There's nothing like a pot of homemade soup on a cool evening and this recipe, from my mother, has been a mainstay in our family. The recipe is very easy to prepare, versatile, inexpensive, nutritious, and it's even better warmed over the next day.
The Meat: The default is a pound but you can use anywhere from a half pound to two pounds of hamburger browned, drained, and set aside. You can also substitute ground pork, chicken, turkey, or, like my sister the vegetarian, soy based ground beef substitute.
The Veggies: If you prefer fresh vegetables you can dice and parboil your choice of potatoes, carrots, celery, onions, tomatos, brocolli, cauliflower, or any other fresh vegetables you're partial to in whatever proportions you like until you have somewhere between four and eight cups. You can also use canned vegetables like corn, sweet peas, green beans, or mixed vegetables. I normally use a mixture of fresh and canned vegetables starting with about a cup of diced fresh potatoes and a half cup each of fresh carrots, onions and celery. I prepare these by putting two cups of water in my five quart "soup" pan setting the range at medium high heat and adding the carrots as soon as the water comes to a boil. I adjust the range as needed to keep the carrots down to a slow boil for twenty minutes and add the rest of my fresh vegetables leaving the pot at a slow boil for an additional twenty minutes.
Bringing it together: Combine the meat and partially cooked fresh vegetables in your soup pan. I normally use a five quart pot but a larger pot is fine, especially if you're feeding a hungry mob of people. I then add a couple of 15 ounce cans of tomato sauce and a can of mixed vegetables. If there's room in the pot I add a can of corn, green beans, or sweet peas (one of each if there's room, some combination of them if there isn't), set the heat on low, cover the pot, and let it all simmer for at least an hour before serving. If I'm "organized" and planning ahead I may make the soup a day before, store it in the fridge, and warm it over before serving it because it really does taste better that way.
At different times in the past I've added a half cup of rice or a pasta to my soup. I especially like to add barley, but it's sometimes hard to find. If I'm making soup with chicken or turkey I add some chicken stock or extra water and one or two chicken bullion cubes instead of tomato sauce. When I'm using hamburger the only additional seasonings I normally use is very small amounts of salt and pepper.
Unexpected guests? No problem, just add another can or two of vegetables, tomato sauce, or water (whatever it takes to fill the pot back up) and send somebody to the market for saltines while it's heating up.