Have you ever made a mistake that turned out to be a blessing in disguise? If you are nodding your head with a faint smile, but can’t remember when or how it happened, it’s safe to begin with where it happened, and for the cook that means the kitchen.

Mysteries in the kitchen often happen when an ingredient is missing. Last-minute substitutions don’t always turn out, but if you are in a hurry and there’s no time to run to the store, it’s time to be creative and keep your fingers crossed that your choice will become a tasty learning experience.

Two weeks ago, while snow fell and temperatures dropped, I reached for “Home Cookin’,” a 1992 cookbook bursting with Italian recipes compiled by the Naples family in memory of Joe and Lucia Naples, who migrated from Italy in 1919 with their 15 children to settle in Franklin Park, Illinois. In 1942, family members gathered to form a Naples Family Club to get together every month by celebrating beloved traditions with favorite recipes. When I saw a recipe for Italian sloppy joes, and had all the ingredients on hand, my apron strings were tied with plans to serve them for supper.

Plans changed when the finished product seemed too soupy to put on buns. Wondering if it was my fault for not draining the tomatoes as well as expected, the mixture was placed in the refrigerator. The next day, while heating a can of Progresso Tomato Basil soup, I decided to scoop some of the sloppy joe mixture into the soup. The finished product turned out to become a forever favorite Italian tomato basil soup. The leftover sloppy joe mixture was then frozen in portions to add to every can of Progresso tomato basil soup in the future. And that’s what being creative is all about.

Italian sloppy joes

1 ½ pounds mild Italian sausage (remove from casing), or use bulk sausage

½ cup chopped onion

½ cup chopped green pepper

½ cup sliced black olives

28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and chopped

1 teaspoon parsley

1 ½ teaspoons dried basil

Salt and pepper

One package hamburger buns

8 ounces shredded Mozzarella cheese

Brown sausage, onions and peppers. Add remaining ingredients. Simmer all for 30 minutes. Serve on split buns and top with shredded Mozzarella cheese.

Note: Or, freeze portions of mixture to add when making this Progresso soup in the future.

Another soup lesson involves a recipe that appeared here on May 4, 2014, shared by Ben Howard, executive chef of the Officer’s Club at the Redstone Arsenal Army Post located in Huntsville, Alabama. I recently made it again and added a few other ingredients. It was exceptional.

Officer’s Club creamy marsala mushroom soup

¼ cup butter

½ cup diced sweet onion

½ cup sweet red peppers, sliced in 2-inch lengths

8-12 ounces sliced Portobello mushrooms, sliced

1 garlic clove

Salt and white pepper to taste (see note)

¼ cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped, or ½ teaspoon dried thyme

Minced Italian parsley, or ½ teaspoon dried Italian parsley

¾ cup dry Italian Marsala (see note)

3 cups chicken stock

1 cup heavy cream

Brown sugar, optional (see note)

In saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and saute onions and red peppers. Add mushrooms, increase heat to high and saute mushrooms until tender. Reduce heat, add garlic and saute until soft, 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper, add flour, thyme and Italian parsley and stir 2-3 minutes. Add Marsala wine, stir and cook to reduce liquid by half before adding chicken stock. Simmer 15 minutes. Add cream, continue to simmer and season as desired.

Note: I didn’t have enough dry Marsala wine on hand so used a bottled Marsala cooking wine that I never use, but had on hand. The finished product was a bit salty and I don’t know if it had anything to do with the Marsala substitute, so be careful with the amount of salt you use.

If it seems too salty, use a trick Monty’s Blue Plate Diner Chef Tim Lloyd shared with me years ago to curb the saltiness in soup by just adding a small amount of brown sugar. I did and it worked perfectly.

With news that our beloved Ella’s Deli was closing, reader Cheryl Ackley asked if I could include a soup recipe served there for many years that was featured here in 1998. Thanks to Gloria Pitzer, who shared the recipe Ella’s presented to her during one of her trips to Madison to feature in her Secret Recipe newsletter, here it is again.

Ella’s Deli sweet and sour cabbage soup

20-ounce can beef gravy

40 ounces clear beef broth

20 ounces water

1 pound stewing beef, cut-up small

4 tablespoons dry minced onion

1 tablespoon dry minced celery leaf

20 ounces stewed tomatoes, cut up

4 teaspoons brown sugar

1 tablespoon vinegar

2 cups diced cabbage

16-ounce can sliced carrots, undrained

In a 3 ½ quart soup kettle, combine ingredients and bring to boil, turning down immediately to simmer for 2 hours or until cabbage and beef are tender. Freezes well.

Serves 8

Two years after Cooks’ Exchange began in 1993, many recipes were selected to include in my “Recipes of a Lifetime” cookbook published by the State Journal in 1995. Other than a few typos missed during proofing, I remain extremely proud of the treasure it became. On page 17 is a recipe reader Pat Morgan created as her own rendition of Ella’s sweet and sour cabbage soup … with a different name.

Sweet and sour cabbage borscht

2 pounds beef chuck or short ribs

2 quarts water

2 pounds cabbage, shredded

12 prunes

Juice of 2 lemons

¾ cup brown sugar

1-pound, 13-ounce can tomatoes

2 apples, grated

1 onion, grated

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon pepper

Cover beef with water and simmer for 1 hour. Cool and skim off fat. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 1 hour longer, or until meat is tender. Add more lemon juice or brown sugar to reach desired flavor. Serves 8 to 10

Note: Morgan used bottled ReaLemon juice, and 1 quart of home canned tomatoes when available.

Also, if you have a copy of “Recipes of a Lifetime: and would like to make corrections in your book, send a self-addressed stamped envelope to me at the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI 53708.

If you don’t need quarts of soup, here is a wonderful clam chowder recipe from “Table for Two: The Cookbook for Couples” by Warren Caterson, who grew up on Long Island where every weekend meant the home was filled with relatives, and little kids for his Uncle Charlie to take out to the flats to dig for clams. This is Uncle Charlie’s recipe using canned clams and pared down to serve only two.

Classic New England clam chowder

2/3 cup chopped onion

2 garlic cloves

Water or bottled clam juice

3 cups peeled and diced boiling potatoes

2/3 cup diced celery

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

2 10-ounce cans minced clams, drained with juice reserved

2 2/3 cups half-and-half cream

¼ teaspoon white sugar

½ cup butter, melted

½ cup all-purpose flour

Combine onion, garlic and enough water/clam juice to make a smooth paste. Set aside. Combine potatoes, celery, salt, pepper, onion mixture, and juice from clams in a medium Dutch oven or large saucepan. Augment with enough water/clam juice to cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are soft, about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir in the flour and whisk for 5 minutes to make a roux. Stir half-and-half and sugar into the soup. Then slowly whisk the roux into soup. Cook and stir until thickened. Stir in clams and adjust seasonings.

Recent request: Favorite meatloaf recipes.

Contact the Cooks’ Exchange in care of the Wisconsin State Journal, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI 53708 or by email at greenbush4@aol.com.