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Enjoy Winter While It Lasts With This Perfect Antidote

It’s January, so it should be cold…right? “Should” being the optimal word. In Mississippi, our fickle weather can require heavy coats one day, flip flops and shorts the next. Either way the wind blows, I plan on pretending it’s winter, a little mind trick that gives me the chance to enjoy one of my favorite foods. Nothing’s better at the end of a long day than sitting down to a bowl of hot soup. Soup or stew, gumbo or bisque, chowder or consommé…whatever you call it and any way you serve it, hot savory liquid filled with juicy chunks of meat, flavorful vegetables, and any number of delicious additions is my way of not just enduring, but enjoying our unpredictable winters.

I hate to play favorites among my soups, but if pressed, I’ll select potato, ham and vegetable, chicken and rice or noodles, Italian meatball, shrimp bisque, and of course, seafood gumbo. Yes, I know, some don’t consider gumbo a soup, but instead, put it in a class by itself.

Whatever you call gumbo, it’s downright delicious. And it goes without saying, the more seafood you throw in, the better. I recently enjoyed following an online “argument” among a group of Cajun cooks on the proper way to prepare this centuries-old dish. Some argued that chicken pieces have no place in gumbo, while still others were horrified at the thought of adding okra to the sacred broth.

I was pleased to learn that my recipe, given to me by a Biloxi friend, contained a list of ingredients and preparation method that earned approval from this hard-to-please group.

Winter won’t last long, so enjoy your hot soup, stews, gumbos and whatever else you call them before hot weather arrives. To get you started, here are a few of my favorites. Any one you choose will be a pleasant accompaniment to a long winter’s night. Happy New Year! Potato and Corn Chowder

6-8 baking potatoes, boiled, peeled and cubed or 32-ounce bag of diced (not shredded) hash browns 4 (14-3/4 ounce) cans creamed corn 2 (14-1/2) ounce cans kernel corn, drained 4 cups half and half (can use no-fat version) 2 cups milk (can use low or no-fat version) Salt and pepper to taste

Place potatoes to stockpot and add remaining ingredients. Bring just to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to low. Cook, stirring often, for 10 minutes. Makes 10 servings. Vegetable and Tortellini Soup 2 cups chopped carrots 1 cup chopped yellow onion 1 teaspoon minced garlic 4 (14-1/2 ounce) cans low-sodium vegetable broth 1 (14-1/2 ounce) can diced tomatoes with garlic, basil, and oregano 1/2 cup chopped fresh spinach 1/3 cup medium-hot salsa 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper 1 (24-ounce package) fresh cheese tortellini, uncooked 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

In a large stockpot over medium-high heat, sauté carrots and onions in olive oil until tender. Add garlic, cook another minute. Stir in broth, tomatoes with juice, spinach, salsa, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, add tortellini. Reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer for 8-10 minutes, until pasta is tender. Stir in vinegar just before serving. Serves 10-12.

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