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 flannel boxers ... and woolly, thick warm socks to pad around on cold floors during frigid winter. Or how about those wonderfully comfortable blue jeans lined with a striking design of plaid flannel!

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?

Below are some embellishments. 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.

If you wish to dress this up (bereft of blue flowers), here are your other accessories. Do not, under any circumstances, pine away if you do not have them on hand. And do not run to the store to buy them:
  • 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.

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 in 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.
I seek pumpkins that are marred or different.

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.
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!