Soup

Tomato Recipes

One of my favorite things to do for friends is pampering them with food. It's always been my way of saying "Hey dude, I really love you, thanks for always being so great." Plus it's a great opportunity for me to play around with new recipes and challenge myself to create something memorable. I cooked this particular (tomato themed) dinner for my dear friend Eric, who travels a lot and what does a traveler want the most upon returning home? A home-cooked meal.

No problemo homie.

We started off with a nice Summery (virgin) cocktail but please feel free to add a splash of Hendrick's Gin as my husband chose to do so -- it tastes reminiscent to a dreamsicle except without the creaminess and ends with a nice hint of fennel.

 Yellow Tomato Gazpacho was next on the list -- it took me awhile to get use to the concept of "cold soups" but this one is fabulous. I used mostly yellow teardrops for my soup and the sweetness was phenomenal! It's a great recipe to make ahead and it can also be served as an amuse bouche at parties.

Next came a simple salad topped with toasted pecans, goat cheese, and heirloom tomatoes drizzled with some Italian olive oil a dear friend brought back for me and a sprinkle of kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Feel free to squeeze a little lemon for an extra acid kick. Simple, healthy, delicious -- I know, I'm a baus.

You can also serve the salad in a bowl if plates aren't your thing. Or maybe because you ran out of plates. You get the idea.

This was probably my favorite, well after the main course that is. I took some sourdough, toasted it and melted it with some smoked gruyere and topped it with spicy tomato jam (I added a habanero in mine to give it a super kick), avocado slices and arugula.

 

The smokiness of the gruyere really paired nicely with the sweet and spicy jam -- the jam is also a great dipping sauce for meatballs or even better on top of some cheese and crackers.

Aaaah main course: Maryland Crabcake with Israeli Couscous in a Spicy Tomato Broth. It's amazing how generous you can be with the size of your crabcakes when you make them at home, I even had an extra dish of crab meat left over which I used for an omelet the next morning.

I made the broth from tomato juice, dashi and some thai chiles, which is the same liquid I cooked my couscous in. The Maryland crab cake recipe I used can be found here. As a Chef once told me "It's all about that Old Bay Seasoning." Amen to that Chef! I loved the light breading for this style of crab cake, it really gave the perfect texture I was looking for.

 

Unfortunately, there was no tomato themed dessert. Instead I just made some chocolate chip cookies and scooped some vanilla bean ice cream on top. All tummies were satisfied :).

As you can see, I kept all these recipes pretty simple. It's nice to not be stuck in the kitchen the whole time and be able to sit down and enjoy the meal with friends so make things easy on yourself: prep ahead of time, pick recipes with simple execution and have fun with it!

 

Share the love today and make your loved ones something home cooked -- not only does it replenish the belly but it renews the soul. Now get off that katoosh and get in that kitchen!

 

Curried Butternut Squash Soup

“ The nuns taught us there were two ways through life – the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow. Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Like to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things. The nuns taught us that no one who loves the way of grace ever comes to a bad end. I will be true to you. Whatever comes.”

Mrs. O’Brien from The Tree of Life

 

Too often I find myself struggling to control things that are not meant to be contained – these millions of images that race through my mind, flashing back to moments of time that somehow define the person I am today.

How much easier Life would be if only things happened with a simple command.

 

Winter came late this year. The Northerly winds howled their eerie song last night, ripping off the leaves that remained on the branches. I pray that it doesn’t stay long.

There’s something about the cold that changes me-- the way it can slowly seep into your bones – a pain that resonates in every hollow crevice in your body. Constant comfort found in deep mugs of piping hot tea, oversized blankets pulled up to your nose, and the perfect bowl of a soul-warming soup that helps you feel alive again.

 

Few things grow during the Winter, it’s nap time for Nature. But for the few things that are available, they grow strong and plentiful like Butternut Squash and Sweet Potatoes. Cook with the seasons, accept what they offer you and embrace the connection of food to soul.

Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Recipe Type: Entree
Author: Joy Zhang
Prep time: 1 hour
Cook time: 1 hour
Total time: 2 hours
Serves: 4-6
Curried Butternut Squash Soup
Ingredients
  • 1 medium Butternut Squash, seeded, peeled and cut into big chunks
  • 1 Sweet Potato, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 4 cloves garlic, smashed
  • Kosher salt
  • Black Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 3 cups water
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • Salt pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400F. Line large baking sheet with foil or parchment paper. In a large bowl mix butternut squash, sweet potatoes and garlic together. Evenly coat with olive oil and place on large baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until squash and potatoes are very soft. Take out and set aside.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in large pot over medium heat. Place chopped onion and curry powder and sauté until fragrant and onion is caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add coconut milk along with 3 cups of water, mix well. Add roasted butternut and garlic. Remove from heat. Take hand-held blender and carefully mix all ingredients in pot until smooth (you may also use a normal blender to do this).
  3. Return to heat and add fish sauce and taste with salt and pepper. If the soup is still too thick for your liking, you can thin it out with vegetable stock or water. Add ¼ cup amounts at a time until you reach desired consistency. Serve hot and garnish with croutons and drizzle with high-quality extra virgin olive oil if desired.
Notes

**** If the squash is too hard to cut, place into oven for 10 minutes to soften. This will facilitate the cutting process. **** When caramelizing onions do not move the onions around too much, stir the pan every minute or so. If the onions are burning too fast, simply lower the heat. **** To avoid kitchen injuries, never try blending soups when they are piping hot. Allow soup to cool a little before blending. **** Leftover soup can be frozen and store for up to a month.

Roasted Tomato Soup

I remember the first time I met Collin.  It was at my friend’s party and I was 20 at the time.  I decided to drive up to Dallas and visit my good friend, Mr. H to celebrate the annual TX/OU game. He raved to me that I'd love his roommate: tall, blonde, blue eyes, six-pack abs -- yep that sounds like my type! However, first impression I didn't think he was all that and a bag of chips, to be honest I found him to be quite rude. There he was standing outside with a muscle shirt on with some dirty ripped jeans, holding a beer in one hand and rubbing his abs with the other -- who the hell was this guy? Sup, my name is Collin.

He extended his ab rubbing hand towards me, I raised my brow at him. Hi, I'm Joy.

And that was pretty much the end of our conversation. He turned around to laugh at his friend's dirty joke as his cup of beer sloshed inches away from my new stiletto shoes. What a dick. Little did I know the seemingly self-absorbed meathead with the cut off shirt would be my future husband. Who would've thunk it?

The weekend ended up being pretty much uneventful. Oh yes, he helped me set up my wireless internet and that's how we actually started to talk afterwards because he had added his screen name to my buddy list. But there was one thing I couldn't get over...he was just so so cute with his blue eyes (and abs). Call me shallow but ladies, he had it going on. So one day I decided to message him, you know, just to say "Hello" again and the rest? Well you know how it goes.

I fell deeply and madly in love with the tall blonde boy with the blue eyes and abs. After months of online conversations, ab boy turned out to be quite easily one of the funniest, caring and most eccentric guys I've ever met. He liked to do impressions and often made goofy jokes, he always helped me with my Physics homework (because that shit is impossible), he was an Electrical Engineer major and spent most of his time building underwater submarines, he shopped at the local Chinatown market because he enjoyed buying the gigantic one pound box of WuMu noodles for a shocking deal of $2.99 – what can I say? I knew this was love.

Five years later, my love for ab boy just keeps growing day by day. Granted I've now downgraded his abs to a cute little smushy belly, he swears to me he's bringing it back this year for our wedding. It doesn't matter to me though -- abs or no abs he's won my heart forever. He’s the perfect fit for me, like PB&J or peas and carrots or cheese and crackers!! (can you tell I’m hungry?) I count my blessings every day that somehow in this vast world I was able to find my one and while some may call young love naive, I can guarantee this is the man I will spend the rest of my life with. (He eats chicken feet and pig ears for christsake what more could a Chinese girl ask for??)

I'll cut this love shpeal short, I'm sure the faint-hearted are puking from this mushy love declaration and can barely contain their mangled expressions of agony so I’ll spare you, for now.  It’s just that he made me the most wonderful heart-shaped blueberry pancakes with a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice this morning since we were stuck at home due to the Ice Storm in Dallas.  Anyways, just enjoy this Roasted Tomato Soup.   It has a nice kick and like all things in life, everything is better when you add a little spice to it ;) (ya know what I’m saaaayin?).

Ingredients for Roasted Tomato Soup: (serves 4-6)

Prep time: 10 minutes; Total cooking time: 1 hour

  • 2 pounds fresh tomatoes
  • 7 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 medium white onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp cayenne
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 quart chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs, optional
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream, optional

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Wash, core and cut the tomatoes into halves. Spread the tomatoes and garlic cloves onto a baking tray lined with foil. Drizzle with 1/2 cup of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.  Roast for 20 to 30 minutes, or until caramelized.

Remove roasted tomatoes and garlic from the oven and set aside.  In a large pot melt the butter at medium high heat.  Once it is bubbling add the diced onion, carrots and cayenne.  Saute until onions are translucent, about 3-4 minutes. Add 3/4 of the chicken stock, bay leaves, and roasted garlic and tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until liquid has reduced by a third.

Wash and dry herbs and add as a garnish when ready to serve. Use an immersion blender to puree the soup until smooth. Return soup to low heat, add cream and adjust consistency with remaining chicken stock, if necessary. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Garnish in bowl with fresh herbs and crostini if preferred.

My Mother's Wonton Soup

Since my mother moved back to Shanghai a couple months back, I've found myself not only missing her (terribly) but reminiscing back to all the Chinese traditions that she's instilled in me over all these years.  I almost feel less Chinese without her -- no more ancient Chinese medicines, no more meditation practices, no one to speak Chinese to, no one yelling over my shoulder "AIYA JOY put that back, why you always buy buy buy??  SAVE MONEY!"   It feels weird to not have my mother completely accesible -- I'll pick up the phone to call her with a question only to realize she's 13 hours ahead of me.

I miss her.  I miss laughing loudly with her, Collin would constantly complain about us making his ears ring but we couldn't help it -- we have way too much fun together.   I miss going to the asian markets with her, it's been a tradition since as young as I could remember.  My mother worked a lot and the little free time she did have she spent coooking for us. Every Sunday for 13 years I followed her to the market where we'd do our shopping for the week and she'd always let me get a little snack as a treat for tagging along :).  I miss eating her food, I realize maybe I don't make Chinese food as much as I should because it just doesn't taste quite like Mom's.  It's just not the same.

 

My nostalgia left me feeling a little empty and found myself craving for some type of comfort.  I called my mom and told her --

"Mom not having you here makes me sad, it also makes my tummy sad." 

"I miss you Joy!  Why your tummy sad?  You get fat?" 

"...NO (yes)! Mom that's not the point, I wish you were here to make me food."

"OOOH fancy girl!  Become milloinaire and mommy move back to cook for you."

"You better watch out mom, I'm already half way there..."

" Why you no make wonton?  You make you freeze you eat whenever you want!"

But of course, WONTONS what could be more soul comforting that that?  It's like getting a big warm hug without my mom even being here!  Best part is, everytime I make these they do taste just like mom's!  I'd remember during the holidays my mom, aunts and cousins and I would gather around the table making wontons.  We'd set up an assembly line almost, I'd be in charge of taking the wonton peels apart, my aunt would divide up the filling and my cousin would fold the wontons and my mom would cook them up.  Best part is, any wontons we didn't eat my mom would freeze and then portion out into individual bags for later use. 

 

Ingredients for My Mother's Wonton Soup: (makes 48-54 wontons)

  • 7 oz shrimp, shelled
  • 14 oz ground pork
  • 1 package wonton wrappers
  • 1/2 egg white
  • 1 tablespoon corn strach
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1/4 t salt
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine
  • 1 teaspoon ginger, minced
  • 1 teaspoon sugar

-------

  • 6 cups chicken stock 
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • cilantro and green onion, chopped for garnish
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  •  

 

Wash the shrimp, squeeze out the excess moisture and chop coarsely.  Mix together with the ground pork, egg white, cornstarch, sesame oil, salt, sugar, rice wine and ginger.  Take your wonton wrappers and wrap them in a moist towel, this keeps the wrappers from drying out.  Wrap one teaspoon filling in each wonton wrapper.  You can fold them as the way I've shown or just gather and twist the edges together to form a little purse. 

Bring the chicken stock and salt and white pepper to a boil and pour into a soup bowl.  Bring 5 cups of water to a boil and drop in the wontons.  Cook until the wontons rise to the top, about 5 minutes.  Remove the wontons from the water and place in the prepared chicken broth.  Top with scallions, cilantro and drizzle with sesame oil.  Serve immediately. 

 

***** A trick my mom would always use to adjust the flavorings for the filling is she would make a wonton and cook and taste it first.  That way you're able to adjust the flavorings according to your taste (i.e. add more salt to the filling or more sugar or more wine). 

 ***** My mom use to steam the wontons and then place them in the broth.  This keeps the wontons from falling apart and becoming over cooked.  If you choose to steam the wontons you can use a bamboo steamer (as pictured) and steam for 10 minutes on high heat.  You can also eat the wontons plain without the broth and serve them alongside a dipping sauce. 

***** also note the orange slices serve no purpose in the broth except for a nice garnish and color contrast, do feel free to leave that out. 

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So as I promised awhile ago I'd share some pictures of my mom that I took before she left.  Thankfully she's not able to see my blog in China because she specifically told me "Do not put my old face on your website, who wants to see an old lady?"  That's where I think she's wrong.  My mom is in her mid 50s and she looks anything BUT old -- I can only HOPE that by the time I reach her age I look as good as she does. 

Please note that I did not use any blurring or retouching of her face because I wanted everyone to observe the quality of her complexion.  Her secret?  Well where do I start....she has never tanned once in her life, she's never eaten fast food for the 25 years shes lived here (aside from the occasional ice cream cone from McDonald's), her daily diet usually consists of boiled vegetables, very little meat and virtually no salt.  She never wore makeup, only lipstick and a little brow pencil, never a smoker or a drinker, and she always has a glass of warm lemon water first thing in the morning.   

When we go out, people always ask "Are you guys sisters?"  Now while my mom is soaking it up and giggling like a little school girl, I'm standing in the back looking extremely unamused.  "NO WE'RE NOT SISTERS." I'd reply with a scowl.  But with all jokes aside, I worry sometimes.  I worry that despite having her genes once you factor in all the environmental effects I've done on my skin, maybe I won't look as radiant and beautiful as mother when I'm in my 50s.  She always tells me though "The secret is prevention.  Always protect yourself when you're still young."  Good advice from a wise wise woman. 

I love you mom and miss you everyday, and though this wonton soup doesn't completely make up your absence it does help bring comfort to my belly and soul.  I can't wait to see you next year and no matter how old you become you will always be the most beautiful woman in my eyes.  I hope you guys enjoy this recipe as it holds a very special place in my heart and plus its a Shanghainese recipe so therefore you know it's freakin bad ass.  ^_^ ENJOY!

Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!

Glad to be back -- I have been out of commission for the past week due to a gallbladder infection...ick.  December has been a riot thus far, first bronchitis then the gallbladder infection -- thankfully the new year is only a few days away so I will be leaving all bad ju-ju behind. :)

I reviewed my resolutions from last year and realized that I have again only achieved a little less than half of my goals so this year opposed to making long-term goals (Running a 10K) I've made short-term, easier to reach goals (Run 1 mile/day for 5x a week).  One of my main goals for this year is to lead a healthier lifestyle, through exercise, a proper diet, and a peaceful spirit.  Seeing that I am only in my twenties and I frequently deal with malfunctions with my immune system, the only logical response would be to keep my body in better condition --Your body is your temple...

What are some of your New Year's Resolutions? I had a wonderful Christmas -- I redecorated my kitchen so now it feels more like a real kitchen opposed to a small cramped horrible mess. I've been having a BLAST with my favorite present of all -- my new Sony alpha 550 dSLR camera, all thanks to my one and only of course :)!! One of the upsides of being sick was being able to spend plenty of time with Collin's family and grandparents (Hi Pearl!).  We spent time playing cards, watching movies, playing video games and of course, eating.

I did not have much time to cook but I did make this delicious soup from a leftover ham bone that Collin's dad gave me!  Perfect for the weather we're having here in Dallas, can you believe that it's actually snowing? Anyways, the trick to making this soup delectable is making a stock out of the ham bone first -- this is easily done by placing the ham bone and scraps in a large pot of water and simmering at a medium low heat for 1 1/2 to 2 hours with some onion, a bay leaf and for this stock I used turnips and carrots as well.

I always love using leftover bones, especially ham bones and chicken carcasses -- they always make such a savory broth.  By keeping your broth at a low medium heat (the soup should be at a very slight boil), it slowly draws out the proteins (flavor) from the bones, thus ending in a rich decadent broth.  Because I am using mostly root vegetables in this soup, I simply used the scraps and remains of turnips, carrots, rutabagas and onions and later strained them out of the soup -- this will add body and character to your broth as well. After straining your broth, don't forget to reserve the ham meat for the soup!

Ingredients for Winter Vegetable Soup:

(serves 8-10)

  • 8 cups ham broth (see directions above)
  • 1/2 cup cauliflower, cut into small florets
  • 1/2 cup carrots (I used baby carrots), diced
  • 1 cup cabbage, thinly shredded
  • 1 medium rutabaga, peeled and diced 1"
  • 2 turnips, peeled and diced 1"
  • 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon cream
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, minced
  • 1 tsp white pepper
  • salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan, heat the olive oil at medium heat.  Place the onions in the pan once oil is heated and begin the "caramelization" process.  It is important to cook the onions at the prefect heat, do not burn them, it will ruin the flavor completely!  The key to caramelization is gradually cooking the onions down so that the sugar slowly begins to oxidize, producing a nutty and sweet flavor.  The onions will slowly turn a pale yellow, then eventually a rich brownish yellow or caramel color.  Once it reaches this state, remove from heat and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat your ham stock at medium heat in a large deep bottomed pot.  Add the cabbage and rutabagas and turnips and cook for 30 minutes, or until very soft.  Next add the carrots and cauliflower and cook for an additional 20 minutes.  By adding vegetables in at different times, it will give your soup a range of texture opposed to soft goopey vegetables at the end.  Since cabbage, turnips and rutabagas tend to taste better when cooked very soft I chose to add them first, then kept a slight firmness and crunch through the carrots and cauliflower.

Add the cream and white pepper along with the caramelized onions, and cook for an additional ten minutes -- season with salt and pepper to taste.  I cannot stress this enough, always add salt at the end of cooking soups, this helps keep the delicacy of the broth as well as avoiding the common sin of "over-salting" food.  I like to add salt literally pinches at a time, and taste after each addition until I achieve what I feel is the best flavor.  I always say its better to undersalt food than oversalt it! Garnish with some fresh parsley and you are ready to go :)

Aaaah, nothing hits the spot like a good hearty vegetable soup -- many thanks to my neighbor Michael for the beautiful cauliflower, it was by far the best one I've had all year.  The best part about soup is that it tastes even better after sitting in the fridge for a couple days, all the flavors marinate and develop into full and rich broth.  For once, leftovers taste better than they did initially!

This will probably be my last post for this year, I am looking forward to the New Year -- I have good feelings about 2010 :)  I hope everyone has a very safe and Happy New Year, see you next year yall!!!!!