Sunday, September 30, 2012

Great Roasted Tomato Basil Soup

Here is the next installment on soups for the fall and winter. There are at least a million recipes for tomato soup around and I have tried a good portion of them as I love a good bowl of tomato soup. There are very few people who won't agree that tomato soup (even the Campbell's version from my childhood) along with a good grilled cheese sandwich is not high in the pantheon of true comfort foods. While there are lots of good recipes there is one that really stands out and that is Ina Garten's  Roasted Tomato Basil Soup. If I have the time it is my go-to version since I first discovered it. This is some great soup made with three pounds of  roasted plum tomatoes and finished with an amazing 4 cups of chopped fresh basil leaves. This recipe does take a couple of hours but it keeps well and even freezes well. You can make it on the weekend and enjoy it all week long. And yes, it goes fine with grilled cheese.

If you want a special treat with this soup try topping some good bread with grated Parmigiano-Regiano and running it under the broiler until the cheese bubbles. It's so good it hurts. Don't forget a crisp white wine.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Not To Worry - Plenty of Bacon

In spite of what you may have read on the "toobs" lately about a global shortage of bacon, there won't be. Prices will rise due to the increased cost of feed(mostly corn) due the drought in the Midwest but that is all. In fact, if a lot of CAFO operators decide to cut their losses and slaughter early and reduce production we may see a short increase in supply and a temporary decrease in prices. In the long run however, there will be plenty of bacon but it will cost you more.

Speaking of bacon...I just read that it is calculated that children in the U.S. consume 7 TRILLION calories a year in sweetened soft drinks. All those calories gotta go somewhere.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Easy Peasy Butternut Squash Soup

It's now officially fall and I am going to try and share some recipes for good fall/winter soups that are easy for even an inexperienced cooks. Even if they are easy doesn't mean they have to be bland or just a homemade version of canned or boxed soup. The goal is for soup with intense flavor but that doesn't take hours of kitchen time or a lot of specialized technique and equipment or has a ton of ingredients. One or two main ingredients are all we should need to produce a great soup.  Today we are going to go for an old favorite Creamy  Butternut Squash Soup.
Many of the recipes you come across for butternut squash soup call for roasting the squash in the oven to reduce  moisture and concentrate its flavor and produce some caramelization. Roasting the squash produces a great soup and I do it myself when I have the time but sometimes you just don't have the time or the inclination to heat up the oven and give the squash 45 minutes of time in the oven. You can still produce a soup quickly and with less hassle by using the microwave to precook the squash. What you lose in caramelization and flavor concentration using the microwave you can gain back in how you prepare the soup. The trick is to take the precooked squash and caramelize it in a big Dutch oven or other large pot and then deglaze the pot to capture the fond (brown stuff). This saves a bunch of time and you don't miss out on the added flavor of the oven roasting.  I've chosen to make this version vegetarian but you can substitute low sodium chicken broth for the vegetable broth with no problem.


 2 1/2 - 3 pounds butternut squash , peeled, seeded, and cut into 2-inch chunks (about 7 - 8 cups)
 1 1/2 cups of finely chopped leek or onion or shallots. (I grow a lot of leeks and I prefer them in soups because of their milder flavor but onions are fine here)
  2 - 3 TBSP  unsalted butter or use extra virgin olive oil (butter is my choice as it help with the browning and if you don't have unsalted butter use salted for goodness sake)
 4 cups vegetable broth (I like the Swanson's low sodium in the box but by all means use home made if you have it)
Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper
1 dried bay leaf
2 sprigs of fresh thyme or 2 Tsp of dried thyme
Pinch of cayenne or crushed red pepper flakes or a dash of hot sauce- whatever
1 or 2 cups water( if you have extra stock use it instead of the water if you like but the box o' stock has only 4 cups in it)


    1. Place the cut up squash in a microwave safe bowl and cover with plastic wrap (cling film for you Brits), cover, and microwave for about 15 minutes or until paring knife peirces easily through the squash. It sometimes speeds up things if you stir the squash about halfway through the cooking. After cooking you need to transfer the very hot squash to a colander set into a bowl(to catch the cooking liquid) and let it drain on the side for 5 or 10 minutes. Don't throw away the liquid that comes out of the squash! 
    2. In a Dutch oven over medium-high heat melt the butter until it foams and then add the squash, leek, and 1 teaspoon salt. Now you are going to recreate the caramelization that you lost from not oven roasting the squash.  Cook the mixture , stirring occasionally, and the squash will begin to break down and a brown fond(brown stuff) will form on the bottom of the pan. All told, this should take about 12 - 15 minutes. We want it browned but not black.
    3. Add 2 cups of broth and  deglaze or scrape  the bottom of the pot to loosen and dissolve fond; once you have all the fond dissolved you can add the rest of the broth (2 cups) as well as the rest of the ingredients including the liquid that drained off the squash but only add about a cup of the water at this point. Crank up the heat and bring this to a simmer and then lower to medium and cook until the onions or leeks are tender which should take no more than 10 minutes or so. 
    4. Remove and discard bay leaf and thyme sprigs( if you used fresh thyme) and using either an immersion blender(my choice) or a regular blender process the soup until it is smooth and velvety. If using a regular blender you will have to do this in batches. Never fill a blender with hot liquid more than half full. Put it all back into the pot and bring back to a simmer. Now you can adjust the thickness (using up to a  cup water) to the desired consistency.  Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.


It is nice to put a dollop of sour cream or my favorite, Greek yogurt on top of each bowl. A few  croutons add some crunch and even better thinly sliced shallots that have been caramelized to a crisp. This recipe make 6 nice servings and what is even better it keeps in the fridge for a few days like a dream. You can make this a couple of days in advance and just reheat it when ready to serve.

Enjoy! and note that there are really just 3 ingredients- squash, leek or onions and stock. One more that you know how to do this you also just learned how to make pumpkin soup, acorn squash soup, delicata squash soup or any other winter squash soup.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Real Dirt- Making Your Own Potting Soil

This post is only for those of you who garden somewhat seriously. It's getting harder and harder to find good potting soil. In their efforts to make it cheaply the major providers like Miracle-Gro and Scott's (actually the same company) are using more and more cheap organic products like finely ground pine bark to stretch their product. While pine bark is not, in itself, that bad and actually does help loosen soil it isn't the best of growing mediums all by itself.  A lot of these "potting soils" are also enriched with chemical fertilizers which makes them a no no for us organic types.

The best and most economical alternative is to make your own potting soil and it is ridiculously easy. Here is the formula I use and it seems to work for me as a potting medium and a seed starting medium.

1 part sphagnum peat moss
1 part vermiculite or perlite(I use vermiculite)
1/4 part earth worm castings

All of these ingredients are usually available at a good garden center though don't look for them at places such as Home Depot or Lowe's. I mean a real garden center.

You can usually find the peat moss in bales and the easiest size to work with for me is 2.2 cubic foot one. Vermiculite normally comes in 2 or 4 cubic foot bags and the earth worm castings come in 1 cubic foot bags. This is convenient since you can mix one bale of peat with one bag(2 cu.ft.) of vermiculite and a bag of earthworm castings and you have a great potting mix that will turn out cheaper than buying the already mixed stuff. If you want to extend your mix you can add a couple of 1.5 cubic bags of organic potting soil(which is going to be about 50-60% pine bark). That's your choice. Another benefit of making your own is it can almost be considered sterile and there is much less chance of disease or weed seed in it than with commercial stuff.

I mention all this because I spent the afternoon yesterday fixing my laziness. I was in a hurry and pressed for time and I wanted to get my greenhouse boxes planted a couple of weeks ago for my winter salad stuff. I cheated and used organic potting mix from Home Depot (Scott's). I got some germination but everything just stalled and then croaked. I spent the afternoon yesterday making a batch of my own potting soil and dumping the store bought stuff and replanting all the greenhouse beds....that'll teach me.

Check That Link Before You Click

If you are like me you get a lot of spam in the inbox even though, like me, you have filters in place. Most of it is just crap but there are some that are dangerous if you click on the included link. Here is an example posted by a friend on Facebook. The bottom line is to use the tools  we have available such as "whois" and do some research before you click away and for Goddess' sake don't give any personal information to one of these "mystery" links

My friend got an email offering some "work at home" offer containing the link: (Warning: Don't click on this link)

 This may look like something at MSNBC with some update information tagged to the domain but it is not, it is actually another website that who knows what is going to do to you or your system. The actual address(domain name) is actually the COM-SEPT-2012.US part and not the full string that includes the msnbc. This address is actually a website on some godaddy server somewhere owned by who knows who. (The registrar is a James Richardson in Burbank????)

You need to watch for this type of misdirection in link addresses. The real domain is going to be the last two parts on the link (before any /’s), …xxx.nnn, in this case it is the COM-SEPT-2012.US. If you go to network solutions web site, 

and plug the domain name in the Search all WHOIS Records you will get info on the person or company that registered the domain. You should also note that the registrant may not have given his or her real name.

Just pay attention and don't just click away before you know where it will take you.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Lazy Sunday

Yesterday was a grueling day at work. I was alone in the garden center for most of the day and it was continuous and I mean non-stop. What's worse is the "lot guy" didn't show up and that means I was on the hook to find someone else to load pine straw and mulch or do it myself when there wasn't a line at my register(which wasn't often). Yesterday also happened to be Everybody in Roswell Go to Home Depot and Buy a Lot of Pine Straw Day). I don't know exactly how much was sold but the best part of a trailer load disappeared and a trailer load is about 700 bales. Needless to say I could feel it this morning and so I decided that I needed to chill.

I did manage to make a "lazy Susan" for Madam to put under her huge doll house for the Christmas display so it now will rotate and you can view all sides. I watered and did a little grocery shopping and even managed to get two good hours in on the guitar and am pleased with the results...I just hope teach is on Thursday.

Felt the need for comfort food today so I decided an old fashioned pot roast was in order... it is braising away now in the oven and has filled the house with that heavenly smell. I'll put the carrots, onions, and celery in in a bit and let them roast for 45 minutes and then put in the potatoes. We should be enjoying it in a couple of hours. Nothing fancy, just browned the chuck roast(well salted and peppered) in some olive oil, deglazed with some red wine and then covered the roast with beef stock and a pint of crushed tomatoes(home canned), 5 cloves of garlic, three bay leaves and a tablespoon or so of dried thyme. Braise for 2 hours in a 325 oven then add the carrots, onions and celery, oh! and remove the bay leaves. Another 45 minutes then the  add potatoes for another 45 minutes and you have and old fashioned pot roast. I'm going to be happy.

Did I mentioned that I treated myself to a nice big (750ml) bottle of Duvel the other day while I was at Trader Joe's. I am enjoying it now and if you haven't tried the Belgian Trappist ales then you are missing something great. Yes, it is a bit strong (8.5%) but nicely balanced and a clear, clean taste. And yes, I will finish the bottle in short order. I only treat myself once or twice a year and no, there is no guilt.

Off to add the veges to the pot. Hope you are enjoying your Sunday...I am.

A True Gentleman

I was reading about this morning and with all the stories about Rmoney and his misadventures as well as  his duplicity something triggered a memory of a bit of Virginia history. John Walker Wayland was a Virginian and while he spent many years teaching, his true interest was in genealogy and especially Virginia history. Oddly, he is most remembered by a short piece he wrote for  a contest in The Baltimore Sun for the best definition of a true gentleman. "The True Gentleman" won and since has been adopted as the creed of Sigma Alpha Epsilon.
This is something I think the Mittster needs to read and understand. It probably wouldn't hurt Paul Ryan to give it a going over as well.

"The True Gentleman is the man whose conduct proceeds from good will and an acute sense of propriety, and whose self control is equal to all emergencies; who does not make the poor man conscious of his poverty, the obscure man of his obscurity, or any man of his inferiority or deformity; who is himself humbled if necessity compels him to humble another; who does not flatter wealth, cringe before power, or boast of his own possessions or achievements; who speaks with frankness but always with sincerity and sympathy; whose deed follows his word; who thinks of the rights and feelings of others rather than his own; and who appears well in any company, a man with whom honor is sacred and virtue safe."

- John Walter Wayland. Virginia, 1899

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Nearly Fall

The Autumnal Equinox is at 10:49 am today here in Atlanta so it will be officially fall in just a couple of hours. We've already been having some great fall weather with highs in the mid 80's and nice cool open! I have to be at work at 11:15 but I am scheduled to be in the garden and should get to spend a nice day outside...could be a lot worse.

I've actually gotten some fall work done in the garden and get some fall planting done. So far just spinach and kale but more to come.

Everybody enjoy your first day of fall and the beginning of soup season. I made my first fall soup the other day. A nice rich tomato and vegetable broth full of cannelini beans and fresh kale. Very nice. What's going to be your first soup of the season?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Harsh Light of Truth

It is no secret around these parts that have not nor ever will be a big fan of Mitt Romney but I didn't hate him. I just wasn't a big fan of his duplicitous nature and chameleon like politics. The latest revelation that he actually loathes half of America because we aren't uber wealthy and privileged is no surprise, at least to me, and shouldn't be to anyone else that can walk and chew gum at the same time. What we all knew is now just confirmed.

Just so we know who the loathed 47% are: 17% are people like me who are collecting our earned Social Security, 13% aer students, and people with disabilities or with incomes so low that they don't make enough to pay any Federal Income Tax (though they pay sales, gas and other taxes). The other 70% are people that do pay payroll taxes but wind up owing no tax due to exemptions. Not exactly a bunch of freeloaders.

Monday, September 17, 2012

October Unprocessed

You'll notice a new badge on the right for October Unprocessed. Click on the badge to link to the site and accept the challenge to eat no processed foods in October. I kicked the processed food thing about a year ago, thanks in part to Michael Pollan's book In Defense of Food,  and while I also eliminated white flour and sugar(and artificial sweeteners) it has made a huge difference in my life.

Fifty pounds lighter, feel better, have more energy...all good stuff. Yes, I am also exercising regularly but the food is the key.

There are probably thousands of different "definitions" of "processed" food. I like to keep it simple.

If the food is something that you can make or someone with reasonable cooking skills can make in a home kitchen  from whole food such as fresh vegetables, dried foods, naturally preserved foods or sustainably raised meat and/or wild caught fish then you can consider it unprocessed. If it meets these criteria, even if you don't make it yourself it is probably OK.

Be wary, however, of things with a label or in a can or box or bottle. There is a good chance it is processed if it has a label. Read the label to be sure. If it has an ingredient that you don't keep in your kitchen or that you can't buy at the store or that you can't pronounce it is processed. If it has more than five ingredients then it is also probably processed. Just remember Michael Pollan's rule:

"If your grandmother wouldn't recognize it as food then it probably isn't."

Lastly, real food, unprocessed food tastes better in addition to being better for you and if nothing else matters then go for the taste of real food. As a bonus eating real food will save you on your grocery bills as well.

As for the "white flour" and sugar thing. Both are simple carbohydrates and and as such hit the blood stream quickly causing insulin to spike and insulin is what make the body store food as fat. If you don't have enough insulin or it is poorly metabolized (insulin resistance) then the excess glucose in your blood causes all kinds of problems especially nerve damage. Not a good thing.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Perfect Fried Egg

The New York Times and Spanish chef José Andrés shared this pictorial guide to frying a perfect egg. “My whole life, I have been trying to cook an egg in the right way,” said Andrés.

I learned this method in Cyprus and it really does produce a damn near perfect fried egg. If you are nice I might share how to cook a perfect scrambled egg. I love eggs and take their cooking very seriously.

Mustang Bobby Has a Big Birthday Tomorrow

Go over to BBWW and wish Bobby a great 60th birthday(tomorrow). He is one of my daily reads and is a real asset to the intertubes. It is a milestone after all.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Cervelle de Canut

I haven't posted anything cooking related in a while and have a few minutes before I head off to work. I thought of this today while doing my French lesson and it is something I fell in love with while I was working in Lyon. Since Cervelle de Canut literally translates to "brains of the silk weaver" there is a good chance that this concoction originated in Lyon as it was the silk capital of Europe for a long time. This stuff is addictive but oh so good and I shall make a batch tomorrow.

Cervelle de Canut

1-1/2 cups fromage blanc (traditional)
  or fresh whole-milk ricotta (drained for an hour or so)
or a mixture of Greek style yogurt and cream cheese
or just plain Greek yogurt drained as well
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian parsley
1 teaspoon finely chopped tarragon
1-1/2 teaspoons finely chopped shallots
1 clove finely chopped garlic
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

 This makes enough for 6 servings or so but like I said it is very good and goes down very well with a little great French bread and some nice red wine. A Cote du Rhone would be appropriate.

Mix  all this together and let the flavors blend for a couple of hours in the fridge. You can adjust the thickness of the final product with a bit of milk. In Lyon it is typically served with toast and boiled potatoes but it is good just with fresh veges as a dip or as a salad dressing with bitter greens like arugula or frisse.

I actually think I prefer the drained Greek yogurt version but I am a yogurt person and actually the cheese is just a vehicle to get all the herbs and garlic into your mouth.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Real Lesson

I had my first guitar lesson with a real live teacher yesterday(for my birthday) and I must say it makes a difference. I've been trying to use books and cd's but I haven't really been progressing that much....I might actually learn to play blues guitar at some point. The teacher is a pro and it shows.

Winter Garden?

Getting some scary news from the climate folks. Seems the record setting Arctic ice melt is/has initiated a more intense arctic feedback loop adding more and more heat into the system. The more ice that disappears exposes more darker ocean water which absorbs more solar energy and increases the ice melt even more. The injection of all this additional energy is going to affect the weather in the U.S. and Europe this coming winter and it looks like it going to be a wild one. Whether it shows up as more extreme weather events or just a warmer winter (or both) is anyone's guess.

Some perspective:
On August 26, Arctic sea ice extent broke the record low set in 2007, and it has continued to decline since, dropping below 1.5 million square miles. That represents a 45 percent reduction in the area covered by sea ice compared to the 1980s and 1990s, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), and may be unprecedented in human history. The extent of sea ice that melted so far this year is equivalent to the size of Canada and Alaska combined.

Saturday, September 08, 2012


I know better but I didn't mention that it was Cookie Jills birthday today as well as Bernie Sanders and last but not least Star Trek's, which debuted in 1966 on my 17th birthday. So...Happy Birthday to everyone!!

Not Enough Beer For Oktoberfest

I'm sorry to report the tragic news that there may not be enough beer at Oktoberfest. There is plenty of beer available at the brewery's but there is a huge shortage of bottles and casks. This is bad news on a planetary scale. While I haven't been to Oktoberfest(Munich) in a number of years I can't imagine a shortage of beer. I will note that I have been to the Oktoberfest in Helen, Georgia recently and while it can't compare to Munich it is a hoot. Good beer, good food and a lot of good fun. Lots of live German bands( maybe not German per se but playing German music....polka). I think most of them are from Wisconsin. Anyhoo...a great bit of fun in the Georgia mountains in the fall.

Armageddon or Something

Surely this signifies the beginning of the "end times". This is a real product and available for a limited time. I'm a geddin' out of  here!


Another Year

Sixty-three today and I have to work....bummer. The only good thing is I am scheduled for the garden so at least I'll be out with the flowers and stuff. On the down side, rumor has it that the CEO, Frank Blake is going to visit the store. Management will be crazy  and running around trying to make nice for the boss. It is really sort of irritating. Day to day the store looks ok but there are many things that could easily sharpen it up with minimal effort. These only seem to be important if some VIP is due.

If I were the VIP my visits would never be announced....I want to see the way things are everyday...VIP or no. Home Depot seems to believe forewarning of VIP tours is the right thing but maybe only because the VIP's don't want to be embarrassed and it makes them feel more important knowing that people are scrambling in preparation for their visit. Well, that's the only reason that makes sense to me.

Thursday, September 06, 2012


Well, it was a stem winder for sure. The "Big Dawg" reminded everyone of why he is such a formidable political opponent.  For almost an hour, He reminded voters of the challenges Obama faced upon arriving at the White House in 2009 and what President Obama has done to put the economy back on the track to recovery. One of the key points was the difference in private sector job growth between the Democrats and Republicans over the last 50 years. ThinkProgress has a neat graphic of disparity.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012


I stayed up and watched the whole DNCC thing last night and I am glad I did. The FLOTUS's speech was a show stopper and the rest of the speakers were on target as well. It was a well  oiled and focused event. Everyone on message.
While Michelle's speech was very, very good it all boils down to get out the vote. Yes, things aren't as good as we had hoped this far along but change is hard and we have to be patient.
I am a little worried that there hasn't been enough focus on the constant GOP efforts to make the economy as bad as possible as their only real weapon against President Obama and I think its needs to be highlighted often and loudly.
I'll at least watch the Big Dog's speech tonight and probably more.
I am encouraged by the focus I am seeing.

On another note...I have three straight days off but it is raining off and on so my intent to get some serious garden work done has hit the skids. I might just have to chill and charge instead.