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.

. . . and we’re back

You’re not truly a blogger until you start at least one of your posts apologizing for not having posted in some time.  Well . . . I’m sorry.  The dissertation has taken priority.

Over the past month I’ve been a bit lax in the kitchen, but I did take a few photos with the intention of posting about what I was cooking.  Since I’ve fallen behind I’ll just throw them all in this one post.

First, about a month ago we visited the new Harmon’s grocery store in Draper near the point of the mountain.  Wow.  They have everything.  We got gelato from their gelato bar (good not great) and I bought a variety of olives from their olive bar.  The produce was varied and abundant.  I decided to try some organic golden beets.  I roasted them in the crock pot and then sliced them and dressed them with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and chopped pecans.

Beets before

Sorry the photo is a bit out of focus.  I need a tripod (and a better camera).  The beets were great.  Some good feta cheese would have made them better.

We also had some fun with bacon recently.

Bacon Baskets

Bacon Baskets

These make for great BLTs.  I had to stick all kinds of toothpicks to hold them together.  A better way to do this would have been to leave the slices at full length instead of cutting them in half and weaving a 6 x 6 sheet of bacon.  The short pieces really wanted to come apart.  I also recommend baking the bacon on a rack set in a sheet pan since this will keep the bacon flat and will not require flipping (tempting the weave to fall apart).  The big sheet can then be cut into 4 sandwich size squares.

BLT

BLT Closeup

Yes, they did taste as good as they look.  I put a little blue cheese on mine.  You can’t beat the combo of blue cheese and bacon!

With this same meal I made some agua de limón, a.k.a. limeade.  For each serving combine a cup of water, juice and zest of one lime, about 5-10 mint leaves, and 2 tablespoons of sugar in the blender.  Blend it all up and then pour it through a fine-mesh strainer.  Serve over ice and garnish with mint.

Agua de Limon con Mint

Mushrooms from the Salt Lake Farmer’s Market

In addike tion to the garlic scapes I got at the Salt Lake Farmer’s Market, I also bought some Hen of the Woods mushrooms.  I’ve been meaning to try some wild mushrooms for some time now and since I have zero expertise at finding and identifying them, I jumped at the chance to buy them.  I decided to put them in an omelet.  I started by sauteing them in some butter and olive oil with a chopped scallion.

 Mushroom Saute

Once they were cooked I set them aside, wiped out the pan, and cooked the omelet.  I must admit that the omelet was not my best, but the mushrooms (along with the Emmenthaler cheese) made up the difference.

 Omelete

Sneak a peek

 Mushrooms exposed

Garlic Scapes from the Salt Lake Farmers’ Market

Garlic Scapes

Last Saturday I want to the Salt Lake Farmers’ Market for their season opener.  There were all kinds of great spring produce as well as artisanal cheeses, organic and grass-fed meats, soaps, arts and crafts, and a wide variety of prepared foods.  It was quite the treat and I hope to get up there often.  I just wish that we had this kind of variety and quality at the Provo Farmers’ Market.  Ah well, let’s keep supporting them and hope that it grows.

I had only heard of them, but never tasted them, so when I saw garlic scapes (pictured above) for sale at $2 a bunch I pounced.  When garlic grows it shoots up its green leaves (like a scallion) as well as the scape, which is the flowering stem of the plant.  Farmers cut off the scape as this prompts the bulb to grow bigger and gives them the added bonus of a delicious spring treat. 

Garlic scapes have a somewhat tamer flavor than garlic (especially when cooked) with an added grassy flavor that I find quite pleasant.  When eaten raw they are very spicy.

A Google search revealed that most folks writing about scapes recommended making pesto or stir fry, so I did both.  For the pesto I combined in the food processor:

  • 1 cup of scapes cut to 1″ segments
  • 1/3 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese (the real stuff though)
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste (don’t be stingy with the salt)

The pesto was overpoweringly spicy with the raw scapes and it occurred to me that some lemon would help to balance this, so I added some leftover lemon vinaigrette that had zest, juice, and olive oil.  It helped.  What really would have helped would have been blanching the scapes for a minute or so in boiling water and then putting them in an ice bath to stop the cooking.  With the raw scape pesto my wife and I were tasting garlic for the rest of the night, even after several brushings of the teeth.  The next morning I was still tasting it, but some aggressive Listerine therapy finally did the trick.  When we had leftovers I nuked the pesto on my pasta and the cooking seemed to tame it sufficiently.  I wish that my Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes were ready because they would have been the perfect balance to this dish.

 Garlic Scape Pesto

With my leftover scapes I decided to make a stir fry.  I fired up the cast iron skillet on medium heat and chopped up the scapes in 1 1/2″ pieces along with broccoli florets, chopped scallions, and sliced chicken breast.  I cooked them in high heat with neutral oil and then added grated ginger about a minute before cooking was finished (2-3 teaspoons).  Once cooked, I dressed the stir fry with soy sauce and dark sesame oil and served over rice.  It tasted phenomenal, but I could hardly taste any garlicky flavor from the scapes.  In texture and appearance they were very much like green beans.  How is that for two extremes of flavor?

 Garlic Scape Stir Fry

Sorry this photo is a bit blurry.  I really need a tripod.  The scapes are those green bean looking things.

Frozen Yogurt

Frozen yogurt

So the latest craze in frozen confections is frozen yogurt that actually tastes like yogurt.  It all started with Pinkberry in California and there have been a bunch of knock-offs.  Our local dispensary is the new Yoasis at the Hogi-Yogi complex on University Avenue.  Yoasis is okay . . . I’ve had better.  The best I’ve had is the frozen yogurt that I’ve made.  It is super simple and extremely tasty.

Here’s what you do.  To one quart of Greek style yogurt add 1/2 cup of sugar.  Mix it in well and then taste it to see if it is sweet enough to your liking.  You want the delicious tartness of the yogurt to shine here so don’t overdo it with the sugar.  I found 1/2 cup to be perfect, but you can add a tablespoon at a time, tasting along the way until you reach your desired sweetness.  Chill the mixture in your fridge for at least 4 hours and then freeze in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions (but don’t be afraid to freeze longer than what the manufacturer advises—many underestimate the time).  When you start up the ice cream maker, put your serving bowls in the freezer to get them nice and cold for your frozen yogurt.  Chop up your favorite fruits while the yogurt churns.  The yogurt is best served soft, so I let it freeze as hard as it will get in my Cuisinart ice cream maker and then serve it directly into frozen ramekins.  Freezing the ramekins prevents the yogurt from melting and allows you to enjoy that soft frozen goodness all the way to the bottom of the bowl.  We found that it was nice to keep more chopped fruit close by than we could fit on top of the yogurt.  This allowed us to add fruit along the way as we made our way through it.

 Frozen Yogurt with Fruit

Seriously, you’ve GOT to try this.  It is fantastic!

Greek Style Yogurt

So this post is a follow up to my previous post on fresh homemade yogurt and you’ll want to check that one out if you haven’t already.

Greek style yogurt is deliciously thick and creamy.  You want to use whole milk for this yogurt.  If you’re worried about calories then exercise portion control, don’t sacrifice the quality of your yogurt.  Making Greek style yogurt is quite simple.  Follow the basic method for making yogurt. (If you want your whole batch to be Greek style and you aren’t setting some yogurt aside as a starter for your next batch, then you can incubate the yogurt right in the pot you used to heat the milk.  This actually minimizes risk of cross contamination and simplifies the process) 

Once the yogurt is finished incubating you want to strain it through a fine-weave cotton cloth while the yogurt is still warm.  Sterilize the cloth in boiling water (you can do this when you sterilize your utensils) and let it dry.  Line a collander or sieve of sufficient volume with the cloth, set the collander over a bowl and then pour your yogurt in the cloth.  What you are doing here is separating the curds of yogurt that have formed from the whey that is suspended in the gel structure of the yogurt.  In the photo below, notice the white “pieces” of yogurt curd beginning to separate from the yellowish whey.

 Straining Yogurt

For Greek style yogurt, you want to strain the curds until what is left in the cloth has decreased in volume by about one half.  If you continue to strain the yogurt until the curds are fairly dry you will have labneh, a.k.a. yogurt cheese.  If that’s what you are after, mix in a little salt and you’re ready to go.  Use it like cream cheese.

You can speed up the straining process by drawing the cloth together and hanging your “pouch” of yogurt.  If you don’t do this, then it is wise to fold the corners of the cloth over the yogurt to cover it.  To hang your straining yogurt, wrap a sturdy rubber band or some twine around the twisted cloth and then attach the other end to whatever you can find that will allow you to hang it over your bowl.  I used some metal rack shelves we have in the kitchen, attaching my rubber band to a chopstick set perpendicular to the rack, but you could also use the rack in your fridge or oven.  In fact, using your oven could allow you to continue to incubate the yogurt should you so desire.

 Straining Yogurt

Here’s the aerial view.

Straining Yogurt

It only took about an hour to reduce this batch (2 quarts) in half.  If you are unsure if the yogurt is done straining, take it down and open up the pouch to check the consistency of the yogurt.

 Strained Yogurt

As you can see in the above photo, the curds on the outside will be drier than what is in the middle.  Those solid bits on the edges are yogurt cheese.  Empty the contents of the cloth into a bowl and mix (I use a wisk) to restore an even consistency.

The bowl under the collander will be filled with whey.  You can use it as a replacement for water in bread recipes or follow some of the suggestions here.  Here’s a photo of the separated Greek style yogurt and whey.

 Curds and Whey

Use the yogurt just as you would regular yogurt.  My favorite application is simple frozen yogurt . . .

Fresh Homemade Yogurt

Finished Yogurt

Yogurt is an amazing food—it’s delicious, good for you, and a great ingredient with tons of applications.  The fact is that when you make it at home it tastes better, is even better for you, and you’ll use it more (because you have it).  I first made yogurt following David Fankhauser’s directions and I recommend that you check them out, but I’ve adapted the process as I’ll describe below.

The idea behind yogurt is controlled bacterial fermentation.  If you just leave your milk out on the counter, chances are that you’ll be infiltrated with bacteria that won’t be nice to your milk and they’ll crowd out any good bacteria.  So the trick here is to eliminate the bad bacteria and to give the good bacteria an environment in which to thrive.  The key to pulling that off is good sanitation of your equipment, heating the milk to kill the bacteria present, and then holding the milk at a temperature at which yogurt making bacteria thrive.

First gather all your equipment.  I use 4 quart -size mason jars (along with a 1 cup jar for starting my next batch) and make a gallon of yogurt at a time, but you could do this for a single quart (4 cups).  You’ll also want a pyrex liquid measuring cup (at least 2 cups), a spoon for stirring, a wisk, an a nonreactive pot with a thick bottom (if you don’t trust your pot to distribute your stoves heat evenly and gently then you’ll want to use a double boiler), and a candy thermometer (sensitive from 0 to 225° F [-10 to 110 C]).  Sterilize your jars, lids, and any metal or glass utensils by boiling them in a large pot with about an inch of water for five minutes with the lid on.  You can do this in batches if it won’t all fit.  Plastic utensils can be sterilized using antibacterial dish soap, or better yet with a soak in water with a splash of chlorine bleach followed by a thorough rinse.

 Disinfecting

The ingredients are easy: milk and plain yogurt with live active cultures listed on the ingredients.  Concensus on the web supports using Dannon plain yogurt as a starter, but feel free to experiment with what is available to you.  The best yogurt will list only milk and cultures as ingredients.  I used Mountain High yogurt which makes a fairly thick and creamy yogurt.  You’ll find that the types of bacteria from different yogurts will bring about subtly different results.  As far as the milk goes, I highly recommend that you use whole milk and not less than 2%.  The fat helps make a creamier yogurt and when it drops below 2% it will be grainy.  It should go without saying that you want the freshest milk and yogurt possible—don’t even open the containers until just before you are ready to measure them out.

Measure out your milk into your pot, attach your thermometer, and slowly heat over low to medium until the milk reaches 185-195°F.  Be sure to stir regularly to ensure that the milk does not burn and stick to the bottom of the pot. What you are doing here is scalding the milk, which kills any bad bacteria that might be present in the milk, improves the flavor of the finished product, and makes for a thicker yogurt.  I’ve skipped this step before and ended up with a tasty, but runnier yogurt that was less successful at propogating subsequent batches.  Be careful not to let the milk exceed 195º because if it boils it will make a mess and your yogurt will have a “cooked” flavor.  As you begin heating the milk, turn your oven on to 200°.

 Heating Milk

From here you want to cool down the milk to the temperature at which you are going to incubate the yogurt.  Do this by creating an ice water bath in your sink or a large container and set the pot in.  Stirring the milk and stirring the ice water will lead to faster heat transfer and cool the milk faster.  The yogurt bacteria die at temperatures over 130° F and aren’t very active below 98° F.  I recommend cooling just to 130° F because the milk will continue to drop a few degrees after you remove the pot from the water.  We’re shooting for incubation at 122° F. 

 Cooling Milk

Once you hit 130° F, take the pot out and set it on the counter.  Pour 1 cup of the milk into a 2 cup Pyrex measuring cup and then add your yogurt to fill it to the 2 cup mark.  (This additional cup of volume goes into the 1 cup jar as a starter for the next batch)  Blend the yogurt with the milk in the cup with the wisk and then pour this into the pot of milk, stirring it thoroughly throughout the milk with the wisk.  Working quickly, pour the innoculated milk into your jars and put the lids on immediately.  Turn off the oven, place the jars in the oven, close the door, and turn on the oven light.  What you are looking for is to maintain the heat around the yogurt close to 122° F without exceeding 130° F. 

I find that by switching out my oven light with a 40 watt bulb and doing a preheat at 200° F it works out just right.  If you have a gas oven, the pilot light may complicate things.  You can test your oven by placing a jar filled with water in the oven and measuring the temperature of the water each hour for several hours (a remote probe thermometer is handy here).  Alternatively, you can follow Fankhauser’s method of putting the jars in a cooler and filling it to 3/4 the height of the jars with water heated to 122° F, checking occasionally and adding hot water as needed.  Absent these resources, wrap your jars in towels or blankets to insulate their current temperature.

Now you wait.  The bacteria are reproducing, consuming the milk sugars, and producing acid.  After 3-4 hours the yogurt should have gelled.  If it hasn’t, let it sit longer, up to 12 hours.  The longer the yogurt incubates the more tart it will taste.  The photo below is of yogurt incubated for 4 hours.  At this stage it is thick and creamy with just a hint of tartness.  The milk flavor really shines through.  6 hours takes you to the typical tartness you find in grocery store yogurt (but with superior overall flavor).  If I’m making it just for me, I usually go for 8-10 hours, but my wife likes it less tart.

 Finished Yogurt

It’s not a bad idea to let the yogurt sit on the counter to cool for about an hour before you put it in the refrigerator, since the jars would heat up everything in the refrigerator initially.  Remember that the bacteria will still be working during that time, so factor it in as you consider your preferred tartness.  Once the yogurt is fully chilled in the refrigerator it is ready to eat.

I highly recommend that you try it plain.  Discover what yogurt really tastes like when it is not turned into candy.  I’ve learned to love plain yogurt.  As you develop a taste for real yogurt, you will have a better gauge of how much fruit and sweetener you might add when you do use them.  A spoonful of jam is an easy way to do fruit and sugar thing.  A better way is to add your favorite fresh fruit and honey or agave nectar to taste.  I once added the juice and zest of an orange along with a teaspoon of honey to a bowl of yogurt and had one of the most sublime breakfasts in recent memory.

Later this week I’ll post how to make greek style yogurt, along with several other ways of using your yogurt.