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Ladle up Comforting and hearty, soups for the season

It's a holiday party practically waiting to happen.

Picture this: Guests come in from the cold to find one or more kettles of steaming soup waiting for them. With a big assortment of great Western New York breads on the side -- cheese bread and marble rye bread, or maybe even Wegmans' new Marathon Energy Loaf adorned with pumpkin seeds and muesli mix.

Not to mention a platter of cheeses,too, and some fruit -- maybe the clementines that are in all the stores now -- or some shiny apples.

And cookies for dessert.

People are talking about those cookies a lot right now, and about cake and pies and other fancy desserts. But maybe it's time to extend the conversation and something else to the list of standard holiday foods -- soup.

Why not? Soup can be festive, and it's easy to prepare.

Take the advice from Soup Maker Extraordinaire Mary Anne Starr, a Snyder resident who has worked out a sort of magic template for soup. All of her soups start the same way. She takes a cup each of sliced carrots, celery, onion and some garlic, and then "sort of softens and steams them in light butter." (She is into healthy eating.)

Then she adds about eight cups of stock and allows all this to cook for a while. Next step: Starr takes another two cups of stock and briskly whisks a generous half cup of flour into it. This goes back into the simmering vegetable mixture along with whatever other ingredients she might prefer -- some canned pumpkin to make a Pumpkin Bisque, for instance. She heats it all through, stirring.

Finally, she adds some fat free half-and-half or skim milk for creaminess. The mixture is brought back to a boil and then quickly served.

Starr calls herself a foodie. She says her first thought when she wakes up in morning is what she is going to cook that day.

She has used her soup template for many creations, including her famous BLT soup, which has a couple of tomatoes added and plenty of romaine lettuce and a little crumbly bacon at the end.

When you make soup, you can omit or add ingredients as you wish, she says. "Soup is very forgiving," she says. "And it's a lot easier to make it this way than with a classic butter/flour roux."

Starr also likes to adapt restaurant recipes. So when she went to Danny's on Genesee Street, she was "intrigued" by the restaurant's Chicken Wing Soup.

"But it tasted very fattening," she said. So using the never-fail template she developed her own recipe for Chicken Wing Soup which, she says, is "relatively low in fat -- and absolutely delicious, very spicy and not for the faint of heart."

We give it to you below, along with a couple of other soups you might want to add to your holiday lineup.

Happy holidays -- now it will be easy to stay warm.

>Mary Anne Starr's Chicken Wing Soup

1 cup chopped celery
1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped carrots
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons light butter
Round half cup of flour
3/4 cup skim milk or fat free half-and-half
1 can (49-ounce) chicken broth
4 ounces light Velveeta, cubed
Cayenne pepper to taste
1/4 cup Frank's Hot Sauce
12 ounces raw boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into fine dice (about 3 medium breast halves)
Crumbled blue cheese for garnish

Saute the vegetables and garlic in light butter over medium low heat for about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with flour; cook a minute or two longer.

Add milk, broth, cayenne and hot sauce. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue to boil for a few minutes to allow flour to cook thoroughly.

Turn heat down and simmer, adding cubed Velveeta. Stir until cheese melts. Add chicken and simmer gently 10 to 15 minutes. Serve topped with crumbled blue cheese. Makes 8 servings.


>Roasted Vegetable Soup

1 medium russet potato, peeled and diced
4 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
4 medium shallots, quartered
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoons chopped rosemary
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
3 ribs celery, minced
4 cans (15 1/2 ounces each) vegetable broth
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil or a silicone liner. Place potato, carrots, parsnip, shallots, onion, garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper on the baking sheet and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of oil. Mix until vegetables are coated.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until potato is just barely tender. Remove from oven and set aside.

Saute the celery in the remaining oil in a large soup pot until it softens slightly; add the other roasted vegetables and the broth and bring to a boil. Simmer 10 minutes. Sprinkle with the parsley just before serving. Makes 8 servings.


>Crock-Pot Cheddar Beer Soup

1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup diced carrots
6 cups chicken broth
1/2 pound grated cheddar cheese
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1 can beer

Saute onion and celery in butter until soft; add carrots and cook until they are just starting to get tender. Pour the chicken broth and the beer into the Crock-Pot and slowly stir in the flour, dry mustard and Worcestershire so that the mixture does not get lumpy.

Add the sauteed vegetables. Add the cheese; cover and set the temperature to low. Cook for about an hour. Makes about 15 servings.


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