- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Winter brings with it additional responsibilities, such as shoveling snow, getting the furnace tuned up and applying enough layers of clothes so that you don’t freeze on the way to work.

Maybe that’s just in Chicago where I’m from, but even in warm climates, the fear of cold propels us to self-protect. A Southern California rain can be chilling when the temperature dips below 60 degrees. (Stop laughing, please.)

That’s where soups come in. They are warming. They are nutritious. They are best prepared ahead on the weekend. And they are easy to make. In fact, for people who work, they are the quintessential weeknight dinner, since they are ready to be eaten when we are ready to eat. After a long day of work, it’s nice to know someone who loves us has dinner waiting … even if that someone is us.

There are really only four cooking skills required:

• Skill one is chopping ingredients. This is accomplished with a knife.

• Skill two is sauteing. This involves quickly but gently cooking food in a pan with a little bit of oil or butter. This is no-effort cooking. If you’re working hard, you’re not doing it right.

• You may also need to complete skill three, which is opening a can or two, and even opening the refrigerator.

• If these skills are confusing, you should not be navigating the fourth skill, which is turning on the stove. Pick up the phone and call for carryout. But get someone else to drive over for the pickup.

Make soup on the weekend, and you have a home-cooked meal waiting for you when you come home from work on Monday. Just add bread, crackers and maybe a sprinkle of cheese. Don’t forget to thank the cook.

Sausage and barley soup with mushrooms

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

2 stalks celery, sliced, leaves discarded

12 ounces sliced mushrooms

4 14.5-ounce cans chicken broth

2 bay leaves

2 teaspoons fennel seed

1 pound cooked Italian sausage with fennel, sliced ½-inch thick (I use turkey or chicken sausage)

Freshly ground black pepper

2 cups white wine

½ cup pearl barley

In Dutch oven over medium heat, saute onion in olive oil until softened, about 8 minutes. Add carrots and celery and saute, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes, or until carrots just begin to soften. Add mushrooms and saute for 5 more minutesor until mushrooms start to brown.

Add broth, bay leaves, fennel seed and sausage, and season generously with freshly ground black pepper. Cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Add wine and barley, and simmer for another 30 minutes. Add more pepper, if desired. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Cream of mushroom soup with (or without) brown rice

3 tablespoons butter

1 tablespoon canola or corn oil

1 medium onion, chopped

1 stalk celery, sliced

1 pound mushrooms, cleaned and halved

2 cups dry white wine

3 14-ounce cans chicken broth

1/3cup fresh rosemary leaves, chopped

2 cups half-and-half

½ teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cooked brown rice, optional

Melt butter with oil in Dutch oven.

Saute onion and celery until softened, about 8 minutes. (If onion starts to brown, turn down heat.) Add mushrooms and sautefor about 5 minutes, or until mushrooms begin to release liquid but are not yet browning. Add white wine, chicken broth and rosemary, cover, bring to a boil, uncover and simmer over medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Add half-and-half and simmer until heated through for 5 to 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve with brown rice for spooning into soup, if desired. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Almost Mollie Katzen’s spunky chili

2 tablespoons olive oil

1½ cups chopped onion

2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced

1 stalk celery, chopped

3 tablespoons chili powder, or more

3 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, or more

1 bell pepper, seeded and cut in 1-inch squares

2 teaspoons crushed garlic

3 15-ounce cans beans, rinsed (use three kinds, perhaps including red kidney beans, garbanzos and pintos)

1 46-ounce can tomato juice

2/3 cup elbow macaroni

Grated cheddar cheese

Plain yogurt, optional

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven. Add onion, carrot and celery and saute until softened, about 8 minutes. Add chili powder, cumin and salt, and saute, stirring, for about 2 minutes, so that spices have a chance to saute a little.

Add cider and balsamic vinegars, bell pepper and garlic, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes. Then add beans, tomato juice and macaroni, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes, or until pasta is tender and mixture has thickened to desired consistency. (If mixture cooks down too much, add water in ½ cup increments.) Add more balsamic and chili powder to taste. Serve with cheddar cheese for sprinkling over and yogurt for stirring in, if desired.

Makes about 6 servings.

Corn and ham soup

3 tablespoons butter

2 cups chopped onion

2 stalks celery, chopped

42 ounces frozen corn, thawed and drained

1 teaspoon curry powder

1 teaspoon dried rosemary

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon salt

3 14-ounce cans chicken broth

1 small red bell pepper, chopped

½ to 1 cup nonfat milk

2 cups cooked ham cubes (about 12 ounces)

Thinly sliced scallion green, for garnish

Melt butter in Dutch oven. Saute onion and celery until softened, about 8 minutes. (If onion starts to brown, turn down heat.) Add 5 cups corn, the curry powder, rosemary, cayenne, salt and chicken broth, and simmer over low heat, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Let cool for 15 minutes, then puree soup in batches in blender or food processor.

Return to Dutch oven, add red bell pepper, remaining corn, ½ cup milk and ham. Simmer over low heat for 15 minutes, stirring frequently, so that flavors have a chance to blend, adding more milk, if desired, to thin a little. Sprinkle with scallion before serving. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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