It's been very hectic the last few weeks. I'm plum out of ideas and it's an hour away from midnight and my self-imposed blogging schedule is about to die. So...
What do you feel like cooking tonight? Nothing? Same here. In fact, I came *this close* to just ordering pizza online and having it delivered. Except I have a couple of children that can't eat pizza. Food allergies. So we ate leftovers. Again. Problem is, the leftovers are getting old and the ones that are left are the ones that weren't that great in the first place.
It must be time to make that wonderful standby Whatchagot Stew. There are several variations of this soup.
Open the fridge. Remove any leftover cooked meat; beef roast is the best but any meat will do in a pinch. If you have leftover gravy, it's happy dance time.
Dig through the back recesses looking for leftover cooked veggies. Canned beans of any sort, cooked carrots, leftover potatoes of any variety as long as they're cooked, etc.
See if you have half an onion. (BONUS: If you know why I'm laughing over the half-an-onion quote, give yourself a pat on the back. If you have no idea why half an onion is funny, go read Terry Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment.)
Root through the drawers to see if there are any raw veggies that would go in soup. Don't overlook spinach, chard, or kale.
Now the fun part happens. Cut the meat and cooked veggies into soup size chunks, if they aren't already. Chop up any raw veggies you have along with the half an onion. Sauté the onion in a tablespoon of butter until soft. Add any raw veggies that need cooking. Add enough water to cover. Simmer until the veggies are tender. Add in the meat and cooked veggies and any gravy you have around. Stir to mix. Add salt and pepper to taste. If you didn't have gravy, add some boullion, chicken flavor is the best because it goes with any meat. Cover and let it simmer for about 10 minutes, until it boils for at least a couple of minutes. Taste again and add more seasonings if needed. Serve with plenty of croutons or garlic bread.
The only thing you need to watch with this soup is that your flavors are at least mostly compatible. Try leftover ham with carrots, potatoes, and green beans or chopped kale. Beef goes with just about everything. Chicken is a little more picky, so choose milder flavored veggies to go with it. Cucumber just doesn't work in soup. Fresh zucchini goes with everything. Don't be afraid to experiment. They're leftovers. You were going to chuck them anyway, weren't you? If it taste horrid, the pizza place is only a few mouse clicks away.
Stone Soup is a fun story. Short version: A guy enters a village. He's starving but no one is willing to share. He sets up a big pot in the center of town, adds water and a big stone. He tells everyone he's making stone soup and it's wonderful. Curious neighbors offer him vegetables/meat/seasonings to add to the soup after he suggests that "___" would really make it better. Villagers and hungry guy end up with a big pot of soup, everyone loves it, he leaves them his magic stone, life is groovy.
Try stone soup at a party sometime. Everyone brings something to add to the stew, whatever they want, no planning ahead here. Mix everything together and let it cook. We ended up with potato and onion soup once, because that's all anyone brought. Another time we had a real wild soup with canned tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, shrimp, and an assortment of other vegetables including corn, green beans, carrots, and chard. Different but tasty.
The trick with this soup if you do it out of your own pantry is to collect all those odds and ends that aren't enough to do anything with; like the stray potato and that one old carrot and the handful of green beans and that freezer-burned steak or that handful of wilted veggies from the dip tray you had at a party three days earlier. If you have enough odds and ends, you end up with a large pot of stew that is never quite the same.
Minestrone is Italian for whatchagot stew. So open the fridge and the pantry and see what 'cha got. Here's a basic recipe, in case you've never made minestrone before.
1 big can spaghetti sauce
1 medium can tomatoes, whatever variety you have
1 c. dry pasta, whatever is lying around in your cupboards
1 can beans, kidney or pinto preferred, but any bean type will work
1/2 lb hamburger, browned and drained
1/2 an onion, chopped
1 t. dried garlic or garlic powder or use 4 cloves fresh, smashed and chopped
1 t. dried oregano or 2 T. fresh
1 t. dried basil or 2 T. fresh, chopped
2 c. water
Necessary but not particular
2 c. green vegetables - green beans, zucchini, celery, bell pepper, peas, lima beans, or all of them, mix and match to your heart's content
2 c. other vegetables - yellow squash, carrots, eggplant, mushrooms, kale, cabbage, daikon, turnips, potatoes, whatever you've got lying around that needs used
To start: Chop everything into bite size bits. Separate things into three groups: Those that need cooked like raw meat or carrots or potatoes, those that cook very fast like zucchini or mushrooms or daikon or cabbage, and those that are canned or frozen and just need heated like the canned beans or the frozen peas.
Brown the hamburger with the onion and any other vegetable you usually sauté such as fresh garlic, celery, or bell pepper. Don't have hamburger? Use sausage or leftover beef roast or pork chops or anything except fish. Chicken will work in a pinch, but I prefer beef. Make sure it's cooked, or cook it now.
In a large pot, mix the spaghetti sauce, tomatoes, pasta (if it's a sturdy variety like elbow noodles or rotini), and water. Add any veggies that need longer cooking time like raw carrots, potatoes, or turnips. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes or so, until the veggies are mostly done. Stir in the meat mixture, spices, and the fast cooking foods (delicate pasta like angel hair can be added here). Cover and cook for about 5 minutes. Then add anything else that just needs heated. If you add spinach, use raw and add it very last. Cook for another 5 minutes until it's hot through. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. If the soup is too thick, add more water to thin it out.
Garnish the soup with parmesan cheese, croutons, garlic toast, crackers, whatever you got that would go with the soup.
That's the basics of whatchagot cooking.