A Day Made for Soup

I haven’t looked at the weather forecast in a few days, so rainy, cold dreariness was a shock. A shock, I tell you. I was expecting sun and 50s, like we had yesterday and the day before. Instead we have cold, cold rain and 40s. And the day started out so nicely sunny. That lasted about an hour.

DSC_0021All I want to do today is curl up with a blanket, a book and a cup of tea. Not exactly in my plans for the day, but it is that kind of afternoon. If I didn’t already have a plan for dinner, I would make roasted red pepper and tomato soup with some of my freezer stash of peppers.

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Or maybe lentil soup.

DSC_0023Or maybe turkey chili.

What do you do to warm up on a cold, rainy November day?

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Easy Chicken Noodle Soup

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The other day I had a craving for chicken noodle soup. Craving might be too strong a word, but I really wanted some soup. In the past few years I have sworn off canned soup. Some of it is philosophic – have you seen the grocery store soup aisle? There are way too many kinds of soup: regular, lite, low sodium, low fat, low carb, bold flavor, extra chunky. It is kind of nuts that we, as a society, have a need for so many kinds of canned salty water with mushy noodles. What does that say about us? Not anything good, I can tell you.

My soup angst aside, I just haven’t enjoyed canned soup in the last few years. Maybe it is my changing tastes, but they all taste too salty, too much of the can and just not right.

I have tried making my own chicken noodle soup many times, but I just wasn’t happy with it. Sure, I have favorite recipes for vegetable soup, chili and bacon turkey chowder, but I didn’t have a chicken noodle soup I was happy with. Until now.

The secret, at least to us, was finding a commercial broth that we liked. I have made my own chicken stock, and it was sublime. But I don’t have the time or the inclination to make my own broth very often. Nor do I have the freezer space to store a ready supply.

I don’t usually tout specific brands on the blog, but I do have to call out Kitchen Basics. I have only tried their unsalted chicken stock, but it was the most flavorful, most chicken-y broth I have found. No weird ingredients either. And it has no added salt, so I can salt my dishes to my own tastes. Gold stars all around. And this is a totally unbiased opinion – I received no compensation from Kitchen Basics for this post. I just like their product.

Once I found a good broth, it was just a matter of including the vegetables I like the best in chicken soup. I started with shallots – every soup needs either shallots or onions. Next, I added a lot of celery because I love celery in soup, and because I love the aroma of sautéing celery. I added carrots, of course. They belong in chicken soup. I finished with a little garlic to round things out.

The noodles are kind of a no-brainer. Pick the shape you like the best. We have discovered (we have eaten a lot of chicken soup lately) that we prefer small noodles that are less likely to flop off our spoons or send hot soup dribbles down our chins.

Now to the chicken. I like to make extra chicken any time we are having roast chicken for dinner. Then I dice it up and freeze it in one or two cup portions. It is perfect to pull out and add to chicken soup, stir fries, fried rice, pasta or pizza. If that doesn’t float your boat, you can buy a rotisserie chicken, or have chicken one night and chicken soup the next, with the leftover chicken.

Our soup was everything I wanted in a soup – flavorful broth that tasted of chicken and vegetables instead of salt, exactly the vegetables we wanted, perfectly shaped noodles and real white meat chicken.

Throw the cans to the curb (in the recycling bin, of course) and whip up your own chicken noodle soup. You won’t be sorry.

Download or print the recipe here.

Easy Chicken Noodle Soup
From The Cook’s Life
Serves 4-6

Your broth determines if your soup is just good or excellent. Make sure you use a tasty broth, either homemade or commercial. I like Kitchen Basics unsalted chicken stock. I like a lot of vegetables – if you like more broth, use the smaller amount of celery and carrot.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large shallot or 1 small onion, minced
3-4 ribs celery, diced
3-4 carrots, diced
1 large clove garlic, minced
4 cups low salt or unsalted chicken broth (see headnote)
¾ teaspoon salt, or to taste
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup small noodles, I used radiatori
1-2 cups cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces

Heat the olive oil in a 3-quart pot over medium heat until shimmering.

Add shallot or onion, celery and carrots. Sauté until slightly browned and tender, lower heat if they are browning too much.

Add garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes.

Add chicken broth. Cover pot and bring it to a boil over high heat.

Once broth boils, lower the heat so the soup is boiling gently and cook for about 10 minutes, or until vegetables are tender.

Taste broth and add salt and pepper to taste.

Add noodles and boil, covered, until they are al dente.

Lower heat to low and add chicken. Heat just until chicken is hot. Serve hot.

Leftovers keep well, though you may need to add a little water – the soup thickens and the noodles tend to absorb the broth.

Turkey Veggie Chili

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Chili is the perfect dish for dreary, gray winter days. And we have had our share of those lately in St. Louis. I am not complaining, mind you. Compared to the snow our near western neighbors are dealing with, our clouds are a picnic. But I am craving chili and other warming meals.

Chili, for me, is a lunch dish. Rich and Calvin dislike chili with such a passion that I try to make it and eat it when they are at work and school. I make a big batch and freeze it in single serving containers. It is a matter of minutes to thaw a portion in the microwave, top it with shredded cheddar and crackers and dig into the warming deliciousness. Even better if I have homemade bread in the freezer to tear up and drop in the bowl instead of crackers.

I like chili. But I don’t really like cumin. Most commercial chili powders contain cumin, so I made up my own spice combination – paprika, ancho chili powder, ground cayenne and ground chipotle. It may not be for everyone, but I like it. Feel free to adjust the spices to suit your tastes.

I want to enjoy my chili without guilt, so I usually use ground turkey breast for the meat. With all the spices and vegetables I don’t miss the beef. Sometimes I’ll use a combination of lean ground sirloin and ground turkey breast.

I also like to pack as many vegetables into it as I can, so I add celery, carrots, tomatoes, shallots and garlic to the usual beans. I thought about adding zucchini to the mix, but haven’t actually tried that yet. I finely chop the vegetables so they add body and nutrition without announcing their presence so loudly.

Let winter give its last hurrah – I have a stash of chili to get me through until spring.

Download or print the recipe here. 

Turkey Veggie Chili
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 8-10 servings

The canned beans and tomatoes add plenty of salt, so I don’t add any extra.

1 pound ground turkey breast, ground sirloin, or a combination
4 teaspoons paprika
4 teaspoons ancho chili powder
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne, or to taste
¼ teaspoon ground chipotle, or to taste
black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil, optional
2 large shallots or 1 small onion, peeled
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3-4 carrots. peeled, if desired
3-4 ribs celery
1 (15 oz.) can kidney beans, drained
1 (15 oz.) can pinto beans, drained
2 (14.5 oz.) cans petite diced tomatoes, undrained
2 (6 oz.) cans tomato paste
1-2 cups water
Cheddar cheese, for serving
Crackers or bread, for serving

Brown turkey or ground sirloin in a large pot over medium heat. Add spices and stir to combine and break up meat.

While meat cooks, finely chop shallot, garlic, carrots and celery, by hand, or in a food processor. Set aside.

Remove cooked meat from pan and drain, if necessary. Return pot to heat and add olive oil if pan is dry. When oil is hot, add chopped vegetables and sauté for a few minutes, or until they start to soften.

Add beans, tomatoes, tomato paste and drained meat. Stir well. Add 1-2 cups of water, depending on how thick you want the chili. Once mixture comes to a boil, lower heat to a simmer and cook for at least 30 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Cover pot if chili is reducing too much. Taste chili and adjust seasonings to taste.

Serve with cheddar cheese and crackers or bread. Freezes and reheats well.

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup

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I used to think I didn’t like bell peppers at all, until I had roasted red peppers. Green peppers are bitter (to me) and the red ones aren’t much better, when they’re raw. Roasting caramelizes the sugars in them and brings out their natural sweetness. Before the roasting discovery I avoided peppers (especially the green ones) like the plague – picking them off pizza, eating around them on salads and bypassing them on relish trays. I never would have imagined that I would eat them in soup, much less come up with my own recipe.

The sweetness of the roasted peppers nicely offsets the slight acidity of the tomatoes. The peppers give the soup more body and depth than a straight tomato soup would have. With a concession to the seasons, I used canned tomatoes, but I can’t wait to try this soup again with garden tomatoes (and peppers) in the summer.

You can’t get much simpler than this – roast the peppers with shallots and garlic. Puree the roasted veggies with a little chicken broth and then heat with tomatoes and a few spices before serving. If you want a totally smooth soup, blend the tomatoes too. It’s a beautiful soup to brighten dreary winter days. Whip up a batch and dream of summer sunshine and warmth.

Download or print the recipe here.

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato Soup
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 4 generous servings

2 large red bell peppers
1 large shallot
1 tablespoon olive oil, approximately
2 large cloves garlic (or 4 small ones)
2 cups low sodium chicken or vegetable broth
2 (14.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes, undrained
1 teaspoon dried basil, or more, to taste
about 10 grinds of black pepper
a few dashes ground cayenne, or to taste
salt, to taste
Grated or slivered Parmesan cheese
Crackers, croutons or bread

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Lightly grease a baking sheet.

Cut peppers into about 4 pieces each and discard tops and seeds.  Place peppers skin side up on baking sheet. Peel shallot and cut in half. Add to baking sheet. Drizzle peppers and shallot with olive oil. Peel garlic cloves and set aside. Roast peppers and shallot for 10 minutes. Add garlic cloves to the middle of the sheet, drizzle with a little olive oil and return pan to oven for 20 minutes more. Remove the garlic cloves and shallots early if they start to brown too much.

Combine roasted vegetables with broth in a blender and blend until mostly smooth. You can also use an immersion blender or food processor.

Pour the blended soup into a 3-quart pot and set over medium heat. Add tomatoes, basil, black pepper and cayenne. If you want a totally smooth soup, add the tomatoes during the blending step.

Bring soup to a boil and then reduce heat to medium low so the soup just simmers. Cook for about 15 minutes, then taste for salt. You may not need any because of the broth and canned tomatoes. Serve with Parmesan cheese and crackers, croutons or bread.

Soup reheats well. Freeze for longer storage.

Soup’s On

I know it is June and most people aren’t thinking of soup this time of year. We had a couple of really cool days last week where the thermometer struggled to reach 60, so I was thinking soup. And you can’t beat it for a quick, make-ahead meal. If you are currently sweltering where you are and can’t stand the idea of soup, file this one away for fall and check out a recipe for chicken salad or ice cream.

My parents were (very nicely!) coming over one day last week to help me fix the back screen door. It was one of those projects that had been hanging over our heads for months, since the wind caught the screen and ripped the door closer right off the door, taking part of the metal with it. After several months of having to remember to pull the door closed after us, we bought a new closer and asked my dad how to deal with the stripped out holes. Typical of my dad, he offered not only advice, but also the hands-on skills to get the job done. The least I could do was to provide lunch.

I wanted to have lunch all ready to eat when they arrived, but I didn’t want to have to fuss with it, or to worry about it burning if the door repair took longer than we planned. And I wanted more than sandwiches and chips. I settled on soup that I made early in the morning and kept in the crockpot on low until time for lunch. Seems like I have been seeing lentil recipes all over the place lately, so I bought a bag of lentils and used what I had in the fridge to make my own recipe.

Whether you need soup to warm your bones, pay back a favor, or just to fill your hungry belly, try this one, or another soup recipe and prepare yourself to be amazed at how easy homemade soup can be.

 

Easy Lentil Soup
from The Cook’s Life
Serves 6, easy to double

I used chicken broth, but vegetable broth would be delicious too. Make sure you like the taste of whatever broth you use.

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large shallot or 1 small onion
3 cloves garlic
2 carrots
2 ribs celery
1-2 tomatoes
2 sun-dried tomatoes
3-4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable), low sodium preferred
¾ cup brown lentils, rinsed and drained
Pepper
Salt

Heat olive oil in a 3-quart saucepan over medium heat while you chop the shallot or onion. Add shallot to hot oil and stir briefly. Lower the heat to medium low and let cook while you mince the garlic and chop the carrots and celery into ¼ inch pieces. You don’t want big chunks in this soup, just small pieces of carrot and celery.

Add the garlic, carrots and celery to the pan and stir to combine. Raise the heat to medium and allow vegetables to cook while you chop the tomatoes. They will cook down, so you don’t have to really worry about getting even pieces. Dice the sun-dried tomatoes into ¼ inch pieces.

When the carrots and celery have softened somewhat, add the tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, broth, lentils and pepper to taste. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-low, so the soup is just simmering, not boiling furiously. Cover the pan and simmer for 30-40 minutes, or until the carrots, celery and lentils are tender. Taste the soup and add salt if necessary.

At this point you can transfer the soup to a crockpot set on low for a couple of hours (up to four), or you can cook on the stovetop for another 30 minutes or so. This will allow the lentils to thicken and enrich the broth a little more. I tasted mine after the lentils were first tender and it was missing something. But after about two hours in the crockpot it had a richer flavor and was so much better.

You could also make the recipe through sautéing the garlic, carrots and celery. Once the vegetables are somewhat softened, transfer them to a crockpot, add the tomatoes, sun-dried tomatoes, broth, lentils and pepper and cook on low for 4-6 hours, or until all the vegetables are tender and the broth is thickened somewhat. Taste for salt before serving.

Reheats well. Add a little water and reheat in the microwave or on the stove over low heat.

Download recipe here.

Something from Nothing

I’m working on cleaning out the freezer again today. I have been saving bones from cooked chicken breasts in the freezer marked, “For soup.” I marked it so I wouldn’t see a weird looking bag of mystery contents and throw it in the trash on the next clean-out. And they really could be trash. I mean, you’ve eaten the chicken, so why keep the bones? Well, they make lovely stock, when you cook them with a few veggies and some water.

I pulled out my bags of bones, yes there were two, and put them, still frozen, in a pot. I filled it about half full of water and added three carrots, a shallot and several cloves of garlic. I wished I had more shallots, but I wasn’t running to the store just for shallots or onions for stock. I also threw in a container of chopped celery I found when I was rooting around in the freezer for the bones. It wasn’t marked, but I know I chopped up the rest of a bunch of celery when I realized I wasn’t going to use it before it went bad. Can you tell the freezer is my savior when I am a victim of poor planning? By the way, I found the pesto I was looking for when I made the peach jam the other day. Now I just need to remember what I was going to do with it.

I let my freezer bounty simmer for about two hours and then tasted it. Pretty good, but needed salt, of course. A little salt, a little black pepper and I was ready to strain out the bits and take stock of my stock.

Now I have beautiful, homemade chicken stock for making soup, adding to recipes that just need a cup of chicken stock or making plain rice more interesting. I am going to use part of today’s stock to make chicken and dumplings, along with leftover roast chicken. But that is tomorrow’s post…

Something from Nothing Chicken Stock
from The Cook’s Life

 Of course you can make chicken stock from raw chicken and then use the meat for soup or other recipes. I prefer to bake or roast my chicken and use just the picked over bones for my stock, but feel free to start with bone-in breasts or thighs or a whole chicken. If you are cooking the chicken, be sure not to let the water come to a boil or you will end up with tough meat. Keep it at a gentle simmer.

Leftover bones from 6-8 chicken breasts or from a whole chicken
Water
3-4 carrots
2 medium onions or 4 medium shallots
5-10 cloves garlic
3-4 ribs celery
Pepper
Salt

As you can see the amounts vary considerably – adjust to what you have available and your preferences. Place the bones in a large pot (at least 6 quarts) and add water until it is about halfway up the bones. They don’t have to be covered with water. Put the pot over medium heat and let it start heating while you prepare the vegetables.

Peel the carrots, onions or shallots and garlic. Cut them in half or quarters and add them into the pot, poking them down into the bones. Cut the celery ribs in half or quarters and add to the pot. It won’t look like enough water, but the bones and vegetables will shrink and compact as they cook. Too much water and you will have thin, weak-tasting stock. Put the lid on the pot and let it come to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook, with the lid on, for 1½-2 hours, stirring occasionally and skimming off any foam that comes to the top.

After two hours, taste the stock. It should taste like chicken and vegetables. Add pepper and salt to taste – start with ½ teaspoon of salt and go from there. You can always add more, but you can’t take it out.

Strain the stock through a mesh sieve and discard the bones and vegetables. Chill the stock for several hours and remove any fat that congeals at the top. If you want to get really frugal, you can freeze the fat separately and use it to sauté rice before adding the liquid.

If your stock tastes too watery after you strain it, you can return it to the pot and continue cooking it without the lid until it is more concentrated.

Store the stock in the fridge for a few days, or freeze for longer storage. Freeze it in amounts that you want for recipes, so you aren’t thawing 6 cups of stock to use 1 cup of it.

Download the recipe here.