By MARY ANN LIENHART CROSS
County Extension Director
GOSHEN — Real winter has arrived and that means it is good and cold. Winter is a great time to get back to healthy eating and that usually means meal planning and cooking at home.
It takes much discipline to eat healthy when eating out. I believe more of you cook with whole foods rather than processed foods and plan to do more cooking in the winter. Cooking means planning ahead so you have on hand the majority of the ingredients.
To me, the cold winter months say tasty meals of soups and stews and a must is fresh-baked bread. I think soup is tasty year round, but I believe soup is at its best and more enjoyable in the cold winter months.
In many parts of the world hearty soups are the mainstay of family meals. Virtually every county has a national soup which has survived over the years.
Preparation may be very similar but differing ingredients reflect regional and national taste. In today’s modern kitchen the Dutch oven is the soup kettle and the crockpot is also great for soup making.
The days of soup makers making stock may be a thing of the past but if you are a cook you know that is how you get the best flavor from all kinds of meats and vegetables. Cooking meat and bones to make stock is a task that you can use your crockpot for.
Once the stock is made you can remove the excess fat by chilling the stock overnight. This causes the fat to harden on the surface, allowing you to skim or lift it off before adding the other ingredients when heating. When you don’t have time you can remove excess fat from soup by laying a clean paper towel over the top to absorb the fat.
Whether we want to admit it or not we all waste a lot of food. One place you can begin to decrease waste is to save clean vegetable pieces and peels, and mushroom stems in a container in the freezer. I suggest you avoid strongly flavored vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage and cauliflower, as their flavor will overpower the broth. When the container is full, simmer the vegetables in water to make a tasty broth. The reason you want to simmer the soup rather than boil it is that boiling causes the soup to become cloudy and the ingredients to lose their shape.
When adding vegetables to make soup, the most nutritious plan is to add frozen or fresh vegetables. If you must add canned, choose no-salt-added vegetables and tomato products. Plan to add salt-free seasonings and a dash of lemon juice or vinegar to soup just before serving as this will brighten up the flavors.
Season soups gently at first and taste soup just before serving. When adding dried herbs add them at the beginning; fresh herbs should be added just before serving. You can enhance stock with a quarter to one half teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, or a cooking bouquet, or one to two tablespoons of tomato paste.
Remember that soups make a tasty snack! It fills you up and low fat bean or vegetable soups are more nutritious than most snacks. Keep soup on hand at home and at work. If you’re eating late, eat a cup of soup, it will take the edge off your hunger.
Read the labels when purchasing broths and soups. Too many contain a huge amount of sodium per serving. A good rule of thumb is to try and find one that contains the same number or less miligram of sodium as it does calories. Winter is the time for good, hot soup.