Summer Italian Sausage Soup

Summer Italian Sausage Soup

 

Lately, Chicago weather has been throwing us a curve ball.  Last week was consistently ninety degrees, while this week has seen plenty of cool temperatures.  With this feeling of Fall in the air, I thought it a perfect time to post this delicious Italian sausage soup recipe.  I make multiple versions of this soup, usually depending on available in season vegetables.  In the summer, I use green beans, zucchini, and fresh spinach.  In the winter, I use cabbage, kale, and leeks.  If you have another favorite vegetable you would want to add to the pot, feel free.  This soup is very versatile.  Don’t be afraid to tinker with it to match your taste or what you have on hand.

If you want to speed up the prep work when making this soup, use a pre chopped container of mirepoix (onion, celery, and carrots), and store-bought stock.  If you are like me, your pantry is constantly overflowing with cans of tomatoes, cans of beans, boxes of stock, and half consumed bags of pasta noodles.  With that said, make sure to check your pantry for ingredients before you head off to the store with your shopping list.

This soup feeds a crowd, so I suggest making it when you have a hungry group coming over for dinner.  If your family is like mine, make it any night of the week (always seems to be a hungry clan waiting around the stove for something warm and hearty).  Serve it along side sandwiches, or with a nice salad and a loaf of bread.

Smiles will grace the faces of all who eat summer Italian sausage soup.  I promise you that.

Summer Italian Sausage Soup 2

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb Italian chicken sausage (I used a sun dried tomato variety)
  • 1 cup white onion, chopped
  • 1 cup carrots, chopped
  • 1 cup celery, chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 cup green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 cup zucchini, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 28 oz can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 15 oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed
  • 15 oz can cannellini beans, rinsed
  • 8 cups low sodium chicken stock (homemade or store-bought)
  • 1 1/2 cups short cut pasta (I used orecchiette)
  • 6 oz bag fresh spinach
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • pinch cracked red pepper flakes, optional (if you like it spicy like we do, add it!)
  • Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, fresh basil, and fresh parsley (fixings)

Directions:

Saute Italian sausage over medium heat in a large pot until browned (no need to add oil).  Using a wooden spoon, break up sausage into bite sized pieces as it cooks.  As long as you are using a lean sausage, you should not have excess oil in your pot.  If you do, discard oil and drain sausage on a plate lined with paper towel then return sausage to the pot.

To the cooked sausage, add onion, carrots, celery, and garlic.  Cook for 5 minutes.  Add green beans and zucchini.  Cook an additional 5 minutes, then add tomatoes, beans, broth, oregano, salt, pepper, and cracked red pepper flakes (optional).  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and let simmer for 30 minutes.

Add pasta, cook 15 minutes or until al dente.  Alternatively, cook pasta separately and add 1/4 cup to individual bowls before ladling in soup.  I do this when I plan to have a lot of soup leftover so the noodles are kept separately.  That way the noodles don’t rest in the soup and absorb the broth.

Add spinach and let cook an additional 5 minutes.  Serve with Parmesan cheese, a squeeze of lemon, fresh basil, and fresh parsley.

Servings: 10 (Serving Size: 2 cups)

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Corn and Kale Salad with Basil Lime Vinaigrette

kale and corn salad

 

To me, fresh corn equals the arrival of summer.  I have been known to eat multiple ears of warm buttered corn on the cob, and then call it dinner.  I think I get it from my Dad.  I remember growing up watching him sit at the kitchen table with a plate full of corn on the cob and an ear to ear smile on his face.  Who needs the rest of the meal when corn on the cob is involved, right Dad?

That being said, corn is also delicious when cut off the cob and added to salads, casseroles, and even desserts.  In this recipe, I toss chunks of corn cut from the cob with kale, peppers, shallots, tomatoes, parsley, feta cheese, toasted pine nuts, and a homemade vinaigrette.  With a bit of simple prep work done up front, this comes together quickly.

carn salad prep

 

The bright green kale visually contrasts with the yellow corn and red tomatoes.  This makes for a beautiful presentation.  Kale and corn salad with basil lime vinaigrette is my new favorite salad!  I plan on making sure fresh corn on the cob is in my kitchen. Thus, I plan on making this again and again.

I hope you make this salad soon. Your taste buds will thank you.

Ingredients:

  • 5 ears sweet corn, husked
  • 2 bunches Tuscan kale (about 1 pound), center ribs removed, leaves thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, finely diced
  • 2 small shallots, thinly sliced
  • 5 campari tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1 cup feta cheese, cut into small cubes
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 cup fresh packed basil leaves
  • 2 tbsp lime juice (juice from 1 lime)
  • 2 tsp lime zest (zest from 1 lime)
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 1/4 olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

Make basil lime vinaigrette by combining basil leaves, lime juice, lime zest and garlic in a food processor.  Pulse 2-3 times until coarsely chopped.  With the machine running, add olive oil in a slow steady stream, and process until emulsified.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add salt and pepper, and process to combine.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add corn to boiling water, reduce heat, and let simmer for 5 minutes. Remove corn and set aside to cool.  Cut corn off the cobs and reserve.

Add kale to a serving bowl and toss with the vinaigrette.  Add corn, bell pepper, jalapeno pepper, shallot, tomatoes, and parsley.  Toss to combine.  Add feta cheese and pine nuts.  Serve and enjoy.

Lemon Dill Chicken Kabobs & Greek Balsamic Orzo

One of the best parts of summer is barbecuing.  I love sitting outside on a warm evening, sipping on a cold beer or glass of wine, and throwing something yummy on the grill.  The thought of it just makes me smile.

This past weekend, we noticed the summer slipping away from us.  It was the end of July and we had yet to have a B-B-Q. What?  So we took action, invited a few friends over, put together a simple menu, and stocked the cooler with cold beverages.

I had fun planning the meal.  The featured items were lemon dill chicken kabobs and a lovely Greek balsamic orzo salad.  Don’t let the summer go by without hosting a barbeque of your own.  I highly recommend whipping up these recipes.  They were delicious!

Lemon Dill Chicken Kabobs

lemon dill chicken kabobs

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups plain low fat yogurt
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp lemon zest (zest of 2 lemons)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 tsp dried oregano (or 2 tsp fresh oregano, chopped)
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp pepper
  • 2 1/2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into cubes
  • 4 red bell peppers, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 red onions, peeled and cut into wedges
  • wooden skewers, soaked in water for 20 minutes

Directions:

In a large resealable plastic bag, add first 9 ingredients and mix well.  Add chicken, seal, and refrigerate for 4 – 24 hours.

Thread chicken, bell peppers, and onion wedges onto skewers.  Discard extra marinade.

Preheat grill to medium-high heat.  Lightly oil grates, and place kabobs on the grill.  Cook 10 minutes, turning as needed, or until chicken is cooked through and vegetables are tender.

Servings: 7 (Serving Size: 2 Skewers)

Greek Balsamic Orzo

balsamic orzo salad

 

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups orzo, uncooked
  • 6 oz bag baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 14 oz can artichoke hearts packed in water, diced
  • 3/4 cup kalamata olives, cut in half
  • 1/3 pine nuts, toasted
  • 1 cup crumbled feta
  • Zest from 1 lemon (1 tbsp)
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon (or more if needed)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

In a medium size bowl, combine lemon zest, lemon juice, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.  Wisk until well blended.  Add chopped tomatoes to the vinaigrette and let marinade for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook orzo according to package directions.  Add chopped spinach to serving bowl.  When orzo is done cooking, drain pasta, (do not rinse) and add to chopped spinach.  Stir to combine.  Note: make sure to add orzo to the spinach when it is still warm, the warm orzo will wilt the spinach.

Add artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, and tomatoes along with vinaigrette.  Toss to combine.

Allow salad time to cool to room temperature.  Add feta cheese and toasted pine nuts.

Toss and serve.

Servings: 12 (Serving Size: 1 cup)

Mexican Rice Salad

Mexican Rice Salad

 

Today, I’m bringing another fresh summer salad to your kitchen.  This salad is a no brainer to pull together.  Simply combine the ingredients, then toss and serve.  When using leftover rice, this dish comes together in minutes.  It also looks quite pretty,  (you eat with your eyes first, right)?

Brown rice can easily be used in this dish, but my clan prefers white.  I use fresh Michigan sweet corn in the summer months, as it would be a shame not to.  If you make this dish in the winter months, use your favorite frozen corn.  Just make sure to thaw it first.

This salad is a great compliment to your favorite Mexican entree.  It’s also wonderful as a base for a pork carnitas burrito bowl.  (Hint, hint. A pork carnitas recipe is coming soon).  Add the ingredients to your shopping list for your next backyard fiesta.  Your guests will thank you.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I did.  I make it often.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cooked long grain rice
  • 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup corn, steamed and cut from cob or frozen and thawed
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

Combine rice, black beans, corn, red bell pepper, cherry tomatoes, red onion, scallions, and parsley in a bowl.

Wisk together lime juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Combine. Toss. Serve, and devour.

Summer Spaghetti with Shrimp

Summer Spaghetti with Shrimp

 

I LOVE PASTA!  That’s all there is to it.  I try to minimize my carb intake, especially at night.  That being said, sometimes I have to give in to my craving for a big bowl of pasta.  In the summer months, this dish is perfect.  I know perfect is a strong word, but really, it applies to this pasta.  Tomatoes are just starting to come into season in my neck of the woods. So last weekend, when I was at the farmers market, I scooped up 2 large pints of cherry heirlooms.  These tomatoes have a sweet, tangy, candy like quality to them.  Perfect (there’s that word again) to be eaten raw.

This recipe is simple to make, and it only takes 15 minutes to put together.  During the week, this is exactly the type of dish I am looking for.  I added shrimp to round out the meal with a bit of protein, but you can very well leave it out.  The key to this recipe is making sure the spaghetti is still warm when you toss it with the rest of the ingredients.  The warm spaghetti absorbs the fresh flavors of the tomatoes, garlic, and basil. This results in the perfect (had to throw it in there one more time) dish.

Ingredients:

  • 14.5 oz box whole wheat spaghetti
  • 2 pints heirloom cherry tomatoes, quartered
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup, plus 1 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1/8 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, torn
  • 12 jumbo raw shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning blend
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

Bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil.  Cook pasta 10 minutes until al dente or according to package directions.  Reserve 1/4 cup of pasta water.  Drain pasta and immediately add to serving dish.

While pasta is cooking, preheat a saute pan to medium-high.  Season shrimp with salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning.  Add 1 tbsp of olive oil to hot pan.  Saute shrimp for 5 minutes turning half way through the cooking process. Remove shrimp from pan, top with lemon juice, and reserve.

To warm pasta, add tomatoes, garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, the reserved pasta water, crushed red pepper flakes, salt and pepper.  Toss to combine.  Add basil leaves, toss, top with reserved shrimp, and serve.  Enjoy with a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

Lentil Orzo Salad

Lentil and Orzo Salad

 

Lentils, orzo, carrots, parsley, red onion, and lemon; what’s not to like about this salad?  It’s healthy,  inexpensive to make, and easy to prepare.

Lentils are part of the legume family.  They have many health benefits including lowering cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease, and stabilizing blood sugar.  They are also a good source of protein and fiber while staying low in calories.  Lentils are a staple in my pantry, and I often find myself cooking with them.  In this salad, I use green lentils.  They are pale green-brown in color with a glossy exterior and have a robust peppery flavor.  Green lentils keep a firm texture after cooking making them ideal for salads like this one.

As summer is heating up  (the temperature has been around 90 degrees for several days in Chicago), a cold salad is what I’ve been craving.  My mom – shout out to Patty – first introduced me to this salad last summer. I’ve been hooked ever since.  It makes a wonderful side dish to compliment grilled fish, roast lamb (my favorite way to eat it,) or as a delicious healthy lunch by itself.

Lentil Orzo SaladLentil Orzo SaladLentil Orzo Salad

 

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups green lentils, uncooked
  • 2 cups orzo, uncooked
  • 2 cups carrots, spiraled or chopped
  • 1/2 cup red onion, finely diced
  • 1 1/2 cups fresh parsley (1 large bunch), chopped
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried dill
  • salt and freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Directions:

Prepare lentils: Place lentils in a colander and rinse under running water.  Sort through to remove any small rocks or shriveled lentils.  Combine rinsed and sorted lentils to a pot with 4 cups of water.  Bring the water to a simmer over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to low to maintain a gentle simmer (you should only see a few small bubbles and slight movement in the lentils). Cook, uncovered, for 20-25 minutes.  The lentils are fully cooked when they are  just tender and still have a bit of a bite to them.  Be careful not to overcook your lentils because they will become mushy.  Drain lentils and return them to the pot and add a pinch of salt.  Cool and reserve lentils.  At this point, if you are not preparing the salad right away, you could add your cooled lentils to a container and refrigerate up to 1 week.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add orzo, stir orzo to prevent noodles from sticking, cook uncovered for 9-11 minutes until al dente.  Drain, cool, and reserve orzo.

Combine cooled lentils, orzo, carrots, red onions, and parsley in a bowl.

Wisk together lemon juice, olive oil, dried dill, salt and pepper, and pour over salad.  Toss to combine. Note: You may not use all of the dressing.  Let salad rest in the refrigerator for 1 hour so flavors develop before serving.

This salad will hold up well in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Blueberry Banana Pancakes

IMG_20130721_093454

 

My typical breakfast consists of whole grain cereal, berries, and skim milk. However, every once in a while I like to indulge (by every once in a while, I mean every Sunday morning).  Fluffy and crispy maple syrup soaked pancakes are my idea of a good Sunday morning breakfast (especially when a side of bacon is involved).

This recipe is out of this world for those Sunday mornings.  Small bursts of warm blueberries explode upon biting into these pancakes, giving them an incredibly fresh and light feel.  I am often tricked into thinking I am being “healthy” when fruit is incorporated into a dish, so I like to add plenty of blueberries.  If you are not a blueberry lover, substitute raspberries, or just leave them out of the recipe all together.  I like my pancake batter a bit on the runny side. If you like a thicker batter, use less skim milk in this recipe.

Add the ingredients for this recipe to your weekend grocery shopping list and make a batch next Sunday.  I promise, you and your family will not be disappointed.  I hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pint fresh blueberries
  • 2 cups multigrain pancake mix
  • 1 cup skim milk
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 very ripe banana
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tbsp 2% Greek yogurt

Directions:

Combine skim milk, eggs, vegetable oil, banana, vanilla extract ,and Greek yogurt, mix well.  Combine the wet ingredients into multigrain pancake mix and stir gently, just enough to moisten the dry ingredients.  Let rest 15 minutes.  (Note: Don’t worry about lumps, it is better not to over-mix the batter.  The more you mix the the batter, the tougher the gluten in the flour becomes which leads to a very dense pancake).

Pre-heat your griddle or non stick skillet to 375 degrees F (medium high).  Lightly coat hot pan with vegetable oil or non stick cooking spray.

Ladle 1/4 cup of batter onto your cooking surface.  Fit as many ladles onto your cooking surface without overcrowding the pan, leaving room to flip them comfortably.  Add blueberries to the pancakes (6-8 per cake).  You do not need to push the blueberries into the batter as the batter will cook around them.

The pancake is ready to flip when small bubbles begin to form in the center of the pancake and the edges begin to dry up.  Sometimes I peek at the bottom of the pancake to make sure it is golden brown as well.  When it is time, flip pancakes.  Let pancakes cook for 2 additional minutes.

Serve immediately with warm maple syrup and banana slices.  Serve with crispy bacon for the perfect salty sweet combination.

If you are unable to serve the pancakes right away, place in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 200 degree F oven.

Pico de Gallo Salsa

Picco de Galo

 

Pico de Gallo is an authentic Mexican salsa made with fresh ingredients such as tomatoes, onions, jalapenos, and cilantro.  This is my favorite salsa recipe.  It has a bit of a kick to it.  If it is too spicy for you, just decrease the amount of jalapeno used in the recipe.  Serve with tortilla chips, on a taco, along side grilled chicken breast, or add 1/4 cup to one mashed avocado to make a quick guacamole.

Ingredients:

  • 5 medium ripe tomatoes, seeds removed and chopped
  • 1/2 cup white onion, diced
  • 2 tbsp cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeds removed and finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 3 tbsp lime juice
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:

Combine all ingredients, let flavors sit for 1 hour before serving.

Basil Pesto Chicken Pasta

pesto pasta salad

 

Basil pesto chicken pasta is the perfect weeknight summer dinner. Fresh basil pesto combined with cherry tomatoes,mozzarella, chicken, arugula, and short cut pasta; this couldn’t be easier to prepare.

In this recipe, I used my simple homemade basil pesto and a store bought rotisserie chicken.  If you have a little extra to prepare, roast two chicken breasts instead of using the rotisserie chicken.  On the other hand, if you only have a couple of minutes to whip up dinner, you can use your favorite store bought pesto. Just wake up the flavors by adding 1-2 tbsp lemon juice.

This dish is perfect served at room temperature or chilled.  It’s also a lovely entree for a picnic!

Ingredients: 

  • 14.5 oz short cut pasta
  • 1 cup basil pesto, see recipe below
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 8 oz container of Ciliegine mozzarella aka “small cherry” mozzarella
  • 2 chicken breasts from a whole rotisserie chicken, skin removed and shredded
  • 2 cups arugula
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Prepare pasta according to package directions, reserving 1/4 cup pasta water.  Drain pasta and reserve.

Combine pesto and reserved pasta water in serving bowl.  This will thin the pesto, making it easier to coat pasta. Add cooked pasta and toss to combine.

Add the remaining ingredients. Toss and serve.

Basil Pesto Recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 2  cups packed fresh basil leaves
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive oil

Directions:

Combine first 5 ingredients in a food processor. Add 2 tbsp olive oil. Pulse 2-3 times until a rough paste forms.  Repeat with more oil, adding 1 tbsp at a time pulsing until smooth.  Add parmesan cheese and pulse to combine.

Greek Quinoa Salad

Greek Quinoa

 

Quinoa is an ancient seed from South America. When cooked, it takes on a mild nutty flavor.  Although it is technically not a grain, it cooks similarly and can be substituted in many recipes if you’re looking for a healthier alternative.  Quinoa is rich in protein, potassium, iron, and other essential vitamins and minerals.

When cooked, the seed expands 4 times it’s size. Thus, 1 cup of dry quinoa yields 4 cups cooked.  The usual recommendation is to soak and rinse quinoa before beginning the cooking process. However, many brands are now pre rinsing their quinoa, which is such a time saver.  Quinoa preparation is very easy. Combine 1 cup of quinoa with 2 cups of water or broth and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, and simmer covered for 15 minutes.  You can also refer to package cooking instructions as a guide.

In this recipe, I combined cooked and cooled quinoa with crisp vegetables, feta cheese, and herbs. This results in a delicious combination of Mediterranean flavors.  I am a sucker for cold and refreshing salads, especially during the hot summer months.  I add feta cheese and a yummy herb lemon vinaigrette to this dish, making it one of my go-to’s.  This recipe is incredibly easy to whip up and a true crowd pleaser!  Make it at your next BBQ or prepare on a Sunday to eat throughout the week for lunch. The flavors are even better the next day.

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups of cooked and cooled quinoa (1 cup of dry quinoa)
  • 1 pint of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 4 persian cucumbers, diced
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 4 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped
  • 1 small bunch parsley, stems removed and chopped
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • Herb Lemon Vinaigrette  (recipe below)

Directions:

Combine cooked and cooled quinoa with the next 7 ingredients, through parsley.  Toss with herb lemon vinaigrette and add crumbled feta.  Chill for 1 hour before serving.

Herb Lemon Vinaigrette Recipe: Combine the juice of 2 small lemons, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tsp fresh chopped dill, 1/2 tsp dried oregano, and salt and pepper to taste.

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