September 30, 2009

Grilled Cheese + Tomato Soup Revisited

Two of my least favorite foods are canned tomato soup and American cheese. Matt tells me I'm a snob, but I really just don't like the flavor. I've never liked canned tomato soup; it's unnaturally sweet, and it doesn't taste all that much like a tomato. As much as I wanted to, I've never really liked American cheese, either. It's an insult to America to name that cheese after it, and it's an insult to cheese to classify it as such.

I should note that I haven't always had such a bad attitude about American cheese. When I was little I would beg my mom to buy Kraft Singles because I thought individually wrapped cheese was as exciting as slumber parties and the Christmas Barbie. When she would finally give in a buy a package I would slowly unwrap a slice like I was opening a birthday present, peel off the sticky little square of cheese, take a bite, and want to spit it out immediately. I would always force myself to eat a few slices over the next couple weeks so my mom wouldn't get mad at me for making her buy it, and I really wanted to learn to like the taste of American cheese, but it just never happened. When the mostly full package got thrown away several months later (not because it went bad; I'm pretty sure it could survive a nuclear holocaust), my mom would swear that she was done buying sliced American cheese. I can still hear her saying, "Kirsten, never again" as the package fell to the bottom of the trash can with a thud. Inevitably a few months later I would see Kraft Singles at a friend's house, and I would desperately want my own mom to be one of those moms who buys individually wrapped slices of cheese. I would run home and beg my mom to buy Kraft Singles, and the cycle continued...

It took until about five years ago and a broadening of my cheese horizons for me to come to terms with the fact that I do not like American cheese and probably never will. Growing up I absolutely hated Swiss cheese or anything slightly resembling it. Then one day when I was 21 I was eating lunch between a couple of lakes in Switzerland, and I took my first bite of Emmentaler. Before that bite I had no idea what I was diving into. Had I stopped to think about the fact that I was in Switzerland, the home of Swiss cheese, and this mysterious cheese sitting on my plate was probably Swiss cheese, I never would have taken a bite. Sometimes it pays not to think before eating, though. While that first shocking bite did anything but win me over, for some reason I gave it a second and third and fourth chance, and in a matter of five minutes I learned to love Swiss cheese. Emmentaler, as it turns out, was my gateway drug into the wonderful world of cheese. Once I got over that hump I realized that there are so many varieties of cheeses worth eating, and there are very few kinds that I don't like. Smoked cheeses and American cheese are in the latter category.

I think the lesson to be learned is that if I can learn to love cheeses that I absolutely hated when I was a kid, but I still can't enjoy a cheese that I desperately wanted to love, then American cheese has no hope. And in case you were worried about me being, um, un-American for not loving grilled cheese and tomato soup, you can relax. Dinner last night (and lunch today) was an awesome batch of homemade tomato soup and a grilled fig and cheese sandwich.

For an awesome and very easy recipe for tomato soup: 101 Cookbooks
For a tasty sandwich and pictures of soup in the making: keep reading

I basically doubled the recipe from 101 Cookbooks, making some minor changes as I went. All of these tomatoes are from Matt's mom's garden - thanks, Ann! Some of them were dented, bruised, and just plain struggling, but once they were roasted and pureed you would never know.

Cut out the stems and slice the tomatoes into quarters (or eighths for the larger tomatoes). Lay them skin side down on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and sprinkle with salt.

Cut a few yellow onions into large pieces, toss with olive oil and salt, and spread them out on another lined, rimmed baking sheet. Add some unpeeled garlic cloves to the onions. The original recipe called for 5 tomatoes, 3 medium onions, and 5 garlic cloves; I used about 10 tomatoes, 3 medium-large onions, and 10 cloves of garlic.

Cook the tomatoes and onions at 375 until the onions start to caramelize and the tomatoes start to sink a little. I cooked the onions for about an hour.

The tomatoes took about an hour and fifteen minutes.

Peel the garlic and add it to a large pot with the tomatoes and onions.

Using a hand blender (or doing small batches in a real blender) puree the vegetables.

Stir in low sodium chicken broth one cup at a time until it reaches the desired consistency. I ended up using four cups of broth. The original recipe stops here, but I moved the pot to the stove and let it cook on low for another 30 minutes or so. I also added a little more salt and a dash of cayenne. Matt and I both really liked this soup. It's pretty smooth, but the tomato seeds and pureed skins provide a little texture, which I enjoy. It's only as sweet as a fresh tomato is, and it actually tastes the way a tomato tastes.

This is actually the sandwich I made for lunch, which was better than the one I made last night. Last night in my excitement over being reunited with my long lost friend, havarti with dill, I went a little overboard with experimentation. Just so you know, a grilled muenster and fig sandwich is a lot better than a grilled havarti with dill and fig sandwich.

A layer of cheese, a layer of fruit, two slices of good bread, and a little butter is all you need.

Hopefully seeing me make sandwiches like this will help my mom forgive me for those Kraft Singles purchases. Sorry, Mom.

Labels: , , ,


Blogger Kate said...

One time I was babysitting my little cousin and offered to make whatever he wanted for lunch...he decided on grilled cheese. So, of course, I proceeded to make it with the cheese we have, cutting up slices from a block of cheddar. He took one bite and then threw it on his plate complaining about the cheese. The thought of putting fake cheese, that I have never purchased, on his sandwich never crossed my mind. I proceeded to force him to eat it and afterward he proceeded to force himself to throw it up. I learned a lesson that day, I'm just not sure what it was. I'm glad you share my disdain for Kraft singles!

September 30, 2009  
Blogger Kirsten said...

Kate, that is hilarious! Your cousin's name doesn't happen to be Matt Roby, does it?

October 05, 2009  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home