Baked potato soup

This time of year is fickle. The skies promise sunshine, it peeks through the clouds with a shy anticipation – but snatches back and sends us cold winds on the turn of a dime. Everything is brown. And wet. And not growing yet. Oh, and my migraines are terrible. It makes me crabby.

When I am crabby, I crave comfort food – enter baked potato soup. You need something to cheer your weary bones? This is hearty, and comforting. You need some fun in your life? If a bacon-topped bowl of goodness isn’t fun, I don’t know what is. You need something easy for dinner? My friends, dive into this delicious bowl.

There are a million different recipes for baked potato soup – mine balances the line between decadent and decidedly not terrible for you. It’s filling, relatively fast and fairly hard to ruin. Also, cheese. And bacon. Who can be crabby in the face of that?

Baked potato soup
Potatoes. Bacon. Cheese. I rest my case.

You’ll need:

  • 6 potatoes (I like yukon golds or klondike rose), baked* and diced
  • 3-4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T butter
  • 4 oz. cream cheese
  • 8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded and divided
  • 1 lb. of bacon, cooked and crumbled
  • ½ bunch green onions, sliced
  • Salt and pepper

*Fast method for baking potatoes:

Prick potatoes on each side with a fork. Microwave for 8 minutes, flip, and microwave 7-8 minutes more.

Get cooking:

  1. Heat butter in a large pot over medium high heat. Add onions and saute for 8-10 minutes, until softened and slightly browned. Add garlic and saute another 1-2 minutes.
  2. Deglaze pan with chicken broth, adding potatoes, cream cheese and half of cheddar cheese. Stir, breaking up potatoes into smaller chunks with the spoon, and allow cheese to melt. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Garnish with bacon, cheese and scallions.

I put the pizza place to shame

We are in the middle of snowstorm number two for the year and I actually attempted to trudge out for a birthday celebration. I made a left hand turn and did a 180, saw someone suck in a huge ravine and was doing 40 on the freeway – I turned around. And while the company isn’t as good, the homemade pizza I’m making for dinner almost soothes away the sting. That, and the jammies, the Pinot grigio and the Grey’s Anatomy marathon.

I have worked long and hard to find the best homemade pizza recipe out there. I make the dough in my bread machine and I’ve found that 1.5 pounds of dough is the perfect amount for a medium-ish pizza that serves 4 people 2 large slices. I did a 1-pound ball tonight, which is good for a thin crust. I use tomato paste for the sauce, which is the perfect thickness and also gives a great rich flavor. I use fresh mozzarella and blot to keep it from getting too watery and top with all my favorite things. It’s the great thing about pizza – whatever sounds good, mix with sauce, cheese and bread. What could be more comforting?

You’ll need:

  • 1 pound dough
  • 1 12-oz can of tomato paste
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, grated
  • 2 T Italian seasoning
  • 1 lb fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • Toppings that sound yummy (I like chicken, caramelized onion, bell peppers, kalamata olives, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts.)

Get cooking:

  1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, pop it in while you prep the pizza. If not, you can prepare the pizza right on whatever pan you want to bake with.
  2. Slice the mozzarella as thin as you can, then place the slices between paper towel (at least two sheets thick) in a bowl and put a large can on top. This will squeeze out the moisture while you prep everything else.
  3. Roll out the crust to fit the pan (or stone). I have a pizza peel, so I coat that with some cornmeal and use it to transfer. If you don’t, you can cornmeal a piece of wax or parchment paper and use that to slide the pizza on the stone, or just prepare it on the pan you plan on baking with.
  4. Combine garlic, seasoning and tomato paste. Spread on crust.
  5. Put on whatever toppings you like.
  6. Remove cheese from paper towel and place on top (This allows the cheese to get brown and bubbly, as well as keep the moisture off the crust.)
  7. Bake 15-20 minutes until crust is golden and cheese is bubbly.

That’s it! Super easy and delicious. Serve with a salad if you want, though I usually have enough veggies on mine that I don’t feel the need. 😉

 

Chicken Cordon Bleu Mac and Cheese

This recipe is a great example of what happens when your best laid plans don’t quite work out in the kitchen. My sister Nicole, brother-in-law Jon and friend Amanda came over, and I was planning on making a lemon chicken cordon bleu with … I honestly can’t remember what the original side was now. In any case, I decided to change it to mac and cheese based on what was in the fridge (and I want to say I was missing an ingredient for the original side.) But I was trying to quickly defrost a whole heap of chicken breasts (I normally only freeze two at a time) and they did not defrost the way I hoped they would – aka, I didn’t think I’d be able to butterfly them open to stuff the provolone and ham in them. So, change #3 – combine the chicken and the mac and cheese of course! And so, chicken cordon bleu mac and cheese was born. I’ll tell you exactly what I used here (because it’s what I had on hand) but I’ll also recommend substitutions. This fed – well, technically there were 5 of us, but my brother-in-law should really count for three people with the amount of food he can eat – and made probably 4-5 lunch servings of leftovers. I served with a nice salad and a new cocktail (which I will save for another post.) It’s a great, hearty meal to beat the cold – and the cocktails.

Ingredients:

6 chicken breasts, cubed into bite-sized pieces (ok, really, you could use 3-4 and be FINE – I was talked into using all of what I had by the boys.)

1 T EVOO

1 onion, diced

5 cloves garlic, minced (again, I am obsessed.)

1 lb ham (whatever kind you can find – mine was lunch meat), diced (you could get away with about 1/2 pound here – I used 1/2 in the sauce and 1/2 as a topper)

3 T butter

3 T flour

2 cups milk (whatever you have)

1 8oz brick cream cheese

8 oz provolone, shredded

8 oz colby jack, shredded (Could switch to swiss for a traditional feel)

1 lb short cut pasta

Salt and pepper

Pinch nutmeg

1-2 T Thyme or Italian seasoning

Directions:

Put a pot of water on to boil – once boiling, cook pasta until it still has a bit of bite. Drain. In the meantime…

Over medium high heat, season chicken with salt and pepper and brown in a skillet. Cook almost through, then transfer to a plate.

Add butter and melt, then add ham and onion. Saute about 5 min, until the onion is soft and the ham starts to get some color.

Add garlic, saute 1-2 minutes, until you can smell the garlic.

Add in flour and mix together – let flour cook about 1 minute or so.

Whisk in milk, let come to a bubble and thicken. Add nutmeg, salt, pepper and Italian seasoning.

Add cheeses and mix until melted.

Add in pasta and chicken and cook for about 5 more minutes, until chicken and pasta are cooked through.

At this point, you could make a breadcrumb topping and bake, or you could serve with ham for a topper. Guess which is easier? 😉

Eat. A lot. And drink. A lot. Trust me, this meal will let you handle it.