Creamy corn chowder in a handmade pottery tureen by Rob Weidemeier.
The holidays are really overrated. Months of planning and spending and party-going, peaking to the point of exhaustion and anti-social tendencies. It's not just limited to what is typically referred to as "the holiday season"--I mean all holiday seasons. New Year's, April Fools, Fourth of July—you name it, it's been overdone. That's why, in the perpetual quest to for social interaction, the members of my Tang Soo Do martial arts class host obscure "holiday" parties whenever we fancy. On the day after Christmas, head-instructor Richard Meyer and Cathra-Anne Barker host a super-excellent Boxing Day party. In November, Sven Redsun hosts the annual All-Soups Day party--making Halloween and Thanksgiving seem, well, incidental. The best part about a soup party is that no "holiday" is required; all you need is some friends and a few pots of the good stuff. Poof! Instant holiday.
Really, soup makes a great excuse for a party, and one that's easily hosted by even the most inexperienced of planners. It's fun, there's wonderful food and (if done right) it requires very little prep time. The majority of the work you have to do is creating the hype. Talk your All-Soups Day party up like it's the best thing since sliced bread. Who needs another lame formal dinner party? Aren't you sick of the same old sports gatherings? It's just a great excuse to eat good food, drink good wine and be with friends. That's all the reason you need.
Wine, tasty garnishes and placards will make your party "souper."
Before spreading the news of the soup extravaganza, set your ground rules. Everyone who is invited must bring at least one homemade soup—canned soups are strictly forbidden. What fun would it be if everyone just brought warmed Campbell's chicken and stars? Yuck. If the soup requires any special embellishment, the soup chef must provide it as well. As a host, you should promise to provide bowls, utensils, plenty of power strips and table space for crockpots, bread and drinks. Table wine is fine, as is juice and sparkling water.
Don't forget to have small name placards ready to label each soup, and make sure people with allergies don't accidentally dip into something that will end their evening unpleasantly. One thing's for sure: There'll be a lot of leftovers. Either tell your guests to bring containers or provide your own.
Please, don't pull out the fine china for this event. It's paper and plastic all the way, but wineglasses do add sophistication to the evening if plastic cups just won't do.
To create the proper ballyhoo, tell your guests about the party long in advance. Sven's All-Soups Day has been garnering anticipation for three years, all because the first one was such a hit. Distribute flyers, send e-mail invitations, read poems to inspire great works of soup mastery.
If your guests are excited, then your party will nearly make itself. It's also a good idea to invite some people who know how to cook. Although everyone is required to bring soup, not all the soups will be fantastic. I, for one, am no Iron Chef. The miso-chicken concoction that filled my crockpot did not fill the bowls of many at Sven's get-together. Mine was one of 19 soups featured that evening, and most of the soups were excellent. Soups of note included the common (and quite delectable) French onion, green chili stew, and black bean and corn chowder. International soups also abounded with some awesome borsch (at least, that's what Richard Meyer said—I couldn't find the courage to try the stuff), Hungarian bean soup and hot and sour soup. I took home a few of the evening's most killer recipes to share with you: a Greek chicken soup and a blue cheese lover's dream.
This is an excellent Greek recipe brought to All-Soups Day by Taura Costidis, Greek-American duel citizen and fellow ass-kicker. If chicken soup is the cure-all in the United States, then this must be its Greek equivalent. It's light, and the lemon lends a great flavor without being oppressive. Even better, it requires few ingredients.
Serves at least 10 people
1 whole chicken, rinsed and patted dry with paper towels
2 cups uncooked long-grain white rice
4 to 5 eggs (depending on desired thickness)
The juice of two lemons, seeds removed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1) Place chicken in a large stockpot and add enough cold water to cover the bird by about 3 inches. Bring water to a boil and cook until chicken is very tender, at least 1 hour.
2) Remove the chicken, leaving the broth water to continue boiling in the pot. Let the chicken rest until cool enough to handle, then separate the meat from the bones, fat and skin. Shred the meat into bite-sized pieces with your hands.
3) Return the shredded, deboned meat to the boiling broth, along with the uncooked rice. Don't stir while it cooks, or your rice will become gummy. Boil until the rice is al dente, at least 15 minutes, then remove the pot from the heat.
4) Beat the eggs in a separate bowl. (The more eggs you add, the thicker the soup will be.) Mix in the lemon juice.
5) Gradually incorporate just enough broth to the egg-lemon mixture to warm the mixture to the touch, being careful not to let the eggs curdle.
6) Add the warmed egg-lemon mixture to the remaining broth in the pot, then add salt and pepper to taste. Return the soup to a simmer, then remove from the heat and serve hot.
Blue Cheese Soup with Bacon
Partygoer Angela Gulick adapted this recipe from The Silver Palate Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. The taste of blue cheese is not overwhelming in this soup, but those who don't like pungent flavors might want to try something different.
Serves at least 4
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups chopped yellow onions
1 leek, white part only, well-cleaned and finely sliced
3 celery ribs, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
1 cup dry white wine
3 cups chicken stock
1/4 pound blue cheese
6 to 8 bacon strips, cooked, drained and crumbled
1) Melt butter in a large pot, then add the onion, leek, celery and carrots. Cook covered over low heat until tender, about 25 minutes.
2) Add potato, wine and stock, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Partially cover with a lid and cook until very tender, about 20 minutes.
3) Remove from heat and crumble in blue cheese. Stir until melted.
4) Pour approximately half the soup through a mesh sieve fitted over a separate bowl. Discard the solids and combine the smooth, strained soup with the unstrained soup still in the pot.
5) Serve hot, garnished with bacon crumbles.
Once the soup-bearing guests arrive, be ready to hand out napkins and keep the bowls well-stocked. Encourage guests to keep a running tally of how many soups they've tried, which were their favorites and maybe even vote on the best recipe. Sven also recommends "thematic intellectual activities," such as exchanging recipes, anecdotes or even poems about soup. Some other additions to your party could be singing songs about soup, learning the etiquette of soup, or you could just eat, drink and enjoy without overdoing the soupy theme. Get it while it's hot!