candied Ginger courtesy of Alton Brown via

  • Nonstick spray
  • 1 pound fresh ginger root
  • 5 cups water
  • Approximately 1 pound granulated sugar

Spray a cooling rack with nonstick spray and set it in a half sheet pan lined with parchment.

Peel the ginger root and slice into 1/8-inch thick slices using a mandoline (I used a sharp knife and my slices were not the least bit even, which I think is more fun). Place into a 4-quart saucepan with the water and set over medium-high heat. Cover and cook for 35 minutes or until the ginger is tender.

Transfer the ginger to a colander to drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid. Weigh the ginger and measure out an equal amount of sugar. Return the ginger and 1/4 cup water to the pan and add the sugar. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar syrup looks dry, has almost evaporated and begins to recrystallize, approximately 20 minutes. Transfer the ginger immediately to the cooling rack and spread to separate the individual pieces. This is where you’d want to dredge the pieces in granulated sugar, if desired.

Once completely cool, store in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. Save the sugar that drops beneath the cooling rack and use to top ginger snaps, sprinkled over ice cream or to sweeten coffee (oh, how I miss you, dear coffee!).

Brussel Sprout Slaw–Seriously! It’s tasty…

I’m not even going to try to convince you that Brussel sprouts are yummy and that you should run out immediately and get some for dinner tonight.  I think that people fall into one of two categories when it comes to Brussel sprouts–you either love them or think that they are gross and inedible.  It’s kind of like with cilantro: there is no middle ground.  While I fall into the hate category on cilantro, I’m having a bit of a love affair with the sprouts.  I never ate them growing up, and my first taste was only a few years ago at Custom House, where they roast them in mini-Le Creuset pots and slather them with butter and bacon.  How could it not be lust at first bite??

I’m obviously not alone in my crush on the little cabbages, because they’ve been popping up on menus around the Chi lately.  A few weeks ago at the Purple Pig, I had a yummy grilled cheese sandwich with a side of Brussel sprout slaw that was so happy I actually left most of my sandwich on the plate and inhaled every bit of the slaw.  You know it has to be delish if I’m leaving melted cheese on toasted bread behind.  Their slaw is served with a light vinaigrette and shavings of nutty cheeses, so again, goodness on a plate.

I’ve been talking about that slaw since there was snow on the ground, so I finally decided that I’d try my own version for Easter dinner.  This was tricky, because while I could have lied and passed it off as regular cole slaw so that at least one bite would be taken, who serves cole slaw at Easter?  I mean, eyebrows would have been raised.  But, I just loved the cool green freshness shaved sprouts have–it just sung Spring to me–so I was honest and confessed my side dish intentions.  You can imagine that this was not met with a warm reception.  But promises were made to at least taste it.

I decided on a simple recipe using lemon juice, olive oil, green apples and salt and pepper (and I’ll admit that I made a little bacon to sprinkle on top in case there were true objections to the slaw.  What doesn’t taste better with a bit of bacon?).  I initially thought I could use a grater to get the slivers, but it was far easier to do a chop with a sharp knife.  And, seriously? It was tasty (you shouldn’t be surprised given the title of the post).  It was exactly as I hoped: light and fresh, with just a hint of the lemon.  The apples added a bit of texture and the olive oil (which I added just before I served it), wilted the leaves just enough so that it didn’t seem like we were chewing on blades of grass. 

 And the best compliment: “I never would have known I was eating Brussel sprouts if you hadn’t told me!”  Mission accomplished (and we didn’t even need the bacon).  Just don’t ask me to create a recipe with cilantro.  Never happening…

Brussel Sprout Slaw

  • 1 bag fresh Brussel sprouts from Trader Joe’s (I think it’s 1/2 pound)
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of  1/2 a large lemon
  • 1/4 green apple, diced
  • salt and pepper to taste

Chop the Brussel sprouts (starting at the top and to about mid-way down to the stem) finely; place in serving bowl.  In separate bowl, mix the olive oil and lemon juice.  Pour oil/juice mixture over sprouts (I did this in batches so that it wouldn’t get too oily–add enough for your liking).  Add the apples and salt and pepper.  Mix well.  Fall in love.

Food Challenge #3: Kala’s Quinoa Pudding

Last week, one of my closest and dearest friends, Kala, sent me a food challenge. I point out that she is one of my closest and dearest friends—we have known each other since we were 11—because when she told me that she wanted me to help her find a tasty way to make quinoa, I absolutely wanted to make the best quinoa ever in life because I love her dearly.  When she then told me she had never actually had some that tasted good, I got a little nervous, because I really didn’t want to disappoint her.  When I started looking up recipes online that described quinoa as “nutty,” “crunchy,” “a super-food” but never “delicious” or “yummy,” I started thinking that this was going to be a little harder than I thought. But it wasn’t until I asked another friend what she thought of this ultimate protein and she said, “it’s kind of like couscous, but it has these little tail things,” that I thought that disappointing one of my closest and dearest friends was really not that big a deal. I’m sure that Hallmark even has a card to make up for it. 

Since I have been at a loss for cooking ideas lately, and as the days ticked by without the slightest bit of inspiration, a quinoa pudding started to sound better and better (or at least the idea of it.  Kala and I decided that I’d try to make a variation on rice pudding since she wanted sweet over savory).  I really think it’s difficult to screw up anything that has sugar, cinnamon and vanilla, but I also thought that if anything could, it would be some kind of grain with a tail (I really hoped that that part of the description was an exaggeration, but there it was right on the package—although what my friend called tails are technically called “germ rings.” Even better…). 

I’ve had mixed success with about five rice pudding recipes I’ve tried: either the rice was too hard, too soft, not sweet enough, blah blah blah, so I knew I’d have to find a recipe specific to quinoa, since I wasn’t familiar with its texture or taste.  Surprisingly, there were a number of good ones out there, which means more folks have jumped on the crunchy-almost like couscous-but-with-a-tail bandwagon than I knew (can you tell that I really can’t get over that tail/germ thing?? I mean, really. It’s just too much for me).   All of the recipes I found online said that the quinoa needed to be picked over and separated out and washed thoroughly in unicorn tears, which sounded way more complicated than I really could be bothered with. 

Luckily Trader Joe’s sells boxes of it and I’m going to hope that TJ did all of the hard work for me.

So I open the package and it was literally like putting my head in damp soil, which, since this is a food blog and all, is not the best description for something I’m trying to encourage you to make, but that’s what came to mind and I’m all about honesty here (wait! Perhaps I should cut to the chase and tell you now that it turned out to be super tasty, so that all of this lead up doesn’t have you swearing off quinoa and its goodness before you even try it.  It was yummy! I promise!).  Needless to say that as it was cooking, the earthy smell intensified to the point that when it was ready I said out loud, “I really don’t want to taste this,” and had an internal debate about how on the one hand I really enjoy this blog, but on the other, I’m not prepared to eat just anything for the sake of coming here to tell you about it.  But my New Year’s resolution to commit myself to this little endeavor won out, and I tasted about three grains.  And they were crunchy. But! Also kind of bland and inoffensive (again, strange words to use to describe food, but that made me realize I could work with it). 

Even though I knew the sugar, coconut milk, cinnamon and vanilla mixture was going to work, I really didn’t expect the recipe to turn out as well as it did.  I mean, I had to walk around my apartment for a good 5 minutes after it came out of the oven humming the theme to Rocky to gear myself up to taste it.  And I’m really happy I did, because it was sweet and creamy, with a lightness that made it more appealing than rice pudding, which I love, but will totally cheat on with this quinoa pudding.  I actually had to convince myself to move away from the pan so there’d be some left for pictures.  And, it was even better the next day when all the flavors had soaked in and it was room temperature.

So, yeah, I am smitten with a super-grain.  I had some for breakfast and have been snacking on it as I type this up.  If I weren’t going out to dinner, I’d have a bit more.  I almost feel like I should buy it a card and some flowers…

Quinoa Pudding

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