THE SOUP MIX GOURMET BY DIANE PHILLIPS

Any disparaging remarks I may have ever made about canned soup? I take them all back!

Actually, I’ve never personally had anything against canned soups and I keep a pantry well stocked with all sorts of canned food products for emergency meals…I was just quoting what other writers have had to say about canned soups. I’d be the first to admit I keep my pantry shelves well stocked with dried soup mixes and canned cream of mushroom, cream of chicken and a supply of canned beef and chicken stocks (that I only buy when they’re on sale). My homemade New England clam chowder contains either cream of mushroom or cream of celery soup, and my favorite comfort food, when I’m really, really, sick is Campbell’s chicken noodle soup—with saltine crackers.

Having said that, I want to tell you about THE SOUP MIX GOURMET.

Diane Phillips is the author of this huge cookbook published by the Harvard Common Press. Ms. Phillips is the author of fourteen cookbooks, including POT PIES and IT’S A WRAP, THE PERFECT MIX, and the James Beard Award Nominated PERFECT PARTY FOOD. Known as the Diva of Do-Ahead, Diane is a traveling cooking teacher, teaching her do-ahead entertaining classes to sell-out audiences across the country.

When I say this is a “huge” cookbook, don’t confuse it with an oversized coffee table cookbook that everybody looks at but never uses. THE SOUP MIX GOURMET is a thick soft-cover cookbook with a very easy to read format, and lots of great side-bar tips and suggestions.  There are 375 short-cut recipes using dry and canned soups to help you make everything from meat, fish, poultry, pasta, vegetables, souped-up salads and dressings and even such kitchen helpers as rubs, marinades and sauces.

“Look in any pantry across the country, says Diane Phillips, “and you will find dry and canned soups lining the shelves. With a glance into any group or organization cookbook you will easily find that 75% of the recipes include soup as a main ingredient. Soup is a part of our culinary landscape, whether we know it or not. A lot of us may not know that our favorite meal growing up began with a can of soup…”

Well, I can’t stay this is true of my childhood. My father took a thermos of hot soup with his lunch at Formica, where he worked for over 25 years. (When I was little, I thought he worked for some guy named Mica. He worked for mica).  There was always a small amount of soup left in the pan on the stove, which I frequently ate, cold, out of the pan, standing by the kitchen sink, before rushing out to catch the bus to get to school.

“Like many people today, Diane explains, “my time is precious. If I can make my family a comforting home-cooked meal by using something that will save time, I am all for it.  Soups and soup mixes are a vital part of my pantry, and I’ve learned their strengths and limitations”.

“Some soups,” she says, “just don’t make the grade, while others help make my son’s favorite chicken pot pie and my husband’s favorite beef pot roast…” (I have to mention this – I have been making pot roast with a beef roast and a packet of Lipton onion soup mix….for years and years. My daughter in law loves the way I make this roast – because when I make it at their house, she gets an extra thick seven bone roast so that I can make my beef stew with the leftovers the next day).

Diane teaches students all over the country and says that her most popular classes are those they term “marathons” where she prepares eight to ten dishes in two and a half hours.  Many of the recipes she teaches in these classes are time-savers using canned or dry soups to help prepare dinners that you will be proud to serve to family and friends. “These tricks,” Diane says, “also free home cooks form the bondage of thinking they have to make everything from scratch. Not all restaurants make their own stocks; they use a commercial soup base that comes in gallon drums…”

“Dry soups,” Diane continues, “come in a variety of flavors and brands. Lipton and Knorr are the leading brands, and each makes a line of soup mixes that can be made into soup or by adding other ingredients to the mix, can serve as the basis for dips, salads, and dressings, main courses, sauces, and pastas…”

“Reconstituted or condensed soups,” she offers, “are available in almost every flavor imaginable…Reconstituted soups can be used to make everything from a delicate shrimp mousse to a hearty beef burgundy…”

Before getting into the recipes, Diane offers a chapter on Stocking The Pantry, providing suggestions and tips. “Spices,” she says, “are your secret weapon when it comes to making your meals interesting and flavorful…”

Diane also recommended buying dehydrated herbs if you can find them; she says they tend to have the closest flavor to that of fresh herbs.

She asks, “How do we get away from the processed taste of some of these convenience products? The prescription is to add bold flavors and turn your dishes into something special…”

THE SOUP MIX GOURMET is packed with recipes that will give you a fresh slant on cooking with soups, whether they are condensed or dried soup mixes. (This reminds me, when I was in the mountains above Gorman for the weekend with my girlfriend, MJ, we visited the little shops and stores in a nearby village. One of the things I picked up was a dried soup mix of white cheddar cheese and asparagus. I used it was the base for making my last batch of cream of asparagus soup, adding three pounds of fresh asparagus that I briefly cooked in the pressure cooker. That was one of the best batches of cream of asparagus soup I have ever made. Now I have to find out how to order this brand of soup mix!)

Probably everyone knows how to mix a packet of Lipton Onion soup mix with sour cream to make the original California dip (which has been a great favorite through the USA for over 50 years!) – but did you know you can make Blue California dip, Crunchy California Dip, California Shrimp Dip or Tuscan White Bean Dip? Check out the recipes for Swiss Spinach Dip and Cinco de Mayo Corn Dip!  But there are many other recipes besides dips. Who’d have thought of making Buffalo Style Chicken Wings with Lipton golden onion soup mix?

Choose from a wealth of recipes, ranging from Turkey White Bean Chili (also made with Lipton golden onion soup mix) to Black Bean Sirloin Chili (Knorr’s tomato Beef Soup Mix), from Eggplant Rollatini (Lipton Savory Herb with Garlic soup Mix) to chicken Piccata (Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Chicken soup). You can make Italian Meat Loaf (Lipton Savory Herb with Garlic Soup Mix) or Chicken in Tarragon and Tomato Cream Sauce (Campbell’s Cream of
Chicken soup) and if that isn’t tantalizing enough consider these: Garlic Sesame Bread Sticks and Seoul Food Beef Kabobs, Souper Baked Four Cheese Pasta, Beef and Wild Mushroom Ragout, or Vintner’s Stew, Chicken Satay with Spicy Peanut Sauce or Mediterranean Seafood and Rice Salad…there are all of these and many more in THE SOUP MIX GOURMET.

You’ll be amazed, I think, to discover all the different dishes you can create with a can of soup or a packet of dried soup mix.  We’ve come a long way, baby!

Diane Phillips is also the author of:

THE ULTIMATE ROTISSERIE COOKBOOK

PERFECT MIX

SLOW COOKER

YOU’VE GOT IT MADE

PERFECT PARTY FOOD

THE MEDTERRANEAN SLOW COOKER COOKBOOK

HAPPY HOLIAYS FROM THE DIVA OF DO-AHEAD

 

THE SOUP MIX GOURMET originally sold for $18.95. It is listed on Amazon.com new for $4.95 or pre-owned starting at 18 cents. Alibris.com has copies starting at 99c.

Happy cooking and happy cookbook collecting!

Review by Sandra Lee Smith  (Originally reviewed for the Cookbook Collectors Exchange in 2002)

 

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