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PUBLISHED: 4:08 PM on Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Savory soups for September
With rain showers increasing, leaves turning gold while carpeting our forest floors in soggy chaos-we realize fall is here. For gourmands alike, autumn represents a new season of dishes, comfort food and of course, soups and stews. These delicious warm concoctions with rich flavors and savory broths bring happiness on any September day, soothing even the most bereft Alaskan hearts, as we grudgingly pull on our heavy coats. The best thing about soups and stews is they keep well in the fridge, and can be enjoyed throughout the week for leftovers.

My strategy for soups is to basically clean out the fridge; we all have nubs of carrots or some type of vegetable hidden under heads of leafy lettuce. Stew is a great base for "everything but the kitchen sink," and adapts well to a hodgepodge of flavor.


Photo by Abby LaForce
  Stews bring out rich flavors and savory broths, which can be perfect for a chilly day.
Stew, technically means a combination of solid ingredients cooked in water or liquid, boiled or simmered slowly at low temperatures and then served in its own broth. Believed to date back to the 4th century, recipes for lamb and fish stews float around from the Romans to the French. The technique of boiling food has been around since prehistoric times, and there is even archaeological evidence of ingredients boiled in large turtle shells or mollusks as vessels going back 8,000 years or more, online sources quote.

Included are two recipes, which are perfect for a fall day. Don't be alarmed by the list of ingredients in the Hearty Vegetable-Beef Stew with Amber Beer; it actually goes together quite quickly. The beer works as a flavoring base, but also tenderizes the beef. The stew is quite wholesome as a one-pot-meal when served with crusty bread.

Curried Apple-Butternut Bisque is an easy and elegant soup to serve for families or guests. With a creamy and rich texture, the mellow flavors are heightened by apples, fresh herbs, curry and nutmeg. The soup can be pureed with a stick blender, food processor or regular beverage blender. If you haven't tried a stick blender, it's a great tool for the kitchen because you simply put the stick blender into the liquid and blend away-no mess! Other starches that can be substituted for the butternut squash are sweet potatoes, acorn squash or even pumpkin.

Hearty Vegetable-Beef Stew with Amber Beer

Serves 4

3 lbs. beef chuck steak, cubed

1 tbs. olive oil

1 ½ tbs. all-purpose flour

2 tsp. paprika

2 tsp. seasoning salt

1 tsp. fresh ground pepper

1 yellow onion, chopped

3 large cloves garlic, minced

1 bottle amber beer

4 medium carrots, peeled and sliced thickly

4 stalks celery, sliced thickly

4 Roma tomatoes, cubed

1 tsp. fresh or dried thyme leaves

1 tsp. fresh rosemary leaves, minced

1 bay leaf

water

Salt and fresh ground pepper

1 large rutabega or turnip, peeled and cubed

3 Yukon gold potatoes, cubed

1 large zucchini, halved and sliced thickly

1 cup fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces

Optional garnish: chopped Italian parsley

In a heavy 6-qt. stockpot or Dutch oven, heat olive oil to medium. Meanwhile, mix flour with seasoning salt, paprika and pepper. Toss beef cubes with flour mixture. Add beef cubes to stockpot. Cook meat without stirring for 3-5 minutes, or until beef begins to brown, stir and then continue cooking for another 10 minutes. Cooking the beef in the flour mixture will cook the flour, and get rid of any "floury" taste.

What you're looking for is a dark brownish-red color coating the beef, which is a good thing! Add in the onions and garlic and continue cooking another 5 minutes, or until onions soften. Pour in the beer and cook for another 5 minutes, reducing the beer liquid. This helps the soup have a rich taste, without the sharpness of alcohol. Add in the carrots, celery, tomatoes, thyme and rosemary.

Fill the stockpot with warm water, leaving two inches from the brim. Season the stew with fresh ground pepper and a good dash of salt (it's better to season a little beforehand to build flavor, and then re-season again later).

Bring to a boil, and then reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer for 1 ½ hours, and then add in the potatoes and chopped rutabaga or turnip. Simmer for 15 minutes, and then add in the zucchini and fresh green beans. Season stew to taste with salt, pepper and additional herbs, if desired. Simmer for another 5-10 minutes, or until zucchini and green beans are crisp yet tender. Garnish with chopped Italian parsley, if desired.

Serve stew with warm crusty bread to sop up the juices. Enjoy!

Curried Butternut-Apple Bisque

Serves 6-8

1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into cubes (around 3-4 lbs.)

2 Fuji apples, peeled and cubed

1 small yellow onion, peeled and diced

1 tbs. olive oil

2 tsp. fresh thyme leaves

2 fresh sage leaves, finely minced

¼ tsp. fresh grated nutmeg, or dried nutmeg

1 tbs. dried curry powder

1 tbs. brown sugar

6-8 cups chicken or vegetable stock

1 cup heavy whipped cream

salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste

Crème fraiche (French soured cream) or sour cream, for garnish

Sliced fresh chives or thinly sliced green onions, for garnish

In a large, heavy stockpot, heat olive oil to medium-high. Add in the butternut squash cubes, apples and onion; season with salt and pepper and sauté for 10 minutes. Add in the thyme, sage, nutmeg, curry powder and brown sugar. Stir to evenly coat vegetables. Pour in six cups of the chicken or vegetable stock, and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 40-45 minutes, or until vegetables are soft.

Puree with a stick blender, or pour into a blender or food processor in small batches until a smooth liquid forms. Have a large bowl set aside to pour in the blended soup batches, if using a blender, and then pour back into the stockpot once finished blending. Pour in one-cup heavy cream, and then bring back to a slow simmer. Add the remaining two cups of broth if mixture seems too thick. Taste soup and adjust seasonings with salt and pepper, if necessary.

Garnish with a dollop of crème fraiche or sour cream, and scatter sliced chives or green onions over.

This soup pairs great with a sweet n' savory salad, such as mixed greens with red pears, hazelnuts and gorgonzola cheese, and crusty wheat bread.

Abby LaForce is owner of Abby's Catering Co. in Juneau.


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