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!


Southeast Soup Challenge Finalists Culinary Q&A

Behind each of the stellar Soup Challenge recipes that have made it to the finals, there is a passionate home cook with wonderful stories about what led them to the kitchen. Many finalists learned to cook from their moms and grandmothers and are inspired by their families. We asked about their favorite dishes, go-to “Cool Kitchen Tools”, and more. Each Southeast Soup Challenge finalist brings a unique perspective to the competition and we are looking forward to meeting them soon at The Art Institute of Atlanta!

Debi
Mama’s Greek Penicillin
vs Nana’s Chicken Soup

How did you learn to cook?

I learned how to cook in my family kitchen between 10 and 12 years old.  I learned baking from my Grandma Gupton and meals I learned from my mother, Greta Gupton.  I remember my first attempt at cooking was scrambled eggs.  I used my younger brother and some of the other guys on our street as taste testers.  I was a bit heavy handed with the salt shaker to say the least.  Over the past 40 years, I’ve know that I’ve greatly improved.

What inspires you to cook?

My family is my best inspiration.  I love cooking big meals for big occasions.  I also like cooking with family.  I cooked with my mom and my grandma when I was growing up and as an adult, then started cooking with my daughter, which I still enjoy doing.

My inspiration for “Mama’s Greek Penicillin” came from re-creating a comfort food for my daughter, Lindsey.  My daughter had cancer when she was 11 years old (Ewing’s Sarcoma PpNet).  When we would come home after a round of chemo, she would want her favorite soup-Greek Lemon Soup- and we would go out to eat it together.  After a while, I learned how to make it for her, and then she would only eat mine.  Even now, when she gets sick (now 24 years old), she wants a pot of my soup.  I’ve made it for others since then; I’ve been told it works miracles!

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

I love cooking Italian and Greek food.  My daughter says that no one makes a sauce as good as mine and can’t even touch my lasagna.  My favorite thing to bake is cakes. I make a killer chocolate cake with jam filling and chocolate butter cream frosting.  Although it’s been awhile, I love baking bread too – it makes your house smell like home! And I enjoy eating as much as I enjoy cooking.

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

Soups and chili are my go-to cold weather foods.  I entered a small amateur general cooking competition last Fall and I won the overall competition with my Fiesta Chili.  That’s what inspired me to enter your competition.  I used to bake bread to go with my soups, but haven’t in awhile.  I would like to get back to that in the future.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

I love my Cuisinart Food Processor, it’s one of the original models from the 80′s. I use it for so many different recipes.  And I love gadgets – seeing what they can do and what I can do with them.

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

Preparation is everything!  I like to gather all of my ingredients, then do all of the chopping and then all that’s left is the cooking.

Best meal you have ever had:

My best meals are always at home with my family and friends. It doesn’t matter what you’re eating, as long as you are all sitting together around the table, talking, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. Family is very important to me, so “with whom” will always be “with my family”.

Angela
Comfortly Southern Turnip Green & Ham Soup
vs Nana’s Chicken Soup

How did you learn to cook?

I learned to cook at a young age. One of my earliest memories is sitting on the kitchen counter watching my great-grandmother cook at 5 or 6 years old. My mother taught me to cook and as my interest grew, she would let me help in the kitchen. As I developed my own tastes and recipes, she has always been there to give feedback or answer questions.

What inspires you to cook?

Love of my family inspires me to cook. My husband has different tastes than some of our family members. This gives me the opportunity to try new recipes. Bringing the family to the table for fellowship inspires me to create recipes and develop my cooking skills.

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

My favorite thing to bake is sweets. I love to try new cookies, cakes and bread pudding recipes.
                                                                    (Angie)
Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

I love to cook my special 21-ingredient chili and cornbread croutons. Even in cold weather I serve it with a lettuce and tri-color pepper salad and a margarita pie or apple pie. 

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

My favorite appliance is my Cuisinart mini-chopper. It is so versatile! I use it to mix salsas or combine ingredients, etc. as well as chop.

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

I ”borrowed” the garbage bowl tip and peeling boiled eggs from Rachel Ray. I keep a bowl on the counter just for trash while cooking and this helps on time. For the boiled eggs, I do not allow them to get cold. I rinse the boiled eggs in cold water then drain. I put a cover over the pot and shake it around to crack and loosen the shells. Then I peel while still warm.

I do not force new recipes to develop- if one comes to mind I will write it down, look it over, then decide if I want to try it. Sometimes I just have to get into the kitchen and try a recipe while it is still in my brain before I write it down. I keep a notebook and pen in the kitchen to record any notes on recipes I am cooking.

Best meal you have ever had:

The best meal I have ever had was at Hudson’s on the Dock. My husband Woody and I moved to Bluffton, SC from Woodstock, GA. When we first moved here, Woody’s sister and her husband treated us to Hudson’s on the Dock, which is known for fresh seafood. I had fresh shrimp, a baked potato and “7 day cole slaw”. It was the best. Not only was the food scrumptious, but being with family around the table made it really special.

Debbie
Creamy Italian Roasted Pepper Soup
vs Yankee White Bean

How did you learn to cook?

My Mom taught me the basics of cooking when I was growing up.  Have been self taught since then, picking up tricks and new techniques, etc. from food magazines and television.

                                                       (Debbie’s Mom & Dad)

What inspires you to cook?

I just love to cook, always have.  Think it is because I love to eat!

                                                                   (Debbie)

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

Don’t even have to think about that one – macaroni and cheese!!!

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

Not one specific meal, but something that is hot and comforting, like a macaroni and cheese, a thick and hearty soup, or a chili.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

My 7-inch Santoku knife

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

Cook with fresh ingredients when you can.  I was amazed to see/learn the difference fresh herbs make over dried herbs.

Best meal you have ever had:

My Mom’s Thanksgiving Day dinner!

Josee
Wonton Meatball Soup
vs Sweet Chicken Curry

How did you learn to cook?

At age 6 or 7 in Canada with my grandmother

What inspires you to cook?

My love for food and local fresh produce and fresh seafood inspires me in the kitchen.

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

I like to make quiches, homemade artisan bread, fish (freshly caught by me!) and I love to grill just about anything.

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

Rosemary Lemon Roasted Chicken with roasted potatoes and root vegetables

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

Lemon juicer, thongs and cookie scoops and of course my kitchen aid mixer

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

Adding lemon zest to just about anything will bring freshness to your dishes

 

(Josee and Mom)
Best meal you have ever had:

Coquilles Saint Jacques (stuffed scallops) at my mom’s house with my family. 

Cheryl
Chicken Gnocchi Soup
vs Chicken Corn Chowder

How did you learn to cook?

My mother insisted we learn to cook, sew and play the piano.  I enjoyed cooking the most!

(Cheryl’s Mom)
What inspires you to cook?

Traveling. When I visit a new place I love to try the cuisine of that destination .  I then enjoy recreating my favorite dishes from my travels.

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

I enjoy cooking Italian inspired dishes as well as mexican influenced and Thai.  I love the exotic flavors.

                                                                  (Cheryl)

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

Soups and stews without a doubt!

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

I also cannot live without my bamboo chopping board.

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

Cook with your heart and whatever you make or bake will turn out!

Best meal you have ever had:

in Ravello, Italy on the Amalfi coast.  It was my fiance’s birthday and we took a day long cooking class at a home overlooking the coast. It was magnificent and every bite was divine!


Soup Challenge Venue Spotlight

The final Soup Challenge events are drawing near and three fabulous venues will be hosting the competitors, their cheerleading squads of friends and family, special guest judges and the team from New England Country Soup. These passionate home cooks will have the opportunity to work their magic in professional kitchens as they go up against the New England Country Soup of their choice for the chance at culinary glory and a foodie vacation to Martha’s Vineyard!

On March 23rd, the Soup Challenge Northeast final will take place at Newbury College in the beautiful and historic neighborhood of Fisher Hill in Brookline. Newbury College has been a leader In career-focused education in the Boston area for 50 years. The college offers a wide variety of majors their School of Arts & Design, School of Business & Management, and the well-known Roger A Saunders School of Hotel and Restaurant Management, which includes their excellent culinary programs.
The finalists will be cooking in the kitchen of The Mitton House, the Grand Dame of the campus with its signature Georgian Revival design. The Mitton House was built in 1893 and inhabited by the family of George W. Mitton, president of the famed Jordan Marsh Company, who helped build the business into a modern department store, from 1919-1957. The Archbishop of Boston eventually purchased The Mitton House for the Catholic Archdiocese and Newbury College acquired the building in 1982. This will be the first year for the Soup Challenge at this historic venue and Victorian kitchen, an American Downtown Abbey!

The Southeast Soup Challenge Final will be returning to The Art Institute of Atlanta (Ai Atlanta) for the second year on April 6th. Students from more than 30 states and 20 countries are part of Ai Atlanta’s renowned programs in design, media arts, fashion and culinary arts.

The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Atlanta offers programs ranging from Food & Beverage Management to Baking and Pastry. And it has some famous alums, including Top Chef finalist Chef Kevin Gillespie. The finalists will prepare their soup recipes at Creations, the teaching restaurant of Ai Atlanta.

The Soup Challenge returns to Illinois Central College (ICC) in Peoria, IL on April 6th for the second year at their state-of-the-art culinary facility.

The Culinary Arts Institute offers programs in Culinary Arts Management and Restaurant Management. The Institute’s kitchens provide chefs-in-training with outstanding modern equipment and facilities while they learn restaurant management, food service marketing, baking and pastry, as well as preparation of meat, poultry, and fish.

The finals are sure to be thrilling for the contestants and a lot of fun for the spectators, judges and folks from New England Country Soup. We would like to say a huge “Thank you!” to Newbury College, The Art Institute of Atlanta and Illinois Central College for hosting the Soup Challenge final events. Check back for lots of photos and video from these wonderful venues as the drama of the finals unfolds!

 


Northeast Soup Challenge Finalists Culinary Q&A

Behind each of the stellar Soup Challenge recipes that have made it to the finals, there is a passionate home cook with wonderful stories about what led them to the kitchen. We asked the finalists about their favorite foods to make and eat (other than soup!), what are their go-to “Cool Kitchen Tools”, best cooking tricks and tips, and their most memorable meals. The responses all came from the heart. Good stuff!

Jasmin
Old Country Creamy Potato & Sausage Soup  
vs New England Clam Chowder

How did you learn to cook?

I learned to cook when I was still a kid. After my parents split up, my mom put me in charge of preparing dinner as she didn’t usually get home from work until late. I learned a few basic dishes and grew from there. Otherwise, I am mostly self-taught from cookbooks, tv etc. I do enjoy watching Food Network and learning new tricks from there. Also, I have watched a lot of great Youtube videos online showing different techniques and dishes.
What inspires you to cook?

I get inspiration from a lot of areas. Being a mom of 3 first and foremost I have the needs and tastes of my family in mind. My husband and I enjoy trying different restaurants and interesting cuisines, so I take a lot of inspiration from there as well. We also like to travel and I’ve definitely picked up new tricks and ideas from that, too.
Besides soup, what is one of your favorite things to cook/bake?

I enjoy experimenting with different ethnic food, or putting an ethnic twist on an otherwise familiar or standard dish.

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

In cold weather, soups are obviously a staple. I make a really nice beef stew (sort of a simpler beef bourguignon) and a decent pot of chili.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

My santoku knife. Worth every penny! I’m also very fond of my Microplane grater.

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

Make sure you have your ingredients ready to go before you start cooking, and don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things! Ask friends, family, colleagues from different cultures to share their cooking tips and secrets – you never know what you might learn!

Best meal you have ever had:

The tasting menu at Asiate in NYC. Awesome!

Robin
African Peanut Soup  
vs Caribbean Black Bean

How did you learn to cook?

Really just exploring by myself. I went to a boarding school for poor kids, and although there were plenty of opportunities to learn to cook for a group of 12 girls in a dorm, I was too busy with sports to be home in time for dinner! I became vegan in 2004, but then lived on Ramen noodles for my 1st year of college. Since then I have tried to be more creative with my cooking.  I use lots of cookbooks, and when I find a recipe I like, I continue to use it but just keep adding my own elements.  (My husband is actually the ‘cook’ in the household! I just have a few recipes I’m good at!)
Do you have a favorite go-to cold weather/winter meal?

I really enjoy a hearty soup in the winter; the African Peanut Soup OR my Peanut Butter Potato soup (another interesting flavor combo) with a Vegan grilled cheese on the side using delicious Daiya vegan cheese.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

I would have to say my mini food processor.  I like to blend portions of my soup so it’s a bit creamier. And I hate to dice onions, garlic, or peppers, so usually toss them all in my “kitchen Ninja” and pulse it a few times, and voila, no chopped fingers!

Joan
Couscous Tabbouleh Soup
vs Lentil

How did you learn to cook?
I determined to get to know how to cook after receiving a Kitchenaid mixer for my 30th birthday. Also, as a theatrical designer, I spent a lot of time in Europe and discovered that those folks ate better than we do in America.

What inspires you to cook?

I am a confirmed francophile when it comes to cooking and return to France as often as possible, just to eat. I am inspired to cook well because I like to eat well. Julia Child didn’t hurt, either.

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

I am a killer baker and pastry chef. I like the chemistry of what happens in an oven as well as the mystery and danger involved.

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

Cold weather meals: Coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, lamb stew.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

My knives and my mixer

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

Garlic: peel and lay on a cutting board; smash it with the side of a heavy knife. Sprinkle over a little sea/kosher salt and some freshly, coarsely ground black pepper. Smash again several times, rubbing it into the seasonings. Chop well. Now it’s ready to give itself up to flavor.

Best meal you have ever had:

Two best meals (there’s a theme here): Marc Meneau’s L’Esperance in St. Pere-sous-Vezelay, France; July 31st, 1994. Forty One Restaurant; Sydney, Australia. July 31st, 2004. Both were menus dégustation (a sampling of all the chef’s signature dishes) with perfect wines matching the perfect food. Enjoyed with friends and family–less of each in Australia, if you can believe it.

Chantal
Cheeseburger Chowder
vs Chicken Corn Chowder

How did you learn to cook?

From my Mom, but also lots of watching Food Network.

What inspires you to cook?

My desire to eat decent food within my dietary restrictions.

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

Usually Italian.

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

Shepherd’s Pie.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

My griddler, Cuisinart, and my crockpot.

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

There are lots of easy food swaps that make traditional recipes healthier.

Best meal you have ever had:

My homemade Chicken Cacciatore!

Sharon
Spicy Egg Drop Soup
vs Caribbean Black Bean

How did you learn to cook?

My mother taught me how to cook but I didn’t have an interest in food/cooking until I was in middle school/high school.

What inspires you to cook?

I love to watch the food network and look through cookbooks.  I get ideas to develop my own recipes.  I particularly like to change recipes to make them heart-healthy.

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

Blackened salmon, roasted vegetables, pumpkin bread, banana bread and apple cake.

Do you have a favorite cold weather meal?

Minestrone soup with cheese or vegetarian chili with corn bread.

What is your favorite kitchen utensil/appliance?

My hand-held soup blender.

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

It’s great to have a husband who’s always willing to run out for ingredients I need at the last minute and who is willing to clean up/wash dishes – I’m a messy cook!

Best meal you have ever had..

Some of the best meals I’ve ever had were on a Crystal Cruise, which was a gift from my parents and included my husband, two daughters, parents and brother.  Also, my mother is an amazing cook and I enjoy eating meals she’s prepared.


Fabulous But Not Finalists

We received 80 fantastic recipes from across the country for the third annual Soup Challenge – in each region, three contestants were voted into the finals by the fans and two were selected by our judges based on the creativity of their recipes alone. It was extremely tough to pick the last couple for the Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest, as all the soups were fabulous. Here are some of our favorites that came close, but did not make the finals. We would love to hear what you think and if you want to see more Soup Challenge recipes!

 

Northeast Soup Challenge Recipes

Curried Lentil Squash Soup With Sweet Golden Raisins
“After recently delivering my second child I found myself in need of 2 things. First of all sleep, but I didn’t get much say in that and second of all healthy filling meals that would help me shed my stubborn pregnancy weight. Lentils are something I always keep in my pantry for their great nutritional value and versatility. Fresh vegetables are always added to my healthy meals but when I was too tired to go to the market I opted for root vegetables and squash that I could buy in bulk and had a long storage time. When combined with the wonderful warming flavors of curry I had a great healthy soup packed with flavor and vitamins that I am able to cook up quickly and freezes beautifully. I have since shared this soup with many busy friends and family with everyone remarking about the comfort it brings. Healthy, Inexpensive, Tasty, and can be prepped ahead of time; sign this busy mom up!” – MacKenzie

Mushroom Brie Bisque
“This is my favorite soup that a local eatery who is only open for summer months offers. It’s such a delicious soup to enjoy in the winter, I had to find a way to make it myself at home. This is what I’ve come up with, after a few trial and error batches, and it’s simply divine!” – Laura

Southeast Soup Challenge Recipes

Curried Pumpkin And Popcorn Soup
“Soup is my favorite thing to eat at lunchtime! This recipe was created when I was trying to figure out what to do with leftover canned pumpkin from the holidays. The addition of popcorn gives it a fun twist, and is a great crunchy contrast to the smooth “creamy” soup! This is fun, easy, and very healthy soup! Pumpkin is packed with nutrition, and the popcorn gives it a low calorie fiber boost, plus it is delicious!!!” – Eileen

Southern Coastal Clam And Shrimp Chowder

“I am from the South and live on Floria’s Emerald Coast in the Panhandle. My family loves to eat fresh Gulf Seafood. As a child I traveled to San Francisco as my father was a military officer, and I and fell in love with clam chowder. We recently took our children on a trip to the Northeast before they left for college, and New England Clam Chowder warmed and nourished our souls. We are a soup eating family, and feel soup can heal, comfort, and bring families together at the dinner table.” – Susan

 

Midwest Soup Challenge Recipes

Not So Drunk Borracho Bean Soup
“I am a big fan of Mexican food and usually order Borracho Bean soup with my dinner. Being that my favorite Mexican food restaurant is 800 miles from where I live, I have learned to make my own. I don’t always have beer on hand and found that it is not really necessary to make this soup great. My biggest fans are my husband and my daughter and son-in-law. It is a tradition in our family to have Mexican food on Christmas Eve but you can find me making this soup anytime I’m making homemade Mexican food.” – Barbara

Day After Thanksgiving Turkey Soup
“This is a family recipe that my father taught me. Every year on the day after Thanksgiving he takes the leftovers and turns it into soup. I love this soup so much that I made it several times a year. It is hearty, healthy, and full of vegetables.” – Katherine

 


Cool Tools 3: Foreign Finds

We love our American-made Lodge Cast Iron and unbreakable Pyrex, but sometimes a great cool tool is forged in foreign kitchens. While we are proud to be in the US of A and support our local brands and products, international inspiration has shaped some of our favorite soup flavors! For example, Caribbean Black Bean is filled with spices from the Islands, Chicken Pomodoro is a take on an Italian classic, Sweet Chicken Curry has the flavors of South Asia, and the flavor our Lentil soup comes from Spanish Pardina lentils.

Our lucky Soup Challenge finalists will be picking out a selection of Cool Tools as part of their prize! To see the rest of their options, check out Cool Tools 1: Health Incentives (link) and Cool Tools 2: Cooking is a Science.

Capresso frothPLUS ($47.99 via Amazon) – http://amzn.to/wMzmYZ

From the snowy Alps of Switzerland we present you with Heidi the milkmaid’s secret weapon: the Capresso frothPLUS. There are no limits thanks to Capresso’s ability to froth both hot and cold milk, half & half or cream, giving you myriad of drinkable milk options. Things like hot cocoa, chocolate milk, egg nog, tea lattes, or smoothies can benefit from the addition and topping of freshly frothed milk. And, if you are a home barista, this little machine can take your normal morning cup of joe from tolerable to terrific! Easy to clean and takes up little counter space- thank you Switzerland for another fabulous addition to the culinary world.

Swissmar Curve Peeler ($3.99 via Sur la table) – http://bit.ly/ZLUOCb

Culinary cousin of another great Swiss invention, the Swiss Army Knife, this little peeler will become your most favorite foreign exchange tool. It peels, it slices, and makes vegetable ribbons like you’ve never seen before. And, best of all, it’s almost impossible to cut yourself (unlike some more traditional models).  This peeler is held between the pointer finger and the thumb and easily adapts to all kinds of peels. We’ve even used my Swissmar to remove citrus rind for garnishes. Essentially, this tool can do no wrong and deserves citizenship in your cutlery drawer.

Sil-Pats ($26.95 via Sur la table) – http://bit.ly/13pC4JU

From the same country that brought us macarons, beurre blanc, and ratatouille (that’s France if you weren’t quite sure), may I introduce you to the Sil-Pat: a reusable and flexible silicone mat that takes the place of parchment paper when baking or roasting. It also makes a great work surface and can help form other things like ice-cream cake rolls, stuffed-rolled-and-roasted pork tenderloin, and even sushi. It’s the simplest invention and helps any level of chef perfect their cooking.

Molcajete ($14.95 via Sur la table)- http://bit.ly/VQf7uT

The molcajete (a Spanish word for a mortar and pestle) is an ancient culinary tool from Mesoamerica that is a pivotal part of traditional Mexican cuisine, but it also has so many uses in the modern kitchen! This particular model is one of the best and universal options available here in the states.   So what can you make with a molcajete? Better question: what can’t you make in one?! Anything from guacamole to fresh peanut butter is easy work for this nifty ceramic tool and you can wow your dinner guests by rambling off details about its Aztecan history.

It really is a small world after all and the more we learn from other cultures’ culinary methods, the more our own cuisine will grow. Start by just adding one or more of these cool tools to your kitchen arsenal and you’ll be a worldly-cook in no time. 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Cool Tools 2: Cooking is a Science

Making great soup is truly a science  – you have to consider the temperature, number of ingredients, and pressure to which they are exposed. It took some serious science to develop the perfect balance of flavor and nutrition in our all-natural soups. Our Soup Challenge finalists will content with this first hand when their soups are judged on both taste and a formal nutritional analysis of their recipe.

Cooking is a scientific art form that relies on the basic building blocks of chemistry, biology, and physics. The more you know about these fields, the better your cooking will be. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to make soufflés, but all those high school chemistry labs you slept through might have been more useful in the kitchen today then you thought then. Don’t panic, we aren’t going to suggest you re-learn the periodic etc. But by simply adding a few science savvy cool tools to your kitchen arsenal, your cooking will be Bill Nye approved in no time. 

Bamboo Kitchen Scale ($25 via Amazon) – http://amzn.to/15l91oY

Some of us don’t like to measure things when cooking and often use the excuse of dirty measuring spoons. It’s a bad habit, but plenty of us are guilty as charged. However, there really are times when you really should measure out an ingredient. And, if you’re going to measure, measure the right way – the surest way to measure is with a scale. This simple and elegant bamboo scale measures all kinds of ingredients, is easy to clean, and easy to use.

OCD Chef Cutting Board ($25.99 via Think Geek) – http://bit.ly/LdDutx
When a recipe reads “potatoes, sliced 1/8 inch thick” do you really know how thin that is? Do you want to know what that is without whipping out a ruler? Well your day is saved thanks to the OCD Chef Cutting board. With precise markings burned into the beechwood surface, you can slice, dice, and julienne to your meticulous little mind’s content. And, while your chicken noodle soup might not really need carrots “sliced on the bias exactly 5mm thick” your knife skills will definitely improve for all the effort.

Cook’s Illustrated The Science of Good Cooking ($24 via Amazon) – http://amzn.to/XmOo8I
One of the latest publications from America’s Test Kitchen, The Science of Good Cooking is the new “It” book in geeky gastronomic fusion.  This book will teach you the basics about heat, proteins, salt osmosis, oil temperatures and delve into some higher IQ science with concepts like starch interactions, alcohol evaporation, and the chemistry of leavening. In essence, this book packs the whole big bang theory relating to the kitchen into 504 pages, weighing 4lbs.

iPad Chef Sleeves ($20 via Think Geek) – http://bit.ly/YC5M6u

Sauce stains and butter smudges on a well-worn cookbook are a sign of “kitchen cred”, but it is never good to get flour in the corners of your iPad. That’s a serious kitchen foul! To prevent these issues while maintaining the use of your device for easy access to recipes and cooking how-tos: the iPad Chef Sleeve. These sleeves are made with sealable touchscreen-sensitive plastic and are reusable! So no matter how many times you have to make and remake Grandma’s fudge recipe, you’ll feel safe in the knowledge that your precious iPad is secure from boiling sugar splatter.

Thanks to the inspiration you’ve received from all these new cool tools, this time next year you might be cooking on Bunsen burners and storing your ingredients in Erlenmeyer flasks! Well, probably not but it can’t be coincidence that both fine chefs and great scientists wear white coats. Come back soon for the third post on “Cool Tools: Foreign Finds.”


Cool Tools 1: Health Incentives

One of the perks of being a Soup Challenge finalist is getting to pick out a “goodie bag” of Cool Tools – kitchen appliances that are fun and functional. We are a bunch of enthusiastic foodies here at New England Country Soup, and love to experiment with new tools that can make us even better in the kitchen.  All our Soup Challenge finalists are winners, so the Cool Tools are our way of saying congratulations for getting this far in the competition!

The Soup Challenge invites the best of homemade to go head-to-head with our soups on taste and nutrition. So the healthfulness of each recipe is an important factor for success. Healthy cooking is the inspiration for our first group of Cool Tools. Whether you are trying to cook fat-free, incorporate more fresh produce and vitamin C into your diet, or just wanting to drink more water, these cool tools will inspire you to achieve those healthy food goals and perhaps incite a bit of kitchen-envy from your friends and neighbors.

Roasting Laurels ($24.95 via Sur la table) http://bit.ly/XwMO50

When the kids ask, “Where’s dinner?” you can answer haughtily “resting on its laurels!” And, if you don’t get as much enjoyment out of puns as we do, you can at least be reassured that anything you roast atop these silicon “laurels” from rosemary-chicken to a stuffed pork tenderloin, spiced butternut squash, to a Grecian-style leg of lamb, will become a juicy, golden brown delight. Unlike traditional roasting implements, these silicon laurels conform to many pan shapes, are much easier to clean, and ensure that your meats and veggies are roasted to perfection without bathing in the fat and drippings in the pan below.

Citrus Spritzer ($14.95 via Sur la table) http://bit.ly/XwNkQp
Unless you live in the sunnier parts of the US, fresh citrus is a precious commodity. Recipes often only call for a tablespoon or two of juice, forcing you to chop a lemon or orange in half, take the juice you need, and leave the rest to shrivel up in the fridge to use later (if you can remember it’s in there).  This citrus spritzer eliminates the need for slicing and leftover citrus and keeps your fruit fresh and juicy. Simply twist the spritzer into the fruit and spray as needed. Works for baking recipes, spritzing seafood, meats, and vegetables, a light salad dressing, and makes plain water exciting! The set comes with two sizes: one for smaller citrus like limes and a larger one for hefty citrus like grapefruits.

Cuppows ($7.99 via Think Geek) http://bit.ly/YvdByJ
Admit it, even if you didn’t grow up in the country, canning your own produce and drinking out of a mason jar is just plain fun. It makes even water exciting – and the glass just seems to imbue this clean clear taste – and allows you to show off your nifty beverage choices to the rest of the world. One problem: mason jars weren’t meant for drinking. The heft of the glass, the wide opening, the grooved lip; all these factors often result in an issue known as “drink-on-face foul.”  But, have no fear, Cuppow is here! Whether you drink iced tea (like Southern country gals), lemon water, or even hot coffee, these BPA-free plastic lids fit onto any standard wide-mouth mason jar, creating a new, stylish travel mug for all beverage occasions. A sippy cup for adults!

Cooking Mesh ($15 via Sur la table) http://bit.ly/YJFG2f
Old fashioned cooking methods have retained their popularity for many reasons, but mainly because they are tried and true, even if they call for more time over the stove. Although we almost always endorse these traditional techniques, there’s nothing wrong with a few shortcuts, as long as they help you eat more fresh, healthy, and home-cooked meals. Here’s one of the newest tool for the modern kitchen: cooking mesh. Made of silicon and BPA-free, this cooking mesh makes wrangling steamed or boiled veggies a breeze, helps drain whole grain pasta in the blink of an eye, makes blanching peaches a pie-walk , and even functions as a bouquet garni (spice and herb pouch) in soups and stocks. There are literally a thousand different ways to use this easy-to-clean mesh, most don’t even require the application of fat or oils, and will ease your way to eating healthy this year. Plus, it’s just cool.

As you can see, it doesn’t take a complete kitchen renovation to redirect your diet. Eating clean is simple, natural, and easy, especially when aided with a few new cool tools. Come back soon for part two – “Cool Tools: Cooking is a Science.”


Soup Challenge III Finalists Announced!

After 109 days and nearly 29,000 votes, we are pleased to announce the third annual Soup Challenge finalists in the Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest regions! Three of the five finalists for each region qualified by having the greatest number of votes and two finalists were selected by the judges based on creativity of their recipe alone. The judges had an extremely tough time picking the last two finalists, as all the entries looked and sounded fabulous. The Soup Challenge final competitions are coming up in the Northeast at Newbury College in Brookline, MA on March 23rd, then on April 6th for the Southeast at the Art Institute of Atlanta and Midwest at Illinois Central College in Peoria. Here are the finalists!

Soup Challenge Northeast Finalists

Spicy Egg Drop Soup with Spinach & Orzo

By: Sharon
Region: Northeast
Soup Group: Vegetarian
Competing Against: Caribbean Black Bean

“My goal in creating this soup was to come up with an egg soup that also includes veggies and grains so that it could be served as a meal in itself. This hearty soup is so easy to make that it can be a served for a week-night dinner but it is also elegant enough for company.”

Cheeseburger Chowder
By: Chantal
Region: Northeast
Soup Group: Cream-Based
Competing Against: Chicken Corn Chowder 

“Over the past few years my family has needed to change their diets due for their health. I myself need to reduce salt where I can and my mom has celiac disease. Others need to watch their sugar intake or have allergies to shellfish or lactose. When cooking a large meal for everyone, I try to take all these restrictions into consideration. I choose ingredients that do not contain lactose, gluten and use smaller amounts of things that might contain sodium, and I do not add salt. I choose more flavorful sharp cheddar in this recipe so I do not need to add as much. My family loves this soup because it does not feel like they are missing anything. Cheeseburger soup is not my original idea, but this diet restriction friendly version is. I hope you like it.”

Old Country Creamy Potato And Sausage Soup
By: Jasmin
Region: Northeast
Soup Group: Cream-Based
Competing Against: New England Clam Chowder

“I recently spent a week in Germany where I tried an amazing potato soup (loaded with cream, several kinds of smoked meats and definitely packed with flavor). Returning home, I was inspired to try to replicate it in the kitchen, but a healthier version. By using lots of fresh vegetables and herbs, and substituting reduced fat/sodium ingredients (like turkey kielbasa for the sausage and condensed milk instead of cream) for more traditionally high fat items, this soup is still hearty, satisfying and delicious. Try it with a good, crusty European bread or a fresh green salad for lunch or a light supper.”

African Peanut Soup
 By: Robin
Region: Northeast
Soup Group: Vegetarian
Competing Against: Caribbean Black Bean

“I love surprising my family- standing at the stove adding a colorful variety of ingredients while the look on in wonder- “what is that going to taste like??” And then when it’s finally served- DELICIOUS!
I love playing with the intense flavor of ginger, plus peanut butter and tomatoes- so interesting and tasty!”

Couscous Tabbouleh Soup
By: Joan
Region: Northeast
Soup Group: Vegetarian
Competing Against: Lentil

“This is basically my take on tabbouleh made into a soup. The idea is to retain the freshness of that salad along with providing a hearty soup component, as well as a Near Eastern element with the couscous. I prefer it best at room temperature.”

Soup Challenge Midwest Finalists

Urban Taqueria Black Bean Soup
By: Weston
Region: Midwest
Soup Group: Vegetarian
Competing Against: Caribbean Black Bean

“This recipe is a nod to all of the amazing Taquerias (taco stands) you find in the summer around Chicago. Being a Vegetarian, I would order a taco with beans instead of meat. There was always this burst of flavor that came with the taco (not to mention the amazing aroma that comes from the Taqueria). The mixture of the cilantro, onion, green pepper, and red pepper… Oh so delightful! Well of course in Chicago we get ridiculously cold winters and the taco stands disappear. I wanted to create a hearty warm soup that could fill the void that appears every winter when the taco stands (and myself) go into hibernation. Well I did and the Urban Taqueria Black Bean Soup was born! It’s a soup that’s hearty enough for a meat eater, perfect for a vegetarian, and mimics the robust taste of a Taqueria perfectly.

Home-style Salmon And Bean Soup

By: Suellen
Region: Midwest
Soup Group: Meat Protein
Competing Against: Nana’s Chicken Soup

“My husband and I lived overseas doing humanitarian aid work and were surrounded by local farmers and fishermen. With these, we only made and served what was available at the time. Since arriving back to the U.S. I have tried to create recipes that were close to my favorites while keeping to local, clean and healthy. Family and friends all take a part in our kitchen when it comes to cooking and if not here we take it with us for gatherings.”

Twisted Italy Chicken Soup
 By: Dianna
Region: Midwest
Soup Group: Meat Protein
Competing Against: Chicken Pomodoro

“Being a girl born & raised in the Midwest, there is nothing more satisfying that using veggies straight from my garden! My garden is the inspiration behind this soup! Just picked, ripe & juicy tomatoes are the base for this soup. Let’s not forget the onions, peppers, garlic, spinach, and basil all fresh grown. This soup is like eating a cup full of my garden! The orange adds just a nice twist of something special in this soup.”

Roasted Chicken And Veggie Cheese Chowder
By: Elizabeth
Region: Midwest
Soup Group: Cream-Based
Competing Against: Chicken Corn Chowder

“This soup came to be on a very cold winter day. Warm and satisfying with lots of healthy ingredients, it is also surprisingly easy and inexpensive to make. The roasting step adds a lot of flavor without adding much time and this recipe can easily be adapted to use whatever veggies are on hand. The yummy, cheesy broth makes it a big hit with kids- they won’t even notice that it is a vegetable soup! My little sister (who normally despises cauliflower) loves it and says it makes her all warm and happy inside!”

It Ain’t Easy Being Green ~ Broccoli & Spinach Cheese Soup

By: Amy
Region: Midwest
Soup Group: Cream-Based
Competing Against: Chicken Corn Chowder

“One of my dad’s favorite soups is broccoli and cheese, but the complaint has always been that any time he orders it when eating out it’s a cheese soup with a few pieces of broccoli thrown in. This soup makes Broccoli the star of the show, with spinach added for a really brilliant green color and flavor, and the cheese is to ‘cream’ it up. Enjoy!”

Soup Challenge Southeast Finalists

Mama’s Greek Penicillin

By: Debra
Region: Southeast
Soup Group: Meat Protein
Competing Against: Nana’s Chicken Soup

“My daughter had cancer when she was 11 years old (Ewing’s Sarcoma PpNet). When we would come home after a round of chemo, she would want her favorite soup-Greek Lemon Soup- and we would go out to eat it together. After a while, I learned how to make it for her, and then she would only eat mine. Even now, when she gets sick (now 24 years old), she wants a pot of my soup. I’ve made it for others since then; I’ve been told it works miracles!”

Comfortly Southern Turnip Green With Ham Soup
By: Angela
Region: Southeast
Soup Group: Meat Protein
Competing Against: Nana’s Chicken Soup

“I love to revamp leftovers and give them new life. One cold day I had leftover turnip greens and white northern beans. I stood at the refrigerator, hands on hips wondering what I could do with these two items. Previously I had eaten a turnip green based soup at a restaurant in Savannah GA. That memory combined with the leftovers and viola…my new soup was born. It has now developed into one of my friends and family’s favorite meals. Nothing more comforting and delicious on a cold day or any day is my Turnip Green with Ham soup. It is easily adapted to many tastes…omit ham and you have a vegetarian soup. Lessen the spice or up the spice. This recipe is great at becoming your own.”

Creamy Italian Roasted Pepper Soup
By: Debbie
Region: Southeast
Soup Group: Cream-Based
Competing Against: Yankee White Bean

“This is a thick, creamy and hearty soup with a delicious combination of flavors. It is a snap to put together and have on your dinner table quickly at the end of a busy day.”

Wonton Meatball Soup
By: Josee
Region: Southeast
Soup Group: Meat Protein
Competing Against: Sweet Chicken Curry

“I love Chinese food and my husband loves Italian food. So with both of us in mind I took my favorite soup the wonton soup and his favorite soup Italian meatball soup and combined the flavors of both soup together and created the most delicious soup you will ever eat! Try it out you are going to love this soup. ”

Chicken Gnocchi Soup

By: Cheryl
Region: Southeast
Soup Group: Cream-Based
Competing Against: Chicken Corn Chowder

“I fell in love with gnocchi on a trip to Italy. It was served so many ways with so many sauces. It was always comforting and creamy. I wanted to use gnocchi in a soup so I created Chicken Gnocchi Soup. It is hearty, warm and takes me back to a wonderful place and time in my memory.”


Soup Challenge Final Leg

The third annual Soup Challenge is heading for home and we’re cheering on all the cooks as they compete for a chance at culinary glory! More than 27,000 votes have been cast so far, with many more expected before the Sunday night deadline. Good fun and a great competition!

Again, 3 contestants from each region are voted in, 2 chosen based on creativity by a panel of judges next week. So there is still time to send in your best homemade soup recipe for a shot at the finals – you have until midnight (EST) Sunday, February 17th!

In the Northeast, the first and second place entries are neck and neck with 2,300+ votes each. Sharon’s Spicy Egg Drop soup was ingredient inspired. Right behind her with 2,100+ votes is Dana’s Mushroom, Roasted Garlic and Feta Chowder, which was flavor inspired (BTW, if Dana is a finalist, she will have been voted into her third consecutive Soup Challenge final!). Vying for the third & final slot by votes are three soups: Rona’s Heart Chicken and Rice Pomodoro, Jasmin’s Old Country Creamy Potato and Sausage Soup, and Chantal’s Cheeseburger Chowder? With less than 50 hours to go, it is too close to call! Go Ladies!

Out in the Heartland (Midwest), three soups continue to extend their leads over the rest of the field: Amy’s It Ain’t Easy Being Green Broccoli & Spinach Soup, Dianna’s Twisted Italy Chicken Soup and Elizabeth’s Roasted Chicken and Veggie Chowder.  It will be tough to overcome their 2,000+ vote lead. Two of the three would be repeat Finalists. Always fun to see old friends and as one of them put it to us, “I had to work long & hard on this year’s entry to improve my nutritional profile … that was my downfall last year – New England Country Soup is tough to beat on taste and really tough to beat on nutrition!”  Time will tell how this year works out!

Down South (Southeast), two soups are battling to finish first – Debbie’s Creamy Italian Roasted Pepper Soup and Cheryl’s Chicken Gnocchi Soup. The real drama centers around that third finalist spot based on votes with a relatively few votes separating – Josee’s Wonton Meatball Soup, Debra’s Greek Lemon Soup called Mama’s Greek Penicillin and Lori’s Green Chile Pork. It’s anyone’s to win that 3rd spot!

With hours to go, every vote makes a difference, so check out all the Northeastern, Midwestern, and Southeastern entries and help your favorite finish strong! And, there’s still time to enter a recipe with a total of 6 to be selected based on creativity by our panel of judges next week!

Good Luck and Happy President’s Day Weekend!