Friday, September 19, 2014

Potato and Sausage Soup with Leek, Mushroom and Escarole

Soups are economical, nourishing and easy to prepare. A large, hot bowl of soup is a meal in itself served with a nice salad, crusty bread and beverage. This soup is so redolent with flavors, it's difficult to know where to begin. Leeks, pancetta, sausage combine to make a great base. To improve that base flavor, I added beef stock to the chicken stock to make it a bit more robust. The smoky, spicy, earthy chipotle powder with the cheese put this soup over the top. And, then of course, the comforting soft potatoes.

I recommend the pancetta instead of regular bacon. Most supermarkets sell it already chopped in a small package. Spinach would also work well in place of the escarole.

  • 10-12 ounces bulk sweet Italian sausage or about 3 links
  • 2 1/2 cups chopped russet potatoes
  • 1 cup chopped leeks, white part only (about one large)
  • 1 cup roughly chopped mushrooms
  • 2 cups chopped escarole or kale (I prefer the escarole)
  • 1/2 heaping teaspoon Italian spices
  • 2 cups reduced salt, canned chicken stock
  • 1.5 cups reduced salt, canned beef stock
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, cream, half-and-half or evaporated milk
  • 1/2 cup chopped pancetta
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked chipotle powder, divided
  • Smoked cheddar cheese
  • Croutons
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Wash and peel potatoes. Slice lengthwise. Slice each half again, lengthwise. Chop into cubes/chunks. Set aside.

Slice escarole down the center and chop until you have two cups. Set aside. Cut leek down the center. If dirty, rinse under water. Slice. Set aside. Chop mushrooms, set aside.

If using sausage links, remove from the casings. Add just a bit of olive oil to a soup pot. Add sausage and brown until done. Remove to a plate.

In the same pan, add just a bit of more olive oil. Add the pancetta. Once it begins to cook, add the leeks and mushrooms. Cook until softened, 5-8 minutes. Add a bit of the chicken stock to deglaze the pan, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. And remaining chicken stock, beef stock and 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a simmer and add half of the smoked chipotle powder, all the Italian seasonings, about 10 grinds of fresh black pepper and about 1/2 teaspoon salt. Stir. Taste.

Add the potatoes. Bring back to a simmer. Cover and cook for about 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and add the cooked sausage. Stir. Taste and re-season as necessary, adding the remaining smoked chipotle powder if desired and more salt and pepper if warranted.

Add the chopped escarole and stir until wilter. Now add the cream or evaporated milk. Using a fork, mash some of the potatoes against the side of the pan which will thicken the soup a bit.

Cover and simmer on low for about five minutes. Remove from heat and allow to rest 10-15 minutes so flavors meld. Ladle into bowls. Top with croutons and several grates of the smoked cheddar. Chives also make a nice garnish.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Easy, Savory Beef Soup with Mushrooms, Potatoes, Leeks and Thyme

Oh, this hit the spot on a cool, overcast day!

This recipe really began with the bowl my big sister gave me as an early birthday gift. I wanted something earthy, delicious, and visually appealing to fill it. This recipe fit all those criteria. Warm. Filling. Savory. With autumn just over the horizon, shorter days, cooler evenings, this hit the spot. 

There is nothing more classic than the combination of beef, leeks, and thyme. Add a bit of shaved Gruyere ... seasoned croutons ... and you have a soup worthy of any five-star restaurant.

And, it was so easy. Done in less than one hour. The ingredients of a good recipe linger on the palate. And lure you back for second helpings. Enjoy.

  • 1 good cup chopped leeks, white part only
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms (I used plain old white button mushrooms)
  • 3/4 - 1 cup unpeeled, roughly-cut red potatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped celery (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped garlic
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves (a bit more if using fresh)*
  • 1.5 cups beef stock plus more if needed (I used Swanson, low-sodium**)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Seasoned croutons (I used Pepperidge Farm seasoned herb cube-cut stuffing mix)
  • Gruyere cheese, grated

In a medium/large saucepan, drizzle in a bit of olive oil. Add the leeks and mushrooms and celery. Sweat for about 5-8 minutes over medium heat. The mixture will have reduced by about half as it cooks down.

Add the thyme and garlic. Cook 1-2 minutes. Mix in potatoes. Grind in pepper to taste and the salt. 

Add the beef stock and water. Stir to combine. Add the Worcestershire. Mix. Bring just to boil. Reduce heat and simmer a good 20 minutes until potatoes are tender and still hold their shape. About half-way through, add the butter which will give a richness and gloss and taste for seasonings. Add more stock/water if warranted.

When done, using a fork, mash some of the potatoes against the side on the pan to thicken the soup a bit.

Ladle into bowls. Top with seasoned croutons and cheese. Mozzarella would also work well, as well as any good Swiss. 

*When I have leftover fresh thyme I buy at the grocery store, I simply store it in the fridge, a bit opened. It will naturally "dry out." That is what I used for this recipe. If using dried thyme leaves, go easy at first, since it's a bit stronger. If using fresh, you may need a bit more. Season and taste as you go. 

**I find Swanson beef broth a bit strong, so I always water it down. My favorite is Pacific, in which case I probably would have used most full strength. This is why it is important to season and taste as you go.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Italian Sausages with Peppers, Potatoes and Cheese

Italian sausages, colorful fresh peppers, onions and potatoes topped with melted cheese. Better than pizza ...

Necessity is the mother of invention ... or, to put it another way, recipes are born from stuff in the fridge and close-dated tins in the cupboard.

I had several links of sweet Italian sausages, some leftover tri-colored peppers, a bit of cheese and a can of sliced new potatoes. I put it together into this ... And been living off of it for a few weeks ... minus any tweaks.

This is one of those recipes that is more of a "process" than a step-by-step set of ingredients and instructions. Because everything is really cooked in the pan, it doesn't need much time in the oven other than for everything to kind of meld together and then for the cheese to melt. I use a pre-grated, packaged Italian cheese blend.

Feel free to add other ingredients, such as what you would like on your personal pizza: mushrooms, black olives ...

  • 3-4 Italian sweet sausage links
  • 1 - 2 peppers, seeded and sliced, (red, green, yellow, orange ...)
  • 1/2 medium onion, sliced
  • 1/4 teaspoon lightly crushed fennel seed
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1, 14.5 oz. can sliced new potatoes, drained
  • 3/4 to 1-cup packaged Italian cheese blend, grated
  • 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon dried crushed oregano leaves
  • 2 Tablespoons water or dry wine (red or white)

Add just a bit of olive oil and butter to a medium-sized pan over medium-low heat. When melted, add the peppers, onion, fennel seed, red pepper flakes, garlic and saute being careful not to burn the garlic. Just as peppers begin to soften, add the drained potato slices and oregano and warm through. Remove to a casserole dish. I use one that measures about 6 x 8 inches.

Add whole sausages to the-now-empty pan. If necessary add a drizzle more olive oil. Brown sausages on all sides over medium-low heat, turning often. It's not necessary to cook them through since they will bake in the oven. If you add a bit of butter, the skin of the sausage will brown even more.

Remove sausages from pan and nestle into the pepper-onion-potato mixture.

Deglaze the yet-again empty pan with water or wine, scraping up the good bits. Scatter over the sausage/pepper mixture.

Place, uncovered-casserole dish into a pre-heated, 350-degree F. oven. Bake about 15-20 minutes, sprinkling with cheese the last five minutes or so until it melts. If desired, place under broiler to slightly bubble and brown the cheese

OR ...

... and here is what I do ...

Bake casserole 15 - 20 minutes without cheese. Remove from oven and allow to rest about ten minutes. Plate to individual oven-proof plates. Generously garnish with grated cheese. Place under broiler just until cheese melts ... a tad longer if you want it to bubble and just begin to brown. NEVER EVER walk away from anything under the broiler ... Watch it like a hawk or it will burn.

Either way, garnish with a few springs of oregano or thyme ...

(Been living off this for several weeks now. Just love it. Hope you do, too. If so, comment. Click on the links below to share ... It helps me a lot ....)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Simple Baked Drumsticks

If it looks beautiful before it goes into the oven, chances are
it will taste even better than it looks when removed from the oven.

Drumsticks are a staple in my life. They are meaty, inexpensive and easily lend themselves to interpretive creativity when it comes to ingredients. Here I've done just the basics. Easy-peasy, a complete meal in one pan. Feel free to add your own ingredients, such as fresh mushrooms. With so many fresh, clean herbs, I wanted a bit "salty," for background contrast, so I settled on a handful of pitted Kalamata olives which melded beautifully with the tomatoes and potatoes. Add the grape tomatoes and olives during the last half of the baking process so they don't overcook.

This is more of a "process" than a recipe and it is similar to my recipe for Chicken Provencal (which I highly recommend), but without the onions and fennel seed ...

5-6 meaty drumsticks, washed and patted dry
2 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 tablespoons melted butter
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
6-8 fresh sprigs thyme (be generous)
5-6 garlic cloves, unpeeled, slightly crushed (one clove per chicken leg)
Onion powder
Pepper, fresh-grated
Kosher salt
Old Bay's seasoning
10 - 12 grape tomatoes
2-3 red, new potatoes (or golden), about 2-3 inches in circumference, cut into large chunks
1/4 - 1/2 cup liquid ... white wine ... chicken stock (combination is BEST!) Maybe a bit more butter .... or you can just use water ...

In a 9x9 or 12 x 9 pan, mix the melted butter and olive oil. Roll drumsticks and potatoes in oil/butter mixture and then generously season with onion powder, pepper, salt, Old Bay's. Pull fronds from rosemary and tuck in around the drumsticks along with the fresh thyme sprigs.

Place pan in a pre-heated 400-425 F- degree oven and bake/roast for about 20-25 minutes. Remove. Turn chicken over. Add tomatoes and olives. Pour in liquid (and a bit more butter, if desired) and return to oven for another 20-25 minutes.

Remove and allow to rest a good 15 minutes. Be sure to allow one garlic clove per drumstick. I like to squeeze it out to smear over the chicken. Sprinkle with a bit more Kosher salt if needed (potatoes take a lot of salt).

Notes: If you'd like a spicier chicken, add a bit of red-pepper flakes.