Lasagna Soup

Sometimes I like to dream the impossible like pretending to be king of the world while standing on the edge of a giant ship yelling out at the top of my lungs, “I’m king of the world,” while sailing the Atlantic en route to hit an iceberg…wait…that’s not my life. Sometimes I like to dream the impossible like boarding a space shuttle with only one destination in mind, an asteroid. Navigating the depths of outer space, my crew and I having to drill through a massive lethal rock with hopes of saving the world…actually that’s not my life either. Sometimes I like to dream the impossible like combining two of my favorite dishes. A pasta classic and a warming soup. A comfort food meets comfort food sort of situation, can you blame me? There comes a time in everyone’s life when we have to make the difficult decision of choosing one or the other, but you know what I say to that? I say, why choose, when you can have both mashed together into one delicious, mouth watering meal? I say, why burden yourself with such a task impossible of accomplishing? The thought of having to choose only one makes me sad beyond words. We shouldn’t have to settle. We should be given the opportunity to have both, soup and lasagna. But not in the form of two separate dishes in one sitting because that sort of seems gluttonous to me. I mean come on, I’m not that crazy.

I’ll let you in on a little secret—because it’s my blog and I can do whatever I want, but also because I feel like we’re at that point in our relationship where I can be completely honest. Truth is, I’ve been sitting in front of my computer for hours. Just staring at the screen without knowing what else to write. What else to share with you this time around. My mind keeps drawing a blank and I can’t understand why. Sure music is playing and I continue to get distracted, singing out loud the songs with a microphone. I’m only kidding, it’s not really a microphone but a pen I found on my desk. I won’t, however, admit to you that I’m constantly spinning around in my chair like if I’m on a ride at an amusement park, as I yell out “Whooooo whooooo!” That totally never happened. I have the excitement of a teenager, bubbling inside my stomach, about to go on a promising first date, but I think that’s solely because of how much I’ve fallen in love with this post. Not only the recipe itself but also the images. These images I’ll classify, and will go down in my head, as my best work to date, and I’m proud of that. I can’t help but look back to where I was when I first started this blog to where I am now. A few years have passed and I’m more and more excited with each passing post. Not to mention I’m a little wiser and a little older. Let’s not talk about it.

With each new recipe I share with you, I get the sensation that we’re growing together. We’re getting to know each other (really, you’re getting to know me more than I’m getting to know you). And do you want to know something? I rather enjoy it. Sometimes I can’t contain myself and all I want to do is share my work with you just as soon as I can, much like with this recipe. This post is the first one in a really long time where I’ve wished I could work faster so that I can put it up as quickly as possible so you can enjoy it right away. I hope you do enjoy it and not only because I enjoy it but because it’s a good one. Too good, I find. But if there is one thing my mamma taught me—she actually taught me a lot of things but this one thing fits perfectly in such a scenario—it’s that you can never have too much of a good thing. Just like you can never have too much of lasagna in soup form, and that’s a fact.

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Caprese Panini and Roasted Tomato Soup

I have the craziest soup stories of when I was a child. Nothing out of this world crazy, like all I ever wanted to eat as a kid was soup or anything like that. This is a whole other level of crazy. This kind of weirdness I blame on my mother, and now of course I’m sure my mom is somewhere reading this thinking, “Oh naturally, the mothers are always the first to get blamed.” But the truth of the matter is that this is in fact her fault. Where should I begin? I guess I should start from the beginning and when I get to the end, I’ll stop. You should know that I only like eating soup on the hottest days of the year. No that’s not a typo, you read that right. The hottest days of the year. That’s when I want a steaming bowl of soup the most. Not on cold rainy days, like normal people; no I crave soup when the sun is blazing and when we’re all wearing nothing but shorts and tanks. When it’s so hot outside and you’ll do anything to cool off, that’s when I want soup. In the worst possible way. When you’re drenched in sweat because it’s so freaking hot and when the last thing you’ll want to do is eat soup, that’s when I’ll want nothing but soup.

So where does my mother come into this picture? How is it her fault you ask? Well she would only make soup for us on the hottest days of the year. We’re talking about full-on big pot of soup boiling away on the stove while the sun is baking the world outside. I’d be playing in the backyard while my mother cooked, and I remember staring up and seeing the windows full of condensation and steaming from the heat radiating not only outside but inside as well. I knew she was making soup. We all knew. Her reasoning behind it—and to this day I have the same reasoning now because of her—is that the heat from the soup will cool you off. Heat cancels off heat. I’m not sure if and how that works but somehow it made sense. I didn’t question it, and if there was anything I learned as a kid, it was that mothers are always right. Write that down.

So there I was, little ol’ young me drinking my hot soup on a hot day not knowing that something was off. Thinking that every kid ate soup on scorching sunny days. Totally normal. Of course I ate the soup without hesitation because if I’m being honest, it’s the best soup I’ve ever eaten. My mom makes really great soup and I’m not just saying this because I’m throwing her under the bus here.  Now that I’m older I’ve come to the realization that hot summer soups, isn’t a thing. No matter how much my mom wishes it were. So for those of you who love soup during the cold seasons—what an odd thing to crave on cold days really—I decided to make a soup post. Much like everything in life, soup is a lot better with a side of bread. Bread wasn’t enough for me though so I decided to make this soup with a side of a sandwich. An accompaniment of a sandwich wasn’t sufficient enough for me however, so I decided to serve the soup alongside a panini. A boring panini wasn’t going to cut it, so I stuffed this one with lots of fresh mozzarella and tomatoes and a homemade basil spread that is super addicting.  Although soup is only tasty when it is served in the summer (thanks mom) I’m willing to overlook that little tidbit because this soup and sandwich combo is up there on the deliciousness scale. Get at it folks.

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Gazpacho: Two Ways

I don’t have the best memory. Okay that’s putting it mildly. If I’m being honest, I have the worst memory ever. Like on the planet. In the history of memory having, I’m at the very bottom. I envy my sister who can seriously remember things from inside the womb. It’s scary how much she can recall from when she was tiny and itty bitty. We’ll be talking about something in particular and then all of a sudden she’ll bust out a memory and include when, where, what she was wearing, what she had said and what she was doing on a specific date. She’ll say something like, “Remember when I was born, I came home from the hospital wearing that yellow bunny onesie and played in my crib?!” Okay I exaggerate. I on the other hand, can’t even remember what I ate yesterday. This is not an exaggeration. I have very little recollections of my childhood. I mean sure I remember a few things here and there and bits and pieces of certain moments when I was young, but for the most part my mind’s a blank. My sisters will gladly tell you that I was oblivious as a kid. Always wandering off and in my own world, never paying attention. I guess this is what happens when you’re the only boy and the youngest in the family. There are certain things however that I do remember. Like the traditional putting up of the christmas tree. Putting the tinsel one strand at a time, we weren’t allowed to throw clumps of shiny tinsel all at once. The fact that my mother would only make soup on the hottest days of the year. How I couldn’t sit still for the life of me and was constantly moving around, jumping, grabbing, or pushing buttons as a kid. The way my mother would hide our halloween candy (in her closet up above the shelf) giving us only one piece a day. Talk about torture. It took about 2o minutes for my sister and I to find it, climb up and sneak a few (okay like 10) pieces of candy a day. Sorry mom. I also recall the constant watching of a certain movie. This movie in particular probably defines my entire existence. Not only because it was released the year I was born but because we’d watch it all the time to this day. It is by far the fondest memory I have. Now that I’m older it’s definitely one of my favorite films.

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, a foreign film from Spain by Pedro Almodóvar —hands down his best work of all time. I learned two things from watching this movie so often throughout my entire life. One, that no one is as badass as Pepa Marcos and two, gazpacho can solve all of your problems in more ways than one. This dish will forever be synonymous with that movie for me until the end of time. Whenever I hear someone mention gazpacho or if I see it on a menu somewhere this movie and the spiked gazpacho with 25 or 30 sleeping pills will come to mind. So here we are today making not one, but two gazpacho recipes. There’s a scene towards the end of the film when the police are asking the main character what exactly is inside the gazpacho. I remember wanting to make it (minus the drugs of course) as she listed off the ingredients in it. “Tomate, pepino, pimiento, cebolla, una puntita de ajo, aceite, sal, vinagre, pan duro y agua. El secreto está en mezclarlo bien.” The secret is in mixing it well she claimed, and she’s right. I also remember thinking what in the world is gazpacho. It looked like plain ol’ tomato juice to me. It’s cold soup friends. Wonderfully delicious cold soup. So I’m giving you two gazpacho recipes. My take on this classic Spanish dish. Perfect for the summer weather. The first is a chunky watermelon gazpacho served with grilled shrimp and the second is a traditional smooth gazpacho, just like in the film.

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Spicy Sausage, Potato & Kale Soup

It is difficult sometimes to think of delicious and interesting dishes to make for dinner. You would think that it comes so easily and so naturally to me, constantly being around food and all. The truth of the matter is that even for me, a self-proclaimed foodie, it is rather tough at times to create new and exciting recipes for dinner. There are days when I am all out of ideas and absolutely nothing comes to mind. There are no creative juices left, and I am left to ponder the age old question. “What are we having for dinner tonight?” Sure it would be easier to eat out and not have to worry about cooking, but that even becomes stressful. Where do I go for dinner? What shall I eat? There are so many choices out there that it becomes overwhelming and suddenly staying in, cooking a simple dinner at home in my own kitchen, sounds very appetizing once again. And I am back to where I started. I will then force myself, as a last resort, to go to the grocery store and see what looks good. At times I will think of something to cook, there on the spot, as I surround myself with what the market has to offer on that particular day.

I am often asked how is it that I come up with my recipes? Where do I get inspiration? How do I even begin to formulate ideas, brainstorm, and test out my recipes? I think it is nearly impossible to say that a recipe is completely thought up or originally invented by one particular person, especially nowadays. After all, how many ways are there to make a soup? They pretty much all start the same way with mostly similar ingredients; veggies, stock, and some sort of protein. Cooking or baking is not necessarily about inventing a recipe from scratch all on your own—because I think although completely doable—it would prove to be difficult in some way, shape, or form because yours would inevitably be similar to someone else’s out there in the world. It is only logical. It is okay to draw inspiration from someone else’s recipe. It is when you begin to change ingredients, swap out amounts, add here and take away there, that it really becomes your recipe. It starts to take shape and become a piece of you. Then, and only then, when you have perfected your new dish and have made it several times can you call it your recipe with pride.

My ideas come from other food blogs, magazines, books, online research and friends and family. Sometimes I even formulate ideas based solely on images I find online. I will stumble upon a delicious looking photograph on the internet and begin to research recipes, combining ingredients and methods from all different sources to make the recipe my own. Then finally when I get around to testing out a recipe and actually making it, I will change things as I go along. Adding seasonings or ingredients that I know will go well together or enhance the overall flavors. That comes from experience of trial and error. In this day and age, we all take inspiration from someone or something. A dish we once tried at a restaurant. A recipe we stumbled upon online. A magazine article with a simple and easy dinner idea. A cookbook we have booked marked all throughout, vowing to trying out some of the dishes inside. It is rather simple to formulate ideas, if you think about it. After all food is all around us. Why not start creating your own kitchen masterpieces?

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Grilled Chicken Tortilla Soup

Southern California weather is a fickle thing. It enjoys to play games on us. One where we lose and it wins. Winter was something that we didn’t even recognize this year. It was something that just didn’t occur for us. It came and went as fast as the holidays did. Any and all ideas of bundling up in warm clothing, sitting next to the fire drinking hot cocoa this “cold” season, was taken away from our minds, ripped out by the heat and blazing sun. The temperatures rose and dropped with each passing day. The heat is something we have all just grown accustomed to. Shorts were never fully put away, what was stashed deep in our closets, however, were our heavy jackets and coats. There is no place for those here in Los Angeles. As Southern Californians, we’ve now adjusted to the warm climate. Walking down the streets we hear fellow Angelenos say things like “There really was no winter this year” Or “Where did the cold go?” Temperatures of high 70’s and mid 80’s are something we are all too familiar with. They are welcomed here with open arms, for the most part. Another excuse to drop everything and have ourselves a beach day. Those are the bright sunny days we are known for.

And yet some people say we are spoiled. They make it known, that we don’t know what cold is. We’re often told, “Humidity, now that’s a problem. Call me when you deal with that in California” or “Snow. You don’t know what cold is until your stuck at home with ten feet of snow outside!” The truth of the matter is that, yes 90% of the time the weather here is what some might call beautiful and ideal, but that doesn’t take away from the days when 100° dry heat in the middle of February just doesn’t cut it. In turn, we’re left to yearn for those cold gloomy days. When overcast surprises us, and the clouds come over the mountains close together in dark gray patches, and we can’t help but feel a bit of excitement starting to tingle our bodies. We find ourselves making excuses to go outside and walk in the cold chilly air. Umbrellas aren’t something we want to carry. No. We want to enjoy the rain as much as possible. Heaven knows it only comes once a year. Might as well enjoy it while we can. We walk down the streets all bundled up  with rain boots as if this were the coldest day we’ll ever get for the rest of our lives, and in a way it is.

The rain starts to fall. Slowly and steadily, tiny droplets of water dance all around us. The pavement begins to moisten and that glorious rainy day smell lifts throughout the air. It surprises us. It catches us off guard. It impairs our ability to drive or function. Yes, we do act as if we’ve never seen rain before, but in the end, we love it. We live for these days. We thrive in them. The rain is something we accept with happily. And although, we make a big deal about a tiny bit of water, what with news stories of “2012 Storm Watch” flashing every 15 minutes, we don’t want it to end. The rain gives us an excuse to do all the things we don’t normally do. Like make a big pot of soup to warm us up. A soup chock full of nutritional farmer’s market vegetables, this is California after all, with flavor profiles to knock your socks off. Vegetables, hearty pieces of grilled white meat chicken, tomatoes, simmering in a delicious chicken stock, topped with with crispy strips of tortillas, melted cheese and avocados all come together in a perfect heart warming dish. So when those rainy days are upon us, and come at us from out of nowhere without a single warning, I’ll be here ready, spoon in hand.

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