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Creamy Chipotle Tomato Soup

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We have one of those Kinect sensors for the Xbox 360. We bought it on a whim a few months ago, in search of something fun and active to do as a family while we were all cooped up during the chilly winter months. We picked up a few games for the kids and ourselves and we played them often for about two weeks time. Then, our enthusiasm for our new toy waned and the games have gathered dust since.

Mostly, we use the Xbox 360 for watching movies and shows through Netflix. And my husband enjoys the convenience of the Kinect’s voice-command abilities. I, however, have been unable to get comfortable with shouting commands at the little sensor which sits perched on top of my tv. It just feels so We’re the Jetsons to me. Just can’t do it.

My husband, amused at my apprehension to talk to the machine, got a bit surly with it the other night. He started yelling at it, Xbox, make my dinner. Xbox, take a hike. Xbox, smell my feet. At each command, Xbox, upon hearing its name, would stop and try to process the request. Poor, confused Xbox was dutifully attempting to identify and obey each given command, while we sat by and giggled as it struggled.

Well…I’m pretty sure my husband broke the sensor with this little game. It hasn’t worked correctly ever since. It now requires most commands to be repeated multiple times or firmly shouted before it responds. It appears we’re dealing with a little case of boy-who-cried-wolf. The Xbox no longer believes we’re serious when we call it. Either that or it’s just angry and being difficult. It’s smart. It’s learning. And it freaks me out.

Thankfully, I am not reliant on the Xbox for doing my laundry or cooking my dinner.

We’re right about at that time of year when gardeners are proudly reaping the fruits of their labor in the form of baskets full of ripe, delicious tomatoes. I myself did not undertake trying to grow anything more than a few herbs and a beautiful flowering plant, which I promptly killed. I can grow some darn fine humans, but the ability to grow things in dirt eludes me. I buy my tomatoes at the grocery store and they have been garden-fresh, ripe, and delicious lately…the perfect tomatoes for fresh tomato soup. At any other time of the year, you might be wise to use canned tomatoes when making tomato soup, but now is the perfect time to use the season-peak ones you’re harvesting from your gardens or picking up in local farmer’s markets.

I give my tomato soup a spicy, smokey flavor with the addition of a chipotle pepper. A bit of heavy cream balances the spice and gives the soup a rich texture. The soup is garnished with a few homemade croutons and a couple dashes of chipotle tabasco sauce. On the side, I served a simple mixed green salad tossed in a ginger vinaigrette and grilled brie and gouda with bacon on French baguette. I’m fairly certain that the Xbox would have been incapable of coming up with something so perfectly simple and delicious as this…but don’t tell the Xbox I said that.

Creamy Chipotle Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • 3 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled and deseeded, coarse chopped*
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 chipotle pepper (from a can of chipotles in adobo)
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste
  • Chipotle Tabasco Sauce, optional (for garnish)

*Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to peel and deseed tomatoes.

Directions

Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onion. Cook for 7-10 minutes, stirring frequently, until tender and translucent. Add the garlic and cook for another minute or two. Add the tomatoes, vegetable stock, chipotle pepper, and tomato paste. Simmer over medium/medium-low heat for about 25 minutes, stirring frequently. The tomatoes should almost completely break down during the cooking time. Allow the mixture to cool slightly, then transfer to a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth, then return to the pan. Add the cream. Season with salt, to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon should do the trick). Add cayenne pepper, to taste, if additional spiciness is desired. Warm gently over medium-low heat.

Garnish with a few dashes of chipotle tabasco and homemade croutons.

Makes 2 generous servings

* For the homemade croutons, simply toss a few chunks of French bread in a bit of olive oil, season with cajun seasoning or any other seasoning, then bake in a 375 degree oven until toasted, about 10 minutes or so.

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How to Peel and Deseed Tomatoes

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Using fresh tomatoes in homemade sauces and soups (like the creamy chipotle tomato soup I’ve got coming for you) often requires starting with peeled and deseeded tomatoes. Fortunately, peeling tomatoes is easier than you may expect. Just let a bit of boiling water do all of the work! Here are a few simple steps for easily peeling tomatoes.

Step 1: Start with beautifully ripe, seasonal tomatoes.

Step 2: Cut a small ‘X’ into the non-stem end of the tomato.

**It’s a good idea to use a paring knife to cut out the tough green stem end at this point. It will help the skin to slip off easier and will save you from removing it later. 

Step 3: Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil.

Step 4: Insert the tomatoes into the water for about 1 minute.

Step 5: Remove the tomatoes using a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of ice water. The skin should be practically falling off on its own.

Step 6: Use your fingers to slide the skin from the tomato. If necessary, use a paring knife to remove any remaining peel.

**Use the paring knife to cut out the green stem end, if you haven’t already.

Step 7: Cut the tomatoes in half. Gently squeeze the tomatoes to remove the seeds. Use your clean fingers to remove the seeds from any small pockets. 

Watermelon Tomato Summer Salad

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I’m beginning to feel like I’m being set up to play the role of the little old lady who swallowed a fly. I live in a quiet suburban neighborhood outside of Syracuse, NY. It’s a peaceful neighborhood, filled with big, old trees; trees with stature and history. But it’s not a wooded area, by far. It’s neither city, nor country. Just a nice, old suburban neighborhood.

And as in many suburban neighborhoods, we have the occasional sightings of small woodland creatures; squirrels, chipmunks, an infrequent rabbit…nothing too unusual. Every so often, we have the pleasure of spotting a befuddled deer standing in the middle of the road, before it gallops off to find its family. But lately, these sightings are becoming more common and increasingly bizarre. Deer seem to be everywhere these days. (One of them even charged my husband’s car the other night.) And I’ve yet to figure out the large crane-like bird I spotted standing beside the small creek which runs behind my local Target.

Since our yard is fully fenced, animal sightings (aside from our own labrasaurus rex) on our property were once rare. Lately however, it’s a practical wild kingdom out there. Our perimeters have been breached. We are now the proud step-parents of a sweet brown bunny with a fluffy white tail, an orange mouse-catching tabby cat, at least one chipmunk, and a woodchuck…all of whom visit on a regular rotating basis whenever the kids or dog are not occupying the yard. Just this morning, I watched as the tabby cat (sans mouse) took his patrolling position atop the fence, much to the dismay of the woodchuck who was leisurely roaming the yard. It’s like my very own menagerie out there. Anyone know what woodchucks eat?

She swallowed the deer to catch the woodchuck. She swallowed the woodchuck to catch the crane. She swallowed the crane to catch the cat. She swallowed the cat to catch the mouse. She swallowed the mouse to catch the fly… I don’t know why she swallowed the fly. Perhaps she’ll die.

I don’t think I like where this is all headed.

But it’s no wonder my neighborhood is being taken over by the wild. It’s been absolutely gorgeous out there. Gone are the winter coats and gone are the days of heavy macaroni and cheeses, filling casseroles, and slow-cooked roasts. This is the time for simple grilled foods and light, refreshing side dishes, like this watermelon and tomato salad. This salad just screams summer to me. Sweet watermelon and fresh orange segments are tossed with summer-ripe tomatoes in a light orange-dijon vinaigrette. It’s beautifully vibrant in both color and flavor!

I served this summery salad as part of our Father’s Day dinner, aside slices of grilled flank steak, which I drizzled in balsamic reduction and topped with gorgonzola and homemade crispy onion straws. It’s a perfect meal to bring in the summer!

Watermelon-Tomato Summer Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 cups seedless watermelon, scooped into small balls
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 oranges, segmented*
  • 1/4 cup red onion, thinly shaved
  • 5-6 fresh basil leaves, chiffonade**
  • 1/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/8 cup olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest (from one of the oranges)
  • Salt
  • Crushed red pepper
*Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to segment an orange.
**Click HERE to see my photo guide on how to chiffonade.

Directions

Combine the watermelon, cherry tomatoes, orange segments, red onion, and basil in a bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together the orange juice, olive oil, red wine vinegar, mustard, and orange zest until well blended. Season with salt and crushed red pepper as desired. Pour the vinaigrette over the fruits and toss to combine. Serve chilled.

Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart with Pine Nut Crust

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Where have I been? Where have I been?  Well, I’ve been unsuccessfully working on composing this post for over a week now. In fact, it’s taken me so long to get this post completed, that I actually received a semi-panicked phone call from my dad, during the mutually agreed upon no-call hour (kids’ bedtime) to make sure I was ok. Awww… My dad checks in on me via this blog. I love that. And yes, I’m am fully ok. Just sucked into the time warp which is having a newborn baby and two very active young boys.

To be fair, I can hardly blame my absence on the baby. He is fully content to stay snuggled in my lap, quietly nursing, as I write. It’s my other two monkeys who leave me with minimal focused time for writing; the ones who are in a perpetual state of movement, mischief, and mayhem.

Oh, and the noise level… I have no words to describe the constant cacophony of assorted noises in this house; trucks, barking dogs, rockin’ guitars, the singing Handy Manny tool box, Spongebob on TV, laughing, screaming, whining, and some other toy that’s perpetually shouting letters at me. Even the puzzles make noise. I’m considering ditching all of these modern, noise-making toys, and bringing back some nice, quiet, battery-free tops, jacks, and jump ropes. Or perhaps I should just buy a set of heavy duty, noise-blocking headphones?

When all is said and done, it’s just been a bit tricky to write lately.

My posts may be few and far between these days, but we’re definitely still cooking! My busy little family needs to eat and summer produce is just begging to be devoured. It’s tomato season now; that time of year where tomatoes are so sweet and luscious, they really live up to their classification as a fruit. Now is the time to whip out those recipes which really showcase ripe tomato flavor.

I’m paying homage to a few beautiful heirloom tomatoes in a simple tart, paired with goat cheese, in a buttery pine nut crust. A bit of fresh basil pesto and a drizzle of balsamic glaze complete the dish. My children have aptly dubbed this recipe “rainbow tomato pie”. My grocery store carries an assortment of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes when the season is right, but specialty tomatoes are not a necessity for this recipe. A few ripe plum tomatoes from your garden or the grocery store will work perfectly.

The tart itself is a cinch to put together once you’ve prepared the crust. There’s no need to get complicated when the ingredients are so prime. Preparing the crust takes a little time, but the good news is that it can be prepared at any point ahead of time and frozen until you’re ready to use it. Freezing the dough in the tart pan prior to baking has the added benefit of reducing shrinkage during baking.

The key to preparing a perfect pie or tart crust is to keep the ingredients cold and avoid overworking the dough. To this end, you’ll want to keep all of your ingredients refrigerated until the moment of use. An extra cold surface, such as a marble slab, is helpful, but not mandatory. As you work, handle the dough as little as possible to prevent the butter from melting by the warmth of your hands.

Heirloom Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart in a Pine Nut Crust

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 10 tablespoons butter, very cold
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tablespoons ice cold water
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • 3 ounces goat cheese
  • 3 heirloom tomatoes, sliced
  • Fresh Basil Pesto (Click here to see my basil pesto recipe.)
  • Balsamic Reduction/Glaze (optional)

Directions

To prepare the pine nut crust: Cut the butter into small chunks, then refrigerate to ensure it is very cold. Combine the flour and salt, then pour the dry ingredients onto your work surface. Add the butter to the flour and use a dough cutter or a fork to cut the butter into the flour mixture until the chunks of butter resemble very small peas. Form an “O” shape on your work surface with the mixture. Place the egg and cold water into the center of the “O”, then use your fingers to gradually draw the flour mixture into the wet ingredients. Continue combining the flour mixture with the egg and water until a dough forms. Once the dough has mostly come together, add the pine nuts and gently knead the dough a few times, just until the pine nuts are evenly dispersed. Work quickly to avoid melting the butter. The dough should be firm and not too sticky. Add additional water, a few drops at a time, if necessary. Form the dough into a round disk shape, wrap in wax paper or plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Once the dough is chilled, roll it into a round on a lightly floured surface, about 1/8″-1/4″ thick, wide enough to fit your tart pan. (A 9″ diameter tart pan, with a low edge and removable bottom is ideal for this recipe, but other tart pans can be used.) Carefully transfer the dough into your tart pan, gently press it into the bottom and sides, and use a knife to cut off any excess dough. Prick the bottom of the dough several times with a fork. Gently press foil over the dough to cover it and freeze for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake, with the foil in place, for 20-25 minutes until the dough appears mostly cooked. Then, remove the foil and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes until the dough is golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool before assembling the tart.

While the tart crust cools, prepare the tomatoes by sprinkling with a bit of salt. Then, place the salted tomatoes in a colander to drain for about 30 minutes. The salt will help to draw out some of the excess liquid in the tomatoes in order to prevent a soggy tart.

To assemble the tart, spread a thin layer of basil pesto on the bottom of the tart crust. Sprinkle the goat cheese in an even layer over the pesto. Then, arrange the tomato slices on top of the goat cheese. Bake for about 25 minutes in a 375 degrees oven. Allow to cool slightly before serving. The tart is best served a little warm or at room temperature.

If desired, drizzle with a bit of balsamic glaze before serving. (You can purchase balsamic glaze at many grocery stores or prepare your own by simmering balsamic vinegar with some sugar or honey until it reduces into a thick, sweet glaze.) I highly recommend this finishing touch!

Fusilli with Braised Beef and Oven Roasted Tomatoes

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The closer I get to my due date, the slower all of my movements become. I’m normally quick and efficient at most tasks. I am now painfully slow and awkward. My every movement is choreographed to a soundtrack of grunts and other sounds of physical exertion.

Ok…thankfully it’s not quite that bad, though I’m definitely better suited to sitting on my couch writing this little post than bopping around the kitchen preparing meals these days. I suspect we’ll be enjoying a lot of takeout during these next few weeks.

With my due date rapidly approaching, I just don’t have the time, energy, or motivation to deal with lengthy ingredient lists and complicated cooking steps. As I waddle my very pregnant body around the kitchen, with two active toddlers running circles around me, simplicity is essential. Heck…I’ve got a low tolerance for lengthy, complicated recipes even on my best days!

Thankfully, mouthwatering dishes with fantastic depth of flavor don’t require long, complicated ingredient lists or intricate culinary techniques. A few well-chosen ingredients and a simple slow-cooked technique can produce an extremely satisfying meal with intense flavors.

Fusilli with Braised Beef and Oven Roasted Tomatoes

Ingredients

  • 1/2 package fusilli pasta (or other pasta)

For the Beef:

  • 2 pounds beef short ribs (about 4-6 ribs)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 1/2 cups beef stock
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper

For the Tomatoes:

  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley, for garnish
Directions
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • In a large oven-safe pot or dutch oven, heat olive oil over medium heat. Season the short ribs with salt and pepper. Place the short ribs in the hot oil and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side until lightly browned. Add the beef stock, tomato paste and garlic to the pot. Stir to combine. Cover and place the pot on the middle rack of the oven. Allow to cook, covered, for 1 1/2 hours. Then, partially uncover a corner of the pot and cook for 30 minutes more.
  • For the tomatoes, toss in a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer on a baking sheet. Place in the oven for the last 35-45 minutes of the beef’s cooking time.
  • Once the beef has cooked, remove the pot from the oven. Remove the short ribs from the sauce and set aside to cool slightly. Pour the sauce into a large measuring cup. (You should have about a cup or so of sauce.) Allow the sauce to settle for a few minutes. The excess oil and fat will rise to the top. Pour off the excess fat or use a spoon to skim away the excess fat. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper, as desired.
  • When the beef is cool enough to handle, cut off any excess fat or cartilage. Then, use your fingers or a fork to pull the meat apart.
  • To serve, cook the pasta al dente, according to package directions. Toss the pasta with the sauce. Place some of the shredded meat and several roasted tomatoes on top of the pasta. Garnish with parmesan cheese and fresh parsley.

Serves 2-4


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