Can A Bowl Of Soup Cure The Winter Blahs?

Bah humbug.

Yes, I know “A Christmas Carol” season has come and gone, but I’m feeling a bit Scroogish about the entire month of January — and I anticipate it could last well into February and maybe even March.

With no trip to anywhere warm on the horizon again this winter, I’m having trouble maintaining an upbeat, the glass-is-half-full attitude. It’s more like a driveway-is-completely-full-of-snow-and-winter-bites attitude at our house.

The older I get, the less I appreciate about the cold weather months.

But there is one aspect of winter that I can wrap my mitten around — soup. I’m sort of a soup junkie. If soup is on the menu, I’m apt to order it. During my college days, my favorite late-night go-to place was a small shop that served sandwiches and unique soups. Soup is on the menu at our house at least once a week when the weather is cold. Last night, for instance, we had chicken-tortellini soup with spinach (see online blog of March 16, 2010).

January is National Soup Month, and a year ago at this time, I wrote about the trend of soup exchanges, for which participants brew up a big batch of soup, divide it into containers, and share the results with their friends. I have yet to hear of such an event planned in our area, but think it might be just the thing to ease the winter bah-humbugs.

Here are a couple of soup recipes that are on my to-try list, starting with this variation on vegetable-beef from the latest edition of Eating Well magazine, which would utilize the barley in my cupboard.

Quick Beef & Barley Soup

Trim and cut 8- ounces sirloin steak into bite-size pieces. Sprinkle steak with ¼ teaspoon pepper. Heat 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the steak and cook, stirring often, until browned on all sides, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Add another 2 teaspoons of oil, 1 medium onion, chopped, and 1 large stalk celery, sliced, and cook, stirring, until beginning to soften, about 2 minutes. Add 1 large carrot, sliced, and cook, stirring for 2 minutes more. Add 2 tablespoons tomato paste and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme and cook, stirring, until vegetables are coated with the tomato paste and are beginning to brown, 1 to 2 minutes more.

Add ¾ cup quick-cooking barley, 4 cups reduced-sodium beef broth, 1 cup water, ¼ teaspoon salt and another ¼ teaspoon pepper; bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain simmer and cook until the barley is tender, about 15 minutes. Return the beef and any accumulated juice to the pot and heat through, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat; stir in 1 to 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar (to taste). Serve with crusty bread.

Broccoli-Cheese Soup

In saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add ½ cup chopped onion and 2 cloves garlic, minced; cook until onion is translucent, about 7 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons flour, ¼ teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper; cook and stir until bubbly.

Add 2 cups milk; cook and stir until soup begins to thicken, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in 1 cup grated or cubed American cheese and stir until cheese melts. Remove from heat and set aside.

In a smaller saucepan, combine 1½ cups chicken broth with one 10-ounce package frozen chopped broccoli. (You can substitute frozen California medley vegetables — broccoli, cauliflower and carrots.) Bring to a simmer over medium heat, cover, and cook until broccoli is tender.

Add broccoli and cooking liquid to cheese mixture and heat over low heat until hot, stirring constantly. Serve immediately.