Monday, April 22, 2013

Mom's Day Before Payday Soup

I think one of the hallmarks of a good chef is the ability to whip together a dish without a recipe.  And without really measuring.  My family's go-to recipe is what my mom called "Day Before Payday Soup."  It was always amazing, probably because Mom was a great chef.  Her "recipe" was to look through the fridge for whatever leftovers we had, chop them into soup-appropriate pieces, and toss in the soup pot with some sort of sauce.  Sometimes the sauce was tomato-based, sometimes cream-based, and sometimes broth based.  One legend of our family is the day Mom made soup from "what was left in the ketchup bottle."  I'm not kidding.  And dinner was always great and filling and flavorful.

Now with children of my own, I've carried on the tradition.  But I don't always make my soup when the groceries are running low.  I LOVE soup.  And so do all but one of my kids.  Poor, dear.  I usually forget that it's not even in her top 50 favorite things to eat until we sit down to pray over dinner.  Then I have the whole inner debate of whether she should be allowed to eat cereal (her absolute go-to food) or make a sandwich and whether I should require that she at least have a "no thank you" bite.  Anyway, I love soup.  I make it because the weather is cool.  Or because we're expecting guests and I want to feed a lot of people.  Or because someone is under the weather.  (Research really has shown that a good chicken soup can help you overcome illness quicker.) I bring it to family gatherings/dinners and on camping trips.  I love to make a lot and freeze it for a quick dinner night.  And the flavor possibilities are ENDLESS!

So here's my generic "recipe."  Bless you, if you can figure out how to feed your family with it.


  • I select a "starchy" food like potatoes, rice, or pasta.  If it's potatoes, wash and chop into bite-sized pieces and toss in the soup pot.  I like red and gold potatoes and keep the skins on. Do what YOU like.  I usually use about one average-sized potato per person I plan to feed.  If it's rice or pasta, I add it to the soup after everything else is added.  It's a bit of a science since it will thicken up your soup and draw out some of the liquid, but adding about a cup to a full stock pot is a good start.
  • Then I think about what protein source I want to use.  I usually go with prepared dry beans or drained canned beans, ground turkey, ground beef, chicken breast, or use whatever is leftover from a turkey, ham or whole chicken I cooked recently (or froze).  What I do with that information depends on whether it's cooked already or needs cooked.  If it's cooked, it goes straight into the cook pot.  If not, I saute it with the vegetables, see the next step.  The amount really depends on the situation, but I find that just a pound of meat can feed 8 or more people, if you have enough vegetables in the soup or sides to pair with your meal.
  • Whatever vegetables are around usually get washed, chopped, and sauteed.  For today's soup, I chopped up about a pound of carrots, a couple sweet potatoes (peeled), and an onion and started sauteing in my Lodge Logic L10SK3 12-Inch Pre-Seasoned Skillet with some butter, sea salt, pepper, basil, oregano, bay leaves, and Emeril's seasoning.  Normally, I would add the meat at this stage, but I had added a bit too many vegetables for them to all fit comfortably in my skillet.  So when the onions started to caramelize, I transferred the mixture to the soup pan.
  • I season the meat with sea salt, pepper, and garlic and whatever else suits me at the moment and cook until done.  If I'm using ground turkey, as I did this time, I cook until it's almost dry. It gives it more of a beef texture.  Sometimes, I also add some steak seasoning to really trick the taste buds.  There's nothing wrong with turkey.  It's lower fat and much less expensive.  But sometimes, you really just want some beef.
  • Once everything is in the pot, I start adding liquid, which includes liquids from whatever canned vegetables you decide to use.  Today I added corn, green beans, and diced tomatoes, juices and all.  Today I topped it off with water, frankly, because I'm out of broth, silly me. You can add bouillon cubes if you like.  I have a hard time finding one without MSG, so I try to avoid this.  Chicken, beef, or vegetable broths are all wonderful and flavorful liquids to use.  Leftover spaghetti sauce (and added water) work well. I add water until the vegetables start to float a little.  You can always add more, if needed.
  • Let the soup simmer until all the vegetables are tender.  If you're adding pasta or rice, this is a good time to do it.
  • Taste your creation and adjust seasonings, as needed.
  • For the most amazing flavor, turn off the stove and let it cool.  Place in fridge overnight and eat it tomorrow.  The seasoning really marries together and it's just wonderful.  But if you're in a hurry, eat it now.  It's great with a side of crusty french bread and a salad. Or just eat it as is.

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