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Canned cream of mushroom soup is quite inexpensive, but the quality of the soup is lacking when compared to homemade cream of mushroom soup. The soup uses many basic ingredients you likely already have on hand in your pantry, with mushrooms often the only ingredient you have to buy. When you break down the cost of each ingredient, you can make a much tastier homemade version more cheaply than you pay for lesser-quality canned soup.
Melt butter in a saute pan, using at least 2 tablespoons for every 8 cups of soup you wish to make. You can use more butter to increase the richness of the soup, if desired.
Cut the mushrooms to the desired size, whether you prefer mushroom slices, chopped bits or halved mushrooms. White, cremini and portobella mushrooms all have a similar flavor and are actually the same mushroom variety, Agaricus bisporus, just at different stages of maturity. White button mushrooms are the least expensive, cremini mushrooms are a bit more expensive and fully mature portobellas are the most expensive of the three. Morels also make a tasty soup if you're lucky enough to find some in the short spring season. If you prefer a bolder mushroom flavor, try chanterelle, oyster or shitake mushrooms, which are a bit harder to find and more expensive than the portobella varieties.
Saute the mushrooms in the melted butter until soft and the mushrooms have released all liquid, usually about 10 minutes. Cook optional ingredients such as garlic and shallots with the mushrooms until translucent. Add your choice of spices, such as basic salt and pepper, or kick it up with some cayenne pepper to give the soup some heat.
Transfer the sauteed ingredients to a stock pot or saucepan to finish the soup.
Stir flour into the butter and vegetable mixture and cook for 1 or 2 minutes to remove the raw flour taste. This is a basic roux mixture that requires equal parts flour to butter, but do not increase the amount of flour if you add more butter for flavor. Mushroom soup doesn't require a roux, but flour is often used to help thicken the soup. Skip this step, if desired.
Stir in chicken, beef or vegetable stock a little at a time to break up the roux mixture. Use about 4 cups of stock to yield a 5- to 6-cup soup. You can use canned stock, but homemade has a better flavor and further increases the savings by using ingredients you already have on hand. The bones from last night's roasted chicken dinner boiled along with vegetable scraps create a delicious, completely free chicken stock.
Simmer the soup for about 20 minutes to heat the broth and infuse it with the other ingredients in the soup. Stir in heavy cream and simmer for another 10 minutes or until hot. The amount of cream depends on the creaminess you prefer in your soup; more cream increases the price of the batch of soup, but it also boosts the flavor to make it more valuable than the canned variety. For a small batch of soup that yields 5 or 6 cups, you need only about 1 cup of cream.
- If you prefer a smooth-textured soup, puree the sauteed vegetables in a blender before adding the stock and cream. The canned variety you find in the store usually has mushroom pieces suspended in the creamy broth.
- Milk can be substituted for the heavy cream, but it doesn't provide the same richness as heavy cream.
- You can do a cost breakdown of the ingredients in your soup to determine the actual cost, a cost that varies depending on the amount and quality of the ingredients you use. You can use cheap canned mushrooms, or splurge for gourmet, organic mushrooms that greatly increase the cost. When it comes down to it, it really depends on if the taste of homemade soup is worth it to you. You might decide that it's priceless for your family because the difference in quality is incomparable. On the other hand, you might consider your time too valuable to make the price and flavor difference worth the time it takes to make homemade cream of mushroom soup.
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