It’s March in beautiful Northeastern Indiana! Some years by this point, we are outside cooking on the grill. Not this year. It’s the winter of perpetual entrapment in an Arctic Vortex. We are still holed up like… bears? I prefer to think of us as some smaller, cuter, less-smelly hibernating animal — but nothing specific is coming to mind…. Anyway, it seemed like a good time to makes some big batches of soup to pass the time and keep warm.
Another motivator: for some reason, the 5 y.o. has become a huge soup lover. Every restaurant: “do they have any soup?” Any days he gets school cafeteria lunch: “soup, please!” What should we make, honey?: “soup!” So. Soup!
It’s been a long time since I made two of my super easy, old standbys: Big Batch Veggie Soup and Corn and White Bean Chili. But I also felt like trying something new — something using a winter-y vegetable: sweet potato? pumpkin? cabbage? I was looking through my cookbooks for some inspiration. In the beautiful Super Natural Everyday cookbook — that I bought way back when and posted about AND have been feeling guilty about STILL not actually having put to use — I found a yummy looking cauliflower soup recipe.
Cauliflower Soup with Aged Cheddar and Mustard Croutons it is!
- Saute 1 large onion, chopped and 2 shallots, chopped in 2 T unsalted butter; season generously with salt; saute until onions soften
- stir in 1 large potato, peeled and cut into tiny cubes; cover and cook for 5 mins or so until pieces begin to soften
- uncover, stir in 2 cloves of garlic, chopped and 3 1/2 C vegetable broth
- bring to a boil; when potatoes are soft stir in 12 oz cauliflower, cut into small florets
- cook, covered, until cauliflower is just tender
- remove pan from the heat and blend with an immersion blender (if you have one; I don’t — gift suggestion, ahem — so I pureed it in two batches in the blender, then poured it back into the pan)
- stir in 1/2 C of grated aged cheddar cheese and 2 t Dijon mustard; add more broth or water if it’s too thick; add salt if needed
- serve topped with mustard croutons and a swirl of extra virgin olive oil (to make the croutons: tear a few slices of whole-grain bread into bite-size pieces; mix them with 1 T melted unsalted butter, 1 T olive oil, 2 t dijon mustard, some salt; spread on a baking sheet and bake in a 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally)
Next: Big Batch Vegetable Soup
- Saute, stirring frequently, 2 C chopped onion and 1 C chopped celery in 2-3 T olive oil until onions are translucent
- Season with salt, pepper, dried basil and oregano, a bit of garlic powder, to taste
- Add 5 C vegetable broth, 1 T tomato paste (*a tip, below) and 1 28oz can diced tomatoes with their juice
- Add 8 C of fresh or frozen vegetables (I tend to do: zucchini, corn, potato, green beans, peas, carrots — chopping whole veggies to a large dice)
- Add 3 C of water or so, to cover; return to a simmer, adjust seasonings and cook for 20 mins or until veggies are tender
Little Mr. Soup Man likes to eat this soup with a few heaping spoonfuls of grated parmesan cheese. The rest of us just eat it as is. Though one member of the family (you can probably guess who, if you know the boys) said, “Mama. No offense. But I don’t like your vegetable soup. I mean… I’m sure it is good; but I, personally, do not care for it.” That’s OK, honey.
*Tomato paste tip: when I open a can and use the typical 1 T that’s called for in most recipes, I scoop out the rest into 1 T scoops. Then freeze these on something flat in the freezer, wrap each piece in wax paper, dump into a freezer bag and store for when I need just another 1 T of tomato paste.
Lastly: Corn and White Bean Chili
(I have been making this recipe since December of 2005! Ah, youth: I was 29 … or something like that — math is not my strong suit.)
- heat 2 T of olive oil; saute 1 large onion, diced, 1 yellow or red or orange bell pepper, seeded and diced; 1 medium zucchini, diced; and 2 cloves of garlic, minced — until veggies are tender
- add in 2 C frozen corn, a 15 oz can of stewed tomatoes, a 28 oz can of crushed tomatoes, and a 15 oz can of cannellini beans (bean note: ALWAYS rinse beans before cooking with them — it eliminates the problem for which they are notorious; also I often increase the amount of beans and mix 2 different kinds, just for variety — black and pinto are frequent choices)
- add dried seasonings: 2 T dried parsley, 2 t dried oregano, 2 t dried cumin, 1 t chili powder, a dash of cayenne, salt and pepper to taste
- bring to a simmer and cook for at least 20 minutes — longer is better
- serve with shredded cheddar, chopped fresh cilantro, and sour cream or plain yogurt
Now, you may have noticed that these are all vegetarian. Which is great. But if you like meat, it’s super easy to meatify any of them. I would add some browned, cubed beef to the Veggie Soup. The Cauliflower Soup would be great with some cooked, crumbled bacon on top. And I frequently brown ground turkey and add it to the White Bean Chili. According to my notes (see more on that topic, below), I even at one point browned “soy crumbles” and added those; tho’ I don’t actually recall doing that… and am not sure why I bothered. But it’s an option!
An aside on how I “treat” my recipes and cookbooks: I’m not sure if this reflects more the librarian in me, or the historian or the anal-retentive organizer…? I ALWAYS note on my recipes the date(s) I made them and, if relevant, who was also around to eat them with us. It’s fun to look back and say something like: “Oh, I made this for that one Thanksgiving with the neighbors when the dog pulled the turkey off the table while we were in the other room drinking too much wine!” To illustrate my note-making, here’s my first-time treatment of the Cauliflower Soup recipe vs. the many years of the chili recipe finally getting cut out of a beat-up Cooking Light magazine and taped into my “recipe book”.
I also maintain a strict “one-shelf” rule for my cookbooks. If they start to overflow, I look through the old or little used ones to see if there are any recipes that I have ever used more than once; or that I still truly believe I am going to try soon. If I find one or two, I copy that page and put the recipe in this kind of gross, food-splattered blank page “recipe book” that’s been floating around my kitchen for about 15 years. Then I donate the nice clean cookbook to the library.
We each find our little ways to pretend we are controlling the chaos of life, don’t we?