Turned-up Tomato Soup

Grilled cheese and tomato soup are classic combinations.

Some would say they are inextricably bound.

While my Turned-up Tomato Soup is a wonderful accompaniment to your favorite grilled cheese sandwich, it can be consciously upcoupled (a wink and nod to Gwyneth Paltrow) and stand firmly on its own.

Using fire roasted tomatoes gives the soup a tasty smokiness. I’ve added my beloved sweet potato to this soup to create more depth of flavor while adding a subtle, sweet middle note. The splash of tequila gives it roundness, and the ground chili paste turns it up with and infuses a lovely finish and pop of spice!

Not only is this a delicious soup, try it over chicken, fish and pasta or serve cold like gazpacho garnished with fresh chopped cilantro. Or get jiggy with it and charge it up with some cooked black beans and corn. Or how about adding chopped chicken or cocktail shrimp?

Oh boy! Are you ready to get turned up?

The recipe is below. Enjoy!

Turned-up Tomato Soup

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
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A turned-up version of tomato soup with a little tequila.

Ingredients

1  14.5 ounce can Muir Glen Fire Roasted Tomatoes

½ pound or 1 cup, peeled sweet potatoes, medium dice

½ medium white or yellow onion, chopped small dice

2 cloves garlic, chopped small dice

4 cups low sodium chicken stock or good vegetable broth (see my back burner vegetable broth recipe here)

1 tablespoon butter, clarified is my favorite

½ teaspoon sugar, white granulated

½ teaspoon fresh oregano, finely chopped

½ teaspoon salt

1 to 2 teaspoons ground fresh chili paste (to your liking)

2 tablespoons gold tequila (I used Cazadores Reposado Tequila)

Cracked pepper, to your taste

Directions

  1. To a stock pan or Dutch oven set on medium heat, add butter.  Once melted, add diced sweet potatoes and cook for about three minutes, stirring constantly, until lightly browned.
  2. Add onions and cook for an additional minute, stirring constantly.
  3. Add garlic and chopped oregano and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
  4. Stir in tequila and next add fire roasted tomatoes, chicken or vegetable stock/broth, salt, ground chili paste, sugar and some cracked pepper.
  5. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat, cover and simmer for 15 minutes on low heat.
  6. When done, remove from heat and carefully pour soup into a blender.
  7. Remove the center piece from the blender. Make sure the lid is secure.
  8. Place a clean towel over the opening to avoid splattering and blend mixture until smooth, about 15 to 20 seconds.
  9. Return to the pot or Dutch oven. Let stand for 5 minutes and serve with croutons and fresh grated parmesan cheese.

This back burner broth is top shelf

I know I’ve been missing in action. I am in culinary school and it is very time consuming.

Yup, it’s remote and we do all of our culinary lectures and labs at home.

The very cool thing about being in school is having access to experienced culinary professionals and the ability to ask them questions my inquiring mind has always wanted to know such as:

“Why do the commercial vegetable broths I’ve purchased in the market taste odd, have a brassy top note and an unpleasant after taste?”

Geepers! Just saying this makes my nose wrinkle.

The answer: the abundant use of celery in these broths which is just full of chlorophyll, the compound that gives plants their green pigmentation and the compound my palate obviously doesn’t like as a primary ingredient in a broth.

Chlorophyll is the natural compound present in green plants that gives them their color. It helps plants to absorb energy from the sun as they undergo the process of photosynthesis. This nutrient is present in green vegetables and other plant-based foods, like algae. The greener the vegetable is, the higher its chlorophyll content.

https://www.webmd.com/diet/health-benefits-chlorophyll#1

Well, I can change that now that I understand what it is I like and don’t like.

So I did, and this vegetable broth is glorious and so good.

The base is composed of shitake and oyster mushrooms I scored from my local 99Cent Store.

The aromatics include the modest use of celery and other stuff to make it tasty. For this recipe I did sauté the aromatics in a little clarified butter to impart some depth and richness in the broth. However, if you are pledged to veganism, use a good extra virgin olive oil instead.  This is an important tip: a little bit of sugar helps to round out the pungency from the herbs so make sure to use it.

This recipe makes about 6 cups of broth after it simmers down and is strained. I want you to note that it does take a little work, time and patience – so commit to the process because it is so worth it.

What can you use this broth for? It’s great as a base for soups, stews, gravies or whatever recipe that requires broth. The color is marvelous and the taste is velvety and balanced.

I used this stock recipe to make a pot of yellow split pea soup from the peas I also scored at the 99Cent store. Here’s a little-known fact about me: I make a pot of legumes every week which I lovingly call “soupe de la semaine” or soup of the week.

When making this broth you will need roughly 3 to 4 hours from start to finish – so plan accordingly, enjoy the journey and the fruits ( or should I say vegetables) of your labor.


Back Burner Vegetable Broth

  • Servings: 6 cups
  • Difficulty: You can do it!
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A delicious, homemade vegetable stock.

Ingredients


4 ounces shitake mushrooms
4 ounces oyster mushrooms
1 medium red onion, large diced
2 shallots, rough chopped
3 celery stalks, cut in half
3 medium carrots, peeled and cut in half
6 garlic cloves, peeled and rough chopped
2 bay leaves
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh oregano sprigs
1 rosemary sprig
1/2 teaspoon pepper corns
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons butter or extra virgin olive oil
8 cups cold water

Directions

To a large stock pot, add carrots, celery and mushrooms. Set aside.

Heat a large skillet on a stovetop set on medium heat.

Once the skillet is hot, add butter or olive oil.

When oil is hot, add onions, shallots and sauté, stirring frequently, until translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add garlic, bay leaves, thyme sprigs, oregano sprigs and rosemary and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Remove from heat and add contents of skillet to the stock pot.

Add salt, sugar, peppercorns and 8 cups of water.

Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on low heat for 1 hour and 30 minutes.

When done, strain the broth through a mesh strainer into a separate heat resistant container.

Broth is ready to use or can be stored in the refrigerator for one week, or frozen for up to 6 months.

Reimagined neck bones and rice never tasted so good

Pork neck bones seasoned just like mom used to do.

My ancestors were culinary innovators.

With the scraps from their owners, they reimagined  the use of pig intestines and chitterlings. And similarly they turned oxtails, pig feet and neck bones into hearty, rib sticking entrees that remain the breadcrumbs to my past and the soul of my legacy.

Back in the day,  my siblings and I. Left to right: Me, my brother Montie and sister Roxanne. I love this picture!

My story

My parents migrated from the great state of Alabama. Southern food was squarely in my mom’s wheelhouse. Black-eye peas, cornbread and collard greens were often on mom’s stove. These Southern favorites were interspersed with dishes like spaghetti and chili which Mom learned to cook as a Southern California transplant.   

My brother Montie and I are the foodies in my family. We often talk about food and reminisce about some of our favorite dishes my mom prepared when we were children.  Pork neck bones and rice is one of those dishes. Mom would cook them in a big pot on our stove top.  The aroma was unmistakable rich and robust. As the meat cooked down, the bone marrow and connective tissue would dissolve and create the most amazingly luscious and flavorful broth.  When the neck bones were completely fall off the bone tender, mom added rice and seasoned the pot with salt and lots of pepper.

That was good eating! Well at least we felt that way. And even today, the thought of eating Mom’s neck bones and rice makes me darn near euphoric.

Flour coated neck bones browning in a skillet.

A recipe reimagined

Recently I had a hankering for neck bones and rice. With all the events happening today, I needed to recreate a little culinary nostalgia to shift my mood. Neck bones and rice was the perfect remedy.

I picked up three pounds of pork neck bones from Buddha Market in South Los Angeles. The butcher cut them in the most perfect serving sizes.    

When I got home, I rummaged through my less than organized kitchen cookware cabinet and found my pressure cooker buried in the back left corner. After closely examining it, it was in pretty good shape – so  it was on and cooking.

I generously seasoned the neck bones with salt, pepper, garlic powder and chipotle chili pepper for a little smokiness. After dredging the seasoned neck bones in flour, I browned them in a skillet, then added them to the pressure cooker. I made a roux with the pan drippings which I poured over the neck bones.

Top left: simple pantry ingredients seasoned these neck bones; top right: roux mixture poured over neck bones; bottom: roux mixture poured over browned neck bones placed in pressure cooker.

After 35 minutes under pressure, they were done to perfection. I served them over brown jasmine rice cooked in chicken stock with a little turmeric. This reimagined version had all the delicious and satisfying flavor of mom’s version. The slight adjustments I made to the recipe elevated the dish a bit. I bet you never imagined that!

Reimagined Neck Bones and Rice ready to serve.

An unexpected result

I called my mom and told her about the dish. I was so anxious for her to try it. However she was not. In fact she confessed she didn’t like pork neck bones at all and was not interested in trying them. She also said the only reason she made them when we were growing up is because they were inexpensive and for a little of nothing she could feed her family something filling when money was tight.

I was stunned! I had no idea that she felt that way. I always thought neck bones and rice was something special. Mom’s revelation just underscores the power of food memories and feelings they stir up.

It was a very awkward moment between us. Sensing that, she agreed to try a small sample which I packed up and sent with my brother to give to her.

Ahh . . . plated Reimagined Neck Bones and Rice never looked and tasted so good!

It’s all good

About an hour later, mom called me and said, “Girl, I don’t know what you did to those neck bones, but they were delicious! You can make them for me anytime.

And I have – several times since then – with a giant smile on my face.

If you would like to take a culinary trip and try my reimagined version of a time honored entrée that has fed generations, the recipe is below. Here’s to good eating!

Reimagined Neck Bones and Rice

  • Servings: 4 to 6
  • Difficulty: You can do it!
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This reimagined version is sheer comfort food.


Ingredients

For neck bones

3 pounds pork neck bones, cut in serving sized pieces

¼ cup unbleached flour for roux

½ cup unbleached flour for drudging coating neck bones

4 tablespoons oil (grapeseed used but can use canola, corn, vegetable)

1   32-ounce carton of chicken broth (Simple Truth Organic Free Range Chicken Broth used in this recipe)

Sea salt

Pepper

Garlic powder

Chipotle chili pepper

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped (for roux)

For rice

2 cups rice (brown Jasmine rice used in this recipe)

1   32-ounce carton of chicken broth (Simple Truth Organic Free Range Chicken Broth used in this recipe)

1 teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon turmeric

2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

Directions

Preparing neck bones

Rinse neck bones and pat dry.

  1. Add 2 tablespoons of oil to large skillet set on medium heat.
  2. Wash and pat dry neck bones. Place on a cutting board lined with waxed paper.
  3. Generously season all sides of neck bones with salt, pepper and garlic powder. Season all sides lightly with chipotle chili pepper.
  4. Add ½ cup of flour to a paper bag or large zipper bag. Add ½ of the neck bones to bag, shake to coat will with flour.
  5. Shake off  the excess flour and add to heated skillet.
  6. Cook about 2 minutes on at least two sides until golden brown. Remove and add to pressure cooker.*
  7. Coat the remaining neck bones in flour (add more flour if needed) and place in skillet. Add more oil if needed.
  8. Cook about 2 minutes on at least two sides until golden brown. Remove and add to pressure cooker. 

Making roux

  1. Add 2 tablespoons of oil to same skillet used to brown neck bones. Set skillet on medium heat.
  2. Whisk in ¼ cup of flour and mix well.
  3. Continue to whisk until roux is medium brown, about 10 minutes.
  4. Add 2 cups of chicken broth and chopped garlic.  Reduce heat to low; simmer gently until thicken.
  5. Remove from heat and pour roux over neck bones in pressure cooker.
  6. Pour remainder of the chicken broth over the neck bones.  

Cooking the neck bones

  1. Lock the lid on the pressure cooker. Bring the pressure cooker up to full pressure. Reduce heat to medium high heat, maintaining full pressure, and cook for 35 minutes.
  2. Remove from heat after 35 minutes. Let stand about 30 minutes to let pressure naturally release.

*Cooks Note:  While I used a traditional pressure cooker for this recipe, my brother followed the directions and made the recipe in an Instant Pot and achieved the same results. 

Making rice

  1. While neck bones are cooking, add 2 cups of rice to a sauce pan. Wash and rinse rice. If using white rice, wash and rinse at least twice to help remove the starch.
  2. Pour a 32- ounce carton of chicken stock over the rice. Add ¼ teaspoon of turmeric and 1 teaspoon of salt.
  3. Bring rice to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and cook according to directions.
  4. When rice is done, let stand uncovered until cool.

Putting it all together

  1. Transfer rice to a large serving bowl or large casserole dish.
  2. Place all the neck bones on top of the rice. Pour some of gravy left in the bottom of the pressure cooker over the rice. Reserve any unused gravy for those who want a saucier serving.
  3. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley and grilled chopped red bell pepper if desired.

A pantry ready recipe with a lemony twist

Lemony Tuna Noodle Casserole requires no baking. Just a little time at the stove top.

Many of our kitchens have become well-seasoned because we’ve been compelled to cook a few meals – not because we want to, but because necessity has called upon our cooking angels to pull us back into the flames because of COVID-19.

We are still weathering this pandemic and in many parts of the country restaurants are only open for takeout. And those that are open for business are for the most part al fresco (outdoors) or have limited indoor seating.

This is why today home cooked meals rank right up there with baseball, hotdogs and apple pie.

A good home cooked meal starts with a well-stocked pantry. Just having an array of staple pantry and refrigerator ingredients saves so much time when you finally step up to that cutting board. It also inspires a range of epicurean possibilities when inspiration strikes or when guests arrive unexpectedly.

Lemony Tuna Noodle Casserole plated. It’s so good.

My Lemony Tuna Noodle Casserole was totally inspired by ingredients I had on hand. My early memories of this classic dish weren’t that thrilling. It was merely a staple in my dinner rotation because it was quick to make, inexpensive and it fed my ravenous family of four.

Listen to me on 94.7 The Wave website as I step you though making this delicious dish. Just click on the arrow above. Listen closely on how to “level up” this dish for you and your quarantine boo.

This zhuzhed up version is a delicious departure from the cheesy version I used to make. It’s still budget friendly but it’s certainly not your mom’s or grandma’s tuna noodle casserole. It has a light, delicate sauce made with evaporated milk and fresh grated Parmesan cheese infused with fresh lemon juice and grated lemon zest. The albacore tuna that gets added to this dish kisses the lemony sauce that clings to the pasta like a long lost relative. Oh and this recipe brushes aside traditional elbow macaroni and instead uses orecchiette pasta – which is such a family friendly and fun shape for the kids.

You probably have  most of the ingredients to make this Lemony Tuna Noodle Casserole in your pantry. What are you waiting for?

Are you ready to try this reimagined tuna noodle casserole? Dive right in! Make sure to listen to my podcast as I step you through how I made it and hear about some of the basic pantry and refrigerator ingredients I keep on hand.

For a list of my recommended ingredients click here. Keep in mind this is in no way an exhaustive list. It’s just a baseline to build on so.

Lemony Tuna Noodle Casserole

  • Servings: 4 to 6
  • Difficulty: You can do it!
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You will love this remake of a classic family favorite.

Ingredients


1 large can Albacore tuna (12 ounces)
2 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely lemon zest
16-ounce package of pasta (orecchiette featured here or use elbow, spaghetti or any pasta of your liking)
Salt for pasta water and to season later
5 ounces can evaporated milk (or ¾ cup)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¾ cup fresh, finely grated Parmesan
1 ½ cups reserved pasta cooking water
Freshly ground black pepper
Red pepper flakes (optional)

Directions


Before you start any recipe, gather all your ingredients.

  1. Drain tuna.  Empty contents onto a plate and break apart with a fork.
  2. Zest one whole lemon which should yield about 1 teaspoon of zest.  A microplane grater works best. Cut lemon in half and into a small bowl, squeeze out enough juice to yield 2 tablespoons of juice. Set aside.
  3. Begin your pasta and add salt to the water. Make sure to add lots of salt to your pasta water, about a tablespoon works best. Remember this is your only opportunity to really get favor into the pasta.
  4. Cook pasta according to the package directions. Stir pasta occasionally until it is al dente (pasta will finish cooking at the end in the sauce you will prepare later).
  5. While the pasta is cooking, add evaporated milk and lemon zest to a separate sauce pan and cook over medium heat, whisking often, until it begins to simmer, about 2 minutes.
  6. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add unsalted butter and stir until melted.
  7. Add fresh, finely grated Parmesan cheese and lemon juice and whisk well until the sauce is creamy and emulsified. Then, remove cheese sauce from the heat.
  8. Scoop out 1½ cups of pasta cooking water just before pasta is al dente.
  9. Drain the pasta when done. Add cheese sauce to the pasta and stir thoroughly.
  10. Stir in the flaked tuna and 1 ½ cup of the reserved pasta cooking water. Taste and add additional salt, pepper, pepper flakes and lemon juice to taste. Stir well and cook on medium heat about 3 minutes.
  11. Remove from heat. Cover with the lid and let set aside about 10 minutes. The sauce will appear loose but it will tighten up very quickly as it cools.
  12. Garnish with fresh chopped parsley if desired.