Food Friday: Soup

28 01 2011

Do you have a kinder, more adaptable friend in the food world than soup? Who soothes you when you are ill? … Who warms you in the winter and cools you in the summer? … Soup does its loyal best… You don’t catch steaks hanging around when you’re poor and sick, do you”

– Miss Manners (Judith Martin)

Is there anything better than a big pot of warming soup or stew on the stove top? Not to my mind, in these dragging cold winter days! Today, we’ve got tons of tips for you, to last through the rest of the winter, while you make your favorite, whether it’s for a warm weekday lunch, an elegant first course, or just a cozy supper by the fire. So let’s dip right in!

  • Whenever possible, make soup a day ahead and refrigerate overnight to really let the flavors peak as they meld together. (Bonus for any of us watching our fat intake: cooling allows the soup’s fats to solidify, often rising to the top for easy removal. You can accomplish the same effect if you’re serving canned soups or broths. Removed with a baster or a paper towel.) You can do this before adding your thickeners, if you prefer.
  • Use that food processor! It can chop, slice, mix! Plus, you don’t even have to wipe down the blade in between ingredients. It’s all going into the same pot, after all.
  • Make instant soup by combining any leftover veggies with chicken or broth in a blender and processing until you’ve reached your desired smoothness consistency. Or add chicken or beef broth to leftover rice or beans. Stir in some sautéed veggies and heat until hot.
  • Finely chopped veggies and meat will cook faster than large chunks, so plan accordingly.
  • To speed the process, browning your meats and veggies before adding them to your soup stock can make the process streamlined, and add extra flavor. Broiling your meat also works well.
  • If cooking both meats and veggies in the same soup, add the vegetables toward the end of the cooking time. This allows them to keep their texture. Depending on size, toss in dense additions like carrots or potatoes 20-30 minutes out, and quicker-cooking veggies such as celery just in the last 10 minutes.
  • If you plan to serve soup as a first course, make sure to complement flavors with the other dishes in your meal. For example, a creamy soup would be perfect to serve with a simple grilled meat, but perhaps too rich for a pasta dish.
  • Any time you cook veggies or meats, save your cooking liquid as a base for your soups or stews. You can freeze any pan juices until you need them. Also, save those leftover bones from your chicken or other meats to make homemade stock. Start your bones, skins, or necks in cold water, and then begin heating. This maximizes the flavors.
  • Get a few extra veggies in, and add flavor to your soups by substituting vegetable juice for up to half of any water called for in your recipe.
  • Almost any veggies can taste great in a soup, so throw in last night’s leftover veggies into tonight’s soup. Since they’re likely already cooked, just throw them in the last 5-10 minutes to heat, but avoid overcooking.
  • Leave it to us to find a way to add sugar, even to soup! But take our word for it, adding just 1 teaspoon sugar to the fat, stirring often while you heat, will carmelize and give a beautiful color and flavor. Promise you won’t even taste the sweetness! Just the extra flavor. Another secret ingredient? Gingersnap cookies. Seriously, finely crumbled cookies added in the last 30 minutes or so acts as a thickener and add an interest that your family or guests won’t be able to put their fingers on — just that you’re a culinary genius. Usually 1/2 cup crumbs will do it.
  • I love adding pasta noodles into soups for extra bulk and interest (in fact, I didn’t even know some folks didn’t put elbow noodles in their chili until I was in college, since my family always added these). Small pastas like elbow noodles, orzo, rotini, etc. work better than noodles in soups or stews, since they are more compact. But if your soup calls for a longer cooking time, cook your noodles separately and then add, or just add them at in the last 15-20 minutes or so.
  • Soup is the perfect meal if it’s just too cold to get out to the grocery. Stretch those times in-between grocery trips. To make soup more of a meal, add rice for extra heartiness.
  • For a seafood stew, add your clams, scallops, or shrimp at the last minute so they won’t toughen as you cook.
  • Hate standing at the oven stirring? If you don’t find the repetitive motion soothing, place your stew in a oven-safe dish and bake in the oven. Since the heat surrounds, your soup will cook evenly.
  • If you are adding a dairy product, such as milk, sour cream, or yogurt to your thick soup, reduce that heat! Cook only on low until the mixture is thoroughly warmed. If it boils, your milk products will curdle. Instead of milk, choose whipping cream if you’re concerned about curdling. Acidic ingredients, such as tomatoes or lemon added to the blend, does help to prevent curdling. Adding a little flour thickens as well. Or reduce the calories, but not richness, by using evaporated non-fat milk.
  • A safe way to ensure you don’t scorch your cream-based soup (especially when reheating) is to heat over a double boiler, so your soup is over hot water, rather than in direct contact with heat.
  • If you do accidentally get a curdle, strain your liquid into your blender and process until smooth again. With a hot liquid, don’t fill your blender too full, and make sure the lid is secure while you blend on low to high.
  • If you accidentally get too garlicky, place a handful of parsley in a cheesecloth and simmer with the mix for about 10 minutes to mild the flavor. You can also stir in a couple teaspoons honey.
  • If you find your soup is oversalted, add a peeled raw potato while you simmer for 10 or 15 more minutes, then remove. It’s soaked up much of the salt. You can also stir in a teaspoon of vinegar or brown sugar to balance the flavors.
  • Accidentally burned your soup or stew? Don’t scrape any sticky bits. Just immediately pour the stew into another pan so you don’t get the singed taste. If you still feel you can taste the burned taste, add a little cream, but don’t let it return to a boil again. If you’d rather just embrace the flavor, add a little chili powder. Now your soup has turned into chili-flavored, but no one but you (and whoever else was in the kitchen at the time) will know it wasn’t supposed to be!
  • If you didn’t get the chance to cool your soup in the fridge overnight, and need to immediately soak up the fat, don’t ask me how this works, but lettuce is like a fat sponge. Add a few leaves and let stand for a few minutes. Now, just remove your leaves and enjoy.
  • Add thickeners right before serving is possible. A wonderfully flavorful thickener can come from pureeing some of the veggies from the soup or stew and adding it back into the mixture.
  • Addition order for soups calling for acidic ingredients and flour: thickener, then your lemon juice, tomatoes, or wine.
  • Add herbs in the last 15 minutes or so. Always taste your soup first. You might find its flavor is perfect before adding herbs such as basil or other chopped herbs.
  • For extra flavor, you can always add a bouillon to heighten the flavor. Or, just add a tablespoon of butter to add richness, but not too many calories.
  • I sometimes find the flavor of my soup is just perfect, but I don’t care for the pale color. Stir in a few teaspoons carmelized sugar, or even instant coffee powder to darken the color.
  • It’s a long way to summer, but remember for when you are serving a cold soup, that chilled foods have muted flavors, so taste before serving to adjust the seasoning if needed. Also keep in mind that cold soups are generally thicker when they cool than when hot.
  • When serving up a simple soup, garnish with texture such as chives or a dollop of cream dusted with spices such as paprika or parsley. Float a large crouton atop your bowl of soup or dust with freshly grated parmesan cheese. I like to have a small bowl of cheese cubes to serve along soup as additions.
  • For the ultimate comfort food, serve stew inside a mashed potato bowl.
  • If you’re having company soup, serve inside a fancy dish, such as a hollowed-out acorn squash half, toasty French roll, or a large tomato for cold soups.
  • When you’re reheating leftovers, add a tablespoon or two of fresh herbs to brighten the flavors. Blend in grated cheese or add potato, leeks, cream, pork, or a splash of wine to reinvent your creation the next day.
  • Freeze your soups and stews in individual portions. These are perfect to defrost and take to work, or to be heated in just minutes in a microwave.
  • If you don’t have enough for a full portion, save that extra to add to the next soup you make.

And finally, try these favorite recipes my family regularly has in rotation. Make extra to tuck in the freezer for any snow days we might have coming! 

Veggie Chili

Taco Soup

White Bean Chili

And of course, classic Chicken Noodle

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29 08 2011
Food Friday: Microwave Cooking « Sweet Iced Tea

[…] open (think coconuts and oysters), loosen skins, dry, juice, dissolve, toast, reliquefy, peel, reheat, freshen, poach, recrisp, thicken, and caramelize — all in the […]

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