Chicken Infused Tortilla-less Soup

or how to make soup and make do with what's on hand.

Sounds funny, I know, but I didn't plan this one out so well.  I know, shocking, right?  You don't have to pretend, I realize I'm not always the most prepared for random adventures in the kitchen (it's even worse when I'm so focused on cooking for an upcoming holiday that I all but neglect the days in between when grocery shopping).  So when I decided that I wanted to make something special for my husband who was running about town finishing errands we didn't get to over the weekend I had to improvise a bit. 
He was planning on coming home and making steak fajitas that he had marinating over night using this delicious recipe (substituting cola for lemon juice) so I thought that chicken tortilla soup would be perfect!  Only problem - no chicken and the tortillas were reserved for the aforementioned delicious fajitas.  Oops.

Since I had already started cooking before I fully looked into the existence of the ingredients that I needed I figured I'd just roll with what I had and see what happened (a concept I am desperately trying to apply in other areas of my life as well, but one step at a time and the first step - soup, sans chicken and tortillas).  So I resumed tossing things into the pot while multitasking and cleaning out the refrigerator, we are getting ready for a holiday after all, cooking is no reason to slow down!  Though, in retrospect, slowing down is often a good idea.  It's better to do it yourself before your body doesn't give you a choice and you collapse on  the couch at nine at night.  Not that I know from experience or anything...  The moral?  Take it easy, roll with what you have on hand, and eat delicious soup.  Now let's go!

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken broth (or 3 tsp chicken base and 3 cups water, chicken base is liquid gold you seriously need to try this stuff)
1 cup milk
1 can condensed cheddar cheese soup
1 jar salsa
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tbsp dried minced onion
salt and pepper – to taste

1. Melt the butter in a medium sized stock pot over medium heat and stir in the flour to create a roux (a fancy name for a kind of a golden paste that forms when the butter and flour are completely mixed together in equal parts).  Stir continuously for a couple minutes, do not allow it to turn dark.

2. Slowly start to stir in the chicken stock (or water if you are using chicken base).  Make sure to add about a cup at a time and wait until it is fully incorporated before adding more, you don't like to be rushed and soup doesn't either so a little patience goes a long way in this part.  Take some deep breathes and enjoy the aromas, allow it to soothe you as the time slips by.  Better?  Ok.  If using chicken base you'll want to add that now, also stirring a bit to incorporate.

3. Now add in the seasoning and dried onion, mix well.  The bits of onion will seem to almost disappear as they absorb the moisture.  

4. Next stir in the milk and condensed soup, their thickness should balance out a bit once combined, and then add the salsa.  For salsa you'll want to use one that has a spice level that you enjoy, I used homemade salsa that I canned over the Summer in this case but if I didn't have any on hand I would tend towards mild or medium since I'm not really a "heat" inclined sort of girl, you need to go with where your tastes lead you on this one.  

5. Turn the heat down to medium-low and stir occasionally for about 20-30 min, careful not to let it boil.  Adjust spices to taste as you go.

Serve as is or top with some shredded colby jack cheese and a drop of sour cream.  This is a perfect compliment to the steak fajitas, and a great main dish for lunch the next day.  A pretty reasonable base recipe I think, take it in whatever direction you wish - if you want to add chicken to make it heartier or switch out the chicken base for a non-meat alternative for a vegetarian dish - it's up to you.  The world is your tortilla, so to speak.  Cheesy, I know, but who doesn't love a little cheese now and then?  Enjoy!


Apple Cobbler-ish Tart-ish Delight

or a half risen, half sweet, completely tasty breakfast dessert

So, what's the best part of cobbler?  The delicious doughy sweet topping of course!  And what have I been craving lately?  You guessed it - cobbler - but not all of the cobbler, just the top.  As I was reminiscing about picking away at the tart cherries that were always nestled so nicely in this delicious dish each Spring after we went cherry picking, I began thinking - what else can I do with that doughy goodness?  As much as I'd love to make just a large dish of the topping, and trust me I've considered it, I really did want to make it a little more universally appealing.  Because no one, even me, should sit down and tackle a dish of that all by themselves.  So to force moderation I was determined to transform it in a way that other people would enjoy it too.  Remember - momma always taught you it's only polite to share. 

So where were we... oh, right!  Tart cherries are nice, but the tangy bite in their flavor can be a bit much for me when I'm really craving some comfort in my breakfast.  My mom's recipe suggested raspberries but I suspect I may have a similar problem with them, plus they are distinctly out of season and therefor not found anywhere in my house.  So, what did I have in the house?  Apples.  Lots and lots of apples.  Not only did I have a bag of Gala apples sitting on the counter, but I also had about 8 jars of sliced baking apples (Northern Spies and Gala mixed, no real reason, those were the seconds they had at the orchards this year).  So now toss into the equation a bit of the end of the weekend laziness, and wouldn't you know it - those apples are still sitting on the counter and we are down to 7 jars of baking apples.

These thinly sliced apples do not carry the same weight as tart cherries so I expected a bit of difference in the resulting dish, and I was not disappointed.  The magical process of the lower layer of dough rising victoriously through the cherries to form a golden delicious crown over the top was not exactly where this dish ended up going.  When it came out of the oven, cooked to golden delicious perfection, the slices of apples were nestled nicely in the top half of the dough.  The beauty of this?  Once cooled to room temperature, this is easily sliced into sections that can be picked up and enjoyed sans fork!  It'll be sticky, but definitely worth it. 
Check it out:

Butter - 1/4 cup
Flour - 1 cup
Sugar - 1 cup
Milk - 1 cup
Sliced apples - 1 1/2 - 2 cups

Hardware: 8" round baking dish

1. Add the butter to the baking dish and place it in the oven.  Turn it on to preheat to 350 degrees.  Keep an eye out over there to check on it while you toss the rest together.  You want the butter to melt and brown a bit, not burn.  So don't neglect it, comfort food can't really be made without a bit of doting here and there anyway.

2. While that is happening, get out a medium sized mixing bowl and add in the flour, sugar, and milk.  Stir well to combine, ease out any large clumps as you go.

3.  When the butter is ready, take the dish out of the oven and set aside to cool for about 5 minutes.  Once the appropriate amount of time has passed, evenly pour in the batter. 

4. Top with the sliced apples.  If you are using fresh apples you will want to drizzle about 2 tbsp of apple juice over top.  If you are using canned apples, homemade or otherwise, you'll want to use only a couple tablespoons of the syrup they are stored in so you may need to drain them first over a bowl so you can get a better idea of how much is going in.  I only use a small amount of light syrup when I do my home canning so I just dumped the jar out over the batter.  Evenly of course.

5. Bake for 45 - 60 minutes.  Or until the crust starts to rise up amidst the apples and the top gets a nice golden tint overall.  I use a clear glass dish, if you do as well you'll also notice a nice golden crust around the sides.

6. Remove and allow to cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing to serve.  If you want to be able to eat this as finger food, don't be embarrassed deep down we all really do, let it cool to room temperature before serving.  It's not terribly sweet so if you have a prominent sweet tooth you may want to sprinkle it with cinnamon sugar when it comes out of the oven, but for me the balance is perfect just as it is - perhaps with a bit of whipped cream on top...   mmmmm...


A Kielbasa for All Seasons

or drunken sausage on a Sunday afternoon

We have sausage from Poland, beer from Ireland, and cookware from the Netherlands..  I know what you're thinking - I've gone too far, the cultures are all mixed up.  "Not only can this not possibly work, but it's insulting to the purity of each cultural dish! Stop the madness!  Turn back while you still can!"  Wait!  Slow down, take a deep breath, rewind.  Feel better?  Ok.  Now - there's nothing wrong with mixing a few cultures together, none of us are particularly "pure" anyway, and it's not like we're launching a large scale invasion - we're just assisting in the marriage of some delightful ingredients into culinary bliss.  And who are we to judge?  If a kielbasa wants to soak alongside a pepper in a pool of beer, who are we to stand in their way?  It's all about equality here people.  That, and good food!  So now that we've made it through the social science lesson, I'll just step carefully off my soap box, and let's get on to the eats:

Where exactly am I going with this?  Someplace magical, someplace delectable, a place I like to call - Kielbasaland.  Where it is a sunny 70 degrees year round and happiness comes out of a pot in the form of delicious, juicy, flavorful sausage that simmers to perfection while you enjoy a lazy afternoon.  Or, as it was last Sunday, my house.  Closer to 68 degrees year round, and with one of those mood boosting SAD lamps I can definitely pull off the "sunny" part!  So let's just enjoy my fantasy together shall we?  Hmmmm... I can smell it now...

Kielbasa - 5, uncooked
Red bell pepper - 1/2
Yellow bell pepper - 1/2
Green bell pepper - 1/2
Yellow onion - 1/2
Minced garlic - 1 1/2 tsp
Beer - 4 bottles, Irish or any type you have on hand

Hardware: Dutch oven

This is so easy you'll giggle, or maybe that's just the beer talking...  Either way:

1. Place the kielbasa in the bottom of the Dutch oven and cover with half the beer.  Move them around a bit so they get comfortable and aren't looking too crowded.

2. Slice all the peppers into long thin pieces, kind of a thicker "julienne" style for you foodies out there.  Cut the onion into half rings and then add both the onion and the peppers to the pot.  Toss in the minced garlic and stir.  All the ingredients should be mingling nicely.

3. Bring to a simmer and then cover.  Continue to cook at a simmer for 4-6 hours.  Remember to come back periodically to stir, adjust the temperature, and add more beer.  The mixture should always be covered with liquid.  I do this on the stove top but it can also be done on the grill in the Summer if you are using a grill friendly dish.

4. When you are ready serve take out the kielbasa and sear slightly on a grill pan, grill, or cast iron skillet to give it nice crisp bite on the outside.  Once you get those grill marks established, return the kielbasa to the pot and stir to combine.  If you'd like to do the same with some of the veggies I'd recommend the grill pan rather than the open grill unless you have a disposable pan to toss them in, flame kissed is good - engulfed bad - just keep that in mind.  Serve on buns topped with a few of the accompanying veggies and some spicy relish.

I love this recipe because it works just as good mid-Summer as it does in the dead of Winter.  In warmer weather it's a kicked up grilling option that will have your family begging for more, and in cooler weather it's a perfect comfort food that fills the house with it's delightful aroma as simmers throughout the day.  Regardless of the season, this simple dish is sure to please.

You've probably seen or done a close version of this dish with the kielbasa's not so distant cousin - the bratwurst - and it is in no way my most original recipe.  What it is, is my take on a family favorite.  My parents did it up with Italian sausage or tossed in brats when friends were coming over, but my heart belongs to kielbasa - and as such, so does this recipe.  So give it a shot, a tweak or two to your own tastes, and enjoy!