The perfect gift of love and life … food! 

With the holidays upon us, nothing may be more appreciated than a jar or container of home cooked soup with a ribbon around it and a nice baguette. Guaranteed it will not end up in a holiday grab bag exchange!

A big pot of minestrone, vegetable, chili…, you name it, will make a whole bunch of last minute gifts that really will be used — and appreciated. 

You were wondering what to do with all the old yogurt containers and such anyway, right?

So, if you haven’t already decided what you should make and how to present it, then I’ll create an example that you, along with a friend or maybe a couple of kids, can put together and make a little project of it.

Let’s make a highly customized vegetable soup with pasta, potato or grains, then your choice of fresh sautéed veggies. 

We’ll begin with a sautéed blend of diced celery, onion and sliced carrot, this mixture added to chicken, beef or vegetable broth. Perhaps you would like a can or two of tomato product (sauce, whole, crushed). There are infinite combinations of these items, yet if you choose the ones you like then chances are you will love it. Your friends will, too, at least they will eat the baguette. 

Start with the broth and make it easy on yourself. Buy a couple boxes of chicken broth, 32 oz. each. I use low sodium since I will adjust later. A 15 oz. can or two of tomato puree, or whole tomatoes (that you can chop into the sizes you want, along with the juice) — even more if you like. 

Sauté a cup each of sliced carrot, diced celery and onion in oil or butter until starting to soften. Then add some crushed garlic and sauté a minute or two longer. Then add it to the broth in a good-sized pot. Start warming this. 

Next, sauté your choice(s) of absolutely anything from diced, sliced or chopped peppers, squash, zucchini, mushrooms, green beans, even chicken, etc. Veggies will give up some liquid so you can use a good amount of them. A cup of any one thing is a good amount. 

Sauté in butter or oil until almost soft. Add them to the pot along with any remaining liquid. Season with whatever you like — oregano, basil, chili powder, cayenne salt, pepper, or another. Stir.

Now you could toss in some rinsed barley, lentils, quinoa or rice, even diced potato (about 1/3 cup, 1 cup if potato). These take some time to cook. You can now even add a can of beans (including the liquid), and in a little bit maybe a little orzo or alphabet pasta (it swells). Pasta will be done fairly quickly so add it toward the end. About 1/3 of a cup as well. 

Bring to a boil then simmer until the texture is to your liking. Taste frequently for seasoning.

Too thin? Add a mixture of a tablespoon of cornstarch and cold water (no lumps). Bring it to a quick boil, this should thicken it. 

Too thick? Add enough water and adjust seasonings. Reheat. If it becomes too heavy because you went over the line with quantities, an extra box of broth may rescue the operation. 

When you are satisfied that it’s too good to give away, then it’s done!

Using a ladle, measure how many scoops it takes to fill a normal soup size bowl and use that number as a guide.

If you are giving this to one special friend, a couple or a family, let them know you want to drop off something that needs refrigeration. They will respond. They can freeze it or eat it very soon. 

No baguette? A big craft beer works! You’re a hero.

I wish you all the best holiday season ever.