Comfort me this winter with soups

By on January 24, 2013

With cooler weather setting in, (For Outer Bankers, that might mean temperatures in the mid to high 60s or in the blustery 30s with a nor’easter blowing. One never knows out here), the Hawthornes enjoy turning to comforting and fortifying soups for their dining pleasure.

Soup is a marvelous resource for the thrifty home cook. It solves the problems of what to do with that Thanksgiving turkey carcass, what to do with those leftover beef bones, what to do with leftover chicken carcasses, what to do with shrimp heads and shells, and what to do with those extra vegetables one might have lurking in the refrigerator.

A good soup starts with a good base — a stock or broth (I use the terms interchangeably), be it chicken, beef, turkey, lamb, veal, vegetable, or seafood. I prefer to make my own stocks. As I’ve said before, very little goes to waste in the Hawthorne household.

Whenever I have any leftover bones or carcasses, I freeze them. When a nice rainy day comes along, I pull out my frozen bones, herbs, and aromatics, and make stock. For some reason, it must be a rainy day for me. I date and label stock in quart containers and freeze it for later use. Oh, goodness — the difference between canned and homemade is something else indeed. Canned stock is simple and one-dimensional. Homemade stock is rich and complex — offering a veritable palette of flavors.

After making a chicken or beef broth, I like to take it one step further and turn it into consommé. A consommé is a stock which has been clarified. All the minute floating particles clouding the stock are eliminated by the addition of egg whites and the application of heat.

What happens is that the egg whites are kept in constant but gentle circulation (by applied heat) throughout the liquid. By doing so, they cling to the particulate matter in the stock and will eventually rise to the top. The egg whites must coagulate enough so that they hold together when you strain the stock, releasing a miraculously clear, sparkling liquid which is your consommé. It takes a little time to make your own, but it’s time well spent and certainly worth the effort.

Take a look at the shimmering liquid gold. You can’t get this from a can. The golden goodness of consommé is ready to label, date, and freeze.

For this article, I wanted to concentrate more on my individual soups, so I’m not giving you detailed instructions here for making stocks and consommés. You can certainly use a canned or boxed broth, preferably low sodium and low fat, but for those of you who want to go the extra mile and experience the difference between homemade and canned, please refer to my blog posts about chicken consommé and beef consommé.

My January column is about using chicken consommé. For my February column, I’ll be rustling up some beef consommé recipes. I’m thinking a black bean soup and a French onion soup, but if our readers have any suggestions, I’m certainly open. E-me at rosiehawthorne@aim.com to “Just Ask Rosie” anything.

First, I’m making a smoky Roasted Red Pepper Soup. This is a rich, creamy soup with buttery sweet, lemon-kissed crab meat and slowly melting Mozzarella cubes, accented with the pop of fresh thyme. Try this. It’s heaven in a bowl.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup
2 large red peppers, roasted
2-3 TB olive oil (I prefer Bertolli Extra Light Olive Oil.)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 large garlic clove, minced
4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
2 cups turkey or chicken stock
1 medium potato, peeled and chopped
1/3 cup dry white wine
2 tsp sugar
¼ cup heavy cream
Sea salt and pepper, freshly ground
½ cup crab meat
3 TB unsalted butter
Lemon juice
Toasted baguette slices
Mozzarella cheese, diced
Fresh thyme

If you haven’t made your own roasted peppers, you’re in for a treat. Here’s a quick primer on roasting your own peppers.

I skewer my peppers and blacken them over an open flame. If you don’t have gas burners, set the peppers on a baking tray and broil, turning, until the peppers are charred all over.

There are two camps on how to remove the char. One says to secure them in a paper bag for 5-10 minutes and let the steam force the skin off. The other school is much easier and quicker. I got the idea from Julia Child.

After blackening, I immediately submerge the peppers in a bowl of ice water. Rub with thumb and forefinger and the skin comes right off. And you don’t need to get every speck of black off. The char adds a bit of character.

Now for the soup:

Heat olive oil in deep pot over medium-high heat. Add onions, carrots, and thyme and sauté until onions are translucent — maybe 2-3 minutes. Add in garlic, potatoes, roasted peppers, wine, broth, and sugar. Bring to a simmer, and then reduce heat to low. Partially cover and simmer until potatoes are very tender, 20-30 minutes. Cool slightly.

I used an immersion blender to purée the soup until smooth, but if you don’t have one, you can use a regular blender. Remember to purée in batches. Too much hot soup in a blender is a recipe for kitchen disaster. Add in the heavy cream for a little extra richness. Season to taste with freshly ground salt and pepper.

Drizzle your favorite extra virgin olive oil over baguette slices and toast until crisp and golden brown. Take a peeled garlic clove and rub a few times over the crostini. You want the essence of garlic, not an overpowering bombardment.

Melt butter and add in crab meat and lemon juice. Heat through.

Ladle soup into bowls, add in a few cubes of Mozzarella, spoon crab meat on top, sprinkle with freshly ground pepper and a few thyme leaves. Serve with toasted garlic baguette slices.

For a quick, simple, festive, and totally appetizing soup, I turn to Tortilla Soup. The first time the Hawthornes made this, we were going through a kitchen remodel and had no kitchen. We made everything on a chopping board, a hotplate, and a toaster oven. That’s how easy it is.

Tortilla Soup
1 quart homemade chicken or turkey consommé
½ cup cooked rice
1 large tomato, peeled, seeded, and diced
1 lime, thinly sliced
1 avocado, diced
½ red onion, chopped
1 small 1 inch-thick boneless pork loin, sliced extremely thin
Seasoned tortilla wedges
Cilantro, chopped
Scallions, sliced

It helps to have your pork slightly frozen before slicing. That way you can get extremely thin slices, which is what you want. Lightly season the pork strips with cumin and freshly ground salt and pepper.

Add the rice to the consommé and heat through.
Bring to a simmer and add pork strips. The pork will cook through immediately.
Remove from heat.
Stir in chopped tomatoes, avocado, and onions.
Top with cilantro, scallions, and limes.

Serve with seasoned tortilla wedges.

For this second batch of tortilla soup, I popped in some black bean goodness as well. One can never go wrong with black beans.

Seasoned Tortilla Wedges
3 TB butter
2 large tortillas, sliced into triangles
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp saffron
2 TB cilantro, chopped

Place butter on large baking sheet, place in oven, and turn oven to 350 degrees. When butter melts, lightly coat both sides of tortilla triangles in the butter and place on baking sheet. Sprinkle spices over top. Bake about 15 minutes, or until golden brown.

If you simply want to cut the tortillas into strips and fry them, go right ahead. Drain on paper towels.

When sipping your soup, be sure to press the lime slices with the back of your spoon to release some limey loveliness into the soup.

If you want a special treat to serve with this soup, cut an avocado into wedges, roll them in Panko bread crumbs, and fry them in vegetable oil at 350 degrees until lightly golden. Talk about your ultimate comfort food — creamy, smooth goodness on the inside and fried crunchiness on the outside. I believe endorphins were released when we ate this meal.

This is one of those dishes in which the whole is more than the sum of its parts. In every bite, there are complementing flavors and textures. It’s one of the more sublime forms of synergy.

Do yourself a favor, and make one of the most comforting meals ever — soup. A simmering pot of soup nourishes both the appetite and the soul. It has universal soul-warming appeal.

Walk into a home with a pot of soup on the stove and the evocative aromas will seduce and transport you, rekindling memories of an easier time — of feeling taken care of and being safe. Soup is comfort and my spirit is happily content.

Soup = Home.

For more ideas, visit my website, Kitchens Are Monkey Business »

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