Sunday, March 01, 2009

Soup de Jour

Quinn and I have fallen into the glorious habit of cooking together. I enjoy this immensely; we spend time together, chopping vegetables and stirring our concoctions with anticipation. Concoctions, you say? Yes. We've learned, over the past couple of years with a slim purse, how to cook cheaply and there's nothing cheaper to make than soup. Spicy Black-Eyed Pea Soup, Black Bean Soup, Pinto Bean Soup, Chicken and Rice Soup, Taco Soup, Tortilla Soup, name it and we come up with something. Not having all of the ingredients for the soup never bothers me, what does an Internet recipe know anyway? So we make do, come up with delicious alternatives, and then I promptly never think to write it down. If you have broth, veggies, a leetle bit of meat (though not always required), and a cupboard full of spices, then you can make a delicious concoction yourself. Shaun, Virginia's husband, once said that he hated to bake because it required too exact of measurements, when, with cooking you really can do just what you like to make it taste as you like. I've come to believe him, though I've not always thought that it was so. Why would you change a perfectly good recipe?
Well, it started when I never had the EXACT amount of ingredients for this recipe or that recipe, or if I was missing an ingredient entirely. I used to dismiss the recipe altogether, but then I thought, "why not try it without that". This led to, "but I don't like that, what if I did this instead?" Now, I've nearly become too arrogant (say it ain't so) with my liberations with recipes. Or, perhaps I should say that we (hubby and myself) have become too liberal because we usually make the soups together. Though, I prefer to call it scientific (doesn't that sound better?). We test things and glory in our success. And soups are usually very successful because you can always add more broth or spices or veggies or whathaveyou to ensure the success.
You may be saying to yourself, "But I could never do that! What if I get it wrong? I don't know even how to start!" Well, my dear reader, why am I blogging about it? Surely not to gloat in your face! I, in my soup knowledge arrogance, will help you get started.

First: A lot of our soups are chicken based. Cooking a whole chicken is cheap (a heckuva lot cheaper than just cooking chicken breasts) and then you have your own chicken stock. You can accomplish this by boiling a chicken until the juices run clear, but I loathe the smell of boiling chicken and prefer to roast mine. Just throw the chicken in a roasting pan, fill the pan halfway with water and season the top of the chicken with whatever spices make you happy. We usually use garlic salt (because it is always here). Bake at 350 degrees for approximately two hours, or until juices run clear. Save the liquid (hello, chicken stock) in a covered container until you are ready to use. I can usually get about 6 cups of cooked meat off a whole chicken and I store them in Ziploc bags until I'm ready to use them. For those in a time pinch, get a rotisserie chicken from the store. Of course, you don't have to use chicken. You could use beef or bacon or ham. Or be vegetarian. You are the boss!

Secondly: Flavor. So you've made your chicken, and you've learned how to cut the meat off the bone and save the broth for your soup experimenting. Now, let's think of the beginning of the soup. Flavor is the key, which is monumental in most recipes (who wants a flavorless meal?). We always (always, always, always) start any soup recipe (and many other recipes as well) with a whole chopped onion and minced garlic (yes, Shaun, it's fresh). If I have celery, then I chop some of that, too. Saute onion and garlic (and celery) with Extra Virgin Olive Oil until it is tender. Doing this at the beginning enhances the flavor of your soup and nearly ensures your success with experimenting. These ingredients are always at our house; they are like milk and bread.

Thirdly: The stuff in it. After sauteing your onion and such, pour in your chicken stock. I always pour in a box (32 oz) of chicken broth, too (unless, of course, your base is beef-then use beef broth... Vegetarian broth is also handy if that's your preference) to increase the amount of soup. You can use water and chicken bouillon as well. Then comes the stuff in it. You can use as much or as little chicken as you like (I used about a cup of chicken in our soup today, and just cut it very small to stretch it) and then dumped whatever my little head desired in the pot. I had a hankering (shutup, I live in MS) for artichoke hearts (yum) and decided to base my recipe around that. I cut up a can of the hearts with the chicken and dumped them in the pot. Then comes the real dumping. Let's see, I put in raw broccoli and spinach today, two cans of Northern Beans, and the chicken and artichoke hearts. The beauty of soup experimentation is that you get to decide what you want! The consistency was to my preference (it can be thin or thick) and so then I went to spices. Spices are VERY important. You could really use salt and pepper if that's what you have, but why not mix it up a bit? My standard favorite spices to add to any soup are cumin, red pepper, ground mustard, and italian seasoning. I'll start off with a teaspoon of each, then judge how I like the taste. Sometimes I'll add curry, chili powder, or cajun seasoning to spice things up a bit. And then I'll add salt to taste. I've also replaced a taco seasoning packet for my favorite spices or add a Ranch packet to make things a bit creamier.

Lastly: the rolling boil. After all ingredients are in the pot, we turn the heat on high and let it boil for about 10 minutes, stirring the whole time to ensure the soup not burning. Then we let is simmer for however long we need it to. The longer it simmers, the better the flavor is. Serve it up with whatever you like.

Ideas: Since the beginning process is very similiar everytime we cook (the sauteing and such), only the stuff in it changes. Here are some ideas to change things up:

Taco Soup: 1 can each kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, corn, Rotel tomatoes and diced tomatoes. Add taco packet (and Ranch, if you want) as seasoning.

Bean Soup: Add four cans pinto beans, 1 can spaghetti sauce (we use Hunts), and can diced tomatoes. Season as you like. This was one of my favorite soups ever. We used a lot of Italian Seasoning

Vegetable Dump: This is fun! Take whatever leftovers you have (yes seriously) and dump it in the pot. Add cans of whatever to stretch the soup. Season as desired.

Spicy Black-Eyed Pea Soup: This one I've used for a long time and used to have a recipe for it, but it's long gone. I just go by memory now. 4 cans black-eyed peas, 2 cans tomatoes (I use one Rotel and one diced plain). Use 1 to 1 1/2 tsps of cumin, curry, ground mustard, and chili powder. We usually (though not always) saute 1/2 pound of bacon in the pot and then and then saute onions and garlic in the bacon fat. Mmmmmm.... This is in lieu of sauteing with olive oil, though you may choose to do that instead. This is a spicy one, but my kids gobble it up! They like it with the chopped bacon (that you cooked at the beginning), shredded cheese and a spoonful of sour cream. This is the soup pictured at the top of this post.

Fillers: Adding 1 cup of uncooked rice or 1 to 2 cups of dry pasta before you boil the soup will stretch your meal. Or, as Crissy Sharp says, "Put a can of corn in it." I like to say that with an extra thick southern accent. Because it's fun.

Experimentation is fun! Give it a go.


michelle said...

Weird. Nick and I have been cooking soups together lately too. That is not at all normal for us though.

I agree with Shaun. I actually very much dislike baking for that reason. It is too exact. I hate rules. I like to add a little this and a little that depending on what we like.

We made some good chicken soup last week. Last night there was not much left but I didn't want to cook so I did what you said and made some rice and then poured the leftover soup in until it was heated up. Voila. Very easy :) and delicious.

heather said...

I am making taco soup this week before it gets to warm. We haven't had Spicy Black-eyed pea in awhile. My kids don't really like it and they usually eat anything. Maybe I can make it a little different next time. And I love baking you can also improvise when you bake. Not the main stuff but everything else you can.

Missy said...

I am amazed and bow to your excellent souping abilities.

Crock pot works good too for cooking and not boiling el chicken.