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Arts and Culture

Bread And Butter: Favorite Soup

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Over the past year, my soup game has strengthened, slowly. While I love soup, I had only a small repertoire of homemade varieties, the main one being a corn chowder. And my soup was good. Passable, really, but definitely lacking in any layered intricacies. That is what I really wanted to change.

As the winter settles in around us, I’m starting a list of soups with which to experiment. The colder the temperature, the more frequently soup lands on our menu during the week. It’s usually quick and filling and a family favorite. Each person in the family has varieties that are our favorite and because they are so different from one another and can easily be eaten without feeling an overlap, I want to perfect each of them with the goal of having a spring soup week to celebrate the changing seasons. This seems a reasonably attainable goal and something to distract from the bone chilling realities of the out of doors.

This fall, I started with my corn chowder and made it once a week for a few weeks in a row, changing it just a little each time. The first change was substituting heavy cream for the milk that I traditionally used. It was definitely creamier and thicker and had instant positive reactions. The next thing I did was sweat the onions and peppers in butter first thing before moving on to other steps. That was a definite change from the dump everything in method I had used for years and one that started the layering of flavors I was looking for. The final change was the addition of shrimp. Unfortunately, I only added the cooked shrimp straight at the end to warm through, which added little to the flavor of the soup. The next round, I’ll be sauteing the shrimp in garlic and butter before adding it at the end. All in all, however, the changes were positive and directly on the path I was looking for.

The next soup I’m tackling is green chile stew. A good green chile stew is spicy, but not overwhelming. The meat is tender and flavorful and the broth and potatoes are reminiscent of a hearty beef soup. I’m thinking of adding both sautéed green chile as well as my usual canned and making sure fresh garlic plays a staring roll. Since potatoes seem to readily absorb any salt added, I’m wondering if I should pressure cook them and set them aside, adding them at the very end instead of nearer the beginning, which is what I normally do. I’m also going to play around with the type of meat I add: stew cubes, stir fry strips, hamburger and possibly some pork are all up for consideration. I’m already salivating at the thought of this round two.

On the other side of green chile stew is a good hamburger soup. I don’t have a recipe for it, really. It’s just a mishmash of pantry staples (at least my pantry) and was a go to growing up. I’m thinking of either merging the two soup together and making a hybrid hamburger green chile soup or seeing which is a winner in a head to head at our dinner table. The similarities are striking, so I’m wondering if both are needed in my arsenal.

After green chile stew comes my favorite soup. Chicken tortilla. My favorite comes from a local restaurant and I will be honest – it’s a relatively new find in my life. I had

never tasted it up until a handful of years ago, but it quickly won me over. The trick, however, is I can’t seem to replicate it to my satisfaction. The restaurant version I love is full of carrots and cheese and avocado and spicy chicken. Which is fine and seems relatively easy, but is somehow lost in translation. Last winter I made up a passable version and I’m looking forward to starting there and seeing if this is the winter I will triumph and have my favorite soup regularly within my reach. The crowning literal topper will be perfecting crispy instead of chewy tortilla strips.

The last soup to tackle will be my chicken noodle. I’ve talked before about my chicken pot pie soup, my version of a classic chicken noodle, and it’s always perfect on cold winter days. However, I’m wanting to take out the canned cream of chicken I use and substitute a whole, unprocessed option instead. The homemade version doesn’t look too terribly difficult, but I think the seasoning will be where I focus most of my experimenting. I want the seasoning to blend seamlessly with my tried and true family favorite and not alter the taste more than I’m wanting.

I’m looking forward to this experimenting. I’m so glad I learned that playing with my food is almost always a great idea.