"The best-tasting soups of summer are the simplest to make," said chef Becca Berroteran, 28, to a group of moms at Mission Springs Conference Center in Scotts Valley, Calif.
"And each bowlful can look like a work of art," she added.
We watched attentively as the chef, in a nod to her Mexican heritage, ladled red pepper soup into one side of a soup bowl while at the same time ladling a fresh zucchini soup in the other.
"Busy families can make a two-toned garden soup in less than an hour on the stove or microwave," she said as she grabbed a squeeze bottle to demonstrate the garnish.
"Kids love to top the servings with cream sauce designs and swirls or let them simply add popcorn or crunched chips."
Here are the basic how-tos. Add your favorite fresh herbs and seasonings to make the soup your own and then have fun impressing your next dinner guests.
TWO-TONED GARDEN SOUP
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
3 medium zucchini, roughly chopped
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup chopped yellow onion
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh garlic
Salt and pepper
Roasted red-pepper soup:
2 jars (12 ounces each) fire-roasted red peppers, drained
2 cups beef broth
Hot-pepper sauce (optional)
Avocado cream sauce (see cook's note):
1/4 mashed ripe avocado
2 tablespoons sour cream
1/8 teaspoon cumin
To make red-pepper soup: In another pot, cook peppers and beef stock until heated through. Using immersion hand blender, blend until smooth. Add hot sauce to taste.
To make avocado cream sauce: Meanwhile, in small bowl, combine mashed avocado, sour cream and cumin. Add splash of milk to make mixture "squeezeable." Spoon mixture into squeeze bottle.
To serve: Ladle hot soups simultaneously into each half of soup bowl. Using avocado cream, "paint" designs on surface.
DESIGN TIPS USING AVOCADO CREAM SAUCE:
Hearts: Squeeze out several dime-size dots. Using chopstick or skewer, dip into middle of dot and drag down to form a heart. Repeat with all dots.
Starburst: Squeeze quarter-size dot in center of soup. Dip toothpick in center and lightly drag out to make line. Repeat in all directions.
ABC's: Squeeze shape of first letter of name of each guest on soup. When ready to eat, set bowls around table as edible place cards.
Cook's note: Prepared ranch dressing is quick substitute for the avocado cream sauce.
Donna Erickson is the executive producer and host of public television's award-winning family lifestyle series "Donna's Day." Her latest book is "Donna Erickson's Fabulous Funstuff for Families." For more ideas, visit MinnMoms.com/donna, sign up for Donna's e-newsletter at donnasday.com, like the Donna's Day Facebook page or follow Donna at twitter.com/Donna_Erickson.