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




40-Minute Cuisine


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.

Last of the Summer Tomatoes Taste Fab in these Recipes

Last of the Summer Tomatoes Taste Fab in these Recipes

Growing season for tomatoes, June through September, finds this versatile fruit at its peak in some states, where temperatures remain hot, hot, hot well past Labor Day. Home cooks all over the country are getting ready to tailgate for the big game – that means lots of BBQ sauce and piping hot vats of chili – for that you’re going to need tomatoes – lots of ’em! I found a brand of canned that has never let me down, never tasted bitter or chemically sweet; a brand that offers all the complex and savory flavors the classic tomato is supposed to have. I like this brand so much, I contacted them about sharing one of my recipes to their Tomato Vine Blog. But don’t click on it yet! I’m not done talking tomato.

Every summer and early Fall, I stock up on my favorite kinds of fresh tomatoes, loving the multi colored (and multi-shaped!) variety at farmers markets on Saturdays. My home state of Florida is one of the two biggest producers of tomatoes in the USA; the other is California. Sorry Sunshine State, but I got addicted to Muir Glen Organic that comes from San Joaquin Valley, CA. In fact, I like this canned variety so much that if I run out of fresh, I turn to them for my spaghetti sauces and Real Deal ketchup.

Everyone who knows my cooking, also knows that I prefer fresh ingredients, and don’t turn to canned ones as my first choice. I make an exception when it’s Muir Glen because you can’t tell the difference between their product, and cooking with a sack of fresh tomatoes from the store – that’s actually a huge savings, when you think about it. Recently, I tested a recipe (to be featured in an upcoming cookbook) that called for LOTS of tomatoes. Using canned was far more economical than smashing up fruits from the farmers market. In my Vietnamese Eggplant Stew, I used a 28-ounce can of Muir Glen Organic Peeled Tomatoes, and was on Cloud 9 by dinner time. I also swapped out the butternut squash for acorn squash in this Bon Appetite recipe, and hit a home run using Muir Glen.

Tomatah, Tomato

Here’s my eggplant-tomato stew; instructions and an inspirational note of where I learned to make it are included. Happy eating, my friends – I’ve modified the recipe, so there’s enough to feed you, plus friends!

This stew, Vietnamese Eggplant, is tomato rich, and will appear in my next book! This stew, Vietnamese Eggplant, is tomato rich, and will appear in my next book!


Vietnamese Eggplant Stew

Serves 8

Prep time: about 40 minutes

The city of Hoi An in Vietnam has an amazing fresh market and a wonderful cooking school, Red Bridge. This is one of the signature dishes that the chef teaches his students. It’s prepared it in individual clay pots, which adds a wonderful dimension and depth of flavor. This is my version of the dish we created in school. The eggplant is rich and velvety and delicious. Serve the stew as a side dish or add rice to make it a veggie main.

2 teaspoons peanut oil

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced

1 stalk lemongrass, outer layer discarded, sliced

1 (28 ounce) can Muir Glen Organic Ground Peeled Tomatoes

2 tablespoons fish sauce

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

1 large eggplant, cut into 2-inch pieces

1 small red chili, seeded, veins removed, cut into thin strips

¼ teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon coarse black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil

1 green onion, diagonally sliced

        Heat the peanut oil in a deep pot with lid over medium heat. Add the garlic and lemongrass to the pot and stir. Add the tomatoes to the pot. Stir in 2 tablespoons water. Simmer until the vegetables break down, about 2 minutes. Stir in half of the fish sauce and half of the sugar. Add the eggplant to the pot. Pour in 1 cup water. Add the remaining fish sauce and sugar. Stir in the chili, turmeric, and pepper. If you prefer a smoother stew, this recipe does fine, pulsed in a blender and returned to the stock pot in batches. Simmer until the eggplant is soft, about 5 to 10 minutes. Garnish with fresh basil and sliced green onions.

Farmers Market Tip

Prepare the tomatoes for this recipe by bringing a pot of water to boil. Cut an “x” into the bottom skin of the tomato. Plunge the tomatoes into the boiling water for 30 seconds to a minute. Test the skin by pulling up on the edge of the x. If the skin begins to lift easily, the tomatoes are ready. Transfer the tomatoes to an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Peel and cut in half. Squeeze out the seeds and chop the tomatoes.

Harvest Tomato Cheddar-Feta Soup

Harvest Tomato Cheddar-Feta Soup

With the arrival of fall the time for soul-warming soups is here. Sunset Produce is the best choice for this recipe, but anytime you have grape tomatoes old or new, this is your go-to dish. The cheeses marry so well with the robust, tanginess of the tomatoes that you will want to make this soup once a week!

Serves: 2 to 4
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook time: about 10 minutes

  • Sunset Trio Tomato Package or 12 ounces grape tomatoes
  • ½ white onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ⅓ cup crumbled feta
  • ⅓ cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
  • 1 teaspoon thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 cups tomato juice
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 handful fresh chopped basil

In a stock pot or large skillet, sauté the tomatoes and onion in olive oil over high heat. Add the cheeses, thyme, salt and pepper, and cook until the tomatoes break open and the juices meld with the feta and cheddar, about 5 minutes.

Working in several batches, add tomato juice and tomato-cheese mixture to the blender and puree until smooth. For a more rustic finish pulse the blender a few times instead to leave seeds and tomato pieces, yum!

Heat the chicken stock on high in a stock pot, and then add the mixture from the blender. Stir in the basil, salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with a great big grilled cheese sandwich for dipping—after all, you have plenty of cheese left over right?