The backbone of any good soup is a good stock. Whether it’s chicken, beef, seafood, of vegetable – it’s key. When I was first learning to cook, I had the hardest times with soups. It seemed so easy, yet, I kept messing it up. It was always too bland, or too overly seasoned. Thankfully, after a few bunk batches, I got the feel for it. It is almost too easy in it’s simplicity. Some chicken scraps, carrots, celery, onion – combined, transform into liquid gold.

You could easily substitute a turkey carcass, if you happen to have one lying around. It’s quite possible a few of you might! I like to make the stock a day ahead, and refrigerate overnight. That way the fat separates to the top of the stock, and I can skim it right off before reheating to make the whatever it is I might be doing with the stock. I find that poultry, more than anything, renders a ton of fat. So, I always like to remove as much as I can. I don’t even bother peeling the onions or the carrots. I literally stumble to the stove in the morning in my PJ’s, throw the stuff in the pot, and call it a day. Doesn’t get much easier than that, folks!

My mom used to make something she called “Chicago Beef” sandwiches when I was growing up. It was a chuck roast that was simmered in the crock pot all day. Then served over crusty Italian rolls with melted cheese on top. It was one of my favorite dinners! I’d forgotten all about it until I saw it featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. Googled recipes and came up with a ton. Evidently, most people refer to it as “Italian Beef”. I suppose it’s also known as Chicago Beef because the place that “put it on the map”, Al’s Beef, is in Chicago. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a great sandwich!

I knew I wanted to cook it in the dutch oven, and not the crock pot. While I love the crock pot, I think you get a better flavor from roasts from cooking in the oven. I’m sure it would be great prepared in a slow cooker, but I’d definitely deglaze the pan with the beef broth – then add that to the pot with the beef and peppers.  If you’re worried about it being spicy because of the peppers – don’t be! Pepperocinis are very mild peppers. They just have a great, zippy flavor. I love the addition of these to the beef! Totally make the sandwich in my opinion. I used provolone cheese, but mozzarella would be wonderful too.

It’s traditional to dunk the whole sandwich in the braising liquid before serving. But, I have “issues” with soggy bread. I think the sandwich has plenty of juiciness without any dunking. You could always serve a small dish of the jus on the side as well. I also topped my sandwich with some sliced banana peppers, just because I wanted a little extra crunch. They were a hit with everyone in the house, and an easy dinner that pretty much takes care of itself. Will definitely be on our menus in the future!

We’re usually not vegetarian meal people. I hate to say that, because I’d like for us to be more often. I have a few dishes that are meatless that go on the menu, usually about twice a month or so, that I don’t hear griping about. When I told my husband I was putting bean burritos on the menu for last week, I was greeted with a bit of hostility. I’ve got a great chicken recipe for burritos that we love (need to share it!), not to mention all the other awesome filling possibilities for burritos (barbacoa, carnitas, etc.). He wasn’t a happy camper at the thought of beans being the primary filling for a burrito. They’re always an “add in”, and never the star!

Let me tell you, they were so good! I loved them more than my chicken  burritos that I’ve been making for years. The beans are so flavorful and spicy. You can of course add less chipotle, or more, depending on your tastes. Ours was moderately spicy, but Andrew had no problem chowing down. The sour cream certainly helps to quell the spiciness. You could also substitute greek yogurt to shave some calories. I think the extra tang would be great! It fed the three of us for dinner one evening, and then I had leftovers for lunch the next day. Going to make up another batch of the bean filling this week to have in the fridge for lunches for Andrew and I . Make these, you won’t be sorry!

minestrone

We’ve had a slight chill in the air this week. As you might be able to tell from my last post, I’m thinking about fall. I’ve really been trying to go through my collection of cookbooks, as I have collected such a wonderful assortment over the years. This one is no exception. It’s written by Henry Hill, the notorious mobster that the film “Goodfellas” is based off of. Now, let me just say what a great “food movie” Goodfellas is. The razor thin garlic? The cannoli incident? So many good scenes. But, I digress. You get me talking about any classic mafia movie, and I could go on for days!

There are so many great recipes in this book, I diddn’t even know where to begin. After much deliberation, I decided on this wonderful minestrone. It was delicious, and a relatively easy. It wasn’t super quick as far as cooking time goes – at 2 hours. But, for me, as a general rule of thumb – a good soup can’t come together quickly. Just the way it is folks!

I like to pre-cook my pasta first. I find that it doesn’t get quite as overcooked in the leftovers that way. I used elbow macaroni in this batch – but feel free to use whatever you like or have handy. This is really a “clean your fridge” out kind of meal. Lots of room for additions and substitutions. I kind of felt like maybe it would benefit for corn? Or some canelli beans perhaps? I was out of Parmesan cheese (I know! I know!), but I’d definitely top the soup with some before serving. Or, if you happen to have a rind laying around in the refrigerator or freezer, feel free to toss that into the mix as well. Just make sure you remove it before dishing it up!

Serve with a nice green salad and some crusty bread. Perfect for the cool fall evenings we have ahead of us!