Homemade soups and stews warm the soul

Beat the winter cold with local recipes
By: Krissi Khokhobashvili, Journal Features Editor
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There are few things more comforting on a cold day than a hot bowl of soup. From traditional favorites to new creations, there are many soup options in Auburn.

Kenzie Johnson, manager at the Big Salad Shop downtown, said that as the temperature drops, soup sales go up.

“The chicken tortellini has been the most popular,” she said. “Italian wedding is really popular as well. That has little pearl noodles and meatballs.”

Johnson said the Big Salad crew makes its soups fresh every day, and what’s offered depends on what vegetables are in season.

Farm-fresh soup
One of those seasonal vegetables is kale. When called to speak about her favorite soups, Joanne Neft, co-author of the “Placer County Real Food” cookbook, was preparing a batch of chicken, mushroom and kale soup.

“Every mother says, if you’ve got a cold, if you’re not feeling well, ‘I’ll make you some chicken soup,’” Neft said.

This particular soup is made with oyster mushrooms, onion, kale, chicken stock and roasted chicken, along with orzo pasta.

“It’s very easy to make, and the fact is that the kale at the farmer’s market right now is so amazing, and will be amazing until February or March. This is the perfect soup for this time of year.”

Neft uses ingredients purchased exclusively at the Foot-hill Farmers Market, open year-round in Auburn, Rocklin and Roseville.

Another favorite of Neft’s is French onion soup, which is featured in the “Real Food” cookbook. The recipe calls for half a cup of dry vermouth, Neft said, but by the time the soup is done, all the alcohol has cooked off.

“The rich flavor of the vermouth is left, and of course you want to put wonderful French bread with gruyère cheese on it, because that’s what bubbles over the side and makes it so beautiful.”

Neft and co-author Laura Kenny are working on their next Placer County cookbook, “The Art of Real Food,”which will be available in time for Mother’s Day. It will be in a similar format to “Real Food,” featuring local ingredients and recipes.

Eat stew for a good cause
On Jan. 21, the Placer Sportsmen will serve enough stew to feed 300 people at the annual Stew Dinner and Raffle at the Gold Country Fairgrounds.

The event started as a pit barbecue and grew into the stew fundraiser, which raises money for the annual Kids Fish Derby, held the last Saturday in April.

John DeMello, Placer Sportsmen president, said the derby has been going on for more than 60 years. Costs have risen so much that it now costs just shy of $4,000 for 1,000 pounds of trout for the kids to catch, so the stew dinner is an important means of raising money.

Stew chef Duane Voges uses a recipe that calls for more than 100 pounds of meat (a mixture of venison and beef), along with vegetables. Volunteers start work nine hours be-fore the dinner, peeling piles of potatoes and cooking gallons of stew.

“We do the stew meat by itself until it gets the gravy, then we cook the potatoes and the carrots separate,” DeMello said. “We bring them all together right before serving, and it just comes out very good.”

In addition to the stew, the fundraiser will include a raffle offering an array of prizes, including a Browning gun safe with rifle, gift cards for sportsmen equipment, a 12-guage shotgun, gas barbecue, fishing equipment, tents, sleeping bags and a mackinaw fishing trip for two on Lake Tahoe, among other prizes.

DeMello said the stew dinner usually sees a good turnout, and if it sells out that means 300 people will be served.

“The community of Auburn really supports us very nicely,” he said. “It’s a great community.”

Reach Krissi Khokhobashvili at


Stew Dinner and Raffle
What: Placer Sportsmen annual fundraiser for Kids Fish
When: Saturday, Jan. 21. Doors open at 6 p.m.; dinner served at 7 p.m.
Where: Gold Country Fairgrounds, Auburn
Cost: $10 per person
Information: (916) 772-0431 or (530) 885-1831


French Onion Soup
From “Placer County Real Food” by Joanne Neft and Laura Kenny
• Six large yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
• ¼ cup olive oil
• ½ teaspoon sugar
• Four cloves garlic, minced
• 8 cups beef stock
• ½ cup dry vermouth
• Two bay leaves
• ½ teaspoon thyme
•Salt and pepper to taste
• Eight slices French bread, toasted
• 1½ cups Swiss gruyère cheese, finely grated
In a large saucepan, sauté onions in olive oil until caramelized, 30-40 minutes. Add sugar the last 10 minutes. Add garlic and sauté another two minutes.
Add stock, vermouth, bay leaves and thyme. Simmer another hour. Discard leaves. Season with salt and pepper.
Ladle into bowls. Cover with toast, sprinkle on cheese. Bake at 350 degrees until cheese is browned and bubbly, about 10 minutes. Serve.


Chicken, Mushroom & Kale Soup
From "The Art of Real Food" by Joanne Neft and Laura Kenny
• ½ cup dry orzo pasta
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 cup diced oyster mushrooms
• 1 cup onions, diced
• 1 cup kale, stems removed
• 1 quart chicken stock
• 1 cup roasted chicken, bite-size
• Salt and pepper to taste
Heat 2 quarts water, add pasta and cook on high until tender. Drain, set aside. Add olive oil to large stock pot. Sauté mushrooms two minutes. Add onions, cook two minutes. Add kale and stir until limp.
Pour in stock, increase heat. Add chicken pieces, salt and pepper. Serve piping hot.