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Who doesn't love to warm up to a good bowl of hot soup on a cold winter's evening? Even though spring is right around the corner, we still have plenty of cool nights to come, not to mention dreary rainy days, so soup may well be on your radar for the next few weeks.

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Anne Braly

Chicken noodle soup takes me back to my childhood — and probably yours, too. Remember that can of Campbell's chicken noodle your momma would pour into a copper-bottomed Revereware pot and warm till the chicken-flavored steam drew you into the kitchen for lunch? Along with a grilled cheese sandwich, you'd be dining on food that in future years would bring a smile to your face. On occasion, I still find myself opening the cabinet and pulling out a can, pouring it into a coffee cup and heating it in the microwave. The result is just the same as it was when I was a kid slurping the noodles and dripping the broth down my chin.

Soup is pure comfort food, and just as it was in our childhood, chicken soup remains an all-time favorite. But like us baby boomers, it, too, has grown up. I've been making chicken soup with orzo pasta for several years now and taking it to friends, as well as making it for a simple supper. I like the small size of orzo — the size of rice grains almost — as opposed to big, thick noodles that appear in many chicken soups. Orzo makes the soup easier to eat, but still gives the texture you want in chicken noodle soup. The addition of kale — or spinach or turnips greens, depending on your preference — gives more health benefits such as magnesium and folate, as well as some color, which most chicken soups lack.

I can't stress enough the importance of making your own chicken stock. It's simple, and I can't imagine not going to the extra effort when making this soup. Simply simmer a whole chicken in lightly salted water with onions and celery until the leg easily pulls away. Shred the chicken, strain the stock, and go from there. If you have time, chill the stock in order to skim off the fat with ease.

You'll find this soup as comforting as it was in your childhood, and if you need more convincing, make yourself a grilled cheese sandwich.

Chicken Orzo Soup

1 onion, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 cup carrot, shredded

12 cups homemade chicken stock or broth (can also use premade)

3 cups chicken, chopped

2 cups kale, spinach or turnip greens, ribs removed and leaves finely chopped

1 cup orzo

1/4 cup lemon juice

Sauté chopped onion in olive oil until translucent, 2-3 minutes. Add carrots to onion, and sauté another minute. Add stock or broth to onions and carrots, and bring to a boil. Lower heat to medium, and add orzo. After 6 minutes, add chopped chicken and kale, cook for 1-2 minutes more. Remove from heat, stir in lemon juice and ladle into bowls.

BREW SKIES AHEAD

Following last year's successful Brew Skies Beer and Food Festival, the Chattanooga Breakfast Rotary Club is bringing it back this year, bigger and better than ever, says club member and festival chairwoman Kathryn Winland. The festival will include a home-brew competition, local breweries and a food competition for amateur and professional cooks. Food and beer teams need to sign up by the end of this month to participate in the competition.

The food competition will pit cooking enthusiasts against one another to find out who among them makes the best sliders and tacos. Amateurs and pros are both invited to enter, and the first 20 amateur cooks to enter will receive a gift card to help offset expenses from event sponsor Food City. Home brewers will share their brews to compete for people's choice, judges' choice and most-spirited team awards. And if you simply want to buy a ticket and attend, you'll be treated to unlimited beer and food samples, as well as a souvenir tasting glass.

"Brew Skies is the only place you can sample such a wide variety of locally made beers that can't be bought in any store," says Natalie Cook, club member. "The highlight of this festival really is the creativity and enthusiasm of the home brewers. They love to chat with attendees about their creations."

The festival will take place on Saturday, April 14, from 5 to 9 p.m. in the Chattanooga Choo Choo Gardens. Regular-admission tickets are $35, and designated-driver tickets are $15. Early admission tickets will be available for $55 and will allow attendees to get into the festival one hour early to beat the crowds. Tickets will go on sale March 1. Follow the festival's Facebook page for updates and a ticket-sale announcement.

ON THE MENU

Shoney's once dotted the Chattanooga landscape — there was one in most every neighborhood. Now, though, the nationwide chain has whittled down to one location in town, 2318 Shallowford Village Drive, and this might be a good time to pay the eatery another visit if it's been a while since you've been there. Now through April 1, you can have your choice of two items from its Perfect Pairing menu for $6.99:

» Tomato basil, broccoli cheddar or chili.

» Caesar or chopped garden salad (half portion of each).

» Ultimate grilled cheese, turkey club or Slim Jim (half portion of each).

The deal is good in-house or for takeout, but whichever, you can have lunch of a half sandwich and salad or soup for under $7. The Perfect Pairing menu is also featured at Shoney's locations in Dalton and Cleveland — and, for that matter, all around the country.

Email Anne Braly at abraly@timesfreepress.com.

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