Fresh Burrata Caprese Salad – Fresh Mozzarella with Heirloom Tomatoes & Basil Chiffonade

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

I covered this once before in July but it is worth a second peek.

First of all, caprese is pronounced ca-pray-zay with the emphasis on pray.  Another Italian menu item rampantly mispronounced is bruschetta.  It is not – as is so commonly thought – pronounced brush-etta – but rather brusketta.   You are less likely to get corrected by anyone if you say brushetta, because most people think this is the proper pronunciation, but nobody from Italy wold ever correct your saying brusketta.  Anyway…

Burrata – definition courtesy Wikipedia:

Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese, made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream, giving it an unusual, soft texture. It is also defined by some sources as an outer shell of mozzarella filled with butter or a mixture of butter and sugar. It is usually served fresh, at room temperature. The name “burrata” means “buttered” in Italian.

Burrata is gaining in popularity and with that comes greater accessibility.  If you have COSTCO in your region – Costco has been carrying it & it is reasonably priced.  Sometimes Trader Joe’s has it – also at a fair price.  At these places – it comes the way buffalo mozzarella does – floating in water in a plastic container in the refrigerated section.  If you are lucky enough to have a fine cheese shop or, even better, an authentic Italian market around – you are about to be in heaven.  These places will likely have it stored in water or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap – and sitting out at room temperature – as it should be.

Burrata is a very mildly flavored cheese and it shouldn’t have to compete with anything to be experienced at its best. Sliced, ripe tomatoes, shredded basil and some salt & pepper is all I would suggest.  Ever.  If you want to get fancy, you can cut your basil in the chiffonade style – which is just to roll the basil into tubes the long way & then slice into thin strips.  It creates little basil ribbons.  Pretty – but not entirely necessary.

Heirloom tomatoes are nice here (with burrata) because they tend to be genuinely ripe – rather than dyed red (or yellow or green).  They are very costly, though.  I paid $4 for one yellow/orange heirloom tomato yesterday, where the “vine-ripe” tomatoes were only $1.49 lb.   The heirlooms were closer to $5 a pound.  But there really is a huge difference.

In my opinion, burrata isn’t good for cooking because it is far too wet & too mild to compete flavor-wise.  On its own, it is a creamy delight.  Serve it as pictured and maybe serve some crusty bread & a nice bottle of Sauvignon Blanc you are good to go!

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Fresh Burrata Caprese Salad – Fresh Mozzarella with Heirloom Tomatoes & Basil Chiffonade

INGREDIENTS

About 1 very ripe tomato per person – sliced

Enough Burrata (or fresh mozzarella if burrat is unavailable) to cover the tomato slices – sliced

Lots of shredded, chopped basil or basil chiffonade

S&P to taste

DIRECTIONS

Slice your tomatoes about 1/2 inch think.  Same with the cheese.  Top the tomatoes with the cheese, basil and S&P.  Voila!

Cheers~

Beer Drinking Woman! And Seafood Three Ways – Birds, Franklin and Co & Dillon’s – All in Hollywood

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

Maybe you should listen to Memphis Slim’s version of BEER DRINKING WOMAN while you read this blog!!!

I like beer.  I like seafood.  I like beer with seafood.  The photograph above is of a tall glass of Stella Artois at La Poubelle.  I didn’t get any seafood that visit – so just look at the pretty beer & lovely atmosphere they serve up in there.

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Just down the street is Birds.  I always thought the “birds” thing was that they are pretty heavy on the chicken options in the menu.  They serve rotisserie chicken several ways with about a dozen options.  I don’t eat chicken – or burgers – so I don’t really go into Birds as often as I might – despite living within a mile or two of it for twenty years now.  My boyfriend is a huge Hitchcock fan & has also written a feature film called All the Birds Have Flown South – which he refers to as Birds.  I dragged him into Birds this past July – completely oblivious to the potential connections.  We walked in & sat at the bar & Miles looked around.  “Oh!  Now I see why you brought me here,” he said, smiling.  I returned his smile with a dull stare.  “You do?”  “Yeah!  This is a Hitchcock bar!”  “It is?…”  I looked around & noticed, for the first time, wall to wall portraits of Hitchcock & images from The Birds.  “Oh my God!” I said, realizing.  “Oh!  You love Hitchcock!!  OH!!  Wow.  OH!  And your new movie is called Birds!”  It was my turn to smile at him & for him to look back confused.  How could I POSSIBLY have not noticed or realized – or whatever – EVER??  Thank God he loves me.  Even at my most obtuse.  See here?  He seems to be thinking, “Yeah.  I love you.  Even though you are stupid.”

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Yeah, but HOW stupid are you – you might ask.  Well – notice the Hitchcock profile tattooed inside Miles’ forearm.  I’m THAT stupid.

At any rate – Birds has a full bar & beer on tap.  And – you can sit outside!

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I ordered a Stella & Miles got a Bud Lite.  He ordered chicken & I got the seared tuna burger.

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Miles declared his chicken was among the best he’d ever had – and backed that up by ordering it every time we returned there in the future.  The tuna burger came on a bun about the size & pliability of a VW Bug & was just that easy to fit in my maw.  So – I removed the bun & the tuna was delightful.  The fries here are good & I like that they have about a dozen dipping sauces – from buffalo to bbq to mayo based things – so you can maximize the caloric impact of the meal.

Speaking of buffalo sauce – just next door is the Franklin & Company Tavern.   I love buffalo sauce but since I do not eat chicken – so I only ever really get to eat it by dipping fries in it or by making buffalo shrimp at home.  But – Franklin & Co has buffalo shrimp on the menu!!!

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Of all the joynts there on Franklin Avenue – the interior of this one is my favorite.  It is a VAST improvement from the Italian place – Prizzi’s – that once resided there.

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I like the menu a lot, too.  Lots of veggie faux meat things – like a gyro!

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Or you can go the raw ahi taco direction!  I recommend all very highly.  One complaint – I find their tap beers just a tad warm, so I usually order a bottled beer.  A friend of mine used to work for Magic Hat – so I usually get this as a silent shout out to him.

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They do beer flights & brunch specials & all kind of fun things.  I like this place a lot.

Our last stop in today’s pub crawl is Dillon’s Irish Pub – down at the corner of Hollywood & Vine.  If you like college girls in teensy weensy kilts & all manner of footwear – from goth platforms to sneakers – this is the place for you!  $3 valet outside is genius as everyone else in the area charges $10.  And – for three dollars – any pint of beer on tap!!! $5 for a large one.  This is kind of a big deal because they have (as my friend says) “one point seventy thousand million” beers there.  See?

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I got some Hawaiian thing – not sure what it was called.  It was good!  And – better still – Dillon’s has $2 oysters!

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I love oysters even though they look like the phlegm of a bronchitis patient.  I order them here all the time – almost exclusively.  Me & my buddy Curtis Armstrong (seen below from our time working on Route 30, Too – available for sale NOW!)

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would often drop into Dillon’s for two cocktails & two dozen oysters.  Despite looking like biohazard – they are delicious!  And none of this vinegar & shallots bullshit!  Cocktail sauce, horseradish, Tabasco & lemon!

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Most recently, as I popped the first oyster in my mouth – I though I heard something small hit the floor.  No, not Miles.  It was my earring.  As I reached up with both hands to check each ear – I heard another clink of a tiny item falling – even before I’d touched my ears.  And yes – sure enough – BOTH of my ears were bare.  I looked on the floor & there were both of my earrings on the floor – under my stool.  What the fuck?  Those oysters were so good – they popped both of my earrings out of my head with nearly the synchronized precision of those Olympic water dancers.  Plink/plink!  Out & on the floor.  That was a first for me.  I was so relieved to have Miles as a witness.  The fact is – we dropped into Dillon’s directly from the Museum of Death – so maybe the stuff they were peddling there had caused me to shiver my earrings nearly out of their nesting places but still.  The experience I had at Dillon’s was – eat an oyster & watch both of your earrings fly out of your head.

By the way – if oysters are your thing – and you also enjoy paying a lot of money for things – the oysters at the Public Kitchen at the gorgeous Roosevelt Hotel are pretty spectacular.

Anyway – I am tempted to go on & cover the classic Frolic Room – just down the street from Dillon’s but the Frolic Room deserves its own blog all to itself.  It is that awesome!

So – until then – CHEERS!

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Spinach & Pea Pesto Linguini with Three Cheeses & the Sheena Metal Experience

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

Yesterday – the heat was downright uncivilized.  Well over 100 degrees – ALL DAY.  I have no AC in my house so my three dogs & I walked around with our tongues hanging out while experiencing a sometimes vague and sometimes overwhelming sense of claustrophobic panic.    I had to do an interview at 6pm in the valley which meant driving even deeper into the inferno but my car has AC & I was pretty certain the radio studio would, too, so I was counting the seconds until I could leave.  Around 5pm – I was starving but it was way too hot to try to cook anything & I didn’t have time to eat anyway.  Still – like we all do – I looked in my fridge for things I knew were not in there.  A fridge which, incidentally, required a major repair this week.  My house is beginning to have too many things in common with Grey Gardens in general – a course I am temporarily powerless to reverse – but a fridge that lets a gorgeous burrata sour in the span of a day is just unacceptable.  A girl has to eat!  Even if she has to eat amidst squalor & ruin – much of it caused by bad, bad dogs – she still has to eat.  And cook.  And write about it.  And stuff.  So I called Wilshire Refrigeration – and the repairman arrived in a few hours to break the terrible news to me.  My 15 year old Sub-Zero had a cancer – a leaking freon coil thingamajigga & it had to be cut out.  I was told by my friend that had recommended Wilshire Refrigeration to me – that I was likely to get very timely, competent & friendly service – and I DID – but he also warned me that I would likely walk funny for a few days afterward.  And I can report to you now that a $1000 repair bill DOES somehow feel like an ass rape.  But so does a fridge full of warm beer & rotting dairy, mayo & eggs.  So – $1000 later and after bidding adieu to the repair guy – I walked – like a bowlegged cowboy – back to my kitchen to put everything that was salvageable back into my restored chilling appliance.

But I digress.  At 5 last night – I glanced in my fridge for a snack.  There was nothing that fit the bill but there was a collection of ingredients that I spontaneously decided would whip nicely into a cool pesto that I could mix into pasta upon my return from the interview.  I had 10-15 minutes before I had to leave so – I made the following delightful concoction:

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Spinach & Pea Pesto Pasta with Three Cheeses

serves 2 (Use more pasta to feed however many you have.)

INGREDIENTS

4 packed cups fresh spinach
1 packed cup fresh basil
2 cup frozen peas – 1 cup for the pesto – 1 cup for the pasta
1/2 cup olive oil
water – 1/4 cup or more
2 oz goat cheese
2 oz feta cheese
(or 4 oz of either one – Goat or Feta)
Fresh mozzarella (the stuff stored in water) – to taste – diced
4 cloves garlic
1/2 tomato – diced (more if you are feeding more than 2)
fresh parsley – chopped
S&P to taste
1/2 lb dried pasta
DIRECTIONS
In a food processor blend the basil, spinach, garlic, olive oil, s&p, feta, goat cheese, 1 cup of peas – adding only as much water as you need to get the proper consistency.
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NOTE – This will make 2-3 cups of this pesto – FAR more than you need for 1/2 lb pasta (which serves 2 – in my opinion).  In fact – it is way more than you need for the whole box of pasta.  So – use the extra on crostinis or as a condiment on sandwiches or as a base to a pizza or for just more pasta.
Cook your pasta according to the directions.  In the last minute or two – add 1 cup of the peas to the water.  Drain.
Put the pasta & cooked peas in a bowl & toss with a few tablespoons of the pesto.  Add more if you think it needs it.  Arrange the pasta on plates & top with a little more pesto, chopped tomato, chopped mozzarella & parsley.  And go heavy with the parsley.  It has a lovely, fresh taste & is not just a garnish!!!  🙂
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After I whipped up the pesto – using unthawed frozen peas – I put it in the fridge for a $1000 chilling – and walked my aching ass to the car to head to the valley for my interview.
The radio studio is in Sherman Oaks.  The waiting room looks like this:
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Pictures of past guests (like Noah Wyle & Mini Me) lined one wall.  After about 20 minutes of listening to an Irish author be interviewed just before me – I was called in for my part.  Sheena was SUPER duper nice, smart & funny.  The interview went as well as I could hope & I really enjoyed myself – both because of the civilized temperature in there & because of the charm of my hostess.  The entire interview can be heard HERE.  I show up at about the 62 minute mark.
Once that was done, I stepped outside into the smokey dusk (a fire was blazing near the Getty).
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No surprise there was a fire as I wasn’t entirely sure I was safe from spontaneous combustion myself.  I got into my car & checked the temperature.
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104!!  At 7pm!!!  Ugh.  Still – smog & fires make for pretty sunsets & nice light for photographs.
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So – I cranked up the AC in the car & headed home to boil up some pasta & try my newest pesto creation.  And let me tell you – it was REALLY good!  And so easy!  And good for you!  So try it!!!
Cheers~

Breakfast in Los Angeles Three Ways – Millie’s, Hugo’s & Alcove

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

I am not a huge breakfast person.  I tend to eat an early lunch & an early dinner & skip breakfast completely.  I know this is not considered good & makes you fat etc – but what can you do?  I usually work out in the mornings & I am not hungry when I wake up – so – there you have it.  Still – if I have out of town guests – the gym generally gets blown off & then breakfast is back on the table – quite literally.

One of my old school favorites is Millie’s in Silverlake.  I have been going there since about 1985-6.  I’m kind of a stickler about the word “diner” and prefer it only be used when referring to actual DINING CAR diners rather than just any shitty coffee shop. That said – I would be happy to call Millie’s a diner.  It has all the right cosmetic aesthetics & the right (and very good) food.

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That is my cutie boyfriend, Miles.  Aw!

Millie’s also has a great attitude.  Check out this vintage T-shirt I have from there from way back in the day:

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Service with a fuck you!  Nice!

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Miles ordered pork chops & cheesy eggs.  Miles often orders cheesy eggs but this was the first time I’d seen him happy with their execution.  It seems the cheese was nicely blended in with the eggs – rather than just slapped on top & stuck under a heat lamp.

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The pork chops passed muster – as did their awesome rosemary potatoes.  I ordered scrambled eggs, veggie sausage & a biscuit.

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All great – especially the biscuit & the coffee served in a proper diner mug.  There is seating inside, at the counter & outside.  If you sit at the counter – you can watch your meal be prepared.  The food portions are huge & I’ve never had a bad meal here.  The Devil’s Mess is exceptional.  The only odd thing is the art displayed – I guess made by local patrons.  I’m never very impressed.  I once thought some of my roadside attraction imagery would be a perfect fit.  Check them out HERE.  I mean – come on!  4 or 5 of them – printed huge & framed?  They would kill in there.  But I was told (a few years ago) by a snarky guy that the honor of hanging at Millie’s was reserved for regulars.  If a 25 year patronage doesn’t qualify me – then fuck it.  I guess I’ll save myself the expense of printing & framing & use some of that money for Millie’s coffee & biscuits.

A few days later – we stopped by Hugo’s – in the valley.  While Hugo’s has an insanely broad selection of healthy, vegetarian & vegan options – I pretty much get the same thing every time I go there.  I get one of their breakfast pastas.  Pasta Mama, Pasta Papa or – as in this case – Pasta Emilia.  They make all their pastas fresh which is not only wonderful but critical in the case of these eggy breakfast pastas.  Look how yummy!

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Miles ordered a beef burger & I think it weighed half as much as he does.  It was enormous.

I’m not a big fan of those rustic “skin on” french fries.  I am much more of a crispy shoestring or McDonald’s or crispy steak fry kinda gal but these at Hugo’s are OK.    This burger went a long way in that it fed Miles & then my three appreciative dogs as leftovers.  Hugo’s isn’t cheap – but it really is VERY good!

Finally – on a Sunday – I decided we had to eat outside.  We went to Alcove – in Hollywood.  This place is gorgeous in every way.  The outside patio is quaint & shady & has ample tables for al fresco dining.  The Big Bar is exactly the kind of old-school but still bright & cheery place I prefer to do my drinking.  There is a bakery & a chocolate element to Alcove, too, but sweets never appeal much to me.  Still – the is one of the prettiest little spots in Hollywood.  You order your food at the cash register, sit with a number & they bring your food to you – wherever you elected to sit.

I ordered a bagel & sliced tomato.  Miles opted for – who knew? – cheesy eggs & a side of potatoes.

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Again – the eggs got a thumbs up.  The potatoes were amazing.  I believe a frialator was involved & I can’t think of anything that isn’t improved by deep frying.  Except butter.   Deep fried butter EXISTS!!  Don’t believe me?  Look HERE.  UGH!  Gag gag gag.  But the potatoes at Alcove seemed deep fried and were a perfect golden color & not greasy at all.  Miles also ordered a beer – as he is wont to do.  It was a new beer to both of us & it was very good.  Don’t underestimate the charm of a cold beer for breakfast, kids!  And don’t judge.  In fact – TRY IT!

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Mmmmmmm!

And so there you have it.  Not a lotta comedy or drama today.  Just lotsa yummy breakfast options in Los Angeles.  And some sage advice – BEER for breakfast!!!

Taco Sampler at Mission Cantina in Hollywood & The Museum of Death

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

Typically – I’m not a big fan of Mexican restaurants.  I don’t eat meat & I find that pretty limiting with most Mexican menus.  The shrimp dishes can either be way too buttery or fatty or whatever – or downright funky.  Bay shrimp?  Who the fuck eats – if any other choice is available – BAY shrimp????  They sell them at Gel$on’$ and I am always tempted to wait there and watch & see who the these weirdos are that buy them – and then ask WHY.  Anyway – at Mexican restaurants, I tend to fill up on chips & beer (and the inevitable seafood tacos) & leave feeling vaguely cheated but stuffed to bursting.  If I’m gonna be forced to eat fish or shrimp tacos (because ordering a quesadilla in a restaurant is tantamount to ordering a PB&J sandwich) – I prefer to go to little taco stands that seem to deal with these things with more authenticity & flavor – and they don’t load you up with lard-based refried beans & rice – and they are usually very cheap.

So – the other day when my boyfriend requested a Mexican lunch – I had to give in & take him to a local restaurant – rather than one of the many far more colorful stands around Hollywood.  Why?  Because my guy likes his beer and those taco stands never serve alcohol.  OK, so fine.  A restaurant.  Mexican.  Open at noon.  NOT El Coyote – with the worst food on earth.  Not an icky Acapulco-type chain.  Hmmmm.

I settled on one that is very close to where I live, opened fairly early & had beer – the Mission Cantina.  There was one parking meter on the entire block – and it was available!  OK – that’s a good sign.  We stepped inside & it was bright & cheery – which I like – and we were the only ones in there.  We sat at the bar & ordered beers.

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The beer was a Craftsman 1903 Ale – made right in Pasadena & it was awesome!  The bar is wide & welcoming & the bartender was super friendly.  There is outdoor seating – just as an FYI – but the interior is so pleasant – I recommend it highly.  Chips & a really great salsa were placed before us as we perused the menu.  There was a $12 taco sampler – so we chose to split that.  I got a fish taco & their verduras (veggie) taco.  Miles got the carne asada, carnitas & the highly recommended (by the bartender) – beef barbacoa.

When the tacos arrived, they were served with a selection of pickled things:

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These tacos were clean & light & I suggest you try them.  If you really love tacos – try Mission Cantina’s Taco Tuesdays – with $1 tacos all the live-long day!!!  That is an awesome deal.

We left Mission Cantina satisfied but not needing the naps that are so often the case after eating exhausting Mexican meals – so we decided to drop into the nearby Museum of Death – just a few blocks away to kill some time.  🙂

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Free parking in the rear…

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There is a really spooky old trailer back there – no explanation.

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Predictably, no photography is allowed in the Museum of Death.  The museum tour begins with a gallery of art created by famous serial killers as well as some background on the more famous ones (Ed Gein, Richard Ramirez, John Wayne Gacy – etc) & rare documents.  Then a few novelties – like a mummified head of guillotine victim (a convicted serial killer) – the crime scene & autopsy photos from the Manson-Tate murders, Victorian post-mortem dead baby portraits & generally just a lot of stuff you’ve probably seen (or seen similar) if you have had any kind of history of a fixation with the morbid (as I have).  Footage of an autopsy proved too gross to watch.

The most compelling collection in house was a series of photos depicting a nude wife holding her dead husband (killed at the hands of her boyfriend – also depicted but not nude, I don’t think) – and the progressive dismembering of said husband & then the loving portraits of his severed head with his severed foot in his mouth – and then with his severed hand putting his severed penis in his own mouth.  The photos are from the seventies – shot (hilariously to me) on a 110 camera.  I think only subject matter as unusual as a party-style mutilation could really distract you from the other novelties in the images – her vintage, 1970’s winter bush & tiny, seventies natural bud-like breasts.   Oh – and her wickedly smiling face as she poses – nude & squatted – with the castrated torso of her late husband.  It seems this naked butcher had a pal at a Fotomat or something but she didn’t realize that the developing & printing process involved more than one employee.  I’m not sure why she thought even her own mother would look at the developed photos & not turn her in – but the stranger involved in the photo processing did just that.  Thank heavens – or I never would have gotten to digest fish tacos looking up into the neck hole of a beheaded man.

As an aside – I worked at a little Fotomat-esque storefront in high school & routinely stole the embarrassing images from the stuff that came through.  The shop was near Boston College & I have a lot of nudes & images of men’s penises & mooning arses etc – all typically a result of the pyramids of empty beer cans college kids seem to enjoy building so much.  So – if you went to BC around 1981-83 – and had a tendency to nude up for the camera at keggers – I might have some things that would interest you.

The Holocaust got surprisingly little coverage – too obvious perhaps?  Overexposed?  Who knows?  I think it is a gross oversight because the Holocaust has more horror to offer than the combined elements of the entire rest of the museum.  But maybe that’s just me.  Anyway – Heaven’s Gate & Jim Jones get some exposure.  Jayne Mansfield’s dead & taxidermied chihuahua is in the collection along with a series of stuffed albino animals & some jarred animal “abominations” of the two-headed or 9-legged variety.

All in all – it was worth the $15 each, I’d say, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to anyone.  Mission Cantina & Taco Tuesdays, on the other hand – I recommend without reservation!

Penne with Spicy Garlic Shrimp, Vodka Sauce and Arugula

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

This is a total cheat meal but it was so good, I thought I’d post it anyway.  As is so often the case – last night I found myself with an odd mix of ingredients & the challenge of making a combination of them into something edible.  I had shrimp, pasta, arugula & two half jars of pasta sauce.  I also had something unexpected in my refrigerator – do you see it?

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Who is THAT in the upper left corner?

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There was a grasshopper in my fridge!  Alive – and he had been there many hours – because I hadn’t opened the fridge all day.  Grasshoppers have been showing up in my kitchen sorta frequently lately which is odd because 1) they never have before & 2) because I just shot a movie called Grasshopper! and since then  – several of us involved with it have been having strange grasshopper encounters.  My boyfriend found one in his air-tight-to-preserve-the-air-conditioning ELEVENTH floor condo.  How would a grasshopper get in there?  Or in my fridge?  One crashed a party I had in July.  Crazy.  Anyway – we got him out & set him free.  Now – back to the pasta:

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Penne with Spicy Garlic Shrimp, Vodka Sauce and Arugula

INGREDIENTS

1/2 jar of Gia Russa Hot Sicilian Pasta Sauce

1/2 jar Bertolli Vodka Sauce

6 cloves garlic

12 shrimp

1/2 box penne pasta

1/2 bag fresh arugula

olive oil

crushed red pepper

S&P

Parmesan or fresh mozzarella – if putting cheese with fish doesn’t make you go mental.

DIRECTIONS

Heat the olive oil & saute the garlic cloves – whole – for about a minute.  Add the shrimp with a tablespoon of crushed red pepper and S&P to taste.  Saute until the shrimp are pink.  Set aside.

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I heated the two sauces in a pan & blended them.  I added crushed red pepper to this sauce.

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Cook the pasta according to directions.  Drain.  Put pasta on two plates, top with fresh, raw arugula & then some sauce.  Arrange shrimp on top of this & serve.  It is considered a sin to put any cheese on fish – so this dish is best served without Parmesan – but my boyfriend likes cheese – so I added some sliced, fresh mozzarella to his.

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Very Spicy Vegetarian Tortilla Soup with Homemade Vegetable Stock

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All Photos © Christine Elise McCarthy 2012

My boyfriend doesn’t like to eat very much and I mean that both ways.  I mean – eating is something he seems to do only because he must and – when he must – there are only a few things that strike his fancy.  Among them are pizza (thank God), my pasta with clams, grilled cheese sandwiches, meat of all kinds (it seems) and a host of soups.  Tortilla soup is one of his favorites.  I decided I needed to make him some the other day.  I’d never made it before & I wanted to be able to try it – so I made a vegetarian version.  The other challenge I faced was that I had to make it from ingredients I already had in the house.  It was incredibly hot out & I was too lazy to make a market run.  “Why make a spicy soup on a hot day?” you might ask.  I might respond by saying, “That’s nothing.  I made three shepherd’s pies, a carrot cake & corn chowder this week on a 95 degree day.”  I don’t know that that would answer the question you were really asking – but that’s all I got for ya.

I didn’t have any vegetarian stock or bouillon cubes – so I had to make the stock from scratch, too.   A recipe will follow – but you can do this a zillion ways.  I chose to use what I did because I HAD it.  You might not have all these things or you might choose to use others that you think sound good.  This made a lot of stock – maybe ten cups.  I froze all that I didn’t use in one pint containers that I recycled from past sour cream, mozzarella or cottage cheese etc purchases.  These also make great to-go containers for you to send guests away with leftovers in (pardon that grammar).

This soup really is the result of some creative combining and I think it came out pretty good.  Still – in an ideal world – I would have used fewer canned items in it & gone with fresher options – especially with the cheese.  But the fact that it came out so well – means that you can probably substitute like crazy & still come up with a pretty decent tortilla soup – so do not feel you need to follow this one – either the ingredients or the quantities of each ingredient – with anything resembling loyalty.  I didn’t have any avocado – so mine here isn’t adorned with any – but I recommend you use some.

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Vegetable Stock

INGREDIENTS

Water

a few carrots – chopped into big chunks

a few stalks of celery – chopped into big chunks

1/2 large russet potato – chopped into big chunks

1/2 small head cabbage – chopped into big chunks

1 large shallot – chopped into big chunks

2 jalapenos – chopped into big chunks

several sprigs of fresh Thyme

a handful of fresh cilantro

a handful of fresh sage

a handful of fresh oregano

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

Salt & pepper

DIRECTIONS

Fill a large stock pot with water.  Add all the other ingredients & bring to a boil.  Reduced heat & simmer for 45-60 minutes.  Strain (through cheesecloth if you have it – but this isn’t necessary) into another pan & toss all the ingredients away.  Voila!  You will likely use 4-6 cups or more in this.  Freeze the rest in smaller containers for future use.

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Very Spicy Vegetarian Tortilla Soup

INGREDIENTS

4-5 corn tortillas – cut into thin strips

4-5 corn tortillas – chopped

3 TBS olive oil

1 large onion – diced

2 tomatoes – diced

8 garlic cloves – minced

1/2 russet potato – diced

6 chipotle peppers & their adobo sauce – diced (less if spicy bothers you)

1 15oz can diced tomatoes – fire roasted if you have them (I didn’t – so I used regular)

1 15 oz can of vegetarian refried beans (or you can use garbanzos or other canned white bean)

1 10 3/4oz can Campbell’s Cheddar Cheese Soup (REAL fresh grated cheese – a cup of it – would be MUCH better)

handful of chopped fresh cilantro

1 tsp paprika (smoked if you have it – though mine was not)

1 tsp dried thyme

1 tsp turmeric

Salt & Pepper (1 tsp each – or to taste)

1 cup corn (fresh of the cob is best – but canned or frozen are fine)

1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

6 cups vegetable broth

1/2 avocado – sliced or diced (for garnish)

1 tomato – finely diced (for garnish)

chopped cilantro (for garnish)

grated cheese (for garnish)

lime wedges (for garnish)

DIRECTIONS

Heat your oven to 350.  Spread the thinly sliced corn tortilla strips in a single layer on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking oil.  Bake the strips 10-15 minutes until they are crispy.  Try not to overcook them (they should not be browned).  Remove from oven & set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large soup stock pot.  Saute the onion & potato over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic for a minute & then add the chopped tortillas and the dried spices (turmeric, thyme, paprika, S&P) and the chopped cilantro.  Stir them in & then add the canned tomatoes, diced tomatoes, beans, corn, chipotle peppers and the vegetable stock (use at least 5 cups – more if you like a thin soup).  Bring to a boil & then add the canned cheese soup.  If using real cheese – add it AFTER the soup has been pureed.

Remove the soup from the heat & allow it to cool enough that it is safe to begin blending it all up.  In smallish batches – blend the soup into a puree.  Never get lazy & try to over-fill the blender – as you are sure to pop the top off & scald yourself.  I go with 1/2 to 2/3 full & put a thick kitchen towel over the top of the blender to assure the top doesn’t fly off & create a hurricane of whipping, boiling soup in my kitchen – and in my face.

Once the soup is all pureed, add the real cheese (if you are using) and the heavy cream.  Simmer this on a medium-low flame – stirring frequently –  until the cheese & cream or fully incorporated.  If the soup is too thick – add more vegetable stock.  If it is too thin – allow it to cook down a bit.  Taste & add S&P – if you desire.

Serve in bowls & garnish with tomato, grated cheese, cilantro, avocado & a few baked corn tortilla strips.  Serve each bowl with a lime wedge to squeeze into the soup – if you desire.

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