I recently returned from a river cruise from Bucharest to Budapest. You would have thought I was going to the North Pole, having read about possible freezing temperatures and unpredictable weather changes. I wore a heavy coat, packed long underwear and prepared for triple-layer outfits topped with wool scarves. I could feel the Danube’s winds chilling my bones as I boarded my flight to Atlanta one sunny November day.

Yes, the weather was truly unpredictable to the point of some days being warm enough for shirt sleeves, sun shining every day and a cabin so toasty, it made you want to curl up with a good book. I never wore the long underwear I ordered from Land’s End, or the warm, fuzzy robe that stuffed my suitcase over the top. However, we had the most wonderful soups served at almost every lunch and dinner on board the small ship. Hearty was the word for them. The kitchen staff must have heard the same weather forecast I did, because they were ready with meaty stews and soups like Hungarian goulash.

And, they gave out recipes.

 I was thrilled to bring home ideas for fighting off our winter, mild though it is, because there’s nothing like soup on a cold day. And we do get a few of those pipe-busting days.
First, let me share with you my all-purpose cream vegetable soup that saved my schedule many days when I was working full time and raising children. I call it (Any) Vegetable Cream Soup because you can use almost any vegetable you like. Then I’ll pull out the paprika I brought home and try a hearty soup with an eastern European twist.

My Vegetable Soup

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
2 or 3 beef soup bones
   with marrow
1 pound beef stew meat or
   round or chuck steak, cut into
   bite-sized pieces
Salt, pepper and Creole  
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
2 stalks celery, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 small can tomato paste
4 cups beef broth
3 cups water
1 Tablespoon Italian seasoning
1/2 medium cabbage, shredded
1/2 pounds green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 medium carrots
1 large potato
1 medium turnip
1 cup frozen small lima beans
3 ears corn, cut off the cobs

Heat oil in a large, heavy pot. Sprinkle meat with salt, pepper and Creole seasoning, and brown well on all sides. Remove meat from pot.

Add onions, bell pepper and celery to pot and sauté until wilted. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Add tomato paste and cook for a few minutes, then add broth, water, Italian seasoning, salt, pepper and Creole seasoning to taste. Return meat to pot and simmer until meat is almost tender, about 1 hour.

Add cabbage, green beans, carrots, potato, turnip and lima beans and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Then add corn and cook for 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serves 8 to 10

Hungarian Goulash

2 pieces thick-sliced bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
3 teaspoons sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 to 1 1/2 pounds beef shanks
1 to 1 1/2 pounds beef rump or chuck roast, cut into
   bite-size pieces
4 cups beef stock
1 small green bell pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small red bell pepper, cut into bite-sized pieces
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into
   bite-sized chunks
1 14.5-ounce can tomatoes, chopped, with liquid
Salt and pepper to taste
2 cups dried egg noodles
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Cook bacon in a large heavy pot until it browns slightly. Add onion and sauté until transparent. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute more. Remove pot from heat and stir in paprika and caraway seeds.

Salt and pepper meat and brown in a separate skillet. Add meat, juices from meat and brown bits in skillet to pot containing paprika. Add broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

Add potatoes, peppers, tomatoes and seasoning. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer over medium heat for about 20 minutes. Stir in noodles and cook until noodles are done, about 10 minutes. Adjust seasonings and stir in parsley. Serve in bowls with rustic bread.

Serves 6 to 8

*In Hungary, paprika is sautéed in oil in many dishes, unlike the way Americans use it as a garnish for potato salad and deviled eggs. This dish will allow you to experience the spice as it’s used in Hungary, where much of the world’s paprika is produced.

(Any) Vegetable Cream Soup

1-1 1/2 pounds vegetable, such as
   mushroom, broccoli, cauliflower,
   spinach, potato, etc.
2 1/2 Tablespoons butter
1 onion
4 cups chicken stock
Salt, pepper, garlic powder and Creole
   seasoning to taste*
1/2 cup half and half

Prepare vegetable, such as trimming rough ends as necessary. Cut into 1-inch pieces.

Melt butter in saucepan and sauté onion until transparent. Add chicken stock, vegetable of your choice  and seasonings. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer until vegetable is fork-tender. Do not overcook.

Move the vegetables to a blender or food processor. Add some of the liquid from the pot to the blender and purée. Return to pot. Or use a hand blender directly in the pot and puree to desired consistency. Add cream and heat to serve. Do not boil. Adjust seasonings.

Serves 4-6

* In addition to seasonings mentioned, you can add any that go with a particular vegetable, such as Italian seasoning with cauliflower and broccoli, or dill with potatoes.