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By Emily Paster
My husband likes to joke that if he started a food blog it would be called "Food in Bowls." (He's playing off the inspired name of my friend Marisa McClellan's canning blog, Food in Jars.) What he means by that is that he would be content to eat most of his meals out of bowls. Cereal, oatmeal, soup — many of my husband's favorite things to eat work best in a bowl. But he has a special place in his heart for soup. No one loves soup as much as my husband. We've even seen him order hot soup at a beach-side restaurant on an 80 degree day. My mother still talks about that.
So the other day, when I emailed my husband to tell him that I couldn't resist making grilled cheese and tomato soup for dinner — it was snowing after all — his response was: "Food in bowls! My lunch was tomato soup followed by turkey chili. This is the best day ever…." And he was not kidding. That's three soups in one day. I don't think people recovering from oral surgery eat that much soup.
Grilled cheese and tomato soup is a classic for a reason. The acidity and brightness of a tomato soup cuts through the richness and butteriness of a grilled cheese sandwich. And when done correctly — meaning no canned soup or American cheese — this beloved lunchtime duo can become a sophisticated, satisfying grown-up meal. Tomato soup is so easy to make yourself, there's no reason to resort to the canned kind. And all it takes is basic pantry ingredients like onions, canned tomatoes and chicken broth. I pumped up the flavor of my tomato soup by adding some sweet and earthy Middle Eastern spices because I've been playing around with that cuisine lately. I loved the warmth that it added to my soup. But you can customize your homemade tomato soup any way you like by varying the herbs and spices. To keep that rich tomato flavor, I was judicious with the cream, adding just enough to round out the acidity. That way, we didn't have to feel guilty about indulging in a second bowl.
For my grown-up grilled cheese, I called upon the Horseradish Cheddar that I received from my Cabot Cooperative lunch. Wow! This is not your kids' cheddar. The sharpness of the horseradish definitely comes through. Great for any sinus problems you may have! My husband and I loved it though because we are big horseradish fans. I added some apple for sweetness and crunch and the combination was perfect. Flavored cheddar is a great way to add interest to your basic grilled cheese and Cabot has plenty of varieties from Hot Habañero to sweet Tomato Basil and Smoky Bacon. For my next grown-up grilled cheese, I want to pair the Hot Habañero cheddar with something sweet like a cranberry relish, mango chutney or even some of my homemade apricot jam. When making grilled cheese, low and slow is my motto. To get that golden brown color, use plenty of butter — I know, I know — and keep the heat on low.
Grown-Up Tomato Soup
I used the Middle Eastern spice blend Baharat, which combines spices like cumin, coriander, cinnamon, clove and allspice, to flavor my soup. I made my own baharat according to the recipe in the cookbook Jerusalem. You can buy Baharat, make your own or instead, just use the spices that you like. I would recommend cumin and maybe a pinch of something sweet like cinnamon.
2 TB butter
2 yellow onions, diced
2 tsp. Baharat
2 28 oz. cans whole tomatoes
1 TB sugar
3 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Flat-leaf parsley (optional)
Melt the butter in a large stockpot. Sauté the diced onion over low heat until very soft and browned, about 15-20 minutes. During that time, season the onions well with salt and pepper and baharat. When the onions are browned, add the canned tomatoes with their juice, crushing the tomatoes with your spoon; the sugar; and the chicken broth. Bring the soup to a boil and then turn down the heat and simmer the soup until thickened about 30 minutes. For richer flavor, you can prepare the soup in advance and continue to simmer it until you ready to eat. Shortly before you wish to eat, stir in the cream and heat through. Garnish with chopped flat-leaf parsley.
Grown-Up Grilled Cheese with Cabot Horseradish Cheddar
4 Tb butter
4 slices white sandwich bread
Cabot Horseradish Cheddar
1 sweet, red apple, such as Fuji
Melt half the butter over low heat in a nonstick skillet large enough to accommodate two sandwiches. Meanwhile, place slices of Horseradish Cheddar on two pieces of bread. Cover with thin slices of apple. Top with remaining bread. Carefully place sandwiches in skillet and cook over low heat until the bottom slices of bread is golden brown. Add remaining butter to the skillet and carefully turn the sandwiches over. Cook until second side is also golden brown and cheese is melted and gooey. To serve, cut in half.
Do you have fond memories of eating grilled cheese with tomato soup as a kid? Do you still enjoy it today?