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January 16, 2012

I have slowly, slowly made my way onto the homemade soup bandwagon. It has taken quite some time, but now that I have arrived I’m like a smoker who has quit….you need to do it and you need to do it now.

It started back in the gluten days when I discovered the joys of homemade chicken broth. I would cook it all day…skim it, strain it…then I would cool it down to de-fat it. I even bought one of these chiller paddles. Then, after all that, I would reduce it some more to concentrate it and portion it up and store it in the freezer. I started taking it to my sister’s house for Thanksgiving and Christmas to use in the dressing. The taste was so superior to the canned stuff that she started making her own. There really was no comparison.

Then I was diagnosed with Celiac, and all the canned soup was off limits. Even then I was slow to come around. I’d been a big soup eater on occasion…mostly Dinty Moore Beef Stew (which is Gluten Free!) or Campbell’s Chunky. But I can’t say I really missed it, other than the convenience of being able to pop open a can and eat. So I kept the Dinty Moore around for that purpose. But last year I decided to embark on a somewhat formal culinary education. I bought the On Cooking textbook and began to learn. I say somewhat formal, because it’s truly hard to learn to be a real cook in a home kitchen. Especially with the appliances you saw in a previous post. But I am reading, cooking and learning as best I can.

My education started with basics, but the first real cooking began with stocks, sauces and soups. I am finishing the soup section right now. Plus, of course, being on a limited budget and needing to feed the family I am learning many things at the same time. However, the stock and sauce curriculum led me to beef stock. I had made beef stock only once and was unimpressed, mainly because I simply didn’t have enough carcass to flavor the broth. Enter H Mart. A Korean gourmet grocery. I discovered it when I was looking for the best fish markets in town. It is that and much more. To make a long story somewhat shorter, I bought 15 lbs of beef bones with which to make my broth. It was, as you might imagine, wonderful. A few mother sauces later and I was ready for soups.

Now, I had made homemade soups. But I really didn’t know what I was doing and most of the recipes I used as guides were really not very good and I simply wasn’t real happy with it. And an uninspiring soup is really uninspiring. It just doesn’t have a lot to fall back on. That brings us to this holiday season.

For the last two years, we have hosted a Christmas Eve dinner at our house. I have always cooked a big Christmas Eve dinner, but two years ago we decided to make it a party and invite friends and family. Since we have no friends, we invite family. The first year it was rack of lamb. This Christmas, having learned much more and needing to put myself under the gun, I served The Wife’s family a feast consisting of: Cream of Tomato Soup, Filet Mignon, Lobster Tails, Béarnaise Sauce, Drawn Butter, Stuffed Potatoes, Sautéed Mushrooms, Green Beans and Creme Brulee. With Sweet Tea. If I may say so myself, and since this is my blog, I may…it was incredible.

But since this is a post about soup, we will concentrate on the soup. The recipe was simple but seemed better than I had used for the one tomato soup I had made in the past. (I failed to mention all the soups we tried while I was sick with my stricture and was on a liquid diet. We tried several to little avail. So that left Ensure. Don’t get me started on that). This tomato soup, in all it’s simplicity, was delicious. I’m not a huge tomato fan, but this stuff was luscious. Smooth, flavorful, rich. Everything a soup should be.

Next, I made a lobster bisque. I used the opportunity to learn to steam live lobster and how to cut it up. No, it didn’t scream. I listened. But the bisque it rendered was, once again, wonderful.

Which leads us to today. I love clam chowder. I used to eat Progresso and Campbell’s Chunky versions, which were fine. It’s wonderful to be blissfully ignorant. That’s why they call it blissful. Today, I made a homemade version that blew me away. I couldn’t stop eating it. It was so flavorful and complex I couldn’t even convince myself it was that simple. But it was. Soup is back on the menu.

If I could encourage people to learn one thing in the kitchen it is that. Stocks and soups. Simply because they are so much better than anything you’ve ever had. Even at most restaurants. I don’t know why that is. Maybe because they just don’t sell enough to make it worth their while to make really good, fresh soups. But homemade soup, not some goulash that someone throws a bunch of leftover crap in, but a well-crafted, flavor-laden soup made from fresh ingredients and simmered slowly and carefully is a true delicacy. I also believe that cooking stocks and soups is therapeutic. The deliberate nature of putting it all together, the smells that it imparts in the house, the processes that can’t be hurried. It is the epitome of home-cooking. You need to do it. Now.


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  1. Erica permalink

    That clam chowder rocked my world too! 😀

  2. jaykay permalink

    Would love to try that! I make a simple but yummy soup from Barefoot Contessa. It’s chicken tortilla soup. We really like it. You cook some corn tortillas in it to thicken it and I serve it with a mexican cheese crumbled on top, slices of avocado and toasted corn tortilla strips. I also increase the amount of spices to taste.

    • Yeah, she’s really good. I’ve made a lot of her stuff too. Simple, basic, but really great. Definitely my kind of approach.

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