Hands-On Soups Cooking Skills – Making the Perfect Soup

On Saturday, January 23, students joined us in Tree House Kitchen for a tasty, team-building, hands-on soups skills class. We gave away all our chef’s secrets, and went over the 10 essential steps to creating perfect soup, every time!

Our unique, hands-on soups skills class was a success! Students connected in small groups at Tree House Kitchen to create team soups and were assisted by Chef coaches while exploring the theory and tricks to building flavours.

I introduced the class to my top 10 tips for perfect soups, while layering ingredients in creamy seafood chowder…that didn’t actually have much cream. These excellent tips for making soups are available by signing up for my FREE quarterly newsletter. For instance, I demonstrated that when making chowder, corn stock, clam glaze (concentrated clam juice) and fish stock reduce unnecessary calories and strengthen flavours by adding the wow factor!

You would be surprised to know how many spoons we go through while teaching students about sense memories! In the soups skills class, I taught students to trust their senses and taste, taste, taste throughout the cooking process. Over the 4-hour class, we tried 9 stocks to demonstrate flavour building and sampled 6 soul-filling soups served with homemade Parmesan chive biscuits.

Chef Lauren and I taught how to make ham & lentil soup, which we created with fantastic smoked ham hock from Cumbrae’s Dundas and Canadian lentils (a low carbon emission food), which was finished off with Nenninger Farm maple syrup and smoked paprika! Sourcing good ingredients helps create perfect soups.

Students learned how to build flavours, starting with stock as a base and then layering on fresh and fantastic ingredients like multi-coloured vegetables, aromatic herbs, toasted spices, caramelized onions, roasted mushrooms and shellfish, as well as carefully sourced seafood and meat – a celebration of omnivore eating. Many dietary choices and lifestyles were taken into consideration.

Below, Palena and Teresa are tying whole cloves in cheesecloth to infuse their essence into the simmering soup. Students at Tree House Kitchen range in age from 9 to 90 years old. I especially love teaching timeless recipe concepts that apply to all ages and stages of life, addressing individual nutritional needs, skill levels and creativity.

Students learning in Chef Nancy Henley's unique hands-on soups skills class.

Everyone gathered around the burners, taking turns and concentrating on each step of the process, getting in there with their own hands and using all their senses. Exploring hands-on in the kitchen develops neural pathways and fosters muscle memory, which makes subsequent kitchen forays easier.

Minestrone soup preparation is simple and universal in its appeal. Like many other soup skills and techniques that Tree House Kitchen offers, minestrone is often created with accessible and inexpensive ingredients: select your favourite vibrant, nutritious vegetables, herbs and your favourite legumes. Oh yes, having a sharp knife and some knife skills helps too!

Nourishing vegetables and herbs prepared for making a perfect soup.

Another soup created during the class included carefully oven-roasted mushrooms for our seven mushroom soup that demonstrated the depth of flavour that caramelizing lends to the soup making process! (In the winter mushrooms can be a little disappointing – roasting or sautéing brings out their natural earthy sweetness.) Speaking of earthy sweetness…as a chef, I feel responsible for protecting the pollinators, land and water that provide our food. Without them, I would be out of a job! Please read all about how we are raising awareness in Greensville, Dundas of the importance of stewarding the mysterious, life-sustaining flow of water and protecting the pollinators so as to foster ecological health with the help of friends like Environment Hamilton and the Hamilton Pollinator Paradise Project.

Tree House Kitchen students relaxing with bowls of hard-earned handmade soup.

Above, Tree House Kitchen students relaxing with bowls of hard-earned homemade soup. At the end of the day, I feel that my mission is accomplished when I hear, “I don’t usually like *insert food here*, but that was good!” I teach recipes as systems, which allows students to gain experience and feel comfortable exploring the cooking process through their own sense of taste and their creativity. Our classes always offer participants sensory memories of dishes and individual ingredients. In this case, the coaching team and students created simple soups which were transformed by technique and flavour: minestrone, lobster bisque, French onion, roasted seven mushroom, creamy seafood chowder, ham & lentil and various meat & vegetable stocks.

Thank you to Phyllis Kraemer from The Keeping Room for the in-class photos and assistant chef Lauren Charman for the soup photos.

Update: We’re so proud of the work we’ve done in our hands-on teaching and dinner party classes. Working with you, our clients has played such an important part in the new direction of Tree House Kitchen as a food literacy company, specializing in problem-solving skills and resources for busy families, and community members – like you! We hope you enjoy reading about our past classes, and also where we’re headed moving forward. 

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