White Bean Soup with Smoked Sausage and Spinach

Soup – my favorite.  I have been dubbed the “soup girl”, better that than the soup nazi!   There is something comforting and warm about a good soup.   They are easy to make, so for the busy family, couple, single just a great tool to have in your home cook arsenal.

The origin of a soup….first evidence of soup was 6000 BC, with the onset of clay vessels that could hold liquid over a fire.   There is a great article here on the brief history of soup.  No matter what your ancestral heritage, one of the few common foods that threads us together is soup.  

For most soups, you can use canned beans, as well as dried beans.  If I have the time I will use a dried bean.   They will need to be soaked over night for a good 10-12 hours.  However, sometimes we just don’t think that far ahead, so a good can/jarred bean is an acceptable substitute.   In this recipe,  I use canned, but will provide instructions for using dried beans.  As always, it will be your choice to try the method that you prefer. 

One hint on this soup.  It gets thick.  It can be more like a stew and if you want a more brothy consistency, you will need to add more stock.  I will give that hint in the recipe.  No matter what, it’s a darn good meal!  When you look at the list of ingredients below, don’t be too put off.   Its really not as complicated or time consuming as you think.   Do your prep work and gather it all (lots of seasonings) and I promise, it will take you no time at all to prepare this!  The reward is the best soup ever. 

White Bean Soup with Smoked Sausage and Spinach

2 cans cannellini beans, rinsed
or – 2 cups of dry cannellini beans, rinsed, soaked in cold water overnight or for 10-12 hours.  
2 quarts chicken stock (preferable homemade, seasoned well)
1 lb of sweet Italian sausage. 
I use one that is made at my local meat store.  I love a fresh made Italian sausage.   If you don’t have that option, Johnsonville has a great Sweet Italian Sausage product.  You want something that is full of flavor!
6 oz of hickory smoked bacon or pancetta (your preference)
2 T Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet Vidalia onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
6 garlic cloves, crushed (I used about 2-3 T of the crushed fresh garlic in a tube)
1 large red pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large green pepper, seeded and chopped
1 large can of tomatoes and their juice. 
I use a whole tomato and then break them up into chunks in the soup. 
1 t salt
1/2 t fresh ground black pepper
1 T chopped fresh sage leaves
1-½ t chopped fresh thyme
1-½ t chopped fresh oregano
Use fresh when available.  Dried can be substituted.  Increase amount of each herb then by ½ t
1 T red pepper flakes

9 0z baby spinach, cleaned, rinsed and dried, then torn in half and stems removed
1 pkg baby bella mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
2 cups of Ditalini pasta

Heat up a large stock pot/dutch oven on medium high heat.  When pan is smoking, add the chopped bacon.  Cook until crisp and reserve. 

Leaving the bacon fat (about 2 T) in the pan, place the onion and cook until sweet and slightly brown.  Add garlic and heat through.  (Don’t burn the garlic!) 

To this mixture, add your sausage and brown.  Remove the sausage/onion mix from the pan onto a plate and set aside for later.  

Add the olive oil to the pan (or extra bacon fat, if there is still some) and sauté the red pepper until soft. 

Now, add the sausage/onion mix back to the pan with the peppers.  (Keep the crispy bacon set aside).  Stir in the beans, thyme, oregano, sage, salt and pepper.   Cook for about 1 minute. 

Add the chicken stock.  Bring the soup to a boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes.  (This time will be longer, about 1 hour, if using dried beans, soaked overnight). 

Add the spinach. Mushrooms, red pepper flakes and the ditalini pasta to the soup.   Cook an additional 10 minutes.   This is where you watch the liquid.  The pasta will soak up the liquid, the spinach will release some as well.  Depending on preference (brothy soup or heart stew) will determine any additional stock you may want to add. 

Serve with toppings listed below and a warm crusty baguette!

Sour cream
Crispy bacon
½ c green onions, sliced on the diagonal
½ c fried leeks (see recipe below)

Fried Leeks
2 leeks cleaned, trimmed and sliced in circles, using only the whites
1 c vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste

Break up the leaks into individual rounds.  Make sure that you soak them in a bowl of ice water and that they have been cleaned and rid of all dirt and grit.   When removing them from the bowl, pap with a paper towel, getting rid of as much excess water as you can. 

In a large frying pan, place the vegetable oil and heat til pops when drops of water hit the oil.  Place a layer of leeks in the pan and fry, until crispy and golden.  Remove with a slotted spoon and dry on paper towels.   Set aside for use as garnish to the soup. 


Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

I call these Everything But the Kitchen Sink cookies.

I cant even remember when my mother first made these cookies!  They became the standard in our family, more so than chocolate chip cookies.   They still are the standard and my sister Cyndi is the master cookie baker on these.  I can count on any family gathering (including my brother's wedding) where these cookies will be available!

I have made them as directed below.  They originally did NOT have raisins.  I added those, then changed it up to craisins.  I have added pecan pieces or walnut pieces as well.  (My sister and brother do not do nuts, so again, the original recipe my mother made did NOT have nuts in it as well).

You can change it up any way you like....just don't remove the peanut butter.  It messes with the fat content!

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) of margarine
1 cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
2 t baking soda

½ t salt
2 cups flour
1 cup oatmeal
12 oz chocolate chips
1 cup raisins, golden raisins, craisins (optional)

Cream together margarine and sugars till fluffy.   Add peanut butter.  Mix thoroughly.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Beat well.

In medium mixing bowl, sift together flour, salt and baking soda.   Gradually beat in flour mixture to the butter/sugar cream mixture until thoroughly combined.

Stir in oatmeal and chocolate chips.

Add raisins/craisins as desired. 

Spoon mix onto prepared cookie sheets.  Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 10-14 minutes.  Cookies will look soft in the center.  They may seem not quite done, but that is when they are really done.  Allow to cool completely on a wire rack.   Will keep up to one week in an airtight container.  Can freeze when completely cooled!


Pinterest, recipes and failures : Crispy Cheddar Chicken

I am a Pinterest lover.   I think it is a marvelous tool to garner inspiration and let your creativity run wild.  It’s like a virtual idea/inspiration board.   Back in the day, we clipped pics from magazines and newspapers, took photographs and pinned them to our walls, bulletin boards and even ceilings, so we could become inspired.   When I started using Pinterest a few years back, shortly after it’s inception, it was still just that….a space where designers and artists shared.  Now, it’s just crazy!   As a foodie, its been a good spot to see what people are making or interested in making.  I cant complain, it has increased traffic to our little blog here exponentially, so I will forever be grateful and adore the Pinterest community. 

Now for the HOWEVER….  Please foodies and friends of Plucky, take a look at the photos of what you have pinned and then check out the recipes…make sure they match and above all, make sure it makes sense!  It’s driving me crazy!

So every now and then, on our little Plucky Housewives blog, we are going to examine a few of the Pinterest Fails….yes folks, there are fails.   We wont be calling out anyone in particular, because most of these are posts of posts of posts and the original pinner or recipe owner is not around.  Many contain the “recipe” in the comment box of the pin (another oh my word moment for me).  

Why am I doing this?  Because I think folks out there tend to think that if they make a recipe that someone has posted online (myself included) and they followed the directions to the best of their ability and it failed, it reflects on them.  That is NOT the case with these recipes.  Somewhere in these recipes is an inherent FAIL and by pointing out what the problem is, we help to make you a better home cook and that really is what this blog is about, right? 

So here we go…

Pinterest Fail #1

Crispy Cheddar Chicken
The recipe has you dipping boneless chicken breasts into milk, then cheese, then cracker crumbs.  Then baking in the oven for 35 minutes until brown.

I can assure you, that dipping into shredded cheese, then into bread crumbs DOES NOT WORK!  It’s a fruitless effort.   Cheese falls off, breadcrumbs do not adhere to chicken dipped in milk, then shredded cheese.  Then try baking it?  It’s a colossal mess!

I researched the recipe and it was an ADAPTATION from an original recipe from What’s Cooking Chicago, which was an ADAPTION from RealSimple.   Search on Pinterest for Crispy Cheddar Chicken.  You will find a gazillion blogs who all post this recipe, using the same original pinners pictures, with the same recipes.  I wondered, did people actually try and make this?   By the way, what's the sauce on the chicken?  I checked at least 15 different versions of this recipe (only 1 paid hommage to where they got the recipe) and NONE mentioned anything about the sauce?  

Real Simple Cheddar Chicken Recipe

 So I trailed back to the original recipe, which came from Real Simple.  This recipe made sense!

Here we have an example of someone changing up a recipe that works, so they can publish it on their site and changed it to where it just doesn’t work.  

That’s all I will say.  I would like to pay homage to the original recipe, which really is a great recipe and deserves the credit it should get!  Pinners take notice!

Enjoy the real one.   


Buffalo Chicken Casserole

I am always on the hunt for a good, quick casserole recipe.  I also am a buffalo chicken wing lover, so when I saw this recipe, I thought, what the heck, lets give it a try!  No fail today, this was success, through and through.

Of course, I have to change it up a bit, right?  Right.

So my tips for this one:

I use chicken thighs instead of breasts.  As a general rule of thumb, for that matter.  They have more flavor, cook quicker and on the cheaper side.

I tried it with both blue cheese and ranch dressing.  I prefer the blue cheese.   BUT, if you are NOT a blue cheese fan, use the ranch!

Use your favorite hot sauce.  I use Louisiana.

Celery salt is a great addition to this recipe.   However, it's not critical.   You will need a little salt and pepper when you serve.

PANKO bread crumbs really make the difference.  Moisten them with the butter.  Again, it adds flavor and helps to crisp up the bread crumbs for a nice crunch on the top!

All in all, it really does mimic that great Buffalo Chicken Wing flavor.

Buffalo Chicken Casserole

1-1/2 lbs skinless, boneless chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1” strips
1/3 c hot sauce
1 bag of hash browns with peppers and onions (frozen or fresh)
            or 4-5 c of yukon gold potatoes, peeled and shredded
1 c blue cheese dressing
            or Ranch dressing
1/2 t celery salt
1 - 10 oz can of cream of chicken soup

1 c shredded cheese (cheddar, Colby, cojack)
½ c panko bread crumbs
4 T butter, melted

Place chicken strips into a bowl.  Add hot sauce and mix.   Place strips into a 9 x 13 baking pan, prepared (I spray with Pam).   Heat oven to 375 degrees. 

In a medium sized bowl, mix the potatoes, dressing, soup and cheese.   Spoon mixture over top of the chicken.  Covering completely. 

Mix melted butter and panko bread crumbs in a small bowl.  Spoon bread crumb mixture over top of the casserole. 

Place into oven and cook for 50 minutes.  Watch carefully after about 25-30 minutes.  If bread crumbs begin to brown, place a sheet of aluminum foil over top to prevent getting too brown. 

Remove and serve.  Letting it sit about 5 minutes will help to firm up the casserole

Printable Buffalo Chicken Casserole Recipe


Scalloped Tomatoes or in other words....Tomato Pudding???

It was lunchtime yesterday and I was hungry, only not for the usual sandwich, salad or leftovers.  It was a cold, rainy day and I wanted something warm and cozy.   What came to mind was an old standard from my childhood.  My mother would open up a jar of home-canned tomatoes into a sauce pan, add soda crackers, butter and some cream and heat until bubbly.  It was spooned into some bowls and always hit the spot.  

Today, I did the usual, adding some basil and parmesan cheese (something my mother never would have done) and was curled up on the couch, listening to the rain and feeling all cozy again!

I started to wonder, as I usually do, where did this come from?  My mother’s old standards have a tradition of being German-born, so I went about researching to confirm its origins.  It was more complicated than I thought. 

In 2009, the Chicago Tribune ran an article in it’s A&E section, telling the story of Tomato pudding as an early-American recipe.   Tomato pudding, as defined in this article, was a Thanksgiving side-dish consisting of bread cubes, butter, brown sugar, orange juice and tomato puree, cooked like a pudding or soufflé-type dish, in the oven.  It was similar, sweeter and lacked chunks of tomato, which for me, defines the dish. 

My search continued, which led me to an article on RootsWeb (of all places) and another recipe for Tomato Pudding.  This recipe is attributed to a southern cook Helen Nielsen Allen from “The Great Tomato Book”.   What we have here is the similar process of toasting bread (Crouton), pouring a tomato mixture (this time, tomato chunks and NOT puree) and baking in an oven until puffy and bubbling.  We have water used as the liquid, instead of cream or half-and-half.  

I honed my search in on Germany, hoping that I could find some confirmation of the dish having sprouted or at least found root in the motherland.  It was on an Amish Food web site that I discovered a similar recipe to my mother’s than the pudding variations I kept coming across. 

Sometimes its just that old “peasant food” that brings us a sense of cozy!


Comfy Cozy Peasant Creamy Scalloped Tomatoes

1 qt Home-canned tomatoes
            No home canned, use 2 large cans of diced tomatoes
½ c cream or half and half
¼ t baking soda
½ c coarse crumbled saltine crackers
1 T sugar
½ t of fresh chopped basil, thyme, and oregano
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 T butter

Heat tomatoes in a heavy bottom sauce pain.  If you have used home canned, break up your tomatoes to desired size.  

Add cream and baking soda.  Mix.  Over medium heat,  simmer about 5 minutes.

Add crackers and continue cooking until the crackers have puffed up and taken on most of the liquid.  

Stir in sugar, salt, pepper and herbs. 

Turn off heat and add butter.   Stir in and serve.