Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cream of Anything Soup

The latest edition of Mother Earth News was a big disappointment for me.  Almost everything in it was "old news" as far as I was concerned.  In particular, the article about not wasting food held no insight, as I do all those suggested things and more, and have for years.  Some are things I used to see my mother do.  Maybe it is that they are reaching out to younger readers for whom "everything old is new again", but I couldn't help thinking what a wash-out it would be for all their veteran readers. 

I guess it's just good business sense to appeal to younger, less experienced readers.  We old-timers are dying out and if they just geared their magazine to us, eventually they'd have no readers at all. 

The bad thing about all these little thrifty habits is that sometimes our children don't pay much attention to it when they're growing up in the household.  At least my kids and grandkids didn't.  They grow up and get in a little financial trouble and then they wonder why they didn't get taught how to be frugal.  You know, the lessons were there.  All they had to do was pay attention.  All they'd have to do, now that they're grown, would be to ask questions.  But they don't.  So if buying a magazine or looking on the Internet for tips will work for them, then I guess that's better than not getting any help at all. 

Those who have been reading my blog for awhile know I'm a big advocate of "refrigerator and freezer management".  In that I mean, know what's in there and use it before it starts growing funny-looking fuzz.  Leftovers stay in my refrigerator no longer than two days.  Within that time, they are either used, or frozen for later.  Nor do I throw out food that is past its expiration date.   The label says, "SELL by...", it does not mean "USE by...", and it's a rule of thumb for the grocery store, not for the consumer. 

Even when things go bad, oftentimes they are still useful.  Sour milk can go into 1-cup portions in the freezer and be used instead of buttermilk in things like pancakes, biscuits, or cake.  I have read that rancid cooking oil can still be used in soap-making.  I tried this, and it siezed, but the reason may have been because I don't think the temperature of my fats was close enough to the temperature of my lye mixture.  I got in a hurry.

I kind of developed a recipe by accident and I want to share that with my readers.  Not long ago, I made some turkey and dumplings, using some of the turkey and broth that I had in the freezer from the "rotisserie turkey" that I made around Christmas of last year.  The post showing the making of the turkey is HERE.  It was just typical of the chicken and dumplings I often make in the winter, except this time I didn't make very many dumplings, as they are better when freshly made.  The post about Chicken and Dumplings is on the same post as the recipe for homemade biscuit mix, the link is a little further down on this post.  Hubs' appetite is not very big at all anymore and I'm trying to curb mine in an effort to lose some weight.  So what we were left with, in the way of leftovers, was just the soup.  Full of carrots, onion, celery and peas, it was not as thick as gravy but about the consistency of those cream soups that Campbell's makes and now charges an exorbitant $1 apiece for a small can, unless you can catch it on sale.  I packed that away in the freezer, since it was enough for another meal, thinking I'd just make another small batch of dumplings when I used it again.  But then we got a cold snap and we had a day when I just felt like I couldn't stop feeling cold.  I dug one of those two cottage-cheese containers out of the freezer and warmed up the contents and we ate it for lunch.  Hubs even went back for seconds.  While I was eating mine I thought about how smooth and creamy-tasting it was and how good it would also be if it was mushroom.

Campbell's knew what they were doing with marketing their cream soups.  They developed hundreds of recipes calling for cream soups as their base.  So if you don't have any in your pantry, you're either making a white sauce, which just doesn't have as much flavor, or you're casting around for a clone recipe. 

I've tried a lot of those, from the packets of dry ingredients that you can assemble, to the soups that you can make ahead, pour into several containers, and stick in the freezer.  I think some people actually pressure can it, but that seems like a waste of canning lids to me, if you're just going to be opening them up within a month or so.  And no, I haven't tried the gourmet mushroom soup recipes that call for lots of butter and some expensive type of fresh mushroom.  That is a whole different thing, something I'd want to savor all on it's own and not mask the flavor by stirring it into Green Bean Casserole or pouring it over pan-fried steak, or serving it on top of pieces of turkey or chicken and a nearby pile of rice. 

So this is a budget-friendly recipe.  Not meant to be fancy.

Your base is chicken or turkey stock, which you make by saving bones from meals when you've fried, roasted, rotisseried or boiled chicken or turkey.  I've already written about that process HERE.  If you don't want to use a pressure cooker, you can boil the bones in lots of other ways, but that will take several hours instead of just one and that increases your energy costs.  The broth that you make yourself is so much better than broth that they sell in cans.  It will contain some natural gelatin from the bones so that after you have drained and chilled it in the refrigerator it will become the consistency of a batch of Jell-O made with only half the water.  This is what gives the broth its smooth taste without being greasy.  And yes, you should skim off all the fat that rises to the top, after it's cooled.  You can use this fat to fry chicken in.  Some people use chicken fat in place of butter.  They call it "Schmaltz".  I think this is an acquired taste.  I've made soap with chicken fat being about half the fats in the recipe (using Soapcalc) and gotten good results.

Heat the poultry stock until it has melted.  I use cottage cheese and yogurt containers as freezer containers and they only hold about 3 cups, so here I have six cups.

Drain one small can of mushroom ends and pieces and add them to the broth.  Trust me, that's a lot more mushrooms than what's in Campbell's Mushroom Soup.  If you want, you can chop the mushrooms a little finer in your food processor so they'll incorporate into the soup better.  I decided to add about half an onion, chopped, because I put onion in practically everything.  I didn't add salt and pepper, but here's where I'd add it if I was going to.

Add 1 cup of whole milk to the reserved mushroom broth, and then stir into that 2 cups of biscuit mix, till smooth.  This picture is kind of misleading because I ended up adding milk and biscuit mix until I got the desired thickness, as what I had figured for the recipe just wasn't enough.  The recipe for home-made biscuit mix is HERE. Pour into the hot broth, while stirring.  A wire whisk is best to use.  Don't walk off and do something else at this point.  Stay right there and stir it slowly while it's thickening.  It will want to stick on the bottom as it thickens.

Now it's ready to use and/or cool and pour into freezer containers to pack away for later use in any recipe that calls for canned cream soup.  Those are not lumps in the soup, they are little boiling bubbles.

I'm well satisfied with the taste.  Maybe you will be, too.

The possibilities are endless when you make your own.  You can, for instance, leave out the salt.  Or the fat.  You can make lots of different flavors by substituting other things for the mushrooms.  Campbell's makes Cream of Asparagus, Cream of Broccoli, and Cream of Celery.  You can, too.  Or you can make "Pot-Pie Soup" with chopped celery, onion, peas, and some shredded carrot.  You can make Cream of Spinach or Kale.  Or you can leave out the vegetables entirely and just make Cream of Chicken/Turkey.   That's kind of versatile because you can add your choice of vegetables to it at a later time.  Or if you want to you can add grated cheese after the heat's turned off but before the mixture has cooled.  Oh, if you must be fancy, you could use some fancy mushrooms and add some wine, I guess. 

If you don't want to use biscuit mix you could sub just flour and add maybe 1/3 cup dry powdered milk and about 1/3 cup of some kind of fat.  If you have chicken fat, that would be perfect, but shortening or lard would do.  If you're fancying things up by adding wine, you could go ahead and go whole hog and use real butter for the fat.  I used the biscuit mix because that's what thickened the broth in my chicken and dumplings, and I had some in the freezer I wanted to use up, anyway.  Biscuit mix keeps practically forever in the freezer.  But after a year, I think the leavening agents in them start losing their power. 

I think Campbell's adds gelatin and artificial flavors to their cream soups but you won't need either.  It is the gelatin that makes this soup so smooth.  There's natural gelatin in the chicken stock, remember?  And lots of flavor.  Win, win.  Such great value from a bag of bones most people toss in the garbage.  I guess if you hadn't thought ahead and already made your chicken broth, you could fake it with chicken bouillon cubes, water, and an envelope of Knox gelatin.  Bouillon cubes are mostly fat and salt, just so ya know, so if you do this you probably won't want to add salt at all.  Or you could use canned chicken broth, but you'd still have to add the gelatin.  Canned chicken broth is so watered down, it's a waste of money in my opinion.  If you're going to start with that, you might as well just buy the cream soup in the first place, because the cost of the canned chicken broth will factor into the cost of your finished product.   Which reminds me, please don't waste your money on "Vegetable Broth".  Just keep an open container in the freezer, and every time you have broth left in the pan from vegetables you've cooked, pour it into the container.  After awhile you've got the mingled tastes of green bean, carrot, cabbage, peas, corn, broccoli, cauliflower and various greens, depending on your choice of vegetables over time.  Or if you have a need for a lot of it you could just stew a bunch of vegetables of your choice, eat the vegetables and freeze the liquid. 

Well, that's about all I have for this time.  Rock on.....   xoxoxo


  1. As I have grown 'older', I realized most of what the magazines offered was things I already knew about....I haven't subscribed to a magazine in years (or since the grands quite selling them in school). Same with gardening things. I hope that isn't seen as conceit; I just have been around a long.........time. The only thing I have changed about my gardening is trying to till less and mulch more.

    I am not nearly as frugal with my cooking as you are. I just started boiling turkey and chicken carcasses in the last year or two, might even have been your influence. I have a turkey carcass in the freezer now but I don't think it will fit in my pressure cooker. I will probably just boil it a very long time in my stock pot.

    Since I have started religiously reading labels I rarely buy anything processed (except cream of mushroom soup!). Now I can quit that too.

    I always get inspiration from your blog.

  2. Glenda, I always enjoy your comments. So much of the time you are the only reader that does comment except for a few that e-mail me directly. I'm torn which I like better, I think comments add much to the topic (if I can ever stay on topic, that is) and other readers get to read it as well as me. E-mails are nice too because we get to talk about other things, like family and stuff that we might feel uncomfortable sharing just anyone. But if it weren't for you there are a lot of times when I'd get no comments at all on posts. So thank you, Dear Glenda, for being so dependable.

    I wanted to tell you that I think in future batches of mushroom soup I'll double the mushrooms and chop them in smaller pieces for better distribution of flavor. Or maybe I'll just make cream of chicken or turkey and modify it as I use it, with mushrooms or asparagus, and so on. Oh, and bear in mind that some biscuit mix recipes contain more fat than mine does so you might find you need to tinker with the fat content. If I know you, you'll eliminate the need for biscuit mix and just do the flour and butter route. You're so good at stirring things together out of memory!

    I don't think it comes off as conceit, I feel that way too so if it's conceit, we're together in it. I probably won't renew my subscription to Mother Earth for that reason. I tried their new version of their gardening magazine and most of the articles in that seemed very familiar, if you know what I mean. And boy, am I bored with TV. So many shows presenting money-saving or time-saving tricks that have been around for ages as if it's someone's recent genius idea. Boring, Boring, Boring.


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