I miss the kitchen. I miss my kitchen. I miss being in the kitchen and talking to Justin while I'm chopping and trying not to compulsively control the size of whatever it is he's chopping. I'll be living in a hotel room in downtown Houston, Texas for the next five days and my room is clean and the entire hotel smells like white chocolate for some reason, not that that is all together a bad thing, but it's not home. I miss the spicy cinnamon scent of my Yankee candle perfumed room. Well, I think its Mango Peach Salsa at the moment, but after 5 years of cinnamon, I like to think it's permeated the walls.
If you haven't gotten the impression yet that I'm quite the homebody, I'll say it now. I'm a homebody. The funny part is that it doesn't necessarily have to be my home, just somebody's home. It's the home part that seems to matter the most, at least since my college days when I was grateful to sleep under any roof that wasn't part of a dormitory. I even like Justin's home, the way it always smells like a fresh vacuum and that heinously ugly sofa that is sort of growing on me but not so much that I wouldn't chuck it in a Dumpster faster than you can say "vintage yellow sofa." But it's home, and he tolerates me lighting votive candles to get rid of the lingering boy smell that wafts out of his room - kind of an odd mix of cologne, laundry, gun oil and soap.
I've had a bit of decent sleep thanks to the makers of melatonin, otherwise I'd never shut my eyes in a hotel room, thinking about the little bugs that I know are burrowing in the carpet and who-knows-what on the bedsheets. Shudder. But really, the hardest part is the eating. I'm quite grateful to work for a company that takes care of its kids while they're traveling, but I'm a cook. I'm a baker. I'm a control-what-goes-into-my-food person. Eating out at restaurants, hotels and airports might sound like fun for road warriors, but it's not for me. I'm only on my second day and the constant rain makes me wish I had roasted tomato soup - a recipe I've been trying to tell you about for ages but dessert kept getting in the way.
I tried soothing my homesickness with some tomato basil soup from Le Madeline at lunch today, but it just wasn't the same. It was thick alright, but the flavor was flat and I left feeling half hearted and dissatisfied. After our previous discussion on the merits of dining alone, I treated myself to the Cheesecake Factory where the sweet hostess promised not to judge me for eating alone, they even offered to seat me at the bar, to which I promptly declined, not wanting to be thought both a lonelyheart and a drunkard. I had an asparagus salad with shaved Parmesan, peppery arugula and diced Roma tomatoes; sweet, swollen dates stuffed with stinky cheese and wrapped in bacon; crispy fried artichoke hearts; and enough salted butter and brown bread to make me swell up like a balloon. It was delicious enough, so naturally I was disappointed when the waiter dropped me his phone number and asked me to call him while I was in town. I think my dinner started to crawl back up.
I soothed my irritation with a half pound of loot from Dylan's Candy Bar and entirely too many Aveda products, but when everything smells of rosemary and mint and sweet pine it's difficult not to stock up. I don't know how I'm going to make it the rest of the week on room service and food courting dining, but thinking about this soup makes it an easier pill to swallow. It's thick and delicious, spicy and creamy, and alongside a Swiss grilled cheese (Provolone for Justin), it's one of the most comforting things I've ever tasted. It coats your throat with happiness, and you'll never go back to canned tomato soup again.
Cream of Tomato Soup
Adapted from The America's Test Kitchen Cookbook
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes packed in juice, drained, 3 cups juice reserved
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 large shallots, minced (about 1/2 cup)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 3/4 cups chicken stock, homemade or canned low-sodium
1/2 cup heavy cream
Salt and cayenne pepper
Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450°F. Lined rimmed baking sheet with foil. With fingers, carefully open whole tomatoes over strainer set in bowl and push out seeds, allowing juices to fall through strainer into bowl. Spread seeded tomatoes in single layer on foil. Sprinkle evenly with brown sugar. Bake until all liquid has evaporated and tomatoes begin to color, about 30 minutes. Let tomatoes cool slightly, then peel them off foil; transfer to small bowl and set aside.
Heat butter over medium heat in large saucepan until foaming. Add shallots, tomato paste and allspice. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are softened, 7 to 10 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds. Gradually add chicken stock, whisking constantly to combine; stir in reserved tomato juice and roasted tomatoes. Cover, increase heat to medium, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, to blend flavors, about 10 minutes.
Puree mixture in food processor until very smooth, about 2 cups at a time (hot liquids expand!) and transfer back to the saucepan. Add cream and warm over low heat until hot, about 3 minutes. Off heat, season with salt and cayenne. Serve immediately. (Soup can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days. Warm over low heat until hot; do not boil.)