Monday, February 16, 2009

Love is for Losers

Valentine’s Day is not my favorite holiday of the year. In fact, it may just be my least favorite. But this year, since my college friend Annette was coming to visit, I decided to make fun, whimsical cupcakes for the girls in my life. I made one for my mom, sister, niece, roommate, and of course, for Annette. I had a little batter left over so I made one for myself. I made the gift cupcakes very ornate, but underplayed mine a lot, and decorated it simply to suit me:

When I brought my mom’s to her, she promptly showed me up, completely and utterly, with her gift for me:

I had some great ideas for what Annette and I would do over the weekend. I thought of taking a ride out to the Jonathan Edwards Winery in Stonington, taking advantage of the mild weather, and exploring the shops and pier in downtown New London, where I live, or maybe even a day at the slots at MGM Grand. The possibilities were endless. The only problem was that Annette arrived to me sniffling and headachy Friday night, and by Saturday morning, was convinced that she would be better off if someone “put her out of her misery.” I know how she felt. I just days ago got over a cold from hell, that lasted nearly three weeks, complete with fevers, never-ending sneezes and coughs, and, the icing on the cake, uncontrolled asthma that I thought may land me in the hospital, despite several prescription medications that were supposed to quell those symptoms.

So all of our plans were nixed, and Annette slept while I went out and got cold medicine and delivered valentines to my family. I decided that since I had nothing to do, and Annette would be sleeping for hours, I would make some chicken soup, and hopefully help her to feel better.

I guess I should preface this by saying that the kind of homemade chicken soup I am used to is made Puerto Rican style, the way my mom and grandmother have always made it. It is flavorful, reminiscent of arroz con pollo (yellow rice with chicken), and is made with a lot of the same tastes. This soup reminds me of relaxed afternoons, sitting in my Guela’s kitchen (when we were little, we couldn’t pronounce abuela, and so my grandparents have been “Guela and Guelo” ever since), sopping up the rich, piping hot broth with just made dumplings, in the company of my sisters, cousins, aunts and uncles, whoever was around. It’s the food equivalent of a big hug.

For those of you who don’t know what sazon, sofrito, or adobo are, here’s a quick lesson: Sazon is a seasoned salt mixture, usually with the flavors of cilantro, achiote (annatto seeds), and garlic. Sofrito is a blend of green peppers, cilantro, onions, garlic, and spices in olive oil. Adobo is a blend of garlic, oregano, and other spices. I get all of these things from the Latino section in my local grocery store (I get the sofrito in a plastic tub the frozen section).


  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 packet yeast
  • salt, to taste
  • 1/2 stick butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 – 2 lbs chicken thighs
  • Extra virgin olive oil, enough to coat the bottom of the pot
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1/3 cup sofrito
  • 1 packet sazon
  • 2 T tomato sauce
  • Adobo, to taste
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 3-4 carrots, sliced
  • 3 celery stalks, sliced
  • 2 large potatoes, cubed
  • small pasta, such as elbows or bow ties
Dumplings: combine flour and yeast, and then add water to it until it is a soft, doughy consistency. Add the butter, and combine until well mixed. Let the dough rise in a bowl on the stove or counter where it is warm, covered.

When the dough has doubled (around the time your soup is almost done), form into 2-3 inch round patties and fry until golden brown.

Soup: To start, boil the chicken thighs in a large pot filled with water about 1 1/2 inches from the top of the pot. Once the chicken is cooked through, remove is from the water. Reserve the water in another container. Now, begin combining the seasonings in the pot you used to boil the chicken. Start with the olive oil, and add the onions and garlic, over medium heat. Add the sofrito, sazon, and salsita. Add the potatoes, carrots, and celery, stirring until they are evenly coated with the seasoning mix. Pour in the water reserved from boiling the chicken and stir together until evenly mixed. Season with adobo, salt, and pepper, to taste. Let the vegetables simmer in the liquid for about 20-25 minutes, until they are cooked through. Add the cooked chicken (you can shred it off the bone, or leave it on, whichever you prefer), and about 1 cup of pasta, and let it come to a simmer until the noodles are tender. Serve with dumplings.

So we had soup for dinner, and by the evening Annette was feeling up to going out for a bit. We went to see the movie Vicky Cristina Barcelona at the Garde Arts Center, which is a few blocks from my house, and was followed by a dessert reception at the theater, for Valentine’s Day. Our weekend wasn’t exactly what we had in mind, but still, it turned out great.