Help Desk: Use your noodle
March 7th, 2011
01:00 PM ET
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Welcome to Help Desk - a brand new feature where Eatocracy editors and our coterie of experts will help readers with their culinary conundrums from fixing recipe mess-ups and subbing in missing ingredients to scoring impossible restaurant reservations and hosting memorable soirees. Let us know what you need in the comments below and we'll do our best to address it in a future post.

Q: In the past when making soups I have more often than not opened a container the day after cooking to find a block of swollen, saturated noodles with not a drop of broth left. What's that all about? How do I avoid it? - Pete M., Chapel Hill, NC

A: Been there, my friend, and it's pretty irksome when you've gone to all the trouble of making a killer stock, souped it up, and come back to find a gloppy mess the next day.

The longer noodles sit in broth, the more liquid they'll absorb, so I suggest removing them from the equation. Once your creation has cooled, using either a colander or a slotted spoon, strain out as much of the solid matter - noodles, meat and vegetables - and place it in a lidded container with just a few spoonfuls of the base liquid. Store the broth in a separate container, refrigerate both, and reunite the twain in a saucepan or microwave-safe bowl when you're ready to get your soup on. Or, as reader KL points out, you can also cook the noodles separately and add them in as needed.

And didja see how I mentioned the bit about letting your soup cool before sticking it in the fridge? That's a crucial step in thwarting bacteria and keeping your refrigerator at a safe temperature.

Either plunge the soup pot into an ice water filled sink, distribute the soup into smaller containers or wide pans, or drop a frozen water bottle into the pot for quick cooling. Once containers are in the refrigerator, don't stack or cover them until they're below 40°F; they need room to allow air to flow around them. Your goal - get the soup below 40°F as swiftly as possible without raising the temp of your fridge.

Happy (and safe) souping to you, Pete!

Got a clever soup solution? Dish out your best advice in the comments below and we just might feature your response in an upcoming edition of Help Desk. And if you've got a kitchen quandary of your own, let us know and we'll do our darndest to assist you.

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Filed under: Help Desk • How To • Make • Soup • Staples • Techniques & Tips

soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. Anjii

    So true. Honesty and everything roecginezd.

    July 3, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
  2. Pat

    If I catch any of your jokesters putting your noodle goo in my soup, I'm gonna crack some skulls...

    March 8, 2011 at 2:44 am |
  3. Kevino Gracia

    Break up and lightly toast some vermicelli or thin spaghetti.
    Throw into pot and forget about it.
    It will swell a little overnight, yet still be al dente and nutty
    the next few days.

    March 8, 2011 at 1:13 am |
  4. The Witty One@Kat

    I think this is a great idea!

    I've got one for you: Can you supply some tips on what the heck to do with chick peas? Aside from making hummus and putting them on salads. And while you're at it, can you tell me how to make hummus that doesn't taste like cow throw up?

    March 7, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • me

      My favorite chick pea dish – Chana Masala – a spicy Indian dish. Great served with rice and Naan.

      As for the hummus – I buy mine, I can't get it to taste good either. Sorry.

      March 7, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Meghan

      Lemon & garlic are significant flavour components for me. Also buy a few different brands of tahini, you may find one that you like more than another – this may be enough to go from ok to good/great. Try toasting whole cumin seeds then grinding.

      If you don't mind "floaty bits" (and I don't) then fresh herbs add a lot – I use thyme and parsley, but try mint, oregano, and sage. Heck – I cannot stand cilantro (tastes like soap) but if you like it in mexican or thai, you'll probably like it in hummus.

      For other ideas, our cafeteria at work serves a really good "cici bean stew" with tons of wilted greens, veggies, chick peas, and tiny sausage meatballs. For Lent, there are sandwich fillings (think egg salad) which aren't bad – but I'd much rather have hummus

      March 7, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
    • Fiona

      Absolute best chickpea recipe is a pilaf with bulgar wheat, tomato and parsley. It's a Syrian dish. As for that acrid taste you get in some hummus brands, it's usually garlic powder. Make your own - hummus is just garbanzo beans (skins removed), lemon juice, tahini, olive oil, salt. Garlic goes in if you want it, and to taste...but use fresh and you won't get that foul aftertaste. If you must buy prepared hummus, find a middle-east deli that makes it fresh. Or try Trader Joe's brand (stay away from flavored hummus, which is always "off" in my experience). If you buy hummus in a tub, freshen it up with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a sprinkling of paprika.

      March 7, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
    • jfs

      oddly, as i read this post, Alton Brown's Good Eats was just finishing up an episode on chick peas. He had a recipe for falafal, a salad, hummus (all fresh ingredients, especially lemon juice; and mince fresh garlic before putting in the food processor with everything else), and a dried chick pea snack. check eastern Mediterranean, middle eastern and Indian sources for more ideas.

      March 7, 2011 at 11:35 pm |
    • Kat Kinsman

      You got it! We'll hunt down some hardcore hummus help for you asap!

      March 8, 2011 at 12:16 am |
    • AleeD@TWO@Kat

      I have the same problem with my hummus. Since I can't use garlic, I've using combinations of different things. Yet, it still ends up tasting as you described (ew!). In various combinations, I've tried sun-dried tomatoes, queen olives, lemon juice, pine nuts & olive oil.

      Regarding other uses for chick peas/garbanzo beans: have you made Spanish bean soup yet?

      Thanks for setting up this opportunity Kat. Great idea!

      March 8, 2011 at 7:12 am |
  5. Bonnie

    Did you read the part about the ice bath or dropping a frozen water bottle in the soup to cool it down BEFORE refrigerating?

    March 7, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  6. monk

    My noodle makes goo all the time. Nothing I can do about it.

    March 7, 2011 at 1:44 pm |
  7. Chris

    Damn, that's a lot of refrigerator rules. I usually just open the door and throw stuff in. So far, I haven't died of dysentery or cholera, so I think I'll keep doing that.

    March 7, 2011 at 1:40 pm |
    • Monger(as in fish)

      You have potential, my friend. I opine that you, like me, live alone. I have no time for foolishness. Cook the food, eat a serving (or two), ladle the remains into a tightly-coverable container and stuff it in the fridge. Been workin' for me for 15 years.

      March 7, 2011 at 10:40 pm |
  8. RMS

    The cooling the food before putting it in the refridgerator or freezer has to do with the appliance and not the bacterial potential. If you put large quatities of hot food into the fridge it has to work twice as hard at cooling it down – this can also cause the temperature to dip below what is best for the food already in there. The FDA is not always the most practical advice. Listening to the "old wives" is not necessarily a bad thing.

    March 7, 2011 at 1:01 pm |
  9. Kaycee

    Putting a small container of something hot into the fridge isn't that big of a deal, as it's not enough to significantly raise the temp of the overall fridge. The problem comes when you've got a bunch of hot stuff (say... Thanksgiving leftovers, or a big pot of gumbo, etc). Then, it's MUCH more safe to let it cool down first.

    March 7, 2011 at 12:28 pm |
  10. Person

    "And didja see how I mentioned the bit about letting your soup cool before sticking it in the fridge? That's a crucial step in thwarting bacteria and keeping your refrigerator at a safe temperature."

    Why is this old-wives-tale still floating around??? Food can AND SHOULD be placed directly into the fridge. Letting it sit out will result in much more bacterial growth than rapidly chilling the food. Shame on you CNN reporters for not doing your job and actually fact-checking the information you post on your website - all you need to do is Google information from the FDA and USDA!

    March 7, 2011 at 11:49 am |
    • me

      @Person – Yes, you are right, you should check the FDA – you are WRONG.

      The FDA recommends putting food in the fridge no longer than 2 hours after it's cooked, and never hot. Putting hot food in the fridge raises the core temp of the entire unit, and therefore you run the risk of contaminating ALL the food stored there. If you let it cool for 2 hours before hand, the risk is greatly diminished.

      March 7, 2011 at 12:12 pm |
    • SweetAmbs

      Actually, it has more to do with the temp INSIDE the bowl rather than the fridge.

      If you put a bowl of hot food into a cold fridge, the fridge will not evenly cool the food. The outside will be cold and create this pocket of heat in the middle. This uneven distribution creates a constant temperature that is perfect for bacteria to grow in. This is especially true for large bowls, such as soups.

      *I also noticed someone put in a post they have never worried about hot foods in the fridge and have yet to get Cholera or Dystentery... Cholera, really? It would most likely be cause by a Norovirus or Salmonella, not a bacteria found in sewage.

      July 13, 2011 at 12:29 am |
  11. me

    Use some of the broth from your soup to cook the noodles, so they absorb that yummy flavor. Don't dump the pasta cooking water – put it back into your soup, and then just add the noodles to each bowl. Same taste, no gloopy mess!

    March 7, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  12. Mildred

    Also- avoid canned noodle soups for the same soggy reason. (I notice that the picture looks like canned soup)

    March 7, 2011 at 10:19 am |
  13. KL

    Better recommendation is not to put the noodles/pasta in the soup at all. Put cooked noodles into each serving bowl, and pour the hot liquid soup ingredients on top.

    March 7, 2011 at 8:53 am |
    • KateB

      Yep! This is the best/classic way to make soups with noodles: Cook the noodles separately in ample water, then and add to each individual serving bowl, then ladle in the hot broth. Keep noodles stored in a separate container in the 'fridge. PERFECT soup every time. Same rule goes for matzo balls, wontons, manti, kreplach, etc.

      March 7, 2011 at 10:22 am |
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