PARTY PLANNER Soup’s on Whet winter appetites with soup as a starter Aimee Blume is a chef, food writer and culinary educator whose culinary experience has taken her from the Oregon coast to Jackson Hole, Wyo., Rome, Italy and New Orleans’ French Quarter. She currently resides in southern Indiana where she writes for the Evansville Courier and Press and is a baking and pastry instructor at Ivy Tech Community College ( hen I organize a large, in-house party, especially during the busy holiday banquet season, I always suggest an appropriate soup as a first course. Soup is often overlooked in favor of a colorful salad or intricately plated appetizer as a starter—but with the right presentation, it can be just as visually appealing. Soup is cost-effective because any unexpected leftovers may be utilized as a soup d’jour, and it saves many headaches the day of the event. Most soups can be cooked up to three days in advance, reheated with little fuss on the day of the function, ladled into bowls by a staff member, covered with aluminum foil or plastic wrap, then held in the warmer at 140˚F while the cooks are working on last-minute preparations. When it comes time to serve, simply take off the wrap, garnish, and off they go to your diners. An added bonus: Unlike a salad or plated appetizer, there’s no chance of soup deteriorating if there is a hold-up before serving. My favorite winter starter is wild mushroom soup Dijon. Beginning with a rich veal stock base, it is enriched with just a touch of cream and enough Dijon mustard to bring an unexpected spark to the flavor. Buttered baguette rounds are baked with Gruyère cheese in advance, and I like to prepare the soup at least one day ahead, as well, to give the flavors more time to meld. For serving, top the hot soup with a crouton and a sprig of thyme. by Aimee Blume W WILD MUSHROOM SOUP DIJON WITH GRUYÈRE CROUTONS Aimee Blume, chef, Evansville, Ind.; wine pairing by Marlene Rossman Yield: 43 6-oz. servings (approximately 2 gal.) 1/4 c. unsalted butter 3 cloves garlic, minced 1 large onion, diced 1 lb. button mushrooms, sliced 2 t. kosher salt 1/8 t. white pepper 2 T. fresh thyme leaves 1 1/2 gal. brown veal stock, unsalted 4 oz. dried porcini, rehydrated in 6 c. hot water 1/8 t. nutmeg 2 c. cream 1/2 c. Dijon mustard 1/2 c. fresh parsley, finely minced Gruyère Croutons (recipe follows) Thyme sprigs, for garnish Method (1) In a 3 gal. stockpot, melt butter over medium heat. Add garlic; sizzle for 30 seconds or until fragrant (do not brown). Add onion; cover, and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until onion is soft and golden. (2) Add button mushrooms, salt, pepper and thyme leaves. Raise heat slightly, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes. Add veal stock. (3) Remove rehydrated porcini from soaking water, and add to stockpot. Strain soaking water through a fine chinois; add to stockpot. (4) Bring to a boil, skimming if necessary. Reduce heat; simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Whisk in nutmeg, cream and mustard. (5) If serving immediately, hold at low heat to let flavors blend for at least 30 minutes. Or, make soup at least 1 day ahead, and vent and cool properly; reheat in steamer, covered, stirring occasionally. Stir in parsley just before serving. Garnish with a Gruyère Crouton and thyme sprig. Gruyère Croutons 45 baguette rounds, 1/2”-thick 1/2 c. butter, melted 3 lbs. Gruyère cheese, grated Method (1) Brush baguette rounds on both sides with melted butter. Arrange on a prepared baking sheet (cooking spray; no parchment), and bake at 250˚F for 20 minutes or until rounds begin to color. (2) Divide Gruyère cheese equally over croutons; return to oven to melt cheese. (3) Cool, wrap, and set aside until service. Wine pairing: With flavors of dried sweet cranberries, the fruit-filled Paul Dolan Vineyards Pinot Noir 2006 (California) will elevate the creaminess of the Gruyère and the richness of the porcinis and veal stock. No time to prepare soup? There’s a plethora of premade heat-and-serve products to save you time and money. Ivar’s Seafood, Soup & Sauce Co. ( offers Wild Alaskan Smoked Salmon Chowder, a slightly spicy soup with wild Alaskan Keta Salmon hardwood-smoked in the traditional Pacific Northwest style.The smoked salmon comes packaged separately so it can be stirred in after the soup is heated. Premium, freshrefrigerated soups are available from Campbell’s Foodservice (, like the satiny Stockpot Broadway Basil and Tomato Bisque, made from a purée of California red tomatoes, real chicken stock, heavy cream and sweet basil. Or if you’re in need of a soup starter, Custom Culinary (www.custom has got you covered with its dry bases, like Chef’s Own Chicken Flavored Soup Base, an economical granular chicken base, and Master’s Touch Instant Cream Soup Base, with creamy authentic taste and texture. 10 | Chef Premade products with pizazz