Canned cream of mushroom soup is a versatile pantry staple, useful as an ingredient as well as a standalone meal. It's a handy standby when you want to add creaminess to a dish that will also benefit from a mild mushroom flavor, especially if you want to cut down on preparation time. Unlike fresh cream, canned cream of mushroom soup keeps for years, and can be heated for both short and long periods of time with other ingredients without separating.
Slow Cooker Meals
Canned cream of mushroom soup works well for making creamy dishes in a slow cooker. It's not always necessary to brown the meat before putting it in a slow cooker with other ingredients, but if you're using ground beef, brown it in a skillet then drain the fat and excess liquid first. Any cut of meat is suitable for slow cooker meals -- consider whole pork chops, cubed stewing beef, whole or crumbled sausages or frozen meatballs. Because slow cookers prevent moisture from evaporating, there's no need to add water or broth to the concentrated soup. The exception to this rule is one-pot meals that include rice, pasta or potatoes, which will require some extra liquid.
You can just cook the meat with the can of soup, but the addition of vegetables results in a more interesting dish. Add chopped onions, fresh or canned tomatoes, sliced bell peppers or broccoli. Frozen vegetables, or quick-cooking ones, like spinach, should be added to the cooker only for the final stage of cooking.
Quick Stovetop Meals
Canned cream of mushroom soup creates an almost instant sauce -- you just need to heat it through and add enough liquid to reach the right consistency. The liquid can be water, or something more flavorful, like broth or a can of tomatoes with the juice. Saute meat and vegetables in a pan until they're almost done, then add the soup and liquid at the end. When the sauce is hot, simply serve over rice, pasta or grains, or with a side dish. Use a cut of meat that cooks quickly, such as ground beef, sliced steak, bacon or thin strips of pork.
Transform the cream of mushroom soup into a stroganoff-style sauce with the addition of Worcestershire sauce, tomato paste and a little beef broth. Give it some Italian flavor with fresh basil and a sprinkle of Parmesan before serving with garlic bread and pasta. Just the soup, perhaps with some fresh vegetables, more mushrooms and herbs, makes a quick and simple sauce to go over ravioli.
Casseroles and Pies
Use canned cream of mushroom soup to create a rich base for casseroles and pies, which you can assemble in advance then put in the oven an hour or so before dinner. Layer rice, uncooked pasta or sliced potatoes with vegetables and a meat of your choice -- browned in advance if you wish -- then pour over the can of soup, blended with water, if necessary. Cover with foil and bake until it's bubbly. If you want, sprinkle some grated cheese and breadcrumbs over the top for the final 10 minutes.
A similar combination of cubed meat, vegetables and the soup mixture makes a delicious creamy pie filling. You can prepare the filling on the stove in advance to cut down on baking time. Use a prepared or homemade pie crust, top the dish with a sheet of thawed puff pastry, or top with heaps of mashed potato for a shepherd's pie-inspired meal that's hearty and comforting when the weather's cold.
Techniques and Tips
Canned soups tend to be high in sodium, so you won't generally need to add any salt to meals prepared using cream of mushroom soup. Look for low-sodium and low-fat versions if you're going to include salty ingredients like bacon or ham. For a more intense mushroom flavor, saute different varieties of mushrooms, such as shiitake and Portobello, perhaps with some garlic, and add them to the dish.
Remember you don't need to use the whole can of soup -- just a few spoonfuls will add creaminess and a mild mushroom flavor to a dish without overpowering it. Transfer the remainder to a plastic container with a lid and keep it in the fridge for a few days, or indefinitely in the freezer. Don't store it in the opened can.