Today the family had lunch at Sweet Tomatoes, a soup and salad bar restaurant. It’s usually pretty standard fare, but today they had something out of the ordinary — at least I’d never seen it before.
The restaurant boasts 8 freshly-made soups daily:
Not that I am going to hold them to the promise of 8 soups, but today they only had 7 soups and a bucket of stuffing. Yes, stuffing. On the soup bar. Diners were encouraged to add a scoop of stuffing to their Creamy Herbed Turkey Soup:
Comfort and joy?
Add a scoop of non-vegetarian stuffing to your turkey soup. Why? Why not?
For some reason — maybe the sheer “what the hell” of it — the stuffing in the soup just cracked us up. As I was snapping these photos and kind of making fun of the whole thing, however, the guy next to me was so excited to plop some stuffing in his soup that you could practically the hear the buttons on his shirt popping off.
Next Thanksgiving, when you’re looking for a way to use up leftover stuffing, remember — stuffing goes great in soup!
I found these bangles on ebay. They’re made of bakelite, or polyoxybenzylmethylenglocolanhydride, for the chemistry geeks out there. Bakelite is an early plastic, developed in 1907 by Leo Baekelandl, and has become very collectible. People love bakelite bangles for the distinctive “clunk” they make when tapped together. Kind of like my kids’ heads.
Bakelite comes in a variety of colors, and is often referred to with food names, such as root beer, creamed corn, spinach, peanut butter, and apple juice. When I was a kid, my dad had an old car with a dashboard that I now realize must have been made of bakelite. It looked a lot like this:
My sister and I used to say it looked like Chinese food. I think the dish we were specifically referring to was Shrimp with Lobster Sauce, which was a family favorite back then and is one of the most unappetizing dishes I can think of:
Shrimp with Lobster Sauce. Mmmmm — or not?
Creamed corn, shrimp with lobster sauce, whatever. Anyway, I love bakelite bangles and the warm colors they come in. I even collected them for a while and made desk accessories out of them:
Uh oh, Mom’s got too much time on her hands
I have my own food names for the Christmas-y red and green bangles that have inspired today’s recipe. The green I call Asparagus Soup, and the red is Red Pepper Soup, because they remind me of the soup I have been making on Christmas Eve for over a decade. These two soups are both great on their own, but when poured side by side in a shallow bowl, they are a wonderful and showy start to a holiday meal.
Start by making a batch of Asparagus Soup and a batch of Red Pepper Soup. To serve, you’ll need two 1-cup measuring cups. Fill one cup about 2/3 full with Asparagus Soup and the other 2/3 full with Red Pepper Soup. Pour one soup slowly down one side of a shallow soup bowl while simultaneously pouring the other soup down the opposite side. The soups should meet in the middle of the bowl and notblend together. (The Asparagus Soup is usually the thicker of the two soups and provides a sort of wall against which the Red Pepper Soup rests.) If desired, garnish with a squiggle of sour cream (dilute sour cream with a few teaspoons of water and place in a plastic squeeze bottle or ziploc bag with the corner snipped off).
Melt butter in a large stockpot over medium high heat. Add the onion and saute until tender. Add the flour and stir for 2 minutes. Gradually stir in the chicken broth. Bring the mixture to boil over high heat, then add the asparagus and herbes de Provence. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until the asparagus is very tender, approximately 25 minutes. Cool slightly.
Puree the soup in a food processor or blender. (Do not fill the container more than half full -- hot liquids expand when blended, and if container is too full, the lid will blow off and hot soup will splatter everywhere.) Return the soup to the stockpot and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the half and half and cook over medium heat until heated through.
Preheat broiler. Halve peppers lengthwise, discarding stems, sees, and ribs. Place skin side up on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil until skins are blistered and charred, approximately 8-12 minutes. Transfer peppers to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand until cool enough to handle. Peel peppers and slice into thin strips.
Melt butter in a large stockpot over medium high heat. Add the onion and saute until tender. Stir in peppers, broth, and herbes de Provence. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
Puree the soup in a food processor or blender. (Do not fill the container more than half full -- hot liquids expand when blended, and if container is too full, the lid will blow off and hot soup will splatter everywhere.) Return the soup to the stockpot and add tarragon and cayenne. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the half and half and cook over medium heat until heated through.
Slowly pour the two soups down the side of the shallow bowl
You know how kids cry when they go have their picture taken with Santa at the mall? (Check out this collection of kids crying with Santa, if you don’t know what I’m talking about.) It’s not because they have to stand in line for an hour — it’s because strangers sweating in rented costumes are creepy. But the Santa in this vintage photo I found on ebay takes creepy to a whole new level. What’s with the mask? I thought Santa was supposed to have twinkling eyes, not a blank zombie stare:
Little Johnny, in his sweet little cowboy plumber outfit, has apparently already succumbed to zombie Santa’s powers:
While little Susie is trying to resist:
Shhh, dolly. Look away — don’t make eye contact!
Here’s another creepy masked Santa photo from ebay (for those of you familiar with Boy Scouts, this picture suggests that sometimes even 2-deep leadership might not be enough):
World’s worst Eagle scout project
Look at what Santa is handing out. Do you remember those mesh stockings filled with toys? These days, the only ones I see are filled with rawhide treats for dogs.
In fairness, Santa does not have a lock on the “sweaty adults in rented costumes scaring kids” thing. My kids have had the bejeebers scared out of them by grownups dressed up as Teletubbies, the Easter bunny, Power Puff Girls, and Spiderman, to name a few. And, of course, clowns. But no one instilled more fear in my son when he was little than Chuck E. Cheese — the giant unloveable rat.
I don’t know that my kids ever really believed in Santa, or the tooth fairy, or the Easter bunny, but they did enjoy the rituals associated with them. Even though they’re teenagers now, we’ll still leave out a plate of cookies, just in case a sweaty guy in a rented costume swings by with a few gifts. Inspired by these photos of men trying to make Christmas just a little more magical, I am leaving Santa Double Coconut Macaroons this year. If you like coconut, these are really good. The recipe originally came from Bon Appetit in 1994. The recipe only makes around a dozen macaroons, so I recommend doubling the recipe if you are expecting more than one Santa.
Place one 7-ounce package of coconut and powdered sugar in a food processor and pulse until coconut is finely chopped and mixture is moist. Add cream of coconut, cream cheese, flour, egg white, vanilla, and salt, and process until well blended. Transfer dough to a medium bowl.
Place remaining coconut in a pie plate or shallow bowl. Drop dough by rounder tablespoonfuls into coconut and roll to coat completely. Using the palms of your hands, gently roll dough into balls about 1-1/2 inches in diameter. Place macaroons on a greased baking sheet, and bake until golden brown and just firm to touch, approximately 35 minutes. Cool completely on wire racks.
Optional: Place ½ pound of chopped bittersweet or dark chocolate in a bowl and melt in microwave, heating in 30-second intervals and stirring until smooth. Spread melted chocolate on bottom of cookie. Place cookie, chocolate side up, on a large baking sheet lined with waxed paper. Repeat with remaining cookies. Refrigerate until chocolate sets, approximately 15-30 minutes.
I found these cute little peppermint marshmallows at the grocery store last week:
I had a recipe for Peppermint Popcorn Bark that I had been wanting to try, and these seemed like they would be a fun addition. The end result was a pepperminty, pretty-in-pink holiday treat, that, like Jiffy Pop, was as much fun to make as it was to eat. (Well, sort of.)
A few tips —
1. For best results, don’t use microwave popcorn. Make 2 batches of popcorn — for each pop 1/2 cup of popcorn kernels in 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, following package directions.
2. I used 11 6″ candy canes. To crush them, put them in a large ziploc bag, place on a towel, and crush with a mallet or rolling pin.
3. Look for peppermint oil–not peppermint extract–in the baking aisle. Extract will cause the almond bark to seize up, and it will get clumpy and not look very nice. The peppermint oil won’t do that, and the melted almond bark will be smooth and creamy, easier to work with, and look prettier.
Place popcorn in a large mixing bowl. Place almond bark or white chocolate chips in a medium bowl and melt in microwave, heating in 30-second intervals and stirring until smooth. Stir in peppermint oil, and pour over popcorn. Add crushed candy canes and marshmallows, and stir until popcorn is evenly coated. Spread popcorn out on 2 large baking sheets.
Place chocolate chips in a small bowl and melt in microwave, heating in 30-second intervals and stirring until smooth. Using a spoon, drizzle melted chocolate over popcorn. Let sit until chocolate and almond bark have hardened (if possible, place in refrigerator for 10-15 minutes to speed this step up). When the chocolate and almond bark have hardened, break up popcorn into chunks.
This is a vintage handkerchief that I purchased on ebay. My daughter loves these old hankies, especially the ones with fancy borders, like the scalloped poinsettia border on this one, and I snap them up at estate sales whenever I see them. It’s so much nicer to dab away tears with one of these frilly hankies, instead of having to carry around a ball of wadded up soggy tissue.
Also known as the Christmas Flower, poinsettias are native to Mexico. They are named after Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first U.S. Ambassador to Mexico and an amateur botanist, who imported them from Mexico in the early 1800s. According to Mexican legend, a poor child wanted to bring a gift to the Virgin Mary/Holy Child/church altar, but had no money to buy one. He picked some weeds along the roadside on the way to church to leave as a gift. By way of a Christmas miracle, the weeds turned into gorgeous bright red star-shaped flowers.
At the grocery store yesterday I saw poinsettias that had been dyed blue. Maybe some grower somewhere is hoping they’ll become known as Hanukkah Poinsettias, but I doubt that will ever happen–the plants were hideously ugly.
Poinsettias have a special meaning for me. Two days before Thanksgiving 2010, my dog died. Dexter, a wiry little shar pei who loved me madly, was “my boy.” We had learned a few weeks earlier that he had a large abdominal tumor, and there really wasn’t much we could do to stop the progression of the disease. Our family agreed that as long as he did not appear to be in pain we would keep him at home. And so we provided Dexter the best hospice care we could, and he passed quietly, surrounded by his heartbroken family that adored him.
Dexter in a pensive mood.
If you have ever experienced the death of a beloved pet, you’ll understand that Dexter dying just about killed me. We cancelled our Thanksgiving plans with the family and the four of us stayed home, flattened by grief. It was the saddest Thanksgiving I ever experienced. That Sunday at church, we bought a poinsettia in his memory, which would be among hundreds decorating the sanctuary for Christmas.
It is our family’s tradition to usher at the Christmas Eve service at our church.
That year, the sea of poinsettias in the packed sanctuary were as stunning as ever. As we stood there lined up with our collection plates, I happened to look down at the program in my hand, and saw an insert listing all the names that poinsettias had been donated in honor or in memory of.
Dexter’s name practically jumped off the page at me:
And with that, I started crying. Rivers of tears streaming uncontrollably down my cheeks. I couldn’t stop them, either. The kids were staring at me, half embarassed, half scared — they had no idea what was wrong with me. I was mortified. After a while, the usher behind me tapped me on the shoulder, and when I turned my red eyes to him to see what he wanted, he whispered in my ear, “You have toilet paper on your shoe.” I looked down, but there wasn’t any toilet paper on either of my shoes. As I realized what he had done, I burst out laughing and thanked him for distracting me. It was perfect.
Last year, as we sat through a service in December, I noticed all the poinsettias and started tearing up again. My son poked me and made an inquisitive face, and I mouthed, “Dexter.” He, in turn, poked my daughter, and whispered, “Mom’s crying over Dexter,” who in turn poked my husband and whispered, “Mom’s crying over Dexter.” Discreet, they are not. I am hoping that this week when we go to church and see the sanctuary filled with poinsettias that I can keep my composure. Fat chance. But I’ll be prepared with my poinsettia hankie.
I baked a lot the Christmas after Dexter died, trying to spread Christmas cheer to everyone including myself. I made hundreds of my favorite ginger cookies and shared them with friends and neighbors. Carolers came by just as I was pulling a batch out of the oven, and they loved the surprise treat. I even brought a batch of dough to my son’s boy scout troop meeting and, using the church’s oven, was able to serve the boys freshly-baked warm ginger cookies with made-from-scratch hot cocoa.
Inspired by the poinsettia hankie, and memories of my beloved Dexter, I baked a batch of my favorite ginger cookies to bring to my son’s school today for a holiday party, as they wrapped gifts for a family with a child with cancer. I’m sure I’ll be baking many more batches before the year is over.
Place butter and 1 cup sugar in a large mixing bowl, and beat until fluffy using an electric mixer. Add egg and beat well. Add cane syrup and beat until smooth.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, and salt. Add to butter mixture in 2 additions, stirring well after each addition until thoroughly combined.
Place remaining ¼ cup sugar in a small bowl. Roll dough into 1-inch balls, then roll in sugar until coated. Place approximately 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake approximately 10 minutes until just firm. Remove from oven and let stand on cookie sheets for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool.
Hot from the oven. Where’s those boy scouts and carolers?
We were looking forward to the opening of Seth Siegel-Gardner’s and Terrence Gallivan’s The Pass & Provisions for months. We’ve already been to Provisions — the casual side of the restaurant — several times now since it opened a few months ago. Last night we finally got to dine at The Pass — an upscale, intimate dining room with prix-fixe tasting menus — which just opened this week.
The Pass did not disappoint. Described on the restaurant’s website as “bringing the essence of the kitchen to each table,” the restaurant lived up to its promise of having the chefs “serve, describe and answer diner’s questions, creating an authentic experience for each customer while placing emphasis on the process behind transitioning food to plate.”
There’s only one seating per evening, and the table is yours for as long as you choose to linger. We selected the 8-course tasting menu with wine pairings. There is also a 5-course menu. I don’t want to give away all the fun, but suffice it to say that from the moment you pass into the dining room, there are constant surprises and delights, whimsical touches, and truly fascinating cuisine. We had front row seats to the kitchen action, the best seats in the house, really. We were on time for our 6:30 reservations, and were shocked to discover that we had been there over 4 hours when we got up to leave at 10:45. Dining at The Pass last night was one of the most exciting, relaxing, and enjoyable dining experiences we have had in a long time.
I’m posting pictures just of the dishes that were on the menu, with their descriptions. There were a few other things that weren’t on the menu, but again, I don’t want to spoil the fun for anyone who might be headed there in the near future. (Update: Texas Monthly ran an excellent review of this dinner.)
SNACK: Salmon/Foie Gras ‘ol Fashioned
SNACK: Nasturtium Soup
TRUFFLES: Kaeshi Egg
RAW: Nori Bucatini/Tofu/Uni/Clams
BEEF: Tar Tar/ Yolk
BEEF: Marrow Brioche
BREAD: French (onion soup) Toast/Onion Variations
PIG: Headcheese/Bread (blood) pudding/Candied Apple