Happiness is receiving fresh bread in the mail. Not just any bread...a perfect light, whole wheat sourdough with just the right touch of sweetness. My husband's mom has been making this bread for years. I know, I know. The thing to do here would be to beg her for the recipe and share her techniques. But the problem is, you have to have the starter for sourdough. Without her starter, you don't have her bread.
This bread is so good that we asked her to send it to us once every other month as a Christmas present last year. (We can't be trusted with it every month. Two loaves can disappear in less than a week around here. We aren't otherwise big bread eaters, but when that stuff is around...all bets are off. We're having cinnamon toast and grilled cheese and just plain toast with jam every night.) I've put off sharing our happiness over this bread because it doesn't seem fair not to have the recipe for you. But as I said, without the starter, what's the point?
Maybe next time I visit, I can get a step-by-step tutorial and then share some online sources for starters. But I'm not sure it would be the same.
So instead, I decided to share with you something we have with the bread. I got some Beecher's flagship cheddar and made tomato basil soup. A classic combo and for good reason. It all just works together.
Beecher's handmade cheese is from Seattle and it is really good stuff. I was excited to see it at Central Market. This soup recipe I clipped from the Austin American-Statesman long ago when La Madeleine restaurant was coming to town. La Madeleine is famous for their tomato basil soup. It's decadent with lots of cream and butter.
I'm usually not one for substitute or fake foods. But all that richness felt like too much with the grilled cheese on the side. In a cooking class with Lake Austin Spa's Terry Conlan, I got turned on to fat free half and half. It's not something I would ordinarily even consider, but he said he uses it because it has natural thickeners to sub for the fat. So I tried it. It takes some of the guilt out of this really fabulous soup. I think I initially changed the recipe from cream to half and half and then from half and half to whole milk. Now I think I'll stick with the fat free half and half. Use what you like. There's still enough butter in here to make you feel guilty and please your taste buds at the same time.
This soup is easily doubled and freezes well so I like to make double batches. It's fast, it's easy and it's very tasty, and of course, goes great with a grilled cheese.
Tomato Basil Soup
4 cups canned, roasted crushed tomatoes
4 cups tomato juice
12-15 fresh basil leaves
1 cup half & half (can sub fat free)
1 stick unsalted butter
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Combine the tomatoes and juice in a large pan and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add the basil one of two ways: add it to the pot and blend in with an immersion blender or remove 1-2 cups of the tomato mixture and whiz in a blender with the basil and return it to the pot.
Stir soup to incorporate basil mixture completely.
Stir in half & half and butter until butter is completely melted.
Simmer 10 more minutes, then serve.
Adapted from La Madeleine's recipe in the Austin American-Statesman.