Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Homemade Cream of Tomato Soup

NO SOONER HAD I SAID I was tired of hearty soups and stews, than I went into the kitchen to cook--surprise--soup. In my defense, I did say, hearty soup. I would not call this soup hearty but it is definitely rich and flavorful.

We ate it for supper with grilled cheese sandwiches and a spinach salad. The next day, I enjoyed the leftover soup with saltine crackers.

Homemade Cream of Tomato Soup
4 slices bacon, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups water or soup stock
1 cup cream, half and half, or milk
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

In a heavy soup pot, over medium heat, slowly cook the bacon, onions, and carrots, stirring often until very tender and fragrant. Take time with this step, up to thirty minutes, as this is the flavor base for the soup.  Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste, along with some water or soup stock. Simmer for 10 to 20 minutes.Taste and add a teaspoon of honey if the soup seems too acidic. Add cream or milk and heat through. Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. You may want to add some fresh basil and/or parsley.


If you are interested in this type of thing, the spoon pictured in the soup is from the silverware I grew up eating with. It is an Art Deco silver plate pattern from 1939 called, Adoration.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Brunch for One: Egg and Avocado Sandwich

 SATURDAY IS THE DAY Pritchard Parker and I usually do something fun. Most weekends we have a 4-year-old in tow and she calls our outings, "Adventures".  Some Saturdays I cook breakfast at home, usually pancakes or French toast. Others, we go out.

I have talked before about how my husband loves to shop, especially junk junque , antique, and thrift stores. I'm afraid the little one does too--she'll say, "Come. Look at some beautiful things; some gorgeous things". So I have taken to tagging along with them, though I am pickier about which stores I will go in.

I like looking at the china and crystal as well as old kitchen ware. I have enough china, kitchen ware, and old junk already, but lately I find myself admiring antique cake stands, especially depression glass, and I am afraid it only a matter of time before they start following me home.

This Saturday was different; I was alone. I am used to spending my weekday mornings alone. I wake quietly and sip tea while checking news, weather, updates on the many blogs I follow, and work on my to-do list. I am not ordinarily a breakfast eater, opting for a smoothie later in the morning.

But this morning I missed my pals and our Saturday morning breakfasts together.  I thought about making pancakes but that seemed too much for just myself, so I decided to cook an egg, which became an egg and avocado sandwich with a squeeze of lime juice, a sprinkling of Celtic sea salt and a few grinds of fresh black pepper. Delicious.

Next week, we will have another adventure.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Braised & Steamed Vegetable Rice Bowl with Miso Tahini Sauce

IT'S OFFICIAL. I am tired of hearty soups and stews.

Though padding around the kitchen in my sock feet and sweat pants yoga pants, stirring a fragrant pot of soup,while outdoor temperatures plummet, is a favorite pleasure, enough is enough.

I love the winter with its beautiful snow, icicles, wind, cold, cold, cold, bare trees. I love the peace and quiet of it. The coziness. The closing in, bundling up, warm blankets, fuzzy sweaters. And yes, stirring great pots of steaming soups and stews. Having the oven on for hours on end while baking breads, cakes, and cookies.

We have plenty of cold days and nights before the weather turns. But I am seeing and hearing birds sing and I am beginning to transition my cooking. I need green and crisp and color.

For this rice bowl, I used a wok with a steamer atop. This method began by washing and trimming/slicing all the vegetables.  I set aside the carrots, onions, and mushrooms to cook in the wok, both for tenderizing and for adding flavor to the steamer. In the steamer, I arranged broccoli florets, baby bok choy, sugar snap peas and covered them with a layer of fresh spinach leaves.

Heat a small amount of oil, including a dab of toasted sesame oil if desired, until hot. Toss in the onions, carrots, and mushrooms. Stir and fry for about 1 minute. Add about 1/2 cup water. Stand back--the pan is going to starting hissing and steaming. Quickly place the covered steamer on the wok; you don't want to lose the fragrant steam. Lower heat to medium and let the vegetables braise (in the wok) and steam (in the steamer) for about 5 minutes or until your desired tenderness.

Serve with brown rice and drizzle with Miso Tahini Sauce.

Miso Tahini Sauce
1 Tbsp.freshly grated ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbsp. Miso
1 Tbsp. Tahini
1 Tbsp. honey
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
3 Tbsp. olive

Combine all ingredients in blender until smooth, scraping down sides as needed.  

The next day, I chopped the leftover vegetables and along with bits of blue cheese, Swiss, and extra sharp cheddar, I made a quiche. Another transitional food.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Strawberry Cake with Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting


I made you a cake. A strawberry one. With strawberry cream cheese frosting and a few fresh whipped cream rosettes.  For an interesting flavor, I used some malted milk powder which makes this cake taste reminiscent of a strawberry milkshake.

For the cake, I used a few drops of natural red (made from beets) food coloring to create a ripe strawberry hue, but that is entirely optional. I also used stabilized whipped cream for my rosettes, made by adding 1/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin to 1 cup heavy cream.

To make strawberry puree, buzz fresh or frozen and thawed strawberries in the blender until smooth. Press through a fine mesh strainer to remove seeds. Use leftovers on another occasion--in my case, for smoothies.


Strawberry Cake
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 3/4 cup sugar
4 eggs, room temperature
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup malted milk powder
1 Tbsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1 cup whole milk, room temperature
1 Tbsp. vanilla
1/4 cup strawberry puree
Few drops natural red coloring, optional

Strawberry Cream Cheese Frosting
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
16 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 Tbsp. strawberry puree
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt
4 cups powdered sugar, as needed

For the cake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 nine-inch cake pans.

Sift together the flour, milk powder, baking powder, and salt.

Stir together the milk, vanilla, and strawberry puree.

Cream butter and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the mixing bowl, starting and ending with the flour. Combine well but do not over mix. Blend in the food coloring if using.

Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Start checking after 20 minutes and add small increments of baking time as needed being careful not to over bake. Cool in pans for 10 minutes, then turn out and invert cakes so the top is up to cool completely.

For the Frosting, whip butter and cream cheese with an electric mixer until very pale and creamy, about 8 minutes. Mix in strawberry puree and vanilla. Add powdered sugar and beat well until fluffy. If the frosting is too stiff and a little milk; if too thin, add more sugar. Use about a cup of frosting for the middle of the cake layers and use the remaining for the top and sides of the cake.

Decorate as desired.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Crock Pot Gumbo

THIS IS A RE-POST WITH updated though not necessarily improved photos. I originally posted this recipe in January, 2010 and again last year. I have made it a few times and I still stand by the recipe. Enjoy.

The best Southern Gumbo I've ever eaten comes from my own Mother's Alabama kitchen. After we visited several years ago and she had cooked it, I asked for her recipe, which she happily provided.

It was some time later, when I made it at home myself, that I realized what a true labor of love went into Mama's huge pot of gumbo.  I was over that stove for hours! I thought I would never be done. Every step seemed to take forever.  

I was quite happy the day I made a truly tasty gumbo in the crock pot and have made it several times since. It may not be as excellent as Mama's, but it is still very delicious.

The secret to an authentically flavored gumbo lies in a deep, dark, rich, mahogany colored roux, which is an art in itself.  Mary, of Deep South Dish gives an excellent tutorial explaining roux, and a method for making it in the oven.

Another essential in gumbo is what Cajun cooks refer to as their trinity--onions, celery, and green bell pepper. And thirdly, okra. Any combination of meats and seafood can be used. I use chicken, sausage, and shrimp. Lucky you, if you have access to fresh seafood--load it up, oysters, crab, you name it.  

Crock Pot Gumbo
1 lb. smoked sausage, sliced
1 lb. boneless chicken
1 large onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
3 stalks celery, sliced
3 plump cloves garlic, minced
1 lb. sliced okra (frozen is fine)
1/2 cup roux
1/2 cup water
1 tsp. brown sugar
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 quart tomatoes, undrained

Layer ingredients, in order given, into the crock pot but don't stir. Cover and cook on high for 1 hour. Lower heat to low and continue cooking for 7 hours. 

About 10 to 15 minutes before serving, add:
1 lb. shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tsp. Old Bay Seasoning
Juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 tsp. hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco

Cook until shrimp are done but not overcooked. Adjust seasonings, including the addition of salt and pepper to taste.

Ladle into soup bowls, top with a scoop of hot rice, and pass the hot sauce. 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014


GREAT NEWS! BAKLAVA is easy to make.

If a restaurant we choose is open all afternoon, and many are not, we often like to dine around three or four o'clock for a late lunch early dinner. It seems to fit our schedule and we are hungry then. The restaurant will be quieter and we can linger without feeling pressured to turn the table.

On a recent afternoon, at a neighborhood Greek Restaurant, we arrived at the same time a woman was delivering desserts. Pritchard Parker spotted the tall dark chocolate cake. I spied the tray of Baklava.

I hadn't eaten Baklava in years and I knew before I ordered that I was going to save room for dessert. Indeed, I loved that little morsel of buttery phyllo with sticky cinnamon scented chopped nuts.

I told my husband on the way home I was going to try my hand at Baklava. I even had a box of phyllo dough in the freezer. And nuts leftover from Christmas baking.

I looked at many recipes before proceeding. Some had too much butter and some too little. Some used bread crumbs mixed in with the nuts but I didn't like that idea. Some used too much or too little syrup.

Working with phyllo is not as difficult as some people want you to think. It is very thin and tears easily but it is also extremely forgiving. The final result matters not if some of your sheets tore; just fit the pieces in the pan and keep going.

Phyllo sheets also dry out quickly, so keep them covered with a piece of parchment then a damp towel as you work.

Some recipes also tell you to cut the phyllo leaves to fit your pan. Nay, I say. What are you going to do the the excess? Phyllo is not cheap, so just wrinkle, fold, pleat, scrunch, and make them fit--the more layers the better.

Taking concepts from different recipes, this is what I did.

One (1 pound) box frozen phyllo dough
1 cup butter, melted
4 cups chopped nuts (I used a mixture of pecans, walnuts, almonds, pistachios)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. tangerine zest
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1/2 cup honey
1 tsp. vanilla
2 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 large strips tangerine peel
1 cinnamon stick

Move phyllo from the freezer to the refrigerator 24 hours before you want to make the Baklava. Remove from the refrigerator 1 hour before.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter.

Combine the nuts and ground cinnamon.

Open and carefully unfold the phyllo sheets. Lie flat and cover first with a sheet of parchment then a damp kitchen towel.

Using a clean (preferably new) pastry brush, butter the bottom of a 13x9 inch baking dish. Remove one sheet of pastry from the stack and fit into the pan. Brush with butter. Repeat until about one-fourth of the sheets have been used. Top with about one-third of the nuts. Then start layering more phyllo sheets, buttering each one. Proceed in this manner, making 4 layers of buttered phyllo and 3 layers of chopped nuts, ending with a layer of pastry. If you have an odd number of sheets in your box, layer more at the bottom of the dish to make a good foundation.

Cut through all layers into serving pieces before baking. If you want traditional diamond shapes, cut diagonally from corner to corner.

Bake for 50-60 minutes until golden brown.

Meanwhile, make the syrup: combine sugar, water, honey, vanilla, lemon juice, tangerine peel, and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 15 minutes until slightly thickened.

Remove the Baklava from the oven and evenly pour the syrup over the top. Let set for several hours for the syrup soak into the layers before serving. Better the next day.

Lightly cover the pan with wax paper or parchment for storage; don't seal or it will become soggy.