Creamy Tomato Basil Soup



Another school year begins…

Our daughter is beginning her clinical year up in Evanston, IL.  Once again, we loaded up all of her belongings to move her into a cute little apartment, not far from the “Purple Line” in a beautiful part of town, just outside the Northwestern University campus.  The cool breezes off the shores of Lake Michigan have made for an unseasonably cooler summer.  

After settling her into the apartment, we walked into town to find a local place to eat lunch.  We spotted an adorable restaurant called The Farmhouse-Evanston.  The menu touted local foods, brews, and seasonal fare.  With a chill in the air, the tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich sounded wonderful. My daughter ordered it without hesitation.  All through the meal, she raved about the creamy soup and hearty, three-cheese sandwich.  

After returning home, I was inspired to make a big pot of flavorful tomato soup for the family. What a treat.  This recipe makes enough to serve the whole clan with extras to pack into containers for weekday lunches.

…Outstanding soup!  Don’t forget to garnish with pieces of garlic toast, Parmesan cheese, and fresh basil.

Creamy Tomato and Basil Soup

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 large white onion, chopped

2 (28 oz) cans San Marzano whole, peeled tomatoes

1 1/2 cups water

3 teaspoons chicken soup base

2 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup half and half

6 – 8 large fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped

1/4 teaspoon dried Italian seasonings

1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste

3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper or to taste

In a medium pot, heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic and saute for 30 seconds, do. It over cook.  Add onion; stir and cook until translucent.

Add the two can of tomatoes with juice, chicken base, water, and sugar. Bring to a low simmer. Cook uncovered, for 12-15 minutes. Add the half & half, basil, Italian seasonings, salt and pepper.

Using an immersion blender,  puree soup until smooth. Serve immediately with a hearty grilled cheese sandwich or a fresh salad.



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Homestyle Chunky Chicken Noodle Soup

This post goes out to all the folks that might be suffering from the effects of this year’s harsh cold and flu season…

My week began with a trip to urgent care as I woke on Monday with the symptoms of a bad flu. My chest felt heavy and I had a low hacking cough that shook my core every time it took a hold of me. After being diagnosed with an upper respiratory infection, I headed home with a supply of medication to help ease my discomfort.  I knew that a bit of rest and a pot of piping hot chicken noodle soup would certainly help me find relief.  

This is a quick and easy recipe that has become a family favorite over the years.  Chunks of onion, carrot, celery and chicken make for a hearty base while the steaming hot broth warms the throat and nestles down into the tummy.  Comfort food at its best. To save a bit of time, I often purchase a rotisserie chicken from the local grocer and shred up the juicy, well seasoned chicken before adding it to the broth.  My favorite stock base to use is L.B. Jamison’s.  I follow the directions on the back of the jar.  Perfect every time…  What a welcome recipe when you’re feeling under the weather.

Homestyle Chunky Chicken Noodle Soup

8- 10 cups water

8 teaspoons chicken flavored soup base (or adjust to taste)

3 medium carrot, peeled and sliced

3 stalk celery, sliced

1 medium onion, diced

2 cups shredded cooked chicken

2 teaspoons black pepper

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon dried parsley

2 cup cooked noodles

Heat water to boiling, add soup base.  Reduce heat to simmer.  Add carrots, celery, onions, pepper, garlic, and parsley.  Simmer vegetables until tender.  Add chicken and cook for an additional 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Keep cooked noodles separate and add a small handful to each bowl of soup before serving.  This keeps noodles al dente.

Queso Blanco Chicken and Salsa

On a recent Saturday outing, my family and I stumbled upon a quaint new restaurant in the middle of our town square featuring Mexican cuisine.  As we were seated in the festive dining room, a heaping basket of freshly made chips and salsa was delivered to the table.  Looking over the extensive menu, I was excited to find a chicken dish that seemed fresh and flavorful with simple ingredients.  I immediately requested the dish and continued to munch on the crispy chips and spicy salsa while listening to the sounds of the lively Mexican music streaming through the sound system.  

As we waited for our meal to arrive, we chatted about our desire to visit a local farmer’s market to find lots of fresh produce to make our own salsa when returning home for the day.  

Alas, our meals arrived and as the waitress placed the scrumptious looking dish in front of me, I realized how simple it would be for me to replicate the flavors at home and quickly made a note of all of the items on the plate.  After a lovely meal, we headed out to the farmer’s market located a few short blocks through the town square. We enjoyed a lovely walk through the bustling scene teaming with a variety of fresh vegetables and quickly scooped up the ingredients needed to replicate my chicken dish.  This is how I assembled my own version of the delicious meal…

Queso Blanco Chicken and Salsa

6 chicken breasts

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 (15 oz.) jar Queso Blanco Dip

1 1/2 cups Fresh (or store bought) Chunky Salsa (see recipe below)

6 ears corn, shucked and cleaned

2 avocado, sliced

Season chicken breasts with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.  Bake or grill for 30-45 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees.  In the meantime, place ears of corn on outdoor grill or indoor grilling skillet, roast until tender.  Slice corn off of the cob.  Season to taste with butter and salt, if desired.  In a microwave safe bowl, heat Queso Blanco Dip until warm and pourable.  To serve, place a chicken breast on each plate, drizzle with Queso Blanco Dip and garnish with fresh cilantro. Next,  add to the plate, a couple of heaping spoons of roasted corn, fresh salsa, and slices of avocado.  Simple and delicious!

Homemade Chunky Salsa

2 cups ripe plum tomatoes, diced 

1/4 cup white onion, chopped

3 tablespoons fresh cilantro, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons lime juice, bottled or fresh

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or to taste)

1 small garlic clove, minced

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl.  Cover tightly and refrigerate before serving.



Beef Salami

We recently had a substantial amount of local beef delivered to our home. One of my colleagues owns a beef ranch and I decided to try the product that so many often rave about.  The delivery came with a selection of cuts including various roasts, steaks, and ground beef.  As I looked at all of the individually wrapped beef packages, I was reminded of a recipe that I first spotted in a community cookbook that I’m fond of.  It’s an ole’ time recipe for homemade beef salami and the ingredients are few and common.  I substituted Lawry’s seasoning salt for the “tender quick salt” just because I didn’t have any on hand.  The beef salami turned out just fine.





As the holiday weekend approaches, I thought this might be a fun recipe to try as I’m often assembling plates of appetizers when friends stop by and the kids open the fridge constantly looking for something to munch on.







Easy Skillet Pizza



I keep extra loaves of frozen pizza dough on hand for this Easy Skillet Pizza.  Using an old, well seasoned cast iron skillet is the secret to a crispy flavorful crust. Be creative and add your own vegetable favorites and toppings. Give this one a try… I think you’re family will love it. 

Easy Skillet Pizza

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 pound Italian sausage, browned and crumbled

1 pound fresh pizza dough or frozen bread dough, thawed and at room temperature

1 cup your favorite marinara sauce (or 1 1/2 cups crushed, strained San Marzano canned tomatoes)

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon oregano

1/2 cups sliced red or green peppers, sliced (optional)

1/2 cup sliced pepperoni rounds (optional)

2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded

1 tablespoon dried Italian seasonings

1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and grease the inside of a 12-inch cast-iron skillet with 2 tablespoons of olive oil.   Place the pizza dough in the center and spread evenly across the bottom edge and 1 1/2 inches up the sides. 

Spread sauce, garlic, and oregano over crust.  Sprinkle browned sausage evenly over the sauce.  Add desired fresh, sliced vegetables and pepperoni, if desired.   Next, add the mozzarella. Sprinkle the Italian seasonings on top. Finish with the Parmesan and drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil.





Place the skillet pizza on the bottom rack of the oven and cook until the edge of the crust is golden brown and crusty, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove and let rest for 5 minutes before serving.



Note: If the crust and toppings start to brown too quickly, cover with a piece of foil and continue baking until cooked through.

Enjoy!



Cheeseburger Soup

Years ago, when our children were little, we used to hold an annual fall party for family and friends on our beautiful wooded lot.  We’d elaborately decorate the barn and yard with hay bales and pumpkins, colored lights and corn stalks.  I’d cook large pots of soup, chili, baked beans and bratwurst.  A dessert table always displayed an abundance of tasty autumn treats to satisfy all of the guests.  This cheeseburger soup was always a staple recipe made for the festive backyard party. I would double or triple the ingredients and separate the batch to freeze a portion in serving sized containers.  This way, we had a supply on hand to enjoy during the cool autumn and winter months. 

Cheeseburger Soup

2 pound ground beef
1 cup diced  onion

1 cup diced carrots

1 cup diced celery

1 1/2 teaspoons dried basil

1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes

4 tablespoons butter, divided

6 cups chicken broth  (I use chicken soup base mixed with water, as directed on package)

5 cups diced peeled potatoes

1/4 cup flour

4 cups (16 ounces) process cheese (Velveeta), cubed

2 cups milk

1 1/2 teaspoon salt 

1 teaspoon pepper 

In a large soup pot, brown beef; drain and set aside. In the same pot, sauté the onion, carrots, celery, basil and parsley in 1 tablespoon butter until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the broth, potatoes and beef; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10-12 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt remaining butter. Add flour; cook and stir for 3-5 minutes or until bubbly. Add to soup; bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to low. Stir in the cheese, milk, salt and pepper; cook and stir until cheese melts. 

Tip: I make my own croutons to top the soup.  Just cube a few slices of day old bread or leftover buns and sprinkle them with oil, garlic powder and salt (to taste).  Bake in a 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes or until crispy and golden brown.  Cool; store in an airtight container.

Creamy Chicken Lasagna



This is an adaptation of a recipe that I found in a Better Homes and Gardens magazine many years ago.  I had received the magazine as a “free trial” but I rarely had time to read it as my 3 children were young and my life was busy.  I did, however, make it a point to visit the recipe contest page to see what recipes had been selected as “winners” for each monthly issue.  

One month, a recipe for a white chicken lasagna was chosen.  It was a bit more complicated than the adaptation I have submitted below. The white sauce was elaborate…starting with a classic roux.  Managing a busy household, I had no time for that so I decided to use a purchased sauce.  This eliminated a few time consuming steps and made for a quick and tasty alternative.  It was a big hit in my household so I’ve been making it this way ever since.

Creamy Chicken Lasagna

1 (16 ounce) package lasagna noodles

1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped broccoli

3 boneless chicken breasts, poached and diced

2 (16 ounce) jars Alfredo-style pasta sauce

4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

1 (16 oz) container cottage cheese

1 egg

1 teaspoon Italian seasoning

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

3/4 teaspoon pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease a 9X13″ baking dish.  Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain. Cook broccoli according to package directions; drain well.  In a medium bowl, combine cooked chicken, broccoli and one jar of Alfredo sauce, garlic powder, and pepper; stir together. In a separate bowl, beat egg into cottage cheese.  Add Italian seasonings; stir well.  Pour 1/3 of the jar of remaining Alfredo sauce in bottom of the pan, spread evenly.  Place one layer of lasagna noodles, edges overlapping, into the baking dish.  Pour 1/3 chicken, broccoli, and Alfredo sauce mixture over the noodle layer and spread evenly. Spread 1/3 cottage cheese mixture over chicken, broccoli, and Alfredo sauce mixture.  Sprinkle 1/3 of the shredded mozzarella over chicken mixture.  Continue to layer two more times, ending with a sprinkling of mozzarella cheese. Tightly cover with foil.   Bake 30-35 minutes.   Remove foil and continue to cook for 5-10 minutes until top is brown and bubbly.