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THE HOME COOK : Recovering From Glamour Food

The best thing about coming home after a vacation is cooking and eating your own favorite foods in your own kitchen.

I have just returned from a rather sumptuous sea cruise, and after eating glamorous dishes day after day, I find there is nothing like a baked potato. It’s like opening up the old family album after looking at Old Master portraits in an art gallery.

Among my favorite old recipes are Cream of Tomato Soup and Soft Gingerbread. These are very different from the tomato soup and gingerbread recipes that I made several years ago. This cream of tomato is my homemade version of Campbell’s Cream of Tomato Soup--a symbol to many of us of a style of American home cooking during the ‘40s and ‘50s and still one of the most successful products on supermarket shelves.

I’ve enjoyed many a bowl of Campbell’s throughout the years, and I’ve become fascinated with what makes this soup so special. After some experimenting (adding heavy cream, trying a variety of different flavors and on and on), I have decided that this recipe, though not exact, is close enough to satisfy me, particularly now when tomatoes are at their prime in farmers’ markets. The baking soda in my recipe is to temper the acidity of the tomatoes so they don’t curdle the milk.

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Soft Gingerbread is fine-textured because of the addition of the water. When you use milk as the liquid, the texture is slightly firmer and coarser. Serve warm with whipped cream, but don’t serve this with a sauce. A cake this soft that sits in a sauce, or gets covered with sauce, ends up as nothing but sodden crumbs.

CREAM OF TOMATO SOUP

5 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup chopped onion

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1/4 cup flour

4 cups milk

1/2 bay leaf

1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

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Salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

3 cups chopped tomatoes

Melt butter in soup pot. Add onion and cook over medium heat, stirring until onion is tender but not browned. Sprinkle flour over butter mixture and continue to stir and cook 1 to 2 minutes.

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Slowly add milk, bay leaf, sugar and salt. Adjust seasonings to taste. Continue to cook and stir until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir baking soda into tomatoes. Add tomatoes to milk mixture and bring just to simmer. Remove from heat and put through strainer. Adjust seasonings to taste. Reheat before serving. Makes about 3 cups.

SOFT GINGERBREAD

1 cup sugar

1 cup dark molasses

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1 cup oil

3 eggs

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cloves

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1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

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1 cup boiling water

Combine sugar, molasses, oil and eggs in mixing bowl. Beat until smooth.

Combine salt, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, flour and baking soda in separate bowl. Stir with fork until well mixed. Add to egg mixture and stir. Add boiling water and beat briskly until smooth. Batter should be thin.

Pour into greased and lightly floured 8-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees 40 to 45 minutes, or until straw comes out clean when inserted in center. Serve warm. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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