Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tomato Soup

Yes, it's a little hot out this summer for hot soups, but that's when the tomatoes ripen.

I was amazed that the Bible doesn't have a recipe for this basic soup.  I was even more surprised that NONE of my cookbooks had a tomato soup recipe that fit my tastes.  Off to the internet for a quick survey of popular recipes.

Most tomato soup recipes include carrot for sweetness and as a flavor enhancer.  I didn't feel like going back to the grocery store and skipped it, opting for more basil instead.

I did like the opinion of one site that has you put in the tomatoes with the skin on, then strain the soup after puréeing to get out the seeds and skins.  Whoever first decided that tomatoes should be peeled had way too much time on his hands.  It isn't difficult to peel a tomato, just more time-consuming than not doing it.

2 lb fresh tomatoes
1/2 C chopped onions
1/2 C chopped celery
1 Tb olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 C water
2 Tb fresh basil or 2 tsp dried basil
salt & pepper to taste

1.  In a large saucepan, sauté the onions and celery in the oil until the onions are softened, but not brown.  Add the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes.

2.  Roughly chop the tomatoes and add to the pot.  Add the water and basil.  Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Cover and simmer until tomatoes are completely cooked, 30 to 45 minutes.

3.  Remove from heat.  Purée in the blender (you may need to do it in two batches).  Return to pot via a mesh strainer to remove seeds, skins, and "strings".  You can use a spoon to press through as much liquid as possible.

4.  Return soup to a simmer.  Taste, and add salt and pepper as needed.  Serve hot.

Difficulty rating :)

Sunday, July 24, 2011


And now to finish off page 129 of GH Illustrated.

Gazpacho is kind of like a soup version of salsa.  You can make it as mild or hot as you want.  And the best part is you just chop the veggies into smallish chunks and toss them in the blender.  Takes about five minutes to make.

This soup, being all veggies, is considered a first-course soup.  I have made it into a main dish by adding cooked fish, chicken, lentils, or the wanna-be crab in the photo.  Served with bread or chips on the side, it is a refreshing lunch on a hot day.

I used low-sodium V8 instead of tomato juice to add a touch of complexity.  And because there wasn't any low-sodium tomato juice available.  Just leaving it out there as an option.

And I got to use my own tomatoes!

3 C tomato juice
2 Tb olive oil
1 lb tomatoes
1 cucumber, peeled
1/2 onion
1 small green pepper
1 clove garlic
salt and pepper to taste
1 small jalapeño (optional)

1.  Chop all veggies into pieces no larger than 1-1/2".  Working in two or three batches, purée veggies, juice, and oil in blender.  Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.  Pour into large serving bowl.  Cover and chill until ready to serve.

Difficulty rating  π

Friday, July 22, 2011

First harvest

I never thought it would happen, but the tomatoes finally ripened!  It started when the sun came out more than three hours one day.  The first ones I picked totaled up to a whopping four ounces.  That's about 50¢ in the market.  And they weren't much bigger than grape tomatoes.  I did pick them too soon, and they were kind of, shall we say, solid.  I waited until they had been red for a couple of days after that.

Mainly, I'm glad they ripened at all before the plant died.  All that enthusiasm and optimism after the first few weeks is turning into the familiar "killed it again" mantra.  I've gotten 22 ounces of tomatoes off the plant, and a few green ones are still hanging on for dear life.

After  a slow start, the eggplants started growing very well.  Then that plant also started dying.

The corn is nowhere near the height of an elephant's eye, so I thought it was a bust.  Then, on the same day, they all started to bud, or whatever those tassel-like things are.  Guess I'm growing pygmy corn.  Except for the one stalk that someone - possibly the gardener - stepped on.  And the other stalk that flat-out died.

So, my $40 investment has resulted in maybe $3 worth of tomatoes.  Maybe I should just stick to pulling gigantic lemons off the well-established lemon tree.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

On Hiatus

The day after my tea party, Papa Smurf died unexpectedly.  I had already written and scheduled posts up to this point, so I just let them run while I dealt with stuff.  Yes, I pre-write when I've been cooking a lot and hold on to the posts for when I'm uninspired.

Now I'm taking a couple of weeks off.  Please enjoy the previous posts.  Maybe look at the history to discover something you missed.  I'll be back before the end of July.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Vodka-Cured Salmon

This is another one of those very easy, massively impressive dishes that you have to start way in advance.  As in two days.  But it really is one of the easiest things I've posted.

When buying a salmon fillet, you want to look for a good color that runs clear through the meat, but any farm-raised salmon will have been fed food to make it as pink as possible.  For cured salmon, I suggest the freshest piece of fish you can find, free of blemishes, and sushi-grade if possible.  YOU ARE NOT GOING TO COOK THIS FISH.  If the idea of eating raw fish freaks you out, you might as well stop reading now.

I am basing this recipe on Emeril Lagasse's, but simplifying it a tad and scaling it for four.  His recipe serves 8, which is better for the average dinner party, but I had one pound of salmon in the freezer, so that's what I made.

Serving the salmon is another trick.  Once you have it thinly sliced (and I recommend doing this in front of your guests so they can be impressed that you actually made this yourself), what do you do with it?  You can serve it alone, with a drizzle of olive oil or a light vinaigrette.  Or, do what I did and create a salad to make it a main dish.  Since I was zesting a lemon, I used the juice to make a lemon vinaigrette (olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and a touch of sugar).

And it is VERY salty, which makes sense because you're pressing a quarter-cup of salt into it.  If any of your guests have issues with salt, maybe you should plan this for another gathering.

I swear that's a lemon
1 lb salmon fillet
1/4 C Kosher Salt
1/2 Tb Sugar
2 Tb Fresh Dill or 2 tsp Dill Weed
3 Tb grated lemon zest (2 normal supermarket lemons)
2 Tb Vodka (lemon or another citrus flavored, if possible)

1.  Place salmon skin-side down on a layer of plastic wrap.  Remove any pin-bones with kitchen pliers (as opposed to the ones you keep in your garage for dirty work).

2.  In a bowl, combine curing ingredients to make a paste.  Spread cure evenly over flesh.  Cover with another piece of plastic wrap, then wrap up the whole thing in more plastic wrap to make a tight package.

3. Place fillet in a baking dish, skin-side down.  Find something heavy, like a brick, diving weights, gold ingot, or that ugly ceramic platter you got last Christmas from someone who meant well.  (I used a one-gallon can of paint.)  Wash the weight if possible, wrap the bottom of it in plastic wrap, and place it on the fish.  You're going to force the liquids out of the salmon so it cures in only one or two days.  Without the press, you're looking at a week.

4.  Put the whole shebang in the fridge for 24-48 hours.  Unwrap and rinse off all of the cure.  You can feel that the texture is more leathery than when you started, but it shouldn't be hard.

5.  On a flat cutting board, slice the salmon crosswise into very thin slices on a steep angle.  This cuts the connective tissue so it's easier to chew.  Arrange on plates and serve.

Serves 4 as a main dish, 8 as an appetizer.

Difficulty rating  :)