From the Kitchen: Homemade soups satisfy cold weather appetites

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By Elli Rarick

Whether you are at home all day, as Jim and I now are, or are still a part of the working force; nothing is more satisfying or comforting than to sit down to a simple supper of a bowl of steaming hot soup (this includes chili) with muffins, cornbread or homemade bread.

It seems that since Jim retired last June we have been on a campaign to do all the things that we never had time or energy to get to before then. First it was to get the 5th wheel ready and up to Indiana, where we spent September and October. Once home it was time to begin holiday preparations.

With the holidays now behind us; we have dug in, with the same determination as the ground moles in our yard, to clean out closets and such so that we can be organized and make things easier to keep clean. So far it is going very well and we are really beginning to see progress. These days of continued work mean hearty appetites so I have once again began using my slow cookers to help me have healthy hot meals ready at the end of the day.

I also find that if I make up some muffins in the morning we can enjoy something sweet with our coffee and juice that is somewhat healthier than donuts and pastries although, we do treat ourselves to the "forbidden" sweets now and then. Since we do not enjoy having the same thing all the time, I take part of the muffins I make and freeze them. After a couple of weeks, I have a variety of them stored and ready for use at later dates. It is a good idea to double bag them in freezer bags, freeze them within 24-hours of baking and only keep them frozen for up to three months.

My mother would make oatmeal or applesauce muffins to serve with supper in place of bread at least twice a week. What a treat those warm muffins were with whatever soup or casserole she was serving! And, sometimes we found them in our school lunch, split and spread with jelly, in place of a dessert item.

I have taken this week's soup recipes from the 2007 Taste of Home "Heartwarming Soups" magazine. Remember also that most soup recipes made on the stovetop may be adapted to preparation in a slow cooker. Do remember that removing the lid of a slow cooker to stir or check your meal will definitely add to the cooking time, as an enormous amount of heat escapes each time you remove the lid.

Both of the recipes are for healthy vegetable soups which will satisfy hungry appetites and also help those of us trying to stick to our New Year's resolution to shed a few pounds following the holidays. Both are meatless and yet hearty soups full of vegetables, beans and flavor.

Slow-cooked Vegetable Soup

Christina Till, South Haven, MI

three-fourths cup chopped onion

one-half cup chopped celery

one-half cup chopped green pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large potato, peeled and diced

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and diced

1 to 2 garlic cloves, minced

3 cups chicken or vegetable broth

2 medium fresh tomatoes, chopped

1 can (16 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans or chickpeas, rinsed and drained

2 teaspoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon paprika

one-half teaspoon dried basil

one-fourth teaspoon salt

one-fourth teaspoon ground turmeric

1 bay leaf

Dash cayenne pepper

In a large skillet, sauté the onion, celery and green pepper in oil until crisp-tender. Add potato, sweet potato and garlic; sauté 3-5 minutes longer.

Transfer to a 5-qt. slow cooker. Stir in the remaining ingredients. Cover and cook on low for 9-10 hours or until vegetables are tender. Discard bay leaf.

Yield 12 servings (about 3 quarts).

Note: If you want meat in your soup, add a package of smoked sausage, sliced in chunks about 1 hour before the end of cooking.

Vegetable Bean Soup

Cathy Seed, Hudson, OH

1 cup each sliced carrots and thinly sliced zucchini

three-fourths cup chopped onion

one-half cup chopped sweet red pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 cans (14-one-half ounces each) vegetable broth

1 can (16 ounces) kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1 can (16 ounces) chili beans, undrained

1 can (15 ounces) garbanzo beans or chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 can (14-one-half ounces) stewed tomatoes, cut up

1 cup frozen white or shoepeg corn

4 teaspoons ground cumin

one-fourth teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, sauté the vegetables in oil until crisp-tender. Add the broth, beans, tomatoes, corn, cumin and cayenne; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 30-35 minutes or until vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally. Stir in cilantro. Yield: 6 servings.

Note: Sliced chunks of smoked sausage may be added to this soup if you want a meat in it.