Thursday, November 20, 2014

Leftover Soup

When the first chill in the air hits, I bust out the kettle. One of my favorite ways to warm up is with soup. I grew up with Campbell’s soup, and favored chicken and rice and chicken and stars. As a teen, I discovered the cream of mushroom (with elbow macaroni!).

Nowadays, I have two favorite soups. One is creamy chicken ramen, prepared with milk and often embellished with frozen vegetables, a large dollop of Cheez Whiz and smaller dollop of Korean hot pepper paste. The other is homemade soup. If pressed for a name of  homemade soup, I would have to say “Leftover Soup” because that’s mostly what I use, so it’s never the same soup twice.

Once I unraveled the “mystery” of homemade soup, and learned how easy it is to make, I swore off the canned stuff. I’d provide a recipe, but it would be nearly impossible -- like I said, I usually use leftovers, and there is no way to know what those are going to be.

The general formula, however, would involve four major food categories:
protein -- a variety of beans and/or one or more meats (diced)
vegetables -- (the more the merrier)
liquid -- (broth, water, vegetable juice, milk, or all four, maybe a splash of wine, because)
starch -- (rice, barley, pasta)

It helps for soup (or nearly any meal) to have a few pantry basics on hand. One of my favorites is frozen mixed vegetables -- the corn, carrots, peas, green beans blend is pretty handy. I don’t think I have ever eaten them just as a vegetable side dish, but I use them all the time in casseroles, ramen, and homemade soups. Another basic I find useful is boxed or canned soup broth, which I’ve also used instead of water for instant stuffing mix and rice. Jarred spaghetti sauce and canned, diced tomatoes are also helpful.

Soup making is so easy, I made some the other night after dinner, using the leftover bits from dinner and odds and ends from the refrigerator and freezer. The inspiration for this batch of soup was some leftover juice from a chuck roast my mother made in the oven earlier in the week. Instead of pouring the juice down the drain (Mom’s instinct) or adding it to the dog’s food (another possibility), I suggested we save it for soup. I got Mom hooked on soup last winter, so now she finds it less odd when I yell “Keep that tiny not-even-a-serving of ______! It can go into a soup!”

First, I diced and sauteed half an onion in olive oil. I sprinkled in some garlic powder. Then I tossed in the remaining dozen mini carrots lounging in the vegetable bin, cut into thirds and fourths to create even more bite sized carrots. The leftover beef juice came next, followed by the last of the meat and bean chili and rice we’d not finished from supper. There was a small piece of baked chicken and a small piece of cooked pork in the freezer, neither large enough for much of anything, but perfect to dice and chuck into the soup. In they went.

It didn’t look like enough liquid, so I added a box of vegetable broth. It sat on low heat until it simmered, then it was turned off. And it was done. After cooling, it was stored in a lidded container and refrigerated until someone felt like having soup, which turned out to be me, for lunch, the next day.

The beauty of soup is, you can keep adding to it. If we have some form of meat, potato of vegetable for supper tonight, any leftovers will be cut up and go into the soup.

The only thing I did after heating the soup for lunch was add some milk. It’s about the only milk I have, besides what I put into my coffee, and I like the look of the soup broth with milk in it.

My basic soup philosophy is “almost anything goes.” I’ve boosted the flavor with a packet of dry soup mix, thickened it with leftover gravy or spaghetti sauce, stretched it with rice or pasta or diced leftover scalloped potatoes and varying combinations of tomato sauce, V-8 and/or broth.

In all my soup experiments, I’ve made only one or two I didn’t love.  Luckily, my dogs were not so particular.

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