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May 27, 2022

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Winter Wonder Soup fortifies the spirit as it nourishes the body

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
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A steaming bowl of Winter Wonder Soup is just the ticket on a cold winter's day. I served mine with warm cornbread and grated cheddar cheese.
A steaming bowl of Winter Wonder Soup is just the ticket on a cold winter's day. I served mine with warm cornbread and grated cheddar cheese. (Monika Spykerman/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

The drive home from our winter vacation in northern Washington was an exhausting daylong trek, a 4½-hour trip that took eight hours because of snow flurries and icy roads. The morning after we returned, I was enjoying a cup of coffee and a bowl of Malt-O-Meal when I heard, over the noise of my husband’s shower, a steady drip-drip-drip-drip coming from the dining room. I looked up and there it was, right underneath the upstairs bathroom: a patch of damp, puffy drywall with a crack in the middle, sending a barrage of fat water drops splattering to the floor. I grabbed a pot from the kitchen to catch the flow and pictured our daughter’s college tuition flying away through that hole in the ceiling.

The day’s lowering gray skies didn’t cheer me up. There wasn’t enough snow on the ground for sledding but there was just enough to keep our car in the driveway. We couldn’t get to the store to replenish our fridge, still relatively empty from our vacation. If we wanted anything to eat besides a bowl of cold cereal or a piece of toast, I’d need to get creative and make a meal from whatever I found in our freezer and pantry. Soup seemed to fit the bill, not only in terms of something warming for our bodies but also something that might bolster our sagging spirits.

I love soup. And don’t forget stew. I’m also quite fond of chowder. My father-in-law once made fun of me for ordering soup as my entrée in a fancy restaurant, and he had a point. There were so many haute cuisine meals to choose from, why would I want a boring bowl of broth with whatnots floating in it? Here’s why: I knew that even the humble soup in that fine establishment would be soul-stirring, and I was right. The soup was spectacular, a savory delight that filled my senses and has stayed lodged in my gastronomic memory to this day. I ended my repast feeling satisfied and energized, while everyone else at the table groaned and held their aching tummies full of roast beef and mashed potatoes.

Not that I object to a tummy full of roast beef and mashed potatoes, having recently enjoyed precisely such a state on Christmas Day. But on this cold, bleak Tuesday with the looming prospect of gargantuan repair bills, I needed the energizing power of soup. I needed the creative therapy of making something without a recipe, with nothing but my wits and bare hands. The hearty soup that resulted was just the ticket and, while I won’t ever be able to recreate it precisely, I’m sharing the directions in case you feel inspired to make your own Winter Wonder Soup.

First, I browned half a pound of chicken sausage and a whole chopped medium onion in a large soup pot. I seasoned it with salt, lemon pepper, garlic powder, dried dill and basil, fresh rosemary and a generous dash of my secret weapon: mushroom umami herb powder, available at Trader Joe’s, Fred Meyer and Target, among other places. Then I added a 32-ounce box of chicken broth along with the salty pan drippings from a chicken I roasted a couple weeks ago. (I always freeze the au jus from any roast meat because it’s like a concentrated jolt of savory flavor in soup stock. Alternately, you can add a cube of chicken bouillon.) Next, into the pot went a 15-ounce can of cannellini beans, a diced large russet potato, a 4-ounce can of pimientos, a 7-ounce can of mushrooms, about ½ cup each of frozen spinach, frozen tricolor peppers and sliced baby carrots.

Ingredients

½ pound chicken sausage

1 medium onion

1 32-ounce box of chicken broth

1 cube chicken bouillon

1 15-ounce can cannellini beans

1 large russet potato

1 7-ounce can of mushrooms

1 4-ounce can of pimientos

½ cup frozen spinach

½ cup frozen tricolor peppers

½ cup sliced carrots

1 tablespoon tomato paste

¼ cup half-and-half

1 teaspoon mushroom umami seasoning powder

Salt, pepper, dill, basil, rosemary and garlic powder to taste

2 dashes cayenne powder

I brought the soup to a roiling boil then set the burner on low. After it had simmered for a while, I added maybe a tablespoon of tomato paste (the tubes of paste are fantastic because you can add just a little at a time) and a quarter-cup of half-and-half. I tasted it for salt — it needed more — and I added two scant dashes of cayenne pepper because on a cold day I wanted a little heat.

I whipped up some cornbread muffins (from a box; no need to get all highfalutin) and served them, still warm from the oven, with steaming bowls of soup. All was silent around the dinner table except for clinking cutlery and slurping and then we burst into conversation. The topics were wide-ranging, both humorous and weighty, and we spoke with unusual eloquence. The snow outside made our dining room seem extra cozy and the waterlogged patch overhead will be expensive to repair but we’ll manage. Over our shared meal, we rediscovered our fortitude. I credit the soup.

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