Creamy Chicken Tortellini Soup…

When the weather starts to get cold I always think of certain types of comfort food. Who doesn’t crave the smell of a pot roast cooking away in the oven, or some hearty chili with cheese and onions or a tureen of hot soup?

I don’t tend to make soup a lot during the Spring and Summer but once Fall arrives soup becomes one of the main things on my mind. And making home made soup is so much better for you. Have you ever read the ingredients on a can of store bought soup? Next time pay attention to the amount of sodium in canned soup. It’s off the charts! And we all could use a little less salt in our lives to keep ourselves on a healthier track.

The beauty of home made soup is you can throw a myriad of goodies into it like carrots, spinach, peas, potatoes, squash, etc., the sky’s the limit. Soups are also easy to make and very satisfying, especially during the cold weather months.

This soup is so delicious I think you’ll make it several times. Serve it with a salad and warm crusty bread and you’ll have one heck of a great meal.

So lets talk Creamy Chicken Gnocchi Soup…

Lesson Learned 1 –  I love Better Than Bouillon: Many recipes call for adding bouillon cubes or granules to enhance the flavor of a soup. I’ve found that Better Than Bouillon is a great substitute and gives the soup more depth of flavor compared to the cubes or granules. I highly recommend using it but if you don’t have it substitute a couple of cubes or a tablespoon of granules and that will add some additional flavor. But you will definitely notice the difference in flavor if you use Better Than Bouillon.

Lesson Learned 2 – Soups are primo for substitutions: I used spinach in this recipe but you can also use kale. Personally I’m not a big fan of kale but it’ll work well in this soup. If you substitute any of the vegetables make sure they have a uniform cook time. If you add something like butternut squash or potatoes you might have to cut them into very small pieces or else cook them separately until somewhat tender and then add them to the other vegetables. You can also substitute shredded carrots for the carrot coins or you could even add some broccoli or peas. If you add frozen peas add them at the end when you add the browned chicken. That way they’ll cook properly. Have fun and experiment with this soup!

Lesson Learned 3 – For additional depth of flavor use equal parts chicken broth and stock: I found that by using both in equal parts it gives a better flavor to the soup than just by using one or the other. That is not to say you can’t use just one of them, but I noticed a definite difference in the richness of the soup when combining both. If you only want to use one, I would opt for chicken broth. I find chicken stock too strong to use on its own. And keep in mind it may just be my personal taste. But try combining both sometime and see if you don’t notice a difference.

I know you’ll love this soup. Try it and let me know what you think…

Creamy Chicken Tortellini Soup...

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1/4 tsp pepper

4 Tbs. butter, divided

2 medium carrots, cut into 1/4 inch coins

1 medium sized onion, chopped

2 small celery ribs, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

4 Tbs. flour

2 cups chicken broth

2 cups chicken stock

2 cups water

2 Tbs. Roasted Chicken Better Than Bouillon

1 package (10 oz.) three cheese tortellini

1 cup half and half

2 cups fresh spinach

Chopped fresh parsley for garnish, optional

DIRECTIONS:

Season cubed chicken with salt and pepper. In a dutch oven brown the chicken in 2 Tbs. of butter. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside.  Add the remaining butter to the pan and sauté the onions, carrots, and celery until crisp tender. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about one minute.

Whisk in the flour and stir to coat the vegetables. Add the chicken broth, stock, bouillon, water and tortellini. Stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook for approximately 8 minutes.

Add the half and half, spinach and cooked chicken. Cook on low heat until the spinach is wilted. Remove from heat, ladle into bowls and garnish with fresh chopped parsley.

Serve with a salad and warm crusty bread.

 

 

 

Cider Braised Chicken With Bacon and Apples…

Finally Fall is in the air. I don’t know what it’s been like where you live, but here in Colorado it was unusually hot all summer long with 90 degree days still happening well into September. But now it’s starting to look like the weather is becoming more Fall-like and I couldn’t be happier.

This is my favorite time of year for a variety of reasons – the leaves begin to change into an array of gorgeous colors, the air is crisp and clean, and it’s finally time to think about Fall comfort food, of which this recipe is an absolutely perfect example.

Not only does this recipe scream comfort food but it’s also extremely easy to make. So let’s talk cider braised chicken with bacon and apples…

Lesson Learned 1 – Remove the fatty parts on the chicken thighs: I used boneless skinless chicken thighs in this recipe but even with that you’ll find pieces of fat are still on the meat. Make sure you use a sharp knife and remove, as much as you can, the fatty pieces. If you leave a little bit that’s fine. That will help flavor the sauce.

Lesson Learned 2 – You can choose whether you want to peel your apples or not: I made this recipe with the skins on but you can peel them if you prefer. Some people have a difficult time digesting the skins. The good thing is it doesn’t make any difference whether or not the apples are peeled.

Lesson Learned 3 – Make sure you reduce the sauce by half twice: Once you add the brandy you’ll need to reduce the mixture to half. Then when you add the cider you’ll need to reduce it again by half. This leaves you with a rich, luscious sauce. And if you don’t have apple brandy it’s no big deal. Just add an additional half cup of apple cider instead. Doing it that way will only require you to reduce the liquid once.  You can see by the pictures below that the reduced braising liquid is thicker and the ingredients much more visible.

The non-reduced braising liquid

The reduced braising liquid

Lesson Learned 4 – You don’t have to use a lot of dishes to make this meal: Once the chicken and apples have been cooked just lay them out on a sheet pan, making sure they are separated.  Then when the braising liquid is done put the meat back into the pot first. The apples will be added back a little later. (I recommend using an enamel coated cast iron dutch oven for this recipe). Combine all the ingredients after you simmered the chicken in the sauce for about 5 minutes and you’re basically done. You can also serve this family style in the cast iron dutch oven you used to make everything. That will give serving a nice rustic touch and it’s perfect for a Fall party or family meal. Just make sure you let your family or guests know that the pan will be very hot.

I just love this recipe. It is so flavorful and screams Fall comfort food. Try this one and let me know what you think…

Cider Braised Chicken With Bacon And Apples...

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS

2 Tbs. vegetable oil

1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs

3 Granny Smith apples cored and peeled (peeling is optional)

5 slices of thick cut bacon sliced into 1/4 inch lardons

1 yellow onion diced thick

1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic, minced

1/2 cup apple brandy

2 cups apple cider

2 Tbs. whole grain mustard

1/4 cup heavy whipping cream

1 Tbs. finely chopped sage

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Put the vegetable oil in a large dutch oven that has warmed over medium heat. Pat the chicken dry and generously season with salt and pepper. Add the chicken to the pan and cook until browned on both sides, about 5 minutes on each side. Once you’ve placed the chicken in the pan do not move it until it is ready to flip over. Place the chicken on a sheet pan.

Add the apples to the dutch oven and saute, stirring frequently until just softened and caramelized, about 5-7 minutes. Put the apples on the same sheet pan as the chicken, keeping the two separated

Add the bacon and onions to the pan stirring occasionally until the onions are tender and the bacon fat has rendered, but the bacon is not crisp. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Stir in the brandy and reduce the mixture by half. Stir in the apple cider and scrape the bottom of the dutch oven with a wooden spoon the de-glaze the pan. Bring to a boil and continue to cook until the mixture is reduced by half. Add the chicken into the pan, stir and cover. Simmer for about 5 minutes. Stir in the mustard, cream, sauteed apples and sage. Simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

Serve in the dutch oven but make sure you family or guests know that the dutch oven will be very hot. Or, divide the braised chicken and apples among 4 plates and serve immediately.

 

Creamy Chicken And Cauliflower Casserole…

I love casseroles, especially during the winter time. I find them to be the true definition of comfort food. And this particular recipe is definitely a throw back. It features all of the ingredients your grandma used to make a quick but delicious meal. And this meal is versatile – you can serve it with pasta or as the main feature in a loaded baked potato or even with rice.  Anyway you look at it, if you want something fast and delicious this is the recipe for you!

What I particularly like about this recipe is that it’s quick to throw together and it’s a great way to use leftover chicken, and there always seems to be a lot of that in my refrigerator. As a matter of fact, I bet you already have all of the ingredients in this casserole in your pantry.

So let’s talk Creamy Chicken And Cauliflower Casserole…

Lesson Learned 1: The ingredients in this casserole are not written in stone: Not only is this casserole easy to put together but it can be made with a wide variety of ingredients. Think of the recipe I’m providing as a base for your imagination. But you can certainly add other things.  You can add some sliced mushrooms if you like. You can substitute frozen broccoli for cauliflower or include a little of both. Frozen peas and carrots would be a great addition as well. Wherever your imagination and pantry take you – this will always be a scrumptious comfort food casserole.

Lesson Learned 2 – If using frozen cauliflower (or broccoli) make sure it is slightly (or completely) thawed. You only bake this for 35-45 minutes and you want to make sure your vegetables are warmed all the way through. Smaller frozen vegetables such as pearl onions or peas and carrots can be added frozen. They will cook through within the allotted time. And if you used frozen chopped cauliflower or broccoli you can simply add them as well since the pieces will be smaller.

Lesson Learned 3 – Use more chicken than you think: I will suggest a certain amount in the recipe since I found that after I made mine I wound up adding more chicken to the leftovers. I initially used a pound and a half of cooked chicken pieces that I got at my local grocery store. But I felt the recipe needed more. I am going to recommend getting a rotisserie chicken from your grocery store and shredding the whole chicken for this recipe. You want to be able to see and taste chicken as the main ingredient and when you shred chicken it just seems to be a lot less for some reason.  If you don’t use a rotisserie chicken then I recommend using 3 large chicken breasts.

There are not a lot of lessons learned to impart on this one as this recipe is super easy. And the extra added bonus is the leftovers are equally scrumptious. You can’t go wrong with this one. Enjoy this easy to make winter comfort food!

Creamy Chicken And Cauliflower Casserole...

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: Super Easy
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INGREDIENTS

1 store bought rotisserie chicken, cut up and shredded

2 cans cream of chicken and mushroom soup

1 cup mayonnaise

1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

1 cup colby and monterey jack cheese, shredded

1 1/2 cups frozen cauliflower, thawed

1 cup frozen pearl onions

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix all the ingredients (chicken, soup, mayo, cheeses, cauliflower and onions) together. Add salt and pepper as needed.

Transfer the ingredients to a lightly greased 2-3 quart casserole dish. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the casserole is bubbly.  Serve.

Hamburger And Potato Casserole…

Recently my husband has been having some issues with his mouth that prevents him from doing a lot of chewing. That presented a challenge for me in terms of thinking about meals where he can still get some protein into his system, have something that basically can be “gummed” when eating and still tastes good. And voila, this recipe fit the bill to a tee. The best thing is this is a great recipe all on its own, and it’s so easy to prepare you may find you’ll be making it often.

So let’s talk hamburger and potato casserole…

Lesson Learned 1: If at all possible use a mandolin slicer to cut your potatoes: Perhaps the trickiest part of this whole recipe is cutting the potatoes correctly. Cut them too thin and they will turn into mush in your casserole. Cut them too thick and they will never cook through. The best way to ensure you’ve cut the potatoes to the correct thickness is to use a mandolin slicer (as seen in the picture). A mandolin slicer can be a cook’s best friend if used appropriately. It can also be one of the easiest ways to chop off one of your fingers if used incorrectly. If you’re careful and use the safety features of your slicer you can slice just about anything quickly and consistently.

I cut my potatoes in 1/8 inch slices. I also used Yukon Gold potatoes in this recipe although you can use red or russet potatoes. I even peeled my potatoes but it isn’t necessary. When making the recipe, I prepped my potatoes first. In order to prevent them from oxidizing and turning dark while I was prepping the rest I soaked them in cold water. I left them there until I was ready to use them. Before I put them in the casserole I dried them off with paper towels to remove any excess liquid. Following this method the potatoes cooked perfectly.

This is probably the first recipe that included only one lesson learned. The reason being, I guess, is how simple this recipe is to prepare. Even the novice cook can be successful with this one. It does not require a lot of technique but it will score high marks in the comfort food arena. Enjoy this super easy recipe and let me know what you think after you’ve made it.

Hamburger And Potato Casserole

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. 93% lean ground beef

3 cups thinly sliced potatoes, peeled or unpeeled

1/2 cup sweet onion, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 Tbs. garlic infused extra virgin olive oil (you can also use plain olive oil)

1 12 oz. can Cream of Mushroom soup

3/4 cup milk

2 cups shredded cheese, (I used Jarlsberg and Mild Cheddar)

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9 x 13 baking dish with cooking spray. Set aside.

In a skillet, heat olive oil and cook the onions until they are translucent. Add the ground beef and cook until only a little pink remains. Add the garlic, stir into the meat and onions and cook for another minute. Take off the heat and set aside.

Mix together the soup, milk, salt and pepper.

Layer half the potatoes on the bottom of the casserole dish. Salt and pepper the potatoes. Spread half the soup mixture on top of the potatoes. Add half the cheese and top with half the ground beef mixture.

For the second layer, add the potatoes, salt and pepper them, then the soup and ground beef and lastly top with the remaining cheese.

Cover the dish with foil and bake in the oven for 1 1/2 hours or until the potatoes are done. Uncover the dish and place under the broiler for a couple of minutes to get the cheese golden brown. Serve immediately.

Layer the potatoes on the bottom of the dish

Layer with the ingredients

Right out of the oven

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Deli Style Tuna Salad…

Sometimes I get so consumed with trying new things in the kitchen that I forget a simple meal like soup and a sandwich can be just what the doctor ordered. And so it was the other night. My husband purchased some gourmet soup at our local grocery store, New England clam chowder to be exact, and every night he kept saying, “Let’s have something to go along with that soup.”

For some reason I was hard pressed to think of something and so I held off for a couple of days. When he asked once again and I told him I was struggling with an accompaniment he said, “How about a tuna salad sandwich.” Bingo. It’s like those words just hit the spot. So off I went researching various tuna salad recipes until I figured out what bits and pieces of various recipes might work for us.

Tuna salad

I have to tell you it was a very satisfying meal. No frills, no fuss, just store bought soup and home made tuna salad on white sandwich bread. Sometimes all the bells and whistles just can’t compare to the simple pleasures of life. But even simple dinner fare can produce some lessons learned. Here are mine:

Lesson Learned 1 – Make the tuna ahead of time and let the flavors get acquainted: There is a big difference when the flavors have the chance to meld. I recommend making this and letting it sit in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours. Overnight is even better.

Lesson Learned 2 – Use a combination of tunas: For this recipe I used a combination of solid white and light tuna. What’s the difference you ask? Solid white is almost like a large flaked tuna filet. It is very full bodied but dry. Light tuna has almost a shaved consistency. It is slightly darker but more moist. The combination of the two gives the perfect consistency for tuna salad.

Lesson Learned 3 – Not all white breads are alike: I really wanted to serve the tuna salad “old school” and so I decided to serve it on plain white sandwich bread. Have you ever read the ingredients on packages of plain white sandwich bread? More and more I am shying away from processed foods made from names I cannot pronounce, names that sound like they should be in a beaker in a laboratory and not an ingredient in my food.  So I chose a more expensive organic white bread, Rudi’s country morning white to be exact. The ingredients in the bread were all organic and I could pronounce them all (I knew what all the ingredients were as well). I guess if I was really trying to eat cleaner I would have made some home made bread. I just didn’t have the time. I know how difficult it is to eliminate all kinds of processed foods from your life, but being diligent and making smart choices more often than not has to be better for your overall health, right?

Lesson Learned 4 – Once you make the tuna salad the possibilities are endless: I chose a more traditional way to serve the tuna salad. But you make a tuna melt, a tuna stuffed tomato, tuna salad lettuce wraps, tuna pasta salad, an avocado and tuna salad wrap, or tuna salad mixed with your favorite greens and veggies. The sky’s the limit on this one.

The next time you want to have something simple but satisfying make some tuna salad and experiment with various ways to serve it. But let me tell you, a plain tuna salad sandwich on white bread with some sliced tomato, lettuce and pickles really hit the spot the other night!

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Deli Style Tuna Salad…

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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INGREDIENTS:

2 (5 ounce) cans of solid white tuna packed in water, drained

2 (5 ounce) cans of light tuna packed in water, drained

1/2 cup mayonnaise

1/2 tsp. seasoning salt

1 tsp. Old Bay seasoning

1/4 cup celery, minced

1/4 tsp. dried dill weed

1 Tbs. fresh flat leaf parsley, minced

1 – 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

4 green onions, white parts only, chopped

Freshly cracked black pepper

Tabasco sauce (to taste, optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl. Start out with only 1/4 cup mayo and add more to taste. Adjust salt, pepper, tabasco and lemon to taste. (I only used 1 Tbs. of lemon and found it added flavor but did not overpower the tuna).

Cover and refrigerate overnight or for a minimum of 4 hours. Serve on white bread with some sliced tomatoes, leaf lettuce and sandwich pickles.

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