Smoked Gouda and Basil Pesto Grilled Cheese and Creamy Tomato Soup

It’s been a rainy — dare I say stormy? — weekend in San Diego, and this soup/sandwich combo was the perfect curl-up-on-the-couch comfort meal.

I love me a grilled cheese, and this version by Tyler Florence, from his “Stirring the Pot” cookbook, is pretty amazing. He calls for smoked mozzarella, which I substituted with smoked gouda, layered with a delicious traditional pesto, sandwiched between bread toasted up with butter in a pan. The nice, crispy crust on the bread, plus the smoky, oozy cheese with the contrast from the fresh pesto — it’s basically my perfect sandwich.

And what better than to dip this delicious sandwich in creamy tomato soup?

I’ve never been a fan of the canned tomato soup. In fact, I didn’t even think I liked tomato soup until I tried a real, homemade one. What a discovery! This one by Rachael Ray is possibly the easiest one I’ve ever made. Big winner. It’s simple but has great flavor.

TW’s Tips

  • I used a yummy gourmet bread (I think it was sundried tomato/spinach or something) instead of plain white bread
  • Make extra pesto and use it later in the week for ravioli or put it on top of some salmon. Yum.
  • Dip the sandwich in the soup as you eat it. Obviously.

Smoked Gouda and Basil Pesto Grilled Cheese

Ingredients

  • 4 slices white sandwich bread
  • 4 slices smoked mozzarella (I used gouda)
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Pesto:

  • 2 cups fresh basil
  • 1 cup fresh Italian parsley
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
  • 3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

To make pesto combine pesto ingredients in a food processor and pulse until well combined but still has a rough texture.

Assemble sandwich by smearing insides of bread slices with pesto.  Arrange a layer of mozzarella and season with a few turns of fresh pepper.  Layer the mozzarella slices over the top and then place the bread over to make the sandwich.  Set a large sauté pan over medium heat and add butter.  Add sandwich and cook 2-3 minutes per side until golden brown and crispy.  Remove from pan and rub toasted bread with garlic.

Creamy Tomato Soup

Ingredients

  • 2 (15-ounce) containers, chicken or vegetable stock/broth (preferred brand: Kitchen Basics)
  • 1 (28-ounce) can concentrated crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • Coarse salt and black pepper
  • 20 leaves fresh basil, cut into chiffonade, for garnish

Directions

Combine broth and tomatoes in a medium saucepan over moderate heat. When soup bubbles, stir in heavy cream and reduce heat to low. Season with a little salt and pepper and simmer gently 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. With an immersion blender, puree soup. Serve bowls of soup with basil chiffonade.

Pan-Roasted Sirloin with Salad of Arugula, Sweet Peppers, and Olives

I’ve been MIA from the blogosphere lately, and I’m sad to say it’s not because I’ve been cooking up a storm. A combination of friends/parents in town and lots and lots of work has had me sidelined for a bit. But I’m back with a really tasty, flavorful salad that I made for dinner with my friend Kim a couple of weeks ago for our weekly Bachelor-watching night. Yes, I realize The Bachelor is trash TV, but that doesn’t stop me from watching it, if just to berate both bachelors and bachelorettes for poor behavior from the comfort of my own couch. While eating yummy food. And drinking yummy wine.

This is a Tyler Florence salad, and I’ve found he’s a winner when it comes to combining really strong flavors into one dish that packs some punch. This is one of those. We’ve got medium rare steak. We’ve got sweet roasted red peppers. We’ve got salty olives. And some pungent blue cheese, all over a bed of spicy, peppery arugula. Top it with a vinaigrette made from the pan juices and some lemon juice for some tang, and this salad’s got it nailed. And it’s pretty healthy, too!

TW’s Tips

  • Don’t feel beholden to a New York strip — any steak will do.
  • Roasting the red peppers is a skill. My broiler works really well because it’s the drawer kind and the peppers are really close to the heat source. The key is to really char and blister them, so the skin peels off easily, but it’s easier said than done. Once they’re blistered and have steamed under the plastic wrap, rub the skin off using a paper towel instead of your fingers. Don’t obsess about getting every single bit off. Some parts won’t come off, and it’s not the end of the world.
  • Use good blue cheese, not the pre-crumbled kind, and you’ll be happy.
  • Serve with a nice baguette.
  • This makes awesome leftovers. Just don’t dress the whole salad so it won’t get soggy.

Pan-Roasted Sirloin with Salad of Arugula, Sweet Peppers, and Olives

Salad Ingredients

  • 2 red bell peppers
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup mixed whole black and green olives, such as kalamata and Picholine
  • 1 bunch baby arugula, trimmed
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 4 ounces blue cheese, crumbled

Steak Ingredients

  • 2 New York strip steaks, 8 to 10 ounces each, about 1 1/2 inches thick
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 1/2 cup dry red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar

Directions

Start by preparing the peppers because they will take the longest. Preheat the broiler. Pull out their cores, then halve the peppers lengthwise, and remove the ribs and seeds. Toss the peppers with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper. Place them on a cookie sheet, skin side up, and broil for 10 minutes until really charred and blistered. Put the peppers into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let steam for about 10 minutes to loosen the skins. In the meantime, move on to the steaks.

Switch the oven from broil to bake and set the temperature to 350°F. Season both sides of the steaks with sea salt and a generous amount of coarsely ground black pepper, about 1 tablespoon of pepper per steak. Place a cast-iron (or regular ovenproof) skillet over medium-high heat. Coat the bottom of the pan with a 2-count drizzle of olive oil and get it smoking hot. Add the steaks and sear for 4 minutes on each side. Throw in the thyme, then transfer the skillet to the hot oven and roast the steaks for 5 minutes for a nice medium-rare (120 to 125°F. internal temperature).

While that’s going, pull the loosened skins off the peppers; cut the peppers into nice fat strips and toss them with the olives. Set aside because the steaks should be ready now. Remove the steaks to a cutting board and let them rest for a few minutes before slicing. (This keeps the juices in the meat, not running all over the counter.)

The last thing to make is a quick vinaigrette using the flavors left in the bottom of the skillet. Pour out some of the beef fat and return the pan to the stove. Add the red wine and boil over medium heat while scraping with a wooden spoon to pull the flavors up. Let the wine reduce to 1/4 cup; this will intensify the flavor. Add the sugar and a 1-count of olive oil to balance it out.

Putting it all together is a snap. Cut the steaks on an angle into slices. Gently toss the peppers and olives with the arugula. Drizzle the salad with a little more olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Toss lightly again and then divide between 2 plates. Arrange the steak slices on top of the salad and garnish with the crumbled blue cheese; then drizzle the pan vinaigrette over the steak salads and serve.

The Ultimate Spaghetti Carbonara

If you’ve ever had spaghetti carbonara at a restaurant, chances are it wasn’t that good — except if you were in Italy. In fact, it doesn’t even sound that good at first, especially the way it is usually described on a menu. Spaghetti with bacon, eggs and cheese. (Eggs? Huh?)
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Well, please get with the program. This is a case where the simple becomes the divine. If this “ultimate” spaghetti carbonara by Tyler Florence doesn’t convince you…well, you need to go to Italy. Stat.
Spaghetti carbonara is a creamy, salty, peppery plate of pasta — the egg cooks in the hot pasta and creates this wonderful sauce unlike any pasta sauce you’ve ever had. And the al dente pasta, the salty cheese, the freshness of the parsley, the crunch of the bacon — it’s so simple you wouldn’t believe it could pack in so much flavor. Plus, it’s one of those dishes where you might just have everything you need to make it in your fridge. What’s better than that?
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TW’s Tips
  • I halved this recipe — a pound of pasta is just too much unless I’m cooking for company.
  • Sorry Tyler, but 7-8 minutes is not enough time to caramelize onions. Take it slow and cook them for 20-25.
  • I wasn’t happy with the way the bacon and onion cooked together. The bacon didn’t crisp up enough, and the onions browned too much if I turned up the heat. Instead, cook the bacon first without cutting it up and crumble it when it’s crispy, and cook the onions in the bacon fat. Yup, this recipe is not low fat.
  • Use lots and lots of fresh cracked pepper.
  • Use good, freshly grated Parmesan. You can get a huge wedge at Costco and it lasts forever since it’s such a hard cheese. Believe me, you will never go back to the pre-shredded, flavorless stuff. It’s expensive but less expensive than buying bag after bag of shredded whenever you need it.
The Ultimate Spaghetti Carbonara
Directions
  • Kosher salt
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 8 bacon slices, sliced crosswise into thin strips
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 large eggs
  • 6 tbs heavy cream
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 lb spaghetti
  • Cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped flat leaf parsley

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil for the spaghetti.

Heat a 3-count of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the bacon and onion and cook for 7-8 minutes, until the onion is carmelized and the bacon crisp. While that’s going, crack the eggs into a big bowl. Add the cream and cheese and whisk. Scrape the bacon and onion with the cooking fat into the bowl.

Throw the spaghetti into the boiling water and cook until it’s al dente. Scoop out about 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid and add it to the bowl with the egg and bacon.

Drain the spaghetti, add it to the bowl, and give everything a good toss. Invert a plate on top of the bowl to hold in the heat and let the pasta set for 5 minutes. Remove the plate, toss in some salt, pepper, and parsley, and boom: You’ve got spaghetti carbonara!

Herb & Lemon-Roasted Chicken with Smashed Broccoli and Garlic

My post-farmers market trip on Sunday resulted in this delicious dinner I cooked for my BFF Melissa, courtesy of Tyler Florence: Herb & Lemon-Roasted Chicken with Smashed Broccoli and Garlic. The more I cook from Tyler Florence, the more I love him. This came from his “Real Kitchen” cookbook.

Tyler calls for marinating the chicken for at least five hours in an herb-infused oil — which made the chicken super tender and juicy. Yum. Add in the lemon slice and herbs you tuck under the skin before roasting, and the meat is exploding with flavor.

I was a little skeptical of the smashed broccoli, because I tend to like my vegetables al dente. But this turned out amazingly — I will definitely be making it again. It was super flavorful, and the yogurt mixed in at the last minute gave it a great tang. I didn’t even mind it being a little “smashed.”

TW’s Tips

  • I didn’t have bone-in chicken breasts on-hand, so I used chicken thighs, and it worked great. Just put one lemon slice under the skin per thigh.
  • Sauteing the chicken got rather splatter-y given the oil marinade and additional oil in the pan, plus the fat from the skin. If you have one of those handy splatter screens you set over a pan, highly recommend you use. Those things are awesome.
  • The thighs took longer to cook through than stated. Give them a little extra time.
  • I skipped the pan sauce because I was starving after cooking the chicken longer than I expected. And it was still delish. So if you want to save some time, go this route.
  • Putting the broccoli in a food processor didn’t work so well. It was pretty thick so I had to keep stirring it up to get it moving. If you have an immersion blender, you’ll save some hassle.

Here’s the recipe…have at it!

Herb & Lemon-Roasted Chicken with Smashed Broccoli and Garlic
1 1/4 hours to make + 5 hours to marinate                                                                             Serves 2

Chicken

  • 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Zest of 1 lemon, peeled in big strips
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • 4 fresh thyme sprigs
  • 2 fresh rosemary sprigs
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
  • 1 lemon, sliced in paper-thin circles
  • 2 bone-in chicken breasts, 8 ounces each, skin on
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken stock
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Broccoli

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 5 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 bunch broccoli, about 1 pound, including stems, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Start by marinating the chicken because it will take the longest. To infuse the oil with flavor and create a base for the marinade, combine the olive oil with the lemon zest, garlic, thyme, rosemary, and bay leaves in a small pot and place over very low heat. You don’t want to fry the herbs, just steep them like you’re making tea. When the oil begins to simmer, shut off the heat and let it stand for 10 minutes. Pour the fragrant oil, solid pieces and all, into a bowl and put it in the refrigerator to cool.

Combine the chopped chives, parsley, and tarragon in a small bowl. Stuff 2 lemon slices under the skin of each chicken breast, along with half of the mixed chopped herbs. Put the chicken in a resealable food storage bag and pour in the cool herb oil, turning to coat really well. Toss in the remaining half of the chopped herbs, seal the bag, and refrigerate at least 5 hours or as long as all day.

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before cooking so it won’t be too cold when it goes into the pan; cold chicken takes longer to cook. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Put a cast-iron (or regular ovenproof) skillet over medium heat. Drizzle the bottom of the pan with a 2-count of olive oil and heat until almost smoking; this will keep the chicken from sticking. Season the chicken with a fair amount of salt and pepper and put it in the pan, skin side down. Cook for 5 minutes or until the skin begins to set and crisp. Flip the chicken and brown another 5 minutes. Flip it yet again, so the skin side is down, and transfer the entire pan to the oven. You want the chicken to render its fat and the skin to crisp up. Roast the chicken for 20 to 25 minutes or until cooked through. While that’s in the oven, move on to the broccoli.

Heat the olive oil in a medium pot; add the red pepper flakes and garlic. Throw in the broccoli and toss to coat in the garlic and oil. Pour in the chicken stock, cover, and let the broccoli steam for 10 minutes. When it is quite soft, pulse the broccoli a few times in a food processor, or better yet, use a handheld blender if you have one. The broccoli should be partly smooth and partly chunky. Stir in the yogurt to give the broccoli some body and season with salt and pepper.

Transfer the chicken to a platter and keep it warm while preparing the pan sauce. Pour out all but 1 tablespoon of the rendered chicken fat and return the skillet to the stovetop. Add the chicken stock and lemon juice and cook over medium heat, scraping up the flavors with a wooden spoon. Cook the liquid down to a syrup, about 5 minutes. Stir in the butter to smooth out the sauce and turn off the heat.

Spoon the smashed broccoli onto 2 plates, lay the chicken on top, and drizzle with the pan sauce. This is comfort food!