Food Healthy Now Eat This Chicken Soup

This Nov. 21, 2011 photo shows Rocco DiSpirito's recipe for chicken noodle soup in Concord, N.H. This soup uses real chicken and fresh vegetables, like carrots and onions, which are a great source of vitamins. (AP Photo/Matthew Mead)

Ah, January! The holidays are behind us, spring is still in the distance, and here we are, shivering. But on those freezing, sleety, rainy days, everything seems better with a bowl of hot soup and a pan of crusty cornbread.

You know, soup is one of the most versatile dishes in the world. If you don’t have one of the ingredients, substitute something else. When my kids were small and money was tight, I learned to make do. Store-bought broth was a luxury. I still save the tough ends of asparagus and the trimmings from celery and onions, and when I get a gallon freezer bag full of them, I’ll cook them up for broth. It really makes rice and soup much more flavorful instead of using plain water.

I also like to keep a freezer container in the door of the freezer, and when I have a half-serving of vegetables left over, just add it to the container. When the container is full, it’s time to make soup. Don’t feel like you have to have exactly what the recipe calls for. After all, in most cases, a recipe is just a guide. Tweak it and make it your own.

Vegetable Beef Soup

1 lb. ground chuck

½ tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. salt, divided

1 c. chopped onions

1 c. diced potatoes or egg noodles

1 c. diced carrots

1 or 2 ribs celery, sliced

1 Tbsp. barley (or ¼ c. or so of left-over cooked rice)

1 large can diced tomatoes

¼ tsp. basil

¼ tsp. thyme

1 bay leaf

1 qt. vegetable or beef broth (or 1 qt. water and 2 Tbsp. instant beef bouillon)

1 bag (16 oz.) frozen mixed vegetables

Mix the ground beef with the baking soda and 1 tsp. salt. Let it sit for about 20 minutes while you peel the potatoes and get everything else ready to go. (The soda helps to keep the moisture in the meat instead of letting it all cook out.) Heat a 3-quart pot and cook the beef mixture and onions until the meat is slightly browned. Add all the remaining ingredients. Cover and simmer about 30 minutes or until the raw vegetables are tender. Remove the bay leaf before serving.

TIP: You can use chopped-up leftover roast or steak in place of the ground beef – no need to brown further; just sauté the onions in a little bit of oil before adding the other ingredients.

Baked Potato Soup

My very dear friend, Andrea Linton-Brunson, shared this recipe with me years ago. I made it recently, and realized that I had forgotten just how good it is! I did substitute chicken broth for the water, and added two diced cloves of garlic. Give it a try!

6 to 8 potatoes, cubed

1 med. onion, chopped

1 can cream of chicken soup

1 lb. Velveeta, cubed

Salt & pepper to taste

Place potatoes in a large pot and cover with water. Cook until done, but not too soft. If you like thick soup, pour off some of the water before adding the rest of the ingredients. Add the onion to the pot, and cook 5 minutes more. Turn down the heat and stir in the cream of chicken soup. Add the Velveeta and cook on low until it is melted. Season to taste. Make it even better by topping with shredded cheddar cheese, crumbled bacon, and green onions.

Chicken Noodle Soup

The last 2 or 3 years of my precious stepdad’s life, this chicken noodle soup was about all he wanted to eat (except for sweets!). It’s still a favorite in our family.

2 chicken breasts (or leg quarters)

2 qts. water

2 rounded Tbsp. chicken bouillon (or 6 to 8 cubes)

1 onion, chopped

2 ribs celery, chopped

2 carrots, diced

1 tsp. dried basil

Salt and pepper to taste (or Mrs. Dash’s)

12 oz. pkg. fine egg noodles

Cook chicken in water. Remove, cool, debone, and chop the meat. Add bouillon to the water and stir until dissolved. Add vegetables, seasonings, and chicken, and cook for 20 minutes. Add noodles and cook an additional 20 minutes.

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Mona Tucker writes her “From the Hart” recipe column on the first Wednesdays of the month.