Cooking without a recipe – Soup

There is a lot to be said for “Cooking by Instinct”.  It saves time, money and your sanity.  You know what you like, you know what you have on hand and you really need to know how to turn those leftovers and freezer gems into a great meal or two.  A quick run to the grocery store can easily set me back $20 or more. You don’t need a “recipe”.  You just need to know a few basics and you are on your way.

January has found me cooking through my freezer.

Broth / Stock


Freezer diving today unearthed 4 quarts of chicken and turkey stock, a small container of chicken fat (yes – I saved chicken fat, not particularly healthy but there is a lot of flavor there) and a turkey breast. Sounds like Soup to me! We don’t need a recipe! What we do need is a guideline.



I start almost all my soups the same way.
Carrots, onions and celery – sauteed in some form of fat. Either butter, oil or as I said, chicken fat.

Veggies for soupIn this case it was 3 carrots,
1 large onion and a
whole bunch of celery. Garlic would be good, but I didn’t have any.
About 1/4 cup of chicken fat – you could use butter or oil.
Dice up the veggies and into the pot with the fat to cook for about 10 minutes.
Season with salt and pepper or garlic salt and white pepper – what ever you choose.


– Add about 3 heaping tablespoons flour and cook for another 10 minutes.

– Add broth / stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer.

Fresh Thyme


Thyme goes  well with chicken or turkey.   I picked  bunch of thyme and threw that in. The leaves all cook off and then you can just  pick out the stems.  Dried poultry seasoning works well too.

Now, go freezer diving again.  Do you have partial packages of green beans? corn? peas?  Oh don’t forget the turkey or chicken.  It is YOUR soup – make it what you what. Like spice?  Add some chili flakes!


My turkey was already cooked, I diced that up and added it along with the green beans etc…  I do this so it just warms through and doesn’t over cook and become dry and mealy.

For the additions:  Pasta – Orzo, Egg noodles? White Rice? Wild Rice? Barley?  The choice is yours. I found a half a box of Orzo that needed to be used up before it got knocked over and spilled all over the pantry, so I went with that.

This made enough for 3 large servings for dinner plus 3 quarts of soup left for lunches and after school snacks for the next couple of days. The cost was negligible.   I did at one time purchase or as in the case of the broth, make everything but I didn’t have to run to the store. I put to work all those partial packages and odds and ends that often get freezer burn and end up in the trash.  Who said there is no such thing as a “Free Meal”?

Turkey soup


Cooking without a recipe – Soup — 24 Comments

  1. I always keep homemade chicken stock on hand, although mine is usually in a sloppy Zip-Lock bag, not a neat and pretty jar! Love the tutorial! Although I like following recipes, it’s definitely a lot more fun to make soup from what you have on hand!

    • Good morning, Linda.
      I do have some ‘baggies’ of stock but on more than one occasion they have sprung a leak while defrosting. The jars take up a bit more room in the freezer but they do stack well.
      If only I would get busy and learn to pressure can – those jars could be on the shelf instead of in the freezer.
      Thanks for stopping in.

  2. I have a chicken on roasting now that I plan on making stock with the bones and a quick weeknight soup with the leftovers! Yum!

  3. I forgot to say that the soup and “recipe” look fantastic. Given that you’re in California and so happy w/ it, can you imagine how happy I’d make Minnesotans with it?! Nic (and new to me) idea about the chicken fat–probably would work to add a bit in an onion-garlic saute for a grain sidedish.

  4. just wanted to add- when i was a kid we always had soup on tuesday nites- mom cleaned out the fridge for wednesday was “grocery day”-

  5. yum- that soup looks amazing-i have a turkey breat-cooked- in the freezer- guess it is time to pull it out to thaw:-)

  6. I love throwing things together for a hearty soup and rarely use a recipe. That’s why I very seldom rate a recipe because I may change it too much. Your soup looks delish. Love Turkey!

  7. BN: My mom was a recipe-follower, so I tend to have a similar style. I make a handful of soups, but I’m usually sticking pretty close to the recipe. If the men and boys in my household enjoyed soup, I would probably utilize the “wing it” method more often. Thanks for sharing.

    • Good morning Bikerfamily. One of the problems with the ‘wing it’ method is that if you by chance make something GREAT it is very hard to recreate it exactly the same way a second time. I am terrible about telling people how much of any spice I used. A dash of this and a dash of that doesn’t always work! When it comes to Asian dishes I have to refer to a recipe because I didn’t grow up using those flavors / ingredients.
      I didn’t grow up eating bean soups so I never made them, I have learned to like them and NB Papa loves bean soups but none of my kids do because they didn’t grow up eating them.
      Thanks for stopping in. It is good to ‘see’ you again.

  8. ANOTHER great blog Baking Nana. I love making soup. never use a recipe. great way to use up leftovers. with fresh baked loaf of artisan bread, or fluffy biscuits, it’s down right comfort in a bowl! 🙂

    • Hi Weeble! I didn’t have time for fresh baked bread last night and as soon as I sat down I knew, I had missed the mark. Oh well, dinner was still good and I saved myself a few calories! There is something so ‘homey’ about a piping hot bowl of soup!
      Thanks for stopping in!

  9. That soup looks very good and at this time of the year Bill and I like a good soup. We call recipeless cooking, cooking from the hip. We call Bill’s soups Everything but the kitchen sink soup, you just never know what he will throw in there, but my fridge and freezer are always much cleaner when he is done.

    • Hi Joey.
      We always called cooking without a recipe, “Cooking”. It wasn’t until I started doing photos for AllRecipes did I start actually following a recipe! NB Papa still says, “Is this a recipe?” Meaning, “Do you have to photograph the food or can we eat?”
      I am not sure when people stopping following there instincts (or even developing those instincts) but I bet it was when prepackaged prepared food became the norm.
      Sounds like Bill has a handle on throwing together a good soup!

  10. Thanks for your blog, Baking Nana! I wish we were soup eaters. Hubby only likes really thick creamy soups–actually only one—the clam chowder from a local restaurant. It’s too bad because it’s so healthy for you! But I loved your photos and your freezer-diving ideas anyway!

    • Hi Marianne. I don’t suppose that soups are for everyone, especially soups chock full of veggies! 😉
      I have a really good recipe for lovely creamy clam chowder, NB Papa doesn’t eat clams so I don’t make it often. One of these days I will get that written up.
      Thanks for stopping in!

  11. Hey BN – This was a GREAT blog!! To me, soup is comfort food – add some bread and you’ve got heaven in a bowl!! And you are absolutely right- forget the recipe- just start with the basics, as you did – and build from there – it’s your soup – put in it what you want – or use up what you’ve got – color outside the lines – lol!!! You go girl!! I remember when I first learned to make soup – and afterwards I thought to myself – “Hey, this was easy” – and I’ve loved left-overs ever since – – they become tomorrow’s soup!!! YAHOOOOOO!!

    • Hi Pam, thanks so much. Soup is indeed comfort food!
      I tend to read cookbooks and look at recipes for inspiration. It drives me nuts when someone says, “I can’t make that it calls for kidney beans and all I have are pintos.” If they are on the pantry shelf chances are you like them. So use pinto beans! 🙂
      Thanks for stopping in!

  12. Hello Baking Nana, I love soup no matter what time of year Like you I have never followed a recipe. I was taught young by my mom on making chicken broth and making sure there is always some in the freezer, which there is. I must admit I do buy no salt added boxed chicken broth for just in case, it comes in handy for gravies and such. Orzo is a favorite here to add to soup. Your photo is lovely.

    • Thank you manella. I too always have a couple of boxes of broth on the shelf of the pantry. It is one of those ‘must haves’. Onions and carrots are mandatory, in fact I get a little nervous when I am low on onions. Garlic is usually on hand but last night I discovered my garlic was dried out and icky.
      I better go check the freezer and see what is on the menu for tonight!

  13. Yum! We are deep in soup weather in these parts. As you know, I do most all my cooking by instinct. A recipe is a guideline for me. This way we throw away almost NO food. Sure, there is the odd item that gets “lost” and then not found until it’s a science experiment. But for the most part all food is prepared and eaten! 🙂

    • If I waited for it to get cold we would never have soup. I love soup!
      Everyone should be able to cook by instinct, saves you so much time and trouble, not to mention money!
      Thanks for stopping in! It is good to ‘see’ you. 🙂