When I got up this morning I was actually planning to do another blog posting about cookies. I know what you’re thinking, Mama, enough with the cookies already. It is an uncharacteristically cold and gloomy day here, yes, 55 degrees is cold, so I decided to re-think my strategy. I thought I should choose to make something for my posting that I could also serve to the family for dinner tonight. Ah yes, therefore killing two birds with one stone.
Due to the aforementioned gloominess, I decided that my family would probably appreciate some good ‘ol comfort food. I don’t know about you, but grilled cheese and tomato soup is about as cozy as you can get. I rarely get a reaction from the husband and kids regarding my cooking, but the Roasted Tomato Soup got rave reviews.
It’s just a suggestion, but if you’re having a get-together for New Year’s, how about Roasted Tomato Soup Shots with a dollop of creme fraiche, or for a New Year’s brunch you can serve the soup in mason jars with a mini grilled cheese sandwich. And the best part is you can make the soup in advance, because it will actually taste better the next day.
Roasted Tomato Soup
- 2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes (I used tomatoes on the vine)
- 5 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cans (28 oz) San Marzano Tomatoes
- 4 tablespoons of butter
- 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 3 sprigs of thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon of cumin
- 1 cup chicken stock
- Garnish with a dollop of creme fraiche, sour cream, yogurt or mascarpone (optional)
- Preheat oven to 425 degrees F, and place rack in the lower third of oven. Wash and dry tomatoes, and then cut them in half. Using your fingers, gently squeeze out the seeds. Place the tomatoes and garlic in a large bowl and drizzle with the 1/4 cup of olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste, and toss it all together with your hands. Spread the tomatoes out on a large baking sheet cut side up. Place the garlic pieces in the tomato cavity (I don’t know what else to call it) as shown in the above photo. Roast in the oven for 20-25 minutes, until tomatoes begin to caramelize. Yum, now we’re creating great flavor! Then set aside to cool.
- Now, strain the juice into a measuring cup or bowl, from the 2 cans of tomatoes and reserve for later. You should have about 1 cup of liquid from the cans. Next, puree the canned tomatoes, the roasted tomatoes and garlic in batches in a blender and place in a large bowl.
- In a large stock pot, melt 4 tablespoons of butter, then add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 medium, diced onion. Sweat the onion for about 5 minutes until it becomes translucent. Add 1/4 cup of flour and 2 tablespoons of tomato paste and quickly whisk or stir with a wooden spoon for about 1 minute until all ingredients are incorporated.
- Add all the pureed tomato and 2 tablespoons of brown sugar, the bay leaf, cumin, rosemary spring, thyme sprigs, reserved juice and 1 cup of chicken broth. Whisk to make sure no flour has stuck to the bottom. Bring the mixture to a boil, then cover and simmer for about 40 minutes, stirring in 15 minute intervals. Remove the rosemary and thyme sprigs. After it simmered, I used an immersion blender to blend the onion into the soup. If you don’t have one, you could run it through the blender again. You should let the soup cool a bit before you so though, because hot liquids spurt out of the blender. Cover the top of the blender with a kitchen towel.
- I ran the soup through a sieve to remove any seeds and tomato skin and ended up with a smooth, silky soup. I returned the soup to the stock pot to warm before serving.
- I like to serve the soup with a little dollop of creme fraiche for a little added creaminess.
Makes about 8 cups of soup
You can store the soup in a sealed container. It’s actually better the next day after all the flavors meld together. Just gently reheat to serve.
If you want to make this a vegetarian dish, you can substitute the chicken broth with vegetable broth or water.
To add extra creaminess to the soup, you can garnish it with creme fraiche, sour cream, yogurt or mascarpone.
If your soup comes out too thick, then just thin it with a little extra broth or water. But remember, add just a little at a time to achieve your desired consistency.
Connie & Ted’s is not your mama’s crab shack, but a wicked awesome experience that combines fresh, high quality seafood expertly prepared, efficient and friendly service and stunning architecture. Everything is so well thought out, even right down to the little sugar containers. My friend Gail and I had been assisting a friend on a catering job and hadn’t had a chance to eat that day. As we were heading home down Santa Monica Boulevard in the heart of West Hollywood we could feel Connie and Ted just calling out to us. The facade of the restaurant resembles the hull of a ship (at least that what it looks like to me) and there’s creative nautical touches everywhere. Yet the space is open, modern and very inviting.
When we were presented with the menu, we literally couldn’t make a choice because everything looked so darn good. We could see the servers whizzing by with large plates of fresh oysters, clams and uni. They serve three kinds of chowda’, crispy fish & chips, steamers, and, if you really don’t like fish (shame on you) they have the Hook Burger, with or without bacon.
This is the perfect place to go with a group, that way everyone can order something different and you can share. However, it was just me and Gail so the pressure was on to pick something. The Lobster Roll ($24) seemed like the obvious choice. It’s served hot or cold, with butter or mayo. Pure and simple, just sweet, fresh lobster, a little mayo and the perfectly toasted bun. The massive side of fries were pretty amazing too. We also split Nancy’s Peeky Toe Crab Cake ($14). For sheer perfection, one must get the correct proportions of crab cake, tartar sauce and coleslaw all on the fork at once.
They offered a great selection of desserts, but we were struck by the Cornmeal & Molasses Indian Pudding. Because we had never heard of it before, we decided to order that. I can only liken it to sitting in front of a fire with big, fuzzy slippers on, on a cold winter’s day. It’s warm and cozy, and yes, just downright wicked awesome. That dessert, and Lamills coffee sealed the deal. I’m going back.
They’ve got a very lively bar scene there, and a large outdoor patio. I imagine it’s perfect for weekend brunches with a group of friends, or for just watching the traffic go by on Santa Monica Boulevard. Connie & Ted’s has their own valet parking lot on the premises. It is $7.00 but then inner city parking does come at a price.
Connie & Ted’s 8171 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA 90046 (323) 848-2722
I suppose food is my hobby, and, a hobby that I’m quite passionate about. I love everything about food. I love to make it, photograph it, write about it, talk endlessly about it, meet chefs, talks to chefs, and to travel far and wide to find the best products and dishes a gal can eat. If someone told me they had found the best ice cream, pizza or sushi, then I make it my mission to search out that place and see for my self what the brouhaha is all about.
Recently I turned to my friend Gail, as we were out on one of our weekly culinary re-con missions, and asked her, “are you willing to drive over an hour for what I hear is incredible bread and some seriously good coffee?” She quickly gave me the thumbs up. So, off we went, barreling down the 101 freeway headed towards downtown Los Angeles through some pretty gnarly traffic; which we call just an average day here in the City of Angels. I had heard from some of my carbohydrately obsessed friends that there was a bakery/cafe on the outskirts of downtown Los Angeles that baked some of the best breads and pastries this side of the LA River. My, but I was intrigued. As we drove, my small car sandwiched in between semi’s and eighteen wheelers making so much racket that we couldn’t even communicate with each other, we wondered if we were both out of our minds to continue this quest. But continue we did.
Bread Lounge is located in the “Arts” district in downtown Los Angeles. The super good news is that there’s a free parking lot located in the back of the restaurant. The restaurant is small and somewhat industrial looking, yet it still has a warm ambience to it, which was probably due to the lively youthful crowd that was spilling out the door and down the street. I guess the word has gotten out about their amazing goodies. I am told that owner/baker Ran Zimon learned his craft in Israeli bakeries. As Gail and I stood in line waiting to order, we grabbed jars of homemade preserves with flavors like Peach-Mango-Passionfruit and packages of boxed cookies ready to go. For a small joint, the selection was pretty vast. They offer fresh made salads, paninis, and sandwiches made on the most awesome of baguettes and breads. I ordered the Smoked Salmon Sandwich and the Roasted Beet Salad with Chicken, both excellent choices.
But the best was yet to come. Gail and I ordered a cross-section of The Bread Lounge’s flakey pastries such as their custard filled timbale, chocolate croissant and pain au raisin. I guess what I’m telling you is, if you’re as obsessed with authentic French-style pastry as I am, then you must make the trek to the Bread Lounge.
The Bread Lounge – 700 S. Santa Fe Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90021
But what good is pastry without a good cup of coffee, am I right? Recently I had dinner at a restaurant called Red Medicine. I usually find restaurant coffee overly bitter or just plain watered-down, but the coffee they served tasted just like, well, coffee. Imagine that. Really, what’s a girl gotta do to get a good cup of joe in this town. I was told the brand they serve was called Handsome Coffee Roasters. Okay, so now I had to figure out how to get my hands on a bag of these beans. After doing a little research I discovered that their coffee roasting facility was in downtown Los Angeles and just a few blocks from Bread Lounge. Yay, must be karma. Good bread and good coffee in one easy downtown location!
As Gail and I made our way to the entry of Handsome Coffee Roasters we had to fight our way through lights, cameras and dozens of “extras” dressed in winter clothing although it was 85 degrees in Los Angeles. Only in LA. The facility was closed because they were filming an episode of ABC’s Castle that day. We would not be deterred. After some cajoling, and a lot of tears, the manager told us to go around to the alley and he would sell us some coffee. It was actually kind of cool because they allowed us to see all the behind-the-scenes equipment and just how the coffee is roasted.
So, happily we scored ourselves of couple of bags of coffee and we were on our way. Now I can enjoy a great cup of Handsome coffee each day in the privacy of my own home. So, for those of you who don’t live in the Los Angeles Metropolitan area, just go to your computer and order online.
Handsome Coffee Roasters – 582 Mateo Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013
It’s getting closer to the big day, you know what day I’m talking about, right? Thanksgiving, of course. It’s my most special meal, well it seems every meal is my most special meal, but this one definitely is. In fact, I am so excited I can hardly contain myself. It’s the one day I will eat with reckless abandon. For me it’s a food version of a perfect storm. Every food I consider to be one of my favorites will make an appearance at my Thanksgiving table.
I embrace this holiday not just for the food, but for the fact that I truly am thankful for the food, and for my family.
I was speaking to my sister-in-law, Wanda the other day and she told me about a pie she makes that is my brother’s favorite. Since Apple Pie is a requisite for any Thanksgiving dinner I thought I would try it out before the big day. I was intrigued because this pie was baked in a brown paper grocery bag. She said that the bag kept the crust from over browning and that the apples became soft and tender and stayed juicy. Hmmmm, sounds like Mama needed to give this a try. Well Wanda, I was quite pleased with the results. I used a pre-made crust for this pie, but hey, if you’ve got the energy then go ahead and make your own crust.
Apple Pie in a Bag
- 7 crisp, tart apples peeled, cored and thinly sliced
- 1 cup sugar – divided
- 1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 stick, unsalted butter, melted
- 2 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 box pre-made refrigerated pie crust, 2-9″ crusts
- 1 large brown paper grocery bag
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl whisk together 1/2 cup of sugar, 2 tablespoons of flour, 1/4 teaspoon of nutmeg, and 2 teaspoons of cinnamon. Peel, core and thinly slice your apples placing them in a large bowl. As you slice them, sprinkle a teaspoon or so of the sugar mixture over the apples to coat them so they won’t turn brown as you slice them. When all the apples are sliced and in the bowl, spoon in the remainder of the sugar mixture and toss to coat all the apples.
- Place one of the 9″ crusts into a 9″ pie dish. You may need to roll it out a little, so you should do that on a piece of parchment paper. Spoon the apple mixture on top of the crust.
- In a small bowl whisk together 1/2 cup of all purpose flour, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 stick of melted butter and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Pour this mixture over the apple mixture.
- Place the remaining crust on top of the pie. You may have to roll it out a little so that it fits over the pie. Seal the edges of the 2 crusts together. With a sharp pairing knife, poke 5-6 slits on top of crust so that the steam can escape.
- Place the pie into a large brown paper grocery bag and then staple the ends shut.
- Bake in the oven for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Leave pie in bag for 5 minutes after removing from the oven.
I sprinkled my apples with a teaspoon of the sugar mixture as I sliced them. The sugar mixture kept the apples from turning brown.
When pie is done baking, if you like a browner pie crust, remove the pie from bag and bake a few minutes more til browned on top.
Place bagged pie on a cookie sheet to avoid messy spills in the oven while baking.
I’m sure when I grew up in the “olden days” there was a variety of apples available, but really, all I remember was the Red Delicious Apple. Now I certainly don’t want to offend any apple growers out there who grow the Red Delicious, or insult avid fans of the Red Delicious, but it’s because of that particular fruit that I never really took a liking to apples. Unfortunately the Red Delicious is a mealy apple that’s not crisp or sweet or appealing in any way. Please don’t be mad at me for saying this, but I think it’s the truth.
Okay, fast forward to modern times. So, I walk into my local Whole Foods the other day and was overwhelmed by the sheer variety of apples they had for sale. You name it, Gala, Fuji, Jazz, Honeycrisp and Ambrosia, just to name a few. I couldn’t decide which variety to go with, so I bought them all.
Now, armed with a plethora of fall apples, came the decision of what to do with them. I had been to a restaurant the day before call Gjelina in Venice, California (which was quite hip and happening, I must say) and had their apple salad. I loved it so much I decided to recreate it at home. This Apple & Cheddar Salad is the perfect beginning to an autumn dinner or a Saturday brunch. The sweet crunch of the apples goes perfectly with the saltiness of the cheese.
Apple & Cheddar Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette
- 2 large crisp apples, any variety
- 2 stalks of celery
- 4 ounces of good quality cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1 head of mustard greens
- Mustard Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
- 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
- pinch of sugar
- 1/2 cup, plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Place first 6 ingredients in a small jar and shake real well. Add in the olive oil and shake vigorously again so that dressing begins to thicken. I make the dressing a day in advance so that the flavors meld together. Refrigerate for up to one week.
- Place pine nuts in a small, frying pan over medium heat. Stir constantly until nuts begin to brown and release their natural oils. Place in a small dish to cool and set aside.
- With a sharp knife, chop your celery stalks crosswise into thin slices, or use a mandolin. Set aside.
- Thinly chop your mustard greens (chiffonade) and toss into a bowl or your can individually plate 4 separate salads.
- With a sharp knife, thinly slice the cheddar cheese and set aside.
- You can use a mandolin to slice the apples in round slices, or use a sharp knife to slice the apples into thin wedges, removing the core and seeds. Place the apple slices into a bowl of acidulated water. When you’re ready to plate your salad, take slices out of water, and pat dry.
- Plate all ingredients onto individual plates, or combine into a large bowl and toss with vinaigrette.
Makes 4 appetizer sized salads
To stop fruit from oxidizing, place fruit in a bowl of 1 cup cold water to 1 tablespoon of lemon or lime juice. Increase the amount of water/juice depending on how much fruit you are using. When you’re ready to use the fruit, just pat dry with a paper towel.
Life is funny, nothing ever stays the same. Friends, please forgive me for getting all sentimental and philosophical on you, but this time of year brings back lovely memories for me. It doesn’t seem so long ago that by mid-October every year my boys and I would spend hours planning their costumes for Halloween, who they would walk the neighborhood with, and which candy I should buy to give out to the local revelers. But things have changed, my boys have moved on to begin their own lives, and my husband and I have been left here to celebrate Halloween alone, just us and a few bags of mini Snickers bars. I know, so sad.
In fact, things have gotten so bad that the local children will not even walk up my long, steep driveway for a measly mini candy bar anymore. In recent years I’ve had to go stand at the bottom of the driveway with “full sized” candy bars if I wanted to see any action.
Halloween is also that time of year when I can use pumpkin with reckless abandon. I love to use it in muffins, cookies, cakes and pies, and I really can’t understand why it’s not popular all year round. One of my fall favorites is this Pumpkin Streusel Cake with Chocolate Glaze. The cake part is mildly flavored with those traditional autumn spices, and the streusel filling is a perfect little surprise in the middle of the cake. What could be bad about pumpkin, nuts and chocolate.
So, one last thing. Do you think it would be weird if I asked my 25 year-old son to let me dress him up as a Power Ranger so we could go house to house trick-or-treating together? I’m just kidding, kinda’.
Pumpkin Streusel Cake with Chocolate Glaze
Adapted from “Very Best Baking”
- 2/3 cup toasted walnuts, chopped
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2/3 cup mini chocolate chips
- 3 cups all purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon allspice
- 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup pure pumpkin (15 ounce can Libby’s brand)
- 1 – 8 ounce container sour cream
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 – 3 tablespoons milk
- Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and using melted butter and a pastry brush, brush the insides of the bundt pan with butter and lightly flour the pan, tapping out the excess flour.
- To make the Streusel: lightly toast your walnuts in a small frying pan over a medium heat. Constantly stir so they don’t burn. Toast just until they become fragrant. Allow to cool. Toss walnuts, cinnamon, brown sugar and mini chips in a medium bowl until all ingredients are incorporated. Set aside.
- For the cake batter, sift the flour, cinnamon, allspice, cloves, baking soda and salt into a medium bowl, and stir with a whisk to incorporate all ingredients.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the sugar and butter until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the pumpkin, sour cream and vanilla and mix well. With the mixer on medium-low, gradually add the flour mixture.
- Spoon half of the batter into the prepared pan. Spoon the streusel topping over the batter but don’t allow the topping to touch the sides of the pan. You can choose to only use the streusel inside the cake, or you can also sprinkle some streusel on top of the cake also. Spoon the remaining batter on top making sure the batter layer touches the edge of the pan.
- Bake for 55-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes then turn out to a wire rack. Let the cake cool completely before you top with the glaze.
- To make the glaze: Sift the powdered sugar and cocoa powder into a medium sized bowl. Add the vanilla. Add the milk a spoon at a time and whisk until you have the desired drizzling consistency.
Be sure to use the size egg that any recipe calls for when baking. If a recipe calls for “large eggs”, don’t use extra large eggs as it will definitely effect the final product.
You could also use mini bundt pans to make this cake. Just make sure you adjust the baking time accordingly.
The mini paper bundt pans used in this post were purchased from Cost Plus World Market.