Choose Your Own Souper Adventure!

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soupThe cooler temps were great for my soul, but they apparently stirred up something that has me singing baritone today. That means I’m going to need to whip up a batch of soup stat and today I wanted to share with you just how I do it because from now until May, I’ll be making a pot of soup, stew, chili or beans at least once a week.

I’ve been winging it on soup making for so long that it’s second nature to me and once you have the basics down, you’ll be creating your own combos in no time flat.

STEP ONE:  It’s all about that base. More often than not I start with chicken stock which I sometimes make in my pressure cooker and freeze. When I don’t have that, I choose either a boxed stock from the store or I use a soup base like this one mixed with water. In a pinch I’ll use bullion but it’s a last resort. Beef stock, leftover spaghetti sauce, V8, a combo of leftover gravy and tomato sauce (thinned with water so it’s not too thick), or a vegetable stock can be used as well. After I add all my other ingredients, I’ll top my soup pot off with water to reach the 6 quart mark.

STEP TWO: To meat or not to meat? More often than not, if I’m putting meat in my soup it was left over from earlier in the week. Leftover taco meat, a couple of chicken breasts, some roast beef, a pork chop or two, or some smoked sausage can be cubed and thrown in the pot. If you don’t have leftovers and want to add meat, cook it first so it won’t slow down your soup-making. (The exception is stew and I’ll share my favorite stew recipe with you a little later.)

STEP THREE:  Veggie time! Okay so now you just start throwing in veggies. My go to veggies are onion, celery, carrots, and a pepper of some kind. This will go in all of my soups and if I’m making a chicken noodle or chicken and rice, I’ll probably stop there. If I’m making a vegetable soup I’ll keep going. Think about what you’ve already got going and build on that. If I’m using leftover spaghetti sauce as my base I’m going to think about veggies that work with Italian: cannellini, Italian green beans, zucchini, and/or chopped spinach would work well. Taco meat works with black or pinto beans, corn, rotel tomatoes, chilies, Mexican or yellow squash, bell peppers, and/or jalapenos are all good choices. With pork I might add, chilis, sweet potatoes, lime, peppers, and hominy. For a regular vegetable soup, I’ll clean out the fridge with peppers, squash, corn, green beans, peas, beans, and cabbage. (I keep bags of mixed vegetables in the freezer and I’ll dump one of those in if I’m tired of chopping or don’t have quite enough produce to fill the pot.) I add at least 4 cups of veggies to my 6 quart pressure cooker, usually more.

STEP THREE POINT FIVE: Starches. If you want to add potatoes add that to the soup mix to cook with the other ingredients. For rice or noodles, I’d prep those separate from the soup so I can control the cooking. Just follow the instructions on the package. If you have leftovers, throw them in at the end of cooking time so they don’t over cook and fall apart.  (I rarely add starches to my soup because those are foods we eat in moderation. I add extra beans to add protein and fiber and honestly I rarely miss the noodles.)

STEP FOUR: Cook it up. If you’re cooking soup on the stove top, you can add your herbs and spices now, but I use an electric pressure cooker so I add a tablespoon of fresh minced garlic (which I buy in a jar because who has time to mince garlic?) during the cooking. I add my spices at the end of the cooking process because I’ve read that some herbs and spices lose their umph if cooked with the soup. This means that the soup may well taste better on day two than it did on day one since the flavors will meld overnight. In the pressure cooker, I cook 4 minutes on high pressure with a quick release. On the stove, just cook on med/high until veggies are soft.

STEP FIVE: Spice it up! I love the spice blends we get at Penzy and Mural of Flavor is my go-to. I add a tablespoon or more to pretty much everything. Big Daddy always always always adds extra salt and oregano.  Thyme and poultry seasoning are great in chicken soups. Taco seasoning and ranch dressing mix taste GREAT in a Mexican soup and I LOVE cumin but make sure to add and taste as that can get away from you if you’re not careful. Italian seasoning will make your Italian soup sing. For vegetable soup, you can add all kinds of herbs with great results. Basil, oregano, garlic chives, thyme and rosemary are some of our favorites. (If you feel like your soup is too thin and you’d like a thicker base, the easiest way to do that is to add a slurry. Mix 2 tablespoons of cornstarch in cold water and stir that into your soup. That should thicken it right up.)

STEP SIX: Add a garnish or a side. Soup goes great with breads, sandwiches or salads. You can add croutons, tortilla strips, crackers, sour cream, shredded cheese, parm, or pico de gallo.

STEP SEVEN: Enjoy! I’m betting if you’ll just jump in and try some homemade soup, you’ll kick the can for good.

Have a thoroughly tremendous Thursday, y’all!

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