Thursday, October 31, 2013

Short Cut Chicken Gnocchi Soup

This is one of my kids' favorite menu items at Olive Garden.  I've wanted to make it for so long, but just never got around to.  Now, I'm wondering why not - it was so easy!  Now for a soup such as this, you could really spend all day, boiling the chicken, making a nice rich broth, making the gnocchi, etc., but really who has time for that on a busy week night?  

We had a Fall festival to go to at the school of my kindergartener, so I wanted flavor and comfort - but fast!  So yes, I took some short cuts for this recipe.  I'm not going to apologize for that, either... because probably most of you out there are in the same situation with so many other obligations, and you are looking for a quick and easy version as well.

You've not had gnocchi?  Oh - you are in for a treat!  Soft little dumplings made from a potato dough.  A definition for gnocchi dating back to 1891 states the following:  The word Italian word gnocchi is the plural of gnocco, from nocchio "a knot in wood," perhaps from a Germanic source akin to knuckle. So called for their shape.

Print this recipe!

Ingredients: 
  • 4 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup onion, finely diced
  • 1/2 cup celery, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 3 cups half and half
  • 1 cup finely shredded carrots
  • 1 1/2 tsp kosher salt (not table salt)
  • 1 Tbsp fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme, leaves only
  • 1/4 tsp finely grated nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 (32oz) box chicken stock
  • 1 (16oz) container of gnocchi
    • lately I've been using 2 packs
  • 3 cups cooked chicken
    • I used a rotisserie chicken
  • 2 cups fresh spinach, coarsely chopped 
Step-by-step:
In a soup sized pot, saute your onions, celery, and garlic in the butter and olive oil on medium heat until the vegetables are soft and translucent. 
4 Tbsp butter
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 cup onions, diced (about 1/2 of a large onion)
1/2 cup celery, finely diced (about 1 1/2 ribs)
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
Find someone to help you grate the carrots while the vegetables are sauteing.
Sprinkle in the the flour to make yourself a roux.  You will want to let the butter and flour mixture cook for a good 4 - 5 minutes.  You don't want a flour'y taste.
1/4 cup all purpose flour
Add the half and half to the roux and stir or whisk until nice and smooth.  Let it come up to a good bubble so the thickeners and the cream can do their thing!

Add in the grated carrots and your seasonings.  We want to give the carrots a nice cooking time so they will be soft.
1 cup grated carrots
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt (less if using regular table salt)
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, stripped from the stems
1 Tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp fresh grated nutmeg
After the mixture thickens again, add in the chicken stock.  Start bringing this up to simmer.
1 (32oz) box chicken stock
While the soup is simmering, bring your water to a boil and add in the gnocchi.  Boil according to instructions on the package, about 2 minutes.  They will come up to the top and float when they are ready.  You can find these in the pasta section of your grocery store.

16 oz package of gnocchi
Drain your gnocchi and add it to the soup.  I used the "mini" gnocchi, but you may find them in a larger size as well.  Sometimes in the restaurant, the large ones are a little more than my little ones can handle in one mouthful, but choose which ever you feel most comfortable with.
Now add in the chopped spinach and the cooked, chopped chicken.  I have not added the chicken before now for a reason.  We are using cooked chicken, so if you add it early and let it simmer away with the rest of the soup for a while, you could end up with dry, tough chicken.  All we really need to do is warm the chicken through - and we definitely still want it to be juicy and tender.
2 cups rough chopped spinach, stems removed
3 cups cooked, chopped chicken meat (I used rotisserie chicken)
The spinach only has to cook 3 or 4 minutes to wilt down.  Basically, once it's heated through and you get all your other dinner stuff out, the spinach is ready.  Take this opportunity to adjust any seasonings.

When you dip down into this soup, you get a ton of goodies!  Tender chicken, pillowy soft gnocchi, lots of vibrant colors from all these healthy vegetables, and a silky creamy broth.
To serve, grate some fresh Parmigiano reggiano over the top and sprinkle a little black pepper.
Be careful... then minute you turn your back, you may have soup thieves!  Even the kind who have to climb up onto a step stool to see into the pot!
Soup - salad - bread sticks!  You could go out to a restaurant for this.... but why?
I just need to give props to Lily for the...er.... props for this photo.  While I was working on getting my plate together, she disappeared into the other room where I keep linens and things.  She came back with this orange napkin and these little owl salt and pepper shakers.  She insisted that they be part of the photo.  Whooooo knew a 4 year old could be the prop girl?!  :)

This is a very satisfying soup and very family friendly!  Nothing too hot or too spicy.  Just good warm comfort!

I hope you've enjoyed this recipe.  To see what else I've been cooking up, visit my Recipe Index.  You are sure to find something delicious to cook with/for your family!

Connect with me.  If you have not done so already, Click here to subscribe to MenuMusings so you won't miss a thing!  You can also follow me on Pinterest as well as the MenuMusings Facebook page.

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Here are some bonus recipes for you.
Taco Soup

Creamy Chicken Piccata

Macadamia Nut Crunch Cake with Mascarpone and Chocolate

Crock Pot Beef and Broccoli

Cajun Chicken Salad

Alice Springs Chicken

Written Directions:
In a soup sized pot, saute your onions, celery, and garlic in the butter and olive oil on medium heat until the vegetables are soft and translucent.   Grate the carrots while the vegetables are sauteing.  Sprinkle in the the flour to make yourself a roux. You will want to let the butter and flour mixture cook for a good 4 - 5 minutes. You don't want a flour'y taste.


Add the half and half to the roux and stir or whisk until nice and smooth. Let it come up to a nice bubble.  Add in the grated carrots and your seasonings. We want to give the carrots a nice cooking time so they will be soft.  After the mixture thickens again, add in the chicken stock. Start bringing this up to simmer.  While the soup is simmering, bring your water to a boil and add in the gnocchi. Boil according to instructions on the package, about 2 minutes. They will come up to the top and float when they are ready. 

Drain your gnocchi and add it to the soup.  Now add in the chopped spinach and the cooked, chopped chicken.  The spinach only has to cook 3 or 4 minutes to wilt down. Basically, once it's heated through and you get everything else out, the spinach is ready. Take this opportunity to adjust any seasonings.  To serve, grate some fresh Parmigiano reggiano over the top and sprinkle a little black pepper. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Man Chili

This was the first weekend that it was cold enough to light the fireplace.  Yay!  When you live down here in the deep South, the cooler weather is SUCH a relief!   So anyway, I was all set to make a nice, light turkey chili.  My husband, however, said he would prefer the traditional beef.  After all, he's a MAN... he needs MAN CHILI!  Ha.  Well those of you who know him will agree that he is such an amazing person, and would pretty much do anything I asked of him - so conceding to make "Man Chili" was a very easy request.  That got me thinking.  There are a ton of "alternative" chili recipes out there, but when it comes down to comfort food, most people I know want the real deal.  So this is a basic recipe for regular, comfortable, delicious "man chili."    

The awesome thing about chili is that after the meat is browned, you basically dump the rest of the ingredients together and just let it do its thing.  That's great for people who have tons of other things going on.  It's also great because a recipe like this is just begging to be brought to a good tailgating party, or for little Trick-or-Treaters to come in from the cold streets.  This chili is equally comfortable in a big steaming bowl, or ladled over big juicy hot dogs.  So go ahead - make a big batch of it.  It freezes beautifully, and it takes the same amount of time to make a big batch as a small one.  May as well have an extra meal waiting for you in the freezer, right?! 

Note - this chili is well seasoned and flavorful, but it is NOT spicy hot.  So this one IS appropriate for your whole family, including heat sensitive little people.

Print this Recipe!
 
Ingredients: (For 6 - 8 very generous portions)
  • 2 1/2 pounds ground beef (85/15)
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 cup mixed bell peppers, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp chopped garlic
  • 2 packages of chili seasoning
  • 1 can red kidney beans 
    • I used the ones that  say "with chili gravy"
  • 2 (28 oz) cans whole tomatoes
    • chopped.  WITH the juice.
  • 1 (6oz) can tomato paste
  • 1 (8oz) can tomato sauce
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 2 tsp kosher salt (use much less if using table salt)
  • 1 Tbsp ground mustard
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 (12oz) bottle dark amber beer
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
Step-by-step:
Begin by browning your meat.  I used 85/15 because I think it needs that amount of fat in it.  If you want to go leaner, go for it. 
2 1/2 pounds ground beef (85/15)
After the meat is browned and crumbled, add in the onions and peppers. Let them cook down until softened, then mix in the other ingredients. 
1 large onion, chopped
I am using peppers that I previously cut and froze.  Why?  Because freezing swells the water in the cells of the pepper flesh, which helps them break down a lot faster than the fresh ones.  So any time I have leftover fresh peppers, I just throw them in the freezer for times like this.

1 cup mixed bell peppers, chopped

Then just let it simmer on about medium low for a good long while (at least 30 minutes) until all the veggies are tender and all the flavors are married together. Really, the longer the better.
1 Tbsp chopped garlic
Yep.  I am indeed starting with a seasoning packet.  If you want to go totally from scratch, do so.  But many people are more comfortable having a good solid starting point on their flavor base.  It certainly cuts down on the amount of spices I portion out.  But of course I'll add lots of my own as well.
2 packages of chili seasoning
I'm not a fan of chili with TOO many beans in it.  So one can gives me enough beans to see, and to have that change of texture, but not so many as to have "bean chili" as I've seen some places.
1 can red kidney beans
Why am I using whole tomatoes if I'm going to chop them up? 
Whole tomatoes are held to a higher standard in the canning process than diced one (the leftover pieces and parts??).  So I know that these will have been picked and canned at the height of ripeness and were the "cream of the crop" so to speak.  If you prefer, you can chop them right in the can, or in the pot.  Either way is fine, depending on the size of tomato pieces you want.
2 (28 oz) cans whole tomatoes
1 (6oz) can tomato paste
1 (8oz) can tomato sauce

Now let's season this baby up!
I like lots of cumin.  It gives me a great smoky Mexican'ish flavor, but WITHOUT the heat that straight chili powder blends can have.  My family is very heat sensitive, so this suits them better.
1 Tbsp cumin
If you go with table salt, rather than kosher salt, you will need less.
2 tsp kosher salt (use much less if using table salt)
Now comes all the secret ingredients.  The things that people can't quite put their fingers on. 
If you don't have ground mustard, use a little yellow mustard (but ground mustard is not as strong).
1 Tbsp ground mustard
The people "in the know" have told me that the secret to a great chili is a little cinnamon.  Really?!  Who knew?  I started checking around, and it seems that maybe I was the only person who DIDN'T know this?  Geez, where have I been?  This is not enough to make it taste like cinnamon toast, however.  It just mellows out the acid perhaps from the tomatoes.
1 tsp cinnamon
Dark amber beer.  Not my choice for drinking, but I love it in the chili as it has that molasses flavor lingering in the background.
1 (12oz) bottle dark amber beer
The apple cider vinegar wakes it up.  Without enough acid in the mix, your chili can taste "flat."  This brings out the flavors and wakes them up.
1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
So here we have it.... just regular old "man chili."  Nothing for your guys to turn their noses up at - like adding corn and turkey or tofu, or anything out of the ordinary.  Because sometimes, we just want things like they've always been.
Yum.  Perhaps you are out at the football field tailgating?  Maybe you just came in from skiing the slopes at a mountain lodge?  Maybe you just came in from a long day at work or school in the cool weather.  This is a bowl of chili that will definitely warm you up as you snuggle by the fire. 
I hope you have enjoyed this recipe!  
For so many more recipes to choose from, click on over to my Recipe Index to see what all I have cooking!

Connect with me.  If you have not done so already, click here to subscribe to MenuMusings.  You can also follow me on Pinterest, and on the MenuMusings Facebook page.

Order the Menu Musings Cookbook!
 
Here are some "bonus" recipes for you:
Tomato Basil Chicken

Oriental Cole Slaw

Peanut Butter Cups - Just Like Reese's

Sour Cream Banana Bread

Creamy Italian Sausage and Tortellini

Toasted Couscous Salad with Asparagus and Tomatoes

Crawfish Pie


Grown Up Pizza Wraps

Written Method:
Begin by browning your meat.  I used 85/15 because I think it needs that amount of fat in it.  If you want to go leaner, go for it.  After the meat is browned and crumbled, add in the onions and peppers.  Let them cook down until softened, then mix in the other ingredients.  Then just let it simmer on about medium low for a good long while (at least 30 minutes) until all the veggies are tender and all the flavors are married together.  Really, the longer the better.

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