Straight Up Ballin'...

I have an embarrassing confession to make: back in the early days of my cooking career, when I was teaching myself how to cook, a significant portion of my burgeoning recipe portfolio came from Rachel Ray. Yes, I know, she's incredibly annoying and foodies love to pick on her, but before she had her own talk show and dog food line, and she was known predominately for her show "30 Minute Meals" and not for her myriad catchphrases, she wasn't so bad.

I would watch her every day when I got home from class and was just starting on my homework. If whatever she was making caught my eye and didn't feature too many ingredients I didn't care for, I would try to give them my best shot. If you think about it, the "30-Minute Meals" concept is really perfect for someone who is learning to cook: the recipes can't be too complicated or demanding, and if you totally screw everything up, the relatively small investment of time creates an atmosphere in which it is okay to fail.

One of my favorite early Rachel Ray recipes was actually not one that I saw on her show, but rather, one that I accidentally stumbled across while surfing the Food Network website. I had been feeling ambitious that day, and performed a search for dumpling recipes with the thought that I might as well learn how to make one of my favorite foods.

One of the top hits, was for a Hungarian-inspired Rachel Ray soup that that actually didn't have dumplings at all, but rather turkey meatballs. I wasn't really sure where she got off calling them dumplings, but the recipe called to mind Italian wedding soup due to the mini-meatballs, and since I harbor a soft spot in my heart for Italian wedding soup, I decided to give it a try anyway.

I made a few modifications to her recipe, eliminating peppers and substituting regular paprika for the smoked paprika she called for since the smoked variety could not be located in the St. Louis grocery store I frequented in college. Nonetheless, I was ultimately quite satisfied with my results, and I ended up making the resulting soup over and over for my friends and non-red meat eating roommate while I was in school.

I kept making the soup with relative frequency until I met Justin, who deemed the dish bland. Because he wasn't a fan, I would occasionally trot it out whenever he was feeling sick, but other than that, it fell out of regular rotation, and all my ground turkey purchases found their way into turkey burgers, which are one of Justin's favorite dishes. Since I didn't do much savory food blogging until after we met, the recipe never made it to my blog either.

Without a picture of it, however, Justin couldn't cross this recipe off his Tastebook to-do list, so he had to suck it up and eat it for dinner tonight. Having finally located smoked paprika for the Spanish lentil soup we made last month and listening to Justin proclaim it his new favorite spice, I decided to swap it back into the recipe in an effort to earn his favor, and surprisingly, my gambit paid off. He proclaimed the soup to be much less bland and much tastier, though the difference was barely noticeable in my opinion.

I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth, however. If this simple change will allow me to enjoy this soup more often, I am more than willing to make it. If you choose to give this soup a try (and I think you should), feel free to use whatever kind of paprika suits your fancy.

Hungarian-ish Mini-Dumpling and Egg Noodle Soup
adapted from Rachel Ray

8 cups (2 1-quart boxes) chicken stock
1 pound ground turkey breast (NOT lean)
1 egg
3/4 - 1 cup plain bread crumbs
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated (or not) nutmeg
1 teaspoon smoked sweet paprika
dried parsley (eyeball it)
salt and pepper (to taste)
1 1/2 cups egg noodles
6 scallions, chopped

1. Heat stock to a boil in a large pot; reduce to a simmer.
2. Mix the turkey with the egg, bread crumbs, nutmeg, paprika, parsley, salt and pepper. Roll the meat mixture into 3/4 inch balls and add to the simmering stock. Allow the meatballs to cook for 3-4 minutes.
3. Add the egg noodles and scallions, then season again with salt and pepper. Cook for another 4-5 minutes or until the noodles are tender. Serve immediately.

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