Thursday, November 20, 2014

Tomato Soup with Rosemary



If one were to think of clothing as food, then tomato soup is as basic as socks and underwear. You know what I'm talking about, that favorite pair of boxers ... and woolly, thick warm socks, past the ankle, to pad around on cold floors during frigid winter. Hey, I'm a guy ... so I won't go into bras. LOL ...

If you have a tin of tomatoes, a bit of onion and garlic--even a rubbery carrot and celery stalk, you can make this. Yes, you can! I'm leaving it rather basic--other than the rosemary, simply because I have an abundance of it right now--which includes a blue flower or two. How lucky am I?

If you wish to dress this up (bereft of blue flowers), here are your other accessories:

  • Saute the veggies in bacon or pancetta before adding the butter.
  • Add a can or two of white beans; preferably, seasoned and smoky.
  • Corn? Okra? Go for it.
  • Lightly brown diagonally-sliced hot dogs or sausages to multiply said equation.
  • Kale? Spinach? Go ahead.
  • Basil? By all means. One can not subtract from this recipe.
  • Do you live on the edge? Then you want a bit of citrus zest--lemon or orange.
  • Want to gild the lily? Want to thumb your nose at a Campbell's kind of world? Then cast your vote for cheese. A genuine winner. Smoked cheese. A swirl of tangy sour cream or yogurt. A sprinkle of goat cheese, flavored or plain. And, of course, blue cheese.
You get the idea. But, for now, let's start with the basic, comfy, sock-and-underwear version. And, hopefully, it will be shared ... Flowers? You decide. Although I believe ... ingredients such as these ... are our planet's greatest flowers.

  • 1 yellow onion peeled and sliced, a good 8 - 10 oz.
  • 1-2 stalks celery, chopped, about 4 oz.
  • 1-2 carrots, chopped, about 2 oz.
  • 2-3 plump garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 pinches red-pepper flakes or to taste (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
  • 1-2 tablespoons brown sugar, preferably dark
  • 6-8 tablespoons butter (Yes ... you heard me!)
  • 1, 28-ounce can whole tomatoes or two 14.5 cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes
  • 2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1, 14.5-ounce can low-sodium chicken stock
  • 3 to 4, 3-4-inch whole rosemary sprigs, unstripped
  • Salt, not too much--no more than 1/2 teaspoon
  • Freshly ground black pepper, 10 - 20 twists
  • Smoked Gouda for garnish

Using a low-medium heat, gently melt the butter without browning in a medium saucepan. Add the onion, celery, carrots, garlic cloves, red pepper flakes. Lovingly and slowly simmer for about 20 minutes. The idea here is simply to flavor the butter and to stew the veggies. Put your face over the pot. Inhale. Are you happy?

Add the tomatoes and tomato paste. Add salt and pepper. Stir. Turn up the heat a bit. Add the brown sugar. Lightly bruise the whole rosemary stems with a rolling pin/wine bottle/soda can to release the oils. Sink them into the tomato mixture. Bring to a slow simmer. Add chicken stock. Cover and continue to simmer for 20-30 minutes until tomatoes are mushy and cooked through. Taste and re-season as necessary.

Remove spent rosemary sprigs. Here, you have two options. If you have an immersion blender, blitz the mixture until smooth; or, remove to a blender and whirl until smooth. I have an immersion blender and blitz until everything is well blended. Then I like to force the mixture through a sieve ... to make it even smoother.

Return to pan. Taste. Add another sprig of rosemary. Maybe a few slices of garlic. If desired, swirl in a few tablespoons of whole milk, half-and-half, cream. Grate with some smoked cheese ... Actually, I'm not too impressed with uniform grates of cheese ... crumble some with your fingers ... Feel it. Love it. Share it.









Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Insanely Garlicky Sour Cream with Herbs




I work in the produce department at a grocery store. I'm right next to the deli/bakery-- specifically, the hot bar where they bring out all the fried food to keep warm. Lately, with such unexpected cold weather here in the South, I find myself passing up fried chicken wings and rotisserie chickens.

I desire the spuds. Seasoned wedges  of potatoes deep-fried. Crisp on the outside. Fluffy and warm on the inside. Comfort food at its best.

To jazz it up a bit,  I bought a small container of sour cream to dip them in. Mmmmm...

Then I got creative and starting adding stuff. At first, just garlic. Eventually, thyme, chives, and green onions. Black pepper. 


This is POTENT stuff and a little goes a long way. The longer it sits in the fridge, the better it is. A small dollop on a baked potato is bliss. I could see a bit swirled into a nice tomato bisque or potato soup. Feel free to vary the herbs. But don't skimp on that garlic!

It's important to mince the herbs as fine as possible.


  • 1, 8 oz. container sour cream
  • 2 plump garlic cloves (unpeeled, mine weighed 3 oz. total)
  • 2 small green onion
  • 2 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 6-8 stems of fresh chives
  • Salt and pepper


Peel the garlic and roughly chop. Now sprinkle with a bit of coarse salt and using the broad, flat side of your knife, squish the garlic into the salt using back-and-forth long stretches. The garlic will turn all pasty and wet. Mix into sour cream.

Strip leaves from the thyme stems and mince as finely as possble. Mince chives and green onions. Place all three in a pile and mince even more. Mix into sour cream. Sprinkle with black pepper and mix through.

This really needs to sit for at least one day in the refrigerator to allow the flavors to meld.






Friday, November 14, 2014

Autumn Pansies



Here in the South, pansies are a staple of autumn. They are lovingly planted in pots, nooks and crannies, and en masse. They last throughout our mild winters. At night, they droop from the weight of the cold. But by midday, they are upright soaking up the sun. Around February and March, they really begin to take root once the soil begins to warm.

I don't understand why being called a "pansy" is a derogative term bereft of valor or manliness. These brave soldiers march through some our coldest weather ... but they always weather the storm. They are true survivors.


I call the feline in the foreground my "cat from Pompeii." When my cat Chalk first saw it, he hissed.
My pumpkins will last until spring. I then crack them open so the squirrels can feast on the seeds.

My favorite birdbath. It's made of some kind of special cement. It's
heavy as steel!


This little guy has been with me for decades and keeps an eye out for me.
Here, he's staring into my living-room window.


Since I live in an apartment, my patio is my yard -- although I've expanded it a bit. The little
fountain in the washtub will gurgle all winter. I like the sound and look of water
in a garden, regardless the size.

The black-eyed Susans (such an unfortunate name for any flower) put on a great show this summer.
They re-seed themselves every year. No garden is complete without them or a daylily or two.

This autumn, we've actually has some wonderful windy days, unusual here in the South.
The weather vane enjoyed it!

video





Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Potato-Sausage-Bean Soup with Caraway and Horseradish




By now, dear readers, you can tell the kind of weather we are having here in normally-warm, sunny North Carolina by the many soup recipes I have been posting (and here is yet another!).

We are having unusual, cool, foggy mornings. Wonderful! Damp, rainy, dark afternoons followed by cool evenings. Wonderful! To my friends, I define this forecast as "Michigan weather." They chuckle. And do not approve. Some even call it "depressing."

But ... this weather forces me to wax nostalgic for all things Midwestern. I am not depressed by my roots. Instead, I am inspired. And, in this recipe, the flavorful roots go all the way back to Russia and Lithuania ...

... In particular, the humble potato. Lately, I'm stuck on potato-based soups swimming in savory, smoky, creamy broths. These recipes are all about the out-of-doors and campfires -- without the camping. Indoor hearths with amber embers. Never mind stoves worth thousands of dollars ...

Here, I use store-bought Polish Kielbasa and seasoned butter beans. Oh, seasoned butter beans, where have you been all my life? Yes, I admit it. Sometimes I open a tin ... and eat them cold right out of the can. Am I a hobo? Perhaps. But who could not love that word: HOBO.? A poem in and of itself. And, so, I call them HOBO beans in honor of that glorious class of Americans who rode the rails in the 1930's. Think Pete Seeger ... 


I'm not sure if seasoned, butter beans are a Southern phenomenon. I hope not, for all the world deserves these little gems. Each soft bean tastes like the best ham-and-bean soup you've ever savored. If you do not have access, use cannelloni beans. But do not omit the tiny bit of caraway seed, horseradish or smoked cheddar. Feel free to sub the spinach for kale or escarole.


  • 8 oz. or 1 3/4 cup "onion base" a combination of leek, shallot, yellow onion
  • 8 oz. or 2.5-3 cups rough-chopped white button mushrooms
  • 14-16 oz. skinned, chopped, Russet potatoes, about 2 cups
  • 10-12 oz. smoked sausage, about 1 1/2 cups, diced
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Red pepper flakes ... a pinch or two
  • 1, 14.5 oz. can chicken stock, reduced salt
  • 1, 14.5 oz. can beef stock, reduced salt
  • 1/2 - 3/4 cup dry, white wine
  • 1, 14.5 oz. can seasoned butter beans, drained
  • 2-3 handfulls chopped greens, such as spinach, kale, escarole ...
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon crushed dry thyme leaves
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon caraway seed, crushed
  • 1, 5 ounce-can evaporated milk
  • 1/2  cup lightly packed shredded, smoked cheddar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Refrigerated, fresh horseradish
  • Sour cream
  • Additional smoked sausage for garnish


In a dutch oven or soup pot, add your onion mixture and mushrooms with a bit of olive oil and sweat over medium heat just until soft. Remove from pan.

Put a bit more olive oil in the pan. Add diced sausage and fry over medium heat. When the fat begins to render, add the smoked paprika and a bit of red pepper flakes. Add the white wine to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken and beef stocks. Bring to a simmer. Add your onion and mushroom mixture, drained seasoned butter beans, potatoes, thyme, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer. Cover and gently cook for about 15 - 20 minutes until the potatoes are soft.

Remove from heat. Mix in the evaporated milk and smoked cheddar. Stir until cheese melts. Taste for salt and pepper. Add the lesser amount of caraway. Stir. Taste again and re-season if necessary. Add the chopped greens. Mix through and place back on low heat until greens are wilted.

To serve, thinly slice a few pieces of sausage to arrange on top. Place a teaspoon of horseradish in the center and a dollop of sour cream. Shave a bit more cheese on top. Enjoy. 

The second day, I reheated a bowl and made a Muenster cheese-and-ham grilled sandwich. I snipped
a bit fresh chives, too.




To slice your potatoes: first, slice lengthwise in half. Slice each half lengthwise again into three strips. Then cut into chunks crosswise.