Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Aunt Brenda - Food Muse for a Sick Day

Yours truly (the West Coast Muse) is working from home today since I'm feeling under the weather. All I can (day)dream about though - is soup. Nice hot soup. Since I am "cold sick" not "icky stomach" sick, I am really yearning for a filling, soul-satisfying soup, too.

When I was in college (at Florida State, woop woop!), I spent my first year in Tallahassee living with my Aunt Brenda, her awesome husband Roger (who lovingly teases me to no end), and their twin boys. Brenda and I loved to cook. I'll be honest: there were occasional weeknights on which we could be found scarfing down cans of Spaghetti Os. It's true. But she and I both really loved to entertain and cook for a crowd. ... and crowds were frequent at Brenda's. She and I would cook from the stash of well-worn copies of Gourmet and Bon Appetit that collected high on a kitchen shelf.

Also during my first year at school when I was living with Roger and Brenda, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and for the next five years fought like a damned champion. Funny bit of info for you ladies: after her double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, she was elated that her bra cup size increased from an A to a C. She also loved to brag about her absence of the monthly "blessing" because the chemo caused her to go into early menopause. I very specifically remember her saying, "I should have gotten breast cancer years ago!" I adore my memories of Brenda, how she fought, how she cooked, and her sense of humor.

The last time I was able to talk to Brenda was at my grandparents house when she called from Florida on Thanksgiving day. I had just gotten engaged and I remember asking if her twin boys would be ring bearers in the wedding (the three of us had talked about this extensively while I was living with them ;). Sadly, a month later my favorite aunt, who had become more like a best friend, passed away. Just a few short months later I received a wedding gift from Uncle Roger: a complete collection of all the stock pots one could ever possibly need. The card attached to the package said that my newly-acquired, fully-stocked kitchen was from Aunt Brenda, too.

The following soup recipe is one that Brenda and I loved to make together. In a bit, if I feel up to it, I think I'll make a trip to the grocery store, snatch up some ground turkey, pull out one of my stock pots from Brenda, and make a hot pot of turkey meatball soup. Soul-satisfying, indeed!

Escarole and Orzo Soup with Turkey Parmesan Meatballs
via Epicurious

1 large egg
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup plain dried breadcrumbs
12 ounces lean ground turkey
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

8 cups (or more) low-salt chicken broth
1 cup chopped peeled carrots
3/4 cup orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
4 cups coarsely chopped escarole (about 1/2 medium head)

For the meatballs...whisk egg and 2 tablespoons water in medium bowl to blend. Mix in breadcrumbs; let stand 5 minutes. Add turkey, Parmesan cheese, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper; gently stir to blend. Using wet hands, shape turkey mixture into 1 1/4-inch-diameter meatballs. Place on baking sheet; cover and chill 30 minutes.

Bring 8 cups chicken broth to boil in large pot. Add carrots and orzo; reduce heat to medium and simmer uncovered 8 minutes. Add turkey meatballs and simmer 10 minutes. Stir in chopped escarole and simmer until turkey meatballs, orzo, and escarole are tender, about 5 minutes longer. Season soup to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 2 hours ahead. Rewarm over medium heat, thinning with more broth if desired.)

Ladle soup into bowls and serve.  Also, I really seem to remember this tasting lemon-y when Brenda and I made it. So I would top each bowl with a squirt of fresh lemon juice.

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