Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Soupmakers best friend

I have my mother to thank for so many of the talents I have developed in my life. Among the most important ones are my ability to play and teach the piano, my mad Scrabble skills, my knack for hoarding things and eventually finding a really cool second use for them, and my ability to make Chicken Corn Chowder from scratch, from memory.

It is this last one I would like to focus on today. Learning to make Chicken Corn Chowder from a basic white (Roux) sauce has opened so many doors in my adult life for making additional soups and sauces. We are currently up at my parents' home, and I had a lot of milk that needed to be used up, so I proposed some chowder for dinner.  Here's what we wound up with:

There is a phrase that goes, "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." I love that saying, especially in this economy, and it has been a governing principle to the cooking environment I was raised in. If we didn't have a certain ingredient, or enough of a certain ingredient, that never stopped us from still making the dish. And if we wanted to use up something  the recipe didn't call for, we just threw it in and chalked it up to creative license. Recipes have therefore always been mere guidelines to me. In fact, this blog is the first time I've really been consistent with writing down or following exact recipes.

But when making the chowder at home, I reverted back to my original ways of just throwing stuff together. And it always seems to turn out great. And while there isn't an exact recipe I can give you, there are some guidelines that will hopefully open doors that lead to the fulfillment of your wildest soup fantasies.
So here are my homemade chowder guidelines.

Start with a Roux, which is equal parts fat and flour. 2-4 Tbsp should be fine, depending on how much soup you want to wind up with. For my fats, in the past I've used oil, butter, the grease from my recently cooked meat, and a combination of all the above. 

Heat your fat until its a liquid, then add your flour, and cook over medium heat, constantly stirring until you get a clump of paste-dough consistency.

Then you'll add your milk. how much milk depends on how thick you want it, if you're using skim, or heavy cream. but whatever you use, start adding it SLOWLY! Seriously, I do no more than 1 Tbsp at a time. If you dump too much in at once, you'll wind up with clumps of flour paste floating in a sea of white, and you'll spend forever trying to get the clumps out. So go slowly. You'll put the first tiny amount in, stir it with your flour paste, and it will start to thicken. Once it's all the way incorporated, add a bit more. I do little amounts 4-5 times before all my paste is a thick creamy sauce and the risk for lumps is gone. Then I can add my milk in larger amounts, but I still go slowly, testing, then adding more as I go, until it's at the consistency I want.  

Next I add my seasonings. Salt, pepper and paprika are my personal must haves, but onion powder and garlic powder have had some cameos in the past. 

When the sauce is seasoned to your liking, add whatever fillers you have on hand or want , (meats, veggies, etc). Canned or pre-cooked is the best. It's what makes this a fast recipe that uses up all those left overs you don't know what else to do with. Now, if you need to cook your meat, (for example, your chicken) do that first. Cook it in some butter, and whatever butter and chicken grease you have in the pan, just keep it in there with the meat, add the right amount of flour, and instead of having one big clump of Roux, you will have small chicken dices covered in roux, which actually helps avoid the risk of clumps when you start adding the milk.

But what does this have to do with THRIVE? I'm getting there. So in our chowder, we diced up 2 pieces of raw chicken, cooked them in 2 Tbsp of butter, (about 4 Tbsp total fat including what was in the chicken), added 1/4 cup flour, then slowly added my milk, ending up with 3-4 cups of skim milk going in. For veggies, we had some frozen corn that needed to go in, and a can of sliced potatoes that needed to get used up, and then we had THRIVE. :-) I grabbed a handful of carrots, FD onions, FD celery, and just threw them in the pot straight from the can. As the soup was simmering and I was adjusting my seasonings some more, they were reconstituting in the soup. (which soaked up a little liquid and thickened the soup up just a bit more). 

No washing, no chopping, no onion tears, it couldn't have been easier! Now, we also had a can of Campbell's Chicken Corn Chowder in the pantry, so we added it to the pot to help bulk the meal up to feed everyone. Their soup also had celery in it, and I thought the difference was striking. Look how green and vibrant the celery from THRIVE is (bottom left) compared to the dull, lifeless looking can from the store-bought soup can (top right).

THRIVE foods really are a soup maker's dream come true. Corn, onion, carrots, celery, potatoes, FD Chicken dices, Instant milk - I really could have made the whole thing using only THRIVE. But even using just the handful of finely chopped veggies (see below) that I did have, it still saved me tons of time, added a boost of veggie nutrition to my meal, and tasted (and looked!) fantastic.

So make sure you get some THRIVE veggies for your food storage today by contacting me at

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