I mentioned the other day that I have a house full of food and no meal plan.
This isn’t my usual M.O.
I’m all about planning a menu for the week and working my way through it. I’m not really sure what has happened to divert me from that usual strategy.
I try really hard to save money when grocery shopping, although I end up feeling defeated week after week.
Groceries are expensive, yo.
For a while now I’ve been stocking up on pantry essentials, meats from our local Amish market, and a variety of fresh produce instead of going to the grocery with a list of specific ingredients that may or may not be on sale. I’d like to think this has been saving me money overall.
Each night I take a look at what I have in the house and I come up with a dinner plan.
I kind of enjoy having to be creative throughout the week, but sometimes I just wish I had a list of recipes lined up so I wouldn’t have to think.
Aiming for variety is always part of the process. I make sure we mix meats, grains, and types of cuisine (Mexican, Asian, etc) throughout the week.
Over the past week or so we’ve had the following:
- Corned Beef and Cabbage
- Folded Loaf
- Balsamic Pork Tenderloin with mashed sweet potatoes and steamed brussels sprouts
- Fish and chips with steamed broccoli (using this batter recipe and frozen fries from Costco)
- Giant salads with chicken, bacon, egg, a TON of veggies and homemade ranch dressing
Most nights we have leftovers which is nice because they become dinner another night.
On Thursday during Grace’s ballet class I started to think about what to make for dinner that night. It occurred to me that we had leftover pork tenderloin, but the sweet potatoes and brussels sprouts had been eaten up so a regular leftover night was not going to work.
Then it occurred to me to make soup!
In the past couple of months I’ve used pantry staples along with leftovers to whip up batches of soup. It’s a new spin on meals we’ve already eaten and I love using up random things from the fridge.
There’s no exact recipe for this kind of soup, but I figured it might be nice to provide the general formula I follow so you can try this with your leftovers and end up with something tasty instead of a super random mixup of ingredients and seasonings.
I’ve learned the hard way that certain spices can overpower soups like this. Some of the herbs & spices I stay away from for simple soups are the following:
Each of these is wonderful in the right context. In fact, these are all used regularly in my kitchen, but I don’t grab for them when making an all-american veggie/meat/grain soup.
They tend to have strong and very distinct flavors and just throw things off when making a generic soup.
** See notes in the recipe section if you want to make a Mexican or Indian flavored soup**
A list of things I readily grab when I throw this kind of soup together are the following:
- Garlic powder (not garlic salt!)
- Bay leaves
- Salt & Pepper
- Sage (although this one is strong, so a little goes a long way)
These are not hard and fast rules, but guidelines that have helped me achieve the kind of flavor I’m looking for.
“Pantry staples” make up the bulk of the soup. Stuff like this:
- olive or other oil
- chicken or veggie stock
- canned beans & tomatoes
- herbs & spices
- balsamic or red wine vinegar
Many of these are shelf stable, so you can keep them around for a long time. The produce I listed lasts for weeks so you don’t have to panic about it all going bad in a few days time.
Ok, so you have your pantry stocked and you have leftovers in the fridge. Here’s an idea of how to throw it all together to make a yummy soup!
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion
- 4 large carrots or several handfuls baby carrots, sliced
- 4 celery stalks, sliced
- 5-6 cloves garlic, minced
- approx ¼ teaspoon ground sage
- approx ½ teaspoon oregano
- approx ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- approx ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 bay leaf
- leftover pork tenderloin, chopped (could also use leftover cooked chicken or beef...as much as you have)
- leftover cooked veggies
- approx ¾ cup dry white rice (or 1 cup of dry pasta)
- 8 cups chicken or veggie stock (two tall boxes)
- Add olive oil to the bottom of a large soup pot and heat over medium.
- Add sliced onions and cook for about 5 minutes until they begin to soften.
- Add sliced carrots and celery and cook for another 10 minutes until they are tender.
- If you have any mushrooms to use up, now would be a good time to add them and cook until they're softened.
- Add minced garlic and cook for about 2-3 minutes until fragrant but not dark.
- If you are using a can of diced or crushed tomatoes, now would be a good time to add them and stir to combine.
- Deglaze the pan by adding the chicken and/or veggie stock (I used a box of each) while scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen all the nice brown flavor that has accumulated as the veggies have cooked down.
- Bring to a boil and then reduce to medium heat.
- Add cooked meat and simmer for about 5 minutes.
- Add uncooked rice and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until rice is tender. OR if you are using pasta, add it and simmer for about 10 minutes or until it's tender but still al dente.
- Add any other cooked veggies you have on hand and stir to combine. You just want these to heat through, not get too mushy.
- Give it a taste and add more salt if needed. If it seems well salted but lacks "depth" of flavor, try adding a splash or two of balsamic or red wine vinegar and simmering a little longer.
- **To give the soup a Mexican flare, use cumin & coriander instead of sage & bay leaf and be sure to add a can of black beans and a can of tomatoes. Green peppers could be substituted for the celery. Frozen corn would be a nice addition too. Adding the beans would make the soup hearty enough to skip the rice or pasta.
- **To give the soup an Indian Flare, use curry in place of the sage. Keep the bay leaf and think about adding fresh ginger when you add the garlic. Use rice instead of pasta or sub garbanzo beans and skip the grains!