Soups and Stews

Homemade Vegetable Beef Soup – What’s Not To Love

This is not new news.  I love soup.  I love eating soup and I love making soup.  For me, a pot of soup is one of the most communal things I can prepare in my kitchen.  It is food that’s meant to be shared.

Growing up, when we ate soup it was from a can and it was called Campbell’s.  I had two favorites:  Chicken Noodle and Vegetable Beef.  Even as I write this, I’m humming “Mmm, mmm good.” When I was a starving college student (okay, judging by my weight during college I think’s fair to say that I was never actually starving, but I was on a budget), or when I was living on my own for the first time, Campbell’s soup was dinner more times than I can count.

So, while my love of soup has stayed the same over the years, I seldom buy canned soup anymore.  I get real pleasure out of making a pot of soup so I’d rather spend a few minutes doing the prep of chopping and peeling than just buying it ready-to-serve in a can.

Vegetable Beef Soup Ingredients

This latest batch of homemade soup started with leftovers from the prime rib roast we had on New Year’s Eve.  I used the bones to make the beef stock that became the base for the soup.  And, while for me, there’s a lot of satisfaction in making homemade stock like this, I can say the (good) stuff that you buy also makes a mighty fine soup.  If you’re inclined to make your own stock, then go for it.  Otherwise, just by some beef stock at the store and call it good.

I had enough leftover prime rib scraps and meat off the bone to make the first batch of this soup.  This last time, I used stew meat.  While nothing compares to the beef from a prime rib, in this soup the stew meat (which was chuck) was a good choice.  I let the soup simmer on the stove for a few hours just to make sure the meat was tender.

Make a pot of soup, buy a loaf or two of French bread, open a bottle of wine and invite some friends over.  It will be one of the easiest dinner parties you’ll ever host.

Happy Entertaining!

Chopped Onions  Potatoes and Canned Tomatoes

Chopped Veggies, Bite Size  Browning the Stew Meat

Vegetable Beef Soup

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Fall Is Here – Time for Chicken Corn Chowder

There are very few things I enjoy as much as a fall day.  A real fall day, when the temperatures are cool, the leaves are turning color and there’s a freshness in the air.  You won’t see me objecting when the weather sends a memo that says “Today is a day made for hunkering down and cozying up.”  I am very happy to oblige and stay indoors, pull on a sweater, build a fire, and prepare something to eat that warms from the inside out.

Probably one of my favorite things to make, for us and for guests, is soup.  Besides the wonderful aroma that comes from a pot of soup simmering on the stove, it all seems so communal and welcoming to me.  There’s just something about it all that says “share.”

Sweet Fresh Corn According to one website, soup is probably as old as cooking itself.  Something as simple as combining a variety of ingredients in one pot to make a nutritious, filling and satisfying meal, over the centuries, has fed the rich and the poor, the sick and the healthy around the world.  The different types of soup evolved with different cultures and local ingredients and tastes.

I mean, Campbell’s would not have used “Mmmm, mmmm, good” as their slogan unless it was, right?

I’ve been making this chicken corn chowder for so many years, I’ve sort of lost track of what inspired me in the first place.  But I can tell you what inspired this particular pot of soup was a trip to a local farm stand and the fresh, local corn I found there.

The other thing I like about this recipe is that it’s a great way to use leftover roasted chicken.  We’ll roast a chicken one day and then make this soup the next.  But a whole, roasted chicken from the deli at the grocery store works just as well.

We don’t eat a lot of bacon, so I always need to buy some when I’m making soup that uses it in the stock.  I’m so happy now that I can buy bacon by the slice at the meat counter in many grocery stores because it means I can just buy as much as I need.  But, since they usually have more than one type of bacon, it means having to choose.  I have found over the years that the type of bacon you use can alter the taste of the soup.  For this pot of soup, I used an alder smoked bacon, and the soup had a wonderful smoky flavor to it.  Any bacon will work but if you are looking to infuse a certain flavor into it, think about which kind of bacon you buy.

Serve with a simple salad and a focaccia bread to make it a real meal.

Happy Entertaining!

Vegetables for Chowder

Browning the Bacon and Veggies  Adding the Flour

Fresh Corn

Chicken Corn Chowder

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Homemade Clam Chowder

Growing up in the Seattle area in the 50’s and 60’s, we were all familiar with a guy who was famous for his clams.  Sort of a local celebrity.  Although he had a last name (Haglund), we all just new him as Ivar, as in Ivar’s Acres of Clams (his restaurant).  While I’m guessing few of us actually ever met the guy, we all knew him.  He sponsored the annual fireworks display in Seattle for many years, so even if you didn’t eat at his restaurant, you were fond of him for the spectacular show he provided.  Although he passed away years ago, his landmark restaurant on the waterfront, and other subsequent spin-offs of the original, are still in business around Washington.

Ivar was known for his clams (especially the fried ones).  Tourists would eat the fried clams and French fries and then feed leftover fries to the seagulls.  (That’s how you could always tell who the tourists were.  No local would ever feed a seagull.)  But he may have been most famous for his clam chowder.  It was darn good, as thousands of seagull-feeding tourists and locals alike will attest.

I would never try and compete with something as iconic as Ivar’s clam chowder.  Nor would I ever enter one of the many chowder competitions that are held here and around the country each year.  But our recipe is good.  Really good.  This is one of those recipes that people love (assuming they like clam chowder, that is).  I’m always happy (and flattered) when people ask for seconds of anything, and they always ask for seconds of this chowder.


Steamed Clams  Bacon

Clam JuiceLike any soup, it takes a little bit of prep to get everything in the pot.  But after that, it’s simply cook and serve.  Pair our chowder with a salad and you have a great summertime meal.

Until this last round of chowder, I had always used the little cans of clams, fresh clams if we happened to have any, and bottled clam juice.  And then I discovered the mondo, over-sized can of clams at Costco.  It’s about 3 pounds and has a lot of clams and almost exactly 3 cups of liquid.  I may stock up and keep a couple of those cans in my pantry.

Happy Entertaining!

New England Clam Chowder

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Turkey: From Roast to Soup

I’m all in favor of a big feast of turkey, or roast beast if you happen to live in Whoville.  Even with the prep and all, I like the whole tradition of putting a big, festive meal on the table.  But, truth be known, what I’m really a fan of is the leftovers.  Which is why I will cook a turkey the size of Rhode Island, even if I’m only feeding a few.

If your guests are staying longer than a day, leftovers can solve the meal quandary for days.  This is one of those situations where a little planning can go a long way in simplifying your entertaining.

Turkey Noodle SoupOne of my favorite ways to use turkey leftovers, and feed several people, is to make turkey noodle soup.  While making your own broth isn’t difficult, when we have house guests, I usually go the simple route and just use store-bought chicken broth.  Mainly because some people find the sight of the carcass stewing in water a little unappetizing.  That, and I don’t want to mess with one extra step if I don’t have to.  If you want to make your own broth, but don’t know how, just let me know and I’ll gladly share the how-to.

This year I actually froze some turkey meat and made soup a couple of weeks later.  The beauty of this soup is that, besides using leftovers and providing a crowd-pleasing meal, it’s not difficult to make.  The only real labor involved is just a little chopping in the beginning to get the veggies ready.  After all the work of preparing the big meal, it’s nice to have a simple plan for feeding everyone the next day.

Happy Entertaining!

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Chili, redux

It’s not that I’m really a perfectionist, but I don’t like making mistakes.  I mean, really, who does?  But I wanted to let you know that the original recipe we posted for chili was not correct.  I’m not even sure how that version got drafted.  At any rate, the correct version is now posted.

The good news with all of this is that it gives us the opportunity to re-post the recipe.  The temperatures here have hovered around frigid now for a couple of weeks and there’s nothing like a good, robust chili to warm one from the inside out.  I started a batch of chili yesterday, and then we went for a snowshoe while our dinner stewed a bit.  I was so happy to come in from the cold and have a hot bowl of chili (and a cold beer!) waiting for me.  And, this chili freezes really well.  Which means all the work is done so there’s nothing else to do but re-heat and enjoy.

Thanks again to our friend Kent for providing the inspiration for this recipe.

Of Celebrities and Thanksgiving Leftovers

I should start by saying that I’m not one of those people that goes berserk over celebrities.  While I can think of a few A-listers that I would be thrilled to have at one of our dinner parties (Ellen, or Tom Hanks, for instance), I feel that way because I think they’d be fun to talk with, not because of their star power.  If I ran into them in the grocery store, I wouldn’t ask them for an autograph; that’s just not my thing.  Which I find somewhat ironic because, for some reason, I have met, or at least seen, a lot of celebrities in my time.  (All of our friends have grown quite weary of our over-told story about how we spent an entire evening drinking margaritas with Kathy Bates.  But it’s one of our favorite stories, so maybe we’ll share it on Entertaining Couple sometime.)  So, given all of this, it’s a little amusing to me that I sorta kinda have a celebrity crush on Tyler Florence.  There’s just something about him that trips my trigger.  So, I’ve awarded  him the high honor of My Favorite Celebrity Chef.  Hands down, if I went into a grocery store and came across Tyler, Rachel Ray, Paula Dean AND Guy Fieri all standing around picking out tomatoes together, Tyler is the one I’d ask to come to my house and cook something for me to eat.  And I wouldn’t mind if he brought his super-attractive, cool wife with him.

In my well-tattered copy of his cookbook, Dinners At My Place, he has a recipe for a chicken meatball and tortellini soup.  First time I came across this recipe, I wanted to make it in my own soup pot.  But of course didn’t have the gumption to actually make the meatballs.  Or the homemade broth.  So, this recipe is my way of making a good, homemade chicken soup with a little less effort than he puts into it.  (Which is probably why he’s a famous chef and restauranteur and I am not.)  But I thank him for his inspiration on this one.

We’re posting this recipe now because this soup is equally good if you use turkey, so it’s a great way to use some of your leftovers from Thanksgiving.

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Minestrone Soup

I didn’t grow up in an Italian family.  Far from it, actually.  Yet somehow I wandered into adulthood with this idea of big and boisterous Italian families crowded around dining tables sharing their weekly Sunday dinners.  And I wanted to be a part of it.  My fantasy has always included some meal that is easily shared regardless of how many hungry relatives and neighbors show up.  Maybe that’s one of the reasons I like making soup.  There’s just something about making a big pot of soup that seems to scream, “Come and share this meal with us.”

Many soup recipes say that they only need to simmer for about 30 minutes.  But for me, part of the reason I like making soup is letting it simmer on the stove for an entire afternoon.  I like to think that this is when the soup is “souping.”   I love the aroma and the anticipation of it all.  Not to mention that after the prep work of slicing and peeling and chopping the ingredients, the souping stage is when I get to take a break.  So, while this soup would probably be fine if you can only let it cook for a short time, my recommendation is that you let it do a slow simmer for a couple of hours.  And speaking of those ingredients, with all the great fresh vegetables available in the fall, it is a great time to make this soup.  All those carrots at the Farmer’s Markets and the zucchinis from their gardens that your neighbors are still trying to offload?  Give them a home in a pot of soup.

We served this last night as the main course with nothing more than focaccia bread and red wine as side dishes.  We were slightly less than boisterous, and the table wasn’t crowded, but it still felt good to share a Sunday night meal with neighbors who are both friends and family.  My inner-Italian-wannabe was very happy.

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Beans in chili? There’s no debating it

First, let’s be very clear what this isn’t.  This is NOT a blatant attempt to incite a debate over what constitutes legitimate chili.  I am fully aware that diehard chili cooks feel quite strongly about the presence of beans in something called “chili.”  But, I honestly don’t want to argue the point.  One, I am a conflict avoider.  And, two, in this season of election debates, I have no desire to debate yet another controversial, yet futile, issue just to be heard and win the popular vote.  I call this “chili” because that’s what I call it.  It’s not meant to be slanderous.  If you find the title offensive, because the recipe contains beans, then by all means call it something else.  Like bean stew.  Food is supposed to comfort, not agitate.

Name aside, some things just go together.  Fall and chili, for me, are two of those things.  Throw in a real wood fire in the fireplace, an oversized sweater to lounge in, and a good bottle of wine shared with friends or family, and the weather (and candidates) can spit and holler all they want.  And maybe after enough wine, we can debate something worthwhile.  Like whether or not it’s appropriate to wear white after Labor Day.

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Soup’s On!

We’ve just returned from a 3-week vacation in Turkey where, among other things, we spent a week on a boat cruising the Turquoise Coast.  The boat came with a captain and first mate, and I dare to say we may have met the Ultimate Entertaining Couple.  All week, we (Jon and I and our two friends) sat idly by while Andy (the captain) and Lou (the first mate) did all the work manning the boat, cleaning the boat, getting us in and out of harbors and docks, and feeding us.  And feed us they did.  The food was delicious and ample (as I feared my rear-end was becoming after eating it for a week).  For someone who is accustomed to being hostess and cook, I was pleasantly surprised how easily I relinquished the role to someone else.  Apparently, even the control freak in me was on vacation.

One day Lou served us a Tomato Basil soup that we all loved.  We raved and then, of course, asked for the recipe, which she generously shared with us.  As Margaret and I frantically took notes, she rambled off the recipe, which sounded something like this:  “Let’s see, I use onion and four tablespoons of butter, and about 2 tablespoons of olive oil.  Oh, and garlic.   And about  a cup of white wine.  Of course, tomatoes.  And, let’s see, what else do I use?”  She actually gave us a pretty good description even from memory; enough to give me the basics (and inspiration) for sure.

We arrived home from our trip to a beautiful Indian summer.  The days are warm and sunny but the mornings and nights are cool and a reminder that summer is behind us.  And, for me, nothing ushers fall into being quite like a pot of soup on the stove.  With my notes fresh from Lou’s recital, I was dying to try her soup for myself.  To make sure I understood the right ingredients and process for her recipe, I Googled recipes and came across several renditions of a recipe for “Nordstrom’s Famous Tomato Basil Soup,” which as it turns out is quite similar to Lou’s.  So, my recipe is a compilation of the the two and the result, if I do say so myself, is a creamy, flavorful and hearty soup that will definitely be added to my fall/winter repertoire.

What I learned when making this soup.  One, I’m a big fan of simple cooking.  If I can just use one pan or one bowl, I’m a happy cooker.  Unfortunately, this recipe makes a little bit more of a mess than I would normally like because of the puree step.  I may try to use my immersion blender next time, which will cut out the use of the conventional blender, but I was really happy with the texture I got with the blender.  So we’ll see.  And, because the recipe makes enough soup for 8, I had to do the pureeing in batches, which required yet another bowl to be used after the blender and until I had emptied the pot.  My process was:  Ladle the soup from the pot to the blender until the blender was about 3/4 full, puree, and then pour the pureed soup into a large bowl (with pouring spout).  Repeat 3 times.  But honestly, I think the end result was worth the extra washing required.  The other thing I learned was that, because the soup needs to cool slightly before putting it in the blender or food processor, there is a span of time when you’re just waiting.  Or, in my case waiting and stirring/blowing the soup trying to hurry along the cooling process.  If you’re planning this for a dinner party (or even dinner at a certain time), I would recommend making the soup ahead of time if possible.  Get all the way through the puree part.  Then, all you’ll need to do to serve it is add the cream and reheat it.  We refrigerated the leftovers and it made for great leftovers as well.

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