The Holidays are over, and we are in the depth of winter. January is a cold and dark month and let’s be honest, it is hard to stay motivated when the sun sets at 4:00 p.m. But, alas, we trudge through, keen on our New Year resolutions and a positive attitude for the New Year. Surviving winter around these parts can make many cranky; this month we are focusing on comfort foods that feed the soul, warm the body, and make winter a little bit more tolerable. So we took it to the members of our food group, Life’s a Feast in the Kitchen on Facebook, and asked for their favorite comfort food recipes.

A good friend and Facebook member, Kristin, raves about this French onion soup. What better way to warm up after a cold day outside than a nice bowl of rich and earthy soup topped with bubbly cheese – a meal in itself.

Kristin’s French Onion Soup
via Tyler Florence
Serves 4-6 people
1/2 cup unsalted butter
4 onions, sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 bay leaves
2 fresh thyme sprigs
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup red wine, about 1/2 bottle
3 heaping tbs. all-purpose flour
2 qt. beef broth
1 baguette, sliced
1/2 lb. grated Gruyere

Melt the stick of butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, salt, and pepper. Cook until the onions are very soft and caramelized, about 25 minutes. Add the wine, bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until the wine has evaporated and the onions are dry, about five minutes. Discard the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Dust the onions with the flour and give them a stir. Turn the heat down to medium low so the flour doesn’t burn and cook for ten minutes to cook out the raw flour taste. Now add the beef broth, bring the soup back to a simmer, and cook for ten minutes. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper.

Ladle the soup into bowls, top each with two slices of bread and top with cheese. Put the bowls into the oven to toast the bread and melt the cheese.

Brandy’s Cheesy Chicken Enchilada Soup
Brandy lives in Texas and this is one of her favorite go-to it’s-cold-outside comfort foods. Mind you, cold in Texas is 45 degrees, so if it makes her happy… I am sure it will warm your soul in the actual cold!

Rotisserie chicken, shredded
1 small
can enchilada sauce
1 large can diced tomatoes
1 large can black beans, drained
1 box Campbell’s Tortilla Soup Broth
1 bag frozen corn
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (or more)
Green onions, chopped

In a large pot, add enchilada sauce, tomatoes, broth, black beans and corn and bring to a simmer. Ladle into bowl and top with shredded cheese and chopped green onions.

Jamé’s Southern Red Beans and Rice
Jamé offered a Southern red beans and rice recipe she has tweaked and made her own. This dish will help shake away the cold and restore peace in the world.

1 lb. of dried, red kidney beans
1/2 tbs. of cooking oil
1 package (12-14 oz.) Andouille or regular smoked sausage
3 slices bacon, chopped
2 cups onion, chopped
1 cup green bell pepper,
chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 tbs. garlic, minced
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste, optional
1 tsp. dried basil
2 medium bay leaves
1 large can of spicy tomato
3 jalape
ño peppers, chopped
2 quarts of chicken stock
2 tbs. unsalted butter, optional
Kosher salt to taste
Hot, cooked rice (Jamé used brown rice)
Sliced green onion, for garnish, optional
Hot sauce if desired, for garnish

Rinse and sort beans and place into a deep pot, adding water to cover beans plus an inch. Soak overnight (or bring to a boil for five minutes uncovered, turn off heat, cover and let soak for one hour.) Drain and set aside.

Heat cooking oil in the pot. Cut sausage into one-inch chunks and add to oil, cooking until browned, remove and set aside. Add bacon and cook until fat is rendered. Add the onion, bell pepper, and celery and sauté the veggies until tender, about five minutes. Add the garlic, black and red pepper, basil, and bay leaf to the vegetable mixture and continue cooking for about three minutes, stirring often. Add beans, tomatoes, jalapeños, and the two quarts of chicken stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for about two hours, stirring occasionally, or until beans are tender and slightly thickened. For extra richness, stir in the butter when beans are finished. For extra thickness, remove about a cup of beans and mash with a fork or throw in the food processor. Mix back into the dish and stir well.

Remove bay leaves and discard. Taste and adjust for seasonings, adding salt only if needed. Serve over hot, cooked rice and garnish with sliced green onion.

Epicurious: Gnocchi Gratin with Gorganzola Dolce
You can’t go wrong with this recipe from Epicurious! Gnocchi is a gift from the gods. They are little pillows made from potatoes, seasoned to perfection, and cooked quickly in boiling water. For the more kitchen savvy, you can make gnocchi from scratch, something we always suggest if you are comfortable. But, the great news is, nowadays you can make this a quick last minute meal with pre-made gnocchi that just needs to be cooked off and used as directed in this heavenly recipe from www.epicurious.com.

Makes 4-6 servings
1 lb. russet potatoes
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
6 oz. Parmesan, finely grated, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more
1 tsp. kosher salt plus more
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup heavy cream
1 sprig rosemary
1 1/4″ thick slice fresh ginger
2 tbs. (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature, divided
3 tbs. fine dried breadcrumbs
4 oz. Gorgonzola dolce or other mild blue cheese

Special equipment: 1 1/2-qt. baking dish or gratin dish and a ricer

Place potatoes in a large pot. Add water to cover by one inch; bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until tender, 25-30 minutes. Drain, set aside, and let cool slightly. Peel potatoes. Pass through ricer, a food mill, or sieve into a large bowl. Whisk egg and egg yolk in a small bowl to blend. Add egg mixture, 1/3 cup Parmesan, one cup flour, one teaspoon salt, and nutmeg to potatoes. Using your hands, gently mix to form a soft, but not sticky dough. Transfer dough to a floured surface. Gather into a ball, then divide into four pieces.

Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and dust with flour. Working with one piece at a time (keep other pieces covered with a damp kitchen towel), roll dough into a 24″-long rope. Cut crosswise into one-inch pieces. Working with one piece at a time, press lightly on gnocchi with the back of the tines of a fork and gently roll gnocchi to create ridges on one side. Place on prepared baking sheet and lightly dust with flour. Can be made four hours ahead. Cover and chill. Cover and chill remaining grated cheese.

This step can be skipped by purchasing pre-made gnocchi and cooking them off and moving on to the next step.

Bring cream, rosemary, and ginger to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat; cover and let steep for 30 minutes. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375°F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Working in batches of about 12 at a time, cook gnocchi until they float to the surface, two to three minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to a baking dish coated with one-tablespoon butter.

Mix three tablespoons Parmesan, remaining tablespoon of butter, and breadcrumbs in a small bowl. Strain reserved cream mixture into dish all over gnocchi. Break off small pieces of Gorgonzola and scatter over. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over, then the breadcrumb mixture.

Bake until the filling is bubbling and the topping is browned, 25–30 minutes.

Life’s a Feast’s Chicken Bombs!
Serves 10
5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (makes 10 chicken bombs)
5 jalapeños, sliced in half lengthwise and cleaned
20 slices bacon
4 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup Colby Jack or cheddar cheese, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup BBQ sauce

Slice chicken breasts in half (like a hamburger bun), place between wax paper and pound until it’s 1/4-inch thick. Season with salt and pepper. Mix the two cheeses together and smear about one tablespoon into each pepper half (just use up the cheese between all of the peppers). Place the pepper on the chicken breast and wrap it up as best you can. I suggest placing the pepper cheese side down so it gets completely covered by the chicken.

Wrap each chicken breast completely with two pieces of bacon. Start at one end, wrap half the breast and finish the second half with the other piece of bacon.

Cook on a preheated 350°F grill over indirect heat for 30 minutes or until chicken is done. Turn every five minutes and baste with BBQ sauce each time you turn it.

For oven: Bake at 375°F for 30 minutes or until chicken is done. Baste a couple times and finish under the broiler to set the BBQ sauce. I suggest a 400°F oven and no BBQ sauce for the first 20 minutes, turning once to help cook the bacon. Then reduce heat to 375°F, change pans to lose some of the bacon fat (if you don’t have a broiler pan), cover in BBQ sauce and finish baking.

Kyle’s Mouthwatering Pork Chops
Nothing says comfort like Iowa pork! We are pretty sure Jeff Cremer at Cremer’s Meats has the best pork in the area, so we recommend grabbing your pork chops from there. Our friend and LAF in the Kitchen devotee sent in her amazing pork chop recipe. She lives in Florida and does not cook outside (yes, it is okay to grumble a bit), but this recipe is easily transferred to your stovetop for a flavor packed one skillet pork dish. Add your favorite sides to this dish to make it a complete meal.

It doesn’t have to be complicated, just a few ingredients and TA DA!

4 3/4-inch thick center cut pork chops
2 big cloves of garlic, smashed and then chopped fine
1 tbs. fresh finely chopped rosemary
1 can of cream of mushroom soup
2 cups of water
1/3 cup of whole milk
1/2 tsp. of light brown sugar
Salt and pepper
One big skillet
One burner outside on the grill
One piece of tinfoil
No oil

Brown chops well on both sides, seasoning each side after turning. Stack chops to make room in pan and add garlic; stir and lightly brown, add water, scrape pan, simmer, and stir about a minute. Add rosemary, soup , stir, spread out chops again and simmer covered with foil for about 45 minutes, stirring and turning chops about every 15 minutes. Taste, adjust salt and pepper. Add milk and brown sugar, simmer another 15 minutes or so until chops are falling off the bone tender.

These recipes should help keep your culinary spirits high while you traverse the wintery January days. We hope you find respite and comfort, and perhaps a sense of adventure as you try something new in your kitchen this month!

For Kids, By Kids
by Hannah Stoner

All the excitement of New Year of 2016 is thrilling. I love staying up until midnight to see the New Year start, especially because I get to stay up past my bedtime! One thing that some adults like to have on New Year’s Eve is grown-up drinks that look exciting, but taste funny. So I am giving you a kid-friendly exciting drink to enjoy on New Year’s Eve.

Pop Rock Drinks
In this recipe you can make your own fun colored sparkling drink with no bad tasting stuff involved. Now the little kids can fit right in with the adults and have a special drink too!

Ingredients:
Sparkling apple juice, apple juice, white grape juice, or any light colored juice
Rock Candy Sticks, Gummy Bears, or Sour Patch Kids (your choice)
Pop Rocks (optional)
Or any other candy
Glasses (plastic flutes)

Directions:
Set out your glasses, candy, and, if you are using pop rocks, a little dish of water, and a dish for the Pop Rocks. Dip the rim of the glass in water, then dip it in the Pop Rocks. Fill the glasses with your type of juice, but don’t fill it all the way to the top. Then drop in some of the candy you are using.

Angela and Carolyn Linton-Canfield
After 18 years working in the food and beverage industries of Chicago and San Francisco, Angela and Carolyn started a private chef and catering company, Life’s a Feast, in the tri-state area. They embrace their passion of cooking, entertaining, and creating one-of-a-kind experiences for their clients. Carolyn and Angela now share their passion with viewers on their cable show Life’s a Feast, available on Mediacom and their YouTube channel, Life’s a Feast LLC. Both share their expertise on food and wine on our website, their website, as well as their Facebook page. Recipes and photos are the copyrighted and intellectual property of Life’s a Feast, LLC.

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