We are falling quickly into Fall! I am a-okay with that (except for the impending leaf mold–ugh, my allergies are inescapable). Fall is my favorite season and–now that we have hit the first of October–I can start including pumpkin in all of my recipes without shame! Well, truth be told, aside from Dunkin’s pumpkin coffee, I still haven’t been hit with major pumpkin cravings. Tikka masala, on the other hand, I would like to eat for dinner every night for the rest of time. Ahem. I had a life-changing dish of tikka masala when we went out to eat with M’s mum and aunt last week. Seriously, I am still dreaming about it. I may try to adapt Aarti’s recipe for a slow-cooker. My crockpot is my saving grace these days. I have a slightly new schedule that includes two later evenings per week. Though I’m still home within a fairly reasonable time, given M’s unpredictable schedule, its easier for me to set something to cook through the day so he can eat it early if he has an evening call. And with our Saturday classes starting this weekend (Auditions! My favorite day!) our schedules are back to being downright hectic. We will adjust soon enough…I was almost getting bored with normal days.
That reminds me: I have this new schedule, in part, because I–technically–have a new job! Really, its more like an uber-promotion. I’m still with the same companies that I love and adore, but I am officially a salaried employee! Yep, this twenty-something has finally landed the grown-up job! Guys, I’m comparing insurance plans and everything! Whoa. My first ‘day’ is next week, and then I have orientation the following week and we get right on rolling like nothing has changed.
Except that Columbus day will be my first paid holiday ever! Anyways, to say the least, it is super comforting that I don’t have to worry about securing benefits and can really focus on my job full-time. I did have to give up my box office job, which was sadder than I thought. But, chances are, I will probably see more shows now that I am not working at the venue, and I expect I’ll be stopping by to visit and chat. M still works there, so I’ll certainly keep up with everyone. They all love Punc there, too, and I am sure they wouldn’t mind a visit or two from her.
In the meantime, while I can’t yet give you a recipe that will make you fall head-over-heels in love with Tikka Masala…I can maybe do the same for Tomato Basil Soup. I’ve talked about my childhood of picky eating before. When I finally decided I could eat soup (savory liquids were too weird for a while), it was a couple years before I would eat any soup except for Tomato Basil. Thus, I am quite well-versed in all of the variations of Tomato Basil soup: unfussy versions with little-to-no cream where the tomato flavors stands out boldly all the way to the soft, smooth versions where cream and butter soften the brisk tomato edge. This recipe, my favorite, sits somewhere in the middle. The cream and butter make this rich and filling, but using the tomato juice along with the tomatoes and tomato paste prevents that bright tomato flavor from being overwhelmed. A touch of lemon and basil add just enough depth to keep things interesting. The best thing is, this soup comes together in under 30 minutes for a quick, comforting dinner!
Tomato Basil Soup
Serves: 4 | Prep Time: 5 min. | Cook time: 20 min.
- 1 (15 oz) can of high quality crushed or diced tomatoes
- 2 c. tomato juice
- 2 tsp. tomato paste
- 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
- 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp. cracked black pepper
- about 10 basil leaves
- 1/2 c. heavy cream
- 4 Tbsp. butter
Add the tomatoes, tomato juice, tomato paste, lemon zest, garlic, salt, and pepper in a large pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Simmer for 20 minutes. If using an immersion blender: drop the basil into the soup and blend to desired consistency. I like a slightly chunky soup. If using a blender: please only fill the blender halfway–or less! The heat and steam will expand and you will risk painful splatter if you overfill the blender. Do the soup in multiple portions if needed. Using a blender, I would blend about half of the total soup to get the thick consistency I prefer. Return all soup to the pot, stir in cream and butter. Stir occasionally until butter is melted, then stir briskly to fully incorporate all ingredients. Serve immediately.
Fall. Pumpkin. Leaves. Fall! Pumpkin Spice! Leaves! FALL. PUMPKIN SPICE….I get it. I really do. Fall is my absolute, unequivocal favorite season and I have been more than happy to pull on sweaters while daydreaming about the not-so-far-off time that the crisp weather that accompanies me on morning walk will last all day long. Yes, I am excited for fall.
Here’s the deal. It isn’t fall quiteyet. We are still hitting 70’s here, with strong sunlight that keep our afternoons warm (downright hot, if you couldn’t resist a sweater while getting dressed this morning. Thank goodness for chilly offices). And, while decorative gourds and sweet potatoes are showing up at the farmer’s market, the tomatoes, peaches, and melons are still overflowing. Even if I am wearing a sweater, I am not ready to kiss “summer food” goodbye. Braising and stews and soups can wait. I’m going to go eat a peach.
As well as my resistance to fall, another odd change has occurred. I’ve never been a fruit-on-salad kind of person. While I’m sure I’ve had one or two very delicious salads with strawberries in my life, and I will jump at the chance to add dried cranberries into salads; the thought of fresh fruit mixed among greens and vegetables has been less than appetizing. Occasionally, I will get a hankering for mandarin oranges on an Asian-style salad, but only with a lot of sesame dressing, tender chicken, and crunchy seeds. I have realized, however, is if the greens and lettuces are decreased and the more weighty vegetables are increased, I tend to love the fruit+vegetable combo. Add a bit of cheese and I am totally sold. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to come to this realization. I’ve been pairing fruit in meat dishes for ages: apples and pork, pineapple in asian dishes, lemons and oranges with chicken. I love the sweet+savoury profile. With this new expanse of fruit and vegetable dishes to explore, I have been happily pairing and partnering any fresh produce I can get my hands on. I have been keeping the produce raw, cold, and fresh–still distinctly in the summer season for these dishes.
On Labor Day weekend, M and I had our mothers over to catch up after
ignoring being unable to see much of them during the camp season. It was only a day after we returned from North Carolina, and after a weekend of trying new restaurants, pizza, ice cream, and road trip snacks, all I wanted was vegetables. While M took care of the short ribs, I mixed up kale salad, potatoes with mojo verde sauce, a ton of grilled veggies, and the crowning glory: this Balsamic-Peach Caprese salad. Adding peach to caprese is certainly not a new idea, but one I had avoided for a long time, given my thoughts on fruit and vegetables intermingling. But I saw it (and did not order it) on the menu at the Saxapahaw General Store and it struck a chord with me. I am so happy that I made that salad. I only had the chance to take one photo before everyone in attendance devoured it, but I will continue to make this as long as I can get my hands on peaches and tomatoes.
Caprese is one of the simplest salads to put together, yet it looks beautiful and special. Yes, I am well aware that true Caprese means tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and just a touch of salt and olive oil. But I also love the little zing that a bit of balsamic vinegar and black pepper can add to that mix. These also compliment the peaches sweetness perfectly. Ripe peaches have the texture of the perfect tomato: where the flesh is firm and there isn’t too much of the seeds to squish and get slimy. Between the texture and the sweetness, peaches are the perfect addition to the already perfect Caprese.
A couple of slices, a sprinkle of salt, and a little drizzle of olive oil are all that separate you from this fresh, delicious salad. Be sure to use the highest quality ingredients that you can find–in such a simple salad, every ingredient shines.
Balsamic-Peach Caprese Salad
Serves: 4 | Prep time: 10 minutes | Cook time: N/A
- 4 oz fresh mozzarella
- 3-4 small or 1-2 large, firm tomatoes (I used campari)
- 1 large, ripe peach
- 1 handful of fresh basil leaves
- 2 Tbsp. high-quality olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
- Black Pepper
Thinly slice the mozzarella. I usually get an 8 oz ball and cut it in half, then slice from there. The smaller pieces of cheese are more on scale with my small campari tomatoes. (Typically, I count the slice of cheese that I end up with, so I can cut the peaches and tomatoes accordingly). Slice the tomatoes, then the peach into slightly thicker slices. Add the peaches slices to a bowl, pour the balsamic vinegar over the peaches and mix gently to coat. (This spreads the balsamic flavor through the whole dish, and, unlike drizzling the vinegar over everything, keeps the cheese white, rather than staining it brown). Layer a piece of cheese, a basil leaf, a tomato slice, and a peach slice. Repeat until all slices are organized into the pattern on the plate(s). Drizzle olive oil over the dish, then sprinkle salt and pepper. Serve cold or at room temperature. Refrigerate leftovers promptly.