Cream of Tomato Soup

There are still a lot of beautiful tomatoes available at the Farmers Market.  Fortunately, there are many wonderful ways to eat and cook with tomatoes.  One of my favorite ways is to make soup.  I always make several batches of cream of tomato soup during the season.  It just happens to be my favorite soup.

I don’t really care for Campbell’s Tomato Soup, although their Tomato Bisque is fairly good.  Panera Bread, a USA restaurant chain, has an excellent tomato soup; their Vegetarian Creamy Tomato Soup.  But the best is obviously homemade with fresh, ripe tomatoes.

The Campbell Soup Company came out with the condensed tomato soup in 1897.  Although the canned variety made the soup very popular, the first recipe is credited to Maria Parloa in her 1872 cookbook The Appledore Cook Book.

Miss Parloa was a culinary pioneer who authored seven cookbooks and established two cooking schools.  She was also the first to promote cooking brands, such as Baker’s Chocolate.  Miss Parloa also contributed to The Ladies Home Journal magazine and was also part owner.  For more information on this remarkable woman, see this article at the Bethel Public Library.  She left the town of Bethel, CT $2,000 which they used to establish the library.

The above referenced article calls her recipe Tomato Chowder.  However, in her cookbook, it is titled Tomato Soup.  A free digital copy of the cookbook is available from Archive.org.  There are several download options available.

This recipe calls for the tomatoes to be peeled.  I have a great vegetable peeler that actually peels tomatoes.  It is the Oxo Good Grips Serrated Peeler that I purchased from Amazon for $8.99.

You can see in my photo below that it does a good job.

This recipe is adapted from Betty Crocker.  See the original recipe for directions on peeling tomatoes using the boiling method.

Serve this delicious creamy soup with a grilled cheese sandwich and you will be in comfort food heaven.

Cream of Tomato Soup

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
2 1/2 pounds fresh tomatoes, peeled and chopped (about 4 cups chopped)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

croutons for serving (optional)

In a dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Cook onion in the oil for 3 to 5 minutes until translucent, stirring frequently.  Stir in the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, salt, pepper,  basil, and chicken or vegetable broth.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 15-25  minutes or until tomatoes are softened and cooked down.  Remove from the heat and stir in the heavy cream and butter.

Carefully blend the soup with an immersion blender until desired smoothness.  I like mine slightly chunky.  If desired, serve soup with croutons.  

Note:
1.  A blender or food processor can also be used to blend the soup.
2.  I slice the very top of the tomato off in order to get rid of the stem part and then discard it.
3.  I like to use Amore Tomato Paste which comes in a 4 ounce stay-fresh tube and allows you to use the right amount for your recipes.  After opening, it stores in the fridge and has a long shelf life.

Cheesy Zucchini Bites

I think zucchini may be the most popular vegetable to grow here in the USA.  I have lived in two different locations where I had room to have vegetable gardens and zucchini was always included as part of my garden.  I always got excited when I saw the first golden blossoms.

Photo credit hgtv.com.

Although early zucchini plants were native to the Americas, it was the European colonists who brought them to Europe.  Then, in the early 20th century zucchini found its way back to North American, by way of Italian immigrants.  Zucchini is the Italian plural diminutive word for squash, “zucca”.  It is also known as “courgette” which is the French word for this vegetable.  For more facts about Zucchini, see this interesting article from Rutgers Cooperative Extension on the history, growing, preparation, and recipes for this wonderful plant.

Unless someone gives you a sack of really large zucchini, remember that biggest is not always the best.  The most flavorful zucchini is the small to medium-sized.

If you have been blessed with an abundance of zucchini, these Cheesy Zucchini Bites are a good way to use up some of them.

They can be served as an appetizer or as a side dish.  They are crunchy, cheesy and bite-size, with the sweet taste of the zucchini shining through.

Cheesy Zucchini Bites

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

2 medium zucchini, grated on large holes of a box grater and squeezed of excess liquid
3/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 cup sharp shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup finely chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon onion powder

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Spray a mini muffin pan with a nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Place the grated zucchini in a colander over the sink and let the zucchini sit for about 5 minutes before squeezing out the excess liquid.  Transfer zucchini to a large mixing bowl.  Add breadcrumbs, cheddar and parmesan cheese, eggs, chopped onion, salt, pepper and onion powder.  Mix the ingredients together until fully combined.  Use a tablespoon or a small ice cream scoop to spoon the mixture into the wells of the mini muffin pan, about a tablespoon each.  Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.  Cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then remove to a rack to finish cooling.

Makes 24-30  mini-bites.  

Notes:
1.  After grating and pressing water out of the two medium sized zucchini, I had 2 cups of grated zucchini.
2.  In place of a mini muffin pan, the Bites can be baked on a parchment lined baking sheet.
3.  Leftovers can be reheated in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.

You know summer is almost over when the Bee Balm starts to fade.  But the butterflies are still around and don’t seem to mind.

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Heirloom Tomato Tart

Summer seems to be going by too quickly.  Even though I love the fall season, I still want to enjoy every bit of our summer.  And that means visiting the local farm markets here in West Michigan.  Also, it means enjoying the beautiful tomatoes that are available.  Whether it is the red juicy ones or the odd shaped heirloom tomatoes, it is their prime season.

Since I don’t have a vegetable garden, I rely on the local farm markets and farm stands for my tomatoes.  I have another favorite farmers market that is located not too far away.

It is the Rockford Farmers Market located in the heart of downtown Rockford, MI.  Rockford is a small town that is a quaint and charming place to visit.  It is situated on the beautiful Rogue River and the very picturesque Rockford Dam is right downtown.

The Rockford Farmers Market was voted “America’s Favorite Farmers Market” in a 2011 nationwide contest.  I think it is a very well deserved title.  You will find “just picked” produce, seasonal fruit and berries, flowers and delicious baked goods.  Stalls arranged with brightly colored vegetables remind me of farm markets I have visited in Europe.

It is a fun and festive market to visit and if you have a well behaved dog, you are welcome to bring it to the market.

My daughter and I make a special day of going to the market.  After buying produce and flowers, we will go to one of the local restaurants for lunch.  This past visit, we had lunch at The Green Well.  It is located on the Rogue River with a beautiful view.

I can recommend their Mac and Cheese and the Truffle Fries, which are addictive.

I love all of the summer tomatoes.  But when the heirlooms are available, I make sure to buy them for this tomato tart.  Heirloom tomatoes are tomatoes that the seeds have been passed down through generations of farmers.  They come in many colors and unusual shapes.  Some of the ones I bought at the Farmers Market are called Tie Dyed Heirlooms.

Usually, I use Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry but I recently found a new brand that is available at my local super store, Meijer.  It is also available at one of our local Walmarts.  It is Wewalka Puff Pastry and is refrigerated, not frozen.  It has 64 layers of dough, brushed with butter and then rolled in parchment paper.  This is an excellent puff pastry and easy to work with.  I have used it several times, and I love it.

Heirloom Tomato Tart

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 sheet of puff pasty, defrosted if frozen

2-3 large heirloom tomatoes
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups shredded fontina cheese
shaved parmesan cheese
fresh basil leaves, chopped

Preheat the oven to 400° degrees.

Slice the tomatoes into 1/4 inch slices.  Place on a large baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels.  Lay the tomato slices in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet and cover with additional paper towels.  Let sit for 10 minutes.

Combine the mayonnaise and parmesan cheese and set aside.

Unfold the puff pastry and place in an 11 inch x 7 inch loose bottom rectangular tart pan (or to fit whatever size pan you are using).  Place over the fluted tart pan and press the dough to the bottom.  Cut off any excess dough from the sides of the pan.  Prick the bottom of the crust with a fork to prevent it from puffing.

With a pastry brush, brush the bottom of the crust with the mayonnaise and parmesan cheese mixture.  Sprinkle the fontina cheese on top of the parmesan cheese mixture.    Remove the paper towels from the tomatoes and layer them on top of the cheese mixture.  Top with a small amount of salt, pepper and shaved parmesan cheese.

Bake 30 to 40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to rest on a wire rack at least 15 minutes.   Top with the chopped fresh basil.  Then, slide on a cutting board and cut into serving size pieces.    

Note:
I used the Wewalka Puff Pastry for this recipe.

 

 

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Strawberry Freezer Jam

I hope everyone has been enjoying the summer and all the local farm produce that is available now.  Be sure to visit your local farmers market if you can.

One of my favorite farm markets to visit is Fulton Street Farmers Market, located at 1147 East Fulton Street.  This market is the oldest and largest in Grand Rapids.  I remember visiting the market before I moved to Grand Rapids.

In its earlier days, Fulton Street Farmers Market got started by farmers selling produce from their vehicles or wagons.  In 1922, the city set aside the current location to ease the traffic congestion caused by the farmers selling their produce block to block.

In 1926, an office structure was built, where it remains to this day.  In 2012, the market underwent a major renovation that included a new covered vending area, improved booths for the vendors and repaved parking lot with improved traffic flow.

Information and photos of the Fulton Street Farmers Market are courtesy of mlive.com.

I made this Strawberry Freezer Jam twice while local strawberries were available.  It is an incredibly easy recipe to make and so delicious.  The recipe is inside the box of the Sure-Jell Fruit Pectin.  While the jam does have a lot of sugar, I didn’t find the finished product to be too sweet.  Kraft does make a Sure-Jell Fruit Pectin that uses less sugar.  It clearly states that on the box.

Freezer jam is a softer set jam than the one cooked.  The cooked jam involves the canning process as the method of storage.  I have always been afraid to do the canning bit, and I really admire anyone who does.  But with this freezer jam, canning is not necessary.  To me, it is the best jam ever and so much better than what you buy at the store.

Strawberry Freezer Jam

  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

2 cups crushed strawberries (1 quart fully ripe strawberries)
4 cups sugar
3/4 cups water
1 box (1.75 ounce size) Sure-Jell Premium Fruit Pectin

6 – 8 ounce canning jars or plastic containers and lids

Wash and rinse canning jars or plastic containers and lids with hot water.  Dry thoroughly.  Set Aside.

Remove and discard strawberry stems.  Wash and gently pat the strawberries dry.  Place the strawberries in a large bowl and crush them with a potato masher.  Add the 4 cups of sugar to the crushed berries and stir to combine.  Let sit in the bowl for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Mix the water and pectin in a small saucepan.  Bring to a boil on high heat, stirring constantly.  Continue boiling and stirring for 1 minute.  Remove the saucepan from the heat.  Add the pectin mixture to the fruit mixture and stir for 3 minutes or until the sugar has dissolved.

Fill containers immediately to within 1/2 inch of tops.  Wipe off top edges of containers; immediately cover with lids.  Let stand at room temperature for 24 hours.  The jam is now ready to use.  Store in refrigerator up to 3 weeks or in the freezer up to 1 year.  Thaw in refrigerator before using.  

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Blueberry Muffins

I know there are a lot of great blueberry muffin recipes out there.  But, I still want to share my favorite recipe with you.  I have been making these muffins for quiet a long time.  The muffins are light and soft inside with a slightly crunchy top from the coarse sugar.  I’m not really a breakfast person except when homemade blueberry muffins are around.  These muffins are great for breakfast or for a mid-morning snack.

Blueberries are actually native to Michigan.  According to Michigan State University Extension, Michigan has almost 21,000 acres of blueberry bushes on about 600 farms.  A lot of the blueberries are grown in nearby Grand Haven and South Haven.  Michigan blueberries are typically larger than the ones found in supermarkets.

If you should ever visit Grand Haven, be sure to stop in the Blueberry Haven shop.  Blueberry Haven is a small local shop that specializes in everything blueberry.  I always buy the Michigan Blueberry Maple Syrup.  The shop is located on main street at 213 Washington Avenue, Grand Haven, MI 49417.  Even if you don’t buy anything, it is a fun shop with all the related blueberry products.

Blueberry Muffins

  • Servings: 12
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

2 cups fresh blueberries

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
coarse sugar for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 425°F.  Line a standard 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners.  Spray the pan and the liners lightly with non-stick cooking spray.  Set aside.

Pick out and remove any bits of stems, leaves and soft or mushy blueberries.  Rinse the berries in a colander, drain well, and then gently pat dry.  Reserve.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt.

In another mixing bowl, combine the buttermilk, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl.  Use a wire whisk and whisk until smooth.

Add the dry ingredients to the milk mixture and mix until just blended (do not overmix).  Add the blueberries and stir just until evenly combined.

Fill the baking cups until almost full, and sprinkle with the coarse sugar.  Bake for 5 minutes at 425°F,  then keeping the muffins in the oven, reduce the heat to 375°F and bake for another 15-20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Cool 5 minutes in the pan on a baking rack, then remove muffins from the pan and finish cooling on the baking rack.  

 

Notes:
1.  The muffins freeze well.  Simply, warm up in the microwave.
2.  Adapted from crisco.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fresh Strawberry Pie

Strawberry season has finally arrived in West Michigan.  Here is a post on Facebook from a local farm:   “Our fields are loaded with strawberries.  We hope to see you out here.”  Now that is good news.  Now, if only our local strawberry season wasn’t so short.

However, we are fortunate that strawberries are available year round here in the USA, thanks to California.  And for the last few years, we have been getting strawberries from Florida in January.  But still, it is a special time when local berries are available.

Not only is it strawberry season but earlier in the month there was the Strawberry Moon.  I was fortunate to get a picture of the moon a couple of days before it was at its fullest.

If you like the fresh strawberry pie from Shoney’s or Big Boy restuarants, you will like this recipe.  It is especially good made with local strawberries.  Yes, this recipe includes  Jell-O which I’m not too fond of cooking with either.  But, Kraft has recently come out with a new brand of Simply Good Jell-O Gelatin and Pudding Mixes that are  all natural with no artificial flavors, dyes and contain real fruit juice.

I have found this gelatin mix at one of my local grocery stores and Walmart has it also.  If you can find this new line, I can recommend it for this pie.

We have an area known as the Ridge which is only a few miles north of downtown Grand Rapids.  This is an area that has many farms and orchards thanks to the fertile soil.  It is beautiful there with its gently rolling slopes.  One of my favorite farms to visit is Ed Dunneback & Girls Farm.  They grow many fruits and vegetables and offer U-Pick.  I bought four quarts of strawberries from them.  This was toward the end of the growing season but they were still beautiful.  Every time I have been to the farm, there has been a vintage pink Chevrolet truck parked out front.

Fresh Strawberry Pie

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

1 frozen deep dish pie crust

1 cup sugar
3  tablespoons corn starch
1 cup water
3 tablespoons Jell-O Strawberry Gelatin Dessert Mix
1 quart of fresh strawberries, gently washed, hulled and dried (see Note 1)

Whipped Cream

Prepare the pie crust as directed on package for one-crust baked shell.  Set aside until completely cooled.

Combine sugar, corn starch, and water in a medium sized saucepan.  Cook and stir until thickened and clear.  Remove from heat.  Add Jell-O Gelatin and stir until it is dissolved.  Cool to room temperature.

Slice the strawberries in half and arrange them on the cooled pie crust.  Pour the cooled strawberry gelatin mixture over the strawberries.  You may not need all of the glaze mixture.  Save it and serve with the pie if desired.  Chill the pie in the refrigerator for several hours or until set.  Serve with whipped cream.  The pie is best eaten the day it is made.  

Beautiful strawberries before the glaze:

And after, with the glaze:

Notes:
1.  The strawberries I bought were in a quart sized container.  I weighed them in the container and there was about a pound of berries.  This amount when sliced fit perfectly in the deep dish pie crust.  Michigan strawberries are typically smaller than California strawberries.
2.  The Jell-O Strawberry Gelatin Dessert Mix has almost 6 tablespoons in the package.  So plan another use for the leftover mix.
3.  Adapted from Kraft recipes.  Original recipe can be found here.

 

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