The weather favors soups, stews and chilies, oh my!

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By Denise Murray

Health and recipe blogger

We end the season of tailgates, harvest festivals, and multiple family gatherings, for some, the sports season keeps on running, and grabbing a quick bite out… & The weather favors soups, stews and chilies.

Plan on taking your time with a good soup or stew. The best soups are made with a base of homemade stock and fresh ingredients. Obviously this can be a time-consuming endeavor, this is why I suggest the best investment of your time is to double or triple the recipe while preparing, and then freeze two or three containers of the soup in your freezer to enjoy later this season.

Onions, leeks, garlic, celery and carrots should be cooked first in the pan over medium heat 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 deepen the flavor of the soup. Peel and chop onions as uniformly as you can so they cook evenly.

The key to satisfying homemade soup is often in the salt. Cooks, afraid of over-salting, create pots of soup just a teaspoon or two shy of proper seasoning.

Salt soup in layers. 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.

Add a bit of something fresh right at the end. Fresh herbs, fresh citrus juice, a dollop or two of sour cream to highlight the delicious flavors of your work. Go beyond chopped parsley and freshly ground black pepper. The best soup garnishes offer a contrasting flavor or texture to compliment and highlight the soup.

Sure you can open a can of soup, but how about a simmering pot of homemade goodness waiting when you come in from shoveling snow, or an inviting cup of savory stew to invite friends over last minute…

Allow me to elaborate on preparation of these harvest vegetables and gourds that are more than a table decoration with recipe tips, and even outline a soup swap with your neighbors!

Every part of the squash plant and many gourds can be eaten, including the leaves and tender shoots, which can be cooked in omelets or made into soup. Squash comes in shapes round and elongated, scalloped and pear-shaped with flesh that ranges from golden-yellow to brilliant orange. Most winter squashes are best harvested once the cool weather of fall sets in. They can be stored for months in a cool basement-hence the name "winter" squash. Look for squash that feels heavy for its size and has hard, deep-colored skin free from blemishes. Thoroughly scrub each squash under running water until the skin feels clean. The cut off and discard the stem end and scrape off the other end. Only if the skin is unusually tough or the surface feels especially gritty after washing, is it necessary to peel the squash. Most squash is now ready to be used in any recipe.

Pick firm straight leeks with dark green leaves and white necks. Store loosely in the refrigerator in a plastic bag to help retain moisture. They will keep fresh for a week or two. Leeks should be cleaned before preparing. Soil can get caught in the overlapping layers. Slice the leek lengthwise through the centerline, fan it open, and rinse the layers in cool water. Pat dry. Use leeks as you would onions.

Sweet potatoes are best stored loose in a cool, dark area not the refrigerator. Wash before using. Prepare similarly to white potatoes. Peel only a thin layer of the skin, or experiment with not peeling at all to retain the most nutrients. They are sweet enough to use in pies, breads, muffins.

Horseradish is best used freshly grated and raw. Scrub with a stiff brush and peel off the dark skin before using horseradish. The finer it is chopped or grated, the more pungent the flavor. If you want to retain the spicy zing of horseradish in cooked dishes, add it at the end of the cooking process, after the dish has been removed from the heat.

A Soup swap can be a fun, easy way to get-together with neighbors and get a wonderful mix of homemade soup for your freezer. Soup Swap was founded by Knox Gardenr in Seattle in the late 1990's.

You'll begin by inviting everyone to a soup swap, ask them to bring SIX quarts of a homemade soup…pre-frozen in six separate 1 QT freezer bags or freezer containers, labeled with the variety of soup. Often the recipes will need doubled to get this amount.

It is up to you if you set what types of soup to bring, though some soups don't freeze particularly well, potato and cream soups for example.

The party should begin an hour before the swap. When it is time to swap the recipes and everyone has met, gather the recipes together and let everyone say a bit about their dish and get busy swapping. Everybody will leave with the same amount of soup they brought but different varieties.

If you are going to have a soup tasting party, you should have some mini loaves of bread, crackers, or anything else on hand which would be nice to accompany the food. A great addition to your party, invite each guest to bring along a can or two of their stocked canned soup to donate to our local food pantry.

Harvest-Vegetable Ragout
Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 1 cup )

5 teaspoons olive oil, divided

3 cups diced butternut squash

2 cups (1/2-inch-thick) sliced bell peppers

1 1/2 cups diced acorn squash

1 1/2 diced Crenshaw squash

1 cup diced tomatoes

10 garlic cloves, halved

2 bay leaves

2 thyme sprigs

1 tablespoon chopped oregano

1 tablespoon nutmeg

1 cup dry red wine

1/2 cup vegetable broth or chicken broth

1 (19-ounce) can petit white navy beans, drained

3/4 teaspoon sea salt, divided

1/2 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper

1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

6 whole wheat bread bowls

Thyme sprigs (optional)

Shredded Asiago Cheese (optional)

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Combine squash and next 5 ingredients (squash through garlic), and sauté for 8 minutes or until lightly browned, stirring frequently. Add bay leaves and 2 thyme sprigs, and oregano. Stir in nutmeg and wine, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the broth and navy beans. Cover and simmer 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper, and chopped parsley. Discard bay leaves and thyme.

Serve ragout in hollowed out bread bowls. Garnish with additional thyme sprigs, and grated cheese if desired.

Best of Cooking, Denise

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Reader Comments

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Denise from Forest Park  

Posted: February 6th, 2013 12:54 PM

Apologies, I couldn't fit the recipe in the comment section, you can find it on the Forest Park Review face book page. I'm allergic to mushrooms, so I fix them on the side for the rest of my family. You could easily add cleaned diced mushrooms of your choice in at the same time as the carrots & onions in the recipe. For this size soup, I recommend 1 pint of field button mushrooms,yet baby portabellas would be ideal. (I don't eat them, but I do appreciate them) Enjoy! Best of Cooking, Denise

Denise from Forest Park  

Posted: February 6th, 2013 12:49 PM

I hope you'll enjoy the soup season, The recipe below make about 1 gallon of soup, I always suggest doubling or tripling the recipe, depending on what size pot you have. This way, I have dinner for the night for the whole family and lunch tomorrow, and can freeze 3 -4 more meals to pull out quick as needed. I find a gallon size freezer bag works the best, and freezes nice & flat on a cookie sheet. As for a Beef & Barley soup with mushrooms, I hope you'll enjoy my Lentil Soup with Beef & Barley

Sharon Daly from Forest Park, Illinois  

Posted: February 5th, 2013 11:06 PM

yum, thanks so much! this sure is soup weather. btw, i bet/hope you have a recipe for beef-barley-mushroom soup? would you like to share?

Jean Lotus from Editor Forest Park Review  

Posted: February 4th, 2013 5:14 PM

A soup swap sounds wonderful! Thanks for these warm and cozy food images Denise.

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