Valentine Soup?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

  • Risa Rispoli

    This sounds fantastic. I cannot wait to try it.

  • Eileen

    loved your blog post about Valentine’s Day. Have to try this soup as I never roasted canned tomatoes.

  • Leanne

    When life gives you a Hallmark Holiday (with terrible timing)…make soup! I’m in awe of your authenticity and wish you all the best. Let the real “second course” (dare I say dessert?) of your life begin.

  • http://foodfixkitchen.com/ Rachel Willen

    Thanks everyone for the support and your comments! Leanne, I like the idea that the rest of my life will serve up dessert!

  • Greg C

    Hang in there, Chef! I don’t have to tell you how therapeutic cooking is!

    • http://foodfixkitchen.com/ Rachel Willen

      approve!

  • Karen

    Rachel, loved reading your post!! Thank you for sharing the not-so-sweet and savory times in your life. Absolutely LOVE your writing style. Authentic, raw, straight from the heart and gut. So sorry for your heartache in the various aspects of your life. That’s a lot for one person to go through all at once. All you are experiencing now may be the catalyst for the amazing new life that awaits you! Keep the vision of what you know is possible. It will happen!!!

    About the not-so-sexy tomato soup….it is absolutely delicious! Morgan made it for us after learning how to in your class. She LOVED that class, tells me you are “super cool” and can’t wait for your upcoming classes! See you soon :)

  • Elizabeth

    Rachel…

    I
    love your transparency…. I wish you all the best in this next chapter
    of your life. Perhaps you will find a true soul mate someday…in the
    mean time, I believe you will be great on your own..being YOU!

    I remember watching you win chopped. The same strength, tenacity, imagination and grit will serve you well.

  • Dru

    Rachel, such sad news, just staggering to know that you must go through such a life change. You mentioned “…cooking up of a new identity for,..” yourself. You are on the mark. George Bernard Shaw wrote that life isn’t about finding yourself but about creating yourself. And you seem to know you need to do exactly that.
    What a fabulous picture of YOU. Stunning.
    And besides cooking you’re an excellent writer. Snow “…flakes the size of toilet paper sheets…” is wonderful description.
    And she cooks, too!!!!
    Question: for the mire poix. Don’t the onions, carrots and celery need to cook longer than 10 minutes to caramelize? I can’t get anything caramelized in 10 minutes.

    • http://foodfixkitchen.com/ Rachel Willen

      Dru, thanks for all the kind words…I love the GBS quote! It’s going on a sticky note right now and up on my monitor to remind me what my job is now. And yes, caramelization of mire poix would take more than 10, so I’ll leave it up to you as to how far you want to take it…with this soup I’d say take it to a light golden and no more…maybe 4-5 minutes beyond 10…you don’t want to exhaust the mirepoix…the soup still has to simmer another 20-25 minutes! Thanks again for your lovely and thoughtful comments! Rachel