By Zirconia Alleyne
Soup. It’s soothes the soul, warms the heart, fills the belly and a lot of other warm fuzzy things, but most people tend to think of soup only when it’s cold outside. Connie Tawoda, a lifelong Hopkinsvillian, has changed that. She serves her soups year-round, and the bowls always come back empty.
Her love of cooking started when she found a recipe cardholder at a yard sale. Connie, a pre-teen at the time, flipped through the recipe cards and knew she wanted to whip up every last one of them in her kitchen.
Her mother, who cooked but didn’t really like to, was eager to buy the collection for her epicurious daughter; perhaps it would get her out of fixing dinner for a few days.
“She didn’t like to cook so she was more than happy to buy it,” Connie said. “I would give her my list of what I needed, she’d go buy it, and I’d go cook it.”
Connie said her dad always knew when she was cooking because it was always something different — unlike her mother, a school food service employee, who stuck to the basics: hot dogs, spaghetti, meatloaf, “things that were easy for her.”
“She was a great cook, but I wanted to know what Mexican food tasted like,” Connie said. “I wanted to try different things.”
And her parents gladly let her explore.
Since then, Connie has tested a ton of recipes and made them her own. She makes a mean strawberry cheesecake, which is packed with three pounds of cream cheese, homemade strawberry jam and a velvety smooth top layer that covers any cracks if any should happen.
She’s cooked in kitchens from Fort Campbell to Heidelberg, Germany, where she traveled with her husband in the military.
Ironically, Connie worked in a school cafeteria, just like her mother. During her first summer overseas, she worked at a hot dog and chili stand. The next summer she worked in the military airport inside a one-man grill stand.
“You cooked everything to order and it was the only place the guys had to eat,” she recalled. “We did breakfast and lunch, and I could roll out some omelets and eggs any way you wanted.”
When the couple returned to the states, Connie worked in the mess halls at Fort Campbell during Operation Desert Shield.
Cooking for mainly soldiers, one would wonder how she developed an affinity for soup.
“I’ve always liked soup,” she said. “I’ve always been experimental, and soups, to me, were always easy, especially in the wintertime.”
Over the past year, Connie has become “the soup master” among a tight-knit group of women.
Every Wednesday, the group gathers at Challenge House 1 for Bible study and to enjoy whatever soup Connie decides to brew from her personal repertoire.
Sometimes it’s beef stew, chicken noodle, potato leek, butternut squash, carrot, pumpkin, sweet potato or chili; for Connie, soup is simple yet the possibilities are endless.
“I had always cooked a lot of soups, but this year I learned to cook a lot more,” she laughed. “I have reached out and done soups I’ve never done before.”
She recently tried a Congee soup that she saw on a cooking show. She searched the web and found out how to make it. She even made crispy shallots to garnish the top.
Even with all the soups she’s discovered, mastered and made her own, her favorite is Chicken Tortellini soup. She found it in a big, international cookbook she bought while stationed in Germany.
“Under Italian it had this recipe for Chicken Hat soup and it was totally from scratch — you even made your own tortellini, which I did once,” she said laughing. “I never did that again.
“I hand-rolled the pasta, I didn’t have a pasta machine or anything,” she said. “My tortellini was humungous, but, boy, was it good.”
Luckily, she discovered frozen tortellini when she returned to the states, all thanks to her mother-in-law who was Italian. Since then, Connie said the recipe has evolved from the original. She prides herself for making the soup for 25 years before it started showing up in cans at grocery stores.
“It was my signature soup,” she said. “It was one that nobody had ever had or made around here.”
As the holidays approach, soup is a great way to feed a lot of family and friends without having a lot to clean up or pack to gatherings.
“A soup is one meal in one pot. It’s easy to eat, it’s complete,” she said. “Whether they know it or not, everybody likes soup when they get a good one.”
Connie shared her Chicken Tortellini soup recipe below for anyone who may have a lot of mouths to feed this holiday season.
Connie’s Chicken Tortellini Soup
1 medium chicken
1 medium onion – chopped
3 stalks celery – chopped
1 medium bell pepper – chopped
2 large cloves of garlic – minced
2 Tsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. black pepper
2 Tsp. Chicken stock powder
12 oz. frozen mixed vegetables
19 oz. package frozen tortellini
Place chicken in large pot and cover with water. Bring chicken to a good boil and turn down to simmer.
Add chopped onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic. Simmer until chicken is done. Remove chicken to cool and debone.
Add vegetables, chicken stock powder, pepper and Italian seasoning to broth and bring to a boil. Turn down to simmer and cook until vegetables are almost done.
Add chicken back to broth and bring to a boil. Add tortellini, stir and boil for 10 minutes.
Serve with bread.