- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Of the many family-friendly recipes in my book “The Dinner Doctor” (Workman), family-style vegetable soup must jump off the pages, because people keep simmering it and telling me how well it feeds their families.

I am thrilled, and yet I cannot take credit because this is something my mother handed down to me years ago.

The shortcut is the addition of ground beef, which is faster to brown than cubes of beef and provides a nice backdrop for the vegetables. We make this after lavish holiday meals and especially after we return from vacation.

On an ideal Sunday afternoon, I might make this soup and pack extra portions into quart containers to place in the freezer. If you like, substitute ground turkey. We like this soup with sourdough bread, soda crackers, corn bread or grilled cheese sandwiches.

You’ll notice that, thanks to a package of frozen soup veggies, the ingredient list is short, compared to those of other homemade vegetable soups. If you have time, let this soup simmer longer, say, up to 1 hour, 15 minutes, for a more intense flavor.

Five time-shaving ways to make winter soups:

• Keep 1-pound packages of ground beef or turkey in the freezer alongside packages of frozen vegetables. With canned tomatoes and broth from your pantry, the soup is quickly on.

• Canned beans, white, black or pinto, are the beginning of chili, tortilla soup or hearty minestrone.

• Leftover roasted chicken or pot roast can be cubed, combined with sauteed onion and carrot, and covered with water to begin an easy soup. Add a starch such as rice or pasta the last 10 minutes of cooking.

m Even a can of pumpkin can turn into soup. Add sauteed onion and garlic, two cans of chicken broth, a bay leaf, a pinch of cinnamon, a splash of orange juice and a couple tablespoons of heavy whipping cream. Heat and serve.

• My children’s favorite soup, baked potato, is easily made by sauteing cubed pre-baked potatoes with onion in a little olive oil, adding chicken broth to cover, then simmering until onion and potatoes are tender. Puree; thicken slightly with cream; and serve with shredded cheese, onion and bacon as toppings.

Family style vegetable soup

The preparation time is 5 minutes, and the cooking time is 35 to 40 minutes.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 pound ground beef round

teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano, liquid included

1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes

1 14- to 14.5-ounce can beef broth

1 16-ounce package frozen mixed vegetables

1 bay leaf

1 cup uncooked macaroni or 1 cup spaghetti, broken into 1-inch pieces

Place olive oil in a stock pot over medium-high heat.

Crumble in the ground beef and break it up with a wooden spoon. Add salt and pepper.

Cook, stirring, until the beef browns all over and is cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes.

Stir in the 2 cans of tomatoes with their liquid and the beef broth, frozen vegetables and bay leaf.

Fill both the larger and smaller tomato cans with water, add this to the pot and stir. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring, 3 to 4 minutes, then reduce heat to medium-low, cover the pot and let the soup simmer until the flavors blend, 20 minutes.

Stir in the pasta and cover the pot. Let the soup simmer until it has thickened somewhat and the pasta is al dente, 8 to 10 minutes. To serve, ladle soup into serving bowls. Soup can be frozen for up to 3 months. Serves 8.

Anne Byrn is the author of the popular Doctor series cookbooks, including “The Cake Mix Doctor” and “The Dinner Doctor,” both by Workman Publishing, and is a former newspaper food editor.

Share your favorite cooking tips, ask questions and access her free online newsletter at www.dinnerdoc.com.

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