Elaine Kahaner’s Cream of Whatever Soup made with butternut squash. Kahaner told us: “Because we are approaching Thanksgiving, it was seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and a couple of tablespoons of brown sugar. White pepper is better than black pepper. Another day, I might season this same soup with curry.” She sprinkled the soup with the last of her garden chives and suggests a garnish of finely chopped apples or pears. Photography by Harvey Kahaner

Editor’s Note: Have any Thanksgiving vegetable leftovers still hanging around? We suggest Elaine Kahaner’s Cream of Whatever Vegetable Soup.

After years of cooking and eating, I use recipes for ideas rather than as chemical equations to be followed exactly. I believe that if you can read, you can cook. Throw creativity and forethought into the mix, and cookbooks, recipe blogs or food columns can be the inspiration for all sorts of enjoyable meals. A few basic skills help, too, along with the desire to nourish and nurture.

A component of a decent repertoire for a home cook is soup. After all, don’t we all know that soup is good food? Hot or cold, chunky or smooth, spicy or mild, sweet or savory, a soup can serve as the canvas for a culinary artwork that can be an appetizer, entrée or dessert. Garnish it with herbs or embellish it with croutons, bread or crackers. Serve it in a cup, mug or bowl. And there you have it: a masterpiece!

If you keep a few standard staples on hand, you can create a delicious soup at a moment’s notice. For instance, a milk-based soup using simple techniques can be pulled practically out of thin air. Just use your imagination to build on the following description, which is a template rather than a precise recipe.


Serves 6 to 10, depending on the size of the bowl (several possibilities are pictured above), and the amount of broth and vegetables you add


A few tablespoons olive oil or butter, or combination
1 medium onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced, if desired
1 cup water
1 medium potato, diced
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk or 1½ cups half and half
Vegetable broth
Any vegetable, raw or cooked, fresh or frozen
Salt and pepper, to taste
Sour cream or yogurt, to garnish
Chives or parsley, to garnish

Warm the olive oil or butter in a soup pot, then saute the chopped onion in the fat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the optional garlic and sauté another 30 seconds or so until fragrant. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and add the potato. Cook until the diced potato can be pierced with a fork, about 10 minutes. Add the milk (or half and half) and add enough vegetable broth to reach the volume you’d like. Heat to warm the liquid.

Add whatever fresh or frozen vegetable you’ve got on hand. I’ve listed some examples with suggested seasonings are below.

Taste and season with salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth with a hand-held blender or use a food processor. Re-heat the soup, if necessary. Serve the soup in bowls garnished with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt. Then sprinkle each bowl with chopped chives or parsley.


Asparagus with dill, a combination that makes a perfect cold soup to enjoy when it’s warm out.
Canned pumpkin seasoned with pumpkin pie seasoning or curry powder.
Mushrooms with cumin
Cauliflower with basil
Cucumber with dill. Another cold delight!

Be a wise and wonderful cook! Think about what flavors and textures you like. If you are served a dish in a restaurant you like, ask how it was seasoned. If the server doesn’t know, ask them to ask the chef. Be adventurous! Be creative! Be daring! Serving yourself and others what you have made is one of the pleasures of life!

Elaine Kahaner at the stove. Kahaner told us that the photographs she sent us were shot by her husband, “Harvey Kahaner, MD, who is a pleasure to cook for.” Photography by Harvey Kahaner


“I have been cooking for family and friends for 60 years now. I still give dinner parties! After all this time, I can almost know what a recipe will taste like when prepared, just by reading it. Almost. My husband and I made an unspoken deal when he retired: If I keep cooking, he will keep cleaning up. It works for us. When we remodeled our kitchen, another recently retired friend asked why we had done so. I replied, ‘I still cook.’ Her husband fell on the floor, laughing. Laughing, cooking, and eating: such joys!”

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