In many ways it doesn’t quite feel like November. The temperature is still in the 70’s here most days, and yet Thanksgiving is just a few weeks away! I look out my window everyday, willing our maple tree to turn a bright red and the birch tree leaves to become yellow, but it’s not working.
We have been moving into colder weather foods, though, because I can’t resist soup season. It’s my favorite way to cook: throw things into a pot and have a delicious meal in little to no time.
There are a few items that I keep on hand during colder months so that we can have soup night whenever we feel like it and I don’t even have to run to the store. As I was thinking through my pantry and freezer, I thought I would write up a post on the best ingredients to keep on hand as we enter into winter, so you’ll be prepared for those soup/stew nights that you’re bound to have in your own home.
In the Pantry:
Dried or canned beans (black, Northern, navy, kidney) pack a lot of protein into soups and stews, which means you can go lighter on the meat, saving some $$ and less fuss.
Diced Tomatoes. These are invaluable in soup. Sometimes I drain, sometimes I don’t, and my kids don’t like them, but we put them in anyway. When on sale, you can buy them for about $.79/ can. But, I’ve also purchased a large can from Costco for around $3, portioned them out into freezer bags, and this works well, for a little bit less. Just be sure to buy the plain ones so you won’t be putting Italian seasoned tomatoes into your chili.
Chicken and beef broth. Typically one kind of broth goes into almost every soup. I like the boxed kind because it’s convenient, but it’s a bit more expensive. When they go on super sale, I stock up. Boullion cubes and/or powder are always in my cupboard and I actually prefer the flavor of this over the boxed varieties.
Pasta (egg noodles, elbow macaroni, farfalle). Really, any kind of pasta is good to have on hand. Minestrone soup, vegetable with pasta, chicken noodle. Just be sure you don’t let the pasta cook too long or it will get soggy. (Frozen tortellini is also great, especially for this Sausage Tortellini Soup).
Barley, Lentils, Split Peas. Lentil Stew is a favorite around here, and we recently had split pea soup for the first time. These are super cheap, a great way to add protein into your diet, and despite the fact that they sound healthy, they really do taste good.
Tomato Paste. Occasionally tomato paste is used as a thickening agent in soups and stews. And sometimes a recipe only calls for 1 tablespoon. You can save the remainder in the fridge, or freeze tomato paste into ice cube trays, then pop them in a freezer bag. They keep for several months this way and work great.
Herbs/Spices. Fall and winter are a good time of year to check your spice cabinet, get rid of any out-dated spices and stock up on the soup-friendly ones. Cumin-for chili; oregano- Italian style soups; bay leaves- they go in MANY soup/stew recipes; thyme – potato soup tastes great with this; dill – tomato soup. Having a variety will be helpful and you’ll be surprised at how quickly you’ll go through some of these during the colder months.
Onions and Garlic. What soup recipe doesn’t have onions?? I’m not picky on the type of onion and I mostly just use yellow onions in my cooking. One trick that I’ve used with my kids, who prefer to pick out the onions, is onion powder. If I want the flavor but don’t want to deal with picky eaters, I will occasionally sub the powder variety. It’s not the best, but definitely makes for less complaining. I normally used the jarred minced garlic because it’s quicker than chopping up my own. But, I also use a lot of garlic powder in my soups. Both are good to have on hand. I recently discovered frozen pearl onions. These are delicious! Pop in a few to your soup and the kids can easily pick them out and put them in your bowl.
Potatoes. Obviously, for potato soup. But they are also a great addition to stew and chowders or bisques. Shrimp bisque is one of our favorites and it’s packed with potatoes.
In the Freezer:
Rotisserie Chicken. I recently started purchasing 3-4 of these at the store, about once every two months. I pull off the meat and freeze it to add into soups. We like a mixture of white and dark meat in our soup, so this makes it quick and easy, and it doesn’t cost much more than cooking up your own chicken. If you’re really on top of it, you could even make your own broth from the bones and stick that in the freezer as well.
Smoked Sausage. No, this is not healthy at all, but it sure adds a lot of flavor, especially to lentil soup and split pea soup. They go on sale frequently, so I like to stock up and have them on hand. I usually slice these up and brown them before adding it into my soups; it adds a bit more flavor this way.
Bacon. This can keep in the fridge for a long time too, or you can freeze until you’re ready to use it. I like to keep bacon around to top on our potato soup. Bradley prefers meat with every meal, so I try to give him that option.
Stew meat. This is kind of pricey, in my opinion, so we don’t have stew as often as we would like. But when it goes on sale, I try to buy it up so we can have it occasionally. I’ve also found that using a Chuck Roast or London broil cut up into chunks works well as a substitute for actual stew meat. Sometimes it even tastes better, and it’s usually less expensive.
Frozen Veggies. Corn, green beans, peas, broccoli. I recently bought bags for $1/piece, which is just about what you would spend on the canned varieties. Only, frozen veggies are a bit more healthy (I don’t remember why!). Broccoli cheese soup is another favorite of ours, but fresh broccoli isn’t always on sale, so I can substitute frozen florets and it works great.
What would a soup night be without a side of bread? I always make sure I have all-purpose flour, corn meal, yeast, baking powder, shortening and honey so that we can have either homemade bread, biscuits or cornbread with our soups.
There you have it! The essentials for a soup night!
What do you keep on hand for soup nights?