Aw Yiss. Some Motha. Flippin’. Tomato Soup.

Tomato Soup 30

I don’t know why I felt the need to use that title.  I just DID.  Also, in case you didn’t recognize the meme, Canadian comic artist Kate Beaton is awesome and you should read her stuff.

Tomato Soup 2

What do you do when you are moving and you have too many cans of tomatoes in your pantry, and your husband has left an open can of tomato paste in your refrigerator?

Tomato Soup 8

I think we all know the answer to this.  It’s in the title after all.  Besides, nothing says summer in Newfoundland like a big bowl of hot soup.  And I’m not even kidding.  I haven’t seen the sun in a while and as I write this it is raining and 7°C.  Now you can use fresh tomatoes in this soup, and I’m sure there’s a good argument for doing so, because the taste is so much better and whatever.  Personally, if I have a nice fresh tomato in my hands, I’m going to want to eat it as is, not simmer it in a soup.  But to each his own.

Tomato Soup 1

If you do decide to use fresh tomatoes, I recommend blanching them first to get the skins off.  Put a put of water on the boil and when it’s a-rollin’, submerge your tomatoes in the water for about a minute and a half, until the skins start to split.

Tomato Soup 11

Remove the tomatoes from the pot and plunge them into a bowl of cold water (to stop the tomatoes from cooking and going mushy).

Tomato Soup 13

Then you can just peel them easy as you please.

Tomato Soup 14

Take a few carrots, peel them, and chop them up.

Tomato Soup 9

Do the same with a large sweet onion.

Tomato Soup 15

You know when you are reading real estate listings and you have to sort of translate them to understand what the sellers are trying to tell you?  Like, “cozy” means “small”, “quaint” means that none of the doors are level and won’t shut properly, and “rustic” means “broken”.  I think you can apply almost the same principle to food.  At least in terms of soups.  When I read that a soup is “hearty” that tells me that there’s more stuff in it than liquid.  And when I read “rustic” I understand that the creators were just too lazy to cut everything up extra small.  So by that logic pretty much everything I ever make is “rustic.”

Tomato Soup 18

Sauté the onions in a large saucepan with a gob of vegetable oil until they are soft and transparent.

Tomato Soup 16

Now you can huck in your spices.  I used some minced garlic, smoked paprika, and then some powdered chicken stock.  Give that a good stir.

Tomato Soup 19

Now you can add in your tomatoes (I used 2 cans plus the 2 fresh ones I blanched) and your carrots.  I didn’t drain my canned tomatoes because I wanted the liquid.  If you’re using fresh tomatoes you may want to add in a bit of water. Plop in a can of tomato paste as well, to thicken it up.

Tomato Soup 20

Simmer that for a while until the carrots are soft.  Now you can leave this in its hearty, rustic state, or you can give it a whaz with your handy immersion blender and mix it up.

Tomato Soup 22

I chose the latter, obviously.

Tomato Soup 23

Then I took a can of evaporated milk that Mrs. Nice had purchased for undisclosed reasons and poured that in. Uh, don’t, you know, confuse evaporated milk with condensed milk. I don’t think that would end well.

Tomato Soup 24

Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Tomato Soup 26

Tomato Soup 28

I would have loved to serve it with fresh basil but dried had to do.  Yum!

Tomato Soup 29

Pork Tenderloin with Pomegranate Braised Cabbage

Tenderloin & Pom Cabbage 14

I actually cooked this recipe up on Hallowe’en, but with my garnish it looked so darned festive I had to push back the publishing date to sometime when people start thinking of roasting chestnuts and Frosty the Snowman.  But for authenticity I am listening to Toccata and Fugue in D Minor while I type this up.  Spooky.  Yet festive.

Tenderloin & Pom Cabbage 13

Anyway, there are lots of things you can do with pork tenderloin, and they’re extra handy when you’re in a rush because they cook so quickly. In addition to roasting up nice and tender in the oven, you can also slice up raw tenderloin into medallions for a fast fry, which is what we do here.  This recipe, modified a bit, comes from a recent Every Day Food.

Tenderloin & Pom Cabbage 1

First you want to peel off all the silvery skin on your pork tenderloin, to make it extra tender.

Tenderloin & Pom Cabbage 3

Then you can slice it up into relatively thin medallions.  Mine are about 3/4″-1″ thick.

Tenderloin & Pom Cabbage 4

Then you will take a small cabbage (red one will be prettier, but I prefer the taste of green) like this one.

Tenderloin & Pom Cabbage 5

And chop it all up into shreds.

Tenderloin & Pom Cabbage 6

Now, heat some oil in your beautifully seasoned cast iron skillet and cook your pork medallions on medium-high until they are done all the way through and slightly brown on the outside.  Put them on a plate somewhere and cover them to keep them warm.

Tenderloin & Pom Cabbage 7

Then take your cabbage and plop it in your still hot skillet.  Cook that, tossing occasionally, until it’s all wilted.

Tenderloin & Pom Cabbage 8

Then pour in about 1 1/2 cups pomegranate juice.

Tenderloin & Pom Cabbage 9

Raise the heat a little bit and let that simmer down until it’s reduced to about half and starts to thicken.  I used unsweetened juice, so I suspect if mine had had more sugar in it it might have thickened a bit more (notice how there are two incidences of duplicated words in that sentence?).  At this point, add in about 3 tablespoons butter and a dash of red wine vinegar and you’re ready to serve.

Tenderloin & Pom Cabbage 10

I garnished my rather sadly coloured green cabbage with some steamed frozen peas and some fresh pomegranate seeds for festivity’s sake, and we had roasted potatoes on the side.  It was highly tasty.

Tenderloin & Pom Cabbage 11

VERSUS: Two Ways to Bust Open a Pomegranate

Versus Pomegranate 1

Somewhere in the world it is pomegranate season.  I know this because for once, the shiny red fruit arriving in our St. John’s stores is lustrous and blemish-free.  So they’re raring to go.  Plus, instead of spending $6-$7 per fruit, I’m only spending $3.  That’s still a lot, but you know, it’s Newfoundland.  I’ve long since stopped being concerned about saving money on produce.  Just ain’t gonna happen.

Especially when you consider how awesomely good a pomegranate is.  I used to love picking them apart as a kid.  I appreciate food you have to work for, like artichokes.  I think my mother loved them too because it kept me quiet and occupied for long periods of time, though it was quite messy.  Small price to pay I suppose.

Versus Pomegranate 21

As far as I know, there are two decent ways to get all those juicy seeds out of a pomegranate.  There is the official, POM-certified method (which has its own brochure, situated neatly above the pomegranate bins at the grocery store), and then there’s the way that we all learned recently from the internet, which I call the SMASHY method.  I bought two pomegranates the other day so I thought I would test both methods at the same time and tell you which one I liked the best.  It’s a battle!

The Smashy Method:

This is the most fun I think of the two methods.  First, you pare off the top and bottom of the pomegranate.

Versus Pomegranate 2

Then you score the skin around in a circle.

Versus Pomegranate 3

And carefully pry it apart into two pieces.

Versus Pomegranate 4

Set the fruit cut side down on your palm over a bowl, and make a little loose cup out of your fingers so the fruit can fall through.  Then you take a giant spoon, and you start smacking the skin of that pomegranate half.  I mean you can really go to town, smacking it all over.

Versus Pomegranate 5

And the fruit will start to fall between your fingers into the bowl.

Versus Pomegranate 6

And the skin will start to crack.  Keep going.  Beat the crap out of that thing.

Versus Pomegranate 7

Of course there will be casualties.  Some seeds may fly elsewhere. Fortunately our canine vacuum is a fan of any form of fruit that may fall on his floor.

Versus Pomegranate 8

But it’s quite effective in getting most of the stuff out.

Versus Pomegranate 9

It does tend to leave some large chunks of pith in your bowl.

Versus Pomegranate 11

Not to mention splatters of pomegranate juice in places  you’d rather it wasn’t.

Versus Pomegranate 12

The Official Method:

Chop off the top and bottom and score and pry apart, just like last time.

Versus Pomegranate 13

Submerge your fruit in a bowl of water and gently pull off the seeds.

Versus Pomegranate 14

This may take a while.

Versus Pomegranate 15

But note how the pith just floats to the top.  You can scoop it out with a slotted spoon or your fingers.  I ended up dumping the fruits of my labour (hahaha) with the other method into the water bowl as well, to get rid of the extra pith.

Versus Pomegranate 17

Then you just pour it all into a strainer to drain and you’re good to go.

Versus Pomegranate 18

VERDICT: While the “official” method was tidier, it took a lot longer (and didn’t involve hitting things with a spoon).  If there were ways to combine the two methods (smacking it with a spoon while under water) then I’d be completely sold.  Until someone comes up with a method like that, I’m just going to sit here and eat these.

Versus Pomegranate 20

Vote for my pumpkin!

You’ll see more about this in my post tomorrow, but the Pie and I have entered a contest over at Movita Beaucoup.

Please feel free to vote for my pumpkin and not the Pie’s.  But if you like his better then I guess it’s okay if you vote for his …

See the entries HERE!

And as a reward, see this corgi that isn’t mine but is also awesome.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Here is yet another Martha Stewart soup and I think I like this the best of the three I’ve made recently.  I made all three over one weekend, so I got a chance to taste them all at the same time.  In this soup, the vegetables are roasted beforehand to bring out the flavour, and man oh man is it some flavour!

Preheat your oven to 425°F and position your oven racks so one is at the very top and one is at the very bottom.

On the bottom tray you’re going to have your eggplant and your chickpeas.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

On the top tray will be your tomatoes, carrots, and garlic.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Peel about 12 cloves garlic and peel and chop up about 1/2lb carrots.  This equaled 2 large carrots, for me.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Then you need to halve and core about 3lbs plum (Roma) tomatoes.  The recipe says that this is about 12 tomatoes, but I ended up with 18 to make that weight.  I found the tomato huller tool worked great for this.  It took out the top stem bit, and then after I halved them it was great at scooping out the innards.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Toss the tomatoes with the garlic and tomatoes and 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Garnish liberally with fresh ground pepper and pinches of sea salt.  Spread them in a single layer (if you can) on a rimmed baking sheet with the cut sides of the tomatoes facing downwards.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Chop up 1 large eggplant (about 1 1/2lb) into 3/4″ pieces.  Of course our grocery store never has the same kind of eggplant two days in a row, so I got 4 baby eggplants instead.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Rinse and drain 1 can of chickpeas.  Toss those in with the eggplant, together with 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 teaspoons curry powder.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Spread that out on a rimmed baking sheet as well.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Roast your vegetables, tomatoes on the top rack, eggplant on the bottom, for 45 minutes.  Toss your vegetables halfway through.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Now your tomato skins will be all lovely and wrinkly.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

You can just pick them off with a set of tongs.  Be careful not to burn yourself.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Once your tomatoes are peeled, dump the contents of the tomato tray (carrots, garlic, skinless tomatoes and juices) into a large saucepan.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Purée the tomato mixture and then add 3-4 cups water.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Stir in the eggplant mixture and bring the whole thing to a simmer.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

Serve garnished with fresh cilantro and crusty bread.  You can also freeze this soup for later on down the road.

Roasted Tomato and Eggplant Soup

“Cactus-Cut” Potatoes

Cactus-Cut Potatoes

I had some leftover potatoes that I’d cut for the gratin I showed you on Monday.  The Pie suggested that we attempt to fry them up as thick potato chips, not unlike those of a popular restaurant chain.

Cactus-Cut Potatoes

So we did.  This is a few inches of vegetable oil in a large saucepan. You heat it on medium-high (like at 7 or 8) until a pinch of flour dropped in goes all fizzy.

Cactus-Cut Potatoes

Then I fried the potatoes in batches until they were slightly crispy, but not too dark.

Cactus-Cut Potatoes

Stirring often with my big mesh spoon.

Cactus-Cut Potatoes

Plop them on a paper towel to drain and immediately salt them.

Cactus-Cut Potatoes

We had them with a chicken sandwich and some salad.  It makes up a bit for the grease.

Cactus-Cut Potatoes

Sweet Potato Fries

Sweet Potato Fries

In trying to adapt to a new routine (in our case, to the start of a new school semester), it’s easy to get lazy about your cooking.  Fortunately (because I’m me), when I cook I do it in large batches and I freeze what I don’t use.  So on nights when we’re feeling lazy we can simply unfreeze some pre-prepared goodness rather than buying something quick at the store.

In this particular situation we hauled out some beef burgers I’d frozen the week before.  But what to go on the side?  How about some sweet potato fries?  That sounds like a good plan.  Baked instead of fried, of course, but you get the idea.

Preheat your oven to 425°F.

Peel yourself some sweet potatoes (we used 4, but it depends on the size of the potato and the amount of fries you want).  These are also known as yams in some parts of the United States, but it gets a little confusing

Sweet Potato Fries

Chop the potatoes up into thin sticks (y’know, French fry-shaped pieces), and pop them in boiling water for 5-6 minutes to par-boil.  If you like your fries a little crispier, I wouldn’t bother to par-boil them.

Sweet Potato Fries

Drain them and toss them in a greased roasting pan or baking sheet.  Sprinkle evenly with salt and pepper and a little bit of cajun seasoning.

Sweet Potato Fries

Bake for 20-25 minutes, flipping with a spatula halfway through.  The “fries” should be crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.  Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Fries

Tofu Feature Month: Mapo Tofu

Mapo Tofu

I FINALLY found silken tofu in St. John’s.  I’ve been looking for it for what feels like forever.  In celebration of my recent discovery, and the Pie’s insistence that he needs to slim down in time for Kristopf’s wedding next July, I have decided to honour the long-standing request of my friend Danger K and start finding new ways to cook with tofu.  You might know Danger K: she recently got married (on our wedding anniversary, no less), and she and her husband planned a big fancy wedding by begging, bartering, and borrowing everything they could.  Their expenses out of pocket?  About two hundred bucks.  You can read about the process on their blog, Project Priceless.  So they’re a little bit famous back in Ottawa.  And I can say that I knew her when.  We went to high school together.  In fact, she had a huge crush on one of my brothers (DON’T DENY IT DANGER K I HAVE PROOF).  Not that I’m going to hold that against her or anything.

Mapo Tofu

So.  Cooking with tofu.

My previous experiences cooking with tofu (not in eating it, just cooking it) focused mainly on tossing cubes of it into Broccofu, Peanut Butter Spaghetti, or the occasional stir-fry.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but’s not using tofu in all its myriad manifestations.  This fall, the Pie and I aim to change our ways, and this recipe is the beginning.  September will be a sort of Tofu Feature Month.

Mapo doufu (mapo tofu) is a traditional spicy dish from the Sichuan province of China and involves sautéing tofu pieces in a suspension of a paste made of beans and chilis.  What I found particularly interesting about this dish is that I normally think of tofu as a protein-replacement for meat, but this recipe calls for a combination of tofu AND beef or pork.  Very unique (for me, at least).

Mapo Tofu

A note on substitutions:  this recipe calls for chili bean paste, a spicy gooey mixture of fermented soy beans and chilis (I’m thinking like a super-hot miso).  I didn’t have such a thing, so I used black bean paste instead with the chilis, which is why my sauce isn’t that signature reddish colour.  The recipe also requires the use of rice wine, which, not being a wine-drinker, I also don’t have, so we used rice wine vinegar instead.  Finally, the recipe I used made little sense and required some serious moderation, so I haven’t linked you to it.   I wasn’t a huge fan.

Start by making up enough rice for two people.

Mapo Tofu

Drain and pat dry one block soft tofu (I used extra-firm silken tofu because I wanted to see what it was like).  Cut it into 1″ cubes.

Mapo Tofu

Slice up 4-5 green onions and save about 1/4 of the green tips (sliced) for garnish.

Mapo Tofu

In a skillet or wok over medium heat, heat 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and sauté 4oz ground beef or pork until cooked.  Drain and set aside.

In the same pan, heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil.  Add 1 teaspoon minced ginger, the green onion that isn’t what you saved for garnish, 2 whole dried chilis, and 1 teaspoon ground peppercorns (Sichuan if you’ve got ’em).  Cook that for about a minute.

Mapo Tofu

Add the ground meat back in, as well as 3 tablespoons chili bean paste, 2 teaspoons minced garlic, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, 1 tablespoon rice wine, and 2 teaspoons brown sugar.  Cook that for another minute or so, just so everything can get acquainted.

Mapo Tofu

Add in the cubed tofu as well as 1/4 cup vegetable stock (or beef, or pork) and let that simmer for 15 minutes.   Stir occasionally, but don’t let the tofu fall apart.

Mapo Tofu

When it’s nearing done, dissolve 1 tablespoon corn starch in a little bit of water and pour that in as well.  Stir gently until it thickens.

Mapo Tofu

Serve over rice and garnish with the remaining green onions.  SPICY!

Mapo Tofu

When Life Gives You Apples …

Apple Sauce
… then you really need to figure out what to do with them when you’re about to go on vacation for two weeks.

This was our situation a few weeks back.  And really there’s only so much apple crumble you can handle in the summer months.
Apple Sauce

Why not make yourself some applesauce?  In addition to providing a tasty and nutritious snack, you can also use it as a dairy substitute in baking, and even add it to meat marinades to add flavour.  And it’s not like it’s hard.
Apple Sauce

I had nine Mcintosh apples, which I chopped up relatively small.  You can take the skins off if you like, but every time I do that I see my mother’s disapproving face in my mind and hear her saying, “that’s where all the vitamins are.”  So I leave them on, for texture and colour.
Apple Sauce

Take two or three cinnamon sticks and about ten cloves, and wrap them up in a square of cheesecloth.
Apple Sauce

Tie it into a tidy package.
Apple Sauce

Toss that and your apples into a slow cooker. Add in a few spoonfuls brown sugar and some ground cinnamon, as well.  You can leave the sugar out altogether if you want a healthier sauce.
Apple Sauce

Pour in about 1/4 cup water, just for juice’s sake.
Apple Sauce

Cook on high for a couple hours, stirring occasionally.
Apple Sauce

The smell is fantastic.
Apple Sauce

When the apples are soft and brown, you are all set.
Apple Sauce

Make sure to remove and discard the spice bag when you’re done.
Apple Sauce
Squish the apples up with your spoon.  If you really want to go super smooth, put the sauce in a blender.  I like mine with a bit of structure.
Apple Sauce
The best part is that applesauce freezes up real good.  So you can enjoy it any time!
Apple Sauce

Roasted Asparagus with Cheese

For you Canadians out there, don’t forget to VOTE! █♣█

The Pie and I took Easter easy this year, and it was just the two of us (well, plus Gren), so we kept Easter dinner simple.  We had a maple-glazed ham, creamy garlic mashed potatoes, crisp mashed rutabaga, and roasted asparagus with cheese and bread crumbs.

Now of course you all know how to keep asparagus nice and crispy.  Today I’m going teach you a new trick.

The bottom ends of asparagus are woody and tough, and need to be removed before cooking.  To do this, all you have to do is bend the asparagus until it snaps.  I was doing this with one hand so I could photograph it and the stalks were flying across the room.

The natural breaking point for asparagus is where the tender bit meets the tough bit, so it saves you the guess work.  Tada!

Place your newly cropped asparagus in a roasting pan.  I used about 1/2lb asparagus.

Drizzle with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.  Shake the pan from side to side to coat the stalks.

Roast for 10-15 minutes at 425°F until the stalks are tender-crisp.  Toss with a few tablespoons bread crumbs

… and grated cheese (your choice).

And serve.