Meatless Monday: Creamy Tomato Soup

It’s soup season, and in preparation for an upcoming Soup Swap I test-drove a new tomato bisque recipe. I have been making a number of new dishes form America’s test Kitchen’s Slow Cooker Revolution and this cookbook has the best recipes for a slow cooker that I’ve seen so far. As you know, I made the cornbread dressing for Thanksgiving from this cookbook and it was a success, in large part because I utilized a technique to reduce the risk of burning the breading (A technique that also works for pasta dishes).

There are two things I dislike about this cookbook:  

1)    There are very few recipes where you dump in a bunch of ingredients, with little prep work, and turn it on. Usually, you have to combine and microwave some ingredients, sauté a few things first, that kind of thing. But, the results are better and I guess that is what it’s all about. I can generally handle 15-20 minutes of prep work in the morning over a 20-30 minute recipe in the evening, so it’s still a time-saver for me for dinners.

2)    Most of its recipes could easily be vegetarian, but aren’t. This soup, for example, calls for chicken broth but I was making it to share with a vegetarian friend who is feeling ill, so I subbed in vegetable broth. (I’m pretty sure this would be a fine vegan soup if you sub oil for butter and don’t add the cream.) I can’t understand why they wouldn’t make it as the best possible vegetarian soup when the option is so easy and broadens its appeal. Most of its recipes have meat and I only eat meat once a day, tops, so it limits my options in planning out the day.

Creamy Tomato Soup

Great for: Soup Swaps (can easily be doubled or tripled), soup course for a meal with company, paired with grilled cheese or pizza for a fast family meal.

Prep: 15 minutes

Cook: 4-6 hours

Post-prep: 5 minutes

INGREDIENTS

2T unsalted butter

3 14.5-oz cans diced tomatoes, drained, juice reserved

1 onion, minced

1T brown sugar

1T tomato paste

Salt and pepper

2T all-purpose flour

1T tomato paste

3C low-sodium broth (chicken or vegetable), plus extra as needed

2 bay leaves

1/2C heavy cream (I used a cup on accident, and it was divine)

2 t dry sherry

Pinch of cayenne pepper

DIRECTIONS

Melt butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add tomatoes, onion, sugar, tomato paste, and 1/2 t salt and cook until tomatoes are dry and lightly browned, 8-10 minutes. Stir in flour and cook 1 minute. Slowly whisk in 1C broth, scraping up any brown bits, then transfer to slow cooker.

Stir remaining 2C broth, reserved tomato juice and bay leaves into slow cooker. Cover and cook until tomatoes begin to break down, 4-6 hours on low.

Discard bay leaves. Working in batches, puree soup in blender until smooth, then transfer to a large sauce pan (NOTE: I used an immersion blender directly in the slow cooker, with negated the need to let the soup cool or transfer it. I fracking love that blender).

Stir in cream, sherry and cayenne, and add more broth as needed to adjust consistency or temper pepper.

Reheat soup to medium heat, season with salt and pepper and serve.

Add croutons or crusty parmesan bread (optional).

 

Per Se, in pictures

Per Se

Last month I spent my 40th birthday eating and drinking my way through New York City. I saw two fantasticmusicals and ate several memorable meals. However, the highlight of the trip was dinner with my husband, sister, brother and sister-in-law at Per Se. We were there for five hours and at least nine courses, plus several bottles of wine. Probably the single standout dish was the one I didn’t photograph—the lobster.

Oysters and "Pearls"--a Per Se signature course

Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras

Vegetarian option: "Gnocchi Parisienne" with Tarragon Custard

Herb-Roasted Columbia River Sturgeon

100-Day Dry-Aged American Wagyu Beef

Coconut Sorbet, in my sister's hands

40th birthday desserts: S'mores and cake

Finishing truffles

In preparation for my visit I read “Service Included” by a former Per Se table captain. I likely noticed a few extra touches that would have gone by me otherwise, but it wasn’t crucial to my enjoyment of the night by any means. And, while all of the desserts were good, I think the best was the small house signature cake they brought over for my birthday wish. If you should ever go, get that cake!

Where would you dine if you could go anywhere in the world for your birthday?

Thanksgiving Feast: Lessons Learned

Thanksgiving dinner is over! And it was a success! I hewed closely to the draft menu, and learned a few things about making this particular meal, which I am sharing with you, below:

1)      Cornbread dressing freezes well, and a little goes a long way. I froze the stuffing a week in advance, thawed it in the oven warmer drawer while the turkey roasted, and then heated it the hour before dinner alongside the squash gratin. It turned out great. I had also made one from a box out of fear that I’d run out, but it turns out that lots of people eat stuffing, but not a lot of it. Next time I’ll just make one.

2)      Cornbread dressing goes great with eggs the next day. Heat some up in a skillet, add a few eggs, stir-fry and enjoy!

3)      Butternut squash gratin is delicious. This was the clear winning side dish, with two people asking me for the recipe. I was glad I’d tested out the whipped squash recipe in advance because it was too sweet, and this one was just right.

4)      Lots of people have had Brussels sprouts the wrong way. Sautee or roast them after tossing in oil, salt and pepper. When they caramelize, the bitterness leaves them and they are still crunchy, and oh-so-savory.

5)      Convection roast saves time. I cooked  14 pound turkey in 2.5 hours on the convection roast setting

6)      What to do when your turkey is done early. See #5—I was taken by surprise. I looked online and the best solution was the one from a caterer, IMHO, who advised me to wrap it entirely in foil, then entirely in an old bath towel, then place it in a cooler where it would stay warm and moist for hours. I took it out almost 3 hours later to carve, and it was still steaming and very moist.

7)      Breast-side-down works best, at least for a bit. Since I inadvertently roasted a chicken breast-side down and ate one of the juiciest roasts of my life, I decided I’d roast the turkey breast side for at least the last hour (more like 30 minutes, since the bird cooked so quickly). I think this helped with #6, considerably.

What lessons did you learn from preparing your Thanksgiving meal?

Thanksgiving Menu

The last time I hosted Thanksgiving I was almost full-term with the Energizer Bunny, so I’m pretty psyched to finally have Thanksgiving here when I’m not walking around like a lead balloon. There will be 16 for dinner, including one vegetarian and a few “I may not eat meat that day just ‘cause” for dinner, so I’m including a lot of sides. Here is the draft menu:

Appetizers

Rosemary Spiced Cashews (Barefoot Contessa, Barefoot in Paris)

Olives (Central Market)

Cheese and Crackers (Central Market)

Main Course

Organic Turkey basted with chicken broth, prepped in the most standard way (butter, salt, pepper on the outside. Lemon, Orange, thyme, rosemary, sage on the inside. Hoping to cut the time down a bit by using the convection setting, but not betting on it.

Sides

Cornbread dressing (America’s Test Kitchen Slow Cooker Revolution)

Vegetarian rice stuffing

Brussel Sprouts (Everyday Foods)

Roasted carrots, onion, turnips (some roasted with the bird, some tossed in oil and roasted separately)

Cranberry-Orange_almond sauce (Better Homes’ New Cook Book)

Butternut Squash Gratin

Dessert

Apple Pie my parents are bringing from a restaurant in Columbus, TX we love

Pumpkin Pie guests are bringing

Chocolate Pie guests are bringing

Coffee (with eggnog for cream –so good!)

 

I’m also making a Chocolate Bundt Cake. Our local refugee center is hosting a Thanksgiving lunch for immigrant women and their children who a have left a hostile home environment. My friend Christina is gathering up all the dishes and delivering them on Thursday morning. That one I’ll make today and deliver this afternoon, and it should keep well until Thursday.

What is your menu for Thursday? 

Brunch Staples: My Sister’s Biscotti

When my sister stayed with us after the birth of The Energizer Bunny, she graciously prepared a number of meals for the family. I often asked for the recipes, including the one for these biscotti which have since become a staple for brunches. I have to bake them for an event or a large number of guests, because if I have a lot of it in the house I’ll eat them up. This week, I baked the biscotti for Thanksgiving. We’ll have a large number of family in town, hanging out at the house, and I need to fortify the freezer with baked goods. I may make another batch of Seinfeld Cookies for the kids—these are for the grown-ups.

Brunch Biscotti

Great for: Brunch guests, overnight guests, you

Prep: 10 minutes

Cook: 40-50 minutes

INGREDIENTS

8T Butter

3/4C Sugar

2 Eggs

1T Vanilla

2.5C Flour

1T Baking Powder

8 oz. toasted nuts (I used sliced blanched almonds)

1/2C dried fruit

DIRECTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Beat the sugar and butter.
  3. Add Eggs and vanilla and blend
  4. Add flour and baking powder and blend
  5. Add nuts and fruit and blend
  6. Shape into logs and place on a nonstick baking sheet.
  7. Bake 25-30 minutes, until firm to the touch. Remove from oven, then remove logs to cutting board.
  8. CSice carefully and return to baking sheet, spacing evenly apart.
  9. Bake another 15-20 minutes.

Makes about 2 dozen biscotti.

Wordless Wednesday: This week’s crop

Peanut Butter Gratitude

November is a time to think about blessings, and I should probably be grateful that no one in our family has a peanut allergy, because peanut butter consumption in our house is high. I’m not alone, either—peanut butter is a favorite food for many kids. It’s also a requested item for most food pantries. And with the cost of peanut butter on the rise, even more needed. Our peanut butter of choice is Skippy Natural with Honey. As the Spitfire can practically live on peanut-butter-and-honey sandwiches, this particular product saves us money–even though it’s slightly more expensive–because I no longer need to also use honey in her sandwiches—if I do, they then become “too honey-filled.” I buy it as a bulk subscription from Amazon and buy plain, natural peanut butter for cooking. And I do cook with it. Peanut butter chicken, peanut butter oatmeal…the list goes on.

One of the kids’ favorite meals is a peanut butter pasta I have been making for more than 15 years. It comes from Vegetarian Express by Nava Atlas and Lillian Kayte (a great resource for quick meals), a birthday gift from my first boss. I can make it in the time it takes to boil pasta, everyone eats it happily, and it’s highly adaptable. (Add tofu. Substitute vegetables. Spice it up or down.) It’s also a great way to introduce whole wheat pasta, since the sauce dominates the flavor.

The original, well-loved recipe

Peanut Butter Spirals with Peas

Great for: Quick family meals, pot lucks with no peanut allergies

Prep: 5 minutes

Cook: 8-10 minutes

Serves: 6

INGREDIENTS

10 Ounces spiral/rotini whole wheat pasta

1/2C peanut butter

3/4C water or vegetable stock

2-3T soy sauce

1-2T white-wine vinegar or rice vinegar

1T honey or rice syrup

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1 1/2 cup frozen green peas, thawed

Optional: Chili oil or Tabasco

 DIRECTIONS

  1. Begin cooking the pasta
  2. Combine the remaining ingredients, except for the peas in a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until smooth
  3. When the pasta is just about done, toss the peas in to warm them, then drain and transfer them to a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and toss well.

Helpful tip: The peanut butter sauce thickens as it stands. I like it, but you may not.  If the dish sits for a while before serving, or before serving leftovers the next day, mix in more water if the thickened sauce isn’t to your liking.

What is your favorite peanut-butter-based recipe? Share it in the comments.

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