Saturday, January 16, 2010

Expanding on the "Basics"...... more lessons and ideas

After my success last night with the "Chicken Pot Pie" I made and getting positive feedback from friends thanking me for reminding them of the "Basics", I've decided to expand some more on this very worthwhile theme. For those of us with some kitchen smarts it will be a way to recall these little gems and for those that are beginning to delve into the kitchen, it could serve to give you a guide where you can take off from. The more familiar you are with the basics, the easier it will become for you to "wing it" later.....

I don't know about at your house but at mine, cream soups are always welcomed. Rene has always been a little nuts with regard to "greens"; when he was little he wouldn't eat anything with a green color yet if I would make a cream soup from the same green stuff, he'd love it. This is how I got him to eat vegetables without complaint. One day I'll tell you about Braunschweiger and how it became popular at home along with "Bovril"..... but that will be another adventure when we go into meat land.

For now we will look into stocks and soups and how to make them at home, easier and cheaper than at a restaurant. You'll find that a soup for either lunch or dinner, either alone or with company, will become a valuable addition to your repertoire, plus once you have stock somewhere in the recesses of your fridge, almost any soup, no matter how fancy is only minutes away.

But first things first: Making stock. The main ones are Chicken, Beef, Fish or Vegetable and become the building blocks of many a fine soup, cream or not and help sauces and other dishes a great deal too by adding flavor and richness that water cannot compete with. Once you decide that only good stock will do and notice the difference, there will be no going back. You will also see how making your own stocks will not only save you money but give you better nutritional bang for your buck which is always a good thing. Cooking more of your meals will also let you control the additives, salt, MSG, preservatives, colorants and all those chemicals you see on the labels of the foods you buy; many of these are responsible for allergy, skin, stomach and other health problems.

How To Make Stock: I always buy whole chickens and cut them up myself since this saves you money and gives you bones, innards, skin and other pieces from the bird that you can use for stock. If you won't be making stock right away, put in a zip lock bag and freeze for later. You can also use the parts you're not too crazy about to make the stock with and always save the bones for this too, either raw or cooked. You can also use the whole chicken to make stock and then shred the meat for use on salads, sandwiches, enchiladas, etc. For beef I buy beef bones which are the cheapest, while for fish I look for heads and tails to use and are more economical or I buy whole fish, separate the fillets and use the bones and the rest for stock. In vegetable stock you can use almost anything you'd like and vegetables cooked this way can be a side dish later.

You will need: The bits and pieces I mentioned before, about 6-8 cups of water, salt & pepper, 3-4 garlic cloves, 1/2 an onion, 1-2 celery stalks or just the tops and leaves, 1-2 carrots. You put it all in a large pot, make sure the water covers everything and bring up to a boil slowly and then lower the heat and simmer 30-40 minutes. You should skim the foam that appears on top of the surface to insure your stock is nice and clear. Unless you're having the stock as is, don't make it salty since this will affect your finished product and it's easier to add salt at then end. You can then cool you stock and then put it in a container to refrigerate it until you need it but don't wait to long so it doesn't spoil. 1 week to 10 days at the most.

If you want a clear soup then take everything from the pot and just leave the stock; you can then add different flavorings like shredded chicken and vegetables, some pasta (almost when you're ready to serve, remember it doesn't take long to cook), 1/4-1/2 cup of rice (give it about 15-20 min), fresh herbs or tomato sauce, tortilla chips before serving, avocado, hot salsa and lemon.

From there you can go and begin experimenting with Cream Soups. These are more satisfying that the clear broth ones and the list is endless to what you can make. If you will be making these often you would benefit from either a blender, a hand held blender (immersion blender) or a food mill to get a smooth consistency to the soup. Here are some tips:

Cream Chicken Soup.- You'll never want canned soup after trying this one!

1/2 cup butter
1 med onion, chopped
2 stalks celery (with leaves), chopped
3 med carrots, chopped
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon flour
7 cups chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium canned
3 sprigs parsley
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
2 3/4 cups cooked, diced chicken
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 teaspoons dry sherry (optional)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

Melt the butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, and carrots and cook, covered, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 12 minutes. Add the flour and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, for 2 minutes more. Pour in the broth and bring to a boil while whisking constantly. Tie the parsley sprigs, thyme, and bay leaf together with a piece of kitchen twine and add to the soup. Lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the chicken and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat. Whisk the heavy cream, sherry, and salt into the soup and season with pepper to taste. Remove and discard the herb bundle. Divide among soup bowls, sprinkle the top of each soup with the chopped parsley and serve immediately.
NOTE: You could also add some egg noodles about 5-8 minutes before serving if you like.

Cream of Mushroom Soup.- A classic and popular soup which will take any mushroom you have or a mix of many. It can also take the addition of some Sherry at the end before the cream.

4 cups mushrooms
1 tablespoon oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon flour
1 3/4 cups vegetable stock
1 3/4 cups milk
1 pinch dried basil
2-3 tablespoons cream
salt & freshly ground black pepper
fresh basil leaf, to garnish

Pull the caps away from the mushroom stalks. Finely slice the caps and chop the stalks, keeping the 2 piles separate. Heat the oil and half the butter in a heavy based saucepan and add the chopped onion, mushroom stalks and 1/2-3/4 of the sliced mushroom caps. Fry about 1-2 minutes, stirring frequently, and then cover and sweat over a gentle heat for 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in flour and cook for 1 minute. Gradually add the stock and milk to make a smooth, thin sauce. Add the basil, and season with salt and pepper. Bring to the boil and then simmer, partly covered, for 15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly and then pour into a food processor or blender and process until smooth. Melt remaining butter in a heavy based frying pan, and fry the remaining mushrooms over a gentle heat for 3-4 minutes until they are just tender. Pour soup into a large clean saucepan and stir in sliced mushrooms. Heat until very hot but not boiling and add salt and pepper to taste. Add the cream. Serve at once garnished with the basil leaves.

Cream of Fresh Tomato.- A lovely soup that will delight your family. Easy to make too.

3 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped red onions (2 onions)
2 carrots, unpeeled and chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic (3 cloves)
4 lbs very ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped (5 large)
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves, plus julienned basil leaves, for garnish
3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup heavy cream
Croutons, for garnish

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and carrots and saute for about 10 minutes, until very tender. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the tomatoes, sugar, tomato paste, basil, chicken stock, salt, and pepper and stir well. Bring the soup to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes, until the tomatoes are very tender. Add the cream to the soup and process it through a food mill into a bowl, discarding only the dry pulp that's left. Reheat the soup over low heat just until hot and serve with julienned basil leaves and/or croutons.
NOTE: You can also top with shredded cheese or fried tortilla strips.

Cream of Broccoli Soup.- One of those "green" things that Rene will have when made into a cream, he loves it this way!

1 French baguette, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices
2 teaspoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped celery
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
2 cups steamed broccoli
3 cups chicken broth
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup roasted garlic cloves

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Arrange bread slices on a baking sheet. Bake for 6 minutes, until toasted. Meanwhile, in a large stock pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, celery, garlic, carrot, and broccoli. Pour broth over vegetables and increase the heat to high. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer 5 minutes. Using an immersion blender, puree until smooth or you can use a blender. Add milk and simmer 1 minute to heat through. Puree again. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Using a fork, mash garlic cloves with a pinch each of salt and black pepper, making a thick paste. Spread mixture on toasted bread and serve with soup.
NOTE: You can add 1 cup shredded cheese at the end, stir to melt and then serve.

Basic Cream of Vegetable Soup.- You can change the vegetables in this recipe and use it as a base for others.

3 tablespoons butter
1 cup chopped onion
1 potato, peeled and diced
2 cups water or chicken stock
1 1/2 cups steamed vegetables, i.e. carrots, broccoli, spinach, or peas
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream

In a large saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until tender without browning. Stir in diced potato and liquid. Bring to a boil and simmer until potato is tender. Stir in your steamed vegetable of choice and return to a simmer. (or you can add the veggies at the beginning and cook along with the potato). Puree the soup in batches in a blender and return to saucepan. Leave 1 cup of vegetables not pureed if a chunkier soup is preferred. Season soup with salt and pepper and finish with heavy cream.

Cream of Celery Soup.- Another basic soup that is wonderful when you make it at home....

2 cups chopped celery, divided
2 cups chopped carrots, divided
4 tablespoons butter
2 cups onions, diced
3 tablespoons flour
6 cups hot vegetable broth, divided
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup heavy cream

In a small saucepan add 1 cup celery, 1 cup carrots, 1 cup vegetable broth. Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and reserve cooked vegetables. In a large saucepan, over medium high heat, melt butter. Add onions and saute until clear. Whisking, add flour, cook 2 minutes making sure flour does not brown. Add 5 cups vegetable broth and continue to whisk until mixture boils, making sure to reach the bottom of the pan. Add uncooked 1 cup celery and 1 cup carrots. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer about 30 minutes. When cooked strain soup through a fine sieve into a clean pot reserving vegetables. In a blender puree vegetables with 1 1/2 cups of liquid. Stir puree into pot with liquid. Stir in cream, reserved vegetables. Heat and serve

New England Clam Chowder.- An easy soup that can be an everyday dish or a special event offering and whether you use canned or fresh clams, it's great! You could also make Oyster Chowder with this one.

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoons garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 russet potatoes, peeled, quartered and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
4 cups milk
2 (6.5-ounce) cans minced clams, drained, juice reserved (or use fresh ones)
1 cup corn
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

In a large pot, over medium heat, add the butter and the oil. Once the butter is melted add the onions and garlic and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until slightly tender. Mix in the flour and cook until the flour is a very pale golden color, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the potatoes and thyme. Stir in the milk and the juice from the canned clams. Reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are cooked through, about 10 minutes. Remove 2 cups of the chowder and puree in a blender until smooth. Add pureed chowder, clams and corn to the pot. Season with salt and pepper, to taste, and let simmer for another 5 minutes. Transfer to individual soup bowls or a large soup bowl and serve.
NOTE: When blending hot liquids: Remove liquid from the heat and allow to cool for at least 5 minutes. Transfer liquid to a blender or food processor and fill it no more than halfway. If using a blender, release one corner of the lid. This prevents the vacuum effect that creates heat explosions. Place a towel over the top of the machine, pulse a few times then process on high speed until smooth.

Leek and Potato Cream Soup.- One of my favorites and a great soup! MMMmmmm....

1 lb leeks, cleaned and dark green sections removed, approx 4 to 5 medium
3 tablespoons butter
Heavy pinch kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning
3 Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced small
1 quart vegetable broth or 4 cups
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon snipped chives

Chop the leeks into small pieces. In a 6-quart saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the leeks and a heavy pinch of salt and sweat for 5 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook until the leeks are tender, approximately 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes and the vegetable broth, increase the heat to medium-high, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and gently simmer until the potatoes are soft, approximately 45 minutes. Turn off the heat and puree the mixture with an immersion blender until smooth. Or if using a blender, see note above. Stir in the heavy cream, buttermilk, and white pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Sprinkle with chives and serve immediately, or chill and serve cold.

With all this talk of creamed soups I feel the need to make some of my own. I've got some broccoli in the fridge and some great sharp Cheddar cheese to make a Broccoli Cheddar Cream Soup for tonight, YUM! In any case I'm sure you can see the basic steps in creating a cream soup and will be able to mix and match ingredients to produce almost any kind of soup you can think of. Also, you can substitute the heavy cream, although the richness and sweet flavor this imparts can't be replaced, but you can use Evaporated Milk as well, good old Carnation Milk in a can. You can freeze your stock and keep it in handy 2 cup portions or some people freeze it in their ice trays, take it out of the trays and put it in a freezer bag; this way you always have it ready in a pinch and can make a great soup in a flash. Talk about slow food fast.... Great!

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