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Warm Up During National Soup Month

January is National Soup Month, and here in the Mitten State, there’s nothing better than a big bowl of hot soup on a cold winter’s day. A hearty delicious soup is a great way to feed your family or start off a meal. Actually, soup is a great meal all by itself!

It is estimated that people have been enjoying soup for about 20,000 years, about as long as humans have been able to boil water in earthenware pots. Making soup extends our ability to use fewer ingredients to feed larger numbers of people, which is a must when food is scarce and unpredictable.

bowl of cream shepherd's pie soup
Cream Shepherd’s Pie Soup. Photo by Jackie Mitchell.

These days, we can take the opportunity to play with flavor combinations and create a variety of styles. From lentil to leek, peasant to pho, minestrone to Michigan bean, the former necessity is now a celebrated mainstay at many family tables and restaurants.

In fact, the word restaurant comes from French, meaning “something restoring,” and it was used to refer to street vendors selling soup in the 16th century. They marketed their creations as antidotes to exhaustion: A perfect prescription, in my opinion! In 1765, a specialized shop featuring such soups opened, and the word restaurant began to refer to all eating establishments.

There are still many restaurants dedicated to soup, and many more feature a signature soup that seems to command a place of honor on the menu. In the colder months, there’s nothing better than coming home to a house full of savory smells and a slow cooker full of warm deliciousness. That makes January the perfect pick as National Soup Month, which you can celebrate with your own recipes at home or try these hot spots while you’re out and about:

If you’re up north, head over to The Soup Cup in Traverse City. With eight soups made fresh daily and try-before-you-buy, you’ll be sure to find something to satisfy whatever it is you have a taste for. They also feature Belgian fries with 20 dipping sauces and grilled cheese. It’s like the ultimate comfort food place to eat!

Hearty Minestrone. Photo courtesy of The Souper Cafe.
Hearty Minestrone. Photo courtesy of The Souper Cafe.

Speaking of comfort food, after a cold hour spent standing in line for a special release of Maple Bourbon Barrel Black Bier at Dark Horse Brewing Company recently, I needed something warm from the taproom. The bartender suggested the Black Bier Chili, made with their Black Bier (now Black Ale), which seemed appropriate for the day. You can get it in a bread bowl, and you definitely should. Really, you should always go for the bread bowl. At Dark Horse, the cut off top of the bowl is toasted with cheese for an additional treat.

The Capitol Hill Senate Restaurant in Washington, D.C., which has a dress code and requires an invitation, features a Michigan (Navy) bean soup that has been a staple since 1904. How it got on the menu is up for debate, but original recipes call for Michigan Navy beans because our state was and continues to be such a big supplier of dried beans. Fortunately for you and me, it is also served in the Capitol Visitor Center, and you can find the recipe on the Senate and Michigan Bean Commission websites.

One of my favorite soups is Cheddar + Ale from Grizzly Peak Brewing Company in Ann Arbor. It’s been said to “chase away the endless winter blues,” and I wholeheartedly agree. Here’s a copycat recipe, but I suggest visiting the brewery to sample the real thing too!

Cheddar Ale Soup from Grizzly Peak Brewing Company. Photo by Jessica Webster.
Cheddar Ale Soup from Grizzly Peak Brewing Company. Photo by Jessica Webster.

Grizzly Peak Cheddar + Ale

1 large white onion, diced
2 carrots, diced
2 tablespoons fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 pint Grizzly Peak Golden Ale
3 quarts chicken stock
1 cup flour
1 cup butter
1 pint heavy cream
2 1/2 pounds cheddar cheese, shredded

Melt butter in thick-walled pot. Add onions and carrots. Saute until the vegetables are translucent and tender. Add flour and stir on low heat for 15 minutes, until mixture has light golden color.

Add thyme, bay leaf, pepper and cook for another 5 minutes. Add beer, chicken stock, and heavy cream. Stir completely and bring to a boil. With a hand blender, blender, or food processor, add cheddar slowly to the soup and process until smooth. Adjust with salt and pepper to personal taste.

Enjoy! What is your favorite soup to warm up with? Let us know in the comments!

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