CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The summer months aren't what you'd typically consider "soup weather" - unless it's the chilled variety - but all this crazy rain kind of does make you want to hole up with a warm bowl of something soothing.
Maybe a spicy pot of chili or a steamy, creamy stew.
So I scoured the recipes I've been saving for fall for something good to make next time the rain clouds roll in. Which I'm guessing won't be long ...
* It doesn't get much more comforting than soup and cornbread, so Tennessee Onion Soup Gratin sounds perfect for a rainy day. Combining bacon, onions, white beans and Swiss chard in a creamy base, the soup is topped with cheesy cornbread batter and then baked before serving.
* My friend Sissy Isaac sent in a recipe from a recent trip to Las Vegas. "We went to an Italian restaurant called Maggiano's and it was delicious. I ordered a Tuscan Sausage and Orzo Soup that I thought was one of the best things I've ever tasted."
* And combining reduced-fat turkey sausage with low-sodium chicken broth and healthy greens, Kale Soup with Kielbasa and Beans offers a filling meal with a little less guilt.
When it comes to a homemade soup or sauce, it's hard to beat a nice tomato-based stew or marinara. Tomatoes are just one of those foods that taste better the longer they cook, especially when mingling with so many other great flavors.
Case in point was Saturday night's dinner, when a friend of mine made an incredible pasta sauce for a group of guys spending the weekend at Snowshoe Mountain.
He browned a couple different types of sausages and then sauteed a mess of mixed peppers and garlic. All of this went into a large pot with stewed tomatoes and fresh herbs, where it simmered stovetop for hours.
By the time dinner rolled around, the flavors had all blended and intensified into a mouthwatering sauce that I enjoyed over pasta - then just in a bowl by itself.
And the great thing is, you can experiment with so many different combinations of ingredients to create a differently nuanced sauced every time.
If the weather holds out for the weekend, you might want to head down to Huntington Saturday for the ninth annual West Virginia Hot Dog Festival from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Pullman Square and Third Avenue.
The event - designed to celebrate some of the area's decades-old, family-owned hot dog businesses - will kick off in the morning with a "Bun Run 5K" and "Walk Your Buns Off" charity walk.
Then comes the good stuff.
Visitors can sample dogs from a dozen vendors, with a car show, children's activities and crafts booths. A variety of contests will include the popular Wiener Dog Race and Dachshund Dash at high noon, plus hot dog eating and root beer chugging competitions.
Live entertainment throughout the day will include local acts City Heat and Sister Redden Hair, plus TV show host and rising Nashville star Phoenix Stone.
For more information, check out www.wvhotdogfestival.com.
Steven Keith writes a weekly food column for the Daily Mail. He can be reached at 304-348-1721 or by email at dailymailfood...@aol.com. You can also follow him on Facebook and Pinterest as "DailyMail FoodGuy," on Twitter as "DMFoodGuy" or read his blog at http://blogs.dailymail.com/foodguy/.
Tennessee onion soup gratin
8 slices bacon, cut crosswise into half-inch pieces
3 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 lb. Swiss chard, stems removed, sliced into half-inch strips
1 (15.5 oz.) can white beans, rinsed and drained
2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper
4 cups low-sodium beef stock
4 cups water
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 (6.5 oz.) package yellow cornbread/muffin mix
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2/3 cup milk
8 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, cut into half-inch cubes
1. Heat 5-quart Dutch oven over medium heat and cook bacon until crisp. Remove with slotted spoon to paper towels to drain. Add onions and sugar to bacon drippings. Cook, stirring frequently, until onions are caramelized, about 20 minutes.
2. Add chard, white beans, bacon, vinegar and red pepper. Add beef stock and water. Bring to a low simmer over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper.