Roasty Toasty Red Salsa

I love chips and salsa above all other foods out there, nearly. If we are in a fight and you want to send me a reconciliation gift, chips and salsa will be a guaranteed winner. If I am sick, chips and salsa will make me feel better. If I’m grouchy, I would like chips and salsa to the rescue, please! I will almost always pick the restaurant with free chips and salsa over the one without, or heaven forbid, the restaurant that charges for them. Those places are evil and might should be boycotted, in my opinion. Ahem. So salsa pretty much rocks my socks. If you pop over to the Food Memories page, you’ll see that I grew up with salsa and came by my affection for it honestly. My dad makes homemade salsa, and one day, I decided I was going to make my own homemade salsa, too. Oh boy! It was the start of a beautiful thing. At first, it was a more chopped up version of pico de gallo, made in tiny batches in my wee food processor attachment on my blender stand. Since then, I’ve graduated to an adult food processor and have been experimenting all over the place. I’ve learned that I love to roast my salsa ingredients. I have learned that kiwi salsa is delicious. I’ve learned that homemade salsa is for sharing as I cannot eat (or at least, should not eat) the whole batch. I suppose you could cut the recipe in half to make a smaller batch, but why deprive a friend of your culinary delights??  Have your friends over for game night, and let them marvel when you serve them homemade salsa. I won’t judge if you don’t put it all out so you can have some the next day; that’s only good sense.

DELICIOUS!

There are many more salsa recipes to come, but this is the most recent edition to come from my kitchen. Don’t be frightened by the surprise herb – it actually provides quite a pleasant taste. Thanks, Rick Bayless, for the inspiration!

Roasty Toasty Red Salsa (adapted from Salsas That Cookby Rick Bayless)

Ingredients*
1 lb Roma tomatoes (sometimes also called plum – the ones that are more oval than circle)
6 ounces poblano chiles (probably 2 regular-sized ones)
1/2 red onion (or to taste)
4 – 6 med-lg garlic cloves
1/2 cup tomato puree
2 tsp fresh thyme, chopped
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped (recommended, but optional for those who are not cilantro eaters – not a deal breaker)
1/4 – 1/2 cup water
dash of salt

Steps
1. Set your oven rack near the top of your oven, and turn on the broiler. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, and lay out the tomatoes and peppers. Broil (maybe 5 – 8 minutes) until the skin is charred and blistered. Flip everything over to roast the other side. Continue this process until all sides are well blackened. Don’t be afraid of the char. You are likely to hear the skin sizzle and pop; don’t be afraid of that either. When everything is charred, pull the pan out of the oven and let cool.

2. Put the peppers in a plastic bag, and wrap with a towel. They won’t melt the bag, and it will help the skins come off later. Leave the tomatoes on the pan to cool.
3. While the tomatoes and peppers are in the oven, slice the onion into slices. Err on the side of thicker rather than thinner. Aim for a quarter to half inch slice. As much as possible, keep them uniform so they’ll cook evenly. That’s probably more important than width of the slice. Peel the garlic, leaving the last layer of papery covering (this will keep it from burning). On another foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet, lay out the onion and garlic. Roast them until the onions are soft, there is some char on the edges, and the garlic is soft when pressed. Stir a few times while they are roasting. This may take 15 minutes or so. Let cool on the pan when you take them out.

4. Using tongs, a knife, and/or your hands, peel the skins off the tomatoes, and pull the flesh off the core. I have yet to roast them long enough for the core to get soft – so get rid of the hard feeling middle. Do all of this on the pan so you don’t lose any juices. Leave the flesh on the pan to cool a bit before you go back to them in step 9. Discard the skin and core.

5. Using the same tools, over the same sheet of tomato pulp, if possible, pull off and discard the skins from the peppers. The blacker the skin is, the easier it will just peel right off. Tear open the peppers and scrape out the seeds, if you want a milder salsa. More seeds = more heat. Your call. Please don’t rinse them – you’ll lose flavor. They will likely drip juice into the tomatoes, which is okay. That’s why you are peeling them over the tomatoes in the first place.
6. Chop the peppers into small, bite sized pieces. They won’t get any smaller later in the prep, so dice away. Scrape the pieces and the juice from the cutting board into a clean serving bowl.

7. Chop your thyme and cilantro, and toss into the serving bowl.
8. Pulse your roasted onion and peeled garlic cloves in a small food processor to finely chop them. Add some of the tomato if the mixture needs some liquid to help facilitate the job. Scrape into your bowl with the peppers.
9. In the same food processor bowl, put the cooled tomatoes and their juices and whir away. Dump into the serving bowl where the peppers and herbs are waiting.
10. Stir in the tomato puree, and slowly add the water to get to the consistency you want. Go slowly with the water because you can’t take it back out. Season to taste with some salt, but go easy as your chips will likely also be salty.

*Notes about ingredients: I had ginormous Roma tomatoes so it only took 3 to make a pound. It would probably take 5 – 7 regular-sized Roma tomatoes for a pound. I was also using poblano peppers that my dad brought me which were WAY smaller than store-bought poblanos. My four were 6 ounces which is why I suspect 2 regular-sized ones would be sufficient. I don’t usually measure my herbs – I just chopped what looked good to me. I like lots of cilantro, so it’s possible I had more than 2 tbsp. I recommend not going overboard with the thyme until you are certain you’ll like it. I will probably add a bit more next time. Also, if you don’t have enough poblanos, I think Anaheims would be a good addition which will also decrease the spiciness.

Large Romas and Small Poblanos

I’m nervous about giving you a recipe with 10 steps. Please don’t be intimidated as many of the steps are simple. Plus I’m overly detail-oriented sometimes. 🙂 Many of the steps can be accomplished while items are either roasting or cooling. I promise you that it’s totally worth 10 steps! This salsa will be a little saucier because of the water and puree. Once, I thickened mine up using my immersion blender to chop it all up into smaller pieces. It’s delicious either way. Rick Bayless encourages you to use it in place of tomato sauce with fish or pork or even mac and cheese.

I watch a lot of “Good Eats” on Food Network, and Alton Brown frequently uses latex gloves (medical style) when dealing with peppers. At first I laughed at him, just a little, and thought it was sort of wimpy. But then…one unfortunate day, I got pepper juice in my eye. It came from my finger which had been washed, at least twice. There are hardly words to describe how terrible the experience was. I promptly went to buy rubber gloves, and now I’m a convert. It makes it easier to use your hands to seed the peppers, and then the gloves come right off into the trash without threat to your sensitive parts. I encourage you to try it, also. Safety first, people.

What is your favorite kind of salsa? Keep your eyes peeled for more salsas coming soon to a food blog near you. Happy eating!

Nutritional Information – 1/4 cup (This may be the best part!!!)      
Calories: 18
Fat: 0.2 g
Carbs: 4.1 g
Fiber: 1 g
Vitamin C: 27%

Tomato Basil Soup

For years, I turned my nose up at tomato soup. I can’t even tell you why I didn’t like it growing up; I just didn’t. All I knew was Campbell’s canned soup which did not look appealing or tasty to me. At some point in my late high school or early college years, I went to La Madeleine and bravely tried their tomato basil soup. The skies opened, and my taste buds rejoiced at the deliciousness I was consuming. Seriously. It was so good. My best effort at explaining why this soup was so good usually went like this: “I don’t know why it’s so good. Maybe because it’s a thicker soup than Campbell’s?” So eloquent of me, I know. Many years later as I was discovering my culinary inclinations, I began to wonder if I could replicate this soup. Thanks to Google, I found a knock-off copy recipe that swore to be just like that which La Madeleine serves. Sadly, the nutritional content is listed next to the recipe which made it impossible to ignore the facts in front of me. The reason this soup is so good is because 82% of the calories in the recipe come from fat. Yes, dear friends, 82%. I’ll just give you a minute to wrap your brain around that.

The first time I made the soup, I followed the recipe mostly exactly the same. I did misread the recipe from the very beginning and immediately cut the butter from a FULL STICK to a half  stick. Beyond that, I did what the recipe asked. Holy tomato soup deliciousness, Batman. It was SO.GOOD. Although it was a bold claim to be just like the soup from the restaurant, it was not an inaccurate claim. I ate it that way for many years. But then I started to make more healthful food choices and didn’t feel good about there being so much fat in my soup. Thus began my slow journey to create a delicious soup that wasn’t a bajillion fat calories. It’s hard to figure out how much butter and cream you can reduce or replace and still keep your soup tasty. I tend to enjoy a thicker soup, as a general rule, but thin soups are a great vehicle for using your homemade croutons. With less cream and butter, the soup thins out a bit, but the taste is still delicious to me. I hope you enjoy it too!

Tomato Basil Soup

Ingredients
3 cans diced tomatoes (I use 14/5 oz cans which is roughly 10 cups)
1 can tomato juice (My can was 11.5 oz which is approximately 1.5 cups)
4 cups chicken broth/stock
basil leaves – I used a lot! A lot = about 60 of various sizes2 tbsp butter
1/3 cup and 2 tbsp heavy cream
1 tsp sugar
4 tsp of lemon juice
pinch of salt

Lots of Basil!!

Steps
1. Combine tomatoes, tomato juice, and chicken stock in a stockpot. Simmer for 30 minutes.
2. Add the basil leaves and blend.
A. If you have an immersion blender, bust that baby out, and put it to work on those basil leaves and tomato chunks right there in the pot.
B. If you use a regular blender, you’ll need to work in small batches (1 or 2 cups, max, per batch). If possible, remove the center knob from the lid of your blender so the steam can escape without blowing the top off. Work slowly and carefully. This step does add more time and dirty dishes as you’ll need to move the unblended soup to a large bowl so that you can put the just-blended-soup back into the pot. Be careful in transferring that much red liquid. Might I suggest wearing an apron? When all the soup is blended and back in the pot, you are ready to move to step 3.


3. Add butter, and stir to melt and combine.
4. Slowly drizzle in cream, and stir to combine. If you are using real heavy cream, it should NOT curdle when you put it into the soup. If it curdles, something’s wrong with it.
5. Add sugar, salt, and lemon juice. Let it sit for a few minutes so flavors can combine.

If you plan to make this soup a staple, I highly recommend growing your own basil as basil in the grocery store can be pricey. You don’t have to use 60 if you are intimidated by that. I have a prolific plant, and I love basil. I also STRONGLY recommend investing in an immersion blender. It really will enhance your soup-making experience. I’ve also used it in salsa-making with great success. It’s a pretty great tool.

I experimented with different kinds of dairy products in my efforts to reduce the fat content, with varying results. Half and half curdled lickety-split. Some research claimed that if I slowly heated the half and half prior to adding it to the soup, it wouldn’t curdle when I put it in. I wasn’t confident enough to go down that road again, though. Evaporated milk did okay, but it impacted the taste a bit. It wasn’t bad, just not what I was looking for. Less butter seemed to be an okay decision. Then it occurred to me that I could theoretically increase the rest of the main ingredients and use a smaller amount of heavy cream. If my math is correct, that should significantly reduce the fat content. I learned that heavy cream is the most stable dairy product out there, so I decided to keep the original ingredient, just reduce the impact it has, in terms of quantity. I’m certain I’m not done playing around with the recipe, but I felt good enough about it to share with you. If you prefer a thicker soup or don’t have croutons, I think you could use less liquid for a thicker consistency.

As best I can tell, heavy cream and whipping cream are the same thing, give or take a fat gram or two. At my grocery store (HEB), there is an orange container that has one or two fewer grams of fat than the purple container. That is the only difference I can tell. I’ve made this soup with both the 5 fat grams/serving cream and the 4 fat grams/serving cream. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to tell a difference. With what I know now, the more fat it has, the more stable it is. I’m just not sure I understand the impact of having one additional gram of fat per serving. If you know the impact, please do let me know. Check out the Food Education page for a link to one of the more informative pages I looked at in doing my research.

Cooking for One Tip
This recipe makes ten servings!! That’s so freaking much soup for one person! This is actually very good news for the single gal. The whole recipe takes less than an hour to prepare with most of the time being inactive cooking time so it’s pretty easy to make. Eat a bowl for dinner, and then put up NINE bowls in your fridge/freezer for consumption at a later date. No sense in trying to halve or quarter a recipe to make only that you’ll eat that night for dinner when you can make nine more meals in the same amount of time. I take a bowl to work for lunch or pull a bowl out for an assist with dinner. If you’ll recall my tip about using water to help defrost your food, I use the same concept for the soup.  If I’m taking soup to lunch and forget to take the soup out before I go to bed, I’ll put it in the sink with a couple of inches of cold water which will hasten the thawing process before I take it to work. It’s a great go-to, to have in the freezer. Alternatively, it’s an easy soup to make if several friends are coming over for dinner. I’ve gone that route several times, too.

I’ll keep you all posted as the soup continues to develop. In the meantime, happy eating!

Nutritional Content – 1 cup (8 fl oz)
Calories: 148
Fat: 6.5 g
Carbs: 19 g
Fiber: 4.5 g
Protein: 5.4 g
Vitamin A: 31%
Vitamin C: 46.3%