Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup 1Wasn’t it just last week that I was commenting to someone how mild our winter has been thus far in the Chicago area? Well apparently I neglected to knock on wood because today we are MORE than making up for our snowfall deficit with the “Superbowl of Snowstorms.”  I have officially declared it an “all pajama day” at our house, along with getting the fireplace going and of course the game later on.

Days like this also call for hearty and comforting soups, like this Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup, a recipe passed on to me a few years back by my sister. I actually made this soup earlier last week and it’s the perfect thing to make for a crazy busy work week.  Just prep some onions/carrots/celery the night before: Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup 3

The next morning, into the slow cooker it goes with some chicken stock (I use my Smitten Kitchen Slow Cooker “Uncluttered Chicken Stock” which I always have on hand in the freezer). For a true vegetarian version simply substitute vegetable stock. Add a can of tomatoes:

IMAG0973Some beans of your choice (I used Great Northern Beans this time around) And of course the secret ingredient for any minestrone soup: a Parmesan rind.  Low and behold, look what they carry at my most awesome grocery store, Mariano’s: Parmesan rinds!

IMAG0993

Into the slow cooker it all goes and simmers away for a good 8 hours (on low)

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup| Dinner Is ServedThen about thirty minutes prior to serving, stir in some chopped zucchini, spinach and al dente ditalini pasta.Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup 2

As for my snow day today, I’ll be cooking up a big batch of my favorite Andouille Sausage and Chicken Jambalaya, enjoying the winter wonderland, some football and later, a glass or two of red wine by the fire.

Winter Wonderland 2015

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup

5-6 cups homemade chicken stock (or reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth)

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes

1 (15-ounce) can beans (either Great Northern, Cannellini, Kidney or Chick Peas), drained and rinsed

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

1 cup onion, chopped

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/4 teaspoon dried thyme

2 bay leaves

1 Parmesan cheese rind

Salt and ground black pepper

2 cups slightly undercooked (al dente)  ditalini pasta

1 medium zucchini, chopped

2 cups fresh baby spinach

Parmesan or Romano cheese for serving

  •  In a slow cooker, combine 5 cups broth, tomatoes, beans, carrots, celery, onion, oregano, basil, thyme, Parmesan rind, bay leaves, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 8 hours or on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours.
  • Thirty minutes before the soup is done cooking, add ditalini, zucchini and spinach. Cover and cook 30 more minutes. Add additional cup of chicken stock if soup is too thick. Remove bay leaves and Parmesan rind and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Ladle soup into bowls and sprinkle parmesan cheese over top.

Serves 6-8

Slow Cooker Minestrone Soup 4

 

Roasted Squash Soup with Pie Spices

Roasted Squash Soup with Pie Spices | Dinner Is ServedI am looking out at my back yard on an absolutely glorious day here in Chicago and thinking “How could anyone not love Fall”?  Beautiful leaves, a bit of chill in the air and yet still warming sun. Apples, cider, pumpkins and squash.  And soup!  And squash soup!

If you’ve been anywhere near Pinterest or thumbing through the pages of food magazines, you’ve undoubtedly come across many recipes for and variations of squash soup. No surprise here, as winter squashes are infinitely versatile, at home in both the savory world (think curried squash soup) and the sweet (think pumpkin pie). This recipe, which I will say is my all time favorite, straddles both worlds with a  blend of sultry spices traditionally found in pie recipes:  Roasted Squash Soup with Pie Spices

It also calls for a trio of winter squashes, each adding a unique texture and flavor to the soup, including one that may be new to some of you: Kabocha Squash. Epicurious online describes kabocha as “The New Squash” in a recent article. This may be the first time I am actually ahead of the trend!Kabocha Squash

Butternut SquashAcorn Squash

The most challenging part of any recipe which calls for winter squash is, of course, is cutting the squash in half (check out this article from The Kitchn for tips on how to accomplish this task safely and effectively). But once you’ve managed this labor of love, the rest of the soup prep is a breeze!  Just season and steam roast in the oven, sauté some onions and simmer everything together with chicken stock and the spices, then take the whole thing for a spin in the food processor along with a little cream.

Last, comes the fun part with soup: the garnish. I love the original recipe’s call for adding some of the pie spices to crème fraiche and swirling it in. Toasted bread croutons are another possibility, although I tend to like the simplicity of fresh chives. This recipes yields quite a bit so unless you’re feeding the masses, plan on leftovers you can bring to the office for lunch and make your co-workers insanely jealous!  Remember too that squash based soups tend to thicken, so feel free to add a little chicken stock or water before reheating.

Until next time, enjoy the glory that is fall!Roasted Squash Soup with Pie Spices

Roasted Squash Soup with Pie Spices *

  • 1 small kabocha squash (about 3 1/2 lbs) – halved and seeded
  • 1 medium butternut squash (about 2 lbs) – halved and seeded
  • 1 medium acorn squash (about 1 1/2 lbs) – halved and seeded
  • 2 cups water
  • 4 TBS unsalted butter
  • 1 white onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground ginger
  • Salt and coarsely ground black pepper
  • 5 cups low sodium chicken stock
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 8-oz. container crème fraiche (or sour cream)

Preheat oven to 350°. Season squash halves with some salt and pepper and place, cut side down on 2 large, rimmed baking sheets. Pour 1 cup of water onto each sheet. Cover with heavy duty aluminum foil and bake for about 1 hour, or until tender. Carefully remove foil and let squash cool slightly. Using a dish towel, hold each piece of squash and scoop out the contents into a bowl.

While squash is cooling, melt the 4 TBS butter in a large casserole or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8  minutes. Add the spices and continue sautéing for an additional 2 minutes. Add the chicken stock; increase heat and bring to a boil. Add the squash and heavy cream.  Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.

Working in batches, puree the soup in a food processor (or alternatively use an immersion blender).  Return soup to pot and season to taste with salt and pepper and any additional spices, if desired.

Blend a pinch of each of the spices into the crème fraiche.  Serve soup, hot, in bowls and garnish with crème fraiche.

Serves 10

* recipe adapted from Food & Wine magazine

Chicken and Vegetable Stew with Wild Herbs

2013-10-14 17.52.34

..or as they may call it in France: “Ragoût de poulet avec des légumes et herbes sauvages”  Ah yes, those savage herbs.  Let’s talk about those for a bit shall we?

In my recent gourmet excursion to Cyber Cucina, this was one of the very many treasures that found its way into my basket. Terre Exotique d’Herbes Sauvages.  I’m all over this one!

2013-10-14 17.56.19

Interestingly, these herbs are not French in origin but rather from the Island of Crete.  Which, if I remember any of my high school geography, is located in the Mediterranean Ocean in between Greece and Turkey.  Just take a look at this shot.  I’m imagining the herbs growning wild and filling the air with sweet scents…

Psiloritis3(js)

This mixed blend contains thyme, rosemary, basil, marjoram and oregano.  Such a classic Mediterranean inspired combination and all tucked away in a beautiful canister.  The aroma upon opening was…intense and a bit intoxicating. I admit I closed my eyes for a brief second and imagined the warm breezes of the ocean and sweet smell of the land.  Yes, I know, I really need to get out more often don’t I?

Thinking of recipes to create using this spice blend was easy because it’s so versatile.  Any style of Mediterranean cooking would benefit from them and that covers a LOT of territory.  I initially thought of a lamb dish but in the end,  thought you’d love an easy and healthy chicken stew, made even more delicious with the addition of these beautiful herbs.

The base of this stew is a colorful array of fresh veggies.

VeggiesA great way to start, right?  Then throw in wedges of new potatoes:

2013-10-13 15.44.41Some smoky fire roasted tomatoes:

2013-10-13 15.45.34Then season your chicken with some salt, pepper and of course, this:

2013-10-14 17.56.36

Saute it all up in a skillet, let it simmer away for a mere 10-15 minutes, and you are finis!  Serve hot with a little chopped fresh parsley or if you want a little spoonful of black olive tapenade and a baguette.  You’ll love the bright flavors and warm spices and start dreaming up new uses for this versatile, wild SAVAGE blend!  To purchase these unique herbs, visit Cyber Cucina online at http://www.cybercucina.com.

Chicken and Vegetable Stew with Wild Herbs

2 medium carrots, chopped

1 medium zucchini, chopped

1 medium red pepper, cored, seeded and chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, minced

2 TBS extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 pounds new potatoes, cut into thin wedges

1 pound chicken tenders, diced OR 1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, diced

1 TBS Terre Exotique Wild Herbs (plus more to taste)*

Kosher flake salt and coarsely ground black pepper

1 can (about 14.5 oz) diced fire roasted tomatoes (do not drain)

1 cup dry white wine

1 quart + 1 cup chicken stock

Fresh parsley

Season chicken with salt, pepper and about half of the wild herb blend.  Heat 1 TBS of the olive oil in a soup pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat.  Brown the chicken briefly (just to give it a little color), then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add remaining olive oil to the pan and add carrots, zucchini, red pepper, and onion.  Saute until slightly softened, about 5 minutes.  Add minced garlic and continue to saute for about 30 seconds.  Season vegetables with some salt, pepper and remaining wild herbs then add the cup of wine; let boil down for about a minute.  Add the potatoes, tomatoes, and broth.  Cover the pan and bring to a boil.

Remove cover and add chicken.  Lower the heat and continue to simmer until the chicken and vegetables are cooked through (about 10-15 minutes longer.  Season stew to taste with additional salt, pepper or wild herbs, if desired.  Garnish with some chopped parsley and serve.

Yields: 6 servings

*Other mixed herb blends can be substituted for the Terre Exotique should you so desire.

Broccoli and Red Pepper Cheddar Chowder

2013-05-03 16.29.42

Spring has pretty much been a bust here in Chicago, although I can feel dagger eyes from people living in Colorado, Minnesota and northern Wisconsin.  Yes, I know I really shouldn’t complain too much, but still.  It’s May and I’m still throwing on my parka to fetch the morning paper. Grrr!

These days of “not quite winter but almost summer” can also be a bit conflicting from a food point of view.  Tired of stews and heavy casseroles, but hard to muster any excitement for the grill.  Traditional spring delicacies like fiddlehead ferns, ramps and morels are scarce, unless you happen to own a high end restaurant.  So for now I’m just going to settle for a bowl of this amazingly delicious soup that satisfies both my need for something a little warm and yet a little fresh and green.

It’s just about the easiest thing in the world to make, and I will bet you that even the little ones in your home will enjoy this (especially if you go with Option 2 and puree the entire soup).

Go figure, in the time it’s taken me to write this post, the sun has come out and the temperature has climbed to a balmy 70°.  Hiya Spring, what took you so long to get here?

Spring Collage

Broccoli and Red Pepper Cheddar Chowder

1 small bunch broccoli (about 1/2 a pound)

1 large or a few medium boiling potatoes (about 1/2 a pound total), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

2 TBS butter

1 large onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, cored, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch pieces

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp dry mustard

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

2 TBS all-purpose flour

3/4 cup heavy cream

1 1/2 cups coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese plus more for garnish

1 TBS Savory Spice Smoky Hills Cheese Powder or Penzey’s Sicilian Salad Seasoning blend (optional)

Cut off broccoli stems and discard lower third of stems. Peel stems and finely chop. Cut remaining broccoli into 1-inch florets.

Bring approximately 3-4 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 TBS salt. Blanch florets for about 2-3 minutes until just tender. Using a slotted spoon, transfer broccoli to an ice bath to stop the cooking. Transfer 3 cups of the cooking liquid to a glass measuring jar and set aside. Drain florets and place on a paper towel to soak up any excess liquid; set aside.

Melt butter in a 4 quart heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Add potato, onions, bell pepper, broccoli stems and garlic.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add cumin, mustard, salt and pepper and continue to cook for about 1 minute.  Add flour and cook, stirring occasionally, for an additional 2 minutes.  Pour in reserved cooking liquid, stir and partially cover.  Simmer for about 10 minutes, until potatoes are tender.

Reduce heat to low.  Add cream, grated cheese and optional cheese powder.  Stir over low heat until cheese is melted, then adjust seasonings.

Option 1) Remove 2 cups of soup and puree in blender.  Return to pot, add reserved broccoli florets, stirring for a minute or to to reheat. Serve with additional grated cheddar cheese.

Option 2) Puree entire contents of soup until smooth. Return to pot, add reserved broccoli florets, stirring for a minute or two to reheat. Serve with additional grated cheddar cheese.

Serves 4

Cream of Leek and Parsnip Soup with Sherry and Thyme

IMG_2664I am sure feeling the love today, I tell you.  So much so that I’m going to defy my own rules and add a little heart symbol thingie to this post ♥   Who knew that parsnips and leeks could bring such joy to one’s soul and yet here they are, simmered gently with a splash of sherry and infused with fresh thyme.  All pureed into a velvety, silken soup.

Here’s how much I love this soup: If Julia Child, James Beard, Thomas Keller, the President and the Pope (past or future one) were all coming over to dinner, I would serve them this soup as a first course!  Yes, it is that good.

I am also overjoyed that I remembered I have a set of these very lovely soup bowls.  Such an elegant soup deserves an equally elegant bowl, don’t you think?  Finally I am loving the fact I was able to use my real-deal Canon 35mm camera to take this photo.  One of these days, I will share with you my food photography frustrations, which are many.

But not today, because today is all about love and joy and this heavenly soup, my bowls and my halfway decent photograph and of course little heart symbols ♥

Cream of Leek and Parsnip Soup with Sherry and Thyme

For the croutons:
1/3 cup olive oil
3 or 4 slices of  dense, white sandwich bread (such as Pepperidge Farm), cut into 1/2-inch cubes
For the soup:
2 Tbs. olive oil
3 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts only (from 2 to 3 large leeks), rinsed and drained
1 tsp. coarse salt; more to taste
1 lb. parsnips, peeled, quartered, and cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup dry sherry (fino) or dry white wine
6 cups homemade or low-salt canned chicken broth
3 sprigs fresh thyme
2 small bay leaves, broken in half
1/2 tsp. white peppercorns, lightly crushed (or a pinch of ground white pepper)
1/4 cup heavy cream (optional)
1 – 2 Tbs. chopped fresh thyme, for garnish

Make the croutons: Heat the 1/3 cup oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the bread cubes and fry, tossing and stirring, until crisp and golden on all sides. Drain on paper towels, and do not start nibbling on them because you won’t be able to stop and then you’ll have none left for the soup!

Make the soup: Heat the 2 Tbs. oil in a wide soup pot over medium heat. Add the leeks, season lightly with salt, and cook gently until the leeks have softened and just begin to turn golden, 8 to 10 min. Add the parsnips and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the parsnips are fragrant, about 2 min. Add the sherry, increase the heat to medium high, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated. Add the broth. Tie the thyme sprigs, bay leaves, and peppercorns together in a cheesecloth sachet and toss it into the pot. Partially cover the pot, bring to a boil, immediately lower the heat, and simmer partially covered until the parsnips are soft enough to mash against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon, about 30-40 minutes.

Remove from the heat and let cool for about 5 min. Discard the sachet. Using a stand or hand blender, purée the soup in batches, being sure to combine a mix of broth and solids in each batch. If you’re using a stand blender, fill it no more than two-thirds full and be sure to vent the blender so the top doesn’t pop off (either remove the lid’s pop-out center or lift one edge of the lid and drape with a clean towel). Rinse the soup pot, return the blended soup to the pot, taste, and adjust the seasonings. If you’re using the cream, add it now (if you’re making the soup ahead, wait to add the cream until you reheat the soup just before serving). Garnish each bowl with croutons and a pinch of fresh thyme.

Serves 3-4 as a main course or 6 as a first course

IMG_2666

Chicken & Wild Rice Chowder with Bacon and Chives

20130115_191301

As one of my friends recently mentioned on Facebook: “You had me at bacon.”   Indeed, bacon is what makes this already indulgent soup even more decadent.   Should I mention there’s butter involved in the process as well or will that scare some of you away?  Oh yes, and half and half.    But note I served mine in a coffee mug (portion control), and I am back on the wagon this morning with my bran cereal and a trip to the gym.  So there!

For those interesting in a lighter version, please feel free to use turkey bacon and substitute 2% milk for the half and half.  You could possibly cut back on the butter as well, but keep in mind that you will also have to cut back equally on the flour, thus reducing the thickness of the soup.

Time saving tips include purchasing cooked, packaged chicken and pre-cooked bacon.  Additionally, you can substitute cooked turkey if that’s what you happen to have on hand.  The bottom line is that there are options  here to tailor this soup to your needs, to make it your own.

Ah, and now I hear the sound of the eliptical calling my name.  Until next time my friends, may your mugs be always full of delicious soup like this!

Chicken & Wild Rice Chowder with Bacon and Chives

3 (10 3/4oz ) cans condensed chicken broth

2 cups water

1/2 cup uncooked wild rice, rinsed

1/2 cup finely chopped green onions

1/2 cup butter

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp poultry seasoning

Pinch of white or black pepper

2 cups half-and-half

1 1/2   –  2 cups cubed or shredded cooked chicken or turkey (see NOTE below on how to poach chicken)

8 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (reserve some of the bacon for garnish)

1 TBS finely chopped fresh chives

Few drops of dry sherry (optional)

  • In a large 4-qt saucepan, combine chicken broth and water.  Add wild rice and green onions.  Bring to a boil, then reduce and cover.  Simmer 40-45 minutes or until rice is tender.  Note there will be additional broth in the pan.  Do not drain!
  • In a separate medium saucepan, melt the butter.  Stir in flour, salt, seasoning and a few dashes of pepper.  Cook for one minute, stirring constantly, until smooth and bubbling.
  • Gradually stir in half and half into the roux and cook until slightly thickened, stirring constantly.  Then add the creamy mixture back into the saucepan with the rice and broth. Add cooked chicken and bacon.  Simmer on low, stirring occasionally, until soup has thickened, about thirty minutes.  If soup becomes too thick, thin it out with a little extra chicken stock.
  • Adjust seasonings and serve, garnishing with chopped chives, a little extra chopped bacon and a few drops of dry sherry (if desired).

Serves 6-8

How to Poach Chicken

Two things to keep in mind when poaching chicken: low and slow.  Never let your liquid get above a simmer or you’ll toughen the chicken.  I use one package of boneless, skinless chicken breasts and approximately three cups of chicken stock.  You can certainly use plain water, but I think the stock gives it a little extra flavor.  I also like to throw in a teaspoon or so of fresh or dried herbs (Penzey’s Bouquet Garni Seasoning is perfect for this) and also a pinch or two of Kosher salt.

Put everything in a wide saucepan and bring just to a boil.  Cover the pan, reduce heat to low and gently simmer the chicken for 15-20 minutes.  Then remove the pan from the heat and let stand, covered for ten minutes.  Remove chicken from pan and use as needed.  If you are storing chicken in fridge for later use, place in a sealed container with a few tablespoons or so of the poaching liquid to keep it moist.

Mini Meatball Soup {quick..family..comfort}

20121206_193040

I mentioned in my recent cookie post (which was extremely popular!), that I had a backlog of recipes to post on my blog.  I’m also way short on time right now, but then again aren’t we all?   So I thought I would group a few recipes together, get them posted and call them my {quick..family..comfort} collection.  Each recipe is simple to prepare and yet hearty enough to keep the family going on all cylinders throughout the busy holiday season and beyond.

Also, you know I love to chit chat about my food, my life, and my sometimes frustrations with certain appliances.  But I think with this series, I’ll let the recipes and photo(s) do the talking for me.  You’ll just have to trust me that each of these recipes is a winner and totally kid approved.

The first recipe in this series is a thick and flavorful mini meatball soup.  If this appears time consuming, really it’s not at all.  Pre-diced mirepoix mixes make prep time even shorter.  And with lean meat + very little oil, this soup actually rates fairly high on the healthy spectrum (especially when served with a glass of red wine).

I’ll be back soon with a simple beef stew recipe.  But until then don’t forget to take a break.  Grab a friend and go get a gingerbread latte.  Make some soup.  Smile 🙂

Mini Meatball Soup {quick..family..comfort}

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 ribs celery, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound lean ground beef, pork and veal combined (see Note>)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese or Romano
  • 1/2 cup plain bread crumbs
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated or ground nutmeg
  • 6 cups chicken stock or broth, plus some more if needed
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 1/2 cups dried pasta, rings, or ditalini
  • 1  10-oz bag triple washed fresh spinach
  • Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper
  • Additional Parmesan cheese

Directions

In a deep pot over medium heat add oil, chopped carrots, celery and onions and bay leaves. Season with salt and pepper. Cover pot and cook  5 or 6 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the vegetables cook, combine meat, egg, garlic, grated cheese, bread crumbs, salt, pepper, nutmeg.  Roll mixture into little meatballs (about 1/2 TBS – 1 TBS each), and place on a parchment lined sheet pan until ready to use.

Uncover your soup pot and add broth and water to the pot. Increase heat to high and bring soup to a boil. When soup boils, reduce heat a bit and  drop the meatballs straight into the pot, one by one.   When you are done adding the meat, add pasta to the soup and stir. Cover and simmer soup 10 minutes. When pasta is tender, stir in chopped spinach in batches. When spinach has wilted into the soup, the soup is done and ready to serve. Add additional stock if the soup seems to thick.  Adjust your seasonings and serve.

Serves 4-6

NOTE> You may also use a ground beef/ground pork combination if that is all that is available OR substitute ground turkey

Creamy Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

I want you to do me a little favor: print out this recipe and tuck it away where you won’t forget it.  Then, come January or February, or whenever winter delivers a serious one-two punch, pull this recipe out.  Make a batch and  melt those blizzard blues away.  This soup is so rich and thick, you’ll be tempted to call it a stew, which is fine.   You may also be running away in fear at the thought of cream soup, thinking it is loaded with butter and heavy cream.  Ready for a shocker?

This soup has ZERO butter.

I’m actually surprised I was drawn to this recipe because butter is my life.  It also calls for fat free half & half, an ingredient that is foreign to my fridge.  Trust me, I’m still scratching my head as to how this soup can taste so darned decadent and yet in theory, should be a relatively low-fat.

If you don’t have time to poach chicken, feel free to use the meat from a rotisserie bird.  Actually I think a little dark meat would be a lovely addition. Also, this soup will thicken substantially after adding the gnocchi.  I found it helpful to have extra chicken stock on hand to thin out the soup until I achieved the consistency I desired.  Last but not least, this soup has been teenager approved in a major way.

Now to find my snow shovel and a matching pair of mittens.  Snow, slush and all things winter….I am armed and ready!

Creamy Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
1 cup chopped carrots
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon mixed herbs (such as Penzey’s Bouquet Garni), optional
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups fat free half-and-half
1 cup lowfat milk
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth plus 1 cup additional broth
16 ounce package potato gnocchi
2 cups cooked, shredded or diced chicken breasts
2 cups lightly packed fresh spinach, coarsely chopped
1 pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

Finely chopped fresh chives or parsley (optional)

DIRECTIONS

In a 4- or 5-quart pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat until hot and shimmering.  Add the chopped onion, carrots, thyme and mixed herbs.  Cook until the onion is translucent and carrots are slightly tender, stirring often, about 4-5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant. Whisk in the flour and cook, whisking or stirring constantly, until the flour is lightly golden, 1-2 minutes. Slowly whisk in the half-and-half. Whisk in the milk and 1 1/2 cups chicken broth. Stir while bringing the mixture to a boil over medium to medium-high heat.

Cook, stirring often, until the mixture is slightly thickened, 5-7 minutes. Stir in the uncooked gnocchi and simmer over medium-low heat for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally. The soup should thicken up quite a bit while the gnocchi is cooking. Add additional chicken stock until you achieve your desired consistency.  Stir in the chicken and spinach and cook for 1-2 minutes until heated through. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg taste and serve.

Serves 4-6

Chicken and Corn Chowder with Bacon, Scallions and Cilantro

Technically it’s Fall, although I’m still not sure how that snuck up on me!  Of course in my kitchen, Fall does not really begin until the slow cooker comes out of its summer hibernation and I’ve made my first batch of soup.   I have also returned to work so that also means a lot of slow cooker meals and a lot of soup!

This season’s first Fall soup is a comforting Chicken and Corn Chowder which I found in one of my archival copies of Bon Appetit magazine.  A real crowd pleaser, and a perfect soup to make on Sunday afternoon for the football crowd.  And yes, it is even better the next day, so enjoy the leftovers throughout the week.

There is a bit of prep involved with this recipe, but cooking is love, so just imagine yourself pouring your heart into this soup.  Next time around, I will definitely be on the lookout for cubed butternut squash at the grocery, as that will easily shave 15 or so minutes off prep time.

The original recipe calls for just salt and pepper (yawn).  You knew I couldn’t leave it at that, so I threw in some lovely smokey ground chipotle and the soup came alive!  Conventional chile powder or smoked paprika would also do the trick.   I’m also thinking some roasted poblano peppers would be a welcome addition and a nice compliment to the cilantro.

There is one final thing that would make this soup even BETTER: pretty little pumpkin soup bowls like the ones pictured here in Bon Appetit.  Only ninety shopping days left until Christmas, family members! (hint hint)

Chicken and Corn Chowder with Bacon, Scallions and Cilantro

  • 10 bacon slices, chopped
  • 2  tablespoons (1/4 stick) butter
  • 3 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped red bell peppers (about 2 large)
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 9 cups low-salt chicken broth
  • 4 cups 1/2-inch cubes peeled seeded butternut squash (cut from one 1 3/4-pound squash)
  • 1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 16-ounce bags frozen corn kernels
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 4 cups diced skinned roast chicken (cooked rotisserie-style chickens work perfectly for this)
  • Kosher salt and black pepper
  • Ground chipotle, chile powder or smoked Spanish paprika to taste (optional)
  • 2 cups chopped green onions
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

preparation

Cook bacon in large pot over medium-high heat until crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain.

Pour off all but 1/4 cup drippings from pot. Add butter to pot; melt over medium-high heat. Add onions and 1 cup bell peppers. Sauté until onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Add flour; stir 2 minutes. Mix in broth, then squash, potatoes, and thyme; bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer uncovered until squash and potatoes are tender, about 12 minutes. Add corn, cream, and 1 cup bell peppers. Simmer until corn is tender, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and optional chile seasoning.  (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool. Chill uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Bring to simmer before continuing.)  Add chicken, 1 cup green onions, and 1/2 cup cilantro; simmer 5 minutes.  Make any final seasoning adjustments.

Ladle chowder into bowls; sprinkle with remaining 1 cup green onions and 2 tablespoons cilantro.

Serves: 10

 

Mama Baker’s “Miracle Cure” Chicken Noodle Soup

Mama Baker's Miracle Cure Chicken Soup

I never realized how much I love to cook until this past week when an evil cold/flu took hold of me and I was couch bound for days, with no appetite and zero energy.  Not quite sure what the family lived on for the week.  All I know is that I didn’t make any of it!  But despite my constant feeling of yuckiness, food was still on my mind.    The Cooking Channel, decongestants and tissues were my constant companions.    I was bookmarking and printing out recipes like crazy even though I could do little more than nibble on dry toast and crackers.

Finally on day six, I cracked.  The kitchen, it was a callin’

I knew I had to keep things simple as I was operating at about 75% capacity.  And what could be more appropriate to the occasion than my chicken soup?  Involves roughly 5 minutes of prep time, almost 3 hours of simmering and in the end: a rich golden broth that heals whatever ails you.  Of course you can finish the soup with anything: orzo, rice, carrots, spinach, etc.    Really this isn’t a recipe as much as it is a technique, so it’s important to read the directions on this one.

As for my “Miracle Cure” claim, let’s just say that I had this soup for dinner, slept through the night for the first time in a week, and woke up feeling like a human being.  Coincidence?  I think not!

Mama Baker’s “Miracle Cure” Chicken Noodle Soup

1 chicken, cut up, about 4 pounds (throw in necks and backs as well)

2 cups coarsely chopped yellow onions (skins may be included)

1 cup coarsely chopped carrots (peeled or unpeeled)

1 cup coarsely chopped celery (leaves may be included)

4 quarts water, or more to cover

Few sprigs parsley

About 1/2 tsp. whole peppercorns

Kosher salt to taste

Dried egg noodles

Chopped fresh parsley for garnish (optional)

Place chicken, onions, carrots, celery, water, parsley, peppercorns and about a tablespoon of salt in a large stockpot and carefully bring to a boil, skimming any solids that rise to the top.  Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 30 to 45 minutes.  Carefully remove breasts and thighs (if dark meat is desired) from pot to a baking dish.   Keeping the chicken pieces in the baking dish, remove fat and discard.  Then cut or shred with a fork, all meat away from bones.  Place meat in a bowl, cover and refrigerate.  Return bones and accumulated juices to pot and continue to simmer SLOWLY for an additional 2 hours, or until stock has reduced slightly and is a rich golden color.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer bones and vegetables to a baking dish,  being careful not to remove too much liquid. Place a large, fine-meshed strainer over another pot or large bowl.  Line strainer with cheesecloth that has been rinsed in cold water (this will produce a very clear broth).  Carefully pour chicken broth through strainer, pressing on solids to extract as much broth as possible.  Using a spoon, skim off any fat that rises to the top or, alternatively, ladle broth into a de-greasing cup to remove fat < SEE MAKE AHEAD TIP BELOW>

Return broth to the stove and bring to a boil over high heat.  As broth comes to a boil, taste and add Kosher salt to your liking.  Don’t be shy about adding additional Kosher salt!  It will bring out the flavor of the chicken.  After broth comes to a boil,  add about 4 handfuls of egg noodles and cook just until noodles are tender (approximately 10 minutes).  Reduce heat; return chicken meat to pot and heat through.  Taste for seasoning.    Place soup in bowls and garnish with chopped fresh parsley.

Serves: 8

MAKE AHEAD:  Store broth and chicken meat separately in the fridge.   Any fat in the broth will rise to the top and solidify, making it very easy to remove with a spoon.   Reheat and add chicken and noodles just before serving.