Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Soft Boiled Egg. Lime Jello. Chicken Broth.

That’s what I was served as a kid when I was sick. Those foods are probably as close to American comfort food as it got for me. To this day I have never had a piece of meatloaf, chicken fried steak or homemade chicken noodle soup. Last summer I had homemade chicken pot pie for the first time; I also had my first pork chop. I can count how many times I’ve had fried chicken on both hands, maybe even one. I was rarely exposed to potato chips or french fries. Hot dogs and hamburgers were alien to our grill. I’ve got $20 that says a grilled cheese never darkened my childhood stove top.

I also wasn’t toting a mother of pearl spoon and caviar in my Happy Days lunch box either. I teetered in a schizophrenic gastronomy of late 1970s Continental cuisine and the worldly culinary landscape of the Stouffer’s frozen meal. Nightly I enjoyed Noodles Romanoff, Chili Con Carne, Turkey Tetrazini, Swedish Meatballs, Chicken a la King, Creamed Chipped Beef , Chicken Chow Mein. Touring the world one boil a bag at a time. Really these meals were essentially the same formula; a high fat sauce whose sole intent was to utterly drench a starch, maybe with a sprinkling of frozen veggies. My favorite was the most caloric (and exotic sounding): Noodles Romanoff. A giant pink ice cube clad in aluminum foil; it went in to the oven for a torturous 45 minutes! Oh and it emerged a steaming gelatinous runny ooze.

When dining with adults I enjoyed savory crepes, spumoni, steamed crabs, proscuitto e melone, scampi, Rumaki, French onion soup, escargot, steamed artichokes, shad roe, shrimp anything and on. The chicken nugget was not yet invented, nor did my Dad frequent restaurants with ‘Kids’ Menus’ (if they even existed then; I have no idea). I would put on a Laura Ashley dress and we’d head out to a French Bistro or an Italian Restaurant. I guess that makes brie en croute the mac and cheese of my youth.

At age 10 we got a microwave, never to boil a bag again. At 11, I started to teach myself to cook. My first dish, co-authored with my neighbor John, was aptly called ‘cheese melt’. I’m sure this was conceived in some latch key child moment of self expression paired with a need to eat. John and I would take a piece of spongy white bread, smear it with some butter imitating spread, place a square of cheddar cheese in the center, put it on a paper towel and pop it in to the microwave for 10-15 seconds. Out would come a soggy cheesewich seeping not-butter. We would fold it in half and consume it in 3 bites, then make another. This led to many other self authored dishes, (including the less popular strawberry Kwik with Sunkist orange soda) only to evolve slowly and lately here.

This childhood has lead to an adulthood where cooking is done with very few short cuts. If the kids want a brownie we get out the cocoa powder and the mixer. Dinner time is the focus of our evenings, we forego television for the stove and the grill.

The other day Jim did not feel well. Sick Jim is rare and I wanted to make something that fit the feeling. Somehow at the crossroads of my Asian culinary tutelage from Stouffer’s and my adult desire to make up for it egg drop soup popped in to my head. It was comforting and from the ground up it takes 10, maybe 15 minutes. Make it, you’ll feel better for it. Jim did.

Egg Drop Soup - Serves 2-4

4 cups chicken broth (or vegetable)

3 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons corn starch + 2 tablespoons water, mixed together

2 tablespoons soy sauce

5/8 teaspoon of white pepper

1/2 teaspoon grated ginger

1 tablespoon rice wine

2 green onions, sliced green and light green parts

Combine the broth, soy sauce, pepper, ginger and rice wine, bring to a boil, add in cornstarch and water slurry, reduce the heat to a simmer. Stir soup in a clockwise motion, when soup is moving in a gentle clockwise current, slowly stream in the eggs while still stirring. Eggs will cook immediately. Remove from heat and stir in onions. Serve immediately.

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