I love making soup.  It’s generally pretty easy and cheap, it’s the ideal way to use up leftovers, and when done correctly is the most satisfying dish on earth.  Some times I get all high-falutin’ and make cream soup with a bechamel base (bechamel is a work-horse sauce, but seems to take forever) and other times I take advantage of every quicky shortcut I can find.  I’m now going to present you with some of each.

Chicken-broccoli chowder

1 box scalloped potatoes mix

1 1/2 c. thin-sliced carrots

1/3 c. finely chopped onion

1 c. water

2 c. chicken stock (it’s always labeled “broth” at the grocery store, for some idiotic reason.  Don’t worry about the distinction)

2 c. milk

1 x 10 oz. bag frozen broccoli

salt and pepper to taste

2 c. diced cooked chicken

1 1/2 c. shredded Swiss cheese (by weight, about 6 oz.)

Put everything but the chicken and the cheese into a sizable pot–three quart capacity is good.  Bring it up to a boil.  Stir it faithfully until it starts boiling, and then turn the heat down, clap a lid on your pot, and let it simmer merrily along until the potatoes are done–20 to 25 minutes, I’d  say.  Add the chicken and the cheese, put the lid back, and let the soup simmer long enough to get  everything heated through–five minutes is good.  Chopped parsley makes a nice garnish although I feel that chopping parsley is more trouble than it’s worth.  Left to my own devices I’d probably just garnish it with a further sprinkle of Swiss.  Anyway, taste the end result and adjust the salt and pepper in whatever way you see fit (let’s just assume that that’s true of everything you cook, so I’m not going to repeat it every time).

Cheddar ale soup

If you really want to, you can make a bad-ass Cheddar soup by starting with a bechamel and then adding an enormous amount of good Cheddar to it.  Like I said earlier, though, this approach seems to take forever.  Tweak, taste, tweak, taste, tweak, taste, ad infinitum.  Some times I don’t feel like committing to such a project, and thus we have:

4 oz. bacon, diced (for my money, thick-cut applewood bacon is the best, but any bacon will do)

2 Tbsp. butter

1/2 c. onion, diced

1/4 c. celery, diced

1/4 c. flour

12 oz. beer, preferably an ale

1 qt. chicken stock

8 oz. good Cheddar, grated (yes, good means expensive, but a little goes a long way and it’s worth it)

salt and pepper at your discretion

 Fetch hither yon olde soupe potte and render the bacon in it.  Once the bacon is nicely browned, pour off as much of the grease as you can.  Add the butter, celery, and onions and let them cook for about five minutes.  We’re shooting for a light-brown translucence here, but really anything’s fine as long as the stuff doesn’t get black and scorched.  Sprinkle the flour over the contents of the pot and stir it all around for about three minutes.  Add the beer and the stock and let it simmer for about ten minutes.  Add the Cheddar, a liberal dosage of salt and pepper, and as soon as the cheese is incorporated you’re done.  Parsley and/or croutons make for a nice garnish.

If you’re feeling bold, you can finish the soup with some mustard, Worcestershire sauce, cayenne pepper, ground nutmeg, Tabasco®–whatever sparks your palate.  Don’t be reticent with seasoning.

Hungarian mushroom soup

Two preliminary observations:  I absolutely hate mushrooms and everything about them, but that puts me into a minority, and I have to know what to do with them to make other people happy anyway.  All that means is that I’m pretty handy with mushrooms but I’ve never actually tasted this soup–kind of like a vegan who does beef really well.

Also, just in case you didn’t already know, any time you see the word “Hungarian” as part of a recipe’s name, it’s a lead-pipe cinch that it will contain paprika.  Hungary is famous for the Gabor sisters and paprika, and that’s about it.  I wouldn’t mind having Eva Gabor cook soup for me, but it’s far more likely that paprika is involved instead of her.

That being said, here’s the deal:

6 Tbsp. butter

1 lb. onion, chopped (that adds up to about 2 c.)

salt

1 lb. button mushrooms, sliced

1/4 c. flour

1 Tbsp. dill weed

1 Tbsp. good Hungarian paprika

1 Tbsp. tamari

3 c. chicken stock

1/2 tsp. lemon juice

1/4 c. parsley, chopped fine (not again!)

9 oz. sour cream (the original recipe I have jotted down calls for “7/8 c. sour cream.”  Not bloody likely I’m even going to attempt to measure that)

Sauté the onion in the butter with a hefty dash of salt.  Add the mushrooms and stir them around until they get darker and kind of limp, like Dali’s wristwatch.  Sprinkle the flour over all that (there’s a French term for this practice, but I can’t remember it.  Singer?).  The second that’s done, stir in the dill weed, paprika, tamari, and stock.  At this point, it benefits from rigorous and attentive stirring.  Let it simmer fifteen minutes and then stir in everything else but the sour cream.  Let it simmer for about half an hour, and then taste it for seasoning and adjust the seasoning accordingly.  Again, don’t be shy with the salt, pepper, and whatever else.  Whisk in the sour cream and then let the whole mess get hot–take your time and do it slowly, stirring often.

FAQs

Q:  “Uisgea,” you enquire, “what the heck is tamari, and how did it find itself into a Hungarian recipe?”

A:  You ask too many questions.  Just trust me.

Tortilla soup

Tortilla soup has countless incarnations, and they’re all fine with me.  It’s pretty much universally recognized as a spicy chicken soup garnished with crunchy corn tortilla bits.  Here’s one approach to it, but it’s not necessarily the definitive approach.  Feel free to monkey around with it.  You can really only screw it up if you try hard.

The list of ingredients looks a little daunting, but it’s really not that bad, and the procedure itself is lickety-split.

2 Tbsp. oil

2 cloves garlic, mashed

1 onion, chopped

1 lb. ground beef (ground turkey works too)

1 x 14 1/2 oz. can stewed tomatoes

1 x 10 oz. can beef stock (okay, “broth”)

1 x 10 oz. can chicken stock broth

1 x 10 oz. can tomato soup

1 1/2 c. water

1 jalapeño (en escabeche or fresh?  Well, it’s up to you, depending on how hot you want the soup to be)

1 tsp. chile powder

1/2 tsp. black pepper

2 tsp. Tabasco®

5 corn tortillas, cut into strips about 1/2″ wide

1/2 c. stringy Mexican cheese or mozzarella

Cook the garlic, the meat, and the onion together in the oil.  Add the liquid ingredients and the seasonings.  Let it simmer for about an hour, and, during the last ten minutes or so, stir in the tortillas.  When it comes time to serve it, garnish it with the cheese.

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