Q. What tips do you have for making good homemade soup?
A. With one-dish meals increasingly popular for weeknight dining, soup is more than just an accompaniment to supper. And while canned soup requires little effort -- a quick warm-up on the stove or in the microwave -- it's no substitute for a bowl of the homemade stuff.
A good stock or broth, flavorful ingredients, and appropriate seasonings can create a tasty pot of soup. Taking advantage of fresh, seasonal ingredients is best, but using canned or frozen vegetables and refrigerated leftovers can work out just fine.
High-quality stock is the backbone of any soup recipe. 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.
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. To make a tasty soup out of stock, add your choice of meat, vegetables, seasonings, rice, or noodles, and simmer until tender.
Q. What are some basic stock recipes?
A. Stock is a lot easier to make than you might think. Here are some easy recipes for chicken, beef, and vegetable stock:
- Chicken Stock: Place 4 pounds chicken backs, wings, and bones in a large stock pot. Add 4 quarts cold water, 2 large sliced onions, 2 sliced carrots, 2 sliced ribs celery with leaves, 1 bay leaf, 4 peppercorns, 2 sprigs parsley, and 1 teaspoon dried thyme. Slowly bring to a boil and lower heat to a simmer, skimming off surface foam for first 30 minutes. Simmer a total of 2 hours; strain. Makes about 7 cups.
- Beef Stock: Preheat oven to 450°F. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large roasting pan. Add 4 pounds beef bones and brown in oven, about 10 minutes, stirring pieces frequently. Add 2 large sliced onions, 2 sliced carrots, 2 sliced ribs celery with leaves and roast until browned. Transfer bones and vegetables to a large stock pot.
- Beef Stock Continued: Pour off fat from roasting pan and deglaze with 1 cup hot water, scraping up browned bits from bottom of pan; pour into stockpot. Add 1 bay leaf, 4 peppercorns, 2 sprigs parsley and 1 teaspoon dried thyme to stock-pot and cover with 4 quarts cold water. Slowly bring to a boil and lower heat to a simmer. Simmer 4 to 5 hours, skimming off surface foam during first 30 minutes of cooking; strain. Makes about 3 quarts.
- Vegetable Stock: Combine 3 each finely chopped carrots, celery, leeks, and onions, along with 1/2 pound mushroom pieces, 1 bay leaf, 2 sprigs parsley, and 1 teaspoon dried thyme in a large stockpot. Cover with 3 quarts water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook, covered, 2 hours; strain. Makes about 2 quarts.
Q. I love creamy soups, but I don't like all the fat and calories. Is there a healthier way to make cream soups?
A. Traditionally, roux (flour cooked in fat or melted butter) was used to thicken creamy soups and sauces. Today, however, an easier and more waistline-friendly approach is to use the main ingredients themselves as thickening components.
For an easy cream soup, sauté some minced onion in butter, add the chopped vegetable of your choice, cover with chicken or vegetable broth and simmer until the vegetables are soft. Purée most or all of the cooked soup in a food processor or blender, return the soup to the pot and finish by stirring in a bit of heavy cream or milk at the end for flavor. Voilà! Cream soup!