It's soup season!

Campbell's started canning tomato, cream of mushroom and chicken noodle soup in 1897 and America fell in love with soup convenience. More than 3 billion bowls of condensed soup are consumed annually in the U.S. - who doesn't have a can or two tucked in their cabinets? But there's no doubt homemade is better and the smells and subtle flavors of homecooked soup are worth the effort.

Crock pots offer up the opportunity to combine easy and slow. Once the rage, crock pot cooking rises and dips in popularity. There are pros and cons to using slow cookers: Some foods lose trace nutrients when cooked for too long. On the other hand, cheaper meats make better slow cooked meals and are great budget stretchers. For soups, the longer the better remains the rule and that's where having a crock comes in handy.

For lots of great sandwich ideas, check out pages 324-327 of The Silver Palate Cookbook. I like to make a grown-up version of grilled cheese made with French "pain de mie" - in English, Pullman bread, sliced Asiago or Gruyere with ham or tomato (or both). Ta-da ... lunch or dinner is served!

TOMATO BASIL SOUP
3 cups fresh grated tomatoes (or a 28 ounce can diced tomatoes)
2 cups chicken stock (or equivalent in canned chicken broth)
1/4 cup diced celery
1/4 cup diced carrot
1/4 cup diced onion
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil leaves (1 teaspoon dried)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh winter savory (1/4 teaspoon dried - substitute oregano or thyme)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup evaporated milk or half and half (if creamy soup is desired)

Throw everything, except the milk, in the crock pot. Simmer on medium for 6-8 hours. Spoon out the tomato and other veggie chunks into food processor. Puree until smooth. Return the veggie puree to the pot and let warm through again (about another 1/2 hour). Reduce heat to warm then add milk, if desired. Once the milk is added, the soup must be held at the lowest temperature to avoid curdling.

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