This month I decided to take a non-wine centric approach to what I decided to review. The turn of the colder months are a time of preparation for the indoors, for finding ways of being warm — for finding means of comfort until sunnier times lengthen to fill our days — so I directed my efforts toward a simple but nostalgic new challenge that I somehow have yet to take up until this point: Homemade Chicken and Rice Soup.
Luckily I work in a place that allows me to take up some simple and basic recipe on Reddit and give some personality and life to it. I get to really spice things up, if you will allow me the bad pun (I’ll show myself out, thanks…).
Ahem.. Anyway… In this experiment I went back and forth between just using the egg noodles i had in my cupboard at home or trying to figure out the magic behind rice staying firm in soup without over cooking it. I figured you have to try to mess up cooking egg noodles, and also I apparently had not taken time to fully grasp how rice works, especially quality rice. Luckily, and with the influence of my work allowance to take liberty with food experimentation, I went with the later option of a good, quality rice: Lotus Foods Volcano Rice.
Of the options available to me at BELLA, I chose this mostly for the aesthetic of the beautiful coloration, grains ranging from brick red to white, and how it would look in the bowl of my finished product. Being as how I hadn’t taken the time to enjoy the privilege of this medium grain delight, I had no idea what I was in for. The aroma alone of the small batch I made prior to the soup, my baseline rice test, was something different than the normal cooked jasmine rice I’m generally accustomed to. There is an extra sense of heartiness to the general smell, not quite as exotically distinct as basmati, but rich nonetheless. The texture and bite it has, though, is as big and firm and texturally pleasing as its Pakistani/Indian cousin. It gets its name from being grown in volcanic soil, and it pulls every last ounce of minerally flavor from there as well. Honestly, I could eat a whole bowl of this rice sans seasoning or protein, it packs that much goodness.
Adding it to the soup, with far more than the recommended amount of water per cup, did not take away from this experience at all. The bite and texture and minerality were all still just as present and were absolutely complimentary to everything else added to the soup. And for the record, the aesthetic I was shooting for in the finished bowl was above and beyond what I envisioned.
Another huge part of the soup experience, in my opinion, from a mostly tasting only perspective, is seasoning. You have to add something else to the mix besides salt, otherwise why not just crack open a can of Campbell’s and call it good. This may seem like I’m being a bit hyperbolic, because I am (it’s a hobby of mine), but in all reality, you can have all the great free range this and organic that on whatever plate, but if you don’t add the right amount and kind of spice and seasoning to a dish, is what you’re doing with that food even self care?
Growing up just on the Oklahoma side of the Oklahoma/Arkansas border, my favorite memory of being brought up in a region close enough to the influence of true Southern culture has hands down got to be the food. Heat, of all culinary definitions, smoke, and spice were how you knew things were created and slow cooked with care and love. If you grew up in a household where your grandmother was raised in middle Tennessee, you learned that liquor wasn’t just what was in Crazy Uncle Roy’s cup at the dinner table. Chances were that there was Jack or Jim Beam in a sauce or glaze and amaretto or rum in the baked dessert. When I came across the Bourbon Smoked Citrus Pepper I knew I had to put this in the recipe I was trying to bring life to.
When you open this 2 ounce puck of spice, you are met IMMEDIATELY with, in my case, an overly inviting fragrance of cracked pepper, warm orange peel, and mesquite bourbon barrel wood smoke. The pepper corns are quarter cracked, so the generous amount of texture you get with the abundant flavor is beyond pleasing to the tactile sensory pickups in the mouth, and everything is tied together with a familiar warm note of garlic and the balancing sweetness of onion that rounds out the makeup of this near perfect seasoning. It, added in with the Nashville seasoning from Spiceologist, and just a dash (or three) of chili powder, brought the broth alive with both spicy warmth and a familiarity that I miss from time to time when I am needing that taste of my roots to comfort me.
What else could be added to a menu of comfort food that fits this bill better than fresh baked bread? Soberdough makes a whole line of appetising just-add-beer bread dough mixes, and honestly it took more than one trip to the display to settle on my final choice of the Hatch Green Chile and Cheddar. I like the heat, what can I say? Although it does give the option of just adding soda water as a nonalcoholic alternative, I chose to stick with the “pale ale” suggestion and picked up a Pfriem Golden IPA to make the dough. The Pfriem choice was an easy one to go with because if the Hood River brewers know anything, its how to brew an exceptionally balanced beer. Knowing that this IPA, naturally hoppy by nature, was more toward the bright, almost citrusy, rather than super piney, in flavor, it wasn’t going to over influence the flavor of the bread but most likely add to the overall experience. From start to finish (open the bag, mix in the measured 12 oz of beer, put in the oven) the feeling of accomplishment that comes with smelling fresh baked bread, regardless of how much actual work went into the process, is something that can bring a smile to anyone’s face and heart.
The cheddar part of the recipe isn’t included in the bag of mix, and for this go around, I decided to forgo adding it in. I wanted to make sure my bread was going to stay true to form with its crusty outside and soft interior that would be ready to dip in and soak up the broth and flavor of the soup without any interference of the sharpness (i like my cheddar so sharp you sould cut yourself on it) of the cheese influencing the bite. I did add a touch of shredded parm on top to give a bit of salty crunch to the top crust, but nothing more. The chiles inside matched the smokiness of the citrus pepper and Nashville seasoning beautifully. I seriously considered just having a cup of broth and bread for a snack later that night.
No allowance review sheet is complete without at least one wine:
Biutiful Malbec – Mendoza 2018
A couple of severely over simplistic reasons went into choosing this wine for tasting: 1. I had roughly $24 and change left to work with, and 2. It had a picture of a chrysalis hanging from a branch on it. I figured with the year 2020 has been for the living and waking world, the destruction of the caterpillar and the formation of a butterfly in a seasonal hardened (s)hell was a perfect metaphor for the hope I wanted to see ahead. So yes, I got suckered into this bottle by label shopping (I regret nothing!!), and let me tell you, I am super glad that I did.
From the first pour, the deeeeeep, inky purple color of the wine in glass is absolutely stunning. It’s not just opaque for the sake of being opaque. Rather, it has an almost elegance to how it just pulls in and drowns the light. The nose is full of big black fruit, namely ripe berries and hints of plum at first pour that deepen as it opens up. The body is full without being too big, has a richness to it without being over decadent (or, i guess in this non-dessert wine’s case, jammy). This is a wine to not share. This is a wine that deserves your attention but gives you the space to reflect on where you’re at in life. I very much recommend having a nice cut of beef and a Neal Gaman novel close by to pair with this most definitely underpriced Argentinian vino.