here and there

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Cooking Soup!

Yes, it is January and it makes me think of Carole King's song Chicken Soup with Rice

In January it's so nice
While slipping on the sliding ice
To sip hot chicken soup with rice
Sipping once, sipping twice
Sipping chicken soup with rice

Rarely does an article one reads resonate so loudly as did the article about common mistakes one makes in cooking soup in Good Housekeeping.   I have included the tips from the article in blue.  My Mom loved making daily soups and one of my sons has fond memories of her soups.  Many of the points discussed by the article, I have discovered over the years and continue to learn.  Most recently was making Borscht for Christmas Eve. 

This year, I had decided to make my grandmother beet soup for Christmas Eve dinner, which was meatless and dairy less. I remember loving the looks of this soup as a kid as I liked the tiny dumplings called little ears floating on the broth.  

I picked a recipe that I felt was most authentic that she may have made for Christmas Eve.  I often wonder where her food was stored during this mammoth preparation of this meal as this was before electricity in her village, although she did have a root cellar and it was winter. 

The recipe used water, no measure just fill the pot and add the vegetables to the water.
Yes, I was skeptical as although I rarely if ever use a prepared broth, I do start my soup with simmering meat, pork, beef or chicken in water with aromatics.  I totally agree with the article that using broth may not give you the flavour you may want.  I often wonder what was used in making the particular broth and when did recipes start using prepared broths in them. My Mom never ever used prepared broths! 

However in preparing this beet soup, I was not sure how much flavour a few vegetables would give the broth, so I did caramelize the onions and added dried wild mushrooms that had been soften in warm water.  The recipe did not require this step.  I did keep tasting the broth and to my amazement, the flavour developed beautifully! 

 Ignoring water 
Think you can’t make a delicious soup because you don’t have broth? Just use water instead. Trust me on this one. In fact, you’re better off using water than an inferior broth. Before you dump in a can or container of broth, taste it. If you wouldn’t eat it as is, why would you want to add it your soup? You may even find you prefer soups made with water, which really let the ingredients shine. Just be aware that when you use water, it’s particularly important to add the right amount of salt. One of my personal tricks is to throw in a rind of Parmesan cheese to help flavor the soup as it simmers.

What is that expression "a watched kettle never boils"?  In this case, with my focusing on the flavour of this broth, I did add too much salt as the broth was a bit to salty as it cooked down, I should have added more water at the end.  Generally I do have to remember to add salt as I lived with a grandmother who was on a low salt diet, I still prefer food unsalted.  I like to use fresh herbs and seasoning instead. 

Not using enough salt 
Nothing is as crucial as seasoning correctly. Taste as you go. While you can use a recipe as a guideline, learn to trust your own tastebuds.

In making the Borscht, I did boil the water first and add the vegetables to this, but decreased the temperature immediately to simmer the vegetables.  The vegetables in broth were cooked until still firm but tender.  

Boiling instead of simmering
You want a small bubble or two to rise to the surface of the liquid every few seconds. More than that and your meat and vegetables will come out dry and overcooked.
As mentioned above, vegetables will dry out and overcook if boiled.  When I assemble, my Asian influenced chicken noodle soup, I usually cook the root vegetables in the broth, but add the leaf green parts of Baby Bok Choi, Shanghai Bok Choi or Spinach to the bowl chopped without cooking. The hot broth will cook the greens.

Overcooking the vegetables 
Let’s say you’re making white bean soup. Start by sautéing onions, garlic, maybe celery, then adding the water and beans, and simmering. Add the carrots in the last half hour or so or when the beans are close to tender. That way the carrots will come out cooked but not mushy. Ditto, for other veggies…add them according to how much time they need to cook.
Although, I did not add tomatoes to the recipe, Tomatoes also do turn acidic if cooked for a long time.  This is something you may find happens when making tomato sauce using fresh tomatoes, just add a bit of sugar. 

Adding tomatoes at the beginning 
The acid in tomatoes can keep beans and vegetables crunchy. Don’t add the tomatoes until the final 20 minutes when all of the other ingredients are close to tender.
In assembling Asian influenced chicken noodle soup; Fish sauce, Hoisin sauce, soya sauce chili garlic sauce and hot sauce are left for individuals to garnish their own soup! 

 Neglecting to garnish 
A handful of fresh herbs, freshly-ground pepper, a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, and crunchy croutons add the finishing touches in terms of both flavor and texture. When I make lentil or split pea soup, I like to add a splash of balsamic vinegar or squirt of fresh lemon juice to each bowl to brighten the flavor. Other good last minute add-ins: a dollop of yogurt or sour cream, toasted pumpkin seeds, or a spoonful of pesto.
I have never used a pressure cooker, although my Mother in law did.  These pressure cookers terrify me.   I also can have a soup ready in an hour.   Filling a pot up with water, add aromatics such as herbs, chopped onions and chicken pieces, bring to boil, skim off the impurities that rise to the top and reduce the heat, let simmer until the chicken is cooked.  Add chopped vegetables and serve with noodles. 

Not trying a pressure cooker
If you’re afraid of using a pressure cooker, it’s time to get over it. With multiple safety features, today’s models are fail-proof. Why use one, you ask? When your hubby calls to tell you he’s coming down with a cold, if you pick up a chicken, you can have homemade soup on the table in under an hour.
There are two things that were not mentioned in this article in making soup. My Mom was very particular with the clarity of her broths.  I find that I still have difficulty eating a muddy looking soup. I do remember her straining the broth through cheese cloth to improve the clarity.

The other point that I have found is that Pasta added to the broth does cloud the broth or leftover noodles in the soup will absorb all the broth.   I usually add the cooked pasta to the bowl when assembling the soup.  For Hot Pots, I added a bowl of cooked noodles to the side for people to add to their broth. The leftover cooked noodle is stored separately from the broth. 

The article did not mention that a delicious soup can still be made using Vegetables in your crisper that look a little sad! 

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