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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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  • [January 15, 2016] - It's National Soup Month so this month's posts will focus on soups. Yum!
  • [February 1, 2016] - An interesting report on why you should always choose organic tea verses non-organic: Toxic Tea (pdf format)
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Monday, December 28, 2009

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Soups, Stews, Chowders and Gumbos

Frugal Kitchens 101
A good portion of my cooking inspiration comes directly from some food catching my eye as I go into the pantry, refrigerator or freezers. Within minutes a plan is already in process with a somewhat rustic recipe forming in my head. I start jotting in my kitchen journal and it isn't long before I can visualize the final dish. While this method greatly influences my cooking style it is most apparent in my soups, stews, chowders and gumbos. Here's how I define these terms:

  • soup - based on stock or broth, usually has one or more vegetables, may or may not have meat, may or may not be chunky, may or may not be creamy/smooth, may or may not have rice and/or noodles, liquid portion is not thickened
  • stew - based on meat and thickened meat juices to form gravy, has one or more vegetables, always chunky with bite sized pieces, very thick, long/slow cook
  • chowders - based on potatoes, has stock to cook vegetables in, may or may not have meat, always chunky, has milk and/or heavy cream, liquid portion is thickened to a constistency thicker than a soup but just a little thinner than stew
  • gumbos - based on tomatoes and seafoods, may be accented with sausage, may have vegetables, has rice, usually spicy
Getting the texture perfect for these frugal dishes is quite easy with a few simple kitchen appliances and tools. Chances are good you already have these on hand. To make soups, stews, chowders or gumbos the following equipment is quite helpful:
  • dutch oven
  • slow cooker (crock pot)
  • pressure cooker
  • heavy stainless steel fry pan
  • stick blender
  • heavy stirring spoon
  • ladle
One of my primary concerns when creating soups, stews, chowders, and gumbos is to pack the dish with the highest nutrition possible using in season or home preserved ingredients. What I'm really thinking when creating these dishes is how I'm going to build up to the final dish using a series of flavour layers. My next concern is flavour followed by colour! In terms of flavour, certain ingredients just go together nicely. In terms of colour, packing in a variety of colours using different vegetables or playing a garnish against the colour of the finished dish.
  • first flavour layer - The first flavour layer usually consists of searing meats if they are being used. If using vegetables the first layer is usually the mirepoix (onions, celery, carrots or peppers) and is cooked in butter, bacon fat or other oil until the onions just start turning translucent. The oil or fat you choose does add a flavour to the final dish so choose something complimentary.
  • base - All soups, stews, chowders and gumbos start off with a base. In most cases this starts with a meat or vegetable stock. The base is added to the mirepoix.
  • vegetables/meat/seasonings - Let your main ingredient(s) be your guide always with the end result in mind. Pork and poultry pair nicely with dairy while beef and venison don't. Vegetables and meat are added next starting with root vegetables first. The root vegetables are allowed to cook until just tender. Seasonings such as bay leaf, garlic powder, salt and pepper are also added at this time. The rule of thumb is the stronger the flavour of the meat the stronger the seasoning that can be used. Don't use a delicate herb with a strong flavoured meat like beef as the flavour will be lost and at the same time don't use a strong herb with a delicate meat. The goal to strive for is a balance of flavour. This is the time to add any uncooked rice, pasta or lentils.
  • additional seasonings - This is where you take advantage of the natural pairing to boost the flavour. For example citrus goes with fish, apples/maple syrup go with pork, cumin/Worcestershire sauce goes with beef so take advantage of that. Stir in a tablespoon of applesauce in a pork based stew and you might be pleasantly surprised with the results.
  • the extras - Just before the soup, stew or chowder is finished cooking is the time to stir in niblet corn, sweat peas, sliced mushrooms or things like cooked rices or pastas, cooked beans or lentils, sour cream, milks and creams.
  • thickening - Soups are generally thickened using a stick blender before serving. Stews are thickened with a slurry of cornstarch or flour added about a half hour before serving. Chowders are thickened with a slurry of cornstarch or flour in the final 10 minutes of cooking. Instant mashed potatoes can be used as a thickener for chowders as well. Gumbos naturally thicken by themselves as the liquid is absorbed during the cooking process.
  • the garnish - There are very few times that I don't add a garnish to homemade soups, stews, chowders or gumbos. A garnish should always reflect the dish and usually highlights an ingredient in the dish. For example a soup contains sour cream so a suitable garnish is a sour cream tear drop with a sprinkling of dried parsley or a chowder has onions as an ingredient so a suitable garnish is chopped green onions. The garnish doesn't have to be the exact ingredient but it should give a visual clue to the ingredients.


4 food lovers commented:

A Year on the Grill said...

I just got my first dutch oven for a Christmas gift... now i know the basics, i am hunting recipes

Gargantua said...

I love soup. Can't get enough of it when the weather is cold. But I have often found that my old stand-by method of tossing ingredients into the crockpot and praying something tasty comes out, is not always the best method. I've often wondered how to thicken my cream based soups. This article has been both helpful and inspiring. Thank you!

Garden Gnome said...

Hi Dave, I can't remember ever not having a dutch oven :) It is a kitchen basic so I'm sure you will really enjoy it.

Garden Gnome said...

Hi Gargantua and thanks for visiting. I'm glad you found the article helpful and inspiring. Please be sure to drop by and let me know what homemade soups etc. you have made.