We travel a lot in winter for business and book signings. And it invariably seems like we arrive home after 10pm. Which means we’ve missed dinner because we’ve been on the plane, but it’s too late to eat a big meal.

We have several go-to soup “recipes” that we can literally make in 5 minutes or less…with ingredients we always have on hand. (Who has fresh herbs in their fridge after being gone for two weeks?) They’re filling, amazingly flavorful (especially considering the short cooking time,) and a heckuva lot healthier than the canned stuff.

Okay…now we’re ready to build a quick soup. It’s not a science. You just need a few basic building blocks. Let’s start with a Chicken Soup-by-Number:

chicken broth numbers
  1. Broth. First thing we do when we get home from traveling is pour two mugs-full of broth into a heavy pot and set it on a medium heat. Why measure two mugs-full? Because it’s the perfect amount for two of us with no leftovers to deal with. What kind of chicken broth? We could say you should use only organic, non-gmo, free-range, liquid gold. But we’re not snobby. Here’s a novel concept: use the brand of broth you like the best. That’s what we do.
  2. As soon as the broth is on to boil, add an herbed soup seasoning. We’re probably a little partial to our own (available at Target,) but any herbed soup seasoning will do. (Just be sure to get both a chicken and a beef.) We consider broth spices a pantry staple because they’re also great for gravies & sauces.
    soup seasoning
  3. Add a quick cooking grain. Cons-cous is great for chicken soup. It’ll cook in the broth in five minutes or less. Just add a handful though. It expands. Oh yeah..pop corn is a nice filling topper too. (Don’t add popped corn while cooking…add it right before serving.) If you don’t have any precooked popcorn, quickly pop your own. Before you measure out the broth, pop a teaspoon of kernels in a little bacon fat in the same pot you’ll then make the soup with. Once popped, set the popcorn aside and fill the pot with broth. No need to even rinse the pan.
  4. Feel like a little protein? Poach an egg right in the broth as it simmers! (Trick to perfect poached eggs: poach in the mildest simmer possible. Not a rolling boil.)
  5. Lemon juice. A little acid adds a brightening touch. Add it right as the broth comes off the heat, right before serving. But don’t add any acid if you would prefer to add…
  6. Cream. A little heavy cream, sour cream, or plain yogurt stirred in just as the soup comes off the boil will make a slightly heavier meal, and cool it down for even quicker eating. (But again, don’t add any dairy if you’ve added lemon juice. It will curdle.)
  7. Cheese. Parmesan, Romano or any hard salty cheese is great either shaved or grated over the soup right before serving.

Ready to move on to a quick Beef Soup-by-Numbers?

beef broth numbers
  1. Again, start with a nice beef broth. Whichever kind/brand you enjoy.
  2. Add your herbed soup seasoning. (Insert shameless plug for our own.)
  3. Optional…if you have any tomato juice in your fridge, this is a great way to use it up. It adds a wonderful brightness to beef broth.
  4. Again, poach an egg in the broth for some protein if you wish.
  5. For filler, add your quick cooking starch. A sprinkle of instant oatmeal is great in beef broth. It’s like barley…only faster and easier. Alternatively, toast up some of the stale bread you forgot you had in the breadbox, and add it right before serving.
  6. Blue cheese is amazing with beef broth. Add right before serving.
  7. Chopped pickles, or even a spoonful of relish is wonderful in beef broth. It brightens the flavors considerably.

Seriously…could a cup of hot, homemade soup be any easier? Don’t settle for the canned stuff…make your own soup-by-numbers.

by Josh Kilmer-Purcell

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