Winter-weather favorites

There are two recipes I know most people will find invaluable for the months of January and February. I call them my winter-weather "arsenal."

One is perfect ammunition for chilly, cold weather, when you need a beverage to warm you.

The other has several uses: Sunday-night, casual dinner with friends; delivering to someone as comfort food when they are feeling under the weather; or making ahead for a weeknight dinner you know you won't have time to prepare during the week.

Both are also conveniently available by opening a can or using a dry mix. But believe me, it is worth the effort to make them yourself.

Marta's Hot Chocolate

I first experienced Marta's Hot Chocolate while on San Juan Island several years ago.

We took a hike with my friend Marta and her family on a clear, but very cold New Year's Day. We braved the weather and hiked down to Granny's Cove Beach.

After several miles of hiking we retreated to her house, welcoming the warmth of the wood-burning stove.

To our surprise her hospitality ingratiated us further when she served us mugs of this hot chocolate.

This version was new to me: a large spoonful of chocolate and whipped cream floated in a mug of hot milk.

The memory of the hike and the unique hot chocolate are etched forever in my memory.

Chicken noodle soup

Chicken noodle soup really is the ideal comfort food. And when you prepare it from scratch you see the ingredients that make it that way.

Some recipes have you make your own stock or broth, but to save time we will use good-quality, store-bought broth and emulate it by poaching chicken breasts in it.

Sautéed onions, celery and carrots contribute to the flavor base of the broth, and a touch of tarragon adds a distinct flavor.

A splash of white wine and mushrooms add further enhancement, but note they are both optional, and I have made the soup many times without them.

The best part is start-to-finish preparation should only take one hour.

Adding a loaf of good baguette bread makes this a complete meal in my house.

Linda Burner Augustine is a freelance food writer, culinary teacher and consultant who lives in Madison Park. She can be reached at mptimes@nwlink. com.

Marta's Hot Chocolate

makes 8 servings

4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped

1/3 cup water

2/3 cup sugar

1 cup heavy cream

2 quarts milk

Over low heat in a small sauce pan, melt chocolate with water, stirring until smooth.

Stir in sugar; bring to simmer and cook over low heat for one minute, stirring constantly. Allow cooling to room temperature.

Whip cream to stiff peaks; gently fold into cooled chocolate just until evenly combined.

Heat milk; divide among mugs. Place a large spoonful (1/2 cup) of chocolate mixture in each mug.

Serve immediately.

Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup

makes 8 servings (1 gallon)

3 1/2 quarts chicken broth or stock (Swanson's works well)

1 1/2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts

1/2 cube (2 ounces) butter

2 cups chopped onion

2 cups sliced carrots

1 cup sliced celery

1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves (or 2 teaspoons fresh)

1/2 cup white wine (optional)

1 1/2 cups (4 ounces) Rotini pasta noodles (or other favorite shape)

1 cup (2 ounces whole) sliced mushrooms (optional)

1 Tablespoon chopped parsley

Salt and fresh ground black pepper, to taste

Bring chicken broth to boil in stockpot; add chicken.

Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, until chicken is cooked through (internal temperature is 180 degrees Fahrenheit), about 20 minutes.

Remove chicken and allow cooling until you can handle it. Remove skin and discard. Remove meat from bone and shred into bite-sized pieces; set aside.

Strain chicken broth and put back in stockpot; set aside.

Melt butter in sauté pan; add onions, carrots and celery and cook and stir until softened, about five minutes. Add to chicken broth, along with tarragon and wine. Bring to simmer and cook 10 minutes.

Add Rotini noodles and simmer over medium heat just until cooked, about 10 minutes.

Add mushrooms, shredded chicken and parsley; simmer 10 minutes.

Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.

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