Tomato, tomahto, say soup that’s squisito!

 

I say to-ma-to, you say to-mah-to.

But when the soup’s simmering, we agree. Homemade is the way to go!

When the chips are down and you’re feeling blue … when winter’s chill your bones bores through … when you’re dragged down by a cold or flu … hot tomato soup is what to do!

Like chicken noodle, tomato soup is a consummerate comfort food. Paired with a toasted cheese sandwich, does soothing the heart and keeping meat on the bones get much better on a chilly night?

I’m a big fan of tomato soup. Campbell’s rocks! However, am not a fan of the high sugar content. (Actually, have never understood why Campell’s adds so much sugar to its tomato soup save to satisfy the American palate that equates sugar with flavor. Sad.)

So I searched around and found a simple yet so satisfying Roasted Tomato Soup sans sugar on Food Network.

Let’s get cookin’!

1. As luck had it, there were already 2 pounds of cherry tomatoes from Costco in the fridge. They hadn’t made it into salads or smoothies as planned and the skins were beginning to crinkle — the perfect excuse and use for a soup

2 pounds of aging cherry tomatoes

2. Each tomato is sliced in half and laid in a roasting pan coated on the bottom with parchment paper. Foil would also do. Good thing I love to cook cuz slicin’ 2 pounds of little tomatoes gets, well, a little tedious! 🙂

3. On top of the tomatoes are slices of 1 medium white onion. And I weep like a little girl who just lost her best friend.

4. Plus 6 cloves of garlic, peeled. No need to chop. Spot a clove at knife tip?

tomatoes, onion, garlic, olive oil. salt and pepper. Simple!

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Snowballs from the oven. Has the world gone mad?!

Yes it has. Yet let us bake nonetheless!

Baking. Gets no more basic than Betty Crocker sometimes. 

After disappointment with a cookie recipe — unfortunately Christmas cookies for my son — at one site, I returned to ol’ Betts for another batch. Earmarked for the food-demo gals and guys at Costco. 

So sorry my son got the bleh batch with the bleh recipe! Won’t happen again.

Mexican wedding cakes. Russian tea cakes. Snowballs. Call them what you will, they’re a well-liked popular cookie, except among folks who can’t eat or don’t like nuts. And so seasonal! We here in cental Arizona did not get the white Christmas promised us repeatedly by the forecasters. 

Wouldn’t it be something to be continuously wrong or bad at your job and STILL get paid?!

Snowballs. Really, they’re shortbread in a ball. Rich buttery shortbread with sugar, vanilla and finely-chopped nuts.

Some folks use walnuts or almonds. I stick with pecans. They’re traditional. Plus have a meatier and richer flavor than walnuts and (certainly) almonds, thereby nicely complementing the buttery shortbread.

Here’s the recipe and Russian tea cakes from ol’ gal Betty:

Ingredients

1 cup butter or margarine, softened

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 1/4 cups Gold Medal™ all-purpose flour

3/4 cup finely chopped nuts

1/4 teaspoon salt

Powdered sugar

Directions

Heat oven to 400ºF. (Note: seemed too hot to me so I went with 350)

Mix butter, 1/2 cup powdered sugar and the vanilla in large bowl. Stir in flour, nuts and salt until dough holds together.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place about 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake 10 to 12 minutes or until set but not brown. Remove from cookie sheet. Cool slightly on wire rack.

Roll warm cookies in powdered sugar; cool on wire rack. Roll in powdered sugar again.

Now the best and completely calories-free part: Pics!

The raw dough with pecans very finely chopped. That’s key IMHO. Enables through mixing and a nutty flavor in every bite.

 

snowballs dough at the start

 
Size matters. Snowballs rolled into the size of golfballs are the preference of some. I prefer those slightly bigger than, say, a walnut shell. These cookies do not spread so what you roll is what you’ll get.  

Also, the thick bigger balls increase the chance of burning on the bottom (since, as I said, they don’t spread). Even when rolled small, I need to keep an eye out since my oven bakes hot; hence I rotate the cookie sheets at the halfway mark.

raw snowballs heading into oven

 
Oops! I forgot to photograph the balls fresh outta the oven! Oh well. Here they come in their snowy finest.

This is a good place to mention why I didn’t like the first recipe for the batch that unfortunately was mailed to my son. It did not call for a SECOND rolling in powdered sugar.

It was the critical flaw.

The secret to a successful snowball is this: 

(1) Roll them the first time in powdered sugar while still warm, about 5 minutes out of the oven. This ensures a coating that will stick. If you wait until they’ve cooled, you’ve, we’ll, screwed up!

(2) Roll them in powdered sugar a second time anytime after they’re fully cooled. This second roll creates a fluffy snow that sticks.

a white christmas after all!

Now, like I said, these were for the Costco demo gals and guys. I know some “well.” In my town, they’re always so nice and friendly and their smiles lift my spirit so these are a merry token of my appreciation and gratitude. 

Hence into each baggie went two snowballs and two kisses made of chocolate. How they got delivered is a secret between me and Santa ;-).

 

snowballs and kisses in a bag

 
 The batch readied for delivery by a (not-too-secret) secret Santa. Since one of the Costco demo gals can’t eat gluten (genuinely, separate from the gluten-free trend of the times), she gets extra kisses and a cinnamon votive candle.  🙂 

a buncha snowballs in bags

 

A Lickety-Split (Peas) Soup? Yes Please!

Sure, there’s the cold … the long dark nights … turning on the furnace for the first time … the hibernation.

Yet, for me, it’s when the hearty homemade soup appears on the scene that winter c’est arrivé.

No winter soup arrives before its time. For that timing, I trust my biology, my gut, knowingness, intuition. I trust my bones, my inner farmer’s almanac, the flow of the seasons.

That first pot of a hearty soup — invariably split pea or lentil with a ham bone, the all-important, all-imperative, integral ham bone — announces:

Yes. The corner from autumn into winter is turned.

I eat foods and drink craft ales with the season. That’s what you should know about me. For this post. 🙂

Now.

The cold season brings out my inner German hausfrau. Earthy nourishing soups are my strength. Pasta, not at bit! Wasn’t Italian in the last 4 lifetimes, at least!

I do peruse soup recipes online for ideas, inspirations or guidelines for amounts. However, generally I just create by intuition and gut and body needs/cravings.

A couple days ago, the green light went off announcing: “It’s time. You can make the soup now.”

Kinda like being in labor and heading to the hospital only far less painful!

The twist:

It was 9 o’clock at night. I’d eaten little to nothing all day. I needed food. Good food. And I needed it fast.

I’d planned on using the crockpot.

Then I thought again about my mother.

She and I had a fucking toxic relationship. I’ve tons of issues unresolved. I’ll say that straight out.

AND she was a good cook. One of my fondest memories is her making lentil soup from scratch. With the ham bone. Always the ham bone. I remember her stirring the big pot on the stovetop and lentil soup simmering eternally, seemingly.

I didn’t want leftovers or to freeze half a batch. I get bored eating the same foods, even a yummy soup, after three days.

So my aim: Three Days of Soup. Starting Now.

Now to the meat of the matter.

A. My soups always begin with Better than Bouillon. A genuine chicken stock in a jar. (There’s also a beef.) I could rave forever about the product! I shall n-e-v-e-r return to bouillon salt cubes.

My super soup starter

My super soup starter

B. Bring 5 cups of water to a boil. Add a heaping tablespoon of Better Than Bouillon chicken base.

C. Five simple ingredients plus spices. That’s all it took for my Easy-Peasy Split Pea Soup.

Five simple ingredients plus spices

Five simple ingredients plus spices

1. 1/2 pound of dried split peas. Typically half a bag. Or 1 cup. Note: **Split peas do not need to be soaked.**

2. 2 celery stalks, diced.

3. 2 carrots, diced.

4. 1/2 large white onion, diced. Guesstimate 1 cup. I loooove onion so am generous with the root vegetable. If you’re not, dice to taste.

5. 1 pound ham hocks. Mine were smoked. Use less (or none) to taste.

6. 2 bay leaves, salt, pepper.

Slide all into the pan with 5 cups of chicken stock. Bring to a boil, then cover and simmer for around 90 minutes.

easy split pea soup  ready to roll

easy split pea soup
ready to roll

Check and stir often. Split peas absorb water as they cook and thicken into a paste. So do keep an eye on the water and replenish accordingly. Cook until the peas turn soft. Don’t be mislead into thinking that they’re cooked just because the mixture’s thick.

Some folks prefer pea soup the consistency of white school paste. Not I. I like a slightly-watery thick. So around 2-3 cups of water added intermittently achieved desired consistency.

D. My Easy-Peasy Split Peas-y Soup was infused with a nice hammy smokey salty flavor. So bear that in mind when you add seasonings before cooking.

Normally I slice hock meat into the soup. However, mine were rich in flavor and fat that I decided to instead use them for a second batch. Soon, very soon.

EZ split pea soup

EZ split pea soup

E. Partnered with a grilled cheese, a nourishing and warming supper that’s lickety-split (peas) too!

Easy split pea soup + grilled cheese = easy supper

Easy split pea soup + grilled cheese = easy supper

Pop by for poppers!

Poppers were pledged so poppers it shall be!

Jalapeño poppers are the perfect party food. They’re fun to make and to eat! And fun to pronounce! You try. Say “poppers” without smiling!

I whipped these up for the gang at the saloon as a token of gratitude on Thanksgiving. I wanted light ‘n’ lively figuring everyone’s tummies would be heavy with holiday fare.

Let’s get real. Light jalapeño poppers are an oxymoron!

I drew from this recipe for “Light(er) Jalapeño Poppers” at Gimme Some Oven. Love the site!

I double the recipe to produce 40 jalapeño halves for the saloon patrons. That’ll be reflected in my recipe posted at the end. If you’re not feeding a crowd, merely halve it.

I use the whipped “low-calorie” cream cheese to cut calories & richness. Haha, as if! Truth told, you’d never know by taste or texture.

So let’s get … poppin’!

1. I use turkey bacon to keep these poppers “slim.” Yeah, right!

turkey bacon. because every calorie counts in a popper!

Turkey bacon. Because every calorie counts in a popper!

2. Turkey bacon doesn’t crisp up and crumble like regular bacon. So I dice before pan-frying. Makes things easier later.

diced raw turkey bacon

Diced raw turkey bacon

Pan-fried turkey bacon. 'Tis Thanksgiving after all!

Pan-fried turkey bacon. ‘Tis Thanksgiving after all!


3. 20 jalapeño peppers. Aren’t they beautiful? Plus not pricey!

bootiful!

bootiful!

4. Peppers sliced in half.

peppers overfloweth off my little cutting board

peppers overfloweth off my little cutting board

5. Remove membrane and seeds. The heat lies there. Now, I don’t find jalapeños all that hot so am fine with leaving bits of seeds or membrane.

cleanedjalapeno

6. Jalapeños are small and split easily. I discover this trick to minimize tearing. Clean the insides starting at the top, where the knife’s pointing.

start here to deseed

start here to deseed

5. Now the filling, oh the decadently fatty filling!

You’re gazing upon 2 tubs of reduced-fat cream cheese {hahaha! can’t get over the oxymoron!} … 1 jalapeño, seeds ‘n’ all, diced to bring a lil’ heat … diced turkey bacon … minced garlic … shredded sharp cheddar cheese … chili powder for a smidge more contrast and sharpness. Sidenote: Things do whip up more easily using the soft whipped cream cheese compared to regular blocks.

popper filling

popper filling

6. Filling the poppers. I started with a spoon. Frankly, it was a pain. So I used my best natural tool: my hands. It’s like working with very sticky cookie dough but doable if like me you’re very skilled with your hands. Otherwise, simply stick with the spoon.

Oops, I deleted that pic! Oh well, you’ll get the idea with the next.

7. A true popper has a crunchy coating and is fried.

Now, I do not like fried foods. Neither do I own or want a fryer. The beauty of the baked popper is it DOES trim the fat. For what that’s worth in a snack steeped in cheeseS. Plural.

I consider the crunch mandatory. I’m a fan of panko, a favoritism cultivated in my decade in Japan. However, you could certainly use regular bread crumbs. I’ve seen recipes using crushed saltines (eh, too salty), cornflakes (eh, too sweet). Your call.

The topping of panko and parmesan cheese are mixed in a bowl:

poppers topping

poppers topping


Into the oven they go:

into the oven

into the oven

8. My oven cooks unevenly and I didn’t want the panko-parmesan to burn. So I bake the poppers sans topping for 5 minutes, just until the filling begins to soften and cook. I pull them out, lavishly sprinkle on the crumbs and slide ’em back in.

The recipe calls for baking 15-20 minutes. I couldn’t say but it sounds about right. Because my oven cooks fast and unevenly, I just keep a close eye and nose on ’em.

9. Feast your eyes upon pe-pe-pe-pe-perfect pop-pop-pop-pop poppers!

jalapenosbaked

Gimme gooey greens!

Gimme gooey greens!

ALLYCAT’S POPPERS FOR 40

8 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled
16 ounces whipped cream cheese
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. chili powder
Dash of salt and pepper
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
20 jalapeños, halved lengthwise, seeds removed; for heat, leave some in

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil.

Deseed jalapeños.

In a bowl, stir cream cheese, shredded cheese, bacon bits, garlic, seasonings.

In a separate bowl, mix panko and parmesan cheese.

Spoon or hand-fill filling into each jalapeño.

Bake about 5 minutes until cheese begins to warm and soften.

Remove from oven. Sprinkle on panko-parmesan mixture. Return to oven.

Bake about 15 minutes or until topping is toasty golden brown.

Serve immediately. Or later. People love poppers piping hot or lukewarm!

Kisses for everyone!

It’s not what ya think.

‘Tis the season of bountiful harvest and abundance.

So it’s fitting that my mind overfloweth! With thoughts of gratitude, creativity and how to express them in my (newish) home and to those around me.

Take jalapeño poppers.

Not the most traditional fare on Thanksgiving, admittedly. But then, neither was my Thanksgiving.

Worked a half-day at a job I love. Gratitude! Returned home to a much-improved domestic situation — more gratitude! — to resume creating my fabric window treatments.

Then in the evening bopped down to the saloon for the regular Thursday music and our gang of four, five including myself.

Only turkey in my sight Thursday was a drumstick leftover from a potluck four days prior. I picked at it at work. Fed little pieces to Caesar the cat at the radio station. That was the extent of my traditional holiday fare.

Jalapeño poppers are a blast to make. Plus they’re light. And super-tasty with beer. I reckoned they were the perfect fare for folks with tummies heavy with Thanksgiving feast.

I’ve a poppers post pending plus pix. So wait for it.

Meanwhile, these thoughts of gratitude and creativity overfloweth.

On the long list is my job at the radio station (currently 11 hours a week with hints of more, possibly 8 — yes! — in the wind), my coworkers and of course Caesar the station cat.

So today kisses are on the agenda.

Candy cane kisses from Hersheys.

Y’all have seen ’em. In bowls at workplaces, offices, parties, atop cookies and cakes.

Hershey's holiday kisses

Hershey’s holiday kisses

Those red-and-white peppermint droplets dressed for the season in their finest foil.

Butter. The sole glitch.

A half-cup reads the recipe on the bag. So one cube, softened.

So late last night after work I set the butter on a dish near a window that gets good morning sun. So it’d be all nice ‘n’ soft by the time I got up around noon.

Hard as a rock!

Might as well’ve just stored it in the fridge! Tells ya everything ya need to know about the climate.

Not wanting to turn on the oven (don’t have a microwave) or melt the butter but just soften it, I did the McGyver thang.

Set the unwrapped butter cube in a bowl.

Set the bowl atop the heater floor vent.

Set a box on top of the bowl to trap the heat.

Turned the furnace up just a smidge.

And of course the force of air sent the box sailing!

So I grabbed the first heavy object I could think of to weight the box down.

My McGyver oven

My McGyver oven

Open sesame!

soft-y, no melt-y!

soft-y, no melt-y!

See!? Like opening a Christmas gift but knowing what’s inside.

Softened butter. Courtesy of the furnace and thank you, furnace! Bet you don’t read about a McGyver oven every day!

Off to bake kisses of gratitude. Toodles for now.

The pumpkin palette’s painted!

So I finally figured out what to paint upon that pumpkin palette!

To term it an aha! moment would be overstating. More a bingo! moment. Happened while surfing for ideas on my phone seated on pavement outside a grocery store during my 10-minute break at the lame crap job I’m seeking to unload ASAP.

{Ain’t that a mouthful of a sentence!}

Garam masala. Of course!

By no means do I claim to be seasoned {haha, no word play intended} in Indian cuisine and cooking. I do know that India’s northern and southern regions have distinctly differing cuisine featuring different spices. And of course there’s then the microcosmic differences in locales and family recipes passed on through the generations. Northern India, I read, is more garam masala country and southern turmeric. This is one person’s opinion on the Internet. Believe at your own peril!

Anyhow, as I mentioned, I already have a homemade chicken-veggie soup starring turmeric and complementary spices such as coriander and cumin in the fridge. Hence for the roasted kabocha, I hankered for another flavor palette.

So when I stumbled across garam masala — mystery solved!

Frankly — and sadly — I didn’t have a lot of time or energy to create a pumpkin soup with a punch! It was late by the time I got home last night. The (lame crap) job, as usual, had zapped me of my vitality. The night was cold, I’d not eaten all day and I had somewheres to be shortly.

All adding up to a Rush Job. (No relation to Limbaugh.)

While I loooove cooking dishes that are complicated, challenging, take time, energy, commitment and creativity, yesterday’s challenge — paint that pumpkin palette, pronto! — reminds me that there’s a place — nee need — for Healthful Food on the Fly.

{gross, wash that fly image outta my mind!}

So, on that note, here’s how “My Hasty Kabocha Soup” shook down.

1. Created a base of chicken stock using Better than Bouillon in the jar. About 5 cups.

I could sing the praises of this product until the cows come home! — speaking of India — and have. {somewheres a post on it.} I’m hardcore about my soup bases. Uncompromising, unyielding. Either the broth’s homemade from real bones or Better Than Bouillon. I do NOT do those dry cubes. Never. You won’t either once you taste Better Than Bouillon. Enough said.

2. Pulled that waiting pan of 1 roasted kabocha + 2 white onions + 4 garlic cloves, all roasted the day before, close.
kabochawaiting

3. Added 1 immersion blender.

4. Removed the boiling chicken stock from the stove. (Don’t use immersion blenders with a heat source.) Added the veggies in increments to blend.

An immersion blender is best employed in a tall vertical narrow container (i.e., blender design). Why? Because when buzzing in a large open pot, liquid goes flying! Kabocha splatters across my clothing, face, stovetop, walls!

Regardless of how carefully and meticulously (I’m the Queen of Meticulous) I tried to keep everything contained within the pot, I was still wiping soup off my shirt! I’m sure one day I’ll discover pumpkin splatters in some strange spot clear across the kitchen.

Anyhow, messy though it be, I made it work. The trick with an immersion blender, beyond blending within a tall container which I didn’t have, is working in small batches. An immersion blender’s blade isn’t large — think coffee grinder — and is easily overloaded. Employ patience. And a rain suit {kidding!}

5. Once everything was blended into mush, I tasted. The pumpkin, onions & garlic, all roasted and salted with Himalayan pink salt (sea salt would also work — I don’t do iodized!) and caramelized, could’ve stood alone. Still. I had other ideas.

6. The final note:  2 tsp. of garam masala. Pow! The Perfect Pumpkin Punch!

On a side note, I finally decided to add a touch of creaminess. So poured in 1/4 cup of half-and-half (I use it sparingly in my coffee, otherwise cannot stand the taste of milk!). Yum. Just right!

7. For zest, I roasted a half handful of pecans (that I chopped) and pumpkin seeds. On an ungreased skillet on the stove. Simple. When roasting nuts, be mindful not to burn, lest your tastebuds incur the wrath of bitterness.

8. Voila!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that you can indeed leave on the dark green-brown skin on kabocha. As with the humble potato, it’s packed with nutrients. And though it’s tough as wood and you’re tempted to rent a chainsaw when slicing into pumpkin, the peel softens beautifully when cooked (roasted, steamed, etc.).

I looooove skins left on foods (I’m a nature girl that way); your mileage may vary. Just know that by in leaving the skin on, you sacrifice that gorgeous bright orange we all recognize for an earthy burnt orange. (Personally, when it’s just me eating, it’s a sacrifice I’m happy to make for “peely perks.”)

The pumpkin palette’s painted. Soup’s on! And God bless garam masala!

Come, come kabocha!

Come, come kabocha!

Come closer, kabocha!

Come closer, kabocha!

What to paint, what to paint upon a palette of pumpkin

You’ve heard of a lady-in-waiting? I’ve a pumpkin-in-waiting.

A kabocha (aka Japanese pumpkin), approximately 2 pounds, beautifully roasted with white onions and garlic.

It’s my palette of pumpkin.

kabochawaiting

What shall I create upon it?

A soup, certainly.

Yet what kind?

Another soup, a chicken-vegetable soup featuring Indian spices — spotlight on turmeric — is already concocted and on tap in the fridge. Hence not feeling Indian for the kabocha.

I do not care for dairy-based soups. Thus no milk, be it from a cow or soybean or coconut (yeechhhh!!!) shall cross the kabocha!

I’m not averse to the nutmeg-cinnamon-dash-of-allspice route. Lord knows they complement kabocha’s enticingly subtle sweet earthy flavor.

But remember, dear readers, this kabocha, like the onions, is roasted — and thus caramelized. Hence the sweetness of the dish needs no enhancing.

I’ve also considered curry — another traditional route when pairing pumpkin and spice.

Yet, as with the nutmeg-cinnamon-dash-of-allspice option, been there done that.

I’ve a hankering for something different. Undiscovered. Unique to my cooking history. Specifically soup history. (Soups are my strength & speciality, as mentioned yesterday.)

If you’ve any great ideas, bring ’em on! I’m open to suggestions. Just no dairy. Or anything remotely coconutty! 🙂

Well, the time tells me I gotta run to my job. In a grocery store. Perhaps a customer’s purchase of spices will inspire! Perhaps it shall the way as I paint upon my palette of pumpkin! Toodles for now.