Cream of Tomato Soup

If your notion of tomato soup is the gunk that Campbell’s makes then this recipe is going to blow you away.  As far as the work to payoff ratio goes, you really get a bang for your buck here.  Seriously, the first time I made this I was shocked at how amazing it tasted.  You’ve got to try this.  I’ve adapted the recipe from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything.  (I highly recommend this cookbook if you don’t already have it)

Cream of Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 medium onion diced
  • 1 carrot diced
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme (or 1/2 tsp dried)
  • 3 (14.5 oz.) cans tomatoes diced or whole
  • 1 cup cream or half and half (I think you know the right choice here)

Melt the butter in a large saucepan or stockpot and add the diced onion and carrot.  Saute until soft and add thyme.  Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.  Add tomatoes and simmer for ~15 minutes.  Add cream and puree using an immersion blender, standard blender, food processor, or food mill.  Serve hot.

We like this with a good ole’ grilled cheese sandwich.

The Art of Simple Food

The Art of Simple Food

Alice Waters has finally written a book for cooks like me—cooks who aren’t chefs and who don’t have access to the diversity of exotic ingredients available in Berkeley.  The book is called The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious RevolutionIt is by far my favorite cookbook of 2007.

If you don’t already know who Alice Waters is, this is a great introduction (try this too).  Her basic philosophy is that the best cooking is based on using the best and tastiest ingredients and preparing them simply.  This book is intended to help people learn to cook or to be better cooks by gathering the best ingredients and using techniques that let them shine.

Part one of the book is called “Starting from Scratch” and consists of lessons and basic recipes that allow you to try what she is teaching in the lessons.  Waters begins with a list of what she sees as the basic underlying principles of good cooking and eating.  They are:

  • Eat locally and sustainably.
  • Eat seasonally.
  • Shop at farmers’ markets.
  • Plant a garden.
  • Conserve, compost, and recycle.
  • Cook simply, engaging all your senses.
  • Cook together.
  • Eat together.
  • remember food is precious.

She follows this with an in depth discussion of the most important ingredients and how to pick the very best ones.  This, along with her subsequent discussion of cooking equipment, is my favorite part of the book.  She gives all of the relevant details that will help you make more of your pantry and fridge without going over budget.  The chapters that follow cover menus, four essential sauces, salads, bread, broth and soup, beans (dried and fresh), pasta and polenta, rice, roasting, pan frying, slow cooking, simmering, grilling, omelets and souffles, tarts (savory and sweet), fruits and deserts, custard and ice cream, and cookies and cake.  Each chapter is a great read and hugely informative.  I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I stayed up until almost 4:00 a.m. the night I got the book because I couldn’t put it down.  Seriously, buy this book even if you only read part one.

Part two is called “At the Table” and is loaded with recipes for everyday cooking that rely on the principles taught in part one.  They are great recipes and they give you a lot to practice on as you refine the skills Waters teaches.

The recipe I’ve used the most so far is the Risotto Bianco from the chapter on rice.

 Risotto

It is very basic and quite delicious.  Here is my adaptation:

  • In a 3qt saucepan melt 2T butter and saute 1 small onion, diced fine, until the onion is soft and translucent.  If you have it, add a pinch of saffron to the cooking onions.
  • Add 1 1/2c Arborio or other risotto rice and cook, stirring, until translucent
  • Meanwhile, bring 5c chicken broth to a boil in a separate pan and then turn off the heat
  • When rice is translucent, pour over 1/2c dry white wine and cook, stirring, until all of the wine is absorbed.
  • Add 1c chicken broth at a time and cook at a vigorous simmer, stirring occasionally.
  • When the rice gets thick, scale back to 1/2c doses of broth and begin to salt
  • After about 12 minutes start tasting the rice for doneness and seasoning
  • You want tender rice with a hint of al dente firmness (20-30 minutes total)
  • With the final addition of broth add just enough to finish the rice without making it soupy
  • When rice is nearly done add 1T butter and 1/3c grated Parmesan cheese (only the real stuff here).
  • Stir vigorously to develop the creamy starch .  Turn off the heat, let sit for 2 minutes, and serve.

 
Risotto closeup

Try this recipe, but please buy the book.  Waters has so much more to offer than just good recipes.

English Muffins with Five Minute a Day Dough

English Muffins on display

This morning I was craving something more than cereal or toast for breakfast and it struck me that I had everything I needed for english muffins.  Here’s how you do it:

First, you want to check my post on Herzberg and Francois’ book Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, where you’ll find their basic recipe. Cut off a hunk of dough (preferably dough that has had at least a day to develop flavor in the fridge), cut it into pieces, and shape them into 3-4 inch disks, about 1/4-1/2 inches thick.  Let them rise for about 20 minutes.  

Muffins shaped and rising 

Preheat a cast iron skillet, a griddle, or the next best thing you’ve got (everyone has a frying pan, right?) over low heat.  Sprinkle it with course corn meal (I used polenta), and get your muffins in the pan. 

Muffins on the griddle 

Cook for about 10 minutes, turning them every few minutes.  They should be a deep brown on both sides and the edges should be clearly cooked.  As you can see, they get big and puffy as they cook.  Split them with a fork and slather them with butter.  They are superior in every way to the muffins you get at the store, and they’re super easy.  My wife thought she didn’t like english muffins until she tried these.  I don’t know why they left this one out of the cookbook.

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

For Christmas Annalisa gave me a copy of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois and I love it.  It goes without saying that the very best bread is not going to come from this cookbook, but it comes close—really.  Hertzberg and Francois offer a wide range of bread recipes to meet all of your needs, but their basic recipe (and the place to start) is the boule.  First a few words about their technique and then on to the recipe.

The trick with this bread (as with Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread popularized by Mark Bittman) is a high water content and slow rise.  These two tricks make kneading unnecessary because the water dissolves the gluten in the flour and, over time, brings the gluten sheets into alignment the same as with kneading.  Likewise, the high water content creates steam in the oven, causing the slack wet dough to puff up with big airy holes as it cooks.  The very best bread is going to come when you use some version of a pizza stone.  When my old one broke after years of use I replaced it with the watering tray for a 14″ terra cotta pot for about $10.  I just turn it upside down in the oven and it works just fine.  It takes a bit longer to preheat, but it gets the job done.  If you don’t have a pizza stone then make the bread on a cookie sheet (but don’t heat the cookie sheet in the oven ahead of time).

So, off we go with the recipe.  You should get four 1lb. loafs from this recipe.  Get yourself a large (at least 5 quarts) container and measure out in this order:

  • 3 cups water at about 100°
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons (that’s 1 T, 1 t, and 1/2 t) yeast
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 6 1/2 cups flour

Mix it all together until the ingredients are incorporated and let it sit at room temperature, loosely covered, to rise for an hour or two until it has roughly doubled.  At this point you could take a hunk of dough and make your first loaf, but I recommend that you be patient and place the dough in the refrigerator at least overnight.  You can store the dough in the fridge for up to two weeks and the longer it sits, the more flavor it develops (think sourdough). 

When you are ready to cook a loaf place a broiler or jelly roll pan on the bottom of a gas oven or the bottom shelf of an electric one and your pizza stone on the middle rack.  Preheat the oven to 450°.  Then get out your container of dough and flour, oil or dampen your hand so that you can grab a ball of the sticky dough.  Use a serrated knife to cut of a ball of dough about the size of a grapefruit (roughly 1 lb.). 

On a floured surface shape (don’t knead) the dough into a round ball with a smooth surface, turning the rough seams to the bottom.  Dust a bakers peel (or an overturned jelly roll pan) with coarse cornmeal, which acts as a lubricant for sliding the dough onto the stone, and place your newly formed loaf on it to rise for at least 30 minutes (sometimes I’ll go up to an hour). 

Just before baking, lightly dust the loaf with flour and then make three slashes with a good serrated knife.  I like to make these deep (~1/2 in.) since the bread really expands in the oven—the slashes give more room to expand.  Then slide the loaf onto the pizza stone and pour about a cup of water into the broiler pan (steam in the oven makes a better crust).  Bake for about 30 minutes and turn the loaf after about 20 to ensure even browning.