Sunday, September 20, 2009

Soup's on baby...

Okay, I have been threatening to blog about canning lately so I shot up some pictures last night while we made tomato soup! We are so loaded down with tomatoes right now, we have to start canning like mad. (BTW, if you want tomatoes just say the word... seriously).

Anyway, I have been studying tomato soup recipes to get feel for what I want to make and I incorporated bits and pieces from several recipes. This recipe is my first-ever crack at tomato soup, and it turned out pretty darn good. I encourage you to try it, but add a twist or two to make it your own ... It's much more fun that way ;-)

When I am studying recipes I am looking to steal tricks, ingredients and techniques to make my own recipes. I'm an eyeball cooker -- I usually wing it -- but that doesn't mean I'm lazy. To the contrary, I become immersed in cooking. Actually, when I started writing tonight, I realized there is sort of a method to my madness. All I had to do was stop and think about it. This blogging stuff ha sits benefits. Any how, here is how my mind works when I jump into a cooking challenge

To the 'net for recipes and flavor and then to the books for safe cooking and preservation.

First, I'm look for commonalities among all the recipes I read. I am looking for a base. For instance, pretty much every recipe I found for tomato soup had, of course, tomatoes, but also carrots, onions, celery and chicken stock.

Next, I look at proportions. Most recipes are written for a meal, but with 40 pounds of cherry tomatoes on the kitchen table I need an industrial size recipe, so I start eyeballing recipes for proportions. In this case, I noticed that a lot of the recipes called for carrots at a ratio of 2:1... meaning that for every two cups of tomatoes, most recipes call for one cup of chopped carrots, and so on... so that is how I developed my soup recipes, which I'll post below in proportional terms.

Then I look for unique ingredients. I found a few really cool recipes. One had bacon in it, another used potatoes in the base, and a couple of them started with oven-roasted tomatoes. I didn't use potatoes this time, but I might next time. I did, however, incorporate bacon and I decided to fire-roast and smoke my tomatoes. (note: if you make this recipe and decide to can it, you will have to pressure can it because of the bacon. Or you could leave the bacon out and hot bath your jars).

So here is how I did it. I started out with 45 cups of cherry tomatoes and laid them out on cookie sheets. I liberally salted them and peppered them with fresh ground black pepper. I put mine on the BBQ with hickory chips and smoked them for about 30 minutes. You could also put them in a 400 degree oven for about the same amount of time. What this does is increase the bioavailability, or the body's ability to absorb the lycopene in the tomatoes. (I know, I even impressed myself with that one). Why is that important? Lycopene is an antioxidant and is widely believe to help prevent certain cancers, particularly prostate cancer. The roasting also makes your tomatoes taste much more rich and intense...

I decided to go 1:4 with my carrots. I used about 11 cups for this recipe. So for every four cups of raw tomatoes, you would use 1 cup of raw chopped carrots. Then I went 1:8 for the celery and onions. for every eight cups of tomatoes, I used one cup of chopped celery and one cup of chopped onions. In this recipe I used roughly six cups of each. BTW, don't bother chopping too small because your going to blend it all in the end

In a large sauce pan saute the onions until they are opaque. Then toss in the carrots and celery. Add enough chicken stock to barely cover the vegetables in the pot. I used a full 49.5-ounce can of stock for this recipe. Bring this to a boil and simmer until the vegetables are tender.

I added a quarter cup of fresh chopped basil into two separate stock pots (I think they are 3-gallon pots), and I split up all of the ingredients equally into each pot. I did this to make things more manageable, plus I wanted to do two types of soup ... one spicy, and one mild for Sunny's dad. Anyway, now you have your soup base.

I decided to flavor this soup with bacon and a variety of peppers. Since I had the grill fired up, I went ahead and smoked them too. I probably smoked a dozen Serrano peppers and a half dozen jalapenos ... I also smoked yellow and green bells for the mild soup.

I left the seeds in, except for the bell peppers. I decided to add the peppers to taste, which is touchy because you won't get the full heat effect until this soup hits the blender... so go easy. We used everything except four of the Serranos, and the spicy soup is pretty spicy. I would use about four to six bell peppers in the mild batch depending on taste. The bacon was split evenly between the two pots (I grilled the bacon with all of the peppers on top of them, which added a very mild tingle to the tongue).

Once you have all the ingredients in, cover and bring the pots to a boil. Make sure to stir frequently to prevent scorching. Remove lid, reduce heat and simmer with lid off to reduce mixture to about 2/3 of its original volume. That will take about 45 minutes, but don't start timing until you reach a full boil. Frequent stirring is essential here to prevent scorching. I also used a potato masher periodically at this stage to help break down the soup.

When the watery liquid on top of the soup is pretty much gone, you are ready to blend. (The picture to the left is just about ready). I puree the mixture in batches and pour into a large bowl. Then I pressed the puree back into the stock pots through a small- to medium-sized sieve that caught most of the seeds and skin fragments.

Slowly bring that mixture back up to an easy boil --stirring constantly -- and add 1/2 cup of brown sugar until dissolved. Salt, pepper and season to taste at this stage. Keep in mind that if you plan to can this, you will have to acidify the soup with with one tablespoon of lemon juice per pint (or some other form of citric acid or even vinegar), which will be added at the jarring stage. Make sure the sweetness is high enough to off set the lemon juice. I was out of Worcestershire sauce, and I would have used it here as well. (But I'll have to add some when I'm ready to serve).

When the flavors are right, most recipes called for cooling the soup. I put it the the refrigerator overnight. To can it, I added one tablespoon of lemon juice per pint and filled my jars leaving at least one half inch of head space. Secure lids fingertip tight and pressure cook for 90 minutes at 15 pounds pressure above 2000 feet. I go 90 minutes for quarts, and 75 minutes for pints to make sure the bacon is preserved, plus with this kind of soup I think longer processing is better for the flavor. (BTW, you need to adjust times or weights accordingly at other altitudes).

If you leave the bacon out, you can hot bath process the soup for 30 minutes (I just like to be safe with tomatoes). You could also pressure can for 20 minutes at 15 pounds.

To serve warm up the soup in a sauce pan and add Worcestershire sauce and other seasonings to taste. Dollup with sour cream and guacamole or straight avacado, sprinkle with parmesan cheese and garnish with basil .

Serve with grilled ham and cheese sandwhiches...it helps if you smoke your own ham!

Let me know if you try this and I would be happy to help you adjust the recipe to your tastes. Heck, I'll be adjusting it myself. Just leave a comment and I'll respond...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Tomatoes are coming on strong!!!

Man, I just trekked back to the beginning of this blog and it dawned on me just how useful this will be in timing out our garden next year. As we head into full harvest mode, and the corn stalks come down, we can always drift back in time on this blog. I am glad I started it...

So, I guess I'll have to start blogging about our canning now. We have already put up some pickles and zucchini. I have also been experimenting with canned meats! I usually cut my own steaks, so I have a bunch of scraps that I save up and I usually just grind a bunch of hamburger with it. But I decided to try canning some, and it turned out great. The meat ends up fork tender.

I dumped a pint in a sauce pan, a couple of days ago, along with the canning liquid and thickened it with a little corn starch. I put it over toast and it was awesome. I just did a little chicken and beef last night, so I'll be trying that out soon, as well. It is a little tricky canning the fattier meats. You have to keep the right head space in the jars to prevent the fat from affecting the seal.

Once I get it down, I am going to buy some inexpensive meat and start canning the crap out of it. It would be great to come home from work and heat up some canned meat for stroganoff or a quick soup... Oh, the possibilities are endless.

Now, I better find a couple of canning recipes for all those tomatoes you see in the picture above. I'll likely do spaghetti sauce, pizza sauce, and salsa...