It also meant that I got a little creative with nature and the tools we had on hand. I remember using a giant five gallon plastic bucket and the garden hose to make soup. There were twigs, rocks, floating leaves and even some dirt thrown in the mix. Random berries growing around the property made the 'soup' look even tastier.
Thankfully, I knew better than to actually sample my soup, but I had fun throwing things together and imagining that I was a chef.
When I first tried my hand at real cooking, some of my soups had that same dirt-like appearance. I had a number of soup disasters -- I suspect the dirt soup may have actually been more palatable. Borscht ended up all over my Pepto-Bismol pink walls in England when I tried to grate the beets. Broccoli soup turned into a gooey mess. In Ukraine, where I ate soup three times a day, every day, I added too much salt when it was my time to cook. WAAAAYYY too much salt. In South Africa, I didn't bother with any kind of soup because the Sailor wasn't really into it.
By the time that I relocated back to America though, I was determined to eat healthy and shop frugally. I grew tired of finding half dead vegetables in my drawer and wasting leftovers.
Soup found it's way back into my kitchen. Soup is AMAZING. Seriously. A small cup is a great compliment to a meal and a large bowl with some bread or crackers is enough to fill you right up all on its own. (And warm you up in the winter!)
Sauté a little onion, add some vegetables, some leftover rice and cooked chicken and some basic stock, and voilà, you have Chicken Rice Soup. Are those veggies getting mushy? Sauté those and add a little broth and milk and then puree, and you have soup. Thankfully, these days, the Sailor actually requests (and then eats!) soup, so I make it now on a regular basis.
I used to try to plan my soup meals and then I'd shop for every ingredient that I didn't have. It wasn't the most frugal plan. I still ended up with food rotting. Then I started challenging myself to make something with what I already had in the cupboard and fridge. Obviously, I still shop. The other day, I had to buy onions, because I knew I needed those for soup, and my stash had run low. But it's amazing how long I can go between shopping endeavors when I think creatively about cooking.
The other night I had a bit of a soup marathon. Within an hour and a half, I'd made three different soups. I had half a bag of carrots that needed to be used, so I made carrot and coriander soup, but I just halved the recipe (if at all possible, I usually try to double soup recipes and freeze them... but for the sake of carrots that would go to waste, I whipped up half a batch!)
I also found a frozen bag of roasted veggies from a dinner we hosted a while back. I always cook too much... and then I end up throwing it in the freezer, not always knowing what to do with it. This time, I saved the beef broth from the roast as well. I cooked both together, pureed the mix with my hand blender* and then added some milk (or cream if you prefer) and salt and pepper. While the result doesn't look much more appetizing than brown applesauce, it was DELICIOUS. And healthy! I know exactly what was in the veggies and broth because I cooked them all from scratch to start with.
Besides, soup gives me a great excuse to store the leftovers in vintage Pyrex. Win win.
Finally, I found a bag of parsnips in a pile in the fridge. I bought them for Christmas dinner and then totally forgot to cook them. (In my defense, they were hiding under the spinach and that half bag of carrots...) I found a recipe for Parsnip and Parmesan soup in my favorite soup book: The New Covent Garden Soup Company's Book of Soups. (I've had my copy since the late 90s, and you can be assured it will continue to be a staple in my kitchen arsenal.)
While I didn't have Parmesan, I at least had cheese. Substituting is not a crime. Throwing out a whole bag of parsnips would have been.
*Hand blenders are absolutely necessary in my book for soup making. I make a lot of pureed soups because I personally think the flavors blend together better than if you don't puree them. If you have a small kitchen, and don't even have space for a regular blender, then a hand or immersion blender is perfect! You can do the same things as with a regular blender (except maybe chop ice cubes...). I wouldn't recommend pureeing a soup in a regular blender unless it's completely cooled off. With an immersion blender, you can just whip the stuff right in the pot! I recently replaced my old hand blender with this one from Cuisinart.