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Six Ways to Soup Up Your Soup [What's Your Cold Weather Comfort Food?]

Posted Jan 28 2013 12:05am

Babysoup

Moving from Seattle to Minnesota has changed me in so many ways. Some are for the good: I no longer think any stranger who says “Hi” to me on the street is a homeless person who is half a second from asking me for money. Some are not as good: I’ve gotten lazy about opening my own door, what with how polite everyone is here. The other day I stood outside the grocery store for five minutes before Jelly Bean and I realized that a) the doors were not automatically sliding open (because we were standing at the “out” instead of the “in” – I wish I could say that was the only time that’s happened) and b) no one was coming along to open them for us. But lutefisk* notwithstanding, I really love it here – it’s so family friendly! – and so I’m trying my best to assimilate into my new(ish) home.

From what I can gather there are a few criteria to becoming an official Minnesotan:

- The ability to tolerate -40 degree F weather without complaining. Fail, big time. I’m okay until 10 degrees F. I’ll keep a stiff upper lip until zero. But anything that starts with a “negative” and includes the phrase “wind chill” has me whining and refusing to come out from my heated blanket. I am a weather wuss. (By the way, that F doesn’t stand for Fahrenheit in my vocab.)

- Enjoy Garrison Keillor. Oh land. Despite the fact that I say things in real life like “oh land” I cannot find a single humorous thing in ” Prairie Home Companion “. Just hearing Garrison Keillor’s voice makes me get all rage-y. Especially once I realized that PHC takes up a soul-sucking two hours on my beloved NPR. Fail, again.

- Embrace the fashion. Minnesotan ladies have this adorable habit of being completely unaffected by the weather. They throw on cute little wool coats with jaunty pom-pom’d hats and walk around like it ain’t no thing. Me? I bought a puffy calf-length hooded parka that is essentially a walking sleeping bag. I have no peripheral vision and I can’t put my arms all the way down and I don’t care. Best part: I bought it in cherry red so they can find my body easier when I crash through the ice on one of the frozen lakes that my husband, who believes our neighbors when they say it’s safe, drives on. There is nothing cute about me here in winter. (Also, frozen lakes terrify me.)

- Hotdish. I’m sorry Minnesotans, it’s a casserole. The end. And tater tots have no business anywhere near one. Frankly tater tots have no business being anywhere other than in Napoleon Dynamite’s cargo pants.

- Say “BAYg” and “FLAYg” for “bag” and “flag”. (See also: “Nooooo” with at least three different tonal changes.) My kids have got this one nailed but alas my husband and I remain woefully un-Canadian-ized.

- Chicken and wild rice soup. Is heaven. Yes, my friends, it is in soup that I found my inner Minnesotan. Soup is my winter salvation. The colder the weather gets, the more I want to cook it. (Which is why we had soup for dinner four out of seven nights last week. Oops.)

So last week when I posted on Facebook – whining about the cold, naturally – I asked for some new soup ideas and boy did everyone deliver! (My fave answer from Beck: “My recipe is called Move The Heck Out of the Midwest”) But me being greedy I want more. This whole post is a ruse to get you to give me your favorite soup recipes so I can continue my streak of hot liquid food and drive my family nuts! (Also, any ideas you have for healthy soup go-withs would be much appreciated.) But I figure that I have to give a little to get a little so here are my tips for souping it up:

 Tips for Soup-er Soups (so many puns, so little time!)

1. Meet your best friend: the crock pot (Slow cooker? Are they the same thing? I grew up with crock pot.) Throw it all together in the morning and come evening dinner’s ready! And get one of those huge ones – soup freezes so well you can always save the extras for another snowy day. (P.S. When you’re freezing soup, put it in a gallon ziploc bag laid flat on a cookie sheet. Once it’s frozen you can stack them like books. Saves so much freezer space!)

2. Amass some tried-and-true recipes that you can’t screw up. Up until this year I basically had three foolproof soups I could make: meatless chili, tomato vegetable, butternut squash (Can you tell I was a vegetarian for years?). Notice what’s not on my list: Chicken noodle. (Recently we had a soup potluck at my church and I brought a vat of chicken noodle figuring it would be impossible to screw up. Suffice it to say that at the end of the night every other crock pot was licked clean and mine remained virtually untouched. I think it was because I added two pounds of egg noodles which basically turned it into chicken kugel?) But now I’ve added sausage kale, baked potato and lentejas (Spanish lentil stew). I’m trying beef stew this week and I’m mighty hopeful!

3. Find some amazing cooking sites. Cookbooks are so old school! Now you can not only find a recipe but you can watch a video of it being prepped, ask questions of the creator (author? chef?), read reviews from other cooks, find variations to make it healthier and see so many glossy food-porn pics that your Pinterest board will steam up your screen. Take that Betty Crocker! My current faves are Allrecipes (what happens when you crowd-source cooking), Smitten Kitchen  (for my inner gourmet – mostly I just look and drool and wish I had all the fancy gadgets she does) and Healthy Living How To  (awesome for dairy-free, gluten-free and sugar-free but still tasty!). Please share yours in the comments!

4. Take shortcuts. Soup is pretty forgiving as far as recipes go so feel free to play around with the ingredients. (just don’t add 2 pounds of noodles – those things expand in water!) My favorite shortcut is to make a good soup base, like chicken/vegetable/rice, with very little water in it and freeze it in quart bags. When I’m ready I put one in a pot, add two quarts of water or stock and it’s got all the convenience of canned but way way better for you!

5. Don’t be afraid to try new things. One of the first soups suggested to me on FB was “knoephla ” a German potato soup with some kind of dumpling? I’m not a fan of dumplings (Spain ruined me forever on soggy bread in my soup) but after several other friends raved about it as well I decided to open my mind. It seems like every culture has its regional soup delicacy with so many interesting ones to try! Other fun things to throw in soup: Greens like kale and chard, red lentils, hominy, coconut milk, cocoa powder (makes chili so good, I’m serious!) or new spices.

6. I don’t have a sixth tip. (Don’t forget to turn off the burner/crock pot when you’re done?) But “five ways to soup up your soup” wasn’t alliterative. I’ve have neuroses. Hold me.

Your turn: What is your favorite soup recipe? Have a favorite cooking site? What’s your favorite “go-with” for soup? Anyone else ever moved somewhere and had major culture shock?

*Lutevisk: Fish soaked in LYE. Apparently people actually eat it as Costco sells jumbo jars of it – in a two pack. Ever since hearing the story of how my great-great-something-grandmother Adelaide fell into the lye pit as a child and had her ears literally melted off her head, I’ve been leery of getting within ten feet of lye, much less ingesting it. But what I really want to know is who is the first person who discovered that soaking fish in lye actually works? How exactly did that come about? Homicide gone wrong? Dementia? Dare?

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