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The Soupbox Cookbook: Sensational Soups for Healthy Living Hardcover – December 13, 2012
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The Amazon Book Review
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About the Author
Dru Melton (Chicago, IL) has been in the restaurant industry his whole life and started working in the kitchen at a young age with his grandmother and mother, a restaurant industry veteran. He went on to the Cooking & Hospitality Institute of Chicago and has taken his cooking influence equally from top Chicago chefs and his small town farm upbringing in Chillicothe, Illinois, that emphasized fresh, wholesome and locally produced ingredients. He has 25 years of restaurant experience and been everything from the busboy to head chef and is now the general manager of The Soupbox. Jamie Taerbaum started The Soupbox in 1995 on a shoestring and has grown it into the most popular and best-reviewed soup restaurant in the city. It has been featured in practically every major network and newspaper in the Chicago, including ABC?s Hungry Hound, and now has a second location in the River North section of Chicago. www.soupbox.com Dru Melton (Chicago, IL) has been in the restaurant industry his whole life and started working in the kitchen at a young age with his grandmother and mother, a restaurant industry veteran. He went on to the Cooking & Hospitality Institute of Chicago and has taken his cooking influence equally from top Chicago chefs and his small town farm upbringing in Chillicothe, Illinois, that emphasized fresh, wholesome and locally produced ingredients. He has 25 years of restaurant experience and been everything from the busboy to head chef and is now the general manager of The Soupbox. Jamie Taerbaum started The Soupbox in 1995 on a shoestring and has grown it into the most popular and best-reviewed soup restaurant in the city. It has been featured in practically every major network and newspaper in the Chicago, including ABC?s Hungry Hound, and now has a second location in the River North section of Chicago. www.soupbox.com
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Top customer reviews
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I've not been disappointed. I think this is the best soup cookbook to come out in a long time. It puts Mr. Sunday's Soups to shame--really. It stands above Deborah Madison's Vegetable Soups, and is way more useful than Barbara Kafka's Soup: A Way of Life.
There are a LOT of soup recipes in this book. Eating-wise, they will appeal to all ages; cooking-wise, they will appeal to all experience levels. There are soups for any weather and any season. The recipes will convince you that the authors are totally dedicated to the Chicago area and the farmland around it. Even the "ethnic" recipes have been tweaked to Chicago standards. You might be tempted to debate the authenticity of the gumbo or the Texas chili or the Ukrainian borscht, or the Thai curry, but you'll be way outnumbered! Whatever, the recipes work for me: I enjoy the variant and the simplicity within the complexity of the flavors that make up these recipes. You'll find a lot of nuanced-flavor, even though the ingredient lists are shorter, than they are long.
I must say that it's been a long time since I've been to Chicago, so I am not a fan or groupie of the Soupbox. I need to say that when the author reminded me of the Safehouse in Milwaukee--he won my heart. When he mentioned that they buy their herbs and spices from The Spice House (a store I started patronizing back in the 70's and continue to buy from online almost 40 years later--well, he won my stamp of approval. I'm very glad to have purchased this cookbook. It will be my go-to for soup recipes.
YOU CAN STOP READING HERE. The rest is just extra info, in case you are still undecided:
I also must say that I am an experienced cook, and I write a fair amount of cookbook reviews here on Amazon. My standards are high and I notice a lot of little things that a more novice reviewer might not consider. When I give a five star rating, I'm saying that the book is outstanding. While I am going to get a lot of use from this book, you can see that I knocked it down a star because I do have some issues with it. But first:
What I like:
You won't find soups in this book that you've seen somewhere else before. You will see the words "inspired by", "tweaked", "adaption", "our own version", "our take". That's all good. (But it also means that you'll need another soup cookbook on your shelf if you want to make the classics. For instance, you won't find a French onion soup recipe in this book; you will find a classic gazpacho, but it's been tweaked; you won't find vichyssoise, but you will find a hot cream of potato and leek soup.
There is a great assortment of soups, "Click to look inside" will show you a listing of the chapters. I'm especially pleased with the variety in the fish and seafood chapter. The chili, chowders, cold soups and veggie soups are very innovative with interesting combinations of flavors.
The recipes are not intricate, but they are straightforward and full of flavor. The ingredients are easily found--even those that the author tells us are hard to source are still easily found at farmers' and Asian markets.
There are plenty of vegan recipes, and they are so flavorful even meat eaters will welcome those soups for a change of pace. There are gluten-free recipes also. The vegan and gluten-free recipes are clearly marked. There are also some recipes marked as suitable for the slow-cooker.
You won't see canned products in the ingredient lists. (Well, you will see canned tomatoes as an alternative to fresh. And you will see an ambiguous "cooked" beans every once in a while.) But you will be encouraged to make your broths from scratch, soak your beans overnight, take the time to prepare your ingredients properly before adding any liquid. You will also "hear" the enthusiasm and sense the zeal of growing your own vegetables in your garden.
There are plenty of very nice full-color pictures--almost one for every recipe.
The index is "over-the-top" detailed. That's a great thing--but it also works against you, simply because it is so very detailed. It's one of the things I dislike about the book, too. I went to look for an onion soup recipe, and found myself wading through a hundred entries for any soup that had onion in the ingredient list.... This index is so detailed it lists almost all ingredients, recipes by prep time and serving sizes, and there's also a separate index for recipe title.
What I didn't like:
The author implies that most of these recipes come together quickly--an hour or so, often less than an hour. You need to be aware that these recipes will come together quickly IF you have your broth already made. In other words, in most cases, each recipe is actually two recipes--and two different steps: First you make the broth, (strain the broth, refrigerate the broth, de-fat the broth), then you make the soup.
Issues with the ingredient lists: Sometimes ounces or specific amounts are listed; sometimes it's just "medium", "large", "one can". (Coconut milk comes in at least three sizes that I'm aware of.) Also, ingredients are not always listed in the order called for in the instructions.
Another issue with ingredient lists: Sometimes ingredients are too ambiguous: For instance: When a large quantity of "red" or "white" wine is listed--especially with the basic broths--I would appreciate a little more guidance. There are "Cook's Notes" listed all over the pages, but they seemed to be missing just when I could have used a tip. For instance: While making the mushroom soup, I ran across "two teaspoons of thyme" and that seemed like quite a lot to me--I've ruined recipes with dropping in too much thyme. I spent time looking back at other recipes and saw that many times it specified "dried" herbs, other times nothing was specified. "Fresh" was never specified. It almost seemed like certain recipes were written up by different people. Anyway, I used dried thyme and cut the amount in half and I'm very glad I did. Also within the mushroom soup recipe: "Button" mushrooms: White? Baby Bellas? I used white, because that is what I think "button" mushrooms are. But white did not generate enough flavor and next time I'll use a mix. While making the Texas chili, I ran across instructions for both a ½" dice and a ¼" dice on the meat--listed there on the same page. I cut them somewhere in between. Being knowledgeable, I can usually notice a problem with an ingredient amount or omission, but not everyone will approach these recipes with the same amount of experience.
Instructions are very well spelled out for these recipes, but sometimes key information is missing: In many recipes, we are offered a choice of chopped fresh tomatoes, or canned diced tomatoes: Should you drain the can? (I drained and kept and added later if I thought necessary.)
Instructions are run together in one paragraph, making it difficult to find your place. I don't know why it was done this way. There is plenty of space on the page. And a little space between steps would have been very helpful. I've started marking different steps with a highlighter pen.
It is always fun to see authors list substitutions or variations within a recipe. It's almost like getting three or four recipes for the price of one. It's not that you can't come up with alternatives on your own, but seeing other ideas in print help get the creative juices flowing. There is none of that in this book.
The recipes in this cookbook are really different, for the most part, and few of the ingredients are all that hard to find (even for me, though I live in West Virginia, miles from a city of any size). Many recipes are marked gluten-free - a plus, since I'm on a gluten-free diet. I haven't found many recipes not labelled gluten-free to be a problem, either. Though a few do use barley, most just require the use of gluten-free soy sauce or pasta, staples in any gluten-free kitchen.
While some of the recipes are for soups that aren't hard to find in other cookbooks (e.g., chicken noodle, mulligatawny, lobster bisque), many of them are new to us and all are very, very good. And while the "recipe index" is close to useless, indexing recipes only under the first word of the exact title used in the cookbook - e.g., "Signature Lobster Bisque" under "signature", it is followed by an excellent index not only by ingredients, but also by cook time (very useful when I need to get dinner in a hurry or am looking for something I can leave simmering on the stove while I run errands).
We've tried half a dozen recipes so far and found just one (the Deep South Burgoo - not bad, but rather blah) to be less than amazingly good.
If you like soup like I do you will enjoy this book even if you never make a recipe out of the book. But I'll bet you'll want to try several.