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Revisiting Childhood April 28, 2009

Posted by Toy Lady in Cooking, Family, Food, random stuff.

If you were looking for the one meal that would say to you home . . . comfort . . .  warm . . . cozy . . . family. . .  easy. . . cheap what would it be?

I may have mentioned once or twice that I grew up in the midwest – outside Milwaukee, to be exact (though I was born in Chicago).  Milwaukee is part of Wisconsin, which is The Dairy State.  Have you ever heard the song “The Farmer In The Dell?”

Yeah, well, you do know that The Dells are in Wisconsin, right?

And that line about “the cheese stands alone”  – that’s some cheese, baby.

For most of my childhood, I truly believed that was a song about Wisconsin The Dairy State.

And I love me some cheese, let me tell you.  If you’ve been reading this blog for more than, oh, a week, you are probably well aware of my obsession with All Things Cheesy But Not Moldy.

As far as I’m concerned, the thing that enhances cheese the most is to be sandwiched between two slices of toasty, buttery bread.  And maybe dunked into tomato soup.

Growing up, my mother used to do the Sunday Dinner thing – we’d come come home from church starving, pick at whatever we could grab without being caught, and we’d have a big dinner round about 1:00, just like a holiday, sort of.  Which is great at 1:15.

Not so great at 7:30 that evening.  Everyone’s starting to get hungry again, but who wants to cook SUPPER at that hour?

My mother’s solution, at least on a good night for us, was grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.  While a couple of JUMBO SIZED cans of Campbell’s Tomato Soup were heating, she’d whip out the Cheez Whiz and a loaf of Wonder Bread and grill up a mound of sandwiches.

Dude.  There were 6 of us altogether – my father, my mother, two brothers, my sister and me.  At LEAST a loaf of Wonder Bread.  I’m just saying.  Sometimes she’d spread some deviled ham on some of the sandwiches, or, when they were in season, she’d slice a tomato and slide a slice into a few of them.

Alas, we grow up, and we grow older.  We start to concern ourselves with the fat and sodium content of canned soups and processed cheese food.  And we can’t go back, more’s the pity.

However.  We make adjustments, and we make allowances, and we learn to enjoy what was once a regular Sunday night supper as a once-in-a-while decadent treat.

And we move on.

Then we discover that Cheez Whiz really ain’t all that.  In fact, it’s kind of, well, salty and plastic tasting.  And sort of disgusting on grilled cheese.  I honestly don’t know what my mother was thinking.

And Campbell’s tomato, while all we remember, is actually kind of sweet and, well, not really all that tomato-y.

And don’t even get me started on Wonder Bread.

And with that, fond memories of my childhood – ruined forever.

Then one day, we were watching those workers of culinary magic at America’s Test Kitchen.  And they were making a creamy tomato soup  that looked absolutely wonderful – all the more so because it didn’t have any cream (or any dairy, for that matter)!

And it turns out that it really didn’t take much longer to make this than it would to open a can and carefully heat it with milk. . .

PhotobucketFirst we diced a small-ish onion and minced a couple of cloves of garlic, and we sauteed them in a couple of Tablespoons of olive oil with some crushed red pepper and the inevitable bay leaf, just until the onion is translucent, 3-5 minutes.

Then we dumped in a quart of whole tomatoes (or, if you’re using store-bought, a 28-oz. can).

PhotobucketPull out the handy-dandy potato masher and, well, mash up the tomatoes.  A few years back, I found a nylon (or plastic) (or even teflon – I’m actually not sure what it is now) potato masher, and I picked it up to use with my non-stick pans – the metal masher (or worse – the electric mixer!) was just making a mess of those pans.

PhotobucketBring the soup back up to a boil, then stir in about a teaspoon and a half of brown sugar (more or less, depending on stuff like how acidic your tomatoes are and how sweet you like your soup) and (get this) a slice and a half of sandwich bread, torn into chunks.

I know, right?

The bread actually thickens the soup without the heaviness or cream that, while absolutely perfect in the Death Potatoes, has a way of dulling the bright flavor of tomatoes.

PhotobucketBread.  Who’da thunk, huh?

So we let the bready soup simmer until the bread gets all soggy and starts to break down, about 5 minutes or so.  Then, of course, we discard the ever-present bay leaf.

We dumped the mixture into the Super Duper Nifty Woot Blender and, well, blended it.


And then you pour it back into the saucepan, add a cup of chicken stock, a Tablespoon of brandy, and salt & pepper to taste, and bring it back to “hot” before serving.


But what, you ask, about the cheese?

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten.  Grilled cheese – good grilled cheese – truly excellent grilled cheese – is actually quite simple.  And it can be accomplished while the soup is heating.

PhotobucketFirst, start with good bread.  I like Arnold’s – their potato bread is excellent, although I’m perfectly happy with pretty much any of their sandwich breads for grilled cheese.  You pick what you like.

I spread one side of each slice with margarine – it doesn’t burn as quickly as butter, and I totally forgot to try ghee.

Then, on half the slices (one side of each sandwich), thinly spread some of your favorite mustard – we use homemade Dijon-style mustard.

Choose a nice assortment of cheeses – 3 or 4 slices per sandwich.

Yeah, I know, overkill, right?

Remember, though, there’s NO CREAM in the soup!


Psst. . .  The secret to nice, melty grilled cheese sandwiches is to grill them open-faced.  And covered.  Let steam be your friend.

The griddle will toast the bread from the bottom up, and the cover will help melt the cheese from the top down – never again will you have to bite into a grilled cheese sandwich only to find cold, unmelty cheese sandwiched in a burned exterior.

And if you decide to, say, add anything (tomato slice, bacon slice, deli ham – even deviled ham!), even if it’s cold, it’ll heat through this way, too!

PhotobucketI’m here to help, you know.

A few minutes of covered grilling, and you can peek under the lid and see. . . nice, melty cheese!  As you can see, in this case, Peeps opted for some pepper jack and colby jack on one side, complemented with provolone and a slice of American on the other.  Myself, I like to go with a little grated cheddar. . . but it’s all a matter of taste.


By the time your cheese is just melty, the outside is perfectly GBD – and you can put the two sides together into one perfectly integrated sandwich.

Of course don’t forget about the soup – remember the soup?

Ladle the hot soup into bowls, checking one last time for salt and pepper.  Drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil – the good stuff and toss a few croutons on top – I used the Texas Toast croutons we picked up last week –  Yeah Toast!


And, of course, don’t forget a few more grinds of black pepper, if you’d like and some chopped chives, if you’re so inclined.   Even better than my childhood – and no little brothers to fight over the last sandwich!



1. origamifreak - April 29, 2009

Wow, that must have been a Boston thing, ‘cuz open-faced broiled cheese sandwiches (with squares of American cheese puffed up on them) paired with Campbell’s tomato soup was one of my mom’s favorite things to do, too!

Toy Lady - April 29, 2009

Now that sounds good! 😀

I actually don’t know that my mother ever used her broiler – certainly not that I can remember. No, her sandwiches were simply a thin smear of the almost-cheese stuff, slapped together and grilled. The open-grilling, along with the multiple slices of cheese (who know grilled cheese could have more than one slice of cheese?) was just something I picked up while I was a waitress, back before The Boy was born. . .

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