Monday, January 26, 2015

Soup #6 - Sausage Vegetable

I coud have called this one, "Leftovers Soup." I literally pulled a bunch of random things I had in the fridge and made soup out of them. I didn't get a shot of this soup in the pot or in a bowl, so I thought I'd show you how I store it.

I love quart canning jars! You know exactly how much is in each one, the lid seals snugly, you can see what is in each one, they don't take up as much room as a bowl or pot, the glass holds no residual odors or stains. And they are pretty cheap! Each time I make a soup, it ends up filling most of two quart jars. One for tonight, one for leftovers.

I started with a half pound of hot and spicy turkey sausage. I fried it up, crumbled, and then added chicken broth, julienned sweet potatoes, some canned corn, sliced zucchini, and... I'm not sure I remember all of it. Maybe some pre-blanched green beans. When it was cooked and heated through, I sprinkled a few tablespoons of seasoned dry breadcrumbs (like Progresso, but store brand) to give it a little body. But the result was... delicious! And it was all because of the sausage! Just to eat highly seasoned sausage plain can be a little intense, or maybe not set well on the stomach. But using it in soup causes a wonderful rich, spicy flavor.

I wasn't expecting much out of this one, perhaps even tossing the leftovers. But we ended up eating all of it, it was so good!

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Soup #5 - Cock-a-Leekie Soup

Ok, I'll admit it, I like to say the name of the soup even better than I like to eat it. It is Irish, I think. Cock meaning chicken, Leekie, meaning leeks. The first time I even really heard of leeks was when I got an international cookbook for a Christmas present and saw a recipe for it. I don't actually follow that old recipe, rather I do what I usually do, remember in general how it goes together and then start ad-libbing.

Leeks are like overgrown mutant green onions. They have fat, thick stalks with fleshy green leaves that have usually been trimmed before you get them. They are usually grown in silty soil, which gets all on them and in them, so they have to be washed very well. When you select them, remember that it is the thick white and light green stalk that gets used, so pass up the shorter ones with abundant green leaves in favor of the thick, heavy white stems.

Wash leeks by trimming off the dark green top and then slicing vertically down from the top to within a couple inches of the root end, and then turning the stalk a quarter turn and doing it again. Plunge in a bowl of water and swish vigorously, getting all the grits out.

Slice them across and then saute in butter. Don't brown them, just get them nice and soft. Chicken broth and a diced potatoe go in next. (It's Irish, remember?) I went ahead and threw in a diced sweet potato for the nutrition and visual interest. For a little extra, I added Swiss Chard about 10 minutes before I wanted it to be done. Then I began to fine tune the seasoning. A daub of Pesto, garlic powder, a squirt of lemon juice is all I think I added. Then I gently stirred my pre-cooked chicken in. It was already falling apart, and I wanted some chunks to remain. If I had sauteed raw chicken pieces at the beginning, they would already be in there, becoming tender and cooked. The last part was a generous splash of milk. Make sure the soup is hearty enough to not be thinned out too much by adding milk.

Be aware, Leeks are sweet! In fact, once you cook them, all onions become more or less sweet. That is one reason I like the bit of lemon juice with it. It seems to balance it all out.

This soup was mild and delicately seasoned, which means that my husband had to add pepper and hot chili oil, but I liked it with just a plop of greek yogurt dropped into my bowl.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Soup #4 - French Onion Soup

I've made this recipe before, and it is the best French Onion Soup I have ever had. It comes from Cook's Illustrated. They have made an alternate cooking method that doesn't take as long, but if you want the best soup, the long-cooking original is the one to make.

I have a great little cast iron bean pot; it is one of the older made ones, smooth as glass inside, well-seasoned, and the perfect size. It takes about four pounds of onions (use the regular yellow ones or the white ones, not the "sweet varieties") sliced thin. They bake (with a pat of butter), covered, for an hour at 400 degrees. Then stir, tip the lid a little and bake for another hour and a half. They will be pretty caramelly looking by then. Put them on the stovetop and cook them on medium, stirring often. Every time they start getting crusty on the bottom, add a fourth cup of water to stir it up into the mixture. After about 3 or 4 times of this, you are supposed to add some sherry. I never have sherry, so I stir in about a half cup of dry white wine. After you cook the alcohol off, you add a quart of chicken broth, a pint of beef broth, and a pint of water. I didn't have fresh thyme like it called for, so I put in a couple pinches of dry thyme. And a bay leaf. Simmer for about 20 minutes or so and then it's done!

The way you are really supposed to serve it is to lay a chunk of bread on the soup, grate cheese on it, then stick the whole bowl under the broiler. I usually just put a piece of bread on a foil, slice some cheese on it, and then broil that. Then I plop the whole thing on top of the soup.

Cork is not fond of soggy bread (ok, so he hates soggy bread), so his is served to the side. His loss!

You just can't imagine how good onion soup can taste!

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Soup #3 - Chicken and Vegetable, Tarragon

I made this soup early in the day today to put in the refrigerator for dinner tonight.

I had braised a chicken in the crock pot the other day and deboned it for future soup use.I ended up using about half the meat for this one, and the other half will go into a future soup, perhaps.

I wanted this one chock-full of vegetables with little starch. The only starchy food in it is a half of a shredded potato, to give the broth more texture and richness. I also decided to shred a carrot into it also. I know that carrots are good for you, but I'm not terribly fond of them as a chunk, raw or cooked.

I started with a few tablespoons of diced onions sauteed in butter. I used butter instead of oil so I could get some nice browning. I cooked the onions until they were a little crispy and caramelized at the edges. I sort of like that look, though others like to keep them on the invisible side in their soups. I dumped in the pint of broth that I had saved from the crockpot chicken, and then added another pint of water. I was out of my favorite bouillon (Better than Bouillon) so I used my back-up dry powder stuff for the saltiness and a bit more chicken flavor. (I rely on spell check for the B word, but its getting tiring to go back and let it correct itself. Maybe I'll just make up my own word for the B stuff...)

I simmered it until the shreds were done, and then added my spice. I was sparing with the tarragon, since it can be quite overpowering. I used maybe a teaspoon at the most. A fair amount of granulated garlic and a squirt of lemon juice went in. I added a pinch of thyme to calm down the tarragon and add a little complexity. I added about another cup of water to account for evaporation and to dilute the seasoning.

Into the pot went a couple handfuls of chicken meat, some pre-blanched green beans, some sliced zucchini, and a some sliced red bell pepper. I also put in a big handful of Swiss chard.

Swiss chard is a great leafy green vegetable for soups. It stands up well to the heat, keeping its shape instead of dissolving into mush, like spinach leaves. The only thing is, you do HAVE to cook it, at least 5 minutes or more, or else it isn't tender enough to be enjoyable. I should have put the chard in earlier so that I didn't have to cook the other vegetables as long. I had wanted them to be a little more crisp-tender. So I ended up compromising between the two extremes. The chard is a little more substantial and the veggies a little more soft than I would have chosen. But I think it will still be ok.

We shall see when we have it tonight!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Soup #2 - Italian Meatball Soup

I had thrown togther a version of this last week, and I wanted to duplicate it for my Soups of January Series.

I had bought a family pack of good quality ground beef from the local meat market, used what I needed for my meal, and then made meatballs out of the rest of it. I divided them up into meal-sized portions, and then froze them for future reference. I pulled a bag of the meatballs out to use in this soup.

I started with a half can of tomato paste and added water and more paste until I got the right consistency, flavor, and volume of soup base. I probably used about 3/4 of a can of the paste, total. I seasoned it up with a couple good-sized pinches of Italian seasoning and a few generous shakes of granulated garlic. I gently simmered the frozen meatballs in it until they were warmed up. I dumped in a can of mushrooms, drained, and most of a can of drained black olives. (The cook always gets generous samples of black olives!) On a whim, I also spooned in a scoop of green spanish olives. Now it was time to taste and further hone the recipe.

It seemed a little bland and needing salt. I put in more Italian seasoning, and to add saltiness, I added "Better than Boullion" beef flavor until the saltiness seemed right. But it still didn't seem as peppy as it should. I wanted some heat. I put in about 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper. Better, but still not the zing I was looking for. When I get to this point, I know that the bright flavor I'm after will come from vinegar or lemon juice. I decided to use balsamic vinegar and shook in about a tablespoon. For good measure I splashed in about a teaspoon of Worchestershire sauce. Now it was just right!

The last item to add before I called it done was to fold in the half package of gnocchi dumplings I had precooked.

I think it turned out quite well, just the nice hearty soup for a cold January evening!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Soup #1 - Italian Sausage Gnocchi

Cork likes thick hearty soups. I'm just as happy with thinner soups with lots of broth. My soup-making goal is to have a bit of both, when I can. I got the idea of this one from a lentil soup he had at Mary's Pizza Shack the other day. It had Italian sausage in it, but not very much. And he mentioned that it wasn't very spicy. Well I know how to fix that! HOT Italian sausage. We have been enamored of gnocchi since I discovered it in the Olive Garden soup, but I wanted something a little less cream-based.

In case you don't know gnocchi, they are these addictive little potato dumplings that come from Italy in plastic, shrink-wrapped, shelf-stable packages. I've tried the fresh ones from Safeway, but they just don't cut it for me.

I used a half pound of hot Italian Sausage, frying it in the saucepan. It was low-fat turkey or chicken, but still tasty and not so greasy. It stuck to the bottom of the pot, but that was ok, because the broth would loosen it. I poured in about 3 cups or so of "lazy man's chicken stock," that is, water and "Better than Bouillon" chicken bouillon. To give it a thicker mouth-feel, I grated half a potato into the liquid, and then simmered it until the potato was soft. I also added some shakes of garlic powder and about a teaspoon of Italian seasoning.

Meanwhile, I cooked the gnocchi in a separate pot. When I was happy with the flavor and consistency of the soup, I added the gnocch, about half the package, and poured in a cup of whole milk. I tossed in a handful of chopped red bell peppers and pre-blanched green beans. The lid went on and the burner got turned down to a very low setting.

About five or ten minutes later, dinner was served! Green salad and fresh fruit with yogurt completed the meal.

I was quite pleased with the results, and I think Cork gave it an "A" also.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Soups of January

I thought about looking for a picture online for a bowl of soup, but it seemed to me that it would be like saying, Hey! I made this! Which I haven't done anything of the sort like that, yet. Trying to eat more healthfully and less calorically this brand new year, and soup just seemed like it would be a part of that. They are more filling because of the high liquid content and warmth, they are easy to stuff vegetables into and they seem like they could be interesting.

My plan is to make about 3 or 4 soups a week, hopefully, a lot of unique ones too. I will try to report on how that goes, as soon as I get some groceries and plans together.

Wish me luck!