Midwest Soup Challenge Finalists Culinary Q&A

Our five (very excited!) Midwest finalists are an interesting bunch. Looking forward to next week’s Soup Challenge at Illinois Central College!

Weston
Urban Taqueria Black Bean Soup
vs Caribbean Black Bean Soup

How did you learn to cook?

I learned to cook from my mother at a very young age.  She was a single mother raising two boys, so that gave us quality time with her. Raising two growing boys she spent a good deal of time in the kitchen.  We used that time to learn from her and help prepare food. When my friends came over they would always want to cook something fun and help my mom make a meal.

                                               Weston’s Mom

What inspires you to cook?

Everything inspires me to cook! Anything from the weather (the cold inspired my black bean soup) to the time of day (I work late nights and my girlfriend and I create fun quick recipes) or even just being a vegetarian and looking for healthier options.  Also my mom inspires me to cook.  She is always coming up with new ideas or crazy recipes to try.

                                        Weston & his Girlfriend

Besides soup, what is one of your favorite things to cook/bake?

I really enjoy adding new twists to cookie recipes.

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

My Urban Taqueria Black Bean Soup or vegetarian chili.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

I have four: my John Boos cutting block, Wusthof classic granton santoku with sharpener (gotta have a sharp knife!), and my italian pizza spatula.

Any “not so secret” kitchen tips you are willing to share?

Cooking is like art, it’s not about what everyone else likes – It’s about making it your own and enjoying what you make. Chances are if you truly enjoy it, others will as well.  Recipes are not usually set in stone – experiment a little!

Best meal you have ever had:

Everything my mom makes is pretty awesome.  Every time I come home to visit she has some new recipe that she wants to show me. Also, my girlfriend and I once created a lasagna that had layers of Quorn crumbles (soy chicken), cheese, and cheese ravioli… It was pretty divine.

Elizabeth
Roasted Chicken & Veggie Cheese Chowder
vs Chicken Corn Chowder

How did you learn to cook?

I started helping my Mother in the kitchen at a young age and learned to share her love for baking and cooking. I was very involved in 4-H, which encouraged me to learn and push myself to try new things. I love reading recipes and trying new cooking techniques.

                                          Elizabeth & Mom

What inspires you to cook?

Whatever ingredients are on hand, I love to start with a bunch of ingredients and no idea what to make, then craft a new recipe as I go.

Besides soup, what is one of your favorite things to cook/bake?

Soft pretzels are one of my favorite things to make and eat, and they go very well with soup!

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

Any kind of hot soup with fresh baked bread!

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

A wire whisk

Any “not so secret” kitchen tips you are willing to share?

Don’t be afraid to deviate from the recipe and try new things, I think trial and error is often the best way to learn what goes well together and it’s a lot of fun!
                              Elizabeth & Mom Cooking Together

Best meal you have ever had:

Chicken nuggets, chicken noodle soup, and lemonade from Chick-Fil-A with family and friends whenever possible!

Suellen
Home-style Salmon and Bean Soup
vs Nana’s Chicken Soup

How did you learn to cook?

I am a self taught cook. Though my mother was creative and cooked out of necessity, she never liked to be in the kitchen. My inspiration to learn came from my great aunt who lived in Missouri. When we would visit, she would have a table full of wonderful homemade dishes and baked goods. I was always so amazed by them. My first attempt to bake was in grade school and I wanted to try cookies. I put all the ingredients in a large bowl without reading the recipe and my sister came in and told me I had done it all wrong. I never ended up finishing them. It was not until I was in high school that I made another attempt and this time it was Lemon Meringue Pie and Pecan Pie. They turned out perfect, including the crust, so I was hooked after that.

What inspires you to cook?

I love to create and see what new food combinations work well together. Some can get very bizarre! Over the years my family has taken up this passion of mine too, so when we all get in the kitchen together it can get pretty crazy.

Suellen & Family

Besides soup, what is one of your favorite things to cook/bake?

My favorite thing to make is baked goods such as breads and pastry, but I have recently started making a lot of chocolate creations.

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

My heritage is Scottish so I was made for cold weather meals! This is a hard question to answer because I have so many. One of my favorites is braised meats in wine sauce with polenta. Then there is a Steak and Ale stew slow cooked in the oven over mashed potatoes. And chicken pot pies. OK, better stop here!

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

If I had to narrow it down, I would have to say my stand mixer. Though if I ever had to do away with my crock of utensils, I would be a sorry mess.

Any “not so secret” kitchen tips you are willing to share?

First and foremost for me, my kitchen has to start off clean and organized. Maybe because my kitchen is small with very little work space. I find it helpful to clean up as I go to keep the work space ready for the next thing and that saves you from having a big mess to clean up when you are done.

Best meal you have ever had:

In Siena, Italy. A small restaurant off the square. Braised game meats of rabbit, boar and quail served with potatoes and fried sage leaves. My husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary touring the arts and foods of Italy.

Dianna
Twisted Italy Chicken Soup
vs Chicken Pomodoro

How did you learn to cook?

I learned to cook at a very young age.  My mom was a bake and cook from scratch person and that’s the way I was brought up.  One of the first things that I can remember doing with Mom was making sugar pie. This pie was a staple in our house for dessert.

What inspires you to cook?

My garden,  the Farmer’s Market and the seasons inspire me to cook and create new foods.  I like to be a “Market to Table” type of cook.

Besides soup, what is one of your favorite things to cook/bake?

One of my favorite things to cook/bake is breads.  Made from scratch, hand rolled with love and served while it’s still warm – Yum!

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

My favorite cold weather meal will always be my Mom’s ham & beans with cornbread.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

My favorite kitchen utensil/appliance is my measuring beaker.  My mom never had exact recipes for the dishes she made. Trying to get the recipes from her is almost impossible.  She says a “liitle bit of this, a handful of that” – well, my handful isn’t the same as her handful!  So, I REALLY rely on my beaker to measure out everything so that my recipes can be recreated and taste the same each time.

Any “not so secret” kitchen tips you are willing to share?

Don’t throw away bacon grease!  It’s a precious fat that can be used interchangably with shortening and really add something different to dishes.

Dianna and Mom

Best meal you have ever had:

The best meal I ever had was my birthday meal.  Growing up in a family of 6, our birthdays were treated as very special events.  Mom would make any kind of cake we wished and she would cook us whatever we wanted for our birthday meal.  I would always ask for her homemade mac & cheese with bean and beef burritos.  We would all sit together and enjoy it as a family.  After all these years, that’s the one meal that I still ask my mom to make for me.

Amy
It Ain’t Easy Being Green ~ Broccoli & Spinach Cheese Soup
vs Chicken Corn Chowder

How did you learn to cook?

From my mom and grandma, right alongside them in the kitchen. I can’t remember NOT ever cooking.  It’s my stress reliever.

                              Amy and Grandpa Making Cookies

What inspires you to cook?

Good food.  There isn’t anything better than a homecooked comfort meal with family.

Besides soup, what is one of your favorite things to cook/bake?

I’m on a cheesecake kick right now, trying different recipes and creating different flavor combos; that and serious BBQ.

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

Soup!  I make soups toward the end of summer when the garden is at it’s peak and freeze them in individual containers.  An instant meal for little to no money, fresh from the garden in the dead of winter – can’t beat that!

                                        Amy’s Herb Garden

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

My grill!  Just because there is snow on the ground doesn’t mean I can’t fire that baby up!

Any “not so secret” kitchen tips you are willing to share? 

If you clean up as you go, there is no clean up in the end.

Best meal you have ever had:

I’m on a BBQ kick right now, so I’d have to say Pappy’s Smokehouse in St. Louis.  Holy cow! Seriously some of the best I’ve ever had. Was just down there about a month ago…. need to go again, soon!


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