Up until I was a senior in high school, I had helped my mom in the kitchen when I had to. The usual things... chopping this, tossing a salad, making sandwiches, frying up taco shells, making the garlic butter mix for garlic bread and stirring now and then. My mom is a good cook but not experimental too too often. It was all fairly standard things. Oh and there was that one chocolate mousse for French class. But my sisters and I all like to bake cookies and cakes. Mostly so we could eat them! I baked A LOT of cookies in high school! I made them for friends, for fun, for boyfriends, for teachers and for the whole football team!
I am not sure exactly what inspired the decision to cook my first WHOLE meal. At the time I had a serious boyfriend who I loved dearly. His parents and siblings were going to be gone for an entire evening. Now being the good Catholic kids we were (HEY, I am serious! We happened to be the type that actually DID NOT go against the rules or not much anyway), we didn't think of "monkey business". Somehow, we decided or I wanted to make a romantic dinner for him.
My aunts and mother helped inspire the menu based on what we really liked and what they thought wouldn't be too complicated for me. Except the cheesecake. At this time I can't remember if I made the cheesecake at home or over at his parents house. I do remember we were there early in the day and did the grocery shopping together. I felt like such the "couple". The menu was chicken piccata, rice, some vegetable I forget, salad and cheesecake. And do you know what? It came out great! All of it. I mean it may not have been the best I'd ever had but hey, for my first dinner by myself?
Now let's skip off to college. Freshman and sophomore year I lived in a dorm. We made quesadillas and burritos there with our IRON! They were actually great by the way. But nothing was interesting until junior year or senior year. By then I was declared as an art major. My close friend had always cooked with her mom. While they too mostly baked, she also made a lot of pasta dishes. So she and I would bake together and started making more than burritos for dinner and experimenting a little. We started preferring wine to beer or cocktails by senior year too. Often we would paint and sculpt all day and then go home and cook and drink wine and sometimes use the wine in the food. Then go back to the studios and create some more. Good memories. Good times. After graduation, I then dated her brother for about a nano-second. He had dropped out of cooking school in San Francisco and was staying in Santa Barbara for a while. I was in awe with his abilities. Then I started working at a French restaurant. Ohhhh yeah. That was cool.
I think I got my Bon Appetit subscription around that time as a graduation gift from a relative. I started dabbling. By the time I was 25, I was living on Balboa Island and jumping from job to job and cooking more and more. Sometimes just for myself. I loved it. I also started watching Emeril and the cooking channel then. At that time when I wanted a recipe, I had to either send in a SASE (self addressed stamped envelope) or madly write it down. I have a few copies of the later still in a box of recipes. It is funny. I can barely read it. By 30, most who met me knew two things right off the bat. "This girl likes food and wine!" Then came into play another boyfriend. He was happy to eat any experiment I might put before him as were his friends. I had always favored doing sauces as there was room for play and measuring wasn't imperative. Then came the soups. I was making soup right and left for a year or so. And with roommates, a boyfriend and his MANY friends, there were plenty of people to help eat it. They all said they loved it. And since I rarely had left overs I believed them. I was experimenting and making a lot of "everything but the kitchen sink" soups. Or what I called "Mother Hubbard's Cupboard Soup." Just when we thought there was absolutely nothing to eat in the house, I would somehow whip up a soup to satisfy many. It was fun. It was challenging. It was at the height of the Seinfeld show and its popularity too. So as you can imagine, I got the nickname, "Soup Nazi" for a while!
After that life took a few twists, some turns. I went through short period in which I didn't cook too much because I was so busy. But rest assured. This was a time of going out and dining well often. Good food was no stranger for me. It was a fun time. And I started getting some VERY good wine! Then the kids came and a picky husband and little time. Cooking wasn't as often and soups? Almost never.
Now as you can see, cooking is back in full force and as of this fall, so are soups! The soup Nazi is back folks! And I've got a new creation.
Now I am not sure what to call it though. Maybe you can help. It is definitely a Southwestern flavor with some heat. I was in the mood for something in the Mexican family and so I pulled out the trusty stock pot and started dumping stuff in. But this time, I actually considered each ingredient as I did it and guess what? I actually wrote it all down for you (and for me).
Spicy Baja Bisque -- A Southwestern Soup
2 tbls. butter
1 leek chopped
1/2 onion chopped
5 cloves of garlic chopped
1 1/2 jalapeno diced
3-4 whole tomatoes
1 roasted red bell pepper
1 4-oz. can of diced green chiles
1 4-oz. can corn
32 oz. chicken broth
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. Cholula seasoning (available on the spice aisle or Mexican aisle of supermarket)
Juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup tequila
1 cup heavy cream
In a large stockpot melt the butter and add the leek, onion, garlic and jalapeno. Continue to saute until soft and onion is translucent. Add the tomato, roasted red bell pepper, chiles, corm chicken broth, cumin and Cholula and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1/2 and hour or so. Remove from heat and puree in batches or using and immersion blender until smooth. Return to pot. Add the lime juice and tequila and bring to gentle boil. Add the cream and let boil gently again. Reduce it to simmer and allow the flavors to meld for at least 20 minutes. I often keep soups on the stove for an hour or more on low. Keep an eye on the consistency. If it is really getting thick, remove it from the heat or add more cream or chicken stock. If it seems to thin, let it reduce some. Add salt, pepper and more lime juice to taste.
On this evening I chose to garnish the soup with grilled shrimp and a jalapeno, cilantro lime oil. Unfortunately I didn't write down all those ingredients exactly which is a shame because the flavor was phenomenal but here is what I think I put in the oil.
Jalapeno Cilantro Lime Oil
1 small avocado or 1/2 large avocado
1 large handful of cilantro
juice of 1/2 lime (maybe more)
1-2 garlic cloves
1/8 cup or more vegetable oil
In a food processor add the first 5 ingredients until smooth and combined. It will probably be thick and hard to get the cilantro smooth at this point. Begin slowly adding the vegetable oil and possibly more lime (depending on taste preferences) until you get the consistency you like and it is completely smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.
Ladle the soup into bowls and drizzle the jalapeno cilantro lime oil on top. Garnish with grilled shrimp, chicken, corn chips or diced vegetables.
I made homemade flour tortillas for the side with butter and salsa. I found the recipe for these on Orangette. They were delicious and the perfect accompaniment. I also topped with some crumbled tortilla chips for crunch.
My take on the new soup? Good. Very good. It is worth making again for sure. My mom? Mmmm this is good. It is kind of spicy. We like spicy. My dad? After he ate 3 bowls of it, said, "This is pretty good." Not a man with a lot of words mind you. Now should you try it too? YES! And please, help me think of a good name for this. Any and all ideas are welcome.
Ideas on the top of my head:
Spicy Southwestern Soup with cilantro oil
Mexican cream of tomato and jalapeno soup
Southwestern Kitchen Sink Soup
Drunken cream of tomato jalapeno soup with cilantro lime oil
Oh it is late. I don't know. What are your thoughts?
A couple days later I topped the soup with pepper jack cheese, guacamole, tortilla chips and a quickie made-up stuffed jalapeno. There are a ton of things that can top this soup. Have fun with it. I sure did!