Grab a Bag

tomatoMy cooking urges have been on over drive the last two days and the kitchen looks like some mad woman tore through.  If it wasn’t for the fact that a very neat friend was in there this morning, I probably would have ignored it. But feeling a mite embarrassed, I started to clean up—–a little. Then he left, another recipe idea hit and the mess was swept aside.

I visited my favorite farmer’s market yesterday. As usual, I went without any specific plan other than to see what looked interesting, what was fresh and what carried a reasonable price. So many goodies called out my name. Butternut squash, zucchini, baby spinach, a small eggplant and 4 pounds of tomatoes (they looked so pretty still on their vines) all fell into my cart. And, I can not forget, an indulgent luxury also jumped in. A single pint of tiny brown mushrooms (crimini).

Across the aisle, I spotted a pan with what looked like a huge silky marshmallow. Homemade tofu! What a find, I’d never seen that before. The siren song hit, “Come to Momma,” I thought.  Aaaah, now I’m excited, what’s next? Look around, walk around, scope out the rest. Bananas, itty bitty plums, apples and late summer peaches smelling like they should. Fat orangey oranges.

Back home most of my wonderful produce was arranged into two favorite wooden bowls. The tofu, mushrooms (repacked in a paper bag) and spinach were tucked into the fridge.

That’s when the mess started. I had two chicken breasts in the freezer along with six wing tips put aside for stock. I pulled them out with 1 carrot, ½ a small onion, sprigs of parsley, sprigs of thyme and ½ a parsnip. Rough chopped the veggies and tossed everything (except the chicken breasts) into a deep pot, filled it with cold water and set it to boil. From the pantry, the pot also got salt and pepper, garlic powder and dried dill. That simmered for an hour before I slid in the rest of the poultry. 

Next step, soup. Hot and sour soup. I used the still hot stock (strained and all else, except the carrot, discarded). Added some of the tofu, shredded (very lean!) pork, three of the mushrooms, sliced thin, minced garlic, soy sauce, a little salt, vinegar and lots of white pepper. Mixed in at the end was a slurry of cornstarch, 1 beaten egg, some of the spinach, sesame seed oil and minced scallions. That soup made a very good dinner.

The cooked chicken breasts, when they were cool enough to handle, were shredded for chicken salad. Added were: ½ an apple, a handful of raisins, minced scallions, minced celery, fresh parsley, salt and some pepper, and, on a whim, a dash of Old Bay. Was feeling rather tentative when I went to taste the result but I was happily surprised: it was very good. Old Bay, who’d a thunk?

Late last night the Nosher hit and I finished the apple with some cheese, ate a plum and took a ‘standing with the fridge door open’ finger full of Old Bay chicken salad. Mmm, was even better when it’s cold.

Early this morning, I was at it again. What would it taste like if I grated some of the butternut squash with a little bit of onion, added egg, flour, a splash of milk, splash of orange, little zest, some spices and fried it all like small fritters? Nothing less than the big Lodge pan was going to do for this. Added a light film of oil, a small bit of butter and poured in the batter, spoonfuls at a time. I had fritters or was it pancakes? and, they….were…amazing. Sweet, savory and crunchy; a knock out for my breakfast with warm maple syrup. Bet they’d be perfect with poultry or just by themselves.

The tomatoes were my next victims and they had to be soup. Yes, again, Soup. I am on a soup binge, having been lately in need of some comfort. And quite frankly, there is nothing better to comfort that a nice bowl of home made soup.

Now my kitchen is really destroyed. The dishwasher is full and has to be emptied; pots and pans are soaking in the sink. The counter sports piles of bowls, assorted utensils, cutting boards and a grater. I just can not understand what happened to the maid. Banana bread, baba ganoush and something with zucchini are all waiting their turn. And the mushrooms and the peaches and can’t forget the plums, that half zested, half juiced orange…….

Very Comforting Roasted Tomato Soup

3 pounds ripe tomatoes, cut in half, stems removed (*use the best you can find, and afford; Romas are always a good alternative)
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 medium yellow onions, cut in ½, skin on
1 head of fresh garlic, cut in half

1 pound of ripe tomatoes, coarsely chopped (do not skin or seed) stems removed (see * above)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
6 sprigs fresh thyme
1 quart low salt, low fat chicken stock, warmed

 Optional: ¼ cup cream

For garnish: minced chives, scallions and/or popcorn (yes popcorn, try it, add grilled cheese)

Preheat the oven to 400°. Toss together the halved tomatoes, garlic halves and onion halves with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread the tomatoes in 1 layer on its own baking sheet and roast for 15 minutes or until they just start to fall apart and the skin looks wrinkled.  Put the onion halves on a separate sheet. Wrap the garlic in foil, put on the same sheet with the onions and roast both for 30-40 minutes, or until they are soft.

When the onions are cool enough to handle, remove their skin and chop. Remove the cloves of garlic from their skins, mash. Set both aside with the pan of roasted tomatoes.

In a heavy bottomed soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat with a splash of olive oil. Add the chopped onion and sauté for 1 minute.  Add the chopped tomatoes, sauté for 3 minutes. Add the roasted tomatoes and any accumulated juices and the roasted garlic. Stir to combine. Season to taste with S&P. Add the chicken stock and bring to a gentle boil. Lower the heat, add the thyme and simmer partially covered for 40 minutes. Taste after 20 minutes, adjust seasoning if needed and 1 TBS sugar if the taste is too acid.

Cool slightly. Pull out the stems from the thyme. In small batches, puree the soup in a food processor or blender. Force the pureed soup through a sieve to remove any remaining seeds or skin. Or, if you have a food mill, use that to puree, de-seed and de-skin.

Return the puree to a clean pot and, over low heat, stir in the cream. Do not allow the soup to boil. Serve warm with garnishes. Serves 6-8.

Note: this soup freezes very well but omit the cream before freezing. Add it only after gently reheating the soup and just before you are ready to serve.

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