Dipping My Toe in the New Normal

Dipping My Toe in the New Normal

Comfort food is just what we need, whether we are in self-isolation, quarantine, or shelter-in-place. My Tomato Soup recipe hits the spot and offers a savory solution to navigating “the new normal”.  Click to skip to the recipe!

 

Tomato Soup in Bowl with Crackers

 

We’re about to start the process of opening our county after eight weeks of social distancing. In a way, we’ve grown accustomed to staying at home.

Shelter-in-place has been weird. But what is even weirder is how quickly we’ve become used to it.

Waking up alone or with your kids or with your significant other and your kids and your significant other and maybe your mother…. and having nowhere to go. No plans on the horizon. No reason to get spiffed-up. No goals, no pat on the back for a job well done. It’s been lonely, challenging, and life-changing.

And now, just like that we’re supposed to go back to a new norm.

When I canvas my friends, I hear apprehension. While we’re home and quarantined, we’re safe from the silent enemy. But now, venturing out, facemasks in place, we fight a new challenge: how to exist in a society where the virus hides around every corner.
It is a crazy, insecure feeling; one that we must overcome in order to go on.

Personally, I am going to rely on my comforts as I dip my toe in the new norm. My hand sanitizer is stashed in my glove box. I’ve ordered designer face masks (of course I did….). I wash my hands constantly and stay six feet away from people that I encounter. I even follow the arrows in the grocery store!

But when it comes time to enter the phase that allows us to gather in small groups, my plan is to gather. I plan to gather just a few friends for a glass of wine to start and then maybe a shared snack or lunch and then maybe a social-distance approved supper outdoors with a couple of pals.

Yes, there is some apprehension, but it is time!

Perhaps it’s time to make your plan. There’s a lot to think about, whether you’re going back to work or considering shopping at the corner boutique.

Is it time to get your nails done, or does anxiety put the plan off for another week? Is it time to invite your baby best bud for a playdate? Is it time to let him go to his friend’s house? No matter how or when you plan to embrace the new norm, it’s time to make a plan.
What I always do when I face the road ahead is to take some time to think and strategize.

And while I fashion a plan, I like to surround myself with comfort food.

It kinda makes things less scary. The whole activity of cooking that food relaxes me. So, while you’re mulling over your plan for your new norm, why not take a tip from my playbook and whip up a pot of comforting soup. Tomato Basil Bisque is my go-to soup because it pushes all the comfort buttons. It is creamy, flavorful, tummy-filling and the perfect bowl to sneak in a fistful of crumbled crackers. Just the dish needed before you walk out the door for the first time.

Swallow your anxiety, take your time and step forward….Safely!

God Bless!

Tomato Soup
With Jalapeno, and a Hint of Fennel

Serves:

Time:

4-6 

40-Minute Cuisine

Ingredients

Adding just a bit of jalapeno adds a little heat to tomato soup. But the addition of fennel takes this soup to a spiced-up, licoricey lip-smackin’ treat!

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium red onion, diced into small cubes

1 medium jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced

4 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1 teaspoon dried basil

½ cup dry sherry

1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes

4 ounces tomato paste, about ½ cup

1 quart homemade chicken stock, or prepared low sodium broth 

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

½ large fennel bulb, optional

½ cup half and half

¼ cup sour cream

Pour olive oil into the bottom of your soup pot over medium-high heat.  Place the onions and pepper into the pot and cook until soft and fragrant, about 2 to 3 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and cook for 1 minute more.

Pour in the sherry and simmer until most of the liquid disappears, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Pour in the tomatoes, tomato paste, and chicken broth.  Season with salt, pepper, and sugar.  Place the fennel bulb into the soup.  Reduce the heat to low, cover the pot with a lid and simmer the soup for 20 minutes allowing the flavors to blend.

Remove the pot from the heat.  Remove and discard the fennel bulb.  Stir in the half and half and sour cream.

Serve the soup with crushed crackers, another dollop of sour cream, and the tops from the fennel.

The Glass Half Full

The Glass Half Full

As I look around me and watch the posts on social media during this COVID-19 crisis, I see many of us are stressed by the reality of social distancing and self-quarantining of families. Restaurants are closed and grocery store shelves are picked clean. You can’t give your grandma a hug, and it’s hard to plan any social event in the future. The situation is entirely unnerving.

S-T-R-E-S-S! Perhaps we can put this into perspective!

Being a Floridian for most of my life, I’ve weathered plenty of tropical storms and several  full-blown hurricanes. When we lost power, there was no electricity, no refrigeration, no lights, no television, no phone chargers and no air conditioning.

Before the storm hits, you fill up tubs and pots with water, because you will lose water after the storm. That means no flushing of toilets, no hot showers. Grocery store shelves are bare before the storm, and often shut down for days after the storm. Gas stations can’t pump gas because they have no electricity. Truck drivers can’t drive product to the stores, because they can’t get gas.  The longest stretch I’ve experienced during a storm’s aftermath is two and a half weeks. But many have experienced longer.

So, I look at this crisis with my glass half full vision. Yes, I’m quarantined, staying home for (at least) two weeks. But I have running water, an electric stove and fridge, air conditioning, gas in my car and open grocery stores that are constantly re-stocking their shelves. Not too bad. But I do admit, I miss comfortably being in a room with my pals and sharing a meal.

More than this, the unfamiliarity with this crisis adds a different kind of stress. To reduce it, I thought I might give you a couple of basic ideas for food you can cook at home.

Yes, I totally encourage all of us supporting our local restaurants and ordering meals for pick up or delivery. But, let’s balance this with cooking at home. You’re probably stuck in the house with kids that are driving you crazy by now. Our kids are used to being entertained, and they are looking to you to entertain them.

Instead, let’s work together to teach them the skill of cooking for themselves.

After all, they will all go off on their own one day, and this just may be a skill worth learning.

Let’s start with a chicken! One of the first items you might want to tackle is cooking chicken soup. Not only is it easy, but you have the benefit of having soup on hand, in case you or your family members come down with the virus.

Soup is nourishing, tastes great when you’re sick, and helps to keep you hydrated.

Another plus when cooking a chicken is, you can use leftover meat for other dishes. This soup recipe is just an idea of what’s possible…but really, you can USE ANY COMBO of veggies and spices!

Rinse and pat dry your chicken… any chicken. You can use a whole chicken, which is best, or chicken pieces, which are also good. Try to use chicken pieces with skin on and bone in. These pieces will end up moist, and the broth will collect the nutrients from these parts.

Place the chicken in a deep pot. Cover with water. Boom! That’s it!!!!

You can add stuff to the pot. Good add-ins are onion, carrot, celery, garlic, ginger, turmeric and herbs like parsley. Basically, investigate your vegetable drawer and grab hold of the least fresh things you can find. You don’t have to cut them, peel them or dice them. Just throw them in the pot!

Now you’re ready to bring the water to a boil over medium high heat, reducing the heat to medium-low, or just hot enough to simmer what will become the broth.

You can cover the pot with a lid and simmer away. If you uncover the pot, and the liquid has evaporated significantly, add more water.

I usually simmer the soup for 1 to 2 hours, depending on the size of the chicken, or if I’m using chicken pieces. The broth is ready when the chicken is cooked through.

Use a meat thermometer, inserted into the thickest part of the chicken to determine when it is cooked through. You can simmer for longer than this. There are no set rules!

Here’s the FUN part. Use a BIG colander to strain the broth into a large bowl. Transfer the HOT chicken to your cutting board and let it cool. You can discard your add-ins at this point!

To turn your broth into soup, I dice up onion, celery and carrot. Using that same soup pot, cook the diced veggies in some olive oil until they are soft. At this point you can add rice if you like.

Pour the strained broth back into the pot. This is the time to season the broth with salt and pepper.

Remove the skin and bones from the chicken. You can dice up some of the chicken and put it back into the soup.

Store the remaining chicken in a resealable plastic bag. I normally dice up the dark meat from the thighs, legs and wings for the soup, and reserve the breast meat for other dishes.

Simmer the soup and continue to season it as you wish. When the rice is cooked (you could substitute with noodles for chicken noodle soup), the soup is ready to eat or store. Store the soup in jars. Cool the soup to room temperature before you put it in the fridge or freezer.

Now, for my Bubba Gump moment…

Take that extra chicken and turn it into chicken and brie paninis, curried chicken and grape salad, chicken and mushroom quesadilla, chicken casserole, chicken Caesar salad, Buffalo chicken dip, barbecue chicken flatbread, chicken and veggie pot pies, chicken tacos, chicken wraps, pulled chicken sandwiches, chicken and black bean enchiladas, chicken and broccoli pasta, chicken lettuce wraps…… get the picture?

Until we get past this Cornavirus nightmare…

My next few posts will be dedicated to simple cooking of simple ingredients. If you have anything you want me to simplify, just let me know.

I wish you good health, and a swift passing of this crisis. But, more than this, I wish you joy in the moment. Finding the joy amid stressful times is hard… but, I know we can do it!

 

World’s Fastest Fresh Soup Recipe: Cream of Mushroom

World’s Fastest Fresh Soup Recipe: Cream of Mushroom

October is mushroom picking season in my neck of the woods. Even if you don’t have kids, being back in school — with its many open houses and events — affects us all. That’s why I’m dusting off my best crock pot and grab and go snack recipes in the coming weeks, but tonight I’m serving up this golden favorite. Cream of mushroom soup doesn’t have to be blended, and comes together in less than 15 minutes on your stovetop.

Don’t have heavy cream in the fridge? You can substitute with butter and whole milk. But do run to the market if you don’t have thyme. In a pinch, powdered Parmesan cheese works in this dish – and if you’d like to add a splash of red wine, more power to you! I didn’t chop up the Bella or cremini mushrooms as they made for an ampler bite whole.

There’s not a lot to say about this one, other than it’s easy. Wishing all of you, whether there are backpacks in your lives or not, a brilliant school year!

Cream of Bella n’ Cremini

Serves up to 10

15 minute cuisine

1 pint Bella mushrooms, washed

1 pint cremini mushrooms, washed

Butter for sautéing

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely minced

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

8 cups vegetable stock

Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a stock pot over medium high heat, cook the mushrooms in butter for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cream, thyme, garlic, cheese and vegetable stock. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

 

Crazy for Farmer’s Market Soup

Crazy for Farmer’s Market Soup

When the weather cooperates with the farmers, the bounty is just beautiful! This summer the sun shone through even when it rained! Our spring was cool and rainy, and the summer has proven to be warm, yet not hot. All in all, the mountains and foothills have flourished with lush greenery, abundant flowers and gorgeous, just gorgeous produce. It’s really, really hard to pass up the varieties of tomatoes, squash, lettuces and peppers.

I came home with a basket full…… (ok, two baskets and a bag) of tomatoes, peppers, chard, more peppers (shishito), basil and at least three varieties of baby squash. And the sunflowers… well I filled every vase in my house with these babies, the flowers of which were bigger than my hand!

Look at this haul:

I decided to make soup. The day was one of the few drizzle days signaling what I hope will be a long and languid Indian summer. I pulled out THE SILVER PALATE, one of my favorite cookbooks. There’s a recipe in there for a big batch of minestrone soup.

I used that recipe as I guideline, whilst merging my own farmer’s market ingredients, to create a soup that is just full of veggies, accented with spicy sausage and filling pasta. This recipe makes enough soup for you to share with friends or save for a busy weekday meal.

Maybe you can’t find a market near you, but don’t use that as an excuse not to make this soup. Grocery store produce will do just fine. And you needn’t worry about following an exact recipe… I sure don’t! Enjoy your soup!

Farmer’s Market Minestrone

serves a crowd

45 minute cuisine plus simmering

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 to 5 links Italian sausage, sliced into ½-inch circles

1 large onion, peeled and diced

2 to 3 large carrots, peeled and diced, about 2 cups

1 medium zucchini, diced, about 1 cup

2 medium yellow squash, diced, about 1 cup

2 poblano peppers, seeded and deveined, diced, about 1 cup

6 large garlic cloves, peeled and diced

1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes

4 cups beef stock

2 tablespoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons kosher salt

2 teaspoons coarse black pepper

Outer rind of 2-inch piece of Parmesan cheese

1 bunch of kale, stems chopped, leaves rolled and chopped

Parmesan cheese grated

Chopped fresh basil leaves

12 ounces small elbow macaroni

Heat olive oil in a deep soup pot over medium heat. Add the sausage and brown on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove the sausage from the pan. Add the onion, carrots, zucchini and squash to the pot. Cook until the veggies are soft and beginning to brown, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the peppers and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes more.

Pour in the tomatoes and beef stock. Season with oregano, salt and pepper. Bring the soup to a simmer. Add the sausage back to the pot. Tuck the cheese rind into the soup. Stir the kale into the soup. Add water to the pot to make sure all the ingredients are covered in liquid.

Continue to simmer the soup until the kale wilts and the cheese melts, at least 45 minutes and up to several hours on the stove over low heat. You can add additional water as needed. Continue to taste the soup and season with salt and pepper as needed. Add the macaroni and continue to simmer while the pasta cooks in the soup. When the pasta is plump and soft, the soup is ready!

Serve the soup with a garnish of grated Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of fresh basil on top.

 

Easy Mexican Street Corn, Skillet Style

Easy Mexican Street Corn, Skillet Style

As any visitor to Jorj.com might surmise, summer and its farmer’s markets are a big deal to me. I try to visit one every Saturday – not just for ingredients to use in weekend dinners, but for recipe ideas to take me and my family through the season with full bellies and empty plates. This month, inspiration struck when I passed a vendor making Mexican street corn.

I play with corn in Canvas & Cuisine – fresh, roasted ears get slathered in a savory pesto sauce. I was reminded of those flavors when I tasted corn on a stick at the farmer’s market this weekend.  I could isolate all kinds of yummy flavors – from peppers to lime juice. There was the tang of tomato and cojita cheese, and bright notes of cilantro – and like all good things, the undeniable presence of sour cream.

Determined to go home and duplicate that taste, I hit the various veggie stands and came back with everything I needed to make Mexican Street Corn – only thing is, it rains a lot in the summer, and backyard BBQs aren’t always possible. I transformed the dish into a skillet version that went over really well as a side this Father’s Day.

A popular item, there were requests for more. I’d run out of fresh corn on the cob at that point and discovered that frozen kernels work just as well. The results were super savory and the juiciness at the bottom of the bowl so good, it got my mind on corn chowder recipes for fall – just gotta get through this beastly summer first!

So, here’s my lighting fast recipe for a bright summer side dish – you can make it in the time it takes a thunderstorm to roll past your house, and the sun to start shining again!

Mexican Street Corn Skillet Style

15 minute cuisine

Serves 4

4 cups corn kernels (shucked from fresh ears of corn or frozen)

1 large red tomato, diced

1 bunch chives, washed and chopped, about ½ cup

1 bunch cilantro, washed and chopped, about ½ cup

Juice of 1 lime

1/3 cup cojita or feta cheese

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon sour cream

Salt and pepper

Olive oil for sautéing

In a skillet set on high heat, sauté the corn, herbs, lime juice, cheese, and cayenne in 2 tablespoons olive oil for 5 to 8 minutes. Add the sour cream and mix with a spatula, lowering heat. Cook for 3 to 5 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper. Enjoy!

Not Julia’s Beef Stew

Not Julia’s Beef Stew

I love Julia Child’s boeuf bourguignon – but truly American beef stew is different, and if you’re looking to achieve a real, flavorful meat n’ potatoes kinda night, this is your recipe!

My version comes together quickly, with items you probably have in your pantry and freezer. I throw in an extra step of browning not only the beef, but the potatoes in oil and butter. You might not think it’s worth the effort, but trust me, it is!

Here’s how I do it. I cut about 2 pounds of beef into 1 ½ inch cubes. I had a top round roast in my freezer, so I used that, but you can use any cut of beef that adapts well to stewing or braising – like chuck roast, short ribs and brisket. Stay away from leaner cuts (like steaks) as they will toughen up during the long cooking process.

My friends at brobbq.com have all the meaty details on how to make your meat n’ potatoes night “a cut” above!

I cut baby yellow or red potatoes in half – about a 1 ½ pound bag. Place them in a bowl and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper and some dried thyme. I peeled 8 large carrots and cut them into chunks and I diced 1 big onion.

Place about a third of beef cubes into a resealable plastic bag with flour, salt and pepper and shake. I do this in batches so that all the cubes are coated evenly. Heat olive oil and butter (about 2 to 3 tablespoons of each) in a large, deep pot over high heat. Turn on the fan, we want the butter and olive oil smokin’ hot. Place the coated cubes into the pot. Brown on one side, about 1 minute. Flip and brown on the other side, about 1 minute more. Transfer the brown beef to a platter. Repeat this process until all the beef is browned. You can add additional olive oil and butter in between browning. I did!

Remove the pot from the heat for a minute and take a deep breath. That browning goes fast! Add more olive oil and butter to the pot. Place the potatoes, cut side down in the pot (as best you can) and return the pot to the heat. Let the potatoes brown for about 2 minutes. Flip them over when there is a nice golden crust on the cut side. Transfer the potatoes back to the bowl.

Place the carrots into the pot and toss them around until they just begin to brown. Season with salt, pepper and a bit of cumin. Transfer the browned carrots to the same bowl with the potatoes.

Place the onions into the pot. Season the onions with salt and pepper. When the onions are beginning to soften, about 5 minutes, pour in about half of a bottle of red wine. Reduce the heat to medium. Simmer the wine until it reduces by about half. Pour in about 3 cups of beef stock. Stir in about 3 tablespoons of tomato paste. Place the meat back into the pot. Reduce the heat to medium low. Simmer the stew for at least 90 minutes. After ninety minutes, add in the potatoes and carrots. Continue simmering the stew until the meat is very tender, about 3 hours total cooking time.

There you have it. An all-American beef stew with a bit of a fried potato twist. I promise, you’re gonna love it – it’s one of the defining recipes in my book, SUNDAY BEST DISHES: a cookbook for Passionate Cooks!