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Austin recently suffered through Hurricane Hermine. (Nearly Kitty Hermione’s namesake!) Streets flooded, I got an extra day off work because my place of business flooded, schools closed, road signs under water, the whole nine yards. Hurricane Hermine was much kinder to Austin than she was to other parts of Texas, but her presence did put Austin in a tizzy. For example, some of Handsome’s coworkers couldn’t make it into work because of flooded roads. Some people lost power a few times. According to a friend’s Facebook status update, it seems everyone bought rubber rain boots from Target.

What did I do? I pretended that grey skies and 36 hours of rain meant it was cold outside, and I made soup.

There’s nothing more appropriate on a rainy day than grilled cheese and tomato soup. The iconic Campbell’s can has, Warhol-like, maintained a steady presence in my pantry for the last twenty or so years. It’s time, though, for something just as comforting, but a bit more sophisticated. You’ve all seen my post on grown-up grilled cheese. It’s time tomato soup grew up, too.

I turned to Cook’s Illustrated (as I always do) and was not disappointed. This recipe yields a creamy, rich, slightly spicy tomato soup with a deep, complex flavor. It’s just as satisfying as the stuff in the can, and just as good to dunk grilled cheese into, but it feels more adult. It’s ready for the boardroom, as opposed to the playroom.

A note: Cook’s Illustrated calls for blending the soup in a blender. I don’t have a blender, and my food processor a) is quite small and b) doesn’t process things too finely (as we found when attempting gazpacho). It’s great for salsa, but not so hot for soup. Instead, I broke out with my trusty immersion blender (mine is something like this) and it did the job beautifully.

Creamy Tomato Soup
Adapted from
Cook’s Illustrated

You will need:
1/4 c. olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
Pinch red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes packed in juice (Their recipe calls for 2 cans, but I misread the recipe and used only one, with all other proportions the same, and it was delicious! A pretty big mistake, but it worked out fine and I didn’t even know my mistake until transcribing the recipe. Try it both ways!)
1 tbsp. brown sugar
3 large slices sandwich bread, crusts off, torn into small pieces
2 c. chicken broth
1/4 c. chopped chives
salt and pepper, to taste

Heat olive oil in a dutch oven or large soup pot over medium-high heat until oil shimmers. Add onion, garlic, red pepper flakes, and bay leaf. Cook until onions are softened, about three minutes.

Add tomatoes and juices. Use a potato masher to mash tomatoes until there are no large pieces left. Stir in sugar and bread; bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until bread is completely absorbed, about five minutes. Discard bay leaf.

Use immersion blender, or blend soup in batches, until smooth, adding 1-2 tbsp. olive oil as you blend. Once soup is smooth, add chicken broth and bring soup to a boil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, some chopped chives, and a grilled cheese sandwich.

I’ve been on a bit of a blogging hiatus, but I’m back now! Settling into a new job and new kittens has been an adventure, but I’m back in the saddle. And I bring you… Irish soda bread!

Half-Price Books had a Labor Day sale last weekend, and (never one to turn down a cheap book) Handsome braved the throngs of deal-seekers while I was at work to emerge victorious with Irish Food & Cooking, a beautiful book that details the history of Irish cuisine. For example, did you know that Irish cheese is quite a recent thing, and has only been popular for the last thirty or so years? (Do you care?) It also describes the standard Irish kitchen and meal, the cuts of meat most frequently used, the methods of preparation. It’s a great introduction to traditional Irish cuisine.

Which isn’t to say that “traditional Irish cuisine” is something I have spent much time yearning to know more about. Handsome has been on a whiskey kick lately, and is therefore enamored with all things Irish and Scottish. Also, we are experiencing quite the deluge thanks to Hurricane Hermine, which begs for some stout, warm Irish food.

I can’t quite bring myself to tackle the various ways in which fish can be made into cakes or pies, or game made into homemade sausages, but I’ve always been fond of a soda bread that’s sold at a small grocery store I used to live near. The ingredients for the bread are pretty basic (although finding cream of tartar required a trip to two grocery stores, one of which has apparently never stocked it and the other which apparently never hasn’t), and the bread comes together quickly. It isn’t nearly as intimidating as yeast breads, which I’ve attempted only once, with limited success. And it’s customizable: you can leave it as written, or add dried fruits or¬†caraway¬†seeds. Up to you! It also makes the house smell wonderful, and comes out of the oven a beautiful brown. It’s a nice, basic country bread, though it is best eaten the day it’s made or soon after.

Irish Soda Bread with Cranberries
Adapted from Irish Food & Cooking: Traditional Irish Cuisine with Over 150 Delicious Step-By-Step Recipes from the Emerald Isle, by Biddy White Lennon and Georgina Campbell
Note: The addition of dried cranberries is definitely not traditional, even for American-style Irish soda bread. Raisins are much more expected, but I like cranberries. So there.

You will need:
4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. cream of tartar
pinch salt
2 tbsp. butter, at room temperature
1 egg
1 1/4 c. buttermilk
1 c. dried cranberries or other dried fruit (optional)
2 tbsp. sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 425 and grease a baking sheet. Sift flour, baking soda, cream of tartar, and salt into a large bowl. Add butter and cut into flour with a fork or your fingers until butter is evenly distributed. The book says the mixture should “resemble fine bread crumbs.”

If using, add dried fruit and sugar; mix well.

Whisk the egg and buttermilk together. Make a well in the dry mixture and add the buttermilk/ egg; mix well until you have a dough.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead 1-2 minutes, until dough comes together. Shape into a round, flatten slightly, and score the dough with a deep cross.

Bake for 30 minutes (if using no fruit) and 45 minutes (if using fruit) until the crust is deep brown and the bread makes a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom. Slice and serve with “lashings of butter and home-made jam.” Or, you know, with some butter and jelly.

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