Wednesday Is Soup Day at the Office

Mediterranean Fennel Soup
Mediterranean Fennel Soup

I’ve started a little experiment at work, now in its second week. We’ve got a little soup group or soup co-op (not quite sure what to call it) going.

It’s a try at a little more of an economical approach to lunch where we’re planning to share the cost of a meal. The idea is that I make the soup, others bring additions or pay in their portion of the ingredients for the soup. One person has suggested a kind of stone soup variation where everyone brings an ingredient the day before and we make something of it. Sounds like it’s worth a try, but I haven’t done it yet.

Here’s how it’s worked out so far:

I hunted down some crock pot soup recipes that can cook in roughly 4 hours or less and whose ingredients don’t present a barrier. I prepare the ingredients the night before and set the crock pot up in our break room. (Note: We can be a little informal and pretty friendly/family-like here, so setting up a crock pot in an office may not be for everybody.)

Our editor has brought in a loaf of fresh bread from Luigi’s Baking, which has been a great addition.

The result? Well, we plan to do it again next week, so it seems like it’s working. I like it more than anything because it offers an excuse to eat together without having to go out. Journalists’ schedules sometimes aren’t very regular things and folks sometimes get in the habit of eating lunch when they can or after finishing assignments, and the often eat alone, at their desks.

I think the smell during cooking drives some folks a little crazy, but no major complaints yet. Oh, and the first day, I left the crock pot on and burned the heck out of my remaining barley soup. I remembered to bring a container to refrigerate leftovers.

I’ve pasted below the recipes I’ve tried so far, and I’ll continue to post the lunch fare while we continue to do this.

Mediterranean Fennel Soup (from
(Cost for about 8 servings was about $24 (maybe cheaper if you make your own stock), or about $3 for a decent-sized serving. I varied the recipe very slightly, which is reflected below. It was OK, but could have used a little more depth.)

1 bulb fennel (about 1 to 1 1/4 pounds), trimmed, quartered and sliced); reserve some “fennel fronds” for garnish, if desired
1 sweet onion, chopped
3 carrots, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, divided
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, all visible fat removed (about 1 1/3 pounds)
Two cartons (32 oz. each) chicken broth
1 cup orzo
6 ounce bag of baby spinach
1/3 cup shredded Asiago cheese

Lightly spray a five-quart Crock-Pot slow cooker with cooking spray. Place fennel, onion, carrot and garlic in slow cooker; stir in about half of the salt and pepper; spread mixture evenly over bottom.

Cut each chicken thigh into 4 to 6 pieces. Season chicken chunks with remaining salt and pepper. Place chicken atop fennel/onion mixture. Pour chicken broth over. Cover.

Set slow cooker on high and cook for 1 hour; lower to low setting and continue to cook for 2 hours longer.

Stir in orzo; cover and cook on low for 1 1/2 hours longer. Check to see if orzo and chicken are tender; if necessary, cook about 30 minutes.

Place spinach atop chicken/orzo mixture; do not stir. Cover and continue to cook on low for 10 to 15 minutes.

Turn off heat. Stir spinach into chicken/orzo mixture. Taste; adjust seasoning if necessary.

If desired, garnish with some of the reserved feathery fennel fronds. Top each serving with some Asiago cheese.
Bean, Barley and Sausage Soup (also from
(I forgot to tally the costs, but it was pretty cheap)

1 pound kidney beans, dry
1 package turkey keilbasa, sliced
7 cups chicken stock
1 cup barley
2 cloves garlic, peeled
3 bay leaves

Put rinsed beans in large saucepan. Add water, cover and let stand overnight. Drain off water the next day.

Put beans, barley and remaining ingredients into crockpot. Stir.

Cover and cook on high for 4 hours. Remove bay leaves. Salt to taste when serving. Can cook the beans to fast-soak them.