Soup’s On!

October 7, 2016



As leaves softly crash-land upon the changing landscape, our thoughts turn to chilly days and comforting soups and stews. Extreme weather, political babble, and other world events preoccupy our minds, but we are calmed by those sturdy soups that fill our bellies and pacify our souls. Soup is mystical. A watched pot may never boil, but it can maintain a gentle simmer that melds lovely and disparate ingredients into something glorious. Mmm mmm good!

On those days when I know there’s leftover soup in the fridge ready to be zapped for lunch, I am so pleasant to be around. If there’s none to be had then I’m testy, wondering what I can cobble together for a miserable bite to eat. I may decide to head to The General Store in Valley Junction (West Des Moines) to indulge in their tasty soup and sandwich concoctions. And soon, I’m happy again!

fullsizerender132Creating a soup can be rewarding. If you like to experiment in the kitchen, a soup is a great place to start. Focus first on what you like and don’t like. Read through soup recipes in cookbooks and online, and select the best parts of several of them. Then dive in! With so many permutations and combinations of meat, veggies, broths, and seasonings, you may have to rein yourself in. You could easily cross over the fine line between adventuresome cook and mad scientist. So, just simmah down and make a plan. Once you have completed your experiment, it’s time to have a taste. If it is amazing, immediately write down the ingredients, quantities, and how you did it, before it all gets lost inside your temperamental temporal lobe. But, if it turns out that your whole hypothesis was wrong, don’t blow up your Bunsen burner in a fit of rage. Your soup might possibly be redeemable! First, invite your soup for an overnight in your fridge. This will help the flavors mingle. You may also need to add a skosh more salt and pepper, and even a spoon full of sugar to help balance it and make it wondrous! Also consider other enhancements —more onion, garlic, bouillon? Tweaking is a good thing! (Twerking isn’t, especially when you’re messing around with hot soup!) If the soup still is vile, then as Elsa reminds us,Let it go” (directly down your garbage disposal). Don’t look back. Failures build character. Each time you fail, you become a finer person. (You believe anything I tell you, don’t you?)


I believe the perfect soup should provide the all the elements of a fine meal in just one perfect pot. And you don’t have to make a lot of extra things to go with it. Inviting a few people over for a Sunday night supper can be such a simple joy. Soup, salad, bread, beverage (wine, beer, water), apple crisp, and coffee. The unspoken message: “We didn’t fuss too much while making this rustic meal for you because we consider you family (and quite frankly we just didn’t want to have to work that hard).”

Occasionally, I do like to put more effort into a meal. I will put together a fun soup lunch for my friends. (Yes, then I may fuss quite a bit!)



For years, I have collected fall leaves. Each autumn, I look for new additions to my collection. I press them between magazines and pile books on top of them for a week or two. For a small effort, I have beautiful, natural (and free!) decorations for the dinner table, fall arrangements, or gift wrapping. Here a few of the many leaves I have filched from people’s yards over the years.



Another fun thing to do this time of year is to make fall leaves from marzipan (ground almond paste). Marzipan comes in a tube tucked inside a small rectangular-shaped box in the baking section of the grocery store. The paste can be dyed with gel food coloring. For fall leaves, I break off three pieces of marzipan and dye them moss green, orange (copper) and yellow.  Then I press the three together and knead them just slightly so the colors don’t completely run together. I roll the colored marzipan with a miniature rolling pin, and then cut out leaves using a small “leaf” cookie cutter. A paring knife makes nice “vein” impressions in the leaves. After they dry, they can be stored indefinitely in a small plastic container. They are edible, of course, and eye-catching when perched on a dollop of whipped cream on sitting atop a slice of pumpkin pie or arranged in groups of three with little hand-made marzipan pumpkins to garnish a dessert plate. (The leaves may look rather large here, but they are really fairly small.)




One of my favorite childhood books was the ancient folktale, Stone Soup. That huge cauldron of boiling soup concocted by the soldiers and villagers sounded so mouth-watering to me, even though I was totally weirded out by all the grit and bacteria that must have been floating around in that broth.



It was a challenge to decide which soup recipes to include in this post. I finally chose one with beef, called Brothy Beef Stew, two with chicken, Tortilla Blanca Soup and Roma Chicken Tortellini Soup, and one vegetarian, Autumn Nip Soup. Parsnips may not reside in your “root vegetable” realm, but they make a memorable, delicate fall soup. The next time you’re feeling intrepid, pick up some parsnips in the produce aisle! And finally, the perfect accompaniment to soup, an addicting cheese bread recipe, Epic Garlic Cheese Bread, created by our daughter, Kelly Mullen, who has become quite the cook.


The first time I ever tasted Brothy Beef Stew, my friend Kathy Zumbach’s recipe,  I was gobsmacked by its deliciousness. It would become a regular in my fall and winter menu rotation. It is an intensely beefy, brothy, umami-filled recipe. On that particular late afternoon many years ago, I had stopped by Kathy’s house to drop off something. My nose instantly caught the savory fragrance of her simmering stew. She scooped up a few bites into a bowl for me to taste. It was so heavenly that I ate two bowls of it before I left! I was very full and very embarrassed that I had eaten so much. On my way home I asked myself, “Why should I make a nice meal for the family when I am full of soup?” So, I stopped at McDonald’s and picked up fast food for them. I know. I know. I’m a disgusting person and I ruined my chances of ever being named Mother of the Year.

Kathy Zumbach is an excellent cook and keeps her kitchen extremely tidy even when she’s making a meal—a foreign concept to her friend, The Messy Cook.

Brothy Beef Stew


Brothy Beef Stew

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 1 1/2 to 2 pounds lean sirloin beef, cubed
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 (14.5 ounce) cans beef broth (or more, if preferred)
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • Small dash of allspice
  • 8 ounces peeled baby carrots; cut each one into 4 or 5 slices
  • 3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into small chunks

In a medium soup pot, sauté beef, onions, and garlic in oil until browned. Add all remaining ingredients, except potatoes. Simmer, uncovered, 1 1/2 hours. Add potatoes and cook until tender (30 to 45 minutes). (Tracy covered the soup for about 10 minutes after adding the potatoes, and then uncovered it again.) Remove the bay leaves and ladle into bowls.

Recipe published at

I created Tortilla Blanca Soup several years ago, and it has always been a favorite of our son Bradley. I usually make a batch for him and his wife Lindsey when we go to Phoenix. Since they work long hours, they don’t get to spend as much time in the kitchen as they would like.

Bradley and Lindsey


Tortilla Blanca Soup


Tortilla Blanca Soup

  • Servings: 8 or so
  • Difficulty: Easy to Medium
  • Print

  • 1 1/2 cups diced onion
  • 3 large cloves garlic, crushed or minced
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 (16-ounce) carton fresh salsa, drained (found in the refrigerated section of the produce department; I prefer an Iowa-made product called Fiesta; I prefer “mild”)
  • 1 (32-ounce) carton chicken stock or broth
  • 1 (4-ounce) can green chilies (does not have to be drained)
  • 1 (14- to 16-ounce) bag Birds Eye frozen corn (I prefer Birds Eye Baby Gold and White Corn or can use Birds Eye Sweet Kernel Corn, or can cut the equivalent amount of fresh corn off the cob)
  • 1 cube of Knorr chicken bouillon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 cup half-and-half
  • 2 cups cooked, chopped chicken breast
  • 1 (8-ounce) package shredded Monterey Jack cheese or Colby Jack cheese
  • Crushed tortilla chips

Sauté the onions and garlic in the butter until translucent. Stir in the flour. Add the salsa and the chicken stock and bring to boil, stirring constantly until slightly thickened. Add the green chilies and the corn. Stir well and add the seasonings. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the half-and-half. Add the chicken and simmer for 15 minutes or so. Turn off the heat and add the cheese a handful at a time, stirring well after each addition. Taste soup and adjust seasonings as needed. Ladle into bowls. Have a small bowl of crushed tortilla chips at each place setting to sprinkle over the soup. (Remember, never boil soup after the cheese has been added; it can curdle.)

Recipe published at

A few years ago it suddenly dawned on me how popular packaged tortellini (in the refrigerated section at the grocery store) had become. I hadn’t received the memo. So, I got busy and created my own recipe for Roma Chicken Tortellini Soup. I like it a lot, especially when I load it up with grated Parmesan cheese! (And another thing—don’t even consider leaving the wine out of this recipe! )

Roma Chicken Tortellini Soup


Roma Chicken Tortellini Soup

  • Servings: 4 to 5
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 heaping cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1 cup chopped green pepper
  • 1 (32-ounce) carton chicken broth (my favorite is Costco Organic Chicken Stock)
  • 1 (14-ounce) can petite-diced tomatoes (juice too)
  • 1 cup white wine
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)
  • Fresh-ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 Knorr chicken bouillon cube
  • 1 (9-ounce) package three-cheese tortellini
  • 2 cups cooked, chopped chicken breast
  • Freshly shredded or shaved Parmesan cheese

In a soup pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Sauté onions, garlic, and green pepper until tender, about 5 minutes. Add broth, tomatoes, and wine. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes or so. Add seasonings (including bouillon cube) and simmer for a few minutes. Add the chicken and tortellini, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a low boil until tortellini are cooked (about 9 minutes). Adjust seasonings, if necessary. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle liberally with Parmesan.

Recipe published at

Autumn Nip Soup is a lovely vegetarian soup. I developed it when I wanted to add a root vegetable soup to my “portfolio.” The carrots and parsnips give it a rich and delicate golden color. If you aren’t familiar with parsnips, you must get to know them. Crunchy fried shallots piled on top add a savory little kick.

Autumn Nip Soup




Make delicious fried shallots in just minutes to top off the Autumn Nip Soup (or almost any cream soup).

Autumn Nip Soup

  • Servings: 6 to 8
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 (16-ounce) package baby carrots, each one chopped into thirds
  • 1/2 pound parsnips, peeled and chopped into small chunks
  • 1 (32-ounce) carton chicken broth or vegetable broth (for vegetarians)
  • 1 teaspoon garlic salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 or 2 large shallots, thinly sliced on a mandolin
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons flour
  • Vegetable oil
  • Salt

In a medium-sized soup pot, melt the butter and sauté the onions and garlic a few minutes and then add the carrots and parsnips. Sauté for 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally. Add the broth, garlic salt, and pepper. Boil slowly for 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Remove from heat. While mixture is cooling, prepare the shallots. Sprinkle the flour over the sliced shallots. Pour about two inches of vegetable oil into a small skillet and heat to about 350 degrees. (I don’t use a thermometer. I just toss in a couple of small pieces of shallot to determine if the oil is hot enough. If they start cooking and bubbling, the oil temperature is just right.) Add the rest of the shallots and stir them around gently. If the oil starts to smoke, it’s too hot! Turn down the heat. In a couple of minutes, the shallots will start browning and crisping. Remove them immediately from the skillet with a slotted spoon or tongs and place them on a paper towel. Sprinkle them lightly with salt. Set aside. When the soup mixture is cool, purée in batches in blender until smooth. Return mixture to soup pot and heat. Add the cream. Stir until heated through. Adjust seasonings as needed. Ladle the soup into bowls and top with a mound of fried shallots.

Recipe published at

Kelly loves to devise her own recipes when she has some rare free time. Her boyfriend Jesse is also the benefactor of her delicious creations. She recently flew down to visit her grandparents (my parents). She made her Epic Garlic Cheese Bread for them for dinner one night, and they loved it so much they asked her to make it again the following night!

Jesse and Kelly

Epic Garlic Cheese Bread


Epic Garlic Cheese Bread

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 1 (8-ounce) package shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 1/4 sticks butter, softened
  • 4 scallions (white and light green parts), minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 5 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 baguette or loaf of French bread

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a bowl, mix the cheese with mayonnaise, 1/4 stick of softened butter, and scallions. Add salt and pepper to taste, and set aside. Melt the remaining stick of butter in a skillet over medium heat and add the garlic. Cook and stir until garlic is fragrant. Slice the loaf of bread in half vertically and cut off the ends. Brush the garlic butter on each half. Evenly spread the cheese mixture on both halves and bake 8 to 10 minutes. Cut into slices and serve.

Recipe published at

Last Bites

HotYears ago at occasional family reunions, I would be transfixed by my Great Aunt Julia as she chatted with other relatives seated at the table. Without so much as a grimace, she would gulp down brimming cups of scalding hot coffee or bowls of soup heated to near evaporation. I always wondered what her doctor saw when he peered down her throat during her checkups. Was her gullet a mass of scar tissue? Were her tonsils burned to the nubs? Was her uvula nothing but a big blister hanging at the back of her throat? She was such a sweet little lady; but her innards were “industrial strength,” to say the least.


hall-of-laureatesWhen a friend or family member is having health issues, I usually make soup for them. I’m a big proponent of feeding fevers, not starving them. In fact, I strongly condone a “no starvation” policy in all eating situations for myself and generally for most all creatures of the world. Speaking of the world, as an Iowan, I am proud of our spectacular World Food Prize Hall of Laureates whose headquarters is planted right here in Des Moines, Iowa. The World Food Prize is a highly coveted, international monetary award presented each year to individuals who have increased the quality, quantity, or availability of food in the world. Bravo!

meals-from-the-heartlandWe are but mere specks on this planet, so how do we do our part to feed so many hungry people around the world? Many Iowans volunteer their time and/or give donations to local food pantries, such as the Food Bank of Iowa and the Des Moines Area Religious Council. Another outstanding organization, Meals from the Heartland, is also located in the Des Moines area. It feeds millions of hungry people around the globe annually, thanks to generous donations and the efforts of thousands of volunteers from every walk of life. They gather together to assemble dried food packets that can be reconstituted; each one can feed six people. Being part of these humanitarian efforts can fill us up in ways that a hearty soup never could.

Now … where was I? Sidetracked again! I was talking about how important soup is when we are sick. (Untethered thoughts meander of their own accord.) I’m not a scientist, but I proudly earned a “C” in college chemistry, and so I feel that I can speak with some authority on the restorative powers of soup on the human body. No? Well, then let me say that soup is quite simply a warm hug of a meal that can almost always sustain and comfort us, especially on those days when we require an extra boost to get through the day.


As Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners, once said: Do you have a kinder, more adaptable friend in the food world than soup? Who soothes you when you are ill? Who refuses to leave you when you are impoverished and stretches its resources to give a hearty sustenance and cheer? Who warms you in the winter and cools you in the summer? Yet, who also is capable of doing honor to your richest table and impressing your most demanding guests? Soup does its loyal best, no matter what undignified conditions are imposed upon it. You don’t catch steak hanging around when you’re poor and sick, do you?

I look forward to another visit from you on October 21, when the next post is published. Thank you for stopping by!—Tracy




24 thoughts on “Soup’s On!

  1. Can’t wait to try all of these wonderful sounding soups. Tracy, if you ever need someone to come over and taste these delicious sounding recipes just call – I’ll be right over.


  2. Soup’s On!! Love it. You are the BEST soup maker I know, and have you ever shared, on your Blog, your “Chili Redemption” recipe? Seems like maybe you have, but I couldn’t find it. THAT recipe saved my life – in the world of chili making. (Page 57, in your First Cookbook OVERSTUFFED). That is the best chili. Before that, I could not make a respectable pot of chili. So this must be a testimonial. Tracy’s recipes are tested and true. Her cookbooks are a source of great help to me and many others. Thanks, Sis. Enjoyed this blog, the recipes, the stories, and the great pictures. Aunt Julia DID pour the hottest coffee down her throat of anyone I have ever seen!


  3. Loved it all (again!) Tracy – but most especially loved seeing your beautiful table setting and the photos of Brad & Lindsey, Kelly & Jesse.


  4. Some great new recipes to try out! Yum! Your TNT (Tracy’s No Tortilla) is one of our favorites! And I love your stories, too!


  5. I love soup. The chill in the air is motivating me to make your tortellini soup for dinner tonight. Great blog as always. Did you stay up all night working on the blog again?




    1. Dear Juan, so good to hear from you. I never had a chance to reply to your comment on the other blog post. You are a far better person than Bob. He only occasionally reads my blog. So, you are the really good guy! Yes, soup good. Taters good. We like good eats, don’t we? Thanks so much for being a loyal reader of the blog. I’ll bet your wife makes you read it! 😉


  7. Dear Mrs. Mullen…may I call you Tracy. My name is Bob Stangeland and my lovely wife Karen has been sharing your receipes and periodic newsssy periodic letters for sometime (maybe she is not supposed to). Anyway I LOVE ’em. I also have a BEAUTIFUL daughter who lives about 2 blocks from you. Her name is Sherry Schafer and I must say is a pretty darn good cook herself. I just had to comment on your most recent news flash the one devoted to soups. WOW, this one is over the top. Probably my favorite. I love fall in the Midwest and you just can’t beat a cool/crisp day and a hearty bowl of soup. Anyway, thanks so much for the delicious recipes and keep up the entertaining letters.


    1. Well, Bob, your note has just made my entire day! You are so very kind to take the time to read my blog and to comment on it, too. And I’m thrilled that Karen shares the blog and recipes with others. Of course, I know and adore your wonderful daughter, Sherry. In fact, she is so talented, she should have her own blog! I think you live in the Naples area. I hope you are avoiding the hurricane, for the most part. Thank you again for your wonderful note! And hi to Karen, too! Tracy


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s