Creamy Rustic Tomato Soup

Creamy Rustic Tomato Soup

Nothing beats comfort food on a cold and stormy day.  Whether it’s a snowstorm or rainstorm comfort foods are always welcome.  And what’s the best comfort food on a wet and windy day?  Grilled Cheese sandwiches dipped in a bowl of steaming creamy tomato soup of course!

Dipping a crunchy sandwich dripping with gooey cheese into a hot bowl of creamy tomato soup brings back awesome childhood memories sitting in my grandmother’s kitchen on a winter afternoon.  But for some reason my grandmother always served Campbell’s tomato soup to which she’d heat with milk instead of water.  I guess Filipino grandmas didn’t do homemade tomato soup, but her Arroz Caldo, chicken and rice soup, was always awesome.

I digress, back to tomato soup.  As an adult I still love creamy tomato soup.  When I was a newlywed grilled cheese and canned tomato soup was pretty much all I could make, having had lots of practice during my school days.  Then I suppose you could say my tastes got a bit more sophisticated and I actually learned how to cook.  Homemade tomato soup was something I finally figured out how to make.  It’s actually pretty easy, specially these days when there are immersion blenders and canned fire roasted tomatoes.

These days my love of creamy tomato soup has been passed down to my grandkids.  So I make a big pot of my Creamy Rustic Tomato Soup on stormy days.  Of course there’s grilled cheese for dunking!

Making this soup is very easy, it just takes a bit of time. I use Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes because I just love the Rustic flavors roasted tomatoes have.  To make the soup I sauté chopped onions and garlic, pour in the diced tomatoes, add spices and stock, then simmer for at least an hour.  I add lots of heavy cream, use my immersion blender to purée, then serve.

Ok, so maybe you don’t have an immersion blender, why not??, you really should consider investing in one, it’s a great kitchen small appliance; anyway don’t despair, you can use your blender, a bit messy and you must be very careful, but it’s doable.

Here’s a tip, if you are using a blender, cool the soup to almost room temperature, so you don’t get burned.  Pour  soup in the blender so it doesn’t overflow and leave room for blending space.  You may have to purée your soup in batches.  Return puréed soup to pot and heat before serving.  This is just one reason an immersion blender comes in handy!

So here’s my recipe!

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Creamy Rustic Tomato Soup

Ingredients:

3 Cans Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes

1 Small onion finely diced

3 Garlic cloves finely minced

1 Tbl. Olive Oil

1 Tsp. Dried Oregano

1 Tsp. Dried Basil

1 Tsp. Onion Powder

1 Tsp. Garlic Powder

Black Pepper to taste

16 oz.  Chicken Broth

2 Cups Heavy Cream

Fresh Basil or Oregano for garnish (optional)

Directions:

Heat Olive Oil in a Dutch Oven or large pot.  Sauté onions until they start to turn translucent.

Add Garlic and sauté another minute or two, don’t burn it.

Add spices and mix well.

Add tomatoes and broth.

Bring to a boil.

Turn heat down to low and simmer covered for about 1 hour.

Remove from heat.

Stir in cream.  Mix until well incorporated.

Purée carefully with a hand held immersion blender (if you don’t have one see tip above for using blender)

Blend until the soup is smooth and not lumpy.

If it’s too thick stir in more chicken broth until you get the consistency you want.  You may need to reheat if it gets too cold when  you add broth.

Ladle into bowls and garnish with fresh basil leaf or oregano sprig if desired.

Serve hot.

 

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Baked Sheep’s Milk Ricotta with Dried Persimmons

Baked Sheep’s Milk Ricotta with Dried Persimmons

Make the most of those end-of-winter persimmons with this creamy baked ricotta.

 

Spike Gjerde, the James Beard Award–winning chef at restaurants like A Rake’s Progress in Washington, D.C., and Woodberry Kitchen in Baltimore, approaches local sourcing with religious fervor. He forgoes olive oil and lemons, using locally grown and pressed oils and vinegars in their place. His team dries mint, lavender, peaches, and cherries—and even makes garlic powder. He refuses to buy from distributors, even when they buy from local growers, because he wants every penny to go the farm. “A lot of people say, ‘Wow, this is harder than I thought.’ Then they just call [giant distributor] Sysco. But it’s why we’re doing it,” Gjerde says. “Our job is to get more value back to growers.”This recipe, from A Rake’s Progress, is inspired by Gjerde’s relationship with local makers and purveyors. Hoshigaki are Japanese persimmons that have been dried and massaged to evenly distribute their sugars. Gjerde shaves them and scatters them over baked ricotta to make an indulgent but healthy snack.

 

 

Active:  15 mins                    Total:  1 hr                 Yield:  6

 

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups sheep’s milk ricotta cheese
1 large egg
1 teaspoon medium-grind sea salt (such as J.Q. Dickinson)
2 tablespoons Herb Oil
1/4 ounce hoshigaki (Japanese dried persimmons), shaved on a mandoline (about 2 tablespoons)
Grilled bread, for serving

 

Directions:

Step 1
Preheat oven to 350°F. Stir together ricotta, egg, and salt in a medium bowl. Transfer ricotta mixture to a small (3-cup) crock or gratin dish. Bake in preheated oven until ricotta mixture is puffed and golden brown in spots, 45 to 50 minutes. Drizzle herb oil over baked ricotta, and top with shaved hoshigaki. Serve hot with grilled bread.

 

Suggested Pairing:

Creamy, full-bodied Rhône-style white.

 

 

Baked Sheep’s Milk Ricotta with Dried Persimmons
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Smoked Salmon Dip

Smoked Salmon Dip

Level: Easy

Prep: 10 min

Yield: 1 1/2 pints

Total: 10 min

Ingredients

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

1/2 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tablespoon minced fresh dill

 

1 teaspoon prepared horseradish, drained

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 pound (4 ounces) smoked salmon, minced

Directions

Cream the cheese in an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment until just smooth. Add the sour cream, lemon juice, dill, horseradish, salt and pepper, and mix. Add the smoked salmon and mix well. Chill and serve with crudites and/or crackers.


Smoked Salmon Dip
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Holiday Cheese Ball Wreath

Holiday Cheese Ball Wreath

Bring your outdoor holiday wreath inside with this festive and easy cheeseball. Use a small Bundt pan to form a wreath shape, or roll the mixture into a ball or log. For a cheeseball worthy of any big gathering, skip the Bundt pan and colorful garnish and roll the ball in toasted sliced almonds instead. 

Level: Easy

Total: 1 hr 15 min 

(includes chilling time)

Yield: 16 to 20 servings

Active: 15 min

Ingredients:

1 pound cream cheese, at room temperature

2 cups shredded firm cheese, such as Cheddar, pepper Jack or Colby

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

1/2 cup pickled piquante peppers, such as Peppadews, finely chopped

1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh chives

Crackers, sliced bread or crudites, for serving

Directions:

Special equipment:  A small (6-cup) Bundt pan

1. Line the inside of a 6-cup Bundt pan with plastic wrap. Process the cream cheese, shredded cheese, Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon salt and few grinds of pepper in a food processor until smooth. Empty the mixture into a medium bowl, and fold in all but 2 tablespoons of the chopped peppers.

2. Spoon the cheese mixture into the prepared Bundt pan; pack it in, spread into an even layer and cover (or simply form the cheese mixture into a ball and wrap tightly with plastic wrap). Refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour up to 2 days.

3. Uncover and invert the cheese mold (or unwrap and transfer the ball) onto a serving platter. Sprinkle with the chives and parsley to completely coat the wreath, and garnish with the reserved 2 tablespoons peppers. Serve with crackers, sliced bread or crudites.


Holiday Cheese Ball Wreath
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Holiday Cheese Ball Wreath
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1/2 cup pickled piquante peppers, such as Peppadews, finely chopped
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Christmas Tree Antipasto Salad

Christmas Tree Antipasto Salad

This cheery holiday salad is a fun (and delicious!) decorating idea for a party. A trio of lettuces create the evergreen tree, and items from the deli counter and salad bar become an edible garland. 

Level: Easy

Total: 45 min

Active: 45 min

Yield: 8 servings

 
 

Ingredients

Salad:

5 ounces baby arugula (about 8 cups)

5 ounces baby kale (about 8 cups)  

2 Persian cucumbers, halved lengthwise and sliced into half moons

3 heads little gem lettuce, bases trimmed and leaves separated, or the inner leaves of Bibb lettuce

1/4 pound thinly sliced Genoa salami

Three 1/4-inch-thick slices provolone (about 6 ounces)

1/4 pound thinly sliced prosciutto 

1 cup cheese-stuffed small sweet piquante peppers, such as peppadews 

1/2 cup jarred small whole artichoke hearts (about 8)

1/2 cup green castelvetrano olives

1/2 cup kalamata olives

1/2 cup small whole pepperoncini

6 radishes, tops trimmed

1/4 cup chopped toasted walnuts or pecans

One 4-ounce goat cheese log

8 ounces ciliegine mozzarella (small balls of mozzarella), halved

 

White Balsamic Vinaigrette:

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon honey

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

 

Directions:


  1. Special equipment:

     1-inch, 1 1/2-inch and 3 1/2-inch star cutters; a bar citrus zester

  2.  
  3.  
  4. 1. For the salad: Combine the baby arugula and kale in a large bowl. Arrange the leaves on a very large platter or cutting board in a Christmas tree shape that measures 16 to 18 inches tall, reserving a handful of greens. The platter should be large enough to accommodate a star on top and a trunk on the bottom. Scatter half of the sliced cucumbers over the tree. Arrange a layer of little gem lettuce leaves to create 4 tiers on the tree; use the small inner leaves for the fourth layer at the top of the tree.
  5. 2. Stack the sliced salami and cut out a large star using a 3 1/2-inch star cutter; reserve the scraps. Using the same cutter, cut out 2 stars from 2 slices of the provolone; reserve the scraps. Make a layered meat-and-cheese stack starting with half the salami stars, topped with a provolone star, the rest of the salami, and the second provolone star. Place the star at the top of the tree. 
  6. 3. Cut out smaller stars from the provolone scraps and the remaining provolone slice using 1-inch and 1 1/2-inch cutters. Roll up the salami scraps and prosciutto slices into flowers. Arrange the cheese stars, meat flowers, stuffed peppadews, artichoke hearts, both kinds of olives and pepperoncini on the lettuce to form a garland that zig-zags up the tree from the bottom right to the upper left. 
  7. 4. Using a bar citrus zester, zest a channel along the equator of each radish so it resembles a tree ornament. Halve each radish vertically and add the pieces to the garland. Scatter the remaining cucumber slices on the leafy parts of the tree and use the reserved greens to fill any gaps in the tree.
  8. 5. Put the nuts on a small plate and roll the goat cheese in them to fully coat. Place the log at the bottom of the tree to form the trunk. Decorate the ground under the tree with the ciliegine mozzarella balls for snow.
  9. 6. For the white balsamic vinaigrette: Whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, honey, 1/2 teaspoon salt and several grinds of pepper in a small bowl until well combined. Serve on the side.

Christmas Tree Antipasto Salad
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Homemade Falafels

Homemade Falafels

Falafels are traditional Middle Eastern deep fried patties or balls made from chickpeas, fava beans, or both.  They’re usually found stuffed in Pita bread or rolled in a flatbread along with fresh and pickled veggies and topped with a tahini sauce, that’s a Falafel Sandwich.  They are also eaten with fried eggs, hummus, babaganouj, and pickles for breakfast or served as mezzes and snacks.

My first encounter with falafels was at a kiosk in New York city where I grew up.  Buying a falafel sandwich from this kiosk was a treat when we spent the day at the near by park.  Then my family moved to Hawaii in the mid-70’s where there were no kiosks selling “ethnic” foods and so I didn’t have falafels again until I married my husband who is of Palestinian decent.  Imagine his surprise when I told him I actually knew what falafels were!

As newlyweds in Hawaii we had to figure out how to make falafels at home; as I new bride I had no clue!  Remember back in the 80’s there was no google, no pinterest, no instagram, or any kind of internet that would find a recipe in seconds.  I had to rely on cookbooks from the library, not really helpful.

Then we found a box of falafel mix at a local health food store.  Just add water and fry.  It wasn’t the best, but we made do.  I started experimenting with the boxed mix and found that adding finely chopped fresh parsley improved the taste.  Started adding more spices and pretty soon I figured I may as well by pass the mix and make it from scratch.   That didn’t go so well until I managed to buy a food processor, now I was in business!

As I was exploring the makings for falafel from scratch we started traveling all over the world.  Of course travel opens up your life to different places, foods, and cultures and our travels in the Middle East definitely helped my falafel making.  We loved the falafel sandwiches at Mr. Falfala in Cairo and the ones found on the streets of Diera in Dubai.  But nothing beats the fresh falafels served at Hashem’s and Abu Jbarra in Jordan!  On our last trip to Dubai this year we discovered that Abu Jbarra opened a place by the Dubai Mall, we ate brunch there almost everyday!

Anyway those trips to Egypt, Dubai, and Jordan whetted my desire to make falafels at home that would be close to the ones served in the places we loved.  I say close because I doubt I’ll ever figure out the exact match to Hashem’s falafels served in this little alley in downtown Amman.

I make large batches of falafels so that I have enough to freeze for future use.  Raw falafel paste freezes beautifully!  This way I don’t have to haul out the food processor every time I want to fry falafels and I always have some handy when  I have a yen for a falafel sandwich.

I’ve found that using fresh ingredients makes the difference between decent falafels and amazing ones!  So I use fresh cilantro, parsley, and dill as my primary seasonings; they will turn your mixture green, but the greener the falafel is the better it tastes in my opinion.  I also use dry chickpeas never canned.

It takes a bit of planning to make really great falafels, but believe me it’s so worth the effort!

Fresh Falafel

Ingredients:

8 oz. Dried Chickpeas (1/2 a bag)

1 Tsp. Baking Soda

1 Large bunch of Fresh Cilantro, rinsed and dried on paper towel

1 Large Bunch of Fresh American Parsley, rinsed and dried on paper towel

1 Small Bunch of Fresh Dill, rinsed and dried on paper towel

2 Tbs. Fresh Garlic, minced

1 Tbs. Cumin Powder

1 Tbs. Ground Coriander

1 Tbs. Sea Salt

1 Tsp. Ground Black Pepper

1 Tsp. Baking Soda

Oil for frying

Pita or Flat Bread

Optional Condiments: Fresh lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, pickles, pickled beets, tahini sauce, thousand island dressing, or what ever you want to add in the sandwich

Directions:

Pour dried chickpeas into a bowl and mix in baking soda.

Cover with water and soak overnight.

Rinse chickpeas in cool water and drain in a colander.

In a food processor load in this order:

Cilantro leaves and stems (you don’t have to use all the stems but do use the leaves), Parsley, Dill (prepare and use Parsley and Dill the same way as Cilantro).

Drained chickpeas and garlic

Dried spices (cumin, coriander, salt, pepper)

Turn on processor and grind until it is a paste

If freezing place paste into freezer safe containers and freeze.  Thaw before cooking.

If using immediately:

Heat about 2″ of oil in a small pot.

Add baking soda to falafel paste and combine well.

Test that oil is hot enough by dropping a small amount of falafel paste in; if oil starts bubbling around the paste your oil is ready for frying.

Form paste into small 1″ balls or patties and drop into hot oil.

Fry until all sides are brown, cooked falafel will float.

Drain on paper towels and serve as a sandwich filling or by itself for breakfast or as mezzes.


Homemade Falafels
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