Tomato Soup with Goat Cheese Crostini

Friday, February 15, 2013

A good friend is planning a birthday party for her sweet baby girl coming up in March and asked me for some help in the food department. The theme is "Legos" so I took inspiration both from the classic shapes of the building blocks as well as the vibrant primary colors. First thing I thought of was a tomato soup -- super easy to make, economical, can be made well in advance and tastes good from hot to cold, making it perfect for a party. To make the soup a little more special, I added a crostini of ciabatta bread I sliced thinly in a rectangle shape (like the blocks) that I brushed with olive oil and toasted in the oven for 5 minutes. On top -- some cold sharp fresh goat cheese. The tartness of the goat cheese pairs perfectly with the sweetness of the tomatoes in the soup, and the earthy thyme I used in the soup brings out the earthiness in the crostini. It's perfect. She can make the soup a day or even two in advance and keep it in the fridge, then just warm it up before guests arrive. The crostini can be made earlier that morning, then just spread with the cheese about 30 min before guests arrive. It's nutritious, delicious, grabs that classic bright red color of the legos and will delight both kid and adult alike at the party! Good luck C! And happy birthday to sweet Lily!

Tomato Soup with Goat Cheese Crostini
2 large white onions, peeled and chopped small
8-10 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 (24 oz) cans diced or chopped tomatoes -- recommend San Marzano
extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large bay leaf
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves, picked off of stems
2 Tbsp fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
8 cups vegetable or chicken broth  -- recommend Swanson brand
1 loaf ciabatta bread
1 log fresh french goat cheese -- recommend Montrachet

Take a larger pot and heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil in the pot. Add the onions and season with some salt and pepper to taste (I use about 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper). Stir occasionally and cook onions on medium-low heat until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine; cook another 2 minutes stirring often so garlic doesn't burn. Add the tomatoes with the juices straight from the can all at once and stir to combine. Add the bay leaf and herbs (thyme and basil), then slowly add the broth. Stir everything until nicely incorporated and bring up to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat back down to low, cover with lid and let cook 25 minutes for flavors to develop. 

After the soup cooks, take a taste and adjust with seasonings to your taste. If the tomatoes were bitter, you can add a small pinch of sugar (white granulated) to help balance out flavors. Once you get it to taste as you like it, remove the bay leaf from the soup and discard. Now it's time to puree it. 

If you have an immersion blender, you can go ahead and puree the soup directly in the pot. This is the easiest way. If you don't, puree the soup in batch in the food processor. If using the food processor, it's best to let the soup cool down to at least room temperature; placing a hot liquid in the food processor you'll have to work in even more batches because the heat gives off steam, the steam carries mass, and that mass will make the lid on the processor explode and you'll have an epic mess all over yourself and your kitchen. Transfer the pureed batches from the food processor into a new clean pot, and repeat until you've pureed the entire soup. 

At this point, you can serve the soup or cover and save it for later until you're ready to serve it. You can make the soup right up until this step even 2 days in advance. Just keep it with a lid on in the fridge, and when you're ready to warm the soup warm it at a low temperature until hot stirring often. 

To make the crostini, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Slice your bread into thin slices and then lay them all out on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil (for easy clean up!). Brush one side of each slice with some olive oil, sprinkle with a little salt and pepper, and toast in oven for about 5-7 minutes depending on the strength of your oven. You want them to begin to turn golden brown on the edges, so make sure you're watching them! Don't walk away! 

Remove crostini from oven. Up to this point can be done the morning of your party, or a few hours in advance of you planning to serve them. You can leave them out uncovered right on the kitchen counter. If you make them more ahead of time, go ahead and place them in a plastic container until ready to use. 

To serve, simply smear a bit of goat cheese right on each slice of the bread. Personally I like keeping the cheese quite cold because I like the contrast of the cold cheese with the hot soup, but it's not necessary. Portion out your soup into bowls or individual bowls and float a crostini on the top and side. Serve immediately. 

Melon Tartare: An Exercise in Refreshing Goodness

Monday, February 4, 2013

I love a salad that thinks outside of the box and this one certainly does! Based off of my recipe for watermelon tartare (a play on the classic raw tuna version, I sub out the tuna with watermelon for a whimsical and absolutely delicious take -- recipe in the cookbook!), this time I take sweet honeydew melon and combine it with crisp and refreshing cucumber and creamy avocado for a beautiful and well balanced base. Cucumber and red onion add a crunchy texture to combat the creamy avocado, and very finely diced jalapeno adds heat to balance out the sweetness of the melon. To further catapult the salad into heavenly refreshment is fresh mint. Seasonings are kept quite simple -- salt and freshly ground black pepper -- and good quality extra virgin olive oil add a silky richness to bring the whole dish home. This is just wonderful on its own, or as a compliment to cooked fish or chicken. I've served this with crispy wontons for a really festive appetizer. Enjoy it. 

Melon Tartare
1 honeydew melon, peeled and seeded then diced into very small bite-sized cubes 
1 large cucumber, peeled and seeded then diced small (same size as melon)
2 ripe avocados, seeded and diced small (same size as melon and cucumber)
1/2 cup red onion, very finely chopped
1 jalapeno, very finely chopped (seeded for mild version) 
1 lime, juiced
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
course sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
good quality extra virgin olive oil 

Place the melon, cucumber, avocados, red onion, jalapeno, mint, and cilantro in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then pour the lime juice over. Drizzle enough olive oil to moisten everything in a very, very light coating (you don't want this heavy with oil, so about 1 good tablespoon is enough!). Using a spatula, very gently fold the ingredients all together. Be very, very careful not to break up the avocado too much; otherwise you'll get a weird creamy dressing instead of a crisp composed salad. Serve immediately or cover and chill for 30 min then serve. 

Serving Suggestion:
If making for a party, I like serving the salad in small individual cups. Plain plastic tumblers work perfectly. If for smaller company I'll take some glasses and chill them in the freezer first, then add the salad inside. If I'm serving as a side dish family style, I'll place the entire salad in a lovely bowl next to whatever protein I'm serving.

And a garnish of fresh mint never hurt no one ;).

Roasted Shrimp with Tzaziki Dipping Sauce

If you're looking for a new way to serve the classic shrimp cocktail, try roasting the shrimp! The warmth is wonderful, and they are ready in literally 5 minutes. I took a turn from Greece here and marinated the shrimp in some salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and oregano then roasted them in the oven until perfect. To pair with a wonderfully bright tzaziki dipping sauce made with Greek yogurt and sour cream, fresh cucumber,   garlic, and spices. The color of the sauce fit in nicely with the white-theme of the party, and the shrimp added a nice color contrast. These were great!

Roasted Shrimp with Tzaziki Dipping Sauce
3 lbs raw large shrimp, peeled and deveined
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cloves garlic
juice of about 2 lemons
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp fresh oregano leaves

1/2 cup greek plain yogurt
1/4 cup greek style sour cream*
1/2 cup grated cucumber
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint, picked off of stems
2 Tbsp fresh oregano, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp fresh dill
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash and pat dry the shrimp, then place in a large bowl or plastic storage bag. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Smash the garlic with the flat side of your chef knife and add the larger pieces in. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, then take the oregano and smash it in between the palms of your hands to release the flavor. You don't want to chop it up -- you want the essence of the oregano here more than the punch of flavor. Mix everything together and let marinade at least 1 hour, preferably 2-3.

When ready to make shrimp, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Layer a baking sheet with aluminum foil for easy clean up. Take the shrimp out of the marinade and layer out on the baking sheet (you may need to use two). Roast in oven 5 minutes or until they turn bright orange and are firm to the touch.

To make the sauce combine all ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste, then pour out into serving bowl. This can be made up to 2 days in advance and kept refrigerated until ready to serve.

To serve, I like the contrast of a warm shrimp and cold sauce so I'll serve the shrimp straight from the oven and the sauce straight from the fridge. You can garnish with lemon slices but you don't really need it!

*Greek style sour cream is tangier than regular American or French style sour cream. If you can't find it, simply use 1/4 cup regular sour cream and add 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice!

Bleu Cheese Gougeres

Continuing on with the party recipes...

I made a batch of Ina Garten's gougeres, except this time I used bleu cheese instead of the parmesan and gruyere combination in her cookbook. My thoughts? Interesting. The texture of the gougeres ended up coming out way creamier than the normally puffed up goodness. This is good and bad -- if you're expecting the classic puffy gougeres then skip this recipe and go with a harder cheese; if you like the creamy texture then you'll love these. On Jordan The Cheese Man's recommendation, I also used a creamy Italian gorgonzola cheese -- creamy enough to blend into the batter and just enough umpf to provide that bleu cheese flavor without it being totally and completely overpowering. I basically kept the recipe classic and just subbed out the cheeses. These came together super fast and are always perfect if you plan on serving cocktails for any party.

Bleu Cheese Gougeres
1 cup milk
1 stick unsalted butter
1 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground black pepper
pinch nutmeg
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 eggs
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup bleu cheese
1 egg beaten with 1 tsp water for egg wash

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet or two with parchment paper. Measure out all of your ingredients and set everything aside and close to you because you'll have to work quite quickly.

Heat the milk, butter, salt, pepper, and nutmeg in a saucepan over medium heat until milk scalds (this means, a very thin skin begins to develop on the top). Add the flour all at once and start mixing it vigorously with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes together. It'll look like a super thick, sticky mixture in between batter and dough. Continue to cook this mixture over low heat for about 2 minutes more. You'll notice it'll all come together in a large softball.

Dump this mixture directly in the bowl of the food processor while still quite hot. Immediately add the eggs and cheeses and pulse to combine until the dough is smooth and super thick. Spoon this mixture out into a pastry bag fitted with a large plain round tip (you can also use a simple gallon size plastic storage bag) if using. Pipe batter out in mounds 1 1/4 inch wide and 3/4 inches high onto the parchment paper-lined baking sheets. Conversely, you can just spoon out the batter onto the sheets if you don't have a bag.

Brush the tops of each gougere with the eggwash and pop in the oven. Cook about 15 minutes or until golden brown on the outside.

You can serve straight out of the oven or at room temperature.

Make Ahead Tip:
Honestly these are awesome about 15 min out of the oven, but you can make these ahead of time, bake, then pop back in a 350 degree oven for 2 min to reheat if you want that fresh out of the oven taste. Room temperature is great too!