Sweet Potato, Kale, and Sausage Soup Recipe

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Ingredients:

10 cups chicken broth

1 lb sausage (details below)

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

1 large red onion, diced

1 large bunch of kale, chopped

1 ½ tsp. sage

salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

Before I get too far into these “directions”, I want to emphasize how easy and flexible soup can be.  You really have a lot of wiggle room with ingredients and quantities.  As long as you have enough broth to cover your solids, you will probably end up with soup.

For this recipe, I combine all of the ingredients, except the kale, in the crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours.  Just make sure your broth covers your ingredients.  Add extra if needed.  About 30-45 minutes before you are ready to eat (or turn it off) stir in the kale.  That’s all.

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For the sausage, I used Wild Turkey Farms fresh polish keilbasa.  This is not like the highly processed keilbasa you find in the grocery store that is precooked and has to be sliced.  It is fresh sausage in a casing that gets soft and crumbly when cooked, so it breaks up easily in the soup.  If you don’t have access to fresh local keilbasa, italian sausage also works well in this.  You can buy it with the spices added or just buy fresh ground pork or turkey and add your own (I usually use fennel, paprika, garlic, salt, and cayenne pepper).  You can brown it before adding, or just add it to the broth and break it up near the end, after it is cooked through.

As far as salt goes, take into consideration how salty your broth and meat are.  Remember that these things will season the soup too, so you might not need any additional salt.  As always, using your own homemade broth takes this soup up about 10 notches, and since you know exactly how much salt is in it, it’s easy to know how much to add.  If you haven’t made your own broth yet, please try it.  Then leave a comment below about how life changing it was 😉

Take STOCK in This: A Souper Sensation

Making my own stock is something I have been doing for a short time.  I can’t figure out for the life of me why I haven’t been doing it forever and why everyone doesn’t do it.  It’s easy, free, useful, and so much better than any stock or broth you’ll find in a box on a shelf.  It might be the best kept secret of family kitchen history.  Well, I’m blowing the lid off this secret.  You deserve to know.

During a casual conversation with my friend Penny, who you might remember from this post, she mentioned throwing her chicken parts and some veggies into a crock pot to make stock.  I had a light bulb moment.  I thought, “I have chicken parts”, “I have veggie scraps”, “I could do that!!!”.  I asked a few questions about what to put in, how long to cook it, etc, and went home to cook a chicken, just so I could make stock from it’s “parts”.  For months, I have been in a complete state of stock shock.  I cannot believe I have never done this.  I went straight to my mother and asked her why we never did this.  She had the same light bulb moment I mentioned having and, instead of giving me an answer, went to cook a chicken.

I keep whole organic chickens in my freezer all the time and put them in the crockpot whenever I plan to make soup, chicken and dumplings, chicken salad, etc.  I literally just run the whole chicken under the water in the sink long enough to thaw the outermost layer so I can remove the packaging, then put the whole thing in the crockpot, still frozen.  Sometimes I spray the crock pot with oil first to theoretically make clean-up a little easier, but I have no idea if it makes any difference.  I do add a little salt and pepper to the top of the frozen chicken before I close the lid and turn it on.  That’s all I do.  How easy is that?  I cook it on low until it’s done, which I would say is usually around 6 hours, depending on the size of the chicken.

This used to be where the story of my chicken ended.  I would separate the meat from the skin and bones, then toss all of the non-meat “parts” in the garbage.  NO MORE!!!!  Now I toss those “parts” right back into the crock pot for round two.  This is what I call the “trash into treasure” phase.

On top of the chicken parts, I add vegetable parts that I would likely have thrown away otherwise.  Be sure to wash all vegetables well.  First comes the root end of a bunch of celery.  I just chop off the stalks and throw in the big ball of ends stuck together at the root.  I also might chop off the ends and throw them in.  I wash my carrots well and peel them.  I toss in the ends and peels of the carrots.  I also like to peel a few onions and put in the ends or a few of the less paper-like outer layers that I would debate keeping otherwise.  Sometimes I do put in the good parts of the veggies too, but lately I have been keeping a bag of usable scraps in the fridge so I rarely have to use anything we would eat.  It ends up looking something like this before I cover it all up with water.

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Veggie scraps on top of chicken parts. Carrot peels, celery ends and leaves, fennel sprigs, and onion. Be sure to wash all veggies thoroughly before peeling if you’re going to use the scraps.

After adding the veggies, I just fill the crock pot up with water to the tippy top and add a little salt and maybe some garlic powder and celery seed.  You can put in anything you like.  I set it to low and cook it overnight or all day.  I store it in the refrigerator if I know I will use it within a couple of days.  Otherwise I freeze it for later.  It’s the best chicken stock I have ever had and everything I cook with it turns out better than ever.  I can get so much out of one chicken, and it’s virtually free since most of the ingredients would be thrown away if not used in this way.  Also, it makes me feel that much better about spending the extra money on organic chickens and vegetables, knowing I’m getting so much out of every part of them.  I cannot believe how much money I have spent on those cartons of organic broth in the past.  Never again!!!!

Be sure to strain it well.  The bones get pretty soft and small pieces can be hard to separate.  I always run it through a mesh strainer just to be safe.

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This is how it looks after cooking all day or over night. Now it just needs to be strained and it’s ready to use.

One thing I have learned is that there will be a thin layer of grease that solidifies on top of the broth after it cools.  I just wait until the first time I pull in out of the refrigerator to use it and spoon it into the trash.  The broth will be very dark and rich and the flavor is amazing.  This photo doesn’t do the color justice, but I wanted to show the thin layer of fat I mentioned after refrigeration so you won’t be weirded out when you see it in yours.

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I hope I’m not the only one who was in the dark on this.  Give it a try if you haven’t done it before.  You will be cooking chickens left and right, just so you can make your own stock.  If cooking whole chickens is not in your usual repertoire, use whatever kind of chicken you usually eat. Honestly, you can even just throw in the parts from your store bought rotisserie chicken.  It will work just the same.  Do yourself a favor and turn your own chicken parts into liquid gold.  It’s like printing money.  Stop buying stock.  Use your liquid assets.  I could do this all day.

If you want a more specific recipe, check out this one from 100 Days of Real Food.  This blog is fantastic.  If you don’t follow it already, you’re missing out.  It is geared towards good clean healthy eating and living.

Also, one more thing.  I always wondered what the difference is between stock and broth.  Since I went to the trouble to look it up, I thought I would share what I found.  Stock is made with bones and parts, like I have described here.  Broth is made with actual meat.  Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same.  In theory, you could get a richer flavor from broth since you are using the meat, but it’s hard for me to believe it could be any richer than this.  Does anyone have opinions on stock versus broth?  I would love to hear what you know.

Red Beans and Rice

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This recipe is one of our family favorites.  The girls will eat the leftovers for days without getting tired of them.  This is one of those dishes where everyone gets seconds and sometimes thirds.  It is so good.  It’s a bit spicy, which some kids like and others don’t, but you can always just reduce the spice by cutting the creole seasoning as much as you would like.  It’s de-yum-a licious!  Did I mention it cooks in the crock pot?  As a crock addict, that makes me appreciate the dish even more.

Red Beans and Rice

Ingredients:

1 lb. dried small red beans

7 cups water

1 small green bell pepper

1 small red bell pepper

1 medium onion

4 large celery stalks

2 medium tomatoes

4-5 minced cloves of fresh garlic (or 4 tsp. freeze dried garlic)

13.5 oz andouille sausage

3 tbsp. creole seasoning (check ingredients, I use Zatarain’s)

cooked brown rice (or whatever kind of rice your crew loves)

Directions:

Dice the bell peppers, onion, celery, and tomatoes.  Slice the sausage as thick as you would like.  I do about ¼ inch coins.  Rinse beans in cold water and remove any funky looking beans or rocks.  I have never actually found a rock, but the bag always says to do this, so I do.  Is it a prank?  Has anyone ever found a rock?

Put the beans, water, diced veggies, garlic, sausage, and creole seasoning into the crock pot.  Yeah, that’s right, everything but the rice.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours.  Serve with cooked rice.  Don’t be stingy with the serving sizes.  The bowls will be cleared in a hurry.

Pops’s Famous Crock Pot Roast Beef

If you know my Dad, who now goes by Pops, you’re wondering where I’m going with this.  He is not a man who has spent a whole lot of time in the kitchen doing anything other than reaching over the chef’s shoulder to steal a few nibbles.  You know the type.

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Pops usually keeps himself pretty busy while others are cooking dinner.

Still, this recipe came from Pops.  He may not spend much time in the kitchen, but the man does grill and his steaks are world famous.  Wait.  Are there actual requirements for declaring something world famous?  No?  OK then, I stand by it.

I have wonderful memories of him prepping the steaks to go on the grill.  It’s always quite a production.  You know how Dads can make a one man job into a two man job because they need an audience?  Well, I was often recruited as the fork holder or plate stabilizer, so I got a front row seat.  First, he takes out an armload of spices and seasonings from the cabinets.  Then he lines up the steaks, which he has had cut and trimmed to his liking.  He starts by spreading butter on each steak, then the seasonings start flying, then a little shake of Worcestershire (so glad I’m writing it and not saying it).  After that, he flips them over and does the same on the other side.  He takes a beer out to the grill with him and pours it over the steaks a little at a time as they cook.  Except for the sips he drinks, which is an integral part of the process.  He asks everyone “how do you like your steak?”, then cooks them all to a perfect medium rare, no matter what you say.

We celebrated everything with steaks on the grill growing up.  It was even our Christmas dinner tradition.  This is saying a lot since I grew up in the mountains where it was not unusual to have white Christmases.  Dad would just sweep off the snow drifts, pull on his boots, and tromp out to fire up the grill in the middle of the snow.

I have tried a lot of roast beef recipes, but the best beef to me will always be my Dad’s steaks.  I decided to just use his “process” on a roast and I loved the way it turned out.  It’s not the same as my Dad’s steaks, but it’s the next best thing.

I also must say, the beef makes all the difference.  There is no substitute for high quality, grass fed, antibiotic free beef.  I would call it the secret ingredient, but this is too good to keep secret.  We get ours from Chestnut Grove Farms in Boone, NC.  Check out their website if you live in NC or find a local farm near you.  You won’t ever go back.

Ingredients:

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3 lb. boneless chuck roast (mine was frozen)

1 large onion, sliced

2-3 tbsp dairy free margarine, I use Earth Balance

1 tsp. salt

½ tsp. crushed red pepper

½ tsp. minced Onion

4-5 cloves fresh garlic (minced)

⅛ cup Worcesterchire

1 bottle of beer, minus one sip

Directions:

Spray crock pot with cooking spray and place half of the sliced onion in the bottom.  Place the roast on top of the onion.  Slice the dairy free margarine into thin slices and place around the top of your roast.

With as much pomp and circumstance as you can muster, add the Worcestershire and spices to the roast.  If you have anyone else in the house, ask them to come and hold the lid while you measure out each seasoning.  This is important for the authenticity of the process.  Place the remaining sliced onions on top of the roast.

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Next, open the beer and take one sip.  Then you might need one more to be sure it’s just right.  Finally, pour the beer into the crock pot.  Pour gently and try not to wash away the seasonings.

Cook in your crock pot on low for 6-8 hours.  If your roast is not frozen, reduce cooking time to 4-6 hours.

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Everything on this plate is egg, dairy, peanut, tree nut free. We used Earth Balance organic garlic and herbs spread on the bread. It is so delicious and easy.

Finally, this post wouldn’t be complete without a few shots of Pops with some of his grandchildren.  They adore him as much as I do and he devotes a great deal of time to making wonderful memories with them.

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Pops and Little Buddy, July 4th 2010

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Pops and Squeaky, July 4th 2012

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Pops, Squeaky, and Little Buddy, Summer 2012

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Pops and Little Buddy on the beach in Hawaii, February 2010

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Pops and Little Buddy listening to the shell they found on the beach, Topsail Island, October 2011

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Pops and Sparky, April 2013