Tomato Bisque with Crispy Mozzarella Cubes

Tomato Bisque | Pinky's Pantr
Today was a scary day at work. I arrived at the office to be greeted with the news that our Vice President had called an impromptu “Organizational Announcement” meeting. Everyone was to report to the meeting at 9 a.m. sharp. The VP’s announcement was that they were going to be outsourcing some of our jobs and some people would be laid off at the end of this year. So sad. It’s hard to understand the business decision to cut costs by sending our work abroad, but it’s harder to accept when good, hardworking employees of long standing are laid off without a qualm. I’m one of the lucky ones who gets to keep her job but my heart breaks for my friends who don’t.

I think comfort food is called for tonight. And what could be more comforting than a yummy bowl of tomato soup? Add a grilled cheese sandwich and you’re instantly transported back to those carefree childhood days when it seemed like nothing could go wrong. This soup is delicious and very easy to make. Instead of grilled cheese sandwiches, I gave it a different touch by making Crispy Mozzarella Cubes to serve with it. Yum! Now if only the job situation at work were as easy to fix. Sigh…..

TOMATO BISQUE

  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes in puree
  • 1½ cups chicken broth
  • 3 tbsp. honey
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper, to taste (optional)
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley (optional)
  1. In a medium pot, heat the oil.
  2. Add the onion and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until translucent.
  3. Add the garlic and thyme, stirring until fragrant.
  4. Add the tomatoes, broth, and honey, and stir together well.
  5. Season with salt and pepper if desired, and bring to a boil over high heat.
  6. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer about 15 minutes, stirring frequently.
  7. Remove and discard thyme sprigs.
  8. Puree soup with an immersion blender. If you want it chunky, puree only half the soup.
  9. Stir in the cream, adjust the seasonings, and continue to cook for another minute or two.
  10. Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with parsley, if desired.

CRISPY MOZZARELLA CUBES

  • 1 block of mozzarella cheese (size depends on how many cubes you want to make)
  • flour
  • egg
  • panko bread crumbs
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  1. Heat 2 inches of canola oil in a deep frying pan on the stove.
  2. Cut mozzarella cheese into cubes as small or large as you like. I like a good-sized cube so I cut them about 1½ inches big.
  3. Place about 1 cup flour in a pie plate and season lightly with a little salt and pepper.
  4. Beat 1 egg in a shallow bowl and season lightly with a little more salt and pepper.
  5. Place about 1 cup panko bread crumbs in another pie plate.
  6. Take a mozzarella cube and coat it first in flour, then egg, and finally bread crumbs. Repeat with remaining cubes. If you run out of flour or bread crumbs, just add more, and beat another egg if you need to.
  7. Carefully drop each coated mozzarella cube into hot oil.
  8. Deep fry until golden brown.
  9. Transfer briefly to paper towel lined plate to drain.
  10. Serve hot.
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BLT Salad

BLT Salad | Pinky's Pantry
My friend, Pooh, told me about this salad that she and her daughter tried making for dinner one night. It was from a Williams Sonoma cookbook and it sounded really good so I decided that I would try it, too. The salad ingredients were delicious, but I didn’t care too much for the dressing so I altered it to come up with a creamy dressing that was more to my liking. The family liked it better with my dressing, too.

BLT SALAD
(Serves 4)

  • 1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 8 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 cups croutons, homemade or store bought
  • ½ cup mayonnaise
  • 2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp. grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • ¼ tsp. pepper
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  2. Spread out the bacon pieces on a rimmed baking sheet.
  3. Bake the bacon pieces until crisp, about 12-15 minutes.
  4. When the bacon pieces are ready, remove them from the oven and transfer to paper towels to drain and cool.
  5. Make the dressing by combining mayonnaise, lemon juice, parmesan cheese, garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper in a bowl, and blending until well-combined.
  6. Place the lettuce, tomatoes, bacon, and croutons into a large salad bowl.
  7. Drizzle with dressing and toss to mix well.
  8. Serve immediately.

VARIATION:  You could make a BLTA salad, as pictured below, by adding one avocado to the recipe. Cut the avocado into cubes, squeeze a little lemon juice over the cubes to keep them from darkening, and then toss the avocado into your salad. Yum!
BLTA Salad | Pinky's Pantry

[Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Cooking Together, by Erin & Tatum Quon (Oxmoor House, 2009)]

Insalata di Caprese (Caprese Salad)

Insalata Caprese | Pinky's PantryInsalata di Caprese (or Capri-style salad) is a simple and refreshing salad made with just three basic ingredients – tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and basil. It epitomizes the healthy, fresh flavors of Mediterranean cuisine. It’s great served as a starter course or as an accompaniment to grilled chicken or fish.

I don’t have any measurements for the ingredients to this salad. You don’t really need them. Just slice however many tomatoes you want to serve, then make sure you have an equal number of slices of mozzarella cheese and basil leaves so you can layer or stack them. Easy, quick and delicious, especially when you use fresh, juicy, homegrown tomatoes.

I love making this salad with a balsamic reduction which I make myself. If you don’t want to make the balsamic reduction, you could just use a nice balsamic vinegar. But try the reduction, if you can. Believe me, it’ll elevate your salad to new heights!

INSALATA DI CAPRESE

  • fresh homegrown or vine-ripened tomatoes
  • fresh buffalo mozzarella cheese
  • large, whole fresh basil leaves
  • good olive oil
  • balsamic reduction or balsamic vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  1. Slice the tomatoes crosswise into 1/4-inch thick rounds.
  2. Slice the buffalo mozzarella cheese into 1/4-inch thick slices.
  3. Lay the tomato slices on a big platter. Sprinkle them with salt and pepper.
  4. Alternate each tomato slice with a slice of mozzarella and a basil leaf. You could also make stacks of tomato, mozzarella and basil, if you prefer.
  5. Drizzle olive oil over everything, then drizzle with balsamic reduction.
  6. Let rest at least 10 minutes before serving to give the flavors time to meld.

NOTE:  You could also make a Mini Caprese Salad using grape or cherry tomatoes and little bocconcini mozzarella as pictured below. Just cut the tomatoes and the bocconcini in half, julienne the fresh basil leaves, and toss everything together with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Don’t forget to season with a little salt and pepper.
Caprese Salad | Pinky's Pantry

Tomato Bacon Canapés

Tomato Bacon Canapes | Pinky's PantryAll the uproar over Paula Deen made me think of her Tomato Bacon Canapes. I watched her make these on her show “Paula’s Home Cooking” on the Food Network years ago. I tried it at home and have made it several times since then. It’s delicious, albeit not exactly diet-friendly. If you’re looking for a low-fat appetizer, this isn’t it but it’s so good that you just won’t care. Who doesn’t love a BLT sandwich? This has all the ingredients of a classic BLT and then some! It’s delicious and is great for the occasional cocktail party. It’s easy to make and I have to admit, every last one has been wolfed down each time I’ve served it!

NOTE:  I didn’t have mini phyllo shells when I made the canapés pictured, so I used regular phyllo sheets that I cut into little squares and pressed into mini muffin cups. I layered 2 little squares into each muffin cup, brushing each layer with a little melted butter, and then prebaked them at 350º for about 8 minutes until they were a pale golden brown before proceeding with the canapé recipe. You could save yourself some work by buying the ready-to-use mini phyllo shells but if they’re unavailable in your area, just cut regular phyllo dough sheets into little squares like I did.Tomato Bacon Canapes | Pinky's Pantry

TOMATO BACON CANAPÉS

  • 1 pkg. mini phyllo shells
  • ¾ cup finely diced tomatoes
  • 2 tsp. finely diced onions
  • 1 tsp. finely chopped fresh basil leaves
  • ½ tsp. Paula Deen’s house seasoning (see recipe below)
  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • ½ cup packed shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 2-3 strips of bacon, fried crisp and finely crumbled
  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Place the diced tomatoes in a colander or sieve.
  3. Sprinkle with the onion, basil and house seasoning, and toss to coat.
  4. Allow to drain, stirring occasionally.
  5. Fill each phyllo shell with a scant tablespoon of the tomato mixture.
  6. Stir together the mayonnaise and mozzarella.
  7. Frost the top of each shell with a scant tablespoon of the mayonnaise-mozzarella mixture.
  8. Top each shell with a little crumbled bacon.
  9. Bake the filled shells for 10-12 minutes.
  10. Serve hot.

PAULA DEEN’S HOUSE SEASONING:

  • 1 cup salt
  • ¼ cup black pepper
  • ¼ cup garlic powder

Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container for up to 6 months.

Fresh Corn Salad

Fresh Corn Salad | Pinky's PantryI love corn. I love it boiled, baked, grilled, on the cob, off the cob, plain, or with butter and seasonings. Any way you fix it, it’s all yummy to me. And I found a really easy way to shuck corn that gets rid of every bit of silk, too. You can watch how to do it here. Who knew?

I first tried this salad at a party at my sister’s house. It was made by Nadja, a friend of my sister, who got the original recipe from Epicurious. It’s easy and delicious. The lime juice imparts a bright flavor that’s so refreshing on a hot summer’s day. It’s no wonder this tasty salad has fast become a family favorite.
Fresh Corn Salad | Pinky's Pantry

FRESH CORN SALAD

  • 2 cups cooked corn kernels, cut from cob
  • 1 avocado, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1/2 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 2 tbsp. olive oil
  • juice of 1 whole lime
  • grated lime zest from the lime
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. pepper
  1. Combine corn, avocado, tomatoes, red onion and cilantro in a large bowl.
  2. In another bowl, mix together the rest of the ingredients to make the dressing.
  3. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss gently.

P.S. – You’re right, there is NO avocado in the salads pictured. I completely forgot to add the avocado before I took the photos and after I tossed the avocado in, the family devoured the salad before I could take new pictures. Sigh…. Oh well…. You get the picture (pun intended).

Tomato Pie

Someone at work gave me a bag full of gorgeous heirloom tomatoes from her garden. They were ripe, firm, and delicious. Is it any wonder that the French have referred to tomatoes as “pommes d’amour or love apples?

Actually, up until about the end of the 18th century, people believed tomatoes were poisonous. It wasn’t until 1808 that a Colonel Robert Gibbon Johnson of Salem, New Jersey proved everyone wrong. The story goes that he stood on the steps of the Salem courthouse and ate a whole basket of tomatoes in front of a crowd of people who were convinced he was trying to commit suicide in public. When he didn’t die or even get sick, people changed their minds about the lowly tomato. So let’s hear it for Colonel Johnson! Without him, we may never have had delicious dishes like this Tomato Pie.

This dish is a yummy, Southern favorite. If you want, you could cut down the fat by using reduced-fat mayonnaise and reduced-fat cheese, or you could try lessening the topping to 1/2 cup mayonnaise and 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese. It’s less rich, but still delicious. Ask my daughter, Yissi. She loves Tomato Pie!

TOMATO PIE

  • 1 single pie crust (can use ready-made refrigerated crust)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese, optional
  • 4 medium tomatoes, thickly sliced
  • 2 tbsp. chopped fresh basil leaves (or 1 tsp. dried)
  • 3 green onions, thinly sliced (or 1/4 small yellow onion, diced)
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
  • salt and pepper
  1. Place tomatoes in a colander, toss with about 1/2 tsp. salt and allow to drain for 20 minutes or so.
  2. Preheat oven to 400°F.
  3. Pre-bake pie crust until light brown, about 8-10 minutes.
  4. Remove crust from oven and lower oven temperature to 350°F.
  5. If desired, sprinkle bottom of crust with parmesan cheese.
  6. Lightly pat the tomato slices dry with a paper towel and layer them over the parmesan cheese in the crust.
  7. Top with basil and green onion.
  8. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  9. In a bowl, stir together the mayonnaise and mozzarella.
  10. Dollop mayonnaise mixture on top of tomatoes and smooth to edges of crust.
  11. Bake 30 minutes or until topping is golden brown.
  12. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

NOTE:  If you want your pie to be juicy, omit Step 1 and just use your tomatoes as is.