Spouse vs Spouse: a soup showdown
January 17th, 2012
08:00 PM ET
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Welcome to round seven of Spouse vs. Spouse, a series in which a couple of married food freaks, CNN’s Brandon and Kristy Griggs, square off in their Atlanta kitchen for culinary bragging rights – and invite you to weigh in too.

In each installment, Kristy and Brandon each make a creative variation on the same ingredient or dish – everything from pasta to seafood to cocktails to desserts. We serve both versions anonymously to our friends, who then judge which one they like better and why. We walk you through our kitchen process, bring the husband-and-wife smack talk and, of course, keep score. We also share our recipes here so that you can try them for yourself.

Our theme: Soup

brandon griggsBrandon: So the holidays are over and we're facing those bleak, cold January days when summer feels like it's years away. Well, thank goodness for soup. Few things are more nourishing on a winter day than a steaming bowl of hot broth teeming with hearty stuff - dumplings, noodles, vegetables, whatever – that emerge with each spoonful as welcome little surprises. (God, I sound like someone's grandma. Let me reach over and pinch your cheeks while I'm at this.)

When Kristy and I settled on soup for this cook-off, one soup immediately came to mind: the traditional chicken coconut soup, usually called Tom Kha Gai, that's served in every Thai restaurant I've ever been to. I'd never dreamed of making it myself, because its intense, aromatic flavors seemed too exotic to pull off. Plus it's got some seriously hard-to-find ingredients. Galangal? Kaffir lime leaves? Sure, let me just trot down to my corner grocery store and pick those up.

But because my wife can make soups that go down like liquid crack, I knew I'd have to aim high to beat her. A pleasant chicken-noodle wasn't going to cut it. So I scanned a few Tom Kha Gai recipes, changed up some ingredients, and got to cookin'. Instead of galangal I used its cousin ginger, which may be less subtle but packs a flavor punch, and instead of kaffir lime leaves I squeezed fresh lime juice. For extra spice I added chopped jalapenos, fresh lemongrass and cilantro.

When it comes to stuff you can actually bite into, most of these Thai soups have chicken pieces, mushrooms and not much else. So to boost the heartiness factor I added shiitake mushrooms, carrots, corn, and diced water chestnuts. After one failed rehearsal - way too citrusy - it all came together on the second try. I'd made a respectable Thai soup!

My wife the Soup Queen, once so confident, was suddenly nervous. Hah! Maybe I could pull off the upset.

KristyKristy: One thing I should know by now: overconfidence in this competition gets me into trouble. It's true that I've been enjoying making soups from scratch for a couple of years. I love that with just a few basics (like chicken broth, veggies and spices) on hand you can come up with a great soup with a little creativity and effort.

So when we settled on soups for this cookoff, I went with one I'd been perfecting for over a year; a roasted-tomato and fennel soup with hominy. I top it off with a little goat cheese and fennel sprigs.

As usual, we both did a practice run the week of the competition. Brandon chose a soup that I knew had good potential, but his rehearsal was pretty much a disaster. Feeling bad for him, as I often do, I decided to give him some pointers, like I using fresh lemongrass instead of the stuff out of the tube. He had no chance of beating me, so what was the harm? I also gave him a few tips on seasoning, and advised him not to use too much fish sauce, all the while thinking I had a real winner on my hands.

But then trouble ensued on my second and final run. First I decided the fennel should be chopped more finely, which was a mistake. Then I roasted the tomatoes and the fennel too long. By the time I put them in the broth, I had a mushy mess on my hands. Add to that a mistake on the hominy (I had purchased a large Mexican-style can, not realizing they tasted a lot different, and not in a good way, from the regular hominy I'd been using). So the taste and consistency were off, big time.

Not wanting to give up, I pureed the solids, transferred the mixture back to the soup pan and added more broth until I had a nice, silky tomato soup. Feeling like I needed to up the ante, I also made marble-rye croutons, which turned out beautifully. Suddenly my kitchen nightmare wasn't looking so bad. It might even be good enough to beat my husband’s miraculously decent soup.

Judging: Our judges Carrie and Joe liked both entries, although they were hard to read at first. Carrie complimented the "unusual and interesting flavor" of Kristy's soup and thought "the croutons were a nice touch," although Joe would have preferred more goat cheese to "counteract the tartness of the tomato/fennel." Joe praised Brandon's soup for its "subtle flavors – lemon wasn't overpowering" - while Carrie called it "really delicious - and I order this soup a lot."

We couldn't help but notice that they both polished off Kristy's soup first, along with all the croutons. And sure enough, when it came time to score the soups, they had a decisive favorite. But it wasn't the one we expected.

Winner: Brandon's Thai chicken coconut soup with vegetables

Overall score to date: 3-3, with one tie

Parting thoughts:

KristyKristy: I don't know when I'm going to learn my lesson. No more tips for you.

brandon griggsBrandon: Tips!? I don't need no stinkin' tips! I got my own thing going. Besides, I can't believe you fell for my "Poor me, I'm so clueless in the kitchen" act again.

KristyKristy: You wouldn't have won without my help and you know it. You're on your own from now on.

brandon griggsBrandon: Don't flatter yourself. Tie game, baby! Or should that be ... Thai game?

On to the recipes!

thai chicken soup

Brandon’s Thai chicken-coconut soup with vegetables

32 ounces chicken broth
1 can coconut milk (13.5 ounces)
1 pound boneless chicken breast
1/3 cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
3 tablespoons Thai fish sauce
4 garlic cloves
3 jalapenos
6 stalks fresh peeled lemongrass
6 shiitake mushrooms, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
Dash red pepper flakes
6 ounces frozen corn
4 medium-size carrots, peeled and sliced thinly
6 ounces water chestnuts, diced or sliced thinly
1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Finely chop the garlic and two of the jalapenos; saute with oil on medium heat for a few minutes. Dice the chicken and sauté with dash of salt, pepper and red pepper flakes for a minute or two until the pieces are partially cooked through (don’t overcook; the chicken will cook further in the soup).

Add to pot with chicken broth, coconut milk, lime juice, fish sauce, lemongrass, soy sauce and ginger. Stir and bring to a gentle boil for 2-3 minutes, then reduce heat to simmer. Add carrots, corn and sliced water chestnuts. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Optional: Add more red pepper flakes, grated ginger or lime juice to taste; for a richer broth, add more coconut milk.

Slice remaining jalapeno thinly into little circles and add to soup. Simmer for 10 more minutes to tenderize jalapeno, then remove lemongrass stalks and ladle into bowls. Top with loosely chopped cilantro and a cilantro spring for garnish. Serves 4.

roasted tomato soup

Kristy’s roasted tomato and fennel soup

1 head fennel (thinly sliced, reserve sprigs)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound roma tomatoes (quartered)
4 garlic cloves (peeled and halved)
1 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 15.5-ounce can hominy
1 48-ounce chicken broth
1/2 15-ounce can of tomato sauce
Pinch of saffron
Juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup port
1 tablespoon sugar
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon truffle oil
1 small container goat cheese
Marble-rye bread

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Thinly slice fennel bulb and then cut lengthwise. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat, add fennel and pan-fry for 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, garlic, oregano, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes to pan, stir to combine and transfer to roasting pan.

Roast vegetable mixture in oven for 15 minutes (check to make sure the tomatoes are just browning, not mushy). While vegetables are roasting, heat chicken broth and tomato sauce over medium heat.

Add roasted vegetables and juices from roasting pan (scrape as much of the juices as possible for flavor). Add hominy beans, saffron, lemon juice, port, sugar, pinch of salt and pepper to taste, olive oil and truffle oil.

Cook over medium heat until flavors blend. Add more seasoning as needed.

(If you’re interested in pureeing the soup, cook exactly as above. Let the soup cool. Scoop out as many of the solids as possible and puree in Cuisinart. Add two cups of the soup’s broth and puree until the consistency is no longer chunky. Transfer to a soup pan, cook over medium heat, gradually adding two more cups of soup’s broth until silky.)

For the croutons:

3 pieces of marble-rye bread (cut into pieces)
1 tablespoon butter
Parchment paper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut bread into pieces. Add butter to a medium-sized frying pan and heat until butter is just bubbling. Add bread and cook 3-5 minutes on each side. Line backing pan with parchment paper. Transfer croutons onto baking pan and place in oven.

Cook until bread has a crunch (about 10 minutes).

Ladle soup into a bowl. Place a dollop of goat cheese in the soup, top with a touch of truffle oil and fennel sprigs. Serve croutons on the side. Serves 4.

Previously: Cold weather drinks

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Filed under: Challenges • Cooking • Dishes • Make • Soup • Spouse vs Spouse

soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Wiz

    The coconut chicken soup looks like something that would be great to stick in a crock pot all day!

    January 18, 2012 at 3:44 pm |
  2. Alex

    Its not that I dislike either entry (as both look delicious!), but I'm a little surprised no one went for butternut squash soup. It is generally very simple, and can be really delicious (and nutritious)!

    January 18, 2012 at 1:23 pm |
  3. Susan

    Can we get the nutritional info on these soups? Calories, etc.

    January 18, 2012 at 9:23 am |
    • SherwoodOR

      Yes, Susan, you very easily could. There are may websites where you can look up the nutritional data for each ingredient. Then, all you have to do is add them up.

      January 18, 2012 at 1:03 pm |
    • Walker

      Just look up Thom Kha Gai calories on Google, plenty of entries to give you an idea (375 calories, 20+ fat roughly). Or you can be a little b tch like Sherwood. Seriously uptight much?

      January 18, 2012 at 8:02 pm |
    • Livestrong

      Try http://www.livestrong.com if you make a profile (which is free) they have a great recipe builder. You can also find other people's recipes and edit them so they match your own.

      January 19, 2012 at 10:29 am |
  4. Dee

    The chicken soup looks unappealing to me, like it's swimming in fat. The tomato soup is far superior nutritionally.

    January 18, 2012 at 8:34 am |
    • Explored&Cultured

      Not nutritious? Because of olive oil? G-E-T- R-E-A-L. And maybe an expanded palate.

      January 18, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
      • Dee

        @Explored&Cultured (ironic name for you). Seriously?? Why don't you try being tolerant and respecting others' opinions. And who's talking about olive oil? I meant the high fat coconut milk, high sodium soy sauce and thai fish sauce. Plus most chicken broth is high in sodium also and usually made from factory-farmed chicken. The tomato soup is plant-based and far higher in nutritional value, but lower in sodium and fat. Go take a course in nutrition 101 – you clearly need to. Good luck with that – and with controlling your inappopriate rage on the internet.

        January 19, 2012 at 12:40 am |
      • Shawn l

        A tablespoon of soy sauce for that much soup isnt a lot of salt. You can make your own broth simply by boiling a chicken. Fat isnt bad, coconut milk has good fat. Funny how you dont point out that the other soup has truffle oil something made by PERFUMERS, and not containing actual food.

        Both soups look good. Both are pretty good for you as well.

        January 19, 2012 at 9:39 am |
  5. jude

    and the small coffee house owner has to pay the credit card merchant 26 cents for each swipe of the customer card for a $1.35 coffee. use cash when possible...help keep small business alive.

    January 18, 2012 at 1:03 am |
    • RJ

      Does that apply to debt card transactions as well?

      January 18, 2012 at 11:49 am |
  6. Mike

    Can you guys add the calories per serving? Both soups looked good for what I'm trying to do with my food intake – mainly reduce fat as much as possible and try to bump up the protein.

    Thanks for sharing – this is a fun series to watch.

    January 17, 2012 at 11:45 pm |
    • SherwoodOR

      Mike asks, "Can you guys add the calories per serving?"

      Why not do that yourself?

      January 18, 2012 at 1:05 pm |
      • Livestrong

        Ignore angry sherwood. See comment above about livestrong.com

        January 19, 2012 at 10:31 am |
  7. what?

    Winter soup smackdown? I stopped watching wrestling when I was 11 or 12.

    January 17, 2012 at 11:26 pm |
    • Blonde Bomber

      I Like Roller Derby!!

      January 19, 2012 at 8:54 am |
  8. chelle

    Ok, I'm in the middle of a snowstorm on Whidbey Island, looking for soup recipes. I'm pretty sure I can organize MOST of the ingredients for Brandon's soup, so he gets my vote!

    January 17, 2012 at 10:16 pm |
    • chelle

      Suggestion: Could we have an "emergency recipe" contest? This would be crisis food when all you have is a fridge full of the usual staples, a pantry full of the usual staples, and a freezer with a lot of chicken and/or salmon????

      January 17, 2012 at 10:21 pm |
      • Loopman

        chelle, Where's your creativity? With a pantry full of staples and said fish/meat, you should be able to whip up just about anything your heart desires. Let your imagination take you away. After all, what do you have to lose? Typically, if something tastes or smells good by itself then it just might taste a little better when you mix it with something else. That's the fun of cooking. You never know what might turn out to be a new family recipe!!!

        January 18, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
  9. Thor

    Neither... try cheese and beer soup with half-inch cubes of ham.

    January 17, 2012 at 10:02 pm |
    • Jerv

      Thor gets my vote!

      January 18, 2012 at 7:21 am |
  10. Mike MCC

    um, hominy beans??

    January 17, 2012 at 9:38 pm |
    • ncgirl

      Thank you! Wondered if anyone else noticed this. Hominy BEANS. *snort, snicker*

      January 18, 2012 at 1:49 pm |
  11. Dave

    There are a couple things you DON'T do. First of all, if you are making a very well known regional soup, don't shortcut on the ingredients. If you can't get kaffir leaves, make something else. Lime juice is no substitute. And jalapenos? That soup calls for thai chilis aka bird chilis, not jalapenos and pepper flakes. Canned corn? If you have already bastardized the damn classic soup, where on this planet do you live that doesn't have fresh corn available almost year round? Make something else already. The other thing you don't do unless you are purposely playing around with Asian fusion ideas is: Don't confuse cuisines. Thai flavors of lemongrass, galangal, kaffir and coconut are one thing, but to just assume water chestnuts and shiitakes are 'close enough' even though they are more associated with Chinese and Japanese cuisines, is an insulting western faux pas on a high level.Her soup sounded good but for the judge that said he wanted more goat cheese to cut the tartness of the tomatoes,....um....goat cheese is famous for its sourness....how exactly is that going to rescue the tartness of the tomatoes? You want something sweet to cut tartness, not more tartness. This is worse than a reality show.

    January 17, 2012 at 9:27 pm |
    • Carn E. Vore

      You seem pretty knowledgeable. What you recommend as the best way for someone to get a big stick out of their rectum?

      January 18, 2012 at 10:09 am |
    • Shawn l

      Oh be quiet. Some ingredients, especially asian ones are impossible to get, does that mean you shouldn't enjoy the cuisine? I can't buy fresh thai basil, so if I substitute flat leaf basil, does that mean its not thai food? No, it just means the flavor is off a fraction of an inch.

      Its a thai inspired soup, not a traditional thai soup.

      January 19, 2012 at 9:43 am |
  12. juno

    Brandon's sounds great, but what does he do with the mushrooms?

    January 17, 2012 at 9:15 pm |
    • Junebug

      Good question.

      January 19, 2012 at 8:50 am |
  13. moe smith

    the public voted and the true winner is as expected.

    January 17, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  14. wishing

    My wife and I love and make soup all the time, but especially Fall, Winter, chilly, rainy days. When it is soupy outside, make soup inside.

    January 17, 2012 at 9:07 pm |
  15. Fiona

    To my mind, nothing is more comforting on a cold day than a long- simmered minestrone. Marcella Hazan's standard recipe is killer (carrot, celery, onion tomato, zucchini, potato, green beans, white beans, shredded cabbage...simmered for three hours. What you need for comfort is depth of flavor, and a certain density of texture.

    January 17, 2012 at 8:55 pm |
  16. jason

    Asian Soups are always better and have that zing to spice up your life. White mens soup is bland and boring

    January 17, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
    • Good grief!!

      Asian soups? Well, if you don't mind eating over-spiced fish guts I guess they're OK... sort of.

      January 18, 2012 at 12:14 am |
  17. SherwoodOR

    Look who's using truffle oil this time.

    January 17, 2012 at 8:36 pm |
    • Shawn l

      No more truffle oil unless its made with real truffle!

      January 19, 2012 at 9:44 am |
  18. Clint

    I just voted the best i could,but they both looked good.

    January 17, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
    • Clint

      I guess i voted Brandon because it was simpler..

      January 17, 2012 at 8:35 pm |
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