Sunday, January 17, 2010

Dim Sum Sunday - Snow Day

Snow days. Is there anything better as a kid? The anticipation the night before as the snow starts falling. The sudden interest in the nightly news and the weather report? Trying to predict if the snow total you get will be enough for to hear your school announced on the radio the next morning. Of course it meant something totally different to our mothers. To our mothers it meant harnessing and directing the fevered energy of snow maddened children into activities that would leave our humble abode intact. Getting us out of the house to burn off that energy was Priority One.Snowball fights, snowmen building, igloo construction and our ultimate passion, sledding. We had enough hills to keep us occupied for most of the day. Long, steep hills where the Flexible Flyer could build up some decent speed. Of course we whined mightily as we climbed back up the hill. Why couldn't someone rig up a rope to help aid our ascent? Better yet, how cool would it be if there was a sledding lift to lift us out of our thigh burning misery? Feasibility wasn't our strong suit at the tender age of 10. Neither was common sense as we tried to figure out the logistics of running garden hoses to our sledding hill to create an icy speedway. Luckily we usually ran out of energy before starting hose haulage. Besides we had now worked up an appetite and it had been long enough that we were considered calm enough to be allowed back into the house. Snow blind with frozen toes, just how much damage could we do? Our reward was hot tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.My food memory of cream of tomato soup was of rich tomato flavor, perfect for dipping a hot grilled cheese into. On the first snow day of this winter, I cracked open a can of Campbell's tomato soup, only to discover a pale ghost of it's former glorious self. Even catchup was better than what came out of that can. The overwhelming flavor? Sweetness. I dumped the whole thing in the trash. I would have to find my own cream of tomato touchstone.
Surprisingly a can would still be involved. I turned, as I often do, to the good folks at Cook's Illustrated. In their massive cookbook, The New Best Recipe, they too described the memories of the Campbell's Soup version of their youth. With that in mind, they came up with the following recipe.

Cream of Tomato Soup
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice, drained, 3 cups juice reserved
1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large shallots, minced (about 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Pinch ground allspice
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups chicken stock, homemade or canned low-sodium
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons brandy or dry sherry
Salt and cayenne pepper

1. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450°F. Lined rimmed baking sheet with foil. With fingers, carefully open whole tomatoes over strainer set in bowl and push out seeds, allowing juices to fall through strainer into bowl. Spread seeded tomatoes in single layer on foil. Sprinkle evenly with brown sugar. Bake until all liquid has evaporated and tomatoes begin to color, about 30 minutes. Let tomatoes cool slightly, then peel them off foil; transfer to small bowl and set aside.

2. Heat butter over medium heat in large saucepan until foaming. Add shallots, tomato paste and allspice. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. Gradually add chicken stock, whisking constantly to combine; stir in reserved tomato juice and roasted tomatoes. Cover, increase heat to medium, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, to blend flavors, about 10 minutes.

3. Pour mixture through strainer and into medium bowl; rinse out saucepan. Transfer tomatoes and solids in strainer to blender; add 1 cup strained liquid and puree until smooth. Place pureed mixture and remaining strained liquid in saucepan. Add cream and warm over low heat until hot, about 3 minutes. Off heat, stir in brandy and season with salt and cayenne. Serve immediately.

You're going to have to find whole tomatoes, hopefully in their own juice and not in a puree. Also be careful about the salt content. Some tomatoes have much more salt than others. You want to be the one to control the flavor of your soup, not let a can of tomatoes overwhelm the balance you're trying to achieve.

Roasting your tomatoes is a crucial step. It definitely adds a depth of flavor that you're not going to get even when using winter fresh grocery store tomatoes. Don't skip this step. Once you get past the tomato prep, this soup goes together quickly and simply. As I finished off the soup I wondered if I really needed the brandy. The soup to that point tasted wonderful, rich with tomato flavor. How would the brandy help? I added the brandy just a little at a time and tasted after each addition. It was with this simple dish that I finally got to taste what Unami means. Unami is often talked about as the fifth taste. My soup was fine before the brandy but after the addition there was a savory depth, a complexity that lingered on the tongue and expanded into my sinuses. I never imagined a can of tomatoes could taste so good. It made a simple grilled cheese into a work of art. It even made my sweet gherkin pickles taste a little sharper and tangier.

As long as you have a decent can of whole tomatoes in your pantry, you will be ready for anything a snow day can throw at you.


Big Shamu said...

Don't forget to visit La Diva's early Dim Sum Sunday post. You won't be disappointed.

Buzz Kill said...

I too have childhood memories of tomato soup and grilled cheese. We lived on a hill and our street was THE sledding street in the neighborhood. We use to have a lot more snow storms back in those days. And we had a large, cement patio that we would hose down to make an ice skating rink. So we spent a lot of time outside and my mom always made soup for us.

I still eat Campbells but I had milk instead of water. With some Ritz crackers it still tastes good to me.

I like your soup recipe. I never would have thought that roasting the tomatoes would make such a difference.

I'm up at the Buzzkill with one of my favorite (although not my mom's) soup recipes.

Happy 1st DSS for 2010!

Making Space said...

LOL love the image of a bunch of hyper kids trying to ice down a snowy hill. ROFL

That soup looks amazing - wow! Roasting canned tomatoes - whodathunk. And umami from brandy not msg - that rocks the big one. Grilled cheese too... congrats!

I'm up too!

Big Shamu said...

Grilled Cheese and Tomato soup is just as American as apple pie. Buzz, how did you parents feel about you turning the patio into an ice rink?

Thank the good folks at Cook's Illustrated. They don't give up on a recipe until it tastes just right.

MS, your chili looks awesome. Perfect for a cold snowy day.

moi said...

Mmmmm . . . this looks great. And something I can make with my niece, who is just learning to craft food for herself and who loves tomato soups of all kinds! I'm up. Late, but up!

Dani said...

You never fail to always bring us something absolutely fantastic!

I'm still drooling over my wonderful gift of Cook's Illustrated. Thank you so much!

I'm up too! :)

MLou said...

I am making this soup ASAP.
Our sunday night standard was open faced, toasted bacon, cheddar cheese sandwiches with ketchup. Eaten in front of the TV while watching Walt Disney. Heaven if you have spent the day outside playing in the snow.

Big Shamu said...

Well MLou, you had me at bacon. Oh yeah, Disney on Sunday nights if I remember correctly.

Jenny said...

this and grilled cheese? Call me happy.

Big Shamu said...

Hmmm, have to make it with water not broth for you Boxer but BONUS, it's got Brandy in it.

Aunty Belle said...

Is it any surpise that I moan when I look in over heah! Mercy but that looks so so good--roasted is the ticket!

SHamy, the prose is jes' as good as that soup looks. AN' do I need to say how gorgeous the photos are?

What do it say about the power of Madison Av that we all has the warmest memories of Campbell's TOmato Soup?

I admit to using Pacific Natural Foods Creamy Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato soup these days.

Great read, great visuals, great memories.

LaDivaCucina said...

Thanks for the shout out Sham!

Yes, Sham, this is the classic all American lunch for kids after sledding and we had this often! YUM! I'm glad I was a kid when I was, simple pleasures make great memories! Imagine kids today in 20 years: Remember when we used to play Wii on those snowdays as a kid?! Still, I think most kids still can't wait to get out into loads of fresh snow!

I agree with you about the Campbell's tomato soup being too sweet for my adult palate. I like your recipe, it looks a lot less labour intensive than the tomato soup you made in the summer!!

Unami is a word that is a bit mysterious to me so thanks for simplifying it for me. It's great how the addition of a few simple steps like roasting and adding brandy can really take a simple soup into a spectacular soup!

I think hot soup is the ultimate comfort food after being in the cold! Great post!

Big Shamu said...

Or it could be Aunty, that Campbell's soup was actually good but has since had the recipe changed. Any one remember the New Coke debacle?
I will give Pacific Tomato soup a try. And thank you so much for your kind compliments. If my love for food shines through then I've accomplished my goal.

Buzz Kill said...

My parents encouraged us to do anything that would get us out of the house, so icing up the patio was no problem. When the outside hose was frozen, mom would let us use her soup pot to carry water out side. We would do it every couple of hours so you'd get a thick layer. And we would drag my little brother around the ice on a rug to clear it like a Zamboni Machine. They even bought all of us ice skates.

LaDivaCucina said...

Oh yeah, what the heck is snow cream?!

Dani said...

Buzz, sounds like your mom was pretty damn cool!

moi said...

Tapping foot for snow cream explanation, too.

P.S. My word confirmation was gateduck.

Gated Uck
Gate, Duck!
Gat eDuck
What THE (?)uck?