Thursday, July 18, 2013

Cool As A Cucumber

"Do I look like a frolicker?!" ~ Mrs. Patmore to Mr. Carson when she is accused of frolicking with Ethel
It's 96°F and humid and I have decided that the stove is OFF tonight (even if the cook isn't) and as luck would have it, the English Cucumbers just happened to go on sale this week. There's nothing like cucumbers to really keep you cool when it's hot outside. What better time to put on my pseudo-British accent and pretend I'm Mrs. Patmore trying to feed people at un-air-conditioned Downton Abbey? Here we all are, in the sweltering heat, waiting for the Royal Baby to be born, celebrating that the Queen of England signed marriage equality into law earlier this week, and these particular English Cucumbers happened to come from a hothouse in Canada (hey, it's still part of the Commonwealth). Even the title of this post, the expression, "cool as a cucumber" comes from a very amusing piece written by the English poet, John Gay, in 1732.

English cucumbers rock. And in this particular recipe, they really should be used. The regular cucumbers you see in the grocery store each week have a tougher skin and are slightly more bitter and crunchy, while the English cucumbers are going to give a more silky texture in the final soup and it will taste better. Also, as a personal note, I've been to England and the authentic cucumber sandwiches served at Afternoon Tea? Oh yeah, totally different with English cucumbers. Accept no substitute. (Now if only we could get real clotted cream around here my life would be complete.)

So what could top a nice cold Cucumber Gazpacho? One that has the very, very last of my precious Italian olive oil drizzled as the final touch when we eat it. I can't get this in the States, I have to beg bottles of it off of relatives who go over for vacation. Sigh. This is the kind of olive oil that is so delicious, you never cook with it... you only have it on it's own, or maybe with a little bread, to fully appreciate the taste. My God, the way it tasted when I first cracked open that seal... instant "sore throat" from a single spoonful. It was AMAZING. Alas, superb olive oil doesn't age like fine wine... the best it will ever be is when it's running straight from the olive press. It has a year of "life" to it at most, and should be consumed by the expiration date - which is next month. You could say, I rationed out our consumption perfectly this past year, but it deserves a respectful final meal - bread, cucumber gazpacho, and a hot, hot summer day when these are the Main Meal, and proper  attention and homage can be fully paid.

So long, Old Pal.
When I win the lottery, I'm going to have whole cases of this stuff flown over every month. 

What? You have a problem with Italian Olive Oil being used with English Cucumbers in a Spanish soup? Not Anglophile enough for you? That gives me all the excuse I need for THIS clip, hehehe.

Not exactly a Merchant Ivory film, was it? Still one of my absolute favorite movies ever.

My English Cucumber Gazpacho also has plenty of very, very good quality olive oil in the soup - along with a LOT of white wine vinegar and fresh lemon. I go easy on the raw garlic in this: only one clove. It's a big clove, but just one. You can always add another in - but it gets stronger and better, if you let the soup sit for a full day before eating it, so start with one and then adjust to your own taste.

English Cucumber Gazpacho
Makes about 2 Quarts

9 English cucumbers, divided (8 peeled & chopped for soup, 1 diced or thin-sliced for garnish)
1 1/2 cup very good Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup water (I use the chilled water from our Brita pitcher in the fridge)
1-2 cloves Garlic, pasted with Kosher Salt
1 cup White Wine vinegar
Juice of 3 lemons
3 tsp Kosher Salt
½-1 tsp (a very generous grinding) Black Pepper

Optional: ¼ Cup superb quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil to drizzle for garnish

Peel 8 of the cucumbers and rough chop. In small batches puree in the blender with the oil, water, lemon juice, garlic paste, salt & pepper and pour into a large metal bowl set over another bowl of ice. The way I do it is put most of the liquid ingredients in the first and second batches, puree them well, and then use that soup base for the rest of the cucumbers… it takes about 4 batches to do all 8 cucumbers in my blender. And, as I’ve said before, I have a very powerful-motored blender for this purpose, I don’t think it would turn out as smooth in a food processor. Chill the soup thoroughly, for at least 2 hours in the fridge, and also chill the bowls you will serve it in - don't put 32-degree soup into 75-degree bowls straight from your kitchen cabinet. You can then garnish with the 9th cucumber, or drizzle olive oil, or even croutons would be nice. Bread and gazpacho and olive oil always work well. 

I am serving this with a "heavy" salad made from cooked beets, wild rice, sliced almonds, and chevre, and also with plenty of Italian bread.

Now, there's really not much to the method, so there wasn't much to photograph. But on a hot day, who wants to work any harder than they have to?

Step 1 - Blenderize it

Step 2 - Nest the bowl in a bigger bowl full of ice, then put them in the fridge for at minimum 2 hours, better yet overnight.

Now if you have it, and like it, I'd say instead of wine or beer with this, stick with the English theme and drink hard cider with this... Strongbow is my personal favorite, and is widely available in the states. If you haven't tried it yet... You're welcome! Otherwise, meh... Iced Earl Grey is pretty fine on a hot day and wouldn't be amiss.

Stay Cool, everyone!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

World's Most Expensive Casserole

It's called 'Shroomy Crab Mornay Casserole, and it has two and a half POUNDS of Phillips Jumbo Lump Crab under those Old Bay Seasoning-flavored potato chips. OH YEAH BABY!
I got a call from one of my clients a few weeks ago, who wanted me to fill their freezer with various casseroles. The client asked for the Chicken & Ham casserole that I've posted up on Facebook before  - my own family begs for this so often I could make it in my sleep. But then, the client had other ideas, and I was absolutely delighted. They wanted to go off-menu in terms of variety and flavors from my Shore House Shoobie Menu, and among the ideas of what they wanted was a crab meat casserole. Holy smokes!

I'll confess, even though I've worked with caviar, 18K gold leaf, foie gras, truffles, duck, escargots, lobster, and other ingredients that are just off-the-hook expensive, when I got the order for this casserole my first gut feeling was not joy but intimidation - and my response to the client - was, "Are you absolutely sure you want a Crab Casserole?" Not becasue I ahven't worked with crab before - I have, many times, but because of the sheer quantity of crab it would need, I knew this was going to be one badass mother of a grocery bill, even before I hit the store. When I'm working with any ingredient that costs $44 per pound, let's just say the food commands my undivided attention and deepest respect, coupled with a sincere and fervent desire to not screw it up. Just the ingredients alone for this, and yes, I added them up, came out to $146.02. If I charged my client at the normal restaurant markup of a 30% food cost, that's $486.73. For one 9x13 casserole. In a restaurant, if they did them in individual servings, they would sell this at $61 each.

No pressure there!

On the other hand, what an awesome opportunity. Ingredients at this level deserve to be handled beautifully, and allowed to shine on their own merit. Only the highest, most expensive restaurants could dare consider keeping this on the menu, and most likely, they would skimp on the amount of crab meat, or use a lower quality to cut the cost. Or both. This is why being a catering chef is so much fun as opposed to being a restaurant chef -we get so many more opportunities to be creative, and we can have chances like this to just run with the food, and make something amazing and special.

So of course I started with my Culinary Artistry book. It's my go-to tool for when I want to build my own recipe. If you haven't heard of it, it's a cookbook (THE cookbook) for skilled cooks who have already mastered the techniques of cooking, and are ready to just let their muse run wild. It has no recipes, just various lists of classic flavor combinations that go well together, plus some fun reading thrown in in the form of stories and menus and answers to the question "What 10 Ingredients Would You Want If You Were Stranded On A Desert Island" by various well-known chefs. The authors are Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. I've had 3 copies of this book over the past 15 years - not because I've lost it or let anyone borrow them, but because I've worn them down to pulp using them.

I spent about 4 hours mentally building the recipe - trying things out, cutting them, getting way over the top (wild mushrooms, anyone?) and then simplfying it all down again. The thing was to not take away from that exquisite crab. What it came down to was a classic American casserole - the mandatory Campbell's Cream of Mushroom included - with tiny baby button mushrooms that had been sauteed in butter and sherry, sour cream, Mornay sauce, twisty egg noodles and a kiss of fresh tarragon. And then, in a nod to our region, I topped it with Utz potato chips that has the Old Bay Seasoning flavor.

The only thing I would do differently if I was doing it for my own consumption is I would add some tomatoes, but the client is located at the Jersey shore, so really, this is going to be sublime paired with a simple fresh Jersey Tomato & Grilled Sweet Corn salad, or even just sliced tomatoes. This is going to make an exquisite summer meal.

‘Shroomy Crab Mornay Casserole
Serves 8-10 (Makes one 9x13 sized casserole)


2.5 lbs (5 cups) Phillips Jumbo Lump Crab Meat  (Canned or the plastic containers doesn’t matter, but I only use Phillips brand ever, and yes, it’s hard to find and expensive, but you get what you pay for)
1 can Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup (Family-sized can)
16 oz. Sour Cream
6 oz. baby button mushrooms, wiped, trimmed, and thin-sliced
 ½ stick butter
Mornay sauce
Madeira or sherry – 2 oz
1 large pkg Egg Noodles
Tarragon, fresh, fine chopped, 2 Tbsp
Bag of Old Bay Seasoned potato chips (I use Utz “The Crab Chip”)


First sauté the mushrooms in the butter until they are browned, then pour off the excess butter into the pot you will make the Mornay sauce in, and splash the sherry into the mushrooms. Bring to a boil then turn off heat and allow the mushrooms to absorb all the sherry. Set aside.
Second make the Mornay Sauce: (Mornay is Béchamel with cheese added)
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups warmed milk (microwave 2 min is fine)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
pinch freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
2 ounces grated Gruyere (can substitute Parmesan if desired)

To the reserved mushroom butter, add another tablespoon and melt it, stirring, so that the butter is creamy and melted, then add in the flour – whisk quickly and keep stirring to make it smooth and cook the flour. Make blond roux, fully cook it but not brown, then slowly whisk in milk letting it thicken, and allow to come to a boil, season with Salt, Pepper & Nutmeg. Then gradually whisk in cheese until it’s fully incorporated and smooth – not sticky or stringy. Taste it - the flavor of the cheese should be subtle, not overpowering. Don’t worry about it being thick – that’s what you want. Set aside until you are ready to make casserole sauce. For casserole sauce: Mix together the Mornay Sauce, cream of mushrooms soup, sour cream, and mushrooms. Taste. Adjust seasoning if needed. Cook the pasta – firm, of course, for casseroles. Drain the pasta, cool it under running water, and immediately toss with about 2 cups of the sauce to coat the pasta. Gently, gently, gently fold in Crab Meat being careful to not break up the lumps, tarragon, and more sauce to your desired consistency, dispersing crab evenly through the mixture. Then pour into well-greased casserole dish. Top with crushed Old Bay Potato Chips. Bake at 350 for 30 minutes or until heated through, or freeze.

So, the funny thing is, as I was posting on Facebook about making this recipe, one of my friends told the story of how she had recently ordered a "crab mushroom casserole" from a restaurant. She joined in the conversation with the advice not to put "too many mushrooms" in it - because when she got her order, it was almost ALL mushrooms and hardly any crab.  She felt cheated, and now is forevermore suspicious of  "crab casserole" on any menu again - and who can blame her? What a bad experience! How many times have we all gone out to eat, seen something that sounds wonderful, notice it is reasonably priced, and then when you get it, find that it is not what you expected?

But that's what happens far too often. When a chef makes a menu up, it's incredibly fun to create and be inspired... but you have to do the "perspiration" behind the inspiration or in reality it's going to fail. Crab on the menu sounds wonderful. Crab that goes missing from the kitchen, or doesn't sell and gets thrown away, is death to a restaurant. You need to cost out your recipes, control your portions, and take seasonality and your customers into account. You can't put a $60 entree onto a menu where everything else is priced under $25. They cut quality or quantity or both, in order to hit a price point and make a profit. And then we all lose - the chef is making lower-quality food, the customer is feeling the kitchen over-promised and under-delivered, and nobody's really happy.

Except MY customers! Who get 5 cups of the best premium crab on the market, to 1/2 cup of mushrooms. Mwahahahahahaha! (The benefits of paying for groceries separately from my time.. my clients get a lot more bang for the buck than going to restaurants, and can have higher quality.)

Now, you may be wondering why, when I went to so much trouble to make up this recipe, would I share it this openly. I'll tell you why - weddings are on my mind this week. I am very happy there's about to be a lot more of them. And there are NOT a lot of really elegant, really easy recipes out there that would be doable for a home cook... and could potentially be made six weeks to a month in advance and frozen uncooked. How awesome is that? The night before the wedding, move the casserole(s) from the freezer to the fridge to thaw, and then they should only take about 45 minutes to bake - check the internal temperature with a thermometer, but you only need to bring this up to 140 degrees  in the center - the seafood is already fully cooked, and there are no raw eggs used.

This would make a fabulous entree for a Brunch or Lunch Wedding for some bootstrapping DIY couple who are on a tight budget. Especially for a small, intimate wedding of 25 or less, this would make an easy, elegant main course. I'd buy or rent single serving porcelain ramekins and bake them on a baking sheet, instead of cutting a big tray for portion control... but if you were having a buffet, then you could make this in a large pan. Top it with Panko break crumbs tossed with Old Bay Seasoning instead of potato chips. And yes, they could substitute cooked lobster or shrimp into this as well.  Pair it with an heirloom tomato salad or a melon salad (crab and melon really work together) or mixed baby greens, some artesian breads, and it's a perfect meal.

A lot of love and joy went into creating this, and I'm very proud of it.

Now THAT is a crab-to-mushroom ratio to rival the Ritz!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Almost Ready

One day while I was in Baking & Pastry class, I scored the job of sitting and watching the bread bake. That might sound a bit like "sitting and watching the paint dry" to some people: me, in front of the ovens, sitting in one chair, my feet propped up on a milk crate, drinking a cold bottle of Diet Coke and staring at the glare of the oven light off the tops of the loaves. Nice work if you can get it, right? It was a real responsibility, though,  some 4 dozen loaves of bread all in the same 2 ovens that represented the 6-hours-effort of the whole class of 20 people, plus the cost of all those ingredients and such, was not a trivial thing if they all burned. It was a class that started in the wee dark hours of the morning, so, needless to say, by lunch time we'd already put in a full day's work, and most of us were dog-tired. We got a whole extra POINT on our final grade, though, for extra credit work like staying late and cooling pots of stocks, or making sure the bread baked, or polishing the copper pipes under the sinks in the kitchens (yes, I really did do that - vinegar, salt and some flour to make a paste, and then plenty of elbow grease to rub it in) and I was totally obsessive about maxing out my GPA - some classes I managed to finish with a final score of over 100,  because on top of working hard in class, and studying obsessively outside of class,  I was always happy to volunteer for extra credit work.

It was a totally Zen moment, sitting and watching the bread bake, that wonderful smell soaking into me like sunshine on a summer day. But it wasn't a lazy time of getting lost in my thoughts or not paying attention - I was still learning the mysteries that the masters were imparting to us, and I was on the edge of my seat not to screw it up and under- or over-cook those precious loaves. I couldn't believe my extreme good luck that nobody else had stepped up to volunteer for the job (the professors tried to alternate volunteers so that the extra credit points were more evenly distributed, so if someone with lower test scores had wanted to do it, I would have lost out) I would have done it for free, just to sit there, breathing in that smell. I seriously considered changing my major from Edible Visual Arts (the catering major) to Baking and Pastry, as it would have meant a Life of Bread...getting up at 3 am every day when the world is peacefully dreaming, the soft ingredients and rhythmic machines and then the smell and the miracle of alchemy that makes the rise. It called to my soul, and promised I would always know grace if I made this my path. My Chef Instructor came in about 45 minutes later, and we pulled it out, and I got a 1-1 instructional lesson on exactly the color of dark brown to look for in the crust of a loaf of white bread, and of course we had to make sure it was good so we cut it and buttered it and ate several big slab slices, for quality control purposes. There is no thing more sacred and divine than fresh bread, hot out of the oven.

But I did not choose the Life of Bread. Not opening that oven door to check it while it baked was sheer torture for me. You tell bread is done by the color of the crust, which is why oven doors have windows, not by an internal temperature like a beef roast or chicken, where you routinely open it up and stick a thermometer in it, and possibly baste or add seasonings or even other foods to keep it company, like potatoes. Other foods are much more quite friendly and outgoing, although of course they each have their own personalities, they are happy to meet you, glad to be invited, and they appreciate the Cook begin sociable and attentive. I am a cook who likes to play with the food, and talk to it, and tell it how much I love it, and collaborate with it about how well it's going to turn out and how good it's going to taste once it's finished. We sing, dance and have a party, and laugh together and insist each other is the Most Fabulous, my foods and I, and the radio is cranked up and my kitchen is rockin'...  Bread demands to be undisturbed during the metamorphosis from dough, to be left to its  mediation in order for it to complete the transformation, or it gets a big giant hole in the middle of the loaf.  Bread calls to us all, but only those who already have attained inner peace can be its true master.

My path was the more creative and exciting one: hors d'oeuvres, pâtés, party foods, platter displays, and banquet designs, and dinner parties of 6 courses, with wine pairings and tasting menus, and those amazing exotic ingredients that are special and expensive and sublime, and the noisy dangerous thrill of ice sculpting (the real kind - done with a chainsaw, blow torch, and chisels, wearing protective goggles, combat boots and a heavy industrial apron, and two wrist braces for the carpal tunnel syndrome - not filling up a plastic swan form with water and sticking it in the freezer). A path that is ever-changing, at the speed of a lighting-flash off a chefs knife, as trends and tastes demand ever more interesting and creative heights. Days when I know I get to cook, I bounce out of bed and there's a spring in my step, and I can't wait to get started. I have never been bored with this path, it is my Art, it is what gives me joy, and energizes me.. and it gets to include bread, but just sometimes, when I can bear to sit on my hands, and keep them from opening the damned oven door.

So why do I say this? Because something I've been cooking up is Almost Ready. And it's just like sitting in front of that oven door, trying to let the bread bake, when I want so much to bring it out, when I am so past ready it's got me bouncing in my seat and my hands itching. And I'm so scared, and so excited, and I have wanted to post about it and show pictures of it, and shout to the whole world from the top of William Penn's Hat at City Hall, "HEY! WORLD! Take a bite outta THIS! I made this!" It's the reason I've been quiet and not posted as much. But soon. Very, very soon. Within the next month.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Landmark Day

You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

~ Wayne Gretzky

The days when I can be in the kitchen are always my favorite days. If I can create something new, something interesting, something delicious, it's even better, because I love being creative. I love thinking in flavors and composing with ingredients to create a single harmonious whole experience for other people. That part of being a cook, that connection to the Creative Force,  is simply pure heaven. I'm dancing with the Angels in those moments. Other days, the days where every single thing I'm making is a recipe I've done a thousand times before, that don't give that thrill of making something new, I still enjoy my craft. I love my craft, and all the tools and elements that go into it, the way a violinist might have a moment of inexplicable joy every time she smells the wood of her own Stradivarius, and feels the weight of it in her hands, and listens to the music of Mozart as she plays - it's not her own music, but it also is, in some way, you know? The days when I just play instead of composing are still wonderful, wonderful days.

Not many days spent at business administration get a gold star from me. Oh, I get a feeling of accomplishment once whatever needs done finally is done - but it's just like doing a physical workout to me, I never get an endorphin rush like real athletes, only the vague relief that I did what I needed to get done once it's finished. Every job has an overhead of  unthrilling parts that you have to do in order to get to the good stuff. I know someone who gets a genuine thrill from labeling, organizing, and checking off lists. For me, the lists are just tools to help me move the workload forward, to get the dull stuff over with as fast as possible so I can get back to the creative part. Actually, no... even calling lists tools is too much of a compliment: my knives are tools. I love my knives. They are how I work my craft. Business to-do lists are just... dead weight to me. A necessary evil. The dreaded peas on my plate, which must be eaten before the beloved Chocolate Cake will appear.

So what do you do when you want to successfully run a business, but financial stuff is your Dreaded Peas? You find that rare, miraculous person for whom all the yucky financial stuff is their chocolate cake.

Today, thanks to picking the brain of a very, very smart expert, it looks like I have found the path to making my business goals a reality. It's going to take a lot of hard work, and a little bit of luck in my timing, but this is very, very good news. Very good news indeed! The stress and fear that comes with being an entrepreneur... oy! imagine you are in a swamp, you've been slogging in it for months, and you have no idea if you are already chest-deep in quicksand, or just miles from any signs of civilization, and are wondering if that sunken log over there is really an alligator... and then someone comes along to tell you can tell you the hard, dry path is 3 yards to the right, it leads to a friendly local beach tavern with an outdoor shower, ice-cold beer, and marsh-casual dress is always welcome.

Ten feet tall he was. With biceps the size of kegs.
I think the receptionist may have called him Khal...

This is great news, not just for me, but for everyone who is going to be able to eat my food someday.

Because the thing is, the stuff that I love most is what I'm best at. And if I can get this one thing to move forward, this one thing to become a reality, it means that I will have a LOT more time to create new, beautiful, delicious foods, and make them on a scale that means many, many people will be able to enjoy them, all the time.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Welcome Summer!

Today is hot-hot-hot! I LOVE IT! Hooray and welcome, Lady Summer!

Today I am making a luscious Gazpacho.

Hello, I'm Luscious Gazpacho.

Oh, I have been craving this for weeks, but it's just not the same unless the world is sweltering outside when you get that first icy spoonful. You know what I mean? Gazpacho is THE soup for hot weather; all the vegetables and fresh herbs are in season and bursting with flavor. Over the years, my recipe has evolved tremendously.  I make a slightly less spicy Gazpacho than most restaurants: feeding a family with different tolerances for heat, anyone can shake a little hot sauce (or raw garlic paste) in, but once it's there, it can't come out!

I also don't top my Gazpacho with Sour Cream. Seriously, I have a pet peeve about this when I see this soup garnished this way in local restaurants, as if it's a Southwestern dish  - even more disappointing, places that do this? their Gazpacho usually seems like a watered down bowl of salsa. Blecch!  Gazpacho is from Andalusia, folks. There's enough culture and history and variations within that wonderous region of origin to keep any cook blissfully exploring for years, without mucking it up and trying to make it into "cowboy food". I do NOT want to see any jalapenos or habineros or chilies anywhere near Gazpacho. Ever.

Gazpacho is a dish that has deep historical roots, back to the ancient Moors and Romans conquering the area we know as Spain. Some versions of Gazpacho are even made with almonds,  melons, and other fruits. And they WORK. If it's a culinary cousin of anything, that would be another hot-weather personal favorite of mine, Panzanella. (If you have Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking - she has a great recipe for Panzanella. All of her recipes are fantastic. But back to Gazpacho...) It's odd, but of all the many, many recipes I delight to take in different directions, playing with the ingredients and preparation techniques, flavor profiles and cultural elements, when it comes to Gazpacho, I suddenly get all traditional and conservative. I do part of the soup by hand - no food processor to make the chopping faster. I'm incredibly nit-picky about not letting any damn bell pepper seeds into my soup making it bitter. I  use a blender for a small part of the soup brothy base... it's a wonderful time saver and I don't have a problem with the "frothiness factor" like I would with the mess a mortar and pestle make. The one thing I don't do which is traditional is put stale bread into the mixture.. but I always serve and this soup with generous amounts of crusty breads. There is a true marriage there that should be honored.

So, before I give you the recipe, let me explain the technique, so that the crazy ingredients list will make some sense. I promise, there's a method to my madness. The chunks of vegetables that you eat with your spoon should all be uniform, and it's better when you can get a bite of all of them at once on any spoonful - but that means you need to cut them into very small dice - not fine, not minced, but I go for about 1/4 inch cubes, without getting obsessive. (Oh, quit laughing. Really. I could be much worse.) I then coarse-chop more of the same vegetables to go in the blender to be pureed. My home KitchenAid blender had THE most powerful motor of all of the models I could find, and it wasn't cheap, but it isn't a professional kitchen blender (those run in the $450-$800 range). I'm careful about not overworking my blender, so I chop things up before they go in, and use plenty of liquid to get it all moving. To make the liquid "broth" part of the soup, I do it in two batches in the blender: the first is a puree of all the vegetables, plus olive oil, salt, pepper, red wine vinegar and Worcestershire sauce. The second is all my fresh herbs, lemon juice,  and the rest of the tomato juice. This way, you get all the favors combined in the broth. The two ingredients that don't get pureed are 1) the garlic - that gets minced down to paste, with kosher salt so that there are no chance of biting into an oversized chunk that the blender missed, and 2) the tomatoes. Since we are using tomato juice as the puree liquid, and it already has all the seeds and skins removed, there's no reason to make more work peeling and seeding tomatoes. One final thing: I like to refrigerate all of the ingredients before starting, so they are cold while I'm working with them.. that way chilling the made soup takes less time.

Liz's Half-Blendered Gazpacho
Makes 8-10 Servings


3 cloves fresh Garlic, pasted with Kosher Salt
1/2 med. Red Onion, fine chopped
1/4 med. Red Onion, rough chopped for blender
1 large Red Bell Pepper, seeded & de-ribbed, fine chopped
1 large Red Bell Pepper, seeded & de-ribbed, rough chopped for blender
1 1/2 Green Bell Pepper, seeded & de-ribbed, fine chopped
1/2 Green Bell Pepper, seeded & de-ribbed, rough chopped for blender
1 large Cucumber, peeled, seeded (seeds can go in blender), and fine chopped
1 large Cucumber, peeled, rough chopped for blender
3 large firm Roma Tomatoes, diced
1 64 oz. can Tomato Juice
2 tsp Worcestershire
1/4 cup Red Wine Vinegar
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/4 bunch fresh Italian Flat Leafed Parsley, plucked from stems
1 bunch fresh Basil, plucked from stems
1/2 bunch fresh Tarragon, plucked from stems
1 bunch fresh Chives, rough chopped for blender
Juice of 2 fresh lemons
Kosher Salt for garlic paste, and then to taste (about 2 tsp.)
Fresh ground Black Pepper, to taste (about 1/4 tsp.)

First make garlic paste by mincing the garlic as fine as possible, then, using small pinches of Kosher salt, work it with the side of your chef's knife into fine, even paste. Place in the bottom of large bowl. As you chop the rest of the vegetables, divide them, placing the fine chopped ones in the large bowl, and the rough chopped ones loosely in the blender carafe. To the blender carafe, add in the Worcestershire, Vinegar, Olive Oil, salt & pepper to taste, and then just enough tomato juice to cover. Cover with lid and puree until smooth. Pour into large bowl with the fine chopped vegetables. In the same blender carafe, then add the fresh herbs, lemon juice, and the rest of the tomato juice, and puree until smooth but not liquefied. Stir into the large bowl with the rest of the soup. Then stir the soup so that all of the vegetables, garlic paste, and broth get well-combined, and place either on a large bowl of ice, or refrigerate. Serve with large amounts of crusty bread, extra olive oil, and garnish either with shaved ice or ice cubes.

So... how 'bout that Food Porn? Here ya go!

Making fresh Garlic Paste, chop the garlic:

Chop. Chop. Chop. Chop. Chop.

No,... smaller!
 Good. Now, paste:
Mush, mush, mush SCRAPE! Mush, mush, mush, SCRAPE!
All pasted, and into the Big Bowl. Looks like more than 3 cloves doesn't it?

Now the rest of them:

LOOK at this gorgeous onion. It's almost too pretty to chop.

Almost. Heh.

Here's an idea of the sizes of the rough cut vs. the fine chop on the onions. Sorry the picture isn't great. Stopping, washing my hands, just to snap pictures between each step drives me crazy when I'm "in the zone" is really hard! (This is why I'm a chef, not a photographer)

The fine cut, in a small teaspoon - I thought this was a good gauge for size.

Ok, on to the cucumber! If you've never seeded a cuke before, here it is. Cucumber seeds aren't bitter like bell pepper seeds, and these were nice, fresh, "well-hydrated" ones, so I just tossed the pulp into the blender. No sense in wasting it if it tastes good.
You have NO idea how hard it is for a totally uncoordinated geek like myself to take a picture with one hand and hold a spoon in a cucumber with another. Seriously. There's a reason they don't let people like me do brain surgery, folks. Tip Jar's on the right. Just sayin'.
(Must not nibble the chopped veggies... must not nibble the chopped veggies...)
Slicing the cucumber into strips, before chopping.

The cucumbers are a lot softer than the onions and peppers, so they barely need to be chopped much at all for the blender:
(Crunch, crunch, crunch).. Ok, so maybe there's two slices less cucumber in the final soup than the recipe says. Shoot me.

Rubies, Emeralds, Jade, Amethysts and Pearls surrounded by Silver... treasures beyond measure in my kitchen.

And now, the soup practically makes itself. Puree #1: the veggies in the blender, before adding the Worcestershire, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and tomato juice... it's only about half the carafe, but it makes such a thicker, richer broth with the vegetables in, really helps the flavors marry.
Just enough to get it moving... save more juice for the herbs, they make the machine work harder.
Puree done! Notice the nice, bright color -- that's the cucumbers doing their job, and why I go heavy on the red peppers, but use barely any green peppers. When the fresh herbs get pureed, the result is very dark, so this helps the soup not look like swamp water.

Empty this out into the big bowl of fine chopped vegetables, give it a good stir, especially to get that garlic paste off the bottom. The soup already tastes good now, but don't adjust the salt just yet. Put your herbs into the same blender, with the fresh lemon juice and more tomato juice - you don't need to rinse out the carafe before doing Puree #2, it's all going to the same place.

Puree and add this all into the big bowl. Really stir it up well. NOW taste it, and you'll be glad that you used cold vegetables to make this - you get a better inkling of what it's going to be once it's really well chilled. Adjust the salt, but not too much, the flavors will come together even better after a day.

What? Oh, you were wondering about that "ice cube" eh? No big secret - throw a couple sprigs of leftover tarragon and some strips of lemon zest into a muffin tin, fill with water, freeze. If I was going to entertain, I'd take time to boil the water first to get crystal clear ice, I'd maybe add lemon juice and parsley leaves as well. A big pile of shaved ice or granita works well, too.