|Ed O'Donnell with his chicken florentine soup. 11/16/09 (Photo: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
Most Cook's Corner recipes have been passed along by word of mouth, handed down from a parent, or discovered in a back issue of a magazine.
So, when someone really has dreamed up their own recipe from scratch, it adds an extra pinch of fun to the whole process.
That's the case with Ed O'Donnell, who came up the recipe for his chicken Florentine soup after finding inspiration in an unlikely way.
"About 10 years ago I was reading a magazine and I came across a picture of a bowl of soup, but there was no recipe!"
Instead of flipping the page and tossing the magazine down in frustration, O'Donnell lingered.
"It just looked really good. It had pimientos red in it and looked sort of Christmas-y."
He decided that he could develop a recipe that would come very close.
He started with what he already knew.
"I had a broccoli cheese soup - one of the soups that was a favorite at the university when I worked there," said O'Donnell. who retired as director of food services at Bowling Green State University in 2003. "I had taken the institutional-size recipe down and re-configured it for home use."
He switched out spinach for the broccoli, kept the cheese, included plenty more vegetables and developed what he considered the perfect cream soup.
"Originally, it did not have chicken because at the time, Amy (his wife) was a vegetarian. And when she dropped her vegetarian ways I added the chicken and we liked it like that."
For a long time he referred to his chicken florentine soup as "Christmas soup" in deference to its appearance.
In the decade since, O'Donnell has used that same soup base for a variety of other soups, adding "maybe chopped ham or Reames noodles" - a frozen homemade noodle that can be found at most any supermarket and which O'Donnell calls "just wonderful."
He tosses in a variety of different vegetables "or some water chestnuts - anything to your taste. We like to add fresh mushrooms."
Even with the vegetables, it's family-friendly. Both O'Donnell sons, Ryan, 15, and Sean, 9, are big fans of dad's soups.
But it's their mother who is responsible for the secret ingredient in the chicken florentine soup - Tabasco sauce.
"Amy, when she was a vegetarian, she liked her food pretty spicy - and still does. And I like mine much milder, but even I've found the Tabasco is a nice substitute for white pepper. It just kicks up the flavor a notch."
O'Donnell, a native of Elyria who first came to BGSU as an undergraduate, stayed for a 31-year career in food service, with the exception of a few years mid-career, spent at Ohio University. "I got to work in our test kitchens for a decade," where "we had about six German bakers working, early in my career. So I learned from them, and from my mother."
He typically "makes a lot of soup in the winter. We'll make up a big batch and then freeze up small amounts. We call ourselves the King and Queen of the Freezer."
Time constraints force O'Donnell to be an efficient cook. He's dived into a second career in education, currently substitute teaching in the Bowling Green City Schools, mostly at Kenwood, and just took a final exam in his most recent early childhood education class at BGSU. With two sons involved in sports, soccer, swimming, plus the busy couple's many church and vocal musical activities, "we still like to eat home-cooked meals. But it's just foods we've frozen."
Even the second recipe he offers in today's Cook's Corner, for garlic bread, is something he usually makes ahead and freezes. "Then we pull out half a loaf anytime we're thawing some soup" and the entire meal is on the table in minutes.
Even though it was how he earned his paycheck for years, O'Donnell insists, "I just thoroughly enjoy cooking.
"And in this day of economy, we do almost everything from scratch. I cook whole turkeys and hams and use that meat in other dishes or casseroles. And we shop by the specials."
When turkey was on sale right before Thanksgiving he made sure to buy one. This week he did the same with ham when he noticed it on sale at Aldi.
Chicken Florentine soup
6 large chicken breasts
1 oz. pimiento, chopped
1 C. diced celery
3 C. sliced fresh mushrooms
3 T. margarine or butter
1 ½ C flour
½ t. white pepper
24 slices American cheese
1 jar Kraft Cheeze Whiz (15 oz.)
3 C. Fresh Chopped Spinach
1 gal. 2% Milk
1/3 C. chopped onion
1/3 C. carrot strips, julienne
6 ea. Chicken bouillon cubes
4 C. warm water
2 C. cold water
1 1/3 T. Lawry's Season Salt (to taste)
4 dashes Tabasco Sauce
Cook chicken in microwave (or sauté on stove) then cut into ½ inch pieces.
In separate pan, melt margarine/butter and sauté celery, onion, carrots, and mushrooms.
Dissolve chicken bouillon cubes in warm water, in large stock pot..
Add American cheese and Cheeze Whiz, stir until combined.
Add milk and heat (do not boil).
Combine flour with cold water to form a slurry. Combine with milk. Stir until thickened.
Add celery, onions, carrots and mushrooms.
Add chicken and spinach.
Add Lawry's Season Salt (to taste).
Add Tobasco Sauce (to taste).
Homemade garlic bread
1 loaf Italian bread, sliced lengthwise.
1 stick margarine or butter
1 heaping tablespoon minced garlic
1 t. Italian Seasoning
½ C. grated Parmesan cheese
Soften margarine/butter and add minced garlic. Then spread evenly over both halves of Italian Bread.
Spread a ¼ C. of grated Parmesan cheese over each half of bread.
Sprinkle ½ t. of Italian Seasoning over each half.
Broil, on low, for 2-3 minutes.