Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Gifts for the Cook

 Rolling pin and pottery pieces at
Umpqua Local Goods

I don't start thinking about Christmas until after we've polished off the last of the Thanksgiving leftovers and celebrated our son's birthday on December 1. However, some of our farmers markets will be closing at the end of the month and they are an absolute treasure trove of unique handmade gifts. If you've got a cook on your holiday list, I've got some hints for you. On a recent stroll through the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market I found these “ingredients” for the perfect foodie gift basket: wild dried gourmet mushrooms, embroidered dishtowels, fanciful aprons, hand-turned wooden bowls, dried herbs and spices, hazelnut toffee, chocolate truffles, pottery bowls and mugs, kitchen knives with lovely wooden handles, potholders, market bags, garlic braids, culinary lavender, cutting boards, and even a lemon tree! How easy was that? Craft fairs, art galleries, tasting rooms, and Umpqua Local Goods are other sources for one-of-a-kind gifts with local flavor. And, of course, I've got my own line of recipe note cards at

 Beautiful wooden bowls at the Umpqua Valley Farmers Market.

 Cutting boards and bowls at
 Umpqua Local Goods

 While it's not hand-crafted or locally made, one of my favorite kitchen tools is my Cuisinart Immersion Blender, also known as a hand blender. This “blender on a stick” gets used multiple times a day at our house for morning smoothies and post-workout protein shakes. For creamy soups, puréeing the cooked vegetables and broth can be done right in the pot! Best of all, it's a snap to clean under hot running water and stores conveniently in a drawer.

Soup's On! (Tasty Tuesday Column October 2013)

Autumn is in the air, no doubt about it. It's time to dig out my boots, scarves, hats, and raincoat. Soon it will be cold enough for a morning cup of cocoa and an evening fire. The local harvest is in full swing and markets are overflowing with the earthy colors of apples, pears, pumpkins, winter squash, carrots, beets, and onions. Fall is my favorite season!

The cooler weather means “Soup's on” at my house. Simple and comforting, soup warms the soul as well as the body. When I was a teenager in San Diego, my mom and I enjoyed eating at a restaurant called The Hungry Years. The décor was from the 1920's and 30's. Photos of soup kitchens and breadlines from the Great Depression covered the walls, a visual history lesson and the spark for many great conversations. They served only soups, salad and all the fresh cornbread and hot rolls with butter and honey you could eat. It was a novel idea then, before Souplantation and Sweet Tomatoes buffets came along; a refreshing alternative to the standard meat and potatoes fare served elsewhere.

Soup is still an easy, healthy, economical way to nourish a family. Our local farmers provide all the ingredients we need. The recipes I've chosen to share are all “creamy” soups, though actual cream is only used as a garnish. Whole, 1%, or 2% milk all work well. Blending disguises the vegetables for picky eaters, but floating a few whole grain goldfish crackers on top for the youngsters can be fun.

Recipe links:

All of these soups are great additions to your soup file.

Do You Have a Soup File?

The Soup File

When you're making soup, consider doubling the recipe for quick meals from your freezer later in the season. Here's my best tip—create a soup file! Instead of freezing soup in hard plastic containers or canning jars (which take hours to thaw), ladle it into heavy-duty zippered freezer bags, either gallon or quart size, depending on the size of your family. Label the bags before filling with soup. Carefully remove all the air when zipping securely closed, lay the bags flat on a cookie sheet, and freeze until firm. When frozen, the bags can be stored upright in a plastic bin. If you double-up every time, eventually you'll have a “file” of soups you can easily flip through to find just what you're looking for. Because these bags of soup are so thin, they can be thawed in about ten minutes in a sink of hot water.

This method can be used for many other foods. My file currently holds homemade grape and raspberry juices, a variety of cooked beans, roasted tomato and pepper sauce, lentil stew, chicken stock, and purées of butternut squash and pumpkin. Important note: when freezing soups that include milk or cream, freeze the soup base before adding the dairy products. After thawing, stir in the milk or cream and heat gently to serving temperature.

Potluck and Recipe Swap for Food Day