Sunday, March 25, 2012

My Romance with Food and Cooking Continues.

Right now I am roasting diced fresh tomatoes, diced fennel, red onion, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and a little salt and pepper to make the soup that is the star of the recipes I am posting today.
I love the romance of food.  Creating it, waiting for the "results" and then actually tasting and enjoying it.  Do you know what I mean?  I love when my home is filled with the scents of things cooking.  Right now there's the tomatoey smell, with that hint of anise from the fennel and an undercurrent of garlic swirling through the air.  It's making me want to go open the oven door and breath in that heady aroma!  I have a spatchcocked chicken marinating in a ziploc bag in my fridge...The marinade is lemon, garlic, rosemary, thyme and some oregano.  When I put it in the oven to roast later this afternoon, it will marry with the tomato smell and make the most beautiful music for the nose!  And I will put together a spicy black bean soup in my slow cooker that will cook while I sleep tonight and be ready in the morning.  
I take a keen pleasure in first planning what I am going to make, making sure I have the ingredients (and sometimes having to run out to get something because my mind is set out making THIS DISH now and nothing else!!!) on hand, and then setting out a timetable in my mind...And then chopping, mincing, dicing the ingredients going into each dish, creating a marinade for the meat I am making (if I am thinking a marinade is needed).  For me, moving through each stage of a recipe is like a dance with a lover I can never get enough of!!!   In this dance I am not clumsy, awkward, self conscious - I am skilled, and I have "flow."    In my mind I am reviewing the ingredients and the "layers of flavour" each will bring to the dish.  When I swap out the olive oil in a recipe for my black truffle oil (which is still olive oil, just flavoured with black truffle) I am thinking about how that intense flavour may mean I need to change up my seasonings in a dish.  It's all part of the dance.
I am at my best cooking; I am relaxed and in "the zone."  The Beau says I start smiling and never stop the entire time, I hum, sing and talk to the ingredients. Apparently one time I as I was prepping a chicken I was calling it darling, and the Beau had to take a second to listen because at first he thought I was talking to him! 
I love when people walk into a home and say "what is it that smells so good? I can hardly wait till we eat!"  If I love you or care for you in any way, I will cook for you.  Now I love food, but I spent years eating high fat, high calorie, sodium drenched things.  I decided when I started my weight loss journey that if it was going to take me 3 years to lose 183 pounds, then I better be making food that tastes damn's too easy to give up by saying you are tired of eating plain boring food all the time.  And I guess I want to prove you don't have to!!!  And so I continue to love food, and it continues to have amazing flavours and textures, but without out all those calories.  The romance is flourishing!!!  (Sorry, honey, I love you too, but food has had my heart a lot longer than you have!)

This past Friday at the office, my wonderful friend C. told me about  Like her, he's a Newfoundlander and his blog is filled with some incredibly good recipes.  He has a Facebook page you can like Rock Recipes on Facebook or visit the blog. (Visit it, it's incredible!!!)  This soup is right from his blog, I didn't change a thing and don't think I's got an incredibly fresh tomato taste but the smoky paprika and other seasonings play into that - it is sooooo yummy  - just delish.  I think it will be terrific along with a toasted chicken/tomato/avocado sandwich for supper later this week!

Tomato Fennel Soup as found on rock

8 large ripe tomatoes, diced
1 large fennel bulb, diced
1 medium red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 tsp crushed chilies (optional)
3 tbsp balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to season

Toss all ingredients together in a shallow baking dish and bake at 350 degrees F.  Cook for about 60-70 minutes, stirring occasionally or until the fennel pieces are very soft and most of the liquid has cooked off and the tomato and fennel reach a good chunky consistency.  Puree this mixture well in a blender or food processor and pour into a soup pot. Add:

8 cups vegetable stock (salt free or low sodium is best)
2 Tbsp chopped fresh thyme
2 Tbsp smoked paprika

Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until the soup reaches your desired consistency.  Taste and do a final season of salt and pepper if necessary.  

The only thing I would say is that I actually ended up roasting my tomato mixture for 90 minutes because my fennel seemed to take forever to get very soft!!!  

This soup makes 6 (maybe more) servings at about 190 calories each.  If it tastes this good using store bought tomatoes, I can only imagine how good it would be using tomatoes from the garden!!!  If you don't want a soup with a bit of heat, either reduce or eliminate the crushed chilies.

My next recipe comes from a 2008 edition of  O magazine, I believe.  Here's the original recipe and my notes follow. My cousin made this to go with supper last weekend when I was there:

Oprah's Tomato and Feta Salad

3 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
12 ounces feta cheese, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine or champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
In a serving bowl, gently toss together all ingredients. Serve immediately or chill, covered, until ready to serve.

What I learned from J, my cousin:  Take 3 or four large tomatoes and dice them in place of the cherry tomatoes.   Crumble the feta  until you have 1 cup (6 ounces) and add it to the salad that way rather than dice it.  12 ounces of feta is a lot of cheese!!!  Dice 1/2 English cucumber and add that too.  Replace one Tbsp of the vinegar with the brine from the feta cheese. Hold off on the salt, but add the fresh ground black pepper.... then taste... if you think you need salt, add it then.  Let me tell you 3/4 of a tsp of salt IS TOO MUCH for this salad!!!  

Okay, if  you make it Oprah's way, it serves 8 at 201 calories each.  If you change it up and make it the way we crazy Hungarian/Ukrainian girls think Tomato Feta Salad should be done, you will make about 6 servings at 150 calories each.

And lest you think I am all about tomatoes today...this would go nicely with a bowl of soup or the salad (and you gotta use up that feta):

Crustless Spinach Feta Pie

10 oz frozen spinach, thawed and liquid squeezed out
1/2 cup onions, chopped fairly fine (originally recipe called for scallions)
2 tbsp chopped fresh dill (I used 3)
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup (2.5 oz) reduced fat crumbled feta
2 tbsp grated Asiago cheese
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
2/3 cup fat free milk
1 tsp olive oil
2 large eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp kosher salt
fresh cracked pepper to taste
cooking spray 

Preheat oven to 400°. Lightly spray a pie dish with cooking spray. Mix spinach, onions, dill, parsley, feta cheese, and in the pie dish. 

Sift flour and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients to the bowl and blend well. Pour into pie dish.

Bake 28 to 33 minutes or until knife comes out clean from the center. Let it stand at least 5 minutes before serving.

I like a fairly strong dill presence in this pie.  The first time I made it, I only used two tablespoons.  The second time, though  I used 3 which I liked better, but I may even try to use 4 tablespoons the next time I make it.    Also I didn't have scallions and used green onions the first time and found they didn't flavour it enough....when I used fine diced onions they were much better.  I think though, you should sweat them before adding them.  I am also going to cut back the flour to 1/3 cup and see what that does to this dish.  It does need the salt .  Made the way it's written, it makes 8 wedges about 126 calories each.  By the way this is good hot or cold!  

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