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Potato and Sausage Soup a la Olive Garden

It's here!  It's a new Year! And Baby, it's COLD outside!

Ok, now that we are all humming along with Dean Martin (talk about a relief for some of us after the last two months of non-stop Christmas, huh?) how about a tasty cure? (For those of us without a living burning hunk of hotness standing by, that is. Hahahaha)  Or even better: how about a tasty cure for the cold just in time for warming up all those hungry tummies after either their first day back to work/school after the holidays or just after a winter's day playing with Jack Frost?

We're uber-lucky at our house: John is a cook.  And not just any cook; he's been cooking professionally for nearly 19 years in restaurants that ranged from fast food to 3 star dining.  Better yet for my stomach (if not my hips) , he's currently cooking at the local Olive Garden when he isn't home making your favorite chainmail jewelry pieces.  Yep, you guessed it He knows how to make all those amazing American/Italian foods!  Even  better: YOU get to hear how we take the restaurant's recipes and create our own family kitchen friendly versions (at least this time anyway).  Aren't you the lucky ones? :D 

Ok, so seriously, this is one of my (Rachel's) favorites and is super easy to make.  You can make it either on the stove top, or even in your crockpot! (Can you tell why this is one of my favorites yet?)
Ingredient list:
4-6 medium potatoes; halved or quartered length-wise then sliced to approximately 1/16th of an inch  (We prefer using yukon gold potatoes at our house, but just about any variety except sweet should work grand)
1/2 lb italian sausage; browned and sliced (I'll usually convince him to peel the skins off and slice in half lengthwise as well to fit little mouths, or else we'll just use a decent italian-style ground sausage)
1 can evaporated milk or whipping cream (approximately 12 ozs or 1/2 a pint give or take based on your favorite brand and preferences for creaminess)
1/2 of a medium onion; sliced thinly or minced
1/4 cup chopped bacon (you'll want to start this with very crispy bacon since it softens in the soup)
2 cubes chicken boullion or 2 tsp chicken base (chicken base is a moist version of chicken boullion)
1 tsp minced garlic (this is something you can adjust to taste so powdered or crushed garlic works great too)
pinch of crushed chili flakes or a dash or two of Tabasco sauce, as your prefer
approximately 1-1 1/2 c of shredded spinach or kale

To begin with, scrub your potatoes completely (do NOT remove the peels) and remove any blemishes, eyes, etc. then prep your onions.  Cook off the sausage in a 2 1/2 qt. sauce pan, remove and set it aside.  Add the garlic, chicken boullion/base, onions, and the (already crisped and diced) bacon to saute until onions just begin to turn clear.  Add potatoes to the pan then pour in just enough water to cover the potatoes. (Just a tip: if you have them, mandolins come in seriously handy here but if you don't have one just try to get the potatoes sliced as thinly as you can without shaving your own fingers with them.)  Bring to a boil then cook just until the potatoes are soft.  While the soup is cooking, prep your sausage the rest of the way (if you're using sausage logs, otherwise just add the ground sausage when onions have finished sauteing) then return it to the soup.  As soon as the potatoes turn soft, add the remainder of the ingredients(If you're cooking all of this for a crock pot then use a stove top to follow instructions through sauteing the onion mix then just put everything except the spinach/kale in the crockpot and cook for your given .  Add the spinach/kale just before serving.) 

*Just a hint from the housewife (and often cheap-skate as well, lol).  I LOVE being able to use this soup to use up leftovers from my fridge, so just relax and realize that a lot of the portions are entirely adjustable.....the recipe proportions we've given are an ideal, but go with what works for you and your family.  Special note: We're going to be experimenting on prepping this recipe for a kind of freezer-meal version, so be sure to stay tuned.  

Our kids love having homemade garlic parmesan bread with this recipe....what are your favorite sides for a creamy soup?

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