Homemade soup without the hassle

Salsa Chicken Soup
Photo courtesy Valerie Phillips
Story by Ruth Malan
(Standard-Examiner correspondent)
Mon, Oct 1, 2012
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KAYSVILLE — A bowl of steaming soup can warm the stomach and the spirit after a hard day at work, but many of us don’t want to take the time to peel and cut up the vegetables needed to make homemade soup.

Although many good cookbooks are on the market, many of the recipes are time-consuming and often call for ingredients not found in the average home pantry.

Valerie Phillips decided to fill the need for easy, quick homemade soups that don’t take as much time as stopping for fast food.

“I didn’t want to have to peel and chop things,” said Phillips, while making her pumpkin soup recipe in her home kitchen.

Her recently published “Soup’s On!” cookbook, published by Covenant Communications, Inc., is on bookstore shelves now for $19.99. The book contains 100 soups, stews and chilis; 75 of those recipes can be made within 30 minutes.

Life experiences gave Phillips the expertise to write a cookbook with recipes easy to understand and easy to make. As a child, Phillips didn’t like sandwiches, so her mother would put soup into a Thermos for her school lunches. And on Sunday mornings, there was always a pot of soup on the stove. That was a tradition she continued in her home — except Phillips always had a pot of soup on for Saturday night sports.

She was a newspaper food editor for 17 years, including seven at the Standard-Examiner, and has judged cooking contests, including at the Utah State Fair. She is now a blogger at www.chewandchat.blogspot.com.

Her travels also gave her insight into foods from around the United States and other countries. She lived overseas for four years and has visited 42 U.S. states and Puerto Rico.

“I traveled to a lot of countries, and soup is one of the safer things you could eat,” Phillips said.

Speedy tips

To speed up the preparation, Phillips uses dried or frozen onions in her soups, but there is nothing that keeps the cook from chopping onions if he or she prefers using fresh onions.

Frozen mirepoix blend, a mixture of onion, celery and carrots, is a staple in her freezer. She also substitutes salsa to avoid roasting and peeling chilis or chopping onions.

“I came up with shortcut techniques and ingredients to give you homemade without the hassle,” she said. “I like using shortcuts, they are still flavorful. People don’t like strange ingredients. Using herbs and spices is the easy way to add flavor.”

Common spices found on Phillips spice shelf include thyme, rosemary and curry.

“I recommend getting the smallest container because you may not use them enough,” she advised.

One of her soup recipes came from a well-recognized name in Utah.

“One night I went to Larry Miller’s house and visited with Gail (Larry’s wife). She showed me a recipe for seafood gumbo. She gave me permission to use it,” Phillips said.

That is one soup she didn’t change: “I didn’t want to tamper with success.”

“You can be very creative with soup,” Phillips adds, “and it is a good way to get your family around the table. Soup is like a magnet.”

Sharing is caring

Phillips shares soups with family, neighbors and friends. One story she relates is of having lunch with some co-workers. She decided to take some soup in a container on ice in her large purse. She asked if anyone wanted some homemade soup, and one man said he would.

The next day, she received a note from him, saying although he didn’t know her well, he was impressed with a woman who could pull a bowl of soup out of her purse just because somebody else might like it.

The cookbook also has recipes for soups that can be put into the slow cooker before leaving for work so you can have dinner ready when you return.

Some recipes are blended after cooking to make a smooth soup.

“A lot of times, people who won’t eat vegetables will eat them in soup when they are whipped up,” Phillips said.

BOOK SIGNINGS

You can meet Valerie Phillips at one of her upcoming book signings: 

• Deseret Book, 754 Main St., Layton — 4-5:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6

• Deseret Book, 135 N. 545 West, Bountiful — 6-8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6

• The King’s English Bookshop, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City —  5-6 p.m. Oct. 27

RECIPES

Here are some recipes from “Soup’s On”:

Harvest Pumpkin Soup With Cheddar

2 teaspoons canola oil

1 cup frozen chopped onions  

5 cups chicken stock (or canned chicken broth)

29-ounce can solid-pack pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix)

2.5-ounce package cooked bacon pieces (about 1/2 cup)

1 tablespoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 cup cream or half & half (or fat-free half-and-half)

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon curry powder (optional)

1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese

Pumpkin seeds for garnish (optional)

Add oil to pot and turn heat to high. Add onion and saute, stirring, until it begins to soften, about 10 minutes. 

Stir in stock, pumpkin, bacon, sugar and thyme. Bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to medium-high, and simmer about 5 minutes.

Remove the soup from the heat and add cream, nutmeg and curry powder (if desired).

Puree soup in two or three batches in blender, leaving the middle of the lid open to avoid pressure build-up of steam. Start on low speed to prevent backsplashing. Or, use an immersion blender. 

Season with salt and pepper. When serving, spoon a little of the cheese on top of each bowl of soup. Garnish with pumpkin seeds if desired. Makes about six 1 1/2-cup servings

Options: Substitute Parmesan cheese for the cheddar topping.

Rosemary Potato and Corn Chowder

Two 14-ounce cans chicken broth (or 4 chicken bouillon cubes and 1 3/4 cups water)

28-ounce package O’Brien-style diced hash brown potatoes

3-ounce package shelf-stable bacon bits (or about 3/4 cup cooked, chopped bacon or 1 cup finely diced ham)

15-ounce can corn, drained

2 teaspoons dried rosemary or 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary 

2-3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 cup water

1 1/2 cups half-and-half, fat-free half-and-half, or milk

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Optional garnishes: Grated cheddar cheese, bacon bits, rosemary sprigs

Place chicken broth, potatoes and bacon in a large pot over high heat. When mixture comes to a boil, reduce heat to keep the soup gently boiling about 10 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Add corn. 

Mix cornstarch and water to a smooth paste. Stir cornstarch mixture into the gently boiling soup, and continue stirring until soup thickens.

Turn off the heat and stir in milk or half-and-half and pepper, until mixture is well-blended and the soup rethickens.

Taste the soup and adjust seasonings as desired. Ladle into serving bowls; garnish each with a teaspoon of shredded cheddar, bacon pieces or a rosemary sprig.

Slow cooker directions: Place all ingredients except cornstarch and 1/4 cup water in a slow cooker on high for 3-4 hours, or on low for 5-6 hours. Mix cornstarch and water into a smooth paste and stir into the soup. Turn the soup to high and leave the lid off, stirring occasionally, for 20-30 minutes, until soup thickens. Makes six 1 1/2-cup servings.

Salsa Chicken Soup

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or about 2 to 3 cups cooked, diced chicken)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon dried chopped onions

2 teaspoons garlic powder

1 tablespoon ground cumin (or use a half-packet of Mexican seasoning and omit the onion and garlic powder)

Two 14-ounce cans chicken broth (or 4 cups water with 4 chicken bouillon cubes)

 24-ounce jar mild or medium chunky salsa (or hotter, if desired)

7-ounce can diced mild green chilies (or jalapenos if you desire more heat)

15-ounce can corn, drained

Two 15-ounce cans black beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1 bag baked tortilla chips

Shredded cheddar cheese or light sour cream for garnish, if desired

Dice chicken breasts into 1-inch cubes (this is easier to do when chicken is partially frozen).  Brown chicken in the vegetable oil in a 4- to-6-quart stockpot over medium-high heat, adding the onions as the chicken begins to brown.

Add garlic powder, cumin, broth, salsa, corn, black beans and half of the cilantro. Bring the mixture to a gentle boil, and cook 10-15 minutes, or until chicken is cooked through.

To serve, put a few chips in each bowl and then ladle soup into bowl. Sprinkle on remaining cilantro, sour cream, cheddar cheese and tortilla strips, if desired. Makes six 1 1/2-cup servings.

Slow-cooker option: Put all ingredients in the pot, except for half of the cilantro. Cook on high 3-4 hours, or on low 5-7 hours. 

Options: If you have leftover soup, make a Salsa Chicken Rice Casserole by stirring in cooked rice; top with cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese. This soup also freezes well for later use. 

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