Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A super soup competition March 14, 2011

AT HIS DAY JOB, Steve sells cars. On the side, he raises chickens on his small Minnesota acreage. He’d like to add a few pigs and cows, but he’s not versed in raising those critters.

He’s an expert gardener, though, who cans his produce. He appreciates the taste of home-grown vegetables and those farm-raised chickens.

Steve also loves to cook.

Sunday night I met Steve and sampled some of his cooking at Cannon Valley Lutheran High School’s first-ever “Soup-er Bowl” in Morristown. Loaded with hefty chunks of chicken, thick homemade noodles, carrots, celery, onion and garlic, Steve’s creamy chicken noodle soup earned him a second place finish among the 10 soups entered in the cooking competition. He deserved it. I don’t typically like chicken noodle soup, but I loved Steve’s.

I asked for the secret to the cream base. A stick of butter and half-and-half combined with the juices of his home-grown chicken, additional chicken stock, bay leaves and other spices created a savory broth. By the way, Steve appears to be the kind of guy who would rather share cooking tips than keep them secret.

Steve's chicken noodle soup is in the top left corner of this photo. The winning soup, taco chili, is next to it on the right. The other soups here are corn chowder, Mulligan stew and (I think) cheeseburger.

I don’t know how the other nine competing cooks—except the youngest cook, eighth grader Louis—felt about revealing their recipes. Louis left the recipe for his fiery green chili on a table for diners to pick up. Let me tell you, when I tasted his chili laced with hot jalapenos, I gulped lemonade.

Taco chili won the 2011 “Soup-er Bowl” trophy from among entries like Mulligan stew, cheesy wild rice, corn chowder, ultimate cheeseburger, a second chicken noodle soup and Steve’s chicken noodle soup.

The "Soup-er Bowl" trophy, awarded this year for the taco chili.

This whole idea of a “Soup-er Bowl” was the brainchild of my friend Mike, who volunteers as CVLHS acting development director. Mike is one of those guys who is always giving back to the community. He remains a strong supporter of the Lutheran high school even though his eldest son graduated from there several years ago.

Wanting to connect the congregations that are part of an association supporting CVLHS, Mike came up with the soup competition. Last weekend five of the member churches held local contests with the two top winners from each church advancing to yesterday’s finale.

Soup and chili samples were placed onto vintage metal trays for each diner.

Unfortunately, I was out of town last weekend, or I would have entered a soup. Mike has already invited me to participate next year. But after tasting all of the excellent soups and chilis on Sunday, I’m hesitant to vie against so many great cooks. I might simply remain a taster.

I love soups. Each year for the past seven, my sister Lanae has hosted an autumn soup party at her Waseca home. While she doesn’t award a trophy for the best soup, the winners are really us, the invited guests. Last year we could choose from 17 homemade soups spread out on tables in her and husband Dale’s garage. Click here to read all about her 2010 soup party.

When I heard about the CVLHS “Soup-er Bowl” gathering, I wasn’t about to miss an opportunity to eat soup and support the school. For $5, diners got small samplings of each soup or chili, breads and sweet treats, along with beverages.

The party was not only a fundraiser for the school but, more importantly, an evening of fellowship, organizer Mike said.

Diners packed tables in the Bethlehem Lutheran Church fellowship hall to taste 10 soups and chilis and then vote for their favorite at the CVLHS "Soup-er Bowl" party.

He’s right. I met car salesman/chicken farmer/chef Steve when I sat at the same table as him. Now my name is on Steve’s list to contact when his chickens are ready for butchering next summer. I can already taste that delicious chicken noodle soup…

By the time I went through the line, the vintage trays had all been used, so seven soups and chilis were crammed onto an oval plate. I later picked up the remaining three to sample. My sister also uses vintage trays at her party.

HERE’S THE RECIPE for Green Chili from eighth grader Louis:

Green Chili

Brown hamburger. Separate hamburger from juice and let juice sit.

Sauté celery, white and green onions, jalapenos, cilantro, green peppers, black pepper and hamburger juice.

Put hamburger and vegetables in pan and add green tomatoes and stir until finished.

NOTE: Louis did not list specific ingredient amounts, so I guess you need to figure that out for yourself.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling