South Side eateries vie for trophy in soup contest

| Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Christopher Cook, head chef at The Smiling Moose along East Carson Street, is looking for a second win in this year's 9th South Side Soup Contest.

His restaurant — one of Pittsburgh's hot spots for watching Pittsburgh Penguins hockey action on the big screen — won “Best Soup” bragging rights last year.

“I definitely don't want to give up the trophy. It looks nice here,” he says. “It's like the Stanley Cup. You only keep it for a year, and I'd like to hold on to it.”

Cook hopes the crowd goes wild for his Roasted Pepper and Leek Beer Cheese Soup as he faces chefs from 22 other neighborhood eating establishments who are vying for “Best Soup,” “Best Vegetarian” and “Most Unique” soup honors.

He'll be preparing 15 gallons to 18 gallons of his recipe made from homemade vegetable stock with sour cream, cheese and vegetables braised in beer for the competition on Saturday. He's using a craft beer made in Central Pennsylvania, a citrusy, spicy pale ale called Perpetual IPA from Troegs Brewery in Hershey.

Another chef who will be adding his culinary expertise to the soup contest is Brian Sink, of Over The Bar Bicycle Café. OTB was last year's “Best Vegetarian Soup” winner for the cafe's Blissful Bicyclists Bisque, a Roasted Poblano and Corn Bisque.

Sink says his entry this year, Sweet Potato and Caramelized Jalapeño Soup, also is in the “Vegetarian” category. It blends a mix of spices with sweet potatoes and peppers into a creamy, pureed, bisque-like consistency.

The South Side Soup Contest raises funds for the Brashear Association's Food Pantry, and participants are encouraged to bring nonperishable food items to help stock the food pantry.

Tickets typically sell out early, and this year is no exception. In fact, it took less than one hour when tickets went on sale Feb. 1 for all of the 1,100 available tickets to be scooped up by soup patrons, according to Casey Mahaven, spokeswoman.

Jennifer Jeffers, event chair and president of the board of directors of The Brashear Association, says this is the first year that the association and the local Chamber of Commerce will be working together on the Soup Contest event.

“This year, proceeds will also be going to support the South Side Chamber of Commerce,” Jeffers says. “We are very happy to be working with them, especially since an event like this is so beneficial to the local business community. When the contest began nine years ago, I think most of Pittsburgh was unaware that there was more to South Side than its night life. I truly believe that perspective has changed and for the better. The night life continues to be as popular as ever, but many people are realizing that the South Side is a great community to live and work.”

Blissful Bicyclists Bisque (Roasted Poblano and Corn Bisque)

This recipe from Over the Bar Bicycle Cafe won Best Vegetarian Soup last year.

1 / 4 cup butter

3 / 4 cup chopped onion

14 ounces chicken broth

3 medium-size cloves garlic

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

4 ears of corn kernels cut from cob

6 medium-size poblano peppers

12 cup cream

3 tablespoons flour

12 cup milk

2 bay leaves

Heat the butter in a large pot and stir in onion; cook until soft and translucent. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Stir in the garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the corn. Simmer for approximately 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to medium-low. Core the poblanos and roast them on the grill. Dice them when they are cool. Set aside 1 cup of soup to cool, then pour it into a food processor. Add the cream, basil leaves and peppers. Heat, remove the bay leaves and puree. In small bowl, stir together the flour and milk, then slowly stir it into the remaining simmering soup. Simmer for 2 minutes. Then add the puree. Cook on low for approximately 5 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.

Pineapple-Tomatillo-Habanero Soup

This soup from The Smiling Moose won Best Soup in the 2012 South Side Soup Contest.

2 medium-size red peppers

1 small white onion, diced

1 medium-size clove garlic

10-14 tomatillos

1 medium-size pineapple

8 fresh basil leaves

1 medium-size habanero pepper

3 cups pineapple juice

1 tablespoon honey

2 teaspoons Kosher salt

2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil for cooking

Roast the red peppers whole in the oven. Let cool. Remove the skin and seeds, and slice the peppers into strips.

In a large pot, sweat the diced onion and garlic.

Remove the husks and stems from the tomatillos. Clean them with warm water then, coarsely chop them. Remove the skin and core from the pineapple and coarsely chop it. Chop the basil leaves.

Wearing gloves, dice the habanero pepper. Save the seeds if you would like a spicier soup. Add the roasted red pepper, tomatillo, pineapple, basil and habanero to the pot with the onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper. Cook until soft.

Add the pineapple juice and honey to the pot. Let the contents simmer for about a half-hour. Season with salt and pepper. Puree and serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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