A good pot of soup…

Here in the midwest you never know what kind of weather you’re gonna wake up to.  Fourteen years ago, just before I permanently moved here, I remember waking up to snow covering everything when the week before it had been 85 degrees out.  St. Louis weather is never a disappointment when it comes to variety.  Today we’re looking at a typical winter day.  When I woke up this morning it was 9 degrees – a perfect day for a big pot of soup. 

soupI’m pretty sure my love for soup began with my great aunt Thel.  Thel made the absolute best pot of soup in the whole world.  When I was a child, every summer we travelled to the hills of eastern Kentucky for a few weeks to stay with my great aunt Thel and uncle Dewey.  They lived on ‘the ridge’ where the water ran only in the sinks, lighting came from oil lamps and going to the bathroom meant a trip out back.  Pray you didn’t have to go at night!

Since then I’ve discovered the wonders of soup of all kinds.  Chicken soups, stews, minestrones.  Once I grew ill from eating tomato-based soups every day for my school lunch.  It’s no fun being allergic to your favorite food when you’re a kid.  Sad smile  Thankfully, I grew out of that and tomatoes make it to our plates (or bowls) at least 4 times a week. 

Recently, I was asked for my recipe for vegetable soup.  As I thought about how I would write it all down, I realized I don’t have a recipe for vegetable soup.  I have a formula.  Amazingly, no matter what I put into the mix, it comes out tasting roughly the same every time. 

So here I share with you my formula for vegetable soup – as it was scribbled down by myself for a good friend this morning.


this is for a regular size batch. you can double and triple for large groups if you need to. When doubling, you don’t really need two big cans of tomato juice. Just add extra water and maybe a little can of tomato sauce instead. remember it’s just a formula so add or subtract whatever you need to as far as veggies go. I’d say the potatoes, carrots are your mainstays, but everything else is up to you. You can add a good dollop of butter at the end if you want a smoother, creamier flavor. Just taste it first to see if you really want it.
1 lb. ground beef
1 lg. can of tomato juice
1 28 oz. can of tomatoes, whole or diced. (if you have real canned tomatoes, even better!)
1 onion, chopped
1-2 heaping tsp. minced garlic (if you don’t have it just dust the meat with garlic powder)
salt and pepper, to taste (really to smell. after you dust the meat with it, jut smell the pot to know if its enough. same with the garlic, really)
1 15ish oz. can each of whole kernel corn, green beans, peas, black-eyed peas
about 5 medium potatoes, diced large (yukon gold are really good and buttery) don’t dice em too small or they’ll all turn to mush. leave the jackets on them.
about 6 med. – large carrots, sliced kinda thick
1/2 – most of a head of cabbage, chopped (if it’s a small head you’ll probably use most. cabbage gets much smaller as it cooks so don’t be alarmed when you throw it in the pot)
dried parsley
celery seed (if you got it)
1) brown the ground beef and drain most of the juice. leave a little in for seasoning. just tip the pan sideways and let what’ll come out, come out. whatever’s left just leave in. Add your chopped onion, minced garlic, salt and pepper to the meat. Cook til the onions are clear.
2) add in the carrots and let cook for a few minutes. then add the rest of the canned veggies, tomatoes and juice. when you start to boil, toss in the potatoes. Oh, you’ll probably need to add water once you add all the veggies. Just take your big can and fill it with water. You want to have about 1 1/2 to 2 inches of liquid over the veggies in the pot. You can let that simmer as long as you want to, but if it’s gonna sit for more than an hour I would wait to put the potatoes in. If you’re an hour or less away from serving, add them then. You can add the cabbage then too. Give the top of the pot a good dusting of dried parsley, about 1/2 the top with celery seed.
3) once everything is in and boiling, turn it down to a simmer. Stir it ever so often so nothing gets too hot and sticks. Especially if you add noodles!!! They WILL stick if you don’t watch them.
*a couple notes about noodles – I almost always add noodles to my soups. Usually either spaghetti noodles, quartered or shell or macaroni noodles. Noodles are a great way to add volume to your soup without costing you a ton of money. this is great if you’re feeding a bunch of people. also I never add cooked noodles to the soup. If you just add extra water to the pot, let it get to boiling and then add your noodles, they will take on the flavor of the soup – SO much better tasting. When you first put them in, stir them constantly. They will stick most at the beginning. Scrape the bottom of the pot cause they WILL stick there when you first add them and they won’t go anywhere unless you get ’em up.
How to save a ruined soup:
too salty – throw in a large peeled potato and it will soak up the extra salt. be sure to take it out before serving.
if you burn the soup (it smells smoky): #1 rule DO NOT scrape the bottom of the pan! Stir very gently and you can maybe salvage it. Sometimes, the smoky smell/taste will dissipate if you don’t disturb the burnt stuff on bottom.  Just let it sit for a bit with the lid off.  If you need to reheat it I would transfer it to a clean pot. 

Don’t forget the cornbread!


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