Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Homemade Tomato Basil Soup

One of the best things about this time of year is the tomato harvest and all of the delicious things you can do with fresh tomatoes. Two of my favorites are homemade tomato sauce and homemade tomato basil soup. I've tried lots of recipes and I think I've finally fine-tuned the one I like the best. It's got the perfect balance of tomato and basil, with a hint of other veggies and spices that give it a great depth of flavor along with a bit of creaminess without the dairy. 

Here's what you'll need:

16 tomatoes
olive oil
1 tsp. thyme
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, sliced 
1 lb carrots, peeled and sliced
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup fresh basil
a little brown sugar
1 cup almond milk

Heat oven to 450 degrees and line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise and place cut-side-up on cookie sheet. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper and thyme. Roast in oven for 45 minutes. 

While tomatoes are roasting, saute onion in olive oil until translucent, add garlic and saute (do not let the garlic blacken). Add celery and carrots and saute saute until softened. Blend sauteed veggies with vegetable broth until smooth. Set aside.
When tomatoes are finished, let them cool slightly blend them with basil in the blender until smooth. Combined blended ingredients in a sauce pan and bring to a slight boil. Add a little brown sugar to balance the tartness of the tomatoes and stir in the almond milk (or other milk of your choice). 

Garnish with Parmesan cheese and fresh basil. Serve with grilled cheese sandwiches.  

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Gram's Broccoli Casserole

There are three women in my life who have greatly influenced my cooking: my mother, my grandmother, and my mother-in-law. Today, I dedicate this post to my dear grandmother Leann, who is turning 77 years old. From a very young age, my memories of her are in the kitchen, teaching me how to whip up a batch of my favorite chocolate chip cookies or watching her decorate a wedding cake. She is a baker, but we also used to gather as extended family at her house for Sunday dinners and holidays. I think the menu was pretty constant - roast, potatoes, corn on the cob, fruit salad (with whipping cream of course) and the one casserole that we always had was her broccoli cheese casserole. 

A little over a year ago, we found ourselves from one day to the next without a caregiver for our youngest and my grandmother came to the rescue and spent a couple of months with us taking care of her during the day. I have always wanted to put together a cookbook of her recipes and so we decided it would be the perfect time to photograph all of the dishes that her family loves best. During the day she would take care of Ceci and cook or bake and when I'd get home I'd photograph her work. We were just about finished and my camera card crashed and we lost everything. She was such a trooper and cooked it all a second time and I took photographs again. So, I wish I had the book finished to give to her on her birthday, but this is a start . . . the first recipe that we all love: Broccoli Casserole. 

1 cup uncooked rice
1/2 cup celery
1 cube butter
1/2 onion, diced
1 small jar, cheese whiz
1 can, cream of chicken soup
1 bag, frozen broccoli
bread crumbs

Gram's original recipe reads: Saute onions and celery in butter. Pour over cup of rice in 9 x 13 pan. Mix together cheese, cream of chicken soup, and broccoli. Pour over rice. Top with breadcrumbs and Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until bubbly. 

The pictures here are a little different from the process that comes from her original recipe, but it all turns out the same. For a heartier, main dish you can add pieces of cubed chicken breast (pre-cooked) above the layer of rice.

Grandma, thank you for all you do for us - - most recently for the times you've come to our rescue tending our kids or whipping up a ton of your recipes for photographs and for teaching me how to show my love for others through food. If there is one big influence that I'd say you've had on me, it is that! I love you! And Happy, Happy Birthday!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Banana Walnut Chip Ice Cream

I've always loved making homemade ice cream and remember family reunions when I was a little girl - Great-Grandma Thomas's homemade vanilla ice cream was always being hand-churned by someone. The ice cream never made it to the freezer because everyone ate it as soon as it was thickened. I've always been partial to homemade vanilla ice cream because of that childhood tradition. And I've always had an ice-cream maker for days when I craved Great-Grandma's homemade ice cream, and had that time to make it. Those days didn't come very frequently because of the time it took to freeze it . . . the patience of adding more ice and waiting and waiting until it was ready. That problem is now solved thanks to my generous sister, Lilly. Last spring, I visited her in Texas and she had a modern mini ice cream maker that you kept the bowl in the freezer at all times so that whenever you had an inkling for ice cream, all you had to do is whip it up and it would be frozen in15-20 minutes. While we were there, we made a root beer float ice cream . . . I fell in love with her machine and for my birthday in April she sent me one too. Since then I've strayed from the homemade vanilla a bit and have been trying some delicious frozen yogurts and rich gourmet ice creams. This recipe came with the instruction manual and has become a family favorite this summer so I thought I'd share.

*Don't be intimidated by the multiple steps in this recipe. They are not difficult and once you try this delicious ice cream, you'll be willing to make those steps over and over again.  


1/2 cup whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 whole vanilla bean, halved and seeds scraped
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 tablespoon water
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large bananas, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 1/2 tablespoons rum flavoring
1/4 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup Ghiradelli 60% cacao dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped

Step 1
In a medium saucepan set over medium-low heat, bring the milk, cream, vanilla bean (including the pod), vanilla extract, and the salt just to a boil. Remove from heat, let mixture steep for 30 minutes.

Step 2
While the milk/cream mixture steeps, heat the sugar with water in a large skillet until it begins to sizzle.
Stir in the butter and heat until melted.
Add the bananas; cook for about 2 minutes, or until fragrant and softened.

Carefully stir in the rum and cook for an additional 2 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat.
Using a slotted spoon, strain the bananas/sugar mixture, reserving the syrup and banas in separate bowls.

Step 3
Remove the vanilla pod from the steeped milk/cream mixture; discard pod.

Stir the lemon juice into the bananas and then mix the bananas into the steeped milk/cream. Cover and refrigerate mixture 1 to 2 hours, or overnight.
Step 4
Turn on the Cuisinart ice cream maker; pour the banana mixture into the frozen freezer bowl and let mix until thickened, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Step 5
While the ice cream is churning, melt the chocolate chips in a bowl set over a pot of simmering water; reserve.
Step 6
When the ice cream is almost fully churned, gradually add the sugar syrup; let mix until fully combined.

Once the sugar syrup has been mixed, add the walnuts through the top of the ice cream maker; let mix until combined.
Right before the ice cream is done, drizzle the melted chocolate into the churning ice cream. The ice cream will have a soft, creamy texture.

If a firmer consistency is desired, transfer the ice cream to an airtight container and place in the freezer for about 2 hours.

Serve and enjoy.