Slow Cooker Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper Soup

or easy comfort food for fast or frozen

Tomato soup and grilled cheese is a classic comfort food combination that many people love from childhood on.  Yes, it is true that you can get this in minutes from a can, and there are times that I will admit that I crave just that.  There is just something about your childhood favorites that can bring those wonderful feelings of simple joy flooding back.  It is also true that this can be made stove top in about 40 minutes, but I am a fan of instant satisfaction and slow cooking not only gives you dinner in the same amount of hands on time it would take you to cook up the canned version but it also gives the flavors even longer to mingle and get to know each other.  The additions to the flavor give the soup a bit more depth without being overwhelming and it is a great base to build from and try out different combinations.

Bonuses for stress reduction: this can easily be a back up pantry meal made with items you can keep on hand, it freezes really well in individual portions for lunches and in freezer bags for family meals.  We've tried three different variations and love them all!  The tips for alterations are included at the bottom.  I hope you enjoy and find some new ways to customize it to your tastes!

The base version is great alongside provolone topped garlic bread or mozzarella grilled cheese sandwiches (outside sprinkled with house seasoning before cooking).  Here's how it's done:

2 tsp dried minced onion
½ tsp fresh minced garlic
¼ tsp salt
½ teaspoon paprika
1 can crushed tomatoes (24 oz) or 2 pounds fresh tomatoes, chopped
½ cup sliced roasted red peppers (prepared already, about ½ of a jar)
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock

Hardware: slow cooker, immersion (or regular) blender

1. In the slow cooker: Add the tomatoes, roasted peppers, onion, garlic, salt, and paprika. Stir well to combine. Next add in the stock and stir until blended.

2. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours.

3. Using an immersion blender (or transfer to a blender, working in batches), puree until almost smooth. Stir well then season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add in options for serving: 1 cup frozen cheese tortellini, a drizzle of olive oil and Parmesan cheese for garnish. Directions - turn the slow cooker up to high after step 3.  Add in the frozen tortellini. Continue to cook until heated through, approximately 20 min. Then top each bowl with a drizzle of olive oil and a light dusting of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  

Alternate variation: Add ½ tsp chili powder in with the other spices and serve drizzled with both olive oil and lime juice. This version could be served either hot or chilled (try it with some diced fresh bell peppers and tomatoes tossed in).


Simply Shortbread

or a slightly less dense and crumbly comfort food delight

I love shortbread.  It has been one of my favorite comfort foods from the time I could climb up onto my mom's counter and sing until she made some for me ("mama's little baby loves short'nin, short'nin. mama's little baby loves short'nin bread" I assumed this was referring to shortbread as a kid but I was wrong, it got my message across anyway though).  There are many ways to enjoy shortbread and I have made a lot of them: bars, triangles, Irish, Scottish, "muffins," and cookies.  Everyone in our family loves shortbread so I have never had any complaints about these experiments, and the minimal time commitment is a huge bonus when you need comfort food fast for quick stress reduction.

Most shortbread gets kind of crumbly after the first day so my husband uses that as an excuse to eat as much as he can within the first 8 hours after they are made.  Well, I wanted to have some that I could hide away for my lunches, at least for a couple days, so I started looking at recipes again trying to find something a little less dry.  It takes a few more ingredients this way but the comfort lasts a few more days so I think it is worth it, plus when it comes out of the oven my family is lining up at the kitchen door so I think that speaks well to its success.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!

2 cups white flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar + 1 tbsp
1 cup butter softened
1/4 cup milk

Hardware: 8" square or 9" round glass baking dish, stand mixer or hand mixer

Preheat oven to 350 F

1. Add the flour, baking powder, salt, powdered sugar, 1/2 cup of granulated sugar to the mixing bowl and turn on for a few seconds on the lowest speed to stir well.

2.  While it is running, add in the butter in tablespoon sized sections.  Once all the butter is in, pour in the milk.  Turn the speed up one level and mix until a stiff dough forms.

3. Grease the baking dish and then dump in the mixture.  Spread it out evenly and pat down lightly so the thickness is consistent and it reaches all edges (I like to take a piece of plastic wrap and lay it over the top during this process if I need to keep my hands clean).  Prick holes evenly throughout with a fork and then sprinkle remaining granulated sugar over top.

4. Bake in oven for 30-35 min or until it is turning golden.  Take out and place dish on a cooling rack.  Allow to cool until "warm" to touch then cut. (I suggest 1" x 2" rectangles in a square baking dish)


Good for the Soul Gumbo

or this Northern girl's take on a Louisiana classic

Well, here it is - my 100th post!!! (cue the balloons, streamers, Chinese lanterns, and celebratory music)  I know, I know, I should have hit it last year at the latest but I am still thrilled to reach this milestone and to have each and every one of you along for the ride.  I truly appreciate your interest in my thoughts and recipes whether this is your first visit or you are a regular viewer.  To me recipes are to be shared and not hidden away as "secret" so the original cook is the only one who can make them "just right."  Inspiration comes from many sources and whenever I can recall who or what inspires me I do my best to credit the source, though often I take bits and pieces from friends, the web, and various books so it is hard to trace.  I hope that you are enjoying the recipes that I am sharing here and are able to make them your own by adding the flavors and ingredients that you love because that is where food and cooking really come to life.

I thought about what may be an appropriate recipe to share that properly celebrates reaching this milestone and one practically sprung to mind - Chicken and Sausage Gumbo.  This is one of my husband's new favorite dishes, it even ranks right up there with Shepherd's Pie and I thought nothing could possibly reach that level.  This dish is a labor of love.  It is not a quick weeknight meal for us but rather one to savor from the moment the vegetables are sauteing until the last bowl of leftovers has been enjoyed.  It just makes you feel good when you are eating it and warms you from the inside out.

I learned a base for gumbo in a cooking class so I used that basic technique for the process, then I adjusted the seasonings and ingredients to fit our tastes.  I have no idea how true this is to what is traditionally considered to be gumbo, but I highly suspect that mine lacks the strength of spice that is used so if you are used to more spice you may want to adjust it to taste and can expect to have to add a fair amount.  We love it just as it is.  Here is how this northern girl takes on gumbo:

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

8 tbsp (1 stick) of butter
1 tbsp olive or vegetable oil
1/2 cup cut or medium dice celery
1/2 cup cut or medium dice carrots
1/2 cup diced yellow onion
2 tsp fresh minced garlic
8 tbsp flour
1 tsp Gumbo file
1 tsp Cajun seasoning
1/2 tsp house seasoning
1 can diced tomatoes (12 oz)
8 cups chicken stock
2 fully cooked boneless chicken breasts
9 oz Kielbasa (about 2/3 of a 14 oz package)
1/4 - 1/3 cup very small dice mixed bell peppers
1-2 cups cooked rice

Hardware: dutch oven or large stock pot
Time investment: 1 hr 30 min

1. Melt butter in the bottom of the pot with the oil (to help prevent burning). Add celery, carrots, and onions. Cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally.

2. Add in the flour, mixing well, and continue to cook until the roux becomes a medium brown (you will need to stir frequently, being careful not to burn). Approximately 7-8 min.

3. Season with Gumbo File, minced garlic, Cajun spices, and Top Secret. Blend spices into the roux.

4. Add the tomatoes, and then stir in the chicken stock until evenly blended. Continue to simmer for at least 45-50 min

5. Add in the cooked chicken breast, kielbasa, and peppers.  Stir to combine.  Heat for an additional 15 min, then turn the temperature down to low and cover to keep warm until ready to serve. Stir in the cooked rice before serving or place in the bottom of the bowls before pouring the gumbo over top.

Serve with fresh cornbread or biscuits.

I don't have a picture, I am sorry.  Every time I make it I forget until after we have eaten it all.  Hopefully I will remember next time and be able to add one for you all!