The air has an extra chill in it now. I walk home from work in blue dusk, and the glow in our windows isn't the late afternoon sunshine I'm used to, but the lamp I left on at lunch so I don't walk into a dark house at the end of the day. Once I've shut the door behind me, I'm compelled to do anything I can to dispel the impression of damp and chill in my bones. "Anything I can" generally means food... hot food. I light a few candles, turn on some music, start the dishwasher (because it gives off heat!), and start prepping for soup.
Soup season is also clean-out-the-freezer season. I don't just make an evening's worth of soup, I make enough to feed ourselves and company plus a future meal (or two). I make everything this way, a throw back to watching my mother cook for our family of five. I think I'm actually incapable of cooking for two. I don't recall ever having done it. Unless you count popovers (ah, buttery eggy goodness), but I'm not so sure that one should eat a half dozen popovers in one sitting. The freezer fills up slowly but surely, and when we've had a full day of work, run errands and have collapsed on the couch to ask each other "what's for dinner?", we have a solution. I'm going to be clever this winter, and put a contents list on the freezer door. I'm sure if you asked the Better Half what was in there, he couldn't tell you if his life depended on it. There are really only two things he could ever identify in our freezer - his paint palette, and ice cream. We don't generally keep ice cream about since dessert inhalation is another family trait of mine.
On the burners this week:
Roasted Potato Soup
Thai Chicken Soup
The potato soup is a favorite I stumbled on in a magazine somewhere. I've been making it for so long, I've since forgotten where I first saw it. I cut up yukon gold potatoes (these seem to have the creamiest flavor), sweet onions and apples (a mix of tart and sweet usually). The potatoes and the onions go into an oiled casserole dish for roasting. I dry-roast fennel seeds in a small cast iron skillet until they start to smell fragrant, and then I grind them. To the ground fennel I add cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. I toss the potatoes and onions with these spices and some olive oil, lay the apple quarters on top and pop it into the oven to roast. I find a higher temperature works better - the onions caramelize a bit, and you end up with nice roasty chunks in the soup - so 400 or 425. Roast until the potatoes are cooked through, stirring occasionally. The apples cook more quickly, so I put them in after the first stir, keep checking them, and when they're mushy I gently scoop them out with a spoon. Once they've cooled, the skins should come off fairly easily. When everything is cooked through, the apple flesh, potatoes and onions go into a blender with chicken broth (I've tried veggie broth, and it works just fine, but doesn't have as creamy a flavor). I deglaze the casserole dish with chicken broth, scraping the roasty bits into the blender as well. A squeeze of fresh lemon (to taste) helps to keep the soup from being too bland, and I highly recommend it. The soup can be as chunky or as smooth as you'd like it to be depending on the amount of broth and how much you puree the ingredients. This is often a Sunday afternoon activity for me, as it heats the house up nicely, makes everything smell lovely, and we end up with a very hearty meal. I like it best with a side of apple slices and gruyere or sharp cheddar.
The chicken soup is a recent experiment from a new cookbook called "400 Soups". It's full of typical Thai ingredients - coconut milk, chicken stock, lime leaves, lemongrass, fish sauce, ginger. There is a local Thai restaurant that serves the creamiest tom yam or tom kah. From first tastes, this is not quite that (the chicken stock I used seemed a little on the heavily flavored side), but still pretty good. The true test is how well it reheats and/or freezes.
Leftovers will be bundled up for the freezer (which already contains beef and onion broth and some chicken gravy). I usually fill a few small containers too, since I work close enough to walk home for lunch. The fun part is identifying mysterious soup at the end of the winter. Freezer labels never stick to plastic containers well or they never come off, no matter how much you scrub - a batch of my mother's applesauce used to say "spag. sauce 8/1/89". Plastic bags can be a bit awkward to store if there's too many. My memory isn't what it once was, and mystery soup or sauce has become a regular problem in our house. Twine and paper tags? Color coded dots? Or we could just content ourselves with a little mystery in our lives, and find out what we're having for dinner when it thaws.