Maybe it was because Dave brought home another sack of beautifully ripe tomatoes when I already had a sack of beautifully ripe tomatoes in the fridge.  Maybe it was because we finally got a warm spring day, after a long string of cool spring days. (I’m not complaining about this–just stating a fact.)  I don’t know–but I know I wanted some gazpacho.  I found this recipe on Epicurious.  Not content with that, I perused my existing recipes, checked out Pioneer Woman, and in the end went with the Epicurious recipe.  I’ve tried many over the years–but I think I’ve found a winner.  This is a thicker version of gazpacho (apparently the ones from Spain are thinner), but I quite like this one.  It is best made the day before but refrigerating for 4 hours is a minimum.

I used Safeway store brand of juice and it was just fine.  I also used a red and yellow bell pepper–upping the quantity to one total pepper.

Mom’s Gazpacho • Epicurious | May 2001 • by Elizabeth Shepard
Yield: Makes 8 servings

1 egg
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 cups chopped fresh plum tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped green or yellow pepper
1 cup chopped cucumber, seeds removed
1/2 cup finely chopped red onion
1/4 cup finely minced parsley
2/3 cup olive oil

Juice of 1/2 lemon (approximately 2 tablespoons)
1 can (14 ounce)  beef broth
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons Worcestershire
Pepper, coarsely ground
1 46-ounce can tomato juice
1/2 cup plain bread crumbs (I made some on the spot by whirling a couple of slices of good-quality  bread in my food processor.)

Tabasco and salt/pepper to taste

Garnish (optional): croutons and chunks of avocado

To Prepare:
Place egg in small pot of cold water, bring to boil, and let simmer for 10 minutes–don’t overcook. While this cooks, chop garlic finely–really really fine.  I even used the side of the blade of my knife to smash it some more.  Place this in a small bowl, add a pinch of salt (or a shake, if you are using Kosher salt).

When egg is finished cooking, run under cold water, remove shell, add to garlic and salt mixture, and mash together with fork.  Set aside until for later.

In a large bowl, combine tomatoes, pepper, cucumber, red onion, olive oil, lemon juice, beef broth (optional), red wine vinegar, parsley, oregano, Worcestershire, and coarsely ground black pepper to taste. Stir.

Pour tomato juice over the vegetables, and add garlic, egg, and salt mixture. Add bread crumbs and stir so that they dissolve into liquid.

Taste for seasoning and add salt, pepper, and Tabasco to taste. Chill for at least 4 hours and serve. Garnish with chunks of avocado and croutons.  Pass extra croutons.

At the end, the cook had included some of her notes:

· My recipe serves eight, and it’s a lot of trouble to prepare this soup for one (I disagree). But like homemade tomato sauce, its flavor improves with age—you can store it in the refrigerator and eat it for about a week.

· Why mash the garlic with egg and salt? To make a garlic-infused paste that adds body and substance to the tomato broth.

· Use kosher salt to bring out the flavors of the vegetables.

· Try to chop the vegetables so that they’re small but not minced or pulverized, and don’t worry if the sizes aren’t uniform. The pieces should be small enough to chew but big enough to recognize.

· If you prefer a more elegant presentation, emulsify the chilled mixture before serving. Seasoning is a very personal matter. I tend to like my gazpacho pungent and sharp, with salt, lemon, and onion flavors lingering on the palate. If you prefer milder soup, reduce the onion, garlic, and vinegar quantities by half. If you want a spicier soup, add 2 teaspoons of minced jalepeño peppers. To make vegetarian gazpacho, substitute vegetable broth for beef broth.

Tortilla Soup

Well, here’s one more dish I won’t be ordering when I eat out.

That’s what Dave and I say to each other when I cook something up that tastes better than any that we’ve had in eateries around our home.  I was craving Tortilla Soup, but didn’t want Restaurant A’s version (too watery) or Restaurant B’s version (token tortillas on top and none in the soup).  I wanted MY version.  So I turned to Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything (you should get this book) for a start.

Why did I change the recipe and add tomatillos to the mix?  I think it was because my sister had just gotten back from a Mexican Riveria vacation where she’d gone to a cooking class.  They used tomatillos, so it must have been on my mind.  What are tomatillos?  Little tart green tomatoes with a papery skin.  What if you can’t find any in your market?  Eliminate them from the recipe (Bittman doesn’t have them), but as they are TART, I think they punch up the flavor of this soup.  I compensated some for their pucker-inducing by adding sugar.  Add less or more to your taste at the end of the recipe, but remember that the tortillas will absorb some of the punch–your broth should be a bit tangy and spicy before adding the chips.

Here’s our chips–crisp, salty with a bit of lime.  Homeboy Chips: Jobs Not Jails.
Made in Los Angeles.  Where else would no jail term be a selling point?

1  1/2 fresh chilis, like jalapeno, serrano or Fresno (we used jalapeno)
1  1/2 pounds tomatoes, halved
2 tomatillos, with papery skin removed and stickiness washed off
2 tablespoons neutral oil, like corn or grapeseed
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch dried oregano
4 cups chicken stock, or 2 low-salt 14 oz cans of broth
1/3 to 1/2 chopped fresh cilantro leaves (can use more for garnish, if desired)
2 cups sliced or shredded cooked chicken (Our favorite way to get this is to use the meat from a rotisserie chicken)
1/2 lime, juiced
1/2 lime, cut into wedges
1 ripe avocado, pitted peeled and sliced (for garnish)

Wash the one-and-one-half pounds tomatoes, 2 tomatillos (removing the papery husk) and two jalapeno peppers.  I know I show more tomatillos in the above photo, but I removed one in the end. Slice in half, laying them out skin side UP on in a rimmed baking sheet and broil a few inches away from the heat until the skins are charred.  Then flip them over.  Take enough time that most of the tomatoes are a bit mushy and the skins on the peppers are nice and blistery. [NOTE: There is a temptation to remove the tomato skins.  Be aware that you are also removing some of the char flavor–maybe better to fish out the skins from the soup at the end of the simmering time?]

When cool, peel and seed the chili pepper (I discarded 1/2 of one pepper–we like mild heat in our food), then chop finely. Chop also the tomatillos (on the right of this picture). I didn’t peel the tomatillos or the tomatoes, instead fishing out most of the skins later on–after it had sat for a while.

In a heavy pot over medium heat, put the oil.  When hot, add the garlic and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden and softened, about 10 minutes (on the left in the above photo).  Add the tomatoes, tomatillos, and chilis, crushing the tomatoes with the back of the spoon (I found this easier to do AFTER they’d been cooking in the broth for a while).  Season with salt, pepper and oregano; add the stock and adjust the heat so the mixture simmers gently.  Cook for about 25 minutes, crushing the tomatoes from time to time.  Add 1/2 teaspoon sugar to offset the tartness of the tomatillos; see note above.

Bittman says that at this point, the soup can sit for a few hours or refrigerate, covered, for up to a day before reheating and finishing. (I let it sit for about 2 hours.)

Stir in the chicken and tortilla chips–crushing them slightly as you add them–and simmer for another 3 to 5 minutes.  Season to taste with 1/2 of a lime juiced, and sprinkle with salt and pepper (if needed–we found our chips were salty enough), then add in a handful (1/3 cup) of chopped fresh cilantro.  Serve, garnishing with more chips and sliced of avocado.

Avocado-Orange Soup with Citrusy Salsa

A few weekends ago, Dave and I went up to San Jose to attend a wedding and while there, slipped off to the San Jose Musem of Art to catch the Thiebaud exhibit and lunch at their in-house spot: Café Too!  I chose Avocado and Orange Soup with Tropical Salsa and immediately thought I’d partaken of the manna of the gods with this dish.  Oh my.  So, coming home, I’ve tried to recreate it in some fashion.  I’m still working on it, but here’s my latest incarnation.

Avocado-Orange Soup

2 large ripe avocados; pitted and peeled and cut into chunks
1 c  Freshly squeezed orange juice
1 c  Plain yogurt–I use Greek yogurt as it’s a little thicker
juice of 1/2 of a lime–cut in half, and stick a fork into the pulp, turning and squeezing until you see no more juice
1/4 tsp. Tobasco pepper sauce–about four shakes, I think (that’s what I use)
Salt to taste–this takes more than you think

In food processor, blend avocados and orange juice. Add yogurt and the rest of the ingredients. Blend until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish with orange slices.

When I look at the soup from the restaurant, I see little flecks of green in their soup, which isn’t in mine.  Bits of jalepeno? Flecks of cilantro?  I used chopped cilantro on the first batch of soup (above) and it just wasn’t right.  Leave a comment if you’ve figured it out.

Citrusy Salsa

I use three piece of citrus (of three different types) and it varies from whatever’s in the market.  This week I had a Cara Cara orange (cross between a grapefruit and an orange), but you could also use a blood orange, a tangelo, a mandarin orange or other interesting citrus fruit.  The museum had something unrecognizable in theirs–tomato? soft pomegranite?  Never could figure it out, but this one works just as well, I think.  This salsa is also good on grilled salmon.

3 pieces of citrus fruit, all different
1 red bell pepper, chopped teensy–really teensy pieces!
1 mango, pitted and chopped finely
salt to taste

To prepare the citrus, cut off the top and bottom of the fruit, so it stands squarely on your cutting board.  Then, following the curve of the fruit, remove the outer layer of the rind, cutting every so slightly into the fruit in order to remove the membrane.  Cut down the middle, then into section, chopping each into very small pieces.  Repeat for each piece of citrus.

Mix citrus, pepper, mango in a bowl and salt slightly.  I always think now would be a good time to add some minced cilantro (just a bit) or Italian parsley or even a small jalepeno. with seeds and membranes removed and finely minced.

Ladle the soup in the bowl, then top with a healthy spoonful of Citrusy Salsa.  Pass more salsa as needed.

Two-can Tomato Soup

Every once in a while I get a craving for really good tomato soup, that is, cream of tomato soup.  Of course we all know that the best kind is made in summer when the tomatoes in the garden–that you’ve managed to keep watered, keep the birds and pests away from–ripen into some glorious explosion of flavor and then you could eat that fresh tomato soup version forever.

But I usually want this soup on a cold day, when the tomatoes in the grocery store look like waxed pink balls and are fairly flavorless.  So I hit on this idea: what if I got some really good canned tomatoes, added my own spices and cream and made a go of that? So I tried it and it worked, so here’s the recipe.  You’ll be eating it 20 minutes after you start. I paired mine with some breadsticks (in honor of our time in Prague, where we had a really delicious tomato soup in a small cafe overlooking the city (photo below) and some foccacia from the local bakery. I garnished this with some chopped avocado, but that’s really not necessary.

Now for the recipe.

Buy one of each of these cans: 14 ounce can of fire roasted tomatoes (there’s many brands out there–my store just happened to have one) and a 14 ounce can of chopped tomatoes that have been flavored in some way.  I usually go with S & W’s petite-cut tomatoes with onions and garlic.  Dump into a saucepan, stir, and let them warm up over medium heat.

Now open your cupboards and add:
a shake of soy sauce (all shakes are about 1/4 teaspoon)
a shake of Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice (haven’t tried it with the bottled stuff)
3 drop of Tabasco sauce, depending on the heat of your fire-roasted tomatoes, you may need more
1/8 teaspoon powdered cloves (apparently the secret ingredient to Campbell’s Tom. Soup)
salt and pepper to taste
dash of cayenne pepper

Simmer for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a blender or food processor in batches, whirling it almost smooth (I don’t mind a little chunkiness here and there–blend it to your liking).  If you have an immersion blender, use that instead.  Return it to the pan after blending, but remove from heat.  Now add a swirl of cream to your taste, blending it as much as you’d like.  I think I used about 1/4 cup for this batch.  Eat!

Scallop Gumbo

When I saw this recipe in the New York Times (recipe by Mark Bittman), I knew it would work beautifully with what I’d planned to serve for Super Bowl Sunday: Cajun Jambalaya.

Bittman said it was  lighter gumbo, and the seafood was scallops, rather than the shell fish and bivalves I’d seen in other recipes.  The only place I wondered about was where he said to cook the roux, stirring constantly, until it darkened.  Really?  How dark?  Chocolate brown? Mud-colored?  In the end, I went with his timer advice, cooking and stirring for about 15 minutes.  It did darken (see photos below), but I’ll never know if it was dark enough.

The gumbo was a lighter version of a soup, flavorful, a bit spicy (but not uncomfortable) and I actually liked dumping spoonfuls of the Cajun Jamalaya into the soup, enjoying the rice, shrimp, chicken and sausauge all together in my bowl.  It’s a fine gumbo on its own.

My advice? Prep all the ingredients before you start, because you are stirring the roux and won’t have time to stop and chop.

This is the prep for both dishes, the gumbo and the jamalaya.

1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/3 cup flour
1 onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
Salt and black pepper
2 to 3 cups vegetable or chicken stock, or water
2 cups chopped tomatoes with their juice (canned are fine)
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, or 1 teaspoon dried
2 bay leaves
Cayenne to taste
1 pound scallops
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish.

1. Put oil and butter in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. When butter is melted, add flour and cook, stirring almost constantly, until roux darkens and becomes fragrant, about 15 to 20 minutes; as it cooks, adjust heat as necessary to keep mixture from burning.

These are the stages of the roux as it darkened over 15 minutes.  I dumped in the vegetables when it was mud-colored.

2. Add onion, bell pepper, celery and garlic and raise heat to medium. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables have softened, about 10 more minutes.

2. Stir in the stock, tomatoes, thyme, oregano, bay leaves and cayenne. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat so soup bubbles steadily. Cook for about 20 minutes or until flavors meld. Add scallops and cook until they are no longer translucent, about 2 minutes. Remove bay leaves. Taste, adjust seasoning and serve, garnished with parsley.

Cheese Soup

I was at a ladies auxiliary meeting for our church in Racine, Wisconsin.  It was a soup smorgasbord, and I was sort of picking and choosing which soup I’d like to try.  Marianne said to me: “Try this one.  You’ll love it.  It has Cheez Whiz in it.”  Even then I must have been a food snob because I said, “I’ll never eat anything with Cheez Whiz in it,” and passed it by.  Marianne started laughing.  “Go on, try it.  It won’t kill you.”

I tried it, and have been making it ever since, even though it has Cheez Whiz in it.  I know, I know.  But it’s amazingly good, and it hasn’t killed me yet.

1 8 oz. jar of Cheez Whiz
3 carrots, peeled and cut into nickel slices
2 or 3 potatoes, skinned and diced (depends on the size of your potatoes)
1/2 onion, chopped
1/4 butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cans low-salt chicken broth (I use Swanson’s)
about 2 cups rotisserie chicken, cut into 1″ chunks

Place the vegetables into a pan and pour a can of chicken broth over  them, just to cover.  Cook until tender, but not mushy.

In another pan, melt the butter then add the flour, cooking the roux until well-blended. Add the remaining can of chicken broth a little at a time to this pan, stirring to keep it smooth.  Dump in the vegetables, liquid and all into this pan, stirring to blend.  If it’s too runny, blend a little cornstarch with some cold water and add it to this mixture, stirring until it thickens.  If it’s too thick, add a little water.

Stir in the Cheez Whiz, promising not to make a face while you do it.  Then at the last minute, stir in the chicken.  We serve this with either oyster crackers from Trader Joe’s, or a loaf of La Brea bread.