Grilled Vegetables with Grape Tomato Vinagrette

RSTVEG.WHOLEPAN.TOMATOESRSTVEG.FINISHED.TOSSED

We love our grill marks don’t we? Whether you are a charcoal or wood-burning purist seeking that elusive perfect heat and glow, or content to turn up the gas and get cooking fast, it’s that sizzling stripe of Maillard Reaction, that chemical alchemy that gives us a concentration of crisp, that browned smokey flavor, that we are after. We’ll even use a hard-to-clean and clunky indoor grill pan if we have to, to get it in the dark days of winter. But let’s not think about that sorry indoor substitute for some good old grilled flavor right now. We are in the height of grilling season! Let’s just slice up an assortment of vegetables and get grilling.

RSTVEG.RAW

I saw a simple, yet mouth-watering recipe for a cherry tomato vinaigrette in a recent issue of Bon Appétit and folded down the corner, as I always do when I see something I want to try. Do I always get to these recipes? No, but as was the case with this one, it popped into my head as I was cooking something else, and I thought “how good would that be mixed up with this?” Thus my grilled vegetables will be forever changed for the better, doused with juicy, tangy, sweet and warmed-to-bursting tomatoes.

RSTVEG.RAW.TOMATOES

Halve most of the grape tomatoes so they release their juices quickly when you warm them. Here’s a fun trick I saw this week for cutting grapes or tomatoes by the batch. My students know, I love any tips or tricks that make prep easier, or cooking more efficient, so try this one and decide for yourself if you think it saves time and effort. (I’m on the fence about it, but let me know below in the comments section what you think!) Warm a little olive oil in a pan, soften some diced shallot, add the tomatoes, smashing them lightly as they soften and sweat. Take them off the heat, season and add red wine vinegar and fresh herbs. Done in minutes.

RSTVEG.CLOSEPAN.TOMATOES

For grilling the vegetables, keep it simple because you want their charred goodness to shine, and the vinaigrette will bring all the added flavor you need. Just cut the vegetables so they are substantial enough to withstand the grilling: too thin and they’ll stick and burn quickly, too thick and they will not be tender all the way through before they burn on the outside. Season liberally and generously with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, drizzle with olive oil and combine to coat all slices.

RSTVEG.ONGRILL.VERT

I put the sweet potatoes and thickly cut cauliflower on the grill together because they have a similar density and cook time. Likewise with the zucchini and asparagus. I like to use a medium-high heat for grilling veg, and close the cover on the grill while they are cooking ( few minutes each side) to help them “bake” a bit and get tender on the inside.

RSTVEG.GRILLED-ON-PLATTER-NO-TOM

And now an already gorgeous array of grilled vegetables is about to get itself elevated to pretty, and smart. (and crazy delicious.)

RSTVEG.WHOLE-PLATTER

Put it out this way for impact, but I’d go ahead and toss it so all the juicy goodness coats every slice just before serving.

RSTVEG.FINISHED.WFETA.OVRHEAD

I like to make a big batch of veggies to last me a week or so in the fridge. I can eat it as a quick side with anything, chop them up for a salad or omelette, put them on a piece of toast slathered with avocado or eat just like this. I filled a plate and crumbled a little sheep’s feta on the side. I did not have a crisp cold glass of Sauvignon Blanc with it, in the height of the day, for God’s sake! What am I European? Do I have time for naps? No. But I thought about it.

ingredients

Cherry/Grape Tomato Vinaigrette
adapted from Alison Roman, Bon Appétit magazine, June 2013

Note: I doubled the recipe for the amount shown in pictures above. It was a big batch of veggies!

1 pint cherry tomaties
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (or more to taste) red wine vinegar
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh chives or other herb of choice

directions
  • Cut about half of the cherry tomatoes in half, leaving others whole. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the shallot and cook, stirring often, until softened, but not browned. About 4 minutes.

  • Add halved and whole tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to release juices, 4–6 minutes. Mash some of tomatoes with a spoon. Continue to cook and stir another minute. Remove from heat.
  • Add 1 tablespoon vinegar and remaining 2 tablespoons oil; season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or room temperature; add chives just before serving.

    DO AHEAD: Vinaigrette can be made (without herbs) 2 days ahead. Cover and chill. When ready to serve, bring to room temperature and stir in herbs/chives.

    SERVING SUGGESTION: The vinaigrette can be used to dress salads, or served with meats hot off the grill, or add to pasta or any grain for a quick summer salad.

Chicken Curry Satay & Yogurt Maker Giveaway

YOG.SATAY.CLOSE.FINGERS

I’m not a coupon-cutting, bargain-hunting grocery shopper, but lately I’ve taken a step toward more aware spending at the market. I won’t compromise on a certain standard of quality when it comes to what I’ll eat. I try to buy as much organic or sustainable produce as I can afford. I insist on organic dairy products, organic or anti-biotic and hormone-free meats (the NY premiere for the documentary Resistance that I attended last week in NYC sealed the deal on that issue for me), and I shop carefully amongst the processed and manufactured foods to pick things with short ingredient lists made up of things I recognize as food, devoid of chemicals and additives.

YOG.SATAY.CLOSE.FINGERS2

I give up certain material luxuries easily, (no Prada bags here) but I won’t compromise on the quality of food I buy and eat or serve to my loved ones and guests. I feel as though the few extra dollars I have to pay for this added quality and safety is well worth it. I think of it as an investment in my health and in the future of food production in America. (Can you hear the sound of me dragging my soapbox to the middle of the floor?)  I believe it’s important for people to “vote” with their wallets and show food manufacturers and producers that we, as a nation, want the same quality of food that Europeans insist on, we want healthier, safer, more honest and humane food on the market and want to see less of the over-processed, sugar-laden, chemical infused junk.

It is the power of consumer buying habits that has transformed out markets in America today. The hundreds of choices we now have for organic, healthier, higher quality foods weren’t available to us 10, 15, 25 years ago when I had to drive hours out of my way to some hippie-dippie health food store to find organic anything. I’m so grateful to be able to go to my local grocery chain store and find so many of the organic and high-quality products I want.

Still, I was a little shocked this week when I noticed that a quart of organic Greek yogurt was $9.70. “You are kidding me.” I said out loud in the dairy aisle and got a nervous look from the woman next to me who quickly moved a few steps south to the juice section. I find myself talking out loud often in public…too much working at home alone with no one but the dog for company will do that to you.

PHOEBE-KALE

But back to the subject: almost 10 bucks for a quart of yogurt? I go through at least a quart of yogurt a week! So, standing there freezing in the dairy aisle, with my chest puffed up with budget-conscious righteous indignation, I thought: what better time than now to figure out how to make yogurt at home?  I check prices on the organic milk and even if it took 1/2 gallon of milk to yield a quart of Greek yogurt, I’d still save about 5 bucks a week or $260 a year. That’s almost a plane ticket to Napa! I was committed!

Next, the generous people at Cuisinart were willing to supply we with one of their sleek new yogurt makers and they gave me one to give away too, so I felt as though the Gods of Serendipity were working overtime to get me to make homemade yogurt and share a few yogurt-driven summer recipes too.

YOG.SATAY.MACHINE-1

First, I made the mistake of doing a little too much research into making yogurt. I think I know why Google is called Google now. Once you finish reading everything on the internet that comes up on a given topic search, you feel “googly-eyed.” Googly eyes are the blank, staring, jiggly eyeballs you’ll find on stuffed animals everywhere. Cross-eyed and glazed over, that’s how I felt. Cultures, different kinds of cultures to produce different textures and flavors, monitoring temperatures for the milk, blah, blah, blah.  I spoke to a friend whose Lebanese mother made yogurt every week of her childhood and her mother’s advice was “heat the milk until it’s so hot you can’t put your finger in it, then cool it down until you can put your finger in it.” That was the kind of instinctive cooking advice I could get behind, so with my new yogurt machine ready to go, I took the simplest route to homemade yogurt I could.

YOG.SATAY.MILKJUG

I happened to have some raw milk on hand from a farm in Pennsylvania that I sometimes take a 40 min drive to for fresh, organic dairy products. I heated the milk. I stuck my finger in it. It hurt. I cooled it down. I stuck my finger it in. It didn’t hurt.  I mixed it with about 8 ounces of organic greek yogurt from the store as a “starter” to introduce the live cultures to the milk and I put it in the machine. I set it for 4 hours and went out to run errands while the milk fermented or “set.” After 4 hours the smart little machine switches gears and starts cooling down the yogurt keeping it cool until you can get back to it. When I did get back home after about 6 hours, a creamy, tangy and cold container of homemade yogurt was waiting for me. (To “greek” the yogurt, or thicken it, you can put it in a fine sieve, over a bowl in the fridge for a couple of hours and allow some of the whey to drain off. Some manufacturers use guar gum or xanthum gum to achieve this…another reason to make your own!)

YOG.SATAY.MACHINE-AND-YOGURT

The only thing left to do now was make something delicious and fast and easy with it. The chicken “satay” is a simple skewered chicken breast marinated in some of that creamy yogurt and seasoned simply with salt, pepper, curry powder and a knob of grated fresh ginger. I’ve also made this with other spice blends such as Chinese 5-Spice, Ras Al Hanout, Tikka Masala, Garam Masala and even a Creole/Blackening Blend so you can definitely experiment with this and make it your own or make it with what you have on hand in the spice cabinet. I left out garlic in mine, but you can add it in, raw and minced or powder form. The acid from the yogurt/dairy helps to tenderize the meat considerably, while the spices bring flavor.

YOG.SATAY.RAWINBOWL

YOG.SATAY.RAW

While those are grilling or even broiling, in the absence of a grill, finely chop some cucumber and add it to more of that lovely yogurt….

YOG.SATAY.YOG.CUCS

and add some herbs like mint and parsley along with salt, pepper and a drizzle of nice olive oil for this fresh and delicious sauce for the meat. This sauce is a wonderful dip for just about any grilled meat, but especially lamb meatballs, or just served up with pita chips and crudite.

YOG.SATAY.SAUCEINBOWL

The Cuisinart Yogurt Electronic Yogurt Maker certainly makes yogurt making easy. In about 15 minutes you can set it up to make a weeks supply of creamy yogurt. And then you can stop talking to yourself in the dairy aisle and scaring people. And you can make satay and yogurt sauce to the delight of your family and guests, all summer long.

YOG.SATAY.SKEWERS.PLATE

To enter the give-away, leave a comment below and tell me your favorite way to enjoy yogurt! A winner will be chosen randomly (it’s automated) and notified by email by June 7, 2014.

ingredients

Chicken Satay with Herby Cucumber Yogurt Sauce

Marinade:
1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
1 teaspoon minced garlic (optional)
1 tablespoon curry powder (or other spice blend)

For the satay:
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cut into strips
20 wooden skewers, soaked in water 30 minutes
Vegetable oil, for grilling

For the yogurt sauce:

2 cups whole milk yogurt
1 whole cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped, then drained of most of it’s fluid.
3 T mint leaves sliced into ribbons (chiffonade)
2 T lightly chopped parsley leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 garlic clove, minced and or 1/2 shallot minced (optional)
A good quality extra virgin olive oil for drizzling (aobut 1-2 tablespoons worth)

directions
  • For the marinade:

    Combine the yogurt, ginger, garlic, and curry powder in a shallow mixing bowl, stir to combine. Place the chicken strips in the yogurt marinade and gently toss until well coated. Cover and let the chicken marinate in the refrigerator for at up to 2 hours.

  • For the Satay:

    Thread the chicken pieces onto the soaked skewers working the skewer in and out of the meat, down the middle of the piece, so that it stays in place during grilling. Place a grill pan over medium heat and brush it with oil to prevent the meat from sticking. Grill the chicken satays for 3 to 5 minutes on each side, until nicely seared and cooked through, or alternately you can grill these on an outdoor grill or on an electric grill/panini press. Serve the satays on a platter accompanied by the yogurt sauce.

  • For the yogurt sauce:

    Remember to drain the cucumber in a fine sieve to remove of most of it’s liquid. Combine all the sauce ingredients, except for the oil,  in a medium bowl. Allow the ingredients to “meld” for a minimum of 15 minutes before serving, but can be made up to 2 hours in advance and held in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Just before serving, drizzle the surface of the sauce with the olive oil.

Noshtalgia: The Ho Ho/Yodel

HOHO.CLOSEUP

Reminiscing is a slippery slope for me right now. I’m no Gwyneth Paltrow with  her “conscious uncoupling”  of a divorce, though I’m trying. I’m meditating. And I have my just-after-meditation-glow-moments when I embrace the cosmic perfection of all I am going through and all I will learn from it. But I also have spent more time than I want to admit going through my iPhone and Facebook photos trying to decide if I should delete every picture that has my soon-to-be-ex husband’s face in it, while mouthing expletives that have a satisfying crunch to them. I don’t want to remember right now, at least not the last 22 years. Every memory I touch on is a land mine, exploding a mixed bag of messy emotion. And the clean up takes hours and lots of wine.

And that’s where the Ho Ho, (if you were in the Hostess Cake camp) or the Yodel (from the Drake’s Cake camp) comes in. The Yodel takes me fast-forward (or is it fast-reverse?)—like those moving sidewalks in the airport on which you are able to stride like a superhero toward your gate—wooshing beyond the most recent 22 years, to a more distance past when a good after-school snack was the most complicated desire you had, and it was easily satisfied by a moist, airy chocolate cake stuffed with fluffy white cream and dipped in chocolate. Even unwrapping the thin foil it was cloaked in held a certain joyful anticipation.

IMG_8120

I felt this feeling again about two weeks ago, when I visited my son in Napa and we stopped by the original Bouchon Bakery, a short walk from The French Laundry—where he works—to pick up some of their Oh Ohs. These are an elevated, perfectly executed adult version of the Ho Ho, replete with crinkly foil wrapper (above). Since I’m following a mostly gluten-free diet these days, I don’t eat much cake, but I had three of these Oh Ohs inside a four-day visit and they are enormous, (as was my bloated abdomen by day 4). I didn’t just eat them, I swooned over them and remembered a simpler time and a simple pleasure. I love how food can do that. Like a song from your college days—a bite of food, a wafting aroma of something simmering—can and does transport you.

IMG_8117

The Oh Ohs and seeing my son brought me a good measure of much needed joy, but about 10 days out from the visit I was flipping through Bouchon Bakery Cookbook in my kitchen and when I got to the Oh Oh recipe, I knew what I had to do.

HOHO.NAKEDROLL

 

HOHO.NAKED-CROSSECTION

Now this is not a whip-it-up-at-the-last-minute recipe**. It’s a project, for sure. But, a good thing about cooking projects, they put you smack dab in the present. Fussing over measuring, mixing, smoothing and rolling, whipping and dipping I had no time to think back. I only looked forward to that first bite of my first homemade Ho Ho.

HOHO.CUTBIAS

 

 

** In the interest of supporting Chef Keller and his gorgeous book, The Bouchon Bakery Cookbook, I am not reprinting the recipe here. You can purchase this coffee-table worthy book through Amazon.com or through your favorite cookbook retailer. If in Napa Valley, you can visit Keller’s gathering of beautiful things at the Finesse Store, in Yountville, and buy a copy there too. A little recipe tweak: I’d double the sweetened cream filling if you decide to attempt these! I wanted more filling than the recipe allowed for. And using a stabilizer like Xanthum Gum in the cream makes it hold it’s texture better and longer.

Carrot Muffins

IMG_8722

To gluten or to gluten-free? Is that the question you are asking yourself lately? Or you may be asking, what’s all the fuss? Well, GF is soooo now, soooo current, so hashtaggy, so Paleo and so prevalent as to have influenced the kitchens of pizza joints and white-linen establishments alike to offer GF versions of everything from the bread basket to dessert—pasta included.

IMG_8680

I offer you carrot muffins because as a person who cooks and eats 99.9% gluten-free due to— a) digestive intolerance and b) vanity (oh! the carbs! oh my waistline!)—what I truly miss, on occasion, is a really delicious bakery treat to eat with a nice hot cup of tea. Go to Starbucks—no gorgeous GF muffin there. Go to a diner or a local cafe around here, and you can get a bear claw pastry the size of a manhole cover, but no sweet, moist GF confection that will make you feel a part of the post-agricultural-era human race again. There are a lot of GF cookies and snacks on the grocery store shelves these days, and I’m grateful for a cracker that is GF and actually tastes good (Glutino), but I tend to avoid most of these because of reason “b” above. These are all very high in carbs, and sugars, loaded with gums and starches to help with the binding that the missing gluten normally provides, and the grainy texture of most of these products (thanks in large part to rice flour), has a mouthfeel reminiscent of finely ground cat litter. Not worth the calories.

CARROTMUFF.FLOUR

This carrot muffin recipe is from Bouchon Bakery cookbook, one I’ve been browsing in a lot lately while wistfully thinking about visiting my son, who lives in Napa near the original Bouchon Bakery. I whip up a batch of these whenever I teach a morning cooking class, and put them out with coffee and tea fixings for my students. It’s not a GF recipe per se, (get it? Per Se, another Thomas Keller plug!) but substituting the all-purpose wheat flour for a GF flour mixture like Keller’s excellent Cup4Cup, turns this well-crafted recipe into a GF delight. It’s everything you want from a muffin. It’s moist and has a springy, cake-y texture with a substantial crumb. The streusel makes it special and puts it in the same dreamy league as any coffee cake you’ve ever had, and that can be made GF too. It still has carbs and sugar and fat, but one bite through that crunchy streusel, into the perfectly soft carrot-y cake without a hint of grainy, and you will think what I think: Now this is worth the calories. Put the kettle on!

CARROTMUFF.RAW

Now just a word about gluten and whether you should try living without it. Lately I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about what’s toxic. Not nuclear-waste-dump toxic, but more personal. I’ve been having to look closely at what has been toxic in my life in recent years: certain relationships, patterns of behavior, how I treat myself, how I may allow others to treat me,  how I thought things like depression, ulcers, hopelessness, pessimism and self-doubt were part of who I was instead of the effects of a poison that had infiltrated my being. There is nothing like a fresh start (aka divorce) to make you sit up and pay attention to how good it feels when you stop hitting your head against a wall, when you stop doing what isn’t good for you, what pains you, and start listening to your gut.

IMG_8704

It’s the same with gluten. What’s your gut telling you? When you eat products made with grains that contain gluten (wheat flour, white flour, oats, barley, spelt) do you notice bloating, gas, bowel mayhem, reflux, acid indigestion, or heartburn? Are you on medications, Rx or over-the-counter, to regulate these symptoms so you can continue eating these things? Just look how many stomach ailment products are on the shelf the next time you go to pick yours up. Americans have come to accept that it is perfectly normal to have bad digestion. You may not be experiencing these symptoms, (or you’ve gotten so used to them you don’t even notice them anymore) but you may instead have chronic inflammation, arthritis, achy joints, headaches, weight gain you can’t lose, rashes or late-in-life onset of allergies, ( if you are murmuring, “yes, yes, yes” start throwing out all the gluten in your pantry).  If you are suffering from any or all of the above, it may be time to think about giving up what’s poisoning you, including all the antacids. It may not be gluten, it could be gluten and dairy, or gluten and too much sugar, but here is how you can find out if it is, without involving expensive doctors visits and lab tests. Just stop eating it for two weeks. Just stop banging your head against the wall for two weeks. No pasta, no bread, no flour, no crackers, no bagels, pizza, etc.  Stick to fruits and vegetables and salads and proteins and the dozens and dozens of other things you can eat besides processed foods made with flour. If you feel better, there is a good chance that given another week off gluten, or a few months off gluten, you’d feel even better. Stomach issues tend to clear up pretty quickly (and a relapse bowl of pasta will show you just how fast your stomach can blow up again), but the symptoms like joint pain and inflammation take longer without the gluten to clear up.

IMG_8715

You know what they say—”one woman’s meat is another woman’s poison.” It’s up to us all to find out which is which in our lives and in our diets; to find out what feeds us and empowers us and feast on that, while taking a pass on what doesn’t.  Whether you decide that gluten is your poison or not, these muffins are worth making and savoring. Like I said, put the kettle on!

ingredients

For Muffin
1 ¾ cups plus 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour mix
½ teaspoon + 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon baking powder
Rounded ¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Rounded ¾ teaspoon Kosher salt
½ cup canola oil
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 ¾ cups shredded raw carrots, peeled

For Streusal Topping:
1 all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour mix*
1 ¼ cups old-fashioned rolled oats
½ cut toasted wheat germ
½ cup light brown sugar
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon Kosher salt
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 ounces cold unsalted butter, cut in ¼ inch pieces

directions
  • Make the streusel: Combine all of the ingredients except the vanilla and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (this can be done by hand if you don’t have a mixer) and mix on a low speed to combine. Add the vanilla and mix until evenly distributed. Toss in the butter and mix for about 1 minute (or use fingertips to break butter into dry mixture) or until the butter is incorporated, with no large chunks remaining.

    Transfer to a covered container or resealable plastic gag. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days or freeze for up to 1 month. Use the streusel while it is cold.

  • For the batter: Place the flour in a medium bowl. Sift in the baking soda, baking powder, and cinnamon. Add the salt and whisk together.

    Combine the sugar and oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and mix on low speed for about 1 minute. Add the vanilla to the sugar mixture, and mix for 30 seconds to distribute evenly. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, add the eggs, and mix on low speed for about 1 minute, until just incorporated. Add the dry ingredients in 2 additions, mixing on low speed for 15 seconds after each, or until just combined.

    Remove the bowl from the mixer stand and scrape the bottom of the bowl to incorporate any dry ingredients that may have settled there. Stir in the carrots. Transfer the batter to a covered container and refrigerate for a minimum of 30 minutes to let carrots soften. (Keller recommends refrigerating the batter for 36 hours or at least overnight. I have never had the time or foresight to do this, and I’m not sure it is a good idea to do this when using GF flour. I get great results without this long hold time, but I always do these GF.)

  • To bake the muffins: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Line the muffin pan with muffin liners and spray the liners with nonstick spray. Spoon the batter evenly into the papers, stopping ¼ inch from the top. Sprinkle 3 rounded tablespoons of the streusel on top of each muffin and press gently into the batter. Place the pan in the oven, lower the oven temperature to 325 F and bake for 40 to 43 minutes, or until the muffins are golden brown and a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. Set the pan on a cooling rack and cool completely.

    The muffins are best the day they are baked, but they can be wrapped individually in a few layers of plastic wrap or stored in a single layer in a covered container at room temperature for up to 3 days or frozen for up to 1 week.

Valentine Soup?

TOM-SOUP.SPOON.001

Allow me to be the Scrooge of Valentine’s Day. You see, my marriage is over and I’m not going to get a card from my husband this year and I’m not going to give him one and I’m going to be fine. I’m not going to feature a “romantic” treat in the shape of a heart, oozing chocolate and steaming with sentimentality. I’m going to make soup. An easy soup, with real ingredients that you can most likely find in your pantry, on a day when the snow is coming down in flakes the size of toilet paper sheets and your patio furniture just became an undefined lump under it all. I want something to warm me.

TOM SOUP RIPPED PIC SMALLER.001

I’ve saved Valentine’s cards for many years, as if I needed to hold on to some documentation that I am indeed loved, and do love after all, and the ones from the last couple of years throw an interesting light on the state of my marriage. Our messages to each other contained a lot of references to the “ups and downs,” the “good times and bad,” “weathering the storms” and how it was all worth it because we have such a beautiful family and all this history, and how we were going to grow old together and that was that—as if (sigh) that was what decent people did no matter how nauseous they were from the roller coaster ride. And all that Happy Horses#@t goes out the window when someone in this noble, venerable arrangement runs smack dab into a mid-life crisis complete with all the cliches you could insert into the narrative—as though it was a MadLib for the Baby Boomer crowd. I know someday I’ll think it’s hilarious, but just like a MadLib, it doesn’t seem funny until you are all done with it and you read it back.

So, there are going to be some big changes in my life over the next year and they will likely show up here too: the dissolution of my marriage of 21 years; my daughter going off to college; a name change; the growing pains of a new business I need to take to a whole new level for both financial and emotional reasons; and the cooking up of a new identity for me. Hell, my dog died, as if I needed that on top of all this, but it did give me a good reason to mourn EVERYTHING with one powerful sob-a-thon last week!

I’ve grappled with the idea of “living out loud” in this space. I’ve known about this for months and haven’t said anything. The blog is very public, but if it is going to have any meaning to me, if I’m going to take time out of my life and business to do it, it also has to be my authentic voice. I’m not interested in a blog that is all recipes and no real ingredients from my heart and soul. Things I say here about my personal life involve people I don’t want to hurt or embarrass, so I’m not going get all “Housewives of NJ” on you! But, these pages are my voice and my voice is not always perky.

TOM-SOUP-KIDS

Now, the soup. I made it yesterday afternoon with a group of kids, ages 11-13, who are taking a series of classes with me that I’ve called “At Home In The Kitchen.” I’m teaching them basic cooking skills, but real ones. I don’t believe in doing gimmicky “fun” food with kids. My mission is to get them hooked on cooking and feeding themselves well and taking responsibility for what goes into their bodies. You don’t do that by decorating cupcakes and making endless versions of pigs-in-blankets with commercial refrigerator dough. One week we did “breakfast” and I taught them, hands-on, how to make eggs five different ways, perfecting scrambled, an omelet that was a sunny yellow (not crusty brown), hard-boiled eggs that were exactly right and peeled with ease, a heavenly custard and a deviled version too.

Yesterday, we did a lesson in “Lunch” and made this version of a classic comforting tomato soup I remember from my childhood that was served by a relative of my mother’s who was simply “Tante” to me, and thank God for that because I later found out her name was Yetcha and that is enough to scare any little girl. Despite her witchy name, she was a gentle, elderly woman who always plopped a spoonful of cold sour cream in the middle of the steaming red soup. It could have been from a can for all I know, but the creamy dollop I swirled to decorate and balance the tangy soup, made it one of the my indelible food memories. The recipe I’m sharing with you adds creamy goodness as part of the finish, along with fresh herbs, and layers of real-food flavor that come from the patient caramelizing of mire poix (onions, carrots and celery) and oven roasting the tomatoes to concentrate their sweetness. Using an immersion blender to puree it, I like leaving it with a little texture, which makes it feel more substantial.

TOM-SOUP-BOWL-NAPKIN

Ok. I know. Soup may not be the sexiest thing. It’s not roses and chocolate and oysters and champagne. But if your life hasn’t delivered a scenario this week that matches up with a jewelry store ad (does it ever?), know that you can show yourself a lot of love on this day and do something that feels good to you. Maybe it’s soup! XOXO

ingredients

Creamy Tomato Soup aka Valentine Soup

2 (14-ounce) can chopped tomatoes, drained with juice reserved
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 stalk celery, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
2 small or 1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chicken broth
2 bay leaf
2 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1 cup half and half
Pint of sour cream to dollop each bowl (optional)

directions
  • Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Strain the chopped canned tomatoes, RESERVING THE JUICES, and spread onto a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, to taste, drizzle with 1/4 cup of the olive oil and roast until caramelized, about 15 minutes.

  • Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat remaining olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the celery, carrot, onion and garlic, cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the roasted chopped canned tomatoes, reserved tomato juices, chicken broth, bay leaf and butter. Simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add basil and cream, if using. Puree with a hand held immersion blender until smooth.

  • BTW: This soup makes a great sauce for pasta too….just reduce the soup down further, perhaps another 15 minutes to thicken it, or simply reduce the amount of stock you use by 1 cup, as cook as directed. Throw leftover soup over some bone-in chicken and bake it…or some white flaky fish.