Sunday, February 26, 2012

Pure Tomato Soup

Fat Tuesday has come and gone and the leaner days of Lent are here.   Seasons are often common denominators of cultures and religions. At this time of year, many people add more vegetarian and seafood options to their daily meals whether for religious reasons or the cosmic pull of Spring.   Here's an easy and pure tomato soup that will keep you going with a little less bulk. It's about as easy as reconstituting a can of condensed soup and you'll be impressed with your results. 

Pure Tomato Soup
1/4 cup tomato paste
2 tablespoons flour
1 14-oz can vegetable broth or water
1 14-oz can tomatoes (low sodium preferred)
salt, pepper, thyme or basil to taste
1/4-1/2 cup milk or cream
1T butter

  1. In a heavy bottomed, 2-quart sauce pan, heat tomato paste over low heat until it has melted slightly. 
  2. Remove pan from heat and stir in flour until completely blended.  
  3. Return to low heat and cook about 60 seconds then slowly add broth/water, a bit at a time, stirring to incorporate until all liquid is mixed in.  
  4. Add canned tomatoes with their juice.   Break apart tomatoes with side of spoon.  Adjust heat to allow soup to simmer, about 5-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soup thickens.  
  5. Remove soup from heat and use an immersion blender to puree soup.  (If you do not have an immersion blender, cool soup and puree in a standard blender or leave soup chunky.)  
  6. Taste soup and add seasonings as preferred.  Stir in milk and butter before serving. 

Nice additions include cooked rice, cooked shrimp and steamed okra. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Baked Eggs Buffet

Clockwise from upper left, Asparagus-Ham-Mushroom-Raclette Cheese, Spinach-Tomato-Mozzarella-Parmesan, Cheddar-Bacon-Jalapeños
Baked eggs deliver easy and pure protein at a brunch, ski house breakfast or a simple Sunday morning with family.  For family, you might pick just one type of filling but the real charm of a baked eggs buffet is that it can suit all tastes, finicky to exotic, meat lovers and vegetarians.

A baked eggs buffet has just the right amount of participation from diners but leaves the cook in control.  Everyone gets to add favorite fillings, just like at a restaurant omelet bar, hand over their creation and have it baked.  No one but the cook needs to be at the oven.  Easy on the cook who only needs to supervise the prep and keep an eye on the eggs baking. 

The buffet is easy to set up and the fillings can be made the night or day before.  Set out buttered ramekins, fillings and a bowl of eggs.  Preheat the oven to 350˚F and invite diners to fill their ramekin with fillings, egg then more filling.   Top with cheese and a drizzle of hot water or cream.  Bake the eggs as they are handed in.  Each one takes 15-20 minutes so skiers can continue to get ready or brunch guests can sip on coffee and enjoy nibbles from a fruit and muffin platter.  An extra timer will help keep the cook on track for seconds or late arrivals.

Ramekins are very hot when they come out of the oven.  Use tongs or a well insulated pot holder to handle and serve each on a small salad plate to keep hands clear.  Add a side of toast for dipping. 

Baked Eggs
1-2 eggs per ramekin
Butter to coat ramekins
Fillings- about 1/4-1/3 cup per ramekin
Cooked vegetables and meats, cheeses like asparagus, mushrooms, spinach, minced peppers (any variety), roasted potato slices, any cured ham, cooked chorizo or breakfast sausage, cheddar, feta, swiss, raclette, mozzarella, Parmesan. 
Hot water—about a teaspoon per ramekin (helps egg set and remain tender). Warm cream can also be used effectively.


  • Preheat oven to 350˚F and prepare fillings (cook meats and vegetables if not yet prepared).
  • Butter ramekins generously.  
  • Place a layer of filling elements in bottom of ramekin.  Crack egg over filling. Top with more filling.  
  • Spoon hot water over mixture.
  • Place ramekins on a baking sheet or baking pan.
  • 350˚F 15-20 minutes.  For a runny yolk, check at 15 minutes. 
Serve hot ramekins on a plate. Offer hot sauce, extra cheese, salsa or just salt and pepper.

The filled ramekins just before going into the oven.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Winter Spinach Salad

Wilted spinach leaves, sautéed shitake mushrooms and caramelized onions warm up spinach salad to make it worthy of a mid-winter lunch or a nice little side salad at dinner.  The trick is to lightly sauté mature spinach leaves until just wilted.  Overcooking or steaming will send the dish far from the salad bar and crashing into side dish oblivion.  This dish is meant to be eaten at room temperature and everything except the wilted spinach leaves can be done ahead of time.

Winter Spinach Salad
Serves 2 as main course, 4 as a side

1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
1 10-oz bag mature spinach leaves, rinsed and de-stemmed
8-10 shitake mushrooms caps, sliced
2 –3 strips cooked bacon
2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons olive oil
salt & pepper
shaved or grated Parmesan cheese
Optional: 1 hard boiled egg

  1. Place sliced onion in a large skillet with a little bit of olive.  Cook over low (very low) heat 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to caramelize onions.  Check your onions every 5-6 minutes as they melt down and then lightly brown.  
  2. While onions cook prepare spinach. Fold large leaves in half vertically and hold the two sides together with one hand and pull the stem away with the other.  Discard large coarse stems.  Set spinach aside.  
  3. Once onions are cooked place in a small bowl and in the same skillet sauté mushrooms with a little more olive oil and salt to taste.  Remove to bowl with onions.  
  4. Next cook bacon and set aside.  Drain most of fat from pan.  
  5. When ready to serve, sauté spinach leaves until just wilted.  When wilted, remove from heat immediately and add lemon juice, olive oil if using (bacon fat may be plenty) , salt and pepper.  
  6. Divide among salad plates.  Top with onion, mushrooms, bacon and if using as a main coarse, hard boiled egg.  Garnish with cheese. 
What we love about this is that the salad requires no additional dressing since lemon juice and seasonings are added to the greens in the pan.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Last Minute Mushroom Dip

Hours before the game and you are suspecting you don’t have quite enough food on the buffet.  Or maybe someone just arrived with bags of chips and forgot the dip.  To the rescue, a pure dip recipe  that competes with any store bought version.  Because you are eating and consuming it today (or this week) it's easy to stick with ingredients that are all natural and skip the preservatives.

The secret is mushroom powder.  Not in your pantry?  Look for dried mushrooms and pulverize them in a spice or coffee bean grinder --or food processor.  (We have a separate grinder we use just for spices.)  You only need about 1/4 cup of mushrooms (makes 2 tablespoons of powdered mushrooms) for this recipe.  Porcini, shitake, oyster mushrooms or a combination will work.

Last Minute Mushroom Dip
1/2 cup sour cream or plain Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2 ounces cream cheese
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons mushroom powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
optional: 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh dill or a few shots or hot sauce

  1. Mix all ingredients together.  
  2. Let sit at least 15 minutes to allow mushroom powder to be absorbed by dip base.  Dip can be made up to a day ahead.  
  3. Serve with chips, crackers, sliced vegetables. 

More Mushroom Magic
What’s that you say?  You think mushroom powder would also make a mean instant mushroom soup?  You are right. 
Heat 3/4 cup milk (low fat is fine) and 3/4 cup chicken, beef or vegetable broth and stir in 1/4 cup mushroom powder.  Simmer a few minutes.  Add salt and pepper to taste and fresh herbs (dill, chives, thyme would all play nicely).  Serve with a dollop of sour cream, yogurt or a splash or real cream.  Thinly sliced sautéed  mushrooms are also nice if you have a few extra minutes.  Fast lunch, really nice first course.