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Soup’s on!

How often during the winter months are you sitting nicely cuddled up in front of the T.V. when your growling stomach makes you think of a hot steaming bowl of robust soup?

Your heart goes “yuummmmm”but then, just in time, the mind takes over -- with thoughts of the prep work, going to the grocery store, getting the necessary food, chopping the vegetables, assembling the various other ingredients, etc. So then you say “never mind,” and instead you pop a can of ready-made soup into the pan, heat and eat, and all is fine until that first spoonful fails to awaken your taste buds -- and you go “not that same taste again.” You remember the taste of moms made-from-scratch soup and want that lovely taste bursting in your mouth without even lifting a finger.

Well, with just a little planning and prep work, you can make delicious soup yourself – and the result you'll get will be more than worth it.

Keep a few groceries handy in your pantry and freezer – like vegetable stocks, basic tomato soup tins, different kinds of beans and pasta, frozen or fresh vegetables, seasonings and cheeses. They’ll go a long way.

I find Trader Joe’s to be a good place to find some unusual types of soup bases, cracker toppings like flavored pita chips, croutons, vegetable crispies, and even ready-to-go chopped fresh vegetables to make your soup stock from scratch.

Here are a few quick recipes to get you started:

Mexican black bean soup1 tablespoon oil1 can black beans1 can tomato soup2 tablespoons chopped red onion 1 tablespoon chopped bell pepper1 tablespoon chopped tomato½ teaspoon chopped garlic½ teaspoon oregano¼ teaspoon chili powder½ teaspoon cumin powderSalt and sugar to tasteFor the topping: crumbled nacho chips, salsa, guacamole and sour cream

Heat the oil. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until soft. Add bell pepper and tomato and sauté until cooked.Add the herbs and spices and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the tomato soup, black beans, salt and sugar to taste.Serve hot, topped with one or all toppings of choice

Quick minestrone soup½ tablespoon butter1 can tomato soup1 cup vegetable stock1 tablespoon chopped onions1 tablespoon chopped bell pepper1 teaspoon Italian seasoning (mixed dried Italian herbs)½ cup mixed frozen vegetables, boiled½ cup pasta, cooked1 tablespoon grated parmesan cheese1 tablespoon ketchup¼ cup milk Salt and sugar to tasteFor the topping: fresh crushed pepper, Tabasco sauce, grated parmesan cheese

Heat butter. Add onion and bell pepper and cook till soft. Add seasoning and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the prepared mixed vegetables and pasta and sauté for 2 minutes.Add ketchup, soup, vegetable stock, cheese, salt and sugar and boil for 5 minutes. Just before serving, add milk. Serve with the choice of toppings.

Sweet corn vegetable soup½ tablespoon oil1 can cream style corn1 cup finely chopped mixed vegetables(onions, carrots, cabbage, celery, baby corn, water chestnuts, etc.)½ tablespoon soy sauce3 cups vegetable stock2-3 tablespoons corn starch1 cup waterSalt to tasteCilantro and green onion leaves, finely chopped, for garnishFor the topping: hot sauce, finely chopped chilies in vinegar, and soy sauce

In a soup pot, heat oil. Add the finely chopped vegetables and sauté on a high flame until cooked, but al dente.Add the corn soup, stock, and soy sauce. Cook for 5 minutes.Mix the corn starch in 1 cup water. Add to the soup, stirring constantly, until the soup gets to a rolling boil and reaches the desired consistency. (This is a thick soup, so add corn starch according to need, and always mix corn starch with water before adding to soup.)Add salt to taste. Serve hot with the garnishes and toppings of your choice.

Notes: You can easily substitute the ingredients in the soups with whatever you have handy. Just make sure you alter the recipe accordingly where necessary. For example, if you use condensed soups, add the required liquid to get the consistency. If you don’t have vegetable stock, substitute water with a seasoning cube added to it. Any of the vegetables also can be substituted with your choices.

Happy cooking! And if you have a favorite quick soup recipe you would like to share, send it to