By BARB FORD
It is soup season for sure! Days vary between downright freezing to somewhat sunny and mild. Parents are trying to stretch budgets to meet holiday wishes. Charities are asked to feed more folks. Schedules are tighter and everybody wants easy meals that fill bellies and warm hearts.
Soup is the best way to start a celebration, fill up a crowd or meet a family's crazily varied schedules. Most soups can be held in a slow cooker or warmer for a while so people can served themselves when they are ready. Soup can even be the answer to serving a crowd with different needs -- by using different garnishes, you can keep the gluten free folks and vegans happy while filling up those meat eaters.
Soup season in Murfreesboro is kicked off by Habitat for Humanity's Cookin' to Build event. At that event you see some of the county's most giving cooks and organizations gather to share their best soups to support a worthwhile cause. Lucky for us, the Murfreesboro Volunteers organization was willing to share their fabulous recipe which is designed to use garnishes to keep both the vegetarians and meat lovers happy. (The Murfreesboro Volunteers' mission is "Connecting people with a heart for volunteering with volunteer opportunities in the 'Boro." Learn more at http://www.facebook.com/MurfreesboroVolunteers).
My favorite way to create a new soup recipe is to stick to some basics and combine them with new trends. For my Thanksgiving starter this year, I switch out the usual butternut squash for acorn and add a touch of maple to make a satisfying gluten free soup with an unexpected hint of fall flavor. Either of these two recipes, when combined with a salad or sandwich (grilled Brie and chutney, anyone?) can make for a rich, filling meal.
Murfreesboro Volunteers Potato Cheese Soup
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
6 medium Russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
8 cups vegetable broth
3 Tablespoons flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 cups sharp Cheddar cheese (or any you prefer)
1 teaspoon celery seeds (optional)
2 Tablespoons diced chives (optional)
Other optional garnishes: minced fresh parsley, crisp bacon bits, grated cheddar, chopped green onion or sour cream.
Add oil to a large pot over medium heat and add onions. Stir and cook about two minutes, then add cubed potatoes. Cook about five to seven minutes, seasoning with salt, pepper and celery seeds. Pour in the broth and bring to a boil. Cook about ten minutes or until potatoes are becoming tender. Whisk together the flour and milk in a separate bowl. Pour the flour mixture into the soup and stir for another five minutes. Remove about half of the soup and blend in a blender until smooth, then pour back into the soup pot and stir. Let the soup heat back up, test for seasoning. Stir in the heavy cream and add the chives. Serve and enjoy!
Acorn Squash Soup with Maple and Caramelized Onions
(6-8 servings, but can easily be doubled or tripled.)
1 medium Acorn squash
2 Tablespoons real maple syrup
1 medium onion
1 Tablespoon butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
3 to 4 cups rich vegetable stock
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup heavy cream (optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Cut the acorn squash in half and remove the seeds. Use a fork to pierce the golden flesh of the cut squash several times. Place the squash halves, cut side up, on the prepared baking sheet. Brush each half with one Tablespoon of maple syrup drizzle any extra syrup into the center of each half. Bake the squash for 45 to 60 minutes, or until the flesh is soft. (You can cook the squash a day ahead and refrigerate it until you are ready to make your soup.).
Peel the onion and chop it. Heat the butter and oil in a large pot over medium low heat. Add the onion and cook it, stirring, until the onions are golden brown. With a strong tablespoon, scoop the cooked flesh out of the squash and add it to the onions in the pot. Add the vegetable stock and cook, stirring, until it is heated through.
Then either with a stick blender or in batches in a food processor, purée the soup until it is smooth. Once the soup is puréed, mix in the salt and pepper and cream. Adjust the seasonings to your taste. Serve garnished with homemade croutons or toasted pecans.