Cheesy Garlic, Fresh Tomato Bread with Oil & Balsamic Drizzle

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Cheesy Hot Garlic Bread with Tomatoes, Drizzled with Olive OIl and Vinegar

(Becky, the Mama.)

What fun  Rachel and I are having hearing back from readers enjoying We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook. Here’s one I got a kick out of today from Linda: “Becky I’m only on page 18 and I’m laughing out loud like a nutcase. You really have made a career out of telling on yourself! OMG, too funny and you’re not exaggerating, not even a little? Starting with misplacing your car keys in Nashville, your suitcase exploding at the airport, you can’t find your car once you arrive in Fort Worth, then when you do, the battery is dead? I’m dying over here.”

grunge image of a field

People often ask my daughter (now co-author), my friends, my husband, “Come on, tell the truth. Is Becky making this stuff up?” All they can say, with a slow head shake is, “We only wish she were.”

As I read the fun note above, I was in the middle of posting this episode on Facebook:
Leaving hotel room today. Close door, get 4 big suitcases in hall.
Me: “Uh I took my glasses off again.”
Greg: “Did you leave them in the room?”
Me: “I might have.”
All four  of our keys are behind locked doors so Greg goes to get new ones. Upon his return, I say, “I also can’t seem to find my cell phone.” He enters the room and turns it upside down. I look on the carpet, I’ve been sitting on the phone in the hall. I find my glasses, in the case where I put them in my suitcase. I don’t remember doing that AT ALL. We close the door pick up our things and go on. Greg never gets mad, not even testy. No matter how many times we exit a hotel room this way.

Life has been so busy lately with the book’s release and travel and finding things I have lost,  that when I do cook I want it to be fast and easy and delicious. One of the things I enjoy the most at some of the great Italian restaurants we’ve visited on our trip to Oregon this week, is fresh homemade bread dipped in a little plate of olive oil, good aged balsamic vinegar and a little garlic. Heaven.

Recently I found a way to turn Heaven into a quick snacky meal or a wonderfully easy appetizer for a bunch. Cutting a nice fresh loaf of French bread lengthwise, I sprinkled it with cheese, then layered sliced fresh garden tomatoes, followed  tiny pinches of salt, pepper, basil or oregano (fresh or dried, whatever you have on hand), a little fresh grated garlic. Pop this in the oven until the cheese melts and tomatoes are sizzling. Then, here’s the fun part: drizzle it all with good olive oil and balsamic, cut in slices and serve with plenty of napkins.

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Cheesy, Garlic, Fresh Tomato Bread with Oil & Balsamic

1 French baguette, sliced in half lengthwise

1 cup grated cheese (I used mozzarella, some white cheddar and feta. Use any combination you like.)

2-3 tomatoes (my baguette was small so Roma tomatoes were perfect size), sliced

Pinch fresh salt

Several turns of fresh pepper

1 t. dried oregano, or 2 t. minced fresh basil

1 clove fresh garlic, grated

¼ cup olive oil, approximate

2 T. good aged balsamic vinegar

Directions:

Preheat Oven to  400 degrees

Put both baguette halves on a baking sheet, cut side up.  Sprinkle about ½ cup grated cheese on each side.  Slice tomatoes and place atop both pieces of bread, overlapping slightly as shown.  Sprinkle each half with a little fresh salt, some turns of fresh pepper, the herbs and garlic.

Place in oven for about 5 minutes or until baguettes are hot, cheese is melted and tomatoes are sizzling.

Drizzle the baguettes with oil and vinegar, slice in 3 inch pieces and serve hot.  (With plenty of napkins.)

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Creamy Tomato Basil Soup (Vegan & Regular Version)

(Becky, the Mama.)

About a year and a half ago my daughter Rachel was in town, pregnant, and craving Tomato Basil Soup. The trick was to find a place that served a vegan version so she could indulge but still avoid dairy or meat-based broth.  I think we drove to three restaurants before we finally found the place that served the soup she had in mind.  And yes, she and her unborn child were absolutely worth it. But I determined that day to come up with a creamy vegan version of Tomato Basil Soup that we could make at home.

I, too, adore Tomato Basil Soup, especially the thick creamy version served at La Madeleine’s, a favorite French chain restaurant in the Dallas area.  Alas, it is loaded with cream and butter and thus, with calories.  The problem with trying to  make any tomato-based soup with  milk instead of cream (to cut calories), is that  the acid in the tomatoes curdles the milk yielding a yucky mess you’ll  have to sigh heavily about, just before you put it down the disposal. (Ask me how I know this.)

So I experimented with a can of coconut milk in place of cream and butter.  Perfection.  You really can’t taste the coconut flavor at all; it fades to neutral when paired with the strong tastes of the ingredients in the rest of the recipe. Even if you use the full fat can of coconut milk, this soup only about a 100 calories a cup. But you will not believe it when you taste it!  On top of being delicious and easy, it is also vegan-friendly and nutritious.  Pretty much the Perfect Recipe to keep in your Go-To Classic Recipes  file.

I threw this soup together for a friend who dropped by unexpectedly for lunch one day, and she swore it was the best soup she’d ever tasted. Could not believe I whipped it up in just a few minutes.  Plus it was ready to serve by the time our grilled cheese sandwiches came off the stovetop.

P.S.  I hurriedly planted basil in a big pot on the porch this summer and it is still yielding oodles of leaves, which I used in this recipe.   Greg spent a full day, in June, putting together three Topsy Turvy upside down tomato plants (as “Seen on TV”),  put them on a fancy planter, then hooked them up to a complicated irrigation system.  God bless him, the tomato you see in this picture is the one and ONLY tomato we’ve harvested, picked yesterday. But it sure was a pretty one.

Easy, Creamy Tomato Basil Soup (Vegan)

Yields about 10 cups of soup

Ingredients:

1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (with basil, if you can find it)

1 c. very lightly packed fresh basil leaves (or a good generous hand full) — I sometimes use 2 T. of  jarred pesto instead of fresh basil if that is all I have on hand

¼ c. onion

2 garlic cloves

3 c. veggie broth (or chicken broth if you aren’t vegetarian and prefer this)

1 can coconut milk (Full fat version makes a creamier soup, but lite will also work. If desired, reserve a little for garnishing soup once it is in a bowl. You’ll find cans of coconut milk in the Asian section of almost all grocery stores now.)  Note: You can also make a the more traditional  soup by omitting coconut milk and add 1/2 cup of regular cream, at the very end of cooking the soup

1 ½  t. salt

1 T. sugar (or brown sugar or coconut sugar)

1 t. pepper

Directions:

Put ½ the can of crushed tomatoes into a blender or food processor. Add basil leaves, onion and garlic.  Blend until basil leaves are still individual but tiny specks of green.

Pour this mixture into a soup pot.  Add the rest of the can of tomatoes, veggie broth, coconut milk, salt, pepper and sugar.  Stir and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes.  Check to see if it needs more salt. Serve in bowls, and garnish if desired with a “squiggle” of reserved coconut cream.


Avocado Mango Salad “Cocktail” in Jicama Nests

Avocado Mango Jicama “Cocktail” Salad

What would you do if given the gift of one uninterrupted day, a day where your kids, your husband, your friends and your boss gave your their blessing to walk away and create your own perfect 12 hours?  A day to refill your soul?

Some seasons of my life are busier than others and the last two months has been filled to overflowing with people, appointments and a list of “to-dos” that seemed endless.  Seeing his wife was in a state of overwhelm,  Greg hugged me on Friday night and said, “Honey, tomorrow I want you to take the whole Saturday  just do anything you want at any given minute, all day long. Don’t worry about a thing.  I’ll even make my own meals.”

It may have been the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard anyone say.  (True to his word, Greg made his own lunch: two pieces of leftover corn on the cob, a piece of leftover blueberry pie and some leftover salad.  Yes, he missed the protein food group, but it was a great improvement over his usual “bachelor diet” when I am away: potato chips, chocolate chip cookies and cereal.)

Saturday dawned with the song “Saturday in the Park” playing in my mind, and the line, “I’ve been waiting such a long time, for Sat-ur-day” echoing again and again.  The feeling of unencumbered space stretched out for the next 12 hours left me near euphoric.

I spent the day writing on our new book in uninterrupted bliss at Denver’s famous Tattered Cover Bookstore, then lunched and wrote some more at The Corner Bakery, over-looking a gorgeous outline of the Rocky Mountains.  When I walked in the house that evening there was a vase of sunny yellow flowers and a loving card from Greg, “Just because.”  I wrote in my Facebook status:  I feel like a wilted flower that has been put in the fresh water of creative work, healing solitude, and the benevolent blessing of a good man who wants little in this life but for me to be happy.  I may yet live!

After I opened the card, Greg and I went to the back porch for our Summertime Happy Hour, a ritual we started in early June to make sure we have a little time to connect before dinner.  One of the things that centenarians the world over have in common is “joyful rituals.” This has become one of our favorites.  I made us clementine mojitos using the mint from my herb garden,  perfectly refreshing.

The day of rest and writing left me infused with creative energy as I cooked supper a little later.   I grabbed a crisp jicama, a vine-ripe tomato, an avocado and a mango out of the crisper.  In my mind’s eye I saw this recipe appear: a pretty salad of orange, green and red nestled in a bed of white grated jicama, drizzled with a fresh lime dressing and served in margarita glasses.  It would be  our “salad course.”   Let me tell you, it  was every bit as tasty as it is beautiful! So cold and refreshing after a 100 degree summer day.

I am delighted to share this recipe  with you,  along with encouragement to take time out for “Fill the Well Day” for your body, mind and soul as soon as you can!

Becky’s Avocado Mango Jicima “Cocktail” Salad

Avocado Mango Salad “Cocktail” in Jicama Nests

Serves 4

Ingredients

2 cups peeled, grated fresh jicama

1 avocado

1 fresh tomato

1 fresh mango

1 T. chopped cilantro or parsley or mint

2 T. chopped green onion

Juice of 2 limes

1/2 t. salt

4 t. honey

4 T. crushed corn or tortilla chips

Cajun seasoning or Tajin chili-lime seasoning to sprinkle on top

Lime slices for garnish

Tajin seasoning: a delightful blend of lime, salt, and chili pepper. Wonderful on this dish!

The flavors of jicama, tomato, mango, green onion and lime blend beautifully

Directions:

Place 1/2 cup grated jicama in each of 4 margarita glasses or pretty glass bowls to create a white “nest.”   Mix avocado, tomato, mango, herb of your choice and green onion together in a bowl and gently toss.  Place this mixture on top of the grated jicama, dividing evenly in to the four glasses.  In a small bowl mix the dressing of lime juice, salt and honey.  Drizzle evenly over each of the salads.  Top each salad with 1 T. crushed chips and a nice sprinkling of Cajun or Tajin seasoning.  Serve with long teaspoons if you have them and put a slice of lime on each rim.  Have guests stir and toss their salads once they are served to make sure everything gets coated with the lime dressing.


Tomato Basil Stackers

Last week I picked up some vine ripened tomatoes and my heart went pitter patter when I cut one open and saw that they were just as vibrantly red in the middle as they were on the outside. Better yet, they were sweet and flavorful and tasted like a tomato should taste. Blah tomatoes make the winter feel so long, don’t they? I can taste summer coming around the corner when I bite into my first juicy tomato.

To me, there is no better way to enjoy a nice ripe tomato than letting its flavors shine in between fresh basil leaves and sliced avocado on a garlicy toasted English muffin. Garlic toast brings any savory sandwich up a notch. It has amazing health benefits too. My mother swears that garlic cures everything from a head cold to a stumped toe. When she came to visit last week I had a sinus infection, and she made me swallow a garlic pill every time she caught my eye. Her parting gift to me was a bottle of odorless garlic tablets. I am now cured.

Mother knows best.

Anyway, I could eat this simple sandwich every day. I always buy the Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted Grain English Muffins.  You can find them in the freezer section of most stores that carry the Ezekiel line of breads. Not only does their nutty flavor taste delicious when toasted, but they bring 8 grams of protein, 6 grams of fiber, and a mere 160 calories to the plate.

Ezekiel English Muffin toasted to perfection with EVOO and garlic


Rachel’s
Tomato Basil Stackers

Serves 1

Ingredients

1 Ezekiel 4:9 Sprouted English Muffins, sliced through the middle
1 Garlic Clove, Minced
1 tbs EVOO
1 Vine Ripened Tomato
6 Fresh Basil Leaves
1/2 Avocado
Salt
Fresh Cracked Pepper
Drizzle of High Quality Olive Oil

Directions

Turn your oven on broil low, in a small bowl mix EVOO with minced garlic. Spread garlic and oil onto the inner side of the english muffin slices. Place on the top rack of your oven and broil until the edges just start to brown and crisp up. Stay close, it won’t take long.  You don’t want this to happen.

Meanwhile, slice the tomato and avocado into slices, and gently tear the basil leaves a few times to release their flavors.

Layer the avocado, basil, and tomato onto one slice of the toasted english muffin. After each tomato layer, sprinkle with salt, fresh cracked pepper, and a small drizzle of high quality olive oil. When finished layering top with the other side of the English muffin.

I like to layer it like this: bread, avocado, tomato, basil, tomato, basil, tomato, basil, avocado, bread. I kind of spread the avocado onto the bread to keep it from sliding off. But layer to your hearts content or do two open faced ones if you don’t like a high stacker.  I like to stack it high and then just lean over my plate and dive in. It will be messy, but oh so delicious!

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The site URL: http://welaughwecrywecook.com
The Title: Tomato Basil Stackers
The URL: https://welaughwecrywecook.com/2012/03/13/tomato-basil-stackers/
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