Cook soup for a dog? Why not!
Twelve years ago, our then 14-year-old terrier Blossom posed for this shot. Close to the end of her life she developed a deep cough. The kind of cough that could peel wallpaper off the wall. So I made chicken soup for her on a regular basis (and wrote a story about it for the O.C. Register).
“How are you going to get her to sit in the pot?” award-winning photographer Bruce Strong queried. I told him not to worry. Blossom would do anything to see us smile. More than anything, she wanted to please. She sat. She smiled.
I was reminded about the Blossom story this week when I read Time magazine. Kate Pickert wrote: “Our Puppies Ourselves,” an article about the plethora of successful dog-focused memoirs.
Many tout dog ownership for its ability to make our lives immeasurably more fulfilling.
When the soup-for-Blossom story ran, readers from across the country wrote to me. They loved the tale of soup cookery and how my husband had rescued Blossie when she was a puppy. He found her tied to a water faucet. Abandoned by barbarians.
The soup making began one rainy Sunday, when we couldn’t reach the vet.
I got out the 16-quart soup pot. Blossom watched as we chopped the veggies: two large carrots and two stalks of celery. I heated a little olive oil on medium-high heat and lightly browned the vegetables.
Then my husband Phil added two (3-pound) chickens, side by side, and poured in three (32-ounce) containers of prepared chicken broth. Adding enough cold water to cover the birds, we brought the broth to just below a boil on high heat, then immediately reduced the heat to a maintain a gentle simmer.
After five minutes, I skimmed the foam from the top. Phil added a little minced parsley; he suggested that the bright green herb might remedy undesirable doggie breath — two cures for the price of one.
After an hour, we took the chicken out and picked the meat from the bones. The bones went back into the broth for another hour of simmering.
We skimmed the fat from the surface of the broth and strained the remaining broth into another pot, saving the cooked veggies from the strainer. We sat the potful of broth in a sink half-filled with ice water to cool it quickly, so that we could place it into the refrigerator in seal-able containers, next to the container of bite-size chicken pieces.
We served some of the cooled broth to Blossom, who lapped up her soup-style medicine with gusto. It was mainly broth, but we added one or two slivers of chicken and a few vegetables for garnish.
We couldn’t help devouring a bowl or two ourselves, adding a pinch of dried red chili flakes and some leftover rice to spark up the flavor.
For several weeks, “pooch soup” preparation became part of our Sunday routine. We discovered that it was helpful in more ways than one. Not only did it make Blossom feel better, but the process created an excess of luscious cooked chicken.
Those moist, tender chunks of poultry turned out to be the makings of many fast and delectable weekday meals. People dinners.
Chicken chunks stirred into prepared chili.
Chicken chunks stir-fried with Asian vegetables.
Chicken chunks steamed with couscous, or simmered with prepared tomato-basil pasta sauce, or sauteed with potatoes, onions and bell peppers.
And a note about homemade broth: Once it has chilled, remove any fat that has congealed on the top. Store cooled broth in the refrigerator up to three days or freeze it up to six months. Some cooks like to freeze it in ice cube trays so they can have small portions at their fingertips; once it is frozen, pop out the cubes and store them in a zipper-style freezer bag.
For people …
CHICKEN SOUP WITH ORZO AND ZUCCHINI
Yield: 4 large servings
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 bunch basil, stems removed (about 1 cup leaves)
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 (14 1/2-ounce) cans or 5 1/2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup uncooked orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, torn or cut into bite-size pieces
2 medium zucchini, trimmed and diced
Salt and pepper to taste
1. With the motor running, drop garlic into a food processor fitted with the metal blade; process until minced. Add basil and cheese; process until minced. With the motor running add olive oil. Set aside.
2. Melt butter in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add flour and stir for 1 minute (do not brown). Remove from heat and add broth slowly, whisking constantly. Return to high heat and bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer. Simmer 15 minutes.
3. Add orzo; simmer 5 minutes. Add chicken and zucchini; simmer 5 minutes. Add basil mixture. Taste; add salt and pepper as needed.
Nutritional information (per serving): 386 calories, 21 grams fat, 6.6 grams saturated fat, 66 milligrams cholesterol, 1,636 milligrams sodium, 49 percent calories from fat
Bonnie came to us after we lost Blossom. She eats well, too. Seen here, waiting for Phil to come home from work. Almost dinnertime!
5 ways to add flavor-interest to people-style chicken soup:
1. Potsticker heaven: Buy prepared potstickers; cook them according to package directions and add them to broth, along with some chopped green onion and a smidgen of minced fresh ginger.
2. Pesto, pasta optional: Just before serving, stir in a spoonful of either prepared or homemade basil or cilantro pesto. If using prepared pesto, place in a strainer to drain off some of the excess olive oil. Add small pasta, such as orzo (rice-shaped pasta), if you wish. If you cook the pasta in the soup, it will make the broth cloudy.
3. Soup with crunch: Thinly slice rustic-style bread, such as rosemary bread or olive bread. Brush with olive oil and top with a little shredded Parmesan cheese. Place in a single layer on a baking sheet and broil until bread is starting to toast and cheese melts. Watch carefully to prevent burning. Place one on top of each serving of soup.
4. Optional green cream: Combine minced fresh herbs, such as parsley, cilantro, basil or tarragon, with sour cream (regular or nonfat) or plain Greek yogurt. Garnish each bowl with a tiny dollop.
5. Bacon bits: Sprinkle small pieces of crisp-cooked, well-drained bacon or pancetta over soup just before serving.