Welcome back to our new Wednesday feature: Cooking for Eight. If you want to see what this series is about, check out this post right here.
Last week I visited with you all briefly about snacks in my budget kitchen. Today I am going to talk about a dinner that you can make if you forgot to plan dinner (we have all been there, right?)
On of the toughest parts about me going back to work was adapting to a new routine for getting dinner cooked. I am a huge proponent of the family dinner. I realize that we may not all be able to gather for dinner, but I try to make sure that there is a healthy, hearty meal on the table every night for those who are home.
I generally enjoy menu planning and I have tweaked the eMeals.com system to work for our family. But, sometimes, our meal planning falls off the rails. For example, this past weekend I was out of town with a friend. I generally meal plan and shop on Saturday or Sunday, so I skipped it. I ran to the store to pick up milk and a few staples on Sunday night, but I decided we would eat out of our pantry and freezer for a week (this is a good practice–periodically).
Last night I arrived home from work to some hungry kids. With the dreaded question: “What is for dinner?”. My answer was, “soup”!
This particular recipe has really evolved over the years. I love that I almost always have the basic ingredients on hand, and it is nice that it comes together in less than 30 minutes. Most everyone in the family loves it, except an unnamed child who hates everything.
This recipe is also a Two-For-One recipe, as the cheese sauce is the same exact cheese sauce that I use for my homemade mac and cheese. So, if you don’t happen to have a lot of stuff to clean out of your fridge, you can come up with some hearty mac and cheese in a snap!
You also may want to come up with a new name for the soup–kids generally balk at something called “Clean Out the Fridge”–this is kind of my secret, working title. My version last night was named Bacon Cheeseburger Soup, because who can resist?
Clean Out the Fridge Soup:
- Chop up an onion–or half an onion–or some green onions, whatever you have that is onion-like sitting around.
- Chop up some celery. You know you have some limp celery ribs sitting in the fridge and the kids won’t eat it because it is not super crisp–chop it up, it works in soup! *
- Chop up some carrots. Are there any other leftover veggies hiding out in your fridge? Pull them out and chop them up!
- Toss all of the chopped veggies in a heavy bottomed soup pot with a pat of butter or splash of oil. Cook them up a bit until the onions are translucent.
- Choose a meat. This week I had a pound of ground beef that I found in the freezer, so I browned it up with the vegetables. Leftover pot roast is great, deli ham works great. Shredded chicken. Use whatever you have on hand. Add it to the vegetables.
- Now, peek in your pantry. My guess is you have a few kind of sad looking potatoes in there. I dice up about a pound, skin and all and toss them into the pot. No potatoes? Do you have some leftover rice or noodles? They will work!
- Now, add just enough water to cover the meat and vegetables. . .usually about two or three cups. Toss in some seasonings (I have a homemade ranch mix that I like to toss in–more on that next week). Bring the whole thing up to a rolling boil.
- Now, take out a 3 quart saucepan and toss 1/4 cup of butter in the bottom. If you use margarine I won’t tell, but butter tastes better! When that is all melty, toss in 1/4 cup flour and whisk it around. I then add 2 cups of milk to the flour and butter. . .slowly, with a whisk. I clean out my fridge with this too. I always seem to have a carton of heavy cream with two tablespoons left in, and the last bit if half and half from my coffee stash. And yes, that milk jug with a half cup of milk left that no one wants to seem to drink. Toss it in! Bring the mixture to a slow boil and when it thickens, remove it from the heat.
- Now, dig in your fridge for cheese. If you are like me, you have several bags of shredded cheese with just a little bit left, and random little hunks of cheese. I come up with about two cups, sometimes more. Add it to your cream sauce and whisk it until it is smooth. At this point I also hunt for tail ends of cream cheese. (why does NO one want to finish anything in my house???).
- Next, check the state of the vegetables in your soup pot. If they are nice and tender, you can go ahead and slowly stir the cheese sauce into the soup. (At this point do not let the mixture come to a boil or the cheese sauce may curdle).
- I also always have a few slices of bacon around, now that my friend Vanessa taught me how to stretch a pack of bacon! I chopped up a few slices and browned them up as the cheese sauce was coming together. These made great toppers for the soup.
This soup is absolutely hearty and delicious, and is honestly never the same soup twice. However, if you are like me, you are so proud of pulling off and unplanned meal without an emergency trip to the grocery store (we know how expensive those last-minute trips can be!)
Chime in! Do you have a great last minute meal idea? Share it in the comments!
*Note: if you want celery to stay crisp in the fridge for WEEKS, take it out of the plastic bag it came in when you get home from the store and wrap it in aluminum foil. I’m not sure why it works, but it does!