Green Pepper and Sausage Hash Browns

FullSizeRender-2Sometimes you just gotta keep it simple. Like doctoring up a package of Simply Potatoes plain shredded hash browns with a couple vegetables, and some meat, and calling it a done! My friend Marylee put me onto this brunch or brinner (breakfast for dinner…) side dish, and we love it for a quick after-church-on-Sunday meal with some cheesy scrambled eggs and fruit. You can use half a Kielbasa sausage ring, or a couple links of Andouille—anything will do, as long as it’s meaty and chock full of flavor. Just make sure you grab your biggest skillet or griddle to give the potatoes a chance to brown up nice and crispy. The more surface area, the better!

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 (20-ounce) package Simply Potatoes shredded hash browns
½ of a Kielbasa sausage ring, chopped into bite-sized pieces

Heat oil on high in large skillet or griddle. Add onion, and cook until translucent. Add green peppers, and sauté and stir for a minute. Add hash browns, let sit to brown for a bit, then use large spatula to flip sections of browned potatoes over, and stir until most of potatoes are golden. Add in sausage, and continue to cook and stir until potatoes are desired crispiness. Serve.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

FullSizeRender-1Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom has NOTHING on this savory made-from-scratch soup by Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa), posted on in 2006. I’ve been making this soup for a few years, usually to serve to company in the fall or winter. The intense mushroom flavor comes from making a vegetable stock with the mushroom stems, and adding that to the mushroom cap roux. (There’s that word again, Tom! Roux just means adding flour to butter to make a paste, which thickens cream sauces and soups.) Everyone who’s slurped this soup has absolutely raved about it, including my new bosses we recently hosted. Hey, that’s one way to stay employed—dazzle ’em with butter and cream in dishes like this one!

Here’s a budget tip: I’ve found Trader Joe’s has the best price on all of the mushrooms needed for this recipe. Some of them were about $2 per 8-ounce package, a huge cost savings over Cub foods, where they are often $4-5 per 8-ounce package. TJ’s also consistently has all of these mushrooms on hand. I’ve been to other grocery stores that only carry the shiitake mushrooms seasonally, and they do add a nice nutty nuance so are worth the search. One disclaimer: Those not mushroom fans will find there’s no subtlety of flavor here, so best to avoid this recipe. But the rest of you will love this soup as a side or main dish, with a crusty slice of warm, buttered, baguette. Mmmmmmmmmm…

Serves 8-10

8 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms
8 ounces fresh button mushrooms (these are the ones that are often just called “mushrooms” on the package…)
8 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms (aka: baby bella)
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup plus 1 tablespoon butter, divided
1 large yellow onion, chopped
3-4 carrots, chopped
1½ teaspoon dried thyme, divided
2½ teaspoons salt
1½ teaspoons coarse ground black pepper
2 cups chopped leeks (about 2)*
¼ cup all-purpose flour, or Namaste gluten-free flour blend
1 cup chicken broth
2 cups half-and-half
¼ cup minced fresh flat leaf parsley, or 1 tablespoon dried.

Clean the mushrooms by wiping them with a dry paper towel. Do not rinse in water. Separate the stems, trim off bad parts, and coarsely chop them. Slice the mushroom caps, and cut larger caps in half so pieces are bite-sized. Set caps aside.

To make the mushroom stock, heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter in large pot or Dutch oven. Add chopped mushroom stems, onion, carrots, 1 teaspoons thyme, salt, and pepper and cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes, or until vegetables are soft. Add 5 cups water, then bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain, reserving liquid. There should be about 4 cups of stock. If not, add water to 4 cups.

Heat the remaining ½ cup butter in the pot and add leeks. Cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes, or until leeks are soft and begin to brown. Add the sliced mushroom caps and cook for 10 minutes, or until tender and browned. Sprinkle the flour or Namaste gluten-free blend over the mushrooms, stir, and cook for 1 minute more. Add the chicken broth and stir to remove bits from bottom of pot, and cook for an additional 1 minute. Add the mushroom stock and remaining 1/2 teaspoon thyme, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir in the half-and-half and parsley, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Heat on low (do not boil) and serve.

*NOTE: Leeks often are full of sand and grit, so it’s best to chop them, then soak them in a bowl of cold water. The sand will sink to the bottom, and the leeks will float on top. Scoop them out of the water, and drain in colander.


Savory Tomato Bisque Soup

FullSizeRenderGrilled cheese and tomato soup lovers will welcome this tomato bisque recipe—it’s leaps and bounds above a can of Campbell’s. I got this flavorful recipe from a restaurant in Stillwater, Minnesota called “Savories,” a delightful little place that has since closed. The soup recipe was requested by a reader of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, and it was my job to get it for her. The owners were happy to share the recipe, as it was a wildly popular item, but said in a very world-weary voice, “Please tell your readers to try one of our other 200 soups that rotate on the menu now and then…” I’m glad they were in a sharing mood, because every time I’ve served this soup, it’s been a smash hit with the soup slurpers at our table. I guess it’s become MY most requested recipe, too!

Lately, I’ve been making it with half and half instead of the suggested heavy cream—but you decide how much fat you want in your soup. (Using a stick and a half of butter right off the bat, I think the fat-for-flavor category is covered…) I’ve also added in tomato paste to give it more tomatoey goodness. So what’s the perfect partner for this creamy soup? We like to make grilled cheese panini sandwiches with a stiff sourdough or rye bread, pile on deli ham or turkey, some spinach leaves, and add sharp Cheddar and Colby cheeses to the other fixings. To borrow Campbell’s slogan, Mmmmm, mmmmm, good.

Makes 12-15 servings*

Ease rating: medium (compared to opening a can of Campbell’s cream of tomato)

1½ cup chopped yellow onion
¾ cup butter
2 teaspoons dill seed
2-3 teaspoons dill weed
2 teaspoons dried oregano
3 tablespoons dried parsley
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1 cup flour
6 cups chicken stock (or vegetable stock, if you want to go vegetarian)
4 (14.5 ounce) cans diced tomatoes in juice
1 can tomato paste**
½ cup honey
2-3 cups half & half (or 2 cups heavy cream)

Sauté onions in butter until they are translucent. Add dill seed, dill weed, oregano, parsley, and salt, and cook over low heat to toast herbs. Sprinkle flour over onion mixture and stir until all flour is absorbed. Then continue to cook the flour mixture for 1-2 more minutes. Add chicken (or vegetable) stock, whisking while adding in liquid to avoid lumps. Add canned tomatoes, juice and all, and tomato paste, stirring to combine. Bring soup to a boil to allow to thicken. Just before serving, stir in honey and cream.

*NOTE:  As this recipe makes a gallon of soup, you could make it, stopping short of adding in the honey and cream, and freeze half of the tomato soup mixture. Then add in ¼ cup honey, and 1 cup cream, and enjoy a smaller batch now, and another batch later!

**If you don’t want to add the tomato paste, skip it, but reduce the honey to 1/3 cup.

Fabulous Fajitas

IMG_1020Fajitas can be quick and easy weekday fare, and are a great way to use any meat you may have leftover from grilling. My husband loves to grill or smoke a pork roast or large pork chops for dinner one night, and then we can use the leftovers to make fajitas or stir fry another time. Grilled beef roast or flanks are also awesome in fajitas. Or sometimes he sears the meat on the grill just for flavor but doesn’t cook it all the way, and then we finish it up on the stove top with the peppers and onions. If you don’t have time or space for grilling, chicken can be sautéed in a pan with the veggies.

I can assure you the recipe I’ve come up with below is easy (Judy easy!) and perfect for a couple or small family. The trick with fajitas, is to cut everything—meat, onions, and peppers—in strips so you can grab the meat and veggies with tongs when loading up your tortillas. And the secret flavor booster is the sesame oil, a wonderfully nutty and earthy addition. It’s found in the Asian food or oil aisle of your grocery store.

Serves 4-6

1 pound pork roast, beef roast (or 8 chicken tenderloins)
2-4 tablespoons soy sauce
Drizzle of olive oil
Garlic salt
1-2 large yellow onions, halved then sliced
2 green peppers, or 1 green and 1 sweet red pepper, sliced in strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds


One recipe Spicy Hummus, or purchased hummus
Crumbled feta cheese

One recipe tortillas, or store-bought tortillas

Put meat in bowl and drizzle with soy sauce. Turn to coat. (Use 4 tablespoons soy sauce for the pork or beef, and 2 tablespoons for the chicken tenderloins.) Grill meat until just pink in center, sprinkling with garlic salt while grilling. Or use chicken if making your whole meal indoors. If using chicken, drizzle olive oil in a large sauté pan and heat on high. Add chicken to pan and sear on each side about 2 minutes, sprinkling with garlic salt while cooking. Remove to plate to cool.

Drizzle olive oil in pan and heat to high. Add onions and saute for 1-2 minutes. Turn down to medium-high heat and continue to cook until onions are translucent. Add peppers and cook until pepper are tender-crisp. Add garlic, stir and cook 1 minute more. Turn heat back up to high. Slice meat into long, thin strips and add to pan. Add soy sauce, sesame oil, and sesame seeds. Stir to combine, and then let ingredients sauté about 1-2 minutes more.

Heat tortillas on hot skillet for a few seconds on each side. Add fajita mixture to tortilla. Add hummus and feta cheese. Roll up and eat!

Marynona’s Potato Salad

IMG_0903People who say they aren’t a fan of potato salad have only had bland deli fare. My mother-in-law was the master at making tasty potato salad, chock full of crunchy celery and onions, and lots of hard-boiled eggs. (I may have overdone it a bit on the eggs the last time I made this, as my nephew Brock said, “So Aunt Cheryl, is this egg salad with potatoes in it, or potato salad with eggs in it?”) Marynona’s secret to making great potato salad, was not only plenty of mustard and seasonings, but to add your mayo and seasonings to the bite-sized potato chunks while they are still warm, so the potatoes absorb the flavors. She also insisted that you must use real Hellmann’s mayonnaise, and not Kraft Miracle Whip, or another brand of mayo. I do agree with her—Hellmann’s really does make a difference. It also helps to make this at least 3 hours before serving time to give it time to chill, and for the flavors to blend.

Serves 6-8

6 eggs
8-10 red potatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces (do not peel)
1-2 teaspoons salt
1 to 1 1/4 cups Hellmann’s real mayonnaise
2 tablespoons prepared mustard
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons dill weed
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon course ground black pepper
2 tablespoons white vinegar
2-3 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, chopped, or 1/2 large red onion, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, optional

Place eggs in medium sauce pan and cover with cold water; cover. Bring water to boil. Turn element off and let eggs sit in hot water for 10 minutes. Dump out water and run cold water over eggs. Remove shells from eggs; set aside.

Place potatoes in large sauce pan or small Dutch oven, and cover with cold water. Add 1-2 teaspoons of salt. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook 10-15 minutes, or until potatoes are tender to fork. Once cooked, drain the potatoes in a colander. Let cool until potatoes are no longer steaming, but are still warm.

Meanwhile, combine mayonnaise, mustards, dill, salt, and pepper in large bowl. Stir. Add vinegar and stir again. Fold in celery, onions, and chives (if desired). Dice hard boiled eggs and add to mixture; stir again. Add warm potatoes and gently stir until potatoes are all coated with mayo mixture. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate. After chilling 1 hour, stir salad and refrigerate for another 2 hours. If not serving at this time, move to airtight plastic container and store in frig for up to 1 week.