Food for the Soul: tomato soup

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I am in a stage of life where it seems all my friends are having babies, getting promoted in their careers, moving, and are just too busy to find time to catch up. It makes me long for the days when my friends and I could go out for an impromptu night on the town or weekend at the beach. Alas, those carefree days are now memories. In spite of the march of time I try to pour into my friends lives when I can: it is a challenge.

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I stay on the lookout for ways to bless my friends with hospitality. It could be a good old fashioned card in the mail, a random call on the phone, even finding an old picture and emailing it to spark a smile or laugh in their day. But nothing quite comes close to spending time in person with a cherished friend. One of my dearest just blessed me in this way. She asked if she could drop by after work. I wasn’t sure why but said of course! She showed up, champagne in hand! You see, I had just published my first blog and she wanted to celebrate my achieving a dream.

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She had a reason to celebrate with me, but one isn’t always needed. Working on some new recipes? Have a few friends you haven’t seen in a while? I call that a match made in hospitality! Arrange to catch up at their place so they don’t have to leave the comfort of their home. Bring over some of your new concoctions to share. Been waiting to try that bottle of wine you read about? Take that with you. Leave your messy kitchen, unfolded laundry, and less than perfectly vacuumed floors behind. Without further ado, allow me to present one of my favorite gift basket ideas and recipes to you! Meet a basket overflowing with happiness: homemade tomato bisque, Irish soda bread buns, and a salad of your choosing.

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I put the soup in mason jars and wrap the soda bread in a decorative napkin (or use a flour sack towel). All of these items can be found at the variety store in my neighborhood. If you don’t have one near you, check out Walmart, Hobby Lobby or even Amazon. You can even buy the lettuce in a premixed plastic tub for basket to table service. Put the finished products in a basket that you can easily get at one of the retailers above. Click your heels three times, and you will be at the home of the lucky recipient, watching them grin from ear to ear with the basket – and friend – that greets them.

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All that’s left is to follow are my three C’s and your meal will be a success! To recap they are: cart (the supplies you will need), create (the recipe you will follow), and curate (how to put the final product together in a way that will be beautiful and practical).DSC_0110

CART:
Presentation –
1 basket
2 3 cup mason jars
(I prefer the wide mouth – and worth getting the canning funnel)
2 decorative towels or napkins for bottom of basket and wrapping soda bread
(hostess tip: I usually find seasonal ones for $1 at my variety store)

Salad-
Pick any premade salad. Throw in some nuts, cheese, or dried fruit for a feel of home
made. Either buy your favorite dressing or whip up a vinaigrette and place in a small mason jar for easy transport.

Soup-
2 28oz cans tomatoes (I use Cento’s Certified San Marzano)
1 cup heavy cream (you can use full fat plain greek yogurt but it will dull the taste a bit)
20 large, fresh basil leaves
1 stick unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste

Soda Bread-
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cubed
2 cups flour plus more for rolling out buns (I use Trader Joes gluten free all purpose and it works great)
¼ cup sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
¾ teaspoon baking soda
⅔ cup buttermilk, regular milk will work too but changes flavor slightly
1 large egg
Irish butter for serving, any butter will do but sweet butters are best and adds to the presentation
(Hostess Tip: be creative with additions, currants, raisins, nuts, etc…)

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CREATE:
Soup-
1. Simmer tomatoes in large saucepan for 30 minutes.
[while simmering prepare the rest of the meal]
2. Add basil leaves and puree.
(I use my favorite kitchen tool – the Cuisinart immersion blender which we were lucky enough to receive as a wedding gift, but a regular blender works great too, in batches)
3. If needed return to saucepan
4. Add cream, butter, salt, and pepper while stirring on low heat.
5. You can immediately ladle into mason jars.

Salad-
1.Wash and dry lettuce and place in large bowl. mix any additional ingredients.
2. Return tossed salad to plastic container or whatever you choose to transport.

Soda Bread-
1. Heat oven to 375
2. Mix dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Using a pastry cutter (or two knives) work the butter into the mix.
3. In a smaller bowl mix the egg and milk.
4. Stir the wet mix into the dry ingredients until it just forms a moist dough. (mix in any additional ingredients)
5. Flour your hands and form dough into palm size balls and place on a silpat or very well greased baking sheet. Cut cross into top and dust with a mixture of milk and flour. (If using GF flour you will need extra flour to kneed in at this step.)
6. Bake for 20-25 minutes. best served warm with Irish butter.

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CURATE:
1. If desired place a decorative towel or extra flour sack on the bottom of the basket. I had some leftover filler from a gift basket I received which I used in these pictures. Place salad and soup containers in the back.
2. Layer in front the soda bread wrapped in napkin or flour sack, the salad dressing, and butter.
3. Any special touches: a bottle of wine, or sparkling lemonade. Perhaps a package of cut and bake cookies or your favorite homemade dessert! You could even get some fun salad tongs or a soup ladle for an extra touch.

(Hostess tip: Don’t forget the note! You should always write a note with heating/cooking instructions when you drop off food.)

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