I’ve experienced a fair amount of culinary envy over the last few months reading Free Range Living and drooling over the wonderful, home-made, often local, meals that Cheryl creates for her family. The envy factor isn’t due to a perceived lack of ability on my part (though my cooking skills aren’t the greatest, I know I can improve them) but lack of appreciation from my incredibly picky children (sorry, “selective eaters”). Most days I just don’t have the energy to create a meal that only I (and perhaps DH, if he’s home early enough to eat with us) will appreciate.
But the urge to create marvels in my kitchen kept nagging at me…Am I doomed to spend the next five to ten years eating from the same tiring (and very short) list of bland foods that my kids will eat? I got into baking a few months ago and enjoy it very much, but I’m also trying to control my weight and it’s amazing how easy it is to eat half a dozen fresh baked Apple Muffins without even realizing it. So I’ve been wanting to branch out into other kitchen crafts and I’ve recently found my new groove: soupmaking.
I picked up this cookbook a couple of years ago for the amazing clearance priced of $5 at a Borders in suburban Cleveland. It’s called SOUP: Supurb ways with a classic dish, edited by Debra Mayhew, and this has been my inspiration – I just had to wait until I had the time and opportunity (the kids are older now and the house is big enough to keep them entertained and out of my kitchen). I also needed a blender (I love creamy soups). A big thanks goes out to my buddy K.B. who suggested that all I needed was a $20 hand mixer; it works fine and without having to slosh soup back and forth between soup pot and mixer jug.
So a couple of weeks ago I started with Butternut Squash Soup…
Confession time: serious soup makers would only ever use home-made broth but I’m having trouble with that one. First, I have a small stovetop with only one soup pot sized burner (and, in fact, I have only one soup pot), so making stock means the soup has to wait. Second, I’m having trouble finding a place to buy beef and chicken bones/parts from which to make stock and I have enough errands to run without dragging the kids to a store for a one-item purchase. Third, I’m short on time and would rather spend a weekend making something I can eat right away than one ingredient in a recipe that will require me to empty and wash the pot before I can get started. I’ve been buying pre-made (low sodium) stock that comes in Tetra Packs, but my mother insists that stock cubes can be just as good, if not better. I hate the fact that we can’t recycle the Tetra Packs in our district, and they are certainly more expensive than cubes. So if anyone has any input on this, I’d appreciate it.
Anyways, back to the soup: I actually used a real squash, not the canned stuff, so that should make up for the fact that my stock wasn’t homemade, don’t you think? At the store I was handling the squashes trying to visualize them turned into 3 cups of chopped cubes. Lucky for me I vastly overestimated what that looks like and bought a squash big enough to make a triple batch.
My next adventure was Curried Apple soup, a recipe from MarthaStewart.com that I read about in one of her magazines. It was okay, but a little bland; perhaps because I used the Braeburn apples I bought from a recent homelearner’s trip to a local farm, instead of tart apples like Granny Smiths.
I had a big bag of carrots sitting in the fridge, just the excuse I needed to try the Curried Carrot and Apple soup from Mayhew’s book. I’m not a huge carrot fan but I confess it was delicious! I froze a few batches to save for another day (because god forbid the children should eat anything involving vegetables) and I didn’t want to eat it until I got tired of it.
But the recipe I really enjoyed (because I wasn’t sure I would) was the Chinese Meatball soup. That’s my name for it; the book calls it “Meatballs in Clear Broth”, which sounds pretty plain and is why I was suspicious about how flavourful it would be. But I wanted to try it because I’m a huge fan of chinese mushrooms – shitakes or “wood ear” mushrooms that you buy dried – and have several bags around. They’re prepared by soaking in boiling water for about 20 minutes (I usually add them to a stir fry after that). They are deeply flavourful, hearty, chewy mushrooms and, as a bonus, you get mushroom-flavoured broth! This was added to the beef stock for the soup. Just before serving, I sprinkled the bottom of the bowl with chopped up greens. Spinach is best but I chose savoy cabbage because it keeps in the fridge forever and thus I usually have some around. Pour hot soup in the bowl and wait a couple of minutes and the cabbage gets cooked just enough to be tasty but not soggy. Here’s a photo of my masterpiece:
The next day I added some chinese soup noodles to the leftovers for an even yummier experience!
I’m loving everything about soup-making: the wonderful smells that permeate the house (espcially nice on cold, wet weekends), the hearty goodness of vegetables (which I confess I don’t eat enough of), and the ease of having a meal I can heat up in minutes and enjoy without being bothered by the “eww! yuck!” sounds emanating from the shells-and-cheese crowd.
One more thing: the meals wouldn’t be quite as wonderful without my breadmaker – there’s nothing like the combination of fresh bread with homemade soup. It’s not often that I feel proud of my culinary accomplishments, but I’m feeling more and more confident about soupmaking and loving every domestic, June Cleaver, moment of it.