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Monday, September 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 68.0° F  A Few Clouds
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Inspiration from indoors
Thanks to the farmers' market, you can simmer a local soup, even in the dead of winter

I can't stop making soup. Ever since the gods dumped 14 inches on us in early December, I've been averaging two or three pots a week. The routine starts on Saturdays at the Winter Farmers' Market downtown, where in quick order two canvas bags fill up with locally grown soup fixings. At home there are numerous half-hour occasions to chop-and-let-simmer: after the Sunday crossword puzzle; whenever I'm avoiding work; when the first plane flying overhead jolts me awake at 5:45 a.m.; anytime instead of Facebook.

The great thing about these timeslots is that once the potage is done, it gets to sit for several hours and improve in flavor. Also, at dinnertime, with the main course already done, the side dish gets equal-opportunity attention.

So, with inspirations from the indoor market and easy meals like the following, there's no stopping now.

Green Bay-Style Chili: Start by browning Marr's ground grass-fed beef with Driftless Organic onions, Brantmeier garlic and chopped chilies. Add Tomato Mountain bloody Mary mix and salsa, drained chili-hot beans and a knob of butter. Season with good chili powder, cumin and a small hit of cinnamon. Add beer and simmer, stirring often, 1-2 hours. Let soup stand off the heat several hours or chill overnight. Reheat, adjust seasoning and serve with cooked spaghetti, diced onions and oyster crackers. Serve with Driftless Organic carrot sticks and guacamole.

Potato Cheddar Soup with Spinach and Chives: Sauté Black Earth Valley shallots in butter; add flour to make a light roux and cook several minutes. Whisk in hot milk and/or stock and leftover mashed Butter Mountain potatoes. Simmer awhile, then remove from heat and stir in handfuls of grated Hook's white cheddar. Add chives and seasonings. A few minutes before serving, stir in thin strips of Snug Haven spinach. Garnish bowlfuls with more chives or spinach. Make coleslaw as a go-with.

Spicy Squash, Sweet Potato or Carrot Soup: Sauté market onions and garlic in Cherokee Bison Farms' sunflower oil. Add a heap of peeled, cubed market squash, sweet potato or carrots, plus grated gingerroot, hot pepper flakes, soy sauce and vegetable stock or water to fully cover the veggies. Simmer until tender. Puree until smooth. Add milk or cream if you want. Season. Swirl each bowl with Renaissance Farms cilantro pesto. Pass around cut-up Ela Orchard apples, Future Fruit pears or Green's applesauce, and Farmer John's cheese curds.

French Onion Soup: Melt a stick of butter in an extra-large skillet. Add 4-5 large, thin-sliced onions and cook slowly over medium heat, stirring and scraping the pan occasionally, until onions go limp and turn deep golden brown - figure 45 minutes for this part. Add a little chicken stock (homemade or canned) and scrape up brown bits from the bottom. Transfer to a soup pot, add lots more stock and a glug of brandy. Cover and slow-simmer 45 minutes. Season. Make garlic croutons with day-old bread (Cabbibo's, Cress Springs, Silly Yak): Swipe thick slices with olive oil and cut garlic, then bake until toasty. Fill ovenproof bowls with hot soup; top with 2-3 croutons and a mass of grated Forgotten Valley Gruyere. Bake at 450 until cheese is bubbly and brown-tipped. Serve with Don's Produce spicy greens tossed with Renaissance Farms' bottled dressing.

Mushroom Barley Soup: Sauté market onions, carrots and garlic. Add sliced Blue Valley Gardens oyster mushrooms, soy sauce, barley and water. Simmer until barley is tender. Add chopped fresh dill or parsley, salt and pepper. Add leftover cooked meat (Fountain Prairie pork, McCluskey beef, Capri chicken, Valley View emu, DeVal bison, Sylvan Meadows lamb, Jordandal ham, Pecatonica bologna, etc.). Or don't add meat. Heat through. Make a side dish of thin-sliced celeriac with mustard and unsweetened, partially whipped cream.

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