Soup and The City

A new friend told me this week that when reading my blog she envisions me like Carrie Bradshaw, sitting at my desk writing about some fresh drama, while a montage of me cooking family dinner plays in the background. I should like to think that if I was living some wild Sex and the City lifestyle there might be a more interesting love life connected to it. There is something really magical though about the facade of social media that makes our lives look infinitely more alluring than they actually are. That’s one of the really fun and dangerous things about being a photographer: you also become a curator. I find myself constantly trying to convince strangers that my life is by no means glamorous, while curating my social media presence and telling wild anecdotes about faking my way into fancy parties. The real truth is that I spend most of my days sitting at the Who Dat Coffee Cafe in the Marigny, with a black iced coffee staring at a blank page wondering what to write and who to email so that I can continue to afford to do family dinner, and you know… pay rent. In a similar attempt to fictionalize my life, I took some overly dramatic photos of soup this week.

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Tomato Basil Soup (12-14 servings):
4 tablespoons butter
2 yellow onion
8 cloves garlic
2 dried chili peppers
2 cups basil
1 tablespoon salt
1 tsp whole peppercorns
3 28oz cans whole peeled tomatoes
6 cups chicken broth
1 cup white wine

I use an 6 qt pot for this recipe, it nearly fills the pot. Half your onions, and uncase your garlic. Heat up your butter in the pot, and on medium heat sear the onion halves for about three minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another few minutes. Deglaze the pot with the cup of wine. Add in all other ingredients, and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. I cooked this for about an hour and then removed it from heat and ladled the soup into a blender to puree until smooth. I found that I needed a big bowl to transfer the puree to, since you will need to puree in 2 or 3 batches, and then return your soup to the original pot. Add more salt or black pepper if necessary. Bring back to hot when you’re ready to serve. You can add a little heavy cream if you want it to be more bisque-y.

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KAT! DO. NOT. MARRY. A. STRANGER. ON. TELEVISION.

“The Secret” is this idea that you can change the course of your life by the power of positive thinking and just willing things into existence. I have been telling everyone that will listen that I want a three bedroom bungalow with a wrap around porch and a good kitchen (really, it’s not too much to ask for). That along with the pipe dream that I could just magically become a housewife, write a lifestyle blog, and take pictures. It’s all very luxurious, the only issue being that there is not one human to marry. That is until a woman reached out to me on instagram inviting me to be on “Married at First Sight.” Now, I know what you’re thinking, KAT! DO. NOT. MARRY. A. STRANGER. ON. TELEVISION, and you’re right and I’m not going to. That being said I looked at the salary and they pay you around $20,000 for the six weeks of filming. Unfortunately I’m not quite that crazy, and I think my mother would die on the spot. Cheers to me for not having the guts to marry a stranger on Lifetime reality tv, here’s some grilled lobsters and my dad’s rum punch recipe:

Once I figured out that you could grill lobster there really wasn’t another option. I have not yet had the guts to stab a lobster through it’s brain and cut it in half, though it seems much more humane than boiling it alive. I made a white wine butter sauce with garlic, basil, dill, and tarragon to baste the lobster with while it was grilling so that it wouldn’t get dried out. They need to grill for 5 ish minutes on each side. We started them on their shell side so that the meat would have a chance to cook in some butter, and also attach to the inside of the shell before we flipped them.

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Peter Kimball’s Rum Punch:
6 oz pineapple
1 oz lime
2 oz simple
8 oz Mount Gay rum
fresh grated nutmeg
3 dashes angostura bitters

In a pitcher, combine pineapple, lime, simple, and rum. Throw some ice in a glass and pour mix over, top with a few dashes of angostura and some fresh grated nutmeg. This recipe makes about 4 drinks, you can easily make larger batches. It’s simple and tasty and will get you very drunk.

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If sheer willpower alone had a greek goddess, would it be me?

I was supposed to be born on my mother’s birthday, April 18th. I was a week late, and she was in labor for 24 hours. I’ve never chosen the easy road. Thats been true in choosing my career as a photographer, my sudden move to New Orleans, my complicated friendships and my more than complicated relationships. If the task is easy or uncomplicated I’m usually not interested. And in truth the hardest things are usually the most rewarding. Why would I do the easy thing, when I could forcibly move a mountain, by myself, just to say that I did it? If sheer willpower alone had a greek goddess, would it be me? This pesto recipe has calmed down in the last several years, unlike my ego. When I first started making pesto I remember reading a recipe that said that to truly be someone’s Italian grandmother you HAD to chop your pesto by hand. While I agree (assuming you have the worlds sharpest knife) that hand chopping your basil and adding in your nuts, cheese, and garlic reduces the bruising and creates a more rounded flavor… just put the damn thing in the blender. It saves you about an hour of chop—chop—chopping your life away and no one can tell the difference.

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Pesto by hand or in a blender:
4 cups basil
1 cup parmesan cheese
1 cup pine nuts
1/2-1 whole head of garlic
1 cup olive oil

To do this in a blender:
Add all dry ingredients into blender and pulse, slowly adding in olive oil until a paste begins to form. I still like my pesto to look like it has separate ingredients but if you want it to be smooth just keep blending.

To chop pesto by hand:
Get the biggest cutting board you have and the sharpest knife you have. You will likely have to work in batches with the basil, but start with half and just start chopping away. When the basil is in quarter inch widths add in the garlic and keep chopping. Then add in the pine nuts—these are a pain to chop. Once your garlic, basil, and pine nuts are all chopped super fine, mix in your grated parmesan. I like to store my pesto in a mason jar, so transfer to a jar, and pour in enough olive oil to just cover the top of the pesto.

I freeze my pesto because I usually make such a huge batch of it. For any pesto novices out there: DO NOT COOK THE PESTO. Prep your pasta and your veggies or meat or whatever else you’re serving with pesto and add the pesto at the last step. If you cook it, the cheese will turn everything into a big gloopy sticky mess. If you want to do a pesto cream sauce, make the cream sauce and then add the pesto at the end.

Rigatoni with blistered grape tomatoes, pesto, and pine nuts.

Rigatoni with blistered grape tomatoes, pesto, and pine nuts.

Can you get to the point already, Kat?

If you told me three years ago that by August 2019 I would be painfully single, working full time as a photographer, writing a food blog, and cooking for 15 people every week… Well I’d probably believe you honestly. Isn’t that kind of Murphy’s law, anything that can happen will? I never could have imagined that my life would turn out the way that is has, and the people that continuously lift me up and inspire me are by all means not who I would have expected. I would love to name drop everyone and gush about their lives and how they have changed mine but they would probably conspire to murder me at dinner tomorrow if I did. Except for probably Carolyn, she’s fully okay with the entire world knowing that when my ex and I broke up she actually picked me up off of my bedroom floor and carried me to the closest wine bar. “What, if anything, does this have to do with your food blog?” you ask. Nothing. Here’s a recipe for paella in a cast iron skillet:

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The first time I made paella this winter I totally fudged the Sofrito, which is the most time consuming but fully the most essential part of this recipe.

Things you will need for Sofrito (this is a double batch, using the rest this week for Fajitas, it’s supposed to be good for two weeks in the fridge):
1 28oz can petit diced tomatoes
2 red bell peppers finely diced
1 Anaheim pepper (it looked fun why the heck not) finely diced
1 onion (red, yellow, whatever) finely diced
6 or so garlic cloves, finely diced
1 loose cup of chopped cilantro
1 cup (chicken, beef, veggie) stock
1 cup white wine

Oil a skillet the onion, peppers, and garlic until the onion is translucent. Add all other ingredients and salt to taste. I cooked this on low for about and hour and a half, it should be the thickness of tomato paste, but add more liquid at your discretion. Its honestly delicious by itself, De and I were eating it hot on tortilla chips. I put the finished product in a mason jar, saved for later in the evening.

Paella Time (this served 8):
2 cups bomba rice
2 cups sofrito
18 ish threads of saffron soaked in 1/4 cup white wine (seen above)
1 tsp paprika
1 onion (red, white, whatever) sliced, julienned, do what you feel
1 red pepper sliced, julienned
1/2 cup fancy mushrooms (what does this even mean kat?) I used small hearty crunchy guys that I found at the hong kong market, something that can hold up to being boiled in broth
1 lb smoked sausage, I used green onion, cut in rounds and then quartered
1 lb chicken thighs, cut in half
1/2 lb shrimp, I used frozen
6 cups (chicken, beef, veggie) stock
salt to taste

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The essential things in this recipe are the bomba rice, the sofrito, the saffron, the paprika, and the stock. Put literally whatever else you want in here. Make it vegetarian, make it all meat, get lobster, go crazy.

If you have two skillets use both, the smaller to cook off your proteins and the larger for the paella itself. If you only have the one, plan on cleaning out the skillet after you cook the proteins. Oil your smaller skillet and crisp off your smoked sausage, set aside. In the same skillet cook your chicken thighs: about three minutes on each side on high heat. They will be raw in the middle, set aside. Cook your shrimp about two minutes on each side, also will be raw in the middle, set aside. I used a 12 inch cast iron for the paella, it will be very full, but the great thing about paella is you aren’t really supposed to stir it, so your pan can be full to the brim. Combine the bomba rice, sofrito, saffron soaked in wine, paprika, and raw veggies in the cast iron and combine until the bomba rice is sufficiently covered in sofrito and the saffron-wine has been mixed in. Add in your stock and bring to a boil. Add in all proteins except for fish. Get it all situated in the pan to where you’re comfortable not touching it and bring down to a simmer, it takes about 20-25 minutes to cook the bomba rice. Ideally you want the rice to have a slight bite, but most of the stock to be cooked down. Add your fish to the top of the dish, about five minutes before your rice is done, and nestle into the steam to finish cooking. Serve with bread, salad, wine. Top with more cilantro.

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I promise I will try to not speak strictly about pasta from here on out...

But really I can’t make any promises. I love pasta. I bought a pasta machine as a post breakup gift to myself last summer and that moment really is what started family dinner. Since that first pasta night we have done five or six and without fail, no matter when I make the dough or how early I begin shape the pasta, we will not eat before 11pm. I mostly make traditionally Italian if not more specifically Roman pasta dishes that I picked up while living in Rome in 2012: Bucatini all’Amatriciana, Ragu, Carbonara, occasionally delving into Umbrian Penne alla Norcina. I am fully a snob when it comes to pasta, and this leads us to the true hypocrisy of this post: I made meatballs. Quick recap on the meatball: Italians only serve them by themselves if they’re large, and when they’re small they usually go in soup. When the Italians immigrated to America at the turn of the 20th century they were actually spending less of their income on food then they were in Italy and thus eating more meat and the meatball “snowballed” for lack of a better word. I found a recipe for tiny meatballs last week that had tons of herbs and ricotta AND I could make them the day before dinner, so we put all prior rules and feelings about American meatballs in the bathroom.

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So these meatballs are a combination of a couple recipes that have all clearly been based off of Marcella Hazan’s recipe from her book Marcella’s Italian Kitchen. Side-note: if anyone would like to purchase this cookbook for me it’s on my amazon wish-list. Combining the things I liked from all of these recipe’s I ended up with:
1/2 cup parsley finely chopped
1/2 cup basil finely chopped
1/2 head of garlic finely chopped
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (I used Italian breadcrumbs that I already had in the cupboard, stale bread works too)
1/2 cup of ricotta
1/2 tsp of nutmeg
4 egg yolks (or 2 whole eggs)
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 dried chile, or 1/2 tsp of cayenne/chile flakes
2 lbs Italian sausage
corn starch (if frying)

So I threw my whole peppercorns, dried chile and herbs into my blender to combine them which to be honest didn’t work, don’t do that. Next time I will put the peppercorns and the chile in the spice grinder and finely dice the herbs and combine in a bowl with the breadcrumbs, salt, and nutmeg. “If you don’t have a spice grinder, regular ground pepper and some cayenne or chile flakes are fine” in my best Ina Garten voice. In a much larger bowl, mixing with your hands, combine the uncased sausage with the egg yolks and the ricotta. Then add your herbs, spices, and breadcrumbs. Do a test cook on a dime sized piece of sausage mixture, to test your seasoning and adjust where you wish. On a large sheet tray shape your meatballs, I did mine in maybe the size of a quarter in diameter. I also coated my meatballs in cornstarch and fried them (3-5 minutes in a half inch of oil and then rolled them over for another 3 to 5 minutes) and then kept them overnight to use in my sauce the next day. This made about 110 meatballs, you totally could halve this recipe, this many meatballs was 12-14 servings.

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The last time I tried to make pasta sauce Ian yelled at me. It was arguably bad pasta sauce. Bad in the sense that it was fully edible and had anyone but me served it we all would have been more than happy, but it was bland, there was much too much sauce in relation to the amount of meat, the flavors didn’t combine right, it didn’t cook long enough, and we all have come to expect more from me. I was not going to let that happen again so I went back to my recipe hunting for making the perfect marinara sauce. Sourcing back to Marcella Hazan she claims that whole peeled tomatoes, a stick of butter, salt, and an onion, and those four things alone make the perfect sauce. Besides the fact that she’s a best-selling James Beard Award-winning food writer, her meatballs came out really good and I figured i’d give it a shot with my own tweaks. Makes 12-14 servings of sauce. Unless you’re feeding a small army or my friends that have apparently never eaten before, halve recipe or plan on freezing some of it.

Kat’s Marinara Sauce:
2 (28 oz) cans whole peeled tomatoes
1 large Vidalia onion cut in 1/8ths
1 stick of butter
1 teaspoon of salt
1/2 head of garlic peeled
2 bay leaves
1 cup beef or chicken broth (I prefer bone broth but like I said — snob)
2 dried chile’s
1 teaspoon peppercorns
A few sprigs of chopped parsley and basil, and 1/4 cup chopped to add later
1/2 bottle of red wine (chianti, montepulciano, light pinot noir, something cheap and drinkable)

In a big (preferably cast iron) pot heat two tablespoons of olive oil and toss in the onion followed by the garlic cloves to release their aromatics, put everything else in the pot, bring it to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cook for two hours stirring occasionally. You will probably need to add more salt. If you want a heartier chunkier sauce you can really just use a wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes and the garlic, if you choose this method I would use cracked pepper instead of whole peppercorns, for a smooth sauce throw the whole cooked down mixture in the blender, make sure you dig out the bay leaves. I added the chopped herbs after pureeing to give my sauce some more color. If you’re serving this with your meatballs add them in to heat the meatballs up again, serve with fettuccini or a big rigatoni and parmesan.

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The only tomato caprese you will ever eat again, period.

Family dinner is a dinner party hosted at my home in the 7th ward of New Orleans every Tuesday night at 7pm for anywhere from 6 to 15 close friends and family. The event was born in search of a way to spend time with friends outside of a bar setting, tired of screaming over loud music paying too much money for bad drinks without privacy. My favorite memories with friends and family have always happened in someones mom’s kitchen. We grew up in those kitchens, chastised for eating meatballs out of the pot, or sneaking “the good cheese, reserved for guests,” when we thought mom wasn’t looking, inevitably shooed to the other side of an island or a table with a glass of wine because we were helping wrong or in the way. We would sit back and listen to family go on and on about stories of their youth. Selfishly wanting to be that mom, I began cooking for my friends and family in New Orleans, the only rule being to bring wine. It’s been about a year since I began, and though I have never thought of myself as a writer, I am most certainly a hostess, a story teller and a photographer.

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This recipe is so insanely simple I honestly thought that Betsy was lying to me when I begged her for the recipe from Paladar 511 in the Marigny. She swore to me it really was just simply, olive oil, salt and basil on good local tomatoes with burrata. I have done some variation on this many times before for dinner but all have included balsamic which I can tell you now you will not miss.

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When I tell you my mother has dropped dead in place reading this blog dedicated to tomatoes I am not exaggerating. I don’t think I ate a single tomato until I moved to New Orleans, granted the addition of creamy burrata cheese and Maggie Scales’ ciabatta that I have stock piled in my freezer definitely helps. The tomatoes in New Orleans in the summer are just better than normal tomatoes. I honestly don’t know how else to put this sudden change of heart that I have had on a food that I wouldn’t even touch for 25 years of my life.

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I realize this is less of a recipe and more of a declaration of my new found love of tomatoes. If you’re in the New Orleans area, check out the Crescent City Farmers market for tomatoes and basil, they’re uptown on Broadway on Tuesdays which makes a perfect hop skip to the recently opened Bellegarde bakery for bread and St James for cheese to pair with. I served this last night as a prelude to the tiniest meatballs which I will be writing about soon. I will say though that these tomatoes came back out late in the evening and were completely finished.