Posts Tagged ‘soup’

We are still clearly in soup mode here at El Rancho Destructo.

I had a great bunch of spinach from our CSA box, and even though I usually default to a spinach salad, I wanted to do something I knew Kiddo would happily eat.  Italian Wedding Soup was a no-brainer for this one:  little bite-sized meatballs and some fun small pasta like stars (as pictured), ditalini, orzo  or acini de pepe in chicken broth, loaded with vegetables.

This is also one of those soups that taste even better the next day, so don’t cut the recipe in half!  Make a full batch and freeze portions for lunches–you’ll be glad you did.

Italian Wedding Soup Makes 6 to 8 servings


  • 1 pound extra lean ground beef or ground turkey
  • 1/2 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 of a large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 egg
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.  Line a sheet pan with foil and lightly oil with vegetable oil.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients until well mixed.
  3. Scoop and shape meatballs into 1″ balls.  This amount will make about 32-40 meatballs.
  4. Bake for 15-20 minutes until meatballs are cooked through.  While the meatballs are in the oven, start on the soup.


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup onions, diced
  • 1 cup carrots, peeled and diced
  • 1 cup celery, diced
  • 4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 8 cups homemade chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 cup small pasta
  • 1 bunch spinach, washed and trimmed
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  1. In a large soup pot on medium heat, heat olive oil and add onions, carrots and celery, and sweat until vegetables are glossy and onions are tender.
  2. Add thyme and white wine; simmer until the wine is reduced by half.
  3. Add chicken stock and bring to a full simmer.  Add pasta and simmer until pasta until al dente, about 8 minutes.
  4. Add meatballs;  stir in spinach in batches, letting it wilt into the soup.
  5. Season to taste, remove thyme stems and serve.



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You guys!  It RAINED today!  Ok, fine, it was just a drizzle, but I am thrilled–thrilled–I tell you!  And when it rains, you know what that means.

Soup!  Hearty, comforting, fortifying soup that warms the toes and makes you feel all cozy on the inside.  And, from my last post, you know I’m on a mission to eat more vegetables on a daily basis.   An easy way to do that is to make a soup loaded with vegetables and plenty of flavor from chicken stock and a fat dollop of pesto.

The great thing about minestrone is there really isn’t a set recipe–use some seasonal vegetables, add some beans (Canellini is the usual, but red kidney beans or fava beans would work well), tomatoes, a little pasta or rice, and some homemade chicken or vegetable stock and you’ll have yourself a fine soup.   And, once all your vegetables are chopped, this comes together really quickly–especially if you’re cheating like me and using canned beans (gasp!).  This recipe makes about 4 quarts–about 8 dinner-sized servings of soup, but it freezes very nicely for lunches.

BBB Garden Minestrone Soup

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 small onions, diced
  • 2 leeks, sliced into half-moons
  • 1 cup sliced celery
  • 1 cup peeled and sliced carrots
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 large red bell pepper, 1/2″ dice
  • 5 small Yukon Gold or Red potatoes, 1/2″ dice (appx. 1 1/2 cups)
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-14 ounce cans diced tomatoes
  • 6 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
  • 3 medium zucchini, sliced into half-moons
  • 1-14 ounce can Canellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup whole wheat pasta–any small pasta will do, such as shells or fusilli
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • Optional:  Pesto or grated Parmesan cheese
  1. Heat a large soup pot on medium heat and add oil.  Add onions, leeks, celery, carrots, thyme and bay leaf.  Sweat vegetables for 4-6 minutes, until onions are translucent and glossy.
  2. Add bell pepper, potatoes, garlic, tomatoes, and chicken stock.  Raise heat to medium-high and bring soup to a low boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Add zucchini, beans and pasta and simmer for another 10-12 minutes, until pasta is tender.
  4. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Serve with pesto or Parmesan cheese.

(I told you it was easy!)

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After a few weeks of perfectly warm and sunny weather, we folks here in Southern California got hit with a bit of rain today.  Big deal, you’re probably thinking to yourself if you live anywhere but here, but here in Los Angeles, it’s kind of odd when it rains after the end of March.  We really don’t know what to do with ourselves. 

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE the rain.  It’s still coming down as I write this, and since both Choo and Kiddo are in bed dreaming big dreams, I have everything turned off so I can listen to it. 

Still, the funniest thing I overheard today, while in the parking lot of the local u-pick farm and farmstand was a man worrying over the whole family getting pneumonia while spending the morning in barely drizzling 58° degree weather.  Yeah, we’re a city of weather wimps. 

It was a perfect day for me to go stomp around in the fields;  I picked a nice mess of fava beans, some red leaf lettuce, and a bag full of leeks.

I love that shade of green.  This was a new experience, pulling leeks out of the ground.  It really was incredibly satisfying to do it, to tell the truth.  By the way, for my Southern California readers, we were at Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark.   We get out there about twice a year, once around this time, and again in the late summer–luckily, they do the farmer’s market circuit, so I see them at the Calabasas, Encino, and Hollywood farmer’s markets–it’s an easier trip.  Highly recommended, especially if you’ve got kids.

I digress.  Back to soup!

I pulled out seven slender leeks, which, once home, were washed, trimmed, and sliced into thin half-moons. 

These were tossed into a soup pot with a few tablespoons of melted butter waiting for them.  This soup calls for the leeks to be cooked on a low heat, slowly, until they’re glossy and soft, and you know that if you pulled out a bite of them, they’d melt in your mouth. 

When the leeks are tender, after about 15 minutes, a few sprigs of thyme get tossed into the pot.

I don’t know about you, but I really like fresh thyme.  The one thing I don’t like about it is trying to strip the leaves from the stems–it’s one of those fiddly jobs that just gets in the way of things.  But, you know what’s great?  When making a soup or a stew with fresh thyme, it’s okay to just throw the whole stem in during the cooking process.  The heat and the simmering will cause the leaves to come off the stem, and all you need to do is just fish the stems out at the end. 

To these lovely leeks, add four large-ish peeled and chopped russet potatoes.  I like using russets for this soup for the fact that they do fall apart, creating a thick texture.  The one warning is to not overcook and overwork the potatoes–depending on how big the chunks are, the simmer time shouldn’t be more than 15-20 minutes–just long enough so the potatoes are tender and will easily crush with the back of a spoon. 

Once the potatoes are in, then chicken stock (or vegetable stock) is added, just enough to cover the potatoes.  In this case, a quart was the perfect amount.  Bring the pot up to a boil, then turn down to low to simmer for about 15 minutes. 

Now, I used an immersion blender–I feel like I get more control on pureeing than what I get out of a regular stand blender.  If you don’t have an immersion blender, don’t fret, you can use a regular blender, but only puree about half of the soup, and smash some of the larger chunks of potato.  Only pulse the blender a few times to smooth it out–if the potatoes are overworked, what will happen is too much of the starch in the potatoes get released, and you’ll end up with wallpaper paste.  This is a soup where chunks are good and are to be expected. 

This is, also, where you put in some half and half.  Or heavy cream, if you’re daring.  Or low-fat milk, if you’re not.  Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

My perfect end to a rainy Sunday: curling up on the couch with a blanket and a steaming bowl of soup, and watching The Simpsons with the family.

Potato-Leek Soup

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cups thinly sliced leeks (white and light green parts–appx. 6-7 leeks)
  • 6-8 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 4 large russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
  • 1 quart chicken or vegetable stock (low-sodium or homemade), more if needed
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • Salt & Pepper to taste
  1. In a large soup pot, melt butter on low heat.  Add leeks and sweat for about 15 minutes, until soft and tender, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add thyme sprigs, saute for one minute.  Add potatoes, and add enough stock to just cover contents of the pot. Bring heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.  Turn down to low, and let simmer until potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes.
  3. Turn off heat, and with an immersion blender, pulse to puree soup, but still leaving somewhat chunky. 
  4. Stir in half & half and return to a low heat for a few minutes.
  5. Season with salt & pepper to taste. 

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On Christmas, some families are turkey-eaters.  Some, dine on a Standing Rib Roast or Rack of Lamb;  under my roof, it’s all about Ham.  And, one of the reasons why I love to have a ham on Christmas is to take the bone and bits of meat left behind, wrap it tightly in foil and then again in saran wrap, and stash it in the freezer for a spate of cold and wet weather like we’ve been having here in Southern California. 

There’s two things I like to make when I have a handsome hambone in my possession:  either my mother’s Lima Beans (not those awful hard mealy things you get in frozen vegetables, but the fat white ones) or Split Pea Soup.  This time around, it was going to be the latter.   It’s a simple recipe–I don’t add anything out of the ordinary, but sometimes, that’s all you really want: good, uncomplicated food. 

And can I tell you how much I love the word “hambone”?   I think if I ever get a dog, his name will totally be Hambone.

Choo gets grumpy when it’s wet outside,  so he was happy to come home to one of his favorite soups with a batch of homemade Buttermilk Biscuits. 

Split Pea & Ham Soup

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (or if you’re feeling dangerous, bacon fat)

1 large onion, medium dice

2 medium carrots, medium dice

2 large ribs celery, medium dice

1 hambone, with 1-2 cups of ham trimmed off (depending on what’s left that’s usable), chopped  and set aside

1-1 pound bag of dried split peas, picked through and rinsed

8 cups chicken stock

1 bay leaf

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Salt & Pepper to taste

  1. Heat a 4 to 6-quart sized soup pot on medium flame;  add vegetable oil.
  2. Sweat onions, carrots and celery until glossy and onions are translucent.
  3. Add hambone, dried peas, chicken stock, bay leaf, and thyme.  Bring to a full boil and then turn heat to medium-low and simmer for 15 minutes.
  4. Add reserved chopped ham and stir.  Return to simmer and let cook for another 30-45 minutes until peas are tender.
  5. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 

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I thought I had everything.

You know what I mean–you have an idea of what you’re going to make, and while you’re at the store, you’re picking everything you need, with the thought in mind that you already have one of the key ingredients at home.  You get home, and find that the ingredient you were sure you had isn’t there.

With the cooler weather finally taking root here, my thoughts turned to a creamy corn chowder, flavored with red peppers and bacon, and loaded with big, meaty pieces of shrimp.  I get home from the market, with everything I thought I needed for the chowder in tow.  I get the bacon cooking in the pot while I start chopping vegetables, and I bend down to retrieve a few potatoes from their storage drawer, and to my surprise, they were all gone!  It seems that Choo has taken a liking to making baked potatoes for his lunch, and I was completely out.

Now, see, it’s not a tragedy, because it certainly was a fine soup, but I can’t call it chowder.  Why?  One of our lessons in school was on chowders, and for a soup to be a true chowder, it must contain three items:

  1. Salt pork.  Traditionally, it’s fatback, but bacon works just fine.
  2. Dairy, either in milk or cream, or a combination of the two.
  3. Potatoes.

Ah, you see?

But it’s still a really good soup.

By the way, this recipe makes a rather big pot of soup, but this was even better the next day for lunches, and it freezes nicely.

Creamy Corn, Shrimp & Bacon Soup

1/2 pound of bacon, chopped

1 pound raw shrimp (medium-sized, 31-40), peeled and deveined

1 medium onion, small dice

1 red bell pepper, small dice

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 pounds corn kernels (frozen is just fine in this case)

4-5 sprigs fresh thyme

1 bay leaf

2 1/2 cups chicken stock ( a little more if you like it a bit soupier)

1 cup half & half

Salt & Pepper to taste

  1. In a large, heavy-bottomed stock pot, cook bacon until crispy over medium heat.  Remove bacon and set aside; drain all but 2-3 tablespoons of bacon fat from pot.
  2. In the remaining bacon fat, sauté shrimp until pink and flesh is firm, about 5 minutes.  Remove from pot and set aside.
  3. Add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic to pot, and sweat until vegetables are tender.
  4. Add corn, then add thyme, bay leaf, and chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and let simmer for 10 minutes.
  5. Remove thyme sprigs and bay leaf, and add half & half.
  6. Before bringing soup back to a full simmer, either use an immersion blender and give the soup a few pulses, or take about 2 cups of the soup and puree in a blender, and return to pot.
  7. Bring soup to a full simmer, and add bacon and shrimp.  Season with salt and pepper as desired.

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It was a running joke over the weekend:  The Madness Runs Deep.  Any sane person would just go out for her birthday dinner.  But, no, I thought it would be fun to have two of my besties over and serve a meal of some of my favorite things (good thing my birthday is in the Fall, which lends to some of my most beloved produce and flavors).  I’ll post the meal in parts, since there’s more to talk about than what can fit in a single entry.

Oh, gougères, why do you have to be so delicious?  A simple bite-size food, you’re all at once savory and crispy and when straight from the oven, a little steamy.  And, with the help of a stand mixer, you’re a snap to make AND everyone thinks you’re a Culinary Goddess.  You can be stuffed with ham or smoked salmon or a cheesy herbed mousse.

Or, you can just be served alongside a first-course soup.

Gougères are made from pâte à choux, a very basic, soft pastry dough;  the dough is simply water/milk, butter, flour, and eggs, and is more popularly known in the US in its sweet variations like eclairs and profiteroles.  There are no chemical leavening agents or yeasts added to the dough–the steam generated during the baking process is what powers the rise.  I used Alain Ducasse’s recipe and one thing I have to note about this particular recipe–when the dough gets transferred from the saucepan to the stand mixer, it’s best to beat the dough for 3-4 minutes before adding the eggs.  The dough is way too hot to start adding the eggs–they’ll cook before they’re incorporated.  Giving the dough a chance to cool for a few minutes will help insure your gougères will rise properly in the oven.


One thing to also make a note about baking the gougères is to bake them until they’re fully browned.  If they’re underbaked, they’ll deflate as the crust will be too soft once it cools. They can be served hot out of the oven, or at room temperature;  they’re also easy to freeze so they can be made days ahead of time if you’re serving them for a big party.

Now, on to the soup:

This is easily made vegetarian by swapping out the chicken stock with vegetable stock.  Even though you can skip the roasting of the squash to save some time, you’re really going to miss out on the deep caramelized flavor you’ll get from the roasting.  Also, crème fraîche is easily substituted by using plain yogurt;  the design is easily done by piping a circle on top of the hot soup then dragging a toothpick or skewer through the circle, looping in and around to create a “flower” pattern.  I wouldn’t necessarily skip the addition of the crème fraîche or yogurt, as the acidity does help round out the soup–try it both ways, you’ll see what I mean.   By the way, did you know it was really easy to make your own crème fraîche?  In a non-reactive bowl, pour 2 parts heavy cream to one part buttermilk, loosely cover and set in a cozy spot on the kitchen counter for about 12 hours.  That’s it, you’ll have crème fraîche.  Easy, right?


Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

Serves 6 as a first course

4 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped roughly into 1″ pieces

1 head’s worth of garlic cloves, peeled

Appx. 2-3 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

1 small yellow onion, diced

2 small carrots, peeled and diced

2 small ribs celery, diced

4-5 sprigs thyme

4 cups chicken stock (or more, if needed)

Salt and pepper to taste

6 tablespoons of crème fraîche or plain yogurt

  1. Preheat oven to 400° and cover a large sheet pan with foil.  Toss the butternut squash and garlic cloves in olive oil, and pour onto sheet pan.  Bake for approximately 1 hour, tossing the squash about every 20 minutes to brown evenly.  Watch your garlic cloves carefully as they can burn easily.  Remove from oven and set aside.
  2. In a large pot on medium heat, melt butter and begin to sweat the onion, carrot and celery.  Cook gently until onions are glossy and translucent.  Add thyme and stir (for soups, I leave the thyme on the stems while it simmers and remove before pureeing–most of the leaves usually fall off the stems during the simmer).
  3. Add the squash and garlic, and add chicken stock.  If the 4 cups of chicken stock do not cover the squash entirely, add more.
  4. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for about 15-20 minutes, until the carrots are fully tender.
  5. Turn off heat and puree soup by either using an immersion (“stick”) blender, or in a stand blender, in batches.
  6. Bring back to a simmer to reheat, then ladle into bowls.
  7. Top with a spoonful of the crème fraîche or yogurt (or pipe it for a fancy pattern).

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The Basics: Chicken Stock

Just because money is tight–and let’s face it, it pretty much fits all of us these days–it doesn’t mean that you have to skimp on having good things come out of your kitchen.  And, when you have a chance to turn things that would normally end up in the trash and turn them in gold–liquid gold–with only an investment of a few dollar’s worth of herbs and vegetables and your time.

Homemade stock is a cornerstone of making the best soups and sauces, and there is no way to compare canned broth to the flavor profile and richness that comes from making your own.  I don’t think it’s a difficult thing to make, but when you’re making a large batch, there is time involved, and the straining can get a bit messy.  Trust me, though, it’s worth the trouble.

First thing, you have to have your chicken.  I have a habit of buying whole chickens, because I like keeping the carcasses if I roast them whole, or if I use them for anything else, I cut out the backbone, wing tips, and save the neck, which goes into the ziploc bag I keep in the freezer for this reason.  Sure, it’s extra work, but buying a chicken whole is cheaper than buying them butchered.  If you just want to just make the chicken stock without waiting to gather enough chicken bones in your freezer, become good friends with your local butcher–things like backbones and feet are exactly what you want in your stock, but no one really buys them.  You should be able to broker a good price for the stuff he might be tossing out anyway.

By the way, the reason you want all those bones and feet for your stock, and not full, meaty pieces (other than it being entirely wasteful, since the long simmer time is going to render the meat inedible) is all the collagen hanging around in the joints and bits of skin.  That collagen is what gives stock its rich mouthfeel; it’s why a good chicken stock, when chilled, will set like jello.


Next are the vegetables.  Today’s word of the day is mirepoix, and it’s what’s going into the stockpot. It’s a culinary term for the classic French combination of the aromatic vegetable combination of onions, carrots, and celery.   There is an actual, true ratio for mirepoix, which is 50% onion, 25% carrot and 25% celery.  For a little variation, leeks can be used for up to half of the onion.

Notice I haven’t mentioned any other vegetables.  In a classic version of chicken stock, there are no other vegetables–you may find tomato in beef stock, and parsnips in place of carrots in fish stock, but that’s it.  This also means NO GARLIC.  I’ve seen so many stock variations putting garlic, and it just burns my biscuits.  Garlic has the ability to turn stock bitter.  Don’t do it, kids.  Leave it to when it’s time to make soup or a sauce for adding garlic.

Now, let’s talk about herbs.  If we were in a fancy French kitchen, then we would be putting in a bouquet garni;  a combination of  fresh thyme sprigs, parsley sprigs, bay leaf and peppercorns either wrapped in a leek leaf or tied up in cheesecloth.  I use those herbs, but I don’t worry my pretty little head about tying them up into anything.  Considering everything gets strained out at the end of the day, I don’t bother wasting my twine.

I have a very simple ratio to use for stock, which is easily multiplied and foolproof:

1 pound chicken bones and trimmings such as feet, necks, wing tips, etc.

1 pound mirepoix

1 bouquet garni (5-6 sprigs each thyme and parsley, 1 bay leaf, 1/2 tsp. black peppercorns)

2 quarts water

Granted, when I make chicken stock, I do about 4 or 5 times that amount, and will produce about one-and-a-half gallons of stock once everything has simmered and been strained.

Everything goes into the stockpot.  It’s a good idea to use one big enough that you can bring everything to a boil without it spilling over.  When I’m making a large batch like I do, I don’t chop up my vegetables all that much–everything just gets scrubbed or peeled and cut in half.  Once everything is in the pot and covered with water, the flame gets turned to high and brought to a full, rolling boil.  Once that happens, the flame gets turned to low, and the stock is left to simmer for 6-8 hours.  At this point, it’ll look like this (caution–it’s not pretty):


See?  I told you it wasn’t pretty.  The delicious chickeny smell that fills the house definitely cancels out the ugly.

At this point, it’s time to strain the stock.  I do it in a 2-step process, where I strain everything through a colander, catching all the large pieces; then the stock that is strained through a chinois to catch all the small fragments.  I will often simmer the stock for another hour or more after straining to reduce it slightly–it’s not necessary, but freezer space is in short supply, and if it means just one less container, it’s a big help.


I also have an ice cube tray just for the purpose of freezing a few batches of stock cubes.  It’s perfect for when I’m making something that needs a little pan sauce, and this is just perfect to have on hand–I won’t need to defrost a bunch of stock when I can throw a few of these cubes in the pan and be done with it.

Once my stock is wrapped up to store (I put them into 1-quart containers), I pack them away in the freezer, and they’re good for 3 months.  I’ve got my batch ready for when it starts to cool down;  I know I’m ready for some Roasted Butternut Squash Soup, that’s for sure.

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