Soup may be thick or thin, hot or cold, subtle or spicy. It may be as clear as glass or full of chunky bits of vegetables and meats. Some soups derive their essential flavor from a rich broth; others depend on water or milk to capture the pure taste of the ingredients.
As a home cook, I never think of soup as an obligatory first course but rather as the main dish for lunch or supper, served with a salad or side dish, bread and a good homey dessert.
Good soup depends on critical tasting and seasoning. Nothing is less appealing than a bland soup. Don't be timid about seasoning; it may surprise you to discover how much salt is needed to bring out the good flavor of a soup, but add it carefully, stirring and tasting after every small addition. Add only a little salt in the beginning because simmering causes evaporation, which concentrates the salt. The final, critical correcting should take place the last few minutes of cooking, just before serving.
The creamy corn soup and lemon cookie recipes are from Joyce McGillis, a splendid home cook who creates simple dishes that you remember with pleasure. You can't imagine how good the creamy corn soup is; if you must add anything, let it be only coarse black pepper. Her lemon cookies are paper-thin, golden and perfect with a chilled poached pear.
Cunningham's latest book is "Cooking With Children" (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995).
CREAMY CORN SOUP
6 cups corn kernels
4 1/2 cups milk
Bring corn, 3 cups milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt to boil over medium heat in heavy-bottomed saucepan. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes.
Pour into food processor and puree. Add remaining 1 1/2 cups milk and process until well blended. Taste and add more salt if needed.
Return to saucepan and gently reheat over low heat, stirring frequently.
Variation: For creamed corn, cook corn with milk and salt as in first step. Then remove corn from saucepan with slotted spoon and pulse 4 to 5 times in food processor until thick, coarse puree. Taste and add more salt if needed. Discard milk. Serve immediately or return to saucepan and keep warm over low heat, stirring frequently.
4 servings. Each serving:
335 calories; 466 mg sodium; 21 mg cholesterol; 8 grams fat; 57 grams carbohydrates; 17 grams protein; 1.62 grams fiber.
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1/2 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Raw sugar, optional
Beat butter and sugar with electric mixer until creamy. Add vanilla, lemon zest and juice and continue beating until smooth.
Mix flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add to butter and sugar mixture and blend well.
Turn out dough onto wax paper or plastic wrap and form into 2 logs 1 to 1 1/2 inches in diameter and about 1 foot in length. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or freeze until ready to use.
Cut logs into 1/8-inch-thick slices and place cookies about 3 inches apart on ungreased baking sheet, about 6 to 8 cookies per sheet. Slice only enough cookies to fill baking sheet and return remaining dough to refrigerator until ready to slice and bake. Sprinkle with raw sugar if desired.
Bake at 350 degrees until lightly golden, 7 to 8 minutes, watching carefully during last 1 to 2 minutes of baking. Remove from oven and let cool slightly on baking sheet.
4 dozen. Each cookie:
59 calories; 67 mg sodium; 8 mg cholesterol; 3 grams fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.01 gram fiber.
* Bowl, glass and linen from Greens, South Pasadena. Christofle spoon from Christofle, Beverly Hills.