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  • Try these cool eats for those hot days

  • While poking around New York City's Museum of Natural History one summer, my husband and I realized lunchtime was upon us and we were mighty hungry. From our third-floor location, we were directed one floor up to the cafe on four. Any sort of nibble would have hit the spot, but no compromises needed to be considered because t...
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  • While poking around New York City's Museum of Natural History one summer, my husband and I realized lunchtime was upon us and we were mighty hungry. From our third-floor location, we were directed one floor up to the cafe on four. Any sort of nibble would have hit the spot, but no compromises needed to be considered because the menu — like so many other Manhattan offerings — was unique and above average. Even the soup of the day seemed promising: gazpacho. Gazpacho!
    Confident of her fare, the little eatery's sole waitress offered a taste of the soup before we committed. It was wonderful, so two grown-up servings followed.
    From the zesty melange of summer tomatoes, peppers, onions, cucumbers and celery to the creamy dollop of creme fraiche on top and hand-fried tortilla chips on the side, our quick little touchdown in an out-of-the-way corner of this mighty museum proved to be a memorable experience.
    My own version of this hot-weather soup is similar. It's zesty, loaded with fresh and flavorful summer produce, and best of all it can be made up to 24 hours ahead. Because it's chilled, and because it's so user-friendly in terms of calories, it has remained my tried-and-true supper opener throughout the summer.
    I've also made it at other times of the year, but the flavor can't compare to those batches made from tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers that have journeyed no farther than the distance between my garden (or farmers' market) and kitchen.
    Of course, the whole concept of chilled soups has been around a long time, and by now you've probably got a few favorites that you trot out this time of year. Most of the good ones rely on local vegetables and fruits. They can be smooth and creamy, or thick and robust. And, like the ones I'm sharing below, they all come with the unspoken encouragement of free-wheeling, as based on your own inclinations.
    Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a cookbook author and columnist in Corvallis. Reach her at janrd@proaxis.com.
    Jan's Roasted Vegetable Bisque
    This is one of my favorite "company soups." So rich in flavor for very little effort.
    Makes about 8 cups.
    Ingredients:
    10 to 15 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled
    2 yellow onions, peeled, root ends cut off, chopped into eighths
    1 to 2 leek bulbs; root end cut off, halved lengthwise, then cut into 1-inch chunks to measure 2 cups
    2 shallots, peeled, root ends cut off, quartered
    1 medium-sized carrot sliced lengthwise and cut into 1-inch chunks
    1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and quartered
    1/2 medium-sized sweet red pepper, stem, seeds and veins removed
    1/4 cup coarsely chopped basil leaves
    11/2 tablespoons olive oil
    11/2 tablespoons melted butter
    4 cups chicken broth
    1 cup half-and-half
    Additional half-and-half and (perhaps) sour cream (see note)
    Salt and ground white pepper to taste
    Garnish: Sour cream, chopped fresh basil, roasted cherry tomatoes (optional, see note below)
    Directions:
    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
    Prepare all of the vegetables for roasting. You will have about 1 heaping quart of prepared vegetables.
    In a roasting pan, combine the garlic, yellow onions, leeks, shallots, carrot, potatoes, red pepper and basil. Drizzle with the olive oil and melted butter, and toss to coat the vegetables, then sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper and toss again. Roast until the garlic cloves are very tender and the other vegetables are tender and beginning to brown, about 1 to 11/2 hours.
    Vegetables may be prepared up to 48 hours ahead and refrigerated.
    In a large pot, combine the roasted vegetables with the chicken stock (be sure to deglaze the roasting pan with some of the stock to get all the cooked-on bits of vegetable into the soup). Simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until all of the vegetables are very tender.
    Remove from heat and let the soup cool slightly. Either puree in batches in a blender or food processor, or process with a hand-held mixer. Add the half-and-half, salt and white pepper to taste.
    Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve cold or gently reheat.
    To garnish each serving, squeeze an artistic drizzling of sour cream on each serving and a sprinkling of chopped chives (or other herb that might look beautiful and not be too pungent).
    NOTE: After adding the half-and-half to the soup, determine if it needs more half-and-half to thin, or maybe sour cream (if the flavor from the onions and carrots has made the soup too sweet).
    Summer Gazpacho
    This amazing hot-weather soup is the perfect offering for your next day hike, as long as you don't mind carrying a thermos. It packs a lot of flavor and texture, so is particularly satisfying on the trail. Accompaniments — either a handful of good quality tortilla chips, fresh baguette or your favorite crackers — are blessedly light.
    Ingredients:
    4 large tomatoes, chopped
    1 cucumber, peeled and chopped
    1 green sweet bell pepper, seeded and chopped
    1 bunch green onions, chopped
    3 cups vegetable cocktail juice (such as V-8)
    1 (101/2 ounce) can double-strength beef broth, undiluted (or vegetable broth)
    5 tablespoons wine vinegar
    2 tablespoons olive oil
    1 cup mild salsa or picante sauce
    2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
    1 tablespoon each: minced fresh basil and dill (or 1 teaspoon dried)
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
    1 or 2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
    Garnishes (any, or all): sour cream, fresh croutons, avocado chunks, pickled jalapeno slices, fresh-cooked corn kernels, tortilla chips, shredded cheese.
    Directions:
    Combine all of the ingredients except garnishes, in a large pot. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours.
    Serve very cold, with the garnishes alongside for diners to add at will. Yields about 21/2 quarts, enough for 8 to 10 servings.
    1-minute Gazpacho
    Ingredients:
    2 (14 ounce) containers of homemade or commercially prepared fresh salsa
    1 cup of chicken broth or V-8 juice (if you're wanting to produce a vegetarian soup, then stick with the V-8 juice, otherwise, the chicken broth adds a little more depth in flavor)
    3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    Garnishes: sour cream, chunks of avocado, and fresh-cooked corn kernals
    Directions:
    Add 1 container of salsa to your blender jar and pulse a few times to mince the vegetables into smaller chunks. Pour into a bowl. Add the other container to the blender and repeat the mincing. Pour into the bowl and stir in the broth or V-8 juice and the olive oil. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour so the flavor can develop.
    To serve, ladle soup into bowls, then garnish each bowl with sour cream, avocado and corn. Makes about 41/2 cups of soup.
    Makes about 4 cups.
    This is a refreshing soup with a rich tomato flavor. For a bit of smokiness, add about 1/2 teaspoon of smoked paprika during the cooking process.
    Ingredients:
    1 yellow onion, chopped
    1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
    1 tablespoon butter
    1 tablespoon olive oil
    2 pounds tomatoes, peeled, cored and chopped (see note)
    2 tablespoons tomato puree
    1 teaspoon sugar
    2 cups chicken or vegetable stock (canned is OK)
    2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
    8 drops hot pepper sauce
    Salt to taste
    2 tablespoons cream or sour cream (optional)
    81/4-inch-thick baguette slices, cut on the bias
    1 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
    Additional garnish: sprig of fresh basil and cherry tomatoes
    Directions:
    Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot. Saute the onion and basil in the butter and olive oil until the onion is softened and translucent. Add the tomatoes, tomato puree, sugar, chicken.
    Cook tomato, onions, tomato puree and sugar with the chicken or vegetable stock over medium heat for approximately 20 minutes, or until very soft.
    Puree the mixture in food processor (alternatively, if you want to remove the seeds, push the tomato mixture through a strainer). Add the vinegar, hot pepper sauce and salt to taste. For a slightly creamier version, whisk in the cream or sour cream. Chill until ready to serve.
    Meanwhile, place the baguette slices on a baking sheet. Broil 6 inches from the heat until lightly toasted on both sides, about 2 minutes total. Top the toasts with the Gruyere and broil for about 30 seconds, until the cheese is melted and bubbly.
    To serve, ladle a portion of the soup into each bowl. Place a Gruyere toast on top, and add a sprig of fresh basil and a few cherry tomato halves on top. Pass the additional toasts at the table.
    Vichyssoise
    Makes about 8 cups of soup.
    Ingredients:
    2 tablespoons butter
    6 small, young leeks, chopped (white and pale green portions only)
    1 medium yellow onion, chopped
    4 medium russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
    4 cups chicken broth
    11/2 cups heavy cream or half-and-half
    Salt and white pepper to taste
    Directions:
    In a heavy-bottomed pot, melt the butter and saute the leeks and onion for about 3 minutes. Add the potatoes and broth and cover, simmering for 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender. Place small batches of the mixture in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture back into the pot or another container, stir in the cream or half-and-half, and adjust seasonings, adding salt and pepper to taste. Chill well before serving.
    Cream of Avocado Soup
    Makes about 41/2 cups.
    Ingredients:
    2 large, ripe Haas avocados, halved, pitted, peeled and cut into chunks
    21/2 cups good quality chicken broth
    1 tablespoon chopped green onion (white portion)
    1 cup half-and-half
    1 tablespoon lemon juice
    Salt to taste
    Garnish: salsa, sour cream, chopped green onion
    Directions:
    In blender or food processor, combine the avocado, chicken broth, and 1 tablespoon of green onion. Blend until smooth. Add the cream and lemon juice, and continue to blend. Add more cream if necessary to reach the desired consistency. Salt to taste and chill for 1 to 2 hours.
    When ready to serve, ladle a portion of the soup into each soup bowl. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the salsa onto the center of each serving, then top each with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of the chopped green onion. Alternately, you could squeeze the sour cream through a nozzle in a random pattern over the surface of the soup.
    Summertime Corn Chowder
    Makes about 8 cups of soup.
    Ingredients:
    3 large onions, diced
    1/4 cup finely minced yellow sweet bell pepper
    2 tablespoons salad oil
    6 large ears corn, husked
    1/2 pound new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch dice
    1/4 pound cooked ham, cut into 1/4-inch dice
    21/2 cups regular-strength chicken broth
    21/2 cups milk
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    1/4 teaspoon white pepper
    Directions:
    In large soup pot, saute onions and yellow pepper in salad oil over medium-high heat until softened and lightly golden, about 15 minutes.
    Meanwhile, cut corn kernels from the cobs. Place the kernels in a food processor or blender and coarsely chop. Add the corn, potatoes, ham and chicken broth to pot with onions. Cover, bring the mixture to a boil and simmer just until the potato cubes are tender when pierced, about 15 or 20 minutes; cool. Stir in milk, salt and white pepper and chill for at least 4 hours or up to 24 hours.
    Garnish each serving with thinly sliced green onions.
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