Tips for Making Great Soups

There is nothing more satisfying on a cold winter night than a great bowl of homemade soup. One pot meals were very common in my household growing up with six siblings and my mom and dad really knew how to stretch those dollars with a big pot of soup, stew, beans or something. And of course every leftover became a new meal; like leftover rice became rice pudding and mashed potatoes became potato pancakes. No wonder I learned to be so creative in my cooking.

Start with a delicious liquid and use quality ingredients

High-quality stock is the backbone of any soup recipe.  A good stock or broth that includes flavorful ingredients and just the right seasonings can create a delicious pot of soup. Although not difficult to make, stock does require a couple hours of cooking time, but the flavorful result is well worth the effort. Making stock also is a great way to use up items that would otherwise be thrown out, such as bones, shells, celery leaves, and carrot tops.

What is the difference between chicken stock and chicken broth?

Chicken stock comes from the bones and gristle of the chicken, while chicken broth is made from the meat. Because of this, chicken stock has what cooks describe as a “fuller” feel, meaning a richer flavor, as the gelatin in the chicken bones becomes part of the liquid. In general, broths are a byproduct of preparing another food item, and not prepared for their own sake. For example, the juices from roasting a turkey are also considered broth. Chicken stock, on the other hand, is prepared for its own sake as an ingredient, must be simmered for a long period of time -- and is not salted.

You can use chicken broth for many purposes, such as adding it to vegetables and other seasonings to increase the flavor. For example, chicken broth will bring out the flavor in various foods including carrots, parsley, onions and garlic. Chicken stock, because of its richer flavor, is the right ingredient for soups, like chicken noodle soup

With all that being said, the difference between stock and broth is primarily confined to the restaurant and professional culinary world. In our home kitchens, the terms are totally interchangeable. In grocery stores, "stock" and "broth" are both used to describe the same product - sometimes salted and sometimes not. If you are not making your own, I recommend you purchase brands with the least amount of sodium (salt) since that will give you the most control with my own your seasoning.

  • Soups are mostly water and often disguised as broth or stock, wine or milk, so whatever liquid you choose for your soups, use one that you would want to drink.
  • As often as you can, take advantage of fresh, seasonal ingredients. If you cannot find the right vegetables for your soup, you could use frozen vegetables with good success, but do not use canned vegetables. Some of those refrigerated leftovers also work well.
  • Stock freezes well, so you can save unused portions for future recipes. If you're freezing the stock rather than using it immediately, cool it quickly in a bowl of ice water, and freeze or refrigerate it immediately. You can also freeze in ice trays. To make a tasty soup out of stock, add your choice of meat, vegetables, seasonings, rice, or noodles, and simmer until tender.
  • When adding wine to soups, be sure to bring it to a boil and let it cook approximately five to 10 minutes to cook off the harshness of the alcohol.
  • For cream- or milk-based soups, be sure you use fresh dairy products (this is not the time to make use of your expired cartons!)

Sweat the Aromatics

This is something you probably do when you are cooking, but might not have realized what it was called.

Aromatics include onions, leeks, garlic, and often celery and carrots. Cooking them over low to medium heat in the pan before adding any liquid will help soften their texture and blend their flavors. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they are soft but not browning, about 5 minutes. The goal is to break down their cellulose (it really makes it easier if you are planning to puree) and get them to give off some of their liquid, which will deepen the flavor of the soup.

Peel and chop onions as uniformly as you can so they cook evenly.

Use the Right Tools

All you really need is a heat-proofed vessel and heat, but for the best results, a large heavy pot is ideal. And if happen to have an immersion blender, that is a huge plus. And of course a soup ladle is a must have if you plan to make soups on a regular basis.

Salt in Layers

Canned and prepared soups are known to be high in sodium and there is a reason: all that water takes a lot of salt to flavor!

Practice salting in layers:   I prefer to use Kosher Salt or Sea Salt which you can find in most grocery stores. Add some salt to the aromatics and other vegetables as you cook them. If you’re cooking the meat separately, make sure it is well seasoned before it goes into the pot. And, most importantly, taste it before serving and add salt until you taste a hike-up in flavor, then stop!

Hit it with Freshness

You’ve taken the time to use great ingredients and you’ve cooked and salted perfectly. So why not make the most of it all before it hits the table? Add a bit of something fresh right at the end. Fresh herbs, fresh citrus juice, a dollop or two of cream or yogurt. A hit of something un-cooked and un-simmered will highlight the deep, delicious, melded flavors in the rest of the soup.

Garnish Like a Pro

Go beyond chopped parsley and freshly ground black pepper (although they both make great garnishes for many soups). The best soup garnishes offer a contrasting flavor or texture to both compliment and highlight the soup. Here are some ideas:

Garnishes

Some soups require a garnish, like sour cream in borscht, a Gruyère-topped crouton for French onion, or rouille-spread toasts with bouillabaisse.

For everyday soups...

  • Try a sprinkling of freshly minced herbs (whichever kind you used in cooking the soup).
  • For curried soups and Mexican-influenced soups, stir lime juice into sour cream or yogurt with a pinch of sugar; spoon onto soup just before serving.
  • A little grated ginger, finely chopped orange zest, or a dash of curry powder are also good in a cream topping for curried soups.
  • You can, of course, change the flavorings according to the kind of soup you've made; a dollop of cream will also help tone down the fire in spicy soups.
  • Toasted bread, unbuttered croutons, crackers, or baked tortilla chips add a satisfying crunch.
  • A spoonful of salsa, or a few chopped tomatoes, bell peppers, scallions, or cucumbers add a cool, fresh taste to your soup.
  • A dusting of finely grated hard cheese such as Parmesan, Romano, or Emmenthaler, adds lots of flavor but not much fat.
  • Garnishes give pureed soups a visual lift. Try a spoonful of sour cream, a drizzle of peppery olive oil, or a handful of homemade croutons.

Homemade Broth/Stock Recipes

http://allrecipes.com/recipes/soups-stews-and-chili/broth-and-stocks/chicken-stock/

http://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/how_to_make_chicken_stock/

Magic Mineral Broth

 

Freezing Fresh Peas

I recently picked up some purple hull and cream peas from my local Dallas Farmer’s Market and wanted to share with you how to freeze them. Purple Hull Peas are very popular here in the south because of the long hot growing season that we have. I don’t typically grow peas in my garden, but I always pick some up from the market this time of year to have on hand for the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. I look for pods that are about 50 percent purple as they are perfect for freezing. They should also be mixed with some light green tender pods.

Things You'll Need

  • Colander
  • Large pot
  • Wire basket with handle (if you don’t have a basket, no worries. Just place your peas directly into the pot)
  • Plastic freezer containers or freezer bags
  • Freezer tape
  • Indelible marker

You can use freezer bags to freeze your peas in which will give you more flexibility in the amount of peas you can fit into each package, based on how many portions you want. Once frozen, purple hull peas retain their flavor and quality for eight to 12 months

Steps to Freezing

  1. Rinse peas by running cold water over them while stirring gently with your hand. Examine them as you stir, removing any dark-colored or damaged peas. Place about a pound of the peas in a wire basket if you have one.
  2. Bring a gallon of water to a boil in a large pot. Immerse the wire basket in the boiling water and boil for one to two minutes. Begin timing when the water returns to a boil.
  3. Remove the peas from the boiling water and immediately run cold water over them. Cool the peas as quickly as possible to stop the cooking process
  4. Place the peas in plastic freezer containers or freezer bags. When using freezer containers, leave 1/2 inch of space between the top of the peas and the lip of the container.
  5. Label the containers using freezer tape and an indelible marker. Include the date on the labels.

Butternut Squash Soup

I have always enjoyed the taste of butternut squash. However, my real love for this wonderful squash really began just over a year ago when my daughter became ill. We learned how beneficial butternut squash was for her and we began researching all kinds of recipes using butternut squash.

Our favorite by far was butternut squash soup. I found a basic butternut squash recipe and tweaked it to include something that we really liked. I now make butternut squash soup on a regular basis and even had the opportunity to make my recipe using fresh organic squash from my friends garden all the way from New Jersey. See the photos on my Nuts for Butternut Squash blog post.

Butternut Squash Soup Recipe

If your squash is huge, add more broth. If you squash is small start with maybe 3 cups of broth and add more as needed.

I hope you enjoy our version of this soup. Get creative and add your own twist like using a pear instead of an apple.

In this video I demonstrate how to prepare this delicious butternut squash soup.

Getting to the “Root” of Ginger Root

There is nothing better than the flavor of fresh ginger. I keep ginger in my kitchen right along with the onions, shallots and garlic. If you have never cooked with ginger, you gotta give it a try. Be careful though - a little bit of ginger goes a long way. Wait until you see all of the health benefits you’ll also gain.

Did you know you can also freeze tightly wrapped fresh ginger root for up to six months or keep it in the refrigerator for up to three weeks.

So let’s get to the root of things….

Selecting Good Quality Ginger Root

Look for plump large pieces of ginger root as they will be more moist and more flavorful.

You also want to look for pieces of ginger root that are straight and rectangular in shape, with as few bumps and knobs as possible. It will make them easier to peel and prepare

The skin of the ginger root should be firm and unblemished, apart from the rough, dried patch where the piece was cut. You do not want to buy anything that is wrinkled, soft or covered in mold.

Smell it – It should smell strong. Quality ginger will smell peppery or have a slight aroma of citrus. If it's fresh, it should smell pungent and sharp.

Peeling Ginger Root

Cut off the appropriate amount for your recipe. If you’re following a particular recipe, use the amount of ginger the recipe indicates – it’s sort of weird the way it’s explained. You’ll see that most recipes quantify ginger in inches rather than weight or volume.

Sometimes recipes will call for a “thumb’s worth” of ginger, which is exactly what it sounds like: a piece of ginger root the length of your thumb.

If you are not following a specific recipe, keep in mind that a little bit of ginger goes a long way – so start with a small piece, do a quick taste test and then you can add more if you need to.

Use a metal spoon to gently scrape away the skin. A spoon is the best way to remove the skin from the ginger root as it is quick, easy and avoids wasting any ginger. It’s easy to peel away too much.

Holding the ginger in one hand and the spoon in the other, use the inside top of the spoon to make firm, downward strokes along the piece of ginger

Dig the spoon over the little nubs that are often found on ginger root. The skin should come off with a gentle scrape leaving everything else behind

So does the spoon sound like just too much trouble?   Okay, then go with the quicker method of using a vegetable peeler or a small paring knife. Just keep in mind that you will probably take off a few extra layers of ginger.

Preparing Ginger for Cooking

You first have to decide whether you are going to chop it, grate it, mince it, cut it into matchsticks, etc. It all depends on the recipe you are using. Take a close look at your recipe. A soup may call for grated ginger while a stir fry recipe might tell you to chop it into matchsticks. Remember that ginger loses its flavor the longer it cooks. So if you really want to take advantage of its taste and smell, add it to your food towards the end of your cooking time. This will preserve its freshness.

CHOP or mince ginger if you want texture as well as flavor. When chopped into matchsticks, ginger is crispy and chewy

Small pieces of minced ginger in a pasta or rice will provide bursts of flavor in every bite. Larger pieces are great in soups and teas.

To chop the ginger, place the root on its side and make thin, coin-shaped slices. Then, stack several coins together and make a number of vertical slices, to make matchsticks.

MINCE the ginger by turning the matchsticks to the side and cutting across them, to form fine cubes. If you like, you can run your knife through the ginger a final time to get rid of any larger lumps. If you have a small chopper – use it. I also used my little Cuisinart chopper.

GRATE ginger when you want to add a strong aroma and fresh flavor to your food. Grating your ginger is quick and easy way to get superfine or even pureed ginger, which makes an excellent addition to tomato sauces or marinades

To grate, rub the piece of ginger against a microplane or a cheese grater. This will produce juicy grated ginger that looks and feels like a paste. You may want to grate the ginger over a bowl, to catch any juice.

Be careful when you get to the end of the ginger, as it can be easy to cut your fingers on the grater. You may need to use a knife to scrape off any ginger that's stuck to the grater.

Recipes using Ginger

You can use ginger in a variety of recipes. Ginger is such a versatile flavor, it is used across a broad array of recipes, from stir fries and soups to breads and teas. If you're looking for some new ideas on how to use ginger, here are some interesting you might want to try. recipes listed below?

Ginger Veggie Stir-Fry – this is a delicious easy stir-fry. Pick your own favorite veggies.

Blueberry and White Chocolate Chunk Ginger Cookies

Ginger Broccoli

Make Ginger Tea

Make Candied Ginger

Make Ginger Snaps

Make Ginger Ale

Make Chicken with Ginger and Spring Onion

Make Ginger Chutney

Make Ginger Garlic Soup

Prepare Ginger Root for Cooking

 

HEALTH BENEFITS OF GINGER

Ginger has a long tradition of being very effective in alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. In herbal medicine, ginger is regarded as an excellent carminative (a substance which promotes the elimination of intestinal gas) and intestinal spasmolytic (a substance which relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract). Modern scientific research has revealed that ginger possesses numerous therapeutic properties including antioxidant effects, an ability to inhibit the formation of inflammatory compounds, and direct anti-inflammatory effects.

Gastrointestinal Relief

A clue to ginger's success in eliminating gastrointestinal distress is offered by recent double-blind studies, which have demonstrated that ginger is very effective in preventing the symptoms of motion sickness, especially seasickness. In fact, in one study, ginger was shown to be far superior to Dramamine, a commonly used over-the-counter and prescription drug for motion sickness. Ginger reduces all symptoms associated with motion sickness including dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and cold sweating.

Safe and Effective Relief of Nausea and Vomiting During Pregnancy

Ginger's anti-vomiting action has been shown to be very useful in reducing the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy, even the most severe form, hyperemesis gravidum, a condition which usually requires hospitalization.

Anti-Inflammatory Effects

Ginger contains very potent anti-inflammatory compounds called gingerols. These substances are believed to explain why so many people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis experience reductions in their pain levels and improvements in their mobility when they consume ginger regularly.

Arthritis-related problems with your aging knees? Regularly spicing up your meals with fresh ginger may help, suggests a study published in a recent issue of Osteoarthritis Cartilage.

Protection against Colorectal Cancer

Gingerols, the main active components in ginger and the ones responsible for its distinctive flavor, may also inhibit the growth of human colorectal cancer cells, suggests research presented at the Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research, a major meeting of cancer experts that took place in Phoenix, AZ, October 26-30, 2003.

Ginger Induces Cell Death in Ovarian Cancer Cells

Lab experiments presented at the 97th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer, by Dr Rebecca Lui and her colleagues from the University of Michigan, showed that gingerols, the active phytonutrients in ginger, kill ovarian cancer cells by inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death) and autophagocytosis (self-digestion).

Immune Boosting Action

Ginger can not only be warming on a cold day, but can help promote healthy sweating, which is often helpful during colds and flus. A good sweat may do a lot more than simply assist detoxification. German researchers have recently found that sweat contains a potent germ-fighting agent that may help fight off infections.

Ginger is so concentrated with active substances, you don't have to use very much to receive its beneficial effects. For nausea, ginger tea made by steeping one or two 1/2-inch slices (one 1/2-inch slice equals 2/3 of an ounce) of fresh ginger in a cup of hot water will likely be all you need to settle your stomach. For arthritis, some people have found relief consuming as little as a 1/4-inch slice of fresh ginger cooked in food, although in the studies noted above, patients who consumed more ginger reported quicker and better relief.

Courtesy of The World's Healthiest Foods - www.whfoods.org