Cold weather makes me want to prepare a pot of delicious warm soup and with the cool temperatures we experienced last week, that was exactly what I cooked up. There is no better food to take the chill off a cold winter’s day than a warm, comforting bowl of soup.
The soup I made this past week cooked up very quickly and was what I call a “clean out the refrigerator/freezer soup.” It included the meat leftovers of previous dinners – the frozen bones and au jus from a prime rib roast and a chunk of frozen pot roast. The prime rib bones gave the broth a rich prime rib flavor, while the pot roast made up most of the meat in the soup. I added leftover baked potatoes and steamed zucchini and yellow squash from another night’s dinner as well as the ingredients of the veggie container that I keep in the freezer (I add leftover vegetables to it until it gets full, then I make soup). Fresh chopped celery, sweet onion, sliced carrots, packaged beef broth, water and a couple beef bouillon cubes made up the rest.
Sometimes, after the prime rib bones cooked in the broth for a short time, I remove them then slice them into individual ribs and serve them with barbecue sauce or a side of horseradish sauce. They are a delicious snack.
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The grocery shelves are full of convenient canned, cubed and powdered soup stock. These pre-packaged broths, which I use all the time, have made it quick and easy to whip up a big, flavorful pot of soup, rather than starting from scratch, which can sometimes turn into a lengthy affair. However, if time is not an issue, why not do it the old-fashioned way and make your own stock from scratch? The flavorful rewards are worth the extra effort. Only the contents of your vegetable crisper, your leftovers and your imagination limit your choices for flavor. Stock provides the background to a soup, so choose additional ingredients that are supportive and not overwhelming.
Perhaps the hardest part of making a meat stock is simply remembering to save the bones. The recipes themselves are simple; combine the bones, aromatic vegetables and herbs like parsley, bay leaves and thyme, along with broth, water or wine and simmer until flavorful.
Be careful adding certain vegetables to your soup stocks. The cabbage family (turnips, rutabagas, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, etc.) has a strong distinct flavor. The strong flavor and taste of these veggies can overwhelm a meat or vegetable soup. These vegetables should stand alone in cream of broccoli or cauliflower soups, which are delicious.
Here are a few tips:
- If your recipe calls for pre-cooked vegetables — such as onions, celery, or carrots, I use a very small quantity of oil or cooking spray. I also add a tablespoon or so of water, wine or broth if the vegetables start to stick to the pan; this keeps them from burning.
- Some recipes call for browning the meat. If so, discard the fat and pat the meat dry before adding it to your stock pot.
- As you begin your soup, add dried herbs to your soup pot right along with the other ingredients. Add fresh herbs to your soup right before serving.
- If your recipe calls for a heavy cream, use pureed cooked potatoes instead or you can remove about two cups of your cooked soup, place it in a blender and blend it until smooth. Use a stick hand blender for best results, or puree it one cup at a time in a blender. Hold the lid on tight with a kitchen towel to protect yourself from burns. Stir the puree back into the soup to thicken it. To add real cream flavor, stir in a few tablespoons of heavy cream — a little cream will go a long way.
- One of my favorite ways to thicken chowders and cheesy soups is to use instant potato flakes. No lumps, they dissolve instantly and are easy to control. Just sprinkle the potato flakes on top of the soup and stir them in, add more as needed. After you use this method a few times and depending on the desired thickness of your soup, you will figure out just how much to use.
Preparing a homemade soup does not have to be labor intensive. Warm up with the following soup recipes; they are easy, fast to prepare and satisfying.
HEARTY TORTELLINI SOUP
1 pound ground beef, browned
1 (14 ounce) can Campbell's French Onion soup
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can cut green beans, drained or 1 package frozen
1 package frozen sliced zucchini and yellow squash mix (see note)
3-1/2 cups water
1 package dried cheese tortellini
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
Salt and pepper to taste
Top each serving with Parmesan cheese
Brown the ground beef, drain then place it into a large soup pot. Add the remaining ingredients except for the tortellini. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to medium-low heat and simmer for about 20 minutes or until flavors blend. Up the head to medium-high, add the pasta. The soup is done when the tortellini float to the top. Serve topped with Parmesan cheese and a side of crusty bread.
To reheat leftovers, you may need to add more liquid as the pasta sucks up the broth.
Note: Substitute one sliced fresh zucchini and one yellow squash instead of frozen package.
SLOW COOK FRENCH ONION SOUP
5 small onions, thinly sliced
2 cans (14 ounces) low-sodium beef broth (I use Swanson's)
2 cans (10 ounces) beef consommé (I use Campbell's)
1 packet Lipton's onion soup mix
8 slices French bread, about 1-inch thick
1 cup (or more) shredded Gruyere or your favorite mild white cheese
Combine the onions, broth, consommé and soup mix in a slow cooker.
Cook on high setting for 4 hours, or low setting for 8 hours.
Ladle the soup into heat-proof serving bowls. Top with a slice of French bread.
Spring the shredded cheese over each bread slice.
Put the soup bowls under the broiler until the cheese is melted.
Alternate method, place the bread on a baking sheet and top with cheese; broil until the cheese has melted, about 30 to 40 seconds, then just before serving, set each bread slice on top of each bowl of soup.
SAUSAGE, SPINACH AND POTATO SOUP
1 pound bulk mild or spicy Italian sausage, crumbled (I use mild)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
4 slices of bacon cut into half-inch pieces
4 (14 ounce) cans chicken broth (I use Swanson or College Inn)
2 large russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 large garlic cloves, crushed
1 medium onion, chopped
1/2 bag fresh baby spinach, or more to taste
1 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Cook the sausage and red pepper flakes together in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat until crumbly and browned. Drain and set aside. In the same Dutch over over medium heat, brown the bacon until crisp. Drain and set aside with the sausage. Leave a few tablespoons of drippings in the bottom of the pan and stir in the chopped onions; cook until they are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Place the broth, potatoes and garlic into the pot with the onions. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15-20 minutes. Add the sausage, bacon, spinach and cream to the pot. Season and heat through.