Simple Soups & Salads Your Whole Family Will Love

When it comes to charting the weekly eats for my family, there are two sorts of dinner recipes that make every meal plan: soups and salads. They stand alone in their simplicity, and they always satisfy. While soups warm from the inside out, salads serve as a blank canvas for clever flavor combinations. Both stretch leftovers and pantry staples into nourishing reasons to come to the table.

"They stand alone in their simplicity, and they always satisfy."

Here's a list of my favorite soup and salad recipes, and the thoughts behind why I make them when I do.

Hearty Soups This savory, satisfying Italian sausage soup recipe is my go-to answer to grumbling tummies and "I'm staaarving!" cries from my husband and kids. The rich aroma of sautéed garlic and browned sausage brings them straight to the table, and the great northern beans ensure they leave with their bellies full. A complete rainbow of colorful veggies makes the soup extra delectable, and the finishing sprinkle of Parmesan cheese makes for a fun final step. With a hunk of crusty bread, this is the ultimate comfort food.

Surprising Salads Many days of the week, my family seems to multiply. Between play dates, practices and study groups, I frequently find myself hosting the moms and dads who come with their kids. It is my pleasure to add an extra leaf to the table — especially when I've got the fixings for a quick salad lined up.

For a small group of on-the-go moms in particular, I reach for a can of garbanzo beans to toss together a couple plates of this easy salad recipe. It's crunchy and crispy with an unexpected twist. Warm, creamy beans are the perfect taste and textural surprise when added to an otherwise traditional Caesar salad. The option of salty little anchovy fillets allows guests to tailor their plates.

Warm Comfort Foods Some days call for consolation, making warmth — in every sense of the word — the order of the day. Whether one of us survived a rough test, a brutal soccer game or a broken heart, having all of us together with some grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup is the only thing that can make it better. In fact, the best way for me to learn all the details of the day is to serve grilled pepper-jack cheese sandwiches on thinly sliced Italian bread and this just-spicy-enough tomato soup recipe. The pairing is made in just about 10 minutes, and it requires all of us to be still to enjoy it. With every bite of sandwich, and every sip of soup, we settle in and tune out the craziness of the rest of the day.

Easy Recipes In our house, Monday and Friday nights very often include salad. At the end of long days and long weeks, I need a dinner recipe that comes together in minutes. This unique tuna salad recipe fits the bill when I don't have the time (or patience) to put on my apron. Six ingredients, requiring minimal prep, arrange into a mouthwatering meal. Try substituting leftover chicken or beef for the tuna, or add green beans, asparagus, shredded cheese or bacon. Finally, offer everybody's favorite vinaigrettes to top off the individual salads according to personal tastes.

From breakfasts to snacks to desserts, all meals have their place in the family plan. I count on them to nourish, satisfy and bring my family together. More times than not, however, I count on soups and salads specifically to serve as my superhero. In one fell swoop, they save me over and over again.

*Tip: Creating delicious, wholesome meals for your family doesn't have to be a chore! We have an entire collection of articles with easy recipes and helpful advice.

Meatless Appetizer Madness: Score With These Gameday Recipes

January 26, 2016 Entertaining, Gameday Tips

It's championship hoops time! These indulgent, delectable appetizers are sure to score big at any viewing party. Surprisingly, none of them contain meat.

They also don't require you to spend hours in the kitchen or buy tons of special ingredients. Pull out some pantry staples, and plan a menu full of easy dips and finger food recipes that will keep your team going strong through the college basketball playoff season.

Tip Off With Delicious Dip Recipes

"Meatless doesn't have to mean bland..."

Meatless doesn't have to mean bland or boring. Start the party with a pesto dip recipe that's accompanied by veggies, naan and gluten-free chips. Mashed garbanzo beans provide a creamy base for the dip, and pesto and red peppers add lots of flavor.

Another slam-dunk in the kitchen is this Buffalo dip recipe. A mix of canned chili beans, red pepper, blue cheese and hot sauce will wake up the taste buds and satisfy any spicy-food lover.

Score With Savory Finger Food Recipes Make it easy for your guests to snack while they watch the game by serving bite-size finger foods and appetizers. I served a Southwest-inspired mini quiche recipe at a gameday party, and the crowd went wild.

I also made this easy bruschetta recipe for a group of friends who always seem to find their way to my house when a game's on. They loved the mouthwatering combination of cannellini beans, tomatoes and Parmesan.

Looking for a fun activity (beside eating) for between games? Set a hoop up over the trash can and create your own pickup game with your guests!

Get the party started. Send out your invites, make sure there are plenty of seats in front of the TV and prepare some amazing meatless appetizer recipes.

Meet Sandy Coughlin

View all articles by this author

4 Delectably Different Chili Recipes You’ll Want for the Big Game

January 26, 2016 Chili, Gameday Tips

Whether you're watching your favorite team play in the big game, or you're just enjoying a night with family and friends watching sports (and commercials!), chili is a staple at football gatherings. Chili recipes are easy, delicious and satisfying. Plus, they feed even the hungriest crowd.

"... chili is a staple at football gatherings."

Everyone has his or her favorite chili recipe, meaning there are many ways to tantalize your guests' taste buds. We have four easy chili recipes - each with its own unique appeal - that will be a big hit at your next football party or tailgate.

A Quick, Easy White Chicken Chili Recipe Do you always use beef in your chili? Change it up by making this white chicken chili recipe. Because chicken is more delicate in flavor than beef, use fewer tomatoes to let the spices and meat shine. White beans add flavor and creamy texture. Using a rotisserie chicken from your favorite deli makes this a dish that's easy enough to put together on a weeknight, not just for your big game party.

A Hearty, Traditional Chili Recipe This classic chili recipe is great served with tortilla chips or cornbread - or on its own. Canned chili beans add a lot of slow-cooked flavor without a ton of work (or time). Feel free to substitute ground turkey if you'd like; or experiment with the sweeter flavors of red, yellow or orange bell peppers instead of green.

A Flavorful, Meatless Chili Recipe Are some of your guests vegetarians? With the right flavor combinations, and beans to add protein, even carnivores won't miss the meat. Canned beans make this meatless chili recipe a snap to put together, as does using a packet of taco seasoning.

I love this chili fully loaded with sour cream or Greek yogurt, chopped onions, chopped avocado (or a dollop of guacamole) and tortilla chips. This recipe could very well become a fan favorite.

A Unique, Savory Jamaican Chili Recipe Do the fans at your party want something different? A classic chili won't cut it? This easy Jamaican chili recipe is the one to try. It takes the flavors of Jamaica - including allspice, fennel and cumin - and mixes them up with bacon, pumpkin puree and a squeeze of lime. This one is both really different and really delicious.

Delectable chili makes your gameday event extra special! Use your imagination and wow your guests with some of the best chili recipes.

Meet Julie Niesen

View all articles by this author

Celebrate Mardi Gras With These New Orleans-Inspired Recipes

January 26, 2016 Entertaining, Seasonal Tips

Laissez les bons temps rouler! Mardi Gras - French for Fat Tuesday - is the time just before Lent when some Christians celebrate with a big blowout before 40 days of prayer and self-denial.

In the United States, the biggest Mardi Gras celebration happens in the French Quarter neighborhood of New Orleans, where people eat king cake and enjoy Creole and Cajun food.

What's the difference between Creole and Cajun food? Creole food is considered "city" food, and Cajun food is from the "country." Creole versions of classic recipes like gumbo and jambalaya use tomatoes, whereas Cajun versions do not. Either way, these dishes are a delicious way to enjoy the flavor of Mardi Gras no matter where you live.

Use Andouille Sausage in This Red Beans & Rice Recipe Red beans and rice is a Louisiana staple. Originally a dish that used up leftover Sunday ham on Monday, it utilizes a blend of vegetables known in the region as the "holy trinity" - bell pepper, onion and celery. Our favorite red beans and rice recipe includes sausage. We suggest andouille sausage for a spicy, authentic flavor, or you can substitute your favorite sausage. Serve this dish on top of rice with a side of cornbread.

Add Beans to This Gumbo Recipe Gumbo is a slow-simmered stew that's been thickened with one of three traditional thickeners: roux (a mix of butter and flour that is cooked until brown and toasty), filé gumbo (dried sassafras leaves) or okra. This chicken gumbo recipe takes the essential flavors of gumbo and builds upon them by adding canned beans. For an added kick, be sure to use your favorite hot sauce.

"Enjoy a taste of New Orleans … "

Cook Up This Dirty Rice Recipe on a Busy Weeknight What is dirty rice? It's long-grain white rice - a Louisiana staple - that appears "dirty" after being cooked in stock with spices. This dirty beans and rice recipe includes chicken stock, the "holy trinity" vegetables, garlic and Cajun seasoning. It takes half an hour to prepare, making it perfect for those busy evenings.

Enjoy a taste of New Orleans at Mardi Gras or any time of the year with these simple, quick recipes that pack a lot of flavor in just a little bit of time.

Meet Julie Niesen

View all articles by this author

The Anatomy of a Great Chili Recipe

December 04, 2015 Chili

Colder weather and shorter days make everyone crave hearty, flavorful meals. It's the best time of year to get a pot of chili simmering on the stove, send dinner invites and ladle out bowls of “soul” for friends and family. Don't forget to toss together a fresh salad and bake up some cornbread for side dishes.

The Ultimate Dish for Everything From Crockpots to Cook-Offs There are so many ways to make chili recipes, depending on whether you want something rich and spicy, sweet and fruity or something else totally different.

Regardless of what you're going for, all chili recipes have three elements in common: base (or “broth”), protein (either meat, beans or both) and veggies. Mix the elements together and customize with a blend of spices to make a truly unique, easy chili. (Click on the graphic to the right for a printable “cheat sheet” summarizing all the information in this story.)

For example, my family loves this chicken chili recipe, which has a citrusy zing. It's so easy to make — just combine precooked rotisserie chicken, canned beans, lemon juice, vegetables and spices.

All in all, a good chili is more than the sum of its parts. It's about nourishment and bringing people together!

Chili Base: the Foundation The base forms the foundation of your chili recipe, balancing all the other ingredients. It can be anything from stock to beer, red wine to tomato juice. The most common spices used in chili bases are cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper and garlic. For gameday, open up a can of chili beans, which have the flavors already added to the base, and wow your guests with this quick chili recipe.

Protein: Set Your Chili Apart Many chili lovers use ground beef to give their recipes a robust appeal. Other options are elk, venison, Italian sausage or chicken.

Some chili fans say it's all about the beans — savory, tender and intact. The most popular for chili is the kidney bean, but others are just as tasty, including black, pinto, garbanzo and butter beans. If you're cooking a chicken chili, look for great northern or cannellini beans. Beans also do two jobs for the price of one. The USDA considers them both a protein and a vegetable. This meatless chili recipe has two types of beans, onions, corn and tomatoes.

Veggies: Round Out the Dish Sautéing vegetables such as onions, garlic and green peppers first melds the flavors together, so always start with those. Later, add tomatoes and corn for a delicious Mexican-inspired dish. This easy chili recipe is packed with green peppers, onions, tomatoes and canned chili beans — all simmered in a rich, tomato sauce. Finally, be sure to provide a selection of toppings like onions, cheese, sour cream, corn chips and avocado.

All in all, a good chili is more than the sum of its parts. It's about nourishment and bringing people together!

Meet Sandy Coughlin

View all articles by this author

Sweet & Simple Desserts for Your Next Tailgate

December 04, 2015 Gameday Tips

Whenever we talk about tailgates, we talk about chili, chicken wings and all sorts of delicious, savory tailgating food. But sometimes, don't you want something a little sweet before kickoff? Whether it's chocolate or something fruity, it's easy to create simple tailgate desserts with some unexpected ingredients.

Chocolaty Brownie Bites This brownie bites recipe adds a brilliant twist. For great body, puree black beans and add them to the batter before you bake the brownies. This is a fun recipe to get the kids involved in; they can roll the balls, dip them in chocolate and decorate.

Decadent Pinto Bean Pie Pinto beans add richness (and protein) to this pinto bean pie recipe, a delicious take on traditional, Southern-style pecan pie. This is guaranteed to be a real crowd pleaser, and friends will never guess the secret ingredient! This recipe refrigerates well and makes two pies.

The treats are easy to make, and your crowd will go wild over them!

Flavorful Pumpkin Empanadas Fall is all about pumpkin — serve it in a unique way with this pumpkin empanada recipe. Pick your favorite piecrust, and then add some pumpkin pie spice, canned pumpkin and canned beans. Trust us, the combination is delicious. The pumpkin and beans combine for a sweet spiciness that you and your fellow tailgaters will love.

Smooth Caramel Dip Skip the store-bought dip. It's easy enough to make on your own. This caramel dip recipe combines pureed cannellini beans, cream cheese and brown sugar for a delicious dip that's good on apples, strawberries or any kind of fruit you like. It's also nice on ice cream.

When you're thinking about tailgating food, don't forget the sweet stuff. And yes, you can use beans for desserts, just like you can use them in savory recipes. The treats are easy to make, and your crowd will go wild over them!

* Tip: Do gameday the right way! We have an entire collection of articles with tailgating advice waiting for you.

Meet Julie Niesen

View all articles by this author

Southern-Inspired Recipes for Your Next Tailgate

December 04, 2015 Gameday Tips

A passion for both sports and food is deeply embedded in Southern culture, and nowhere is this more evident than at tailgate parties. Whether you're watching the NFL or SEC, rooting for Texas or Tennessee (or even Ohio), a taste of the South makes any pregame event special.

Sweet & Savory Chicken Wings Recipe Chicken wings are a must for any tailgate. Although Buffalo, New York, can claim its hot-sauce-infused version, Southerners have been grilling and smoking for generations.

Depending on where you live, your chicken wings might be coated in a sweet and spicy sauce. But for a genuine taste of Memphis, go for a dry rub. This dry-rubbed chicken wings recipe uses a mix of sweet and savory spices, which go into a plastic bag with the chicken to sit in the refrigerator overnight. At the tailgate, grill until cooked through and serve with baked beans.

No matter where you live in the U.S., incorporating Southern-inspired dishes into your gameday menu will guarantee a happy crowd.

Rich Texas-Style Chili Recipe Don't mess with Texas or its chili! While people all over the country argue about whose chili recipe is best, Texans know they have a great thing going. This Texas-style chili recipe adds canned beans to the traditional version for a rich, savory, easy chili that tastes like it took all day (but really takes just 35 minutes). Serve with tortilla chips, sour cream, cheese or crackers for delicious tailgate food that will appeal to everyone.

Satisfying White Chicken Chili Recipe Not into beef? That's okay. This white chicken chili recipe is an excellent, filling option. We love the green chilies and cumin, which combine for a fresh flavor. There are no tomatoes here, just chicken, great northern beans and spices. This is one of our favorite dishes to make for the big NFL game in February; it always goes fast! Like any chili recipe, it keeps well. You can make this a day or two ahead to save time the day of the party.

No matter where you live in the U.S., incorporating Southern-inspired dishes into your gameday menu will guarantee a happy crowd.

* Tip: Looking for more tailgating food and advice? We have plenty of other articles that will help you have the best gameday ever.

Meet Julie Niesen

View all articles by this author

Quick, Easy Comfort Food Recipes That Taste Like They Took Hours

Comfort food always makes you feel warm and satisfied. The only problem? It can take a lot of time to prepare and cook. Macaroni and cheese is great, but you don't want to spend hours making it from scratch, and the instant variety just isn't the same.

This often leads to either going out for comfort food or making something else that takes less time to prepare. You don't have to! Thanks to these quick, easy recipes, you can have delicious comfort food anytime.

A Simple Baked Bean Dish Craving a heartier version of a sloppy Joe? Don't want to get more than one pan dirty? This easy one-skillet recipe is for you. The timesaving trick? Use pre-made salsa and canned baked beans. The recipe also allows for creativity. The type of salsa you choose controls its heat and flavor. I love trying a salsa verde for tanginess or a chipotle salsa for smokiness.

Comfort food recipes don't have to take hours, but with these simple hints, they'll taste like they did!

A Versatile Bean Casserole Casserole recipes are fantastic because they're so simple. This easy casserole recipe is no exception; it combines canned beans, cornbread and sausage for a hearty meal that's ready in about half an hour. This dish is also quite versatile. Vary the type of sausage or beans in the recipe according to your taste.

A Delicious Italian Meal Everyone loves Italian recipes. It's easy to mix a jar of tomato sauce with some pasta and mozzarella for a quick meal, and this Italian-inspired skillet recipe raises it to the next level. Take that jar of spaghetti sauce and mix it with canned beans and your choice of Italian sausage (sweet or spicy, depending on your family's tastes). For extra flavor, pop the dish under the broiler after you sprinkle on the cheese for a bubbly, browned topping.

A Savory Chicken Cacciatore Sticking with quick, easy Italian meals, this chicken cacciatore recipe takes just half an hour to put on the table. Again, you start with a trusty jar of tomato sauce, and then add chicken breasts and white beans. Simmer until the chicken is cooked through, and you have a satisfying dinner. Just don't forget to top it with Parmesan cheese.

Comfort food recipes don't have to take hours, but with these simple hints, they'll taste like they did!

* Tip: You can't beat comfort food during the cooler months! We have some new takes on old favorites and three comforting casseroles that won't weigh you down.

Meet Julie Niesen

View all articles by this author

Crowd-Pleasing Appetizers You Can Create in 20 Minutes or Less

December 04, 2015 Entertaining

It's party time, friends! Grab your fancy duds from the dry cleaner and line up the babysitters. Holiday season has officially begun.

You're probably already receiving invitations and are even planning to host a gathering or two yourself. Assemble a playlist of great tunes, put the beverages on ice and stock your pantry for easy entertaining.

No matter how many guests you're expecting, a short list of go-to ingredients will have you all set up for soiree success. Here are some guidelines I follow, and the recipes I keep on hand, to create brilliant bites that are ready in 20 minutes or less.

Easy Cold Appetizers When planning an appetizer menu, it is always important to think about variety — tastes, textures, even temperatures. Cold appetizers are clutch because they can be made in advance, kept in the fridge and pulled out just as guests arrive.

This quick bean dip recipe is especially great. It takes 10 minutes to prepare and ensures guests can gobble up as much or as little as they desire in a self-service fashion. Dip recipes work equally well for gameday spreads and — in glass bowls or trifle dishes — fancy occasions. No matter how casual or swanky the gathering, cold appetizers keep you out of the kitchen and in the mix of the party.

Look forward to the dingdong of the doorbell with a spread of savory treats on the table.

Warmer Fare In fall and winter especially, guests seem to gather in the kitchen and around the oven. As temperatures drop, we seek warmth from friends, family — and toasty little appetizers. In fact, this easy chicken and bean puff recipe does all the work of a welcoming committee as soon as its savory scent starts wafting. Assemble the warm appetizers in advance and pop them into the oven 10 minutes before folks arrive; let them greet your guests at the door.

Heavier Appetizers Impromptu parties, and feeding a crowd in a hurry, can be tricky — especially based on the time of your event. When you open your door to a hungry crew, they'll need to nosh on more than just nibbles. This unique quesadilla recipe is the ultimate app to have on hand for scenarios like this. You can even tweak the fillings according to your guests' tastes. Be sure to have a variety of condiments on hand, such as guacamole, sour cream and pico de gallo.

Something for Anyone & Everyone To accommodate the many different food sensitivities, allergies and lifestyles among my friends and family, I always plan at least one appetizer that is free of meat and able to be tailored. I often use this hearty bruschetta recipe as a template and play with ingredients according to the tastes and preferences of my guests. For gluten-sensitive folks, I use gluten-free bread. For those cutting back on salt, I use reduced-sodium canned beans.

With a thoughtfully-stocked pantry, and a collection of 20-minute recipes, the holiday season really can be the most wonderful time of the year. Look forward to the dingdong of the doorbell with a spread of savory treats on the table.

* Tip: Are you looking for something more substantial to serve for the New Year holiday? Our article on blackeye peas has delicious recipes that just might bring you and your guests good luck in the year ahead!

Blackeye Pea Recipes to Bring Good Luck for the New Year

December 04, 2015 Seasonal Tips

It isn’t New Year’s at my house without a blackeye pea recipe — it’s a Southern tradition. My grandmother, who hailed from rural Kentucky, made them with ham hocks. My husband, who’s from Alabama, requests hopping John. Whether it’s for good luck on New Year’s, or for a great meal any night of the week, blackeye peas are a delicious, versatile choice.

A Traditional Favorite

Blackeye peas, New Year’s Day. They go hand in hand. However, nobody wants to spend hours in the kitchen on New Year’s Day. This spicy hopping John recipe is a classic, but it’s also incredibly easy to make. Simply cook the veggies and ham (or bacon), mix in canned blackeye peas and serve over rice. Don’t omit the hot sauce; it adds the dish’s signature heat. Helpful hint: If you’re substituting bacon for ham, use a sauce that includes chipotle peppers for a smoky flavor.

Whether you’re ringing in the New Year or gathering around the table for a weeknight dinner, blackeye peas add flavor and variety to any dish!

A Comforting Soup Warm up and ensure good luck with a delectable soup. This savory soup recipe combines ham, vegetables, blackeye peas and spices to create a hearty, feel-good dish. It makes eight servings, so you could easily freeze leftovers and have them for another meal.

A Unique Supper Want to play around with blackeye peas in a nontraditional way? Try this Greek-inspired recipe, which combines navy beans, blackeye peas and chicken with an oregano-infused, buttery sauce. It’s fancy enough for company, but it’s easy enough to cook on a weeknight.

Whether you’re ringing in the New Year or gathering around the table for a weeknight dinner, blackeye peas add flavor and variety to any dish!

* Tip: Blackeye peas aren’t the only brilliant beans. Learn how to make delicious recipes with black beans, pinto beans and baked beans.

Meet Julie Niesen

View all articles by this author