Sunday, July 20, 2014

Simple and Easy Tomato Soup

Our tomato plant has proven very productive in the past several days.  When you gather a dozen or more tomatoes a day you have to think about what you are going to do with them; and quickly.  You don't want them to go bad.

Our tomato plant is a Roma tomato.  I prefer this type of tomato for sauces and soups.  Today they are for soup.

The first thing you want to do is peel the tomatoes.  These Romas seem to have a really tough skin.

Drop the tomatoes in boiling water for 3 minutes or until you see the skin begin to split open.  Once the tomato skin is splitting, plunge them in a bowl of ice water.

In a 2 quart saucepan, melt the butter and saute the onions.

Add the tomatoes that you have peeled and quartered

Add the carrots



 and the chicken broth

Bring to a boil, lower the heat the simmer, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes

Run all of this through a food mill to press the good juices out and eliminate the solids.

 You end up with the most wonderful broth

Add a little bit of cream to give the soup some richness.  This, in no way, makes it a thick creamy soup.  It's still on the brothy side.

 What you end up with is a beautiful, creamy broth that pairs perfectly with a grilled cheese sandwich.

Simple and Easy Tomato Soup
Adapted from a recipe from "The Soup Bible"

Serves 4

2 Tbsp. butter
1 medium yellow onion
2 pounds plum tomatoes

2 carrots
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
2 cups chicken stock
5 Tbsp. whipping cream
salt & pepper to taste
Thyme leaves for garnish

Mise en Place:
  • prepare an ice water path in a large mixing bowl
  • drop tomatoes into boiling water for three minutes then plunge into bowl of ice water
  • peel the tomatoes and quarter
  • chop onion
  • peel carrots and chop
  • chop fresh parsley
  • strip thyme leaves from stems 
  • measure out chicken stock
Melt butter in a 2 quart saucepan.  Add the onion and cook for 5 minutes until soft.

Add tomatoes, carrots, parsley, thyme and chicken stock to the pot.  Bring to a boil.  Lower heat and place a lid on the pot.  Simmer mixture for 15 to 20 minutes until all of the vegetables are tender.

Use the smallest holed disk of your food mill.  Place the food mill over a mixing bowl and pour the entire mixture into the mill.  Purée the mixture through the mill.  Press down on the solids to get as much flavorful liquid out of them as possible.  Discard the solids.

Pour the soup back into the saucepan.  Add the cream to the soup and reheat slowly.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with a few fresh thyme leaves.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Breakfast Casserole

I know, I know, breakfast casseroles come at a dime a dozen.  When I read this recipe it was a little different from most.  What intrigued me and made me want to give it a try was that the eggs are softly scrambled prior to being mixed with the milk and all the other things that the bread soaks in over night.  Also, cheese wasn't simply sprinkled over the casserole; a cheese sauce was made.

The recipe comes from a book I've had for almost 30 years called "Savoring the Southwest - A Cookbook and More From the Land of Enchantment".  It was compiled by the Roswell Symphony Guild and I have to say I'm disappointed that the cover didn't depict a space ship flying out of the clouds.

 Start by getting all of your ingredients measured, chopped, and grated. 

Chop the ham or buy it already cubed like I did.

 That's a lot of eggs!  Go ahead and get them all cracked in a large bowl

 I love fresh mushrooms, but I love mushrooms in a bottle too.  I specifically prefer them in a bottle over a can.  Many canned foods take on a metallic taste and mushrooms are one of them.  The jar I bought was 6 ounces instead of the suggested 4; so sue me.  I almost ate the whole jar by themselves.

Tear of up bread crumbs.  You'll need 4 cups.  I used a store bought loaf of Italian bread and trimmed the crust off & give to the birds; mine love me today as they got a real treat in the back yard.  You can use any white bread as long as it's soft; you don't want to use a dense white bread.

Ingredients for the base of the cheese sauce.  Milk, flour, butter and salt & pepper

Once the flour is thoroughly mixed with the butter allow the roux to cook for a minute to get rid of the flour-y taste

Heat the milk in the micro wave before slowly adding it to the roux.

Add the rated cheese, salt and pepper.  Stir until fully incorporated and smooth. 

Set your cheese sauce off the heat.

 In a large skillet melt 3 Tbsp of the butter and saute the ham until it has some nice color to it.

 Beat the eggs and add to the pan.  Cook until they form large, wet curds.  Don't over cook so that the eggs are dry, you want them nice and moist.

 Add the mushrooms and cheese sauce.  I also added one fresh jalapeno that I seeded, de-veined and minced.  Depending on how much heat you want you can leave the veins but I would definitely get rid of the seed; just a texture thing with me.

 Softly fold the mixture until incorporated.

 Pour into a greased 13 x 9 x 2 inch casserole

 Melt the other 3 Tbsp butter then pour over the bread crumbs.

Toss the crumbs until all have been coated with the melted butter

Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top of the egg / cheese mixture.  Cover the pan with foil and refrigerate overnight.  At this point you can also freeze this dish.  If you do freeze, let it thaw in the refrigerator before you place in oven

The next morning when you are ready to bake, uncover the casserole and bake in a 350° oven for 30 minutes or until heated through.

One of the things I really liked about this casserole was how the bread-crumb topping was buttery and really crispy, not soggy.

Breakfast Casserole
Adapted from Savoring the Southwest
Serves 12

1/2 cup butter plus 6 Tbsp. butter, divided
3 Tbsp. flour
2 cups milk
1 cup grated medium Cheddar cheese
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 cup cubed cooked ham
12 eggs, beaten
1 jar (6 ounce) mushrooms, drained
1 to 2 fresh jalapeños

4 cups soft bread crumbs

Mise en Place:
  1. measure butter, divided into two 3-Tbsp portions and one whole stick
  2. measure flour
  3. measure milk
  4. measure salt & pepper
  5. grate cheese
  6. cube ham, if necessary
  7. crack eggs into large mixing bowl and beat
  8. drain mushrooms
  9. seed, de-vein and mince the jalapeño(s)
  10. trim bread and tear into crumbs
  11. spray casserole dish with vegetable spray
In a medium sauce pan melt 3 Tbsp of the butter.  Whisk in flour and incorporate well into a roux.  Allow to cook for one minute.  Heat the milk in the microwave for a minute or two until hot.  Slowly add to roux and whisk until smooth.  Allow to cook until it begins to thicken.  Add graded cheese and stir until smooth.  Add salt and pepper.  Set aside, off the heat.

In a large skillet melt the other 3 Tbsp of butter.  Add ham cubes and saute until lightly browned.  Add the beaten eggs and cook until the eggs are moist and large soft curds have formed.

Fold in the mushrooms, cheese sauce and jalapeño(s).  Pour this mixture into the greased casserole.

Melt the 1 stick of butter in a small saucepan.  Pour the butter over the bread crumbs and toss until all bread has been coated with the butter.  Sprinkle the bread over the top of the egg / cheese mixture.

Cover the casserole with foil and place in refrigerator overnight.

The next morning when ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 350° and bake for 30 minutes or until heated through.

Allow to rest for 15 minutes before cutting.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Fresh Strawberry Mousse

'Tis the season for fresh strawberries and I've got a stack of recipes calling for strawberries that I'm hoping to work through this Spring.

Mousse of any kind is a love of mine.  They are light, fluffy and delicate.  Let's see how this one turns out.  I hope this turns out with 'lush texture, real berry flavor', just like Cook's Illustrated boasts .

 Fresh strawberries, sugar, cream, gelatin, salt and cream cheese.

Simple enough ingredients.  The different ingredient that I don't usually see in a lot of mousse recipes is the cream cheese.  It's used as a fortifier, body provider and to lend a little bit of a subtle twang.

Dice 1/4 cup worth of strawberries and set in the refrigerator.  These will be your garnish.

 The rest of the strawberries will be roughly chopped in the food processor

Toss the processed strawberries in a bowl with 1/4 cup of the sugar. 

 Add the salt, cover the bowl and let the strawberries macerate for 45 minutes.

Strain the strawberries through a fine sieve.  You should have about 2/3 cup of juice.

 Put 3 Tbsp. of the juice in a tiny bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top of it.  Let it soften for about 5 minutes.

The remaining juice is cooked down to 3 Tbsp.

Once reduced removed from heat and whisk in the gelatin mixture, whisking until dissolved.  

Add the cream cheese and whisk until smooth.  

Pour this mixture into a large bowl.

Return the macerated berries to the processor bowl to pureé

Run the strawberry pureé through a fine mesh strainer or a food mill like I did.


I personally think that the strainer would remove more of the tiny seeds.  The food mill allowed a lot to get through although it did not compromise the mousse in my opinion.

Whip the cream until you have soft peaks

Add the remaining sugar and continue whipping until stiff peaks have formed.

Combine the strained berries and the cream cheese mixture

Whisk the whipped cream into the berry mixture

until no white streaks remain

Divide the mousse into dessert dishes and chill for at least 4 hours.  Garnish with your reserved chopped berries.

Fresh Strawberry Mousse
Serves 4 to 6
Adapted from the May/June 2014 issue of Cook's Illustrated

2 pounds fresh strawberries (6-1/2 cups)
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
pinch of salt
1-3/4 tsp unflavored gelatin (one 1/4 oz. envelope)
4 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream

Mise en Place
  • wash and hull strawberries
  • Measure out sugar
  • measure out salt and gelatin
  • cut cream cheese into 8 pieces and allow to soften
  • measure out cream and place in refrigerator until ready to use
Cut enough strawberries into 1/4-inch dice to measure one cup; refrigerate until ready to use as garnish.  In the bowl of a food processor pulse the remaining strawberries in two batches.  Pulse each batch 6-10 times so that your strawberries are in 1/4-inch pieces.  Don't clean the processor bowl or blade.  You're going to use it again.

Transfer the berries to a bowl and add 1/4 cup of the sugar and the salt.  Toss, cover and let macerate for 45 minutes; stirring periodically.

Strain the macerated berries through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl.  You should have around 2/3 cup of juice.  Measure out 3 Tbsp. into a small bowl and sprinkle gelatin on top of juice.  Allow gelatin to soften for about 5 minutes.

Place the remaining juice in a small saucepan.  Over medium-high heat cook the juice until the juice is reduced to 3 Tbsp. (about 10 minutes). Remove the pan from the heat and add the softened gelatin. Stir until dissolved. Add the cream cheese and whisk until smooth. Transfer this mixture to a large bowl.

Return the macerated berries to the processor bowl and process until smooth, 15 to 20 seconds.  Strain the puree through a fine-mesh strainer into a medium bowl, pressing on solids to remove seeds and pulp.  (You should have about 1-2/3 cups pureé).  Discard any solids that are left in the strainer..

In a bowl of stand mixer and using the whisk attachment, whip the cream on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute.  Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes.  Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and whip until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 more minutes.

Whisk the whipped cream into the strawberry mixture until no white streaks remain.

Divide the mouse into dessert dishes and chill for at least 4 hours or up to 48 hours.  Serve, garnishing with the reserved diced strawberries.  If the mousse is chilled longer than 6 hours, let the mousse sit at room temperature for 15 minutes before serving.