Monday, November 3, 2014

Bonding over a Bad Recipe

Halloween is behind us and November is here, which means Thanksgiving is just around the corner. For the first time in a very long time, neither of my kids will be with us. Instead, we plan to spend Thanksgiving with my husband’s mother.

This takes me back to my first Thanksgiving with his family. We were in college and hadn’t been dating long. I was just starting to get to know his family and working hard to convince them I was good girlfriend material. His mother set a beautiful table and the food was wonderful.

The next day, she suggested we try a recipe she'd cut from the newspaper for Turkey Frame Soup. We spent a good part of the day preparing the bones, chopping vegetables, and rolling out and cutting homemade noodles. When dinnertime came, we gathered the family together and served the soup. It tasted like dishwater.

Everyone ate quietly, too polite to comment. Finally my future husband turned to me and said, “Thank you for making this for me. Please don’t ever make it again.”

My mother-in-law and I had many later successes in cooking collaboration, especially that year their apricot tree produced a bumper crop. The pie we made was prizeworthy. I’m not sure why the Turkey Frame Soup was so bad. I make soup all the time now, and it’s not hard. In fact, my husband begs for my chicken soup made from the remains of a rotisserie chicken. And yet my mother-in-law and I still reminisce about that awful soup. Somehow the failure created a bond.

I don’t have the Turkey Frame Soup recipe (not that you’d want it) but here’s my recipe for Chicken Barley Soup. It takes a while, but it’s easy and the aroma is wonderful. The chilies aren’t spicy; they add a rich flavor to the broth. As you can see, measurements aren’t exact.  It can be doubled or tripled for a turkey carcass. Rice can replace the barley, but I prefer the nutty texture of barley.

Chicken Barley Soup

To make the broth:
1 cooked chicken carcass after the good stuff (breast, thighs, drumsticks) has been picked off
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon poultry seasoning
A handful of celery leaves
Half a carrot
Half an onion

Using your fingers, remove all meat that comes off easily (backs, ribs, the meaty part of the wings). Reserve. Put the bones with whatever meat is clinging to them in a stockpot or Dutch oven and cover with water. If you have a neck, throw it in. Add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, then turn to a low simmer, cover, and ignore for a couple of hours.  When the bones are falling apart, remove from heat and let cool for thirty minutes or more.

Set up a strainer or colander over a bowl. You’re after the broth, not the solids. Pour the soup through the strainer and discard the bones and vegetables. At this point you can refrigerate the broth and make soup the next day if desired.

To make the soup: 
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 stocks celery, chopped
2 medium carrots, sliced thin
¼ head cabbage, roughly chopped
Reserved broth
1 4 oz. can chopped green chilies
1 teaspoon herbs de Provence (or ¼ each basil, thyme, marjoram, rosemary)
½ teaspoon sage or poultry seasoning
2/3 cup pearl barley
Reserved chicken, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper

Heat oil in stockpot. Saute onion and celery on medium heat until onion is just starting to brown. Add carrots and cabbage and saute for a minute more. Add broth, chilies with liquid, seasonings, and barley. Cover pan. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and let simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour. Taste and check barley for doneness. Add salt and pepper as needed. When barley is done, add reserved chicken and heat for 10 minutes.  Serve hot.


  1. It’s funny how even good cooks foul up. And when they do, it’s often pretty spectacular. I like to look at a recipe and figure out how to tweak it, and I’ll do it as I go along. Generally it’s all right, but once in a while… I bought a booklet of Campbell’s Soup-based recipes once on a whim (It was in the checkout line, and one or two sounded interesting). So I decided to make a chicken and tomato soup. Never mind that I have a chicken gumbo I make off the top of my head that is usually delicious, they had something that was based on an Italian-style tomato soup that sounded interesting. (Have you had the Italian style tomato soup Campbell makes? I only had it once – I generally make my own soups – but its appearance in this recipe earned it the Hall of Fame of Yuck. To make a long story short, my guests sampled the soup and one of them said, delicately, ‘Diana… Did you PAY for this recipe?’
    I have a rotisserie chicken carcass in my refrigerator and a can of chilies. The cabbage makes me hesitate, but there isn’t a lot of it, and I bet it mixes well with the chilies and the chicken to make a good, cold-weather soup!

  2. Hi Diana,

    Hope it works out well for you. The cabbage isn't strong in this recipe, but I like cooked cabbage. If you don't, I don't think it would change the flavor too much if you left it out.

    Wouldn't it figure that the one time you produce a bad soup it's for guests? My grandmother once told me, "The way to get a reputation as a good cook is to throw away your mistakes."

    If it's not a secret, I would love to have your chicken gumbo recipe sometime. I don't have a good gumbo.

  3. What a cute story! A great family memory.

    1. It was funny. Thanks for stopping by.