You never know about the weather here in south Texas. I can remember wearing short sleeves during some Christmas and New Year celebrations. And I remember the year it was 5 degrees. But living here my entire life I go with the flow.

With this year turning out to be a nice cool winter, I have been picking warm, hearty soups to make. Nothing tastes better than a bowl of warm soup after playing outside with the kids.

Here are three of my favorites.

Crockpot Potato Soup

8 cups coarsely chopped peeled potatoes
1 small onion, chopped (1/3 cup)
1/2 pound bacon, crisped, drained, and crumbled
1 8-oz pkg. cream cheese, softened
3 14.5 oz cans reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 10.75 oz can condensed cream of chicken soup
1/4 tsp. pepper

In a 4-qt. crock, stir together the potatoes and onion. Stir in the bacon.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, chicken broth, cream of chicken soup, and the pepper. Add the mixture to the crock.

Cover and cook the soup on low heat for 8-10 hours or on high heat for 4-5 hours. If you like, mash the potatoes slightly for a thicker consistency before serving.
Makes 8 servings.

Shrimp and Crab Gumbo

1 pound medium shrimp, shelled, reserving shells
1 bay leaf
8 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped celery
1 pound frozen Alaska king crab legs, rinsed
1/2 cup long-grain white rice
1/2 cup drained canned whole tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallion greens
Cayenne to taste

In a 4-quart saucepan simmer reserved shrimp shells, bay leaf, and water, partially covered, 15 minutes and strain through a sieve into a bowl. Return shrimp stock to pan and keep warm.

In a heavy skillet (preferably cast-iron) cook oil and flour over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a flat-edged metal or wood spatula, until roux is a couple of shades darker than peanut butter, about 30 minutes.

Stir in onion, bell pepper, and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened.

Stir roux into stock and bring to a boil, stirring. Add crab legs and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes. Stir in rice and tomatoes and simmer, stirring occasionally, 12 minutes.

Transfer crab legs to a work surface. Cut shells open with kitchen shears and remove crab meat, discarding shells and cartilage. Tear crab meat into bite-size pieces and stir into gumbo. Add shrimp and simmer until just cooked through, about 3 minutes. Stir in scallion greens, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste. Gumbo may be made 1 day ahead, cooled, uncovered, and chilled, covered.
Makes about 8 cups, serving 4

Superior French Onion Soup

3 tablespoons butter
2 large sweet onions, thinly sliced
8 cups water
2 1/2 tablespoons beef base
2 teaspoons chicken base
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 celery stalk, halved
2 bay leaves
4 sourdough bread slices, toasted
1 cup grated Swiss cheese

Melt butter in large, heavy cooking pot. Add the onions and slowly cook, stirring occasionally, over low heat until onions have turned deep golden in color. This will take 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Do not rush this process, cooking the onions faster may cause them to have a bitter flavor, rather than the yummy caramelized flavor only obtained through patience. Trust me.

Once the onions have reached the "perfect" color, add the water, beef and chicken bases, white wine, Worcestershire sauce, celery and bay leaves. Bring to a boil; cover and reduce heat. Simmer for 45 minutes. Remove the celery and bay leaves.

Preheat oven broiler.
To serve soup. Ladle soup into oven-proof bowls. Top each bowl with a slice of toast and grated cheese. Broil until cheese melts and bubbles. Serve immediately.

Serves 4