layer up

perfecting the "done before they arrive" party- a work in progress

Categories: Soups, Supper, Dinner Party, Lunch, Fête Fact, Posted on January 31, 2016 by Sandy Bergsten

What’s the secret to staying warm during the winter weather? Dress in layers. The same holds true when making soup. Start with your base- stir and sauté, and another layer of ingredients- stir and sauté, add your liquids- stir and simmer. Something truly magical happens when you compose a soup with care and stir and simmer with love. And the best part it couldn’t be easier to do!

I passed on this simple secret to a winter soup cooking class I held at my home. Everyone was so surprised at what a difference it made. It seems most folks throw all their ingredients into a pot then boil away. But if you do that, you miss the opportunity to give your soup depth and complexity. Again this process is the opposite of complex. Let me walk you through four wonderful soups that are sure to warm your body and soul.

One of the best things about these soups is that they are almost all vegetable and broth and therefore have very little fat and calories. My secret weapon to making them thick and creamy- a hand blender. If you don’t have one, run out right now and get yourself one as an early Valentine’s present. I use this gadget several times a week. I can’t imagine making soups or sauces without one. Just be super careful when you blend hot ingredients in the pot. You want to make sure you pay close attention and take care not to splatter hot liquid on yourself.

Here are few soup basics. Make sure to always add a pinch of salt to the pot when you are sautéing your onions and any other vegetables. You want to make sure that your veggies retain their natural sodium. Second, never sauté over too high a heat. You want your vegetables to sweat and wilt not scorch. The same holds true with liquids. Bring to a boil then immediately reduce the heat to a slow rolling simmer. Be sure to stir often and always fold in a lot of love and good will (trust me- it makes a difference!). And lastly- soup is always better a day or two later. Let the soup cool completely, cover and refrigerate. You will be surprised how the flavors truly meld overnight.

In a perfect world, a perfect person would make their own chicken stock from scratch for the homemade soups. Well I say, “scratch that”. I always use store bought broth and my soups taste great. Most importantly because I do not burden myself with making homemade stock I actually make homemade soups.

Here’s my class line-up.

I started the cooking class with a black bean soup. Always rinse off canned beans before using them.

Puree two cups of the rinsed and drained beans with 1 cup chicken broth with a hand blender. Set aside

Heat the oil in a medium stockpot over medium-low heat. Add the chopped onion and diced red pepper with a pinch of salt and sauté until the onions wilt and begin to turn lightly golden, about ten minutes.

Add the garlic and cumin and stir for one minute. Sautéing your spices before you add any liquids gives a rich and earthy note to the soup.

Add one cup of drained canned petite-diced tomatoes, the pureed bean mixture, and remaining whole beans. Slowly stir in the remaining 2 cups of chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer until the vegetables are tender and the soup thickens slightly, about 20 minutes.

Seed and mince a tablespoon of jalapeño chili. (Best to use rubber gloves)

Thin the soup with more broth if desired. Add the jalapeño to taste. Season with salt and pepper.

Ladle up.

I served this soup with mini corn muffins.

The next soup was a thai chicken-coconut soup. While many soups like to sit around for a day or two this soup needs to be composed right before serving, ensuring its bright and vibrant flavors. Have all of your ingredients prepped and measured before you start. That means seeding and slicing, zesting and grating, measuring out each and every component.

Soften the cellophane noodles in warm water.

Sautee mushrooms and red peppers over moderate-high heat until lightly browned. Set aside.

Julienne the chicken breast. Sautee over moderate-high heat until almost cooked through, Set aside. Combine the chicken broth, jalapeño pepper, garlic, ginger, lemon zest, lime zest, lemon juice and fish sauce in a medium saucepan. Season with salt. Bring to a simmer, add the drained noodles and cook 3 minutes more. Using tongs, transfer the noodles to the individual soup bowls.

Add the sautéed mushrooms and peppers to the broth. Add the sautéed chicken along with the coconut milk and sugar. Stir in the fresh spinach until it begins to wilt, about 1 minute. Add the chopped cilantro.

Ladle the soup over the noodles into bowls and garnish with sprigs of cilantro.

I made a fresh thai cucumber and peanut salad to serve on the side.

Next up was a cream of tomato soup. This recipe has a couple of imbedded secrets. The first is to be sure to use top quality Muir Glen diced tomatoes. Fresh tomatoes never taste as good, plus who wants to peel, seed and dice?

In a medium stockpot melt the butter and sauté the onions with a pinch of salt over medium-low heat until soft, about ten minutes.

Add the diced tomatoes along with their juices, the dried thyme, salt, sugar and the chicken broth. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook slowly for 20 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Remove the pot from the heat and carefully puree the soup in the pot with a hand blender.

Here’s the second secret ingredient- baking soda. The alkaline of the soda interacts with the acid in the tomatoes making the soup seem “creamy”. Go figure- but it works and adds virtually no calories.

Add the baking soda, cream and cayenne pepper. Heat the soup, but do not let it boil. Taste for seasoning.

Garnish with a grind of black pepper.

Of course I served this soup with little grilled cheese strips.

The last soup was a carrot and turnip bisque. This elegant soup is one of the easiest to make. Peel and chop six medium carrots.

Peel and chop three medium turnips.

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the chopped onion with a pinch of salt and sauté until wilted about five minutes. Add the carrots, turnips and 1/4 tsp salt. Stir. Lower heat to low, cover and sauté until just tender about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the chicken broth. Bring to a boil then lower to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for 15 minutes. With a hand blender carefully puree the soup until smooth.

Season with freshly ground pepper and salt if needed. Garnish with a little chopped fresh Italian parsley and serve.

I coupled this soup with one of my favorite Italian salads- arugula with bresaola and parmesan.

Just like good frineds, this line-up is sure to keep you warm and toasty all winter long!

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