A Total Moot Point

One of the things that I absolutely do not enjoy is replacing items I’ve already purchased. Especially items that aren’t exciting to purchase in the first place.

For instance, we are taking our first trip together since living in San Francisco (Chris has jet-set plenty on his own), and we remembered that we tossed out my old, bright orange suitcase. The one with the handle that got stuck nearly every time. The one that required frantic pushing on said handle in the aisle of the plane to get the dang thing to fit in the overhead bin. Yeah, that one. I haven’t missed it one bit – until we realized we needed 2 carry-ons for our trip down to Sedona next weekend. I suppose we could have paid a fee to check our bags, but after you pay that for a round-trip, you’ve almost bought yourself a new suitcase (in my case, you have bought yourself a new suitcase, because I was an Amazon.com rockstar and found the good ones on clearance – score!).

Also, an air mattress would fit into this category. We bought one of those a long time ago, probably 7 years ago when we moved to Chicago and lived in a 650 square foot high rise. I’m surprised we even had space on the floor for it… At some point, it managed to get punctured, and since then it’s had a slow, steady leak – meaning, the folks using it are sleeping on the ground when they wake up. Yeah, sucks for them. In addition, the battery-operated thing that blows up the mattresses was all sorts of corroded too, so the whole shebang got thrown out. No big deal, since we had an extra bedroom and pull-out couch at our last place. But now, we’re down to a pull-out couch, and have three guests coming in a couple of weeks. Needless to say, we get the pleasure of purchasing yet another air mattress. Fun times. Of course, it will come in handy plenty, especially with the Thanksgiving crew making their way out here in November (SO EXCITED!).

Of course, the routine replacement items qualify too – who likes buying toilet paper, sponges, and dish detergent?! The other day, we had to buy a batch of replacement brushes for our electric toothbrush – now that seems like a huge waste of 40 bucks. But, I guess we have clean teeth, and fresh breath, so there is that…

Last, but certainly not least, is my immersion blender. I’m not sure how, but the damn thing broke a month or so before I moved west. You’d think it could handle pureeing some soup every now and then, eh? But truthfully, who knows what I tried to puree – I could easily assume it was something best left to a blender. But blenders are so annoying when it comes to soup. You have to dirty up a blender, for one, and in addition, you have to dirty up an extra pot/bowl for the already-pureed soup, if you have to puree in batches, so as not to toss the pureed soup into the non-pureed soup. It’s annoying, at best. But as you can see, I’ve been a little stubborn on this one. It seems there are more fun things to buy than replacing something I’ve already paid for once (yea, cookbooks, hiking boots, new camera lenses, a juicer – you get the point, right?).

I am, however, willing to admit that some things are worth the trouble, even if I do grit my teeth the whole way through it, and even if I do miss my immersion blender to pieces. Sometimes, washing a few extra dishes is a total moot point altogether.

This soup is one of those things that’s worth the trouble. I mentioned it a few posts back, remember? It’s loaded with roasted tomatoes, a couple of fresh heirlooms for good measure, and a roasted red pepper, too. The red pepper adds that warm richness to the soup, and to top it all off, some roasted ham and chickpeas are used as garnish. You could easily make this a vegetarian soup if you wanted (although the roasted diced ham is sorta perfect) or you could sub in some bacon if that’s what you have on hand. The chickpeas add a nice little crunch to each bite, so do make sure they are roasted until they reach that slightly crunchy, but still chewy, point.

I promise you, if you don’t have an immersion blender, or if you did and can’t seem to bring yourself to buying another one, you’ll forget all about it in no time. Well, at least until it’s time to clean up.

Tomato Soup with Roasted Chickpeas
Adapted from Cooking Light, August 2011; serves 4

time commitment: ~45 minutes

printable version

ingredients
1 red bell pepper
2 T sliced almonds
3 T olive oil, divided
6 garlic cloves, divided
1/4 c heavy whipping cream
1 (28-ounce) can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
2 fresh heirloom tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 t smoked paprika
1/2 t salt, divided
1/2 t red pepper flakes
2 oz thick-sliced deli style ham, finely chopped
1 (15.5-ounce) can organic chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4 t ground cumin
1/4 c fresh flat-leaf parsley

instructions
Turn stovetop gas burner onto high heat and place bell pepper directly onto burner. Cook until black on all sides (2-3 minutes/side), place in a plastic bag, seal it, and let it sit for at least 10 minutes. (If you have electric burners, you can instead roast a pepper under a broiler in the oven until blackened, but cut it first and remove the membranes, then lay it flat in the baking sheet.) Remove from bag and peel, discarding seeds and membranes.

Preheat oven to 450 F. Place almonds in a saucepan over medium-high heat until toasted. Remove from saucepan, chop roughly, and set aside.

Heat 1 T oil in same saucepan over medium heat. Add 3 garlic cloves; cook 1 minute. Add cream and tomatoes; bring to a simmer. Add paprika, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and red pepper flakes; simmer 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, mince remaining 3 garlic cloves and combine garlic, ham, and chickpeas in a roasting pan; drizzle with 2 tablespoons oil, cumin, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Toss. Roast at 450 for 15 minutes, stirring once.

Combine tomato mixture and bell pepper in a blender; puree. (If you have an immersion blender, this would work nicely; just chop the bell pepper roughly and toss it into the soup.)

Ladle the soup into each of 4 bowls; top evenly with chickpea mixture, parsley, and almonds.

Something like this

For whatever reason, it has become abundantly clear to me, this week, that summer is LONG gone, fall is about to wear out its welcome, and winter is fast-approaching.

Maybe in your part of the world you’re sitting out in the still-warmish sun, wearing your flippies, and still enjoying the leaves falling, changing colors. Maybe you’re wearing your jacket (the one you can barely call a jacket because it’s so damn thin), but the gloves are still packed away, and maybe you’re trying to squeeze in another grill-fest or make another batch of iced tea. Maybe your scarf is just an accessory, rather than a neccessity.

If that’s you, please shush yourself. I’m quick to report that I’d be extremely jealous, and if you were in front of me bragging about your gorgeous weather, I’d contemplate punching you in the groin, and if you were on Facebook I’d highly consider de-friending you. I’m that jealous, people. It’s weeks like this that I wonder why I don’t live back in the south, or in California, or New Mexico, or freakin’ Jamaica.

Have I told you I can be a bit dramatic? It’s not really that cold…and to be perfectly honest, what troubles me most about this weather is the fact that I’ll soon have to start wearing socks every day, and every night I go to sleep. I hate socks. I like to expose my wonky toes to the world, donning sandals and flats, and even flippies although those were put away a month ago, thank you.

Yesterday, I reached into the depths of a closet and out came one of my gramma’s handmade quilts. And even though I hated the fact that I was cold enough to need it, once I wrapped myself up in it, I sorta had a change of heart. I was warm, and I was home, and in a matter of moments I’d be gobbling up a bowl full of this soup.

This soup, I tell you. When you have flavors of curry and coconut and lime at your tongue, you realize the weather outside doesn’t matter much.  You realize that one of the many inherited blankets you have in your possession is oh so comforting, and even though the sandals are no more, the gloves much needed, and the snow not far away, it doesn’ t quite matter as long as you come home – to something like this.

Coconut Red Curry ‘Hot Pot’ w/ Braised Chicken & Mushrooms
adapted from Cooking Light, October 2010; serves 4 as main, 6 as first course

time commitment: less than 1 hour; 30 minutes active time

a traditional hot pot is an ultra hot bowl of broth where the meat is generally thinly sliced and cooked tableside in the pot. the meat here, as well as the ‘shrooms, is braised prior to serving, but the Thai flavors are still present, still tasty.

printable version

ingredients
2  14 oz cans  fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
2 stalks chopped peeled fresh lemongrass
5  (1/4-inch) slices fresh ginger
2 Thai chiles
1 1/2  T  red curry paste
1  (4-ounce) package presliced exotic mushroom blend (such as shiitake, cremini, and oyster)
8  oz  skinless, boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
1  (13.5-ounce) can light coconut milk
1  T  Thai fish sauce
2  t  brown sugar
1/3  c  thinly diagonally cut green onions
3  T  fresh lime juice
6  T  coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, divided
5  oz  uncooked wide rice noodles

instructions
Bring broth to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat; stir in lemongrass, ginger, and chiles. Reduce heat, and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat; let stand 30 minutes. Strain through a sieve over a bowl; discard solids. Return broth to pan; add curry paste, stirring with a whisk. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms; cook 2 minutes or until tender. Stir in chicken; cook 3 minutes or until chicken is done. Add coconut milk, stirring well to combine. Stir in fish sauce and sugar, stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat; stir in onions, juice, and 1/4 cup cilantro.

Cook noodles according to package directions; drain (if your noodles are like mine and the package writing is in another language, this won’t help… rice noodles are generally soaked in water for 30 minutes, then cooked in boiling water for 3-4 minutes; cook noodles right before serving, and not in advance). Add noodles to coconut milk mixture. Ladle 1 cup soup into each of 4-6 bowls; sprinkle evenly with remaining 2 tablespoons cilantro.